Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Courageous Obedience...

Sometimes it seems that we live in an age of fear compared to the world I grew up in.  And yet, when I look at history and across cultures, I see that almost every age around the world has been an age of fear for vast numbers of people.

Today, large numbers of people live in fear of terrorism. Many were afraid of losing their rights and freedoms under the last administration, and an entirely different group is afraid of losing theirs under this new administration. Others are in fear of losing their jobs to immigrants or robots or "progress" or downsizing or corporate decisions. The age-old fears of losing loved ones, losing health, and losing security are haunting many as they always do.

Fear is, I think, one of the devil's most powerful weapons because it cripples us. So many of Jesus's instructions to us involve action that often must be done in defiance of fear.

Sometimes, to obey His directions, we must defy the fear of what others will think. Sometimes God says to offer to pray for a stranger in the grocery store, and instantly dread of what others around us will think fills us. Unfortunately, we are also sometimes afraid of what even those in our own Church will think if we do not go with whatever is considered acceptable in that particular denomination.  Somehow the fear of how your own Christian friends will judge you can be just as crippling... even if it's unjustified fear.

Then there is the fear of being harmed or taken advantage of in some way. This one can easily hold us back from reaching out to the hurting and wounded. It's hard to learn that God actually calls us to be willing to be taken advantage of, for He said,  "If your enemy (ie: the person who will harm you) is hungry, give him food. If he is thirsty, give him drink. If he takes your basement, give him your coast, too." We are even called to lay down our lives, for "He who seeks to save his life will lose it."

Are we to totally disregard safety? Not at all! The Bible has many commands to be wise. Additionally, there are those whose jobs involve maintaining the safety of others, just as a watchman on the wall and the guard standing at the gate were charged with keeping evil out of the city. Woe to those who have been appointed those jobs and do not do them! In addition, those of us who are not charged with that job should not be judging them for doing their job. We also need to be careful not to judge other people's motives for doing something or not doing something.

The point is to judge our own hearts. To allow God to show us if fear is holding us back.

Because fear changes our starting point. 

Even for those who are indeed appointed guards and watchmen.

Fear affects the willingness of our heart.

When fear rules us, then our own personal starting point is, "That's unsafe. That's embarrassing; besides it would do no good. I don't ____ unless God tells me to do it in a specific circumstance. Then I'm willing." I've been there too, and I know how easy it is to say, "Well, I'm not sure God really told me to do that." And so I hang back yet again.

Lord, help my unbelief!

Faith's starting point is, "God has already told me to do it over and over again in His word, so unless He tells me not to do so in a specific circumstance, I will obey. Lord, which method would You have me use? I'm trusting in Your grace and leading and protection, so here I go walking out my faith..."

When the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith, He responded by telling them to obey Him.

Even Paul once did not preach in Asia because the Holy Spirit stopped him.  But his starting point was one of obedience and trust, regardless of how he was taken advantage of, beaten, abused, talked against, etc. Even his own church thought he was wrong sometimes!  But even when the Holy Spirit told him that imprisonment was awaiting him, he still obediently continued on, since the Holy Spirit was not stopping him in those cases. He knew that he was being asked to testify before Caesar in chains, and that his death would likely follow. And still he obeyed.

The fact of the matter is this:

There will always be a valid reason to be afraid.


For the one who truly understands
the fortress offered by the Most High God
there will also always be an even more powerful reason
to be courageous in the face of that fear!

I opened my Bible to Psalm 27 this morning, which is one of my favorites. It is an absolutely beautiful Psalm describing describing fearless trust.

There isn't anything in this Psalm about evildoers being banished forever. No... the entire thing is about the safety and security of dwelling in God's presence, even though danger surrounds on every side.

David does not even ask for his enemies to go away, for he knew that God's presence was a place of safety, no matter what surrounded him. He wants to know God's will, and it appears that he feels his foes are affecting his ability to know God's way.

Here it is, with my favorite lines highlighted. In particular, I love verses 4, 5, and 6 because they are a progression. David asks one thing when he is afraid. As a result of that, God responds... and David's end result is joy and praise. 1, 2, 3.

A Psalm of Fearless Trust in God.

A Psalm of David.

