Missing The Obvious

How many times do we find ourselves in situations where we should have known better? Why do mistakes seem so obvious only after the fact?! It’s easy to see the mistakes of the Israelites at times, a whole lot harder to catch my own.

1 Samuel 4:1-3 shows me how easy it is to miss the obvious in life. The Israelites had gone out to fight against the Philistines and they were defeated, losing about 4,000 men that day. There was not any one particular judge or prophet leading them into battle at this time. Samuel was a boy growing up under Eli the priest’s care, but he was not yet a judge. The elders of Israel, collaboratively, gave direction to the nation as they processed events.

It says in verse 3, “When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, ‘ Why did the LORD bring defeat upon us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the LORD’S covenant from Shiloh, so that it may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.'”

Immediately, two questions pop into my mind because  I’m the kind of person who longs to understand. If I see something go wrong, I want to know why it went wrong and how it could have happened better. I want to understand so I can learn from it before I am faced with a circumstance that would require similar reasoning. For me to see something happen, without understanding why it transpired in such a way, brings anxiety to me because I fear I am just as vulnerable.

I first notice that the elders do ask a question of “why”. But what astounds me is that they asked the question almost rhetorically. Why did they not ask the LORD the question? Red flag #1.  In the past, under the leadership of Moses and Joshua, the nation would inquire of the Lord Himself to determine direction and events that happened. They were dependent on the Lord as their leader to go with them into battle, giving them victory as they fought against the enemies in their promised land. They also looked to Him when they lost a battle to see what the problem was, and He would faithfully explain what went wrong.

As a nation, they were slowly drifting away from their close connection with the LORD. They had stopped asking, and He had stopped delivering. Although they wondered why the LORD allowed it, they did not bring the question to Him specifically. They were left leaning upon their own reasoning. Red flag #2.

They decide to look to the ark of the LORD’s covenant to save them. They thought that if the ark was with them, they would be protected and victorious. Why would they place more importance on the ark, an object, rather than the God who was represented by the covenant in the first place? 

It was God who had made promises to them and they had responded in agreement with this covenant. Now when they had broken faith by drifting from Him, they wondered “why” and sought to cling to the object rather than the God it represented.

This looking to something other than the Person of God for power and provision is nothing less than idolatry. He is what they were to depend upon and look to for help. Not what He had used in the past as a symbol or tool.

The “obvious”, asking God specifically why they had lost, and then asking for further direction, was lost on them. And of course, it only got worse for them as they lost an even greater battle, as well as the ark itself to the Philistines.

The nation suffered a stunning blow at losing the ark. They were aghast. The glory had departed from Israel, just as Israel had departed from their God.

How had it come to this?

Haven’t I asked the same question of myself ?  Hadn’t I missed the obvious at times just as much as the Israelites?

Whenever I cease to look to God personally for direction, or guidance over things that have gone wrong for me or my family, I have been left just as devastated. Ignorance is not an excuse. Denial and rebellion is the explanation.

I don’t ask because I don’t want to know. That is the bottom line. If I don’t ask, it is probably because I already know what He is going to say and I don’t want to hear that.

He is patient enough to let me, and all of us, have our way and reap our consequences. Then, when we have been left with a stunning blow, we repent, running  back to the arms of a Father waiting and wanting to rescue all along. He loves us too much to condone our sin. Thankfully, we reap what we sow, and finally, we are able to see the obvious. He is of utmost importance to us and we are in much peril when we drift.

Are you drifting friend? Have you stopped looking to God first and foremost for your “happiness”? Have you stopped asking what He thinks? Have you pulled back from His Word? From His church?  Are you surrounding yourself with people who neither look to God nor care what He thinks?

They world cannot advise you nor satisfy you like your Heavenly Father, who sent His only Son to die for you. The world offers cheap substitutes, and in the end, the glory departs just the same as it did for the Israelites. The obvious is unmistakable……..given enough time.

May we open our eyes to the value and love of the One who died for us. May we bend our knee in submission and receive the forgiveness He offers when we have gone our own way. He is faithful, even when we are faithless. Glory to God for that!!

 

A Time To Cry, But So Much More

“In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD.”

What emotions are evoked from those words?! In reading them, I  can feel the depth of her heartache, the desperation of her soul….oh, if only she could change her situation?!

Hannah was a barren woman desperate for a child of her own in  1 Samuel 1:1-10. Year after year, when they would go for the annual sacrifice to worship, it would also remind her, it had been one more year…..and still no child. Each time they went, it drove her grief deeper, her desperation stronger.

