Surrounded

One of my favorite Bible accounts is in 2 Kings 6. The prophet Elisha and his aide were pinned down by the Aramean army. Through God’s secret wisdom, Elisha had been giving away Aram’s location to the king of Israel, giving Israel a decided advantage in the war. The Arameans had surrounded the city and were preparing to rush in and capture Elisha. The prophet’s aide saw the army with its horses and chariots and soldiers and cried to his master “O my Lord, what shall we do?” (v. 15).

Ever been there? Me too. The money won’t stretch. The doctor said there’s nothing more he can do. You just got laid off. You watch your spouse walk away. You hand your rent money over to the mechanic. Your kids are hungry and your pantry is empty. “Oh my God, what am I going to do?”

I’ve walked with God long enough to know that that’s the heart of anxiety: What am I going to do? Like it’s all on your shoulders. Child of God it’s not. Let me suggest a different question: “Oh, my God, what are You going to do?”

Elisha told his aide, “Don’t be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (v. 16). Then he called on the Lord to give the man spiritual eyes to see. “The Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (v. 17). He was seeing the army of the Lord that had encircled Elisha and stood between him and the enemy. The man of God – and his aide – were completely safe and secure.

God has promised to care for you – but it requires spiritual eyes to see Him surrounding you. Listen to His own Words: Deuteronomy 31:8 says “The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.” Isaiah 52:12 says “The God of Israel will be your rear guard.” Psalm 32:10 says, “The Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man [or woman] who trusts in Him.” Beloved, whatever you are facing right now, your Heavenly Father is there with you, before you, behind you, and all around you. Just open your eyes.

Sing to the Lord!

For many years I sang in church choirs as an alto –in the lower female range. In one choir, I was seated with a soprano to my left, and a tenor and bass directly behind me on either side. Everyone was going in different vocal directions and I had the hardest time staying on my alto notes. Because the soprano was a strong singer, I was constantly being pulled in her direction. The choir director didn’t want to move me (he had us arranged aesthetically by height), but he did give me some advice. He told me to concentrate more on my note – and to lean just a little towards the alto to my right. He said that he could hear me singing the correct notes, but at the same time, he could tell that I was listening to all the other singers around me and losing confidence in myself. I will always remember what he told me, “You’re on the right notes, but you have to stay focused and not back off.”

I think about that often when the world is loud and I’m struggling to stay on the right way. Many different voices are saying many different things, and they are apt to draw me away from what I know is true. The culture wants me to embrace things that God’s Word has clearly forbidden. The scholar wants me to trade truth for worldly philosophies that have no regard for God. The unsaved world wants me to stop singing God’s praises altogether. My choir director’s advice rings loud and clear: stay focused. Concentrate on what you know is right and true; lean into godly wisdom and don’t back off. This world is becoming more evil and more vocal every day. If we are not intentionally listening to God, you and I will be pulled away from what is right and true. I love this word from Paul to his protégé Timothy, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of” (2 Timothy 3:14). Stay the course. Focus on the truth. Let God’s Word drown out the voices of the world. The way of righteousness has not changed just because the music around you has. Beloved, don’t let the world change your song.

Hebrews: Be Faithful

The Bible is the perfect, infallible Word of God. It is complete and lacks nothing. But we’re going to add something. Hear me out before you hang me as a heretic.

For several weeks now, we’ve been studying the Hall of Faith in Hebrews, the stories of men and women whom God found faithful. I hope it has been as rich and encouraging to you as it has been to me.  But here’s my question: did faith end with these ancient saints? Is there room for your name and mine on this list?

Maybe we haven’t built a massive boat or nearly sacrificed our children or led two million plus people out of slavery. I suspect none of us have witnessed the seas part or shouted down a stone wall or defeated your nation’s enemy with a sling and a stone. I don’t believe we’ve faced off against hungry lions or walked out of a fiery furnace. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t been faithful.

If you’ve trusted God in hard circumstances, you’ve been faithful. If you endured insults for being a Christian, you have been faithful. If you have resisted temptation or been truthful when a lie would have been easier, you have been faithful. If you’ve wept on your knees and got up and pressed on, you, my friend, have been faithful. If you’ve been gentle in the face of anger or loved the one who hated you, or been patient with the grown kid who keeps failing over and over, you have been faithful. If you’ve kept at your calling, even if no one else notices, you are faithful. If you’ve walked into unknown territory because God said go, if you’ve gone the extra mile (or several miles) – you’ve been faithful. If you have looked into an empty pantry or an empty gas tank and said, “God I will trust you to provide” – there’s no doubt you are faithful. If you’ve gotten up early to spend time in the Word and prayer – you have been faithful.

