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The Blessing of Dominion

DOMINATE: To subjugate; rule over; control

Since our blueberry bushes have become ready for harvest, I have been steadily picking them in the early morning and evening…often in the afternoons as well. I need to frequently harvest because the birds have discovered the bountiful sweetness our bushes offer, and they relentlessly peck at the berries. I say “peck” because they often don’t eat the entire berry; no, they peck at each and every one : / —so my intention has been to beat them at their game and harvest the blueberries quicker than they can ruin them ; ) .

One morning as I was harvesting, a couple of catbirds menacingly chirped at me…they hesitated to leave our larges bush until I actually began picking berries. Immediately, scripture came to my mind:

I thought to myself, “If God had not given me dominion over these birds, they could easily attack me and keep me from the blessing of my harvest!”

It is amazing to me how the gifts of God keep manifesting in ways that I had never fully appreciated. I was familiar with the passage in Genesis 1, yet I had not thought about the extent of this blessing of dominion; that is, the significance of the respect the animal kingdom has for God’s ultimate creation.

Although the “attacks” on my blueberries had initially frustrated me, there still remained a bountiful harvest. I was reminded of the messages of Genesis 2:15; Revelation 4:11; & Col. 1: 16-17: Humans were created in God’s image; furthermore, God loved his creation…all of his creation. It was created by Jesus and for Jesus. And so, I felt privileged to provide food for part of that creation; after all, man’s first job was to tend the Garden of Eden and to be good stewards of the Father’s world.

Unmet Expectations- Part 2

As I continued the journey seeking truth about the Father’s love, I was lead to various pertinent scriptures and engagement in deep self-examination. It became clearer that my expectations and attitudes were often based on my personal desires rather than primarily out of a heart to seek God’s desire above everything else…

In my heart, I did not want to require or need my expectations to be met in order to feel fully loved by God. Instead, my intent became to truly develop a heart attitude like that of the Apostle Paul:

So, how did the Apostle Paul reach this high and holy level of living? If I could understand the process whereby he died to self and lived by faith, I believed progress towards a new attitude would be possible for me. Amazingly Romans 5: 1-5 outlined this process:

Notably, the first step was to recognize and believe that I had been made right with God; through Christ, I had a favorable and peaceful standing before the Lord. Furthermore, all the grace I needed had already been made available to me through Him.

By this grace, I could actually have joy in the midst of tribulations. I did not need to fear suffering or insist on its absence in order to experience God’s love; because, a byproduct of tribulation is perseverance, which would enable me to persist and endure whatever might befall me. Not only that, but persevering would develop my character whereby I could bear up under my trials while confidently looking to God to work out his good purposes through them.

Finally, I realized that the Holy Spirit, who had already been given to me, would fill my heart with God’s love—I did not need to struggle or require “proof” that God loved me, if I would only allow the Spirit to operate freely regardless of my suffering. This process outlined in Romans by Paul was a sure path to receiving and living in God’s love, because each step took me closer to hope; and, once I experienced hope, I knew my Heavenly Father would work everything I was going through for good (Romans 8:28). This hopeful belief transformed my desires to align with God’s will and promises, which would never fail!

Unmet Expectations

I confess that in my past, I had equated God’s love with protection from the evils of the world; yet, I intellectually understood suffering was a part of life that God allowed for His purposes. Only after deep self-examination did the Holy Spirit begin to give me understanding about the true nature of God’s love—I was, in fact, deeply loved. The Lord always protected me; He would never allow me to be destroyed or caused to fall (please read 2 Corinthians 4: 7-9); nevertheless, I needed to reach a place where I believed in Jesus’ love for me in my heart…without doubting or diminishing that love.

God’s Word was vital to my comprehending and receiving the love of God.

I began with the foundational truth about God’s perfect love for me: “God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5: 8)...I understood that this fact should be enough. God chose to give me everything, when I had earned and merited nothing good from Him! Nevertheless, I confess, there was persistent disappointment buried deep in my soul concerning my unmet expectations: My ideal life was not happening—that is, my notion of happiness and success, or at least, the absence of challenging and painful experiences that could not be quickly resolved.

…but this was only the first step in my quest to discover and receive the immeasurable love God had for me.

(to be continued)

Burdens & Loads

It may appear that these two verses contradict each other: Should one be expected to bear up under their own burdens by themselves, or should we help each other bear burdens together?

The literal meanings of “burden” (Greek: phortion) and “load” (Gr. baros) help provide the answer to this question:

A burden (Gal. 6:2) is so heavy that a person needs help to carry its oppressive weight. They simply cannot “go it alone” without being crushed under their burden, whether it is some form of spiritual warfare, personal failure, loss, etc.

…on the other hand, a load as used in Gal. 6:5 signifies a type of burden that we ourselves are expected to carry—our responsibility. “Load” literally signifies a pack that a marching soldier carried; and, in a way, it represents what Jesus has called believers to do for the kingdom…how they are to live and suffer for the sake of His name (Mt. 11:29 & 30).

A balanced view concerning these verses may be this: True believers should be observant to the plight of those struggling under the unbearable weights of the world, the flesh, and the enemy. Then, these Christians should act out of mercy and compassion to help down-trodden people by way of prayer and other concrete provisions, as the Holy spirit leads.

At the same time, it is good to realize that many things we are called to bear are part of the service and sacrifice we are expected to carry out during our life’s journey—our personal responsibilities. God has well-equipped us for His purposes and He is sufficient to see us through.

And so, we must be spiritually discerning about habitually asking for help, as well as offering help too indiscriminately. Prayerfully seeking God’s will is key because: The Lord may wish to stretch and grow us through difficult times with reliance solely resting in Him. Conversely, offering help too quickly to one who is supposed to bear their own load could interfere with: God’s plan and process for their personal growth and maturity in faith, as well as His intention to draw them to Him.

Life is a Marathon, not a Sprint- Part 2

MARATHON: a long-distance running race

SPRINT: a short-distance race requiring participants to go at top speed

Marathon racers must build endurance before they can successfully complete their long, arduous journey. They must learn to run at a sustainable pace; because of the distance they need to cover, they must not attempt to run at top pace for the entire race. In fact, short periods of “recovery” jogs and walking to preserve muscles and energy will be necessary; and if Marathon runners intend to win, they must be willing to put in the time and effort to properly equip and prepare themselves before they enter the race.

In a similar fashion, believers must be willing to prepare diligently for, as the Apostle Paul called it, the “race” of life. He did not mean a “sprint”, whereby one would be able to quickly complete the process of sanctification. No, Paul meant a “marathon” throughout which a steady growth in spiritual maturity—Christ-likeness—would be achieved by faith empowered by the Holy Spirit and made possible through God’s grace.

As followers of Christ, we must remember to prepare to enter this race by strengthening our spiritual muscles with: Bible study/meditation, prayer, fellowship, and sound Biblical teaching. This is achieved by listening and submitting to the Holy Spirit concerning all these things—or any other instruction and council He provides along the way. But it is also vital that we remember to renew our strength in the Lord with periods of refreshment, much like marathon participants who intersperse restorative periods of jogging and walking as they endeavor to finish their race (Acts 3:19 & Romans 12:2).

As we complete our race of earthly life, we will be able to declare with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith…” (2 Timothy 4:7).

Life is a Marathon, not a Sprint

SANCTIFICATION: The process of becoming more like Christ by purifying our hearts and minds through the power of the Holy Spirit.

As my husband and I were walking through a lovely local park, I happened to notice ahead of us an unusual figure moving across the road. When we came upon it, the picture became clear: a snail had determined to cross the pavement, leaving the trail of his journey behind him. It was obvious the snail was expending great effort; and despite its inability to see the other side of the road, it was successfully heading to its destination. Nevertheless, the trail of mucus indicated that his journey had its crooks and turns—its distractions and mistakes. The rocky path was neither smooth nor easy!

…and so it seems with our process of sanctification: We may experience a rocky path riddled with setbacks, distractions, and mistakes…

…but God has promised to lead and provide for us throughout our journey, until we reach our destination:

The next post will expound on key ways to successfully navigate the Christian walk…the “marathon” of life’s journey.

A Thought To Ponder

You can’t always make things turn out the way you desire; however, God can always take the way things turned out, and work them for good.

“Good” (Greek, agathos) describes what originates from God and is empowered by Him (by the Holy Spirit) in believers’ lives, through faith.

We can be certain of this: When believers love and trust God, He will cause everything—even mistakes and disasters—to work positively in their lives in order to carry out His good purposes. As a result, all things—good or bad—can be used to administer grace and strength into the lives of His children; and, despite the evil that inevitably comes into their lives, they can experience the love and encouragement of Jesus. In fact, just as Joseph proclaimed in Genesis 50:20, we can also declare: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result...

One Thing I Do Know- Part 2

“Then the Lord formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life…” (Genesis 2:7).

It occurred to me while meditating on the passage about the healing of the blind man in John 9 that Jesus made the mud from “the dust of the ground”—the same material from which man was created in the first place (Genesis 2). I speculated (i.e. this conclusion is not indisputable Biblical truth) that perhaps Jesus gave the man (created) brand new eyes. After all, the man had been blind from birth and his eyes were never functional.

According to this verse, all things were created by Jesus and for Jesus. Therefore, could He not choose to create new eyes for the man who had never seen?

Jesus said in John 9:3 that the man had been blind his entire life with the purpose of leading to this moment: “that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Then Jesus stated: “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (v. 5). This miracle was putting on display—manifesting—the power of the Creator Lord Jesus before their eyes.

Yes, Jesus demonstrated the light within Him to the world! The very life that God breathed into man (Genesis 2:7) was in Jesus. Thus His words at that moment, “I am the light of the world.”

One Thing I Do Know

Mark 10: 46-52 recounts one of Jesus’ miracles—the time when He healed a blind man named Bartimaeus: Bartimaeus was sitting beside the road upon which Jesus and a great multitude were passing by. He began to shout loudly for Jesus to have mercy on him, until Jesus stopped and had him brought to Him. When asked what he wanted Jesus to do for him, Bartimaeus said he wanted to regain his sight. Without any great fanfare, Jesus simply said, “Go your way, your faith has made you well” (Mark 10:52). Immediately, Bartimaeus regained his sight and began following Jesus.

Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”

There is another account recorded in John 9, when Jesus healed a blind man who was sitting by the road. Jesus decided to heal the blind man and said, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (v. 5). Then He spat on the ground, made clay of the spittle, and applied it to the blind man’s eyes; after which, He sent the man to wash in the pool of Siloam. The man returned no longer blind after washing in the pool; but, as one might expect, the Pharisees began relentlessly questioning the man and even his parents, in order to discredit the miracle. They resorted to calling Jesus a sinner, to which the healed man vehemently answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see (v. 25).

I have wondered about the fact that Jesus would employ such a puzzling tactic to heal the blind man. After all, He had healed Bartimaeus and confirmed the miracle with only a few words. Jesus always acted by the Spirit with purpose; why did He elect to use mud in this case?

In tomorrow’s post, I will convey my thoughts—my speculation—about Jesus’ reason(s) for using such a unique means to heal this man who was blind from birth.

“Behold, It Was Very Good”

A few years after we relocated, my husband insisted that we replace the laminate counter tops in our kitchen. Although it was a new home, the counters were already beginning to buckle from water around the sink area; but even more worrisome, they were simply unattractive : / ! It was a real splurge for us to select granite replacements; but then again, granite would never buckle and the counters would last forever.

I absolutely could not believe the difference the beautiful granite made in the appearance of our entire kitchen and adjoining dining room. Then I began to contemplate the origins and qualities of this remarkable material: I found that it is usually mined from deep within the earth; and, that various elements such as mica contribute to each slab’s unique appearance. I thought, “This granite might have never been quarried—it could have easily remained buried deep within the earth, never being seem by the human eye. Why did the Lord make it so attractive and useful if it most likely would never see the light of day?” Immediately Genesis 1:31 came to mind: God had completed the work of his creation; and, “When he saw all that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” Everything was very good, even the hidden treasures deep within the earth.

I had wondered why something hidden was so good and lovely; but the answer was clear…God himself had made it, and he is always good; goodness is an immutable attribute of God. In fact, every good and perfect gift is from our Heavenly Father (James 1:17). Indeed, it is impossible for it to be less than good because He is good: Romans 1: 20- “Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made…”

PRAYER: Dear Creator Father,

Thank you for your amazing creation; your blessings are unending! Your Word says, “Great are the works of the Lord; they are studied by all who delight in them” (Psalms 111:2). Help me to always study and consider your great works, so that I may constantly take delight in the wonder and goodness of your creation.

In the wonderful name of Jesus, Amen.

A few other references that attest to the goodness of God: Psalms 34:18; 145:9; 84:11; 23:6; 86:5; & 107:1. Romans 8:28. Nahum 1:7. James 1:17

Anxiety is a Heavy Burden

Whenever I have meditated on this verse, I have imagined casting my problems and trials onto the Lord; thereby, ridding myself of their presence in my life so that I could move on. However, one morning during a time of prayer, I gained a new understanding:

This verse said to cast anxieties—my painful uneasiness of mind about impending misfortune—onto the Lord. It was not necessarily the evil or misfortune that would just disappear; but rather, it was my worry about the misfortune that I could completely cast aside. Because God is concerned about our welfare and helps us (“cares”), we can rest assured that we do not need to worry about anything.

Provision is made for our trials and problems: If we will come to Jesus, He will make our heavy burdens light and bearable. We can even experience supernatural peace and joy while going through them!

(John 14:27; Romans 15:13; Philippians 4:7; John 16:24)

It might be helpful to picture the process of surrendering to God’s care this way:

We can choose to “go it alone”…opting for a single “yoke” by which we will tackle the problem in our own strength. Instead of praying and relying on Christ, we will only add to our struggle by worrying and becoming anxious.

…Yet, there is no need for our anxiety when Christ is our Strength and Guide. Consider the lead ox working under a double yoke: he guides the weaker animal that he is yoked to, while also pulling the greatest weight of the load.

Jesus Himself is infinitely stronger than our greatest strength; in fact, it is in our weakness that His strength is made most complete (2 Corinthians 12:9). Furthermore, when we are yoked to Jesus, He bears the weight of the load to the point that our true burden—our anxiety and worry—is cast off, so that the trials and problems of life no longer weigh us down!

The Pitfall of Legalism- Part 2

Richard Foster recounted the following story about Hans the tailor:

Because of Hans’ reputation, an influential entrepreneur visiting the city ordered a tailor-made suit. But when he came to pick up the suit, the customer found that one sleeve twisted that way and the other twisted this way; one shoulder bulged out and the other caved in. Although the suit was deformed, he pulled and managed to make his body fit into it. As he returned home on the bus, another passenger noticed his odd appearance and asked if Hans the tailor had made the suit. Receiving an affirmative reply, the man remarked,”Amazing!” I knew that Hans was a good tailor, but I had no idea he could make a suit fit so perfectly someone as deformed as you.”

Legalism causes a person to attempt—through external works/law-keeping—to earn through their own efforts the righteousness that only Christ was able to earn for us. It is like trying to fit in a “suit” of perfect law-keeping…we think we appear righteous, but in reality, it is a delusion—a distortion of the genuine righteousness we are clothed in because of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21).

There are two considerations, or pitfalls, regarding legalism:

1. Are we people-pleasing, trying to conform to others’ expectations? Is there pride in our hearts to appear more righteous than we are? In other words, are we submitting to the pressure to conform rather than receiving the grace and instruction of God?

2. On the other hand, if we think we have managed to hold to a higher standard of behavior than others; we ourselves can begin to expect other people to conform to our personal standard of morality. In this way, we are attempting to make others contort into our expectations.

A verse comes to mind that addresses both scenarios: 2 Corinthains 10:12– “When they measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.”

If our primary consideration is to meet others’ expectations, we are comparing our behavior to their standards; and therefore are lacking understanding about the righteousness we have in Christ. We do not comprehend that it is by God’s grace that we are guided and empowered to do what is right according to His will (Romans 12:2).

…but also, if we expect others to fit our expectations…if we compare their works to our personal standards and convictions, we are lacking understanding about all that is going on in their lives. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is in the process of convicting them about the very thing we deem important, but they are not yet at a spiritual level to obey. Perhaps they have physical or other limitations we are unaware of. Maybe there are obligations in their lives that must take precedence until another time.

The point is, it is best to assume we are without proper understanding when we expect others to conform to our idea of righteousness. Instead, we can earnestly pray for them to be lead by the Spirit in that area. Moreover, we can resolve to humbly ask for God’s grace to help us to stop comparing; but instead, to submit our will to His timing and sanctification process in the lives of others.

The Pitfall of Legalism

“If moral behavior were simply following rules, we could program a computer to be moral.”

Samuel Ginder

On the surface, this idea of seeking God’s approval via the performance of “good works” sounds noble…aren’t believers supposed to be obedient, and thereby honor the laws of God? The problem, or pitfall (trap; snare) with this notion is that is rests on the person’s own fleshly ability to carry out perfect obedience. We will fail! Because we cannot obey every aspect of the law perfectly, we will stumble and be as guilty as if we had broken every legal requirement.

However, the good news—the Gospel—is that perfect law-keeping does not rest on our shoulders. While we desire to be obedient because we love the Lord and His ways, it is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus alone, that we are saved and justified before God:

Grace: The limitless kindness and mercy of God that is freely given to undeserving human beings; catalyst for initiating salvation; divine enabling or gifting; divine favor.

If we attempt to earn favor, or add anything to salvation by our own efforts, we are going to find ourselves in a pitfall of endless failure and frustration. However, because of Jesus’ sacrificial death and subsequent resurrection to life on our behalf, we are justified before the Lord; that is, we are declared innocent to sin and fully accepted by God. The burden of earning God’s approval has been lifted from our shoulders!

In the next post we will take a further look at the nature of legalism and how it might be expressed toward others.

Let Go of Time!

As I grow older, time seems to be on my mind…it sometimes presents itself as an obstacle and impediment to my service for the Lord at this season of my life…or at least it seems so. There was a precious moment during a past devotional time when God prompted me inwardly with the words of Psalm 96:1“Sing to the Lord a new song.” As I began to meditate on those words, I started to understand that even in my deepest doubts and troubles, I needed to speak life—to “sing” joyfully the life of God’s Word—in my prayers, and with every opportunity to speak.

To speak life would involve finding scripture that pertained to the situation; and in order to do this effectively, the Holy Spirit would need to reveal to me the true roots of my struggle with time. I knew God’s words are powerful (Hebrews 4:12); and so I began to understand that whenever I would speak them, my words would convey that power—His power—over my situation. As it turned out, time was not the enemy…my focus on my inadequacies and limitations was the true crux of the problem. That is, my focus on physical limitations and the like, impeded my ability to concentrate on God’s goodness and absolute sufficiency to empower/enable me to walk in His will.

Revelation 21:5 reveals that God “makes all things new.” In this verse, He is promising a complete renewal of all things with a new heaven and earth; but also, this characteristic of the Lord can be seen in various aspects of our earthly lives (Ez. 36: 26-27 & 2 Corinthians 5:17). The Father is always in the business of restoration in every season of life; He is constantly doing new things (Isaiah 43:19)! It is the Lord himself who does the “new thing” and He can use any vessel He desires—even the weak vessels– to carry out His plans (1 Corinthians 1:27). When God is in it, time is not an obstacle!

We Can “Do Battle”!

Sometimes I think of spiritual warfare against the darkness of this world as a complicated task…best assigned to those who are powerfully gifted and experienced in such matters. Recently, as I was reading through a new book, I came across an insight by Dr. Michael Lake that profoundly encouraged me in this area:

” In every situation, obedience to the Word of God (especially when it isn’t easy) is an act of spiritual warfare!”

I thought, “Yes! That isn’t complicated…with the Holy Spirit, I can do this battle.” Psalm 18:34 states, “He trains my hands for battle, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze” and Ephesians 6:10 assures me that I can “be strong in the Lord and the strength of HIS (emphasis added) might.”

Jesus asked in Luke 6: 46, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I tell you?” Clearly, obedience is necessary if He is truly to be our Lord and King , the One who enables and helps us. This means we need to choose His kingdom over the kingdom of darkness at every point of battle. Then, as we submit to Him in obedience, we can resist the devil and he will flee from us (James 4:7)!

But, an even greater outcome is that not only are we delivered from the dominion of corruption; but, according to James 1:25, “Whosoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” God always abundantly fills a void with His goodness if we allow it: Not only will the devil flee from the battle; but as we continue in obedience, God will also fill our lives with blessing.

While I’m Waiting

Psalm 3:7- Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

Psalm 37:7- Be still before the Lord and wait for Him.

When we first moved from our home town (as I have shared previously), it seemed impossible that I would have an opportunity to teach to the extent I had in the past. We had been active in our previous church…I battled with feelings of purposelessness. I was a stranger in a strange place. But, as it had been often with the Lord, in the quietness of my solitude, His Spirit began to share; this time about waiting patiently for God to move.

The Spirit began teaching me about meekness—how to be kind, to practice self-control, and to remain teachable. I learned that meekness was having the power or ability to do something; but, instead of acting prematurely, submitting that ability to God for his timing and purpose. I had experience, but I needed to wait until the Lord had readied me—until He had spiritually prepared me for His service. I could not act or serve effectively in my own strength or will. God alone was to determine the state of my heart as to whether I was equipped to wholeheartedly glorify Him without any desire for personal recognition; and, whether I could continually rely confidently and completely on His grace and guidance.

And so now, as it was then, my prayer continues to be Psalm 5:3:

“In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” Help me Lord to put into practice with meekness and love the lessons you have taught me, that I may glorify and please you in all that I do.

In the precious name of Jesus, Amen!

Become As Little Children

While visiting in the mountains, we passed by a newly planted apple orchard where a fully matured orchard had once occupied. I was struck by the fact that, although the young trees were literally mere sticks, they were full of blooms—a promising sign that they would bear fruit. It occurred to me that the young orchard was a spiritual picture of some biblical truths:

Research demonstrates that learning and personality-shaping mostly takes place in the first 5-7 years of life: Children are fertile soil for the kind of teaching of Deuteronomy 6:6-7; then, according to Proverbs 22:6, the child will likely live by that biblical teaching as an adult. The seedling orchard is a sweet picture of the willing heart of a child…ready and eager to bear good fruit—their humble hearts prepare them to inherit the Kingdom. If children are planted in good soil—a God-serving home—they will successfully begin the lifelong process of maturation (sanctification); they will walk in God’s ways. Likewise, despite the fact that some of us may not have been trained in the loving ways of the Lord; we can nevertheless humble ourselves and become teachable like a child: eager to love the Father and bear good fruit.

The Attitude of the Mind

ATTITUDE: A point of view. A mental state that is revealed in actions or feelings.

I have discovered that dark thoughts can form when my mind strays from the truth of God’s word; the more my focus moves away from His truth and turns toward problems and circumstances, the more negative my attitude can become. There is no life or blessing in these kind of thoughts—it is like a tree that is robbed of light:

But when I meditate in the light of God’s truth, my mind is like the Tree of Life in Eden—full of fruitful thoughts and a healthy attitude:

Here are several practices every follower of Christ—with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit—can count on to help change thoughts, and therefore attitudes, whenever unwholesome musings cloud their minds:

Hebrews 4:12- Recognize that God’s word discerns and exposes the thoughts and intentions of the heart; therefore, it is a powerful weapon to help adjust our attitudes.

Romans 12:2- …therefore, renew the mind by prayerfully reading and meditating on the Scriptures

2 Corinthians 10:5- …and purposely bring every thought under the authority of Christ by countering lies with the truth of the Word, thereby “casting out” unwholesome thoughts.

Philippians 4:8- Then, fill our minds with praiseworthy-worthy things…things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, and honorable.

It is important to remember to let go of all the negative thoughts, not merely add positive overtones to them. James 1:8 calls such a person, double-minded; that is, one who holds on to unbelief along with belief…who doubts even while hoping—a person who waivers between the two. Such a person is unstable in all their ways and will not be able to receive of the Lord. The “tree” may appear this way:

Just as this tree will not thrive when half its branches are dead, the mind will not be supernaturally healed and transformed when a person continues to waver between doubtful unbelief and hopeful belief.

My prayer is as King David’s, “Let the words of my mouth,” and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in Thy sight, Oh Lord” (Psalm 19: 14). I pray that the mind of every believer will focus and rely completely on the Lord, so that all will continue to experience the inner peace that only God can bring (Isaiah 26: 3).

Quote For Today

“People who live in fear tend to do plenty of nothing except, perhaps, rob themselves of the possibility of joy.”

Quote from Hallmarks”s “When the Heart Calls”

Planting Is Believing

I love planting my garden and flowers in early spring when the weather is cool and everything is growing greener by the day. Recently, I came upon a sign I had purchased a few years before, which I had forgotten—it read:

As I found a perfect spot for it in my garden, I contemplated what had drawn me to its message—the sentiment behind the words. For me, it was an encouraging reminder that no matter how discouraging worldly concerns can be; because of the grace of God through my faith in Christ, I am indeed continuing to believe in His care and provision—simply by planting my garden.

After all, the Lord himself was the first “gardener”: “Now the Lord had planted a garden in the east, in Eden (Genesis 2:8). Furthermore, the Bible contains many references to planting and sowing which are positive and promising: The Lord instructed his people to build houses and plant gardens so that they could enjoy the fruit of them (Is. 65:21; Jeremiah 29:5 & 28); gardens were a blessing. Planting was used as a metaphor for the work of God, with growth representing bearing good fruit for His Kingdom (Mark 4:8).

When I plant each season, I am reminded that it is the Lord that causes the seed to sprout—He is the one who gives life to the seed and growth to the plant (1 Corinthians 3:7). Similarly, when well-watered by His Spirit, we too will be enabled to grow in our spiritual walk and produce bountifully for the Lord.

The Blessings of the Resurrection

The blessings of the resurrection are numerous and varied. This post is an attempt to recount at least some of them so that we can better recognize and appreciate what our risen Savior accomplished for all believers:

Christ conquered death, and instead, we receive eternal life with Him:1 John 5: 11-12, “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who has not the Son of God has not life.”

The resurrection proved that God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice for forgiveness of our sins; and so, we are indeed forgiven. We are reconciled to God! “But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we are now justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5: 8-9).

We can endure persecutions and trials because we know that our “labor for the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15: 58).

The Holy One we believe in, Jesus Christ, was and is who He said He was. He said He would be crucified, die, and rise again to life, and He did (Matthew 16:21). He said He was the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6): Jesus made the way to dwell with Him forever; He spoke only truth—everything He said came to pass; and, He rose to life, thereby enabling us to have eternal life (John 3:16).

Because He lives, Jesus Christ is our mediator—our one and only mediator—between ourselves and God (1 Timothy 2:5), and is continually interceding on our behalf (Hebrews 7:25) and pleading our case (1 John 2:1).

Christ is our living, exalted, and victorious Redeemer, and we will never be separated from His love (Romans 8: 34-35 & 37) !

The Power of the Resurrection

“Why do you seek the living among the dead?”

Luke 24: 5

We cannot consider the cross without embracing the fact that Jesus rose from the dead, and is living today at the right hand of the Father (Hebrews 10: 12). The resurrection of Jesus Christ is an established historical fact supported by the testimonies of many actual eyewitnesses and grounded in significant corroborating evidence, such as reliable historical accounts. However, this post (and the next post) will focus on the significance and absolute necessity of the resurrection as a foundational truth of our faith, rather than centering on the proof that it truly took place. Here is the clear presentation of the Gospel by which we are saved according to scripture: Jesus Christ died, was buried, and arose to life for our salvation.

The Apostle Paul boldly stated in 1 Corinthians 15:14 that “if Christ had not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” Therefore, in the next post, we will examine some of the most important outcomes of the resurrection.

Words From the Cross- Part 7

Jesus entrusted His spirit into the hands of His Father (Abba)—the term of close endearment that we call “Daddy”—the same Father He had served His entire life.

This last message of Jesus from the cross is found only in the book of Luke: “Father, into your hands I commit My spirit.” Let us not overlook the fact that Jesus purposely dismissed His spirit to the Lord—as we have read in an earlier post, no one took His life; He was in full control. It follows that if Jesus had not willingly submitted to God’s will in the Garden of Gethsemane, He would not have had to suffer all the things He did for our sake; but He did, and now was the time to go to His Father, after all had been accomplished.

These words were spoken immediately after the VEIL IN THE TEMPLE was torn in two from top to bottom (Luke 23:44; Mark 15:38). This curtain was a very thick, tall barrier to the Holy of Holies (the place where the Lord dwelled…the Arc of the Covenant). Tearing this curtain would be like tearing a bulky phone book; it was a supernatural act that symbolically opened the way for all believers directly to the Heavenly Father through his Son, Jesus Christ. To put another way, Jesus—“the Way”—made it possible for every repentant and believing sinner to enter into holy and personal communion with our most holy God, without any further offerings for sin. The old form of ceremonial religion was no longer necessary. This means today as it did then, that our “good” works and law-keeping earns us nothing…Jesus Christ’s all-sufficient, redemptive work accomplished everything we cannot do for ourselves (Galatians 2:16).

1 Peter 2:23 states, “When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten; but He [kept on] entrust[ing] Himself to him who judges justly.” All of Jesus’ earthly life was devoted to the work of the Father as He continued to entrust Himself (confidently surrender His care) to God—all the way up to and on the cross. My heart is encouraged when I reflect on the fact that my Heavenly Father is absolutely and completely trustworthy, and able to fully care for me! May each of us follow the example of Jesus as we navigate these perilous times, by purposefully and continually turning over our safekeeping to the One who never fails us and who loves us perfectly.

Words From the Cross- Part 6

“It is finished” (John 19: 30) was the triumphant shout of victory Jesus made near the end of His suffering on the cross. The significance of this declaration can hardly be overstated—what Jesus finished was not only the act of sacrificial atonement for our sins, but the total reason for His being among us in the world had been accomplished. The totality of Jesus’ finished work cannot possibly be numerated here, but some of the accomplishments are:

  • He perfectly obeyed His Father to the very end of His life.
  • Prophesy was fulfilled
  • The law was completely fulfilled
  • No more sacrifices were required because Jesus became the perfect and final sacrifice; the sacrifice that fully redeemed us from sin. Jesus lived His entire life without sinning, which enabled Him to be a perfect, “spotless,” and acceptable sacrifice.
  • 1 John 3:8 says that Jesus came to “destroy the works of the devil,” which was accomplished. The authority of the devil over the redeemed had been vanquished!
  • Jesus would no longer have to endure the limits of space, time, and self-limitation
  • Death was defeated and eternal life was possible by grace through faith in Jesus Christ

The fact is, Jesus was in control of how He endured his crucifixion from start to finish. Furthermore, as He declared in John 10:18, Jesus was never subject to the capricious will of His enemies or of Satan himself:

Words From the Cross- Part 5

The Tyndale Bible Dictionary states, “Perhaps in no place in the life of Jesus do we see His full humanity quite so clearly as here.”

Jesus lived as a man and suffered as a man; He could identify with human suffering on every level. At this point during His crucifixion, “Jesus knowing that all was now finished” expressed His thirst; however, it was not until He had done absolutely everything that brought Him to the cross for the purpose of completing God’s plan, that He gave any thought to His physical needs. Earlier He had been offered a wine mixed with myrrh, which would deaden His pain, and which He refused. Now, He accepted a cheap wine vinegar, which would in fact, increase His awareness of pain. Why? It is likely that Jesus wished to summon all of His strength to make His final declaration from the cross, and the vinegar would allow Him to be more alert.

Revelation 22: 17 immediately came to my mind when I read of His undoubtedly deep and intense physical and spiritual thirst: The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let him who hears say, “Come.” And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price.” Indeed, Jesus thirsted so that believers could “come” and drink freely of the life He offers. Many more scriptures testify of our spiritual thirst that only He can quench; here are a few:

Words From the Cross- Part 4

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?”

Mark 15:34

Jesus suffered six hours on the cross from 9 am-3 pm; and cried out with a loud voice these words which He drew from King David’s psalm (22:1)“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” At the typically brightest part of day,three hours of unnatural darkness had come upon the earth—it was during the third hour of this darkness that Jesus cried out in pain and loneliness of spiritual and mental torment due to the sin that He bore on our behalf. For the first time, a separation between the Father and the Son had taken place; and He suffered the pain and separation that we—not He—deserved!

