Tuesday, October 30, 2018

SEASONS



I enjoy the beauty of the Tennessee mountains set aglow with their stunning hues of orange, red, and gold, exclaiming fall's last hurrah before winter. However, in our immediate area, the unseasonably warm weather and rain have confounded nature's cycle, creating faded and dried leaves, still clinging to their branches.

While considering the four seasons, I realized there is a correlation between seasonal changes and the spiritual seasons that we experience. "For everything there is a season" (Ecclesiastes 3:1). There is a time to be born and a time to die. Between  those two events are cyclical spiritual seasons.

SPRING is a time of renewal and rebirth as we watch the earth surrender new growth at winter's end. It is also the time when farmers go into their fields to plow and plant. 

Plowing is important, because it prepares the soil to receive new life, and it breaks up roots, which prevent weeds from growing and choking out the new crop. Equally, Christians must prepare the soil of their hearts by uprooting all destructive roots of bitterness, unforgiveness, resentment, and anger, so that a good crop of blessings can come forth.

Spring rains will come at inconvenient times, requiring farmers to work long hours throughout the night as they seed their ground. This is powerful imagery for those seasons of life when unexpected challenges prevent us from moving forward with our plans. But like the farmer, we cannot allow those interruptions to dissuade and sidetrack us. Instead, God calls us to persevere in prayer and seek His plans and purposes, for He is our shelter and strength and is always ready to help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1).

Spring's rebirth and renewal are also a part of God's kingdom. We see this call for "rebirth" in Scripture, when the Pharisee, Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, asked Jesus, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:4-8 KJV).

We entered the world as human flesh with an Adamic, unredeemed nature. Therefore, to be born spiritually, we must confess with our mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead and we will be save (Romans 10:9 NKJV). However, that is only the beginning.

John the Baptist said, "I have baptized you with water, but [Jesus] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33). For it is the Holy Spirit that gives wisdom, direction, discernment, comfort, peace, knowledge, and all things pertaining to God. Jesus received the Holy Spirit before He began His ministry and He tells Christ followers to follow His example by asking the Holy Spirit to indwell them.

SUMMER is referred to as the growing season when farmers plant their summer crops. Spiritually, the summers of our lives are those times of spiritual growth, as God reveals Himself to us through His Word and prayer. As we pray, He calls us to stop, refresh, and quiet our spirits in the refreshing of His Holy Spirit. "The Lord is [our] Shepherd. [We] lack nothing. He makes [us] lie down in green pastures. He leads [us] beside quiet waters. He refreshes [our] soul" (Psalm 23:1-3). He promises, "I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint" (Jeremiah 31:25 NIV).

What does it mean to be refreshed? Refreshing follows repentance of disobedience, rebellion, unbelief, sin, and anything that opposes God and robs us of peace and joy. As we turn to the Lord, sins are wiped out and refreshing comes from Him. (Acts 3:19)

The antonym for refresh is to be weary. God wants to take us from weariness to His place of refreshing, where He strengthens, energizes, revives, restores, and awakens us to His plans and purposes. However, that spiritual strengthening and refreshing can only begin with prayerful communication with God.

FALL represents change, preparation, and harvest. The changing leaves tell us winter is near. Interestingly, leaves die and fall so that new buds may form on their branches, bringing forth life in the spring. 

Leaves have a lesson for us. We often cling to what is comfortable and safe, because we are afraid of change or of losing something that is important to us. As with dead leaves that eventually release from their branches, if we refuse to release those dead and weighty things that hold us back, we will never experience new growth and blessings. 

A harvest does not happen overnight. Like the farmer who, with great effort, prepares his land for planting, we must extend great effort in preparing the good soil of our hearts with patience, faith, endurance, and commitment to prayer and reading God's Word. In that resolve, there must be a removal of "weeds"—old fears, worries, false beliefs, unhealthy attitudes, and choices that prevent God's bountiful harvest from being produced in our lives.

WINTER is a time of death and dormancy when the earth rests. There are times in our walk with God that we come to a place of inactivity, which can lead to a disconnect from Him, if we are not careful.

