Thursday, August 7, 2014

Stand Close

"The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things." Luke 23:47-49

Just a simple thought to share today after reading this passage about Jesus' last moments on the cross. As I honed in on the verses above this morning, God impressed this simple truth on my heart...

Many who look upon Jesus are moved for a moment by His sacrifice, then walk away. Only true converts linger in His presence, fix their eyes on the Savior, and allow their lives to be changed by Him. Those who truly know Him stand close. 

May we follow Jesus' example and commit our spirit -- our very lives -- to the Father's care. And follow the example of the women that followed Him to the cross from Galilee by standing near, eyes fixed on Him.

Friday, August 1, 2014

A Discontented Heart

"...Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the LORD." Exodus 13:8

The Israelites had a problem with grumbling. In this passage that consists of 13 verses, their grumbling is mentioned 7 times. Take a peek at the passage in my Bible. That's a lot of discontent!

grumble --verb
to mutter in discontent, complain sullenly (in gloomy silence), or to growl (uttering low, indistinctive sounds), express unhappy murmurs

Let's see what was happening...

In this scene, Moses had led the people to the Desert of Sin (which translates "the moon" and has no reference to sinfulness). It appears it was a barren land as now they are grumbling about not having food. Understandable to some extent. Food is a necessity for survival, but God wanted them to trust Him to meet even their most basic needs. They quickly began to reflect on the "pots of meat" they had in Egypt and talked about them as though they had feasted in Pharoh's palace. Their meals were not all that, but in a time of desperation, looking back they seemed better and better. So they whined and complained to Moses saying, " have brought us out into the desert to starve this entire assembly to death."

They didn't think they were grumbling directly at God, but to Moses and Aaron about their circumstance. But Moses answered directly to the Lord. If they complained to Moses, or about him, they were in essence complaining about God and the direction He had given him in leading the Israelite people. They panicked the moment things got hard and feared the worst. Matthew Henry's Commentary expounds on this saying they claim it would have been "better to have fallen in the destruction of God's enemies than to bear the fatherly discipline of his children! [Their] discontent magnifies what is past, and vilifies what is present, without regard to truth or reason." To "vilify" is to speak ill of, slander, or defame. In other words their words were of complaint, lack of gratitude, impatience and discontent. They were grumbling. In a roundabout way they were showing their lack of trust in God.

The Lord had just delivered them mightily from their enemies the Egyptians whom He had drowned in the Red Sea. They celebrated with dancing and shouting and singing songs of praise. But having not yet reached their destination, they had to move on. After traveling for three days without finding water, they happened upon a watering hole in the Desert of Shur, but it was bitter. They began to grumble against Moses saying, "What are we to drink?" So he cried out to the Lord on their behalf. Hearing their murmurs, God directed Moses to throw a log into the lake and it became sweet. I love that part. It reminds me that we cannot stay on the mountain tops. There will be bitter trials along the way. But God can take what is bitter in our lives and make it sweet.

Matthew Henry says of this passage, "The greatest joys and hopes [as experienced at the Red Sea] are soon turned into the greatest griefs with those that live by senses only and not by faith." Yet we note that even in their lack of faith, the Lord heard Moses' cry and was gracious to them. Then He poses to them one of the "If, then..." statements in the Bible. If you do this, I will do that. Here it is a decree and a law meant to test their willingness to submit to His commands.

"There the LORD made a decree and a law for them, and there he tested them. He said, 'If you listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in His eyes, if you pay attention to His commands and keep all His decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you."' Exodus 15:26

More tests and trials were coming. They needed to be found faithful. They needed to be obedient. Period.

After complaining in the desert they were led to Elim where they drank to their hearts content from twelve springs and rested under the shade of seventy palm trees. In spite of their complaining, God had been gracious toward them. Yet how quickly they forget when they happen upon the next hard place.

Now in the Desert of Sin where food was lacking, regardless of how faithful God had been, we find the people doubting His goodness and power yet again; His ability to care for them. Once more they feel unnoticed, forgotten by God, and blame Moses for bringing them out of Egypt in the first place. In response, Jesus might have justly said, "I will rain fire and brimstone upon these murmurs, and consume them; but, quite contrary, he promises to rain bread upon them" instead. "Note, when we begin to fret and be uneasy, we ought to consider that God hears all our murmurings." (M. Henry) Even the silent murmurings of the heart. Pause. Even the silent murmurings of the heart. Your heart. My heart. And yet God showed the Israelites mercy. He rained down manna from heaven and cared for their most basic needs.

Surely their grumbling did not please the Father, but grieved Him. Yet He was gracious toward them, tending to their needs just the same, the way a parent would tend to a headstrong child. He rained down quail in the evening and bread at daybreak. The Lord told Moses to instruct the people to go out each day and gather just enough for that day. No more. No less. Unless it was the day before the Sabbath, when they were to gather double. God was testing their obedience, to see if they would heed His instruction, without complaint.

As with the Israelites, God has taken my family and I through more than one season of "daily bread". Seasons of lack where we wonder how we will get by. Yet God is always faithful to provide what we need each day. Sometimes no more, and no less, but just enough. In such seasons when I begin to fret, I sense a prompting from the Holy Spirit to ask myself, "Pamela, do you have what you need for today?" When I answer, "Yes, Sir" He replies, "Then press on!" I'm not to worry about Friday's bills on Monday. Or grumble about not having such and such. If I want to be more like Christ, I have to trust Him. Dependence upon Him builds faith. As faith increases, I resemble my Father more and more.

