When Things Heat Up

Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all.   Psalm 34:19

The words of Jesus brought divided opinion.  He was righteous and he was afflicted, even among the religious.  Not many things are more heated than religious arguments.  Some were willing to consider that He was divine; others called him demonized.

Jesus predicted this kind of polarization.  “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division.” Luke 12:51 It is better for people to be divided over Christ than for both parties to continue in sin and unbelief.

The chasm between a believer and unbeliever is wide.  And when it involves an intimate relationship, there are constant sparks when the ways of heaven and the values of the kingdom of darkness collide.  Clashes come numerous times a day.

Business partnerships can be at odds; divided on ethics, divided on styles of leadership.  Jesus promotes servant leadership.  This repels the one who seeks to use his power to further himself.

Marriages can be at odds; divided on financial priorities, divided on parenting styles.  Jesus asks parents to raise their children in such a way that when He calls them, they respond.  A parent who is obvious in his disdain for Christ is not willing to have his child serve a God who asks them to lose their life for Jesus’ sake.

Many of you who are reading this right now know the loneliness of walking beside a person where you share more differences than similarities.  At times, you may grow weary of speaking up so you cave in to behaviors that grate against your spirit.  Perhaps the lack of peace haunts you and you wonder if this can possibly be of God.  Jesus would answer with a resounding ‘yes’.  God’s children must not love peace more than they love truth or else we will relinquish our convictions for a sense of false harmony.  Peace at any cost is not Jesus’ way.

My natural bent is not to fight – but to cave to others’ pressure in order to gain peace.  You didn’t do that.  You were willing to be quiet and you were also willing to create heat so that people would have to choose truth or error.  Lord, I have a lot to learn from You.  Amen

Lifting Up What Is Almost Dead

I am exceedingly afflicted; Revive me, O LORD, according to Your word.  Psalm 119:107

Hagar knew what it was to face death and need reviving.  She held her nearly dead child in her arms.  Voice weak, completely dehydrated, half starved.  No water or provision of food was in sight.  She smelled death but refused to succumb to what seemed to be the inevitable.  She poured out her complaint to the God of Israel.  Hagar said, “Let me not look on the death of my child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”  Genesis 21:16-18

Where did Hagar learn to do this?  From the very ones who forced her out of their presence.  Abraham and Sarah.  Oh, the irony.

I’ve cupped my hands around things, and people, who appeared to be dying.  Dreams, health, ministries, faith.  From all appearances, many would say that hoping was foolish.  Death was staring me in the face.  All options were gone.

Hagar, the least likely ministry leader, shows each of us the way to glory.  She prayed, listened, cast her hopes on God, and then obeyed.  She lifted up her boy to the God who breathes life into dead souls.  She could not know that a thousand years later, Ezekiel would watch God breathe over a whole valley of corpses and bring them to their feet.  By the breath of His mouth, He would transform skeletons into warriors.

Has God been true to His promise? Did he make Ishmael the father of a great nation?  Yes.  Many Palestinians have, and will, trust Christ.  When they meet their Lord, how passionate they are!

Will God hear me when I take what is weak, infirmed, perhaps even dead, and lift it toward heaven?  Yes. Hagar was told to lift Ishmael up and hold him fast with her hand.  Instead of laying him down in defeat, she embraced him in heartfelt prayer.  And oh, what an outcome.

I’ve laid some things down prematurely.  I’m picking them up again.  You defeated death and long to breathe over all things expired.  Amen

Journal Question:  Hopeless talk infects an atmosphere of faith.  What have you recently declared hopeless?  Pick it up.  Cup your hands around it.  Lift it up to feel the breath of a life-giving God.

Bilhah and Others Who Are Used And Abused

While Israel lived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah, his father’s concubine.  And Israel heard of it. Genesis 35:22

Bilhah is a woman without rights. She was Rachel’s maid all the way back before Rachel was married. She learned to obey orders very young.  She never knew freedom and her life was characterized by being used by others.

When Rachel couldn’t conceive, she gave Bilhah to Jacob as a secondary wife. She used her as a surrogate to conceive babies. Once they were born, Rachel would keep them and adopt them as her own sons. Once again, Bilhah had no choice.  Years later, she was victimized again as Jacob’s oldest son, Reuben, took her honor. He snuck in her tent and in the darkness, he lay with her. Bilhah could teach a class today on what it means to be victimized.  Did she know God? I want to believe so. She was immersed in all the teaching, the worship, the building of altars at pinnacle moments of faith. She saw it all and probably clung to God for the strength to endure hardship.

What can be said for the Bilhah’s of this world? Perhaps you are one. From a young age, you were taken against your will, used for someone else’s pleasure. Your life was a set up and choices were made for you. How do you come to believe in a God that appears to bless some and curse others? Those with heartbreaking stories have posed the question to me on many occasions. Can He be trusted to rule fairly?

