ANOTHER WAY OF LOOKING AT LIFE
About 15 years ago we bought this house with a big backyard so we could have a place for grandkids to play. The house was a definitely a “fixer". However, the huge trees and grassy areas for the boys to play really met the need. A running creek and a very old, swimming pool size pond easily established the need for boundaries. With the oldest being just three and the twins at only one, we needed a few “simple” rules. I came up with 3 two-word rules. 1. Be safe; 2. Be kind; and 3. Have fun. Each time we would explain those rules, easy enough for two-year-olds to understand. If you know boys, then you know. Through the years, we would go over the rules when they got older and noisier. Say we hear screaming, I would say is this “kind” to our neighbors? Ok, it doesn’t pass the kindness rule, we have to turn the volume down. Or something got thrown into the fence. Hey, that’s Papa’s fence, are you being kind to Papa’s fence? Time goes by and one day I hear the 8-year-old yelling at the 5-year-olds, “GUYS, knock it off, you’re breaking the everything rule!” Chuckling to myself, I go out there and ask, hey, what’s the everything rule? He looks me straight in the eye and says, “You know - be kind to your mother, be kind to your brother, be kind to your neighbor, be kind to your animals, be kind to other people’s property, .... (and with frustration) just be kind, okay!” Hm, so now I know the “everything rule.”
A few weeks ago I was reading Ephesians chapter 4. It starts with Paul telling a church he founded - “I beg you to live a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and kind. Be patient with each other, making allowances for each other’s faults because of your love.” (Yes, good practical words) “Make every effort to keep yourself....” WHOA! Back up there - “make every effort” - 3 little words packing a big wow kind of jump off the page at me and smiling, I remember the “everything rule.” Ok God, this is like the “everything rule.” “Make every effort...” This is license to do “everything,” I mused. Anything it takes. Like go big, be over the top generous when someone is in need. Or hey, just back off and be silent, give someone the space they need. Big, little, and everything in between, whatever it takes - make every effort!
So what is so important that we would be directed to the “everything rule”? Verse 3 says, “Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” Ah, there it is - peace, the place of peace. In John 14:27 Jesus says, “I’m leaving you with a gift - peace of mind and peace of heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give.” Most interpret the gift of peace Jesus was speaking of in that chapter was the promise of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is peace Himself and He is holy. This place of peace that comes from making every effort is a holy place. It’s a place where the Holy Spirt lives and moves. It’s a place where we live and move in Him. So, YES - make every effort to stay in that place - the place of peace! “Binding yourselves together with peace.”
But how could one know what “every effort” might mean in each unique situation? If we are going to bind different things together, we are going need different binding applications, just saying. Believers by definition are united by the Spirit and bound together by their beliefs, yet we are individuals created uniquely by God, therefore we are all different. So how are we to know exactly what effort it takes to unite and bind ourselves together in different situations? We are going to need a helper. Just so happens, I know the perfect helper!
John 14:15 & 16 - “If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you.”
John 14:26 - “When the Father sends the advocate as my representative, that is the Holy Spirit, He will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.
John 15:26 - “I will send you the Advocate — the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify about me.”
In each of these references the word Advocate in the Greek is “Paraclete” which means “close helper.” The Holy Spirit is on assignment from Heaven to get close to you and help you. He will help you, counsel you, direct you, coach you. And not from a distance, from up close and personal. How close am I willing to get? Am I doing the things that will keep me close, that invite the Holy Spirit into my life. Do I love Him and accept Him? And even IF I am all that — how coachable am I?
Another little, not so little thing, that kinda jumped out at me was this 6-word sentence in the next chapter. Ephesians 5:10 simply states, “Carefully determine what pleases the Lord.” It seems like it could almost be a filler, but no. Here’s the situation: We think we know what pleases the Lord. In reality, we just don’t know what we don’t know. Say for example, someone older who has been serving the Lord a long time, or perhaps like generations of ministry, honestly, they sort of earned the right to say hey, we’ve seen it, heard it, been there, done it all. Their years of service have given them maturity and experience. Those things make them safely feel they know what pleases the Lord. Or say it’s not about being in the Lord, it’s years on a job site. One has the experience to be confident that they have dealt with situations before and they know how to do it because they just do. They know. Experience is a marker of wisdom and it comes from doing the thing. The thing is we often think we know - we know what pleases the Lord. Yet this word says “carefully determine” - that means not once, because maybe this time God wants to do something different - He has more than one way to solve issues. What if He actually wants to show you something new? One can’t just think they know because they’ve been in this situation before. Knowing everything is both arrogant and annoying. Isn’t annoying when your children think or say “I know’? We have to “carefully determine” for every situation no matter the season of life. Sure, there are some things that are black and white “determined” already by His word about what pleases the Lord. In reality, though, we really don’t know what we don’t know because we aren’t omniscience. We aren’t all-knowing, we belong to the All-knowing One, and we have to get the “knows” from HIM! I want all the knows from Him for all the times to “carefully determine what pleases the Lord” in any given circumstance. And I want all the knows from the Holy Spirit to make every effort to stay united in the Spirit.
Lord, we come to You, the All Knowing One, and ask for help with a coachable heart. Holy Spirit, show us what every effort is every time, all the time. Holy Spirit, help us be in the place of peace with You and show us in a carefully determined way what pleases the Lord.
One day in Syria about AD 44-46 early Christian leaders of an Antioch synagogue met to probably discuss “church business” and pray. Now when I say church business meeting, this probably isn’t what you think of but the Word says, “As they prayed,” God made His plans known. Acts chapter 13, verse 2 says one day as these men were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Appoint Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.” After more fasting and prayer, the men laid hands on them and sent them on their way.
