Defense!

My football team lost yesterday. We’re not used to losing. We are winners. It has left a very bitter taste in our mouths. My husband will probably wear all black to church today. Why did we lose? Because we let them into our “house” – our end of the field. But even more so, because we didn’t defend the gate.

Isaiah was a prophet of the Lord to Judah. He continually warned the nation about their sin, idolatry, and disobedience. He prophesied the nation’s fall to Babylon as God’s punishment. But he also implored them to turn from their sin and return to God. He insisted that they guard their lives as fiercely as they guarded their city. The walls around Jerusalem were thick and strong and wide enough for armed sentries to stand guard all around. The troops had a high vantage point so they could see the enemy coming and warn the rest of the city. Immediately they shut and fortified the gates and put all their effort into defending that strategic point. If the enemy ever got past the gate, the city was all but defeated.

Isaiah called for Judah to be strong and “turn back the battle at the gate” (28:6). The defense point was the gate – not their doorstep. They kept the enemy away from their homes and families by keeping them out of the city. In football the gate is not the goal line – it is the 50-yard line. Almost every time the other team crossed the midpoint of the field they steamrolled into the endzone. If we’d never allowed them to get past the fifty-yard line, we would have won. The principle of defending the gate works in war, in football, and our lives.

You and I have to defend our gate. If we wait to battle sinful thoughts and desires after they’ve infiltrated our hearts and minds, we’ve already lost. What is the gate? It’s eyes and ears. It’s what we see and what we hear. No. Wait. The gate goes farther back than that. The gate is our choices – what we choose to see and hear and even what we choose to think about. When we choose well (see Philippians 4:8-9) we shut the gate. When we choose poorly – inappropriate websites, movies, books, t.v. shows, music with sexually explicit lyrics – we swing the gates wide open and leave ourselves with no defense. There’s so much this world throws at us that we can’t choose, but when you can, you need to keep your heart and mind secure with godly things. It’s not a game. Beloved, don’t lose the battle at the gate.

Faith and Fear

If I give my mind just a little rope it will always run into the pit of anxiety and fear. I was very fearful as a child and it stuck with me all my life. “But you’re a Christian,” you say, “and you write often about not giving in to fear.” And you are correct. It’s been a hard lesson for me, and I don’t always get it right, but God has revealed something to me in His Word and I need to pass it on to you.  Please take a moment to read Genesis 32:1-12.

Genesis 32:7 says Jacob was “in great fear and distress,” and with good reason. He was returning home to the brother whom he had years earlier cheated out of their father’s blessing. The brother who had sworn to kill him. The brother who was coming toward him accompanied by four hundred men. I would be in great fear and distress too. Jacob prayed to the God of His father Isaac and grandfather Abraham saying, “Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me” (v. 11). Then he immediately follows his confession of fear with a profession of faith – “But You have said, “I will surely make you prosper and make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted” (v. 12).

Do you see the pivot point? “I am afraid…” “But You have said…”(vs. 11,12). Jacob was afraid of his brother, but he trusted God and took Him at His word. “I will believe what You have said, Lord.” Notice that Jacob didn’t say, “My brother is coming after me, but I’m not afraid.” He was honest about his fear – just as I have been many times. Then he picked up his shield of faith – just as the Spirit has taught me to do, too.  David said, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you” (Psalm 56:3). That’s a simple, yet powerful prescription for fear.

Whatever is making you anxious today, Beloved, take your fears to God in prayer. He will not condemn you for being afraid, but He will remind you of His promises and give you the peace and courage you need. Faith is the hinge on which our hearts swing between fear and hope.

Jesus in Your Shoes

All across this nation, the anti-Christian machine is working to shut out every mention of God and deny the rights of Christians to express our beliefs. Nativity scenes are banned from the public square, or equal space must be given to anti-Christian displays. The Ten Commandments are being removed from government facilities, and students in school are forbidden to give reference to their faith. Lawmakers are pushing to ban all teaching of “religious doctrine.” God is unwelcome and unwanted in this country.

But don’t miss what John said, “The One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Brothers and sisters, don’t forget that the Spirit of Christ dwells in you. Everywhere you go you take Jesus with you. So as believers, we take Jesus into the marketplace and the government sector. Students take Jesus into their school. Employees bring Jesus to work.

The Lord declared that His followers are ”the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matt 5:13, 14). Salt is our witness in the world. Light’s purpose is to shine in the darkness (John 1:5a). Salt is essential for life in general. It is one of the oldest and most universal food seasonings and methods of food preservation. Saltiness is one of the basic human tastes and it makes us thirsty. Here in the deep south, boiled peanuts are a favorite snack, but you’d better have a drink nearby because properly prepared boiled peanuts are very salty.  A salty Christian seasons the world with love, Joy, kindness, grace, compassion, and the good news of the gospel. They preserve the character of Christ in a tasteless culture and a properly prepared Christ-follower makes others thirsty for the Living Water.