" it is written: 'The righteous shall live by faith.'" Romans 1:17 (ESV)

I am learning that the discontented heart grumbles. It complains "I don't have (fill in the blank)" or "I need (something more than I have)." Sometimes we have a hard time separating needs from desires. God knows what we need before we know that we need it. And He is faithful to take care of our needs. Anything more is icing on the cake! In some seasons we just get cake, no icing, because cake is all we need. Plain cake sustains us. Plain cake gets us by. And at other times God stacks the cake layer upon layer, making it rich with mousse filling, frosting it thick with decadent ganache, drizzling it with the finest chocolate, and topping it off with the sweetest fresh berries. Because He is gracious. And He can. Our God is Able!

He longs to be gracious to us, but wants to know that in the desert, when he serves us plain cake, we will be grateful, obedient and faithful. Not grumbling. It is in those places of "lack" that He tests and tries our hearts. May we be found faithful. May I be found faithful, doing what He has called me to do.

Father God, I pray the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart would be pleasing in Your sight. Help me Jesus not to grumble, even under my breath or in my heart. I want to have an attitude of gratitude that spills up out of me. Your Words on my lips to encourage those in my path. I want to be found faithful doing what You've called me to do with a happy heart. In Jesus' name I pray these things, amen.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Unlocking the Door of Confusion

"But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that He be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will." Luke 23:23-25

Here, Jesus has just been examined by Pilate who has found no truth to the claims made against Him. Passing Him off to Herod, because He was a man from his jurisdiction, he comes to the same conclusion: Jesus has done nothing to deserve death. So Herod sends him back to Pilate.

Pilate, standing once again before and indignant crowd proclaims Jesus' innocence, but they just wouldn't have it! They raised their voices even louder and called for a substitute. They asked Pilate to release Barnabus, a known rebel and murderer, and kill Jesus in his place. Not only kill Him, crucify Him. (Bring Him to death by means of torment.) The Message version of the Bible says, "Pilate caved" under the pressure "and gave them what they wanted." He "surrendered Jesus to their will." (v. 25)

As I meditated on these verses such a clear application emerged. I noted that against his own convictions and inclinations, against what he knew in his heart to be true, Pilate handed Jesus over to the demands of the crowd. Their voices were louder and more pressing than the voice of truth he had based his initial judgement on. 

How often that becomes the case in our lives. We hear God's voice loud and clear speaking truth or direction into our lives. We know in our heart that He is right, and because of it we know what we are called to do. But then things like fear, doubt, selfish ambition, or feelings of entitlement raise their voice. The volume of their demands get louder and louder, insisting on their way. They unlock the door of confusion. Contending for the place of truth in our hearts we begin to dismiss Jesus. Lies of the enemy start to prevail. They demand their way. They shout at us from the crowd. Sometimes they are spoken through a trusted, God-fearing friend or family member. Sometimes we just plain get impatient. But whatever the case, they are ploys from the enemy meant to get us off track and doubt God. Meant to deter us from whatever it is God has clearly called us to do. But God uses them for good, to test our loyalty and the resolve of our decision; to see how firmly we believe what we say we believe.

This wavering is cause for self-examination. Questions like... Am I going to take God at His Word and believe Him? Trust Him? Or not? Am I believing Jesus, but willing to dismiss Him just the same? Willing to dismiss what He has promised, even momentarily to entertain the voices of fear, doubt, displeasure with His timing, or discouragement which lead to anything from lack of belief to acting irresponsibly to panic? Are lies from the enemy speaking louder than Jesus at that moment when I feel like giving up, giving in or turning back? Am I allowing truth or lies to prevail in my heart? Am I surrendering to Jesus, or surrendering Jesus to a lie?

2 Corinthians 10:5 says we are to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."

Father God, help me to rest in You even when my circumstances tell me to fear or doubt or panic. Help me as I strive to live surrendered to You, not from You. Help me to zero in on Your voice even when the crowd argues with insistence, demands and loud voices. I ask You not to grant their demands or turn me over to them. May Your will and Your will alone prevail in my life. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Call Me Out

"The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then he remembered the word the Lord had spoke to him: 'Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.' And he went outside and wept bitterly." Luke 22:61-62

Jesus has just been arrested and taken into the home of the high priest. Peter had been following at a distance. Now in the wee hours of the morning, he stopped outside and took a seat by the fire that had been kindled in the courtyard. 

To his surprise, over the next couple of hours three different people recognized Peter as one associated with Jesus. With Jesus now in custody, it appears that fear washed over him when questioned, and fear answered...with denial. Forgetting that Jesus was watching, and with increasing indignation, he flat out said he did not know Him. Not once, not twice, but three times in a row he disassociated himself and went into self-preservation mode, probably fearing the same fate.

After the third denial, a rooster crowed. At that moment, Jesus looked straight at Peter. Not a word was said. Jesus' look said it all. Then Peter remembered what He had said, "Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times." Peter's heart was no doubt stricken with grief, remorse and shame, so "he went outside and wept bitterly."

Peter was easily recognizable as a one who had been with Jesus. One who walks with Him should be recognized as one who walks with Him. Followers of Christ should take on His likeness. Such was the case with Peter. Such should be the case with every believer.

And just as with Peter, the Lord's eyes are ever upon us too. He knows our every thought, word and deed. He knows when we do not honor Him. And when He calls us out, when He gives us "the look", if we are truly followers of Christ we will respond as Peter did, with grief, remorse or shame that lead to a heart of repentance.

Father God, I am thankful that walking with You makes me look more like You as I apply Your truths to my life. I love that I have that family resemblance! Looking like You means my thoughts, words and deeds should reflect Your character. God, I ask that You call me out when they don't. I admit that as of late as I've been praying expecatantly, I've gotten weary in the waiting for the answer. Though undergirded with resolve and faith, my weariness has led to a bit of a funk at times, my words and thoughts sprinkled with questions and moments of worry. In so doing it means I am doubting Your character and that is sin. It doesn't please You, it pleases the enemy. Please forgive me, Jesus. I believe, please help my unbelief! I ask You to quickly convict my heart when I stray so that I can make right my standing with You. I want my words, thoughts and actions to bring You praise, honor and glory. May they reflect the faith I stand upon. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

In the Middle of Nowhere

"When Pharoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, 'If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.' So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea." Exodus 13:17-18a

Archimedes once said, "The shortest distance between two points is a straight line." But is the shortest route always the best route? That is the question this passage in Exodus leads me to answer today. 

