Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Three ways to righteousness

“Lead me, O Lord, in Your righteousness because of my enemies; make Your way straight before my face. . . . Let all those rejoice who put their trust in You; let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them.” (Psalm 5:8,11, NKJV)

When Jesus taught the disciples to pray one line says, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” David asks the same thing: “Lead me in Your righteousness . . . .”

What is righteousness? One of my Bible dictionaries says, “ . . . the central element in righteousness (is) the intention to be and do right. . . .”

Be right. Think according to the standard set by God, have that as my world view, my guide for life. Do right. Live it out. Conform to God’s standards in all that I do.

His standards are lofty. How can a person be righteous? There are three ways set out in Scripture. The first is righteousness obtained by obeying all the Law of God, but of that measurement the Bible says, “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). I cannot be righteous by obedience.

The second and third offer hope. They are the “righteousness of faith” and the “righteousness of Christ.” The righteousness of faith is given as a gift! Because Jesus died on the cross for sin (unrighteousness), God will declare a person righteous when they put their faith in Christ. It is sort of like joining the army. If I signed up, I would immediately be declared a soldier, even though I’d not yet learned anything about how to act like one. For that, I need some lessons.

That is where the righteousness of Christ comes in — which is exactly what He does. When I believed in Jesus, He came right into my life and lives in my heart. It is a mystery — yet clearly taught and amazing to all who experience it. Then, because I “signed up,” He empowers me to start acting like what God has already declared me to be: righteous.

Jesus gets me doing things that were previously foreign to me. I notice a changed attitude toward people. I notice some habits just stop. Other behaviors that I’d wanted to do before but didn’t have the ability, start.

This happens because Jesus is my righteousness. When temptations come and I try to battle them they over-power me, but Christ is the perfect defender who always responds to everything the way God wants. He is like a hand in a glove, motivating me to think and move in ways that please God. Although the “glove” is sometimes uncooperative and resists His thoughts and purposes, every time that happens, I realize all over again how prone I am to sin and how much I need the Lord and His righteousness.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Monday need not be a weak day!

“Every one of the builders had his sword girded at his side as he built . . . The work is great and extensive, and we are separated far from one another on the wall. Whenever you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. ‘Our God will fight for us.’” (Nehemiah 4:20, NKJV)

The people of God were rebuilding the walls of their city. Their enemies mocked and intimidated them, threatened physical attack, tried to lure their leaders away, and made false charges against them. The task was difficult enough without this harassment, but Nehemiah remained focused and steadfast, refusing to let anything stop this work.

Battling sin and temptation is one thing, but when I am engaged in kingdom building, spiritual war intensifies. The more God blesses the classes that I teach and builds up the faith in those I disciple, the more I am harassed by negative thoughts, physical weaknesses and discouragement.

It often hits on a Monday — right after a great time with the women in my Sunday Bible study group. They are growing, responding to God, encouraged and sharing their faith. What is happening in their lives is the high point of my week. Yet the next day, I fight feelings of uselessness, being abandoned, no energy, wanting to run away and hide.

It took me a while to make the connection, but I’ve noticed the more God-blessed the class (and the worship service to follow), the more I need to be on guard the next day or two. Like Nehemiah, I’ve enemies that do not want me to build anything that will benefit God’s people.

The story of Nehemiah teaches me how to defend myself. Nehemiah never gave in, never gave up. He kept his mind on his task, quickly dealt with internal conflict, refused to rely on anything or anyone except the Lord, and asked his people to resist (in prayer) with him, trusting God to fight for them as they performed this important work.

My “section of the wall” is small, but just as a city wall cannot have any weak points, the little bit I do has value to God. I must focus and continue doing what He wants me to do. While I may not always see the importance of it, my spiritual enemies must see something — or they would not be so determined to make me quit.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Faith or Presumption?

“Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions. For I was ashamed to request of the king an escort of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy on the road, because we had spoken to the king, saying, ‘The hand of our God is upon all those for good who seek Him, but His power and His wrath are against all those who forsake Him.’ So we fasted and entreated our God for this . . . . Then we departed from the river of Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go to Jerusalem. And the hand of our God was upon us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambush along the road.” (Ezra 8:21-23, 31 NKJV)

In 460 B.C. travel was hazardous. Thieves made their living from anyone foolish enough to travel in unprotected groups. Ezra earlier told the king that he trusted God. Now he and a group of families would travel from Babylon to Jerusalem. He realized the normal thing would be to ask for a military escort to protect them from thieves, but what about his boast in God? Was that boast faith or presumption?

Years ago we lived in a town that took a plebiscite whether or not the local hospital would do abortions. Some churches sent out folks door-to-door to make sure voters knew the consequences should that happen. One person kept saying, “I’m sure that God is going to have this voted down.” However, it was not voted down.

That was a lesson for me in presumption. Don’t put on God something I want to happen. Find out what He wants, and if He does not tell me, be very careful about assuming anything. Faith trusts Him, but faith does not tell Him what to do.

Yesterday a friend and I discussed the implications of telling God what to do — as if we know better than He does! We pray our suggestions to Him, so easily forgetting that He knows all things, can do all things, and has far better ideas than anything that ever enters our heads. Telling God what to do is an insult to Him. I need to be like Mary at the wedding in Cana. She did not tell Jesus what to do. She simply presented the problem to Jesus and told the servants to “do whatever He says.”

Ezra was ashamed to ask the king for help even though his boast in God was not idle; God’s hand is upon all who trust Him. Yet Ezra knew he needed to humble himself and ask God for protection for this trip, not just assume that God would do it.

Every time I pray, I must remember that God is God. Not only does He know more than I do about the things I pray for, and knows when and how to answer my requests, He also does not have to do anything I ask. Who am I to tell the Lord of the universe how to rule His kingdom?

At the same time, He tells His people to ask, and He does answer. Prayer is not only grace and a privilege, but an awesome mystery!