I want you to do something this morning. Open up your Bible to the end of Hebrews 11 and write (yes, it’s okay to write in your Bible) “By faith (your name) . . . ” then ask Him how you have been faithful and how you can be even more so. Beloved, it’s time to add our names to the Hall of Faith and continue the legacy of God’s faithful people.

Get Out of the Ruts

I am convinced that the biggest detriment to faithful, Joyful, holy living is between our ears.  Our thoughts can make or break us. And here’s what you and I need to grab hold of: our thoughts are just that – ours – we choose what we think about. And whatever we choose to dwell on makes an indelible impression on our hearts. I used to be a very negative person. But God showed me that was because my mind was filled with negative, critical, anxious, and discouraging thoughts. Just as wagon wheels always find their way into the ruts in the trail, my thoughts always found their way back into the ruts I had dug out in my mind. Friend, I’ve seen your posts. We’ve had many conversations. The honest truth is, you’re doing the same thing. And it’s time, for the health of your mind and your heart, to stop digging those ruts.

Paul gave us two prescriptions we would be wise to heed:

“Take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Here’s the root of the issue: we’re not paying attention to what we’re thinking. The enemy is counting on that and the culture feeds it. Like putting our car on cruise control, we let our thoughts run wherever they will. And let’s be honest, our thought default rarely runs to the positive.  We need to reject thoughts that do not follow Paul’s other remedy: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). We must fill those negative ruts with – not just positive thoughts – but godly thoughts.

It takes discipline, it takes purpose, it takes intention, and it takes practice. But Beloved, nothing has the power to change your heart and your attitude like changing your thoughts. Here’s my challenge: Write these two verses on notecards and put them on your mirror, your fridge, in your workspace, and beside your bed as a continual reminder to take control of your thoughts. Then do it.

The Scripture says, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3). It’s your choice, Beloved. Wherever your thoughts dwell, your heart goes. Maybe it’s time to take it out of the rut and onto a new, healthy path.

Get Ready!

I’m sure you’re familiar with Ephesians 6:10-18 and the Armor of God:

The Belt of Truth is a foundational garment that provides support and bears the weight of the Sword.

The Breastplate of Righteousness covers the heart – the seat of our emotions, thoughts, and affections.

The Shoes of the Readiness of the Gospel of Peace enables us to take the Gospel with us everywhere we go – spreading it like holy seeds.

The Shield of Faith protects us from the fiery darts of the enemy – darts of doubt, temptation, fear, self-defeat, anger, bitterness, hatred, and animosity.

The Helmet of Salvation covers our minds where the enemy battles us most fiercely.

The Sword of the Spirit – the Word of God – is the only defensive piece of the Armor.

And prayer which is our source of power, strength, and discernment.

My sister-in-love is always reminding me to “Pull those straps tight every morning!” And she’s right. But here’s something I had not noticed before now: “Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground . . .” (v. 13). Every day is a spiritual battle. Every day we face off against the devil. Every day he lobs his darts and tries to take us out. But there is a “day of evil” coming when the battle will be like nothing you or I have ever experienced. We have no way of knowing when that will be, so we must be prepared for it every day.

Do you remember the story of “David and Goliath?” When David told King Saul that he would take on Goliath, Saul dressed David in his own tunic, armor, and helmet. “David . . . tried walking around” and said, “I cannot go in these because I am not used to them” (1 Sam 17:38-39). Fellow soldier, you and I have to get used to wearing the armor now, so that when that day comes, it is as natural to us as our favorite pair of jeans. We have to strengthen our arms to hold up that Shield and know how to use that Sword to its fullest advantage. We can’t be clunking into war in uncomfortable battle gear.

Beloved, the day is very near. Put your armor on. You need to get ready.

The King Has Come!