In God's estimation, the shortest route or the path of least resistance is not always best. Such was the case for the Israelites, and often is the case for us today. When Pharoh finally let the people go out of Egypt, one would have thought the Lord would lead them to the land of Canaan by the quickest route, the shortest way. But God took them the long way around past the desert, through the wilderness toward the Red Sea. Not because He wanted to make their lives more miserable, but because His ways are higher and better and serve a very specific purpose. 

I am reminded of Proverbs 16:9 which says, "In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps." Matthew Henry says of this, "Man proposes, but God disposes, and in his disposal we must acquiesce, and set ourselves to follow providence." To "acquiesce" means to comply with God's will. That indicates a voluntary action, or an act of our will. No matter how hard we try, or how good we think our strategy is, God ultimately determines how things will go. We are masters at dreaming up all kinds of solutions to our problems, making suggestions to God to "help Him out" as if He needed our help. But we toil our minds for nothing because it is God that determines our course according to His providential plan, to serve His purposes, to bring Himself glory. More often than not, God's plan looks very different from anything we could conjure up. And 100% of the time His way is better.

So why does God often take us the long way around to get to our desired destination? To get to the answer we are seeking, or the one He has promised? Why doesn't God just quickly hand it over on a silver platter? 

Here's my take. Quick answers can lead to situations we are not yet ready to handle. Quick answers can lead to pride and distorted thinking, taking credit for good things thinking we brought them about when all credit is due the Lord. A better question might be, "Why does God lead us to new things before we are ready to take them on?" I believe the answer is, to give us the motivation and desire to press on through the preparation process it will take to get there. If we are truly submitting our lives to Christ, really wanting to be more like Him, then we must be willing to submit to His plan for bringing that about.

It takes time to make our rough edges smooth.
It takes time to prepare us to handle battles and blessings yet to come.
It takes time to get our hearts and minds thinking right.

Even though God is leading us to something or some place that we feel certain is His will for us, we might not be immediately ready for the answer; for it all to come to fruition. Most often God makes us ready as we walk toward it, letting Him light the way. Verse 21 says, "By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so they could travel by day or by night." No matter what time of day we are taking steps toward the new thing, God is there to lead us. He is our guide.

God led the Israelites away from the direct path which in modern times might be represented by a well lit, well marked highway. A travel route that represents safety. The straight road that gets you from Point A to Point B. Instead, He led them through the wilderness and off the beaten path. They may have felt like they were traveling through the middle of nowhere. Today that might look like woods and back roads. A way not marked. It might represent danger, uncertainty, difficulty, possible starvation. It is certainly the unpopular route. A way that would seem nonsensical to most. But a life of faith doesn't make much sense to the common world. 

An unmarked route requires a compass for direction. In that place, deep in the middle of nowhere, Christ is our compass. Travelers who want to reach their destination must be fully dependent upon Him to guide them.

Just because we are not quite "ready" for the next stop in life doesn't mean we should stop in our tracks or give up and return to Point A. No, we should put one foot in front of the other and by faith, walk in the direction God has told us to go, believing the path will be made clear, the answers and the provision will come, and the destination will be reached in due time when He deems us approved and ready. There is much to learn off the beaten path. Greater faith develops along the way.

Scripture says the Israelites were not yet ready for the war they were going to face. The Lord needed to prepare them and chose to do so in the place less travelled. Little did they know during this preparation that in their future they would lead the charge and God would drown the Egyptians in the Red Sea. In the wilderness God was proving their loyalty and making them humble. He was essentially preparing them for battle, something impossible to do on the path of least resistance. The last half of verse 18 indicates that they came out of the wilderness ready. "The Israelites went up out of Egypt armed for battle." 

What might God be preparing you for? Are you submitting to His will in the wilderness? Is He truly your compass and guide?

Father God, as I put one foot in front of the other and walk toward the things You have called me to, I pray that You would make me ready for the answer. Make me ready for the destination Lord, that I might serve you well and bring you the most glory. Be my compass and my guide when I feel I'm going nowhere fast. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Permission Granted

"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." 
Luke 22:31-32

Simon (Peter) had a bullseye on his back. Known as one of the disciples in Jesus' inner circle, he was a devout follower of Christ. Loyal. Trustworthy. Committed to the grave, or so he thought.

As much as Peter believed he was sold-out for Jesus and claimed in verse 33 he was ready to go with Him to prison and even death, he still had inner fears and doubts lurking about. Both Jesus and Satan recognized his lack of belief. Jesus knew that when tested, Peter would deny he ever knew Him. Not once. Not twice. Three times in a row.

What Jesus also knew, and Satan may not have, was that as a result of these trials Peter would repent and return to Him even more committed and determined than before. His faith would be redefined. We know this to be true from verse 32 where Jesus instructs Peter "when" you turn back, "strengthen your brothers". Not if you turn back, but when. He knew Peter was a man of faith and eventually, his faith would quench Satan's fiery darts. He would return strengthened in his faith, more solid in his beliefs, prepared for a higher calling and even greater ministry.