It is noteworthy that at this point, Jesus used the term “My God” rather than “Father”…a departure from the warm term of close relationship that He had always used to address God. Some have maintained that Jesus was not really abandoned by God; that it was only His perception due to indescribable suffering. Yet, Jesus was not subject to emotions nor was He given to hyperbole; He could not be deceived, nor would He believe a lie. We can hardly grasp the horror and filthiness of the sins in His cup, nor the magnitude of wrath poured out on all the evil by a holy and just God. Jesus was in fact, truly isolated—totally alone (“forsaken”) in the universe; but the price was paid…righteous wrath was satisfied, and we are the beneficiaries. 2 Corinthians 5:21 sums it up this way, “For our sake he made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

In light of all of this, how much more precious and reassuring is Jesus’ promise that He would never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5); and, it is also greatly reassuring to remember that Psalm 22 ends in hope and triumph:

Words From the Cross- Part 3

“Woman [dear woman], behold your son!”

“Behold your mother!”

John 19: 26-27

Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, has died and Mary, His mother, is probably a widow in her early fifties with little or no income. The scriptures cited above echo the loving care Jesus had for His mother: despite the agony He was suffering, His mind was on the pain and welfare of Mary. He made provision for her by entrusting her to John, fulfilling and adhering to the 5th Commandment to honor parents (Exodus 20:12), while at the same time, observing Jewish law that required the oldest son to take responsibility for his parents should the need arise. Without exception, Jesus always fulfilled prophesy perfectly, obeyed the law perfectly, and kept His word perfectly (Mt. 5: 17).

…all these things being accomplished while He was still agonizing on the cross!

Words From the Cross- Part 2

Both criminals had initially reviled Jesus (see Mark 15:32); yet, we learn in these verses that one thief later asked Jesus to remember him…

Although Jesus was suffering as a criminal, just as the two criminals on each side of Him were, this man understood that Jesus was totally innocent, while both of them were guilty and deserving of their fate. Moreover, this thief recognized that Jesus was indeed “King” just as the words over His head stated—“This is Jesus, King of the Jews” (Mt. 27:3, ) because he said, “when you come into YOUR [emphasis added] Kingdom…” Perhaps this man had heard of Jesus’ teaching and miracles; or perhaps, the actions and forgiving attitude of Jesus powerfully proved that He was the Son of God. Whatever softened this criminal’s heart, the result was, in my opinion, a repentant attitude and words of confession. Confession is aptly defined as “coming into agreement with God about one’s sin”; thus, the thief was agreeing with God that his criminal actions and lifestyle were deserving of punishment.

However, the best part of this exchange is Jesus’ immediate and merciful response, “today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Notice, this man never had a chance to earn any part of his salvation by doing “good” deeds (works), just as we cannot earn our salvation in any way whatsoever (Galatians 2:16). This thief understood Jesus did it all—Jesus earned for us what we could never accomplish; in fact, he witnessed it first-hand! And, the same is true for us today: It is by grace we “have been saved through faith; and this is not [our] own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians. 2:8-9).

Words From the Cross

Isaiah 53: 6- “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

The accounts of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection are recorded in all four Gospels. Each one contains a saying of Jesus while he was on the cross, but none contain all that He said. We would do well to remember that each word our Savior uttered required tremendous effort and determination, because death by crucifixion was brought on by the inability to breathe—in weakness and exhaustion, the body would sag, which required one to use their feet to push up to draw a breath. Yet, undoubtedly for our benefit and the benefit of those witnessing this event, Jesus spoke out loud the words we would need to hear. None of the gospels went into great detail about the horrors of crucifixion, and I will not explore it here; but suffice it to say that it was the cruelest of punishments.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” These words of Jesus are recorded only in Luke, and according to general consensus, are the first utterance Jesus said from the cross. Stephen’s prayer as he was being martyred comes to mind, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:60). Verse 55 says that Stephen was “full of the Holy Spirit”, demonstrating that a mere mortal can be enabled—through the power of the Spirit—to love others above self to the point of genuinely forgiving those totally undeserving of such grace. And so our Lord—suffering as a human being—petitioned the Father on behalf of the very ones who mercilessly reviled Him: The thieves, the passers-by, the soldiers…the people who did not know what they were doing; those that acted ignorantly in unbelief. As Paul said about himself before he was saved, “who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Timothy 1: 13).

Jesus described Himself as “meek and lowly of heart(Mt. 11: 29). Meek can best be defined as power under control…nowhere is this more powerfully demonstrated than at this time when, instead of calling down angels or cursing his tormentors, Jesus instead, petitioned for their forgiveness! It seems significant that Jesus asked the Father to forgive them instead of forgiving them Himself, as He had forgiven sins and had the authority to do during His ministry. Perhaps the people needed a chance to repent and freely choose Him as their Redeemer, which had not yet occurred.

As He had done His entire life, Jesus lived what He taught (read Mt. 5: 38-42); in fact, through His actions and words, He was teaching us how to forgive others, even as He hung on the cross. With these first words, Jesus exampled—in the most powerful way possible—true selflessness by forgiving the thoroughly undeserving, unbelieving revilers. Yes, He was truly “lowly of heart” full of mercy and grace—the kind of heart demonstrated in the Parable of the Fig tree found in Mark 13: 6-9:

The owner of a vineyard wanted a barren fig tree cut down, but his vine dresser intervened and asked for him to delay his decision so that the tree could be given every benefit and favor for success. I believe this vine dresser exemplifies the Savior’s heart, which is full of love—the kind of love that offers every chance for salvation. Praise God that we are beneficiaries of the Savior’s lowly (humble) heart of patience and mercy!

Over the next few posts, we will learn more about the words Jesus spoke from the cross.

The True Value of Education

EDUCATE: To develop and cultivate mentally or morally; to make fit for a calling by systematic instruction.

Society tends to regard education as an indication of intelligence and achievement according to their worldly standards. In fact, by way of secular thought, it is often held that the more education one has, the smarter he or she must be; the more titles and higher degrees, the more highly the scholar should be regarded. Yet, the Bible does not seem to view people according to these standards. Most of the disciples were not highly educated…they were described as “unlearned”; yet the educated Jewish High Court marveled at the teachings of Peter and John (John 7:15), and then they realized that “they [Peter and John] had been with Jesus.” Indeed, the disciples had been thoroughly cultivated In the knowledge of the Kingdom and the ways of God by Christ Himself…and the educated Jews were astonished.

All of this is not to say that seeking education is not a worthwhile pursuit. Hosea 4:6 states that, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” In this particular verse, the accurate translation of knowledge is “in the highest sense, knowledge of God, including obedience.” Therefore, to measure mental, moral, or particularly spiritual maturity primarily on the basis of the amount of formal education one has achieved is short-sighted and presumptive. It is always wise to remember that the value of education is not measured by the number of degrees or grades, but whether a student has been effectively equipped for God’s purposes. This education—formal or informal—may not unfold according to the expectations of the world. Nevertheless, by whatever means instruction is achieved, the most valued outcome is that believers are equipped and readied to carry out God’s plan for them with an informed mind and humbled heart.

The Power of Conviction

Genuine, helpful conviction is from the Holy Spirit, who dwells in each and every true believer in Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:16). Unlike self-condemnation or condemnation from the enemy, Holy Spirit conviction is not vague, but specific regarding our sin(s). Because of this, we can understand how to pray specifically and take hold of appropriate Scripture to counter condemning accusations. Conviction of truth by the Spirit helps us to change and assures us that God will keep His promises; indeed, we will be blessed when we heed Spirit-led promptings.

On the other hand, condemnation from our flesh, the world, or Satan only misleads and discourages us. It is when we experience this condemnation that we need to take up the Sword of the Spirit (God’s Word) and counter each and every disparaging lie with scripture. Furthermore, when we are rightly convicted about specific wrongdoing, a path to true repentance becomes clear and we are enabled to accurately agree with God about our sins, be forgiven, and cleansed from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Not only is restoration to joy and fruitful living made possible, it is indeed God’s graceful and loving intention as He convicts us by his Spirit (Psalm 32: 3-5).

“Godly grief over sin is the waiting room leading to repentance.”

Quote from Olan Stubbs

Conviction vs Condemnation

Condemnation– Act of pronouncing to be wrong or disapproved of. Act of declaring guilty.

Conviction– Strong persuasion or belief

Both condemnation and conviction can cause people to grieve over their sins; therefore, it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between the two. However, condemnation and conviction differ radically in their origin, in the power to help overcome sin, and as to whether we are equipped to live our lives in genuine freedom and joy.

Have you ever experienced a vague sense that something is wrong with you, but you can’t pinpoint exactly what it might be? In fact, you might have no idea about how to deal with such condemning grief or how to change.Personal sinfulness can seem heavy and burdensome without solution—perhaps to the extent that one experiences hopeless shame, and in despair begins to believe that change isn’t possible or that they will ever be able to merit God’s concern. For believers in Christ Jesus, this kind of condemnation is always a lie (Romans 8:1).

The fact is, Satan is unable to steal our salvation, so he will use condemnation in order to steal our joy (our strength-Nehemiah 8:10), which could leave us feeling weak and hopeless—full of shame. We might (out of fleshly pride) try to hide our failures and weaknesses from others, or attempt to please God through good works to alleviate our guilty consciences. But, the only place we should hide is in Christ Jesus, our refuge and strength—in Whom we can receive the Lord’s promises, when we receive them in faith. Shame/condemnation pronounces us guilty and deficient; but, like Paul, we can discover that God’s grace is sufficient and powerful for all of our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12: 9-10).

The Holy Spirit is the source of genuine conviction—He causes us to be strongly persuaded in truth. We will examine the power of conviction in the next post.

This Is Love For God

Jesus gave two simple commandments that He declared were the very foundation for the whole of the the Law and the Prophets. In other words, all of the numerous laws found in the Old Testament essentially boil down to loving God and loving others. We cannot accomplish such selfless and self-sacrificing love (agape love) by our own will and power—we need the Holy Spirit’s power, motivation, and wisdom to do so.

1 John 5:3 tells us how—by the Spirit—we will be able to love God; and as a result, love others: “This is the love of God: to obey His commands; and His commands are not burdensome.” When we obey the two commands Jesus gave to us, we demonstrate in the most overt way possible that we truly love our Lord. This is not the kind of obedience that comes from law-keeping to earn our salvation in any way. No, it is the obedience that springs out of our hearts to honor, respect, and show genuine love for the Father…from a Spirit-filled desire to obey that first flows from his love for us (1 John 4:19); and then out of that abundance, our love for Him.

Victory Is Assured

I have a favorite college basketball team that I cheer for against any opponent; but admittedly, there are times I can get somewhat agitated over “bad calls” against my team ; )

We were invited to an all-afternoon cookout recently, which meant that we were going to miss a major game…against a major rival. Fortunately, we had subscribed to a network that offered recording capability; so of course, we recorded the game. On the way home from the party, we checked to find out who won the game—it was my team! Since we had decided to watch the recording only if we won, we quickly tuned in as soon as we arrived home. In a way, the game was more enjoyable because we were able to view it with more calmness and peace, knowing that no matter how unjust the officiating appeared to us or how fiercely the game was played; we would nevertheless, win in the end—our victory was assured!

During my devotion time the next morning, it occurred to me that believers can live their lives with calmness and peace much like we experienced when we viewed the replay of the game. That is, no matter how unjust and fiercely difficult the world becomes, we can absolutely know the game is already won—our victory in Christ is assured!

Keep Watch and Pray- Conclusion

In the last post, the account of Jesus and His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane was summarized. Jesus asked His disciples to keep watch and pray; yet, they continued to fall asleep each time Jesus returned to prayer.

The following application for believers today is a matter of my personal meditation based on these scriptures and the belief in Jesus’ promised return:

First, Jesus asked those closest to Him to keep watch, which literally means to “take heed lest through remission (put off or let slacken) and indolence (lazy; indulging in ease) some destructive calamity overtake you.” This strongly parallels with Luke 21: 36, where Jesus admonished believers concerning end-time prophesy, to “Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass…” Few will say that we are not at least experiencing the type of calamities described here and other in prophetic passages that strongly caution us in these times.

WE MUST WATCH: We need to overcome the temptation to take our ease and cling to our comforts in a world that is full of tribulation; and instead, regard with great care all that is taking place lest we too are overtaken with the destruction. All the while, being faithful to pray so that we are not tempted to give up, forsake Christ, deny reality, become disobedient and self-centered; or any number of fleshly failures under the pressure of harsh truths or the prospect of suffering.

Here is the sobering reality of such failure: The hour could be at hand—perhaps we will be caught off guard and unprepared. We will in essence be asleep and not alert until it is too late to powerfully and effectively live out our faith for the sake of others. With such disobedience and indifference, will we be counted worthy at the end of the age (Luke 21: 36)?

Keep Watch and Pray

It is not difficult to get burdened down by the barrage of frightening information we are privy to daily. One evening my husband and I were discussing such information to the point that our moods declined and nothing positive seemed to be within our grasp. The Holy Spirit impressed on me that I needed to let go of my focus on the work of the enemy; and instead, concentrate on who the Lord is, and the work He does.

I immediately turned my attention to the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations that describe the unstoppable and unassailable power of the Lord. These scriptures made plain that God is indeed in charge of everything, form beginning to end. Then I opened to Matthew 26: 31-54:

On the Mount of Olives—just before the crucifixion of Jesus—He revealed to the disciples that that they would all (not just Peter) desert Him that night. Furthermore, Peter vehemently denied that he would ever do this; yet later he did just that. Afterwards, when they all went to the Garden of Gethsemane for Jesus to pray, Jesus began to be sorrowful and troubled, and He asked those closest to Him—Peter, James, and John—to watch with Him. After He had fervently prayed, Jesus found them sleeping. Now Jesus said, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.” Incredibly, after a second session of prayer, Jesus returned and found them sleeping again; He said nothing but returned for a third time to petition His Father. Following this intense time of prayer, Jesus said to them:

On the next post, we will examine how this experience with Jesus and His disciples applies to believers today.

The Lord Reigns Over All

Sometimes the world seems completely out of control, and we can’t do anything about it. Nevertheless, scripture assures us that although circumstances might frequently be beyond our control, the world and everything in it is never beyond the Lord’s attention and power. Take for example Isaiah 55: 8-9, which tells us with certainty that God knows what He is doing, even if we don’t.

Furthermore, Philippians 4:6-7 declares that when we pray with thanksgiving, God can provide us with supernatural peace—free of anxiety—that will safeguard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

After all, Jesus left to us the kind of peace unlike any peace the world can offer…His peace that calms troubled hearts and releases them from fear (John 14: 27). We can rely on and trust these assurances because the Lord will strengthen our hearts even when our fleshly hearts fail us (Psalms 73: 26); and, he will never leave us—this is assured both in the Old and New Testaments (see Deut. 31:8 & Hebrews 13:5).

Psalms 11:4- “The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in the heaven.”

Psalm 45:6-“Your divine throne endures forever and ever.”

Lay Down and Take Up

Jesus laid down His life for us; we are to lay down our lives for others. We “lay down our lives” when we stop consistently giving first priority to our own selfish desires and emotions; and instead, become more sensitive to the needs of others. Jesus’ life illustrates perfectly how this can be done when we determine to follow His example by the power of His Holy Spirit.

Luke 9:23- And He was saying to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow me.”

LAY DOWN YOUR LIFE(DENY OURSELVES)

Lay down seeking our own selfish interests at the expense of others

Stop focusing on ourselves

Refuse to be personally offended

Lay down judging others hypocritically

Do not become envious or jealous

Give up comfort and leave our comfort zone to serve others

Lay down our wealth and possessions for those in need

Give up self-pity

TAKE UP OUR CROSS EVERYDAY (FOLLOW JESUS’ EXAMPLE)

Look to the best interest of others; often, at the expense of our own

Focus on God and others instead of turning inward

Forgive and release people from debt or wrongdoing toward us

Pray for others continually from the heart

Obey God for the sake of other people even when we are fearful

Meet legitimate needs of others as much as possible, even sacrificially

Mourn with others

A cross is not easy to bear; it is not pleasant or comfortable; so we shouldn’t be surprised when our flesh resists taking it up—nevertheless, may we remain willing to suffer for the sake of others.

Dear Heavenly Father, help us continue to lay down our lives for others out of obedience to your Son until we can give freely from a truly unselfish heart of love. We love you and thank you for your empowerment. In Jesus’ holy name, Amen.

Not Made With Hands

One might wonder what was the problem with using stones that were shaped with tools; but in fact, this verse says the alter stones made by man’s hands were a defilement (made them filthy and unfit for use). Natural stones—void of man’s effort—were made by God, and thus, acceptable for the purpose of worship.

This brings to mind the biblical view about circumcision: The circumcision made of the flesh by man’s hands described in Genesis 17 was to be a sign of the covenant made between Abraham and his descendants; however, in the New Testament, the true circumcision is now described as a supernatural occurrence by the Holy Spirit that takes place in the hearts of believers. This circumcision is not made by man’s hands, but by the Spirit and is therefore acceptable and undefiled:

and

Finally, we read in Acts 17: 24 that God does not dwell in temples made with hands (by men); but instead, true believers are the temple of God, where the Holy Spirit dwells (1 Corinthians 3: 16). The point is, it is not the works of mere human beings that can change the hearts of men and make their service and worship genuine and pleasing to the Lord, but the supernatural work of Jesus through His Holy Spirit.

Consider the Sparrows

My husband enjoys feeding birds. A few years ago, he placed two feeders just outside of our windows so that we could observe the interesting varieties and behaviors of the birds as they visited them. One morning, the light was so strong that I could barely see the dull brown little wrens as they fluttered around the seed dispenser, when suddenly, a bright red figure clearly caught my attention. As it perched on top of the pole where the feeder was hanging, all of my attention went to the Cardinal—he not only was in a place of highest visibility, but the other birds moved from feeding when he fluttered down to eat. Obviously, the Cardinal was “king of the roost”…beautiful to behold, and a stand-out among birds.

Almost immediately, God’s word came up into my heart in connection to what I was seeing:

The Heavenly Father tends to all of His creation with perfect care; and, His children are all valuable in His sight. Furthermore, each and every function and gifting in the body of Christ’s church are equally needed, respected, and valued—no part of God’s family is any less than another. Although some may serve brightly in the forefront while others seemingly serve in lesser positions, it is the sparrow that the Lord used as an example to give assurance to everyone of his divine and impartial attention and care.

A Matter of the Heart

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Recently, someone shared with me something they learned from their Sunday School teacher that profoundly resonated with me—he said, “We want to shepherd our children’s hearts, not just their behavior.” This simple statement immediately inspired in me a deeper understanding regarding a truly biblical view for raising children…one that would result in “train[ing] up a child in the way he should go, [so that] when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22: 6).

“Do not provoke your children to anger,

but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4)

As in dealing with children, it is wise and God-honoring to approach others with the same regard and respect for their hearts, because out of our hearts flow all the issues of life.

…And if hearts have been properly nourished, cared for, and informed, issues of life can be victoriously addressed in a way that pleases the Lord.

You Are God’s Favorite!

There are a number of accounts in the Bible where a father favored one child over another: Joseph and Isaac, for example. The upshot of such favoritism was not beneficial for the other, less favored children—they often fell into jealousy, anger, and resentment. If only our earthly father (and/or mother) could have loved us with a perfect love; a love that we could always count on—if only we could have been the “favorite!”

Perhaps you were a child who longed for the attention and acceptance that another sibling seemed to—or did—receive.

But now you are grown and there appears to be no chance you will experience such approving and accepting love from a parent. Yet, if we are the Heavenly Father’s child—if we have believed in Jesus Christ and His work—we are favored children. Because God is love, and loves with a perfect love (love that seeks the very best for His loved one), He is able to love each and every one of us as His beloved, precious, and yes, favorite child. In fact, it is impossible for Jesus to love with any less love than that kind of divine and immeasurable love because that is God’s very nature.

May we come to know (experience) and truly believe (trust in) the immeasurable and perfect love our Heavenly Father has for us.

Question to Ponder- Pleasing Others

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Can we truly be genuine and honest with others if we are always seeking to please them?

As the last post indicated, while we are to put others before ourselves, we must always serve God above all. Through spiritual discernment, we can properly keep God’s will in our relationship with Him, and our relationship with people—a divinely inspired balance between the two. Our clear consciences will help indicate that we have successfully done so.

Trying to Please Others

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What does it mean to seek to please others? Is it always wrong to do so? The literal Greek meaning for “please” (aresko) in this verse is “to become acceptable to another.” In general, it means to accommodate one’s self to the opinions, desires, and interests of others—to be agreeable, which means to become of the same mind or have the same opinion as others. On the surface, pleasing people seems like a positive way to live peacefully; and indeed, there are times when we should endeavor to please one another—the Scriptures encourage us to live peacefully and put others before ourselves (Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:16; Matthew 23:11).

However, motive is always key in whether pleasing people is a godly pursuit. For example, if a person seeks to serve others entirely for their own self-interest, such as to gain favor, influence, or a reputation as a “good person”, then the behavior is not aligned with the heart of Jesus, who did not seek to please Himself (Romans 15:1-3).

Clearly, the Apostle Paul viewed people-pleasing as a negative pursuit in certain situations. Paul asked if he was trying to seek the favor of men or God—it apparently could not be both. In fact the Apostle went so far as to say, “If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” When we consider Mt. 6:24, the Biblical view of people-pleasing becomes even clearer:

Although this verse refers to serving money, the word master literally means “what or whoever takes authority over another.” In other words, who we serve as master determines what is suitable and acceptable for us—what/who determines our behavior and mindset. It follows that it is of utmost importance to thoughtfully determine which “master” that—to varying degrees—enslaves us.

PRAYER: Dear Heavenly Father,

You alone must determine what course I must follow; it is you alone that is worthy and capable to guide my thoughts and actions. Please forgive me for times I have tried to serve two masters; I only want to be devoted to my Father and no other! Thank you for your cleansing and renewal. I love you, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Our True Identity

When believers truly base their identity on what God has to say about them, they will become grounded in His love, acceptance, and peace.

Romans 8:37- We are more than conquers through Christ

His Love Never Fails

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Let me declare from the start that my family and I experienced one of the most wonderful and blessed Christmases we ever had last month; however, we underwent a battle to to do so. Two days before our celebration, it was unlikely everyone would be able to come. Thankfully, Jesus poured out His grace so that everything in that area worked favorably before Christmas Eve. Nevertheless, early Christmas morning, I awoke with a flu-like weakness that intensified with every attempt to prepare the food for the enjoyment of our family. In my fatigue, I cut my finger which bled profusely; and then, inexplicably the oven started billowing out smoke.

We discovered that the bottom of the oven was filled with a mysterious liquid that could feed the smoke and odor for some time, if not addressed. My husband and I grabbed gobs of paper towels and dropped to our knees to begin sopping it up inside the very hot oven. The kids opened the back door and used a fan to direct it out…I lit a scented candle to counter the smell.

As we were on our knees, it occurred to me that we were situated perfectly to pray—both physically and emotionally. I muttered a brief but sincere prayer for the Lord’s intervention into our situation, drawing a spiritual line in the sand against the dark warfare taking place. Immediately, our spirits lifted and we chuckled at the spectacle all around us, including our most humbling position on the floor before the smoking oven. Just a moment before, we felt victimized on our knees; but then with our prayer, our position was transformed to a powerful stance for humble petition to our good and loving God. After eating lunch, my energy was renewed and the sick feeling abated. We spent a wonderfully memorable afternoon together, full of laughs and happy exchanges.

Today’s Quote

“Deal with the world the way it is, not the way it ought to be.”

Oliver Stone

Matthew 10:16- “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

Thought To Ponder

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Don’t listen in order to make a response, but listen to understand what is being said.

James 1:19- “Know this my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”

Proverbs 18:13- “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.”

Proverbs 18:22- “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.”

Proverbs 17:27- “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.”

Very often I find it difficult to restrain my thoughts while impatiently waiting to speak, especially if I strongly disagree with the other person’s view on the topic. However I need to keep in mind the fact that Scripture clearly instructs me to listen and restrain my hasty response. I have come to believe the key to obedience concerning proper communication is to humbly submit my racing thoughts to the Holy Spirit and carefully listen to everything that is being said; only then can I clarify what I heard by asking questions in an appropriate and respectful manner.

Jesus said on more than one occasion, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear [!]” (Matthew 11:15). These words of Jesus take on even greater significance as I meditate on the aforementioned scriptures—it appears that listening is a virtue, while responding without full understanding is something to be fiercely avoided.

Thorn In the Flesh

Much speculation has been given as to exactly what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was. Regardless of the physical, emotional, or spiritual meaning, the purpose of it was that Paul would remain humbled and dependent on the Holy Spirit throughout his ministry. He was in a position to learn that it was the power of Christ, not his own strength, that would sustain him.

As I speculated on this passage, I was moved to seek for myself the meaning of “thorn in the flesh”, although I knew I would not be able to find a definitive answer. Nevertheless, digging into God’s word is always a good idea and meditating on his word is always productive (Isaiah 55:11); so, I researched other passages for a more complete picture of Paul’s situation. First, Acts 9 records the account of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus: A great light from heaven flashed all around him and Jesus spoke to him. Immediately, Paul was completely blinded for 3 days, after which he was baptized. Secondly, we learn later that Paul’s eyesight had declined, resulting in difficulty writing (Galatians 6:11). Perhaps these earlier incidents resulted in permanently weakened eyesight—the thorn in the flesh(?)

It appears that although Paul experienced some level of impaired vision, spiritually he “saw” more clearly than ever: Immediately after his baptism, he entered the synagogue and proclaimed this truth about Jesus, “He is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20). With diminished vision, Paul was likely dependent to some extent on others and not able to carry out his own pursuits with his own strength as he had before his conversion. Most importantly, because of this thorn, he remained humble before the Lord throughout his ministry. Undoubtedly he felt much like Job, who declared—“I had heard of Thee by hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see Thee.” (Job 42:5). May we follow Paul’s faithful example when we experience prolonged or permanent “thorns in the flesh” and aspire to genuinely declare as he did, “I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ might rest upon Me.”

God Is Good

Habakkuk 3: 17-19 is a powerful passage that is always deserving of a second look; in fact, it has become a favorite passage of mine—one I often look to for inspiration:

Habakkuk the prophet, through much questioning, praying, and seeking the Lord reached a level of faith that was unshakable. No matter if every earthy thing that sustained life was removed, he would remain convinced of God’s goodness. He decided to quietly wait for the Lord to address those concerns.

The Bible contains numerous moving accounts of honest, many times intense struggles in the lives of believers as they wrestled with questions concerning the harsh realities they and others were experiencing. Here are just a few examples:

Job 42:2-6 recounts Job’s realization of God’s goodness despite his devastating earthly experiences. As with Habakkuk, Job wrestled with the evils and injustices he encountered, and questioned the Lord concerning them; the Lord—as He had done with Habakkuk—answered him and enabled him to grow in his faith. Job declared: “I know that Thou can do all things and no purpose of thine can be thwarted. I have heard of Thee by hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees Thee.” As long as Job focused on and wrestled against the hardships he experienced, he was unable to see past them until he made a decision: “…therefore…I repent in dust and ashes” (v.6). At that point of decision, he was able to entrust everything to his good God.

King Solomon concluded, after thoroughly and exhaustively exploring the pleasures of the world, that there was no lasting satisfaction to be found in them. As a result, Solomon reverently expressed his view of God’s goodness and holiness at the conclusion of his searching, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep His commandments…” (Ecclesiastes 11:13). Solomon reached the decision that no matter what the world offered, only one thing was important—to reverence the Lord and obey Him.

A powerful and unbelieving Babylonian king, King Nebuchadnezzar, was mightily humbled by the Lord and made the decision to, “praise and honor the King of heaven; for all His works are right and His ways are just” (Daniel 4:37).

As with these believers, when the trials of the world begin to overwhelm me, I also desire to make an intentional decision to trust in the love and goodness of our mighty God regardless of my circumstances. Habakkuk referred to the Lord as “the God of my salvation.” With this view in mind, we can always cling to the promises connected with our salvation and eternal destiny; in the strength of the Lord we will be enabled to remain sure-footed through trying times.

Engage the Wise Man

“Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you;

reprove a wise man, and he will love you.”

(Proverbs 9: 8)

In this often contentious and quarrelsome world, could this verse be a guide by which we can gain wisdom as to when, with whom, and in what manner we engage in conversation; in particular, conversations that address spiritual, political, or moral issues? A scoffer is one whose attitude toward a person or subject matter is mocking, scornful, or derisive. Therefore, this proverb seems to indicate that you will most likely encounter hostility when attempting to chide a scoffer concerning a view that he is already scornfully set against. On the other hand, if a person is wise; that is, humbly willing to listen to truth, he will appreciate and highly regard you for sharing that truth with him.

Jesus said, “Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest” (John 4:35). While Jesus was specifically talking about sharing the gospel—the most important truth we could ever share—I believe the wisdom of this discerning approach can guide us in most of our conversations. The “fields were ripe”…the people were ready and willing to hear at that time and there was no need to wait; spreading the gospel was an urgent need, and there were many people who were ready to receive it. The message of John 4:35 is that the time for gathering the harvest of souls into the Kingdom of God is always now. It may be that this could apply to other critically important truths—they should be shared in a timely manner, because there are those who are ready to receive those truths who would greatly benefit from knowing them.

Do not try to convince a scoffer…

but engage a wise man.

What Owns You?

–Albert Schweitzer

It is likely that most everyone has experienced a battle when attempting to part with precious possessions; yet, valuing and enjoying material things is not wrong in itself. Our Heavenly Father desires that we enjoy the good and perfect gifts He provides (James 1:17). The question we need to ask is, “Does this thing ‘own’ me—have I made it an idol in my life?” It has been proposed by various scholars and theologians that perhaps every form of sin can ultimately be traced back to idolatry, which can be defined as:

“Idolatry is essentially the worship of that which we make, rather than of our Maker” (Dr. Thomas Constable).

“Idols are…anything that takes our heart’s allegiance away from the One True God” (David Guzik).

It is at this point we would do well to examine our priorities and ask two more questions, “What level of value am I placing on this possession? Can I still be happy and contented if I give it up?” Throughout the decades that I engaged in the primitive antique/craft business, I must admit that there were times I struggled greatly when selling (parting with) one-of-a-kind, valuable antiques. Later on for example, I might discover that the very one I just sold would have been perfect for my newly remodeled kitchen—and it was impossible to find another one like it : ) ! It was evident to me even then that I needed to deal with those types of regrets and desires; always being diligent that none of those things turned into idols.

However, as I matured in my walk with the Lord, I came to realize that other things could more subtly steal a believer’s focus from the Lord, for instance: Comfort; pleasures, education, intelligence, sports, celebrities, vocation, social position, luxuries, appetite, and even family. Yes, any of these could be God-given blessings and enrichment in people’s lives ( Matthew 7:11); however, they must stay in their proper place/priority, and the Lord must remain preeminent. That way, we will truly be able to enjoy the abundant life Jesus promised (John 10:10).

God Sets the Boundaries- Part 2

In the last post, the ocean was viewed as a visible reminder that the Lord sets boundaries which cannot be breached. As we ponder this fact, many applications and benefits for the lives of believers become apparent due to this aspect of the Lord’s supreme rule in this world. The following scriptures present a few of these examples of His divine boundaries.

Even if God’s children stumble due to their own fallibility or worldly opposition, the Lord will uphold them and preserve their way.

We know that Christ-followers will be persecuted in this world, according to Jesus’ own words (2 Timothy 3:12). Even so, we will not be subject to the desire and will of the enemy to destroy us.

Our Father will set the boundaries against the temptations we face, so that we can bear up under them and take God’s provision of escape for our welfare.

As with all steps of faith, believers are enabled to trust and act on each of these promises from the Lord by seeking His wisdom and instruction through prayer and scripture; and, by relying on the power of the Holy Spirit for guidance and understanding.

God Sets the Boundaries

I have always wondered how the land—with the relentless pounding of the sea against its shore—continues to stubbornly withstand the onslaught of the waves, day after day and century after century. Yet, Scripture gives a plain explanation: God is in control and has set the limits of the ocean; and although high tide appears go beyond these limits, inevitably the sea must recede back into low tide. You might say high tide “attempts” to go beyond divine limitations, but low tide always follows to countermand any headway. There are many verses proclaiming the Lord’s sovereign control over nature which cite the sea as a particularly picturesque example of God’s control: Job 38: 10-11; Psalm 104:9; Jeremiah 5:22; Psalm 107:29.

For the followers of Christ, this sovereign power over the sea and all of nature is demonstrated by Christ Himself in New Testament accounts. For example:

Matthew 14:22-23- Jesus walks on the sea—He is not subject to the ocean’s threatening waves or deadly deep waters.

Mark 4:35-31- Jesus is in command over the sea, and calms the wind and storm with just three words, “Peace. Be still!”

