Lessons From A Warrior

The story of David and Goliath is well known by many people, even non-church goers. Numerous lessons, story books and even movies have been produced about the courageous, young man who killed the Philistine Giant and would later become Israel’s greatest king. I have watched a few of the movies for entertainment purposes, but when I want to know just how this warrior became “a man after God’s own heart,” I go to the one true source, the Word of God. Recently, the Lord has revealed to me how David’s words and actions in a particular circumstance can be mirrored today by Christ- followers, of which I am one. I hope you will join me on this journey to become a woman or man after God’s own heart as you read what the Holy Spirit has shown me in his Word.

As a female living in the Western world several thousands of years after David lived and reigned, it’s difficult for me to put myself in his sandals. David was a shepherd as a young boy from the Judean town of Bethlehem. I’m a suburban girl, so I really have no idea how shepherds live, then or now. I did watch the entire series of McLeod’s Daughters about women who owned and worked a modern day sheep and cattle ranch in Australia, but I still have no real life experience with sheep. I had never even heard the baa of a sheep before I attended an event in which my husband’s young niece and nephew were showing sheep. Who knew there was such a thing! I wonder how David would have faired at a sheep show. 

It was during those shepherd days that David learned to trust God and he was able to defeat the Philistine giant Goliath. After this victory David became a warrior, and for at least the next fifteen years he and his band of mighty men were roaming the countryside fighting battles. Again, I have never fought in physical combat, but I know without a doubt there is a spiritual war all around us. We as believers in Jesus Christ are commanded to put on the full armor of God so we will be prepared to stand our ground when the when the enemy approaches. So I guess this means I am a warrior. Our only offensive weapon is the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, so reading, meditating and applying how God interacted with men and women in his Word (both Old and New Testament) is the best place to train for battle.  

Here are a few necessary facts to set the stage for this one particular story of David and his relationship with the Lord. Like today, there were ongoing conflicts between Israel and its neighbors. The Philistines were one of the constant sources of hostility towards the Israelites. Israel’s King Saul failed to keep his fighting champion David close by due to his own insecurity and extreme jealousy of the young hero. Also, because Saul had made his intentions of killing David very clear, David eventually settled his six hundred fighting men and their families in the distant town of Ziklag. This was a town allotted to Israel’s tribe of Judah years before but was under Philistine control at this time. Shockingly, David even had the blessing of one of the Philistine’s leaders, King Achish of Gath. And guess who was from Gath? None other than the giant Goliath that David had slain! 

At the beginning of Chapter 30 in the book of 1 Samuel, we find that David and his men joined King Achish and the other four Philistine kings’ armies to wage war against Israel, but the other rulers were totally opposed to David’s presence. They believed he would turn on them in battle. Even they knew the songs that the Israelite women sang about David and his victories, so King Achish sent him and his men back to Ziklag the next morning. It seems odd that David would switch allegiances and go to war against his own people. God does not spell out in his Word why David did this, but once he did, Israel’s King Saul quit looking for him.   

Three days later the story turns tragic. When David and his men returned home they discovered the entire town had been raided by another long time enemy of Israel, the Amelikites. The city was burned and all the inhabitants had been kidnapped. David and his army were filled with enormous grief. Unfortunately, the men’s grief turned to anger against David and they talked of killing him. David was not only grieving; he was totally stressed out!

OK, let’s try to imagine how this might play out today. You have been on a long, tiresome business trip with your employees and you can’t wait to see your family when you get home. When your plane lands at the airport in the city nearest your small town, you discover there’s no phone service and all internet has been shut down as well. Somehow you all are able to catch a cab (can’t call Uber) for the thirty-minute ride home, while anxiety is creeping in. As you pass the “Welcome” sign to your town, all of you notice that something’s not right. The town is eerily silent and no one is moving about. Anxiety has now turned to fear. One by one you discover that your houses have been looted and your families have been kidnapped! Your first reaction would be to ask, “Where are my people and who did this?” But now this situation goes from bad to worse. Your employees are blaming you and are plotting to kill you! What do you do?