Merriam-Webster's defines sifting as this:

sift -- verb
1a: to put through a sieve  b: to separate
2: to go through especially to sort out what is useful or valuable

Satan has to ask God's permission to press on our lives. His purpose is to come against us with fiery trials and temptations to get us to turn our backs on God. But God has a greater purpose in the sifting. He uses it to sort out and remove unhealthy attitudes, fears, desires and agendas that are of no value or use to Him. To build unwavering faith into our character so that we completely trust in Him. To shape our hearts and lives in such a way as to make us willing and useful for His kingdom work. Such trials accelerate our spiritual growth when we turn to Him. They cause our trust in God's faithfulness and sovereignty to increase. They allow us to see aspects of God's character we might have never if things had always gone our way. And they bring about a process of pruning to make room for new spiritual fruit and growth. Sifting shifts our focus, our thinking, our loyalties, and makes us useful for God's greater purpose. 

Father God, I thank You for the nine years of sifting You have just allowed in my own life. I thank You for the spiritual growth, the testing and refining of my faith, the continued working out of ugly inner thoughts and selfish attitudes, the healing of my heart from things unthinkable, and the resolve to follow You and walk in obedience to Your call. I also thank You for Your abundant provision in the midst of terrible trials. You gave me a solid place to stand and eyes to see the blessing between the rocks and hard places. You placed me in a position to have immediate prayer support and encouragement when bad news came and tough situations came to a head. A place where I forged beautiful friendships, ministry opportunities abounded, and I managed to find my voice. Lord, You brought such increase to so many areas of my life. And where I was weak, You made me stronger. Though all of this was brought about as a result of some of the toughest trials in my life, I am forever grateful for the silver linings. I look forward to the new ministry opportunities that lie ahead and wait with great anticipation for the new season to begin! In Jesus' name I pray with much gratitude, amen.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Balancing the Scales

"Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, 
for as many years as we have seen trouble."
Psalm 90:15

It is believed that Moses was the author of Psalm 90, the oldest Psalm in the book. The days of affliction in Moses' life and those of his fellow Israelites in the wilderness had been many. They had endured trouble and captivity for seventy years. Here we find him pleading with the LORD to "balance the scales" so to speak. For as many days as there had been grief and misery he was asking for joyful days in return. For as many years as they had seen great sorrow, trials, affliction and unrest, he was pleading with God to repay them with peace and prosperity. He was asking for God's favor to rest upon them (v. 17). 

Having seen years of captivity, trouble and affliction in my own life I find such joy in this verse. Joy that hopes in the goodness of God. Even in the midst of extreme difficulties God has shown me the silver lining on more than one occasion. He has been my peace in the midst of deep pain, my strong tower in times of trouble. May His hand of favor rest upon my own future. May He bring an increase of peace and prosperity, increase in my marriage and ministry, increase in my faith and my friendships. 

As Charles Spurgeon expounds on this verse he says, "If we have fierce afflictions we may look for overflowing delights, and our faith may boldly ask for them. God who is great in justice when He chastens will not be little in mercy when He blesses, He will be great through and through: let us appeal to Him with unstaggering faith."

Father God, You are Faithful, Good, Able and True. Thank You for delivering me from the painful trials in my life. Thank You for Your faithfulness in affliction. God, I ask You to grant increased favor, peace and prosperity in return for all those years of trouble. May Your hand of favor rest upon me and my family. Balance the scales I pray. Establish the work of our hands that we might walk in obedience to You. Oh, that You would bless us in Jesus' name, amen.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Set Apart

"On that night I will pass though Egypt and strike down every firstborn -- both men and animals -- and I will bring judgement on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt." Exodus 12:12-13

Camping out on verse 13 about the blood, I take in the rich symbolism. God had asked the Israelites to choose a lamb, one per family, to be used for Passover. The lamb was to be a "year-old male without defect," either a sheep or a goat (v. 5). After a period of four days if it was proven to be without blemish it could be used. This represents the testing of Christ that proved His holiness. The lamb, once proven, would be killed representing Christ's death on the cross. 

Then we come to the blood. It was to be applied to "the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs" (v. 7). This represents the choice we have to by faith, "apply" the blood of Christ to our lives for the redemption of sin (salvation), and therefore rules out the belief that everyone will be restored to God, otherwise known as universalism. I like the footnote in my NIV Bible on this that implies the blood and the blood alone, nothing added to it, "constituted a perfect protection from judgement". It was a sign that those who dwelled in that home belonged to the Lord and the house should be passed over. As the old hymn "Rock of Ages" goes, "Nothing in my hand I bring, Simoly to thy cross I cling." The cross and blood are enough.

Hebrews 10:14 elaborates on this stating "by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy". Those "being made holy" are those who have chosen to turn from sin, accept Christ's sacrifice, and put their faith in Him.

The natural outcome of putting one's faith in Christ is to start looking less and less like the world and more and more like Him. We are called to be "set apart". "Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the LORD" (2 Corinthians 6:17). And when we live "set apart" as unto the Lord, delighting ourselves in Him, we have a divine protection. Charles Spurgeon speaks to the "one condition" of this verse as it relates to God's protection. Speaking of Christ he says, "Where I see the blood I will pass over you. What a blessed condition! It does not say when you see the blood but when I see it." Nothing but the blood of Christ can save. He is the one that must see we have applied it to our lives. It is His blood that covers over our sin and makes us acceptable in God's sight. Trials will come. His Word promises that. But for the one in Christ, the sting may be less. Healing will come. Glorious healing whether this side of heaven or that. In Christ is the safest place to be. 

On a practical level I consider myself and my own home. Am I living as one set apart for God's good works? Is my home set apart for His work and our refuge, free from filth and idols? If judgement came upon my neighborhood today would my house be "passed over" and see less destruction, less of a sting, than one not set apart for Christ? Food for thought...

