“And the ground began to shake…”

(Matthew 28:7, The Message) “Now, get on your way quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He is risen from the dead. He is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.’ That’s the message.”

“That’s the message,” the angel said.  Such a simple message to relay, yet it was the first act of our most important role as followers of Christ…our Great Commission.  It’s why we live and breath.  And this message is a three-fold message of hope.

  1. “He is risen from the dead.” — Without the resurrection, God’s promise to us would not be complete.  Now, because Christ lives, we are in covenant with God our Father who has faithfully fulfilled His end of the deal.  Our hope is in this great and final victory over sin and death.  1 Corinthians 15: 55-57 reminds us: 55 “Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
  2.  “He is going on ahead of you to Galilee.” — Oh man I love this!  Yes, this was a message for the disciples who would be heading to Galilee, but…Galilee was Jesus’ home!  This is our hope…that our Lord Jesus is going ahead of us…preparing a place for us…in His home…our home…Heaven!!  (John 14:3) And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  And further still, we have hope in knowing that every path we take has been scouted out.  He has gone before us, and He sticks by our side…every single step of the way.  (Deuteronomy 31:8) The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
  3. “You will see Him there.” — This is our hope…our reward…that we will one day look upon the face of Christ.  We will see Him there.  Where?  Revelation 1:7 promises us:  “Riding the clouds, he’ll be seen by every eye…”  Whether your soul is at rest or still within your body doing work…no matter what you’re up to…every eye will see Him — face to face.  One of my favorite songs paints the picture so beautifully. 

“We Shall Behold Him”

The sky shall unfold

Preparing His entrance

The stars shall applaud Him

With thunders of praise

The sweet light in His eyes, shall enhance those awaiting

And we shall behold Him, then face to face

O we shall behold Him, we shall behold Him

Face to face in all of His glory

O we shall behold Him, yes we shall behold Him

Face to face, our Savior and Lord

The angel will sound, the shout of His coming

And the sleeping shall rise, from their slumbering place

And those remaining, shall be changed in a moment

And we shall behold him, then face to face.

And that, my friends, is the message:  He rose from the dead, He’s gone before us, and we will see Him there.  That’s our hope…a hope we so desperately need, as we are living in a world where evil is so common, so rampant, and so accepted.  We…have…hope! 

(Hebrews 6:18-20, The Message) We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go. It’s an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God where Jesus, running on ahead of us, has taken up his permanent post as high priest for us…

But it doesn’t end with our comfort in knowing we have hope, because (like Mary and Mary at the tomb) we have been instructed to go quickly and share our message of hope.  We are His ambassadors to the world.

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:18-20)

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, thank you for hope.  Through your word I am given every bit of strength, knowledge, wisdom and truth that I need to fulfill my end of the deal.  Until I see your face, I know that I have a job to do.  Help me to do it gracefully, boldly, and with the love and authority you have placed within me.  Amen.

“…in it, not of it…”

18 If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. 19 The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. 20 Do you remember what I told you? “A slave is not greater than the master.” Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you. 21 They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the one who sent me.  (John 15: 18-22, NLT)

It really is simple.  The world is rejecting God more and more, and as such, those who love and follow Christ will also be rejected and hated.  We have to stop trying to please others.  Love them, yes, but we can’t change not even one syllable of God’s word to suit the whims of this world.  Jesus gave his life to free us from the bondages of sin and death, but He made it very clear that when we do choose Him, we also choose to be separated from the world.  There isn’t a gray area where we can hover between the two.  It’s hot or cold, friends.  We’re either in or we’re out.  Pick a side.  You may not like that, but it is reality.

I tend to be a people pleaser.  I want everyone to be at peace with one another.  I don’t like to make waves, and I prefer to avoid confrontations as much as I possibly can.  And though I do have a deep desire to be loved and accepted, there is this part of me that is okay with being different and set apart.  I like to be myself, and I am comforted by relationships with people who take the time to know and love me as I am.

I share that to make the point that we all (myself included) make adjustments in order to have a sense of peace in our lives, but where do we draw that line?  How much are we truly willing to compromise?  The time is coming when we will have to answer these questions.

So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him. 10 For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.  (2 Corinthians 5:6-10, NLT)

Our lives are but timelines filled with checkpoints and choices.  We may not see the beginning and end points, but those points are there.  Everything in between is choice, but that end point is where we will find ourselves standing in front of Christ.  Are you willing to look at Him and say that His blood was not good enough for you to choose Him?