From creation, light’s purpose is to shine in the darkness (John 1:5a). Light has power over darkness (John 1:5b) because darkness is nothing more than the absence of light. When light is introduced into the darkness, darkness no longer exists. That means you and I have power over darkness – not our own power, but Christ’s. The world is a very dark place. Evil is everywhere. But you and I have the His light to overcome evil and darkness. When we shine with His light, the darkness has no choice but to flee. And when we shine with His light every eye will be drawn – not to us – but to the Source of the Light.  

Sure, they can ban public displays of Christianity, but by your presence as a Christian, Beloved, Jesus still walks through this nation – in your shoes.

Sin in the Camp

I don’t want to write this devotional. I’ve tried to talk God out of it, but He is persistent. This is His word to the Church – and the individual parts of it. Get your boots on and read Joshua 7.

Joshua and the army of Israel had just taken the city of Jericho. It was an extraordinary victory. Now they prepared to take Ai and the spies come back saying “Just send two or three thousand men to take it, for only a few men are there” (v. 3). But those three thousand were routed by the few men of Ai, and thirty-six were killed. The Israelites were in mourning – and in shock. Joshua went before the Lord and accused Him of bringing them out to destroy them (vv. 6-9). God corrected him saying, “Israel has sinned” (v. 11).

When the army went into Jericho they were commanded to not take any of the “devoted things” – the precious metals and other costly things – for themselves. All of those things were to be designated as “sacred to the Lord and put into His treasury”. Joshua said anyone who took them would bring about their own destruction and bring trouble on the whole camp of Israel (6:18-19). But somebody ignored that command. Through a process of elimination, Achan was found to be the guilty party. He saw a beautiful robe and silver and gold and he took them and hid them under his tent. He was the reason for Isreal’s defeat by a much smaller army. One man. One sin. But God regarded it as the whole nation’s sin. Achan and his entire family and even his animals were stoned to death and God’s curse was lifted from the nation.

Here’s what the Lord keeps speaking to me. The reason the Church today has so little power and has lost her godly influence in the world is because there is sin in the camp. The Church – the bride of Christ – has failed to keep herself pure and devoted only to Him. She has taken on lovers and allowed them to infiltrate His holy place. She has welcomed what God has called an abomination. She has championed perversion. She has fought for the slaughter of innocent babies. She has become like the world.

But here’s the other part of the problem. You and I are the church. You and I share the guilt because our personal, private lives affect the faithfulness of the camp, just as Achan’s did. You and I are joined to the whole body. We don’t live one life at church and a separate life outside of it. We cannot invite sin into our private lives and think it won’t matter. It all matters. To all of us.

So here is my pointed question – and believe me, I’m asking it of myself as well. What is buried under your tent Beloved? “You cannot stand until you remove it” (Joshua 7:13).

Can you Spot the Lie?

As a Bible teacher, there is nothing I love more than expounding on the Word of God. I know this is what I was created for. But my goal is to teach myself out of a job. What do I mean? I want you to know and love the Bible so much that you don’t need me to teach you anything. I want you to have such a hunger for the Word that you go digging in it for yourself. You need to know what God says because the devil and the world will try to twist Scripture and confuse you – and then defeat you.

Hezekiah ruled the southern kingdom of Judah. The Scripture says, “Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Isreal. He held fast to the Lord and did not cease to follow Him” (2 Kings 18:5,6). One of the first acts of Hezekiah’s reign was to tear down the places of pagan worship (v. 4) – don’t miss that, it’s important. An enemy, Sennacherib king of Assyria, was sweeping through the surrounding territories. He set his sights on Judah and sent his field commander with threats, trying to gain their surrender (v. 19-25). But Hezekiah refused, trusting instead in the Lord to protect them.

To shake the people’s confidence the field commander claimed that Hezekiah had removed the high places and altars devoted to the Lord God. Why, then, should He protect them after such an insult by their king (v. 22)? He also said, “Have I come to attack and destroy this place without word from the Lord? The Lord Himself told me to march against the country and destroy it” (v. 25). But they knew the truth. Because they knew their God. They knew that the king had honored the Lord not insulted Him. They knew that the Lord was their Defender. They knew He had not sent the enemy nation to destroy them. When Hezekiah sought out the Lord He told them “Do not be afraid of what you have heard. I will defend this city and save it” (19:6, 34). And He did.

