While

“While Jeremiah was still confined in the courtyard of the guard, the word of the Lord came to him a second time.”  Jeremiah 33:1

I looked around at the place I was in and I wondered if God was through with me.  Did He even know where I was? My life had become a mess of unwise decisions that left me in this depressing and overwhelming situation.  I tried so hard to find Him, but I reasoned that God, who is holy and exalted and perfect would never come to me here.  I feared He might never come to me at all.  Oh, I had once known sweet fellowship with the Lord, had sung His praises, served in His church and felt His presence so near to me.  But now.  Now I was in the pit and God seem nowhere to be found.

Can you relate? Have you found yourself in a situation or place and wondered if God had left you? Perhaps you have made some poor choices – just some unwise decisions or even outright sin – and thought that God had “washed His hands of you.” Sometimes the actions of others cause devastating repercussions to our lives, even though we are not to blame.  Maybe you are disappointed in the circumstances of your life, or your own failures.  To compound the misery, God seems nowhere to be found.  I think these seasons are common to everyone, and if you are seeking to live for God, they become magnified in your heart and mind.

Recently, while reading through the book of Jeremiah, I came across our key verse and one little word jumped off the page for me.  “While.”  A little background might help here.  The nation of Judah (the Southern Kingdom of Israel) was under siege by the Babylonians.  Jeremiah was a prophet of God, and his messages were directed squarely at the religious leaders.  They were supposed to be leading the people into obedience to the Lord, but instead they were leading the people into idolatry and pagan worship.  For many generations God had compassionately reached out to His people, but, as Jeremiah proclaimed, now their stubbornness and defiance must be punished.  The religious leaders had him arrested and placed in a common area for prisoners under guard. And God, the holy, exalted and perfect God, came to him and spoke to Jeremiah in that horrible place.  While he was in confinement.

His message to Jeremiah is a sweet and precious promise that still stands today: “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable thing you do not know. (verse 3)” God is telling Jeremiah, “Even in your captivity, I am listening, I am as near as your next word and I will answer you.”  He is declaring His faithfulness to the prophet, His promise to never leave nor forsake him. Despite his circumstances and despite all appearances, God had not abandoned Jeremiah.

He makes the same promise a few verses later While [the Israelites] are coming to fight…Behold I will bring health and healing, and I will heal them; and I will reveal to them an abundance of peace and truth. (verses 5 & 6; emphasis mine)”  In the midst of the battle, with all the shouting and chaos, fear, panic and the stench of war, God comes with His promise of healing, peace and truth.

Throughout the Bible, there is evidence that God is with His people while they are in the most difficult and devastating situations.  He was with the Israelites while they wandered through the wilderness.  He was with Joseph while he was in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.  He was with David while he ran from King Saul and while he grieved over his own sin.  God was with the Jews in Persia, while they face a certain death sentence, and He was with the new Believers in Christ Jesus while they were running from Roman and Jewish persecution.

God’s promise to Jeremiah is His promise to you and me as well.  Wherever you are, whatever your circumstances, and however you go there, God is promising to come to you while you are there.  He is saying to you and me, “Even in your captivity, your disappointment, your mess, your failure, your sin – I am listening. ‘Call to me and I will answer you,’ I am as near as your next word.  Despite your circumstance and all appearances, I have not abandoned you.”

This is what Jesus came for. Romans 5:8 says “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were sinners, Christ died for us. (emphasis mine)” We were lost in our sin, without hope and held captive by the enemy.  While we are in our miserable state, Christ comes to us with the promise of healing and restoration and His presence.

While.  In circumstances where all hope is lost, God is promising His presence, healing and restoration.  Not after you untangle yourself from your messes.  Not after the battle has been won.  Not after you get your life straightened out.  But while you are in the middle of it all, in places you never thought you would be, facing battles that threaten and overwhelm you, God is near and He is listening.  He is a close as your next prayer.

“Holy Father, thank You for coming to me while I am in situations and circumstances that threaten and overwhelm me.  Thank you for being near to me, no matter where I am. Amen.

Ancient Paths

“Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths; ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.            Jeremiah 6:16

Though God had called them to be His own people, rescued them time and time again, provided, protected and cared for them, and blessed them with His presence in the Temple, the people of Israel had rejected Him, disregarded His laws and worshiped pagan gods and their own pleasures.  At one time they were God’s holy and righteous nation, but slowly, in seemingly insignificant ways, a drift away from God had been taking place.  You know – a small compromise here, a tiny little concession there – just to get along, to make living among others of different beliefs a little easier.  Before long, they discovered that they had drifted far from the ways of God – and right into captivity. Psalm 74 is written during that captivity.  The writer Aseph, a servant in the Temple of the Lord, grieves the presence of the enemy in God’s holy Sanctuary. Verse 4 says “[The enemy] have set up their own standards for signs. And in verse 9 he says, “We do not see our signs.” (emphasis mine) The people could no longer see the signs (the root meaning of “signs” is “a line of measure”) that the Lord had given them, they were lost and confused, and easily draw into captivity without them.