Her rival made it even worse. Her husband had another wife that had plenty of children, sons and daughters. And knowing that the husband favored Hannah, she made it her goal to needle and provoke Hannah, inflicting much torment, as only a woman can when feeling the sting of jealousy over a man’s affections.

Hannah would get into such an emotional state that she would be unable to eat at the feast. Her anguish from her barrenness and her rival’s gloating overshadowed all else. It consumed her.

She was broken, helpless to remedy her heart’s desire of her own accord.

Have you been there? Can you relate to her angst as she longs for a particular desire? I know I can. I know that moment with the Lord. I remember.

That grief, that depth of helplessness and frustration,  is not anywhere I want to return anytime soon. I had not just one situation driving me to my undoing, but two. And I was equally incapable of changing either circumstance.

I remember crying many tears, and praying much, because what else could I do? What else could Hannah do? When you are helpless ……well, you are helpless. And time is not your friend. Waiting, along with being unable to alter a desperate situation, is excruciating.

Time spent crying before the Lord is not passive though, nor is it wasted. Though painful, it is still productive, even purifying. It can be a time of testimony, as Hannah demonstrated in verses 9-15.

We learn that this time before the Lord is demonstrative of two other spiritual implications. It says in verse 9 that Hannah “stood up” while they were at the feast in Shiloh, giving the impression that everyone else remained seated. It was as if she could not sit for one more minute while others were enjoying the celebration and she was so miserable. She had to flee that physical place by running to her Lord inwardly, to a spiritual place. She stood up and began to weep and pray. Hannah was taking her stand in the only way she could, in hope. 

Psalm 130:7 describes what Hannah was doing. ” O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.” She knew that with the Lord, there is always hope. Because of His great love for His people, for her, hope remains possible even in an impossible situation. God had the power to match the love. He was the one who could alter her situation,  so she steadfastly took her stand in that knowledge. She defied her situation by standing firm in what she knew.

This reminds me of one of the songs that ministered to me the most when I was in my season of crying before the Lord. I would listen and feel more determined than ever, God was not going to fail me. One way or another, this side of heaven or the other, God was going to make all things right. As I cried before the Lord, I was just as much digging my heels in with hope.

 

Secondly, crying before the Lord also represents our dependence on Him as we wait and hope. He is the only One to sustain us in our desperation. When all we want to do is give up and stay in bed with the covers pulled over our heads, yet life demands our continued commitment and involvement, we turn to Him and find the strength needed to persevere. Hannah did not just cry, she turned to the Lord, in prayer and in faith. Her grief was given to the One who could help bear her burden. 

In my most difficult days, I would walk my neighborhood and play this song over and over. I knew I was hanging on by a thread at times and I recognized Who could keep the grip even when I could not. This song represented what I was doing; turning to the Lord, crying out for mercy.

When we are crying before the Lord, it is not a hopeless act void of purpose. Hannah understood the testimony of faith and commitment it represented. She was His child, and He was her God. With the Lord, not one tear goes unnoticed.

When we turn to Him in bitterness of soul, He can take it. There is an intimacy that is forged in those desperate moments that bears fruit for a lifetime afterward. Therefore, with hope and dependence, let us stand firm in what we know, reaping the benefits of His unfailing love, even as we continue to wait.

Fragrant Reminders

As I was taking the trash out to the dumpster at work recently, I noticed something unexpected. While trudging along, anticipating the yuckiness of the dumpster, a most beautiful fragrance caught my attention and totally changed the moment. It transformed an everyday, thoughtless task into something lovely and inviting. The aroma made me want to linger, taking in the fragrance and spring breeze as long as possible.

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Not only did it change my focus outwardly with the task I was doing, it also affected my inward focus as it brought the Lord to mind. I immediately thought of Him as Creator, and the love He showed us in creating such beautiful nature for us to enjoy. Through my sight of the beautiful wisteria, the smell of it’s lovely fragrance,  and the feel of the cool spring breeze and warm sunshine on my skin, I was reminded of God.

A fragrant reminder.

This brings to mind 2 Corinthians 2:14, ” But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him.” We are to be fragrant reminders as well!

As we live in this world, in our communities, in our families, we are to be the lovely, gentle reminders of Christ. It is God’s purpose that through us, Christ is known. As people interact with us, their moments with us should change their focus, transforming them into unexpected experiences with our Savior. Having been around us, they should feel as if they have been around Him!

Is that so? Am I, are we, bringing to mind in others the knowledge of Jesus? Are we changing anyone’s moments as they go about their day? Through our talk, our demeanor, our expressions, our perspective on any and every issue in life, as we interact, is Jesus brought to the forefront?