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Being a Christian isn't for chickens

“Be strong and courageous; do not be afraid nor dismayed before the (enemy), nor before all the multitude that is with him. With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles.” (2 Chronicles 32:7-8, NKJV)

I’m studying God’s battle strategies in the Old Testament because they parallel the spiritual battles described in the New Testament — and I am in a war zone. My ‘enemy’ wants to destroy my faith, stop me from prayer and trusting God, and ruin the lives of those I care about. His weapons are not swords and arrows. He uses lies and intimidation, anything that will turn my focus from God and turn my faith into a quivering mess.

God’s battle strategy includes courage. He wants me to remember that He is far more powerful than anything that can come against me. He knows if I start quaking in fear, I will lose. Fear equals loss of faith in Him. Once that is gone, so am I!

But courage is never based on an “I can do this” bravado. It is solidly rooted in knowing who God is and knowing that He is on my side. How can I maintain that assurance? Practice spiritual disciplines. Be in the Bible daily. Pray. Remember the prayer that He has already answered. Meditate on His power and promises. Ask others to pray for me. Confess every sin as soon as I’m aware there is one. Be around other Christians (their faith builds my faith). Go to church and worship God. Listen to good sermons. Sing praise. Tell others about Him.

Yet the odd thing is that these can become mere ritual, or empty religiousity. The key to being strong in the Lord is that He does it. He helps me. He fights my battles. He is the Savior. So when I stumble and fall, He picks me up. When my faith becomes weak, He reinforces it. When I get hit with a lie, He reminds me of the truth.

I’m never alone. My salvation from sin and sin’s power do not depend on me. The battles I fight against lies, intimidation, attacks against my faith, and the power of the enemy in the lives of family and friends is not my battle; it is God’s — and as long as I remember that, He keeps my courage level way up.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Don't mess with what God says

“And the fear of God was on all the kingdoms of those countries when they heard that the Lord had fought against the enemies of Israel.” (2 Chronicles 20:29, NKJV)

I can only remember one time seeing the fear of God on someone’s face. A friend called me to come to her house because she had invited a cult member in for Bible study. This person agreed that our main difference concerned the identity of Jesus Christ, so we decided to study a chapter in the Gospel of John.

Instead of arguing theology with this person, my friend and I agreed that we should just let Scripture speak for itself. Every time he wanted to stop and explain his opposing view on a portion that clearly declared the identity of Christ, we said, “Let’s keep reading.” We refused to debate.

After an hour, he left without saying very much to us. We prayed for him but he never came back. Later, I happened to see him a couple times, once in a local restaurant. When he saw me, there was great fear in his eyes, an odd look that I’d not seen in anyone before.

I suppose there have been times I wanted to “put the fear of God” into my kids, or wished that for contrary people, but this was unexpected. What was going on in his mind?

I cannot speak for the cult person. Was there something about that Bible study that made him afraid? Did God cause him to see that by comparing his theology with what the Bible says, he stood on very shaky ground?

Whatever it was, I can still see his face and often wonder about him. Did the fear of God move him to get out of that cult? Or did he ignore it and dig in more deeply?

Whatever happened, one thing I know — being afraid of God because of what His Word says is far better than doing what that cult does (and writers like the author of the Da Vinci Code) — rewriting it to make it acceptable (and saleable) to those who refuse to believe it.

Friday, May 26, 2006

God first + me second = I win

“Because you have relied on the king of Syria, and have not relied on the Lord our God, therefore the army of the king of Syria has escaped from your hand. Were the Ethiopians and the Lubim not a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet, because you relied on the Lord, He delivered them into your hand. For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. In this you have done foolishly; therefore from now on you shall have wars.”

The king of Judah made many good decisions but one bad one landed him in battles that lasted the rest of his life. He might have avoided this, first by always trusting God, but second, when he made his mistake, he should have repented and asked for mercy. Instead, when he heard God’s verdict he became angry at the prophet who gave him the message, threw him in prison, and in his rage started oppressing others.

There are parallels for me. God expects me to trust Him in every situation. He might send me to a doctor when I’m sick, or use people to supply my needs, but I’m to go to Him first, with everything. When I don’t I should not be surprised if life gets complicated.

Another parallel is that sometimes I hear a message from God and don’t like it, but instead of dealing with my attitude, I attack the messenger. Not physically, usually with my mouth, and usually not directly. I just mutter and complain under my breath and make life miserable for those around me.

The grace and mercy of God is always available. All that king had to do was turn to Him. All I have to do is turn to Him. He honors a humble and contrite heart, and forgives those who confess their sin. He is faithful to those who are faithful.

The king of Judah did not have a personal relationship with God. He could have, but he preferred his own ways. Today is the same. Many people prefer their own way, and instead of knowing His mercy and grace, they are left to eventually discover that life without God means life without His blessing. I've learned that the hard way.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

I'm a slow learner . . .

“And in those times there was no peace to the one who went out, nor to the one who came in, but great turmoil was on all the inhabitants of the lands. So nation was destroyed by nation, and city by city, for God troubled them with every adversity. But you, be strong and do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded.” (2 Chronicles 15:5-7, NKJV)

God told the king of Judah, who was obedient to God, that his efforts were not in vain. As long as he continued to seek God and do His will, God would be with him and reward him.

The principle is the same today: God is present and powerful to defend His people. He promises that no matter what happens, He can “work it together for good” in our lives, using all our circumstances to make us more like Jesus Christ. The reward is not health, wealth, fame, popularity or status; it is the blessing of God — and a transformed life.

Those that do not know Christ have a different value system. If they pray, it is for immediate relief from problems, or for here-and-now benefits, things that will not last beyond the grave. It takes me a long time to shake off and reject that value system.

Not that God isn’t interested in the here and now. He answers prayer for all kinds of needs that are for this life only. However, even as He does that, He somehow changes the way I think about this life. He is showing me the short life-span of those goals reached and the long-term value of a changed character.