From Antioch in mainland Syria, Saul, also known as Paul, and Barnabas took John Mark as a helper and the men went down to a port city and set sail for a 3-hour tour. Cue the Gillian’s Island music - a three-hour tour, a three-hour tour! KIDDING! This was no ordinary little boat ride, nor a luxury cruise ship, nope this was not a vacation. This was the first Biblical recorded missions trip and they were on assignment. Appointed and anointed for this assignment, Paul and Barnabas sailed to the island of Cyprus and landed in Salamas. Barnabas was born and raised and had relatives in Cypress so it’s likely a route he has traveled often. Salamas was a port city about 60 miles straight across the Mediterranean Sea. As the chief city on the island, Salamus had more than 100,000 residents and an amphitheater that seated 15,000 people. A good size city with plenty of “meetings”, and wherever there was a meeting, there we find Paul and Barnabas. Paul and Barnabas went into the Jewish synagogues and preached the word of God throughout Salamas. After that, they traveled from town to town across the entire island until they came to Paphos, a harbor town on the west side, which was the provincial capital. At that time, Sergius Paulus was the Proconsul (or governor) for the Island of Cypress, the highest ranking Roman Officer on the island, and he had invited them to visit him because he wanted to hear the word of God. Here is where Paul and Barnabas encounter a Jewish sorcerer, a false prophet named Bar-Jesus determined to prevent the Governor from becoming a believer. So much so, that Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, calls out the false perversion. Immediately a darkness came over the man’s eyes and he began groping around begging for someone to take his hand and lead him. When the governor saw what happened, he became a believer, for he was astonished at the teaching about the Lord. Likely there were previous converts since they preached their way around the island to this city, this is however, the first one cited by name and an important one who may have provided them papers of introduction for their next travels. Things are going well and they travel on.
Paul and Barnabas leave the island of Cypress, get on another ship and sail for mainland Asia landing in the town of Perga, a port city possibly as large as Salamas. As John headed home, Paul and Barnabas traveled inland to a place called Antioch of Pisidia - not to be confused with the original Antioch in Syria where they set sail from. On the Sabbath they went to the synagogue where after the usual readings, the leaders in charge invited them to share. Paul stands up, addresses the crowd, “Men of Israel and God-fearing Gentiles” and preaches a lengthy sermon tracing Old Testament scripture through the nation of Israel’s history and proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah, retelling the events of His crucifixion and resurrection. When they leave that day, the people beg them to speak again next week. Many devout Jews followed them as well as other converts. Without radio, television, Instagram or Facebook - somehow word got around about these two fellas! Acts 13, verse 44 says “the following week almost the entire city turned out to hear them preach the word of the Lord.” When some of the Jews saw the crowds, they were jealous and starting arguing with everything they said. Finally Paul and Barnabas boldly tell the arguing Jews that is was necessary for them to preach the gospel to Jews first, so Jews could reject it, and it could be offered to Gentiles. While many Gentiles were happy to hear this, the Jews just got more jealous and angry. So angry that they stirred up influential women and leaders of the city, incited a mob against them and ran them out of the city. Verse 52 says believers and new converts were filled with joy and the Holy
Spirit. Meanwhile, Paul and Barnabas shake the dust off their feet, leave the city of Antioch, and travel on down the road.
They traveled down a Roman Military Route, which was the main road, probably four days over 85 miles of mountain terrain to Iconium. Although not an easy 85 mile walk, they still felt led by the Spirit to keep going to more “church meetings.” In Iconium, again on the Sabbath they went to the Jewish synagogue and preached with such power that a great number of Jews and Greeks became believers. Again the Jews were jealous and began to turn people against Paul and Barnabas. Acts 14:3 tells us the “apostles stayed there a long time, preaching boldly about the grace of God. And the Lord proved their message was true by giving them power to do miraculous signs and wonders.” Again, people are divided in their opinions about this teaching. A mob of Gentiles and Jews, along with their leaders decided to attack and stone them. According to historical records, under the laws of this city, the magistrate could do whatever was necessary to quell the disturbance and remove them. They could have just asked them to leave and ban them from the city. The plot to kill them went beyond what the law allowed. The apostles learned of the plot and left this area, again shaking the dust from their feet.
They traveled south on the same military road which was becoming more difficult yet only a mere 20-25 miles this time to Lystra, a thriving market town. In Lystra a man crippled from birth, who had never walked was healed while listening to Paul preach. When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they started shouting in their local dialect, that these men were gods in human form. They claimed Barnabas was the Greek god Zeus, whose temple was at their city gates and Paul was Hermes, since he was the chief speaker. The crowds planned a parade, priests were bringing wreaths and bulls, and preparing to offer sacrifices to the apostles. Of course, when Paul and Barnabas heard this, they tore their clothes in dismay and ran among the people shouting, no don’t do this, we are mere humans as you. They used the opportunity to preach the good news of the gospel. About this time, some Jews from Antioch and Iconium came in and turned the crowds against Paul and Barnabas. These Jewish visitors from out of town did not have any actual legal authority, they just stirred up the crowds to mob violence. The crowds stoned Paul and dragged him out of town thinking he was dead. Historical record indicates stoning was the most common form of crowd violence in the Gentile world at that time. There were stones, tiles, and cobbles readily available on ancient streets. When Jewish crowds stoned a transgressor, they sought the transgressor’s death. Scripture says the crowd thought he was dead and drug him out of the city. Although they meant to kill him and thought they had, Acts 14:20 reveals a surprising turn of events when by divine intervention, Paul gets up and walks back into the city. It goes on to say the next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe. First, divine intervention that he was still alive, and second, a miraculous healing survival that he was able to travel the very next day because the road to Derbe from Lystra was unpaved now and a treacherous 60 miles! There is nothing easy or comfortable about this trip!