This past week, I witnessed for myself that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8); and so the sea remains relegated to its God-given boundaries.This assurance speaks to my heart that although trials persistently crash into my life and the winds of tribulation threaten my peace, the Lord still sits on and reigns from His sovereign throne (Psalm 47:8)! I can trust in and rest in this promise: Psalm 34:19, “…many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”

Today the waves continue to crash and pound,

but, they must always recede.

Don’t Lose Heart

Losing heart can cause us to relinquish a measure of trust in the character of God. It is tantamount to doubting his sovereignty, goodness, and wisdom; and so, it should not be an option for believers. Rather, followers of Christ must relentlessly seek strength and wisdom from the Scriptures, by the enabling of his Holy Spirit, to maintain faith and not lose heart. Merriam-Webster defines “losing heart” in the following manner:

“To begin to feel that one cannot do something that one has been trying to do: to become discouraged.”

The Cambridge Dictionary defines “lose heart” as:

“To stop believing that you can succeed.”

Other dictionaries define losing heart in the following ways:

“Consistent efforts yield no results.”

“Feel demoralized or pessimistic about something; to lose hope; sad and depressed.”

From a Christian perspective, we might view losing heart as:

Original Greek: “To become discouraged; lose spirit.”

Various translations state: “grow weary”; “get tired”

Lose motivation to continue to do what is right; give up.

Suffering, temptation, failure, loneliness, and the like can make us vulnerable to discouragement and weariness. Nevertheless, we must keep “fighting the good fight” (1 Timothy 6:11-12) by keeping our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-3); renewing our minds in His word (Eph. 4:23); and being persistent in prayer until we understand the Lord’s answer and instruction (Mt. 7:7-8). As a result, we will be able to continually rejoice in hope that is found in the Bible and in the Lord himself (Romans 12:12; Rom. 15:4; Psalm 146:5; Ps. 71:5; 1 Timothy 5:5; 2 Corinthians 1:10).

Praise God, we will receive the provision of the Lord as He has promised (Hebrews 10:36) and most precious of all—eternal life with Jesus forever (Galatians 6:8)!

A Secret For Contentment

A frequent habit of mine is to sit in our gazebo on pleasant mornings. On one such occasion, I sensed the beauty of nature even more than usual…”God’s nature” as our daughter used to say. A mole had burrowed along our lawn. A red-headed woodpecker groomed a pine tree from destructive insects while little wrens pecked the ground and happily flew from tree to tree. Bees buzzed loudly. The setting was so inspiring, I even envisioned earthworms secretly helping to fertilize my veggies.

When I contemplated the mole, the dull brown birds, and least of all the earthworm, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was fair for these outwardly insignificant creatures to be assigned such thankless tasks. It appeared to me that the eagles that soar above all, or the lions that sit atop the food chain were more highly favored; yet, the little birds seemed to be free and happy, and the bees’ buzzing sounded joyful.

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It occurred to me that all of these creatures, both great and small, had an important aspect in common that could be a metaphorical example for humanity:

They followed their instincts and used what God had given them with no thought about other animals who were created differently. Of course, these creatures could not willfully choose to compare themselves in the way that humans tend to do. Unwittingly, they remain true to their appointed tasks and function in harmony with the whole of nature.

By instinct of nature, the wren does not consider the eagle. The worm does not compare himself to the lion. They are “contented” with their allotted function, whether it is greater or whether it is less glorious. Mankind on the other hand, can choose to compare themselves with others and may grow either proud or discontented; and, it is not wise to do so. A secret to true contentment is to be satisfied and thankful for the gifts and talents God has bestowed; yet at the same time, never limit what the Lord might choose to do through His children:

God Is In Control

Frequently life seems to be a series of peaks and valleys–ups and downs—that can cause people to question if they are headed in a good and meaningful direction. However, with God, believers can trust that life is linear; that is, it’s always heading according to the Lord’s sovereign plan, just as He has determined and willed it to be:

The road of life may seem to be aimless while consistently challenging us with trials.

However, God is carrying out his plan that will ultimately culminate with heavenly reward and eternal life for His children.

Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end; and so we are assured that just as in the beginning when His plan began to unfold, the end will be as He determines. Meanwhile, in between the start and finish of history, we continue to work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12) and grow in the sanctification process, whereby we become more and more like Jesus.

Isaiah 40:4 expresses a time when “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain shall be made low” so that, as King David put it, “[our feet] stand in a even place” (Psalm 26:12). We are assured that the valleys and turmoils of life will be no more, and God will “wipe away every tear from [our] eyes” (Revelation 7:17)!

No Shadow of Turning

Shadows are a funny thing. They appear when light shines around an object and darkness remains within its silhouette; essentially, a shadow is the absence of light. One afternoon I was relaxing in my recliner and happened to focus on the shadow of our ceiling fan as strong light poured through our windows. The shadow was much longer than the fan and looked nothing like its true form—you might say it distorted the fan’s actual shape. My mind immediately applied my observation to the way in which we can perceive reality. Without the discernment of the Holy Spirit, our perceptions are often limited and distorted, perhaps even to the extent that what we perceive is nothing like the real truth of our situation, or what is truly real.

Fear is much like this image: It is often based on a twisted view of reality. Our perceptions—in the absence of unwavering faith in God—can appear threatening to us despite the fact that no real threat exists.

Worthy of praise is the fact that there is no “shadow of turning” with the Lord; that is, no variation or shifting of shadows. Natural sources of light are constantly shifting and changing, producing shadows that vary, although the object remains the same. As we see in His Word, this is not so with God: James 3:17, “Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” Although our God created the universe with its continually varying conditions, the Lord—in his eternal perfection—is nevertheless unchanging.

When light is directly over an object, such as at noonday, there are no variations or shifting of shadows; they do not even exist.

The light of Jesus is direct and clear much like the noonday sun—there is no place where there is an absence of His light; therefore, we can place our confidence and unwavering trust in Him without concern that His will and ways will be “shadowy.” Moreover, when God’s children earnestly and faithfully seek His answers, God’s perspective will be made clear, understandable, and clearly expressed so that our perceptions are not destitute of light.

PRAYER: Dear Heavenly Father,

May the brightness of your light shine directly on me so that I can see clearly and not be deceived by my perception of true reality. Lord,I need to have a clear understanding of your will and wisdom in this situation so that I can proceed with confidence. Thank you that you are always true to your perfect nature—I know and trust that you will illuminate the way I should go!

In the precious name of Jesus, Amen.

Who Do We Trust?

As long as leaders who were witnesses of the the Lord’s miraculous works lived, the Israelites continued to follow God…

But after these eye-witness leaders died…

They forgot about the goodness of the Lord towards them and followed other gods.

Because these children of Israel walked “by sight” (dependence on and faith in leaders who knew about and saw first-hand the works that God performed on behalf of Israel), their faith soon faded when their faithful leaders died. As a result, these ancient Israelites had not developed a personal relationship with the Lord; they desired only what God could do for them, and did not appreciate the holy and perfect nature of their God. Thus they did not venerate Him for who He was, and because their faith was not in their unchanging God, they fell into an unending cycle of unbelief:

If we consistently fall into a cycle of unbelief, it might be helpful to examine ourselves as to where and in whom we are placing our faith. Are we trusting in worldly leaders for our security; or are we resting completely on a firm foundation—the Rock of our Salvation, Jesus Christ?

Jesus boldly declared that “an evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign” (Matthew 6:4). Clearly, seeking after and putting faith in someone based solely on miraculous deeds or accomplishment they perform on our behalf, is not from the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, Jesus also proclaimed this wonderful promise: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed” (John 29:29).

God Will Make a Way

I have always loved bees—they are always about the business of preserving life. Inevitably, honey pots, old bee tins, and related bee/honey items somehow made their way into my collections over the years : ) Finally this past year, after we established our yard sufficiently, we began to develop an area for beekeeping with wildflowers and water sources. My husband researched and discovered that our state had passed legislation allowing homeowners in neighborhoods to help save the bee population by maintaining a few hives in their yards. We purchased all of the gear, hives, and bees that were needed to begin our venture. We informed our HOA about our intentions; but unfortunately, the association would not allow us to maintain any hives due to an obscure addendum to the state law that allowed HOAs to override such preservation efforts.

Of course, we were extremely disappointed that our beekeeping dream was not going to come to pass; however, we had come to learn in our walk with the Lord to strive to quickly let go of such disappointments over which we had no control.

As time passed, I became involved in my gardening and the “sting” of the bee incident had faded. I had planted a few different kinds of seeds that were offered free of charge by a nursery because they had a low germination probability. I noticed that out of all the seeds I had planted, only a single strange little plant had emerged. I watered it and it slowly grew to the point I could identify it from the packaging: Nigerian Spinach. We made a salad from its leaves; after all, it was called spinach. However, we found the texture and odd taste to be unpleasantly unfamiliar to our palates.

Still, I let it grow…and grow…and grow. It was taking up the entire raised bed and I debated as to whether I should pull it up. We weren’t going to harvest it for food; and other plants could grow in its stead, but somehow I couldn’t bring myself to destroy it—it seemed determined to grow and I was curious as to how it would develop. Soon small bright magenta flowers began to form; and they grew, and grew, and grew into elongated blooms that multiplied on the plant.

One morning I noticed that some bees and a few butterflies had discovered the blooms. Shortly thereafter, the plant was teaming with hungry bees that lingered around it for the entire day, day after day. I felt delighted…the bees were happy. Gratitude and awe arose

in my heart towards the Lord; He had provided a way—a new and unexpected means by which the bee population could survive and prosper.

Release Your Expectations

One very early morning, I woke up desiring to spread some grape jelly that a friend had made on my toast. I searched our pantry and finally found the jar; but because I had not yet put on my glasses, I could not read the label…

As I attempted to spread the jelly on the toast, I found it to be extremely runny, and the taste was strange and far too sweet. With the aid of my glasses, I discovered that the jar was full of honey, not the grape jelly that I desired and expected.

Then I had a “light bulb” moment.

The honey had a wonderful taste; I like honey! Yet because I was expecting the flavor of grape jelly, I found it to be unacceptable—it was not what I had my heart set on. Immediately these thoughts occurred to me:

This is much like our attitudes concerning desires and expectations in connection to our prayers. What we really want is for the Lord to answer them in a way that has an acceptable “taste”; and if the answers do not gel with our expectations, we tend to be disappointed or discouraged.

Psalm 34:8 asks us to “taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusts in Him.” In application to my situation, the message seemed to say: “Just accept and trust in the answer God gives as the best possible one from your wise, good Father. You will be blessed to witness for yourself that all will be worked by Him for good with perfect timing and in the right manner.”

It is true that we will be blessed when we release our expectations (how we think things should be) in favor of God’s will; and thereby, set ourselves free to accept, benefit from, and rejoice in God’s answer—whatever form it may take.

Covetousness Is Idolatry

Covetousness- Strong unrestrained, immoderate, or excessive desire to obtain and possess that which belongs to another.

How much war has been declared due to covetousness? We witness throughout history that many conquerors desired to have for their possession land, resources, and the desirable locations of other nations to the point they invaded them with war. However, the devastation caused by greed is not merely confined to war, but affects the very spirit of man. Therefore, the Lord commands us not to covet anything that belongs to someone else (Exodus 20: 17); moreover, scripture clearly states that covetousness is idolatry:

IDOLATRY- excessive love or veneration for anything or anyone other than God.

The fact is, because we are all born with a sin nature; we have battled with sinful desires such as covetousness even from our childhood.

This kind of covetous desire seemed to be demonstrated to my husband and I by way of our experience concerning two businesses:

We had developed a habit of frequenting a local coffee house each time we visited our favorite mountain destination; however, on a recent trip we were greatly disappointed to find that the business had a different name. We were baffled because the coffee shop had appeared to be a complete success—each time we visited, we had to scramble to find a parking space and inside was always bustling with customers. The owners made sure the coffee was hot and the staff was pleasant; nevertheless, we discovered that it was a different coffee house that had opened in their place.

My husband emailed the original owners to see if they were going to relocate so that we could patronize their new business. He received a reply that was not accusatory toward anyone, but the facts surrounding the business closure caused us to ponder more deeply about what had truly transpired. The owners of the building in which they were located refused to allow them to renew their lease, and had chosen to open their own business in their stead. When we had visited the shop, it took some time for it to register that it was under different ownership—the interior and manner of business was almost identical to our favorite coffee house. Could it be that the building owners witnessed the prosperity their renters enjoyed, and began to excessively desire their success to the point that they essentially claimed for themselves something that belonged to another?

The fact is, covetousness is the root of all kinds of sins that have tempted each and every one of us throughout our lives. As Luke 12:15 warns, we must all “be on [our] guard against all kinds of greed.

God Will Cause Us to Shine

Contained within these verses are God’s clear instructions about what we are not to do; and, what we are to do in order to avoid fretting over and envying evil people—those who unjustly appear to profit even as believers experience affliction:

What we should NOT do:

*FRET– don’t grow troubled, agitated, worried, grieved, or disturbed. *ENVY– do not be discontented because of the good fortune of another. *BE ANGRY– avoid showing or feeling resentment. *BE WRATHFUL– arrest anger before becoming violently angry to the point of seeking revenge. “Wrath” is derived from a word meaning venom or poison…perhaps wrath works in our inner being much like poison and is therefore to be ardently avoided.

What we SHOULD do:

*TRUST IN THE LORD- rely completely on and have confidence in God’s love, goodness, power, justice, holiness, and character; be secure and safe in the Lord’s care. *DO GOOD- Be kind, ethical and do beneficial things; obey God’s commands and do His will. *DELIGHT IN THE LORD- be delighted over God’s goodness and be joyful in his promises and love. *COMMIT YOUR WAY TO GOD- seek God’s will about your decisions and plans; trust and be confident that the Lord will guide you. *REST IN & WAIT PATIENTLY ON the Lord- wait hopefully, expectantly, and peacefully for God to answer your prayers and move on your behalf.

If we follow these instructions, God promises that ” He shall bring forth [our] righteousness as the light, and [our] judgement as the noonday”—He will cause us to shine. That is, the Lord will reward our obedience by making our godly character and just cause evident to the world—the misjudgment and injustice toward believers in Christ will be remedied, and the wicked will be punished in God’s perfect timing. Furthermore, we can count on the fact that just as the light of morning breaks through the darkness, and the noonday sun is the brightest time of day, so the Lord will openly and radiantly plead our cause.

Do Not Fret

The Lord commands that believers do not fret because of wicked people; and, that they do not envy the seeming prosperity of such evildoers:

FRET- To be agitated or disturbed; to be worn away, corroded, or frayed; to be irritated and angry.

FOCUS PASSAGE: Habakkuk 1

When God used the barbarous Chaldeans to discipline Judah, the prophet Habakkuk wondered why God would choose to use people even more evil than the people of Judah for his purposes. Indeed, the Chaldeans seemed to conquer and deplete countries of their wealth as they pleased to the point that they became a law unto themselves; and their own military strength was the focus of their worshipful admiration.

The Chaldeans were like roaring lions seeking whom they could devour (Read 1 Peter 5:8)

It is difficult to overlook the success of greedy, ungodly people in our world today. It is not difficult to fret over the injustice of evildoers’ prosperity compared to the suffering of the righteous. Yet, God instructs us not to worry or fret; therefore, it is beneficial for us not to fret, and harmful if we do. We can literally become so agitated and angry that we wear ourselves out physically and emotionally. Furthermore, such fretting can begin to corrode our trust in the goodness of God, resulting in loss of inner peace—worry/fretting wears away and corrodes our faith to the point that our mental state and physical well-being is frayed.

The Lord never leaves us without clear instructions that enable us to be obedient to his commands. In the next post we will discover how God has blessed us in his word with ways we can overcome worry, fretting, and fear.

Grace is Sweet

They thought they were righteous. They loved the best seats wherever they went and coveted the praise and adulation of others (Luke 11:43). However, “they”—the Pharisees—were described by Jesus as hypocrites (v. 44):

HYPOCRITE- feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not really believe; esp. the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion.

Luke 11: 36-50 describes an incident in which Jesus was eating at the house of a Pharisee when a sinful woman of the city began to wash His feet with her tears, while wiping them with her hair. Not surprisingly, the Pharisee who had invited Jesus into his home, judged Him in his heart for allowing such a sinner to touch Him; but Jesus—knowing the Pharisee’s thoughts—told him that while he had not offered any true hospitality, the woman had not ceased to honor Him. Furthermore, He explained:

One could assume that the Pharisee was unloving toward Jesus because he did not need the measure of forgiveness that such a sinful woman required. Perhaps we could interpret Jesus’ comment to mean that the more sinful someone is, the more sins there are to be forgiven; and so, the more such a person will love the Lord when He forgives them. Yet, it is likely from Jesus’ description of the Pharisees that they indeed had many sins that needed forgiveness. Could it be that the woman of the city recognized her sinfulness with humility and gratitude, while the Pharisee failed to comprehend his desperate need of the Savior’s forgiveness?

It follows that as we examine ourselves, recognize our sinfulness, and confess our sins, we will grow in our gratitude and love toward Jesus. As Dr. Erwin Lutzer put it:

“Grace is not sweet until sin has become bitter.”

Brokenhearted But Not Broken

As we have seen the prophet Habakkuk was greatly burdened by all of the corruption and iniquity within his own nation of Judah. He was also concerned and deeply troubled by the rising Babylonian empire that was threatening their safety. The Chaldeans (Babylonians) were ferocious and cruel invaders who God was going to use to discipline and humble Judah not many years from the time of Habakkuk’s writing. Yet, there are two encouraging aspects of the Lord’s actions at this point that we can cling to even today: God did not chastise Habakkuk for his questions that were asked in faith and with respect; and, even more reassuring is the fact that the Lord answered his questions. Secondly, God always carries out his perfect justice at the right time and in the right way.

References: Luke 18:8; Colossians 3:25; Isaiah 30:18; Deut. 32:4; 2 Thes. 1:8-9; Romans 12:19; Romans 3:26.

Key to Habakkuk’s faith-building was the following declaration he made after the Lord answered him—“I will stand on my guard post, and station myself on the rampart; and I will keep watch to see what he will speak to me…” (Hab. 2:1). This is a declaration of faith, a pledge to wait for the Lord to act and to listen to what more God would say to him. Likewise, we can determine to “station” ourselves to hear the Lord and trust in His plan:

Brokenhearted Over the Nation

Habakkuk 1: 3-4, “Why dost thou shew me INIQUITY, and cause me to behold GRIEVANCE? for SPOILING and VIOLENCE are before me: and there are that raise up STRIFE and CONTENTION.

Therefore the law is slacked, and judgement doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous: therefore wrong judgement proceedeth.”

The wisest king who ever lived, King Solomon, concluded :

From today’s point of view, we could state the above truism in the following manner:

“Surely no other nation has witnessed this level of evil.” However, King Solomon declared that what [evil] that has been done will be repeated; and, it will be much like what has taken place in the past. When examining the traits of society from Habakkuk’s time with ours today, it is clear that, indeed, things are similar to the past:

GRIEVANCE- Causing uneasiness or complaint; affliction

SPOILING- Ruin, destruction, devastation

VIOLENCE- Violence, injustice, cruelty

STRIFE- Conflict, contention for superiority

CONTENTION- Discord, controversy

It is easy to draw a strong parallel between culture today and that of Judah and the ancient world surrounding it.

Furthermore, it was the wicked that surrounded the righteous; in other words, the people of God were completely surrounded by those who were hostile towards God and guilty of terrible sins. Because of this, wrong (twisted, crooked, distorted) justice was carried out in the land; and, as noted in the last post, the people tolerated heinous acts by way of corruption in their judicial system.

Despite all these things, we will discover in the book of Habakkuk reassuring and unchanging traits of God that will sustain us even through the most trying of circumstances.

Brokenhearted Over Evil

Have you ever been brokenhearted over the evil we see around us? The prophet Habakkuk was so distraught about the evil within his country of Judah as well as the threatening rise of their enemy—the Babylonians—from without, that he cried out to God about it repeatedly and for a long time (see Habakkuk 1:2). According to the literal Hebrew meaning of “cry,” his cries were probably shouted audibly and were full of tearful emotional pain. The truth is, if we love the Lord, we will also—as Psalm 8: 13 teaches—hate evil. That is, believers who love our righteous God, will be greatly concerned and disturbed by the unrighteousness in the world.

We can easily gather from the scriptures that Habakkuk was witnessing plenty of troubles all around: violence, stealing, contention, lawlessness, and injustice to name a few. One commentary notes that the peoples’ hearts were focused on material success rather than living by God’s laws, which were fair and humane. They were wicked—“they committed and tolerated heinous acts through corruption of the courts.” There seems to be a clear parallel between their ancient corrupt society and what we are witnessing today in our fallen world. The good news is, we can gain great insight on how to handle current trying times by gleaning wisdom from Habakkuk’s questioning exchange with the Lord.

In the next few posts, we will explore the book of Habakkuk more closely to glean these wise lessons.

Keeping Our Confidence

Confidence: A feeling of assurance; trust or faith; a trusting relationship—

Our trusting and secure relationship with the Lord will help us endure everything that comes our way until we dwell with Him forever.

Confidence is intimately associated with trust and hope; you could say that it is an attitude of faith. Baker’s Dictionary of Biblical Theology defines this attitude as:

Confidence – “A multifaceted word that encompasses within Christian thought a range of aspects—faith in God, certainty and assurance of one’s relationship with God, a sense of boldness that is dependent on a realization of one’s acceptance by God, and a conviction that one’s destiny is secure in God.”

What confidence is not: It is not a struggle to compensate for a lack of personal resources; that is, Christian confidence is not a building up of self-confidence—Philippians 3:3 admonishes to “have no confidence in the flesh.” Instead, the supremacy of Christ must become our focus. Jesus is the One in whom our confidence must rest because of what God has done through Him for us; and, He is enough!

The Greatest Weapon

Focus Bible passage: Matthew 4: 1-11

In this passage, we read about the time—right before Jesus began His formal ministry— when the Spirit lead Him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. The devil relentlessly tried to tempt Jesus into sin by offering desirable things. With each temptation, Jesus quoted scripture to counter the words of the devil, including the words Satan misquoted from scripture. Jesus was victorious and commanded Satan to leave; and, as we would expect, “the devil left Him.” (v.11)

Jesus Christ commands the devil to leave as they stand on a mountain.

Suppose an aggressive and deadly enemy was attacking citizens and their families. They have in their possession a few possible “weapons” to employ in defense of their loved ones: a butter knife, a glass bottle, or a ball bat …which weapon would they choose? It is probably safe to say most people would opt for the bat because it would be the most powerful and effective weapon at their disposal. However, would it be surprising to you that many Christians often fail to use the most powerful spiritual weapon available against our very aggressive and sometimes deadly spiritual enemy? Instead, we may try gritting our teeth and slugging it out in our own strength; or, we may resort to a diversion from our problems such as watching a movie or eating our favorite comfort food. Perhaps we might just give in and accept the offense, self-pity, or depression when Satan makes the offer. Looking back, I can recognize times I did just that; and inevitably the problem grew worse or soon returned.

Therefore, let us choose our most powerful (spiritual) weapon!

HERE ARE LIVING AND ACTIVE WORDS OF GOD THAT WE CAN TAKE UP AGAINST OUR SPIRITUAL ENEMY:

1 John 1:9- vs Satan’s accusations and condemnations

Philippians 4:19- vs the enemy’s threat of lack

Is. 41:10 & Is. 40:31- vs taunts about our weaknesses

Romans 8:28- vs lies about the strength of the enemy

James 1:5- vs lies about our inadequacies and lack of wisdom

+ many other promises from God’s word that enable us to stand in victory over Satan, so that he must flee! ( James 4:7)

Why, Lord? – Conclusion

With every trial or test, our faithful Heavenly Father will not permit us to be tempted above what we are able to endure when we rely on His strength. God will provide, create, and make available a way to bear up under and be delivered from danger.

Yet, as we have already noted in the last post, this way of escape may not be as easy and comfortable as we had hoped it would be. The well-known missionary, Jim Elliot, noted:

Nevertheless, when we realize our only hope is in accepting and following the way God provides for us, our feet will be as sure as those of a deer who can navigate the narrowest, most perilous of paths. A hind, or deer can traverse what appears to be a vertical cliff without stumbling or falling—unafraid and undeterred—in a manner similar to this mountain goat:

The words “way of escape” have the idea of an army being totally surrounded by the enemy, and then suddenly spying a mountain pass—an escape route to safety. When we find ourselves hemmed in by the enemy or dire circumstances where we are tempted to give up, give in to fear, or become hopelessly frustrated, we can remember the Lord’s promise of a way out. And, although it may seem there are no good choices, we must actively look for and faithfully pray for the deliverance He will provide; then we will inevitably discover that God’s way truly is the right/best choice to resolve our trial. We will be able to declare with the Prophet Habakkuk, “The Lord God is my strength, and He will make my feet like hind’s feet, and He will make me to walk on mine high places.” (Habakkuk 3:19)

Why, Lord?- Part 2

There are two verses that will help develop a right perspective regarding our seemingly unanswered question, “Why, Lord”, when trials threaten to overwhelm us:

Because these verses are true, we can probably count on the fact that we may not fully understand the course God is leading us through in many of our trials; in fact, the reality of our situation may completely escape us because of our limited earthly perspective. It is during these times we can humbly choose to obey and trust the Lord, as we cling to His promises:

The “way of escape” that the Lord will provide may not necessarily be an easy one; that is, not the means or the answer we had hoped for. The fact is, God uses our trials to deepen and strengthen our relationship and reliance on Him—this kind of unwavering trust is not easily developed. Acts 14:22 teaches that it is through much tribulation we learn the ways of his Kingdom and how to function as a child of our King of Kings. Our questions are best asked from a posture of dependence and respect before the Lord; and—with the help of the Holy Spirit—we will be able to accept God’s will.

Additionally, a second promise offers assurance and encouragement regarding the frequently challenging path we must take—our steps will be sure despite the rocky way:

“The Lord my God is my strength, and He will make my feet like hind’s feet, and He will make me to walk upon mine high places” (Habakkuk 3:19).

In the next post, we will explore the concept of the” way of escape” in more detail.

Why, Lord?

King David asked, “Why do you stand afar off, Lord? Why do you hide in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1)

Moses inquired, “Why have You afflicted Your servant? And why have I not found favor in Your sight?” (Numbers 11:11)

Habakkuk questioned, “Why do You show me iniquity and cause me to see trouble?” (Habakkuk 1:3)

Job entreated God to answer: “What have I done to You, O watcher of men? Why have You set me as your target…?” (Job 7:20)

It is not inherently wrong to ask God questions: Even Jesus Himself asked, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mt. 27:46); and, we know that Jesus never sinned (1 Peter 2:22). I have found that I often want God to explain, when it would be more helpful for me to focus on how He will sustain me through my situation. I confess that at times—when I have diligently prayed through a long season of trial—the Lord has seemed silent to me, or His apparent answer was not what I had desperately wanted. It is during these kinds of trials I could chose to put up a fight to get my way, or run away and withdraw; or, I could wholeheartedly seek divine help to face the situation God’s way. The last option is almost never the easy path during my greatest trials; it takes effort and trust to resist the temptation to focus primarily on the things I want and believe I need.

The next post will explore ways to seek help and walk in peace when the answers to our “why questions” are beyond our understanding.

The Power of a Word

When studying the Bible, it is essential to use good hermeneuticsthe branch of knowledge that deals with interpretation, especially of the Bible.

2 Peter 1:20 states that, “But know first of all, that no prophesy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation.” In other words, we need to read the Bible using and applying good rules of interpretation in order to know the author’s intended meaning. One of the most basic tools of hermeneutics is to ascertain the literal meaning of words; usually this involves using a concordance to learn the Hebrew word (Old Testament) or Greek word (New Testament) in order to determine the actual meaning. The importance of taking the time to do this was demonstrated very powerfully to me in the following incident:

A famous tv personality stated in a video that the turning point in her “Christian faith” was when she heard a pastor declare in a sermon that God was a jealous God. She said that she was in the moment with the other listeners until she heard the word “jealous.” Then she proceeded to recount the attributes of God such as being all-knowing, powerful, etc.; yet, she began to immediately dispute these attributes by asking the question, “You mean God is jealous of ME?” The fact that God was jealous did “not feel right in her spirit”—she subsequently embraced false doctrine and used her influence to further those beliefs.

It seems incredible that a misunderstanding of one word could so powerfully contribute to such a major departure from a professed faith, when a simple investigation of the Hebrew word for jealous would have most likely moved her into truth.

Jealous= quanna (Hebrew)

Ardor; zeal; jealousy only of God

The Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Bible Words defines quanna as “the term [that] refers only to God as being jealous, indicating the divine determination to tolerate from his people no respect for, or worship of, any other deity besides Himself.” In other words, God prohibits worship of idols because of his passion and zeal for his people. He is not jealous of anyone; God is jealous for his people and desires nothing to stand in the way of the loving, protective, and—yes—possessive relationship between himself and those who belong to him in Jesus.

How Long Must I Cry?

The prophet Habakkuk was distressed and frustrated about the sinful condition of his homeland. The question, “how long,” indicates that he had been faithfully crying out to the Lord for an extended period of time regarding the spiritual condition of Judah.

Habakkuk cried out and petitioned the Lord concerning the nation of Judah.

Job petitioned the Lord concerning himself: “I cry unto thee, and thou doest not hear me” (Job 30:20).

Jonah was frustrated concerning the spiritual condition of the world, which was represented by the pagan city of Nineveh. However, Jonah was not lamenting over their sin, he was upset that God was sending him to Nineveh in order to save them and call them to repentance: “But Jonah rose up to flee” [from God’s call]; “it displeased Jonah exceedingly” (Jonah 1:3 & Jonah 4:1).

Throughout the Old Testament, we witness that God was concerned about sin and moved in the lives of people to bring them to repentance. In the New Covenant of Grace, God is the same. working through his people to bring the world to him and his salvation:

Our part as followers of Jesus Christ is to (as Habakkuk did), “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17); and (unlike Jonah), willingly obey His command to spread the good news of the gospel to everyone at every opportunity.

Our Sure Confidence

Faith (Greek, peitho)= To have confidence in; to be persuaded by what is trustworthy

Substance= confident assurance; given reality to

Hope(ed)= expected; trusted for

Evidence= Conviction; proof

Hebrews 11:1 assures us that when our faith is such that we are fully confident in the trustworthiness of our God, we will become convicted that what we expect and trust for will (although we may not presently see it), become as if a proven reality.

Examine Yourselves

We understand from God’s word that we are commanded to test ourselves to make sure we are true believers who are closely and continually following Christ our Lord. It follows that we must examine our lives and fruit so that we are assured that we “pass the test.”

Years ago when we began the process of restoring our old farmhouse, there was a faint smell that we attributed to the inevitable aging of a house. We knew our water heater needed replacing, so we decided the first step of renovation would be to remove it from the closet where it was located. However, while removing the water heater, we noticed the smell was no longer faint, but growing in intensity—behind the heater, we discovered a small patch of mold. It appeared to be a simple task: cut out the affected area and replace the section with new sheetrock. Nevertheless, as we continued to cut out the decay, more and more mold came to light—the corrupting rot extended all the way to the outer siding and along the entirety of the back wall! Our task was no longer minor; it was going to be expensive and formidable. If only we had paid more attention to the odor; because, although it was only slightly unpleasant, it was indicating a much deeper problem.

Perhaps it is already becoming apparent that the mold in the wall can be representative of the “rot” of sinful desires that originate within our own selves…the sinful corruption that leads to more serious consequences if left unchecked. Just as my husband and I needed to regard the first faint odor as a sign of a possibly deeper problem; so believers need to heed even the smallest promptings from the Holy Spirit that they are straying, and pay attention to the faintest pricks of conscience. The truth is, it is much easier to address a sin on the front end, before it takes hold and progresses into a besetting sin—a stronghold. The “tearing out” process of overcoming and forsaking the sin will be much quicker and less painful if we address it early on; and we will be able to do that, if we take to heart the command to faithfully and continually examine ourselves.

Food For Thought

Faith is not so much about getting what you want from God as it is accepting from God the tests He gives or the trials He allows, while maintaining unwavering trust in his love and goodness.

Where is Your Treasure?

Throughout my early childhood, Christmas was an exciting time that I eagerly awaited each year. Christmas decorations, music, presents, and Santa’s visit gave me butterflies in my stomach and I could barely wait until his arrival. Having a lively imagination, I could almost hear the sleigh bells and his boots boldly walking across our roof. And so on Christmas Eve night, I barely slept…all during the night I would gingerly peek into our living room in hopes that he had left our presents. If indeed he had, I would approach each of my siblings to beg them to get up and survey our goodies, regardless of the fact that it might be 4:00 or 5:00 o’clock in the morning!