We would like to believe that we are a wiser people in this “age of enlightment,” people who would not be so easily drawn away from the truth, but human nature really hasn’t changed very much.  We are still a people adrift in compromise, concession and a desire to “go along to get along.”  The Christian Church today has drifted dangerously away from the moorings of the truth.  We have slowly, imperceptibly allowed the world to influence the church’s beliefs and standards, and we have allowed the heart of the church to become cold to God, His Word and His ways.  The church has been taken captive by the world, and we didn’t even realize it was happening.

Least we forget, the church is you and I.  And if the church has been taken captive, it is because you and I have been taken captive as well.  If the church has drifted, it is because you and I have drifted. The church is not where we go, it is who we are.  The church is not the buildings, nor the Pastor and leadership.  The true church is every person who claims themselves to be a Christian.  Notice I didn’t say “religious” or “a person of faith,” but those of who have identified with Jesus Christ; who have accepted His death on the cross as the atonement for sin and His resurrection as the promise of eternal life.  I mean those who have chosen to live by His truth, His teachings and His example.  If the church is to turn back to God, it will only happen when Christians turn away in repentance from worldly influences, deny our selves the pleasures of sin, and seek God’s face in whole-hearted devotion.  The church – you and I must turn our hearts back to the Lord.

Jesus’ half- brother Jude, in his epistle, called believers in Christ to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. (verse 3)”  His is a call to return to the basic tenants of the Christian faith, the words, ways and truth of Jesus, and to stand firm against every false teaching.  How can we know what those tenants are?  By studying God’s Holy Word and an old article of faith, called “The Apostle’s Creed.”  Every Lord’s Day, in churches all around the world, people of God still recite the Apostle’s Creed, as an Affirmation of our Faith and a reminder of the foundation on which the Christian Church was built.  The Apostle’s Creed is not just for the church, it is a very personal statement of faith for your life and mine.

THE APOSTLES’ CREED

I believe in God the Father Almighty

Maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord;

Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

Born of the Virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate,

Crucified, dead and buried;

He descended into hell

The third day He rose from the dead;

He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;

From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit;

The Holy catholic* Church;

The communion of saints;

The forgiveness of sins;

The resurrection of the body;

And the life everlasting.

* or “universal”

We will begin looking at this ancient creed in a series of Thursday devotionals over the next few weeks, understanding its original message and its application for Christians today. Please join me in studying the “Deeper Roots” of our faith.

Remember the lament of Aseph, the Temple Servant?  Though the enemy had set up their own standards in the Temple, Aseph knew where his salvation and his loyalty lay.  In Psalm 74:9 he says, “Yet God is my King from of old, who works deeds of deliverance.” Aseph knew that only by keeping his heart devoted to God and to His ancient ways and words, would he be delivered from the hands of the enemy.  His deliverance is our deliverance too.  Only through faith in and wholehearted devotion to Jesus Christ, who is “the same, yesterday and today and forever,” will His church, His people – you and I – be delivered.

Ancient of Days, Your Name, Your Word and Your ways are eternal and timeless. You are the God who is, who was, and who will forever be.  Teach me to walk in Your ancient ways.  Amen

The Everyday God

“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.”  Psalm 68:19

 ”Believing in God is not practical in this modern world we live in.”

 “This is no big deal – it’s too little to bother God about.”

“God is way up in heaven; He is too far away to notice me.”

You may have heard – perhaps even said – statements similar to these.  I know I have thought and said some of them myself.  It is hard to believe that God, who created and ordered the sun, the moon, the stars and this earth, would concern Himself with human beings and our seemingly insignificant lives.  Is it even practical to believe that God will help us? Isn’t “faith” nothing more than wishful thinking?

While the three opening comments seem to come from different directions, they really are rooted in the same false beliefs about God; that He is outdated and impractical and far too removed to notice or care about you and me. It is the world and Satan’s favorite message. But I would like to share with you from Scripture and experience why I believe God is real, practical and intimately involved in our everyday lives.

Our post-modern society has pitched us the false theology of “self-empowerment,” that we have within ourselves all the power we need to overcome anything we might face and become anything we choose to be.  It is the world’s way of telling us that we don’t need God; that faith is for weak people who rely on superstition and religion as a crutch.  In fact, even within the church, we are espousing a twisted version of Philippians 4: 13 which says “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”  We focus on the “I can do all things” part, and forget that the source of our strength is the “through Christ” part.  After His resurrection, Jesus told the Disciples, “You will be My witnesses” and called them proclaim the Gospel “to the ends of the earth.”  But he also told them “wait…you will receive power.” (Acts 1:4- 8)  He was saying –“Don’t try to do this on your own – My Spirit will help you. Wait for it.”  Jesus even said “By myself I can do nothing;” (John 5:30)  If Jesus knows that He can do nothing without the power of His Father, what on earth makes us think we can? Friends, there is no verse that says “God helps those who help themselves.”  I have read the Bible through several times, and I cannot find any Scripture where God chastises people for relying on Him too much.  In truth, God chastises those who don’t depend on Him, those who think they don’t need Him.  He calls that pride, and pride is perhaps the greatest offense against Him. God created man for an intimate love relationship, for a unique oneness that He couldn’t have with any other creation.  He created us to love Him and to need Him. And that goes against everything the world wants us to believe.  It is only when we come to the end of our own strength that we realize we do need Him, and we find that He is more than able and willing to help us.

