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The Put-Down

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“And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.” – Genesis 22:11-12

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.” – Mark 8:35

“By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure. – Hebrews 11:17-19

Scripture Reading: Genesis 22:1-18


Joey and Sunday are inseparable, and it amuses me and amazes me at the same time. While there’s no doubt that our 7-year old boy loves his 3-year old beagle, Joey’s love can be slightly overwhelming. He has little regard for the poor dog’s personal space, and he is frequently nose-to-nose with her, chattering in her face in a high-pitched tone that only he believes to be comforting.

Sunday is never phased by Joey’s demands. No matter what this lively little boy dishes out, she is always at his heels, tail wagging, following him around like, well, a puppy dog. She will gladly sacrifice her personal space, her comfort, and even her dignity – because Joey is everything to her.

In all honesty, I long to be that devoted to God. I long for that rare and uninhibited brand of faith that puts everything – and I mean everything – in His sovereign hands, and actually lets go. But when God’s will seems to demand more than we can bear to put down, that longing is hard to live out.

And yet, I think Abraham tapped into that kind of faith in Genesis 22. Abraham spent most of his adult life with no children. With no heir, he resigned himself to the idea that his most trusted servant would inherit everything he had (Genesis 15). But God still promised Abraham descendants that would outnumber the stars. A detour from God’s will resulted in Ishmael – Abraham’s son by Sarah’s handmaid, Hagar – but, Ishmael was not the “son of promise” (Genesis 16).

God vowed to give Abraham a son through Sarah. And at the age of 100, Abraham would finally see that promise fulfilled – no less than 25 years after it was first made (Genesis 21:1-5, Hebrews 11:11-12). It must have seemed like an eternity to Abraham, but it was God’s promise, made good in God’s time (Habakkuk 2:3, II Peter 3:8).

But in Genesis 22, God would ask the unthinkable of Abraham. First, God had asked Abraham to let go of Ishmael, sending the boy and his mother, Hagar, away (Genesis 21:9-14). Now, God wanted Isaac on an altar – literally (Genesis 22:1-2).

I cannot imagine that climb up Mount Moriah. I believe Abraham had to force himself to keep putting one foot in front of the other. He must have cringed when Isaac asked where the lamb was, and he must have cried when Isaac allowed him to bind his hands and lay him on the altar (Genesis 22:7-9).

But here’s the thing. In that moment, Abraham – the same guy who had lied more than once to save his own skin (Genesis 12:11-12, 20:2), the guy who had begged God to spare his good-for-nothing nephew (Genesis 18:23-33), the man who had chosen his wife’s plan over God’s promise (Genesis 16:2-4) – finally mastered the put-down. He didn’t scheme, plan, or beg. Instead, he put down the one thing he desperately wanted to hold onto, and He trusted God to be true (Genesis 22:14, Romans 3:3-4, Hebrews 11:17-19).

When Abraham took Isaac up that mountain, He didn’t know that they were acting out the sacrifice that God would make with His own Son some 2,000 years later. He didn’t know God intended to provide a ram, just in time to save Isaac’s life (Genesis 22:12-13). He didn’t realize God was testing Him (Genesis 22:1).

But is it possible that God is testing you and me? Are there things He’s asking us to put down at the altar? Things that threaten to take His place on the throne of our lives (Mark 10:28-30)? Do we trust God to keep His promises, meet our needs, and give us abundant life – with or without those things we hold so dear (Matthew 19:29, John 10:10)?

Today, may we master the put-down. May we put God in His rightful place, and may we pass the testing of our faith by testing His faithfulness in return. Abundant life begins when we lay our life down at the feet of the Great Giver – and leave it there.


YOUR PRESCRIPTION

Is there something or someone that you’re desperately trying to hold on to today? Put it down at the feet of Jesus. Hold on to Him, and let Him decide what to do with the rest. Remember, He’s got the whole world in His hands, and that includes everything you’re trying to hold onto right now.

Everyday Occupation

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“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.” – Romans 7:18

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” – Ephesians 6:12

“For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” – Hebrews 4:15

Scripture Reading: Romans 7:14-25, Romans 8


Joey has an unnatural attachment to his socks. Frankly, I don’t get it. He likes long, colorful tube socks, pulled all the way up to his knee (even on the hottest day). And once he gets his socks on, he has no desire to take them off – not at night, not even the next day. And so, Joey and I fight “The Sock War” on a daily basis. As the underappreciated ambassador of hygiene in my home, I wrestle with flesh and blood to get Joey to change his socks – because in time, Joey’s socks develop an unnatural attachment to him, and someone has to peel them off before they completely fuse to his sweaty, stinky little feet. It is a daily battle that is not for the faint of heart.