27 The Lord is my (A)light and my (B)salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the [a](C)defense of my life;
(D)Whom shall I dread?
When evildoers came upon me to (E)devour my flesh,
My adversaries and my enemies, they (F)stumbled and fell.
Though a (G)host encamp against me,
My heart will not fear;
Though war arise against me,
In spite of this I [b]shall be (H)confident.
(I)One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek:
That I may (J)dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
To behold (K)the [c]beauty of the Lord
And to [d](L)meditate in His temple.
For in the (M)day of trouble He will (N)conceal me in His[e]tabernacle;
In the secret place of His tent He will (O)hide me;
He will (P)lift me up on a rock.
And now (Q)my head will be lifted up above my enemies around me,
And I will offer in His tent (R)sacrifices [f]with shouts of joy;
I will (S)sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord.
(T)Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice,
And be gracious to me and (U)answer me.
When You said, “(V)Seek My face,” my heart said to You,
“Your face, O Lord(W)I shall seek.”
(X)Do not hide Your face from me,
Do not turn Your servant away in (Y)anger;
You have been (Z)my help;
(AA)Do not abandon me nor (AB)forsake me,
O God of my salvation!
10 [g]For my father and (AC)my mother have forsaken me,
But (AD)the Lord will take me up.
11 (AE)Teach me Your way, O Lord,
And lead me in a (AF)level path
Because of [h]my foes.
12 Do not deliver me over to the [i](AG)desire of my adversaries,
For (AH)false witnesses have risen against me,
And such as (AI)breathe out violence.
13 [j]I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the (AJ)goodness of the Lord
In the (AK)land of the living.
14 (AL)Wait for the Lord;
Be (AM)strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the Lord.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Behind the walls of a fortress...

Psalm 91 is one of the most beloved Psalms. I have it mostly memorized, but I get the order of the sections mixed up sometimes.  So sometimes, if I wake up in the middle of the night and am having a hard time going back to sleep, I start reciting it. And when I realize I've missed a section, I go back trying to figure out where the missing section belonged... and I fall asleep in the process. (Sometimes. Insomnia is an issue I'm dealing with right now.)

Anyway... that's what I was doing very early this morning when I "discovered" two nuggets I've somehow missed all the other hundreds or thousands of times I've read or recited this Psalm. Isn't it amazing how the discoveries NEVER end?

Up toward the beginning of Psalm 91 is this statement:
His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.

We all know a shield is carried to protect you. The Hebrew word for "bulwark" is used only here in the entire Bible and it's translated different ways, but it's referring to walls like these. Walls strong enough to protect you, your home, your family... anything, actually, that we choose to bring or grow or operate inside those walls. Walls like these:

So what again do these walls symbolize?

His faithfulness.  BlueLetterBible.com says the word means truth. Sureness. Reliability. Stability.

That is what our defensive walls are made of. Not our own efforts or our own goodness or our own faithfulness. Our protection comes from the stability of the Ancient of Days who is the Beginning and the End.

Ephesians says that our shield is "the shield of faith."  To me, the connection between these two verses is quite simple.

If an earthly enemy was attacking and someone offered you the protection of those walls above, would you run inside that fortress?  Of course!

But what if you were blind?  What if you could not see those walls -- you just had to take someone's word for it that they were there.

What if you couldn't even feel them? In the case of Bamburgh's walls as shown above, even feeling them isn't always an option. You'd have to scale a cliff to touch the walls on the seaward side!  You can't even feel them when you're inside them, cause there's just slope of stone.

Would you still go inside the walls?

You would go inside the walls only if you believed what you'd been told about the height and breadth and size of them. Faith.

And so it is with God's faithfulness. It will only protect us if we take refuge behind it and rely on it. If we trust that it's there and true. If our faith in His faithfulness is stronger than our faith in whatever negative outlook is looming.

So who is really invited inside this fortress?  Look to how this glorious Psalm ends:
14 “Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him;
I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name.
15 “He will call upon Me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
16 “With a long life I will satisfy him
And let him see My salvation.”

Did you catch the beginning?

He said, "Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver Him."

God didn't say, "Because he repents of all his sin and tries as hard as he can and reads his Bible every day, I will deliver him."

He didn't say, "Because she is a marvelous wife and mother, I will deliver her."

We wouldn't need delivered or need to see His salvation if we had it all together, would we?

No... the whole Psalm is about the strength and power and protection offered by this fortress that is Him, and it ends with Him saying that He will deliver me solely because I love Him.