What good is winning a prize if I gloat over the losers? What good is having good health if I’m crabby and unthankful? What good is a full bank account if I refuse to help someone with a financial need? What good is being at the top of the heap if I’m standing on someone else?

God will reward my prayers and the work that I do for Him, but it will not be monetary. Instead, I will become less selfish, more humble, more concerned for others, a more dedicated servant. I will complain less, argue less, be harmless and blameless, without fault in a generation that conversely cries, “Me first,” “I’m the greatest,” “Look out for Number One,” “Serve Me,” “I have my rights,” “I’m right” and “I deserve it.”

The Lord taught Asa to look past this life and consider what will last forever. He is teaching me the same things, and even though I’m a lousy student, the message slowly sinks in.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Never outnumbered!

“So he answered, ‘Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’” (2 Kings 6:17 NKJV)

Elisha, a prophet of God in Israel, was in a city called Dothan. The Syrians were trying to defeat Israel, but their battle strategies were constantly foiled because this prophet, through revelation from God, kept telling the king of Israel the words that the Syrian leader “spoke in his bedroom.” So the Syrian king sent his great army after Elisha.

When Dothan was surrounded, Elisha’s servant panicked. But the prophet, who could hear things no one else could hear, was also able to see things no one else could see. He told his servant not to be afraid, then asked the Lord, “Open his eyes that he may see.”

The servant was amazed. He saw "the mountain full of horses and chariots of fire" — the army of the Lord was all around them. Then Elisha asked God to blind the soldiers and he led them to Samaria, right into the hands of the king of Israel.

I’ve heard contemporary stories like this one — missionaries attacked but suddenly the attackers left. Years later they were converted to Christ and told how they saw armed soldiers guarding the missionary’s home, yet the missionary could not see them. Whether the solders were real or imagined is not the point. God knows how to protect His people.

Depending on His plan for my life, He can foil anyone or anything that tries to harm me. I can walk in confidence, knowing that whatever comes my way, greater is He who is in me — and who surrounds me — than whoever or whatever comes against me.

My heart cries. . .

God continues to amaze me. Yesterday I was sorting photos and found several pictures of the young family member who is having such spiritual and mental problems. At one point I picked up the image of her smiling face and wept, “Where has she gone? I just want her back. Bring her back to us.”

About two hours later, she called. We talked for an hour. She was as normal as I’ve heard her for a long, long time. No complaining, ranting, or hateful talk. She was positive about everything and everyone (except some microwave popcorn that burned instead of popping). She was her normal cheerful self, talked about many things and even made fun of herself.

While this does not mean she is ‘cured’ of her illness, I'm greatly encouraged to keep on praying for her. God hears the cry of our hearts.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Peace in the darkness

“The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; the God of my strength, in whom I will trust; my shield and the strength of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge; my Savior, You save me from violence. I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised; so shall I be saved from my enemies.” (2 Samuel 22:2, NKJV)

There are no changes in the family member who has severe spiritual and mental problems. As far as we know, she still thinks there is nothing wrong with her. She is employed in a school, so her job soon ends. How she holds on to it we don’t know. She says she has a place to live, but we are not sure. She is convinced her entire family hates her so does not call, has no telephone, gives no address. This morning I prayed for her again, and kept hearing, “Trust Me, I’m in control.”

I’ve a peace in my heart about her, but peace seems unnatural. Shouldn’t I be upset? Does peace mean that I don’t care? Of course not. I look at her photo on my desk and weep, but the peace persists.

The New Testament talks about peace with God (being reconciled to Him through faith in Christ) and the peace of God. Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

The peace of God is partly me knowing and relying on the sovereign power of God, but it is more than that. It is a peace God sometimes dumps on me when He thinks I need it, apart from what I am thinking or doing. I remember another family crisis years ago when one of our children was reported missing. When we got the call, my heart was flooded with instant peace, that same weird peace that “surpasses all understanding” and does not make any sense. Later, the missing child turned up okay, but throughout the search, that peace guarded my heart. It was amazing.

Today, I’ve the same peace. No solutions yet. The situation is very dark. But God is truly our fortress, stronghold, and refuge. He gives peace in the darkness, and even though we weep right now, He promises “joy in the morning.”

Monday, May 22, 2006

My library is getting smaller

“And it shall be, when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry trees, then you shall advance quickly. For then the Lord will go out before you to strike the camp of the Philistines.” (2 Samuel 5:24, NKJV)

When David was anointed king of Israel, the Philistines determined to defeat him. David asked God what to do. In the first battle, He told him to move forward and the battle was won. In this battle, He told him to “circle around behind them, and come upon them in front of the mulberry tree” — a different strategy.

This was the pattern for most of David’s life. He not only checked with God before he did anything, but God rarely if ever copied a former plan.

I find it interesting, even annoying, that whenever a Christian is given a working strategy for their lives, they write a book about it — tell everyone else this is how it is done. Why do we want a formula? God wants a day-by-day, moment-by-moment communication with Him where we continually ask for wisdom for each situation. He doesn’t give us a blanket strategy for life.

Oh, yes, there are some things that apply all the time for everyone. We need to read the Bible, pray, practice spiritual disciplines. I’m talking about specific situations such as your child is saying bad words, or your husband lost his job, or an aunt is dying and won’t talk about it, or a salesman is pushing a product you are not sure of, or the neighbor’s dog is ruining your yard. Each challenge of life may not be unique to me, but the way God wants me to deal with each one will be unique. His understanding of the total picture means He will know things about it that I don’t. He knows the best way for me to respond to, or tackle, the problem.