Daily battles are not easy, but they are a vital aspect of the Christian life. I was recently talking with a dear friend of mine who is struggling. With tears in her eyes she told me that she fights a specific, soul-crushing battle every day. As we kept talking, she continued to emphasize the unrelenting, day-to-day aspect of her pain – and she said it as if her struggle had no redeeming purpose, no value, no victory. But although I hate to see her hurting, I am convinced that daily battles have immeasurable purpose and value in God’s economy.

In Romans 7, the Apostle Paul laments his own daily battle. Fighting sin and temptation was his everyday occupation – not just in the brazenly immoral, Gentile cities where he was called to preach and establish churches, but in the dark recesses of his own God-fearing heart.

In Verses 14-23, Paul pulls no punches about his own struggle with sin. And while he never glorifies his sin with too many specifics or colorful war stories, he glorifies God as the only antidote to his sin sickness (Verses 24-25, Mark 2:17, I Timothy 1:15). And in II Corinthians 12:7-10, Paul talks about his non-specific “thorn in the flesh”, more evidence that even this giant of the faith didn’t get a pass from the everyday occupation of fighting his own humanity.

And that brings me to the blessed promise of Romans 8. There is no condemnation in having a daily battle – because verses 3-4 tell us that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are all vested in that battle with us. And though we will struggle, and falter, and even fail at times, real defeat only comes with retreat. Condemnation only comes when we walk away from the battle and allow sin to take up unchecked, unchallenged occupation in our lives (Psalm 37:23-24, Proverbs 24:16).

 

The relentless, daily struggle is proof of life and proof of purpose. Don’t be afraid of the struggle, because it tells you that your conscience is still alive, that the Holy Spirit is still wooing you and striving with you, and groaning for God’s mercy on your behalf (Romans 8:26-27). And God’s endgame is revealed in the promise of Romans 8:28, as God works the good and the bad together into something that ultimately glorifies Him.

Satan will tell you that your daily battle is a sign of hopelessness, but God is with those who engage and fight the good fight (Isaiah 54:17-18, Joshua 1:8, Ephesians 6:10-18, Philippians 2:13, I Timothy 6:12).

Dear warrior, I know you are tired (Psalm 144:1-2, Isaiah 40:31). I know your battle is endless, but praise God that His love endures forever, His mercies are new every morning, and He fights for you (Exodus 14:14, Psalm 100:5, 118:1, Lamentations 3:21-23). The endlessness of your battle is a good sign. It is the daily dependency that God wants from you – the kind of dependency that lives on the just-enough-for-today manna of God’s strength and not the stored-up provisions of self-reliance (Deuteronomy 8:3, Luke 11:3).

Embrace the daily battle, because you will find God on that battlefield (John 16:33, I Corinthians 16:13, II Timothy 2:3, 4:7-8, I Peter 5:8-9, Jude 1:3). And finding Him is half the battle.


YOUR PRESCRIPTION

Is there a daily battle that you need to be fighting? Have you allowed some sin to take up permanent residence in your life? If so, let me challenge you to take up the fight and engage with God’s help. Any battle that grows your attachment to Him is a battle worth fighting.

The Perfect Way

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“And David enquired at the Lord, saying, Shall I pursue after this troop? shall I overtake them? And he answered him, Pursue: for thou shalt surely overtake them, and without fail recover all.” – I Samuel 30:8

“For thou wilt light my candle: the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness. For by thee I have run through a troop; and by my God have I leaped over a wall. As for God, his way is perfect: the word of the Lord is tried: he is a buckler to all those that trust in him.” – Psalm 18:28-30

“Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.” – Psalm 34:19

Scripture Reading: I Samuel 30


I don’t feel like I’m at my best right now. This is one of those days where I don’t just have a target on my back – I’m wearing one like a sandwich board.

And though I’m rolling in waves of insult and injury, a still, small voice is pleading with me somewhere deep inside my heart, telling me to ride out the storm, fight the panic of insecurity and offense, and anchor myself to the only One Who can give me a right response to all that seems so wrong.

In I Samuel 30, David is a wronged man who has chosen the wrong place to ride out injustice. After sneaking into the Israelite camp and stealing the two items closest to Saul’s sleeping head (I Samuel 26:9-12), David delivers a wake-up call from a safe distance, holding up Saul’s spear to show the king that he has once again spared his life (I Samuel 26:17-25).

But although he momentarily humbled Saul with his refusal to touch the Lord’s anointed, THIS anointed guy wasn’t taking any more chances. Panic strikes David, and rather than going to God, he goes his own way (Proverbs 21:2, Isaiah 53:6, Jeremiah 17:10, Galatians 3:3). Fueled by fear, David runs to the one place where he knows Saul won’t dare to follow – Philistine territory (I Samuel 27:1-4).