Father God, fill me up with Your Holy Spirit today. Empower me to do Your will. Help me as I strive, and my family strives, to live lives set apart from the world for Your purposes and Your glory. In Jesus' name, amen.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Given Over to Darkness

"So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days... Yet all the Israelites had light in the places they lived." Exodus 10:22, 23b

Time after time, judgement after judgement, Pharoh's heart remained hard toward the requests of God. Every time he agreed to let the Israelites go he reneged on his promise. He was not a man of his word. So God continued with attempts to get his attention. In this passage it is through utter darkness. The kind of dark you'd experience deep in a cave. Like touring the Florida Caverns and having the tour guide cut the lights. The kind of dark where you can't see your hand in front of your face. Like the utter darkness of hell. That kind of dark.

Yet the Israelites, God's people, had light where they lived. And oddly enough their light did not pierce the darkness that was paralyzingly the Egyptians. Their light was a reflection of God's favor and the darkness, God's wrath. 

This judgement symbolizes the darkness of the hard-hearted souls that refuse to turn from their wicked ways. I think of the destruction brought upon Sodom, a people bent on perversion and depravity who refused to turn from their wicked ways. I reflect on Romans 1:21-25 where Paul warns that those who persist in sin will eventually be given over to it. 

"For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen."

...given over to sin and depraved minds. Such sin and immorality are places of blinding darkness.

"Spiritual darkness is spiritual bondage. Those who rebel against the light of God's Word are punished with darkness, for they loved it and chose it. Let us dread the consequences of sin; if three days' darkness was so dreadful, what will everlasting darkness be?" (paraphrased from Matthew Henry's Commentary)

Though the ones ensnared may be surrounded by believers, just as the Egyptians were in community with the Israelites, they are seemingly not affected or pierced by the Light within them. They are ignorant to the truth because they are bent on sin. And those bent on sin have their backs to God. They might put up a good front in the presence of believing friends because such sin is often kept secret. The one stuck in sin is not always blatant about it. But no one can serve two masters. Our God is a jealous God and He will not compete. He will bring judgement.

So judgement came in response to Pharoh's hardened heart. "When God made this difference between the Israelites and the Egyptians, who would not have preferred the poorest cottage of an Israelite to the finest palace of an Egyptian? There is still a real difference, though not so discernible a one, between the house of the wicked, which is under a curse, and the habitation of the just, which is blessed.

'The LORD's curse is on the house of the wicked, but He blesses the home of the righteous.' 
Proverbs 3:33

We should believe in that difference, and govern ourselves accordingly." (M. Henry)

Father God, on more than one occasion in my lifetime I have seen you turn the proud over to their sin. You desire that our hearts be set on You and things above, not the idols and sin and filth this world has to offer. You will not stand for a divided heart. You will have Your way with or without the one bent on sin. For those who may be on the fence or those hiding in secret sin, I pray they would seek You. In Your strength, I pray they would hasten to turn away from the darkness and turn to a life pleasing to You, before You turn them over to the sinful desires of their heart. May they turn away from the darkness once and for all. Give them a deep desire to follow You. To any who have been turned over, who have realized the error of their ways, though it may seem impossible, show them the way out. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Blessing Others on Her Birthday: 14 Random Acts of Kindness

Last week we celebrated Emily's birthday. In lieu of a party with friends we decided to do something different in honor of our daughter's 14th year. I had read about people doing random acts of kindness on their birthdays. One act of kindness for every year old they are. After proposing this idea, Emily thought about it for a day or two and then came back to me saying she wanted to do it. She had a few acts of kindness in mind already. The thing that blessed my heart most were the words, "My birthday doesn't need to be all about me."

So a week in advance we made a list of the "Random Acts" we felt led to do and began to gather the necessary supplies. We pulled out gift bags and tissue, New Testaments and tracts.  We purchased bubbles, stickers and sidewalk chalk; chicken salad, candy and cookie mix. In all we prepared 14 kinds of gifts.

Giddy with excitement we set out bright and early on the morning of her birthday to bless others, showing God's love in practical ways.

1. Emily delivered gift bags to our neighbors that contained homemade cookies and a New Testament. We affectionately call these kinds of gifts "food for the stomach, food for the soul". (My kids and I have used this concept for years to share a little snack and God's love with the homeless, giving snack cracker packs and a tract.)

2. She left a gift of bubbles, sidewalk chalk and candy for our neighbor's little girl to come home to as and after school treat.

3. Before leaving the neighborhood, Emily placed a bag of cookies and a tract in the mailbox and to bless the mailman.

4. Having made Emily an appointment for a much needed haircut, we took that opportunity to bless our friend and favorite hairdresser. We baked her some special muffins and picked up a glass of her favorite tea.

5. Wanting to include some very special kid missionary friends in our day, we packaged stickers in an envelope and took them to the post office for an international stamp and mailed them to the U.K. When the mail lady asked if we wanted a passport application to go with our order so we could go visit them, we were able to say we'd already been there and share that they're there to plant a church in Glasgow.

6. Emily lit up at the idea of blessing a sweet widow we've befriended. We took her a little package of cookies as well. Unfortunately we missed seeing her and had to leave them on the doorstep.

7. Next we met up with a young lady whom we love that will be relocating to Haiti next month to devote her life to missions. Emily cleaned out her closet and came up with a bag of gently used donations for the girls she will serve in an orphanage there.

8. We lovingly prepared a picnic style lunch basket with chicken salad, croissants, apples, kettle corn and sweet orange tea. It was delivered to a very special first time mommy with a one week old bundle of joy!

9. Our next stop was the All Children's Park where Emily had fun handing out ice cream cone shaped bottles of bubbles to parents for their little ones. Those we encountered were pleasantly surprised by this gesture and wished her a happy birthday.

10. We drove to the pediatricians office where Emily donated a bag full of new and gently used books and magazines for the waiting room. The office manager that received them kept saying how much she "loved" her idea and hoped it would spur their staff on to pay it forward.

11. At a laundromat down the street we asked to hang bags on the washers to bless incoming customers. Each bag contained a R.A.O.K. Card, detergent pods and a copy of the instructions from the bag.