Then there is the thought that God should not be bothered with our insignificant problems.  We tend to put our needs into different boxes “too big for me,” and “too little for God.”  We call for prayer when Grandma is near death, our child is hurt in an accident, or when there has been a national or world crisis; but seem to think that God does not want to be bothered with our petty problems.  Does He really care that your washing machine has quit working?   Should I even bother Him about my boss snapping at me?  Why would God be concerned about a teething baby who has kept you up three nights in a row?   He does care about your everyday needs, He wants you to come to Him about your frustrations and the demands of your day that wear you down.  1 Peter 5:7 says “Cast all your cares on Him, because He cares for you.”  In Moses’ address to the people of Israel, He reminded them “During the forty years that I led you through the desert, your clothes did not wear out, not did the sandals on your feet. (Deuteronomy 29:5)” If God was concerned about their clothes and sandals, I think it is right to say that He cares about your everyday needs as well. Jesus said “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear.  Your Heavenly Father knows that you need these things. (Matthew 6:25, 32) He knows what you need every day, and He promises to provide.  In the prayer He taught to the Disciples, Jesus said “Give us this day our daily bread. (Matthew 6:11, emphasis mine)” Daily bread, daily needs – He is a daily God.

Proverbs 5:2 says “God is in heaven, and you are on earth.” So does that mean He is too far removed to notice us? Not at all.  Remember, God created us for an intimate love relationship.  He told Moses “Have [the Israelites] make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. (Exodus 25:8)  He said “I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be mu people. (Leviticus 26:12) The very name of Jesus tells us God’s heart is to be with His people – “Immanuel – which means ‘God with us. (Matthew 1: 23)” It has always been God’s desire to be near us – even in the earliest days of man, “God walked in the garden…among the trees. (Genesis 3:8)” The original context of the words in this verse indicate this “walk in the Garden” was God’s daily custom, as He enjoyed fellowship with Adam and Eve.
It is easier to dismiss someone’s needs if we distance ourselves from them, but when we draw closer, when we get to know them, their needs become evident and our hearts are moved to help.  God, your Creator, wants to be involved in the “everydayness” of your life.  He has committed Himself to be with you, to care for you and about you.

God has not left you to manage this life on your own.  He has drawn closed to you and sees the big and small issues you face.  He cares about the most intimate details of your life.  He is near, as near as your next breath.  He is as near as your whispered prayer.

Holy Father, You are high and exalted in heaven; but you gave it all up to be my Savior and my everyday God. Please help me to remember today that You are near. Amen

If I Could Do It All Again

“In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will.”               Ephesians 2:13

I caught myself the other day thinking, “If I could change one thing about my past…”

I’ll bet you can finish that sentence with a few thoughts of your own.  “I would have gone to college.” “I would have chosen a different career.”  “I would have (or wouldn’t have) gotten married.”  It doesn’t always have to be choices as big as those.  “I wouldn’t have said that.” “I wouldn’t have eaten that.” “I wouldn’t have made that purchase.”   Who hasn’t lamented something in their past.  For some, the choices were huge and life altering.  For others, they were moments, that while not quite as monumental, still, things we wish we could do over.  I have spent so much time living with regrets, living in the “if onlys,” and wishing I had made wiser decisions, or that circumstances had turned out differently.   I have discovered that when I live in constant regret I set myself up for a very sad life.  But I am learning some things that I would like to share with you.

One of the most important lessons about regret is to learn to trust in the sovereign providence of God.  That is a really old-fashioned term, but in the original Hebrew, the word combination has a rich and significant meaning.  The word “sovereign” speaks to God’s rightful authority; an authority that extends over nature, nations, mankind, and individual lives.  It is the thought behind Psalm 33:9: “[The Lord] spoke, and it came to be; He commanded and it stood firm.” God spoke, “Let there be…” (Genesis1) and it was so, because God said it must be. If God has spoken a promise through His word, it is as good as done. And if He has spoken a word over your life, it is as sure as His Name. “Sovereign” is addressing God’s rightful authority and majesty as Lord.

Likewise, the word “providence” is speaking to God’s charge over you; the root word is so precious to me, it means “to pay attention, to care for, to be in charge of.”  Here is God’s tender, loving care that shows Him as “the Good Shepherd” and as our Heavenly Father.  By this word, God has pledged to pay attention to you, to care for you, and to be in charge of your life – not as a dictator – but as One who seeks always and only what is best for you.  Job 10:12 expresses this beautifully. “You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in Your providence watched over my spirit.”