There David aligns himself with Achish, the King of Gath (homeland of the long-dead giant, Goliath), becoming mercenary and bodyguard to this Philistine warlord. It’s all just so wrong, and it gets even more wrong.

By the end of I Samuel 27, David has completed a series of bloody missions to prove his loyalty over the course of 16 months, and when the Philistine lords gather to attack Israel (I Samuel 29), David is eager to enlist. But even the other Philistines know that David is not where he belongs.

Finally, in I Samuel 30, David and his men ride out to join the fight, leaving their wives and children behind in Ziklag. Amalekites quickly seize the opportunity to raid Ziklag, burn it to the ground, and carry away all the women and children.

David and his men return to total devastation, and faced with the loss of their families, the men turn on David. Their near-mutiny is the lowest rung on the ladder to rock bottom, and David’s heart is finally turned back to God. Instead of forging ahead on emotion, David at last encourages himself in the Lord. He asks God if he should pursue the Amalekites, and with God’s blessing, the families are rescued without a scratch on them.

Let me share with you the words that I need to hear – David had every right to be upset, but he had every reason to trust God. Saul was completely out of line and completely off his rocker, but God had more than proven Himself faithful to David. The lion, the bear, the giant, and the anointing – all of these were promises that God had no intention of leaving David. But David had chosen hysteria over history, and he did not consult God before consorting with the Philistines.

Secondly, God’s way is perfect, but the perfect way is also the perfecting way. It is not perfect in the sense that nothing ever goes wrong and everything happens without a hitch on our timetable. Rather, all the detours, all the delays, and all the distress serve God’s purpose in God’s timing to grow us, train us, and perfect everything that concerns us (Psalm 138:8, John 16:33, Romans 8:28,35, I Peter 5:10, I John 2:5). And in a fallen world, some of that perfecting will inevitably involve injustice and offense. We simply have to give it to God.

So today, my feet are planted and my eyes are fixed on God’s way. I have an intense awareness that MY way will only worsen the situation, and history reminds me that my God has defended me and delivered me out of trouble before (Deuteronomy 32:4, Psalm 18:30, 34:19, 40:5, 66, I Peter 1:7, 4:12).

The fight is His, so that the glory will be His, and this imperfect woman is praying for the strength to follow God’s perfect way.


YOUR PRESCRIPTION

Have you suffered injury or offense at the hands of someone else? Are you allowing that offense to pull you away from God and His perfect way for you? If so, give it to God, and get back on track. He is your Deliverer and your Defender, and His way IS perfect.

 

Go to the Grave

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“And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?” – Mark 16:2-3

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – I Corinthians 15:54b-57

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” – I Peter 1:3

Scripture Reading: Mark 16:1-10, John 20:1-18


A few months ago, we broke down and got Joey a dog. My husband found us a cute, little beagle, aptly named “Sunday”, who has become Joey’s loyal sidekick. Sunday is a sweetie, but she’s no guard dog. To date, her list of phobias includes stink bugs, balloons, remote-control cars, high winds, and her own shadow.

When Joey recently got a bunch of foil balloons for his birthday, Sunday was paralyzed with fear. If someone simply touches the balloons, so that they shift around and gently bump into each other, Sunday scampers away. She won’t even walk past the balloons, unless one of us stands squarely between her and the sinister bouquet of floating foil heads and verbally reassures her. It’s pathetic, but somehow, she feels absolutely powerless in their presence.

In Mark 16, three women knew what it meant to feel powerless as they made their way to the tomb – Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James (the disciple known as “James, the son of Alphaeus”), and Salome (wife of Zebedee and mother to the disciples James and John).

I picture them arm-in-arm, moving slowly, weeping softly, drawn by duty, and tortured by the pointlessness of it all. They had endured the agony of front-row seats for the crucifixion, displaying a steadfast loyalty and grit that even many of the disciples couldn’t muster (Matthew 26:31, 27:54-61). After that, they had wept their way through the burial, joining Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus in trying to compensate for a gruesome and undignified death with a solemn and sacred laying to rest (John 19:38-42).

Now, after a long and lonely sabbath, these faithful women came with spices in hand to resume the ritual of caring for Jesus’ body (Mark 16:1-2). They were again drawn by duty, but honestly, they had no idea how they were going to manage (Matthew 27:65-66, Mark 16:3).

But while they wondered what to do about the stone, God was already moving in ways beyond their imagination

By the time they reach the tomb, that stone is already history. The grave stands open, and looking inside, they find Jesus gone and an angel waiting for them with those blessed words, “He is risen. He is not here.”