How wonderful!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Why we celebrate, even as the world falls apart...

December 2016.  The once-great city of Aleppo, jewel of the Ottoman Empire and home to 2 million not all that long ago (think Houston, TX for size), is in its death throws as massive evacuations continue. In South America, Venezuela is in total upheaval after the most-used currency bill has suddenly been declared no longer valid, and people have no valid money to buy food. The UK is dealing with Brexit and the US is dealing with division and controversies from our own elections.

It's easy to find news of disasters that boggle the mind. It's easy to be overwhelmed by challenges in our own lives that seem just as huge.

And yet, Christmas is less than a week away, and many of us will celebrate the birth of Jesus.

How can we reconcile celebration when such things are happening?

To me, the answer is simply because these disasters illustrate how desperately the world needs a hero.

Doesn't it? What person among us sees these things happening and doesn't yearn for somebody to come rescue everybody and set everything right?

The thing is, the world has a Hero... but many do not know it yet.

How can Jesus be the hero? many will ask. Look at what's happening. What hero would let such things happen?

The answer, for me, is to realize that we're still in the dark part of the story.

When most do not recognize the Hero for who He is.

When the final victory is yet to come.

When most cannot fathom how victory could ever come.

When many do not even know a Hero exists... or believe one could exist. How could there be a hero when this is happening?

This is how stories play out, isn't it?  Nothing's ever easy. The hero isn't a hero because everything's great. He's a hero because of the very darkness that engulfs the world of the story.

History is indeed a story, and Jesus is the hero of the story. History is His-story. 

He's the Ultimate Superhero, actually.  

Does that seem a stretch? It's not.
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
We think it's awesome when a superhero can control the forces of nature. We are impressed when the hero uses superpowers or magical forces to hold things in place... maybe to keep a building from falling so someone can be saved... or maybe to freeze an entire situation so something good can be done. We love to read stories where magic can be used to create something out of nothing. 

Why do so many of us love these kinds of stories? 

Because our world needs a hero. 

Because we have inside of us a love for what makes our Savior so amazing.

We are attracted to power, because our Savior holds the ultimate power of the universe and we were made to love Him. But I think a lot of people don't realize the raw power summarized in that passage.

Read that verse again.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

For by Him all things were created,
both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—

All things have been created through Him and for Him.

He is before all things, and

in Him all things hold together.
The entire universe was created by Him.

This display of power isn't just a past event.  His power is what's holding it all together. Keeping galaxies and electrons in orbit.

Superman's power? Nothing compared to His.

Pick an X-men or an Avenger... or put them all together. Absolutely nothing.

His power is so staggering that every superhero story ever created is but a human's poor attempt (if they only knew it) to come up with something that reflects a tiny bit of Him.

Take Magnito as an example.  The moviemakers created this scene where he used his power to hold a thousand missiles in place in the air, then turn them where he wanted them to go. If you haven't seen the movie, just trust me. It was really impressive. (Or watch the scene on YouTube if you want.)

Now watch this, and realize how much Jesus' power is holding in place. 

His power is more than just staggering. It's mind-boggling. Beyond our ability to fully comprehend.

We can understand Magnito's power because it is limited. Even though it isn't real.

Jesus' power is real, but we have a hard time understanding it because it is limitless.

And just like the heroes of our stories, He temporarily laid that power aside and surrendered everything He was... to save the world.

The important thing to remember as we watch this messed up world, is this:

His story isn't over yet. 
The finale is still to come. 

This is where the hope lies. This is why we can still celebrate the fact that He came, even as cities and nations and alliances and economies fall apart. His coming - His birth, death, and resurrection - were the middle of this story we're living in. And it's always darkest towards the end of the story, isn't it?

All this darkness? All this destruction and pain and suffering? All this emptiness and hopelessness?

This is why the world needs a Savior... 
One whose story isn't over yet. 

Five years ago, when I was finally able to comprehend who He actually is, I fell so in love...

With Jesus...

Like I never had been before. He totally awes me.

I asked God to give me a Christmas song that expressed this, and I'd like to share it again. A simple recording is here if you want to hear how it goes, but it's the power in the words - straight out of Scripture - that I want you to hear.

He is the hero of your story, too. If you let Him be your hero.