The farmer is the perfect example of one who understands harvest and dormancy, because once the farmer has harvested his crops, the ground rests and remains cold and dormant until spring. Though the ground is resting, the farmer remains busy maintaining his equipment and making necessary repairs to insure everything is operational for springtime planting. His very livelihood and health of the farm depend on the proper care and maintenance of the farm equipment. 

Likewise, our spiritual health and potential harvest are dependent upon our continual communication with God, studying His Word, and fellowshipping with fellow believers in a church environment. Without fastidious preparation and continual maintenance of the spirit and soul, we can lose the harvest as we drift away from God. And without preparation, we will not be ready for storms that will surely come.

There was a time when I felt disconnected from God, so I asked, "Father, why have I not heard from You?" He gently spoke into my spirit, "Because you do not spend time with Me." Regrettably, I had allowed the cares and business of everyday life to rob quality time with Him. Thankfully, if we seek Him with all our heart, we will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13). For when we seek His kingdom first and His righteousness, all our needs will be met (Matthew 6:33).

Just as the earth goes through seasonal changes each year, we are continually transitioning between spiritual seasons, "until we reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13-15 NIV).

PRAYER: LORD, help me to appreciate each season as a time for spiritual growth and spending time with You. I ask that You fill me with the Holy Spirit, Who provides wisdom and gives direction, discernment, comfort, peace, knowledge, and all things pertaining to You. In Jesus name, amen.

Monday, October 22, 2018

TWO MASTERS



In studying John 12:3-6, I thought it was odd that Jesus would recruit Judas Iscariot to be His treasurer, when He knew that he was a thief. We get a glimpse of Judas' heart when he chastises Mary for using a pound of very costly, pure nard to anoint Jesus' feet. "Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?" Judas said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was in charge of the donations and would help himself to the money. 


Jesus had taught the multitudes and the disciples, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." "No one can serve two masters for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money" (Matthew 6:19-24 NIV)

Jesus was speaking to the root of Judas' carnality and double-mindedness, which was his lust for wealth and possessions. Although he was given opportunities to repent and turn from his sin of greed, he chose the love of money instead of loving and serving Jesus.

Jesus knew the sin in Judas' heart and the choices he would make. Yet He gave him opportunity to accept or reject the truth; therefore, Judas could never say, “[ I ] knew nothing about this.” Does not He who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not He who guards your life know it? Will He not repay everyone according to what they have done?" (Proverbs 24:12) 

We might wonder how Judas, a disciple of Jesus, could have betrayed Him for thirty pieces of silver after being with Him and listening to His teachings? Sadly, there are "Christians" who are no different than Judas. Outwardly, they profess Jesus, attend church, and say all the right things. Inwardly, their hearts are far from Him. They are adulterers, fornicators, thieves in business, liars, greedy, rebellious, unbelieving, prideful, and refuse to turn from their sins. They believe that as long as they call themselves a Christian all is well with their soul. Unfortunately, they are deceived and live their life apart from God's truth.

The Bible warns us that, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" (Jeremiah 1:0 NKJV) For that reason, we are cautioned to guard our heart, for everything we do flows from it (Proverbs 4:12). If we are not careful, both heart and mind will betray us. 

King David, whom God had called, "a man after My Own heart," let his guard down and committed adultery with Bathsheba and orchestrated the murder of her husband, Uriah. Despite David's intense love for God, in a moment of idleness and weakness, he succumbed to fleshly desires. 

God sent the Prophet Nathan to expose David's sin and give him a message. Then David repented, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die” (2 Samuel 12:13-14).

Sin always has its consequences. Christian apologist and defender of the faith, Pastor Ravi Zaccharias says this about sin: "Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay."

The beautiful Psalms of David came after he had repented of his sin, "You have searched me, Lord, and You know me. You know when I sit and when I rise. You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down. You are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue You, Lord, know it completely" (Psalm 139: 1-4 NIV)

David recognized his weaknesses as a man and called upon the Lord to help him discern when sin was crouching at the door of his heart. "Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (vs. 23-24).

