Christianity 201

November 30, 2016

God’s Providence for His People

Today we’re paying a first-time visit to the blog No Condemnation. Click the title to read at source. (This Psalm appears in your Bible just a couple before the one we looked at yesterday, and is quite different.)

Let the redeemed tell their story

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures for ever. Let the redeemed of the LORD tell their story – those he redeemed from the hand of the foe …

Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle.

Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He sent out his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave.
Psalm 107:1, 6-7, 19-20 (NIV)

Read: Psalm 107

Consider: A few days ago we looked at the problem of praying when the words just won’t come. This can be because the problem we are facing is so enormous, or potentially life-changing. It is in times like these that the Holy Spirit takes our unspoken words and groans, and intercedes to God on our behalf. Prayer in difficult times is generally more heart felt than prayer in easy times.

The story of the people of Israel is one of bringing their troubles before God and, once the immediate danger had passed, they promptly forgot and rebelled against Him. As a Christian you are unlikely to go into open rebellion against God, but do you remember or forget God’s providence once the danger you have been facing has passed?

I love the opening verses of Psalm 107 where it says: ‘Let the redeemed of the LORD tell their story …’ (v2). It speaks to me of the providence of God and how he cares for and loves us, but it also speaks to me about my response to God’s goodness in my life. When God rescues you in your trouble (note: not from your trouble) are you forgetful, or do you want to thank God so much that your can’t stop talking about it? Are you willing to share details of God’s rescue with your close relatives, home group members, the wider church membership? I’m not advocating being so talkative about yourself that you very quickly become a bore. What I am advocating is the willingness to recognize God’s hand in your circumstances and thanking him first and foremost for this. As the psalmist puts it : Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures for ever (v1). Having first thanked God, we should then be willing to share with others what God has done for us.

Look again at Psalm 107 and some of the words the psalmist uses to speak of God’s providence for his people. He uses words like redeemed, delivered, led, saved, healed and rescued. All these speak so clearly of God’s love.

Don’t let the fact that the immediate danger has passed prevent you from thanking God and telling others about his providence in your life. You never know who is going through similar circumstance to yourself, who needs to hear your words of encouragement.

Pray: Father, forgive us for being so quick to forget your goodness to us. May we remember to thank you and also to share with others what you have been doing in our lives. Amen

Every blessing.

 

November 25, 2016

Fighting Back, Piece by Piece

Today a first-time writer here. Lisa Sharpe came recommended to us and blogs at Thoughts, Ponderings and Random Nothings. You can encourage her by clicking the title below and reading this at her blog. If you know someone who deals with fear, anxiety or depression; you might want to direct them to the article linked below.

Daily Battle: How I Fight Back

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:31-39 English Standard Version (ESV)

There are days where I wake up or go to bed simply to reset. The day was too long, too hard, or too empty and so I had to close it out and hope that the next day would be different. Better, somehow. But a reset doesn’t always happen, and I still have a day to get through. So this is how I fight.

I wake up and I can feel it immediately. I don’t have it in me today. “It” being that magical thing inside of you that helps you feel like “you’ve got this”. And mine today, is missing. Why? I don’t know. I try to find it, gathering what pieces of it that are left lying around. There isn’t much, and what I can seem to grab slips through my fingers. I’ve got none of it today.

The rapid fire thoughts start coming even before I’m fully awake. Starting with simple questions, only to find out later down the line that it’s Fear in disguise. Do you really think you can make it today? Maybe you should just stay in bed. Today is going to be hard, are you sure you can handle it? You don’t know what’s waiting for you outside those doors today, and you’re sure you can handle it? Not just it being there, but the unpreparedness of it coming at you? No. I’m not sure. Gosh, this feels hard.

Then, after the questions begin to turn into concerns, the self-doubt bursts through the door like the Kool-Aid man. Why can I not get up and face life like everyone else can? My life’s not that hard, I know it’s not. So the problem must be me. Why can’t I just be strong enough to easily get through a day? Why do I always have to struggle?

Then the statements show up. Self-declared statements that feel like facts. I’m never going to be able to beat this. It’s always going to follow me. This is the rest of my life, and I’m already having a hard time. How can anyone put up with someone like this when it makes me a monster? I am a monster. And I can’t stop. I can’t handle today. I’m not going to make it. I’m not enough to get through this day. And if I keep trying, I’m going to keep failing and this world will crush me. And no one wants to deal with a crushed person.

Geez. I can’t handle today.

So let’s break down today into smaller pieces and see how I do.

Let’s close our eyes and slow down for a minute. Whatever it is that you know needs to be done can wait a minute. Forget about all the people you think you need to be there for. All the things you know you need to do today. Forget about the details of what you need to do at work. If you could take it all out of the equation for just a bit, where would that leave you? That leaves me with nothing. Great. So now I’ve broken my life down to nothing. There would be nothing left. Nothing but God. I almost forget about Him. I keep confusing Him with “it”.

He’s still here. So it’s back to me and Him. I keep forgetting this is exactly where He wants me. Not getting too wrapped up in all the “stuff”. He told me I’m not supposed to be strong enough. “It” was just a lie anyway. I forgot that it’s really kind of Him to break me down until my only prayer can be, “Help. God, just hold my hand”. That way I won’t forget He’s there. That He controls my day. That He knows what’s outside the door, and He is ready to face it boldly, even when I’m not. I forget that my day is His, not mine, and that He has a reason for having me go through today. And that includes this struggle. He is ready for every step of the way, so that I don’t have to be. My interactions with people are for Him, not for others. I work to be faithful, not to impress. I hold His hand because I trust Him and want Him to guide my day, not because it’s the only option. Even though it is the only option. I’m broken. But He knows that, and He said it’s okay.

Geez. I forgot everything. I want to be free again. I want to give Him back my day again. I want Him to have it. I think I could face today if He had today. I don’t want this day to own me. I want to be free again. God take this day back. It was already about you, but I had forgotten, so please take it back and make it about you for me too. Help me to remember. And please, hold my hand while I keep trying. I’m going to need so much help. But I think if you were there, I know I could make it. And even if I fail again, at least I won’t be alone. Help me to remember and see that today is for you. For your plan. It was always your plan.

OK. Eyes open. It’s time to move. My first step can’t wait forever. I’ll just work on making it to breakfast first. Then to the car. Then until lunch. Then home again. Piece by piece. And somehow I’ll turn around and be amazed at what happened in the “in between” spaces of all those place markers in time. Somehow in the in between spaces, I listened and prayed for a friend. I accomplished a task. I solved a problem. I avoided an accident. All while avoiding a meltdown. But how? I’m not even sure, but I do know one thing: It wasn’t “it”. It was Him.