Before they even reached the problem, it was solved. Their weakness was answered with a power from on high and a plan to do far more than simply allow them to carry out their pointless rituals. As a matter of fact, those rituals were no longer needed, because death had been driven from that grave.

What stone stands in your way today? What problem seems so massive that it’s beyond moving? I’m here to tell you that it is not beyond the moving of God.

And as for your eternity, it was sealed when the seal on that grave was broken (I Corinthians 15:12-19, 54-57). You do not have a powerless Savior, forever languishing on a cross. You have a risen Savior, a Savior who has already left His own grave to move on and move other stones, a Savior Who is seated beside His Father in the heaven, pleading your case, with the power to put every stone under His feet (Psalm 8:6, Romans 8:34, Hebrews 1:2-4, 7:25, 8:6, 10:12-13).

All of the proof, all of the promise, all of the power you require is waiting for you at that empty grave – for eternity and for every day. However big the stone, however impossible the problem, Jesus is way ahead of you. The stone is rolled away, the work is finished, and the open tomb is an open invitation to believe that all things are possible.

So when you need hope, go to the grave. When you need courage, go to the grave. When you need strength, and answers, and a reason to go on – they are all there, where the stone used to be.

If death can be conquered, then any stone can be moved by His mighty hand. And hope is alive, because HE IS RISEN.


YOUR PRESCRIPTION

Do you believe that God still rolls stones away? Take all of your cares and concerns to your living, risen Savior, knowing that He has conquered death and He is mighty to save.

A Little Lunch

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“He saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? go and see. And when they knew, they say, Five, and two fishes.” – Mark 6:38

“Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” – Mark 9:23

“One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saith unto him, There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?” – John 6:8-9

Scripture Reading: John 6:1-13


Joey has exactly sixteen dollars in a top-stitched leather wallet on his dresser. It’s his life savings – a combination of leftover Christmas money, the profits of lost teeth, and payments received for his own special brand of “help” on household projects.

Always thinking big, he recently decided that our backyard wasn’t big enough for his 6-year old dreams of bike stunts, forts, and Nerf-gun battlefields, and he recommended that we find a new house. When I sensibly explained that we were perfectly happy with our current house, and besides, we couldn’t afford a new one, he immediately responded, “But Mommy, I’ll give you my sixteen dollars…”

In Joey’s mind, his little wallet has unlimited possibilities.

That reminds me of another little boy whose little lunch actually did have unlimited possibilities. In John 6, Jesus has drawn a crowd. Awed by His healing power, they follow Him relentlessly, crossing the Sea of Galilee and trekking up a mountainside in anticipation of what miracle He might do next (Matthew 14:14, Luke 9:11, John 6:1-3).

As evening comes, Jesus is touched by their need (Matthew 14:15, Mark 6:34-35, Luke 9:12). Having spent the day with Him, these people have no provision for dinner, and they’re far from home.

In Mark’s account of the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus tells the disciples to “go and see” how much food they have, and they return with the report of five loaves and two fish (Mark 6:38). Although Peter’s brother, Andrew, brings the little boy forward (John 6:8-9), Andrew also provides the sensible, grown-up assessment of their resources, “…but what are they among so many?” Clearly, there isn’t enough to work with here.

So practical. And practically faithless.

To be honest, I’ve always had a hard time believing that the little boy in question was the only one in the crowd with any vittles to offer. Not another soul had a morsel or two to share? I could survive for a week on the contents of my car – emergency kid snacks, stray packs of gum and mints, and (reserved for the last few days of survival) drive-thru scraps that have found their way under the seats. No one had the New Testament equivalent of any of those things?

I submit to you that when the disciples followed Jesus’ instructions and scanned the crowd for food, there were others who could have contributed. Some may have been selfish, or simply holding out for free food from the Miracle Worker. But I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that some were probably too practical to believe that their single-serving lunch could be stretched to feed the crowd around them.

How many of us are hiding in the crowd, silently and sensibly refusing to be a part of God’s work, because we think we don’t have enough to offer God? How many of us actually believe that our own inadequacy limits what God can do? How many miracles have we missed by being realists?

The truth is that God’s reality is limitless (Job 5:8-9, Isaiah 55:9, 64:4, Jeremiah 33:3, I Corinthians 1:25-28, 12:9-10). He delights in using the inadequate to accomplish the impossible. His constant invitation to us is to step out of the boat, step into the lion’s den, lock and load your slingshot, and see what He can do (Exodus 14:13, II Chronicles 16:9a, 20:17, Mark 9:23, 10:15-16, Luke 1:37, II Corinthians 5:7, Hebrews 11:1, 6). And too often, we look in our lunch bag and say, “It’ll never work.”