Just as it was in the Garden of Eden when Satan packaged sin as a seductive piece of fruit, his methods have never changed. He seduced David with the alluring and beautiful Bathsheba. The enemy of our soul dresses up sin in ways that entice the double-minded (those who vacillate between two opinions) to mix sin with the things of God.  

Christians who profess Jesus Christ as Lord but knowingly sin are double-minded. They are unstable in all that they do, because they are tossed and blown by the world's false narratives. They do not have God's Word firmly planted within their heart, so they are unable to discern truth from the enemy's lies. Those deceptions affirm their choices and lifestyle, so that they love the world and all it offers, while believing all is well with their soul. 

The desires of the flesh are in opposition to the spiritually minded; therefore, a double minded person is easily drawn into immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and other sins of which we are warned that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21)

Why do some struggle between two opposing worlds? There is an exhausting and deadly tug-of-war between good and evil. Those who embrace both worlds are playing a dangerous game with the dark side of sin. That risk is too great to gamble with one's soul. Either we choose to follow God and His precepts and love Him with all our heart, soul, and strength, or we follow and conform to the things of this world. As Christians, we cannot have both.

The good news is that those who confess their sins, God is faithful and righteous to forgive them and cleans them from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9). For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus (Romans 3:23-24 NIV)

 God created us to fulfill His purposes and carry the light of Christ to the world, but it can only happen through willing, committed, surrendered, and obedient hearts. The question remains, "Are we double-minded or are we single-minded with hearts and minds focused on Christ?"

PRAYER:  LORD, like David, I ask that you search my heart, and reveal any thoughts, actions, or lifestyles that are wicked or displeasing in Your eyes. Help me to recognize the enemy's cleaver packaging of sin that would draw me away from You, for I desire to walk in holiness before You.  In Jesus name, amen.



Tuesday, September 18, 2018

IN THE WILDERNESS

Behold, I will do a new thing; 
Now it shall spring forth;
Shall ye not know it? 
I will even make a way in the
Wilderness, and rivers in the desert.
Isaiah 43:19 KJV


Have you ever had a wilderness experience? Possibly you are having one now and you are asking, "God, where are you?" "Don't you care?" "Can't you see I am suffering?"

The answer is that He is with you; He does care; and He knows and understands your suffering. For He said, "Do not fear, for I Am with you; do not be dismayed, for I Am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10 NIV).

Jesus had the pivotal wilderness experience when the Spirit of God led Him into the wilderness to pray and fast for forty days and forty nights. It was there that He interceded and redeemed mankind from the three, greatest destructive forces against the human spirit: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). He would "finish" that work on the cross.

The tempter came to Jesus and said, "If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread" (Matthew 4:3 NKJV). The first thing that Satan did was appeal to the lust of the flesh, because Jesus was physically weakened from lack of food. However, there was nothing to prove, because Jesus was and is the living Bread of Life, which came down from heaven (John 6:51)

Jesus responded, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone (that which sustains the flesh) but by every Word (that which sustains the spirit and soul) which proceeds from the mouth of God'" (Matthew 4:4 NKJV). Jesus, the incarnate Word, spoke the Word, and in that moment, His Word defeated the power of the lust of the flesh.

Then the devil took Jesus up to the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: 'He shall give His angels charge over you, and in their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone'" (Matthew 4:5 NKJV). In other words, "The angels won't let you fall." Jesus responded, "It is written again, 'You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'" Jesus defeated the pride of life (an inflated ego) that succumbs to temptation before a fall (Proverbs 16:18).

"Tempt" means to entice, persuade, convince, coax, and woo someone into doing something. That is what Satan successfully did with Eve and what he attempts to do with us. He entices and appeals to carnal desires by convincing us that we deserve and need what we know we should not have.

If we think we are immune to Satan's temptations, how many have been on a diet and someone offered a forbidden dessert? Suddenly, that voice in our head said, This one time won't matter. How many other forbiddens have we given into?

Again, the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain to see all the kingdoms of the world and their glory and said to Him, "All these things I will give You, if You will fall down and worship me." (Matthew 4:9 NKJV)

Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! For it is written, "You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.'" Then the devil left, and angels came and ministered to Him (Matthew 4:10 NKJV). Jesus had defeated the lust of the eyes that entices a person to sin. 