By the time my siblings all agreed to get up, I was utterly exhausted. Although my adrenalin enabled me to momentarily tear open gifts and play with toys, I was soon too tired to play and the “magic” faded. Even the sugar rush from the ever-present sweets proved inadequate to sustain my energy.

But before all of this Santa hoopla set in, while we were decorating our modest home for the big day, I developed a very special ritual:

I would vie with my siblings for the privilege of placing the baby Jesus in the manger of the nativity, which was carefully preserved from season to season.

My little heart was torn between my excited preoccupation with Santa and my warm love for Jesus. When I thought of Santa, my heart was uneasy and questioning…would he remember to bring me all the things I desired? Would I somehow feel let down again even if I did get all I had wanted? Would my siblings get better things than me?

However, after I “won” the right to place baby Jesus in the manger—with his mom and dad, animals, and all the others who adored him—I was inexplicably at peace as I laid him in his cradle. I can recall my joy as I gazed at the the nativity…not because the nativity figures before me held any power; but, because the peaceful love that came into my heart was from Jesus Himself.

What greater peace I could have experienced as a child if I had been able to understand and practice Mt. 6: 19-21: laying up heavenly treasures, instead of burdening my heart with earthly desires.

My prayerful hope today is that all of us who know Jesus will anticipate His second coming with exponentially greater excitement and anticipation than I had for Santa. We are to “watch therefore, for we know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of Man cometh” (Mt. 25:13) so that we can rejoice and hope in that day when our Savior returns.

1 Corinthians 15:51-52, “Behold, I show you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”

Is Bigger Always Better?- Conclusion

The Lord can use the mighty of the world; but He very often chooses the weak instead. It is the Lord, by his Holy Spirit, that accomplishes his purposes in a way that points to Him.

The familiar story of David and Goliath found in 1 Samuel 17 is a powerful account that attests to the fact that God delights in using foolish and/or weak things to shame the strong. God used David, who was much weaker than the giant Goliath, to deliver his people from the Philistine army. It is important to note that Goliath had a mighty sword and was clad with heavy armor; he was a seasoned soldier with much experience. Yet David, because he placed his trust in the Lord’s strength, was able to defeat Goliath with a simple “foolish” slingshot and a single rock…giving all the glory for the deliverance to the Lord.

In another account found in Judges 7, it is made clear that God desired to humble Israel by using lesser numbers of soldiers to defeat their enemy. In this way, Israel would recognize that any victory was most certainly due to the Lord’s power, not theirs.

The Apostle Paul effectively conveyed that because of God’s desire to use weak vessels, believers today—who might feel small and inadequate—can be assured and encouraged:

Is Bigger Always Better?

The world appreciates might—“the bigger, the better.” Here, the world’s largest furniture store displays the world’s largest piece of furniture; and, it is impressive. Yet, one cannot use this piece of furniture; it is for show, merely representing similar, smaller pieces that can actually be used to store clothing.

On the other hand, the Bonsai tree is a miniature version of larger—sometimes impressively mighty—trees and shrubs. Even the world can appreciate how these Bonsai plants accurately mirror, on a much lesser scale, the might and strength of their counterparts.

In the Bible, smaller, weaker, less impressive things of the world are clearly valued:

While the world in general is impressed by strength and size; God often uses insignificant and weak vessels to carry out his plans. In this way, the Lord is glorified—He gets the credit because it is obvious that the wisdom and power comes from the Lord Himself, rather than from the agent He uses. Furthermore, when God employs the weak and foolish, others who are proud can be humbled, which makes them more suitable for God’s purposes.

Biblical examples of the principle found in 1 Corinthians 1:27 to follow…

Prepare Your Work- Conclusion

“Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established.” Proverbs 16:3

As I look back to the time we moved to our present home, it becomes clear that a longtime friend of mine demonstrated the kind of inspired preparation that has been discussed in the last two posts. After closing out my antique business fifteen years ago, I continued to hold on to the pieces that I hoped to use in our new home; however, it was uncertain as to which among them would suit our new residence, which was not nearly as rustic as our restored farmhouse. Furthermore, I couldn’t ascertain if particular antiques would physically fit into the smaller space we were going to occupy.

At this point, my friend, Brenda—who has always formulated detailed preparations for her various projects—offered valuable help in preparing for the work of moving into our new home. She meticulously cut to scale the particular antiques and furniture I hoped to keep in order to lay them out on a remarkably accurate graph of our house. All of the tedious groundwork she did suddenly made proper selection of furnishings possible, as well as how to place them. When moving day arrived, the furniture was situated exactly as she had grafted; the benefit from her planning was immeasurable for me. The Lord had indeed used Brenda’s God-given gifts; and just as Proverbs 16:3 promised, my decisions were grounded in well-laid plans—my thoughts were established.

Prepare Your Work- Part 2

Yesterday’s post was about an artist that seems to example this verse. Although he has achieved recognition and appreciation for the high quality of his work, he continues to prepare his work diligently “with [his] might” (strength and power).

Believers are to work with their might to produce excellent work because they honor the Lord through such work. The motive should not be to gain the praise of men; rather, the motive that prepares work to the highest level, is the kind of work that pleases the Father.

Preparation or groundwork for producing excellent, God-honoring work could be viewed as a series of basic, simple steps—keeping in mind that each person’s work will require unique preparation and inspiration from the Lord:

  • Proper order- The first step begins with the top priority—what is most necessary to begin the process of preparation—and establishes a clear goal. This first step always involves seeking the Lord’s will and guidance, with the goal of inspired work that honors and pleases Him.
  • Foresight- Think ahead for each succeeding step; anticipate needs and possibilities.
  • After establishing proper preparation, begin to produce the work- With wise mental, spiritual, and physical preparation, a firm direction is laid out: financial, emotional, and personal costs have been estimated. It is time to produce heartily for the Lord.

Prepare Your Work

The Pulpit Commentary summarizes this verse in this manner: Proverbs 24:27 “enjoins a man to look well to his resources before he undertakes to build a house or to establish a family.”

While keeping in mind the concrete meaning and instruction presented in the verse above, I would like to recount an incident that seemed to demonstrate a possible deeper spiritual meaning:

My husband and I have visited an art gallery of one of my favorite artist several times over the years. This artist is world-renown and noted for his meticulous and realistic paintings; and, it is not an exaggeration to say it is sometimes difficult to distinguish much of his artwork from a photograph. Additionally, the painter has designed stamps, received numerous awards and honors, met with presidents, and has lead what appears to be a blessed life with his large family.

During our most recent visit, we were fortunate to find ourselves virtually alone in the gallery; and after we asked a question, two of the gallery experts enthusiastically began to educate us about the artist and his work. I was astonished about the detailed preparation this skilled artist undertook before he ever put his brush to the canvas. For example, a flower in one of his paintings was scrupulously detailed on a work canvas, where he experimented with the form of the flower as well as the colors that would be selected. After addressing all the minor details, the painter critically attended to the overall appearance of the painting; noting how realistically and aesthetically it was coming together and what additional details were required.

I was deeply impressed with the painter’s unrelenting effort to present his best to the world despite the level of skill and success he had achieved. There seemed to be a humble appreciation of the gift God had entrusted to him that manifested in each and every work he completed.

More tomorrow concerning spiritual application for preparing our work…

Answered Prayer?

A retired couple had been praying as to whether the husband should seek part-time employment. He and his wife had adequate retirement, but the work would allow for more financial breathing room, as well as provide a means of “getting out of the house.” As it turned out; the man did not get the job despite the fact that he was over-qualified for the position. They began to question why he was unable to secure the employment…what could possibly be interfering with getting this hourly work? Why was God not answering their simple prayer?

The question arises: Do we recognize God’s answer to prayer, if His answer is not the one we were seeking in our heart? To put another way, are we really imploring the Lord to make a way for what we think we want and need; and, when we do not get it, we assume God has not heard our prayers?

Although there is voluminous biblical instruction regarding prayer, several key points help with understanding what may appear to be unanswered prayer:

First, we need to pray! Perhaps we have expected something without diligently seeking the Lord about it. Another point made in James 4:2-3 is that when we do ask in prayer, we may not be hearing from the Lord, or receiving answers because we asked amiss (not in the will of God, or according to what is good and proper for a believer to request). It follows that, as 1 John 5:14-15 teaches, we must ask according to the will of God, and then we can be assured that we will have our petition. Therefore, if our prayers appear to go unanswered, can we accept the fact that the Lord’s will in the situation was not in line with what we asked for—and furthermore, that we might have asked “amiss”, or the timing and methods God had chosen were above our understanding (see Isaiah 55:9)?

But, perhaps most important of all, may we pray with unwavering faith (James 1:5) and remember to look for and recognize the goodness of God, no matter what His answer might be; for He is always faithful!

Pruning Is a Good Thing

PRUNE: To trim by cutting away dead and overgrown branches and stems, especially to encourage growth and fruit-bearing.

A few years ago, I planted several apple trees. One in particular grew much faster than the others, but proved to be the most susceptible to disease. After researching the malady, I discovered that cutting out the diseased portions could help alleviate, but not cure, the problem. Furthermore, the information indicated that if the disease was systemic, the tree would likely never thrive.

For the next few years, I kept pruning and pruning the dead portions of the tree. Remarkably, it did eventually bear a few apples; however, they were somewhat deformed. Finally this year, the tree was so full of fruit that we needed to add two supports. Little did I know that pruning merely to keep it alive, would actually make it thrive!

It is not difficult to grasp that the process of pruning my tree could visibly illustrate a well-known Bible passage:

Indeed, the Lord spiritually prunes his children—never to harm them—but to cause them to bear fruit abundantly for the sake of his kingdom. We will not merely survive, but thrive, living life abundantly as Jesus came to provide.

Our Father prunes us (corrects; disciplines; sanctifies) in order that we abandon any thoughts, words, or actions that hinder fruitful, Christ-like living. I kept pruning my little apple tree for years without giving up on it; but infinitely greater than my efforts, is the loving and never-failing pruning process carried out in our lives by our Heavenly Father—He never gives up on us! Furthermore, God’s pruning power is greater than any sins that interfere with our good fruit-bearing—the most ingrained (“systemic”) fleshly “disease” is no match for His faithful, wise pruning. May we surrender to this process—regardless of any pain or discomfort that may be involved; because when all is said and done, “Herein is [our] Father glorified, that [we] bear much fruit” (John 15:8).

Walking Past Temptation

My husband and I often walk through our local mall in extremely hot weather in order to regularly exercise. At first, I took particular notice of all the stores, food vendors, and music, noting new displays and other overt changes. However, as we continued to regularly visit and walk through the mall, I grew less cognizant of those kinds of details. The fact is, the mall businesses did not abate in their attempts to attract customers with enticing displays and friendly salespeople; all that changed was that I was not as consciously aware of their alluring tactics.

Shopping is not in itself a problem; it is only when its appeal controls our desires rather than our spiritual self-control dictating our actions. The world is relentlessly bombarding us with tempting appeals to fulfill our lustful desires; and we can become desensitized to these worldly temptations simply because they are ever-present and often subtle in their nature. We would all benefit by remembering and clinging to this promise from the Lord:

For in that He himself hath suffered being tempted, His is able to succour [help; come to the aid of] them that are tempted. (Hebrews 2:18)

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you that you help us when we are tempted; you never leave us defenseless—you always provide a way that we can escape temptations that might otherwise overwhelm us.Lord, your name is above all names, and you are forever worthy of all our praise! Blessed be your name…Amen.

Put a Smile on Your Faith : )

Years ago I heard a clever play on words from a gifted teacher, “Put a smile on your faith [face].” Someone might think, “There is not a lot to smile about; I don’t want to wear a fake smile when things are so difficult.” Yet, the instruction not only has biblical support; it is also validated by scientific studies. Several neurological studies show that smiling (whether ‘fake’ or not) can lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduce stressful reactions, boost the immune system, and lift moods. But of course, the inspired Word of God is well aware of this; after all, the Lord designed and knitted together our bodies. From a spiritual standpoint, the Bible contains many scriptures pertaining to joy—for example:

Clearly, smiles come from merry hearts; and, we read in this verse that physical benefits result.

In Psalm 42:11 we learn that the Lord himself is the health of (the One who helps) our facial expression. Therefore, if we hope in and praise our God, we will develop a cheerful countenance.

Most of all, we are children of a perfect Father; and he is the the One with whom we experience our most important relationship. Therefore, we can boldly come into his presence, where there is fullness of joy…and smile.

The Perfect Care of Jesus

Have you ever felt that God was not using your suffering for anything good? Did it seem no one knew about it and only harm came from it?

During one of my devotion times, I confessed to this kind of reasoning: I loved the Lord; so if God was working all my trials together for good, I should be able to see and witness the good results. But, I was not able to discern the good outcome; and time was moving on. As I continued to seek the Lord in prayer, another verse came to mind that held a special place in my heart because of its relevance to my life:

The verse read, “that He may exalt”—the Lord himself would spiritually lift me up; therefore, I needed to be obedient and trusting under His hand, and then place any good that would result from my trials in His hands. Only God could know the “due time” (the right, proper, and optimal time) to make everything work together for His glory and purposes. My part was simply not to resist what the Lord had permitted by growing impatient and doubtful as I looked for a good outcome.

Moreover, I began to understand that I ought to fully allow the Holy Spirit to grow, change, and lead me even as I continued to pray and meditate on his word. With this understanding, I surrendered to God’s process of maturing me to bring me to a place where he could use “all things” to accomplish his will. A key instruction was to forget my self-focus by refusing to dwell on the ‘when, where, and how’ of bringing benefit from suffering—that care belonged only to the Lord. Throughout these kinds of experiences, Jesus has used it all to help develop and strengthen my trust in His perfect care for me!

Dining In Style

There was a period in our young family life when we could rarely afford to eat out; and when we did dine out, it was at a fast food place. One Valentine’s Day while we were traveling back home from a visit with the children’s grandparents, we decided to stop at a popular fast food restaurant for dinner. The children were too hungry to wait until we reached home to eat, so we pulled into the first one of these locations we could spot. The dining area was surprisingly busy considering it was dinnertime on Valentine’s Day; and when we were met at the door to be seated, we began to realize this was not going to be the usual dining experience at McDonald’s.

The tables were covered with red, white and pink tablecloths; candles were lit at each table and flowers filled small vases…the whole atmosphere was festive and upbeat. A “waitress” took our order. It is hard to explain the simple enjoyment of that dining experience—we were eating in style on a fast food budget. Decades later, I fondly recall how unexpectedly special the meal was for our small family—undoubtedly due to someone’s heartfelt desire to create a memorable experience at no extra cost to families such as ours.

Am I a Doormat?

A doormat is laid down to wipe feet upon; it is “abused” for the purpose of getting rid of rubbish clinging to the bottom of shoes. We have all heard—perhaps we have even said—“I feel like I am just a doormat in this situation.”

The truth is, how we are treated is often a result of how we see ourselves, which leads to how others regard us, and visa versa. Consider the following verse:

We need to always keep in mind that God has a good plan for us—one designed for our welfare, not for our harm (Jeremiah 29:11). It seems reasonable to conclude that if our image from God is being harmed and damaged (if we are feeling “like a doormat”) we are not operating in the Lord’s good plan for us. Sometimes, we are not in a position to stop abusive treatment toward us, and it becomes not only necessary, but right to actively seek help while entrusting the situation to the Lord’s will and deliverance. Although many of God’s children have been unjustly oppressed, their suffering was righteously endured if it was experienced willingly as part of God’s greater plan and divine purpose. However, when we misguidedly give ultimate power over our lives to another imperfect human being (instead of entrusting supreme authority only to the Lord), we unwisely turn from God’s good plan for our welfare and perhaps forfeit how He might have used our situation for the welfare of others.

Jesus said to the Jews after teaching a parable about the Good Shepherd who guards his sheep at all costs, “No man taketh it [my life] from me, but I lay it down myself” (John 10:18). In other words, Jesus made the decision to willingly suffer and submit to God’s will; it was not based on the will or forcefulness of any other human being. To summarize simply and briefly: Jesus did not allow anyone to interfere with God’s purposes or damage His relationship with the Father, and neither should we.

Thoughtful Quote

“The devil sees nothing more abominable than a truly humble Christian, for [that Christian] is just the opposite of [the devil’s] own image.”

—Hans Nielsen Hauje

A Mind to Work

REFERENCE: The book of Nehemiah, chapters 1-6

Nehemiah was a Judean who spent most of his life in exile in Persia as the cup-bearer to their king. Jerusalem, in his homeland of Judah, had been destroyed by the Babylonians and the walls of the city had been broken down. Nehemiah was greatly distressed by this and his burden to rebuild the walls lead him to diligently seek the Lord regarding what could be done to restore the city; and so, it was given to Nehemiah to travel nearly 1,000 miles to Jerusalem to contract the massive task of rebuilding the gates and walls. The quest to rebuild Jerusalem seemed dangerous and overwhelming, and it was necessary for its citizens to set a watch against their enemies both day and night.

As is almost always the case, God chose to carry out his purposes through his people—God had put his plan into Nehemiah’s heart; and Nehemiah was enabled to effectively inspect the walls, ascertain what needed to be done, and then determine how it all could be accomplished. Meanwhile, the people of Judah “had a mind to work” (Nehemiah 4:6). When their enemies came against them with threats, harassment, and false accusations, each continued their work with “one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand [holding] a weapon” (Nehemiah 4: 17).

Our enemy’s tactics against the Lord’s people and against the work He wishes to accomplish through them has not changed! Today, Satan entices and uses others to threaten, harass, bear false witness against, and interfere with the work that the Lord entrusts to his children. Therefore, we can learn much from the Judeans of Nehemiah’s day, because they successfully carried out God’s plans and overcame their ememies:

First, we must be determined in our hearts and set our minds and wills to carry out whatever the Spirit leads us to do. We must be fully committed to obey what we know to be right regardless of whatever befalls us.

Second, we must constantly be on guard against the enemy and his tactics, equipped with full spiritual armor for warfare.

Finally, we need to bathe everything in prayer, earnestly seeking the Lord (as Nehemiah did) until we know in our hearts and settle in our minds what the Lord is requiring of us and how to carry it out.

While these tactics are not all inclusive, they provide good groundwork for us to prepare ourselves today for the increasing challenges we face…we must ask ourselves Nehemiah’s question, “Why should the work cease?” (Neh. 6:3).

A Father’s Influence

Recently, as I was continuing to make my way through the Old Testament, I picked up on a tidbit about King David and his son Solomon’s relationship. While my impression may not necessarily be completely accurate, I believe what I found might have been extremely important in Solomon’s life; in fact, it may have been life-changing.

In 1 Chronicles 22: 11-16, King David gave a charge to his son Solomon who was to inherit David’s throne; within that charge David bestowed a blessing upon Solomon:

Later we learn in 2 Chronicles 22:7-12 that when the Lord gave Solomon the opportunity to ask for whatever he desired for himself as king, Solomon requested wisdom and knowledge. This request greatly pleased the Lord, and so God also granted him riches, wealth, and honor such as no king before or after would ever experience. The life-changing course of Solomon’s reign was set due to his humble request that was—I believe—rooted in his father David’s blessing over him:

We would do well to never underestimate the power of godly blessing spoken over our children. Who can know if with those words, their hearts might be humbled, encouraged, and turned toward the Lord?

“Ask God”- Conclusion

The final entry on the sign read:

I asked God to help me love others as much as God loves me. God said, “Ah! Finally, now you have the right idea.”

The flow of love seems to work in this manner: God loves us- He loved us so much that He sent his only begotten Son to suffer and die on the cross for our forgiveness of sin; and then raised Jesus from the dead so that we could live with Him forever. We love God- For so great a demonstration of love, how can we not love the Lord in return? We love others- Because God IS love, when we are filled with His Spirit, we will choose to love others even above ourselves…in the way that Jesus, the Lord, demonstrated to us. Because of His love for us, we can take a willful delight in loving others, exercising the aspects of love outlined in 1 Corinthians, chapter 13.

“Ask God”- Part 3

Another nugget of wisdom from the sign:

I asked God for all things that I might enjoy life. God said, “No. I will give you life so that you can enjoy all things.”

Jesus made this assertion:

Jesus—in contrast to the devil who came to destroy life—came that we might have life more abundantly. Abundantly literally means “beyond measure.” We receive this fullness of life the moment we accept Jesus as our Savior; but, we may find that we enjoy this life to varying degrees. As one commentator put it, “The more we turn ourselves over to the Holy Spirit, the more we enjoy the life that has been given to us.”

“Ask God”- Part 2

The second prayer request and God’s answer to it read as follows on the restaurant sign:

I asked God to give me patience. God said, “No. Patience is a by-product of tribulations; it isn’t granted, it’s earned.”

Galatians 5:22 explains that patience is a fruit of the Spirit; that is, when we choose to live and walk in the Spirit, patience will be manifested in our lives. Notice that living according to the will of God is a choice and this choice to stay close to Jesus produces patience by the power of the Holy Spirit in us. We cannot grit our teeth and practice a genuinely patient attitude; we need to submit to the Lord and cooperate with what He is doing through our tribulations:

The Apostle Paul also taught that patience is a “by-product” of tribulation, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh (accomplishes, achieves, results in) patience; and patience, endurance; and endurance, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4)

“Ask God”

Recently and very unexpectedly I discovered a hidden gem in a unique, locally owned restaurant while visiting family. On the wall hung a large sign titled “Ask God” that contained astounding nuggets of wisdom and spiritual understanding expressed as brief prayers. In a short series of posts, I hope to share some of the brief prayers with you, and then explore a few of the spiritual insights to be gained from them. The first prayer listed was:

I asked God to take away my pride. God said, “No, it’s not for me to take it away, but for you to give it up.”

The Scriptures contain many references to pride; in fact, the pride of life is one of three basic types of sin:

So now we need to ask the question, “How can I effectively give up my pride?”

The Bible confirms that, yes, we are commanded to humble ourselves. By doing this, God will be our perfect Promoter.

HUMBLE: To make meek and submissive to God’s divine will; lower ourselves in our own estimation.

[STAYING UNDER] the MIGHTY HAND OF GOD: Faithfully obeying the Lord and not running away from what He is trying to accomplish in and through us.

The Holy Spirit will help us in our endeavor to be submissive to God’s will rather than our will, and to faithfully obey Him no matter how it affects us personally. John 16:13 explains that the Spirit will lead us in to all truth…we need to be able to truthfully examine ourselves regarding the often subtle ways we operate in pride. John 16:8 teaches that the Holy Spirit will convict us of sin…our pride is a major area where sin can manifest in our lives. With enabling from the Spirit, we will be able to “give up” the pride that interferes with receiving spiritual blessing and becoming more like Christ.

A King Like No Other- Conclusion

The third way King Josiah turned to the Lord was with all of his might, as recorded in 2 Kings 23:25. The magnitude of devotion displayed in Judah’s celebration of Passover which Josiah proclaimed after he had made the covenant before the Lord, demonstrated clearly that they celebrated mightily with gratitude:

Perhaps the most concrete demonstration of Josiah’s godly might was his thorough and complete cleansing of Judah and the people from idolatrous worship and the instruments of such evil worship. 2 Kings 23 describes in detail the extent to which King Josiah carried out his quest to return the people to the one true God. The factor that set his efforts apart from other kings is that he left nothing and no one that could compromise their repentance.

Are we willing to tear down thoroughly and completely the compromises in our lives that we know are not pleasing to God, nor are they in His will for us? I pray that I will—with the fervor of Josiah and with the power of the Holy Spirit—walk with the Lord with all of my heart, soul, and strength.

A King Like No Other- Part 3

The second way Kind Josiah turned to the Lord was with all of his soul. It is widely accepted that the soul is a person’s mind, will, and emotions.

In 2 Kings 23: 1-3, we learn that Josiah made a covenant before God that involved submitting his soul—his will, emotions, and mind—to the will of the Lord. He gathered all the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the house of the Lord and read to them all the book of the covenant, after which he made a renewal of the covenant:

Josiah understood that Judah needed to put God’s will before their own; and, the scriptures contained and revealed His will. Therefore, the covenant Josiah made along with the people was a solemn commitment to “perform the words of this covenant” (v. 3).

May we as believers today take the actions of Josiah to heart and determine (covenant) to follow the Lord by keeping His commandments and carrying out His will with all of our hearts and souls.

A King Like No Other- Part 2

As we have read, King Josiah loved the Lord with all of his heart, soul, and might. In the next few posts, we will highlight examples from biblical accounts that clearly demonstrated these traits in King Josiah.

First, we are told that King Josiah loved the Lord with all of his heart: We read in 2 Kings 22 that King Josiah began a massive restoration of the house of the Lord out of reverence and love for Him, because it was the sacred place the Lord had chosen for His name. Furthermore, Josiah demonstrated a profound love and respect for God’s word. In fact, after the book of the law was discovered during the restoration of the temple and read to Josiah, he rent his clothes—he realized and understood the extent to which their fathers had not obeyed God’s law.

In those times, renting clothes was a sign of extreme emotional distress. King Josiah loved the Lord with all of his heart to the point he could not bear the disrespect and disregard that had been shown toward God’s word and temple. He was also distraught because he learned that the people’s idol worship and evil practices would bring God’s severe judgement—they had been woefully disobedient to the Word of God.

A question we would do well to consider is whether we hold the Scriptures in the same high regard as King Josiah; are they precious to us because they are God’s words—His precious gift to us? Do we obey His commands with all our hearts out of love for Him?

A King Like No Other

How could this amazing statement be made about a king—Josiah—who is not well-known to us like King David, King Solomon, or even King Saul? However, there was no king before or after him that loved and served the Lord so righteously and completely; therefore, it will be of great value for us to discover what made this king worthy of our praise and imitation.

This high standard of devotion that King Josiah exercised is first referred to in Deuteronomy 6: 3 & 5 as a commandment of the Lord given by Moses to the children of Israel, “Hear O Israel and observe to do it; that all may go well with thee…And thou shall love the Lord with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” The command is repeated in the New Testament by Jesus Himself as the first of the two greatest commandments, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment” (Mark 12: 30…see also Matthew 22: 37-38 & Luke 10:27).

Admittedly, I was not aware that someone had been specifically cited in the Bible who had faithfully kept this commandment, much less that this person lived back in the history of the Old Testament. I found it very encouraging that Josiah—whose father and grandfather did evil in the sight of the Lord throughout their reigns as kings—did what was right in the sight of the Lord throughout his reign. In fact, the scripture says that he “turned not to the right hand or to the left” (2 Kings 22:2); in other words, Josiah followed and did not stray from God’s narrow path of righteousness.

Jesus made it clear in His response to the scribe in Mark 12 that the command to love the Lord so fully and completely is an instruction to all of his followers, which includes believers living in our day and time. In order for us to better understand how to love God with all of our being, we will examine the life and reign of King Josiah more closely in the next post.

Break the Bronze Serpent into Pieces- Part 2

The children of Israel had preserved the brazen serpent, which Moses had fashioned according to God’s instruction, and made it into an idol—an object of their worship. In the time of Moses, the Israelites were healed and delivered from their plight when they looked upon the serpent on the pole. Perhaps the children of Israel who lived in Hezekiah’s time believed they could obtain the same benefit of miraculous healing—after all, if it worked for their ancestors, then surely it would work for them. Not only did they look upon it, they burned incense and began to worship it—they did not acknowledge that the bronze serpent of Moses had no power, it was just a “bronze thing”, and that the miraculous power to heal and restore had come from the Lord and no other.

We know today that the brazen serpent Moses lifted up on a pole pointed to the cross of Jesus, the time when He would be lifted up for our benefit. And thus, it is Jesus that we need to look to first and foremost in all things.

But regardless of our knowledge of this prophetic truth, what if we—like the children of Israel—still find ourselves looking to the “bronze thing” at times in our lives. In other words, when we continue to look to something or someone as a source of benefit instead of going back to our primary and supreme source—Jesus Christ—we in effect make them idols. For example: We may have experienced great benefit through jobs that brought promotion and financial independence to us; so then do these characteristics of a “good” career become our guide as to what jobs we accept, without diligently seeking the Lord in the matter? The lesson hopefully to be gained is this: It is needful to be aware that good things and good people can become as idols in our lives when we look to them instead of the Lord for our ultimate guidance, provision, and deliverance.

Break the Bronze Serpent Into Pieces

Did you realize that the Israelites kept the bronze serpent Moses made and regarded it as object of worship long after the account in Numbers 21:6-9? Furthermore, we learn in 2 Kings 18 that King Hezekiah gave it a name—Nehushtan, meaning “piece of brass” or “the brass thing.” Most likely, Hezekiah wanted to emphasize to the people that it was simply a powerless piece of brass despite the fact that it had been associated with healing and deliverance in their past. As with every detail included in God’s word, there is something of value to be gained by examining it more closely with thorough and prayerful exploration; then, undoubtedly, wisdom can be gained and applied for our benefit today.

During the time of Moses, when the Lord ordained the brazen serpent for healing, the people greatly benefited; however, the instruction to look at the serpent on the pole for deliverance was an instruction only for that time and place.

Later in Israel’s history, Hezekiah broke the “brass thing” to pieces because the children of Israel had made it into an idol.

In the next post, we will discover how these incidents can speak to our lives today…

The Secret of Gratitude

According to scripture, there are many excellent reasons to develop gratitude; some of them are:

  • Philippians 4: 6-7- Gratitude/thanksgiving is God’s will for us
  • 1 Chronicles 16:34- Give God gratitude because He is good and loving
  • Psalm 9:1- It is an obedient and good choice that we can willfully make
  • Colossians 3:15- It is a command from the Lord to be thankful
  • Luke 22:19- Jesus Himself gave thanks
  • Nehemiah 12: 27-43- Gratitude and joy are connected: Thankfulness leads to joy and joy leads to gratitude

HOW TO DEVELOP GRATITUDE:

Remember the past: Review the ways that the Lord has been faithful in protecting, providing, leading, healing, counseling, and delivering you and others throughout your life.

Consciously regard the present: Take notice and meditate on each and every blessing throughout the day. Be thankful for resolution or deliverance from mistakes you made; and, the avoidance of mistakes that you might have made without the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Give thanks for being able to evade mishaps, such as narrowly avoiding a wreck. Give thanks that the Lord has saved you and is always with you no matter what happens that day.

Give thanks for the future: Realize that God is the same…yesterday, today, and tomorrow (Hebrews 13:8); therefore, we can completely depend on and trust Him just as in the past. We can rest in the fact that our Father’s love never fails (Psalm 136:1); and, Jesus will never leave or forsake us (Deut. 31:6; Hebrews 13:5)..

Chariots of Fire

Syria was warring against Israel when the king of Syria sent his horses and chariots to find and capture the prophet Elisha out of the city of Dothan. Understandably, Elisha’s servant was alarmed and fearfully asked the great prophet what could be done. Then Elisha gave him assurance that the Lord had sent His own armies, and prayed for the servant to be able to see it for himself:

There are times when fear may blind us to the Lord’s powerful provision that is constantly available to us—provision that is superior to any power of darkness. We simply fail to understand the big picture in various kinds of challenging situations; situations in which it seems that we cannot overcome old patterns of behavior—our human internal weaknesses. Additionally, we may perceive that we are overpowered by external forces—the “horses and chariots” of Satan and this world. Truthfully speaking, it is easy to get wrapped up in our own limited physical and emotional reality. As one anonymous commentator put it, ” Did he [the servant] forever understand the extent of God’s protective care? We must live by faith that the full reality is represented by those brief and beautiful glimpses of the bigger picture.”

Dear Heavenly Father, We praise your name and give you the glory for your great care and provision, even those times when we cannot comprehend it with our own senses. You are always faithful and good—thank you for the victory Jesus provided over all the powers of darkness! Help us Holy Spirit to live by faith that we are surrounded by our Father’s chariots of fire—His power and protection; and may we always live and move and have our being in our Lord’s spiritual reality. In the precious name of Jesus, Amen.

Please play in the background as you read the post:

Lies are Deception- Part 3

When Jesus was asked by His disciples what would be the signs of His coming and of the end of the age, Jesus gave this somewhat puzzling answer, “Take heed that no man deceive you…” (Matthew 24:4). However, His answer makes sense when taken with the whole counsel of scripture: deception will be an ever increasing threat that we will need to pay attention to and guard against. Notice the warning in 2 Timothy 3:13 that as the end of the world approaches, deceivers will become worse and worse; and therefore, believers must be more and more diligent to judge the fruits of prophets and teachers.

