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.