God’s feelings toward Bilhah are not revealed, nor are her feelings for God recorded. But lest God become One I stumble over, the whole context of scripture is at my fingertips. A generation earlier, Hagar was in similar circumstances. Used. Spurned. Banished. (She and her child.) But in the aftermath of man’s sin and the tragedy that had been thrust upon a young mother, God’s character shines through when He remembers her and meets her personally in an unforgiving desert. He reveals Himself as the ‘God who sees her.’ El-Roi

If I measure God’s goodness by my own story, confined to my personal lifespan, He can look pathetic and quite guilty. I must widen my view to include all of history. I must take in God’s over arching redemptive plan that included the provision of a Savior who would redeem tragic stories. I must look ahead to Paradise where faithfulness will be rewarded and where sin will be judged. There, the first will be last and the last will be first. Hagars and Bilhahs will lead the way in heaven. Ultimately, the broken are blessed. Even here. The extent to which God allows one to be crushed, alternatively, He gives that person an unequaled capacity to know Him intimately. Treasures of the darkness are promised to the one who seeks God by faith when all evidence against him seems ironclad.

For the one who is Bilhah, disclose Yourself to her today as El-Roi. Amen

We Have Been Changed

And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. Genesis 35:10

God has always been an identity changer. One cannot be near someone like God and not be severely affected. Either one is repelled and runs the other way or is smitten by His glory and wants to make Him their home. The identity-changing nature of God has never been more evident than when He personally changed the names of people. Jacob, in spite of all of his failures, persevered with good faith intentions and God acknowledged the change in his heart with a name change. The name Jacob means ‘supplanter’….one who takes something by force through treachery. Fitting, since he tricked his brother and stole his blessing. Years later, God saw that Jacob was one who literally wrestled with Him in order to receive God’s blessing. He persevered until faith in God defined Him. God chose the name Israel for him….one who perseveres with God.

While God may not give new earthly names to every person, my identity has radically changed if I was adopted into His family. God says that I’m no longer an alien, but a resident of heaven. He says that I’m no longer an enemy, but friend. I’m no longer cursed, but blessed. I’m no longer lost, but saved. I’m no longer rejected because of my sin, I’m chosen. I’m no longer unclean, but righteous. I’m no longer without purpose, I’ve got a calling. I’m no longer hopeless, but hopeful.

Many more pages could capture more identity changers but is this short list not enough for me to ask myself, “Have I really embraced my new identity? And if not, why?” It’s hard to digest that I’m no longer who I was if people around me treat me as if nothing has changed. I’ve also got a spiritual enemy, Satan, who is bent on reinforcing, through hurtful circumstances, that I’m the same old sinner without hope.

How can I immerse myself in the wonder of a changed identity? By spending more time with the Name-Changer. He will whisper each new name in my ear if I’m engaged in a two-way conversation. Prayer is not about me talking. It’s more about Him talking. Never has His voice been more clear than in the pages of His love letter to me. Scriptures are not primarily for study. They are for the strengthening of faith. They are the words of a Father to His child. In the stillness of today, God would want me to hear, “You’re mine!”

Let me bask in the spiritual cooing that comes from running home. Amen

Fallen Through My Fingers

He who goes forth and weeps, scattering the seed, will doubtless come back with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves. Psalm 126:6 

A harvest never comes overnight. A farmer plants seed in early spring but doesn’t expect to see anything come up in a week. He knows that seeds require early and late rains before they bring a yield.

The harvest portrayed in this verse comes to the person who walks, weeps, and then walks and weeps some more.  “Goes forth” means a continual and repetitive motion.  But the mourning isn’t hopeless.  While doing so, there is also an intentional perseverance to plant heaven’s seeds ~ the Word of God. 

Perhaps this has characterized a period in your life. You have faithfully sown the seeds of scripture. You have salted the pages of your Bible with tears. You have asked God for the faith to stand another day in the promises that transcend this season of life. But times of weariness and disillusion have set in and the seeds have fallen to the ground as you opened your fingers to let them spill out. You quit walking the boundary lines of your garden. You put your arms down and have let your hands stay limp. Expectations have been nullified by time and one disappointment after another.

So many saints know these periods. Weeping is not a sin, it is encouraged, and in fact, even a command. But for any who have given up, dried their tears, and stopped praying….our Father reminds us today to regroup. Gather the seeds again. Regard them as precious. Speak them. Pray them. Stand in them. Be assured that God’s Word always bears fruit. He says so. When His Word is spoken, the environment changes. Anywhere His Word is sewn, kingdoms are shaken up. I may not feel the tremors nor see the stirrings of coming harvests but the unseen world knows it’s coming. Angels rejoice and demons tremble. Battles are being waged and God’s army is on the move.

