Bootstrap Faith

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Do you have bootstrap faith? You know, when you are down and out and others say, “You’ve just got to pick yourself up by your bootstraps!” It was the psychology of my younger years – when life is tough you get tougher. (Modern psychology says your problems are someone else’s fault and you are entitled to compensation while you roll around in self-pity. But I digress.) You have to reach deep down inside yourself and grab on to your fortitude and strength and get on up out of that pit. After all, don’t we admire those who make something out of themselves from nothing but sheer grit and determination?  If you will it hard enough, you can do it!

So what happens when you realize you don’t have any bootstraps and you are all out of strength and fortitude and grit and determination? What do you do when you can’t carry the burdens another step? When your will just won’t anymore?

The Lord declared to His people, “I am He, I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and rescue you” (Isaiah 46:4). In all my years of reading the Bible from cover to cover, I never once found Him scolding His people for depending on Him too much. But He sure chastised them for pushing Him away and trying to handle life on their own. He doesn’t expect you and me to carry our burdens alone. Those weights become very heavy. Health burdens. Financial burdens. Relational burdens. Burdens of loneliness, depression, fear, failure, responsibility, and we could go on and on. I have mine and you have yours. And God promises to carry us through them all.

The reason you can’t find your bootstraps is because it is God who will lift you up. It is God who will reach down to pull you up out of the pit. It is God’s strength and fortitude that will carry you – and your burdens. It’s time to stop trying to do it all on your own, and let God be your Rescuer and your Strength. He is not only able to carry you, Beloved, it is His delight and Joy.

God is . . .

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“One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving.” Psalm 62:11.

David identified God as his Shield, his Refuge, his Rock and Fortress, his Shepherd, and so much more. He used so many beautiful and powerful expressions to describe his God. Yet in these two simple words, I believe David paints a picture that comes the closest to the true essence of who God is. Strong and loving.

God is strong. Not strength that lifts massive barbells.  This is strength that breaks the power of sin, overpowers the enemy of our soul, and raises the dead back to life – and not just life, but eternal, everlasting, unending life!  It is a strength that overcomes our weaknesses and lifts the weight of all our burdens. I don’t know about you, but need a God who is strong, because my burdens are heavy and my weaknesses are many.

David also said that God is loving. Do you believe that God loves you? Over and over in God’s Word proclaims His love for you and me. His is

  • Unfailing Love – “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken” (Isaiah 54:10).
  • Loyal Love – “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6).
  • Devotion – “By day the Lord directs His love, a night His song is with me – a prayer to the God of my life” (Psalm 42:8).
  • Mercy – “The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion” (Numbers 14:18).

Paul said, “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). That is the kind of love that I need. A love that never turns away never dies, and never gives up. A love that lasts for all eternity. This is the love that God has for you and me. His love is steadfast and sure – you can’t make Him love you more, and you can’t make Him love you less. He loves you because He is love. His is perfect love because He is the perfect lover.

God’s love was perfectly expressed at the cross of Jesus Christ. His power was perfectly revealed at the empty tomb, through the resurrection of His Son – our Savior. We can never know all there is to God, for He is holy and righteous and beyond our finite understanding. But we can know this about God: He is strong and He is loving. And that’s a very good place to start.

God with You

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I am now sixty years old. I’m winding down physically. I can’t do a lot of the things I once could. I don’t have the strength nor the stamina anymore.  I learned that the hard way when I attempted to tackle some much-needed yard work, something I once enjoyed doing for hours at a time. Within thirty minutes I was exhausted and my body ached for days. The strength I relied on years before has left me.