This can be accomplished directly or indirectly. You don’t have to beat people over the head with your Bible to make an impression on them reflecting Christ. As He permeates our being, He should naturally come through in our demeanor. If it is a correct reflection, it should be as lovely and inviting as the fragrant wisteria that I enticed  me to linger near the dumpster!

Likewise, I have learned that the role of judges in the Old Testament was to remind the Israelites of God. As I continue through the book of Judges, reading about all the different judges God provided to lead the Israelites, I recognize their main role: It was to bring the LORD to the minds of the people and as they helped deliver them from oppression, lead them back to the obedience their Deliverer required.

As they lived in their promised land, some of them had failed to extract the inhabitants of the land and they were leading the Israelites into idolatry. God would send them into oppression and captivity to bring about their repentance and faithfulness. As they would cry out for help, the LORD would raise up a judge to deliver them and to promote their following of God’s commands, the covenant they had agreed upon.

Judges were similar to prophets in the Old Testament. They were to represent God to the people. Whereas priests were to represent the people to God.

So just as we are the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ, the judges were the fragrance of the knowledge of the LORD. Both roles are to bring to mind God, His truth and perspective, His faithfulness and love displayed countless times throughout  history, reflecting Him whenever possible to anyone who will listen.

Knowing Whom we are to reflect, to spread the beautiful impression of the One and Only, compels us to examine what we remind others of the most? Are we reflecting Him? Or are we reflecting the idols of the nations around us? When people walk away from us, are they enticed by the aroma of Christ, to want and pursue what we have in Christ as our Savior?

May we pay attention to the opportunities to be His fragrant reminders, transforming everyday moments where people want to linger and enjoy what is most lovely about us, our Savior.

Sharing My Spot On The Couch

Today I am posting in a different way. As I sat down to have my time with the Lord this morning, reading in my chronological Bible, I came across some lessons to take from the text. I thought I might share with you what it looks like as I read the Word and try to learn from it. I love, love, love examples, so I wondered if you would like to see this as an example?

I am on April 3 in my chronological Bible, behind a couple of days because as I post on this blog about what I am learning, it slows me down a bit. I started the day’s reading and as I came to the beginning of Gideon’s story, I began to slow my reading down because it seemed each sentence was heavy with instruction and insight. It is at that point I grab my journal and begin writing down the lessons in bullet point form.

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I don’t always journal each time I read, only when the lessons are multiple and I want to capture them before they slip from my memory. I especially pay attention if the lessons are applicable to my present circumstances. I have come to recognize when God is giving me what I need, so I am quick to pay attention and record it for use again later. Sometimes I just write a lesson or two directly into my Bible.

These are my takeaways from Judges 6:1-16.

v. 5-Israel cried for help, as they found themselves in judgment by God and being oppressed by raiding countries.

v. 11– The Angel of the LORD came and found Gideon to use him to meet the need. God came to Gideon, sought him out to affirm, reveal and empower him. Gideon was hiding at the time, struggling with what little he had to meet his own need. Not exactly in a good position to give out of his abundant strength and circumstances to help the nation of Israel. He had little to offer, no answers for himself or others. He was in need just as much as everyone else.

v.12– Angel of the LORD testified regarding 2 things. 1.) Lord was with him in spite of appearances and 2.) Gideon was addressed as God purposed him to be, not as he was at that moment in his actions or how he felt, in and of himself. God saw him as He intended Gideon to be, in His power and purpose. The “equipping” of Gideon was full and ready, as if it was a non-issue all along, completed before it was even needed. What Gideon saw as insufficient or impossible  was in fact already accomplished. It was like it was only a matter of time before the saving of Israel was visible to the people but in reality, it had already been ordained and therefore…..it was! Meaning, it was a done deal from the get-go. Gideon, and what he brought to the table, was insignificant because it was God alone who mattered, and if God was with him and sending him, nothing else needed to factor in to the equation. Also, God was with him all along, whether Gideon could see evidence of it or not. He had not forsaken Gideon, nor had He forgotten him. God being “with us” should not be judged solely on appearances, but by His promise in His Word to us.

v.13– “But” uttered by Gideon was evidence of his walking by sight and his own reasoning, not by faith. By the looks of things at times, God and faith don’t make sense to us. Our LORD is not confined to “reality”. In fact, He oftentimes contradicts reality and reasoning and it is in those times He is most glorified, because God is the only explanation for what transpires on our behalf. In this verse, Gideon questions the LORD several times but as we see in the next verse, God does not answer any of these questions.

v.14– God does not offer any explanations or justifications to Gideon in regard to his questions, only a command for him to go save Israel. He does give the assurance that it was the LORD giving the authority for him being sent.

v.15– Gideon, processing this commission, viewed it through his current ability and strength, recognizing his inability to fulfill his calling but neglecting to consider it was all up to God from the beginning to the end. This calling did not depend on Gideon’s ability but rather his willingness. God would provide the ability.

v.16– The LORD counters Gideon’s argument, reminding him what it would take, what would make all the difference; God would be with him.