The very next verse (14:21) says after preaching the Good News in Derbe and making many disciples, Paul and Barnabas returned to Lystra, Iconium, and... whoa, wait. We know they were in Derbe a while to “make many disciples” because we just read that, but really how much time goes by before one decides to go back to the place of intended death? How exactly did they decide this? Can you imagine this conversation? Paul says, “Hey Barney, my friend, I’ve got an idea. Let’s retrace our steps and go back to Lystra. Remember how much fun it was when they dragged me out of the city, hoping wild animals would pick my bones clean? Ya’ll thought I was dead!” We know this entire first missions trip, including the return trip, is only about two years in total. Not that much time had passed before they decided to go back to the place of mob violence and a stoning where Paul nearly died. The trip to Derbe was arduous at best and here’s the thing. Some records presume it was not winter at this time, so from Derbe, they could have crossed the Taurus Mountains into Paul’s home town of Taurus, which was only about 150 miles, taking them a little over a week or so. In other words, they
could have taken the easy road, the easy way out. Paul could have gone “home” - to a place he knew there was comfort. Why didn’t they? They wanted to make sure the seeds they planted weren’t scattered or get more new converts? Or so many other “reasons” in hindsight we can come up with. The main reason - the where the rubber meets the road reason is simply Paul and Barnabas stayed in the place of “willing” - willing to be lead. They were lead by the Holy Spirit AND they were committed to this thing called the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Good News, the message of salvation — the real “church business.”
This causes me to ask myself - how uncomfortable am I willing to get for the furtherance of the gospel? Am I willing to be in the place of willing? Paul was obviously willing to give up justice for a wrong doing. Paul was willing to forgive those who stoned him, who wished him dead, and go back and talk some more about Jesus - the One who came to save the world. Paul stayed on the right road because he was simply willing - willing to be lead. The right road is the divine purpose. When you are divinely purposed, you are divinely protected. Are you on the right road? How far out of your comfort zone are you willing to go to make sure someone sees Jesus in you? Whether they hear the gospel in word or see it in action is not important. What is important is are you being Jesus to people who don’t know Him and the ones that do? Sounds easy, yet this is not as easy as one would think. Mostly because there is competing force out there that does not want the world to know Him. The thing is - it’s not a choice. It’s a command to all believers. Sometimes it’s comfortable and sometimes it is uncomfortable. Just be willing to be lead. Guess who is here on earth leading the church? The Holy Spirit is here and He leads us -His leading is about God’s business - the real church business. Go to the place of “willing” and meet the “leading” - there you’ll find a real “church business meeting.”
When I was a kid, chasing kites was a thing, especially those that broke away from their flyer. A loose kite was worth chasing down especially if it was a pretty one. I donʼt see them around much anymore. More than likely if they get any attention these days, itʼs a kite festival or something magical like that. Kites are part of many different cultures around the world. In our short history, our most important kite flyers were probably the Wright Brothers. They used kites and glider kites to develop and experiment their ideas for controling aircraft.
One of the things making kites so interesting to me is they are all different. They come in many shapes and sizes. There are all different kinds, such as box kites, winged kites, diamond kites, and the list goes on. If I were giving you an object lesson, I would have several to show you! Although they look all different, kites always have three things in common: (1) a body, (2) a bridle, and (3) a control line. The body is a frame usually wood or plastic covered with some sort of “skin” usually paper, plastic, or fabric. Different skins stretched over different frames and shapes makes for a very diverse spectrum of kites. Hmm... kind of like us humans, different shaped frames and bones covered with different skins. All kites have a bridle line also called a harness connecting the kite body to the control line. The control line also known as a tether is what connects the kite to the kite flyer.
Letʼs imagine we are the kite. Last time I checked we all had a body that was simply a frame covered with skin. (1) Body - check (2) The bridle here knitted closely to the body of the kite will represent our heart, mind, emotions, and spirit. What we think and what we feel often harnesses our bodies. (3) The “control line” also called a tether will represent the Holy Spirit. Of course, you can only have the Holy Spirit as your control line if you have accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord of your life because that is how the Holy Spirit takes up residence in your kite! Since the control line connects the kite to the kite flyer, you can probably guess who the kite flyer is, if you belong to Him, that is. For this analogy, the kite flyer is the One True God, the only wise God, the author and creator of our life.
Now we have all these colorful and crazy kinds of kites flying around. Though they all look different, the forces of flight affect them all the same. I am no expert in areodynamics so Iʼll stick to very simple terms. There are four forces of flight - upward, downward, forward, and backward. (1) The upward force that pushes the kite into the air is called LIFT. Lift happens when the speed of the air above the kite is greater than the speed of the air below the kite. When the pressure of faster moving air above is greater than the pressure below, that creates lift off and the kite is pushed into the air. For us “lift off” is when our hearts are focused on things above and not below. Without that focus on things above we will never get off the ground! (2) Second force - downward force or WEIGHT - thatʼs the downward force generated by the gravitational attraction of earth on the kite. When your heart is focused on things above and not below, the only reason you donʼt fly off to heaven is because gravity pulls you back to earth. Thatʼs important because your kite is needed down here. There is a divine
purpose why you are here. You are the salt of the earth and your special saltiness is necessary! (3) Third force - the forward force that propels the kite in the direction of motion is called THRUST. Airplanes generate thrust from their engines. Kites rely on tension from the string and moving air created by wind or the motion of the kite to generate thrust. Funny thing about thrust is itʼs a kind of “the more you have, the more you get” forward propelling motion. When we as kites rely on “tension from the string” - the control line - the Holy Spirit tethering us to the One True God - we have more and more - all we would ever need, forward propelling motion. A true Spirit-led thrust! Itʼs not about us, itʼs all about Him! (4) Fourth force - the backward force, also known as DRAG, the one that acts opposite of the direction of forward motion. Drag is caused by two things - first the difference in the air pressure in front and back of the kite and second by the friction of the air moving over the surface of the kite. Sometimes when the Holy Spirit is leading us in one direction (thrust) yet our hearts and minds arenʼt there yet, it creates friction and it pulls us back because we arenʼt all in yet (drag). Other times we know exactly where the Spirit is leading us and we are all in and excited about being all in, yet things beyond our control moving over the surface or around us are causing a “drag” that keeps us from going forward as fast as we want to. It doesnʼt mean we arenʼt moving, it just means we need to develop a little patience.
