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I have often found comfort in Psalm 91 during traumatic times in my life, particularly verses 1-2: “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust (NIV).” Finding refuge and rest under his wing (verse 4) is a comforting image of God’s care and concern for us. But when I read Psalm 91 yesterday, the word “fortress” in verse 2 resonated with me.

As a fortress, God also defends us against the forces of evil. We need not be afraid because the arrows of the evil one bounce off the fortress of God that surrounds us (verse 5). We do not need to fear the evil that stalks us (verse 6). “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways (verse 11).”

Verse 14 tells us God offers protection to those who acknowledge Him; he answers those who call his name. Declaring that God is your refuge is more than just a place of rest; it is also a declaration that you put your trust in God as your fortress against those who pursue you with evil intent. By declaring, “The Lord is my refuge, my fortress, my God, in whom I trust,” we verbalize that we put our faith in God and his eternal purposes, not the temporal ways of the world.

Throughout my Christian life I have taken multiple spiritual gifts inventories, personality tests and aptitude quizzes. They have been helpful to some extent in orienting me toward where I feel God is calling me to serve, yet I have often wondered about God calling me to serve in areas where I feel ill-equipped or where tests show I am not strong in that area. It made me wonder what a spiritual gifts inventory would have shown Gideon prior to God calling him to save Israel.

In Judges 6 we find Israel oppressed by the Midianites because Israel “did evil in the eyes of the Lord (6:1, NIV).” Verse 6 tells us that the “Midians so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.” Did God respond with a mighty army to save them; a legion of soldiers who scored high on warrior skills on a spiritual gifts inventory? Not exactly. He sent them Gideon.

Who was Gideon? The angel of the Lord calls him, “mighty warriorand tells him “the Lord is with you (6:12)” To which Gideon responded, that “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us (6:13)?” Gideon has doubt about God’s intent to save them and perhaps even more doubt about his ability to lead the charge against their oppressors. The Lord reassures Gideon he has the strength and that he is with him (6:14), yet Gideon still questions God’s judgement. Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family (6:15).”

Sometimes God calls us to do things where we feel unqualified and weak. We can think of others who would be far more qualified in our opinion. Yet God reassures us, as he did Gideon, “the Lord is with you (6:12); I will be with you (6:16).” The Lord who created us often knows us better than we know ourselves. He calls us to fulfill his purpose and asks us to trust him. God sees things in us that sometimes assessments and analysis do not uncover in us. We just need to have faith in God’s judgement of our abilities.

Even though Gideon has doubts, he goes on to accomplish great things for God and brings the freedom from oppression that the Israelites asked for from God — probably not in the way they expected. Read Judges 6:11 – 7:25 and see how God develops Gideon into the mighty warrior he did not see in himself when God first called him. May this passage reassure you that God is with you no matter what he calls you to do.

Fear is an interesting thing. It can create great stress in the midst of troubles and cause us to panic. Yet fear can also protect us from harm and create a proper respect for authority. In Mark 4:35-41 we have the familiar story about fear where the disciples are in the boat with Jesus when a “furious squall came up (verse 37).”

At the beginning of Mark 4 Jesus pushed off in a boat on a lake to address the crowds pressed against the shore. Here he taught the parable of the farmer sowing seed where he explained to his disciples in verse 17, “When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.” He continued to teach and then by evening Jesus and his disciples pushed off in the boat to cross to the other side of the lake (verse 35-36).

Here are the disciples with the son of God sleeping in their boat. They’ve just listened to a full day of Jesus teaching to large crowds. Who wouldn’t think it should be smooth sailing ahead with Jesus along for the ride? But in an instant a storm popped up and nearly swamped the boat (verse 37). Their faith is tested and their first response is to accuse Jesus of not caring what happens to them. A moment later Jesus got up and rebuked the wind and the waves, then he rebuked his disciples: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith (verse 40)?”

Why are we so afraid of the people and forces of this world? So often we respond like the disciples in the midst of the storms that pop up in life by crying out to God to do something saying, “Don’t you care?” In the calm after the storm, when the disciples saw the power of God at work, then they had a fear of the Lord. “They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him (verse 41)!’”