I don’t know about you, but this passage in the Bible met me in my need today. I needed to be reminded that God is with me and He commissions me through His power and purpose, not what I bring to the table. I needed to be reminded that I serve a God who defies reality and reasonable explanations. He is more than able! And therefore, I will be more than willing! 

Rest For The Weary

Rest is rarely undervalued by those who have had it the least. Only those who have fought the hardest, traveled the farthest, or waited the longest, can feel the depth of utter, complete sense of relaxation and peace. It is felt deep down in mind, body and soul;  a releasing of worry, tension, and being on guard for whatever threat or dreaded task may confront them next. They realize the precious gift of rest, knowing it will never be taken for granted again, because no matter how hard it was sought after, it was oh so elusive.

This is how the Isrealites felt in Joshua:43-45. And truth be told, this is how I have felt. It is with a sense of wonder, when God uses Scripture and His people from long ago to relate to me and give me comfort. Who would have thought there was so much in common between battle weary wanderers thousands of years ago and myself in 2016? Both experiencing long sought rest that only God Himself can give.

“So the LORD gave Israel all the land He had sworn to give their forefathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. The LORD gave them rest on every side, just as He had sworn to their forefathers. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the LORD handed all their enemies over to them. Not one of all the LORD’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.

Rest……..on every side. Promises, every one, fulfilled.  Don’t you know they breathed the biggest sigh of relief when each came to his own land and had no more fighting, no more wandering?!  They felt settled. Finally!

God had sworn, but they had not always believed. Now the nation was experiencing, yet again, the mercy of a Great God! This mercy was far and above more impactful because it was the fulfillment and completion of a long, difficult journey; where they had no idea of what to expect daily, or the duration of their ordeal. The “not knowing” can make a hard journey even longer and more burdensome.

But now! Now it was over and they felt rest! Not one of God’s promises had failed them. Had the journey been brutal at times? Yes, but His promises still provided for them, both in the challenges and later, from the challenges.

This affirms what I have learned concerning “rest”. In some ways, I have been on varying journeys that seem to have come to completion in 2016. One road has taken 19 years to travel, while another only 5. But what made these times more difficult was how they overlapped each other, with the degree of intensity peaking for both in 2013. And now 3 years later, it seems both  seasons of “wandering the unknown treacherous highways” are coming to an end, just as it did for the Israelites. I am finally experiencing rest in both of these areas. It is still new, and even strange I would admit, to not have these battles still waging.  That is why I could resonate with the Israelites as they transitioned from one “norm” into a another.  What I have learned through this time has boiled down to 3 lessons concerning rest for the weary.

1. Rest is God-given. No amount of my working can bring an end to my journey or circumvent a journey that I do not want to take. I am on it whether I like it or not and I cannot change that. I heard a youth pastor from Colorado say, ” We cannot skip a season, but we can sure waste one.” I heard this while I was still ” wandering and fighting” through these two particular journeys so this definitely hit home with me. I learned to stop fighting against my circumstances and instead, start fighting through them. This was accomplished by my accepting the road God had me on and seeking to make the most of it through squeezing out every ounce of truth and perspective God would give me. I submitted to what He wanted of me: faithfulness and cooperation.

2. God’s promises provide rest while still on the journey . I found God’s promises were applicapable even while I wandered. Just like the Israelites eating manna and quail, drinking from rocks in the desert, and their clothes and shoes not wearing out over forty years, God provides for His children always. It may not be in the way we want, as in a shortcut through the struggle, but He is faithful continually. His gives us many, many promises in His Word that we can cling to during those difficult days, months, or years. I can testify how He gave me strength, comfort, guidance, and so much more. I am actually better off as a believer and as a person in my family and community. It made the difference between perseverance and defeat by consistently going back to my Bible for what I needed most. It is there I found His promises to grab hold of, refusing to let go, no matter what loomed in front of me. Writing verses down, meditating on them, praying them over and over, made such a difference!  I found this list very thorough in citing so many of the Lord’s promises that help in the midst of the difficult journey. Click to open in a new tab.

God Says Yes To Over 3000 Promises (includes a list of promises)

I also found rest as I sought to worship, regardless of my circumstances. Worship music ministered to me greatly during those times. It gave me encouragement and perspective to continue on, even when I wanted to sit down and refuse one more step, one more day. This was one of my favorite songs.