The combination of terms tells us that God is always looking out on your behalf, knows what you need, and has the authority to move heaven and earth to accomplish all things for you – because He loves you.

If you study the Scriptures you will find, over and over again, the sovereign and providential hand of God.  In John 4, a woman with a very tainted past decides to go fetch water from a well at mid-day.  There she meets Jesus, who changes her life and the lives of her neighbors.  Every day choices become life-altering, even community-altering.  What often seems to be a devastating situation, in God’s hands, turns into deliverance for an entire nation. Genesis 37-50 tells the story of Joseph, who is sold into slavery by his brothers, and imprisoned under false accusation.  But under the sovereign hand of God, Joseph becomes the second in command in Egypt and saves millions of people, including his own family, from starvation during a seven-year famine. Listen to his testimony from Genesis 50:20, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” In God’s hands, even our sin can be turned around, as David and Bathsheba found out.  After an affair, a murder and a pregnancy that ends with the death of a child; God blessed these two sinners, as well as the nation of Israel through their son, Solomon.  2 Samuel 12:24 tells us that “the Lord loved Solomon,” and made him the wisest and wealthiest king ever (1 Kings 3:12-13).  During Solomon’s reign the people of Israel built the Temple of the Lord, became a powerful nation and enjoyed forty years of peace and prosperity

Lest you think God has ceased His sovereign and providential activity in our day, I have countless times I can look back and see God at work in the most unexpected ways.  He has rescued me time and time again through circumstances and situations that should have crushed me – but by His hand I emerged stronger and more confident in His love and care.  I have seen His hand at work in so many other lives as well.  He is for His children, He watches over us, protects and cares for us, and moves mountains on our behalf.

Another important lesson I am learning I call, “Look ahead, not behind.”  God spoke through the prophet Isaiah and said, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.  (Isaiah 43:18-19)  On the other side of these difficult seasons, is the promise that God will bring us out of the darkness and into the light of a fresh new day.  God is able to give you a fresh start. More than a do-over; Isaiah proclaimed the genesis of “a new thing.”  He has and continues to do that for me.  This writing ministry is “a stream in the wasteland.”  And He had made a way for me to return to school, a dream I thought had died ten years ago.  Surely He has made “a way in the desert” of my life.  But if I choose to sit in the ashes of my past, I will not see the new things God wants to do.

If you have grieved choices in your past, know that Your sovereign, providential Father has been watching over and caring for you all along.  In His hands the very thing that caused you the most pain can be the growing point for a whole new future.  Dear friend, God loves you too much to waste the struggles of your life.  He has a plan.  He has a purpose. And He has you in the palm of His great hand. 

Holy, sovereign God, please work all these hard things in my life to good, as I will in Your providence and love.   Amen

What Kind of Servant Will I Be?

 “In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble.  If a man cleanses himself from the later, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.” (2 Timothy 2:20-21)

How do you want God to use you? What kind of servant do you strive to be?

I’m not asking what you think you should do in the Kingdom of God, because, in truth, the Lord is more interested in who we are than in what we do.  He has given us, as His children, gifts and talents that He wants us to use in service to Him.  But we can have an influence in how God uses us with the gifts He has given.  In the verses above, Paul is writing to his disciple, Timothy, a young man who has great potential as a servant of Christ.  In his first letter, the older Apostle reminds Timothy about “the prophecies once made about you.” (1 Timothy 1:18)  Paul is now advising him to become a vessel worthy of God’s gifts and calling.

I think Paul’s message is very important for us today.  He describes items in a grand home, probably a palace – made of different materials for different purposes.  He describes some as crafted from gold and silver for “noble purposes” – and the word “noble” means honor, value, respect, specialness and cost.  Picture an elegant vase that sits atop the Master’s table, spilling over with beautiful and fragrant flowers, or perhaps the Master’s own goblet, polished to a rich luster by His own hands as He drinks from it each day.

The opposite word he uses is “ignoble,” a quirky sounding word that means dishonor, disgrace, shame, common use, and is actually a combination of the word noble and the modifier: “negation,” which means that “ignoble” is a term that negates everything that is noble.  When I was a very little girl, I recall visiting my grandmother who lived in little more than a shack in North Alabama, with an outhouse in the backyard, which fascinated my older brothers. (Boys!) At night, Granny would put an old pan under the bed; she called a “chamber pot,” so we would not have to wander out into the dark night to get to the outhouse.  I think you get the picture.  That is the image Paul is painting by using the word “ignoble.”

A vase on the master’s table or a chamber pot.

What makes the difference?  Paul says we do: “if a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes.”

Again, looking at words here, “cleanse,” has a very clear and definite meaning: “to clean out, get rid of,” with the root meaning of “clean and pure.” Paul says that only by clearing out everything that is “ignoble” can we be useful to Master and prepared to do any good work. This is the same idea we get from the writer of Hebrews who said “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles,” (Hebrews 12:1) Whether we clear it out or throw it off, we must rid ourselves from everything that trips us up or renders us unfit for God’s good work.