So whenever something comes up (and it will), I am supposed to seek His will instead of opening up “Seven Ways to Solve Your Problems” or any other formula He gave another person. God and His solutions should not be stuck in a box or limited to the pages of a how-to book.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The fine print

“Then David said to the Philistine, ‘You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand . . . that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel . . . that the Lord does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s. . . .” (1 Samuel 17:45-47, NKJV)

Everyone cheers when a quiet little guy with few assets and against all odds faces a big guy with a big mouth who is well armed — and the little guy comes out the winner. Most versions of this story laud David’s courage and his aim with a slingshot. Sometimes we read it and feel that we can take on the world. However, we need to read the fine print!

The giant went into battle in his own name, in his own strength, and with great confidence in his own ability. That strategy never works for the people of God, no matter how powerful we might be. I cannot win any battles against temptation and evil by myself. I try. I doesn’t work. No matter how much I want to win, or how much energy I give, my efforts are useless. If I don’t act in the name of the Lord and in His power, failure is certain.

If I could win without Him, I would pridefully take the credit, turn the focus on myself. But God plainly says that He alone determines who wins and who loses. No matter what I think I am doing, any victory is because His hand is in it. If I lose, it is because I went into the battle thinking I didn’t need Him.

The convicting part of this ‘fine print’ is that it exposes my selfish focus. Far too often I want to win for my own sake, not so everyone will know there is a God and that all battles belong to Him. I want to win so others will see how spiritual I am or recognize the power of my prayer life. Wrong.

There are many lessons to learn from David. He refused the king’s armor because he had “not tested” it. He went into the confrontation remembering how God had already helped him win against other threats. He was not concerned what the mocking soldiers thought, nor that he was so small and insignificant against this threat. He knew not only that God was on his side, but that he was on God’s side. He took his stand against this foe with no confidence in his own weapons or ability. He trusted the sovereign power of God and determined that God alone would receive glory. So David wrote the fine print — then staked his life on it.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

A daily war

“One man of you shall chase a thousand, for the Lord your God is He who fights for you, as He promised you. Therefore take careful heed to yourselves, that you love the Lord your God. Or else, if indeed you do go back . . . know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations from before you. But they shall be snares and traps to you. . . .” (Joshua 23:10-13, NKJV)

The battles that Israel fought foreshadow the spiritual battles that Christians fight. If I stay true to God, He will give me victory over sin and temptation, even over spiritual forces of evil. But if I decide that I’d rather live another way, I’ve no guarantees of His help, at least until I learn the folly of doing such a thing and turn back to Him.

God warns me about loving the world’s ways. He categorizes them as “ the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.”

I’m guilty of the lust of the flesh if my priority becomes satisfying physical desires. This runs the gamut: food, sex, luxuries of all kinds, excessive comforts, anything that appeals to the senses. While these things are not necessarily forbidden, should I focus on them, they will become a snare to me.

I’m guilty of the lust of the eyes whenever I want what I see. That might be more stuff, but it can also be a power trip, a desire to gain control or ‘be the best’ in some area, a competitive “I must win” attitude. While God does not forbid doing well or having major responsibilities, if that is my focus, I have stopped loving Him.

I’m guilty of the pride of life at lot more easily than the other two. Bigger, better, more. The best, the most, the smartest, the strongest, whatever I can put on a pedestal with my name engraved under it, whatever I can point to and say, “I did that.” God does not frown when I do my best or on my achievements, but He knows that whenever that becomes my focus, I am trapped into a false value system.

It is false because none of those things last. They are not eternal. Loving God means having an eternal perspective, eternal values. If I take today’s to-do list and rate it, how much of what I accomplish will last for eternity?

Realistically, this doesn’t mean I can opt out of making the bed, doing dishes, or cleaning my desk. It does mean that I can pray while I do the ‘mindless’ chores, be thankful all day, be kind and loving toward my family and others that cross my path, and listen for the Lord’s voice in case He wants to send me off in another direction.

This does not sound much like the battles Joshua fought, but a minor success that puffs me with pride, or even a good dose of “I don’t want to” can take me down just as quickly as an enemy spear.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Take your pick

“The Lord gave them rest all around, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers . . . the Lord delivered all their enemies into their hand. Not a word failed of any good thing which the Lord had spoken . . . . All came to pass.” (Joshua 21:44-45, NKJV)

These words are about the nation Israel yet the rest of Scripture is plain; God gives rest to all who trust in Him, delivers us from evil, and keeps His promises. Instead of saying, “Yes, but . . .” I need to learn how to simply say, “Amen!”

But “When?” or “How long?” often pop into my head. I’m impatient. God says He will do something, but it is not happening. What is keeping Him? Why the delay?

A verse from James comes to mind: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect (mature) and complete, lacking nothing.”

God’s delays are a test of faith. Will I give up trusting and turn to some other way, or take matters into my own hands, or simply yield to despair? He says hang in there. He will do it. As I wait, He is helping me grow up, become complete, develop the ability to be unflappable, and as if that is not enough, He tells me to be joyful as He does it.

I’ve already learned that I can choose patience. If someone cuts me off in traffic, or the line is long at the check-out, I don’t have to be rattled. Because God gives me the Holy Spirit, His patience is available. I have a choice.

But joy is a fruit of the Spirit too. Whenever life hands me sorrowful trials with no end in sight, I can choose patience with the trial and with God. Can I also choose joy? It seems so.

That joy is sometimes mine without any effort on my part. I’ve even felt a twinge of guilt about it. Why should I be joyful when such and such is happening? “Count it all joy” makes sense though. Being sad does not change things or feel all that good. Why not be joyful?

My prayers are not answered yet. The spiritual battles still rage. But God has promised victory which will, I’m sure, bring great joy. For the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross . . . surely the promises of God are worthy of choosing both patient endurance — and joy.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Don't be afraid

“The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Do not fear them, for I have delivered them into your hand; not a man of them shall stand before you.’” (Joshua 10:8, NKJV)

God told Joshua several times to not be afraid of the opposition before him. He promised them the land and said the enemies would be routed. Sometimes the battle would be fierce, but other times their enemies would simply flee before them. In this case, even though five kings joined forces against them, “There were more who died from the hailstones than the children of Israel killed with the sword.” God was in charge of their battles.