A Bible character from the Old Testament also learned the hard way that he did not have the strength he once enjoyed. In the Old Testament, when God had a task to be done, His Spirit came, filled the person, then left after the matter was completed. The Spirit was given on a “need only basis.” He did not remain with the person between tasks. Samson’s strength came from the Holy Spirit of God through a vow he had made to the Lord. In Samson’s case, as a Nazirite, he was set apart to God and had a unique anointing of the Spirit. Yet, when his long hair, the physical symbol of his anointing was cut off, the Spirit of the Lord left Samson. “Samson awoke from his sleep and thought, ‘I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.’ But he did not know that the Lord had left him.” (Judges 16:20). The saddest part about this story to me is that Samson was not aware the Spirit had left him until he tried to break free from his bonds and could not.

Praise God, when Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to believers, He sent Him to stay. That is what He meant when He said, “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). We will never have to wonder if the Lord is with us; His Spirit dwells in us and empowers us for every task. And He is there in-between. For every need we have. Every day. Every moment. That’s good news for weary mamas and overwhelmed pastors and overloaded students and stressed-out employees. That’s good news for the one who is battling chronic illness. That’s good news for the one who feels the weight of grief and loneliness. “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” He promises (Joshua 1:5). That’s a guarantee you can rest your whole life on.

Gifts Fit For a King

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“They opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh,” (Matthew 2:11)

What kind of gift do you bring to a newborn King? When royals or celebrities have babies, gifts pour in from all around the world. Lavish, expensive presents like giant stuffed animals, beautiful baby clothes, and the very latest in baby transportation. Only the best will do for these little ones of such high standing. When the wise men came to visit Jesus, they brought gifts worthy of a first-century king – gold, incense, and myrrh. Many scholars believe there is significance in each of these gifts: “Gold might represent His deity and purity, incense the fragrance of His life, and myrrh His sacrifice and death” (myrrh was used as an embalming spice) (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament).

I love the story of the little boy who, during the offering at church, set the plate on the floor and stood in it. His embarrassed mother pulled him back to his seat and  whispered “What are you doing?” He replied in a very loud voice, “But Mommy, I don’t gots no money, so I wanted to give Jesus myself!” Image the sermon that might have followed that! But our little friend is right on target. Just as the magi presented Jesus with gifts, the Bible tells us that we are to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God,” (Romans 12:1). In the first two verses of Romans 12, Paul tells us that our gifts to God are our bodies (v. 1) and our minds (v. 2) – what we do and how we think. In other words, we are to give every bit of ourselves to the Lord. Remember Jesus’ words about the great commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). This covers your affections, your emotions, your convictions, and your life-focus.  It’s total surrender. We love God by giving Him ourselves, inside and out. Beloved, let all of you be your gift to Jesus this Christmas.

Guest Blogging Today

I am guest blogging today on the website “All Mom Does.”  Check out my Thanksgiving devotional, “Giving Thanks in the Desert.”

https://www.allmomdoes.com/2018/11/21/giving-thanks-in-the-desert/

 

The Fruit of Peace

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…” Galatians 5:22

We have looked at peace in several different ways this Advent week, like turning a precious jewel to see its different facets.  Today, we are going to turn this gem one more time, and see another beautiful perspective of peace.  In this devotional, we will be looking at the fruit of peace, as we celebrate this season of the birth of the Prince of Peace.

First, as our key verse says, peace is a fruit in itself.  It is one of the fruits produced by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Peace is not something we manufacture on our own.  It is a natural by-product of being filled with the Spirit through the vine that is Jesus Christ (see John 15:1-8).  But we are told to “seek peace” as Psalm 34:14 says: “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”  We can’t make peace, but we can follow Jesus Christ, who is the Peace-giver.

Peace produces “fruit” of its own, according to the Bible.  Proverbs 14:30 tells us that peace is a path to good health – “A heart at peace gives life to the body.”  A heart at peace beats in a body that is generally free from the stress and anxiety and bitterness that medical science warns will destroy our health.  Daniel 10:19 also tells us that peace brings strength – “”Do not be afraid, o man highly esteemed.  Peace! Be strong now; be strong.”  The peace that we find in our God strengthens us to persevere in difficulties and to “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding” (Prov. 3:5). God’s peace assures us that our Heavenly Father is in control of all things that concern us.  Peace combined with trust equals hope – “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).   James 3:18 says “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”  Now we have a vine that is becoming heavy with the fruit of peace.