King Hezekiah called the Priests and Levites (those who served in God’s Temple) to “Consecrate yourselves now and consecrate the temple of the Lord. Remove all defilement from the sanctuary.”  (2 Chronicles 29:5) “Consecrate” means “to be holy, sacred, to set apart as dedicated to God; pure, innocent, free from impurity.”  God, called the Temple servants to cleanse themselves – more than just taking a bath, it meant to cleanse their hearts where impurity had taken root.  He also called them to cleanse the Temple, to remove everything that had been allowed to accumulate there that defiled its holiness.

Get this: we are God’s Temple.  “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?  God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.” (I Corinthians 4:16-17-emphasis mine) As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Holy Spirit, His very Presence lives in us.  That same Presence is what made the Old Testament Temple “The Temple.”  Not because it was declared by Solomon to be so, but because God’s Presence was there.  Otherwise it was just an ornate and beautiful building.  It was God’s Presence that made it the Temple, and it is God’s Holy Spirit that makes us His Temple.  Holy. Sacred. Pure. Dedicated to God.

What in your life and mine threatens to hinder us and make us useless to the Master?  Disobedience, laziness, worldly entertainment, pride, bitterness, relationships, selfish desires, profane words, attitudes, envy, or perhaps a sin we refuse to turn away from?  When we look seriously at our lives what will we find, and what will be do about it?  Nothing is worth giving up God’s purpose for us.

How do I want God to use me? I want to be a vase displaying the beauty of His creation. I want to be a goblet of polished gold in the Master’s hands.  I want the Spirit of God to fill me, just as He filled the Temple.  And that is God’s desire for you. Let’s decide today to be consecrated and available for God’s noblest purposes.

 Holy God, I am Your servant and I want to be useful and useable in Your kingdom.  Please reveal in me anything that will hinder You from using me for Your glory.  Amen

Clearer Vision

“The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?”                Psalm 27:1

 What happens to our faith when our vision becomes clouded by fear and doubt?

In Numbers 13, the Israelites, having been freed from Egyptian slavery, now stand at the edge of the Promised Land.  Moses selects 12 men, one from each ancestral tribe, to explore the land of Canaan. After forty days, they return with samples of fruit – including a cluster of grapes so heavy it had to be carried on a pole between two men.  They declared the inhabitants “powerful and their cities fortified and very large.” While Caleb and Joshua declared, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” (v. 30), the other ten spies “spread a bad report. We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (v. 32, 33) They saw themselves as piteously small against the enemy who lived in this wonderful land that the Lord had promised to them.

I know this one, because I have spent far too many years looking at the giants in my life through the eyes of a grasshopper.   I am learning the key to overcoming fear – we have to develop clearer vision.  We have to look through eyes of faith.

First we have to have a clearer vision of our God.  When I feel the enemy pressing me, I turn to Psalm 18 where I am reminded that God is “my Strength, my Rock, my Fortress, my Deliverer, my Refuge, and my Shield.” (vs. 1-2)  He is a MIGHTY GOD! His power is beyond comprehension.  Psalm 66:3 says “So great is Your power that Your enemies cringe before you.”  When I recognize the truth that the power of God exceeds the power of any enemy force or circumstance, I can rest my heart – and mind in Him. He is also my Protector and Defender.  No enemy dares approach me with the Lord on guard. David said in Psalm 20:7, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”  The enemy trembles and flees at the name of the Lord.  Learn His Name and use it!

We also need to have a clearer vision of our giants.    The giants you and I fear loom so large and terrifying to us, but how do they compare to our God?  David certainly had the right perspective.  In the famous battle of David and Goliath, the enemy towered over the Israelites at over nine feet tall with massive armor and weapons. (1 Samuel 17:4-7).  Day after day, he taunted the Israelite army,
“This day I defy the ranks of Israel!  Give me a man and let us fight each other.  If he is able to kill me, we will become your subjects, but if I overcome him you will become our subjects and serve us. (1 Samuel 17:8-10) And how did the Israelites respond? “On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.” Goliath’s threats had broken the spirit of the Israelite army and they believed themselves powerless against him. Isn’t that just like us?  We become consumed with fear as we focus on our enemy who taunts and defies us.  But the little shepherd boy David looked, not at the size of the enemy, but at the size of his God.  David told King Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.” As David approached, with no visible weapon or armor, Goliath cursed him and shouted insults at him. But David responded with spiritual armor and weapons that Goliath could not see, and he said “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.  This day the Lord will hand you over to me…and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel! (1 Samuel 17:45-46)” I am sure you know the rest, “David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone. (1 Samuel 17:50)” I want that kind of faith!  I want faith that knows the power of the Lord.  I want faith that is confident in God’s promises to defend and deliver me from all the giants in my life. I want faith to meet every challenge the enemy throws at me with my head held high and my eyes firmly fixed on God.