Satan will engage us in a debate and plant seeds of doubt that question God's authority, goodness, intentions, and integrity. He did it with Eve when he said, "For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing god and evil" (Genesis 3:5 NIV) He created doubt in Eve's mind by accusing God of being a withholder of good things and tempted her with the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, which brought about the fall of Adam and Eve and all mankind.

Jesus experienced His lowest physical reserve during those forty days and forty nights. We have all been at our lowest physical, mental, and spiritual reserve, but unlike Jesus, we felt tempted to give in. Thankfully, we have fasting, prayer, and God's Word available to us, which provide strength to the inner man and make a way for God's power to work in and through us. 

Satan was put in his place when Jesus dismissed him with His Word and told him to leave, for Satan has no authority, except what God gives him and what we give him. Our authority was bought and paid for with the shed blood of Jesus Christ. We are expected to emulate our Lord who said, "I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in Me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father (John 14:14 NLT). 

The devil finally left when Jesus said, "Away with you, Satan! For it is written..." We are to speak God's Word in the same manner when Satan comes with his lies, temptations, accusations, and deceptions. 

Why did Jesus fast forty days and forty nights? Throughout scripture, the number forty is connected with judgment, punishment, redemption, and God's reigning authority. 

God caused it to rain forty days and forty nights as judgment on an evil generation (Genesis 7:12). As judgment for rebellion and worshipping idols, the Israelites wandered the desert for forty years (Deuteronomy 8:2-5). Moses fasted bread and water on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights to intercede for the Israelites who had committed wickedness in God's sight and provoked Him to destroy them (Deuteronomy 9:18). Of the numerous examples cited in God's Word, the most telling are the forty days from Jesus' death to His ascension, which represent the completed redemption of mankind and Christ's eternal reign as King of kings.

Satan came to temp Jesus with the original three deadly sins that caused man's fall. But in the wilderness and at the cross, Jesus defeated Satan's power over death and life, thereby, releasing mankind from bondage to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Although He provided our escape, we choose whether to succumb to those temptations or to resist them. 

If we find ourselves in the "wilderness," God is calling us to seek Him with our whole heart through prayer and fasting. Of course we are not expected to fast forty days, but fasting a day or more will deny the flesh, so that we can become spiritually minded and sensitive to the Holy Spirit's guidance and instruction. For it is in those wilderness experiences that faith is tested, nurtured, and matured, as we learn to trust and depend on God. 

PRAYER:  Father, Your Son defeated the works of the enemy. He made a way for me in the wilderness, so I could be free from bondage to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Give me wisdom and discernment to recognize those sins, and help me resist their temptations. In Jesus name, amen.


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.
Look to the LORD and His strength; 
Seek His face always.
(I Chronicles 16:11)

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.


Monday, July 2, 2018



THE PERFECT MARRIAGE

What is the perfect marriage? There are no "perfect marriages." The only perfect marriage will be when Christ comes for His bride—the Church. Until then, marriage is the union of two very imperfect souls that have their own distinct personalities, likes and dislikes, opinions, and views. Those differences are challenging enough, so when expectations plummet, and the couple is not experiencing unbridled harmony, they begin to question the marriage. 

Love is not a feeling. Love is a choice. To base love on feelings is folly, because feelings are built on emotions, which are transitory like the weather. Conversely, real love is steady and constant. It is patient and kind. It does not envy; it does not brag and is not proud. It does not dishonor the other, and does not demand its own way. It is not easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. The love, that God wants us to have for our spouse always protects, trust, hopes, and perseveres. Love never fails (I Corinthians 13:4-7).

Marriage must be a partnership and not a collision of wills. A couple that is united in the purposes of God can successfully navigate through challenges that will surely come. But to do that, they must work together as one, without having any expectations that their spouse will "complete them" as a person. Only God can make us whole in body, mind, and spirit. 

I have heard people say,  "We are just too different. We've drifted apart." Ironically, those opposite traits initially drew each to the other before marrying. If batteries didn't have opposite polarities, they wouldn't work. Contrasting polarities can enrich a marriage, when both appreciate and embrace those differences with biblical love.