I find it interesting how in this passage Jesus took the disciples from fear of the storm to being “terrified” of him. They acquired a proper reverence of God asking, “Who is this?” We should have the same awe and reverence of our Lord, placing our fear before the Lord Jesus and resting in him in the midst of the storms of life. Joshua 24:14 tells us, “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness (NIV).”

#WednesdayWalk Through the Bible — an exploration of what unknown people might have seen or felt when they witnessed the events in the Bible. This post is from the perspective of a family member in Rahab’s house based on Joshua 2:1-22 and 6:1-25.

I sat in the room with my parents, siblings, inlaws, nieces and nephews. We all barely fit in the small house situated along the outer wall of Jericho. I wondered why I had listened to Rahab. Honestly, what credibility does a prostitute have in knowing about spiritual matters? Yet she insisted we remain in her house if we wanted to survive the impending attack. When I asked her how she knew, she refused to explain as if to protect her source.

We were all scared, melting with fear at what seemed like an inevitable attack on our city. Years ago we heard how the God of the Israelites dried up the Red Sea for them to cross and drowned Pharaoh’s army. Recently word came that they totally destroyed Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan. Now they had crossed the Jordan and were at our doorstep.

I stared out the window and watched the scarlet cord blow in the breeze. I wondered who Rahab was signaling with this impromptu flag. I felt vulnerable looking out the window perched high on the wall as I watched the Israelites approach the city again with priests carrying a golden box and trumpets made of ram horns. Armed men in front and back of them escorted the procession of priests.

I checked the marks I made on the wall to keep track of each time they marched around the city. This would be the seventh time. I tired of this game they were playing with us. I was done hiding in this cramped house with my family so I made my way to the door. I reached for the latch, but a hand stopped me. I turned to see Rahab looking at me with an intense stare. She didn’t have to say a word. She told us when we first entered the house that we could not leave — that the door was all that stood between us and certain death. She told us the God of the Israelites is Lord God in heaven above and on the earth below.

I stood a moment at the door with my hand on the latch. All eyes in the room were upon me. No one said a word as we heard the priests blow the trumpets once again as they circled the wall. The city gates were shut tight, the wall that enclosed the city stood between us and the Israelite army. I thought about who I had more faith in, this God my sister the prostitute talked about or this fortress called Jericho where I lived most of my life.

Suddenly I heard shouting coming from the group of Israelites who were marching around the city. This startled everyone in the room. Several members of our family went to the window to see what was going on. Then I heard a rumbling sound, at first distant, then growing louder. Soon I felt the whole house shaking. Someone shouted, “The wall is crumbling! It’s coming down!” I panicked, “This house is part of the wall!” I reached for the door latch to flee the inevitable.

Rahab stopped me again and looked into my eyes. The sound of the crumbling wall was deafening. We could hear the shouts of the Israelite army entering the city. Judgement day was upon us. If Rahab said something to me, I could not hear it. I stared back at her and nodded. I had to trust; I had to have faith we would be saved from certain death.

Suddenly the door flung open. I turned to see two Israelite men standing in the doorway. “Rahab!” One said. “Have your family follow us.” We exited Rahab’s house and followed the men. As we climbed over the debris of the city wall I glanced back at the chaos, the screams of people and the rising flames. Tears filled my eyes as I realized how close I had come to being part of that death and destruction. We followed the two men to a place outside of their camp. In the distance we could see the dark smoke rising from our former life.

“Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,

Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,

Obed the father of Jesse,

and Jesse the father of King David.” Matt. 1:5-6 (NIV)

The following was sent to me by my friend. With his permission, I am sharing it with you.

A few days ago my daughter and my granddaughter were here for a brief visit. Just before bedtime I got out my green laser light to show my granddaughter. She loved it, precotiously exclaiming “This is really ‘mazing!'”

After she went to bed I went outside to check on my herd of frogs and toads. Yes, you read that right. You see, the light on the north side of the garage attracts a lot of bugs. Every warm night three to six tree frogs perch around the light for a meal, and two to three large toads sit on the ground below waiting to pounce on any careless flyby.