The Apostle Paul continued in preparing believers against deception, warning them not to be beguiled by Satan, whose intention was to lead them away from the Gospel (2 Corinthians 11:3). Perhaps the most sobering testament to the seriousness of end time lying deception is found in Revelation 12:9, in which we find that Satan was able to deceive the whole world. Taking all these things into consideration, it seems of utmost importance to avoid participation in worldly deception by taking great care to refrain from any kind of lying and instead, choosing to speak truth in love:

Making every effort to present ourselves approved to God,”a worker who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15

Lies are Deception- Part 2

DECEIT- The act of representing as true what is known to be false; lying; the misleading of a person.

DECEITFUL- Tending to mislead, deceive, or ensnare; apt to lie or cheat; fraudulent.

Have you noticed that lies pervade virtually every aspect of society today? The fact is, we have all withheld truth at one time or another in order to avoid unpleasant experiences such as needlessly offending or angering someone—we realized that remaining silent was appropriate. However if we are to be honest with ourselves, there may have been times that it was just easier to tell a “white lie” or a half-truth because we were fearful that others would otherwise reject or penalize us. In effect, we chose not to speak truth because we valued the opinion of others over the Lord’s (see Galatians 1:10), much like Ananias and Sapphira. As believers, we know that the Lord considers lying to be an abomination (Proverbs 12:22); Scripture clearly states that lies originate from an evil source—Satan, who is the father of lies and in whom there is no truth and no light (John 8:44).

Proverbs 12:22 not only states that lying lips are an abomination to God, but also that those who tell the truth are His delight. Therefore, it would be wise to consider some aspects of lying in order to avoid them and always deal truthfully:

  • Partial truth; withholding a portion of the truth- Eph. 4:25
  • Embellishment/exaggeration of the truth- Luke 22:33-34
  • False witness/slander/false gossip- Ex. 20:16; Prov. 24:28; Ps. 15: 2-3; Prov. 14:5
  • Flattery- Psalm 12:2-3; Prov. 26:8
  • Not doing what you say you will do- 1 John 2:5; Eccl. 5:4-7; Mt. 5:37
  • Misleading by what you say or fail to say- Psalm 34:13

Essentially, anything that misleads, misrepresents, or confuses the truth is a form of lying. Despite the fact that sometimes truthfulness may cost us, let us speak truth in love and so prove to be a faithful friend to others:

Lies are Deception

Reference scripture: Acts 5: 1-11

In this passage, we learn the unusual story of Ananias and his wife, Sapphira. The account is unusual because it takes place in the New Testament, under the New Covenant of Grace; yet, we will find that immediate judgement and pronounced discipline took place.

The early church was marked by community and remarkable generosity. For example, early believers sold land and possessions in order to share with those in need—perhaps most notable among these believers was Barnabas (see Acts 4:36). Ananias, not to be outdone by Barnabas and the others, sold a possession but kept back part of the price. Apparently, it appeared that he was giving everything by either claiming he had or simply by failing to disclose that he withheld part of the proceeds. Peter said, “Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land (v. 3)? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God (v.4).” As soon as he heard Peter’s words, he fell dead. Virtually the same scenario happened to Sapphira when she was asked about the price of the land—she lied and also fell dead. They both had deceived the church.

The consequence of Ananias’ and Sapphira’s lies may seem extreme…maybe a bit shocking. After all, where was grace and forgiveness that characterized the New Covenant? The story clearly demonstrates the importance of truth, especially when the very foundations of the church were being laid. As we have seen, Peter had asked why Ananias had allowed Satan to fill his heart to lie to the Holy Spirit. The couple chose to listen to Satan, the father of lies, and acted in accordance with the character of the devil himself. Furthermore, by lying to impress others, they demonstrated that they regarded the opinion of people over the Lord’s. It is clear that purity and total devotion to the Lord was necessary for the church to grow and flourish as Jesus intended; we must believe it is also necessary in today’s church. “Choose you this day whom you will serve…(Joshua 24:15).”

I never want to allow Satan to fill my heart by deceiving others…

Instead, I want to choose and serve the One who is the Way, the TRUTH, and the Life—Jesus!

In the next few posts, we will examine the absolute necessity for truth among believers in order for the church to be a light in our dark world.

Quote for Today

Harry Ironside, who preached during the early 1900’s, warned about the dangers/deception of mixing truth with error (lies) in the following quote*:

Error is like leaven of which we read, “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (Galatians 5:9). Truth mixed with error is the equivalent of all error, except that it is more innocent looking, and, therefore more dangerous.

*Credit for quote: Lighthouse Trails Research Journal

Do You Have a Good Word?

Fear, problems, sorrow, and anxiety can become such a heavy weight that a person can become weighed down and afflicted in their innermost being; they can reach the point of being “stooped” down under the burden. Thankfully, we read in Proverbs 12:25 that it is possible for this depressed state to actually be turned into gladness with a good word! Our good (pleasant, agreeable, appropriate, encouraging, kind, morally good) words can lift the hearts of others (cheer them up; bring joy)—what an amazingly simple but powerful gift we can give to others.

There may be times we are unsure exactly what to say, but we know something needs to be said. If we have filled our minds with scripture, we are more fully equipped to offer good words. Furthermore, we can claim Psalm 49:3 (“My mouth shall speak of wisdom”) when we know and understand scripture, writing it on our hearts (meditating on and memorizing), so that we can share words guided by the Holy Spirit when opportunities arise.

The Wise Woman of Abel

As I continued to read through the Bible yesterday, I came to a passage in 2 Samuel 20: 14-22 about the heroic actions of a wise woman from the city of Abel Beth-Maacah. In this account, a man named Sheba had lead a rebellion against King David and subsequently had to flee from David’s warrior-general, Joab. Sheba barricaded himself in the fortified city of Abel where Joab launched a powerful siege, battering the wall of Abel with the intent of waging war to capture Sheba. Then, seemingly from nowhere came the wise woman of Abel, who began to authoritatively negotiate an agreement with Joab to deliver the people of her city from certain destruction. During a time in which women were generally held in low regard, a lone woman boldly and courageously stepped forward:

Amazingly, the leader of David’s army—Joab—heeded her words and formulated an agreement that if Sheba would be delivered to him, the city would be spared. The wise woman immediately replied, “His head shall be thrown to thee over the wall” (2 Samuel 20:21).[!]

Sometimes we might ask ourselves whether we can make a difference—whether any one person can use their voice to intervene in a crisis. While there is power in numbers, the Bible attests to the power of the individual who dares to act in wisdom and courage: Ecclesiastes 7:19, “Wisdom strengthens a wise person more than ten rulers who are in a city.” Therefore, with this in mind, we are well equipped as followers of Christ to be that person, if the Lord so leads:

It is my prayer for you:

Two Kings: Two Different Hearts – Part 3

Presently, the world appears to be full of compromise in politics, moral and social standards, and—sadly—in some Christian circles. However, as we have seen, the Lord’s way is not the way of compromise with evil or darkness in any manner:

These scriptures do not mean to treat others with disrespect or without love and concern; in fact, the Bible teaches to love your enemies, do good to them, and pray for them:

This question might be asked, “How can we love and do good to everyone and at the same time refrain from compromising with them?” The answer lies in the above verse—love them with the love of Jesus and pray for them. This God-kind of love (agape) rests in and acts out of the word of God, which never condones sin in our lives or anyone else’s. Genuine agape (selfless) love will risk rejection for standing by Biblical truth, because truly loving others involves looking out for their eternal as well as their earthly welfare, regardless of the cost to us. Therefore, it is helpful to keep two things in mind about loving others while refusing to compromise concerning the Lord and His instructions:

Keeping these things in mind, we need to guard against developing a heart like Saul’s that compromised when it was convenient; instead, we should determine to develop a reverent heart like David’s—loving the Lord above all else, and giving preeminence to His will.

Two Kings: Two Different Hearts – Part 2

In contrast to King Saul, David was someone whom Samuel described as, “…a man after his [the Lord’s] own heart” (2 Samuel 13: 14). As with Saul, a few incidences recorded in 1 Samuel demonstrate the type of heart David had; unlike Saul, David’s words and actions attested to a deep reverential fear of the Lord:

1 Samuel 17: 23-37—The terrifying Philistine giant, Goliath, had taunted and challenged Saul’s army to send a man to fight him; the winner would obtain victory for their entire army. No one would take up the challenge (including King Saul) until a young shepherd (David) stepped forward. David said, “…who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the army of the living God?” David did not focus on himself; instead, he focused on the Lord, who was the true Commander of His army. We read in verse 37 that David believed that it was the Lord who had always delivered him from dangerous attacks by lions and bears, and thus he trusted this would be exactly what God would do concerning Goliath. The outcome: David—refusing Saul’s armor—fought in the name of the Lord using a sling and a stone, effectively delivering Israel from destruction by slaying Goliath.

Another revealing trait of David was his enormous respect for the one God had anointed—King Saul—despite the fact that Samuel had already anointed David himself and the Spirit of the Lord had come upon him (1 Samuel: 16:13). As mentioned earlier, Saul was jealous of David and relentlessly sought his life; nevertheless, David passed up at least two opportunities where he could have easily taken the life of Saul and put an end to the peril he had endured. David’s reverential treatment of the king did not rest in Saul’s character; rather, David’s worshipful fear and love of God moved him to treat his enemy in a way that would leave any judgement or vengeance to the Lord. The outcome: Saul’s life came prematurely to a tragic end, but David successfully ruled Israel for forty years; and the Lord preserved David’s name and generations forever through Jesus Christ.

We will examine how these truths apply to us in today’s world in the next post…

Two Kings: Two Different Hearts

Many are familiar with the Biblical narrative of King Saul and King David, which is contained in 1 Samuel, chapters 9-13. One king had a righteous fear of the Lord, while the other was lacking in his reverential regard for Him. Spoiler Alert: King Saul was lacking in proper fear of the Lord, and King David had a heart for God—one full of awe, respect, love, and worship.

In light of yesterday’s discussion about what the fear of the Lord actually means, let’s look at a few of the actions and attitudes of King Saul:

1 Samuel 13:8-12—King Saul disregarded the instructions of God’s prophet Samuel and did not wait for him to come to Gilgal to make the burnt offering. Instead, Saul took it upon himself to make the offering because he felt Samuel delayed too long and the people were growing too restless. In other words, Saul presumed to know better what needed to be done and took action by his own authority. The consequence: The Lord did not establish his kingdom in Israel forever and his rule would end; God would choose another king.

1 Samuel 14: 24-32—Saul made an oath against his own army that if they ate anything before nightfall (after they had battled to exhaustion), they would be cursed. The curse was made to demonstrate their loyalty to him as he took vengeance on the enemy. Instead of focusing their loyalty and faith on the Lord, Saul made an impulsive vow that satisfied his own ego and anger. The consequence: Because of their hunger and faintness, the army ravenously devoured the spoils of the enemy; and, sinned against God because—in their haste—they ate the food with the blood still in it.

1 Samuel 15: 9-28—Saul only partially obeyed the word of the Lord when he gained victory over the Amalekites. The Lord had spoken through Samuel for the Israelites to completely destroy everyone and everything pertaining to the Amalekites; instead, Saul decided that he would do something even better for the Lord by keeping the things that were good, and destroying the things that he considered vile. He assumed that by using the animals as a sacrifice to the Lord instead of killing them, God would be appeased. Furthermore, Saul told Samuel that he had obeyed God! Saul did what was right in his own eyes and even attempted to manipulate God for his own ends. The consequence: This became the day that God rejected Saul as king and tore the kingdom of Israel from him. Then the Lord sought another king, one with a right heart towards Him.

After these events, Saul continued to decline in his fear of the Lord; he was then vulnerable to and greatly troubled by an evil spirit. The decline reached such severity, that Saul defied the will of the Lord by continually attempting to kill David, who had been chosen and anointed by the Lord to be the next king of Israel, and upon whom the Spirit of the Lord rested.

Part 2 tomorrow…

The Power of Fearing the Lord

This verse resonated with me one morning as I was continuing to read through my Bible. I wondered whether one could truly live satisfied and not be visited by evil in the darkness and difficulty of this present world.

It has become my habit to investigate both the literal and expanded meanings of key words in a verse or passage in order to understand the intent and truth of the scripture. Here is what my research for this passage revealed:

FEAR — Attitude of reverential awe and worship; honor, fear, and respect mixed with love and awe.

TEND — To move or develop one’s course in a particular direction; show a tendency or inclination.

ABIDE — Remain; continue.

SATISFIED — Content.

VISITED — Come upon.

EVIL — Affliction, adversity, harm, wickedness.

Keeping these meanings in mind, the passage might be viewed in this manner:

If believers remain in awe of our Lord, respecting, obeying and loving Him, then our lives will continue in the right direction—the Lord’s purpose and plan. Furthermore, when we are on this righteous path, we will experience contentment; and affliction, harm, wickedness, and adversity will not overtake us.

Therefore, it is needful for us to enable ourselves to keep an accurate view of God through prayer, reading the word, and contemplating on His goodness and justice toward us. In the next post, an account from the Old Testament will serve as a concrete demonstration of the power of fearing (or not fearing) the Lord.

An Unexpected Visitor

During a recent camping trip, my husband and I had an unexpected visitor:

We were going about our day in the privacy of our RV, when we noticed that a large woodpecker had been quietly observing us!

The incident concretely demonstrated several Bible passages that helped me remember some vital truths while conducting my private life:

Hebrews 4:13, “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight: but all things are naked and open unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.”

Jeremiah 23:24, “Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill the heavens and the earth?”

Even when no one seems to be looking, the Lord sees everything and everyone at all times; this can be rewarding for us:

Or, it can be a sobering wake-up call regarding the manner in which we are conducting our lives when we believe no one is looking:

Yet, the Lord in his goodness and mercy desires for us to always be clean before him; and provides a way to do so, because of our Savior, Jesus Christ:

Freedom & Liberty- Part 3

Luke 4:18, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because he hath anointed Me to…preach deliverance to the captives.”

The third aspect of freedom/liberty was defined as liberation and exemption from imprisonment. A prisoner is one who is held captive by something or someone; they are confined and detained—their freedom is limited. And so it is with the one on my heart; but praise to God, according to Psalm 102:20, the Lord looked down from heaven “to hear the groaning of the prisoner; to loose those that are appointed to death.”

Dear Heavenly Father,

You hear the inner groanings of this precious one and you are willing and able to loose them from destruction. I pray that their heart will soften and their mind will not be held in deception. It is you alone who can fully deliver them into true freedom—spiritual freedom—to humble themselves as a child before you. Please lead them by your Spirit to the Truth and His power to overcome—

In the holy and powerful name of Jesus, Amen!

Freedom & Liberty- Part 2

Another aspect of freedom defined by Webster’s was liberation from restraint. As I pondered this notion in relation to my prayers, I realized that this dear one was being restrained by the evil one from the only source of true freedom and truth—Jesus:

“Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” 2 Corinthians 3:17

The one in my prayers was being restrained from liberty and identity in Christ by the deceptive allure of the besetting sin. Furthermore, the suffering and deception of this world had provided excuses to engage in unwholesome behaviors as a means of escape. Undoubtedly, I too have battled with such temptations; and most assuredly, I would fail to operate free from ungodly restraint without the Spirit of Christ leading me into truth and power to overcome. Consider the following verses:

Clearly, Jesus IS the truth and therefore, only by knowing Him can genuine freedom come. With that in mind, my prayer became a petition for restraint to be lifted; and then, every means possible to come into play to make a way to Jesus, Who is the Truth—the One who could make them free indeed.

Freedom & Liberty

During a Bible study with a friend, our discussion caused the word freedom to keep resounding in my heart, leading to intercessory prayer for someone very dear to me. Because this prayer seemed to be saturated with the notion of freedom, I was eager to look up its definition:

According to Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, FREEDOM means, “Liberation from slavery, imprisonment, or restraint.” LIBERTY is defined as, “Exemption from slavery, bondage, imprisonment, or control by another.”

As I pondered the first aspect of freedom and also liberty, I realized that the one I had on my heart was indeed a slave to a besetting sin that eventually dominated life. It might be said that this dear one had given control to the sin—they were enslaved by it:

This was not Christ’s plan for this precious soul. My prayer became a plea that—in the name of Jesus—they would be freed from the burden of this enslavement:

Luke 4:18, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon the Me, because he hath anointed Me to… set at liberty them that are bruised.”

Life had bruised deeply, but Jesus could touch the deep wounds and and heal them; He could liberate this ‘slave’ to live life free of destructive control.

The next few posts will continue to meditate on freedom and how our prayers can be enhanced with the Biblical promises in this area…

Blinded to Blessing

Yesterday, I determined to use ‘earned dollars’ at a local retail store despite the fact that I had already had a very challenging and tiring morning. Because I had a limited time to use the credit, I was determined to find something that day so I would not need to return to town, a 30 minute commute. About 30 or 40 minutes after entering the store, I was beginning to grow frustrated; additionally, my leg muscles were aching (I had been on my feet for hours before I reached the store) and I began to feel weak and nauseated…it was well past lunch ; ). There was nothing in the entire store that I connected to whatsoever; I finally threw in the towel and left exhausted.

That evening, it occurred to me that a sweater I had seen in the store was the exact style and color that I had been searching for—I couldn’t believe I had left without it after all the time and energy I had expended. Just a few hours earlier, I had been certain there was nothing I could possibly settle for to redeem my dollars, and yet now I was concerned the ‘perfect sweater’ would likely be gone by the next day. A verse from my 5/7/23 post about seeking God’s kingdom first immediately came to mind, and then I recalled a verse prior to it that was totally relevant and instructive to my situation:

Immediately everything came into perspective: the expiring dollars, the sweater, the time and effort already expended, did not merit any concern. My husband and I took a walk the next morning and leisurely stopped for coffee and a snack. I decided we could go by the store very quickly and see if the sweater was still there; if not, I had decided towels were a good practical second choice. The sweater was there; and, I found two other items that were also things I had been on the lookout for. It all added up to almost the exact amount of my earned dollars.

It is amazing to me that exhaustion and a negative attitude had blinded me to these small blessings. While the entire situation might seem minor and trifling, the lesson was definitely valuable: God’s word is always relevant and, if taken to heart and obeyed, will lift any situation—whether major or minor—into the proper perspective, enabling an outcome that is pleasing to the Lord.

Give to Everyone

Does this verse mean that we always give the thing that someone asks of us; and we always accommodate everyone who needs to borrow from us?

I used to believe the answer was “yes”. I reasoned that we cannot adequately judge if someone is in genuine need, and it is better to give to the undeserving than withhold from a person who needs our help. Yet, it seemed that giving to everyone indiscriminately would only encourage some people to lie or deceive in order to gain what they desired. Furthermore, lending can cause rifts between friends and family regarding repayment; as has been said, “Before borrowing from a friend, decide which you need most. “Nevertheless, Mt. 5:42 seems to clearly indicate that we should give or lend to everyone who asks of us.

Acts 3: 1-6 relates an incident where a crippled beggar asked Peter and John for money, expecting to receive what he requested. Instead, Peter looked at him and said, “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have I give thee.” In other words, Peter did not give the crippled man what he asked for—what the beggar thought he most needed—Peter gave him something he had the means to give which was far more valuable: He gave healing to the man who was crippled from birth! So perhaps we do not necessarily need to give to everyone what they are asking for; but rather, what we are lead to give by the Spirit for their greater welfare.

Luke 6: 30 & 34 state, “Give to every man that asketh of theeAnd if you lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye?” I have heard it said that it is wise to never lend with the expectation of getting paid back; but to consider what we “lend” as a gift. Still, there may be times when an agreement to repay is appropriate; nevertheless, it seems wise to—as we might have heard—“only lend what you can afford to lose.” Here are two verses to keep in mind so that we might cheerfully and generously lend and give to those who ask:

If we give of our time, talent, or treasure according to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and the counsel of Scripture; then it will always be possible to give to everyone who asks of us. Not only that, but we can do it with cheerful and generous hearts knowing that we are doing it for the Lord and He will bless our obedience.

The Blessing of Adoption

As I was considering Biblical accounts of mothers, I remembered the story of baby Moses. I grew curious as to why, out of all the mothers mentioned in the Bible, Moses’ two mothers came to mind. And so, I read the entire passage in Exodus 1 & 2 whereby it became evident that both mothers had vital roles in Moses’ life. His biological mother was willing to go to desperate measures to save her son, despite the possibility of severe consequences for defying Pharaoh’s decree. Nevertheless, as we read in the verse above, her motherly love overshadowed any personal risk. On the other hand, Pharaoh’s daughter—knowing the baby was Hebrew—also defied her father’s decree by compassionately rescuing him.

By way of adoption, Moses was saved; and, eventually the entire nation of Israel was delivered from enslavement through his obedience to God’s plan. It occurred to me that although I had a biological mother, like Moses, I was also adopted; not by earthly parents, but because I—as all believers—have been adopted into the family of God:

Wisdom for Fearful Times

It has been calculated that the verse that is located in the very center, or middle, of all the verses in the Bible is Psalm 118:8, “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.” You might say this truth is at the “heart” of God’s word of wisdom for these unsettled and fearful times we live in. According to Hebraic literal meanings, the verse essentially states that it is better and wiser to put one’s hope, trust, and confidence in the Lord Jesus Christ than to seek refuge in people. As I was meditating on this verse, it became evident that I am part of humanity and therefore, it is also much better to trust in God than in myself—than in my abilities and resourcefulness.

Because financial concerns, assaults on our health, environmental disasters, etc. continually feed into societal fear and desperation, it may seem an easier path to turn to those who offer immediate answers—an easy way out—rather than diligently seek the Lord and wait for his Spirit to lead us. However, this verse clearly gives an unchanging truth regardless of the conditions we find ourselves enduring: It is better and wiser to place confidence and trust in the Lord, rather than to blindly seek a seemingly safe place/answer in humanity. That is not to say that God will never lead us to take advantage of what is offered in our world; but, we must be certain we have sought and heard from Him before we mindlessly or fearfully choose secular answers to our problems.

May we practice the faithful wisdom of King David:

Practice Hospitality- Conclusion

As we have seen, hospitality has many facets that any believer can demonstrate to others. Recently, I came upon an unusual sight that visually cemented this multi-faceted gift of hospitality in my mind:

As you can see, a most unusual root from the large fir tree inexplicably came up and over, out of the ground, forming a small bench. The top had been worn smooth, suggesting many hikers had taken advantage of this unexpected offer of “hospitality” and sat down for a brief reprieve from their hike. The sight conveyed to me that if sojourners could find some measure of comfort from a tree, then most assuredly, anyone could offer a measure of friendly hospitality to strangers in need.

Practice Hospitality- Part 2

In the past, I have almost exclusively envisioned hospitality as opening my home to friends and family and providing a large meal and perhaps overnight lodging. But, when I look at incidents when a Biblical character practiced hospitality, it was often to strangers. Furthermore, the means by which they demonstrated hospitality were frequently in ways other than meals or lodging.

It may be that we find ourselves condemned about not being as hospitable as we should because the thought of preparing a meal, cleaning our home, and trying to provide some way to engage others can become a bit overwhelming. While some believers are strongly gifted to practice hospitality, every believer is commanded and equipped to offer hospitality on some level. It is therefore encouraging that the Scriptures offer concrete examples of ways to be hospitable that are not so daunting:

For example, Rebekah drew water from a well until all the camels of Abraham’s servant, a stranger, were provided with water. Because she showed friendliness and generosity to a sojourner in need, she effectively practiced hospitality toward him:

Genesis 24:44 And she say to me, “Both drink thou and I will also draw for thy camels.”

(Read the full account in Genesis 24: 1-49)

In Matthew 25, we read what I believe is a beautiful description of Godly hospitality and compassionate generosity—simple acts that powerfully convey the heart of Jesus by demonstrating love and concern, particularly for those in need:

Conclusion on hospitality tomorrow…

Practice Hospitality

Hospitality literally means “love of strangers or aquaintances; friendliness shown to strangers; readiness to be generous.”

Practice is the act of earnestly pursuing.

Therefore, to practice hospitality is to earnestly seek to show love and generosity to God’s people, to strangers, and to those outside of our close social circles, especially those who are in need.

Hospitality is a command, and is not without reward.

Hospitality should be offered with a cheerful, uncomplaining attitude—it can be shown in many ways, using many varied gifts.

What are some ways you have experienced hospitality?

More on hospitality tomorrow

How to Solve Unsolvable Problems

Sometimes we wrestle with problems that seem to be impossible to solve; in fact, it may appear that our efforts are futile. These may be the kind of problems over which some forward progress may be achieved; but then—inevitably—we slip backwards a few steps (or perhaps giant leaps). Often, the lack of success is not because great effort has not been made to overcome the trial; however, an important point to remember is that we need to keep a right focus. The Scriptures provide clear instructions as to how we can focus in such a way that our problems—even “unsolvable” ones can be overcome:

While this verse specifically refers to physical needs, the overarching lesson is to put priorities in order and keep first things first. Wrestling with a problem—small or great—that just doesn’t get resolved can create a goal of putting it behind us by focusing on its resolution through our prayer and effort. Could it be that the best path to this goal is not by focusing on the desired answer to a specific problem, but by seeking God’s divine perspective about it, keeping His eternal values (righteousness) in mind?

One day at a time, one step at a time, it is possible to live our lives with unshakable confidence that the Lord is willing and able to provide for our welfare. The Holy Spirit will help us put God’s interests first if we pray and listen to his counsel. A spiritual focus will bring the problem into a accurate perspective and we will discover that what we need concerning our problems will be added into our lives.

Be Anxious for Nothing

According to the verse above, there is nothing we should ever worry or be anxious about; and, this is true for every situation! Recently, I have wrestled with a situation that I confess had bothered me; in fact, I caught myself worrying about it to the point there were a few sleepless nights. I remembered that without a doubt God had always been faithful and good; He had provided all of my needs…yet the nature of this particular problem had stirred unreasonable anxiety in my mind. When I snapped this photo while traveling in the mountains, the Lord seemed to speak into my heart that my situation could be visualized in this way:

The entire cliff was solid rock; yet the continual dripping of a tiny ribbon of water had made a small pool in the stone beneath. It became clear as I contemplated the astonishing power of the seemingly insignificant amount of water, that it was its unrelenting drip that was wearing away the rock.

Similarly, my anxiety was constantly in the back of my mind, “dripping” and wearing on my faith. And so, I took to heart Philippians 4:6-7 and petitioned the Lord with my requests concerning my situation. I also thanked God for His faithfulness and provision for me in the past. I gave thanksgiving to Him for always being true to His promises, and for the fact that He had continually cared for me.

It has become my firm intention to be as relentless in prayer as the dripping of that tiny ribbon of water whenever anxiety begins to erode my thoughts and wear away at my faith. As a result—according to God’s promise in Philippians 4:7—I know that I can experience and abide in the peace of God whatever comes my way and however/whenever the Lord chooses to answer my petition.

“Let God’s promises shine on your problems.” -Corrie ten Boom

Spirit vs Flesh

My husband and I recently came upon a volt of vultures who were contemplating eating a dead animal in the middle of a bridge—directly in the path of oncoming vehicles. As we inched closer in our truck, we decided to pull off onto the side of the road and more closely observe the birds’ behavior as they instinctively pursued their meal:

Initially, one vulture was “on the fence” contemplating the amount of risk that might be involved in fulfilling his desire to eat the fresh road-kill…

The vulture decided to take the risk and soon after, another bird was “on the fence” observing and contemplating whether he should follow suit…

Overcome with “temptation”, he soon joined the other vulture.

Notice, once both birds fully succumbed to their desires, they became oblivious to the fast-approaching danger; meanwhile, other vultures observed the events from a higher perspective:

While the instinctual behavior of the vultures is distinctly different from the contemplative behavior of human beings, the comparison helps visibly demonstrate the process of wrestling with lusts of the flesh: First, a point of conscious choice precedes decisions to act; and then once decisions are made to give in to temptation, other people are often influenced and enticed to join in. Finally, as people continue to choose unwisely, they become increasingly focused on fulfilling their desires, and less aware of the possible dangers of such pursuits.

However, much like the vultures in the trees, we can wisely make our choices from a “higher perspective”—a Biblical perspective, lead by the Spirit, who receives from Jesus, and reveals it to us (John 16:13-14). We find the central truth of this narrative summed up in Galatians 5:24-25, “And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”

Look and Live

The context for Numbers 21:8-9 is the disobedient, complaining disposition of the people when they grew discouraged by the difficulty of their flight from Egypt. They actually began to speak against Moses and against God…not because they were without bread or water. They had manna and also water from a Rock; nevertheless they claimed they had neither regardless of the fact (as we learn in verse 5) that they “loathed” the bread God had provided. The consequence was that they provoked God to send fiery deadly serpents to bite them, resulting in many of them dying.

You might be saying to yourself, “That seems too harsh and it may even be unfair.” Yet, when the full narrative of the children of Israel’s flight from slavery is taken into account, it becomes evident that the Lord was patient, long-suffering, and merciful to them: From the very start, the people sinned with doubt and ingratitude while continually complaining, grumbling, and falsely accusing their leadership and the Lord about the the things they perceived were lacking. They had continually spurned, grieved, and provoked the Lord in the wilderness.

Yet, God in His great love and mercy provided a way for them to escape His judgement: They only needed to look upon the bronze serpent to live. Now we might think to ourselves, “This seems unfair…the Hebrews did not deserve such an easy way out” and we would be justified in our assessment. All that was required was for the people to ignore the biting snakes and give full attention to the bronze serpent on the pole; this even applied to those who had already been bitten and doomed to death—they could still look and live. It should be noted that two things had taken place in order for them to trust in the Lord’s deliverance: The people repented, and Moses prayed for them.

Numbers 21 provides critical lessons that are still true and applicable for these trying times today: God is good and loving at all times, and we can count on Him to provide our needs. Just as with the children of Israel, it is critical to remember to be grateful for all that He gives, not focus on what we think is lacking. Only then we will be able to refrain from grumbling and complaining so that we can endure with patience the difficulties of our earthly journey. Most importantly, we can with empowerment from the Holy Spirit, turn away from (repent of) our sins such as ingratitude, complaining and unbelief and place our trust in the One whom God provided for our deliverance—Jesus.

The Lord is My Shepherd

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When I think about the 23rd Psalm, I regard the Shepherd personally: “The Lord is MY Shepherd”

To list all of the implications of this personal Shepherd described in Psalm 23 is perhaps an impossible undertaking; therefore, I will present a few of the shepherding characteristics that each and every child of God can count on from Jesus, the Good Shepherd:

  • He provides a genuine sense of belonging and possesses a knowledge about us on the deepest level (John 10 14; John 10:3; Ps. 23:1).
  • He provides all I need (Ps. 23:1; Phil. 4:19)
  • The Good Shepherd causes me to rest, be safe and secure, and experience peace (Ps.23:2,
  • He restores/heals our minds, wills, and emotions (souls) (Psalm 23:3)
  • Jesus leads me on the right (righteous) path; He does not drive or force me, but shows me the way (Psalm 23:3; John 10:27)
  • He never leaves us or forsakes us—we do not need to fear anything or anyone because Jesus protects us (Ps. 23:4; Luke 15:3-7)
  • Our lives overflow with His abundant supply and power—no matter our circumstances—because of His consistent and ever-present goodness and mercy toward us (Psalm 23: 5-6)
  • We will dwell with our Good Shepherd forever! (Psalm 23:6)

The Power of the Tongue

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The Bible has much to say about the words we speak—words that give life or words that administer death. Whether our communication builds up those who hear or whether it tears down and discourages others, we ourselves will also be impacted by our words. As Proverbs 18:21 demonstrates, we will “eat” the consequences of what we say, for example:

GOOD WORDS: Builds up and gives grace to others (Ephesians 4:29); turns away the anger of others (Proverbs 15:1); are soothing to the soul and healthy for the body (Proverbs 16:24); will keep us out of trouble (Proverbs 21:23); are acceptable to God (Psalm 19:14); are prudent and appropriate to say (Colossians 4:6), etc. Lastly and most assuredly, when we appropriately speak the word of God to others, it will be profitable communication (2Timothy 3:16).

However, when we speak BAD or CORRUPT WORDS, they can defile us (make unholy) (Mt. 15:18); they can be condemning (Mt. 12:37); can corrupt us and others (Eph. 4:29); bring us under judgement (Mt. 12:36); can wound and discourage (Prov. 12:18); stir up anger (Prov.15:1); break another’s spirit (Prov. 15:4), etc.

Perhaps it would be helpful to keep these images in mind:

GOOD WORDS administer life and are sweet like honey——————————————————->

(Proverbs 18:21 & 16:24)

CORRUPT WORDS are bitter and deadly

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(Proverbs 13:13)

It is sobering to realize how our words can cause us to fall into sin and even come to ruin (Proverbs 10:9 & 13:3); but at the same time, encouraging to know that our words can be a tree of life for ourselves and others (Proverbs 15:4).

