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Monday, June 23, 2014

Go In Strength

Self-doubts and self-confidence lead us to excuses of why we cannot do things.  Excuses like: "We can't do this because it is too hard" or "We can't do that because we're not qualified."  We put many of our self-doubts as the reason for our stopping and not doing anything.  But this underlying self-confidence issue is not new to humanity.

About 3000 years ago, the Israelites had been ignoring God, going their own way, doing their own thing, when the Lord raised up leaders to judge and rule and demonstrate obedience to God and His ways.  One such judge was Gideon.  But he was not what you may have expected.  He had every excuse in the book and lacked self-confidence.  Even after all-powerful God had singled Gideon out to be the one to lead Israel with the sobriquet, "mighty warrior," Gideon expressed major doubts about his abilities.  God lets Gideon know first off "The Lord is with you" in verse 12 of Judges 6.  When I hear that statement I get encouraged, but Gideon apparently did not.  Many times when we attempt new things we want someone with us.  Someone to encourage us, strengthen our resolve, help us make it happen, get through whatever it is we are facing.  Here, God Almighty gives Gideon these words of encouragement that He is with Gideon.  We, too, can have these Words encourage us.  When we are spending time with God, being intimate with His Word, Praying, allowing His Spirit to lead and guide us, we will hear from God and His promises: "Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you." (Deuteronomy 31:6 ESV) or "Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD." (Psalm 31:24 NIV) or " strong in the Lord and in his mighty power." (Ephesians 6:10 NIV).  His Words, His "voice", His Scripture is there for us and is "for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness."  Let us pray and heed the lesson that when God tells us He is with us we will acknowledge His presence and His words of encouragement not doubt.

Similar to his forefather Moses who used the excuse that he was not good at public speaking, Gideon claims "my clan is the weakest" and "I am the least " in his excuse to Almighty God.  These statements demonstrate Gideon's lack of confidence and not humility.  How many times do we self-disqualify ourselves with these types of words?  Are we letting our past get in the way of our today?  Take heart brothers and sisters,  "forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13,14 NIV)  The truth is if we are trusting in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and we acknowledge that He is God, we are now called His children!  We do not need excuses like Gideon or even Moses used.  

And finally God sent Gideon out with the affirmative, "Go in strength."  What words of encouragement.  What a way to uplift and motivate.  But God was not telling Gideon to go forward in his own strength but rather go in God's strength - wow.  Even better.  Isaiah 40:31 is a powerful promise, "But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.."  

Hold on to Him, trust in Him.  Go in God's strength.  If we are afraid because we feel weak or not up to the task, we don't need to worry, God will give us strength - infinite strength from an all-powerful God.  "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." - Psalm 73:26 (ESV)  So whatever tasks you may have to face today, go in strength.  Whatever calling God has placed in our lives, go in strength.  I pray and trust that the God of all grace will be with you and that you will heed the words to Gideon, "Go in strength."


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

True Rest

Recently there was a bear in the news who managed to have a little downtime in a hammock.  While this bear became an overnight viral Internet sensation via social media, there is a great little lesson for us in this humorous story.  You can check out the story here:
The bear seemingly needed a break; a chance to get off his feet, a change of pace.  The image is hilarious and makes us laugh but in reality we can take a moment to think about where we need to take a rest.

Sometimes we need to ask ourselves a question: Are we so filled up with doing that we lose sight of resting?  Our culture is a "pull yourself up by the bootstraps" type that demands our workaholic lives be spent in search of more - whatever.  Whether it be money, upward mobility, stuff, sex, drugs, excess, etc.  We get caught up in what this world has to offer - and rest is not part of this culture.  Sure, we may take vacations, but we end up doing lots of things on these vacations.  Excursions, explorations, adventures are all words used on these "getaways."  And while there can be moments of rest they are punctuated by doing.  So what about rest?  True rest.  

Jesus tells us in Matthew 11:28 to "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."  Start with that first phrase - come unto me.  True rest starts with surrender.  Are we listening to His call?  Are we willing to come before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and hear what he is telling us?  All we have to do is come to Him.  So how do we come to Him?  Are we taking time to be with Him in solitude, in the quiet?  Perhaps early in the morning, or in the stillness of the night before we fall asleep?  Are we coming to Him when we are happy, sad, joyful, or in desperation?  All He asks is that we come to Him.

We all labor - sometimes at things that seem like they could be relaxing or in the hopes that we will find that solace, that break, that getaway.  But we all labor.  And we let the labor build up again, we let ourselves "do" more.  We can all relate.  

I am sure you have seen folks who look like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders.  The years of care are worn into their faces.  Or we know of a family whose child is facing a terminal diagnosis - that is heavy laden.  The loss of a job, family member, stress at work, at home.  All these can add up to a very heavy burden.  And we know this because we too have heavy burdens.  