Friends, life is a battle.  We are fighting daily, and we can be the victors, but we have to stop compromising.  Turn away from the evil of this world, and say proudly why.  There is power in the name of Jesus.  When we speak it, when we love Him without regret or shame, we are victorious.  And the reward of that earthly victory is a heavenly prize unlike any other.

21 Those who are victorious will sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne. (Revelation 3: 21, NLT)

Prayer:  Jesus, I recognize that I need You in my life.  I love You, Lord, and it is truly my desire to follow you and to share Your love by my words and actions.  Thank You for your blood.  May I live in such a way that I am never ashamed of You.  Amen.

Are We Done Yet?

“Hasten, O God, to save me; come quickly, Lord, to help me.”  – Psalm 70:1

We see these words many times in the book of Psalms.  David was in desolation when he wrote them, in hiding from wickedness and enemies, and this is a record of his faith through the struggles that he endured.  I don’t know about anyone else, but there are days when I, like David, am literally desperate for an end to the madness of this world.  It is overwhelming at times, the depravity that we constantly see and face.  The local news alone is enough to raise anxiety levels, not to mention the national and world news networks which often ignite the already smoldering embers of intolerance and anger.  It is easy to get caught up in the tornado, so-to-speak.  We get sucked into political arguments, debates about sexuality, and (of course) arguments drawn from our cultural and religious differences…and we face every single one of these controversies several times in JUST ONE DAY!  Much like a tornado, we get sucked in, thrown around and spat out in an entirely different place than we expected…and often with our thoughts and confidences obliterated.  It’s not very difficult to reach the point of saying, “Come Lord Jesus!” 

Here’s the thing though, none of this should take us by surprise.  Right?  We know that hard times are part of the plan.  The earth is groaning in labor.  A new day is being birthed. 

3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 4 Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains. 9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”  (Matthew 24: 3-14)

All of which to say that there will many more days when we cry out for an end.  Just like a mother in labor, desperate to see the child she’s waited so long to meet, who is ready for an end to her suffering and discomfort, who (while in the emotional and physical throes of childbirth) will cry out for help and wonder when it will all be over, we too will become weary and frantic. 

But please, please, please, remember that from labor pains comes new life!  Our promise is eternal.

1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  (Colossians 3: 1-4)

So stand firm…in love.  Bear the labor pains with hope in knowing that a greater promise awaits.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, as I see this world deteriorate, help me to remember Your promise.  With the help of Your Holy Spirit, I know that I can stand firm until the end.  I choose love, I choose righteousness, I choose YOU. 

“Fear Not”

(Psalm 147: 1-5, NLT) 

Praise the Lord!

 

How good to sing praises to our God!
    How delightful and how fitting!
The Lord is rebuilding Jerusalem
    and bringing the exiles back to Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted
    and bandages their wounds.
He counts the stars
    and calls them all by name.
How great is our Lord! His power is absolute!
    His understanding is beyond comprehension!

 

I kept trying to write last night before bed, and I knew I wanted to use this passage, but I just couldn’t get any thoughts together, so I decided to get some sleep and revisit it all in the morning.  Then this morning I wake up to a newsfeed full of reports of yet another tragic, seemingly random, shooting of innocent people…this time on the streets of Las Vegas.  I don’t usually comment on current events, nor do I make it a habit of using the tragedies and horrors that are happening in our world right now as a writing prompt.  Normally I just keep my thoughts to myself and I pray.  I ask God for protection for my family, for peace in the midst of so much hatred and violence, and for His name to be glorified and magnified despite it all.

But today…

In the face of even more death and violence, I want to be of encouragement to you all…because we so quickly go into fear mode.  We begin to wonder, “Am I next?”  We rush out to get guns and permits to carry them (I’m talking to myself on that one), we worry about End Times, and we begin to see our brothers and sisters – our fellow Americans – as potential threats.  Essentially, we allow Satan to have a stronghold on our minds and hearts – we give him exactly what he wants…which is for us to be afraid.

So what I want to say this morning is:  remember who God is.  When we stare evil in the face, remember that our God – Creator, Redeemer, Healer, Deliverer, Soon and Coming King, Alpha, Omega, Lord of Everything – He is bringing back the exiles!  Sometimes it takes heartache and complete brokenness to catapult change and restoration…like a dilapidated, condemned building that has to be torn down completely before it can be rebuilt, or until something new can be constructed in its place.

Don’t ever forget, all of the hurting hearts will be healed, and all of the brokenness will be mended…because our God is making all things new!  It has been promised – a promise of victory!