Today, I invite you to take your “not enough”, your little lunch, your sixteen dollars, and put it in the hands of Jehovah-Jireh, the God Who Provides. Have the childlike audacity to believe that God can use you – not because of what you have, but in spite of all you lack.

It’s not about being adequate. It’s about being obedient. He wants to use you – right now, just as you are (Jeremiah 29:1, John 6:5-6, Ephesians 2:10). And He can do big things with a little lunch and a little faith.


YOUR PRESCRIPTION

Has God been calling you to do something? Have you hesitated because you feel inadequate? Offer God what you have, knowing that what you have doesn’t matter. He will honor the offering, and He will use you because HE is able.

Accountability in Action

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“But take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the Lord charged you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave unto him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.” – Joshua 22:5

“Open rebuke is better than secret love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” – Proverbs 27:5-6

“Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” – Hebrews 3:12-13

Scripture Reading: Joshua 22


God has filled my life with blessings, but it often seems that my blessings include added responsibility and requirement. That’s why I am so thankful that God has given me a small circle of faithful, supportive friends. They know me – the real and ragged “me” that I don’t even dare to trot out in public – and God repeatedly uses these friends to keep me in check.

As we share our blessings and burdens in our little circle, I find that God is forever working in my heart, reminding me that this “work in progress” has more progress to make.

In Joshua 22, the twelve tribes are finally making progress in the Promised Land. The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh have fulfilled their obligation to assist the other tribes in claiming their respective portions of the Promised Land (Numbers 32). Joshua gives them an honorable discharge and releases them to return to the other side of the Jordan River, where their own inheritance lies (Joshua 22:1-6).

Loaded down with the spoils of war and buoyed by Joshua’s blessing, the eastern tribes head for home. But when they reach the Jordan, they build a great, big altar – big enough that word of it reaches the western tribes in record time – and news of the giant altar is not well-received. Fearing that idolatry is already rearing its ugly head east of the Jordan – Joshua prepares for the possibility of civil war (Verse 12).

But before they march against their own, Phinehas, son of the high priest Eleazer, takes a  contingent of princes from the western tribes and sets out to confront the eastern leadership in Gilead (Verses 13-14).

You see, Phinehas knew a thing or two about confronting rebellion. In Numbers 25, the Israelites brazenly defiled themselves with the Moabites. God responded with a plague that quickly wiped out 24,000 Israelites. And God Himself credited Phinehas with turning back the rest of His wrath by squashing the rebellion. But the price had been high, and this time, Phinehas was determined to stop the rebellion before it began.

But in his confrontation, Phinehas offers more than a rush to judgment – he offers constructive accountability. In Joshua 22:19, Phinehas tells the eastern tribes that they still have a home west of the Jordan River, and if the temptations of pagan culture are too strong on the eastern banks, they can join the other tribes on the distant western bank.

Thankfully, the intentions of the eastern tribes prove to be true and they welcome accountability. They had not turned to idolatry, nor had they violated the structure of worship outlined in Leviticus 17:8-9. Rather, they had built a memorial to remind their children to follow the Lord (a way of holding themselves accountable). And with so much distance between their territorial inheritance and the tabernacle at Shiloh, they had given themselves a visual of their spiritual inheritance.

Phinehas returns to Shiloh with good news, and the swords of the Israelite army are sheathed. But the trip was not a wasted one, as iron sharpens iron, and the commitment of all twelve tribes to serve the One True God was confirmed and strengthened. Being accountable to each other served them all well.

I have learned this the hard way, but I am so grateful to have learned. Welcome accountability. Invite it into your life, and never ask it to leave (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, Matthew 12:36-37, James 5:16). Don’t settle for friends who will tell you what you want to hear. Seek out friends who will tell you what you need to hear from God’s Word (Proverbs 9:8, 24:24-25, 27:6, 17, Jeremiah 17:9-10, Galatians 6:1-5, Hebrews 10:23-25, 13:17). And find a church family that expects you to do more than just “show up”. Find a church that challenges you – and even holds you – to a higher standard of godly living.

Accountability is your friend. True friends will hold you accountable to God and His Word. And they are the company that is truly worth keeping.


YOUR PRESCRIPTION

Do you have a structure of accountability in place? Ask God to give you the kind of relationships that hold you accountable and help you to grow. Welcome accountability and walk in the light.

Good Grief

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“Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book? When I cry unto thee, then shall mine enemies turn back: this I know; for God is for me.” – Psalm 56:8-9

“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” – Isaiah 53:3-4

“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” – Revelation 21:4

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 53


A recent TV commercial featured an overprotective mom smothering her 10-year old son. The poor boy watches in humiliated horror, as his misguided mom awkwardly shields him from a hail of gym class dodgeballs, saying, “Don’t worry, honey. Mommy’s here.”