Finally, we must develop a clearer vision of ourselves-as God sees us.  If you are in Christ, God has declared that you are “His child (Romans 8:16; 1 John 3:1); sanctified (1 Corinthians 1:2); valuable (1 Peter 1:18-19); chosen (1 Peter 2:9); His workmanship(Ephesians 2:10);  His dwelling place (Eph. 2:22); dearly loved (Colossians 3:12); children of light (Eph. 5:8); a holy & royal priesthood (1 Peter 2: 5, 9) – and that is just a small sampling of what the Bible says you are to God.  The enemy will always try to make you feel small and defenseless.  He will always try to attack you with words of condemnation: “Look at you! Look at the mess you have made of your life! Look at your sin! You are worthless to God, He could never love you!”  But you need to know and believe that under God’s loving and protective gaze, you are a priceless treasure, His priceless treasure, and He loves you with an everlasting, never-failing, all consuming love.  When God looks at you He doesn’t see your mess, He sees your Messiah.

To stand strong in the face of fear, we must look to our God for strength and perspective.   “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes and we looked the same to them.”  But how do you look in God’s eyes?  Victorious!

Holy Father, the giants are big, but You, Lord are bigger. Help us keep our vision clear and our eyes “fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).  God give us eyes to truly see.

The God of My Life

“Therefore we do not lose heart…For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”  2 Corinthians 4:16, 17

I have been thinking a lot about struggles and trials in our lives, and judging by the feedback on a recent devotional about suffering, I am not the only one who is seeking answers and a measure of understanding for times of hardship and heartache.  I have heard it said that in life, you are either about to go through a trial, in the middle of a trial, or just coming out of a trial.  It’s not scriptural, but I think it has a ring of truth to it nonetheless.  In case you didn’t get the memo: Trials are a part of everyone’s life.

One of the questions we so often ask in times of trouble is “What good can possibly come out of this?”  Isn’t it a little easier to endure difficulty when we know something good will ultimately come from it?  A mother endures the pain of childbirth, because she knows that her baby will soon be born.  College students endure the intense work of school because a good education prepares them for a successful future.  Our military men and women fight in battle because they know they are ensuring freedom for their loved ones.  I believe our struggles and sufferings always have potential for good in God’s hands.

Paul gives us one good end to our suffering in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort…comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received.”  Though it’s hard to see in the midst of trouble, God is shaping us to be His arms of comfort for others who are enduring trials.   Who better to comfort a young woman grieved by an abortion that another woman who has done the same; a woman who can testify to the power of God over that situation.  Organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous and Teen Challenge work because those who have been freed from addiction can offer help, accountability and hope to another addict from their own similar experience.  I have a lot of difficult things in my past (and present); abuse, rebellion, divorce, infertility, financial hardships, and rejection.  I have suffered from the choices and actions of others, as well as from my own decisions.  They were hard things to go through, but they have enabled me to reach out to others who are struggling in the same ways and offer them the comfort and hope that God gave to me.  I can look a hurting person in the eye and say “I know how you feel,” and I have their trust.  I can share in their suffering because I’ve been where they are.  I can reach out to them with the love of Christ as a fellow divorcee or abuse victim or rejected friend, and I can tell them how God worked in my life through that situation. It gives them hope, and brings meaning to my struggles.  When I allow God to turn my suffering in ministry, my friend is encouraged, my faith is strengthened, and my Father is glorified.

Times of struggle and suffering are also meant to turn us to God.  We were created with one purpose above all else: for a love relationship with God, and He often uses difficulties to turn us back to Himself when we have wandered away.   You can see the pattern throughout the history of Israel, God’s people began to be enticed away from Him, they sought other gods that seemed to offer them the pleasures they craved, but they didn’t realize the dangers these idols posed.  God gave them over to enemy nations, to hardship and slavery, and they eventually cried out and turned back to Him.  Psalm 119:57 says “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your word. Sometimes God allows us to suffer the consequences of our choices so that, in our misery, we will seek Him again.  How often I have run back to God after a season of rebellion, and He welcomes me into His loving and comforting arms, He forgives me, cleans off my skinned knees and sets me back on the right path.  He has never rejected me or turned me away, no matter how messy I am or where I have been.

One of the sweetest blessings that has come out of suffering is that I have learned more about God in times of difficulty than I ever could otherwise.  How would I have ever come to know God as Jehovah-JirahThe Lord my Provider, if I never had a need? Would I know Jehovah-Rapha – The Lord my Healer, if I had never been sick?  I discovered that God is Jehovah Shalom – The Lord my Peace during a time of turmoil and chaos, and that He is EmmanuelGod With Us, when I felt abandoned and alone.  He is Yahweh TsuriThe Lord my Strength when I am at my weakest, and He is Jehovah OriThe Lord my Light when the darkness of depression surrounds me. When the enemy is attacking me, I know that Jehovah Gibbor MilchamahThe Lord Mighty in Battle is at my side.  David wrote in Psalm 9:10, “Those who know Your name will trust in You.”