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!”  (Revelation 21: 3-5, NLT)

There is no denying that every day things are getting worse.  We may not know the minute or the hour that He is coming back for us, but we should have enough wisdom to realize that such a time is drawing very near…but we don’t have to worry or fret when things like this happen.  No!  Though we experience heartache, we can’t allow that to take us to a negative place.  Instead, we have to buckle down and prepare to work harder – reaching out, in love, to a world that truly is lost and dying.

 33 “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NLT)

So, as for me, I’m going to continue to say, “Praise the Lord!”  All of my days, I’m going to praise Him.  I’ll hand Him my sorrows, because I know He can (and will) turn them into great victories that bring joy unspeakable to my heart.  I’ll trust Him – no matter what – because I’d rather have hope than fear!

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, I lift up the victims of all of the violence in our country and in our world today.  Specifically, I pray for those hurt and killed today in Las Vegas.  I ask that You send armies of Your people – people who are full of Your love – to reach out and encourage these families as they deal with the trauma and grief in the aftermath of this tragedy.  I pray that Your healing hand would be upon each of them today and in the weeks to come, and may it all be for Your glory and for Your Kingdom.  May we not fear.  May we not give up.  Rather, I pray that Your children are encouraged, strengthened, and upheld in Your hands.  Amen. 

#AbundanceForDays

7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

 

When I was just in highschool, I was told by a close friend of mine that I had a tendency to be negative. Oh, when she told me that I felt a loathing I hadn’t felt before. I started thinking of other people I thought that about myself and how they drained the energy from me, and… How could she think that of me? But, I started paying closer attention to my conversation and reactions, etc., and, to my horror, I realized she was right. I cannot tell you how much I hated to admit to that.

At that point, I made it my priority to change that about myself. I didn’t want to be known as the “Debbie Downer” or “Negative Nancy” among my peers. Months went by, and with much effort I took time to think about the words that would escape my lips. But, the thoughts that entered my mind were another story. Although the negativity I dwelt on didn’t get a voice, it still caused damage to my inner peace.

I got so frustrated with myself. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I fix this? I’m trying so hard!

And then I read this Scripture.

The most important line would be the last- “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” When Jesus gave His life for us, it wasn’t just for our salvation. He ever lives to make intercession for us; to take our sorrows, our grief, our fears, our weaknesses, etc. He came that we may have life… abundant life!

Abundant- more than adequate; well-supplied; abounding; richly supplied; lavish.

When I read that, something new registered with me. I claimed to be a follower of Christ, and yet, for some reason, I didn’t feel that my life was “abounding or richly supplied.” Oh, how wrong I was! I realized I needed to work on the relationship I had with Him. Something was off. I should be experiencing unspeakable joy (1 Peter 1:8), sustainable peace (Colossians 3:15), and overflowing thankfulness (Colossians 2:7). Going forward I determined that my outlook would be clearer and my life would be lived differently.

I can’t say it’s always been easy. There’ve been periods throughout my life that were trying. I battled fear and frustration. Defeat knocked at my door. My words stayed positive, but my mind needed redemption at times. But, that was okay. I knew Who I could lean on and trust to redirect my thoughts. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

Just today I heard a clip of a sermon that resonated within me. When you ask, “Why does the enemy keep attacking me?” Remember, it’s because you won’t go down! If you have to face sickness, do it while rebuking it in the name of Jesus. When regret and loss bring you to tears, quote verses of hope through your crying. Should fear take a tight grip on your life, plead the blood of The One that can break every chain!

He came so we could live an abundant life! We will not be defeated! We are blessed, protected, cherished, and provided for! We are His.

Let’s take the words of Apostle Paul and pray them over our lives today:

 

Prayer: “But we have this treasure… to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” We can live life abundantly because of You, Jesus. We thank You for that today!

 

But…what if?

(Psalm 56: 8-11) 8 You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book? 9 Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call. This I know, that God is for me. 10 In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise, 11 in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?


FEAR


When I was in the second grade, I checked out a book from the school library called Scary Stories to tell in the Dark.  I knew it was a bad idea but I did it anyway.  I had seen it at the book fair and was not allowed to purchase it, so I thought I would just sneak and check it out.  My curious nature got best of me.  That night, I curled up in my bed with a flashlight and the book and I read the entire thing.  As you can probably guess, I couldn’t get to sleep.  I had entertained fear and now every noise and every movement, to me, was a ghost or demon.  I was too afraid to move, paralyzed by my own imagination, and eventually I had to call out to my dad to come and “help” me.  We both lost sleep that night, and I got into a lot of trouble! 

