Monday, August 6, 2018

TRAINED WARRIORS

     Christians were never promised an easy life. In fact, the Word tells us that the testing of our faith produces steadfastness.  "And we are to let steadfastness have its full affect, so that we may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:3-4). As a fan of NBC's, American Ninja Warriors (ANW), I have been intrigued with the steadfastness and determination of these athletes.

     For those unfamiliar with the show, most of the men and women who compete hold jobs, but each has a passion to be the best and strongest trained warrior. To achieve that goal, they daily train for hours and months and even years to become physically strong and mentally fit to tackle an extremely difficult obstacle course. Those with the fastest times in completing the course qualify for the national finals in Las Vegas where they battle to win the title of American Ninja Warrior and one million dollars.   
     It is fascinating to watch these highly trained athletes navigate each obstacle. Most, at one point in the course, will stop, take a breath, shake off any nerves or weary muscles, size up the next challenge, and focus on successfully getting through that challenge. Their goal is to complete the course in record time and hit the red buzzer. Some "warriors" fail in their quest, but surprisingly, they don't make excuses. They simply state that they will train even harder and return the following year to tackle the course again. 
     While reflecting on the difficulties of becoming an ANW, I noticed correlating traits that are required and necessary for both trained athletes and committed Christians to successfully complete their course. Both must remove all excuses, set goals, be dedicated and committed, follow rules, move past failure, refuse to be discouraged, and have eyes fixed on the prize. 
     Although we expect these traits in athletics, should we really expect them in Christendom? Unequivocally, "Yes!" God expects Christians to train just as hard in His Word as athletes train in the gym or at home. Therefore, we are to:
   ·  Remove all excuses. "I just don't have the time           to read the Bible. Besides, I don't understand it." Learning and understanding require study "for whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures" (Romans 15:4).
·  Set goals for studying God's Word. Just like athletes require equipment to train, we need the right reference materials to study God's Word, such as a Bible dictionary and the Matthew Henry Complete Bible Commentary (free online). For "the Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God" (Psalm 14:2).
·  Be dedicated and committed to renewing our minds through God's Word. Whether or not athletes feel like exercising, they are committed and dedicated to their daily mental and physical training. Every day, we must be committed to renewing and training our minds by reading, studying, and praying God's Word—even when we don't "feel" like it. 
·  Follow rules. God's Word gives us guidelines and rules for our own safety and well-being. "Anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor's crown except by competing according to the rules (2 Timothy 2:5 NIV)

·  Move past failure because we can do all things through Him who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). Failure can bring growth, but true failure is giving in to defeat.

·  Do not be discouraged. This is My command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:9 NLT).

·  Fix our eyes on finishing the course well. The American Ninja Warrior's entire goal is to finish the course and hit the buzzer that announces, "All that time, pain, and hard work paid off!" Christians must press toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [them] heaven ward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14 NIV)

     Can you imagine any one of us trying to complete the course set before ANW athletes? Unless we were properly prepared and conditioned, most likely we would not complete the first obstacle, let alone make it to the next. That truth applies to the Christian walk. Life throws obstacles and challenges our way. If we are not strong in the Word of God, we are unprepared and unable to handle despair, unbelief, doubt, anxiety, discouragement, weariness, and the most dangerous of all—becoming rebellious. 

     God's Word is alive and active (Hebrews 4:12). It is the most powerful tool we have in building and maintaining faith and trust in God. Without God's Word to lead, guide, strengthen, comfort, and provide truth, we are vulnerable to lies, distortions, and fallacies. His Word is an anchor for our soul and a safe harbor where we find rest in this very uncertain world. No matter our circumstances, we must keep moving forward towards the prize and realize that God is developing and strengthening our faith.

     The most amazing attribute of these athletes is their steely resolve to overcome failure. With conviction and determination they press forward, work harder, and then return to navigate the course once again. The Word compares us to the athlete, "all runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it" (I Corinthians 9:24)For we want to be able to say, "I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7).

PRAYER:

Lord, there are times when I am overwhelmed by the struggles and challenges of life. Help me to be Your warrior of faith, as I turn to Your Word for truth, direction, comfort, strength, and shelter. Help me understand and memorize Your Word, so that I can always hold it high as a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. In Jesus name, amen.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

PEOPLE OF VALOR

MOUNT GILEAD

The Book of Judges tells us the fascinating story of Gideon and how his faith, obedience, vigilance, trust, and valor led him to victory. 

Gideon, meaning great warrior, was the fifth judge of Israel, whom God called to judge her for idol worship. After Gideon destroyed the idols, the Angel of the Lord appeared and said, "The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!" (Judges 6:12)

Gideon did not view himself as a mighty man of valor, yet God knew Gideon before he was born and had called him to be a man of valor (meaning great courage in the face of danger). God also knew each one of us before we were born and placed within us, qualities, strengths, and great potential that we often fail to recognize (Jeremiah 1:5).

