To Be a Mighty Man (or Woman) of God

King David was a mighty warrior. His feats are recorded all through 1st and 2nd Samuel. Every child knows the story of David and Goliath. David defeated many kings and conquered many enemy nations – but he didn’t do it alone. 2 Samuel 23 is a record of David’s “mighty men” who fought by his side. There was Josheb-Basshebeth, who killed 800 men in one encounter, and Abishai who killed 300. Benaiah killed a lion and a “huge Egyptian” with the man’s own spear. But there are two in particular that captured my attention.

Eleazar was with David when he faced off against the Philistines. The Scripture said that the rest of the army of Israel retreated, “but [Eleazar] stood his ground and struck down the Philistines till his hand grew tired and froze to the sword. The Lord brought about a great victory that day.” (v. 10). Shammah also faced an army of Philistines on his own after Israel’s troops fled. “Shammah took his stand in the middle of the field. He defended it and struck the Philistines down, and the Lord brought about a great victory” (v. 12).

Do you see the similarities in these accounts? Both men stood firm when everyone else had fled and The Lord brought about a great victory. I want to be like them. I want to stand firm in the Lord, no matter the size of the enemy, even if I stand alone. I want to hold the Sword of the Spirit with such a tight grip that my hand freezes around it. I want a faith that keeps me in the good fight till the end.

Like Perpetua, a young woman who, despite the pleas of her beloved father and the knowledge that she would leave behind a very young child, refused to recount her faith, but went courageously and gloriously into the Roman arena, counting herself blessed to suffer for her Savior, Jesus Christ. Still today, Christians around the world face the sentence of death for refusing to deny Christ. I want a faith like that – one that stands the ultimate test.

I want to be a “mighty woman of God.” I want that for my granddaughter. I want that for you too, Beloved. When the world demands that we deny Christ and bow to the culture, I want us to stand our ground, hands frozen to the Sword of the Spirit till the Lord brings the victory.

Great Faith

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The hardest thing about being a person with a strong faith is getting there. The road of faith is long and winding and marked with unimaginable challenges and struggles. There are huge boulders that block your path, wide chasms with no bridge, and pits of quicksand waiting to suck you in. And the ever-present snake in the grass who hisses at you all along the way – “You’re a fool!” “You’re lost and you’ll never find your way.” “This is too hard – you need to quit.” And many do. The roadside is littered with the bones of people who gave up.

But some made it, some pressed on to the glorious end – heaven. You’ll find them in Hebrews 11 – the Hall of Faith. Noah. Abraham. Isaac. Jacob. Joseph. Moses – and his parents. Rahab. And many more scattered throughout the Scriptures. David. Esther. Ezra. Ruth. Paul. Peter. John. We consider them the greats of the faith. But here’s their “secret.”  Every step of the way is a step of faith.

I’ve been told I am a woman of “great faith.” I don’t agree. What I am is a woman with a lot of battle scars. I am a woman who has been weak far more than I have been “strong.” But if you want to call me a woman of faith, I will tell you my “secret.” It’s found in Psalm 22:9: “You made me trust in You.” Any ounce of faith I have was because God put me in situations that demanded I either trust in Him or get devoured by the enemy. And when I trusted in Him He delivered me (v. 4). And He has never let me down (v. 5). Not. One. Time. He has always proven faithful. Guess what? I’m in another one of those battles right now. I will either trust Him or I will be one more bleached skeleton in the desert.

Bill Bright once said, “You don’t have to have great faith. You just need faith in a great God.” That’s how the heroes of the Bible did it, so that’s what I’m gonna do too. No, I’m not a woman of great faith. I am a woman with faith in a great God.

More Than Just a Name

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Do you recognize any of these people? Vincent Damon Furnier, Barry Alan Pinkus, Harry Lillis Crosby, Robert Allen Zimmerman, Paul Hewson, Cherilyn Sarkisian LaPiere, Reginald Dwight, Steveland Judkins, and Columcille Gibson. You may know them better as Alice Cooper, Barry Manilow, Bing Crosby, Bob Dylan, Bono, Cher, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, and Mel Gibson. It’s not uncommon to change one’s name to fit a particular persona or just because you don’t like the name you were given at birth.