To launch a kite into the air, the force of the lift must be greater than the force of the weight. To keep the kite flying steady the four forces must be in balance; meaning lift equal to weight and thrust equal to drag. Our lift is our focus on things above and not below. In flight, our weight is NOT things weighing us down, instead itʼs just the season of our life, its Godʼs timing for us to be here on earth for His purposes. Our thrust is our reliance on the control line, being Spirit led. In flight, our drag is us being all in, just waiting on God to do His thing in His time. The forces of flight are interconnected and a change in one affects the others. If we get our focus off the things above, there is a change in lift which could get us off course. If we hang on to things we shouldnʼt such as past mistakes or sins, there is a change in weight that could pull us down. If we stop relying on the Holy Spirit to lead us, there is a change in thrust that could cause a crash. If we let our hearts and minds get in the way and talk us out of Godʼs plans, there is a change in drag that could slow us way down.
Interestingly enough the kite pivots and dives at about the point where the bridle connects to the control line. Smooth flying requires the bridle, that is your heart, mind, soul and spirit to be connected to the control line, the Holy Spirit. A Spirit-led life will keep your kite in flight. Hereʼs the thing about being Spirit led, the Holy Spirit is not just the Spirit, He is the Holy Spirit. He blows in the direction of holy. He blows away from unholy. Itʼs a proven fact that if there is a tangle in the bridle line (your heart), say the bridle lines are crossed or twisted, the kite will not fly properly, it will invert or crash. Crashing doesnʼt necessarily mean the kite will never fly again but it may cause damage and the kite may need repair. Youʼve got check the bridle lines for tangles. Do you have any tangles? Heart check.
While the forces on all kites are the same, each kite flies a little differently. Some are more easy to maneuver and some are more stable. Some are specifically made for
stunts and others fly significantly higher than most. We are all created different for different purposes in Godʼs kingdom. The thing is, we all have a purpose, a purpose planned by God uniquely for us. He uniquely designed us with His purpose in mind. You may want to be the stable one, but if God designed you to do stunts then you just might have to fly out of your comfort zone sometimes. You might as well not fret about this because you have a “control line” in the Holy Spirit who is tethering you to God Almighty. You will not crash, I promise, as long as you stay connected to the control line.
A kite must be made as light as possible for good performance, yet a kite must be strong enough to withstand high winds. As “light as possible” for good performance; so as a kite (or a human) you may want to get rid of any junk weighing you down! “Strong enough” to withstand high winds. The winds will come but they will not blow you down. He is my strong tower and I run to Him. He is your strength as long as you stay connected to Him.
Lord, I pray you help us focus on things above and not below. Holy Spirit reveal to us any tangles we have in our bridle line so we can have a clear and stable connection to You. Holy Spirit, lead us and guide us, in the purposes and plans God has established for our lives. Be the power force that keeps us forward moving in the things of God. Help us fly beautifully and uniquely in the way God designed us to further His kingdom that many may come to know Him. In Jesus name, I pray these things.
In a former season of my life whenever a new state law would impose a change, my teachers used to tell me, “We are happy as we are. The only ones who love a change are the crying wet babies!” For most of us we are happy as we are, we don’t generally go looking for change. As was the case for a certain young shepherd boy named David. He spent hours in nature tending his father’s sheep, enjoyed success fighting off the lions and the bears; he wasn’t necessarily looking for a change. Yet, change, my friend, is the circle of life. Seasons – they come and they go.
In 2019 our neighbors about 35 miles north were enjoying “the most snow in the entire nation” and actually skiing until July 4th! Now it’s mid-May 2022 with very little snow left on the mountain and just a few days left of ski time. Not only do seasons change throughout the year, the actual season changes from year to year. Winter in one year does not look like winter in the next. Spiritual season change is much the same. Spiritual season changes when God decides and the winds of the Holy Spirit blow. The timing and how they look are completely up to the Lord. Spiritual season change, whether it is personal or whether it is churchwide often requires heart changes and heart checks.
In I Samuel chapter 15, when Saul was king, God told Samuel the priest to go tell him to go to war against some enemies who had attacked them. God was very specific in His directions – He said, “Go attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them. Put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.” As I was reading this I mused, God isn’t that really kind of drastic, the infants, the babies? Here’s a little nugget – when God gets rid of stuff – He gets rid of it completely! He showed it to me like a weed plant, you don’t just top it off from the ground, you go deep and pull the roots and get any shooters. It’s not coming back, it’s gone. Whether this applies to your past mistakes, your sins, or any other thing that God has delivered you from, when He takes it out, it’s not His intention for it to come back.
In the Old Testament, there were some sacrifices that were designated totally for the Lord and others that were shared by the priests and the offerer. When the burnt offerings designated for the Lord were given, the entire thing was totally and utterly consumed on the altar. When this command was given to totally and utterly destroy everything in this war, it meant this was the Lord’s warfare, He was the commander, and all the spoils belong to Him.
Back to the story - out goes Saul with his army down to attack the Amalekites. Before he goes, he takes time to warn some friends, the Kenites, people who had showed kindness to move so they wouldn’t be part of this bloody battle. Saul’s army was successful and they totally destroyed all the people with the sword, except they captured the king, Agag, alive. And they also took the best of the sheep, cattle and lambs, destroying everything that was weak or despised.
That night God tells Samuel, “He’s grieved He ever made Saul King because Saul turned away from God and did not follow His instructions.” Samuel is TROUBLED and he cries to the Lord ALL night. Whether Samuel is troubled only by the fact that God is grieved, or by the fact that Saul is being a jerk (again!), or that he can sense the time of season change is not known. The “time of Saul” – the season during which Saul was king was actually going pretty well. Going well, if you don’t count the fact that Saul seems to have trouble following the plan. The Israelites are having victory over enemies and prospering. Much of their territory has been restored.
