Thursday, January 19, 2017

Stones to Bread

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil…he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are...tell those stones to become bread’” Matthew 4:1-3.

There is so much packed into this passage in recognizing certain things when we are walking through a tough season. When we, as believers, lack understanding we need to look no further than Jesus’ example while on earth. Jesus didn’t wake up and find Himself in the wilderness as if something strange happened to Him. He was well aware that He was being led by God to experience the wilderness. He followed the Spirit into the desolate area…the area where no one would be around for companionship…fellowship…relationship. Jesus made His companion the Holy Spirit. We are told that after 40 days and nights, Satan showed up on the scene. Satan will always lay in waiting until we are at our weakest. He plays dirty and he knows it is easier to catch us off guard when we are ‘hungry…lonely…angry…sick.’ He looks for opportunities to attack when we lack the best version of ourselves.

He will tempt us to ‘tell our stones to become bread’…that is, self-talk that is nothing but lies. It is the caregiver who is riddled with guilt because of the feelings she is experiencing in her care for others…she is tired. It is the person who speaks bitterness instead of forgiveness because she bought the lie that she is entitled…she is angry. It is the man who doubts he will ever get well and experiences hopelessness…he is sick. It is the person who isolates themselves believing they are not loved…they are lonely.

When we walk through tough seasons, we better believe that we will be harassed by the tempter. But we do not walk alone for God is with us and never leaves us. We can have confidence that when we are in the wilderness, God has allowed it but will help us be victorious through it. We must train up our minds in the Word and what God says about our circumstances…not what our emotions tell us. Like Jesus, the more knowledge and wisdom about God’s character and truths that we have, the better response we will give to the temptations laid before us. Our biggest worry should be that we wouldn’t recognize our tempter. Satan condemns, God convicts. 

Condemnation convinces us we are less than…conviction points us to who we can be in God.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Oh That We Might Live!

They think it strange [they are surprised] when you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge…” 1 Peter 4:4-5.

We only have to look at our political landscape to see that this passage is completely relative in 2017. Over the past decade or so, we have witnessed a dissipation like no other. A dissipation is defined as the process of slowly disappearing or becoming less. The decade of dissipation has been the slow and painful disappearing of God in our country and the things on which it was founded. It should come as no surprise that our country is divided and torn in half. There is unity where the Spirit is and chaos where evil reigns. But our country IS surprised and in complete shock at the state of America.

But, I’m not willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater. While there may be a national flood that feels as if everyone has plunged into this acceptance, there are those who still splash in the living waters of Christ, standing for Him and with Him. There are still those who understand where they should bathe… where the water is clean and the goal is righteousness. I do believe that the time has come for this country to be judged, but we must remember that He who judges is motivated by love, not hate…desire not spite. God has been sending judgment into mankind’s choices since Creation with the goal of reconciliation and restoration. We can’t fight the process, and must understand that these times require us to swim against the current of the flood of hate, anger and disharmony. We can’t count God out and deny His power to restore…redeem…reunite. It is to no value to 'have a form of godliness but deny its power' 2 Tim 3:5. But it will NOT be acquired through heaping abuse on the other side. Our anger towards each other highlights our underlying lack of confidence that God is still in control. If we are living in the tension of my party or your party, my issue or your issue we have missed the big picture. This is about the journey back to God as a nation. This is about standing in love and patience through the workings of an omniscient and omnipetent God. We cannot fix what we did not create. Only the Creator has the wisdom, power and knowledge to accomplish this.

Bringing order to chaos is in God’s capabilities and will be accomplished with or without us (‘For God is not a God of disorder but of peace’ 1 Co 14:33). It’s all about choices and how we reconcile our experience in 2017. I am reminded of a quote by Charles Dickens (which I had to Google to remember its origin) that will describe our experience in 2017. On which side of the experience will we be?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

‘Today I have given you the choice between life and death, blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life so that you and your descendants might live!’ Deuteronomy 30:19.
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Monday, January 16, 2017