But what if the people didn’t know God? What if they accepted Sennachrib’s lies? They would have trembled in fear and surrendered to their enemy. That is why I want you to know the truth – God’s Word – for yourself. If you don’t, you will fall for the lies every time. Your enemy will use just enough Scripture to make his lie sound plausible. You need to know this Word so that you can spot the lie and reject it. Beloved, I will gladly teach you about God and His Word until I draw my last breath, but you need to know it for yourself. The enemy knows how to tell a slick lie. Get into the Word and stand firm on the truth.

In a Dry and Weary Land

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Before David became the king of Israel he was a man on the run. He was being pursued by the reigning king, Saul, who was jealous of David’s popularity after the shepherd boy killed Goliath and the women had danced and sang in his honor. He ran for his life, into the desert of Judah. Deserts are harsh places and David lamented this “dry and weary land where there is no water” (Ps 63:1b). David was thirsty, but it wasn’t liquid refreshment he craved. Listen to his cry: “O God, You are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for You, my body longs for You . . .” (v. 1a). Water would have been welcome, but David’s greatest desire was for his God.  He said, “Your love is better than life,” (v. 3).

I understand David’s desert season. It’s been a rough couple of weeks with sickness, struggles, responsibilities, and my granddaughter moving away. But I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. You’ve also had struggles of one kind or another. It’s so draining. The result is the same: the heart becomes weary and the soul gets dry. What do we do in these desert seasons? The same things David did.

We earnestly seek God. The KJV says “early will I seek thee” and that’s the best time to start – early. Yes, early in the morning, but also early in the dry spell. Don’t wait until your heart is withered and parched. Seek God early, as soon as you feel the sand on your toes. Earnestly also means diligently. Seek God early and often.

We praise God. “My lips will glorify you. I will praise You as long as I live . . . my mouth will praise You.” (v. 3-5 sel). Praise is like vitamin-infused water to our dry hearts. And praise silences the enemy who loves to hit you when you’re down.

We remember God. “On my bed, I remember you; I think of You through the watches of the night” (v. 6). When my heart is heavy, my brain will not shut up at night. Rather than think about all the things that are going wrong, we can choose to think about what is “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Phil 4:8). In other words, think about God.

We grab hold of God. “My soul clings to you; (v. 8). Remember the old bandaid song, “I am stuck on Bandaid, cause Bandaid’s stuck on me.” Cling to God because “Your right hand upholds me.” He’s got you.

We rejoice in the Lord. “Rejoice in God; all who swear by God’s name will praise Him” (v. 11). We can rejoice because God is faithful. He will come with His refreshing, comforting, powerful presence. We have His Word on it.

Beloved, if your heart is dry and weary, seek God, praise Him, remember Him, hang on to Him, and find Joy in Him. And “sing in the shadow of His wings” (v. 7).

I Can Love

Joy and her friends at church. Photo by Wanda Williams

My granddaughter preached a sermon the other night. As I was taking her to her mommy to settle in for the night we were rehearsing all the people that she loves. She loves Mommy and Daddy. She loves Nana and Poppy. She loves Mimi and Papa. She loves Aunt Linda and Uncle Wayne and Aunt Rhonda and Uncle Mike and Aunt Alta. She loves Granny. And she turned to me and said, “And I can love Uncle R (name redacted). Her mommy and I looked at each other with a “Wow!” Uncle R is not a nice person. He has been mean to the rest of his family. He has a history of violence and cruelty. And the last time he was around Joy, he took delight in sneaking up behind her and scaring her. He is not allowed around her anymore. But she said, “I can love him.” Out of the mouths of babes . . .”

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:43-44).  I want to ask Him, “Love him? Why? I mean, who gets their kicks from scaring a little girl?” And Jesus’ words continue: “that you may be sons [and daughters] of your Father in Heaven (v. 45). And there it is. God said that His children are called to live in a radically different way. They love – even their enemy.

“Love your enemy” sounds good on paper, but it’s not always easy to do. That’s by divine design. Love –genuine love – has to come from God. John said, “Let us love one another, for love comes from God” (1 John 4:7), and “We know and rely on the love God has for us” (v.16). We can only love those who mistreat us because God loved us first, and His love fills us up and spills out onto the one we cannot love on our own. I know that Joy’s parents have the good sense to keep a distance between her and Uncle for her safety. But what if – someday –she’s the one who will love him to Jesus? Isaiah prophesied, “a little child will lead them” (Is 11:6). I don’t think Uncle R stands a chance against a little girl who is determined to love him.