3. The Lord can provide rest on all sides. It can seem like the road will never end, but eventually, one way or another, rest is coming. I began to think in my weakest moments that the journey would never end because I could not envision how it would end. That made life more difficult as I “leaned on my own understanding “. ( Proverbs 3:5) But I kept going back to His promises. I refused to believe He would fail me. I knew, either this side of heaven or the other side, I was going to have relief! On all sides!

Are you battle weary like the Israelites? Are you fighting against your circumstances like I was? The Lord offers rest with His countless promises no matter how fatigued you may be feeling.  Not one, no not one will fail because He is faithful even when we are faithless. But you must look for them and cling to them until it is your turn to cross the Jordan, where there is rest on all sides! From one sojourner to another, one step at a time, one promise at a time, until that day.

Do You See What I See?

One of the most life-changing truths I have learned from studying God’s Word these last 28 years has been about perspective and how it can bring about my victory or my defeat, my hope or my despair, my perseverance or my failure. It has literally been the difference, emotionally and spiritually, between life and death for me.

The understanding of perspective that has made such a difference in my life comprises two key principles and Joshua gives great examples of both. Joshua 6:1-2 says, “Now Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in. Then the LORD said to Joshua, ‘See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king  and its fighting men.'”

“Wow…..really? That’s not what it looks like to me. It looks “tightly shut up” and not exactly “delivered” from where I am standing.” That is what would have been going through my mind if I were Joshua at that moment.

But this offers a perfect example of the first principle to learn: the difference in perspective. This difference boils down to God’s view versus our view. I have seen over and over in Scripture how differently He sees and processes compared to humans. This has had a profound impact to teach me that more often than not, as I approach any given situation, my initial view may be flawed, biased or incomplete.  I have learned to recognize my inability, my vulnerability when it comes to perceiving and processing life. 

This should not surprise me though. God affirms it in His Word through more than just examples of these differences. Proverbs 3:5 teaches, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not in your own understanding.” Later in Isaiah 55:9, I learn, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

These two verses, not to mention so many others, example that God sees and processes not just differently, but oh so much better than I ever can! Therefore, when I am looking at whatever situation that is in front of me, I know there is more than one way to see everything. As in the case with Joshua looking at Jericho, what he saw “tightly shut up”, God saw as already delivered!!

Let that sink in and squeeze out all the hope that offers! What we see as overwhelming or impossible, God sees as already accomplished! What we see as pointless or painful, God sees as purposeful! Why? Because He is God! Almighty and Invincible! All-Loving and All-wise! Nothing can stump Him and nothing can stop Him! He can, and will, use absolutely everything for our ultimate good (Romans 8:28), no exceptions.

What comfort that offers us as we struggle and strain at times. But it doesn’t just stop there. We are not only blessed by God always having a better perspective of any given situation than what we are able to on our own, when we seek that perspective and align ourselves with it, our circumstance is as good as changed. One way or another. Therefore, the second principle to learn is the value in perspective.

Whether it is a different way to perceive our circumstance that is left unchanging for the time God allows, or by seeking instruction on how to deal with our circumstance more strategically, there is value in pursuing God’s perspective.

That is exactly what Joshua and the Israelites learned the hard way in Joshua 9:14-15. The people of Gibeon came to the Israelites in a ruse, seeking a treaty with them, knowing they were probably next on their list to annihilate. They pretended to live far, far away and asked for safety and assurance through a treaty and oath. Upon hearing this, it says in verse 14-15, ” The men of Israel sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the LORD. Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by an oath.”

It was only a matter of time before Joshua learned that the Gibeonites were actually a neighboring nation that should have been conquered, in order to take possession of their land as God had intended and rid the potential influence of its inhabitants. They had failed to seek God’s perspective on the matter, making the decision themselves, in their flawed and vulnerable reasoning. The LORD would have loved to have helped equip them, but they had not valued His perspective enough to ask. Therefore, they missed out on the better way God had intended for them.

I have suffered the same losses in my life, more times than I want to count. I have neglected to seek His view on circumstances, wanting instead to push past patience and discernment so I could enjoy what my own flesh and reasoning wanted instead, falsely and foolishly thinking I could handle this one on my own. Now at 49, I am much more prone to stop and seek His view, His instruction, and then wait till I receive it.

When I am in the midst of this difficult state of waiting, vulnerable to feeling hopeless and fearful, I try to remember the difference in perspective from more than two thousand years ago…… The difference between the second and third day for the disciples, for the world, after Jesus was crucified.

The second day after His crucifixion, they must have been reeling with confusion, doubt, loss, fear, and despair. Helpless and hopeless would have described them well as they hid themselves from the Jews, trying to process from their flawed, limited perspective what had just happened, what the last three years had been about. You see, their perspective from in front of the cross on that day of crucifixion, from inside their homes as they hid the next day, was incomplete. Oh how their view was about to change that next morning!