But the payoff, Jesus gives rest.  But not as we know it.  Not just some quiet moment, but eternal peace - a peace that passes all understanding.  True rest, because the future, eternity, is taken care of.  You have seen those whose faces and lives beam with this calmness, the true rest of Jesus.  And yes they face the same life worries, cares, and like we all face.  Are we seeking His rest?  Seeking to show the world that Jesus gives true rest?  

So what a great reminder from this funny bear.  We all need rest - but the rest that Jesus gives.  Stop trying to rest and rest in Jesus.  Go to Him, run to Him, call to Him, come to Him.  Are you weary?   Are you heaven-burdened?  He will give you rest.  You may still be working, you may still have the same problems but His rest transcends, His rest is what we need and crave.  Enjoy His rest, seek His rest.  Rest.  True rest.  

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Haven - a place of safety or refuge.

"Safe Harbor 2" - Photograph by William Reek
Haven - A place of safety or refuge.  Haven - A place where you are protected from danger and trouble.  Haven - Shelter, port, retreat, sanctuary, asylum.

Every now and then I need to have a break.  Why?  Well the break allows me to rest, get refreshed, re-focused, re-energized, and ready to take on whatever tasks life has for me. My strength is renewed when I am rested and safe.  Usually I take these breaks at home, because I feel safe there, but other times I may go to a place I feel relaxed, safe, and comfortable.  This is what a haven is, a place of safety.

What is your place of safety, or refuge, your haven?

But even more than the physical location, people can be havens, too.  Safe people, people who give us refuge, who can listen without condemnation, who encourage us, uplift us, and let us be ourselves.  For many of us, our spouse can be that haven.  Trusted, confidential, help-mate; we can take refuge in our spouses.  Or perhaps you have a sibling, a brother or sister who you can confide in, be refreshed by, let your hair down with.  Sometimes we can have a dear friend, a confidant, a church friend who gives us that place of haven emotionally and allows a respite from whatever circumstance we are facing.  Better yet, we can have several safe people, who will listen, comfort, touch, inspire, and allow us that break to pause, refresh, and renew.  

So do you have people in your life who are a haven for you?

This I declare about the LORD: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him." - Psalm 91:2 (NLT)

In the Bible, God is mentioned as our refuge.  What a promise.  He is our safe place, our retreat and protection.  He is who we can rest in, who can help us when we need a break from the world (the world that Satan - the accuser - currently is ruler of.)  He is the One who refreshes us, the One who strengthens us, the One who encourages us to hold fast to Hope, to Jesus.   And yes, we can be ourselves, coming to Him in all our unabashed failures, sins, and faults.  He is the One who made us, who loves us.  And He will be that Haven for us.  But by being with Him, we are changed, renewed, made whole from that place of refuge, made more like Him in that moment of safety.      

 "God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble." - Psalm 46:1 (ESV)

Will you let God be your Haven today?

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Hello. My name is ____________

Our parents (hopefully) put some thought into what our given names are and perhaps even chose them based on the meaning of the name.  Or it could be you have a family name passed on through generations where you have to live up to it.  Or your name may have even been picked out for the way it sounds and rolls off the tongue and delights the ear.  Whatever the reason(s) your name is what you are known by, it is what people use to call you, to hail you, to refer to you.  Your name is insightful, intimate, and important.

God writes in His Word that one day we will be given a new name - a name that only He knows.  “To the one who conquers … I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.” - Revelation 2:17 ESV 

What a promise from a loving and gracious God.  He gives us a new name, and only He knows it.  It makes me think of pet names spouses use for each other to convey affection and endearment.  Or parents who might use a nickname for their child as a way to describe them in special ways.  Others may hear the name - but only the ones who have been given that name know the special meaning and love behind it.  When God will give us a new name, that only He knows, He will call us with that name in love and endearment.     

Matthew West has a recent song that re-imagines regret and defeat as trying to drag us down and whisper to the world our failures, shaming and naming us as such.  But with the healing power of God’s Grace the chorus gratefully reminds us that our moniker can now be “child of the one true King.”  Have you listened to the voice of Grace that sets you free and gives you a new name?  Jesus is calling and wants you to conquer and have a new name.  Here’s to the real King, who sets us free by His saving Grace and great love, and all we have to do is come to the end of us, giving up our regret and defeat, and accept His free gift of salvation.  Here’s to your new name. 

Hello, my name is regret
I’m pretty sure we have met
Every single day of your life
I’m the whisper inside
That won’t let you forget

Hello, my name is defeat
I know you recognize me
Just when you think you can win
I’ll drag you right back down again
‘Til you’ve lost all belief

Oh, these are the voices. Oh, these are the lies
And I have believed them for the very last time

Hello, my name is child of the one true King
I’ve been saved, I’ve been changed, I have been set free
"Amazing Grace" is the song I sing
Hello, my name is child of the one true King

I am no longer defined
By all the wreckage behind
The one who makes all things new
Has proven it’s true
Just take a look at my life

Hello, my name is child of the one true King
I've been saved, I've been changed, I have been set free
"Amazing Grace" is the song I sing
Hello, my name is child of the one true King

What love the Father has lavished upon us that we should be called His children
I am a child of the one true King

What love the Father has lavished upon us that we should be called His children

Hello, my name is child of the one true King
I've been saved, I've been changed, I have been set free
"Amazing Grace" is the song I sing
Hello, my name is child of the one true King

I am a child of the one true King

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Stained Glass

“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.” - Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

In thinking about the beauty of stained glass, several beautiful pieces come to mind that are world-renowned and bring millions of visitors each year to be admired, contemplated, and enjoyed.