 

October 27, 2016

When God’s Solution Comes Gift-Wrapped

Sometimes we connect with other writers in the comments section. This is from Melissa at Tin Roof Sky. Click the title below to read at source.

Shut. Up.

“Jericho was shut up tight as a drum because of the People of Israel: no one going in, no one coming out.  God spoke to Joshua, “Look sharp now. I’ve already given Jericho to you, along with its king and its crack troops.” Joshua 6:1-2 – The Message

Joshua and the rest of his crew had just been told that their long national nightmare of wandering in the desert was over. Hooray! No more manna, man – milk, honey, and (I’m sure) beans and cornbread were now on the menu! Their lives were going from day after day of same old, same old, to finally getting started with what their forefathers had been promised.

But then – they hit a wall. Literally. They were getting the band back together to take over Canaan, and Jericho was the first stop on the tour. Their mojo was working, but it hit a snag made out of stone.

And we love to look at this story, and imagine the Israelites marching around that city for a week and then shouting the walls down on the last day. We sing songs about it and watch children’s videos with French peas taunting hapless vegetable Hebrews. But don’t skip over those first two verses. They’re the key to this whole thing.

“Jericho was shut up tight as a drum because of the People of Israel: no one going in, no one coming out.”

You know what I think? I think the Jericho-ians (or however they were known) were afraid. I think there were probably more Israelites outside that wall than there were of them inside, and I think word had reached their ears of all the great things God had done for His people. Remember Pharaoh losing a chunk of his soldiers and their gear? Remember supernatural provision? Remember divine judgement and so much quail they literally got sick?

They were afraid. They were under a self-imposed siege. They placed all their faith in the wall, and in the hopes that the Israelites would keep on truckin’.

But I think God put that fear into their hearts, so that their defeat would be certain and complete.

 God spoke to Joshua, “Look sharp now. I’ve already given Jericho to you, along with its king and its crack troops.”

Their king couldn’t hide out in an undisclosed location. Their army couldn’t sneak out and come from behind in a surprise attack. Joshua was facing his first big test as Commander-in-Chief, and God had gift wrapped the city for them.

All they had to do was obey his (admittedly odd) instructions. All the people had to do was keep their mouths shut, and keep walking. And then, on the last day, they had to shout to the Lord for the victory.

That’s it. Obey God, watch the walls crumble, and take the first steps into fulfilling God’s call on their lives.

So here’s my question to you: What walls are you up against? Maybe they aren’t obstacles, so much as a gift box. Maybe instead of seeing them as your enemy, you need to see them as God’s way of making sure your victory is complete. Maybe God is going to give you some instructions, and when you follow them, you will have a whole new perspective.

I’m facing some walls. I’ll bet you are too. Let’s look beyond and see them as wrapping paper, instead of a stop sign.

October 22, 2016

The Challenging Concept of Certainty

Mark 9.23 Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”

24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

Job 13.5 Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.

both NKJV

Forgive me while I run a particular rabbit trail today; I hope this gets you thinking. Every once in awhile I trip over a term that is being used by a particular writer or group of writers, and today it’s the term “heuristic faith;” which I believe originated with Gordon Allport in a 1950 book, The Individual and His Religion.

We begin at the Catholic blog Filca Holic

Henri Nouwen said, “I used to resent all the interruptions in my work until I realized that interruptions were my real work.” [Ronald] Rolheiser wrote, “There is something in a planned life that needs to be, for one’s own good, perennially sabotaged by interruptions. I am less glib in quoting them now, given that my own life has just been derailed by a major interruption.” …

…Karl Rahner once wrote that “in the torment of the insufficiency of everything attainable we begin to realize that here, in this life, all symphonies remain unfinished.” No matter how hard we try to live the best way we can, at all times the music gets interrupted. To deny this is to make life miserable. We wallow in anger with self and others; we lose faith, and blame God for everything. To accept this reality is to mature in spite of the wintry pain, suffering, scandals and disruptions.

Heuristic faith as defined by Henri Nouwen is clinging to what a person believes, even when everything is against it. In his The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey, he wrote, “So I am praying while not knowing how to pray. I am resting while feeling restless; at peace while I am tempted, safe while still anxious; surrounded by a cloud of light while still in darkness, in love while still doubting.”

Next we turn to The Psychology of Jesus by David McKenna:

A practical philosophy of life contains an element of faith — it is heuristic. No world view answers or anticipates all the questions of the universe. Therefore, a mature person holds his or her philosophy of life confidently but tentatively. By his own testimony, Paul made room for the unknown: “At present we are men looking at puzzling reflections in a mirror. The time will come when we shall see reality whole and face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12)! Jesus demonstrated heuristic faith when he admitted that the time of the coming of the Son of man was known only to the Father (see Acts 1:7). As Allport would say, “It is a characteristic of the mature mind that it can act wholeheartedly even without absolute certainty.”

Ambiguity came as a shock to me when I was a junior in college. As the product of a home, church, and junior college where spiritual certainty reigned, I was unprepared for the intellectual bombardment of a professor in cultural anthropology. He deftly stripped away all the cultural layers of my faith and exposed an indefensible core. Confused and shaken, I could only pray, “God if you exist and if there is anything to Christianity, show me now.” Taking pity on my desperate state, God brought the person of Jesus Christ before my mind and rested his case. One might say that this was my intellectual conversion because I chose to do what Elton Trueblood described for me many years later: “A Christian is a person who is willing to bet his life that Christ is right.”

At the site Reflections on Biblical and Christian Philosophy, a look at this type of faith as it applies in many of our current science-related debates in an essay on the ideas of Michael Polanyi.

His [Polanyi’s] revelation concerning doubt is spectacular “The doubting of any explicit statement merely implies an attempt to deny the belief expressed by the statement, in favor of other beliefs which are not doubted for the time being.”   Faith and doubt, then, are just opposing beliefs according to personal commitment! The Christian, then, when faced with doubts of various kinds, should attempt to sort out what are these various “other” beliefs, and what are their claims to truth that would challenge Christian beliefs? What could be more practical to the doubts that believers have?

 A misunderstanding of faith is clearly illustrated in the waxing and waning of faith-healing.   Is the lack of healing due to a lack of faith, or are there other elements to be considered.     Medical science can provide mechanisms of healing; Scripture can provide its perspective; and personal experiences provides other perspectives. A better understanding of faith by all these perspectives can give more accurate expectations to those who might seek faith-healing.