Let’s look at what David did in his horrible situation. He was in great distress like his men, but he found strength in the Lord, his God. David needed advice, but he didn’t turn to another person, but to the only one who knew how to defeat his enemy. He inquired of the Lord, asking if he should go after the enemy and would he be successful in overtaking them. The Lord answered yes for both questions. 

So here’s a lesson in the form of a question for all of us. When the enemy is attacking, do we rely on the counsel of men or do we go directly to the Lord? Let that sink in.

Just as the Amalekites were Israel’s enemy, we too have a God-defying enemy. His name is Satan. Jesus said Satan is a murderer and the father of lies who comes only to steal, kill and destroy. He wants to kill your dreams, steal your joy and destroy all that God has given you. He may not physically kidnap your family or burn your house, but never think that he doesn’t have some plan to destroy you, especially if you are a Christ follower. Many of us pray about a situation, but still go to people for their advice. Godly counsel is not wrong, but make sure we aren’t bypassing God and his Word first, giving him time to speak directly to your spirit about his plans. Believe me, many times I, too wish God would just audibly speak when I am in dire need of help, but He has chosen to speak through his Word and Spirit.

Take time to meditate on that question. Ask God to show you where you are doing life on your own and to remind you that He wants you to seek Him first in every area of your life.

There’s more to learn from David, the warrior. Who says the Bible is boring?!

Light of the World

Christmas lights can be infuriating at times. Just ask anyone who has wrapped numerous strands around a tree only to discover once plugged in that the one strand in the middle doesn’t work! I totally get why Clark Griswold in the movie “Christmas Vacation” went crazy when he was decorating his house. My husband has retired from that job now that we are empty nesters. We just don’t decorate the outside so much anymore.

The inside of the house is a different story. It’s still lit up, most of the time. I have a particular decoration that has played games with me since I first plugged it in. The first several days the lights on a small, delicate tree next to the manger scene shone brightly, but then the bulbs went to sleep and refused to shine for days! So my husband checked all the bulbs and found the culprit, so we thought. It decided (as if it has a mind of it’s own!) to glimmer once more. After about a week of working properly, I awoke to find it’s nap time had materialized once again. I realize it’s probably the wiring of this fragile decoration made in China (first problem), but God showed me something profound this morning while sitting across the room from this scene.

As I stared at the table I heard his voice in my spirit saying, “The two miniature trees that surround the scene of our Lord’s humble birth are like our divided nation in this horrific year of 2020.” The United States was founded on the truths found in God’s word and for centuries we were the light on the hill that shone brightly for all of the rest of the world. But as the Casting Crowns song reminds us, the sins many accept as normal today are a result of the “slow fade” away from the light that is Jesus. We have become the Divided Nation of America.

Both symbolic trees are connected to the same source of power, but it’s interesting that the decoration that burned out is on the left of my table. This reminds me that although all people are invited to share in the abundant life that Jesus died to give mankind, the liberal left in our nation have slowly faded into the darkness and will stop at nothing to extinguish the light that is still shining on the right.  

We who are in Christ Jesus must not give in to those who are of this world who live like the unconstrained toddler who says, “I can do it all by myself!” and believe that God should just stay out of their lives. We must pray that they too will hear God’s call and come to him. We must not look to any human, man or woman, to save us, only to Jesus Christ, the Son of God; for he is the only one who can save. We also must believe that God is on the throne and is in control and his plan is for our ultimate good. If we think that just because the “left” has placed a man of questionable character in the White House that all hope is lost, then we have abandoned the only true hope that is in Jesus. 

Yes, stand up for what’s right, but do it in the name of the only one who can save, the one who is the reason we celebrate Christmas in the first place. His name is Jesus! Emmanuel! Never forget what his name means, Savior and God with us. 

Merry Christmas!

Love and the Green-eyed Monster

Envy is not a new emotion invented by our self-centered, materialistic society.  It has existed since before the creation of man (and social media). Satan, who was not content with his position as the perfectly beautiful guardian cherub, envied God’s sovereign position as Lord of the Universe. He was thrown out of heaven down to the earth. Misery loves company, so he schemed with doubt and deception hoping Adam and Eve would want what God had and what they were not to possess, the knowledge of good and evil. They did not disappoint. This led them to disobey God and eventually led to their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. The very first children born of Adam and Eve were not exempt from this sin. Their firstborn son Cain killed his very own brother Abel out of envy of God’s acceptance of his offering, and the downward spiral of the sin of envy continues to this day.