All He Was
© 2011 Kathleen Peters (since US copyright law doesn't recognize God's right to it)

Once outside of time began a story    (John 1:1)
It’s been told a thousand times and ways, or more
A virgin birthed and angels sang    (Is. 7:14Luke 1:342:13-14)
The wise men saw and shepherds came  (Matt. 2Luke 2:15-16)
But the hero who lay within her arms 
Had already made a sacrifice of love:     

He was the Maker of the universe    (Col. 1:16John 1:3)
The Master of the stars     (Ps. 136:7-9)
The voice of endless power     (Gen. 1:3)
And everlasting love     (Jer. 31:3)
Before foundations of the world were laid      (Rev. 13:8)
Beyond the veil of time     (Ps. 90:2)
He knew the world would need a Savior’s touch      (Is. 9:2)
So He surrendered all He was.      (Phil 2:7-8)

He said that He revealed the face of God    (John 14:9)
That’s why the crowds responded to His power and love    (Matt. 4:25)
The sick were healed and blind could see   (Matt. 4:23Matt. 15:31)
The lame made whole, possessed set free (Matt. 21:14Mark 1:32)
Yet they took Him and nailed Him to a cross   (Matt. 27:22-31)
But He prevailed over death and conquered all!    (2 Tim. 1:10)

'Cause He's the Maker of the universe    (Col. 1:16John 1:3)
The Master of the stars     (Ps. 136:7-9)
The voice of endless power     (Gen. 1:3)
And everlasting love     (Jer. 31:3)
Since the foundations of the world were laid 
Beyond the bounds of time
He rules as everlasting Lord of all      (Phil. 2:9-10)
Yet He surrendered all He was…  (Luke 4:17-21)

         To bring good news to the afflicted     (Is. 61:1)
         And peace for the broken    (Is. 61:1)
         There’s freedom for captives     (Is. 61:1)
         The favor of God    (Is. 61:2)
         There’s joy now for mourning      (Is. 61:3)
         And strength for the weary      (Is. 61:340:31)
         He’s made us the righteousness of God   (2 Cor. 5:21)

He's still the Maker of the universe    (Col. 1:16John 1:3)
The Master of the stars     (Ps. 136:7-9)
The voice of endless power     (Gen. 1:3)
And everlasting love     (Jer. 31:3)
When the foundations of the world were laid     (Rev. 13:8)
The Father looked through time     (Is. 9:2-7)
He saw that you would need a Savior’s love...     (Rom. 7:24-25Gal. 2:20)
         So Jesus came to be the Perfect One      (2 Cor. 5:21)
         What He did for you will always be enough…  (Rom. 8:1-4)
         Because He gave you all He was.     (1 Cor. 1:30)

Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Post-Election Prayer...

Fellow Americans,

Today, two men will meet. Two men who are deeply unpopular and who face high disapproval ratings. They come together from different backgrounds, races, experiences, and beliefs to begin to work together on behalf of our nation.

Let us pray for them today, that God will give both humility and wisdom and enable both to make the good of the country their priority.

Let us, a people divided between Democrats and Republicans and Independents, a people divided between races, a people divided in so many ways, join in unity and humility to pray for them, that they would also meet in humility and unity and be given wisdom in how to unify our people.

"Heavenly Father, we acknowledge that You are holy and just, and You do all things well, even when we do not understand. Again we pray that Your kingdom would come upon this earth and Your will be done in our nation.

Enable us by your grace to forgive anything we may be holding against President Obama and President-elect Trump and their supporters, as You forgive our sins. Help us and them to stay humble and to seek Your will and Your ways which are so much higher than ours.

You said that You give wisdom to those who ask, so we ask on behalf of them, that You would indeed give them wisdom beyond their experiences and earthly knowledge. Give both of them Your words to speak to our people, knowing that only You can heal our land.

Help us and them, Father God, to avoid the temptations of pride, of bitterness, and of selfishness. Help us to avoid the sin of not trusting You, for we know that You alone are worthy of our trust. So in You we WILL trust.

We place our today, our lives, and our nation in Your hands, and we will give You - not our party or any man - the glory for good things that You have done in the past, the good things You will do today, and the good things that You will do in the future. For even in the difficult times, You are always good and doing good things. We give You our praise, because You do all things well.

I pray this in Jesus' name, Amen!"
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