The sufferings of my life have shaped me like nothing else ever has.  Struggles have driven me to my knees, and I stood to my feet as a prayer warrior.  Disappointments in my life have driven me to God’s Word for comfort and encouragement, and I am a Bible teacher and writer today because of them.  I have come to see the hardships and sufferings of my life as God’s sculpting tools, and because I know that He has brought victory from past struggles, I can trust Him in the difficulties I face today and tomorrow and all the days to come.

My favorite name for God, the name that means everything to me, became most precious when my life fell completely apart and I was surrounded by the shards of my hopes and dreams.  It was there that He came to me – El EmunahThe Faithful God – and He has proven Himself to be so ever since.

By day Lord, You direct Your love for me, at night Your song is with me – You are El Hayyay-The God of My Life; my joy and my delight.  Psalm 42: 8; 43:4

A Friend Indeed

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

I have burdens. You have burdens. All God’s children have burdens. It’s a fact of life on this rock. Because Adam and Eve gave in to temptation and sin, burdens and struggles have been man’s constant companion. No one gets through life unscathed. And no one gets through life alone. I believe that one of the greatest gifts God has given to us, following the gift of salvation, is that of family and friends. Surely He sent me to help you and you to help me. If friends were a tradable commodity, the wealthiest people on earth would be the ones with the deepest friendships.

Paul was a man rich in friends, and he understood the power and privilege of those sweet relationships. He also knew and taught that with privilege comes responsibility. The responsibility of friendship is caring for and about one another. He wrote our key Scripture to encourage the Galatians in the responsibility of “carrying each other’s burdens.” The word “burdens” actually holds a dual meaning in Paul’s letter. The burdens of the Galatians were certainly the sufferings of life, the trials and struggles and heartaches that still weigh us down today. But he was also referring to the “burden” of temptation, a burden that we so often try to bear all alone. A burden under which we will always fall without the help and support of others. The rise of “accountability groups” is a tremendous and powerful tool in the battles we all face with temptation. These groups are putting into practical use the words of Proverbs 27: 17 – “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

It brings to mind the story in Exodus 17 of the Israelites’ first battle after leaving Egypt. The Amalekites attacked the weary wanderers and Joshua was appointed as captain of the Israelite army. The battle was fierce and the enemy powerful. As Moses watched from a nearby hill, he held his staff high above his head as a visual symbol to the Israelites of God’s power on their behalf. As long as the staff was lifted high, the Israelite army had the upper hand. But Moses’ arms grew tired, and when he lowered them to rest, the Amalekites began to overpower the Israelites. Joshua and the army carried the burden of the battle, but they depended on Moses, who bore the burden of encouragement. Seeing their army struggle as Moses weakened, two of the priests, Aaron and Hur, brought a stone for Moses to sit on and they stood on either side of him and supported his arms as he held the staff high-until the Israelites won the victory over their enemy. This is the perfect picture of “carrying each other’s burdens.” Joshua could not fight the battle alone, he needed Moses’ encouragement. Moses could not carry the weight of encouraging Joshua alone, he needed the support of Aaron and Hur. The battle was won because no one fought it alone. In both times of suffering and times of temptation, the power of a burden-carrying friend is sometimes the difference between survival and defeat.

Paul’s mandate has a greater purpose than just mutual support and encouragement. It is a also a call to obedience. The second part of this verse says that by carrying each other’s burdens, “you will fulfill the law of Christ.” What is “the law of Christ”? Simply this: “Love one another. (John 13:34; 15:12) It is the only time that Jesus prefaced His words by saying “My command is this…” (John 15:12) It wasn’t just a nice thought or a wise teaching-it was His command, an order that carried all the authority of the Son of God. Jesus also said “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13) You and I will probably never be called upon to die to save the life of our friends, but are we willing to “lay down” our time and our comfort to help carry the burdens of another? Will you give up a few hours to care for your friend’s newborn baby so she can get some much needed rest? Will I give up my favorite team’s football game to sit in the ER with my friend after an accident? My husband showed great love when he missed an Alabama-Auburn football game to be an usher in our nieces’ wedding. If you know any rabid Alabama fans, you will understand that this was a true sacrifice on his part. Sometimes showing our love can be somewhat costly-providing a place to stay, giving financial support, standing by them through the repercussions of sin; but often the simplest things can help ease another’s burdens, a plate of cookies, a note, or an hour over coffee. I will always appreciate my Bible Study group who prepared and delivered a meal for us on the day we moved, the friend who tutored my son through Social Studies, and the kindness of a sweet sister in Christ who stayed close by and held me up through a season of deep depression.

Paul expressed the same call to many of the churches he ministered to. In 1 Thessalonians 5:11, he said “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.” The beauty of this passage is in the combination of the words, “encourage” and “build up.” To encourage someone means “to be beside” and to build up means “to develop another’s life through acts and words of love and encouragement.” This world is filled with hurting people. Your community is filled with struggling people. Within your church, school, workplace, family, maybe even in your own home, there are people who need to you to come alongside them and pour loving words and actions into their life. I can’t think of a better way to obey the command of Jesus Christ to “Love one another.” The love and encouragement you show someone today may be the pivot point that turns their life in a new direction.