Shakespeare may have been the first to refer to envy as “the green-eyed monster,” but he was not the first to write about it.  The Old Testament of the Bible not only tells of the horrific results of envy on the first family, but also contains numerous teachings on the subject. Job’s friend Eliphaz the Temanite wrote, “envy slays the simple (Job 5:2).” King Solomon wrote in Proverbs 14:30 that “envy rots the bones” and in Proverbs 27:4 he states, “Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?” He even went so far as to say that “all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 4:4).

Not even God’s chosen people were immune to envy. It was jealousy of their younger brother Joseph that drove Jacob’s older sons to first try to kill Joseph then sell him to merchants heading to Egypt.  In Warren Weirsbe’s commentary book on Genesis he quotes an author of a fourteenth-century preacher’s manual which said that envy was “the most precious daughter of the devil because it follows his footsteps by hindering good and promoting evil.” These sons of Jacob acted like the daughter of the devil in their envious relationship with Joseph.

When Jesus walked this earth he was not immune to the affects of the envy of others. The Pharisees who were jealous of Jesus were always trying to trip him up by asking ridiculous questions concerning man-made laws.  On one such occasion Jesus called them hypocrites and then taught the crowd that it’s what comes out of someone that defiles them not what they put into their body. He was speaking of the heart where evil thoughts originate (Mark 7:1-23). He then listed the evils that come from within a person:

sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, ENVY, slander, arrogance, folly

Whew! What a list!  Did you catch the one four-letter word tucked toward the end of the list?  (I kind of made it obvious!) We don’t often think of envy in this way. We think and sometimes out of ignorance say, “After all it’s not one of the BIG sins like murder.” But Jesus called it evil, so that’s what it is!

Lately, a great deal of the devotions I have read deal with this very evil.  I believe God is trying to get my attention.  I am always telling myself and even God that I am content with every part of my life.  After all, I have all I need – a loving husband, an adult son who still calls, a part time job I love, food in the pantry, a house, cars, and a boat that we own, not the bank.  So why does the green-eyed monster show up at my door uninvited? God’s been showing me ways I’m envious that have nothing to do with material possessions. I can’t fool God. He knows my heart better than I do.

Do you remember the story of Jesus asking Peter three times if he loved him (John 21:15-23)?  Once Peter answered affirmatively, Jesus told him to feed his lambs, take care of his sheep and feed his sheep. Then he gave Peter a look into the future by revealing in a round about way that he was to die in his old age a martyr’s death, possibly by crucifixion.  Then Jesus said to him, “Follow me!” You may be asking yourself, what in the world does this have to do with envy?  Stay with me.

Right then Peter turned and saw John following them and he asked Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” He told Peter “If I want John to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” Basically Jesus was telling Peter to mind his own business and don’t worry about his plans for John. It’s just possible that Jesus knew that Peter would be envious of his plans for John. If I were Peter I would have said, “But Lord, why can’t I die of old age, naturally? That’s not fair.” Oh, Peter… (Oh, Cindy…)

Here’s where God has been speaking to me about envy.

I see and hear of godly women working in ministry, writing for and speaking to women in amazing ways and it dawned on me (or Satan put this thought into my head) that they all seem to have had some horrendous tragedy in their life such as rape, sexual abuse, abortion, divorce, debilitating disease or even the death of a child. Then I start questioning whether or not God has really called me to write since my life experiences have not been so tragic. The green-eyed monster rears it’s head again! I realize that I envy the fact that these women have awesome God-delivering personal stories to reach others. Let me make it clear that I am not asking God to give me a tragedy!

Then…

The Lord spoke to me through a sweet friend when I shared my doubts about writing.  She said that there are many women out there who like me have not had terrible life experiences, but they may think they are saved because their life has sailed along smoothly and they don’t realize that they need Jesus. Wow! What a revelation!  Just like Jesus had a different plan for John, he has a different plan for me.  These are the women I can reach for Christ! So when I ask God, “What about all those other writers?” He says, “What is that to you? You must follow me.”