Polanyi was not overtly Christian. There are occasional and sometimes surprising references to Christian themes, but certainly no case can be made that he is advancing any religious agenda. Far from it. His Christian theology, in contrast to his scientific and philosophical expertise, is superficial, inconsistent, and minimally related to his epistemology. But Christians can make great use of his ideas. First, his thinking can illuminate Scriptural and personal beliefs and how they function in practical applications. Second, he virtually destroys science as a monolithic, objective, and certain source of truth or knowledge, making it instead into a “personal calling” of “discovery.” Christians need not fear any scientific pronouncements that would affect their theology, as science is only another authority whose evidence is to be weighed along with other important authorities.

That last sentence is a great place to stop today, but we’ll return to look at the issue of certainty again.

October 18, 2016

When the Worry Package is at the Door, Don’t Sign for It

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

When the courier company driver is standing at the door and says, “We have a package for Paul Wilkinson;” I have a choice. I can accept the parcel or I can refuse it. That was the spirit of today’s header; advice I also need for myself. Today we’re returning to Devotions by Chris, the blog of Chris Hendrix. Click the title below to read at source.

Refuse To Worry

Many of us struggle with understanding the difference between fear and anxiety. Fear is an emotion triggered by real danger. Anxiety is an emotion triggered by things that may or may not happen. Fear can save your life and anxiety can cause it to end prematurely. They elicit a similar feeling inside, but fear goes away after you’re out of danger. Anxiety continues to eat away at your energy, your mind, and your life if you don’t put a stop to it.

At work, I do an exercise with people to get them to stop assuming. I get them to admit that they don’t know the outcome. From then on, when they assume something, I ask. “But do you know?” Assumptions of the future are what cause anxiety. The truth is, we don’t know the future, but as Corrie Ten Boon says, “We can trust an unknown future to a known God.” When we allow assumption and anxiety to take over, we in essence are not trusting our future to God. The key to losing anxiety is to admit you don’t know and to trust God to take care of you.

The Bible says a lot about anxiety and worry. Here are some verses about it.

1. Therefore I tell you, stop being worried or anxious (perpetually uneasy, distracted) about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, as to what you will wear. Is life not more than food, and the body more than clothing?
Matthew6:25 AMP

2. Worry weighs a person down; an encouraging word cheers a person up.
Proverbs 12:25 NLT

3. Casting all your cares [all your anxieties, all your worries, and all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares about you [with deepest affection, and watches over you very carefully].
1 Peter 5:7 AMP

4. Don’t give in to worry or anger; it only leads to trouble.
Psalm 37:8 GNT

5. Whenever I am anxious and worried, you comfort me and make me glad.
Psalm 94:19 GNT

6. Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
Philippians 4:6-7 MSG

7. So refuse to worry, and keep your body healthy. 
Ecclesiastes 11:10a NLT

8. I am filled with trouble and anxiety, but your commandments bring me joy.
Psalm 119:143 GNT

9. To worry yourself to death with resentment would be a foolish, senseless thing to do.
Job 5:2 GNT

10. And the peace of God [that peace which reassures the heart, that peace] which transcends all understanding, [that peace which] stands guard over your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus [is yours].
Philippians 4:7 AMP

 

October 12, 2016

Standing on Certainty

II Timothy 1:12

…because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.

…I’m not ashamed. I know the one in whom I’ve placed my trust. I’m convinced that God is powerful enough to protect what he has placed in my trust until that day.

…I have no regrets. I couldn’t be more sure of my ground—the One I’ve trusted in can take care of what he’s trusted me to do right to the end.

People often say they need “a little more faith,” but perhaps what they are looking for is “a little less faith and a little more certainty.” Is that what they really want?

The argument is compelling: Faith wouldn’t be faith if we had 100% certainty. Probably nobody seemed to have more faith than the Apostle Paul, but it could be argued that he had less faith in God’s existence because he had the certainty of having met Jesus face to face on the Damascus Road.

Doubt has become very fashionable of late, even among Evangelicals. We have a spectrum of people who wear their misgivings on their sleeves at one end, and others who spectacularly crash and burn on the other. Some are actually clergy, and they use every opportunity to flaunt their doubts, begging the question of why they stay in vocational ministry if so little of Christianity’s core beliefs are true.

Paul’s situation isn’t really all that unique. We can have less faith and more certainty if we allow God to meet us on the Damascus Road of our lives. The road to Damascus is a sudden, crisis-like, intervention in our life’s script, but there is, in contrast, also the slow process of getting to know God over time and yet knowing him in the same certainty as the Apostle Paul did, but without the dramatic involvement of physical blindness.

The sometimes controversial musical, Godspell, introduced a generation to the following prayer:

O Dear Lord
Three things I pray.
To see thee more clearly.
Love thee more dearly.
Follow thee more nearly.
Day by Day.

This prayer has its origins in Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. Here it is in Ignatius’ words:

104. Third Prelude. This is to ask for what I desire. Here it will be to ask for an intimate knowledge of our Lord, who has become man for me, that I may love Him more and follow Him more closely. (Ignatius)

[source]

The verse from II Timothy is about both a believing faith and a trusting faith. At a blog called Canadian Writers who are Christian, we read these words from Alan Reynolds:

…[W]e don’t trust someone unless we know her (or him), have been together and worked together and talked together. Faith is relational, a personal thing. It doesn’t come wrapped in fancy paper and fine ribbons like a present on one’s birthday — and all we have to do is break the ribbon and tear off the paper! It’s not like buying a new car — shopping around until you decide what model you want, then going in and making a deal, paying the money down, and driving away.

This faith of which I speak is a quiet thing. For most of us, it has a quiet beginning. It grows through the years, often imperceptibly from day to day and week to week. We can’t create faith, or command it. It is the gift of God. But we can receive it, and nurture it. And if we don’t, it withers and dies.

Some of us enjoy gardening — digging in the earth and cultivating, planting and watering and fertilizing and weeding. We give our gardens every care.

Faith is rather like that. Nothing we can do will make a seed come to life and grow. Only God can do that. But if we don’t tend that seed which God’s Word has planted in our hearts, if we don’t care for it and nurture it, it’s not going to amount to much. If we let the weeds get ahead of us, or if we neglect to nourish and water regularly, then the plant which is our faith will wither and perhaps will die. And when we need it and turn to it, as we all do sooner or later, we find that there is nothing there…

Read more:

October 2, 2016

Righteousness through Faith in Christ

by Russell Young

There are different understandings as to what righteousness through faith in Christ means.  Paul wrote: “But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Christ Jesus to all who believe.” (Rom 3:21─22 NIV) And, to the Philippians he wrote that he wanted to “be found in [Christ], not having a righteousness of [his] own that comes from the law, but that which us through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” (Phil 3:9 NIV)

Paul was clear that he did not accept that righteousness could come through the law, but that it came through faith in Christ.  Most believers would accept this to be true; however, it is true, as well, that ‘righteousness through faith in Christ’ is not well understood.  Although the concept may not be clear to many, believers commonly rest in the confidence of their trust in the Lord that he will unilaterally provide their righteousness; that is, his righteous life will become their righteous life. Such thinking is a mixture of truth and error, which in the end could be very destructive.  Greater understanding is necessary.