As I battle in prayer for a dear family member, the war seems to be getting more difficult. She has now turned against my husband and me because we would not agree with her nor let her rant about the current person on her hate list. The main relationships in her life have disintegrated. She says she does not care. In her state, she thinks we hate her.

But our “battle is not against flesh and blood” as Ephesians says, but against “spiritual wickedness.” We know she is not the enemy nor are we her enemies. The liar and the destroyer is working overtime to keep her from thinking straight and to prevent us from having a good influence. He particularly does not want me to call on God or rely on Him.

This morning I asked God to encourage me. The situation looks so hopeless. He gave me this verse telling me not to fear; the outcome is a sure thing. In fact, the entire Bible says that Satan is already defeated. Even though his efforts still raise havoc, by His death Christ destroyed Satan’s power. His end is a certainty.

I’d like to see right now the end of his efforts to deceive and ruin the world, but for reasons I don’t understand, evil is still allowed. God, I don’t understand. But just as God asked Joshua to not fear and trust that the victory was won before the battle even started, He asks me to trust Him without understanding, and before I can see what He is going to do.

If anyone thinks the Christian life gets easier as we get older, they need to talk to me.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The challenge of Christian meditation

“ . . . I will not leave you nor forsake you . . . . This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (Joshua 1:5-8 NKJV)

Christian meditation is the art of learning how to think about the Word of God, spiritual principles, even God Himself — as I go through the day. It means whenever something comes up, my mind is quick to turn to what God says about it so my actions and responses will match His will. But meditation is seldom easy.

The human mind is amazing. We can process information, retrieve it (most of the time), remember things that happened yesterday or years ago, invent, define, rearrange, synthesize, create and disassemble at speeds a computer could envy. We are capable of emotion, making choices, solving problems, observing and recording.

People do not think the same though. My mind wanders all over the place and I’m easily distracted. Others are able to focus to the point that getting their attention with a new thought is almost impossible. My mind can come up with all sorts of creative ways to do things. Others are far better at seeing reasons why some of those ideas will not work.

Even with differences in the way we think, one thing seems difficult for everyone: meditation on the Word of God. We need commands to do it!

Over the years I’ve tried memorizing Scripture, writing it on cards or wall plaques, repeating it at intervals during the day, and teaching it to others. Meditation is still difficult. However, the more I read and study the Bible, the more I put it into my heart and mind, and — most important — the more I obey it, the more often it jumps to mind when I need it.

Obedience is the key. Doing what God says helps make His will part of how I think. When I obey, I see that He is wise and that His will is perfect. Doubt and fear are answered. Even though biblical faith does not need proof, obedience often provides it. Obedience also makes it easier to put principles from the Bible in those ‘memory tracks’ inside my head.

Joshua 1:8 is the only verse in the Bible that uses the word ‘success’ — not the success of a big house or fancy car, or prestige and popularity in the world, or fame, etc. but the success of God’s blessing on my life, a ‘prosperity’ that does not depend on the stock market or the price of our dollar. It is a gift that is unwrapped simply by reading and remembering His Word and letting that be my guide for each day.

So simple. So difficult.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A secret weapon

“Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord, the shield of your help and the sword of your majesty! Your enemies shall submit to you, and you shall tread down their high places.” (Deuteronomy 33:29 NKJV)

A few years ago someone said to us, “You two amaze me. You have been through so much.” We still don’t understand what she meant.

In retrospect, we know God’s people have more than the weapons of God to help us fight and win any battle against sin and the power of the evil one. While the Lord gives us protection (“You shall not be tempted beyond what you are able . . . .”) and often steps in to do amazing things on our behalf, one of the great blessings of being a Christian is the first word in the above verse. Happy.

Not just happy, joyful. The joy of the Lord is deeper than the ‘happy’ of pleasant circumstances. It is a deep, total knowing that God is in control no matter what, a sense of ‘all is well’ that counters all fear and anxiety. It is an emotion but also a firm trust. Whatever else joy is and does, it makes the circumstances of life secondary.

In other words, when I’m filled with the joy of the Lord, I don’t really notice a lot of things that otherwise might have been annoying, perplexing or difficult. This joy is not being oblivious or in a state of denial. Instead it is that assurance that no matter what is going on around me, I know that He is in charge, He will make sense of it, He has purpose for it all, and He will eventually make things right.

Truly, the joy of the Lord is my strength.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Bring every battle to the One who always wins

“The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before your face; they shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways.” (Deuteronomy 28:7 NKJV)

This “flee seven ways” is likely just a figure of speech, but I know there is more than one way to win a battle. In Israel’s history, sometimes the Lord intervened with odd events like huge hail stones and the enemy armies were killed or they fled. Sometimes He distracted them with news of an attack on their homeland and they left the battlefield and went home. Sometimes God gave His people unusual battle strategies and they were able to win by using them. Or God struck the enemy with blindness or disease and they were defeated. The only thing He didn’t do, to my recall, is turn their enemies into friends.

Mothers sometimes give that advice; make friends with those who mistreat you. Hard advice to follow, but it sometimes works, at least in the school yard. However, when it comes to spiritual warfare, God never advocates it. The enemy is the enemy, and although he might fake it, Satan is never going to be a friend. He will always oppose those who belong to God. He will always try to defeat me, make me sin, make me give up prayer and obedience, make me mistrust the Lord.

Other “enemies” might become friends though. I once knew a person who may not have appeared to others like an enemy trying to ruin my life, but that person was opposing me in many ways. We were at odds, if not actually fighting each other. Then God intervened. He got hold of that person’s life (and changed me too). By His transforming power we became friends.

Regardless of which way it happens, this verse says that is God who causes enemies to flee. As I am praying that people be released from the clutches of darkness and sin, I cannot think that I will gain victory for them, or even that my prayers will do it. I’m in the battle, but God wins the war.