One last thought about envy to really shake us up (as if Jesus’ words are not enough)! Not only does the apostle Paul include envy as one of the traits love is NOT (1 Corinthians 13:4), but he also includes it in the list of the sins of those who did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God. The result was that God gave them over to a depraved mind (Romans 1:28-31). Depravity is not my life goal, therefore, I do not want to give God any reason to ever do this to me!

Love does not envy and through my daily prayers asking for the Lord’s help, I will not either!

What Are You Waiting For?

In my last post I wrote about why Jesus waited to go to his sick friend Lazarus who was at death’s door. One reason was so the disciples and others present would believe, but there was another purpose in the waiting. Jesus was preparing his disciples for the day they would be on their own and would have to wait for the next best thing.

These men had no problem believing that Jesus was the Messiah as long as he was physically with them, and especially seeing with their own eyes the many miracles he performed. But soon he would be back in heaven and they would have to believe without him. Faith would now come into play. Have you ever wished that Jesus was physically present with us today? I know I have! But then we would be living by sight and not by faith. The writer of the book of Hebrews says that without faith, it’s impossible to please God and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him (Hebrews 11:6). Jesus even said that those who have not seen him and believe are blessed (John 20:29). These words should encourage us that God still blesses those who believe today. 

If there was a club for members who excel in waiting I would be denied membership along with most of our society. Many of us have childhood memories of our parents telling us to wait to eat dessert after dinner. We didn’t like this command, but it was for our good so we would first get the nutrition we needed to grow into healthy adults. It was like this for the disciples who fed on the words of Jesus for three years while they lived alongside of him. They grew spiritually, but had not fully matured. They would need help and God had just the “dessert” they needed, but they had to wait just a little longer. 

After his resurrection, Jesus had appeared to the apostles over a period of forty days on the earth. On one occasion he told them to wait for the gift his Father had promised (Acts 1:3-5). He told them that they would be baptized in the Holy Spirit, but based on their question of whether this was the time he would restore the kingdom of Israel, it’s safe to say they still didn’t understand. Let’s face it, we probably wouldn’t have grasped the idea of being baptized in the Spirit either. I mean all they knew about baptism was what John had done right before Jesus arrived on the scene. He immersed them in water after they repented of their sins and accepted forgiveness from God. Jesus had previously told his disciples about the Holy Spirit (Advocate, Spirit of truth) who would live in them, teach them all things and remind them of everything Jesus had said to them (John 14:17, 26). Before we start to judge these guys, consider how many of us could remember every word Jesus said over a period of three years or even write them down. Most people today can’t remember a thirty-minute sermon, much less take notes!  

The disciples and those who followed Christ when he walked on this earth had to wait on the promised Holy Spirit. The good news is that today we don’t have to wait for that gift! Besides receiving forgiveness for all of our sins and eternal life in heaven, the next best gift a person could ever receive is Christ’s Spirit living inside of them. Jesus loves us so much, he not only paid for our sins, but he gave us exactly what we need to live the life here on earth that glorifies the Father. These gifts are free and available to anyone who believes that Jesus died in their place and rose to life and now lives in heaven preparing a place for us. 

What are you waiting for?!

Wait

In the last post, we learned that Jesus’ very close friend Lazarus had fallen ill and his sisters sent word to Jesus about the sickness (John 11). Jesus then sent his own word saying, “This sickness would not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so God’s Son may be glorified through it.”  

When he waited two more days to begin the twenty-mile journey, he wasn’t just hanging out with his disciples because he didn’t feel like making the trip that day nor was was he lacking in the compassion department. He was waiting for his Father to tell him when to go. Now, that’s obedience! How many of us would be able to stay put for two more days if a spouse, parent, child or other loved one was close to death and God said. “Wait?” 

As a matter of fact, he told his disciples that for their sake he was glad he wasn’t there so they would believe (John 11:15). Did you get that? He was glad! You mean he let poor ole Lazarus die just so the disciples would believe? Yes, not just the disciples, but many other people as well who would see what Jesus was planning to do. 