The herd was in full force! Six tree frogs and three large toads; a new world record! The thought then occurred to me, “I wonder how they would react to my green laser light?” I tried the tree frogs first. They did nothing. Then I shined the light on the ground about 6 inches in front of a large toad. He immediately pounced! For the next 5 minutes I was leading toads all over the driveway as they aggressively hopped in pursuit of the shiny green meal.

Those toads reminded me of our pursuit of shiny green nothings. The toads were obviously hungry. But the truth was there was nothing in what they were so aggressively pursuing that could give them nourishment or satisfaction. It was a worthless waste of time and energy on their part, but it was immensely entertaining on my part!

When we spend our time and energy pursuing shiny green nothings, I wonder if the enemy is like me with those toads. He is fooling us, and is immensely entertained by our foolishness. The toads remind me of God’s leading with His people in Isaiah 55:2-3a, “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live…”

Let’s learn the lesson from these toads and pursue the satisfying soul food of a deeper relationship with Christ and His people!

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published August 9, 2010.

I stood in awe at the undeniable splendor of it all. A deep orange sun setting upon the lake as it painted the clouds above with hues of pink and lavender. The sound of waves lapping the shore and a gentle wind upon my face added to the beauty. I took in a deep breath and marveled at the scene before me.

For a brief moment I took my eyes off the sunset and glanced at the shore behind me. I was surprised to see a large crowd of people gathered along the beach to watch the sun sink into the horizon. There before us was undeniable evidence of God’s creation in all its brilliance, yet I wondered how many would leave without thanking God or praising him – how many would slip back into the darkness of unbelief?

In Romans 1:20 Paul tells us, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” Evidence of God’s presence surrounds us each day. He is there reaching out to us through his creation, his Word, his spirit and his people. God’s desire is to restore us to him through his son Jesus.

How often do we get so absorbed in the things of this world that we fail to recognize God at work in our life. How often do we see the beauty around us, but not acknowledge the source. How often do we get to the end of the day and realize we “neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him” (Romans 1:21 NIV). Paul cautions us in Romans 1:25 not to be like those who “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.”

While the picture above gives you a glimpse of the sunset I saw that day, it cannot compare to actually being there. The same is true with God. A sunset is only a glimpse of the eternal beauty we will experience when we are reunited with God. They are daily reminders that God continues to reach out to us. He has given us a way to rid ourselves of the darkness of this world and to be reunited with him through his son Jesus. “He gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). It is up to us whether we chose to believe in Jesus and follow him or settle for the artificial beauty of this world that will fade away like a setting sun.

Anyone who has stood inside a majestic cathedral and gazed up at the towering stained glass windows can’t help but stand in awe at the beauty. The intricate detail of all the pieces precisely aligned create amazing images illuminated by sunlight. It’s a breathtaking feeling that gives us a sense of the infinite magnificence of our God.

But this week I had a different view of stained glass windows. I thought of all the small glass pieces laying on a table in random piles; pieces carefully cut with precision by a master craftsman. To the casual observer, all those pieces look like a bunch of shattered glass, broken and useless. But the craftsman has the full picture in mind and knows how to assemble the pieces to create an inspiring image illuminated by the light.

Sometimes your life might feel like all those pieces of colored glass scattered on the table. All you can see are shattered pieces all over the place and nothing makes sense; broken pieces full of pain and suffering. Mixed within the assortment are blackened pieces of glass that block the light; dark pieces Satan tries to wedge in to create a false image of your life; dark pieces that block the light. In the middle of all these shattered pieces you need to rely on God to help you put It all together.

God is the master craftsman who has a purpose and plan for your life. He sees all of your brokenness and the scattered pieces of your life. He knows how to bring it all together to create a life illuminated by the light of Christ Jesus; a life that can inspire others with the Spirit of God. He can remove the dark pieces and the false image of your life if you humbly submit to the work of your creator; letting go of your efforts to piece your life together so God can form you in his image, illuminated by his light.

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. Psalm 51:17 (NIV)

My days have passed, my plans are shattered. Yet the desires of my heart turn night into day; in the face of the darkness light is near. Job 17:11-12 (NIV)

England 2012 (594)

I was reading Psalm 67 and verses 1-2 convicted me: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us — so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations (NIV).” Too often I desire God’s grace, his blessing, for myself. I seek to have his face shine on me so that I can feel his presence surround me and strengthen me. Yet in this Psalm, verse two tells us the purpose is so that God’s ways can be known on earth, that salvation would be “among all nations.”