It is a familiar scene in movies set in medieval times. The battle is fierce and the warriors are weary, many of their comrades have fallen on the blood-soaked field, and the few that remain try to swing their swords with leaden arms.  Then the cry rings out “Look! The king has come!”  Eyes scan the horizon to see a bright flag with the king’s crest lifted high above the ridge.  All is not lost!  Their king has come to aid them in the fight.  With renewed vigor, the men cheer as their sovereign wades into the sea of battle and leads them on to victory.  They did not see him at first; they only saw his standard rising high into the sky – but it was all the assurance they needed.  The king’s banner was the promise of his presence.

You and I fight a battle every day – we are at war against the enemy, satan, the lord of darkness, the devil himself.  He is a fierce foe and he fights dirty.  He has no mercy. My arms are weary, and my energy is spent.  I look over at you and see the same – as if you are my reflection.  There are tears in my eyes that match your own. It seems we’re just about done in. But all is not lost, my friend. Look! Our King has come!  There, on the horizon – don’t you see it?  It is the standard of our Sovereign rising high above the world. Though we do not yet see Him, His banner – a blood-red flag lifted high atop a cross – is our assurance that He is here in the fight.

He is Jehovah Gibbor Milchamah – The Lord Mighty in Battle (Ps 24:8). He is Jehovah Chereb – The Lord . . . The Sword and Jehovah Magen – The Lord . . . The Shield (Deut 33:29). He brings all His mighty angels as Jehovah Tsebaoth – The Lord of Hosts (1 Sam 1:3). The enemy is no match for Jehovah Maginnenu – The Lord our Defense (Ps 89:18).  Renew your strength, Beloved, the victory is sure.  We have seen His standard. His banner over us is love (Song of Songs 2:4).

Faithful

Do you remember when grown-ups would ask you as a kid, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It often changed for me from year to year. I wanted to be a dancer, a teacher, a garbage collector (what?), a singer, a mommy, and a writer. I often look at Joy and wonder what the future holds for her. We have already determined that she will be a preacher (I know, she’s a girl and we’re Baptists), a dancer, a singer, a chef, and the President of the United States. And she’ll be awesome (and cute) at all of them.

I didn’t follow all those dreams and went in some very different directions at times. I’ve had stints working in retail and the medical field and enjoyed a year as a floral clerk. I hung onto writing and teaching as my calling and I’m exploring the idea of counseling. but I’ve worked in religious administration for most of my career. It’s been sweet and a perfect fit for my skills.

But I’ve discovered something else I want to be. Faithful. Just faithful. Not only in a career or ministry but faithful in my life. I want to love God with all my heart and mind and soul and strength (Mark 12:30). I want to find hope and Joy and peace in Christ (Rom 15:13) and walk in step with the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:16-18). I want an undivided, unrelenting, unquenchable zeal for my Creator (Rom 12:11). I want to pursue Him with reckless abandon (Phil 3:12-14). Then I want to rest in Him (Mark 6:31). I want Christ to be my life (Col 3:4). I want my life to be all about Christ (Col 1:10-12).

One day I will stand before the Lord. I don’t want Him to compliment me on the pretty bouquets I created or the nice bulletins I produced or how well I managed the faculty files and textbooks at the college.  I don’t Him to tell me how much He enjoyed my writing and that I was a solid teacher of His Word. As much as I love her, I don’t even want Him to tell me I was a good grandmother to Joy. I only want to hear one thing: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matt 25:21). That will be enough. That will be everything.

Treasure Hunt

There’s such a wonderful benefit to getting out of our favorite passages in the Bible and exploring the rest of Scripture – it is all God’s Word after all. Wherever you read it will bless you, encourage you, challenge you, move you, teach you, guide you, and yes, chastise you. The Holy Writ of the Lord is His message of love, wisdom, discipline, and truth. It is His story with mankind as the supporting cast.

Almost everyone who has some knowledge of the Bible knows the 23rd Psalm, but not much more than that. I want to encourage you to branch out and see what else you can find. For example, Psalm 145 is one of those passages that should fill us with awe and wonder. It’s a psalm of praise as David first extols the greatness of God: “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom” (v. 3). He vows to declare the glory, majesty, and power of the Lord to the next generation, to tell of His “mighty acts,” “wonderful works,” and “great deeds” (vs. 4,5,6). He remembers that God is the eternal King, that He is righteous and holy and worthy of praise. But through all of that, David weaves in God’s grace, compassion, patience, love, faithfulness, protection, provision, and presence toward us. He says that God is good, compassionate, and loving toward all mankind and that He is kind to those who have fallen.