Early the next morning Samuel goes out to meet Saul only to find he’s isn’t there, Saul has gone over to Carmel to set up a monument in his own honor. This was a traditional thing for kings to do in those days to mark their victories with memorial monuments declaring details of their military conquests. Although it seems normal, this little traditional action pretty much confirms what God has already told Samuel about Saul turning away from God. Saul is celebrating this victory for himself. Samuel pursues him and when Saul sees Samuel coming, he goes out to greet him and says “God bless you. I’ve done everything God instructed me to do.” Samuel is like – Oh really, why do I hear the bleating of sheep and the lowing of cattle? Saul is like – Oh, the soldiers just spared the best sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord YOUR God. Everything else, we totally destroyed. At this point, Samuel is like DUDE! STOP! Let me tell you what the Lord told me last night. Samuel goes on to remind Saul of what God directed him to do and chastises Saul asking him why didn’t he obey the Lord. Saul starts acting like your typical teenager trying to get away with something – He says, but I did obey the Lord. I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I totally destroyed the Amalekites and brought back their king. The soldiers took the best sheep and cattle from the plunder to sacrifice to the Lord YOUR God. Samuel responds with that famous verse I’m sure you’ve heard before....“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as obeying the voice of the Lord?? To obey is better than sacrifice.”
(A little nugget here – if you are called to do something, do it. Especially, if you have a specific directive from God, don’t do it halfway, obey it all the way.)
What Saul is doing is presenting a semantic argument to Samuel. Sacrifice and obedience often go hand in hand. The problem with this argument is that it reveals something else in addition to disobedience that is very dangerous in Saul’s heart. Samuel is quick to call it out. Immediately following “Obedience is better than sacrifice”, verse 23 says “Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft and stubbornness as bad as worshipping idols.” In Saul’s attempt to justify and excuse his actions, he is really claiming to know what would please God. Despite the Lord’s specific commands (destroy everything), he somehow has an inside track on how to please the Lord (sacrifice the best of the plunder). That is divination, divining what is known, or witchcraft. In Old Testament times, food and gifts presented to idols were often used to “convince” the gods to bestow blessings or grant requests. Samuel is pointing out to Saul that his sacrifice-slash-gift of “the best cattle and sheep” is the same thing - idol worship and an attempt to manipulate God. Ouch! Heart check! Although Saul admits he sinned, he didn’t actually repent and turn away from it, he gives yet another excuse.
Finally, Saul admits, “I’ve sinned. I violated the Lord’s command.” Only then he blames his people – “I was afraid of the people so I gave in to them.” Then he begs Samuel to forgive him and come and worship with him. That is not repentance, that is excuse and blame. Samuel is like NO WAY Buddy, you got yourself into this, and I’m not going with you. As Samuel goes to leave, Saul grabs him and his garment tears. Samuel tells him “The Lord has torn the kingdom from you today and given it to a neighbor better than you.” Again Saul admits I’ve sinned – and then begs Samuel again – but please don’t do this in front of the people, please go with me to worship the Lord. Samuel relents and goes back with Saul to worship the Lord. The story goes on to say Samuel put the Amalekite king, Agag, to death that day. Saul and Samuel parted ways and went home. Verse 35, the last verse in chapter 15 says, “Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him.”
Now I don’t know how much time passed between the last verse in chapter 15 and the first verse in Chapter 16. The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way, I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”
The season is changing and God is telling Samuel to get on with it. Samuel is afraid – he’s tells God “Saul will hear about this and kill me.” God assures him by saying take a heifer with you and say you’ve come to sacrifice to the Lord. I’ll show you what to do next after you get there. Yes, friends, even Samuel had to step out in faith one step at a time and believe God was leading him and would show him what to do as he approached a new time, a new season.
When Samuel arrives at Bethlehem, meets with the elders of the town, and assures them he has come in peace, he invites Jesse to come to sacrifice to the Lord with him. When Jesse arrives with his sons and Samuel sees the eldest, he thought, “Surely, this is the Lord’s anointed.” The eldest son, Eliab, must have been pretty good looking guy for Samuel to think this. And here’s this other famous verse I’m sure you’ve heard: The Lord says to Samuel
“Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
And so the story goes. One by one, seven sons came by and each one wasn’t “the one” until Samuel had to ask – do you have any more sons? Father Jesse replies with yes, just the youngest, out tending the sheep. He calls him and the Lord finally says to Samuel, “Rise and anoint him he is the one.” Samuel takes the horn of oil and anoints him in front of all his brothers. The scripture goes on to say from that day on, the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power.
It was a new season, even though it was quite some time before David actually became king. Often times the Bible refers to different times --- “in the time of Saul” ... “in the time of David.” There are a few things from this passage to consider when the seasons of your life are changing or when it’s a new time....
1. Put the past in the proper perspective – whether its past sins, past mistakes, regrets, forget them – God has dealt with them - it’s done. When there are magnificent past accomplishments, great things God has done in a season, - remember God’s goodness with praise and thanksgiving -- just don’t get stuck there when it’s time to move on to the next season. You don’t want yesterday’s manna. God wants to do a new thing, take you glory to glory.
2. Don’t repay evil for good. Kindness works in every season. Bring your friends with you to the new season. (the Kenites were not part of God’s plan to destroy the Amalekites.)
3. Be obedient. Listen for God’s voice. Know when it’s time to move on. “How long will you mourn..?” God said to Samuel. Trust God to give you the direction you need in the new season. Believe He’s taking you to a higher level. “Saul killed his thousands, David killed his ten thousands” Get the full directive and make sure you obey the directive all the way!
4. Heart check! – Be prepared for the new season with a heart check. God is looking at your heart, not the outside, not whether you’re packed and ready to go – whether you have it all together and know what you’re doing – no He’s looking at your heart - whether your heart is with Him where He leads it. Not only does he want obedience, He will not stand for rebellion, arrogance, pride, excuses, or blame. Pull out every root! Get your heart clean and prepared to be fully annointed by the Holy Spirit for the thing God has planned.