I have a love-hate relationship with my name. Dorcas is not exactly a common moniker. It is frequently mispronounced and often misspelled. It was the cause of a lot of teasing and unkindness when I was a kid. I toyed around with nicknames, “DeeDee,” “Dory,” and “Dixie” until I borrowed Beth from my middle name, Elizabeth. That’s how I’m known from Tallahassee to Tuscaloosa to Graceville. When we moved back home after 22 years away, I had to reacquaint myself with Dorcas again.

But I discovered the story of Dorcas (Tabitha in the Greek) in Acts (9:36-43) and found beauty in my name. Dorcas was a seamstress who made clothes for the widows and the poor. She fell ill and died and the townspeople sent for Peter who prayed, and she was restored to life. Naturally, I identify with her because of our shared name, and because I also sew. But recently a new parallel came to light that makes me love my name. Dorcas was dead. I was once dead in my trespasses and sins. Dorcas could not raise herself to life. I could not raise myself out of my sinful, dead state. Peter came to help Dorcas. Jesus came to help me. God raised Dorcas back to life through Peter’s intercession. God raised my dead spirit to everlasting life through Jesus’ death and resurrection. He used the same divine power to raise us both from death to life.

Dorcas’ story ends by saying “this became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord” (v. 42). I want to tell the world what Jesus did for me so that many people will believe in the Lord. It doesn’t matter to me if you call me Dorcas or Beth, as long as you let me tell you about my Jesus who brings life out of death.

When You’re a Long Way From Where You Thought You’d Be

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“God, I know you called me to ministry, to teach and share your Word. Why am I fluffing flowers at a grocery store? I thought there would be more to my life than this.”

Facebook memory reminded me today of a dry season in my life. I had felt God’s call more than ten years before but I was toughing it out in seminary and working at a grocery store. Every attempt I made to start Bible studies and discipling fell apart. I was frustrated and disappointed. Had I heard God wrong?

In Acts 23 Paul is under arrest for declaring the name of Jesus, accused by the Romans of inciting riots, and by the Jews of blasphemy. I often wonder if, in that prison, Paul questioned whether he had gotten it wrong too. To understand his call, you have to go back to Acts 9:15, when God declared that Paul would carry His name before Jews, Gentiles, and kings. At this moment, he is a long way from fulfilling his destiny. But then the Lord Jesus came to him in his cell and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify about me in Rome” (Acts 23:11).

Paul endured multiple trials and great persecution, faced a storm at sea, and was shipwrecked and snake-bitten along the way. But Acts 28:14 says, “And so we came to Rome.” God was faithful to His promise to Paul, and he did indeed preach the Gospel and declare the name of Jesus in Rome. But there was a lot of space between the promise and the fulfillment. 

V. Raymond Edman said, “Never doubt in the dark what God told you in the light.”  As I look back at that memory, and consider that today I am working in a seminary, teaching Bible studies, teaching through writing, and continuing to prepare for something more through grad school, I realize God’s call and His faithfulness are just as true for me.

I don’t know what God has spoken over you, nor how long you’ve waited to see it come to fruition. But I do know that His promises never fail and His Word never returns void. Stand firm in the faithful nature of the Lord, Beloved, and believe that what He has declared in the light, will be fulfilled despite the darkness.

“And so we came to . . .”

Why Should You Read the Old Testament?

He asked, “We’re New Testament Christians – why should we read the Old Testament?”

The first and most important reason is because the Old Testament consistently points to Jesus. The Lord told the Jewish religious leaders “the Scriptures [what we know as the Old Testament] testify about me . . .” (John 5:39). On the road to Emmaus, the resurrected Jesus started with Moses and all the Prophets [again, what we know as the OT] and “He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27).  The Old Testament adds depth and detail to our understanding of Jesus. It sets the foundation for the New Testament. “Jesus in the Old Testament” is a fascinating and enlightening study.

Secondly, because there is tremendous insight and encouragement in the Old Testament Scriptures. Paul declared, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope” Romans 15:4

When I need understanding or reassurance I look in the Old Testament. When I am discouraged, I turn to the stories of God’s deliverance of His people in Exodus. When my life has fallen apart I turn to Nehemiah and remember how God enabled them to rebuild the walls. When I face frightening situations Esther is my go-to place as I remember how God rescued His people. And when the world looms dark and evil, I turn to Daniel and witness God’s sovereign control over human events.