Yesterday my class was talking about our patterns of prayer. One woman shared a remarkable battle plan. She told how she had problems with anger and took it out on her children. Whenever her preschoolers acted up, she screamed at them. Her home sounded like a war zone at times. She didn’t want that, so asked the Lord for help.

The Lord gave her a strategy for this battle. Instead of sending her oldest to her room for a time out, she sent her to her room to pray. She said, “Mommy will pray too, and when you come out, we will pray together.”

This plan is having an incredible effect. Because the mother has taught her, the child knows to ask God for forgiveness and to help her with a better attitude. So when she goes to her room and prays, she comes out repentant, asking her mother to forgive her too. They pray together and peace is restored.

But that is not all. There is a little sister who is less than three years old. She has been watching this and after a short time, whenever she gets cranky or acts up, without being told she goes in a corner and bows her head. The mother says, “I don’t know what she is doing, but she comes back saying she is sorry, and with a changed attitude.”

Our God amazes me with His creative genius. This is not only a solution for this mother, but one to be shared with others. Several in the class plan on using it. As a mother of grown children, I can only say I wish I’d known this young mother 35 years ago.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Abundant life

“For if you carefully keep all these commandments which I command you to do — to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, and to hold fast to Him . . . . No man shall be able to stand against you; the Lord your God will put the dread of you and the fear of you upon all the land where you tread, just as He has said to you.” (Deuteronomy 11:22, 25 NKJV)

God sent the people of Israel into foreign territory, promising them land and a nation of their own. They never did get all the land that God had promised. They were not able to fully obey Him and because of that, could not win all their battles and wound up with limited boundaries.

Jesus did not promise me actual land, but He did promise all who believe in Him an “abundant life.” This is not the North American idea of abundance — lots of money and stuff — but more like, “rich, full, a life superior in quantity and quality,” a wonderful, satisfying experience. I can say that He kept this promise to me. However, this abundant life, while not totally dependent on my obedience, is affected by what I do.

My life is full, rich, delightful, even amazing — as long as I am walking with Him. But if I am not, it is still full, but the fullness is a burden, no longer a delight but a resentment. I want to escape it instead of meeting it head on.

The Israelites had to fight for their promised land, but God told them if they obeyed He would put fear into the hearts of their enemies and make the battle an easier win. I don’t have to fight for this abundant life; it is mine because I believe. But I do have to fight against sin and disobedience. I cannot enjoy the life God has given me unless I keep it clean.

The battle against sin is impossible unless I am loving God, walking in His ways and clinging to Him. When I do, there is still a battle, but instead of going it alone or wanting to give up, Jesus somehow makes the battle itself part of the abundance!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Spiritual war is sometimes visible

“And He will deliver their kings into your hand, and you will destroy their name from under heaven; no one shall be able to stand against you until you have destroyed them. You shall burn the carved images of their gods with fire; you shall not covet the silver or gold that is on them, nor take it for yourselves, lest you be snared by it; for it is an abomination to the Lord your God. Nor shall you bring an abomination into your house, lest you be doomed to destruction like it. You shall utterly detest it and utterly abhor it, for it is an accursed thing.” (Deuteronomy 7:24-26 NKJV)

If I’d read this yesterday morning I might have wondered what this Old Testament passage has to do with modern life. Not today.

Last night Christian friends told us of a young believer who moved into a new place. Strange things were happening. She was frightened so they went over and found out that the previous tenants had been “calling out curses” on the house. Our friends prayed with her and against anything evil in her new home. Then they asked her if she had any images or religious figures. She showed them a wind chime made up of images of a god of an eastern religion. They told her this had to go. She was reluctant and didn’t see how something she didn’t worship could affect her.

I’m not a superstitious person. I don’t have any problem walking under ladders (unless a paint can tips off on me) or with black cats, or Friday the 13th. However, I do have a solid respect for the unseen world that is described in the Bible. God created angels that we cannot see. The Bible tells how one of them decided he was better than God and rebelled, taking others with him. Those beings are described as Satan and his demons. They are powerful and can rule anything and anyone who will give them an invitation.

Most people would never think to invite evil or demons into their lives, but these creatures are subtle and rarely advertise themselves as evil. In fact, the Bible says they “masquerade as servants of righteousness.” Jesus said Satan is a liar and the father of lies, so anyone who gives in to any kind of a lie is unwittingly stepping into his arena.

The dark side of evil becomes more obvious in the lives of anyone who goes deeply into it. The previous tenants of that house had much more going on in their lives than muttering curses. These destructive beings were quite happy to promote whatever they were doing, plus answer their curses by sticking around after they moved out.

The new tenant does not worship idols or want anything to do with evil spirits, but even having the image in her house is to them an invitation. Until she gets rid of it, she will experience their presence and activity.

The good news? Christ lives in her heart. No matter how hard they try, evil beings of any kind cannot remain in His presence without a battle. He defeated the power of evil when He died on the cross and rose from the dead. Even though He said to His followers, “In this world you will have trouble,” He added, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Friday, May 12, 2006

No vacation

“And I commanded Joshua at that time, saying, ‘Your eyes have seen all that the Lord your God has done to these two kings; so will the Lord do to all the kingdoms through which you pass. You must not fear them, for the Lord your God Himself fights for you.’” (Deuteronomy 3:21-22 NKJV)

The Israelites had to learn two things. One was that they could not assume God would go to bat for them, and two, that God would go to bat for them.

When they first entered the land God promised them, He taught them to seek His direction in all things. Just because He gave them a certain battle strategy for one battle did not mean they should go ahead with the same strategy for the next battle.

He also made it clear that they could not expect Him to help them if they had sin in their midst. Disobedience refocused His attention. When they sinned, He became more concerned about their godliness than their victories in battle, spiritual or otherwise.