Yep. That could be me.

I see my little boy get his heart broken, and I want to run to his rescue. My instinct is to fix everything for him. But sometimes, playing hero to my 6-year old only distracts him from the One Who should really be at the center of his little heart. And lately, I’ve been learning to push him to prayer, rather than shielding him from every last dodgeball in life.

There is a good grief that draws us closer to the side of our Savior. We cling to people that we think can mend our broken hearts and right our world, but heartbreak can bring perspective and put the people in our lives in their proper place. Heartbreak has a way of pushing us to prayer and pushing God to the forefront – where He belongs.

If you’re waiting on someone in your life to heal your hurting, let me show you some people who learned that only God could bring good from their grief:

  1. Hannah (I Samuel 1) – Though she was barren, Hannah was beloved by her husband (Verses 4-5), but Elkanah’s sincere love for her (“Am not I better to thee than ten sons?”) couldn’t shield her from the cruelty of his other wife, and it couldn’t give her the child she desired (Verses 6-8). Hannah’s redemption came when she took her grief to God, and her vow to give her son back to the Healer of her heart paved the way for Samuel’s lifetime of service to the Lord (I Samuel 3:19-20, Hebrews 11:32-33). And in the end, God would reward Hannah’s faithfulness by giving her 5 more children (I Samuel 2:21, Isaiah 54:1, Hebrews 11:6).
  2. Joseph (Genesis 37) – Jacob doted on the son of his beloved Rachel, but his doting only fueled the hatred of his other sons. When that hatred finally boiled over, Joseph found himself at the bottom of a pit, clinging to the hope that his oldest brother Reuben would somehow talk the others out of killing him. But Reuben’s rescue plan failed, and Joseph was sold to slave traders (Verses 21-30). People would continue to let Joseph down – Potiphar would believe his scheming wife, and Pharaoh’s butler would forget all about Joseph as soon as his own dream came true. But God would be with Joseph through every heartbreak, working out a providential plan that even the Dreamer couldn’t see coming (Genesis 37:19, 41:51-52, 50:20, Acts 7:9-10, Hebrews 11:22).
  3. The Woman with the Issue of Blood (Mark 5:25-34) – This woman knew her own brand of heartbreak. She had spent 12 lonely years living in the shadow of a Levitical curse that rendered her “unclean” and destroyed any hope of a normal life (Leviticus 15:25). Her desperation made her easy prey for quacks and con artists, and she had poured money into treatments that somehow worsened her condition, leaving her broke and still broken. But when she fought her way through the crowd to make contact with Jesus, this broken woman would be publicly declared “whole” by the Savior Himself (Isaiah 61:1, Matthew 11:28-29, John 8:36).

Everything has a purpose in God’s hands (Romans 8:28, Philippians 3:10, I Peter 5:10). And when given to God, suffering puts us on common ground with our uncommon Savior – the Man of Sorrows (Isaiah 53:3-5), Who willingly took all the worst of sin’s outcomes on Himself, so that He could one day “make all things new”.

Find the good in your grief. Stop looking to people to save you, and instead, ask God what He wants to accomplish in and through you. People will let you down, but God will lift you up in due time (I Peter 5:6-7). And one glorious day, all grief will be gone (Revelation 21:4).

What a day that will be.


YOUR PRESCRIPTION

Have you been waiting on someone to change your situation? Have you been waiting on someone to simply change? Ask God what He wants to change and wait on Him instead.


 

Light Switch

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“For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” – John 3:17

“How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” – Romans 10:14

“For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light…See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.” – Ephesians 5:8, 15-17

Scripture Reading: Ephesians 5


A part of me has been avoiding this. To speak in the aftermath of the unspeakable is trite at best, and at worst, does more damage when the damage is already beyond measuring.

You don’t need me to recount the events of the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida. I know the images are burned into your brain as they are into mine. But something else is burning in me as well. It’s not anger or emotion – though I’ve felt those, too. This burning is a sense of urgency, a sense that I don’t want to miss another wake-up call, a sense that I can’t press the snooze button again, and I need to turn the light switch on.

I’m not here to try to give any explanation. To try to read the mind of God at a time like this only incenses the hurting and insults the God Whose thoughts and ways are so much higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9). And I’m not going to touch the political issues, because I believe there is a far more eternal issue for those who know Christ.

It comes down to this – for the Christian, tragedy should be a light switch. We are called to be light, and that calling is never louder than it is at moments like this. I’ll admit, there are times that I catch myself hitting the snooze button, thinking that I have all the time in the world to reach the people that God has put in my path (Matthew 26:41, Mark 13:33). But when we are reminded how quickly and unexpectedly life can be snuffed out, when we are reminded how fragile even the strongest and liveliest among us are, when we realize just how unsure our existence is outside of the grace of God, we have to redouble our efforts, redeem the time, and reach the lost (John 9:4-5, Ephesians 5:16, Jude 1:23).