Sometimes we’ve been praying for our loved ones who are physically, emotionally or even spiritually sick for what seems like forever and God says “Wait.” Our immediate response is usually, “Why?” Who likes to wait on anything? We live in a fast-food, microwave world and if we have to wait five minutes we get agitated and feel slighted. The Psalmist has the answer. He wrote “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope” (Psalm 130:5). He put his hope in God’s word, not the doctor’s word, the therapist’s word or the words of a well-meaning friend.  Jesus sent his word to Martha and Mary and that’s all they needed then and that’s all we need now. 

Some of you may be waiting for a child to be healed of a devastating disease or a marriage or relationship to be restored. Some of you may be waiting for an elderly parent with dementia or Alzheimer’s to return to the way they used to be. Or some of you may be longing for your prodigal children to come back home to the Lord. Whatever the sickness, Jesus isn’t waiting because he likes to watch us suffer. He has a plan that will glorify him and benefit all involved and even those who are watching. But it has to be done his way and in his time.

Life is hard, but God is good.

Wait for it!

Put your hope in His word!

It’s Not Over Yet

There’s a story in the Bible of when one of Jesus’ closest friends named Lazarus fell deathly ill. His sisters who lived with Lazarus sent word to Jesus who was staying about twenty miles away. Their message just said, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” As soon as Jesus heard this, he slipped on his sandals and started off for Lazarus’ house. 

NOT!

Jesus decided to stay where he was and sent the messenger back with these encouraging words, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified though it.”Wait a minute! I thought Jesus loved Lazarus. Why was he not going immediately to heal him or just speak a healing word right then? He did it for others, why not Lazarus?

Now, if you were Mary and Martha, Lazarus’ sisters, what would you think? I don’t know about you, but the Martha in me would be a little ticked off. I’m just being real! You see Martha couldn’t sit still and always had to be busy, so like her I wouldn’t be able to understand why Jesus didn’t send word that he was on the way. I would no doubt be confused once Lazarus died. I wonder if Mary was quietly praying and remembering all that Jesus had taught her while she sat at his feet? If so, would this have annoyed Martha? Jesus did eventually go to their village in Bethany, but not until Lazarus had been dead four days!  It’s interesting that the message from the sisters didn’t say, “Please come immediately.” Maybe they trusted Jesus’ timing after all. 

Is there someone in your life who is spiritually sick? They could be saved, but their lifestyle is grieving or quenching the Holy Spirit living inside them or worse, they do not have the Holy Spirit in them because they have never accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior. If you are impatient like me, you pray for these loved ones or friends and want God to do something YESTERDAY! Unlike Mary and Martha, we beg him to come immediately. But we must trust that God’s timing is perfect even if we don’t understand and sometimes he delays so that he will be glorified. And when we are praying and waiting, we should never lose hope that their sickness will not end in death. 

So don’t give up! Keep praying for your loved ones and friends who need a spiritual healing or even a resurrection from their dead life of sin. 

Stay tuned. This story is not over. 

Death does not win! 

Jesus does!

Water in Me

Today I heard a message by Pastor Tony Evans titled “Water in God’s House,” referencing the first twelve verses of Ezekiel 47. Ezekiel was a priest and prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah while they were living in captivity in Babylon. The main idea of Evans’ message was that the living water which is tied to life and the work of the Holy Spirit is in the Church (believers of the Lord, Jesus Christ), and if we want to see our culture change, the water has to flow out from the Church and into the community. 

I’ll admit that Ezekiel is one of those books of the Bible that many times has left me dumbfounded. There are all sorts of visions and prophecies that can confuse a simple lay person like myself. That is why we should listen to trusted Bible teachers and then read it, meditate on it and study it for ourselves. So that’s what I did.

The reason this story struck a chord with me is because I absolutely love being in the water! As a young girl growing up in the south, our above ground swimming pool was my go-to spot to beat the oppressive heat of most summer days. As I got old enough to drive, the coastal waters became my source of refreshing. Living over 200 miles from the coast for the past 28 years, I have adapted to another invigorating water source, the indoor pool. After my son began swimming on a neighborhood swim team, the familiar lure to immerse in the water again was stronger than ever. I joined the local YMCA and began swimming laps. That was almost twenty years ago and I still enjoy that time in the water. 