Since “faith in Christ” is necessary, this concept needs greater clarification.

Faith in Christ can be appreciated through the understanding that Christ is the Spirit. This truth must be grasped. When Paul teaches that faith must be rested in Christ, he is not speaking of the person and works of the fleshly Jesus who walked this earth without sin.  He is not speaking of the Lord’s sacrificial death on the cross as the means of achieving righteousness.  He is speaking of the Christ the Spirit.  Paul wrote: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:17─18 NIV) Faith in Christ is faith in the Spirit and it is through the Spirit that righteousness is gained.  Christ died so that we might be cleansed and given his Spirit and a new chance, a new birth.  The believer’s hope of righteousness rests in faith in the Spirit.  Those who fail to appreciate this truth are not likely to practice faith in Christ.

To further ground this truth, Paul affirmed in his letter to the Galatians, “But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.” (Gal 5:5 NIV) Accordingly, his understanding was that the Spirit is the source of a person’s righteousness and that it had not yet been achieved by those to whom he was writing or by himself (Phil 3:12), but that its development was being waited …was yet to happen.

How is righteousness through faith in the Spirit (Christ) accomplished?  Does the believer become righteous merely by trusting that the Spirit will make him or her righteous? Absolutely, and unequivocally, NOT.

Faith is often presented as something that the believer must possess. Although this is true, faith is not merely belief or the accepting of an idea as being truth.  Faith does not exist unless the believer is willing to live and reveal his or her acceptance of that belief through their practices. That is, their behaviours and choices must reflect those things that they claim to believe. Faith is more than casual belief is it total persuasion and to the point that it compels action.  Without action faith is dead; it doesn’t exist. (Jas 2:17, 26) Obedience is faith in action and the writer of Hebrews has written that eternal salvation comes through obedience (Heb 5:9) or the practice of faith.  It is in regard to a person’s practices in obedience to the Spirit that “faith in Christ” takes on meaning. And it is in this sense that righteousness comes through faith in Christ. It is those who “are led by the Spirit” who will live righteously (Rom 8:4) and develop holiness and dwell with their God in his royal city, the New Jerusalem. The righteousness that brings eternal salvation is not imputed.

Faith in Christ is through conviction of the truth and claims of Christ to the point that obedience to the Spirit is practiced.


Regular Sunday contributor Russell Young has a book releasing this fall. Stay tuned for details.

September 30, 2016

Holding on to Your Faith

Today we’re featuring a website new to us, Ebony Johanna, although we’ve linked to her content previously at Thinking Out Loud. Click the title below to read at source, and then visit the blog for more. She begins by addressing the current situation in the United States from an African-American perspective.

Where Do We Go From Here? Maintaining Faith in the Midst of Suffering

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him. For the help of his presence.” – Psalm 42.5

After another agonizing week of around the clock coverage of the war against black bodies, we find ourselves here again. Once again, we rise in protest because of another shooting of black men, women, and children. Once again, we offer analysis and critique of a system that continuously devalues our lives. Once again, we have conversations with colleagues, neighbors, friends, and even strangers about the urgency in dealing with this national sin. Once again, we petition God for cessation to this madness, praying that he would rescue us from imminent doom.

And with all of this, I still wonder if we are actually doing anything. It feels as if our prayers are falling on deaf ears, reverberating throughout the heavens yearning for someone to listen.

Does God hear? And if God hears, does he care? Can God actually do anything to save us?

As these crises continue, it proves that it doesn’t matter what we are doing – our melanin makes us an instant target. Whether we are armed or not, with our hands up or not, running or lying flat on the ground, able-bodied or disabled, cis-gendered or queer, young or old – the common denominator in them all is blackness. Blackness presumes that we are guilty regardless of what we do or what we don’t do. And that is disheartening as much as it is mind-boggling. If this was about behavior, we could act right even if it didn’t feel right if it meant that we would make it home. But it is not about behavior, how good or how bad, it is about this skin, this blackness which God created.

We can’t change this skin. We can’t peel it off or wake up one day shades lighter so that we can escape the white gaze. Yet the longer we stay in it, the longer our fate remains the same. All it takes is one traffic stop, one sidewalk encounter, one word misinterpreted, one glance mistaken for anger – as if we didn’t have a right to be. Can God get us out of this mess? Didn’t he know what they would do to us, that they would despise and kill what he deemed beautiful?

Deep in my heart I know that things will change. And yet my confession of faith sounds trite and feigned even to my own ears. I sympathize with Baldwin and Coates’ lack of faith in a divine deliverer as the past 400 years suggests that deliverance isn’t coming and at the same time, my blackness denies me the opportunity to surrender to the notion that this is all there is. Hope against hope is the only thing that sustains as black corpses fill my Facebook feed night after night after night. With every new hashtag, I feel my heart leap out of my chest. I have stopped looking. I have stopped counting.

Too oppressed to give up the fight of faith. In a sense, agnosticism is a luxury of the privileged, those who don’t have to spend entire generations praying for relief to come. And yet, faith cannot simply be deduced to a product of poverty and oppression. I disagree with the notion that suffering helps us to center our faith, because then racism sounds like the intent of the divine and not the workings of evil men who have purposed in their hearts to ransack the earth of all of its goods. I choose to believe the latter and still, it brings me little comfort as then we have to question whether God has the capacity to make the suffering stop.

If I keep fixated on the news feeds, I begin to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the suffering. Every single day, it seems, there is a new Emmett Till. Before we can even grieve the loss of one of soul, we learn of another. The sheer rate at which our black brothers and sisters are falling – with no plausible end in sight – can leave one to deduce that God is not as powerful as we once imagined him to be. We’ve been praying. We’ve been fasting. Not just in this moment but for centuries. Though methods have changed, the fact that we are brutalized remains the same. If deferred hope makes the heart grow weak, the absence of hope surely kills it.

It is one thing to have our bodies thrown about because our blackness too closely resembles God’s image; it is quite another to allow our spirits to die because we have grown disillusioned by the suffering. If our spirits die, we will never survive this sadistic society.

We must press on. We must fight to maintain this ancient faith, not the white man’s faith but this faith that flows from where the Nile meets the Euphrates. It is this faith that enabled our ancestors to survive slavery, and it is this same faith that empowered them to fight for their freedom. This faith empowered our people to escape the Jim Crow south, to protest against lynching, stand up for voting rights, and march for freedom. We cannot abandon it, even in desperate times like these. We cannot walk out on God, even if we can’t see where God is moving in this moment.