In the early afternoon we took a drive to have lunch with our son Cory, so Emily would get to see her brother on her birthday.  Then he patiently hung out with us at the mall while she did some birthday shopping.

12. Along the way, Emily handed out little boxes of candy she had prepared to bless the clerks and wait staff we would encounter throughout the day. She stretched them out so last one would be given to our waitress that evening.

13. As we headed back to town we made a b-line for Target. Having a tender heart for our human trafficking ministry, she wanted to look at the registry available for a nearby safe home opening soon and buy an item on the list with her birthday money. The registry items are helping to accessorize the home so girls rescued from child sex trafficking will have a beautiful place to live while they heal.

14. Finally, before meeting family for dinner we took little bags with quarters in them to the kiddie ride area at the mall. We taped some to the empty rides for future customers to find, and gave one in person to a mom and her little one so he could ride the race car he had his eye on.

These 14 Random Acts of Kindness made for an amazing day. When asked, Emily couldn't begin to say which one was her favorite because she had too many special moments. As we drove between stops she said she wished we'd started doing this on our birthdays a long time ago. She declared it should definitely be a tradition going forward.

Showing God's love in practical ways is a wonderful way to spend a birthday. Happy Birthday to our girl who's beautiful inside and out! Now to make my list of 40-something acts of kindness so I'll be ready when my turn rolls around...

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Resurrecting Hope

"Then I thought, 'To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.' I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember Your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all Your works and consider Your mighty deeds." Psalm 77:10-12

We find here a theme that is all too familiar in the book of Psalms. Asaph the psalmist is crying out to God in despair. He feels forgotten. Overlooked. Faint in spirit. Rejected. Disregarded. Anxious and unable to sleep. His hopes dashed. 

Considering the psalmist's stressed state of mind, we see his despair rooted in wrong thinking. In verses 1-9 his mind is fixed on the discouraging circumstances that surround him. Such stressors might come from delayed or unanswered prayer, marital or financial struggles, wayward children, strained relationships, health concerns, shattered dreams, death of a loved one, or countless other trials. His mind was focused on the things he could account for: the facts and the things he saw or felt. But Asaph's view is limited. And feelings are not trustworthy. His finite view was never meant to be his source of hope. In limiting his faith only to what he could discern in the situation, he limited his view of God. A small view of God made his circumstances feel overwhelming.

But in verse 10, after wallowing in his despair, he has a thought. A thought no doubt placed by the Holy Spirit. He decides to shift his focus and console himself by remembering the goodness of God. 

The miracles.
His power and might.
His leadership.
God's faithfulness.

He focuses on the power and authority represented by "the right hand of the Most High". In so doing, he becomes intentional about fixing his mind on the truth of God's character vs. the lies and doubt he had so easily succumb to. 

Some circumstances in life are meant for the testing of our faith. Others are "our cross to bear" so to speak, meant to bring God glory and accomplish His divine purposes. Either way, when we fix our mind on the problem, our view of God becomes small. We are easily overwhelmed, frustrated, depressed or angry. But when we shift our focus to "the right hand of the Most High," putting God in His proper place in our lives, our circumstances pale in comparison. We remember His ability to redeem them. Or to do something in us through them. Consoling one's heart and mind (or inner self) with remembrances of God's faithfulness, meditating on His goodness, and reflecting on His abilities is good therapy. It's preaching the gospel to yourself. For the discouraged and despairing it causes a shift in mindset. 

It lightens the heavy load. 
It lifts our downtrodden spirit.
It resurrects hope. 

Lord Jesus, You are Almighty, All-Powerful, All-Knowing, and You sit at the right hand of the Father. Whatever our circumstance,You want our eyes fixed on You because You are Able. Able to bring peace. Able to bring joy. Able to bring hope. Able to make us content. Able to make a way. For Your ways are higher than ours. You see the big picture. You have a grand, master plan. Help us not to get wrapped up in our finite view that leads to despair. Rather, help us to fix our eyes on You and Your abilities, and rest in the fact that You have our best interest at heart. Father God, You always know best. May our hope and peace be in You alone. In Jesus' name, amen.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Desperate or Deliberate?

"If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” 
Luke 11:13

In this passage about prayer Jesus is sharing through parables some instruction on how to pray. These parables are in response to one of His disciples saying to Him back in verse 1, "Lord, teach us how to pray..."

In Luke 11:6 I read about the persistent friend. This friend goes to his neighbor at midnight and knocks asking for some bread saying, "...a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him."

As I think on this in relation to prayer, I realize this is how prayer so often goes. We are presented with a question or a situation and we don't know how to respond. Our friend pours their heart out on an issue and we have no idea what to say or how to encourage them. In turn, our lack creates a need. In that need we go desperately to the Father in prayer. We run to the Lord and ask for help. We know He is our "ever present help in time of need" (Psalm 46:1). We need the Holy Spirit to intervene and help us, or show us what to we ask for Him.

(pause there for a moment while I share my heart)


I've been in a long season of spiritual growth in the Lord and at the same time, in a 'not so fun' place with Him. My God has been allowing the sinful nature that is in my heart to surface. Once He showed me one thing, He'd move on to another. And another. Sometimes He made things abundantly clear by showing me multiple examples of a sin or wrong attitude coming out of me. I can't even begin to tell you how heartbreaking and sobering this private process has been. I strive to live a life that is pleasing to my Lord, so to have Him show me all the depravity that was still in my heart... Well, that hurt. It hurt because I knew it grieved Him. Sin in my life defames His name. When everything else drained out the ugliness remained. Like a sifting. There it was. All of it. With everything else removed I could really see what was in my heart. For the most part I'd say it was just God showing me. And me being frustrated with myself. No one else needed to know. Only God and I could do anything about it.

