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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.

Wednesday Walk, Acts 27:13-28:10

Today I introduce #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 another prisoner shipwrecked with Paul.

Who is this man? Were it not for Paul I would’ve been slaughtered on the ship by the soldiers who wanted to stop us from escaping. Were it not for his words of wisdom, we would’ve all been lost at sea in that violent storm. Were it not for him, we would not have eaten anything on the ship and would not have had strength enough to make it to the beach. This Paul has knowledge of a god seemingly so powerful, yet so personal that he prepares him for future events. What kind of god shows such love and grace to a mere man?

I thought for sure Paul was a dead man when I watched in horror as a viper latched onto his hand as he tossed brushwood on the fire. Yet I watched in awe as he shook off that deadly snake from his hand, showing no panic or fear. He has such peace about life. It is a peace I long to have in my life. It is that lack of peace in my life that put me here with these other criminals.

After surviving the snakebite, then he cured the father of Publius who suffered from fever and dysentery for who knows how long. That in and of itself was astonishing enough to hear about. Of course word spread quickly and soon all the sick on the island came to Paul. I was skeptical as I watched the crowd of sick people form around Paul. I told myself, “There is no way he can cure all these people.” Yet he did.

Who is this man? Paul talks of a Jesus from Nazareth. He talks of Jesus being the son of God. How can a man be the son of a god and walk among us? He talks of this Jesus being crucified, dying and rising from the dead. I am a condemned man who boarded the ship in chains. Now this man Paul has shown me a different life, a different way. Could there be freedom for me even in chains?

In the moment

I thank God for each breath I take

In the moment

I thank God for the cooling breeze

In the moment

I thank God for his hand upon my life

In the past

I feel the pain of struggles and trauma

In the past

I grieve for those who are gone now

In the past

I recall God’s hand upon my life

In the future

I worry about tragedies yet to come

In the future

I feel anxiety about the unknown

In the future

I know God’s hand will be upon my life

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. – Matt. 6:33-34 (NIV)

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. – Luke 12:22-23 (NIV)

I watched as she gasped for breath, struggling to talk. A warm summer breeze blew through the open sliding door and ruffled a few loose strands of her gray hair. Nearby a pulsating machine pumped oxygen to her through a small hose with the end clipped to her nose. Somehow she managed to prop up her frail, thin body in the living room chair.

She was dying and yet this feisty woman I had known for years was still very present. She didn’t care for the help hospice offered and she told the social worker to leave. She was tired of people asking, “How are you doing?” She was tired of people visiting her. She was tired and just wanted to be alone, yet she let me sit there with her and listen to her complaints.

This was often how my visits with her would go. Yet with each visit over the last six years she would open up a little more about her troubled past; about the trauma she experienced in her life. She would share her anger and frustration with family, friends and workers in the assisted living place. Sometimes we would talk about religion and faith, but she would always stop discussing it when it became personal. I could never quite get her to the point of talking about having Jesus in her life.

In these final moments of her life I longed for her to know the peace of Christ, but she would not have it. I hoped that in some way I was able to at least help her experience the love of God just by sitting with her and listening to her. After about 45 minutes she told me she was tired and apologized that she wasn’t better company. I told her it was okay, gave her aged and frail body a gentle hug and said, “Love you.”

Then this tough, old woman, who told me she would rather be alone, said to me in a strained voice, “Love you too. Thanks for stopping by.” I smiled and repeated, “Love you.” As I left the room I wondered if it would be the last time I would see her. I was sad that I was not able to get her to see that Jesus Christ could give her the peace she longed for in her life.

Later, when I talked about this visit with someone, they assured me that just being with her was showing the love of God. “But I have no idea whether she is saved or not?” That’s when she told me, “Salvation is not a formula. God is a much better judge of the heart. Just be glad that God invited you to join him in his work.” She was right. I only needed to be grateful that I was able to be there with her.

Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure. – Psalm 39:4-5 (NIV)

I don’t think I’m alone in saying that reading through the book of Leviticus in the Bible can be a struggle. Yet this time through something struck me about Leviticus 14:33-57. In verses 34-35, God tells Moses and Aaron: “‘When you enter the land of Canaan, which I am giving you as your possession, and I put a spreading mold in a house in that land, the owner of the house must go and tell the priest, ‘I have seen something that looks like a defiling mold in my house (NIV).’”

At this point in the Bible the Israelites are living in tents, but God is telling them that they will take possession of Canaan and become homeowners. Here, in the midst of rules about how to atone for sinful behavior and how to handle unclean things, there is a future instruction on how to handle mold in a home. God isn’t just about their current condition, but he is very much about preparing them for their future.

To me this demonstrates that God is not just about the big things, but he is also about the smallest details of our lives. He is concerned about our current well-being as well as our future. As Jeremiah 29:11 tells us, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (NIV).”

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. – John 14:2-3 (NIV)

Bruised and injured I lay on the ground

My adversaries advance, closing in for the kill

I pull my belt tight around my waist, secure my breastplate

I see their angry faces as they move closer

They taunt me with their screams, “Where is your God now?!”