In Luke chapter 5 Jesus is preaching on the shores of Galilee while the crowds are growing and pressing in on Him. He sees two empty boats, gets in one and asks the owner to push Him out a little way. The owner, by the way, was busy washing out his nets from an all-night unsuccessful fishing venture. So Jesus sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there.
When He had finished speaking, He said to the boat owner Simon, “Now go out a little deeper and let your nets down to fish.” I don’t know how long Jesus was speaking to the crowds but think about this. Simon had already spent all night fishing, beached his boat and washed his nets. He was a fishermen by trade, in other words one could say He was a pro. He grew up fishing with his two friends from the other boat. He had a lot of experience when it came to fishing. He didn’t just know his way around a boat, I’m sure he knew a lot of tricks of the trade and had likely just employed them all to no avail. Now the preacher man is telling him to go out again and let his nets down again. He could have said something like, “I’m really exhausted after being out all night, I have all my gear cleaned up, and my wife and family are waiting, how about we do this thing tomorrow?” OR “I’ll let you do the preaching, and you leave the fishing to me, deal?” Instead, he said “Master, we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” He was only willing to go to all this trouble because of who was asking – “but if YOU say so.” This situation had great potential to be a massive missed opportunity based on the lack of success Simon already experienced so recently, his own physical exhaustion and disappointed mental state.
What if we paid no attention to how we felt, what we know, what we have experienced and instead we just acted because “YOU say so” or believed because “YOU say so.” How many times have you let the way you felt, or something you already knew, or better yet “learned from experience” be your logical reason for not acting, or not believing? Have you laid all that you know, all that you feel, and all that you have experienced aside and just acted because “He said so?”
Verse 6 goes on to say, “And this time, the nets were so full of fish they began to tear. A shout for help brought their partners with the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.” Of course, Simon was awestruck by the number of fish, as were all the fishing partners. Simon falls to his knees before Jesus and says,
“Please leave me, I’m such a sinful man.” Jesus replied the often repeated line “Fear not. I will make you fishers of men.” This experience is one of the great object lessons of Simon’s life. We know Simon went on to follow Jesus, who changed his name to Peter. Peter later preached to a crowd of thousands, where 3,000 were baptized in just one day. An ordinary moment on an ordinary fishing day turned into a life changing calling all because “but if YOU say so.”
Do you think Simon Peter planned this? Or even had any idea of what was to come? I highly doubt it. He was probably just going about his normal routine on a normal day without a clue he was about to be rerouted for the purposes of God. He was a regular guy just like you and I. He was tired and he said so (“we worked hard all night). He had experienced failure and he said so (and we didn’t catch a thing). Yet he didn’t let how he felt or what his experience was be an excuse to not act on what he was asked to do. He said, “but if YOU say so.” After all night on a boat, if I were him, I would have been thinking about a hot meal and a soft bed waiting at home but he was willing to let his plans be changed. He was willing to let his agenda be hijacked. Are you willing to let your agenda for the day, for the week, for the month, for your life be hijacked by Jesus? Are you living your plan or are you living His plan? Psalm 138:8 says “The Lord will work out His plans for my life...”
Or how about just following the “If YOU say so” rule for being who He says we are? There is a well so deep it will never run dry of all the things He says about us. We are beloved, forgiven, healed, children of God, citizens of Heaven, ambassadors of Christ. We are the apple of His eye, His treasured possession, and His masterpiece. We are chosen, royal, and designed for good works He planned in advance for us. Sometimes I’m tired (worked all night) and I experience failure (didn’t catch a thing) yet I won’t let that be an excuse to not BE who He says I am. Instead I will say “If YOU say so” I am a daughter of the King, I belong to Him, so what do you want to do today, Lord?
Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”
My prayer for us today is these powerful four little words – “if you say so” – let those become an auto-reply in our conversations with our Creator. His word stands true in any and all circumstances. It doesn’t matter how we feel, what we know, or what we have experienced, what He says is all
we need. May we clearly hear His voice when He speaks to us. In Jesus name. Amen.
There I was deep in dreamland, when I awoke to the ever so gently whispered word “settled.” I knew in an instant Who it was and I quickly prayed, “yes Lord! -- settle me, settle my heart, settle my mind, do all the settling right here.” My hazy, half-asleep, not so alert in the middle of the night mind thought of children who are ... Oh NOT YOUR children, they would NEVER - someone else’s boisterous children and we say “settle” down child, turn down the volume, take a chill pill, have a cup of calm. Whatever it is we say when we mean “settle down.” Even so, at the time my heart knew this was more of a “settled” - it’s over - it’s finished kind of “settled.” Settling deep down into the goodness of God thinking of Jesus’ last words “It is finished” and just like that I peacefully drifted back to dreamland again.zWho doesn’t have regrets the morning after? There I sat wanting so much more of that conversation. Girl, get some self-discipline - Oh how I wished I had shaken myself awake, jumped out of bed, and said “OK Lord, I’m wide awake and listening - tell me more! Give me all the details - I want all the settling you’ve got - just give it aaaallll to me!” Sometimes we get a sneak peek leaving us hungry for more. Pressing in - or should I say “settling” into Him once again - He gently provokes/reminds me to “pay no mind to what others may say about you; what I say about you is settled.” What God says about you and I is eternal, He doesn’t ever take it back, He doesn’t change it based on circumstance, He absolutely 100% means it 24-7 of every single day because it’s settled in Heaven. We are His and He is the valentine that literally loved us to death. Nothing nor nothing can ever separate us from His great love for us.
A few short days later my mother passed away in the early morning hours. Although I knew by late evening it was happening quickly, I hung on to that word “settled” all the more tighter. After a 14-year battle with Alzheimer’s, it was going to be over soon. So many conversations over a lifetime with mom assured me I knew where she was going and who she would be with - that part was settled. In fact, it was settled before she was ever born, before she asked the Lord Jesus to be her Savior - it was actually settled the day Jesus died on the cross. He is the One who said it is finished. It was over - the pathway to Heaven was settled forever and ever.