Dig a Ditch

The nation of Moab was on the attack. The armies of Israel, Judah, and Edom set out to fight Moab in the desert. After a week of marching, they ran out of water – a deadly thing to face in a desert. Jehoshaphat, the king of Israel turned to God’s prophet Elisha for the Word of the Lord. “This is what the Lord says: ‘Make this valley full of ditches’” (2 Kings 3:16). Jehoshaphat assumed God was going to send rain to fill the ditches and provide water. Not so. Elisha said, “You will see neither wind nor rain, yet this valley will be filled with water” (v. 17). Water is going to magically appear in the desert? Right! The prophet answered, “This is an easy thing in the eyes of the Lord” (v. 18). Not only will God provide water for Israel, but “He will also hand Moab over to you” (v. 19). The armies obeyed and set to digging. In the morning the ditches were flowing with water! The army and the animals were refreshed and ready to press on.

But remember God’s second promise? When the Moabite army began to take up their battle positions in the early morning, the rising sun was shining on the water. “To the Moabites, the water looked red like blood” and they assumed that the armies had turned on one another and slaughtered each other. Their battle plan changed – “To the plunder, Moab!” (v. 23). But Moab walked right into the revitalized armies, and the few that survived turned tail and ran.

I confess I sat down to write with a heavy heart this morning. I am facing some tough things right now. I feel the press of the enemy against me. I feel his hot, nasty breath on the back of my neck. I was flipping through my Bible for inspiration and God stopped me here on this page. This is what He is speaking to me right now – and to you. “Yes, the enemy has put a bullseye on you, but I will help you. Watch Me easily do what is too hard for you. Dig a ditch and prepare to receive My blessing. Watch Me use that blessing to overthrow your enemy.”

I don’t know what the enemy has up his evil sleeve against you. But I know Who has your back. Beloved, dig a ditch.

All In

A hen and a pig were looking at the farmer’s breakfast plate, with toast, grits, eggs, and bacon. The hen strutted around saying, “Look at the hen’s contribution to this fine breakfast – see those eggs there on the plate!” The pig looked at the hen and said, “You hens make a contribution, but for us pigs, it’s an all-or-nothing commitment.”

“Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). Jesus has very high expectations for His followers. He doesn’t just want contributors, he wants people who will surrender it all to Him. People who will Joyfully “lose their life” for the Kingdom.

What does that really mean? When I study His Word – and look at the world – I realize that Jesus meant exactly what he said. I researched the words Matthew recorded and He said that those who deny Him are more concerned with keeping their earthly lives safe and sound and free from suffering and danger than they are with His Kingdom. (Have you noticed a “suffering” theme in my devotionals lately? That’s not my choice. I believe that God is preparing us for something.) And the life we lose – or destroy according to the Greek – is our souls. When we chose our lives over the Kingdom of God we throw away eternal life with Christ in heaven.

I’ve always heard to lose your life for Christ’s sake means letting go of everything that the world tells us life is all about. Certainly, it’s recognizing that whatever reward this temporal life offers – pleasure, fame, wealth, power, status, or intellect – cannot compare with all Christ offers. But losing our life literally means being willing to die for His Kingdom. We have the examples of the apostles and the martyrs of the faith who died with the name of Jesus on their lips. It’s not only about denying worldly attractions, but it’s being ready to face lions and swords and all manner of suffering – even death. It is trading the small sphere of this world for the much bigger eternal Kingdom of God. So I ask you, Beloved, are you making a contribution to the Kingdom of God or are you all in?

Hebrews: What’s Slowing You Down?

We’ve spent a lot of time on the “great cloud of witnesses” that are spurring us on. We’ve talked about the Lord Jesus lifting us up in prayer. We have fellow believers walking with us). God has given us His Word and His Spirit to help us. But what is our part in this long journey of faith? I’m glad you asked!

Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” There are two points to make here. First, consider the context and time. Runners now have scientifically designed clothing to help them run faster. There is a whole industry dedicated to creating the fastest running shoes. But for a first-century man running meant shedding what he modestly could and tucking the long skirt of his tunic in his belt to free up his legs. I think you understand the application here. Get rid of everything – like sin – that might get tangled up and slow you down.

But here’s something I discovered that blew my mind, The Greek for “everything that hinders” is a compound phrase that means “skillfully surrounding, to prevent or retard,” and “well or much admired.” Do you see it? The things that hinder us in our spiritual life are often the things that the world – and sometimes the church – thinks well of and greatly admires. Things that satan “skillfully surrounds” us with them to impede our progress. Friend, that should make us sit up and take notice! You and I cannot get bogged down by the things the world is applauding and holding up in admiration. And I’m not just talking about sin here. I’m talking about seemingly harmless distractions – and that’s the problem – they are distracting us from the things of God.

Christians – we’ve got to open our eyes to the work of the devil! We’ve got to look past the attractive mask of shiny things and see the enemy behind them. We must stop letting him hinder us with inane things that are useless for the Kingdom of God. There’s too much at stake here. The mission of the Church is at stake. Souls are at stake. God’s glory is at stake.

What “much admired” thing is the enemy using to slow you down, Beloved? Throw it off and get moving!