Jesus Triumphed Over Them

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The “them” referred to in this verse are the same dark adversaries discussed in Ephesians 6:12, in the chapter where Paul described the Armor of God. It is amazing that Colossians 2:14-15 declares in no uncertain terms that Jesus indeed won the victory for all believers when He completed His work on the cross. Yet, we might wonder why we continue to need our Spiritual armor, fighting and struggling against evil spirits in this world until we are taken home to be with the Lord or Jesus returns.

Perhaps it would be helpful to remember that Satan is very angry because his time is short (read Revelation 12:12) and he wants to use his limited time to do all the damage he can to God’s creation and His children. Could this mean that Satan realizes his efforts failed to destroy Jesus by way of the crucifixion, as evidenced by Jesus’ resurrection from the dead?

Regardless of the physical damage he might carry out, we most assuredly have greater spiritual power through the Holy Spirit—who dwells within us—than our evil adversaries (1 John 4:4); Satan and his cohorts cannot obtain any spiritual victory unless believers voluntarily or unwittingly give it to them. The Armor, properly understood and taken up, guarantees this. But above all, the victory of our salvation and eternal life can never be defeated; that victory has been won forever by our Savior, Jesus Christ (2Timothy 1:10; Romans 6:14; Romans 8:31; John 16:33; Romans 8:37).

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The Armor of God- Helmet of Salvation & Sword of the Spirit

Ephesians 6:17- 18, “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit.”

The HELMET OF SALVATION assures our minds that we will spend eternity with our Savior, where there will be no more suffering and no more tears. Furthermore, Colossians 3:2 provides effective instructions on how to gain this assurance: “Set your affections (attachments; sway of our minds) on things above, not on things on the earth.” We need not fear death because we are most assuredly on our way to our eternal heavenly destination!

As scripture says, the SWORD OF THE SPIRIT is the word of God. It is the piece of armor that enables us to go on the attack, rather than staying in a defensive position. Matthew 4:1-11 provides the most powerful example of how to wield this sword:

Jesus was lead into the wilderness where Satan would tempt Him for 40 days. Jesus countered every temptation with complete success by reciting scripture that was relevant to the situation. Over and over He spoke the scriptures against each attempt to defeat Him until He reached the time of victory when He made Satan flee——————————->

“Thanks be to God, who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Corinthians 15:57). You see, we fight from a place of victory that Jesus has already won; but there will be skirmishes—Satan and his cohorts do not want to admit defeat. Let’s never forget that it is by God’s strength through His Armor of Light that we battle; and therefore, we need not fear that we will be defeated. God’s children—by putting on His armor and “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18)—are well equipped to stand firm and remain faithful to the end.

The Armor of God- Shield of Faith

“Above all taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.” Ephesians 6:16

“Above all” means that this piece of our armor is absolutely essential for warfare which is described as fiery darts from evil spiritual enemies. What are these fiery darts? Essentially, they are the lies and accusations these wicked adversaries aim at our minds and hearts; and if we are not fully believing in God’s goodness, power, love, and protection over us, these darts will find their mark. We may experience such thoughts as, “I will never overcome this” or “God does not hear my prayers concerning _________.” Notice, these thoughts sound like we are telling ourselves these things, but that is not always the case; after all, the enemy is deceitful and cunning and is well able to disguise his lies as if they were our own thoughts. When these attacks happen, we can bolster our faith by remembering how faithfully God has helped us in the past, using those times as convincing proof of His faithfulness to us.

Numbers 23:19 declares, “God is not a man that He should lie…hath He said, and shall He not do it? or hath He spoken and not make it good?” Thus it is evident that another extremely powerful bolster to our faith is to know God’s promises and to meditate on His absolute fidelity in keeping them. When temptation comes, looking up in the Bible promises that particularly address the current “darts” that are assaulting our thoughts and perhaps saying them aloud will inevitably strengthen our protective shield of faith.

Finally, seeking out others who can impart Biblical wisdom and encouragement can multiply and solidify our ability to “quench” (protect against and eradicate) the condemnation spiritual enemies hurl our way:

The Armor of God- Gospel of Peace

“And your feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of Peace…” Ephesians 6:15

A firm foundation is necessary for stability; if we are not “shod” with God’s good news—the Gospel—we will slip or be injured by the hostile terrain of the enemy. Therefore, we are to prepare and be ready always to share the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15), and confess our faith no matter the “terrain” or circumstances. For the peace (wholeness and welfare) of ourselves and others, we purposefully determine to stand upon the sure foundation of the Gospel of Peace.

The Armor of God- Breastplate of Righteousness

The breastplate of Roman armor protected a vital organ—the heart; the spiritual breastplate of righteousness also protects our “heart”—our capacity for moral preference. In other words, it shields our heart’s desires—as they bear on our decisions—from evil influences; and as we follow and obey the Lord through the faith that He has birthed in our hearts, we have God’s divine approval (righteousness).

In fact, teachings on the importance of guarding our hearts are found throughout the Bible; for example Proverbs 4:23 states, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it spring the issues of life.” What are the issues that we must so fervently oversee? According to Mt. 12:35; Mt. 15:19; & Mark 7:21, they are good things or evil things; therefore, we need to make sure we act out of pure desires, not evil ones. The righteousness of Christ, which we have in Him (2Corinthians 5:21), will empower and protect the faith we need for righteous preferences and decisions.

The Armor of God- Belt of Truth

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 teaches us that we—believers—do not wage war the way the world does. You may ask, “What war?” 1 Peter 5:8-9 warns us that our enemy, Satan, is constantly prowling about looking for someone he can successfully attack; we are to resist him steadfast in our faith. Furthermore, we must remember that Satan’s alluring world, as well as our human nature (flesh) can be influenced and molded by the dark forces described in Ephesians 6: 12. Therefore, it is wise to be on the alert for battle in the area of our thoughts and desires.

Fortunately, the Lord has provided His Armor of Light that is much more powerful than the enemy:

The first piece of divine armor is the BELT OF TRUTH because it is essential for the effectiveness of the rest of the armor through empowerment by the Spirit of Truth (John 15:26). The belt held the sword of the Spirit and other weapons—obviously the Sword of the Spirit (God’s Word) is a vital part of knowing truth; in fact, knowing and embracing God’s truth is absolutely essential in fighting against the lies and deception of the devil. Moreover, if we do not have a thorough understanding of the truth, we are vulnerable to being carried away by false doctrine, deceit, and trickery of men ( Ephesians 4:14). And so, by studying and meditating on the Scriptures as well as prayerfully listening to the Holy Spirit we can “put on” the belt of Truth, the first piece of our Armor of Light.

The Full Armor of God- Introduction

Complete Reference: Ephesians 6:10-18

In today’s times, many are seeking ways to overcome the problems and perhaps persecutions that are assaulting believers daily—they are desiring to understand how to effectively battle and stand their ground. God’s word does not withhold such valuable information! In fact Scripture is replete with instructions concerning this type of warfare—spiritual warfare:

It is my hope that in the upcoming posts, we can explore together and come to a more complete understanding about this most powerful spiritual armor—the Armor of Light. Furthermore, by seeking this deeper knowledge, we will be able to effectively equip ourselves to stand in victory (see Matthew 7:7). As Jesus explained in John 16:33, warfare (tribulation) will surely come our way...

Seek First His Kingdom

When we are worried, it might be helpful to think about what we have been seeking after; that is, what have we been giving our attention to? Scripture clearly instructs us regarding what we should seek above everything:

It is likely that if believers fail to direct their energy and attention to God’s way of doing things, they will enter into worry. This anxiety is basically a preoccupation with tomorrow—with what is to come—over which there is little or no control. Thankfully however, there is always an important aspect of tomorrow that we can control: how we choose to face it. When any of us seek His Kingdom, we are seeking the King of Kings Himself- the Lord. The word “therefore” in verse 34 means “as a result of this.” In other words, when we have truly taken our focus off of our cares and concerns and directed them toward how good and trustworthy the Lord is, we will not be inclined to worry!

Change takes place when we move from “I believe this is going to happen” to “I trust in the Lord regarding anything that that happens.”

Jesus did not say we would conquer anxiety by simply trying not to worry; we will conquer anxiety by surrendering and entrusting whatever may happen to our perfect and powerful Heavenly Father. We can pray, get into His Word, and seek wise fellowship with a brother or sister in Christ until we can genuinely proclaim, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done…” (Matthew 6:10).

The Key to Everything

The book of Ephesians records a powerful prayer that the Apostle Paul prayed as a blessing over the saints in Ephesus, but which could also apply to all believers throughout all times:

Could this prayer be the key to everything pertaining to living out a Godly life of faith? Paul wants us to be able to comprehend how much Christ loves us so that we can be filled with the fullness of God; we can have everything we need! But, how can those who have wrestled with condemnation and rejection from early childhood have the ability to receive the boundless love of God to such an extent that they are overwhelmed and filled with His mercy and grace?

First, in order to do this, we need to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in our inner being (see Eph. 3:16). Moreover, if Paul could pray this prayer for us, then we can join with him in asking the Lord for his Holy Spirit to help us have this kind of faith—the strength we need to comprehend and experience His perfect love. This experiential love goes beyond our mere knowledge about it; it fills us to the point that our doubts and fears are driven out (1 John 4:18).

Paul goes on to describe in the fourth chapter of Ephesians other ways we can open our hearts to receive and live in His love:

*Be renewed in the spirit of our minds(Eph. 4:23)

* Speak in ways that convey grace (4:29)—even when speaking to ourselves!

*Do not allow sinful anger; that is, unjustified anger from which you have not repented before “the sun goes down” (Eph. 4:26).

*Speak only truth and not lies (4:25).

*Do not grieve the Holy Spirit (4:30).

*Be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving 4:32).

The list of how to prepare our hearts to fully receive His love could go on and on; but the point is, we must do our part (thankfully, by the power of His Spirit) to be enabled to supernaturally comprehend God’s infinite love. It may be a process, but the Lord desires for each of His children to experience and live out their lives bathed in the grace and peace of Jesus’ precious love (see John 3:16).

Singing at Midnight

Acts 16:25, “And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.”

Paul and Silas were instructed in a vision to go to Macedonia and preach the gospel. Many were converted, but when Paul cast a demon out of a woman who had been following them, they were taken before the magistrates by her masters, who had been able to make money off of her divinations. Paul and Silas were falsely accused, severely beaten, cast into prison, and constrained by stocks. Nevertheless, at midnight they prayed and worshiped the Lord; immediately, an earthquake shook the prison doors open and loosed them from their bonds.

Imagine the being falsely accused and severely mistreated because you obeyed the Lord by faithfully spreading the gospel. Yet Paul and Silas endured all of this by giving a sacrifice of praise in the midst the midnight hour—a dark and frightening time in their ministry.

Their sacrifice to the Lord was heard by others in the prison and most importantly by the Lord Himself; moreover, they were freed and more converts were won to God’s Kingdom by their witness. While we may not always experience this kind of dramatic outcome when we praise the Lord in the midst of difficult circumstances, we will experience supernatural joy in the midst of our troubles: We should remember that before Paul and Silas were ever released, they sang from their hearts so joyfully and loudly that the other prisoners heard them. Praying and giving praise to God continually, through all circumstances whether good or bad, will always be to our benefit—our sacrifice will not only please the Lord, but at the very least, we will experience the kind of supernatural joy that will sustain us!

The Alpha and Omega

FOCUS PASSAGE: John 2:12-17

In this passage, John seems to record an earlier event in which Jesus entered into the temple in Jerusalem and drove out the money-changers rather than the temple-cleansing event described in the other three gospels (see the 7/9/22 post, “Be Angry, Yet Do Not Sin). John placed this cleansing of the temple shortly after Jesus began His ministry, immediately after His first miracle of turning water into wine. The other three gospels describe this event as taking place near the end of Jesus’ ministry, during the week of His crucifixion. Apparently, Jesus cleansed the temple two different times—one at the beginning of His ministry, and one at its conclusion.

ALPHA- First; beginning

OMEGA- Last; end

(Also, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet)

Both of the occurrences described above concerned the zeal Jesus had for the purity of His Father’s house, the Holy Temple. Jesus said that He would return for a glorious church (the called out believers in Christ who would be the temple of His Holy Spirit) who should be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:27). We know that almost from the start, the early church was infiltrated with false teachers and troublesome practices; moreover, at the end of Jesus’ time on earth, the church was still struggling with unholy ways. It is therefore notable that right at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, he purified the temple—His church; and also at the end, He continued to address its’ impurity, cleansing the temple once again before He finished His earthly work.

And so, although Jesus is the Alpha and Omega in many different ways, it is significant that at the beginning and the end of His earthly ministry He concerned Himself with the holiness and glory of His church. May we have the heart of Jesus and keep our temples pure—an effective house of prayer.

Without spot or blemish…”

Ephesians 5:27

Know Your Enemy

2 Corinthians 2:11- “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.”

There is a popular story about an inquiry to a banker regarding how the bank could detect when certain paper money was counterfeit. The banker explained that they did not teach the bank tellers all about the aspects of counterfeit money; rather, they trained them to be so familiar with the feel and appearance of real money that they could detect anything other than the genuine article. This narrative has been cited to support the fact that we need not spend any time learning about Satan or his cohorts; instead, all of our time and energy should be devoted solely to learning about Jesus. The lesson from this story indeed has great wisdom and merit. Any effort we devote to learning about God and His ways is time well spent—Jesus is the “genuine article”—the true Savior; and Satan is a counterfeit, always trying to present himself as the one to be desired.

However, Paul explained that they (the believers) were not ignorant of Satan’s schemes—they recognized the characteristics of Satan’s counterfeit tactics. The point isn’t that we should become obsessed with investigating the dark ways of the enemy, but rather we should be aware of those ways to the extent that Satan cannot gain an advantage over us and thereby deceive us. The Scriptures clearly teach that we are wrestling with evil powers and we must be on guard against them; indeed we are to expose them (Ephesians 5:11 & Eph. 6:12). We learn from the Bible, for example, that Satan disguises himself as good and desirable (2Cor. 11:14; Mt. 7:15); he is a liar (John 8:44); he inspires false teachers (2 Peter 2:1-3); and he will produce signs and wonders (Mt. 24:24).

NEVER FORGET:

BUT PRAISE GOD:

Mrs. Jones’ Greatest Lesson

Perhaps it was when I was in the fifth grade that I learned a lesson that would resound in my heart throughout the decades of my life. My favorite teacher from the entirety of my education was Mrs. Jones; not because she effectively taught me math and English (although she did), but because of something not found in our text books.

Mrs. Jones did not have favorites…at least none that one could discern. Every day at lunch, she would choose a different table whereby she would interact on a personal level with her students. She made sure to engage every single child in some form of conversation—the shy ones, the trouble-makers, the popular ones—she made no distinctions with her attention. In hindsight, I realize that she could have taken a break from the rigors of teaching 5th-graders by lunching at the teachers’ table; but she chose us. Mrs. Jones never raised her voice; she never seemed frustrated—she was kind:

KIND- Sympathetic; friendly; affectionate; gentle; tender-hearted, generous, courteous, etc.

Ephesians 2:7 states, “That in the ages to come he [God] might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Jesus Christ.” KJV

Mrs. Jones taught her greatest lesson through her kind actions to everyone in the class; she demonstrated the exceeding grace of Jesus in a way that resounded in my young heart—a lesson I never forgot.

Do you have fond memories of your favorite teacher that you can share?

Our Reasonable Service

In this passage, Jesus was teaching His disciples an important truth using a parable about a hard-working servant and his master.

Taking into account the verses prior to this passage (Luke 17:3-6), we see that Jesus taught how we are to forgive again and again—over and over—anyone who repents of a trespass against us. His apostles indicated they needed greater faith than they had to do this (Luke 17:5). Jesus—seemingly out of the blue—related how they could do mighty things with the faith they already possessed, and then immediately began to relate the parable of the unworthy servant. It may seem the entire context is unrelated, but as usual, Jesus’ teaching was perfectly attuned to every aspect of the situation.

I have found (perhaps like many of us) forgiving an offense over and over is one of the hardest things required of believers. Yet, we can do this and much more if we have faith even as tiny as a mustard seed. It is the grace of Jesus that enables us, and so we need not think too highly of ourselves just because we obeyed our Master…even in forgiving the undeserving.

As an example of this kind of humility, the parable describes how a servant who had worked hard plowing and feeding cattle came in from the field, yet was not allowed to sit and eat until after his master had finished his meal. Not only that, the servant did not merit being thanked for the work he had done! He had simply performed his duty as he was supposed to…there was no room for pride.

Recognition and appreciation are valued by our souls; so naturally, when we have worked hard and faithfully, we would like to hear at least a ‘thank you.’ While the Lord is a Rewarder to the faithful (see Hebrews 11:6-9), we should not expect or require a pat on the back when we are obedient to his commands; instead, we could think of submission to God’s will as a privilege and our reasonable service” (see Romans 12:1). That is, obeying His commands is our proper worship toward Jesus, the One who deserves far more than we could ever offer.

Go Light Your World

Isaiah 60: 1-3, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth, and deep darkness the peoples; but the Lord will rise upon you, and His glory will appear upon you. And nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”

Despite deep darkness coming on the earth and on the people of the earth, Isaiah assures us that the Lord will cause us to rise up with His light. God, the Father of Lights, inspired Paul to declare in Ephesians 5:8, “For you were sometimes darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, walk as children of light”; and Mt. 5:14 says, “You [believers] are the light of the world.” This means that we bear fruit in good deeds (Mt.5:16 & Eph. 5:7-4) and expose the darkness (Eph. 5:11 & Eph. 5:13). May we cause others to love the light of Jesus in all that we do and say.

Please watch to the end:

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More About the Fruit of the Spirit

One might say that the fruit of the Spirit is inconsistent with being selfish or conceited; spiritual fruit is born of humility and thinking more of others than ourselves: Philippians 2:3 teaches, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.”

As the passage above indicates, the attitude of our minds—how we think—has everything to do with how we act and what we choose to do.

Therefore, if we take to heart this verse, Philippians 4:8, we will develop a mindset—an attitude—from which we can bear the good fruit of the Holy Spirit. It may prove to be a challenge for some of us to train ourselves to dwell on these good things instead of the trying circumstances around us; nevertheless, we can begin by giving the Lord what we do have…a willingness to change our thoughts.

A Secret to True Power

I once read about a very simplistic formula regarding electric power:

POWER = voltage/resistance

This formula indicates that it is not so much about increasing the electrical power as it is about the issue of reducing resistance. The voltage is decreased by the amount of resistance in the wire.

This brought a picture to my mind about true power—the power of the Holy Spirit—in our lives:

GOD’S POWER= Holy Spirit/ the resistance of our will

Once we believe in Jesus and are baptized in His Holy Spirit, God’s power is present; yet, we can set our will against His will (resist) and reduce (quench) the Spirit’s work in our lives:

May we endeavor to keep God’s spiritual power fully flowing in our lives.

Winning the Battle

Sometimes in our desire to exercise self-control, we end up actually battling with ourselves; and of course, this will be a losing endeavor. After all, the blind cannot lead the blind and we cannot rescue ourselves; we need a third party—someone stronger and wiser than we are.

As we read last week:

The fruit of the Spirit can be viewed as righteous changes in our character due to the working of the of the Holy Spirit within us. And, although we are responsible in manifesting this fruit (including the gift of self-control), we nevertheless need the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to do so—we can therefore pray for spiritual help with confidence that we will have what we need. Here are two prayers I found on the internet that express these kinds of prayers:

My personal prayer at this time is similar to this:

May you experience many blessings as you seek the Lord for strength and guidance in your areas of weakness.

Prayerful Request for 2023

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The following requests have become part of my prayers this year:

Dear Heavenly Father, fill us on the inside with your Holy Spirit and cover us on the outside with your Armor of Light…

We ask these things and thank you for them in the name of Jesus, Amen.

For Their Deeds Follow Them

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The King James version interprets “deeds” as “works.” The message of this verse in Revelation—the idea that our works follow us when we die—is that deeds done here on earth will be judged regarding eternal rewards in heaven. Are we to conclude that ‘good’ works we do during our lifetime will automatically earn us godly rewards? The following verses seem to present two views concerning our works:

Although these verses appear to contradict each other, they are instead describing two kinds of works: Works that we do in order to merit/earn our salvation or to please ourselves; and, works that God ordains for us to do by the power of the Holy Spirit. The works done out of love and obedience to the Lord will indeed follow us to heaven for reward.

Here is more good news: The Bible is full of counsel on the kinds of deeds that will be upheld for heavenly rewards. We may think righteous works only involve what we do, such as helping the poor, supporting our church, or perhaps witnessing to the lost—all of which are good to do in the name of Jesus and through His Spirit. But let’s consider the following fruit that our Heavenly Father values and expects from His children; fruit that will stand under judgement:

Instead of merely striving to do good deeds for Jesus, we might benefit from examining ourselves to see if our works are bearing the good fruit cited in Galatians 5—the kind of works that flow from a heart attuned to the Holy Spirit.

Your Faith has Made You Whole

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Focus Passage: Mark 5: 24-34

In this passage, a woman who had suffered for twelve years with an illness, reached out in faith to touch Jesus’ garment as He passed by in a large crowd. She had said to herself, “If I can only touch His garment, I will be made whole.” Then, as Jesus looked to find her, she came forward, fell down before Him, and told him what she had done. Rather than rebuke her, Jesus declared to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you whole.”

Are we to understand from Jesus’ comment to the woman that if we can just have strong enough faith, we can be healed? Conversely, if we are not healed, does that mean we did not have sufficient faith, or that we had some miracle-blocking doubt regarding complete healing? As I was reading this passage in Mark, I became acutely aware that for much of my life, I mistakenly believed these self-condemning doctrines about healing—indeed, I had received much teaching that reinforced that conviction. Yet, it became apparent in my spirit that this teaching was in error, as I read the following statement in the commentary notes in my Bible:

“Faith itself does not heal—it is the proper object of that faith, Jesus, who heals.”

Her faith had made her whole because she had properly focused it solely on Jesus. Although I had always understood that Jesus is my Healer, suddenly it became abundantly simple and clear that I still partially placed “faith in my faith”, rather than fully on Jesus Himself. How much more could I surrender to the outcome of any illness that would befall me if I did not carry the burden of my healing; rather, if I could completely come to Him with that burden; He— without fail— would make the weighty issue of my sickness light (Matthew 11: 28-30).

Do Not Practice Sin

Romans 6:6, “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.”

It seems that it is difficult to avoid contention in the world today; even within the sanctity of our homes, strife is easy to enter into. Conflicts, disasters, cultural differences, financial hardships, fear, stress, etc. are constant pressures that, unless we work diligently to counter them, can have negative effects on our attitudes.

During a recent morning devotion time, I sensed in my spirit the words, “Don’t practice a sin.” I must honestly confess that the sins in my life at that time were contentious feelings and words that contributed to an atmosphere of strife in my home. The Holy Spirit seemed to warn me that practicing a sinful behavior built up its “muscles”, making it more and more difficult to resist. Romans 6:6 assures believers that the old man (the pre-salvation nature that serves sin through unrighteous acts and behaviors) is no longer in control—we are freed from slavishly serving it through the work of Jesus on the cross. Furthermore, as Romans 6:13 indicates, we are well able to stop practicing any besetting sin by consistently and prayerfully choosing— through the power of the Holy Spirit—to submit to God’s will and instructions.

Light Dispels Darkness

2 Corinthians 6:14 asks, “What fellowship does light have to do with darkness?”

The answer:

Nothing… light and dark are mutually exclusive. That is, darkness cannot exist once light is introduced because darkness is the absence of light. In a sense, light—in any amount—will always defeat darkness; and darkness will never be able to cover the light.

It is good to remember and apply this truth as we face a new year that will likely afford challenges that may tempt us to become fearful. Fear is a dark spirit, because God does not give us a spirit of fear (see 2 Timothy 1:7); and so, it can only exist and persist if we ignore the light of God’s truth and fail to walk closely each day with our Heavenly Father. 1 John 1:5 says that “God is light and in Him is no darkness.” Therefore, rather than struggle to drive fear away, we would do well to simply introduce the Light: Place our trust in our Heavenly Father’s love, power and goodness; and speak the light of His words of truth over every situation.

Teach Your Children

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If I could turn back the clock and more diligently put into practice just two Biblical principles in raising my children, it would be the following verses:

In Deuteronomy 11:19, the things one must teach to children are the commandments, promises, and ways of the Lord until the child is prepared, disciplined, and proficient in serving others in the name of Jesus. It becomes apparent that this is to be done consistently and constantly, from a very early age; and in a way that they can clearly understand, such as through practice and example. My good friend, Pat, comes to mind as I think on these verses because her now grown daughter practices and enjoys serving and helping others–a natural outcome from the way she was raised.

Recently, while conversing with Pat concerning how to better help others, she relayed a story: When her daughter was very young, they purchased a warm coat for a homeless lady they often visited. However, Pat did not give the coat to the lady herself; she instructed her daughter to give it to her– putting into practice what she had been taught. Later as a teen, Pat’s daughter helped feed the homeless in NYC through a local organization; however, the results of biblical “training up” did not end there. Today Pat’s young grandson eagerly joins his mom in serving others, and is provided with abundant opportunities to put into practice what he has learned. Without a doubt, God’s instructions are true and effective.

My friend comes from a long line of believers who faithfully endeavored to raise their children in the way they should go according to God’s word. And, although that has not been my heritage to that degree, I am greatly encouraged by God’s promises to me for my grown children and grandchildren: Thankfully, 1 Timothy 2:1-4 reveals that the Lord desires for all to be saved and come to the knowledge of His truth. In addition, it is extremely encouraging to know that I can confidently pray for my family according to James 5:16“The heart-felt and persistent prayers of a righteous man [a believer in Christ] can accomplish much when put into action and made effective by God. It has tremendous power .” (Amplified Bible)

You Knitted Me Together

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About two years ago, as I picked up a large vintage candy jar full of cereal, it inexplicably shattered. I felt nothing, but when I looked down at my arm, blood was flowing from a long, deep gash…the fatty tissue was visibly extruding from beneath the epidermis. Of course, my husband and I panicked as we wove through rush hour traffic to the ER, where the wound was repeatedly subjected to thorough cleanings. The ER doctor skillfully stitched the gash with wide deep sutures, dressed it, and sent me home with instructions for after-care. During my followup visit, my family MD complimented the good job that had been performed in the ER.

Although I was not concerned about scarring, the threat of infection or nerve damage was on my mind throughout the initial healing process. After several weeks, during a visit back to the ER, the doctor on duty commented that it was fortunate that my hand was not seriously affected from nerve damage. His comment sparked even greater appreciation on my part for the Lord’s provision regarding my accident. God had used good doctors to perform their part in my healing; yet, the extent of their skill had been to bring the sides of the skin together, and to clean the wound in hopes that proper healing would take place.

It was the Lord that caused the skin to actually grow together–remarkably to the point that a year later, the pronounced scar was scarcely noticeable. If you have ever had a cut, bruise, broken bone, or any kind of trauma to your body, you have been supernaturally healed by our Creator and Healer. I once had a conversation with a wonderful, but unbelieving couple who said that the white blood cells should be credited with healing, not God—to which I replied “Yes, but white blood cells just don’t up and decide to heal; they are programmed and designed by their Creator.” Yes, the Lord lovingly knits us together in the wound and throughout life; He is greatly to be praised!

Sorrow Will Turn to Joy

John 16:33- Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that ye might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer [courage]; I have overcome the world.” KJV

Some of the “things” Jesus spoke that would give peace to His disciples were the promises that:

  • God would provide them with another Comforter (the Holy Spirit) to abide in them, lead them into all truth, and help them remember everything Jesus had taught them (John 14: 26).
  • He was going to the Father to prepare an eternal place for them; and in this wonderful place, they would be with Him forever (John 14:1-4).
  • Jesus left His peace with them that was unlike the peace of the world, which depends on circumstances; rather His peace always has the power to calm troubled hearts (John 14:27).
  • He would return! (John 14:28).
  • If they continued to abide in Him, and keep His word, then they could “…ask what you will, and it will be done unto you” (John 15:7).

Although these assurances were made to the disciples of Jesus, these promises are further supported throughout the New Testament as promises all followers of Jesus can rely on:

We will be in heaven and have eternal life– John 10:28-30; Rom. 6:8-11; James 1:12

The Holy Spirit/Comforter indwells us– Acts 2:38

We can live in His peace– 2Th. 3:16; 1Cor. 14:33

Jesus will return– Mt.24:27; Heb. 9:28

He answers our prayers– 1 John 5:14-15

As Jesus had said to His disciples, tribulation is inevitable in this world:

Therefore, the farewell words Jesus gave to His disciples in John 14-17 become all the more precious as we approach Christ’s return. No matter what befalls us, the Lord’s promises remain true…we can confidently count on spending eternity with our dear Savior. Meanwhile, it is possible to live in supernatural peace and to pray knowing He will answer our prayers. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit indwells and empowers us just as with His disciples; and so, just as with His disciples, all our sorrows will be turned into joy.

Jesus is in My Boat- Conclusion

Romans 8:28 was becoming a lifeline in the storm; but, I needed to understand what the “good” that God could bring out of my suffering would look like. To be sure, physical healing was still foremost in my mind, although I was certain there was deeper truth hidden within the scripture. I remember when I was first able to walk down steps and go outside…there was a refreshing breeze as I gingerly picked a few blueberries. I thought to myself, “The sun feels so good and look at these berries; I’ve given them no attention, yet here they are.” Later, as I slowly grew stronger, my husband took me for a brief outing. I noticed a lady, seemingly much older than myself who was walking at a brisk and unencumbered pace in front of me and I questioned inside if I would ever be able to walk that energetically again without exhaustion and pain. It seemed that victory over all doubt and discouragement would not be easily won.

Nevertheless, a teaching I had read prior to my illness came to mind: The enemy (Satan) can never be victorious in any trial if you keep loving God, no matter how dire the circumstances might be. Perhaps it is just as important to learn to walk by faith and not by sight (or feelings) so that we do not come to doubt his love for us, no matter what befalls us. It seemed to me that anyone could love the God who gave them Eden, but could I love Him from my sick bed? I began to take hold of every blessing— picking a few blueberries, walking more than a few steps, even being able to turn on my side in bed— to the point that I could continually develop an increasing measure of genuine gratitude. As I grew more and more thankful; eventually, I was able to offer the sacrifice of praise from my heart to Jesus, the Giver and Sustainer of life; and as I discovered, the One who would never abandon the boat.

Without a doubt, the “good” that the Lord worked throughout my situation was of greater value for my spiritual growth than healing in my body; nevertheless, to this day, I am awed how God keeps restoring and sustaining me physically. The Bible promises that inwardly believers will be renewed day by day despite the fact that our aging bodies will inevitably grow weaker (2 Corinthians 4:16). And so, I believe the Lord will use my trial to help equip me to finish the race of life well…a truly precious gift.

I have learned that the the Lord Jesus is not only willing to speak to my storms, He has the power to calm them. And because the Lord patiently worked everything together for good, it has become my desire at all times and through all trials, to proclaim with sincerity of heart:

Jesus is in My Boat-Part3

The Lord counseled me onto the path of recovery with the foundational truth that His ways and thoughts were higher than mine (Isaiah 55:9); therefore, I needed to concede that aspects of my illness were beyond what I could comprehend, at least at that time. Indeed Proverbs 3:5-6 further reinforced that truth: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean into your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Yes, God’s perfect ways were far beyond my ability to understand, and I could not trust my own assessment of the situation; rather, I needed to submit to His will and place all aspects of my well-being into the Lord’s hands.

Yet, every time I tried to bolster my faith with prayer and Bible study, it seemed a new complication would arise that increased my pain and physical inabilities. And so, I began to question: What was it the Lord wanted from me in this situation? What was the lesson I needed to learn? Would there ever be an end to this?

One sleepless night I reached the limit of what I thought I could bear. I found myself in the frame of mind the prophets Jonah and Elijah must have had— Jonah said, “O Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than live” (Jonah 4:3); and Elijah expressed it this way, “It is enough; now O Lord, take my life…” (1Kings 19:4). My own plea to the Lord was one of sheer desperation and hopelessness— I could foresee no good to come out of any of my suffering; nor did I have hope the pain would end. The Lord was silent.