At the same time, they needed to learn that He would help them. Instead of fearing their enemies, God wanted them to know that He would fight for them.

I am so like them! Challenges are supposed to make me trust God, but I tend to take matters into my own hands, or I run away from the problem. Fight or flight. I find it difficult to trust an invisible God with in-my-face, visible problems.

Yet He tries to teach me the same things, and promises to fight for me. Sure, I must keep my life clean, and I must, like the Israelites, seek His will in every situation, but I must never forget that God is for me. He sent His Son to die for me, and as Romans 8:31 says, “How shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”

In spiritual warfare (prayer), if I sin, or do my own thing, or give in to fear, the battle is put on hold. Instead of fighting for me, God redirects His efforts to put me back on track. Through it, I learn that winning the battle depends on keeping my life clean and seeking His will continually. Most of all, I learn that as I pray against evil, God is on my side fighting for me. In spiritual warfare, there is no vacation.

Too short!

Vacations of one week end too quickly and tend to easily disappear from memory. However, the mountains and clean air and deer in our yard are still vivid. So is the uninterrupted time of loafing. Getting back to work will be a challenge!

Saturday, May 6, 2006

Note this!

We leave today for a week in the mountains. Our accommodations say I can connect to the Internet through a wireless hookup. This procedure is new for me and new for my laptop, so if I am not back until May 12 or 13, you will understand!

Holiness - the prerequisite to winning

“And Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, ‘Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments. Then let us arise and go . . . .’ And they journeyed, and the terror of God was upon the cities that were all around them, and they did no pursue the sons of Jacob.” (Genesis 35:2-5 NKJV)

No army can go into battle and win unless the soldiers are well prepared. While our tactics involve prayer not guns, spiritual warfare is the same. Anyone fighting the enemy must make sure they are ready to fight.

God says if I intend to win the spiritual battle that I’m in, then my life must be spiritual. That is, no worship or dependence upon anything or anyone other than the true God. No foreign gods. I must also confess known sin and change. Purify myself. No sinful behavior. Live in purity and goodness. Change my garments. The Bible makes clear that His requirement for spiritual war is holiness.

Jacob and his retinue removed all traces of spiritual idolatry, washed and changed their clothes to signify cleansed hearts and their consecration to God. When they did, even the sight of them put terror into the hearts of their enemies. Holiness is a powerful thing.

What is there to say to this? God challenges me and encourages me. Winning the battle against the enemy of my soul, against the one who is sucking the life out of those I pray for, is possible, but it makes demands of me. I cannot enter this battle lightly nor think that winning it will be a walk in the park.

At the same time, because holiness is such a threat, no wonder my spiritual enemy is trying to trip me up wherever I walk. Oh God, as I go in prayer into the places that the powers of darkness are trying to claim, may Your light expose the dangers to me and totally banish evil. May Your hand overcome the enemy and keep me from falling as I pray for victory.

Friday, May 5, 2006

He is my shield and great reward

“After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” (Genesis 15:1 NKJV)

I can’t put the details in a blog, but right now I’m feeling the wounds of spiritual warfare. Someone I love appears to be suffering from ‘multiple personality disorder’ which, in Christian theology, could be (and likely is) demonic problems. She manifests two or three personas and often cannot remember what she says or does as she switches from one to the other. More frequently she takes on her ‘authoritative’ mode. She becomes tough, filled with anger, makes threats, and is totally unlike the person we once knew. How absolutely frightening.

As I pray for her, I’m getting attacked too. I know that happens, but still feel defenseless. Who am I to battle the forces of evil? Yet I know I am not alone. This verse says God is our shield. I get an image of Him throwing Himself in front of me, taking the flaming arrows of the evil one. At the same time, part of the battle is willing myself to hide behind that shield, to let Him protect me as I pray that He will protect her.

The verse also says He is our reward. Winning any battle means that I will be closer to Him. Whatever else the spoils of victory, this should hold my focus. I want my loved one to be gloriously saved from her problems. I want to be able to praise God for a mighty victory over evil. I want to point to what He does in her life, even to gloat over the evil one, and yet God says my reward in spiritual warfare is not those things — it is Him.

These are difficult concepts. Can the reality of being close to God match or surpass the reality of seeing someone set free from mental illness and spiritual bondage? Could I grab hold of the idea that if nothing else happened, the reward of simply God is enough? This is not only spiritual war but a huge test of faith.

Thursday, May 4, 2006

Get a grip!

“Let them (believers who are rich) do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.” (1 Timothy 6:18-19 NKJV)

Wealth is relative. Compared to Bill Gates who is a multi-billionaire, I’m poor. Compared to the average citizen of East Timor, whose income is around $1 per day, I am very wealthy. However, if this verse were written in today’s economy, I don’t think God would adjust for relativity.

His point is that we lay hold or “get a grip” on the reality of eternity. This life is just a blip, a very short preparation for a very long future (if eternity could be described in those terms). We are here for a little while. Being a have or a have-not is pointless. Instead, what treasures am I storing up? What investments am I making with what I have? How long will they last?

I’m thinking about the man who defied “you can’t take it with you” by being buried in his Cadillac. How silly is that! Or those who are so concerned that their wealth is left to people they hate that they leave it all to their pets. Get a grip, indeed.

My stuff has no eternal value. I’ve been given eternal life, but material things will not survive. That has some implications. I’m not to be obsessed with stuff, either to collect it, hoard it, preserve it, or worry about it. At the same time, God is concerned that I be a good manager or steward of all that He entrusts to me. I’m to take care of this stuff, use it wisely, give it away if He prompts me to do so, but even that is secondary. The main focus of my life is to do good things and be generous with all resources.

I note from the way these verses are worded that the process of doing good helps me to get a grip on eternal matters. It is not the other way around. Here, action produces attitude; obedience restores right thinking. Having an eternal perspective will develop as I do what God says. Share, do good, and I will be able to get a grip.