Just as he led the children of Israel through the Red Sea to escape Pharaoh’s army and led our very own people out of slavery, he will lead us away from this. I don’t know how and I don’t know when, but I choose to believe change is coming.

 

August 26, 2016

A Psalm by Herman

NASB Ps. 88: 1 O Lord, the God of my salvation,
I have cried out by day and in the night before You.
Let my prayer come before You;
Incline Your ear to my cry!
3a For my soul has had enough troubles

Okay, it’s actually Heman, not Herman, but if he was around today he’d probably change it to avoid being called He-Man…

…This one needs an extended introduction.

The author of this devotional is frustrated, even to the point of calling Psalm 88, “This stupid Psalm.” (Not necessarily a recommended approach, but…) Artist and illustrator Jackson Ferrell writes a lighter devotion and is looking for an illustration to get things going and then realizes twice that some of the stories from his own life he thinks would be applicable, aren’t really what the Psalmist is saying.

Too many times we simply place the illustration too quickly, we think it fits and we don’t take the time to really slow down and read the passage. Perhaps sometimes our stories have nothing to do with the text.

Start by reading Psalm 88

…Today’s devotional is taken from the rather unusually named Chocolate Book. Each day the author has a chocolate flavor of the day and a reading for the day. (Seriously!) To read this at source, click the title below, and yes, the author of this Psalm is really named Herman…

Psalm 88 – Life in the Grave

This stupid psalm is resisting introduction. I’m about to ask “Have you ever thought you were going to die?” and recount the time I got stuck upside-down in a pool floatie as a toddler or the time the family Camry got hit by a semi truck when I was eleven, but then I realize: this psalm is about an extended period of being on the edge of the grave. It’s not about watching your life flash before your eyes in a moment. So then I’m about to ask “Have you ever wished you could die?” and talk about lying in the upstairs hallway overwhelmed by pain on the third day of having chicken pox when I was eight, but then I realize: the author of the psalm wants God to rescue him from his perpetually near-death state. He has no desire to die. So here’s the question: have you ever gone through a time in your life where, day after day, you felt like the living dead?

The psalm (which judging by the epigraph appears to have been penned by Heman the Ezrahite, one of the sons of Korah) is about being close to death in a particular way. The man compares himself to a corpse: “I have become like a man without strength…like the slain who lie in the grave, whom You remember no more” (4-5). He’s not even the walking dead; it’s like he’s going through his life just lying there. It’s like he’s gotten the Joseph treatment or even been buried alive: “You have put me in the lowest pit, in dark places, in the depths” (6). And who is it that’s put him six feet under? The psalmist contends that it’s God.

Chocolate Psalm 88Like David in Psalm 38, Heman the Ezrahite sees himself as an object of God’s wrath. He pleads to God, “You have afflicted me with all Your waves” (7) and “Your terrors have destroyed me” (16). Not only has God left him ostensibly drowning in judgment, it would seem he’s isolated him. “You have removed my acquaintances far from me” (8), the psalmist states. God has taken away the people he knew; moreover, God has made him an object of derision. It may be that Heman is being melodramatic, an unreliable narrator who cannot see God carrying him through this trial. I’ll entertain that possibility. But the fact remains: this is how it feels to Heman. To dismiss him as a histrionic drama queen would be a cruel disservice both to his inner state and the external pressures he’s suffering.

When he pleads his case to God in the middle of the psalm, it’s on grounds we’ve seen before. “Will You perform wonders for the dead? Will the departed spirits rise and praise You?” (10) he asks. How can God get any meaningful praise out of a corpse in the grave? His argument recalls one that David made in Psalm 30, one that might be construed as a bargain for rescue, offering to trade your praise for God’s salvation.

By the end of the psalm, nothing has changed, except that Heman has finished a song about his afflictions. He remains troubled to the last note of the last bar, and what happened afterward we can only imagine. But we know this much: even in the depths of the pit, he still called out to God. He still believed God might release him.

 


Curious to read more Psalms commentary like this one? Or maybe you just want to check out some other chocolate flavors! Either way, take a few minutes to read more at Chocolate Book.

August 23, 2016

For Many of Us, September is a New Start

In North America at least, September marks the beginning of a new season. So I’m taking the liberty of using an early January article from a very popular Christian writer, and importing it into the present calendar situation. Because I’m currently reading Intercessory Prayer by Dutch Sheets, I decided to see what online writing by him was available, and found this at his ministry blog. He posts a new article about once a month. Click the title below to read this at Dutch Sheets Ministries.

Strengthen Yourself In The Lord … sharing a personal lesson

The new year is such a wonderful time, offering us the opportunity to look back on the road we’ve walked, and then dream with God to set bigger goals and tread higher ground. As this pivotal year has drawn to a close, troubles abound in our nation and abroad; even so some still find themselves joyfully celebrating great victories in the Lord. God has blessed us with His goodness and hope for what lies ahead. While reflecting upon these things, the Lord reminds me of a paramount principle He long ago seared upon my heart. It is a fundamental truth that can help us stay in God’s will and fulfill His intended purpose for our life.

Horses and Chariots

When an alliance of enemy armies threatened Joshua and the people of Israel in their quest to possess the land promised to them, God encouraged them not to be afraid, promising to deliver the enemy into their hands. But the assurance of victory was accompanied by a set of critical instructions for maintaining their success. The Lord told them to hamstring the horses and burn the chariots they had acquired as spoils of war (Joshua 11:6). To hamstring a horse is to cut a particular tendon so as not to kill or completely maim the horse, but certainly render it useless for engaging in battle or pulling chariots of war. Disabling the horses and destroying the chariots was God’s way of ensuring Israel would not become self-sufficient and dependent on their own military strength and ability for winning future battles. Instead, they would be reminded to trust Him.

The Lord set this safeguard in place because there was a tendency among the people of Israel, as there is within all of us, to lean on Him in times of great need, yet fall back on our own abilities and strengths when our struggles wane. Psalm 106 illustrates this unfortunate truth. After God so powerfully delivered Israel from slavery, they quickly forgot His miraculous works and did not seek His counsel (verse 13).

History repeated itself after Israel’s conquest of Jericho when they set out to take Ai, a small and seemingly weak city. Having become overconfident and self-sufficient after miraculously winning the battle at Jericho, they did not seek the Lord’s counsel for taking Ai. Attempting to go against the enemy in their own strength and ability, they suffered a most humiliating defeat.