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, there are three strands of the definition for the word settled. The first one is “to come to rest.” I cannot tell you how much I love that right now. In the middle of my grieving, I can rest - I can just be in a “settled” state of mind. For me personally, that floods my soul with peace. For the rest of the weary world, for those with the unsettled faces in the unrested places - He’s got you - come to the rest. Let Him settle you. Put your heavy load down and He will give you rest - that’s what He says in His forever settled Word.
The second strand of the settled definition could get a little muddy. (wink, wink)
It’s an action verb - so by definition, it’s something you have to do... to sink in three kinds of ways (a) “to sink gradually or to the bottom,” (b) “to become clear by the deposit of sediment”, and (c) “to become compact by sinking.” When I think of sinking gradually, I think of coming home and sinking slowly but deeply into that comfy recliner and putting my feet up, or at the end of long day sinking into the soft comfortable mattress - it’s home, it’s a place of settlement. That’s exactly how we should approach God. He is our home, we can settle into Him anytime, anywhere no matter what else is going on in the world around us. Sinking to the bottom may not sound like fun, until you tried it this way... Sinking to the bottom, also known as submersion, is drowning yourself in His word, in His praise, in His love. So go ahead, immerse yourself in Him and let Him overwhelm you with His love. “Becoming clear by the deposit of sediment” - sometimes life is muddy - there is a lot of sediment swirling around - yet when you settle into the arms of God you will begin to see more clearly, hear more clearly, and be led in the dark by the One who knows the way through the dark. And finally, “to become compact by sinking.” Compact just means to pack or press firmly together. Who doesn’t want to be joined and firmly united with the One who knows us better than we know ourselves, the One who knows how to keep our unraveled self firmly knit together with Him? Can we become so firmly knit that we no longer are seen and the world just sees Him? Hashtag Relationship Goals! Yah, I’ll take that - settle me, settle me Lord.
The third strand for the definition of settled: “to become fixed, resolved, or established.” When something is fixed or resolved conclusively, it means the matter is settled. There’s no more discussion, there’s no more debate - it’s over - it’s finished - it’s settled. God’s offer of relationship with us was settled that day long ago on the cross. The rest is kind of up to us. Established leans to the idea of residency, to stay in a place; like the Colonists settled in Virginia. If you haven’t noticed, there is a challenge going on right now - it’s a test of whether we can stay in place. Can we stay firmly established in our faith? Are your roots deep enough to keep you settled? It’s the same ol, same ol devil here to kill, steal, and destroy - and what he is after is your faith. Keep the faith, you must. Basically, God has reconciled you through His death to present you holy and blameless IF.. IF you keep the faith. “If you continue in your faith, grounded and settled, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.” Colossians 1:23: Let’s be grounded and settled - let’s keep the faith. Somehow when I type that, I hear the Star Wars music and famous movie line “may the force be with you.” Dear sisters and brothers - may the faith be with you - that is your faith, your faith in the One who created you, in the One who redeems you, and in the One who settles you.
The message version of Col 1:23 says it this way: “By giving Himself at the cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in His presence. You don’t walk away from a gift like that! You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned in to the Message, careful not to be distracted or diverted...” It’s hard yet simple - get settled without distraction.
Last thing - I love the way God always puts frosting on the cupcake. Just in case I was wondering whether I ate something funny and thought I heard something in the middle of the night, I just received this text message from a friend with a prayer and it ended by saying “may it be to you and yours as it is already settled in Heaven.” I think settled might be my new favorite word, for now.
Iʼve had a few teens flopping in and out of my house this summer. Good ole sweet summer days, doing whatever they want, whenever they want. They are about to have a “come to Jesus moment” -- just saying, itʼs back to school week! As a former school administrator, even in retirement I am unable to shed the letʼs get with the program mentality. So here is my best “back-to-school” advice! Number one - Get focused and Number Two - Stay focused. Just two simple little things that actually sound like good advice for any day, any season. Some would call them life hacks. (wink, wink) ;)
Get Focused. As it happens in life, there will be a lot of things demanding your attention! Not long ago my backyard was crying out for attention. It was a bit of a mess after an old deep swimming pool-size pond had been filled and there were quite of bit of tree roots running everywhere. After several months work, it was looking decent. Next up - tree trimming. Turns out the assessment was one very sick tree needed to come down for safety reasons. Itʼs always a sad day when you have to lose a tree but I had no idea how much was about to be lost in this process. By the time all was said and done, all five hydrangeas had to be moved and some did not survive. The fence was already messed up by the tree roots, but had to come down for the stump grinding process and what went back up was half fence-half plywood and not very aesthetically pleasing. The retaining wall got a little jacked by the stump grinder and what was once a brand new redwood shady flower bed was an empty hot mess! For a couple of days without actually realizing it, I let this depress me a little. I had trouble re-imagining the space. I could not focus - every time I looked at it - it was just a mess. One morning I was up early and prompted to go look at the space. As Iʼm walking to the back door, God speaks quietly to my heart - “Look up.” I have a back door with a big picture window in it. I look up and and what I see over the fence line are the beautiful Sierra Mountains bathed in morning light. This view was obstructed by the overgrown trees and mostly the tree that came down. While I could see those mountains from the back near the creek, I could never seen them from inside my house or even the back porch. Right then and there I realized I had a choice. I could look down and see the mess or I could look up and see this whole new view.
I was reminded of this museum Smiley and I went to in Barcelona where what seemed like a little-known (because we had it entirely to ourselves) rooftop garden could be explored. Each of the vignettes in the garden had been arranged to appear to be cozy little art installations or walls with windows, all of which were artistic sculptures. If you actually looked through these sculptured windows and blocked everything else out of your view, you would see one of the cityʼs architectural feats. There are several in Barcelona and given the geographical location of this museum, there was excellent vantage of the most famous ones. We were there at sunset and it was magical. While these breathtaking views were there for the taking, you did have to actually look to see them. The first one we discovered by accident, and then began carefully studying each vignette to find the sweet spot. So many times, we donʼt see things that are already there because of lifeʼs distractions or other things obstructing our view.