The Old Testament is filled with evidence of God’s power, purpose, love, and faithfulness. The God who created the universe. delivered Israel, rebuilt Jerusalem, and rescued the Jews is the same God I call on in my season of difficulty. I know He is able to do for me today all that He did for them then. I put my name in those verses of rescue and promise and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob becomes the God of Dorcas Elizabeth. He hasn’t forgotten how to rescue and restore. His power hasn’t diminished one bit.

Beloved, if you need a closer, deeper look at Jesus, or if you just need some encouragement and hope, dig into the Old Testament Scriptures. The Word of God – Old and New – is light and life and nourishment for your soul.

On God’s Side

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Like the rest of the world, this year has been rough for me. Sometimes life happens that way, one problem piled on top of another. The question now becomes, how will I react to it? I’ll be honest and say I haven’t always been the paragon of faith I hoped to be. At first, I got upset, even got angry, then I settled into a spirit of discouragement.  Of course, I prayed – sort of. Maybe it’s more accurate to say I whined. “God just look at this – what am I going to do? I can’t take this anymore!” And yes, I am the one who writes constantly about having faith and trusting God in our difficulties. Sometimes it’s had to take your own advice.

Recently, as I whined and cried to God, a verse come to mind (see that’s why we need to be students of the Bible). 2 Chronicles 20:12: “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.” Immediately the question came to my heart, “Child, where are your eyes?” My eyes have been on me, on my problems, on my fears, and what I have to do to fix the situation. They certainly haven’t been on God. All through the Bible, when difficult times came to God’s people, the difference between victory and defeat came down to whether the people were looking at their enemy or their God. David is the perfect example. Goliath was harassing the army of Israel, “When the Israelites saw the man, they all ran from him in great fear” (1 Sam 24). When David saw him, the shepherd-boy advanced with his sling and five stone and declared, “I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty!” (v. 45). The others saw the giant and ran away from him. David kept his eyes on God and ran with the Lord.  Who do you think won that battle?

Looking back at 2 Chronicles 20, the Lord’s answer to Jehoshaphat’s prayer comes in verse 20—“have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld.” Beloved our only hope in these difficult days – whatever they may be – is to turn our eyes from the things that worry us and turn them to God who cares for and is able to help us. God’s never lost a fight. You’re on the side of victory.

Heroes of the Faith

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The Bible gives us so many people to admire and try to emulate.  I have a few favorites:

God called me to ministry through Ezra.  A scribe and teacher whom God blessed and used powerfully, “Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). He has inspired me to devote my life to study the Word, live the Word, and teach the Word.

I love Daniel because he stood firm for the Lord in the face of pressure and oppression.

I love Habakkuk who, despite having bare fields and empty stalls, chose to be “joyful in God my Savior” (Hab. 3:18). He speaks to my heart in this season.

Like many, I love Peter because his rash, impulsive nature means that God can use even a goof-ball like me.

Several women have touched my heart deeply:

I love Ruth for her sweet, humble manner with her bitter mother-in-law. Ruth loved Noami and was willing to work hard to care for her. Her life speaks volumes to me right now.

Dorcas is another one of my heroes, for obvious reasons – we share a name –  but also because Dorcas was a woman who “was full of good works which she did” (Acts 9:36). She inspires me to get up off of my intentions and put them into fruitful action.

Mary, Jesus’ mother, who received Gabriel’s astonishing message with a humble, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38).

Anna – the first to proclaim the coming of God’s redemption (Luke 2:36-18).

Mary of Bethany – who chose sitting at Jesus’ feet over duty (Luke 10:38-42) – then anointed His feet for burial (John 12:3).

Lydia – the first European convert to Christianity (Acts 16:13-15).

Priscilla – along with her husband Aquila, mentored the young preacher Apollos in the faith (Acts 18:24-26).

Phoebe – a fruitful servant alongside Paul, and a deacon in the early church (Rom. 16: 1-2).

And the woman I admire the most: Mary Magdalene who was the first to see the resurrected Jesus and the first evangelist who proclaimed that the Lord had risen from the dead. A woman who preached the resurrection.

They are all part of that “great cloud of witnesses” who are cheering me – and you – on to perseverance and faithfulness. Beloved, who are your heroes of the faith?