Ezekiel was privileged to see visions of the future where the temple was restored along with Israel and the priesthood. But the returning of the Lord’s glory to the temple had to have been the most magnificent of all the visions! After this in Chapter 47, he is shown the water that comes out from under the threshold of the temple which starts out as a trickle. As they move about 1700 feet from the temple, the depth of the water increases to ankle-deep water, then moving another 1700 feet it increases to knee-deep water. Once they move out another 1700 feet it becomes waist deep. But after the next 1700 feet, the water was too deep to walk through, one would have to swim. This water represented the work and life of the Holy Spirit.

As I listened to Tony Evans, I realized on a personal level I could chart the waters of the the Holy Spirit in my own spiritual walk. In my early childhood days of hearing the Bible stories in Sunday School, a trickle is all I received. Granted, as very young girl, I would not have been able to swim in the deep spiritual waters. As I grew and I learned more about Jesus, I accepted him as my Savior and the water rose a little more (ankle-deep). For several years I splashed around in his knee-deep waters at church and youth group, even venturing a little into the waist deep waters of God’s word. But then in my late teen years I refused to go near the water. I believed the lies of Satan that I didn’t need that water anymore. For over fifteen years my soul was as dry as the acreage in the California wildfires.               

Then one day my younger sister who lived in another city told me about a Bible study she was participating in that had groups meeting all around the world. She encouraged me to find out if there was a group in my area and I did. The first day I attended is when I put my toes back in the water!

This particular Bible study was not for those who needed floaties to get in the water! It was for the serious swimmer. We had daily homework in which we not only delved into God’s word, but learned how to apply it. My enthusiasm led me from ankle-deep water to water over my head in a matter of months, and I have been lap swimming in God’s word for over twenty years now. 

But there is more to Tony Evans’ message than just the developing of a personal relationship with the Lord. God wants more from us than just swimming in the word for our own spiritual revitalization. In Ezekiel’s vision, he was asked by his guide, “Son of man, do you see this?” It’s like God was saying, “Don’t you get it? I’m so glad you are enjoying my word, but it’s there for others, too. I want you to send it out to those who are the living dead.” God wants us to take his living waters, his Holy Spirit and the truth of His word to all those who are dead in their sins, lost. When we do this the those who were once spiritually dead will come alive!

This gradual flow of the living water in Ezekiel reminds me that God works in all of our lives in different ways and in different timing. I must be patient and let him do the work as others start their own spiritual water therapy. Some may take longer to move from ankle deep to knee-deep water than others. Some may get stuck in waist deep for awhile. That’s ok as long as there is forward progress. My job is to encourage them to stay afloat by trusting in God and his word. 

I may not know everything about God’s word or understand all the ways the Holy Spirit works, but I do know this. Jesus died for my sins and sent His Holy Spirit to keep me from drifting away from all that God has in store for me in this life and in the life to come with Him in heaven.

He will do the same for you.

All you have to do is get your toes wet!

Strip and Run (Part 2)

In the part 1 of this post we discovered there is a solution to the problem of stripping off the burdensome weights of life and the sin that easily trips us up. Hebrews 12:2 tells us the answer is staying focused on Jesus. This is not easy in a fast paced world of distractions that avert our attention away from the only one who is the author and perfecter of faith. We have to be intentional in every area of life. From the time we wake up, until we fall asleep, we need to ask Jesus for his wisdom in every situation we face. If we want to know what he would do, we have to know him completely and the only way to do this is to study his life through his Word. Then listen for the Holy Spirit’s voice to speak his truth at just the right time. 

So how do we practically strip off the things that slow us down and the sins that trip us up and how do we keep running the race with endurance? As far as sins that trip us up, if we have God’s Holy Spirit living inside of us, He will convict us of our sins and we can confess and ask for his forgiveness, which he freely gives. But if we ignore him and don’t change, then He will discipline us because he loves us (Hebrews 12:6). So, he has given us the gift of choice. Keep on sinning and get tripped up (which usually means fall flat on your face and experience the humiliation and bruises) or listen to the voice of the Spirit and enjoy peace and right living God’s way (Hebrews 12:11). 