I am reminded of Moses in Exodus 34:29-30. After he came down from Mount Sinai with the “covenant law” his face was “radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.” This caused Aaron and the Israelites to fear Moses. It was apparent to them that he had been with God. It demonstrated what Israel was to be to other nations. The blessings that God bestowed on Israel were not for their own enjoyment, rather it was so that other nations would know God and his salvation. As the last verse of the Psalm 67 states, “May God bless us still, so that all the ends of the earth will fear him.”

It makes me wonder if people look at me and see God’s radiance on my face, “the joy of the Lord” (Nehemiah 8:10). Do they sense God is at work in my life and feel a proper reverence, a fear of God. The blessings in my life, the abundant grace he gives me should flow into the lives of those around me so that “the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you (Psalm 67:5).”

I followed the others into the large room and took a seat with them. I sighed as I sat down, my body aching from another week of skirmishes; my emotions ragged from the continuing attacks. I wondered how much longer our small platoon could hold on.

For the moment we took refuge here, assembled together as one. I glanced around at the group. So many like me who had been fighting this battle for years. So many who bore the scars of relentless attacks from the enemy. I could see the fatigue in their eyes, yet I also saw their determination to press on. Together we were still a formidable force for the enemy to contend with despite our weaknesses.

In this moment together we sang praises; we shared our struggles; we prayed together; we joined together to find strength and renewal. We meditated on our mission and why we were placed here for this battle. We were told victory is ours. Each Sunday there is hope in the assembled faithful.

I left the church still feeling the fatigue and emotional trauma, but ready to take on the enemy for another week. This group of seasoned faithful, believers who deeply care, helped give me hope to carry on. Once again the enemy would try to break us this week because he feared us the most, God’s faithful warriors banded together as the church.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NIV)

“He rescues me unharmed from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me.” Psalm 55:18 (NIV)

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another —and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24 (NIV)

Wednesday Walk Though the Bible, Matthew 5:1-12 & 7:28-29 (NIV)

#WednesdayWalk, an occasional exploration of what unknown people might have seen or felt when they witnessed the events in the Bible. This post is from the perspective of a person who encounters Jesus teaching the Beatitudes.

It was another hot day. The dust swirled around my sandals as I hurried along the path. Small stones crunched under my feet as I walked on the barren dirt. My mouth was dry from the heat as sweat dripped down my forehead and back. I was focused on fetching the baskets my father needed when I caught a glimpse of a large crowd on a hillside. I stopped and noticed the people were gathered around a man. “Why would so many people stand and listen to this man in heat like this?” I asked myself.

I hesitated a moment, curious as to why the crowd had gathered around this man. I knew my father was expecting me back soon with his baskets. “It will only take a moment,” I finally convinced myself as I moved up the hillside and pressed into the crowd. I strained to get a look at the man, but the mass of people made it difficult to get closer. I could barely make out what he was saying to the crowd. I thought he said something about being comforted. I tried to push my way forward, but the people were packed in too tight for me to move any further.

I listened as best as I could, concentrating on the words I could make out. The tone of his voice was gentle yet forceful. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Did I hear that right? How could the meek be blessed? How could they inherit the earth? His words became clearer as I closed my eyes and listened.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Those words resonated within me. Oh how I hunger for righteousness in this unjust world.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” How could I receive mercy for being merciful? I processed his words. “Who is this man?” I asked myself as I continued to soak up his words.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” How could a mortal man see God? My heart began to long for more of what this man said. I had never heard anything like it.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” How could someone like me, someone of such low status, be considered a child of God? That’s when I noticed a man adjacent to me, wearing fine clothes, staring at my ragged appearance with disapproving eyes. I closed my eyes and listened for more.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Persecuted for doing what is right? That happens everyday around here, yet he said those who are persecuted for righteousness would inherit the kingdom of heaven. How could that be?

Who is this man who speaks with such authority? I strained to get a look at him. My soul stirred deep within me. For the first time I felt that perhaps there was hope for a poor, forsaken person like me.

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