Friends, especially after we’ve experienced times of great success, breakthrough, or promotion, we cannot forget our source of strength! We must rely on the Lord even more, with all the “more” He entrusts to us.

Lean On The Lord

In this season, God is attempting to give us a greater understanding of His authority and strength for breakthrough in our personal lives and family, for all of our labors, and for this nation as a whole. But we won’t grasp the concept of operating successfully in God’s delegated authority if, even unconsciously, there is any form of self-sufficiency in us. We must recognize that each day we need God’s wisdom for our decisions and His strength for everything we undertake.

There are times in life when we are traveling upon what seems to be familiar ground. In those instances, it is important that one not give place to presumptuous self-sufficiency with a “been there, done that” mentality. Even in the seemingly easy times, we must be careful to heed the words of Proverbs 3:5-8:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.

In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the Lord and turn away from evil.

It will be healing to your body
And refreshment to your bones.

Boast In The Lord

There are other times when the Lord will take us into situations where we feel a degree of intimidation, facing challenges that seem beyond our natural abilities. Following the example of the Apostle Paul, we go to the Lord and say, “Lord I want to glory in my weakness, because You then can be strong in me,” (2 Corinthians 10:17; 12:10; Psalm 20:7; Joel 3:10b).

Our greatest asset can be our area of weakness if we allow it to drive us to God, His vast wisdom, His limitless ability and His magnificent strength, rather than trust in our own.

“Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me.”Jeremiah 9:23-24a

“…The people who know their God will display strength and take action. Those who have insight among the people will give understanding to the many…” – Daniel 11:32b-33a

The Lord desires to accomplish great exploits through those who take time to know Him intimately and hear what’s on His heart. He will cause them to rise up in great strength and take bold, strategic action that leads from victory to victory, bringing glory to His name.

New Strength For The New Year

Let’s make this simple yet vital principle our plumb line for moving into the New Year: trust God, not ourselves. In doing so, we won’t forget the Lord after witnessing great miracles. We won’t let our guard down or act in presumption after experiencing victory. And we won’t become like a weakened Samson who awakened from sleep thinking, “I will shake myself free and overthrow my enemies as I’ve always done,” not realizing that the Lord had departed from him (Judges 16:20).

In this New Year, God is releasing grace to trust Him more. Lean into it, take hold of it. As you strengthen yourself in the Lord, He will add strength to your abilities and release creative thoughts, wise solutions, divine appointments, great favor, good contracts, and timely sales. Struggling ministries will soar in God’s strength and families in need of help will experience breakthrough. The Lord will even bring good from your past defeats. In this coming year, let’s work hard and be diligent, being mindful of His faithfulness, and look to Him for all we need.

My friend, put your trust in Him!

August 18, 2016

Passing Through the Valley of Baca

Andy ElmesI couldn’t help but take a second look at the passage below several times, as UK devotional writer Andy Elmes, to whom I am subscribed, has spent over a week in these three verses. To get these sent to you by email, go to Great Big Life and click on Breakfast of Champions.

Psalm 84:5-7 (NKJV)
Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.

August 9:

I have been thinking of these verses a lot recently and have been considering how pilgrimage affects so many areas of our lives; also how it is not a bad thing but, more often than not, a God-designed thing for our lives. Here are some thoughts for you.

What is it to pilgrimage, you may ask? The word pilgrimage means ‘to journey’, so when God speaks of pilgrimage in this Psalm He is saying, “Blessed is the person who sets his heart on journeying”, and that is so true, especially when it comes to our walk or journeying with God. “Blessed [daily] is the person who sets his heart on journeying with the Lord”. Other faiths in the world have a spiritual pilgrimage mentality but theirs are always to physical places and landmarks, like Mecca and Lourdes, but it is not to be that way for us. Our pilgrimage is to a person – the person of Jesus – ever towards a deeper relationship with Him.

Christianity is not meant to be something or somewhere you totally arrive at instantly. Yes, when we believe, we receive from God everything we are going to get (of His fullness we have received, John 1:16). But we are called to spend the rest of our days (till we appear before Him in Zion) journeying into everything He has given us, to understanding and embracing all that He has done and given to us in Christ. God wants us to “keep on movin'”.  We are not to be parked vehicles, but ever-moving ones that walk, like Abraham, into all the promises and intentions of God for our lives.

So, our pilgrimage (journey) does not end when we reach a historical landmark, because if it did, how sad would that be. You would be left thinking, “What next?”. No, God commits to walk with us each and every day on this pilgrimage that He has called us to and every day it gets better and better. It’s when we set our hearts to journey with the Lord that we learn all that we need to and He is revealed to us so we know Him closer and more intimately as the miles of our days pass by.

Think about those two disciples that walked with the freshly risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24). For some reason Jesus had not allowed them to recognise Him, but appeared as someone they did not know. It was as they walked (journeyed) with Him that He made the mysteries of the scripture easily understood, and then it was during the journey that He revealed Himself to them. As we set our hearts to journeying with the Lord He helps us to daily understand His mysteries and daily reveals Himself to us, as He did to those two disciples, and He causes our hearts to burn within us as theirs did…

August 10:

…This verse then makes a strange statement that caught my attention: “as they pass through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs”. I wondered where Baca was and after a short search discovered that no one really knows where this valley was, but most live by the interpretation rather than a physical place: its most common interpretation is ‘valley of weeping’. We all, at one time or another on our pilgrimage, will go through valleys or ‘times of weeping’ but God promises, as we journey (stay) with Him through these seasons, He will cause them to be places of refreshing springs.

When you walk daily with Jesus He causes life and joy to break out in the saddest or seemingly driest places. He causes rivers to flow in what are the dessert times of our life. He does not call us to avoid or by-pass these valleys but walks with us through them – remember He promised, “I will never leave you or forsake you”. He is not a ‘good-time God’, only there for the good bits. Rather He remains a good God in all the seasons we experience on this pilgrimage called life. Remember, David in Psalm 23 said, “though I walk through the valley”. He included valleys in his great ‘pilgrimage with God’ Psalm because he knew we all go through them! …

… He is the God that causes springs to flow in dry places with us, in us and through us!

August 11:

Psalm 84 teaches us that journeying with the Lord causes your life to go from strength to strength, not from strength to weakness. As we dare to daily journey with Him He causes us to become strong where we are weak and fully developed in the areas of our life that we are not. Each stage of our pilgrimage causes our lives to be enhanced and empowered for the road and journey that still lies ahead. Remember what we learn about David’s pilgrimage when it came to the moment he needed to take down a giant (Goliath): his life was prepared and ready, his life was more than strong enough. Why? Because the pilgrimage (God-journey) of his life had brought him to, and through, the defeat of bears and lions; Goliath was the next logical victory and he was destined to win that encounter too.