I’ll admit, too, that there are times when silence feels safer. People are so enraged with grief that a Christian can’t say anything right, and our faith-fueled insights are unwelcome in most forums. But today, the world is a darker place than it’s ever been, and God’s children – the children of light –  need to shine brighter than ever before. We need to avoid the temptation to engage in hate-speak, (I Timothy 2:1-3), but more than ever, we are called to a ministry of mercy and reconciliation (II Corinthians 4:1-4, 5:18-19).

Don’t you see? These awful moments that leave people searching are divine appointments for believers. Light their way to God. We may not have all the answers, but we have The Answer for a lost and dying world (John 14:6, Acts 4:12). Don’t miss the moment. Don’t be so busy defending your position that you lose sight of your mission.

Love – even when confronted with hate. Pray – even when they don’t want your prayers. Pray that God will soften hearts, open doors, and grant boldness at just the right moment – not a boldness that bullies or responds to every jab, but a boldness that loves the not-so-lovable and reaches into darkness to pull people towards the light (Proverbs 15:1-2, Colossians 4:5-6).

Live a life that unashamedly points people to God. Give the Gospel every chance you get. Resist the urge to fit in and fly under the radar. Embrace your place in this world as a “city set on a hill” (Matthew 5:14-16), but be a city without walls – open and approachable. Always speak the truth, but never without love. And when God sends a softened soul your way, be ready with the gracious, scripture-based truth that they need (Ephesians 4:14-15, Hebrews 6:19, James 3:17, I Peter 3:15).

God will surprise us with His grace again. Souls will come to salvation, and His purposes will come to pass, in spite of evil. Keep the faith. Share your faith. And always keep your light-switch in the “on” position.


YOUR PRESCRIPTION

Ask God for the wisdom, strength, and grace to be a light in the darkest of times. Pray for the hurting and the searching – and light their way to the cross.

Growing Pains

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“It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.” – Psalm 119:71

“That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” – Ephesians 3:17-19

“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.” – James 1:2-3

Scripture Reading: James 1:1-14


I was recently torturing my 6-year old with a flurry of tickles and unsolicited smooches, when he responded breathlessly, “You’re right, Mommy. It’s not easy being loved.”

“It’s not easy being loved.” It’s a line that I use on my guys all the time, because I believe it points to the ever-growing pile of overlooked blessings in each of our lives. It’s a paradox that pits human nature against the unrivaled goodness of God. We bemoan the constant demands and interruptions posed by the people in our lives, while missing the truth that it is a blessing that God has filled our lives to overflowing with people to love and be loved by. So many of the things that annoy us in this life are really evidences of the love of God (and even of the flawed human love of the people God has placed in our lives), but Satan loves to paint our blessings as burdens. And too often, we are overwhelmed by those blessings in a bad way – viewing God’s opportunities as inconveniences.

I’ll be honest. We’ve had some hard things going on in our home in recent months. I don’t want to overdramatize. Everyone is well, and by God’s grace, Paul and I are stronger than ever, but we’ve been tested in unexpected ways on many different fronts, and our little family has been aching with growing pains.

In James 1, the author talks about the gift of growing pains and the easily-overlooked evidences of God’s love in our lives.

This book was written by James, the half-brother of Jesus. Though he likely did not become a believer until after the resurrection of Christ, he became a pivotal leader in the early church at Jerusalem (Acts 1:14, I Corinthians 15:4-7, Galatians 1:18-19).

And there was nothing easy about being a part of the early church. It’s believed that the Book of James was actually the first New Testament book that was written, and it was penned in the aftermath of the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7). The church was still in its infancy, and particularly in Jerusalem, Christians (though that term had not been coined yet) were being hunted. Enemies such as Saul (who had not taken his life-changing trip to Damascus yet) had forced the church to scatter (Acts 8:1-3, 9:1-2, James 1:1), but James charges them to find the blessing in their burdens.

He tells them to “count it all joy”, and to embrace the constant exercising of their faith muscles, knowing that the stress and strain of their trials will only serve to strengthen their faith (James 1:2-4). He tells them that wisdom is available for the asking, and their steady storm of trials is God’s way of prompting them to ask, to lean in, and lean on Him (Verses 5-7).

They are going through endurance training (Verse 12). And after coming from a religion that was driven by rules, law, and mere repetitive motion, they are learning to live a life of active response – listening for the voice of God and looking for opportunities to live out their faith through obedience to God’s Word and right responses to the assignments that He gives them on a moment-to-moment basis (Verses 18-27, James 2:14-20, Ephesians 2:10, 5:2, Titus 3:8).