God Bless America

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For weeks leading up to the election, I prayed. I didn’t pray for President Trump to win. I didn’t pray for Biden to win. I prayed for God’s will to be done in America. Days after the voting ended we still don’t know whom the President of the United States is going to be in January 2021. To the consternation of the majority of Christians, it appears that Biden will take this election. I have heard the theories of stolen votes and impropriety by the Democratic Party. I’ve also seen and heard all the hand-wringing about the destruction of religious liberty under a Biden/Harris (or Harris/???) administration. That is a very real possibility. Why would God allow that to happen? Because it may very well be the best thing for His Church.

Acts tells the story of the birth and growth of Jesus’ Church. It wasn’t smooth sailing for the first-century Christians. Acts 7:54-60 tells the story of the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian faith. Immediately afterward, “A great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1).  God’s faithful people were running for their lives. Again, we ask, why would He allow that to happen? Because “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (Acts 8:4). It was the persecution of the church that allowed the Christian faith to spread across the world.

What is God’s will? Is it the preservation of the United States of America? Or the preservation of His people, the Church? Around the world and throughout human history, the church has experienced the most growth – not just numbers, but growth in faith and strength – where she is being persecuted. Where the church was accepted and approved, the numbers may have increased, but the quality of faith suffered. Nothing spells the downfall of Christianity more than popular acceptance. This nation was founded largely by Christian men on Judeo-Christian values. But this nation is not a Christian nation and has not been for a very long time. Church membership was expected for generations, and like the church under Constantine, the moral value diminished greatly. I believe with all my heart that the church will undergo persecution in the coming days. And it will be a purifying fire. Those whose hearts are not devoted to the Lord will flee to save their skins. Those who remain will be the unshakable core that God will preserve and strengthen. Church buildings may be shuttered, but the Church will be healthier than ever. Beloved, do not fear what is to come. God is at work, and His work never fails.

When the Enemy Attacks

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If you don’t believe the devil is real, I invite you to walk a mile in my shoes. Because I belong to Christ, because I am surrendered to His calling for my life to live, study, and teach His Word, I have an angry enemy. He has made it his mission to distract and harass me, to beat me down, and to break my heart and my spirit.  From crashed computers to sickness, to full-blown assaults, he is determined to stop me. And I am determined to press on – to live and study and write and teach the Bible as I’ve been called.

One day I asked God, “Why are you allowing the devil to attack me? Wouldn’t I be more effective without his bullseye on my back” The Spirit took me to Jesus’s words to Peter: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31-32). He revealed three things to me: 1. God has the enemy on a very short leash. 2. If Satan is attacking me that means I am doing what God called me to do. 3. While I am under attack, my Lord and Savior is praying for me. Then he said, “The reason I allowed Satan to sift Peter is because there were things in Peter that needed to be sifted out so he would be useful for my Kingdom. I used the devil for Peter’s sanctification. I am allowing Satan to sift you for the same reason. Oh, how I thank God for His power and authority over Satan and His faithfulness to make me a useful and usable vessel for His Kingdom.

Beloved, if you feel like you’re under attack – if you feel like someone is trying to break your heart and your spirit – you’re probably right. But be assured – that means you are right where God wants you to be, doing what He wants you to do, the enemy can only do what he’s permitted to do, and Jesus is praying earnestly for you. Now, tighten up your armor and get back to your calling. Your enemy doesn’t stand a chance.

Are You the Kind of People God Uses?

 

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I live in the south where heritage is a big deal. I recall often hearing my grandmother and aunts talking about someone new to the community and asking “Who are their people?” They wanted to know if the new comers came from a family with a good reputation (and money of course). In the first century, during Jesus’ day, one’s family lineage was everything. Only men from the line of Levi could serve in the temple, and the royal heritage was reserved only for those descended from Judah, and from David to be specific. That is why the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew (1:1-17) is so surprising. Jesus’ family heritage was anything but stellar. Matthew records at least three liars, two adulterers, a thief, a cheat, a murder, a womanizer, an idolater, a woman who was from a despised race, a prostitute, a man who impregnated his daughter-in-law and a host of foolish people. God chose this family of dysfunctional human beings to be the earthly lineage of His Son.
Aren’t you glad to know that God isn’t looking for perfect people? He’s looking for people with a messed-up past to bring the power and beauty of His Son into the world. He’s looking for people like you and me with scars that tell others our stories of redemption. He’s looking for the most unlikely people to show off His majesty and glory. Beloved, if you have a past – or even a present – that is filled with mistakes and regrets, you are just the person God is looking for. If He could turn all my ashes into beauty, imagine what He can do through you.