The Lord instructed Gideon, "Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites" (Judges 6:14). The statement, in this might of yours, is interesting, because it indicates that despite Gideon's inability to recognize his own strengths, God had made him a man of great and impressive, integrity, power, and strength. 

Gideon argued that his clan was the weakest in Manesseh, and he was the least in his father's house. Haven't we all argued at one time or another that we lacked the qualifications to take on the task that God had called us to do? But the Lord assured Gideon that He would defeat the Midianites, if he obeyed and followed His instructions“You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against Me saying, ‘My own strength has saved Me.’ Now announce to the army, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead’” (Judges 7:2). 

Interestingly, Gilead means the "hill of testimony." This would be a place of victory and a testimony of God's sovereign protection over the Israelites. However, twenty-two thousand men who had left had not understood that any victory won would not be by their might, nor by their power, but it would be by the Spirit of the living God. 

Ten thousand remained, but the Lord told Gideon that there were still too many. He ordered him to take the men down to the water where He would separate those who lapped water like a dog, from those who put their faces into the water to drink.

Three hundred lapped water from their cupped hands. All the others got down on their knees with their faces in the water to drink. The Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped, I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands (Judges 7:3-7). Those three hundred men sounded 300 trumpets, and the Lord caused the men throughout the enemy's camp to turn on each other with their swords, so that the Midianites were defeated. God clearly fights our battles when we make that decision to trust and obey Him.

Why did it make a difference whether men lapped like dogs or put their faces into the water? It was a test. Those who threw themselves onto the ground and drank freely were carnal-minded and quick to satisfy their flesh, instead of being selfless and vigilant. The men who cupped their hands and lapped like dogs were on guard for the enemy and vigilant in keeping a careful watch for possible danger. Therefore, God saw those 300 men as true and faithful soldiers for His army.

A Commanding Officer learns about his enemy's location and tactical weaknesses before giving information to his troops and ordering them to engage the enemy. Equally, Christians must take their directions from the Lord God and Commander. Since God already knows the outcome of all things, it is unproductive to weigh ourselves down with worries, fears, doubts, and the affairs of life. Those things will only prevent us from hearing God's voice that leads us to victory.

God knows our strengths and weaknesses, so He allows trials to prove the genuineness of our faith, which is of greater worth than gold (I Peter 1:7). In doing so, He often takes us to the very brink of what we believe is our breaking point. But it is there in the valley of decision where we choose to either run or we find strength and faith in God to defeat the enemy. 

The vigilance shown by the 300 soldiers out of 32,000, was all God needed to win the battle and defeat the enemy. Likewise, God is looking for Christians who will be vigilant in watching, recognizing, and knowing the enemy's tactics. The caveat to this is actively trusting and obeying God's instructions, so that we see victorious defeat of the enemy. 

Satan is a malevolent being who instills fear in the hearts of man and brings death and destruction. He debases everything good and makes it evil. He works through the minds of people to create division within relationships, churches, and governments. He orchestrates wars and brings down governments and churches. He is the author of lust, perversions of every kind, fighting, financial lack, anger, hatred, selfishness, lying, murder, sickness, addictions, and everything that is not of God. He appears as an angle of light to confuse, mislead, and snare.

Jesus said, "He who is not with Me is against Me..." (Matthew 12:30)  Fear caused twenty-two thousand of Gideon's soldiers to focus on the enemy and leave the fighting ranks. Of the 10,000 that remained, only 300 men had hearts that were all in for God to complete the mission ahead of them. Are we all in with God, or when things become too difficult or beyond our human understanding, do we lose faith and retreat?

God's clarion call is for more Gideons to stand up as people of valor and set aside their fears and doubts. As with Gideon, the battle was already won, because God was on his side. All that was required of Gideon was to trust God, obey His instructions, and follow Him in faith. 

Fear is Satan's weapon of choice, so when we are faced with difficulties that are beyond our ability to fix, God tells us, "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10). That is what He did for Gideon and that is what He will do for all who trust and believe that God is their Deliverer.

PRAYER:
Lord, sometimes I feel like Gideon, who believed he was not up to the task to which he was called. But You created him to be a mighty man of valor with all attributes necessary to secure victory. You, whose name is Faithful, are my constant in life. Teach me how to trust and know that You will never ask me to do anything that You have not already provided all abilities and resources to accomplish the task. Instruct and help me to be Your "Gideon" who will faithfully and fearlessly go wherever You lead and do whatever You ask of me. In Jesus name, amen. 