Here is the Gospel my friends. God is high and holy, mighty and awesome. In love He created us and for that reason alone He is worthy of our praise. But we fail to praise Him because we are fallen and sinful, and in that state, we deserve destruction (v. 20). But God (my favorite phrase in all of the Bible) poured out His wrath on the cross of His Son. He pours out His love and kindness on humanity and lavishes those who believe with His mercy and grace. He has claimed us as His own. How is it that we are not on our faces in awe and worship and gratitude? Do we not realize that the great, awesome, righteous God who owes us nothing gave us everything?

The Bible tells this same story over and over from Genesis to Revelation. Go dig for treasure, Beloved. You’ll find it on every page.

Hebrews: How to be a Hero in God’s Eyes

What makes a person a “hero?” That word is thrown around these days without any concept of heroism. I always think of military men and women when I think of heroes. Or teachers facing a battlefield every day. I consider missionaries as heroes and anyone who braves oppression and persecution to preach the gospel. Merriam-Webster says that a hero is a person with “heroic conduct especially as exhibited in fulfilling a high purpose or attaining a noble end” (www.merrian-webster.com). There is no higher purpose or more noble end than bringing people to Christ.

The author of Hebrews grouped together several people that are considered heroes to the people of God – “Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets” (Heb 11:32). I’m going to ask you to stop right here and read Hebrews 11:32-38. Don’t skip it.

Talk about some heroes! These are the Bible stories we tell to children – their feats are renowned and their names are synonymous with courage, valor, bravery, and victory. They faced lions and giants and flames and swords. They fought and won in the power and Name of the Lord. Well not all of them won. Some of them were tortured to death, imprisoned, beaten, impaled, beheaded, and lived destitute lives of abuse and poverty. And the author said they were just as heroic and valued as the warriors.

It’s one of the great conundrums of the Christian faith – why do faithful obedient people face abuse and struggle? Isn’t life in Christ supposed to be goodness and blessings all the time? Let’s ask Him – the one who said, Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the hungry and thirsty (Matt 5:3-6). He said their reward is comfort, filling, even earth and the kingdom of heaven.  Check out what he said about those who endure persecution and insults and character assaults: “Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven (v. 11-12).

Suffering is the norm for the Christ-follower, not an easy-peasy life. I wish I could say I have some magic ball into all the reasons for it. What I do have is faith that God will keep His promises. You can too. Beloved, it’s faith, not heroics that God is looking for. 

Just Tell Them About Jesus

Several years ago we made a trip to North Carolina for the wedding of our son in the faith. We rented a car and my husband was excited to find it had built-in GPS. I, however, was not as thrilled. I didn’t trust that thing. Now I depend on mine like a man depends on oxygen, but this was my first personal encounter with one. Fearing it would fail us, I printed out turn-by-turn directions from MapQuest as a “back-up.” All was fine until we got into Tennessee. My directions wanted to take us one way and the GPS wanted to go another. I expressed my concerns forcefully and my husband reluctantly followed my directions. Big mistake. Instead of bypassing Chattanooga, we ended up going right through it and adding time to our trip we could have avoided. Hubby stopped for gas outside of the city and threw my printed directions away. I learned a valuable lesson that day. Do not attempt to use MapQuest to second-guess the GPS. Frustration will follow.

Including in our faith life. Paul confronted the church in Galatia saying, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” (Gal 3:1). Someone had come to these believers and preached “a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all” causing confusion and “perverting the gospel of Christ” (1:7). Paul’s gospel was simple: Christ was crucified to redeem man from sin and death. He alone gives life to all who believe in Him. The infiltrators were insisting that salvation required adherence to the Mosaic law of circumcision. Paul said, “No!” These are “human commands and teachings that are destined to fail” (Col 2:21-22).

The current version of Christianity tells us we have to say all the right things, think only positive, affirming thoughts, keep a smile on our face, have perfectly behaved kids, and know all the correct church lingo to “prove” our place in God’s people. It’s time to stop. Stop all the rules and expectations and get back to the sweet simplicity of the gospel of Christ Jesus who gave His life to set us free – nothing more and nothing less. Jesus’ sacrifice is sufficient to save. There is nothing you or I can add to make it better.

I’m convinced that the world refuses to listen to the church today because we’re still all about the “dos and don’ts.” But they will listen to the gospel. Just give them Jesus, Beloved. That’s all the world needs.