It was his ongoing journey that made him strong for what God had for him next, and so will yours as you daily commit to journey with the Lord; through things that may seem big He builds you up for the victories that lie further ahead. As the disciples walked with Jesus over the three years of their discipleship they went from strong to stronger in their ability, knowledge and confidence. We don’t have just three years: we have a lifetime! As you commit to walk with Him daily, as they did, your life will also go from strength to strength too.

August 12

…We love the destination and the arriving bit. God loves the journey just as much, because in the journey He does a whole lot of stuff in us which is always good for our long-term life. He is looking at the book of your life, not your present chapter. Let’s face it, when it comes to the promises of God and seeing them manifest in our lives we are all like a bunch of kids in the back of the car on the way to a summer holiday.

Independent of whether we are on route to Torquay or Disneyland, the question that comes from the kids in the back is always the same – come on, you know it, you have either heard it or were the one that said it when you were younger. Yeah, that’s the one: “ARE WE THERE YET?” Kids do not appreciate journeys: they like instant arrivals! Meanwhile, the parent is enjoying the journey (except for the kids keeping on) and the journey is actually producing patience and appreciation in the life of the kids (when they finally get there they will love it).

God has promised we will arrive – and arrive we will, but we, like the kids in a car, need to remember that God is not in a hurry. He knows that the journey can produce a whole lot of good and effective stuff in us that would never be produced if we had a Tardis-type experience (instant arrival) with our destinies. It is often on the journey that we learn and gain valuable things like appreciation. When you have journeyed toward somewhere you really appreciate it when you get there. One common example would be if you save up for something: you appreciate it a lot more than if you put it on the credit card! Journeying towards something really does cause appreciation and value…

August 15:

The journey will create appreciation. It will also create faith as you continually trust in God while still on route. When we talk of faith we should always look around for its best friend, patience. I like faith more and would like to hang out with it on its own! The problem is that God most often sends them as a team, because patience produces a lot, too – and together they produce greatness. Let’s think about the power of patience this morning (the art of waiting for something).

Galatians 5:22–23 (NIV)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Remember, patience is a fruit of the Spirit not a gift – it is grown, rather than given. Like any fruit it grows slowly, not suddenly appears.

Hebrews 6:12 (NIV)
We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

The Bible tells us to imitate people of faith and patience – not just those who are full of faith, but those who can trust God and wait for His perfect timing. When we choose to walk in faith and patience we will inherit everything God has promised. Remember, God works in the delay and the things He has promised are so worth waiting for. Keep away from shortcuts that produce look-a-likes, and hang out for the genuine which comes from the very hand of God. Hey, to be honest with you, patience was never my favorite fruit – I would have loved for God to give it to me as an instant download! Trouble is, He would not. Why? Because He knows that patience does us good, and when we have it and mix it with our faith incredible things start to happen.

 

July 14, 2016

Past Tense, Future Victory

We return today to a multiple-writer site we visited last July, Inspire A Fire. The writer for this one is April Dawn White. You can click the title below to read this, with pictures, at source.

Victory Perspective

The invisible battle of trust, is the biggest battle I face.

When I find myself wondering in my wandering, I return to these stories of God’s faithfulness. I can trust God has already won the battle on my behalf.

I love how God uses past tense grammar to describe a current or future victory.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Joshua and Jericho

See I have delivered Jericho into your hands.” (Joshua 6:2, NIV)

Joshua stands before a small city fortified with tall walls. Assessing the giant walls, God said, “See I have delivered Jericho into your hands.” I wish I could see the look on Joshua’s face at that moment. Queue the climatic music. Staring up at the walls, did he have a look of skepticism or determination? Before God offers an unusual battle plan, He assured Joshua, “I have delivered” this city into your hands.

Joshua entered into battle from the stance of victory.

Moses’ Commission

See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Exodus 23:20-31 (NIV)

Moses led a million march–a motley crew of former slaves, out of Egypt through the Red Sea towards freedom. God in is mighty way parted the Red Sea and the people marched right through toward freedom. Before the split, God assured Moses, “I am sending an angel ahead of you…to a place I have prepared.”

With Pharaoh and the entire Egyptian army closing in behind, Moses walked in a stance of victory on dry ground as he crossed the Red Sea.

Gideon’s Call

Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.” (Judges 7:15, NIV)

A chapter before, the Lord finds Gideon hiding from the enemy. Now God has called him to fight. Before God issues an unusual battle plan (by the way, most of God’s battle strategies are unusual) He assures Gideon, “The Lord has given” the enemy into your hands.

Gideon enters into battle from a stance of victory.

We can learn from Joshua, Moses, and Gideon. These men faced insurmountable circumstances, yet they entered into battle from a stance of victory.

Before God issues an unusual battle plan, for our lives we can rest assure He has already prepared our future and delivered the victory.

What battle are you facing?  The victory is already yours. Go get it.


A song which fits this theme well is one we haven’t previously featured here. Enjoy “The Battle Belongs to The Lord” by the band Petra.

June 25, 2016

Imobilized

Today’s devotional is from Soulfari, a site that I’ve been following for many years. The author is . To read at source, or leave a comment click the link below.

Fear of Falling

I’m restless today…

I tend to feel that way, the sensation of someone relentlessly tugging at my sleeve, trying to get my attention, attempting to pull me in different direction. Sometimes it wearies me with its persistent cry for my focus, for my deep introspection to discover the cause behind such unrest in my spirit. When I commit to explore the crevices of my fidgety spirit, I’m often surprised by the mystery revealed.

I’m restless because I’m not satisfied.

I want more from life and from my relationship with God. I want a stronger marriage and a greater connection with my children. The desire to make a meaningful impact on this world drives me daily and to settle for anything less seems pointless. This tug on my sleeve is a welcomed one… but there is one that is not.

I’m restless because I’m afraid.

Afraid of loss,

Afraid of failure,

Afraid of rejection,

Afraid of the unknown.

The fear of falling (Basiphobia) is a strong phobia and can cripple, immobilize and rob freedom from the strongest person. For our heart, in a spiritual sense, it’s just as dangerous. Loss, failure, rejection, the unknown threaten our spirit daily, trying to get us to believe a lie.

These restless tugs are connected; they meet at the crossroad of faith and fear. Just when I’m disturbed enough to move out/step out in faith, the fear of falling raises its ugly head and lying tongue.

The lie of falling

The fear of falling lies to me, tugs on my sleeve, fabricates a story of doubt and guilt. A story meant to immobilize my heart and stop me in my tracks… afraid to move out in faith. This enemy wants my heart to believe that I’m doomed to fall and that my falls are always fatal and final.