During the first two years of our marriage, my husband and I struggled with respectfully communicating our opinions to each other. Fortunately, we have always been united in our desire to obey God's Word and be led by His Holy Spirit. We knew that unforgiveness, criticism, and keeping record of wrongs are major deathblows to a marriage. Therefore, we resolved to persevere in prayer with patience, forgiveness, and humility, to reach godly solutions (I Corinthians 13:4-7).

Constructive arguing can be healthy when a couple presents their viewpoint respectfully, calmly, and without accusations and insults. For a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (Proverbs 15:1). 

Most importantly, a husband and wife must be dedicated in their praying for each other and with each other. Prayer must be combined with reading God's Word to obtain knowledge, understanding, discernment, and insight into what is true, so that both may remain blameless before Christ. For love abounds when we have understanding of God's Word and His teaching to love one another as He has loved us (Philippians 1:9-10; John 13:34). Additionally, we must be devoted to one another by loving, honoring, and giving preference to the other (putting the other first) (Romans 12:10). The task of preferring the other can be challenging, because the carnal flesh wants its own way.

What does it mean to be devoted? It means to be committed, loyal, faithful, true, steadfast, dedicated, loving, affectionate, caring, and admiring. Therefore, couples should never compare their marriage to other marriages. If devotion to God is first and foremost, then devotion to one's spouse and to the marriage will follow. 

There will always be disagreements throughout a marriage, simply because two individuals have, at various times, opposing thoughts and views. However, those issues can be amicably resolved when the couple expresses respect, humility, gentleness, patience, and is committed to encouraging and praying with and for each other.  

An argument should never sever communication, nor should the sun go down on one's anger (Ephesians 4:26). When a couple reaches an impasse, they should respectfully say to each other, "I love you. Let's pray and ask God for His wisdom and guidance for..." That forces pride and ego to surrender, as both spouses join in unity to humble themselves before each other and the Lord. For "behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! (Psalm 133:1KJV)

Couples must be serious and vigilant in protecting their marriage, because "the adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (I Peter 5:8). His purpose is to divide, conquer, and destroy families. Just as he brought division between Adam and Eve in the Garden, his goal is to create disharmony between a man and his wife. Once discord happens, the enemy has a foothold. That is why God tells us that where two or three gather in His name, He is in the midst (Matthew 18:20). And where God is present, the enemy is not. A husband and wife's unity and commitment to prayer is the enemy's nemesis.

How do we truly love one another? We learn by reading and understanding God through His Word, for He is the essence and embodiment of agape love. We are called to follow His example in everything we do just as a much-loved child imitates their father. We are to be full of love for others, following the example of Christ who loved us and gave Himself to God as a sacrifice to take away our sins (Ephesians 5:1-2). 

Marriage is a lifelong commitment that should never be entered into lightly. Therefore, it is imperative that couples, planning to marry, seek God's will and His direction with all their heart. 

Most newlyweds have a "forever" attitude, but in the blush of wedded bliss, there is a tendency to overlook the fact that marriage is not immune to heartache, disagreements, disappointments, illness, tragedy, and pain. The fairytale, happily-ever-after scenario is just that­—a fairytale. Those who have been married for any length of time will agree that the success or failure of a marriage depends upon their dedication to God and their commitment to each other. A marriage certificate does not come with a lifetime warranty, guaranteeing perfect happiness and a conflict-free marriage. 

There is only one lifetime warranty that can be applied to a marriage, and that is the Word of God. That is the truest warranty against failure, destruction, and marital implosion, for it is His Word that teaches us how to love and overcome conflict. 

My husband and I have had our marriage under God's warranty for 38 years and counting. It's the best and most perfect warranty of all. 

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from [us], along with all malice. 
We are called to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave [us]. 
(Ephesians 4:31)

PRAYER:
FATHER, I thank you for our marriage. Teach us to communicate in love and to always listen and respect each other's thoughts, opinions, and feelings. Help us to have patience, gentleness, humility, forgiveness, and unconditional love for each other. Heal those broken areas and bring reconciliation where there has been division. For Your love covers a multitude of sins. In Jesus name, amen.