And now we take the fruit of peace and reach out beyond ourselves, as Ephesians 4:3 says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”  Peace brings God’s people together in unity.  If you are following the Prince of Peace and I am following the Prince of Peace, we are of one heart and mind – the perfect picture of unity in Christ.

Jesus promises us peace in times of trouble – “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  This is the peace that Paul talked about in Philippians 4:7 – “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  This peace of mind and heart is the peace that only comes when we trust in the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, God’s perfect Son.

Perhaps the most precious fruit of peace is found in Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 5.  Jesus declared “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (v. 9).   When we bear the fruit of the peace of Christ in our lives; when we pursue peace by following Jesus the Peace-giver, we have His promise that we will be called sons (and daughters) of God!

The promise of peace is indeed a precious gift, a gift that continues to give, producing fruit that benefits us and others, and ultimately unites us with our Heavenly Father as His children.  “For He Himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14).

 Father in Heaven, I receive this gift of peace through Your Son, Jesus.  I will seek peace by following my Savior all the days of my life; and will be your child for all eternity.  Amen

It’s a Powerful Thing!

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”  2 Timothy 1:7

Wait.  Go back and read that verse again.

Do you see it?

Power.

That word means so much to me, because like you, my life is very demanding and full of struggles and frustrations and difficulties. I sat here just a bit ago and said with a sigh, “God I am tired of…” How would you fill in that prayer?  Tired of the financial struggles.  Tired of working hard every day and being overlooked.  Tired of health problems. Tired of doing battle with family members.  Tired of so many responsibilities. Tired of the struggle against sin. It is so easy to get overwhelmed and feel powerless.  But God wants you and me to know that we are not powerless.  Quite the contrary, as Believers in Jesus Christ, we have “incomparably great power (Ephesians 1:19),” power that comes from God.  Do we really understand what that means?

When the Bible talks about power, as in our key verse, both the Hebrew and the Greek words mean “to be able; to have the power to accomplish an action.”  God’s power accomplishes what He determines to do.

The power of God is on display throughout the Bible, beginning with Creation. Jeremiah 10:12 says “God made the earth by His power.”  He used the same power to bring the Israelites out of Egyptian, (Exodus 32:11) and to defeat their many enemies in the wilderness and in The Promised Land.  It was “the Power of the Most High [that] overshadowed” Mary to bring about the conception of Jesus (Luke 1:36).  Jesus performed miracles and endured great suffering through the power of God.  And Het will return “coming in the clouds with great power and glory” (Mark 13:26).  Jesus promised that His Disciples would “receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” Acts 1:8).  A promise He fulfilled in Acts 2, which led to mighty acts displaying the power of God through His followers.

Paul wrote about God’s eternal power” (Romans 1:20), His “power for the salvation of everyone” (Romans 1:16), “overflowing hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13), and “[God’s ]power made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).  He said that God’s “power is at work within us-[doing] immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20), and “by His power He [will] fulfill [our] every good purpose and act of faith” (2 Thessalonians 1:11)“God [strengthens us] with all power according to His glorious might” (Colossians 1:11). And Peter gives us this incredible promise: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).

But perhaps the most powerful statement about the power of God is found in Ephesians 1:19-20, where Paul writes about God’s “incomparably great power for us who believe.  That power is like the working of His mighty strength, which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead.”  Stop.  Go back and read that again. Can you and I comprehend what Paul has said?  The same power that God exerted to raise Jesus Christ from the dead now lives in you and me through the Holy Spirit.  That is power that will enable you to accomplish everything God has called you to.  Do you have a problem that is bigger than death?  No, and neither do I.  Whatever the problem, whatever the challenge, whatever the work you are called to do – in Christ, you have the power you need.