 

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Their perspective was sooooo completely different just hours later! Their view from His empty tomb made all the difference! Viewing their circumstance, what had happened at Calvary, was totally changed by the fact that now He was risen. He wasn’t defeated, He was victorious!! And that meant so were they!! And so are we!!!

Dear ones, the difference in perspective and the value of it makes all things hopeful and purposeful for us. We are not left mourning and grieving as the disciples were on the second day. We are more than conquerors because He has conquered sin and death on our behalf! What more can stand in our way?! If He is not stumped, we are not stumped. If He is not stopped, we are not stopped. So be encouraged as you seek and wait for His perspective, and remember the view from inside the tomb!!

The Encouragement Of Lush Green Leaves

As someone who “measures” quite often, progress is important to me. I would probably even say I am addicted to it. Nothing frustrates me more than to get stuck and cease to move forward in life. I know mistakes are inevitable, but I certainly want to make the most of them by learning all I can so that next time, I am better prepared.

I suppose it is my perfectionism or my goal-oriented personality. Regardless, progress matters to me and I am encouraged whenever I see it.

Recently, as I was sitting on my yellow couch where I have my time with the Lord, I looked out my large plate glass window to see the new, light green spring leaves growing from what had looked like a bunch of dead trees just a few weeks prior.

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What a difference time makes! What a difference God makes! Where there appeared no life before, now there is full evidence of life anew.  Progress!

This illustration of growth, from new seasons outside my window, was brought to my mind as I read Joshua 2. It is the familiar story of Rahab and the spies.

It is my tendency to immediately compare this story of spies to the previous story of spies described back in Numbers 13. It involves one of the original people from 40 years prior.

Joshua was one of only two, of the original 12 spies, sent in to explore and report back about the promised land that gave a favorable report. He and Caleb were not intimidated by the powerful people, nor their fortified cities. They were confident that God would provide, prevailing against their foes and any other obstacle on their behalf.

We remember that except for Moses, all the rest of the spies and the Israelites, gave way to fear and intimidation, thereby refusing to go in to the promised land. They assumed failure and inability to conquer and overcome. They gave up. They gave way to despair.

That is the real temptationton; to give up by the looks of things.

By the looks of the promised land, it seemed impossible. By the looks of the trees from winter in my backyard, it seemed lifeless. But oh how progress can be made!

When Joshua sends in two spies to look over the land, especially Jericho, they come back to him in Joshua 2:24. “They said to Joshua, ‘The LORD has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear of us.'” The people respond in faith to their report and later in Joshua 6, they march in to take Jericho just as the LORD had commanded.

Whereas 40 years prior, only Joshua and Caleb had reported that they could certainly take the promised land, the rest of the spies and unbelieving Israelites were left to die off in the desert for the rebellion. Now the Israelites have their “do-over” and thankfully, lessons were learned! Before they had responded in unbelief, now they moved forward in faith. Progress!

Their progress, coupled with the progress of spring trees out my window, remind me of what I see in my own family. In 2016, I have see much change and growth in certain situations and people. Progress long waited and needed. Progress prayed for earnestly. And just as dead and impossible as the winter trees and Israelites exampled, through time and lessons learned, life has changed. People have changed. I have changed.

Progress has been made and it is ONLY by the grace of God. Luke 18: 27 says that what is impossible with man is possible with God, and I believe it! I see the growth, the difference, and it can only be explained by God. What we were powerless to accomplish, He has! This gives me much encouragement and I am swift to worship Him because of it. I know how progress has come. I know Who deserves all the thanksgiving.

It highlights the importance of patience and perseverance though. Had we given up, progress would not have come. As we wait, not giving way to the looks of things, and by applying the hard lessons learned along the way, change comes. Life springs forth from what seemed dead and impossible. We are anew! Transformed yet again, into the image of our Savior!

Does that mean all is perfect with nothing else needed? No. We are each a work in progress with the Lord in my family and continually waiting for “something”. But today, I will linger in worship, as I see progress all around me; whether in nature, or in the Israelites, or in my family.

What about you? Are you seeing progress in your life…..or are you still waiting? Resist the temptation to give up by the looks of things. Remember the Power behind all progress. God is at work continuously and He is with you each step of the way or in each minute you wait. Change will come, just as springtime from winter. So as you see all the leaves growing and the flowers blooming, remember, change is coming for you too.

 

Joy And Gladness

Do you ever wonder what God expects of us? As a people-pleaser, it is in my nature to do so. I am wired to wonder. Wonder what pleases Him, what He wants from me, wonder if He thinks I am living out my faith the way He expects.