Does this guarantee that things will turn out as I wish every single time?  Not necessarily. People we love still have free will. Sickness and death come to all of us because of the fall.  Man’s sin continues to infect our environment.  But sowing the Word of God ensures that God’s plan comes to my world.  Fertile soil is tilled up from hardened grounds of unbelief.  Sowing scripture sets the stage for a righteous outcome within a fallen world.  Many will believe who have denied. Many will be healed who have been terminal. Many will walk through an open door that was once closed tightly. And most of all, in the process of sowing ~ our own hearts draw close to Jesus and are changed. As we wrestle with faith, an intercessor begins to think, and feel, like the One they worship. Even while weeping.

Futility is not in my vocabulary. I get up and engage with faith again. Amen

Anxiety and Being in the Middle

“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. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky: They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they are? And which of you by worrying can add even one hour to his life? Why do you worry about clothing? Think about how the flowers of the field grow; they do not work or spin. Matthew 6:24-28

Ever been put in the middle? It’s an awful place to be. There are some whose role it is to be peacemaker. The anxiety of trying to serve opposites is tormenting because pleasing them is impossible. Compromise keeps them at bay but they are never fully satisfied because neither has won.

What does this have to do with the parable about worrying? What I’ll eat? What I’ll wear? What others think of me? Whether I’ll be employed? Whether I’m seriously ill?

Anxiety serves Master Satan. Plain and simple. To worry is to wonder if God is faithful and Satan is the author of that. Worry then leads to autonomy. I take matters into my own hands to take care of myself because I believe God won’t.

Remember the daisy game? ‘He loves me – He loves me not.’ Though it was childish, I do remember the bit of suspense as I neared the end of the petals. Which way would it be? Love me – or loves me not? This is the stuff of serving two masters.

When the stakes are high, so is the battle. ‘God loves me – He loves me not.’ Faith is put on the sidelines as I wage the options of trusting God versus taking care of myself (which is serving God’s enemy.) God is unhappy because I fail to know the joy of childlike trust. Satan is unhappy because I entertain the promises of my Father’s word. How is this tug of war won? How do I extricate myself from living between two masters? Remove the power of the evil one.

Satan does not deserve an ounce of attention because he lies about the other Master. If he told the truth, the battle would be understandable. If he predicted outcomes correctly, listening to him would make sense. But nothing he says is true. John reminds me that he is a liar. His very nature is to lie. His default language is based on deceit. So, I step out from the middle today and give him no attention. When the first thought of worry emerges, I snatch it and kill it with the whispered assurances of a faithful Father. Every Word saves me and sends the other would-be master away from my presence.

No middle, Father. No torment. Only a simple, childlike trust built on every single promise You have made. I love how You take care of me. In Jesus’ name, Amen

Spiritual Acumen. Do I Have It?

Jesus also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A rainstorm is coming,’ and it does. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and there is. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky, but how can you not know how to interpret the present time? Luke 12:54-59

How can smart people be so foolish about spiritual things? How is it possible for one who knows God to miss the obvious signposts He provides for guidance? This was Jesus message to the crowd. They possessed real skill when it came to interpreting weather related signs but they were inept when it came to interpreting their times through the mind of God ~ the one they claimed to know.

When Saul was pursuing David in order to kill him, the numbers of those who stood by David were few in comparison to the armies of King Saul. But, there was a group of men called the ‘sons of Issachar’ who perceived both men correctly. They were able to see Saul for who he was ~ a disobedient king under God’s judgment. They were able to see David for who he was ~ God’s anointed man who should ascend the throne. From all circumstantial evidence, it would appear that Saul was suffering the threat of a coup, led by a renegade named David. However, these 200 men (descendants of Jacob), read the two men accurately. The children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of their times, knew what Israel ought to do. I Chronicles 12:32

What kind of spiritual acumen do I possess? The men of Issachar looked at Saul the way God looked at Saul. His throne or his crown did not sway them. They were able to see his behavior and leadership style and know that he was out of God’s favor. They looked for the anointing but couldn’t find it. They also looked at David and were able to see past his poverty and rag tag militia. They perceived the spiritual markings of a kingly anointing – a marking not visible to the naked eye but brilliant to the eyes of their spirit.

Not everything is as it appears. Powerful people are often a house of cards. They can crumble after just one confrontation. The meek are perceived as weak but will rise to rule over us when God promotes them. I am asking God to sharpen my spiritual acumen so that I can interpret what’s in front of me correctly. I believe Jesus is coming soon and never has understanding the times been more critical.

Whom have I assessed wrongly? Correct my vision, Lord. In Jesus’ name, Amen