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Unflappable

“Now godliness with contentment is great gain . . . but those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare. . . .” (1 Timothy 6:6-8, NKJV)

One of my disciplines this year is to be frugal. In a world with such extremes of income levels, I’m realizing that term is not easy to pin down. When I shop for groceries, does frugal mean buying only what is on my list and none of those items on special that I might need next week? Does it mean picking one magazine instead of two? Or going without a new blouse? Or is this disciple more about what I give up so I can give to others? Do I give the money I save (by not buying what I don’t need) to someone who does need it?

My study Bible says that the Greek word for contentment means “self-sufficiency” and was used by Stoic philosophers to describe a person who was unflappable, unmoved by external circumstances. Unflappable. In our ladies Bible class throughout the past several weeks, I’ve stressed that God’s goal for us is to make us unflappable. While ‘stoic’ implies no emotions at all, I’m more concerned that I trust God no matter what happens. If I do, I should be less anxious, stressed or apt to take matters into my own hands. I will not worry that God has forgotten me and have that inner peace that knows He is in control, even when the world around me is chaotic.

From that it is easy to see that frugality begins with contentment, with trusting God. Does stress makes me want to go out and buy something? If so, instead of gritting my teeth and saying no to spending, I’m to deal with the stress. Have I forgotten who runs the universe?

The desire to be rich can motivate needless spending too. For some, wanting to have money equals wanting to have stuff. Credit cards make it too easy to be blind to a person’s income limits. Maybe the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, as verse 10 says, but I’m thinking failure to trust God, rich or poor, is at the root of discontentment and overspending. I already know that buying something new might make me feel happier for a little while, but that “new-purchase” delight never lasts, and more stuff just winds up taking up more space and adding another housekeeping responsibility! My life is already too crowded.

The next time I take out my wallet, I’m going to ask myself if I’m trusting God concerning this purchase. Would I be content with or without it? Is this just to make me feel good because it indicates I “have” instead of I “have not” — and what is wrong with not having it? Frugal living should free up a lot more than my closet and storage space.

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Honor your leaders

“Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.” 1 Timothy 5:18-19.

Only one time have I ever listened to and collected a list of grievances against an elders board and the pastor. The issue is too complicated to describe here, but something in me decided they needed to know how people were thinking.

Of course I was sure — but not sure — that I did the right thing. My heart seemed to be right with God over this, but my head was back and forth. Another odd thing — normally people do not complain to me about anything. I won’t listen. Single complaints strike me as either selfish whining, or a sinful lack of submission, or some other problem with the complainers. This time it didn’t.

This verse verifies what I did. I heard accusations against the elders from more than two or three. Whoever sinned I’m not sure, but something was not right. So I received what I heard and gave the elders the list, and then held my breath.

Not to fear. I was later told that they discussed all the complaints, sin was admitted, an attitude of contriteness prevailed, and they worked through what they had done wrong and how to make it right. They had been rebuked and they accepted and took responsibility for the errors they had made. I was impressed!

Out of all of this, I learn once again that when God’s Word is obeyed, it works. I didn’t really remember this verse when I submitted that list, but God reminded me today. If I still had doubts about it, they are put to rest. In this one case it was okay to “receive accusations” and pass them on as rebukes, even though my normal response would be far different.

Normally I tell complainers to take their complaints to the source. Don’t talk to me. I will defend the one being accused (if I think the accusation is unfair) or try to counsel the problems I perceive in the complainer, always refusing to talk about any third party behind their back. I don’t want to be a griping person’s mediator or their garbage can. The Bible forbids gossip and slander and clearly says if you have a grievance against someone, take it to that person. If you don’t want to because the issue is trivial, then tell God how you feel and get over it.

So with fear and trepidation I handed over that list, only to become thankful and amazed at how God worked in this situation, even that He would verify to me that I did the right thing.

Monday, May 1, 2006

Why do I get sick?

And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. NKJV

I asked the women in my Bible class about the relationship between sickness and sin. What does the word “save” mean in this context? Does sin cause sickness? What purpose does God have in allowing sickness?

One suggested that sometimes people become sick because of some sin they are committing, but she felt that most of the time we get sick simply because we live in a world where sickness is part of life, a random thing.

Another did not agree. She said our lives are never random — God cares for every detail. If we get sick, He has a reason. While the secular world puts God out of life, Christians should see Him in everything.

I agreed with the second view and added that not every illness is caused by personal sin, but sin can make you sick. I also recalled a sermon about illness. The pastor told how their child had a brain tumor, a type that was 100% fatal. Of course they prayed that God would heal the little boy — and He did! The child is documented in medical journals as the only person to ever survive this type of tumor.

The pastor showed how Scripture gives several reasons why God allows sickness. One of them is in 1 Corinthians 11 where believers who refuse to deal with sin in their lives get sick and even die. He said sickness is a chastening for sin, or it can give a person opportunity to take stock of their life, recall forgotten sin and deal with it.

He also said that sickness can be the means by which God takes a person home to Himself. The only case of a sick person dying in the New Testament is Lazarus (whom Jesus raised from the dead) but it is true. Our entrance into eternity can be through illness.

Another reason God allows sickness is that He intends to use it to glorify Himself. He might heal the sick person, as He did with the pastor’s son and the blind man in John 9. Jesus said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.”

Or He may not heal but give increased strength. The apostle Paul prayed about a “thorn in the flesh” but God said no; “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” A contemporary example is Joni Erickson Tada.

Job from the Old Testament illustrates another reason for sickness. Satan told God the only reason this man trusted Him was because his life was so well-protected. God then allowed an attack on Job’s life and to his body. Job still trusted Him, proving that even under a severe test, the faith He gives stands strong.

My husband says God uses sickness in his life to slow him down, make him listen. I’ve had that happen too. We might live in a secular world, but if we know and love God we can see that He is involved in our lives and has purpose for everything that happens to us.