Monday, July 23, 2018

SHADOW AND LIGHT


One evening, I was standing outside my back patio, waiting for Brandi to potty, when I noticed that the light, streaming from the house, was casting an elongated and distorted shadow of me onto the lawn. My fur-baby quickly noticed and began barking as my shadow moved. Just then these words from Psalm 23 ran through my mind, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me" (Verse 4 KJV).

I have always loved Psalm 23, but the "shadow of death" puzzled me. The Psalmist did not say, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil..." What then was the meaning of the "shadow?"

What is a shadow? It is a dark area or distorted shape produced by a body or object coming between rays of light and a surface. Like my elongated and intimidating shadow that frightened Brandi, the enemy of our soul always looms larger and fiercer to create fear and dominance. As I watched her react to the shadowy image, the Lord spoke into my spirit, "I Am the Light that uncovers and shines on what is hidden in the dark."

The apostle John tells us, "God is light." There is no darkness in Him, for He is light itself (I John 1:5). All light comes from Him; light is the very nature and character of God. His light is always present to reflect and expose what is hidden in the dark. He uncovers deep things out of darkness and "brings the shadow of death to light" (Job 12:22 NKJV). For "nothing is hidden, except for the purpose of having it revealed, and nothing is secret, except for the purpose of having it come to light" (Mark 4:22 ISV).

Let us re-examine these words, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil..." The word, "through" is very important, because it means to move or travel from one side and out through the other side. We are given the assurance that God is with us as we pass through the "valley" and come out the other side.

A "valley" is a low area of land between hills or mountains, typically with a river or stream flowing through it. Though we may pass through the valleys (trials), God provides us with continual refreshing from His River of Living Water, which is His Holy Spirit. 

God's presence is always with us, for His rod and staff comfort us. The rod is a symbol of discipline and correction and the staff represents the instrument used to bring stray sheep back to the fold. Jesus, the Great Shepherd, defends and disciplines His sheep with His rod. And when we, His sheep, wander or stray, He guides us back with His staff.

Having recently been so sick and in the hospital for a week, events were happening with the speed of falling dominos, and I felt as though God was ignoring my pleas for help. However, I was forgetting a basic truth. No matter what we go through, or how long we remain in a valley, we determine our length of stay in that valley of despair and fear by what we focus on. Are we focusing on the shadowy symptoms and circumstances, or do we have our minds firmly fixed on God's truths?

As we walk through the valley, God calls us to stop, bend down, and drink deeply of His living water, so that we may become renewed for the journey through the valley. It is there, by the sweet and refreshing living water, that He invites us to rest, spend time with Him, and listen for His council, as He encourages, teaches, corrects, guides, and directs.

Why does God allow us to pass through valleys? He does it to reveal areas of weakness in our armor. For His Word tells us, "Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

We must be diligent in wearing the whole armor of God so that we are battle-ready, for we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, powers, and rulers of this dark world, and against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, we put on the full armor of God, so that when evil comes, we are able to stand our ground, with our waist buckled with truth, our breastplate of righteousness in place and our feet shod with the gospel of peace. Above all, we must take our shield of faith to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.

The words "fiery darts" are from the Greek word belos. The Apostle Paul likened the fiery darts of our spiritual enemies with physical enemies who wrapped the tips of their arrows with fabric, soaked in flammable fluids, so they could burn hot and long. As a defense, Roman soldiers soaked their shields with water, so that when the fiery darts (arrows) were fired against the wet shields, the water extinguished the flames. Likewise, when our faith is Word-saturated, it becomes like a soldier's water-saturated shield; the fiery darts of the enemy are quickly extinguished.

We wear our helmet of salvation as we carry the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. The helmet was the soldier's final piece of armor put on, showing readiness for combat. Our assurance of salvation and God's promises that go with salvation give us faith to enter the battle. With armor firmly in place, we continually pray in the Spirit and for the Lord's people (Ephesians 6:10-18).

God's light is every present; consequently, we need not fear evil, for His light uncovers what is hidden in the dark. However, when He uncovers the hidden things, are we battle-ready, dressed in the full armor of God, and prepared to defend our ground? Rest assured that when the enemy is close, he is looking for a chink in our armor. Therefore, we must be equipped at all times to stand firm with our shield of faith in place and the Word of God ever ready on our lips.

PRAYER:
Lord, thank you that as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, You, the Light, will reveal the dangers, refresh my soul, and illuminate my steps. I have nothing to fear, for You protect, comfort, teach, correct, refresh, lead, and guide. Help me to faithfully and daily put on the full armor of God, so that I may stand boldly against the enemy. In Jesus name, amen.