Philippians 4:13 is a favorite verse of many Christians.  “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”   And you can too.  The power of the Holy Spirit is already in you. Both the word “power” in Ephesians 3:20 and the word “strength” in Philippians 4:13 are from the same Greek root word we looked at earlier – “dynamai” – which is where we derive our English word “dynamite.”  It is powerful power, and it is yours.  But you can’t grit your teeth and muster up “dynamai.” It only comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

The promise of God’s power and strength should encourage and inspire us to fulfill all that He has called us to do and be.  It is the power to love others, to forgive every wrong, to endure trials and suffering.  It is strength we need to carry our burdens, to persevere through struggles and heartaches, and to reach out with compassion and kindness.  It is the power to fight for justice, to remain firm in the face of opposition and to be His light in this dark world. In His strength we can resist temptations, turn away from sin and walk in righteousness.  God’s power strengthens our faith and enables us to fulfill the purpose He created us for, to go where he sends us, to work for His kingdom, and to be His hands and feet in a world filled with lost and weary people. His power is real and it is mighty. And it is yours if you are Christ’s.

 God of Power and Might, You are Yahweh Tsuri – the Lord my Strength – come fill me with power to face the challenges of today. 

When My Spirit Grows Faint Within Me

“When my spirit grows faint within me, it is You who know my way.”  Psalm 142:3

Have you ever gotten weary?  Weary is more than just tired.

Weary goes down into the bones and drains your energy and hope.  Weary affects body, mind and spirit. You know what I mean.  When the stack of bills gets higher but the job prospects are shrinking, when you take your child to one more specialist, only to hear him say, “I don’t know how to help her.”  Maybe you are in a difficult marriage, have an elderly parent you are trying to care for, or are dealing with an adult child who can’t find his way in life.    Perhaps your work is pulling you down or you are struggling with a particular sin you cannot break free of.  You are weary.

David, the author of Psalm 142, understood weary.  At the time of this writing, David is hiding in a cave from the current King of Israel, Saul, a jealous and unstable ruler.  Though he is an innocent man, he has been running for his life for many long months.  He feels all alone – listen to verse 4-“Look to my right and see; no one is concerned for me.  I have no refuge; no one cares for my life.” He describes his situation as “desperate,” (v. 6) he sees himself like a prisoner (v. 7).  He is tired, he is lonely, and he is weary.

But he is also wise, because he knows where to go for strength.

He turns to the Lord.  In this Psalm he says; “I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord,” “I pour out my complaint before him,”” (v. 1, 2) Because David is confident of God’s mercy (v. 1), he confesses his weakness and finds the strength he desperately needs in the face of his troubles.  He remembers who God is and encourages himself as he declares that God is his refuge (v. 5), God will rescue him (v. 6), and set him free (v. 7).

The amazing thing about this Psalm is that David knows his destiny is not to run and hide forever.  His destiny is the Throne of Israel; for God, through the prophet Samuel, has already anointed him. He cries out to God, and trusts Him to fulfill what He had already promised.  God knew “the way” he was taking , and He knew the way to bring him to the palace.

David is a wonderful example for us.  He took his needs and his feelings to God. He didn’t put on a brave face before God, but was open with his pain and loneliness. He recalled God’s character and His promise to be David’s refuge and helper.  Did you notice that as David focused his mind on God, his lament turned to praise?  Now David is speaking of his rescue as if it has already happened, and he is planning the testimony he will share on the other side of this difficult time.

Are you weary today? Has the path of your life taken you into the wilderness?  Turn to the Lord, and cry out to Him for strength and hope.  Remember his character and His promises.  Remember that, in Christ, you are a child of the King, and your destiny is eternal life with your Father.  Yes, God knows the way you are taking now, and He knows the way to get you where you belong.

He knows the way home.

Holy Father, when the struggles of this life make me weary, You know my way – because You are right beside me, leading me home.  Amen.