The truth of falling

“Though he fall, he shall not be cast down; for Jehovah upholds his hand.” Psalm 37:24

Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. Jude 1:24

So, I’m checking out that tug I feel on the sleeve of my heart. I don’t want to settle for less than all that God has for me, nor do I want the fear of falling compromise my faithfulness to the call on my life. For that I need more of Him.

“All our falls are useful if they strip us of a disastrous confidence in ourselves, while they do not take away a humble and saving trust in God.” – Francois Fenelon

 

How about you… are you afraid of “falling” in something Father God has asked you to do? How can I pray for you?

June 22, 2016

Following the Directions

Today we pay a return visit to Jen Rodewald at the blog The Free Slave’s Devotional; an article from her archives. This is also a return visit to Joshua, who we looked at yesterday.

directionsHe Gives Me Directions

“And Joshua fell on his face…and said to him, ‘What has my lord to say to his servant?’” ~Joshua 5:14, NASB

We discussed the felling of Jericho yesterday, and with it, the purpose for the nation of Israel. They were a people of God’s choosing, a people set apart for His purpose. His glory. His revelation.

They were to show who the true God is to the world. And God worked in and through them to reveal himself. Pretty well, too, despite the Israelites many, many flaws. Consider Rahab, her response to the Hebrew spies…

“…our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.” (Joshua 2:11)

She had heard about the Red Sea. About the wilderness, and the mighty kings the nomadic wanderers had taken out. No doubt she’d heard about the crossing of the flooded Jordan river…and now these people, whose God was clearly THE God, were coming.

Notice what she didn’t hear about…How amazing the leadership was among Israel. The awe-inspiring orator who captivated his audience. The unbelievably gifted song leader who could raise a frenzy of praise with his charismatic performances…

She heard about God. HIS power. HIS doing. HIS redemption of his people. Were there amazing leaders, great writers/speakers, gifted musicians? Yep. Among many other extraordinary people, there were such in Israel. Gifted and called by God himself. But Rahab’s faith didn’t sprout from them. She planted herself into the conviction that God was sovereign over all–people, nature, nations. All.

So, what does that have to do with the felling of Jericho? Well, we know Rahab was saved from that destruction. We also know that her legacy wasn’t restricted to her soiled past. Boaz, her son, was quite a good man, you know. And God saw fit to include Rahab in Jesus’s genealogy.

Anything else?

Well, we circled around to this question: “How do we, like the Israelites, show who God is to a godless or idolatress world?”

Perhaps the answer is found in this part of the story.

“I have given Jericho into your hand…. You shall march around the city, all the men of war circling the city once. You shall do so for six days…then on the seventh day march seven times, and the priest shall blow the trumpets…and all the people shall shout…”

What? Not only is that a very strange string of directions, it’s actually quite terrifying. March around the fortified city walls? That is a completely vulnerable position. And seven times? Not only is it vulnerable, it has now become predictable. A recipe for slaughter.

Here, maybe, is the key. Obedience. God said march. Just walk. No shooting. No secret attack. Nothing fancy, cunning, or brilliant. A simple walk around the wall–easy directions that are leg-shakingly difficult to complete. But the obedience is visible, so when Rahab and her family ask “why did you do that?” the people would say, “because God said to.” So when the nations around heard about the walls coming down, the only bit of strategy that they could gain from studying that victory is, “they obeyed God.”

Sometimes showing who God is to the world around me is as simple as walking. Am I willing to obey?

 

June 7, 2016

The God of Angel Armies

Today we’re paying a return visit to Blogos. This time, the post is by Denise Baum. Click the title below to read at source, and then be sure to look around the rest of the site.

Elisha and God’s Angel Army

So he said, “Go and see where he is, that I may send and take him.” And it was told him, saying, “Behold, he is in Dothan.” He sent horses and chariots and a great army there, and they came by night and surrounded the city. Now when the attendant of the man of God had risen early and gone out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. When they came down to him, Elisha prayed to the Lord and said, “Strike this people with blindness, I pray.” So He struck them with blindness according to the word of Elisha. 2 Kings 6:13-18

Just preceding these verses, we read that the king of Aram was furious with whoever it was that was revealing his highly classified military secrets to the king of Israel. He thought that someone in his own court was a traitor. Instead, it was God who disclosed the enemy plans to Israel’s king through his servant Elisha. When Aram’s king found out about Elisha, he focused his hostility against the city of Dothan where Elisha was staying. Imagine the fearful shock Elisha’s servant felt when he rose early on the morning described in this passage and saw the enemy horses and chariots circling his master’s city. He probably knew that Elisha was an informant against Aram, revealing to Israel’s king the maneuvers of the enemy. Being God’s spy for Israel involved risk, and now their backs were up against the wall.

Was Elisha scared? How could he be, considering what he saw and believed? But he had to share his confidence with his servant. “O Lord, open his eyes that he may see!” The servant saw that beyond the Aramean army, circling the city of Dothan, was God’s invincible army. This supernatural vision revealed a mountain “full of horses and chariots of fire.” Talk about confidence! No wonder Elisha was fearless in the face of imminent death. No one could threaten his composure and faith when he could see, with his own eyes, the military presence of the Lord of hosts. Not only was this army in a superior offensive position, but they were fueled by the fire of the Lord. “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24). Nothing can resist or overcome fire.

Whether our enemy is an army or an individual, God can give us victory or peace.tweet

This vision of faith, which God gave to Elisha and his attendant, is humorously contrasted in the next event in this drama. Instead of destroying his enemies with that fiery army sent from heaven, Elisha asked the Lord to blind them. Isn’t that fascinating? We read about supernatural vision and blindness in the same paragraph, the sense upon which this whole story pivots. The purpose of Elisha’s request was a reflection of his humility and love for his fellow man. Like Paul, in Romans 12, Elisha wanted to transform enemies into friends.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:14-21

Don’t miss the end of this amazing piece of history. Elisha actually led the blind Aramean army, now helpless and childishly obedient, to Samaria, into the city of Israel’s king! When their sight was restored, they found themselves at the mercy of their enemy’s sovereign. Instead of slaughtering them, however, he fed and watered them. This is the most peaceful disarmament in history. When the Aramean army received back their sight, were treated to a bountiful feast and then released, I imagine they were far more perceptive than ever before. 2 Kings 6:23 reveals the fruit of Elisha’s kindness: “And the marauding bands of Arameans did not come again into the land of Israel.”


Of course, we couldn’t run this without including the song suggested by the title! We already had the original Chris Tomlin song here in a version with guitar chords, this one is an acapella version by our friend David Wesley. For more of his videos click here.

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.