Isn’t that how it is with us, even as adults?  We allow fear to inhabit our thoughts and it takes up residence there until we eventually have to call out to “dad” (Father God) to come to the rescue.  How often do you greet and entertain your fears?  The truth of the matter is, no matter your age, fear can rule your thoughts and greatly affect your choices when you give place to it.  And that fear, it’s like a stray cat…feed it, and it will stick around until it becomes your pet. 

A wise old Jedi named Yoda once said (yep, I’m using Star Wars reference), “Fear is the path to the dark side.  Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”  Maybe you’re afraid of people…people who are a different race, who are foreign, who practice a different religion, people who have been in jail, people who have threatened you, or even people that you just don’t know.  But are we not called to love?  1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 

Fear=Anger=Hate=Suffering 

Maybe you’re afraid of every “what if” and “worst case scenario” that pops into your mind.  Whatever your big fear may be, that thing that festers in your thoughts every single day, you have authority in Christ to banish that thought like the stray cat that it is.  “For though we walk in flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.  For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but have divine power to destroy strongholds.”  (2 Corinthians 10:3-4) 

It all comes down to choice.  You can choose to focus on fear and allow it to grow and thrive, or you can follow the advice that Paul gives us in Philippians 4:8 when he says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” 


PRAYER:  Heavenly Father, Thank you for the wisdom of your word and the ability to understand it and apply it to the real situations in my life.  I’m so grateful that in YOU I have power over fear today and every day. Amen

When God Shoots His Arrows!

(Psalm 64:1-10 HCSB) 1 God, hear my voice when I complain. Protect my life from the terror of the enemy. 2 Hide me from the scheming of wicked people, from the mob of evildoers, 3 who sharpen their tongues like swords and aim bitter words like arrows, 4 shooting from concealed places at the innocent. They shoot at him suddenly and are not afraid. 5 They encourage each other in an evil plan; they talk about hiding traps and say, “Who will see them? ” 6 They devise crimes and say, “We have perfected a secret plan.” The inner man and the heart are mysterious. 7 But God will shoot them with arrows; suddenly, they will be wounded. 8 They will be made to stumble; their own tongues work against them. All who see them will shake their heads. 9 Then everyone will fear and will tell about God’s work, for they will understand what He has done. 10 The righteous one rejoices in the LORD and takes refuge in Him; all those who are upright in heart will offer praise.

The Psalmist creatively describes what so many of us feel when we are going through tough times. He uses several key words to capture the movements in this dance. Notice…

COMPLAIN: The psalmist begins by verbalizing his complaints to the Lord. It is interesting that he speaks without apology; he either feels that God is interested in hearing about his frustrations, or his level of emotion is so strong that he doesn’t care if he will be rebuked for complaining. Either way, he freely shares exactly why he is discouraged.

SHARPEN THEIR TONGUES: The ESV says, they “whet their tongues like swords.” In other words, the enemy is using disparaging words that become sharper with each additional accusation. It’s not enough that they are doing harm, they are actually trying to use words that will do more damage than the last words they spoke!

SHOOTING FROM CONCEALED PLACES: The enemy is aiming these bitter words from concealed places. It’s possible that one of the most frustrating things in life is when someone attacks us anonymously. As a pastor, I’ve received countless letters from people who were such cowards they wouldn’t even sign their name. I’ve learned to check the end of the letter prior to reading the correspondence. If there is no signature, I don’t waste my time reading it. You likewise, must learn to “tune out” the critical voices attempting to do you harm.

BUT GOD WILL SHOOT THEM WITH HIS ARROWS: These cowards may be unknown to us, but they are not unknown to God. He will vindicate the righteous by shooting His arrows and wounding them suddenly! They won’t see it coming, but God will balance the scales of righteousness. Onlookers will shake their heads when they realize how God has rendered the enemy ineffective; everyone will understand what God has done.

THE RIGHTEOUS ONE REJOICES IN THE LORD: There is no mention of the righteous individual rejoicing over the demise of the enemy. Instead, their rejoicing is focused on the goodness of the Lord and they offer praises to Him. Too often, we want to celebrate in the end zone of life. We spend an inordinate amount of time talking about the struggle, the words, and the harmful effects of the attack. Instead, we should focus on the deliverance of the Lord!