Meanwhile, during this process, my pastor had been encouraging our church staff to pray daily and ask the Lord to fill us with the Holy Spirit. To pray before we even get out of bed something along the lines of, "Lord, please fill me with the Holy Spirit. Empower me to do Your will today." I began doing this rather sporadic at first, then gradually with more consistency. Mostly because I had some questions in my mind.

Then a couple weeks ago, I came to Luke 11:13 in my Bible reading. I've been camped there ever since.

"If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” 

Marinating in this passage I realized how often I was willing to give myself up and let the Holy Spirit take over when I was desperate. Desperate for an answer on an issue. Desperate like the friend asking his neighbor at midnight for some bread. Desperate when I lacked confidence to do something I was called to do. But in recent months after those promptings by my pastor, and the evidence of such fleshly attitudes in my life, I did start asking the Holy Spirit to fill me up before I started my day. I was doing it but wrestling with it at the same time, trusting the Lord to show me the answer to my question which was, "If I already have the Holy Spirit, and trust that He is present in my life, why do I need to keep asking for Him?" I knew, that I knew, that I knew, that I was sealed with the Holy Spirit the day I trusted Jesus with my life. Ephesians 4:30 assures me when Paul says, "And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption." So in my heart I really wrestled with why I needed to ask for something I already had. I was sure it was biblical, I just needed to understand it in my head and my heart.


With that in mind, this passage sort of stopped me in my tracks. It was the phrase "the Holy Spirit" that got my attention. I'm not sure I had ever really taken note of the difference between this verse and it's parallel in Matthew 7:11. The verse in Matthew was the one more committed to my memory. Take note:

Matthew 7:11 --
"If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"

Luke 11:13 --
"If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” 

In studying this passage at length, I have learned that the change in the phrase from "good gifts" to "Holy Spirit" is known as a metonymy of the cause. The first verse here is stating the effect. The second, the cause.

METONYMY (Mesa + onoma = a change of name)
One word is used in place of another to portray some actual relationship between the things signified.

All "good things" come through the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the evidence of good things in our lives found in Matthew, can be replaced with the ultimate source of the good things, the providential work of the Holy Spirit, as found in Luke.

So to answer my own question, I believe this is one of those mysteries in the Bible where the answer is "both/and". I am sealed with the Holy Spirit -- therefore He is "with" me -- because I have placed my faith in Christ. The Spirit is also "in" me giving victory over the flesh, developing Christian character, healing infirmities, inspiring me when I pray, cleansing me, sanctifying me, comforting me, and interceding on my behalf. As I yield myself day by day making more and more room for the power of the Spirit, He acts and works within me and I operate less and less in the flesh. The Bible also implies that the Spirit can be "on" me, anointing me to do some special service for God. I am both sealed with the Spirit and I can have more of the Spirit.

(Ref: The Scofield Study Bible, New International Version, 1984, "The Holy Spirit in the New Testament, Summary" on page 1431.)

As I have been praying this prayer, I am realizing that more than being filled daily, it's a yielding to the Spirit that is already there willing to act and work in and through me -- when I let Him. It's asking Him to guide me in His ways and intentionally laying mine aside. It's seeking the Spirit deliberately, not out of desperation. In doing so, I find that I am calling on the Spirit more and more throughout the day. Instead of asking for help after things happen or when I get fearful, anxious, desperate, etc. I am now asking for the Spirit to take over in the mundane. Before I speak. Or respond. Or react. Just to take over period. I'm tired of doing part of the day in the spirit and part of it in my own strength. I want the Spirit to just lead so that my responses and reactions are not selfish or in the flesh, but instead reflect the fruits of the Spirit. Responding and relating with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. God's Word says, "There is no law against behaving in any of these ways" in Galatians 5:23 (CEV). I just want to be covered with His grace. More than anything, I want the Holy Spirit infusing my life day by day, hour by hour. In accordance with God's Word I can ask for that! The Amplified version says He gives "to those who ask AND continue to ask Him!" I see it as a conscious, constant yielding of myself to the Spirit. In other words, surrendering my all, moment by moment, for His best.

Father God, I thank You for Your patience with me when I don't fully grasp or understand Your Word. I thank You for answering when I ask for clarity. I ask that You fill me to overflowing with the Spirit so that I can act and think and do according to Your will. Keep working in and through me I pray. Help me to keep dying to the flesh so I look more and more like You. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Choosing the Better Way

"...Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." Luke 10:42

This story about Mary and Martha is so familiar it is easy to look over, but I asked the Lord to show me something new as I studied it this morning. I read about Martha opening her home to Jesus (she was very hospitable). When He came in, her sister Mary chose to sit down at His feet and listen to what He had to say. Martha, on the other hand, was distracted (the complete opposite). She chose to busy herself with all the preparations she felt necessary to host Jesus as her guest.

As I read these verses the Lord revealed some key points in a different light. First, Martha opened her home and welcomed Jesus in, but then left Him sitting in the living room, so to speak, while she busied herself with household tasks to host Him. If this were happening in modern times, she might have run to put fresh sheets on the bed, dusted and vacuumed the guest room, picked some fresh flowers to put on the dresser, laundered the towels and put fresh ones in the guest bath, straightened up the kitchen, unloaded the dishwasher so she could load the dirty dishes in the sink, pulled up her recipe boards on Pinterest to see what she might make for dinner, run to the store for a few ingredients, donned her apron and slaved over the meal, set the table with fine china, lit the candles, and then took a quick shower, whew! ...before announcing, "Dinner is served!" All the while, her sister sitting at Jesus's feet, hanging on His every word. 