The next morning, as a new day dawned, I was broken in my spirit and spent in my body. Looking back, it seems the Lord had allowed me to reach the end of myself— a place where I would fully surrender so that He could work everything for good:

More tomorrow…

Jesus is in My Boat-Part 2

Focus Passage- Mark 4: 35-40

[Learning “what manner of man” Jesus is]

In this passage, Jesus bid the disciples to enter the boat in order to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee; and as they were crossing, Jesus fell asleep— undoubtedly due to exhaustion from His extremely demanding day. Although the disciples were seasoned fishermen, a storm arose that was so fierce that they were all filled with fear— so much so that they anxiously asked Jesus, “Master, don’t you care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38)

This passage relates to my experience with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in several ways, for example: I felt that I was dangerously close to losing my battle with RMSF complications just as the disciples feared for their lives due to threatening conditions beyond their control. Additionally, it seemed to me that God could have prevented the tick bite, or spared me from such searing pain; why “bid” me to go through this storm of suffering? Lastly, I was doing my part to help— searching frantically for cures, praying, and seeking medical treatment; yet, it seemed in my fragile emotional state that Jesus was “sleeping in the boat”— not hearing my cries for help.

To be fair regarding the disciples’s reactions, we are told that the boat was alarmingly filling with water. Furthermore, Jesus Himself had, in a way, put His disciples in this predicament by bidding them to sail to the other side of the sea. And yet, while they were crossing, He continued to sleep in the boat while they were frantically doing their part to save themselves.

Although I began this unwelcome journey attempting to place confidence and trust in God’s goodness and to submit to His sovereignty throughout whatever would come to pass; as time progressed, my faith progressively focused primarily on healing and relief from pain. I began to feel the Lord was not with me despite the fact that I intellectually believed His ways were always good and merciful. The cycle of faith/doubt repeated over and over as I struggled to maintain unwavering trust in God’s goodness and love towards me.

Amid my struggles, the following verse repeatedly came to mind:

This word from the Lord was instrumental in helping me begin to come out of the cycle of doubt into a new level of faith…

[To be continued]

Jesus is in My Boat

Some years back, right around the time I was finishing my masters at Liberty University , I contracted Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, which I will refer to as RMSF. I was cleaning out the wooded area in our yard, trying to clear my mind regarding my internship and final examination. Although it was cold weather, I apparently stirred up the ground cover to the point a tick was disturbed and bit me. I did not feel the bite but instinctively knew something had happened; and, upon examination, I discovered a tick the size of a pinhead on my leg. Several days later, the distinctive “bullseye” marking around the bite appeared, a sign that clearly indicated RMSF.

Without going into elaborate detail, my subsequent treatment was inadequate and in fact, exacerbated my symptoms. Finally I went to a clinic that ran the proper tests and the doctor found that my titer readings were, as he put it, “Off the charts; you got a massive download in the bite.” In addition, they discovered other complications— the upshot was that my symptoms and pain quickly increased to the point that I became partially paralyzed and was unable to get out of a chair or bed unassisted. However, the most difficult part of the illness was the indescribable pain that was unrelenting and robbed me continually of much-needed sleep. The most intense part of my struggle to regain my health and achieve a tolerable level of pain took place over a two-year span in which I desperately sought out and experimented with various treatments.

At the same time, as a born-again follower of Christ, I also continually prayed and sought deliverance from my plight in whatever form the Lord deemed to use. Still, the pain continued and I went through spiritual ups and downs, or spiritual cycles of: faith–questioning–doubt–despair. Amidst the Lord’s seeming silence and the lack of progress in my recovery, there was a continual struggle to maintain faith and hope that God would soon remove my pain and restore my physical strength.

Over the next few posts, I will share how God used this experience to teach me about His ways, who He is, and how to surrender to His purposes. Mark 4:35-40 is a key passage that mirrors my spiritual struggle throughout my RMSF experience: Just as the disciples, I needed to understand that Jesus was in my boat— and that was enough.

Are You a Mary or a Martha?- Part2

Luke 10: 41 & 42- But the Lord answered and said to her, ” Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered by so many things; but only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

In the last post, we learned that Mary chose to sit at the feet of Jesus despite the fact that her sister, Martha, was frustrated with the resulting lack of help with her preparations. In the verses above, we hear Jesus gently rebuke Martha by explaining that Mary had made the right decision to give her attention solely to Him, resulting in something that would not be taken away from her. This thing that she would not lose is not explained; however, I wonder if the account recorded in John 12:1-8 might be a possible explanation for Jesus’ enigmatic words.

On another occasion when Jesus was a guest in Martha’s home, Mary took a vase of the most costly ointment of that time and anointed the the feet of Jesus, wiping the oil with her hair. Just imagine what a spectacle her utterly selfless and worshipful act must have seemed to the other guests! In fact, Judas hypocritically declared that the oil could have been sold for a lot of money to help the poor. But Jesus defended her act saying, “Leave her alone, she intended to keep it for the day of my burial.” (John 12:1-8)

Mary must have procured the expensive oil in anticipation for Jesus’ burial. Yet, it seems that the only way she would have known to anoint Jesus that evening was by the unction of the Holy Spirit; otherwise, how could she have forseen His imminent crucifixion and the subsequent hasty burial which allowed no time for Jesus’ body to be anointed? Perhaps this indicates what Jesus meant in Luke 10 when He told Martha that the benefits (good part) of Mary’s choice to sit at His feet would not be taken away from her: The time Mary had spent with Jesus prior to that evening sensitized and enabled her to take advantage of a divinely appointed opportunity to prepare Him for burial. Time spent “at the feet of Jesus” is never wasted!

Are You a Mary or a Martha?

Focus passage: Luke 10: 38-42

We learn in Luke 10:38 that Jesus and His disciples entered into a house of a certain woman named Martha, whose home was located in the village of Bethany (John 11:1). It is interesting to note that the name, Martha, means “myrrh, mistress of the home, one who becomes bitter,” according to several Bible dictionaries. Her name seems fitting since the account in Luke describes Martha as troubled and frustrated in fulfilling her perceived role as a praise-worthy hostess. Moreover, Martha had a problem: Mary just sat at the feet of Jesus while the work was left for her to do by herself! It’s not hard to imagine Martha building up increasing resentment toward her sister as she undoubtedly grew more exhausted and frustrated with her seemingly endless preparations.

Finally— perhaps inevitably considering her frame of mind— Martha actually confronted Jesus, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Bid her therefore to help me” (Luke 10:40). Humanly speaking, we might expect a sharp correction on the part of Jesus regarding her behavior; something along the lines of, “Martha, stop worrying and fussing about everything!” Instead, Jesus gave her a tender rebuke, “Martha, Martha, you are concerned and troubled about many things…”

Before we judge Martha too harshly, it is helpful to understand that she probably felt justifiably responsible for the hospitality offered to Jesus while He was in her home. On the other hand, it is good for us to remember— especially as Thanksgiving meals will be prepared here in America— that we should not allow even the good services we perform for others to push us to exhaustion, resentment, or frustration. Time alone with our Savior, even if just a brief prayer, can make all the difference between being a Mary or a Martha.

More from this passage tomorrow…

Jesus Marveled

Mark 6:6- And He marveled because of their unbelief.

Matthew 8:10- When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to them that followed, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.”

There are many accounts in the New Testament of crowds, disciples, and various individuals marveling at something or someone. Their astonishment was primarily directed toward Jesus, for example: His wisdom and teachings (Mt. 22:22; John 7:15; Luke 20:26), His miraculous power and demonstration of Lordship (Mt. 8:27), His ability to forgive sins (Mt. 9:8), and His courage (Mark 15:5).

On the other hand, it is interesting to note that there are only two things recorded in the Bible that astonished Jesus. Great accomplishments, tremendous wealth, multi-talents, physical prowess, social standing, outstanding abilities, winsome personalities, or even moral integrity— all of which could be considered desirable— were not among the attributes that caused Jesus to marvel. No, as we read in Mark 6:6 and Mt. 8:10, it was faith or lack of faith exhibited by individuals that caught His attention.

Sometimes it is tempting for me to feel inadequate regarding my accomplishments for the Kingdom; I wonder if I am pleasing to the Lord, or if He might be disappointed with my efforts compared to those of others. And so, it is a great comfort to know that I do not need to depend on my accomplishments or personal attributes to catch the favorable attention of Jesus. Instead, with the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, I can direct my desires and efforts toward building my faith (obedient trust) in Jesus, and thereby also overcome any unbelief…my heart’s desire is to astonish Jesus with faith like that of the centurion (Mt. 6)!

Peace and Security

1 Thessalonians 5:3- “While people are saying, ‘peace and security’ then sudden disaster will come upon them.”

During my early childhood, my teddy bear was a constant companion. No matter how torn or tattered he became, I felt safer when I had him in my arms; so it is not surprising I carried him everywhere— indoors or outdoors. The down-side was that if anyone wanted to torment me, as brothers sometimes do, all he had to do was threaten harm to my bear…please note the missing eye ; ). Therefore, my security was often short-lived and “disaster quickly came upon me.”

King David proclaimed in Psalm 4:8, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety”— he knew the true source of enduring peace and unassailable safety. Some worldly leaders assure us that they will keep us safe, but this is often proven to be an unreliable and unsubstantial promise. No, when we lay down to sleep, it is good to fully rely on the peace of God and dwell in the safety of His power, love, faithfulness and mercy.

Other similar promises and assurances can be found in God’s word:

1 Th. 3:3; Ps. 16:8; Ps. 122:7;Rom. 8:38-39; Ps. 61:3; Phil. 4:19; and Prov. 18:10.

It is my prayer that no matter what has befallen you today, you will receive the peace of Jesus (see John 14:27 ) and lie down to sleep soundly in His security each and every night.

Prayers for Our Children

Sometimes it is difficult to adequately express our hearts in prayer when it comes to our children. Today’s world holds many temptations and pressures to conform to ungodly standards and the worldly schemes of Satan are constantly before the eyes and ears of our loved ones. Yet, the Lord hears and responds to our faithful prayers, no matter how inadequate our words seem to be– Luke 17:6 & James 1:6 assure us that even tiny faith that is not tainted with unbelief is extremely powerful and effective. For those times when we are driven to seek the Lord on behalf of our loved ones, but words seem to fail us, the following anagram, H-E-A-R-T-S, may prove useful:

Hearts: Pray for a God’s Spirit to soften hardened hearts (Eph. 11:19), and for His word to fall on good soil so that they may cling to His word and patiently obey it (Mt. 13:3-9 & Luke 8:15).

E-ars: Ask for God’s workers to come into their lives and then cause our children to have ears that truly hear (understand, receive, and accept) biblical truth (Mt. 9:38 & Mt 4:23-24).

A-ttitude: Ask that they not act out of pride but rather with humility, so that they can serve others with a pleasing attitude and bear much good fruit (Philippians 2:3 & Gal. 5:22-23).

R-epentance: Pray that they come to true repentance; that is, our loved ones confess and turn away from their sin and turn toward Jesus as their Lord and Savior(2 Peter 3:9).

T-ransformation: For transformation to begin and persist throughout their lives: 2 Corinthians 5:17- “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

S-ervants: To become willing, joyful, and obedient servants of Jesus Christ (John 12:26; Galatians 5:13).

Life and Peace

CONDEMNATION: Declare the guilt of; to pronounce punishment.

Jesus bore the punishment, the condemnation for our sins! When His work on the cross is applied to the believer, there is no pronouncement of guilt and punishment; because of Jesus we have been declared “not guilty” in God’s sight. Furthermore, Romans 8: 6 says that “to be spiritually minded is life and peace”, meaning that although we still continue to deal with overcoming sin, we do not have to suffer under the tyranny of sin; instead, we can overcome its hold through the power of the Holy Spirit.

For me personally, I have labored in some measure throughout my life to fully accept and “feel” the immeasurable love of Christ. An important verse in my healing has been 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has torment.” I came to understand that unless I could take into my heart and live in the assurance of Jesus’ love for me, I would continue to be tormented (punished) for my sins and failings that had already been forgiven in God’s sight. Jesus, God’s only Son, has taken my deserved punishment upon Himself for me; and if I continued to feel condemned, I was diminishing what He had accomplished through His sacrifice.

1 Timothy 3:6 declares that condemnation is “of the devil”, so why should I accept this torment from my enemy and not experience the life and peace of my Redeemer? I will continue to choose to place my faith and trust in the redeeming work of Christ, my Savior!

God’s Consolations Cheer My Soul

Have you ever observed a person who had every reason (in our estimation) to be unhappy or angry; yet remained joyful and loving toward others? On the other hand, we might find ourselves distraught over a small event in our lives because it reminded us of past resentments and hurts. How can others (and hopefully ourselves) walk continually in hope and joy regardless of the circumstances of our lives?

For starters, how often do we say to ourselves something along the lines of, “Because this happened to me, I am the way I am. This experience ruined my life. If so-n-so hadn’t done this to me, then I could be happy.” We are not so much disturbed by external circumstances, but by the view we take of them. That is, our beliefs about the people and events in our lives are what affect our walk, rather than the external factors themselves that we encounter.

Taking our focus off of the worldly events in our lives, and on to the Father and His promises will effectively help us to walk by faith–

Psalm 94:19, “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.”

A few promises upon which we can focus are:

1 Corinthians 2:5, “My faith will not rest in my burden but in God’s power.”

Romans 8:28– There is nothing my Heavenly Father cannot work together for good.

1 John 5:4– I am born of God, therefore my faith is victory.

There are many other promises and truths that I encourage you to personally dig out as you seek the Lord during your times of distress.

Dirty Dishes

Walking out our faith in the mundane, repetitive, and sometimes tedious tasks of life can become wearisome if we don’t stand against it. Dirty dishes come to mind as one of these tiresome demands that never seems to be done— after we wash and put them away, they wind up in the sink, dirty and waiting for a repeat performance : )

As with all aspects of our lives, scripture addresses how we can overcome every challenge and walk in joy…even in the daily challenge of dirty dishes:

Scripture makes it clear that what we need is the grace of God to consistently complete underappreciated and undesirable tasks, while maintaining a good attitude. I believe the key here is to somehow find a way to be grateful, even as we “do the dirty dishes.” Here are some thoughts:

  • I have the physical strength to complete this needed task everyday.
  • We enjoyed good food that the Lord provided.
  • I had the ability and means to cook this food.
  • I had someone to share my meal with today.
  • I am providing for my family, but more importantly, I am pleasing the Lord.
  • I have clean water and cleanser to effectively clean the dishes.

Undoubtedly, you are able to easily add to this list or think of your own “washing dishes task” that challenges you— as (2 Corinthians 4:15-16) teaches:

God Still Likes You

The 11-17-22 post focused on Isaiah 40: 31; this week we will look at the verses just prior to this verse:

Isaiah 40: 27-28: Why do you say… “My way is hidden, from the Lord, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable.”

One morning during my devotion time, I was feeling resentful about some things that had taken place in my life when my eyes fell upon the above passage; but instead of reading it as it was actually written, I perceived it as saying, Why do you complain…” Similar to Jacob/Israel’s perception that God was failing to notice the injustice they were suffering, I felt that my plight was being overlooked by my Heavenly Father. However, the Holy Spirit spoke into my heart these questions by way of this passage, “Do you not know? Have you not heard?”

Yes, I knew God is the Everlasting Creator; that He is not subject to weariness or misunderstanding; that He is just…and so intellectually I understood that my complaint was baseless. Yet, I was in need of reassurance. “Creator” jumped off the page— God is the One who has brought everything into existence; He chose to bring me into existence. And the promises to His children are these concerning Himself: He does not become weary, which is defined as “having one’s patience, tolerance, or liking exhausted”; therefore, God does not tire of us or lose patience in dealing with our human imperfections. The upshot of my devotion time was this: God has not only loved and understood me; He still liked me.

Fight the Good Fight

In these times, one might speculate that, “Evil is going to have its way, so what is the use? I’m tired of fighting; I want relief from all of these discouraging problems.” Undoubtedly, the world has always been a challenging place, as the writings of the Apostle Paul attest to; yet he proclaimed that he could look back on his life and rejoice in the fact that he had finished life’s race with faithfulness. Galatians 6:9 encourages us to not allow ourselves to grow weary in well-doing— in other words, to keep up the good fight.

One of my favorite Bible passages is Isaiah 40:31 , which describes how we can gain the strength to keep fighting our earthly battles and not become wearied or weakened by the process:

“WAIT” is the key word in the passage since it is what is required of us so that we can carry out our spiritual journey without weariness and discouragement. Even more important to consider is the One on whom we wait— our Lord, the source of the strength we need. The literal Greek meaning for the word “wait” here is, (qavah) “to wait, look for, hope, and expect.” Waiting on the Lord is not merely sitting around, or even passively praying; it is actively and expectantly anticipating that the Lord will come through because He is faithful to His promises, and true to His holy nature. And so, as we lift our hearts in hopeful expectation of God’s goodness and power, we can run (expend much effort) the race set before us without becoming fatigued and devoid of strength; and, we can walk (perform our day-to-day tasks) and not grow faint (weak, discouraged or oppressed).

The outcome of this promise is this: We “mount up with wings like eagles.” In other words, we will soar by the power of the Holy Spirit above our circumstances with renewed strength and courage!

God Has Plans for You

Isaiah 55: 8-9– “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 48:17– Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go.”

Jeremiah 29:11– “For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.”

Sometimes our lives might seem to be a jumbled mess— full of confusing circumstances and uncertain decision-making. Although there can be joy and beauty in our daily lives, the overall plan might seem unclear; in fact, we may question if we indeed have a real and meaningful purpose. Nevertheless, the Bible clearly demonstrates our Heavenly Father’s involvement in the lives of His children, and in the ordering of our steps on the path He sets before us (Proverbs 37:23-24; Proverbs 20:24 Job 14:16).

This truth was visibly demonstrated to me recently in the Quilt Garden at the NC Arboretum: As I observed the “quilt” of flowers, I was impressed with their beauty and color; yet they were mixed in a way that made any pattern impossible to discern:

I decided that I needed a higher perspective, so I climbed the steps above the garden and was immediately impressed with the precise pattern in which the flowers had been carefully planted:

So it is in our lives—since we are limited by our earthly viewpoint, our path may not make much sense until we are able to gain God’s higher perspective. As we continue to seek the Lord for His will and wisdom, we will increasingly discover that He has carefully planted and established our steps. After all, God knows the pattern and plan for our lives from the beginning to the end; and we have the reassuring promise that His Holy Spirit will guide us with the truths we need to fulfill our purpose (John 14:26; John 16: 13-14).

Do Not Be Stultified

Stultified: To be made useless or ineffectual

It has been said that repeating the same spiritual activities over and over will make you (and perhaps everyone over whom you have influence) stale; taken to the extreme, it can make you stultified. Matthew 16:9 states, “They worship Me in vain, teaching as doctrine the precepts of men.” Isaiah 29:13 admonishes worshipers in Jerusalem for drawing near to the Lord with their words while their hearts remained distant from Him. Instead of genuine worship born out of love and awe for the Lord, “Their worship of [Him was] but rules taught by men.” In contrast, the Holy Spirit enables our faith-walk to remain powerful and fresh on a on-going basis.

Therefore it is imperative that we persistently examine how we worship and serve the Lord. We need to make sure that our hearts are in the right place, and the familiarity and comfort of our church liturgy is not lulling us into insincere acts of worship and unfruitful works. Could it be that continuing to rest in the comfort of familiar “orders of worship” could actually render us less effective in our Christian walk? Thankfully Jesus has sent us our Helper– the Holy Spirit— who will guide,strengthen and help us to remain genuine and pleasing to the Lord throughout our spiritual journey (John 14:26; Romans 8:26; Galatians 5:22-23; Acts 1:8).

A Verse to Live By

Proverbs 19:23, ” The fear of the Lord tends to life: and he that has it shall abide satisfied; he shall not be visited with evil.”

A great way to read the book of Proverbs is to read a chapter for each day of the month— for example, read chapter 20 on say, November 20th. Although I have read through the book in this manner many times, I was particularly led recently to read Proverbs 19:23 on a day in which it was used to address my every concern that morning. The words are packed with meaning that contribute to the astounding application I discovered for my life:

  • “Fear”- Reverence; honor or respect felt or shown; honor/respect mixed with love and awe.
  • “Tend”– To move or develop one’s course in a particular direction; show tendency or inclination.
  • “Abide”– Remain; continue
  • Satisfied”– Content
  • “Visited”- Come upon
  • Evil” – Affliction; adversity; harm; wickedness

Once I took the meanings into account, the Holy Spirit counseled me in my heart that choosing to honor and respect (“fear”) the Lord at all times no matter what has happened is the necessary first step in moving and developing (“tend”) my life in the right direction. If I can continue to remain in His love for me and my love for Him (“abide”), then I will be filled and contented (“satisfied”) in life. Furthermore– and this is a huge benefit– affliction and adversity from the Adversary (“evil”) will not come upon and overtake me!

Muffins on the Rise

Over the years, I have consistently kept homemade muffins from my tried and true recipes on hand. The first step for any kind of muffin is mixing the dry ingredients (including baking soda or baking powder) so that when the liquid components are added, all ingredients can be mixed as quickly as possible. The reason for this process is that when the wet ingredients are added to the inactive leavening agent, the muffin mixture will be quickly activated and begin rising; then it is necessary to act immediately to get the muffins into the oven so that they do not deflate.

Perhaps by using this baking process as a metaphor, we can more clearly understand how we become empowered by the Holy Spirit: The Lord has given talents, gifts, and abilities that are to be used for service and glory to Him; but, they are essentially dormant or not spiritually effective until the Holy Spirit activates and empowers them (Eph. 3:16; Romans 12:6; 1 Tim. 4:14; 1 Cor. 2:12; 1 Cor. 12:7). At that time, it is imperative to act immediately in obedience to carry out God’s will before we question or doubt, and our conviction and enthusiasm “deflate”—at that time we are optimally prepared to be empowered and activated through His Holy Spirit!

It is Never Too Late to Have a Good Day

Have you experienced a day so fraught with trying people, incidents, or even personal mistakes that you found yourself wishing it was over?

You might say to yourself, “If I can just make it to tomorrow…” or “Will this day never end?” I have certainly chalked some rare days up as total losses—void of any meaningful offerings during their 24 hour span (most likely because my attitude and mind had developed a blind spot to anything positive).

However, the Bible provides us with clear instruction to rejoice and be glad in every day that the Lord has made (Psalm 118:24 ). So, how can we genuinely rejoice even on those seemingly irredeemable days? The scriptures tell us how, if we will take them to heart and commit to the truths they contain:

  • First, accept the fact that one day is at its foundation as good as another simply because the Lord Himself made it (Ecclesiastes 7:14).
  • Commit to blessing the Lord every day because He is worthy of praise (Psalm 145:2).
  • Take to heart the counsel of 1 Peter 3:10“The one who desires life, to love and see good days, must keep his tongue from evil …”
  • Ask the Lord to enable you to hear His loving kindness every morning (Psalm 143:8).
  • Never forget to make the most of the good opportunities that come our way everyday because the days are full of evil influences (Ephesians 5:16).
  • Understand that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8); therefore, He is present with us each and every day and we can count on Him without fail.
  • Be encouraged because Psalm 68:19 proclaims, “Blessed is the Lord who DAILY loads us with benefits.”

My Thought for Today

If we fill our lives with endless activity in order to be more acceptable to the Lord, we are trying to change from the outside-in (conforming) through our works; but rather, we should change from the inside-out (transforming in heart, mind, and spirit), which is through the effective and powerful working of the Holy Spirit.

(Ezekiel 36:26-27; Psalm 51:10; Psalm 139:23-24; 1 Corinthians 6:11)

In Our Father’s Arms

I once heard the following anecdote that helps demonstrate the heart of our Heavenly Father and our security in His love:

There was a young father who had two daughters– one was six years old, and the other four. When he returned home from work one day, his two children ran excitedly up the drive to meet him; however, the oldest was able to run faster and leaped into his arms before her little sister could get there. When the four-year-old arrived, her sister, who was already in her father’s arms taunted, “I’ve got Daddy now!” The wise father gave the older daughter a warm hug and put her down on the drive and immediately lifted the younger child high up into his arms. Then the four-year-old looked down at her big sister and joyfully exclaimed, “But now Daddy has me!”

Our Heavenly Father loves us with an everlasting and perfect (1 John 4:18) love; therefore, we are welcomed to run to Him and take refuge. However, perhaps the even greater blessing is that our security and acceptance doesn’t depend on us; it is His strong arms that keep us safe and secure– He has us!

Test Yourself and Your Ways

Galatians 6:1, “Keep watch on yourself, lest you be tempted.”

2Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?

Lamentations 3:40, “Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord.”

The Bible clearly tells us to examine ourselves; however, there are some important considerations if we are to benefit from this process. Ultimately, the key to steadfastness and constancy is to keep our focus on God rather than ourselves, because we fluctuate in our level of commitment and attitude when facing trying situations. Therefore, our self-evaluations will fluctuate and vary in truthfulness…although we are instructed to examine and test ourselves, we mustn’t stop there!

It is necessary to look at our failings and weaknesses in the light of the Scriptures; then we can more accurately understand ourselves and our situation– we will gain a more biblical perspective. Besides seeing ourselves more realistically, we also need to view God more accurately. Once we realize that our Heavenly Father never fails, always keeps His promises and word, and is always true to His holy and perfect nature; then, everything comes into focus and we can benefit from increased understanding and wisdom– we grow in our faith and mature in our walk with the Lord.

God Will Direct My Path

My post on 9/8/22 relayed how I struggled when presented with an opportunity to teach in our new church. Thankfully, the Lord had — through a lifetime of spiritual lessons– taught me it is good and best to submit to His will when He presents the next step to take on the path of maturity in Christ. Just as with the Ninevites, God laid the preparatory groundwork to turn my heart toward discernment and obedience to His will. In this post I would like to share one aspect of how my Heavenly Father equipped me to respond to the new teaching opportunity:

There was an extended period of time that elapsed between opportunities to teach…partly due to the pandemic, and also because the process of finding another church was very challenging. During this period a dear friend Diane, who lived in another state, stepped out in obedience to the Holy Spirit– she expressed a desire for us to utilize our phones to come together in a weekly Bible study. She stated expressly that she wanted me to teach; as she put it, “I will be the student.” I began to sense the Lord’s involvement in her proposal and as we continued to come together, I knew God was indeed ordering my steps by providing a way for me to consistently exercise the gift He had given me.

Although I had a crisis of belief later when presented with the offer to teach a ladies’ group at church, I have no doubt that the study with my friend kept the door cracked open for me to trust in the Lord and receive the blessing He had in store for me.

My Times are in God’s Hand

Psalm 31:14-15, “But as for me, I trust in Thee, O Lord, I say, ‘Thou art my God…my times are in Thy hand…'”

As each day passes and the world seems to be in greater and greater chaos, perhaps we can all agree that these are troubled times. King David wrote extensively about the troubles and enemies he faced on a continuous basis; yet he always came back to the hope he had in the Lord. I find great comfort in his writings in the book of Psalm– they are amazingly applicable to my life at this time in history.

Ascertaining the literal meanings for three key words contained in the verses makes the passage’s application clear and meaningful:

TRUST: Confidence, security, boldness, hope, surety

TIMES: Time of an event, experiences, fortunes, occurrences, occasions

HAND (OF GOD): Power and strength

Taking these definitions into account, the passage seems to counsel me in this way: If I will fully place my confidence and security in the Lord, I can be emboldened and hopeful. After all, the hand of the Lord is powerful, a place of great strength– all the strength I need– to navigate the troubled waters of this life. It is a place where I can put myself in His perfect care, and that fact is comforting. And so, despite the fact that these times (experiences, events) are challenging to say the least, my times (our times) are in our Heavenly Father’s hands.

The Jonah in Me- Final Thoughts

The book of Jonah is only 4 short chapters– a brief historical account about a real person, Jonah. In fact, Jesus Himself referenced Jonah as a historical prophet who was indeed swallowed by a great fish (Matthew 12:39-40). A reading of the full account in the book of Jonah is easily achieved and will avail much insight and encouragement to anyone who takes opportunity to explore it.

Old Testament scripture looks constantly to the appearance of the Savior, Jesus Christ; the reference in Mt. 12: 39-40 removes any doubt that this is so. With this in mind, we might ask who the central character really is in the narrative– I believe a case could be made that he is God, who demonstrates his mercy and grace to bring salvation throughout the entire story:

  • MERCY FOR AN INDIVIDUAL, JONAH: Despite the fact that Jonah immediately fled from obedience to the Lord, God kept watch over him throughout the storm and provided a place of life and safety– the great fish. Additionally, the Lord was patient to give Jonah a second chance (Jonah 3:1-2) and continued to instruct him despite Jonah’s stubbornness (see chapter 4).
  • MERCY FOR A GROUP: In his immeasurable mercy for the lost, God also brought salvation to the mariners on the boat. Jonah 1:16, “Then the men [mariners] feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the Lord and made vows.”
  • MERCY FOR AN ENTIRE CITY: Jonah 3: 10, “And God saw their works , that they turned from their evil way” and spared them from his judgement. The king of Nineveh said everyone should, “cry mightily unto God…and turn everyone from his evil way and the violence in their hands” (Jonah 3:8); therefore, from the very top of their society to the lowliest, God drew them to receive His mercy.

God is committed in his mercy and love to all who will give their hearts to Him– whether one, few, or many.

Although Jonah continued to stubbornly desire his own will rather than humbly submit to the will of God, he nevertheless knew and believed the truth about the Lord: “…for I (Jonah) knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness…” (Jonah 4: 2). It is very reassuring to know that although the Lord is a holy and just God, his great desire is to show his mercy and love at every possible opportunity.

The Jonah in Me- Part 3

Jonah 3: 5, “So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.”

We have seen that Jonah had already judged the people of Nineveh to be unworthy of God’s grace and tried his best to get out of contributing in any way to their repentance. Yet, God had already begun the process of softening and preparing their hearts to do just that before He ever called Jonah: Historical records show that they had endured plagues and famine; there had been celestial signs; God even used the great fish to speak about their false fish-god, Dagon. Jonah’s delivery of God’s word was the final tool God used to bring about their redemption; and Jonah was very angry and displeased about that:

Jonah 4:1, “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.” After God asked Jonah if he had good reason to be angry, he replied, “I have good reason to be angry, even to death” (Jonah 4:9). Jonah continued to justify his rebellion. I have discovered a new word to aptly describe Jonah– “recalcitrant”; that is, he was stubbornly rebellious. If I am totally honest, I think I must confess that there have been times when I might have been described as recalcitrant, or at minimum, pouting.

Yet because I am his child, God never left me alone in my resistance to his will. Jonah himself knew that God was, “a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness, and one who relents concerning calamity” (Jonah 4:1). Praise the Lord that when we fail in our humanness, God is unchanging in his character and faithfulness.

The Jonah In Me- Part 2

Jonah 1:3, “…and [Jonah] went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshsish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish FROM THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD.”

Did the prophet Jonah actually believe he could escape the presence of the Lord? He obviously made the greatest effort possible at that time to do so: In biblical times, one could only expect to walk 24 miles in one day; so to get to a ship in Joppa from his hometown of Gath-Hepher (which was over 68 miles away) was no small undertaking. Then he paid what would undoubtedly have been a hefty fee because the destination, Tarshish, was as at the edge of the known world to an Israelite– as far as he could go in the opposite direction of Nineveh. I wonder if his desperation to avoid Nineveh led to irrational thinking; or perhaps, he was trying to convince the Lord that he absolutely was not going to go there.

Before we write Jonah off as sinfully and inexcusably disobedient and stubborn, we might consider how we would have reacted. As a side note, Nineveh was a wicked city that was the capital of Israel’s mortal enemy, Assyria. Furthermore, we know from their own inscriptions that they flayed (skinned alive) their enemies. They were pagan. They ruthlessly dominated whomever they conquered. Jonah simply did not want to see them saved.

Do we have a Nineveh in our lives: An individual, a nation, a race, an enemy etc. that we might judge to be totally undeserving of God’s grace? Do we avoid doing good to them; are we fleeing as Jonah did from administering mercy, grace and love to them? It is good to remember Micah 6:8, “What does the LORD require of you but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” In this verse we, as believers, are given the simple requirements (demands that are necessary and needed) from the Father that we serve. Consider this– could it be that we are another person’s Nineveh? Thankfully, God did good to us; He showed us mercy, love, and grace despite the fact that we deserved judgement rather than His love.

The Jonah in Me

Jonah 1: 3, “But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord…”

Recently and unexpectedly, I was asked to teach on the book of Jonah at our church. It had been three years since I last taught in another church that we attended and I missed teaching and longed for another opportunity to do so in our new church; but I perceived that no such possibility was available to me. Eventually, my desire to teach diminished to the point that I was satisfied in finding other opportunities for service– my confidence for teaching was non-existent. In fact, when I received the message asking me to teach, my initial reaction was uneasiness and incredulity about the entire prospect. My words to my husband were, “I just want to run from it!”