So, now let’s head over to the starting line and focus on how to run this race set before us with endurance. Remember we all are participants in the race of life, but each of us has a specific race set before us, whether it be a sprint, 5k or marathon.  If we are fortunate, we are running in a race we enjoy. But all too often, many of us are struggling in a race we wish we could cross the finish line yesterday or participate in a different race all together. 

The apostle Paul was a man who knew about different races in life, going from the race to destroying those who followed Jesus to actually joining and leading those in that exact race. He wrote a letter to the Philippian believers while sitting in a jail cell bound by chains, not the kind of race any of us would gladly choose. You would think that Paul would certainly have difficulty “running” the race set before him, but his temporary off course trek in prison did not stop him. He wrote to these saints (holy ones) in Christ Jesus to encourage them in their own race. He tells them how to have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had when he walked on this earth (Philippians 2:1-18). He wrote that they should be like-minded, having the same love (like that of Jesus), being one in spirit and of one mind. Then he gave practical ways to do this which includes the following:

1) Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. (Notice it says nothing.) Be the “runner” who is not out to  prove he or she is the fastest or best, looking for fame and glory. All glory is for God alone.

2) In humility, value others above yourselves. (Yes, even the people you don’t like!) Be the ‘runner” who let’s a slower, less experienced “runner” or even the arrogant, prideful “runner” pass ahead of you.

3) Look to the interests of the others, not your own. (Again, even those you don’t really like!) Be the “runner” who takes time to help the slower, less experienced “runner.”

4) Work out your salvation with fear and trembling. (This does not say work for salvation!) This means agree with God who is working in you to give you the desire and the power to do what pleases him and to fulfill his good purpose. Be the “runner” who asks God for his will in the race, no matter if it means not winning.

5) Do everything without grumbling or arguing. (Everything!) Be the “runner” who accepts whatever happens in the race, knowing God is in control.

Did Paul’s word step on any of your toes? If so, that means the Spirit is nudging you of thoughts, words or actions that you may need to get rid of. But we don’t have to do these on our own. Jesus gives us the strength and the power to eliminate ungodly things from our lives. He’s the carb diet you need for energy. Jesus said, “Come to me all who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, NLT). With Jesus you will never hit the wall. We may not be able to just quit our race (ex. walk out of our job at the present time) or know the outcome of our race (ex. know what God has planned for our future), but we can exchange our heavy burden for his rest by changing our attitude to be more like Christ’s. A rest that fills our hearts with peace and makes the race more enjoyable. 

All of these runner’s tips won’t work if you are not a believer in Christ. You’re on your own in the race, but you don’t have to be. Jesus is ready and waiting for you to get in the starter’s block with him. He loves you and came to earth for the purpose of taking on all of the sin of mankind so that we wouldn’t have to receive the punishment we all deserve, which is eternal life in a tormenting hell without God. He did this by giving up his life for us on a cross so that we could have eternal life in heaven with him. Yes, he did die, but he didn’t stay dead! He rose from the dead and went back to heaven to prepare a place for his children. He then sent his Spirit to live in his followers to help them run the race here on earth until they cross the finish line into heaven.

So, lace up your running shoes and follow Coach Jesus!

Build the Wall!

The torrential summer rain finally subsided while the water slowly receded into our backyard drainpipe. The red mud left on the front sidewalk was an added bonus that I wasn’t worried about. After all, it just needed to dry and then be swept away.  In just one hour, over three inches of rain had watered our patch of earth as well as the neighbor’s yard perched slightly uphill. The key word here is “uphill.” 

Before the raindrops tapered off, my son went out to rescue some of his drenched lacrosse equipment left in the back of his truck. Because the truck bed had quickly transformed into a kiddie pool, he decided to move his truck to a more level place on the street where the water could drain out. That’s when he noticed that just inches from his truck lay the rubble of our yard’s brick retaining wall. We’ve experienced downpours like this before, but never have we experienced the destruction of rushing water on our own property. Never underestimate the force of moving water! 