Circling the Walls

“Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy…See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands…March around the city once…Do this for six days…On the seventh day, march around the city seven times…Advance! March around the city…Shout! For the LORD has given you the city!” Joshua 5:15-6:16.
Joshua was the protégé of Moses. It is certain they shared many private conversations over the years in the desert. Like many of us, we share our testimonies and life’s experiences with those whom we spend most of our time. We exchange stories of how God has been faithful and the manner in which He called us. There is no doubt that Joshua would have heard the story of Moses entering into God’s presence at the burning bush. Moses would have shared that he was instructed to remove his sandals for the ground was holy. God was making it clear the importance of the next phase of Moses’ life. I would give anything to see Joshua’s face when the messenger of God echoed those words to Joshua. Did he feel the weight of glory? Did his life with Moses flash before his eyes and suddenly he realized how the plan fit together? Could he feel in his spirit the emerging miracle that was on the horizon? With those words, he had to understand that they were on the brink of a miracle…whatever God said…however He said…whenever He said. March around a city…sure! Come back the next day and do it again… okay! Continue for 5 more days and on the 7th day shout when you hear the trumpet… absolutely!

What have you been waiting on from God? What circumstances are you marching around again and again waiting on the walls to fall? We get so close…we circle our circumstances…we feel it’s time…and then God says not today. Joshua both understood God’s message and believed God’s promise. He knew in His heart that the Lord had given them the victory. He also understood this victory would be in God’s timing. Joshua had confidence in three truths that we also need to believe. He believed that God was in total control of every detail. He believed that God was motivated by goodness, love and promise. Most importantly, he surrendered his own thinking of when things should happen and how they should happen. He removed his sandals, that man-made protection against the terrain on which we are called to journey. Sometimes God expects us to walk barefooted through many of our trials…to march the suffering with only the protection of His love.
God brings tests into your life because your faith in Him – your belief that He is in control and that His is good – can be proved only in times when life is hard. Only when your faith is strong are you willing to wait for God to work out His good purposes through your trialWhen Life Gets Hard, p. 44.
Sometimes to march and advance is to kneel and surrender.

Our True Colors

You know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” James 1:3-4.

To fully appreciate this verse, we must understand the definition of steadfastness in its purest form. Steadfastness in different translations of the Bible include patience, endurance, and forced into open showing its true colors. The Greek term lends itself to the action of ‘staying in place when the pressure is on.’

2016 was a platform for steadfastness in my own life like no other time. God had been writing this screenplay for many years and the debut had come to fullness. As the curtain slowly opened last January, I realized that the performance of my life was required. This situation forced me into the open with my beliefs and my attitudes front and center. My response…my true colors…would be on display for my audience. Would I fall flat in my imperfection and lack the grace and forgiveness that would be required? Would the curtain fall on my performance, and the audience exit when they saw the condition of my heart? I would love to say that I was complete and perfect while on stage but that would be a lie. I have reconciled all of this my heart, however, because God isn’t looking for perfection, He just desires our participation and progression. I don’t believe one day passed in my daily prayers last year that I didn’t plead with Him to do the work…let the lesson be complete…remove the thorn once and for all! God was completely faithful and blessed me with liberation from a life-long condition in my heart that needed to break free. How did He accomplish this in me? Through the interweaving of humility, surrender and sacrifice. I discovered through humility to God, I could more easily surrender and sacrifice my emotions and entitlements.

Humility demands that you remain concerned about others…Humility is a sorely lacking quality among those who complain, lash out, bail or fold under pressure. Humility is the core virtue of mature Christians who have stayed under the funnel of adversity long enough to benefit from it. I am convinced that perseverance is the narrow channel through which all other Christian virtues flow…Being perfect and complete, lacking in nothing…is about robust maturity, a combination of deep qualities that mark someone who has seen and experienced what life can dish out and is still standing under God’s mighty hand.’ When Life Gets Hard, p. 49.

I know that God took 2016 and helped dismantle erroneous thinking and attitudes. Hopefully in Him and through Him, there is a better foundation on which to build for my future. I arrive at 2017 with peace, joy and contentment that the world has never provided.

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” Phil 3:12.

Our Heart Home

I try several times a week to walk in my area, and always go into this housing community where homes are still being established. Yesterday, while walking through the community I was focusing on the different homes and their offerings. Some homes were for sale, while others were occupied, marked with inviting welcome mats and rocking chairs on the porch. A few of the lawns had signs offering a ‘Quick Sale’ opportunity. And, of course there were two or three model homes. Half way through my walk, I watched a police officer cruise the neighborhood streets. Anyone, who knows me knows how I love to draw analogies of everyday things to our spiritual walk.