I try to pull myself up, my feet ready with the gospel of peace

My bones and muscles ache from countless skirmishes

I can barely stand, as I try to get a glimpse of my enemy

In the advancing darkness I see a line of archers form

Flaming arrows pierce the sky as bowstrings snap

I stumble and fall, as I raise my shield in faith

My muscles strain to steady the shield as arrows impact

Yet no harm comes to me, the evil one’s intent is smothered

I adjust my helmet and pull out my sword from its sheath

“Give up!” The enemy shouts as they continue to pursue me

Again I pull myself up, this tired old warrior presses on

Armed with the word of God, I place my hope in the Lord

I take refuge in my God, my strength and my shield

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

Ephesians 6:12-13 (NIV)

The news was not surprising, yet it was still hard to hear. Hospice was being brought in because it looked like the end was near for my wife’s stepmom. In the last few months she had told me not to visit because she was not feeling well. I suspected her cancer was getting worse and she did not want me to see her.

As I thought about the inevitable, I reflected on how this feisty woman in her 80s had been such a blessing to me. She could be offensive at times, full of insults, swear words and anger toward people, particularly religious people. Yet she taught me so much about God’s love; taught me that God’s love and grace is even for the so-called unlovable.

Because of her temperament, my wife’s stepmom did not have a good relationship with the family. Over the years, her sharp tongue didn’t help bridge that gap. As it turned out, by God’s design, my wife and I were the only ones with her when her husband died six years ago. Afterwards I felt compelled to visit her at her home more than just around holidays. She lived a few hours away so I would visit her maybe 6-8 times a year. Usually when I was in town on business.

Eventually her health declined to the point where she had to move to an assisted living facility. With each visit I saw my heart transformed from being a bit scared of her to a genuine love for her. When I first started to visit her, I thought maybe I could change her to becoming a follower of Christ. Instead I was the one changed by her.

During each visit she would share stories about her life over the last 80 some years. As her tough exterior veneer began to peel back, I learned about the pain and abuse she had suffered at the hands of others. I began to understand why she was so bitter and angry, I started to empathize with her. I learned that God knows people from the inside out. He sees through our exterior veneer and knows our true self and our pain. He wants to heal us if we’re willing to let him. God is the one who equips us to offer his love and grace to people who desperately need it.

I’d like to say she eventually came to Christ, but I do not know for sure. She never expressed it to me, that is between her and God. Occasionally we would talk about God and religion, but she never showed an interest in going deeper. But at the end of each visit I would give her a hug and tell her, “love you.” It was sincere and from the heart. Ultimately I felt she was the one teaching me about God’s love, teaching me how to love the so-called unloveable. Showing me that he is the one that gives us the strength to do what we often see as impossible. Demonstrating that sometimes all an unsaved person needs is to feel God’s embrace and the words, “love you.”

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:7-8

After Jesus died on the cross and was buried, before Jesus rose from the dead, the disciples were hiding out of fear they might meet the same fate. All they knew was that Jesus was gone. They had yet to experience his resurrection. This was a period of fear and doubt, the time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

To live without salvation through Christ is to be caught between Good Friday and Easter morning. It is an eternal darkness without the hope offered by the resurrection of Christ. It is a place of constant night with only the fading light of a man-made lamp to illuminate the way. It is a state of hopelessness without any chance of salvation from sin. Yet because of God’s love for us we do not have to remain trapped between Good Friday and Easter.

Salvation is ours through faith in Christ. This Easter embrace the hope of the resurrection. Leave behind doubt and disbelief and run with Peter to see the strips of linen lying in the empty tomb (Luke 24:12). Share the joy of the women who saw the risen Lord and ran to tell the disciples (Matt. 28:8). 1 Peter 1:8-9 tells us, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls (NIV).”

My prayer is that the dawn of this Easter morning will dissipate the darkness of night with the radiant light of the risen Lord. May we express the joy of our salvation with the proclamation, “He has risen!”

This past week I was once again shown how much I take for granted the little things in life. A week ago I had surgery on my right hand — the hand I use to write and type. Subsequently I was unable to use my right hand for several days for even the simplest of tasks such buttoning a shirt or opening a jar. I quickly discovered how much I depend on my right hand for many tasks throughout the day. Blogging had to wait until I could get enough movement back in my hand to cradle my phone and type on the touchpad with my thumbs.

It gave me pause as I contemplated the many things in my life that I take for granted each day — the many things I owe to God. Even the simplest movement of my hand is because God gave me that ability. The fact that a surgeon had the ability to operate and fix my hand — the fact that it is now healing — I owe to my Creator God. He knows every fiber of my being because he “knit me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13).”

God is evident in the smallest of details in my life. Yet too often I get distracted by struggles and suffering instead of being in awe of God’s miraculous work, his love and grace. Today I only need to look at my hand and see my fingers moving to remind me of his marvelous deeds; to remind me of the healing I have experienced in the past week. I should “declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all people (Psalm 96:3).”

The very breath that gives us life should call us to vocalize our gratefulness to God. The movement of my fingers should remind me type praises to our Lord.

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being (Rev. 4:11).”

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