Immediately, the Holy Spirit prompted me to take a look at the book of Jonah before calling back with my decision. As I read Jonah 1:3, I inexplicably began to laugh. It was a strange reaction to me due to the fact that I was still distraught about how to politely refuse the invitation for service; yet I couldn’t help but picture myself in the shoes of Jonah– running as hard as I could away from the Lord. “Is this what I am doing, Lord? Is this how I look to you in this moment?”

It was quickly apparent in my spirit that my motivation for declining was due to fear of failure and avoidance of discomfort. Just as clear was the fact that God had orchestrated my return to teaching; I absolutely could not comprehend on what basis this leader could have approached me other than by the Holy Spirit. Finally, the overwhelming assurance about the offer to serve was the book itself– a timely word from the Lord to me to study and use as a mirror for insight and growth. My confidence had to be in God, not myself or my abilities– “For the Lord will be [my] confidence and will keep [my] foot from being caught.”

The Right Equation

Can anyone identify with these statements or questions?:

  • How will my unsaved child ever turn to the Lord?
  • How can this situation not overwhelm me?
  • I keep failing…how can I be used effectively by God?
  • I am not qualified or equipped to _____________________.

This equation might look like this:

Weak insignificant me + overwhelming task = failure

Maybe the questions that would help us move forward are:

  • Am I willing to do what God has asked me to do? (Luke 6:46)
  • Do I believe God can do through me all that He intends? (Philippians 2:13)
  • Am I being driven more by fear and avoidance than faith? (Isaiah 41:10)

An equation based on God’s word will look like this:

God through me + any task He asks of me = success

Recently the Lord has presented an opportunity for me to study the book of Jonah in depth, and I know in my heart that it is timely instruction for me. In fact, because the above equations are inspired by the book of Jonah, this post will serve as an introduction to this book over the next few posts.

God’s Grace is Sufficient

When we are at our weakest (literally, lacking in strength), we are at a place where we are most dependent on the Lord.

When we are most dependent on the Lord, His power and strength are made perfect (literally, completing what we lack in strength).

When we understand this truth we are able to rejoice in our weakness; because at this point, we actually experience His power and the sufficiency of His grace.

May your day be blessed!

A Roadway in the Wilderness

Behold, I will do a new thing…I will even make a roadway in the wilderness.” Isaiah 43: 18-19 KJV

PRAYER: Thank you, Father that you reveal things about yourself throughout your creation; and thank you that in nature there are no language barriers. May we have eyes and ears to receive the beauty and majesty of your creation in a way that strengthens our faith and renews our spirits, so that we can better praise you. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Narrow Is the Way

It should not be surprising that all creation speaks of the nature and truth of God, its Creator:

NARROW IS THE WAY THAT LEADS TO LIFE

BROAD IS THE WAY THAT LEADS TO DESTRUCTION

Rivers of Living Water

John 7: 37-39, “On the last day of the feast, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow RIVERS OF LIVING WATER.'”

Rest For Your Souls

Matthew 11: 28-29, Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and YOU SHALL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS.”

While hiking the Pearson’s Falls trail, the tranquility of this spot beckoned me to rest after a long climb back down from the waterfall. While I was able to find rest for my weary physical body in this wonderful little spot, I realized that the presence of the Holy Spirit was truly the source of refreshment for my soul.

The word “rest” in Matthew 11 literally means “to cause or permit one to cease from any movement or labor in order to recover and collect his strength”– the brief respite on the bench definitely helped me in this manner. However, “rest” also literally means, “to keep quiet; of calm and patient expectation.” Christ offers rest for our souls— our mind, will, and emotions. Through the presence of the Holy Spirit, my body and soul rested…I left with a quiet calmness and an expectation of God’s goodness towards me.

The Rock of Our Salvation

Psalm 62:2, “He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.”

Psalm 18:46, “The Lord liveth, and blessed be the Rock and let the God of my salvation be exalted.”

1 Corinthians 10:4, “…for they drank of that Spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”

Pearson’s Falls is a fascinating and well preserved waterfall in western North Carolina. On our recent visit, the natural beauty and inspiration of the area brought scriptures to my heart at every turn. This gigantic rock struck me immediately with its solidity, firmness, immovability, and strength; nothing was going to move that rock- it (therefore, we) “will not be greatly shaken!” And so, it is fitting that the Rock is a name given to our Savior, who is far beyond the strength of any bolder- the Rock of our Salvation.

If I Had Not Suffered

Psalm 117:19, “If I had not suffered, I would not have sought the Lord.”

The question, “Why does a loving God allow so much suffering?” is a complicated question to answer; and although this verse does not answer the “why” of suffering, it demonstrates a positive outcome of suffering. The psalmist seemed to have no doubt that he would not have sought out (learned to rely on) the Lord if he had not endured trial and suffering. Likewise, through the course of various trials, I have come to realize that I could not solve certain problems; and often, I did not even understand what the true nature of the problem was. Suffering has been a humbling experience– I’ve come to realize just how inadequate my strength and abilities can be; and so, this verse has become an increasing source of encouragement to me. It demonstrates that my weakness is not the deciding factor in success or failure whenever I trust in God’s ability to supply all that I lack.

It is a great comfort to know that the Lord will provide His strength when our own strength fails:

Doubt & Unbelief

Doubt– Undecided; inclined to distrust; to suspect; fear; consider unlikely

Unbelief– withholding of or lack of belief

Doubt and unbelief have often been equated together; but in fact, they are different. Many Christians, if they are like me, struggle with doubt at times.We read in the last post that even Peter began to doubt he could walk miraculously on the water when the wind began to cause him to fear; and, James 1:8 warns that, “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.” One definition of doubt is that a person is undecided–wavering between trusting and distrusting; between believing things will turn out for good or believing things are unlikely to result in good–they become double-minded. The irony is that our distrust often ensures that, in fact, things will not turn out well. As we begin to doubt what we already believe, we become more and more unstable in our ways; that is, we grow emotionally and spiritually weaker until we fluctuate in our resolve to act in faith. Doubt is a struggle with uncertainty regarding what we believe; while on the other hand, unbelief is a willful decision not to believe; a decision to withhold trust.

James 1:6-7 teaches that we must pray in unwavering faith to receive what we ask from the Lord; therefore when we are doubtful, we block or hinder receiving the very thing we are asking for. And, when we do not receive or have our prayers answered, it often leads to more doubt, creating a vicious cycle of reinforced doubting that results in wavering faith– double-mindedness. Jesus asked believers (His disciples for example) on more than one occasion why they doubted Him. Perhaps we should ask ourselves the same question when we are wavering with uncertainty: “Why am I having this doubt?” We might discover, if we are completely honest with ourselves, that our reasons are weak and unfounded.

As that point, we can do battle to overcome our distrust:

  • Gather scripture that addresses our areas of concern and meditate on its truth; then submit our doubt to biblical authority and truth by refuting the arguments for our doubt with scripture
  • Pray for help in fully believing in the perfect character of the Lord… His goodness, power and love
  • Reflect on God’s faithfulness and answered prayers throughout our past
  • Remember God’s promises regarding our trials
  • Do whatever the Holy Spirit counsels us to do to overcome distrust so that prayers are prayed in bold faith, so that we can confidently proceed

Stormy Trials Are Under the Feet of Jesus

Reference: Matthew 14: 22-33– A summary of this familiar account is in the paragraph below:

After Jesus fed the 5,000, He constrained his disciples to sail to the other side of the sea while He sent the multitudes away. The boat was tossed about due to high winds and when Jesus walked toward them on the water during the fourth watch (between 3:00 and 6:00 am) they were fearful. Thinking He was a spirit they cried out in fear, but Jesus reassured them that it was Him and they need not be afraid. Then Peter asked to come to Jesus if it was truly Him; and Jesus said, “Come.” Peter obeyed and actually walked on the water out to Jesus but began to sink when he took his eyes off of Him and focused on the stormy sea; immediately Jesus pulled Peter up. When they got to the ship, the wind ceased and the disciples began to worship Jesus as the true Son of God.

There are many wonderful aspects to the story whereby we could draw valuable spiritual lessons; however, this post will focus on a part that is not actually spelled out in the account: How did Peter and Jesus return to the boat? It does not seem reasonable that Jesus would have dragged Peter through the water- He had already lifted the disciple out of the water; nor does it seem likely that Jesus carried Peter back to the others. We read that upon their return to the ship, the wind ceased; after which, the rest of those in the boat affirmed and worshiped Jesus as the true Son of God.

Although it is not recorded (and therefore cannot be known with certainty), it seems likely that Peter remained on top of the water and walked back to the boat holding on to Jesus. I identify with Peter in the way his faith fluctuated: First, he enthusiastically stepped out in faith when his Teacher called to him- without any hesitation or pondering, he was momentarily sustained by faith. However, as the waves slapped at his feet and legs and the wind howled, his attention was drawn to his circumstances and away from the One who sustains us- he began to literally sink and succumb to circumstances due to increasing doubt. Finally in desperation, Peter called out to Jesus- weakened in faith, but looking again to his Savior. It is very possible that as he clung to Jesus, Peter was able to walk on the water, safely returning to the boat where the winds of calamity ceased.

The key lesson for me is found in the words Jesus spoke to Peter, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Mt. 14:31). Jesus’s words remind me of two essential truths regarding faith:

It is comforting to know that if I can maintain even a tiny faith, such as the size of a mustard seed, it is powerful enough to move mountains when not weakened by doubt. Jesus will not let me drown in my circumstances despite my little faith when I call out to Him as Peter did…He is faithful and able to lead me through the winds of trial until they have ceased- Jesus is worthy of my praise!

Jesus: A Man of Self-control

Reference Scripture: Mark 3: 1-6

The above passage gives an account of how Jesus once again entered the synagogue, and this time, restored a man’s withered hand. Of course the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He would heal the man on the Sabbath, then they could accuse Him of breaking the law by doing work on that day (see Exodus 31:14). Jesus asked them one of His penetrating questions, “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? (Mark 3:4). As was the repeatedly the case when Jesus asked them a question, the Pharisees could not effectively answer and had no good option but to remain silent. At this point, Jesus “looked all around them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts”; and then without hesitation, He healed the man’s hand. Immediately, the Pharisees (obviously greatly angered and offended) left to conspire with each other as to how they might destroy Him.

In a previous post- “Be Angry, Yet Do Not Sin”- an account was given about how Jesus did not act out of fleshly anger but instead accomplished God’s will in a way that was glorifying to the Lord. In this incident in Mark 3, we again see that Jesus displayed the same self-control: even as Jesus intently looked at the hypocritical Pharisees with anger, He refused to retaliate or lose control of His emotions. We clearly see that this was not the case with the Pharisees, who gave in to their fleshly and retaliatory anger to the point of conspiring to actually destroy Jesus.

In another post, “Not the Letter, But the Spirit”, we explored how the letter of the law (obeying it at all costs) was not life-giving or loving; instead, acting out of the spirit or true intent of the law better served others with the love of Christ. Here, Jesus again confronted the Pharisees’ legalistic keeping of the law, which was condemning to the very ones that they should have been serving. Keeping the letter would have been to do nothing that could be construed as “work”, but Jesus chose to do good on behalf of the man with the withered hand by healing him; thereby, keeping the spirit of the law which was life-giving and loving.

Too Wide and Too Deep?

Reference scripture: Joshua 3: 14-17

When the Israelites crossed into the Promised Land, the Jordan River was likely over 100 feet wide and over 10 Feet deep, according to many Bible scholars. The crossing took place at the time of harvest when the river would have been in flood stage, overflowing its banks and growing turbulent with the flooding. God had instructed Joshua to command the priests to carry the ark before them and assured him ahead of time that as soon as the soles of the priests’ feet rested in the river, the waters would be cut off and “stand up in a heap” (Joshua 3: 13). It is noteworthy that their whole foot would need to rest in the waters- no dipping their toes in to test if the waters would indeed part! God promised that He would move the water out of the way; therefore, they needed to literally step out in faith- faith that their God would keep His word and He was well able to do all that He intended (Joshua 21:45 & Ephesians 1:19).

Praise God that He does not change (see Hebrews 13:8); He is still and always will be trustworthy and powerful- the Almighty who never fails to keep His promises! No deep waters of our trials will ever be too much for our God; and just as with the ancient Israelites, God’s children today can confidently step out in faith while resting in the promise of Isaiah 43:2:

When you pass through the waters…

I will be with you.

An Unexpected Helper

When I was growing up, people did not believe they needed to lock their doors; in fact, I remember our front door being left wide open all day, sometimes unlocked all night. My siblings and I would wander all over town exploring and investigating whatever we were inclined to without any real fear of calamity. Our bicycles were of utmost importance to our freedom and we greatly treasured them; they enabled us to venture farther than we would ever dare if we were simply walking or skating.

To that end, one morning I decided to ride with our dog Hannibal far enough to see areas I had not visited before. It was a wonderfully sunny, cool day and I could not bring myself to turn around and go back home. I was full of energy as I continued to pedal out further and further until I had passed the edge of town; nevertheless, I determined to keep on enjoying my adventure. Suddenly out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of a figure rapidly running towards me; instinctively I knew I was in danger, but Hannibal was already on the alert. Within seconds, the figure became clear: it appeared to have features of a pit bull, but what registered the most was that it had a thick white foam coming from its mouth.

Hannibal was a medium-sized mutt, far smaller than my attacker, yet he would not abandon me. Instead, he growled and barked at the dog while blocking him at every turn from reaching my bike. The pit bull was relentless and frenzied (most likely with rabies), but my dog simply would not give in. Finally, Hannibal seemed to strategize how to entice the aggressive dog away from me- he began to circle him and my bike until he drew his attention. Hannibal made wider and wider circles until finally, the attacker decided to target him instead of me, chasing my dog until both were out of sight. I was shaken and realized immediately how reckless I had been. I called repeatedly, but Hannibal did not return. As I rode back home, I began to sob and feel remorseful- regretful that my foolishness had probably cost Hannibal his life. I remember praying desperately for Hannibal to return; and out of God’s mercy hours later, he did.

Over the years I have learned that my help is ultimately from the Lord, and He is able to use whatever or whomever is most effective in delivering divine aid. Psalm 46: 1-3 assures us that God is a present (there when we need Him) help in our times of trouble and we need not fear; and Psalm 54:4 declares that, “God is my helper.” The brave heart of my little canine helper that God used that day taught me that the Lord is never very far away, and He knows what I need even before I ask Him (Matthew 6:8). It is a great comfort to know that my Father “watches over my coming and going forevermore” (Psalm 121:8).

The Law of Faith

Have you ever heard of the term “law of faith”? It is found several times in the book of Romans- for example, Romans 3:27 says, “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.” Paul was teaching that a right relationship with God (salvation) could not be achieved by way of a works-based law. The law of faith is essentially the opposite of a law of works (earning merit by doing “good” deeds). The fact is, a person cannot obtain salvation by doing anything to earn it; but instead, by trusting in and relying on the grace of God through Jesus Christ.

FAITH is taking God at his word, knowing that he will carry out his word and be faithful to his promises; furthermore, we believe this to the point that we act on it. Additionally, faith is trust and complete confidence in Jesus Christ and what He did for us, always thinking highly of Him. The law of this kind of faith is the mechanism by which we can be saved: “For by grace ye are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). This verse is at the heart of Christianity because by God’s grace (divine favor; power and desire to do God’s will), through our unwavering trust in God, we not only receive our salvation or deliverance from sin, but also God’s promises, answered prayers, and the power/will to be obedient: Galatians 5:5 (salvation); Hebrews 11:6 (God’s promises); Ephesians 3:12 (answered prayers); and Hebrews, chapter 11- “Hall of Faith” (power and will to be obedient and to receive promises).

A critical principle to remember is that it is a law of faith, which makes genuine trust in and reliance on Jesus Christ essential for everything that has to do with our salvation; and thankfully, God provides the grace for us to have that kind of faith.

God Has Strengthened

Reference scripture: 2 Kings 20: 1-7

Hezekiah was one of only a few kings of Judah who “did what was right in in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 18:3). His reign was characterized by trusting in the Lord, serving Him, praying to Him, and tearing down the pagan places and idols of worship which were an affront to His holiness- King Hezekiah walked humbly with his God. We find in our reference scripture that one day Hezekiah became gravely ill; and in fact, God sent His prophet Isaiah to instruct him to get his house in order because he was going to die (verse 1). Immediately the king turned his face to the wall and prayed this simple prayer:

“I beseech thee O Lord, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight.” Then he wept bitterly.

After he prayed this humble and brief prayer of faith, an astounding turn of events occurred: Before Isaiah could leave the king’s court, the Lord instructed him to turn around and deliver these words to Hezekiah, ” I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold I will heal thee…and I will add unto thy days 15 years; and I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria and I will defend this city for mine own sake” (verses 4 & 5). Notice that in this particular prayer, Hezekiah did not ask for anything; he left everything in the hands of the Lord, whom he trusted to act justly and mercifully on his behalf. The name Hezekiah means “God has strengthened” and undoubtedly we witness this continual strengthening through God’s response to the king’s prayer- longer life, victory over Judah’s enemy, and protection for the city.

The overwhelming lesson here lies in the fact that prayer to our powerful God is, well- powerful! James 5:16 promises that, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth (accomplishes) much.” Furthermore, 1 John 5: 14 & 15 teach that God hears and answers prayers when we make our requests according to His will. Many times I have entered into prayer disheartened and weak, but have come away feeling hopeful and strengthened. How wonderful it is to know that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8); and so we can rely on God’s mercy and grace, just as King Hezekiah did- we can be strengthened when we pray.

Fear Is Not From God

“For God hath not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).

Many of us have heard 2 Timothy 1:7 many times; however, have we considered implications of the word “but” in this verse? According to the literal Greek translation, but can mean “contrariwise, or in contrast to”; therefore, if we are full of fear, are we necessarily not filled with power, love, and soundness of mind? As someone who has wrestled with fear since childhood, I understand the paralyzing effect it can have on every aspect of life. Thankfully, the Lord has delivered me from the imprisonment of fear, but the Adversary never gives up in trying to stir it up in me. I have learned that everything in the Christian life boils down to the one in whom we place our faith: I can have faith in God who has given me power, love, and thinking based in truth, or I can surrender to fear, which is essentially faith in the power of Satan to cause calamity and destruction in my life.

Fear from the enemy is not the “fight or flight” fear that protects us from imminent danger, but the kind of fear that causes us to be timid in carrying out the will of God. Paul was admonishing Timothy to not be fearful of afflictions that might result from his obedience to God’s calling (purposes) in his life; and, as with Timothy, we should not allow fear to keep us from being obedient. In the past, I was holding my feelings in higher regard than the Lord’s purposes in the situation- I was giving the enemy victory. It was frustrating to feel unable to do what I knew I needed to do, but I lacked sufficient faith to overcome the anxiety and fear- I needed to keep building my faith in the Lord’s goodness and provision for me. It has been a journey of faith-building by the power of the Holy Spirit that still continues today:

  • Through reliance on the Holy Spirit, I resist fear from the enemy and renounce its power over me- 1 Peter 5: 9, “But resist him [the devil], firm in your faith.” NASB
  • I place trust in the POWER of God- 1 John 4:4, “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them (spirits not from God, v.3): because greater is He that is within you than he (Satan) that is in this world.” KJV
  • I cling to God’s LOVE for me, which is perfect, unchanging, and empowering- 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love (God’s agape love) casts out fear; because fear has torment. He that fears is not made perfect (whole, completely equipped) in love.”
  • I keep on renewing my mind in God’s Word so that I can make sound judgments and believe/act based on the true and God-given perspective of the situation- a SOUND MIND. Romans 12:12, “…be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

What Does the Lord Require?

Micah, 6: 8, “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness [mercy], and to walk humbly with your God?”

The Lord does not cause confusion ( 1 Corinthians 14:33) because His instructions to us are simple and clear- we do not need to wonder what He requires or expects from us:

  1. To do justice- Be fair and equitable in all our judgements and do what is right in God’s sight. Basically, we act in agreement with truth by the power/discernment of the Holy Spirit: Psalm 86:11, “Teach me Thy way, O Lord; I will walk in your truth.”
  2. Love kindness & mercy- Be kind even if the person is guilty. Loving mercy means that we delight in it and welcome opportunities to demonstrate compassion in our treatment of our offenders or adversaries. With the Lord’s help, we are able to administer grace and good will even to the guilty and undeserving; and, we do not require from them what we have a right to demand. Romans 12:17,” Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to what is honorable in the sight of all.”
  3. Walk humbly with God- Be obedient and pleasing to the Lord. When we lower ourselves in our own estimation, we are able to properly exalt God and live willingly in obedience to Him. Proverbs 11:2,”…with the humble is wisdom.” Matthew 23:12, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Give ForGIVEness

I wonder if there is anyone in all of humanity that does not struggle with unforgiveness…

If we break down the word forgiveness, we find that give means “to bestow without a return” and for- is a prefix meaning “off or away with intense force.” Putting these meanings together, we find that to forgive literally means to intensely bestow something without expectation of getting anything in return. To put it another way, forgiving freely releases other people from the penalty of their offenses against us- there is no longer an expectation of payment back to us for their offense (e.g. an apology). Therefore, when we hold onto unforgiveness, we are refusing to let our offenders off the hook and in various ways we’re attempting to extract some sort of payment for their debt to us. These “payments” or punishment can be as mild as giving them the silent treatment or the cold shoulder, or simply refusing to forget the affront and move forward.

Colossians 3:13 commands that we, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of us has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” The Savior provided the richest and most sobering example of forgiveness when He endured the cross, the cruelest of punishments that He did not deserve. Although He was completely innocent of His tormentors’ false accusations, Jesus asked the Lord to forgive them even while He was still hanging and suffering on the cross (Luke 23:34)! Let’s remember that Jesus also loved and died for us while we were still His enemies; that is, when we rejected Him and refused to place our faith in Him (Romans 5: 6-8). Furthermore, we ourselves are blessed when we release others, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9). Romans 4:7 teaches that we are blessed when our sins are covered and forgiven; therefore forgiving is a win-win act of obedience: We bless the ones we forgive, and at the same time, we ourselves obtain blessing and release from the burden of anger and resentment.

When offenses come- and they will (Luke 17:1)- we can determine to be like our Father, and remove the debt owed to us “as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). To put it another way, we can swing with the power of forgiveness and knock the offenses against us out of the park!

Not the Letter, But the Spirit

2 Corinthians 3: 6, “Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit; for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”

What strange words given by Paul to the Corinthians, or so it seems at first glance. We might better understand what Paul was saying if we recall the account about Rahab in Joshua 2: 1-24, which describes how she welcomed Israelite enemy spies into her home, and then hid them on the rooftop. Although she was a harlot, Rahab believed in the power of Israel’s God; and in effect, lied to the men sent by Jericho’s king when they asked the whereabouts of the two spies. The “letter of the law” behavior was that Rahab would have truthfully revealed that they were hiding not far away; the “spirit of the law” behavior was that she chose to lie in order to save their lives. Hebrews 11:31 honors what Rahab did as a great act of faith; and in James 2:25 she is again given the distinction of being mentioned in the Bible. So, how are we to deal with the fact that in protecting the spies, she deceived the men sent to find them?

Jesus Himself summed up the “whole of the law” (the spirit of the law) in this manner: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22: 37 & 39). The letter of the law represents strict adherence to every aspect of it no matter what; and, the spirit of the law is concerned with loving the people that the law is meant to serve. We might be compelled to ask, “Should believers always blindly comply with the letter of the law or, instead, act according to the intent of the law?” I believe the answer lies in the Mt. 22 passage: let love be supreme in all that we do so that we are ultimately guided (through dependence on the Holy Spirit) to express the charity of God in every situation. Our guiding question will undoubtedly become, “Will this administer to this person the love that Christ has shown me?”

Longing To Belong

Romans 15:7 : “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”

Have you ever experienced a sense of not belonging no matter how long you associated with a group of people, or how hard you tried to fit in? Perhaps it seemed that everyone else was in complete agreement about the specifics of their personal or social expectations- you may have felt like a “square peg” trying to fit into a round hole.

It is human nature to associate with people who are like us; and it seems that the more others are like us, the more accepting we feel towards them. However, it should not be this way within the body of Christ, since we should all strive to be more and more like our Heavenly Father who, as Peter understood, shows no partiality (favoring one party over another, Acts 10:34). Additionally, the body of Christ is united as one by way of faith in Jesus Christ and there is “neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond or free, there is neither male nor female”(Galatians 3:28). That is, believers belong to the body of Christ through unity of faith in Christ by the enabling of the Holy Spirit, rather than fitting in based on those distinctions.

I believe it will be beneficial in this post to examine these concepts from a biblical perspective; thereby better equipping us to help others enjoy a sense of belonging as we fellowship with them:

FITTING IN:

  • It doesn’t seem to matter if I stay or leave; I find myself participating less and less.
  • I must be like everyone else to be accepted, and so I am constantly comparing myself to others; yet I know it is unwise to measure myself by others’ standards or opinions (2 Corinthians 10:12).
  • I must do what is expected in order to fit in. Instead of freely using the gifts I have been given, I feel compelled to participate in too many activities and programs I am not suited for.

BELONGING:

  • It is clear that I am missed when I am not in fellowship. Fellow believers act in accordance with 2 Corinthians 10:12 and seek me out until I can rejoice with them again.
  • I am accepted for just being me; fellow believers allow time for the Holy Spirit to help me make needed changes. However, I know others would gently and wisely help me back onto the right path if I strayed. Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell in you with all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another.”
  • I belong whether I conform to others’ expectations or not, because others make room for my gifting (Proverbs 18:16).

The Bible clearly teaches that we are not to focus on people-pleasing; instead, we should make our priority to please God and mature in our faith: Galatians 1:10, “For do I now pursue men or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I yet pleased men, I would not be the servant of Christ.”

*Thank you to my husband, Clyde for helping with the illustration!

Turn Your Eyes To Jesus

This past week, we visited Dix Park in Raleigh, NC, and found that it was filled with fields of sunflowers- all facing in the same direction; and, because they have large “faces” it was hard to miss their unity in turning toward the sun. Inspired by these remarkable flowers, I researched and discovered that young sunflowers track the sun during the day, but reorient during the night in anticipation of the dawn. Even more astounding, they continue to track the sun whether the day is rainy or cloudy.

The spiritual application from observance of these sunflowers is remarkable…Isaiah 32:2 states, “O Lord, be gracious to us; we have waited for you. Be [our] strength every morning.” Psalm 5:3 says, “In the morning, you will hear my voice.” Lastly, Hebrews 12:2 teaches that we are to run the race of life set before us, “looking to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.” Jesus and King David as well others in biblical accounts rose early in the morning to commune with the Father. Furthermore, if we can learn from observing the little ant (see Proverbs 6:6), it stands to reason these humble flowers have a lesson to teach:

Undoubtedly there are times when believers’ souls are weary and troubled, and the darkness of night can further increase anxiety and fear. However, like the sunflower, we can confidently anticipate the dawn, when God promises that His fresh mercies and compassion are awaiting us (Lamentations 3:22-23 ). And, just as the sunflower continues to follow the sun whether the day is rainy or cloudy, so we can remain faithful to turn our eyes to Jesus despite the stormy trials that surround us.

TO JESUS
TURN YOUR EYES…

Fully God, Yet Fully Man

The fact that Jesus was wholly human, and yet at the same time, wholly God is a difficult concept to grasp; and in fact, we cannot completely explain and understand it. Although scripture supports this concept in many ways, nevertheless, some have taught that Philippians 2:7, (“…but [Jesus] emptied Himself…being made in the likeness of men”) means that Jesus laid aside the divine attributes of God. In other words, it has frequently been taught that Jesus completely put aside being omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), and omnipresent (present everywhere).

Only recently, with the help of excellent commentaries, have I been able to come to a better understanding of the truly remarkable reality that our Savior was both fully human and at the same time, fully divine (God). He did not lay aside His deity; He temporarily gave up His positional place in heaven in order to veil the glory of His deity in a human body of flesh. Even so, this hidden glory did shine forth on occasion: In Matthew 17:2 we read about the transfiguration of Jesus in which “His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light.” We read in John 1:46-50 that Jesus not only knew the moral character of Nathanael even before He met him, but He also had seen him under a fig tree without actually being in that same location. In Matthew 9:4 we learn that Jesus was able to read other people’s thoughts and look upon their hearts- “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?” Indisputably, Jesus demonstrated His Godhood by forgiving sins- something only God can do. These are only a few proofs that Jesus remained fully God as well as fully human while here on earth.

However, the most astounding and praise-worthy part is that He obediently humbled Himself to live on earth as a man- fully suffering unimaginable pain as He died on the cross for the sake of us all (John 3:16). A commentator has aptly expressed, “There was no depth to which He would not stoop to save our guilty souls.”

Do Not Weep

Reference: Luke 7: 11- 17

Jesus and His disciples had entered the city of Nain and came upon a funeral procession that was carrying out (for burial) the only son of a widow. When the Lord saw the mother, He immediately felt compassion for her- He was moved to act passionately (“com” or “with”-passion) on her behalf. Obviously, Jesus was aware of her great loss; yet He told the mother, who was also a widow, “Do not weep.” On the surface, it appears to be a strange offer of comfort- not what one would normally say to a grieving mother who had lost her entire family. But Jesus was no ordinary man, He was fully man while at the same time, fully God (we will examine this concept in the next post).

At this point, I will soberly and respectfully speculate about what might have been part of the motivation for these compassionate actions of Jesus:

Because Jesus was fully God, He knew that the son’s mother need not weep; He was about to raise her son and give him back to her! Also, because Jesus was God, He was able to know that He was going to the cross- a cursed tree that He would die upon. He also knew that He would be raised from the dead (see John 12:27 and Mark 10:33-34) and therefore His own mother would not need to weep. Furthermore, He even knew that while hanging on the cross, He would compassionately give His mother into the earthly care of His beloved disciple, John. We read in John 19:26-27 that Jesus looked down at His mother (who was with John) and said, “Behold your son!” and, to John, “behold thy mother!”

I wonder what deep emotions were in the heart of Jesus when He gave the widow’s only son back to her from the dead- could they have been similar to those He would feel as He gave His mother into the care of John? As God, He knew all that was going to happen; as a man, it might have been cathartic to raise the young man of Nain. Catharsis is defined as “a purifying or cleansing of the emotions, especially pity and fear, that brings about spiritual renewal or release from tension.” Perhaps this miracle was helpful to the man, Jesus, in preparing Him for the intense trials that lay ahead.

Be Angry, Yet Do Not Sin

Did you know that the biblical account of Jesus’ cleansing the temple is found in all four gospels? Yet it is only in the book of Mark that I discovered that Jesus entered the temple the day before He came back and drove out the money-changers. Mark 11:11 says, “And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple: and when He had looked round about upon all things, and now evening was come, He went out to Bethany with the twelve.” It was the next day when He returned to Jerusalem that He entered the temple a second time (see Mark 11: 12-17); and it was then that He cast out the buyers and sellers, overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and turned over the seats of the merchants who were selling doves.

In general, teachings about this narrative have depicted Jesus’ actions as intense and angry reactions to the situation in the temple. However, it is possible that Mark’s account might indicate a more controlled and methodical method by which Jesus addressed those conditions. Verse 11 specifically points out that Jesus looked over the entire situation- everything that was going on in His Father’s House- and then He left without doing or saying anything (as far as we can tell from the account). There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus fervently prayed before returning the next day. It would not be surprising that due to His humanity, Jesus’ initial emotional reaction might have played out differently if He had immediately reacted against the offense. Instead, Jesus was able to return fully confident of His father’s will and not only authoritatively drive the offenders out of God’s house, but aptly express the heart of His Father: His temple was to be a place of prayer and worship, not a den of thieves.

It is praiseworthy that Jesus provided a powerful example for us regarding anger: whenever possible, do not impulsively react out of intense anger even when the cause is a righteous one. Instead, take time for praying and seeking the Lord’s will and timing; allow the time to gain proper perspective. In other words, Jesus demonstrated that it is possible to be angry without sinning when we control our fleshly reactions and seek the Lord.

God’s Nature

“The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof…” (Psalm 24:1)

When our grown daughter was a child and someone threw trash on the ground, she would say, “They shouldn’t do that to God’s nature!” Nature is certainly the creation of the Lord, but one could speculate as to whether it is also reflective of His own personal nature. For example, have you ever been out in the “middle of nowhere” and discovered beautiful flowers, or a colorful bird which no one but yourself would likely ever encounter? If you are like me, you would ask in your mind why God would put such beauty where it might never be appreciated. I b