My righteous friend, take courage in knowing that God is on your side. He has your back! (Your front and sides too!) He will protect those who are His. So, go ahead and start the praise party.

PRAYER: I’m so grateful for divine protection. On the days when I cannot see the hand of the enemy…You are aware of the attack and where it is coming from. Help me to realize that You will shoot Your godly arrows and wound the enemy suddenly on my behalf. I receive it! Amen.

“I’m no longer a slave to fear…”

(Psalm 55: 4-7)

My heart pounds in my chest.

    The terror of death assaults me.

Fear and trembling overwhelm me,

    and I can’t stop shaking.

Oh, that I had wings like a dove;

    then I would fly away and rest!

I would fly far away

    to the quiet of the wilderness.

I began having panic attacks when I was a teenager.  Certain fears would sweep over me and quicken my breath, tears pouring down my face in a never-ending deluge — the sobs taking over my breathing patterns and forcing me into hyperventilation.  I would literally think, “This is it.  I am going to die.”  There aren’t adequate words to describe the terror that accompanies a panic attack, but it is crippling and overwhelming.  In that moment, the only thing you can focus on is the fear that if you don’t die, you are very well going to lose your mind.  Like a cornered deer, you lose your composure, because all you want is to escape to safety and to be at peace.

Fear is contrary to everything that we stand for as Christians (peace, hope, joy, and the greatest of all things — love).  Fear is our enemy’s greatest weapon, for when all other attempts to destroy and cripple us fail, fear is the one thing that seeps in through the cracks, seemingly unnoticed, and fills in the spaces left behind by our questions and doubts.  Fear is not the vulnerability of the weak.  It is not an indication of an immature and feeble spirit.  It is the weapon that the devil breaks out when all else fails against the tenacious and relentless ones — those of us who have wrestled and won the battles with most other vices. 

Fear is probably the greatest weapon in our enemy’s possession, because it doesn’t have just one face.  It can emerge in just about any situation, and it looks different depending on what circumstance is at hand.  Maybe it looks like a mother who thinks in “worst case scenario” at all times, operating in fear that rides in on the coattails of caution.  Maybe it looks like a loner who regularly cancels plans and shuts people out, who is held back by fear that is disguised as introversion.  It parades around behind the mask of complacency, and other times fear even hides inside our sins and failures. 

If you struggle with fear, please don’t let the enemy fool you into thinking that your worries and anxieties are just a part of who you are and how you are meant to live your life.  Because of the blood of Christ, we are given power over our enemy.  We are joint heirs with Jesus, which means that we share in His power and might.  We have access to all that God has to offer, and victory is but a breath away. 

But I will call on God,

    and the Lord will rescue me.

Morning, noon, and night

    I cry out in my distress,

    and the Lord hears my voice.

  He ransoms me and keeps me safe

    from the battle waged against me…

(Psalm 55: 16-18)

My victory today is that I no longer suffer from panic attacks.  I asked the Lord to stop them, because they were holding me back from living my life — from operating in obedience to Him.  Do I still battle my fears and anxiety?  Every day.  But…I haven’t had a panic attack in over four years.  That’s my triumph. Fear is no longer navigating this ship.  I am no longer a slave.  I claim my victory, for I am a child of God.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, thank you for giving me the ability to see beyond the disguises that fear hides behind.  I know that I am safe with You, no matter what may happen — that in every battle, You are with me.  Amen.

“Who Are You When I’m Not Looking?”

(2 Corinthians 12: 6-10) 6 If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, 7 even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.

8 Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. 9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I have always been one to learn things the hard way.  I learn by doing.  I can read instructions, listen to direction, yet it doesn’t truly click with me until I do it…especially until I try, and fail. 

Failures and weaknesses are most often painted in a negative light.  When we fail, we feel shame and regret, and we are even embarrassed because of the blow to our pride.  We keep our weaknesses hidden, for fear that someone might find out that we are, after all, human.  Boasting about a weakness seems strange, and almost ridiculous.  Why would someone admit to being weak?  Why would we ever choose to bare our wounded paws, thorns on display for the world to see? 