I began considering these homes as hearts and how we offer certain opportunities for the Holy Spirit to move in and through our lives.

The model homes are likened to those hearts that protect their image above all else. They never allow anyone to have knowledge that things are not ‘out of place’ in their lives. Everything they do and everything they are lends itself to this goal. The Holy Spirit drives right on by for now, fully understanding that truth does not live in that heart. He knows at some point the façade will fall and that heart will be searching. The next heart is the one who has motioned for the Holy Spirit to pull over…come in…share some time together. It is the heart that will receive advice and teaching…it is the heart that heeds the warnings offered. It is the heart that enjoys those visits and feels protecting by His presence. The ‘Quick Sale’ heart is the one that needs resolution as soon as possible. Time is of the essence, and a crisis is on the horizon. The Holy Spirit lingers around this one because He knows things will soon be chaotic with the urgency of the situation.

I have moved many times within my heart community and fully understand their differences. I must say that the heart that now resides in me is a heart that cannot operate without the constant visits of the Holy Spirit. I am a ‘quick-sale’ wreck without His guiding presence.

Singing A Capella

There he went into a cave and spent the night…The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain…for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks…but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his clock over his face, and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave” 1 Kings 19:9, 11-13.

This passage has always been one of my favorite passages in the Bible. I am confident that no one reading this writing has escaped feeling all alone at some point. This life is full of earthquakes that crumble our faith…powerful winds that threaten our bearings…and fiery trials that burn up our confidence. We surround ourselves with walls of isolation…self-made caves of seclusion until these things pass by.

When we walk through circumstances where the symphonic rhythm of life can’t be heard, we are forced into a life of singing a capella. Such times of loneliness are highlighted by the absent orderly music that normally marks our life. The silence of our hearts is highlighted by the raging circumstances of our situation. The important element to remember while cave dwelling is that as life storms by, the Lord never leaves us. He allows these experiences into our lives but makes it clear we don’t have to go it alone. He whispers beautiful songs into our hearts so we can hold on for one more day…one more week…one more song. His whisper speaks more loudly than any accompanying sound the world could provide.

Singing a capella means continuing to praise Him when things seem bleak. Singing a capella shows those around us that we can still have hope when hope is deferred. Singing a capella is an act of worship to God when we are feeling all alone. ‘Trials separate us from others. We feel alone, singled out, cut off, and abandoned. But, as the Scripture reminds us, those can be times of special intimacy with Jesus, for He knows firsthand what we are going throughWhen Life Gets Hard, p. 57. When we have lifted our voice without the music in our hearts the Lord will provide the music who is never off tune.

‘The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing’ Zephaniah 3:17.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Olive Pits

“He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” John 15:2.
Yesterday while working in the kitchen I opened a jar of green olives only to discover I had bought the ones with the pits still inside them.  I did this another time but was too lazy to cut out the pits.  Over time, Bruce ate them as I just ignored them.  I had a little more time yesterday, and so I began cutting around the pit with a sharp knife.  It was boring and monotonous which is a sure recipe for my mind to go other places.  I began thinking how we are like those mounds of green olives, and how God precisely and methodically cuts around the unproductive hard parts of our hearts.  I only have to look at the heart work which was accomplished in my own life through tough circumstances.  He sliced away any prideful image of myself.  He cut around the tendency to judge through experiences where others judged me.  He used my weaknesses to showcase His glory and strength.

Jesus said, ‘I came that they may have life and have it abundantly’ John 10:10.  I am grateful that our trials produce fruit that lasts.  During easy and comfortable times the heart work is limited and the fruit scarce compared to the enduring attitudes born out of trials.  We become more connected with Jesus and His suffering.  We become more grateful when we share in His joy apart from our circumstances.  We produce our best fruit when the pit has been cut away and all that remains is that which is profitable for our faith.  Hard things happen to faithful people.  The superiority of a life lived in God isn’t superior because it’s pain-free or easy; it’s superior because it approaches the hard parts of life with joy!  Joyless Christians do a lousy job of pointing others to Christ…Our capacity to live to the fullest even in the middle of hardship is always connected to the vitality of our relationship with God.’ When Life is Hard, James MacDonald, p. 41.

You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act” Matthew 7:16.