I’m not sure who constructed the three-foot high retaining wall that extended over eighty feet, but it was on the property twenty-eight years ago when we purchased our home. It has served its purpose well. After the shock and amazement of what rapid running water can do wore off, I called the insurance company. No coverage! We don’t live in a flood zone, therefore, we don’t have flood insurance, and besides, this was caused by soil erosion. According to the insurance policy, rainwater, the root cause of the erosion, is not a consideration.  

Once I learned we were on our own with this mess, anger and despair set in. Satan began filling my mind with lies such as “You will never get ahead financially.” Thankfully, my sister set me straight on that line of thinking, reminding me that I know better. Yes, I do know better. God has blessed us with so much more than most people, especially during this time of the COVID19 pandemic. So, when my husband saw the damage and reacted the same way, I too reminded him that this was not the way God wants us to respond. When unexpected expenses arise, it’s an opportunity to let God amaze us rather than a reason to complain. After all, we have a roof over our heads, food in the pantry and clothes in the closet. And furthermore, God has seen to it that my husband has kept his job while so many are being added to the unemployed list daily.

The pile of bricks in our yard reminded me of the story of Nehemiah and the people of Jerusalem rebuilding the wall around their city. Although our wall was only for prevention of soil erosion and not for protection from enemies, Nehemiah’s responses and actions leading this project give me hope and encouragement for our small repair job. 

Nehemiah, a Jew who was the cupbearer to the King of Persia, found out about the condition of the walls and city of Jerusalem, and although he didn’t live in Jerusalem, it grieved him to the point of weeping. He fasted and prayed to the Lord about taking on the task of rebuilding this city. With the King’s favor and more importantly the Lord’s, he set out to do just that.

With all this favor, it would seem that Nehemiah would get right to work with no problems thwarting this project. But, not so fast! There were three men who originated from foreign nations who ridiculed and mocked him, trying to start a political battle. Nehemiah did not let them get to him and responded with “The God of Heaven will give us success.” This only made the three men angry and they began to insult the workers. But their criticism wasn’t enough, so they plotted together with others to fight against the Jews and eventually kill them. Their enemies were relentless, yet the workers kept on working and Nehemiah kept on encouraging them. He told them, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your families.” After this the builders themselves began carrying weapons as they worked along side those who were guarding them. Nehemiah reminded the people that God would fight for them and He did. The wall was completely repaired in only fifty-two days.

Just as Nehemiah had visible enemies trying to stop him from accomplishing God’s plans, we have an unseen enemy, Satan, who wants to stop us from living out God’s purposes for our lives. You may think repairing a suburban retaining wall is not a big deal compared to a city wall, but God is interested in every area of our lives, no matter how insignificant they may seem. I have to remind myself daily that God is on His throne and in control and when I take my problems to him, he will make a way just as he did for Nehemiah.  When we are in what seems like impossible situations, we must call on God to do the supernatural. Satan is relentless, but remember what John wrote, “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

Build that Wall!

Strip and Run!

No, this is not about streaking in which a person strips down to their birthday suit and runs out in public. Nor is it about the tv show “Naked and Afraid,” but I got your attention! This is a little bit of encouragement from God’s word for all of those struggling with work issues and/or questioning your place in life.

The author of the book of Hebrews tells us to “Strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up and to run with endurance the race that God has set before us” (Hebrews 12:1-NLT).

You may ask, how exactly am I supposed to “strip off” every weight that slows me down when the very burden is a something or someone I can’t escape (Ex. A job that I have to keep to provide for my family or pay my bills or a person in my family)? How do I know exactly what the sins are that easily trip me up? And, how exactly do I run a race with endurance when I hate the race I’m in or don’t even know which race I’m in?

The next verse tells us how.

“We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith” (Hebrews 12:2, NLT).

It doesn’t say, “Keep your eyes on the clock for the minute you can clock out and have a drink, play a video game or other form of relaxation waiting at the end of the day.”

It also doesn’t say, “Keep you eyes on the calendar counting the days til the weekend or next vacation or even the day of retirement.”

What is does say is, “keep your eyes on Jesus.” That means staying super focused on the only one who showed us how to live the life God created us to live.

To be Continued….