And so it is with you and me. Growing pains are a gift. Trials are training. And the things that you and I haven’t planned for are often the most pivotal pieces of His plan for us (John 16:33, Romans 5:3-5, 8:28, 12:12, I Peter 4:12-19, 5:10, Hebrews 9:14, 12:5-6).

It’s not easy being loved. It’s not easy having a God Who invests in you by uprooting you, Who is forever pulling your comfort zone out from under you and challenging you to test His promises by being tested. But make no mistake, it is love. It is the love that left a throne and surrendered to a cross, so that we could be spared a cross and offered a crown (Romans 8:35-39, Philippians 2:7-8, James 1:12). It is the deep and wide love that little kids sing about in Sunday School. And it is the love that will guide you through every growing pain.


YOUR PRESCRIPTION

What growing pains are you experiencing right now? Make sure you are using them to grow. Ask for wisdom, lean into the God Who loves you, and praise Him for the training in your trials.

 

A Better Window

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“And he [Jonah] said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land. Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto him. Why hast thou done this? For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.” – Jonah 1:9-10

“For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” – Habakkuk 2:14

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14-16

Scripture Reading: Jonah 1


I often miss the mission field around me. I have a friend who reminds me of this on a regular basis. Actually, she reminds me of my dad. My dad rarely missed a chance to give the gospel. I remember him sitting at the kitchen table, paying bills, and putting a gospel tract in the envelope with each check he wrote. My friend is equally mindful, pulling a tract out of her purse every time we get the check at a restaurant or buy a cup of coffee.

It’s easy to plow through life completely self-absorbed, head-down, with little regard for the world around you. But as Christians, we’re kidding ourselves if we think that the world isn’t watching, and whether we notice the world or not, they are constantly taking note of us.

In Jonah 1, the prophet is self-absorbed and he is most definitely kidding himself. You know the story backwards and forwards. God tells Jonah to go to Ninevah. Jonah refuses and defiantly runs from God, booking passage on a ship to Tarshish, the furthest point he can reach in the opposite direction of his God-ordained destination (Verses 1-3).

Jonah then goes below deck and falls asleep. Jonah thinks he has left the mission field. He thinks he has abandoned his calling, and now that he’s mad at God, he’s just going to keep his head down, take care of himself, and ignore the world around him. He falls asleep in the middle of his mission field, until God begins to rock the boat.

The storm that ensues is one of biblical proportions (pun intended). It drives the sailors to toss cargo overboard, and more importantly, it drives them to their knees. These sailors don’t know the One True God, but they’re frantically praying to every god they can think of. They wake Jonah up and tell him to pray. And sensing that the storm has to be about more than the weather, they cast lots to divine the source of the trouble (Verses 4-7).

And here’s the part that really gets me – the trouble is the prophet of God, the guy who was sleeping, the guy who still hasn’t said any prayers. Now exposed, Jonah is finally forced to acknowledge his association with God (Verse 9), “I am an Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land.”

But he offers no prayers. It’s heartbreaking. These sailors are having their first encounter with the Living God, and God’s prophet is in the middle of a selfish phase. There’s no doubt they are struck by the power and might of God, but they are equally struck by the willful rebellion of God’s man (Verses 10-11).

And Jonah doesn’t soften. He still doesn’t pray. He doesn’t beg God for forgiveness or beg Him to spare the sailors. Instead, it’s the sailors who are trying to save Jonah, as they row desperately to avoid throwing him overboard. They beg God for mercy. And after the storm stops (and Jonah literally becomes fish food), they cement their relationships with the One True God (Verses 13-16, Romans 1:16, 10:13, Revelation 1:7).

But it’s no thanks to Jonah (Isaiah 55:11, Ezekiel 33:6, Matthew 18:6). And it makes me wonder – how many times have I been so wrapped up in me that I missed the chance to be part of God’s work? How many times have I been in a selfish phase? How many times have I fallen asleep in the middle of my mission field?

When I was a kid, we used to say, “You make a better door than a window.” We used that line anytime someone stood in our way and blocked our view. God forgive us when we are closed doors that block someone else’s view of God. God forgive us when we are self-absorbed distractions from His glory (Isaiah 43:10, Matthew 5:16, Philippians 2:15, II Timothy 2:1-4, I Peter 3:15, Jude 1:23).

May we be ever mindful of our mission fields. May we all be better windows for His light to shine through.


YOUR PRESCRIPTION

Have you fallen asleep on your mission field? Are you going through life head-down? Ask God to wake you up to His work, and ask Him to make you a better window that He can shine through.