Mary had much to do to feel ready for this guest she'd already invited in, so it's understandable why she'd be a teensy bit frustrated with her sister for not helping her. But Jesus said, "Martha, are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her." I believe this parallels well with our walk with Christ. We ask Jesus in to our hearts and lives, go to church and worship Him on Sundays, then leave Him in the living room all week and fail to spend time with Him. 

Mary chose to lay busyness aside and sit at the feet of Jesus. She chose to give Him her full attention as their honored guest. She chose to be fully engaged and listen intently to the words He spoke. I believe she drank deeply of the wisdom He shared, allowing it to penetrate her heart in a life changing way. 

Mary wanted Jesus there. There was no question about that. She was the one that invited Him in after all. But before she took time to visit with Him and hear His heart, she chose to do other things. This very concept is one the Lord has been teaching me at new levels in recent months. I always want Jesus near, desire to spend meaningful time with Him, and with my whole heart I want to do the things He calls me to do, but many times my obedience has come with distractions or was delayed. Sometimes I've been up to meet with Him, but found myself so distracted by the cares or to do's in my mind that I wasn't fully present and hearing what He had to say. Or I would put Jesus off in a sense saying, "Lord, I'll meet with You this morning, but first let me..." Or, "Lord, I will work on that project You've asked me to do, but first I need to do such and such." The Lord has convicted me of the "But first's..." We can be so busy trying to prepare to spend time with Him, that we never really get around to spending undistracted time with Him. I am trying to be much more diligent about saying, "First, I'm going to spend time with Jesus, then I will..." Or "I'm going to [work on this project] out of obedience to the Lord first, then I'll run my errands or meet my friend for coffee." In so doing, I'm learning that busyness returns void, but God and His work do not. I'm choosing Him first.

Father God, I am human. I mess up. I have flaws. I get distracted with the best of them and I like to have my "to do" list all checked off. But I have found a better way. You are the better way. When I choose to put You and Your work first, all that really needs to be done gets done. Help me to keep putting You first. Help me to be fully engaged when I spend time with You and in Your Word -- only then will I be changed by it. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Friday, January 10, 2014

A Right Heart

"He answered, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind' and 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" Luke 10:27

A lawyer, testing Jesus with his questions, asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus replies with two questions of His own: What is written in the law? And, how do you read it? Verse 27 (above) is his reply, to which Jesus tells him he answered correctly.

What the lawyer describes is a heart that is first, right with God. And second, right with others. The first, loving God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, represents a vertical relationship with the Father. It's what enables me to live in right relationship with Him. (The key to salvation is to be in relationship with Christ.) In this place my wrongs are confessed, my sins are forgiven, my trust is in Jesus, and my life's energy is focused on my God and the things He has called me to do. The second, loving my neighbor as myself, represents horizontal relationships. It is striving to live in right relationship with those around me; those in my sphere of influence in as much as it depends on me. In so doing I want to reflect Christ with my words and actions as I interact with others. I'm not perfect in this by any means, but it is my deep desire to honor the Lord in this way. When I am wronged, I must choose to forgive so my heart is right with God and towards the offending person, whether or not they ever receive it. It also means meeting the needs of others according to my means as God makes them apparent. In short, it's having a right heart with God and loving others the way I want to be loved -- in a way that looks like my Jesus.

Father God, Thank You that my name is written in heaven. Today and every day please help me to live in right relationship with You and with those in my circle of influence. I want my life to be a genuine reflection of my relationship with You. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Deceived No More

"...Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name." Luke 10:17

Having been sent out by Christ, the disciples returned to Him with joy. Though they had surely endured trials, opposition, discouragement and the like on their mission, they came back joyful talking about their successes. Primarily, their success when employing the power of Jesus' name: "Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name." They were acknowledging the truth that all victories over Satan come through the power of Jesus' name.

We as believers, just like the disciples, have access to the power of Jesus' name. It is through Christ's name and His alone that the power comes, and to whom the glory must return. Whatever is done in Jesus' name, honor must be given to His name. Satan's rightful place is under Jesus' feet. "The LORD says to my Lord: 'Sit at My right hand until I make a footstool for your feet.'" Psalm 110:1. "...the saints have no greater joy or satisfaction in any of their triumphs than in those over Satan. If the devils are subject to us, what can stand before us?" (Henry)

As this new year begins, give your spiritual life a fresh perspective. Refuse to believe the devil's lies! Decide to no longer be deceived by the evil one. Ask the LORD to reveal the enemy's schemes in your life and then rebuke Satan in Jesus' name. Proclaim truth where the enemy would have you believe lies. And give glory to the Father when the enemy flees. You have power in Jesus' name!

Father, I thank You that my name is written in heaven, and because it is, I have power and authority over the enemy in Jesus' name. I ask You Lord to reveal Satan's schemes in my life. Show me where I've been believing lies. Empower me to stand against the enemy in Your name, and stand up for Your truth. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

This is how I did this exercise this morning...

I took a blank sheet of paper and a pen and sat before the Lord quiet and undistracted. Praying, I asked God to reveal the enemy's schemes in my life. I wrote down every lie that came to mind that I had been believing, trusting that God was answering my prayer. Using that list, I confessed them one by one out loud to the Lord and rebuked the enemy. (This is done audibly so the enemy can hear me - only God is omniscient - Satan cannot hear my thoughts.) I penned a prayer like this one in my journal to use, and ad libbed or adjusted as I prayed and the Spirit led. I repeated it for every item on my list.

Sample Prayer

Dear Lord, I have believed (insert one of the lies or schemes God showed you). I now know that is a lie from the enemy and I refuse to believe it any longer. Your Word says (insert a truth from God's Word) and I choose to believe the truth. As a child of God raised up and seated with Christ in the heavenly places, I rebuke the enemy in Jesus' name and command Satan to leave my presence in this area and never return. He has no power or authority over my life because I belong to God. Help me Jesus, to walk in a way that honors You and reflects this truth. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.