Much of what we do as Christians, what we are called to do rather, involves sacrifice.  We are often compelled to do things that are uncomfortable…things that tear down our protective walls and bring that which is hidden into revelation…because it is through the sacrificial act that we are fully surrendered and humbled.  God is, through our frailty and shortcomings, shaping our characters and building our testimonies.  Humility is imperative to this process of spiritual growth and maturity, because we are so quick to fall into the trap of pride and boasting.  We have this humanity-based sense of strength and success that is very warped, because we tend to look at things through the lens of a sinful perspective…through the spectacles that have been handed to us by the world.  We seem to think that we must never be viewed as “weak” (as it is perceived through the eyes of society).  Yet Paul is urging us to embrace our weaknesses as strengths!  Why?  Because we LEARN by doing, by failing, and through experiencing the nagging pain of that thorn in our flesh.  It is a painful, yet necessary, reminder that we aren’t there yet…that God is still working in our lives.  It is an ever-present prompt that begs our hearts to stay vigilant and faithful on the journey toward sanctification.  Where we are weak, He is strong.  When we are humbled, He lifts us up.  We are able, through the grace and love of Jesus Christ, to move from glory to glory…victory to victory…yes, even with the ache of that thorn, which makes us only that much more victorious.  We win…even with sin…our inevitable and aggravating handicap! 

(1Corinthians 1: 30-31) God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. Therefore, as the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord.”

The important thing to remember here is that we must be honest with God and with ourselves.  If you don’t recognize the thorn in your flesh, it’s probably a good idea to be honest about that.  When you can look inside yourself and see that weakness, name it, and accept it for what it is, Satan is stripped of his power over you in that instant.  Take charge of it, and thank God for it, because He cares enough to keep you honest and humble.  We are not slaves to the thorn.  It’s just there.

What’s more, we must be aware, and make every effort to be sure, that who we are when no one else is around is still seeking to honor, love and reflect God in all ways.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, every day presents a new challenge as I endeavor to walk with You.  Help me to be humble when my pride begins to take over.  When I become numb to the pinch of that thorn in my flesh, I ask that you give it a little nudge.  I never want to forget who I am, who I was, or who I aim to be, because I realize that my weaknesses make me stronger in You.  Amen.

Full of the Holy Spirit!

(Luke 4:1-14 ESV) 1 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness 2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” 4 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.'” 5 And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, 6 and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'” 9 And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ 11 and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” 12 And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'” 13 And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time. 14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country.

This is a very familiar passage of Scripture. It usually evokes one of two different responses. First, there are those who read this and are inspired by the fact that Jesus overcame every temptation the devil threw His way. The sentiment is…”If Jesus could overcome then so can I.” The other response is one of frustration. Comparing themselves to the “perfect record” of Jesus, this group of people think that they can’t overcome anything. “Jesus batted 1000% and I can’t even keep my thoughts pure for 10 minutes!”

As I read this passage today, I kept noticing the references to the Holy Spirit. (1) Jesus, FULL of the Holy Spirit… (2) LED by the Holy Spirit… (3) Jesus returned in the POWER of the Holy Spirit. The simple reality is… Jesus lived, moved, breathed, walked, talked, made decisions, thought, according to an inner influence of the Holy Spirit. The nature of the Spirit indwelled every part of Jesus!

I’ve enjoyed a pretty exciting life. Military kids AND preachers kids have at least one thing in common… they’ve moved around a lot! Moving causes one to realize that there are many different ways of doing things. Speech is different. Traditions are different. Cooking is unique. Mindsets are different. Some parts of the country are more conservative, while others are predominately liberal. Some areas have higher concentrations of baptists and others have a higher population of catholics. But, with all the differences, there are also many similarities. Peel away the learned behaviors and we discover we are more alike than we realize.

When one does life in many locations, they must adjust to the nature of the current culture. I don’t mean you have to try to be someone other than yourself; you don’t have compromise your core belief system, but you do adjust your actions to respect your culture. As an example, when I visited Korea we removed our shoes before entering the sanctuary. For me, it was a temporary adjustment that helped me relate to the Koreans I was visiting. For those who have become life-long missionaries there, what was a temporary adjustment for me became a second nature to them.

When scripture records that Jesus was full of, led, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, it is saying that the totality of His life was influenced by an inner nature that infilled Him. His identity was consistent with the Father AND the Holy Spirit. Jesus often reminded His disciples, “When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. … 38 I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father.” (John 8:28, 38 KJV) And likewise, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (John 6:63 KJV)

It is true that Jesus was the only perfect man. He was sinless. But, it is evident that He relied upon the influence of the Holy Spirit. Shouldn’t we do the same? Before Jesus left earth He declared, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. … 25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:16-17, 25-26 ESV)

Be FULL!

PRAYER: Father, I pray for a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit today. May my every thought and action reflect His nature in me. Amen.