Glass is quartz sand, but sand nonetheless, abundantly found inland on the continents.  Metallic salts are added in to create the beautiful colors allowing the hues to glow when light hits them.  Originally gold dust was added to make the deep red but now copper is more commonly used.  Blue is created when cobalt is added to the glass.  Copper oxides are used to make green and bluish green.  Brilliant colors add interest and detail so that people can enjoy whatever stories are told through these windows.

Note that something is added to the glass to create the variety of colors.  This makes me think that when we let God add His grace and mercy into our lives so we reflect His "colors" to the world.  "And we all... beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord..." - 2 Corinthians 3:12 (ESV)

Also, in the process of glass-making there is heat.  This, too, reminds us that God allows events to change us, transform us, make us more like Him, and to shape us into something beautiful.  Events in our lives may not seem pleasant or enjoyable or even bearable at times, but God is doing a good work in us.  "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." - Philippians 1:6 (ESV)

And like the hours the craftsman painstakingly spends on the cathedral window to create such spectacular scenes, God spends His time on us, in fact, Jesus spent His life for our redemption.  And God is long-suffering, and patient - qualities associated with mercy and hope - and He continues to work on us, with us, and through us.  What a demonstration of love!  

So when you look at a stained glass window, in person or a picture, think of God.  Think of His grace and mercy.  Think of His making us beautiful, making us more like Him.  And then shine His light for the world to see the beauty of Him in your life!

"In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." - Matthew 5:6 (ESV)

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Hand of God

Recently NASA scientists took an amazing photo of a pulsar.  Using their Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) NASA astronomers captured this incredible image of an exploding star nearly 17,000 light-years away.  This amazing pulsar wind nebula has been nicknamed "The Hand of God" as it appears to be a ghostly hand reaching outward.  The high energy x-rays captured for the first time by NuSTAR have been colored blue and are combined with earlier photos of the same pulsar taken by the Chandra Observatory which show the lower energy emissions in green and red.
The Hand Of God (courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/McGill)

While astronomers often use fanciful names to describe items seen in space to capture our imagination, it seemed interesting that they would dub this one as such.  In the Bible there are many references to "The Hand of God" with three that I think are very encouraging and relate to this amazing photo.  First, please note the image seems to show the right hand - this is the hand of power.  Psalm 110:1 tells us "The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” " (ESV)  What an encouraging promise from an all-powerful God to know that we have access to His power that can secure us from "enemies" such as anger, or fear, or doubt, and other things that come against us.  Secondly, when we are under the influence of the Hand of God, submitting and listening to Him, we find His word full of comfort and encouragement coming to us.  "The word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar canal, and the hand of the Lord was upon him there." - Ezekiel 1:3 (ESV).  Finally, when we humble ourselves under His Hand, He exalts at the proper time.  "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you" - 1 Peter 5:6 (ESV).  While the photo may be descriptive in its naming this "The Hand of God" because of what it looks like, it is so great to know that God is way closer that 17,000 light years away from us, in fact, we read in Isaiah 49:16 that God does not forget us but has "engraved you on the palms of my hands" (ESV).  

Wholly Holey

A hole in the pocket is like a bank vault without a lock, or an investment in a Ponzi scheme.  Everything entrusted there is at risk.

All the dreaming, motivation, faithfulness & sweaty work is dribbled away, diminished and lost because of the breach in the britches.  Put hard earned cash in a pocket with holes and there’ll be little to nothing to show for it when you get home.  The problem is not in the effort to earn, but in the failure to secure the weak areas.

An Old Testament prophet of Israel named Haggai fingered this for the nation. “He who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes,” he wrote (Haggai 1:6).  

What put holes in Israel’s bag? 

Neglecting their relationship with God. 

Leaving God out of their lives was like leaving open seams in bags of gold.  Neglecting the spiritual devotion poked holes in the best intentions and efforts.
What good is a money bag if it’s wholly holey?

If it seems the valuables of life (like one’s mental health, marriage, family etc.) are slipping away, refocus on the relationship with God.   Haggai penned, “Consider your ways” and then repeated himself.  It is critical to consider the emphasis one gives their relationship with Jesus.

Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God (His lordship) and His righteousness (His moral standard), and all these things (food, clothing, etc) shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). 

When the Lord has first place in one’s life, holes are closed up.  He is our Keeper (Psalm 121:3).  The Holy takes care of the holey.  May we let Him.