I know I am unconditionally loved and accepted infinitely beyond what my finite mind can fathom. That is not the issue. I still know God can be “pleased”, so this behooves me to know and understand how and why.

Exodus 33 gives me the example of Moses pleasing the LORD. Verse 13 says, ” If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so that I may know you and continue to find favor with you.” And God responds back to Moses in verse 17 saying,” I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and know you by name.”

That gets my attention! It reveals to me what is possible in my life of faith, that I can know God intimately, profoundly, and it is mine for the asking and seeking. Yet when I get to Deuteronomy 28:47, I see a measuring stick. This peaks my personality trait to know and understand things. I see in Scripture a description of what pleases God and what He expects of the Israelites, and therefore me as well.

This verse speaks of serving the LORD joyfully and gladly. Well, that is helpful because it allows me to examine my life of faith. Do I serve the LORD, and am I doing it  “joyfully and gladly “?

The Hebrew word for serve in this verse means to labor, but it also means to worship. So I learn that I am to serve the Lord through serving others inside and outside the church walls. I can use my spiritual gifts to minister to my church family but it should not stop there. Serving others can be achieved in my workplace, in my community, and in my home. By being a reflection of God to others, I am serving Him. By loving and helping others, I am actually serving God. 

I can also “serve” the LORD through my obedience to His commands and instructions from the Bible. This in turn helps me transform in Christ-likeness, which helps me to better serve others.

It is interesting to me that the definition also involves worship. When I worship the LORD, I am serving Him. Attending my local church among other believers, and in my own home as I have my quiet time, or as I go about my day listening to worship music, these are all opportunities to worship the Lord.

Lastly, as I am incorporating serving the LORD into my life, am I doing so with joy and gladness? I am provoked into asking myself if these two adjectives describe my experience with faith? The answer is “yes and no”.

There are definite times in my life when these two words describe my service to God and my faith. But there are also times when my emotions are flat and my service is on automatic pilot, and even times when I don’t feel like doing anything at all!

What makes the difference in these times? I have found the more time and focus I spend with the LORD, the more joy and gladness are reflected in my life of faith. I also believe the more I conform to His Word, the more joy and gladness will automatically mark my faith.

But there is one more variable I have experienced in my walk with the LORD. When I am going through a difficult time in life, when I am struggling with a trial, it is challenging to feel joy and gladness. Mourning and sadness are better descriptions. In the depth of a season such as this though, I was aware that my faith should reflect my God more than my circumstances, but achieving the goal is not the same as knowing the goal.

This issue became such a conflict and challenge for me that I spent an immense amount of time studying the Word to find and fight my way through to joy and gladness, while still in the midst of my season of suffering. It was a long and difficult journey, but I learned some invaluable lessons that changed my life and faith. I was able to break free from the despair and anxiety that plagued me and enter in to life again with the Lord experiencing joy and gladness.

This experience, and these lessons, are shared in greater detail in a book I am working on and hope to finish soon. All this to say, I know, I understand the challenges of living life with joy and gladness. This may be what God expects, but He is also merciful and understanding when we are in times of despair. He is patient and kind as we fight our way through dark times. The most important part is to not give up, but to keep fighting for what we know we can have. If Jesus was able to overcome, so can we because we have His Spirit inside us to help us.

So even when we are unable to FEEL joy and gladness, the fact that we are fighting for them counts! We know the expectations, but more importantly, the possibilities with the LORD! Joy and gladness are ours by right through Christ, it just may take some time finding our way there….

 

God’s Longing

What does God want? Have you ever asked yourself that question? Have you ever wondered what the Eternal, Sovereign, Almighty LORD longs for deep in His heart? What would motivate a God like that? What would He possibly long for that He could not also manufacture in a heartbeat?

Every once in a while, we get a glimpse into the depth of God’s heart revealed in the Scriptures. Much like getting an up close and personal view of someone too grand and glorious for first-hand knowledge. As we read the words in the Bible, it’s as if we can hear His voice and sense His emotion.

Moses has gathered all of Israel together in Deuteronomy 5. He wanted one last review of what they were to remember as they entered the long awaited promised land without him. He recited their history with God, the Ten Commandments and their agreement to that covenant. It is at this point he tells them of the LORD’s response at hearing their professed agreement and obedience to His requirements of them. He says to Moses in verse 28-29, ” I have heard what this people said to you. Everything they said was good. Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!

And there it is, what an Immortal, Invisible  God longs for….our heart! He wants a relationship with those He created and called to Himself. He longs for love to be reciprocated, and life to go  well, for us and our children. Isn’t that amazing?!