Loving Father, I am truly a rich person because of the wonderful friends you have given to me. Please give me eyes to see the one who needs me to help carry their burden and build them up. Amen

In the Wineskin of Suffering

“Those who suffer He delivers in their suffering.”  Job 36:15

 Why must we endure suffering?

The question of suffering has plagued mankind since the days of Adam and Eve, and the answers we have crafted vary far and wide, often raising even more questions.  Why do some suffer and others seem to live a life of ease?  What possible good can come from suffering? Why would a loving God let His creation suffer? How can we avoid suffering?  Should we avoid suffering?

I have had seasons of suffering, and so have you.  At times I thought I would not survive those sufferings, the depth of pain and struggle was more than I could bear.  I have prayed for people I love in their times of suffering.  I have looked around at the ease of others, and questioned God’s fairness is allowing me to suffer while He showed His favor to someone else.  At the same time, someone else has considered my life one of ease and comfort in comparison to their own sufferings.  We will all encounter trials and troubles – no one, no matter how wealthy, brilliant, beautiful or godly, will be exempt from suffering.  I have wrestled for some kind of understanding in the matter of suffering.  By no means do I think I have all the answers or have figured out God’s mind on the subject, but I have found tremendous insight and comfort in His Word, and I hope it will be a blessing to you.

I find that suffering is one of God’s most effective tools in shaping us.  Like a sculptor with a chisel, sometimes God must use His tool of suffering to “chip away” at those things in our lives that would mar His finished masterpiece.  His plan is to make us like His Holy and Perfect Son, Jesus Christ, and He must remove anything from us that is not Christ like.  It is a lifelong and often painful process.  We can take comfort in knowing that the Father also allowed His Beloved Son to suffer.  The writer of Hebrews identifies two reasons for the suffering of Jesus.  Hebrews 2:9 says that “he suffered death so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.” In His great mercy and grace, God allowed His Son to suffer that we might be saved from eternal death, that is, eternal separation from Him.  This thought completely fills me with awe: Jesus Christ endured separation from His Father so that we would not have to.   He endured tremendous suffering for you and me.   Amazing!  Hebrews 2:10 follows by saying, “It was fitting that God should make the author of [our] salvation perfect through suffering.” If Jesus was made perfect through suffering, and God’s purpose for us is to be like Jesus, we will also endure suffering as God’s means to achieve His end.   This is why Peter wrote “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1: 6-7)” The good that comes from suffering is that our faith is being perfected and we are becoming more and more like Christ.

As I was reading recently in Jeremiah, I discovered something I had never considered before.  Jeremiah 48 is God’s message of coming destruction against the nation of Moab, one of Israel and God’s many enemies.  Jeremiah 48: 11 says “Moab has been at rest from youth, like wine left on its dregs, not poured from one jar to another-she has not gone into exile.  So she tastes as she did and her aroma is unchanged.”  You see, in making wine, the grapes are first crushed to extract the juice which is placed in bottles or wine skins and allowed to ferment.  During fermentation, the dregs, or sediment, settle at the bottom of the container.  After forty days the wine is poured into another container to allow the dregs to be removed.  If the dregs remain, the wine becomes too sweet and thick and it is spoiled.  Moab had always been largely at peace, and their turmoil-free life had made them spoiled.  The Lord gives the same description of the city of Jerusalem when he says, “I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think the Lord will do nothing, either good or bad. (Zephaniah 1:12)”

Sometimes God has to “shake” us out of our complacency.  I know that this has been true for my life.  God has used times of suffering to pour me from one container to another so that He can remove the dregs, and keep me from become thick and spoiled in the syrupy sweetness of complacency. If you find that hard to believe, consider that the Gospel of Christ and the Holy Spirit are the most powerful and effective in countries where Christianity is prohibited and Christ-followers are persecuted.  The suffering they are enduring for the Name of Jesus Christ strengthens their faith in ways the Western Churches do not see, because – at least for now – we do not endure real suffering for our faith. We have become satiated and complacent, and our witness as the Body and Church of Christ has become thick and sweet on its dregs.  Is it any wonder our nation has such disregard for God – as if to say “the Lord will do nothing, either good or bad.”?

Suffering in the life of those who claim the name of Christ is not without purpose.  Suffering shakes us out of our settled complacency, and removes the influences of the world that threaten to spoil our witness.   Suffering makes us more like the One who suffered for us, perfecting us to fulfill God’s purpose and will.    Revelation 2:10 is a powerful message to all of us as we endure suffering: “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer…Be faithful, even unto the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

Holy God, I do not want to be complacent in a world of people who think “the Lord will do nothing…”  Shake me up that I may be a witness for Jesus Christ.  Amen