What God chooses, is to allow US to choose. But He longs for us to choose Him! What makes this so amazing is the vulnerability this creates for the Lord. He is risking rejection with every creation!

I must admit that it is nothing less than profound to consider that I am wanted that much! To know that the Great I AM wants more than anything to be in a close intimate relationship with me inspires my love in return. It makes me want to know Him and love Him all the more, to make time for Him each day.

When you feel loved and pursued like that, it makes you want to give Him the worth He deserves. One of my favorite verses speak of this motivation to prioritize. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 says, ” For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and is raised again.”

This explains so well the wonderful cycle of love. Because He loves us and longs for us, then that woos us to live our lives for Him in return. Love compels devotion! What a life we have in Christ!

Are you living your life knowing this transformational truth? Do you know how earnestly He loves you and longs for your heart in return? This depth of love and value is life-changing! Nothing, and no one on this planet, can compare to the kind of powerful, pure emotion that God has for us.

This love was perfectly displayed for us on a cross long ago. God put love in action that day by giving His Only Son for our sin. And what He wants in return is the same as what He wanted from the Israelites. Our heart. Our love. Our life lived in communion with Him.

So enter in to this day dear one, knowing you are the desire of God’s heart. Make time for Him each day so that you can drink deep from the well of life-changing emotion He offers you. You can trust the Man who died for you. Now enjoy Him!

 

 

 

The Blame Game

What makes it so difficult to admit we are wrong?! Why do we fight accepting the blame we deserve? Is it our pride that keeps us captive in a stronghold we build for ourselves ?  Admittedly, it is troubling how this character flaw can be such a besetting sin for many of us, even for the most admirable of people….. even Moses.

Knowing the real story of why Moses was not allowed to lead the Israelites into the promised land back in Numbers 20, it is nothing less than surprising to get to Duetronomy 1:37 to hear  Moses describe the encounter much differently. Not only does he spin the account in the first chapter, he does so two more times in Duetronomy 3:26 and Duetronomy 4:21!

God Himself had informed Moses where he made his mistake in Numbers 20:12, so there was little to no possibility of misunderstanding the facts. Moses had not upheld the Lord’s holiness to the Israelites. He had taken liberty with authority that was not his, and he had not obeyed the specific instructions the Lord had given.

Yes, the Israelites were aggravating to deal with, and yes they had Moses at his wit’s end with all their rebellion and grumbling. He had a role and responsibility no one would want. But as the saying goes, “two wrongs don’t make a right”.

It reminds me of our tendency from the very beginning of time. When Eve ate the apple in Genesis 3, and then gave some to her husband Adam, God came calling and held them accountable. The “blame game” commenced with Adam even giving some of the responsibility to God! When asked by God if they had eaten of the forbidden tree, Adam answered “The woman you put here with me- she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it”. Then Eve blamed the serpent, and the proverbial buck was passed for the very first time.

It is in us, to want to shift the blame. But this is a harmful action to others and to our faith.

It drives a wedge of bitterness and resentment into our relationships. We heap all our anger on those we care about. Even though they may frustrate us, they do not deserve the burden and blame for our sin. When we blame others, our love for them and from them is assaulted. It changes love into obligation, which is a relationship killer. No one measures up……and love grows cold……no matter how much it is demanded.

Moses missed out on more than entering the promised land, he lost the fulfilling fellowship God graciously intends for His children to enjoy as they journey together along the way. This creates an isolated, lonely existence, even amongst a crowd of people in the desert.  Key to experiencing all that God desires to give us through relationships is being able to accept the ownership our own mistakes.

Not taking responsibility for our own sin also harms our faith. How can we be sanctified if we are never wrong? If it is always someone else’s fault, God’s purpose for us maturing in our faith is impeded. We are stunted in our growth. Repentance plays a crucial role in our ability to transform in our faith, becoming more and more Christlike. When we recognize our sin, our inability to measuring up, we look to the cross and see our Savior paying the penalty for this. Jesus is the exact opposite of our tendency to blame others. He took ALL THE BLAME from every person for all time! If we squander the inevitable opportunity when we fall short in life, we are missing out on falling into the arms of grace and mercy!

In the end, Moses was left bitter toward the Israelites for what he perceived they cost him. His relationship with them was damaged, and he lost out on his great reward of ushering them in to their promised land flowing with God’s blessings. What satisfaction had  waited for him there ?! But it had depended on him walking humbly with God and with others.

If we can’t be wrong, how can we experience the awesome, Jesus-glorifying process of redemption?! That moment when Christ turns our worst mistakes into something purposeful and precious……..no amount of pride is worth missing out on that!