So many times for whatever reasons, we donʼt look up. Instead we look at our mess. I knew God was speaking to my heart to just keep looking up to Him and I always love that. Iʼm thankful for those little focus reminders. Then I had this crazy idea in my head to get an old picture frame and stick it up in the tree closest to the back door so I could “frame” that view just to remind me everyday to “Look up.” The more I thought about it throughout the day as I climbed ladders and captured the frame in different ways, the more I realized how we frame things in life really does matter. As a believer, how we frame things matter but not in the way one might think. Yes, the way we think about the things of our lives is important. Yet what is more important is how God thinks about it. Having the mind of Christ is the most important frame for our lives. The one and only best way to get that focus is to look up! Look up and get focused!
There are quite a few scriptures about keeping our eyes on Him. I recently came across this one - Psalm 123:1-2 “I lift my eyes to you, Oh God, enthroned in Heaven. We keep looking to the Lord our God for His mercy, just as servants keep their eyes on their master, as a slave girl watches her mistress for the slightest signal.”
Although this is a psalm for those in affliction looking for mercy - these two very simple verses tell us where to look and how to look. That seems useful in all seasons.
Verse 1 - “lift my eyes” - it is an intentional action - We are not looking at our circumstances, ourselves or anyone else - we are looking up to God. We are looking at Him only. That means we have to block out all of lifeʼs distractions, all of the messes, big or little, basically anything that we see that is not Him, even the good stuff. The focus is solely on Him. The verse goes on to say “Enthroned in Heaven” - that means in the Throne Room - When we are looking at Him, we are looking directly into Heavenʼs Throne Room. We are not just looking up, we are looking all the way up - as far as up goes - all the way to Heaven! I was recently thinking about that verse in Ecclesiastes where it says there is nothing new under sun. That means earth, thereʼs nothing new on earth. New things are coming from above - new inventions, new revelation - those are all coming out of Heaven. James 1:17 says all good things come from above. If you are gazing at the One on the throne, in the throne room - you are likely to see all kinds of good things, heavenly things.
Verse 2 - “as a slave girl watches her mistress for the slightest signal” - it is a non- distracted, fully focused intentional watch for even the slightest signal. Are we watching for the slightest movement of God, fully focused on everything He does? That is how we are supposed to be focused on Him. The other day I was having a conversation with one of my grandsons and he had flipped his phone face down on the counter and was looking at me intently as though he was completely listening to our conversation. In reality, he was really listening for a little beep, a slightly gratifying noise that comes out of his phone notifications. This became evident and I knew we would not have the non-distracted, focused conversation I was hoping for. God totally knows about these little noises in our lives. We are going to have to shut down all those noises to hear or see the slightest signal from the One who sits on the throne. We have to be tuned in to the God notification, watching and listening for the slightest signal.
In verse 2 - “We keep looking to the Lord our God for His mercy...” - basically indicates we donʼt stop looking until we receive it, however long it takes. Hereʼs the thing - we need His mercy every day to stay on track, keep the course, not drift, run the race, be about His business, be on purpose for His purposes, do the good works He created for us to do. Get your daily dose of mercy by looking up! Thatʼs how to get focused and stay focused. My prayer today is that we all “look up!”
Praising your way through a pandemic is key to perseverance! Also, it may be exactly what you are called to do! Called to Praise! Let’s talk praise and worship - because, well, what is life without worship? Also, since churches are banned from worship in some places during this pandemic, we kinda need to talk about it. There is one Psalm in particular I’m thinking of in theses trying times, but first – the back story.
There is a brutal story in the Bible about how Jerusalem and the surrounding Judah were overtaken by the Babylonians. Although they slaughtered both the young and the old, that wasn’t enough: they ruthlessly gutted babies out of pregnant women. They stole all the precious treasures of the temple, but that wasn’t enough; they burned the temple down. They tore down the walls of Jerusalem and destroyed everything of value in the city. After the fall of Jerusalem and Judah, the few who survived were taken as exiles to be servants to King Nebuchadnezzar and his sons. Turns out some of the survivors who were deported to Babylon into slavery and later returned to their homeland were “the singers of the family of Asaph.” (Ezra 2:41) In Psalm 137, we find the tale of the singers being tormented by their captors and hanging their harps in the trees.
“Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem. We put away our harps hanging them on the branches of poplar trees. For our captors demanded a song from us. Our tormentors insisted on a joyful hymn: “Sing us one of those songs of Jerusalem!” But how can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a pagan land?” Psalm 137 : 1-4
Verse 1 – Action verbs = sat, wept, and thought. Given the back story, one can certainly empathize with their plight. Except for the grace of God, there go I. The problem is where it starts is how it takes hold. For us, “sitting” isn’t something we can do because we are in a race. Christians - we are running a race! Don’t sit down okay? Although with the grief they experienced, weeping seems normal, and the Bible does say there is a time for everything, including grieving. For us in this season grieving seems normal too because a lot of people have died, and not all of those people were believers. I believe God may have some grief over those lost souls as well. Yet we cannot let our grief overtake us in this moment. “Thought” – they thought about Jerusalem. That means they thought about how things were – how things used to be. Oh my, can our thoughts ever drift to how things used to be. “BC” – not before Christ – before Covid.
Verses 2-4 – They put away their harps, hanging them on the branches of poplars. Most commentators agree “harps” is a generic term here for all the instruments used in the temple. Basically, this means they put away their praise. If these events are in chronological order here, they hung up the harps only after they sat, wept, and thought. Therefore, ... sitting, weeping, and thinking about the past leads to...you know where this is going – putting away your praise. Perhaps they thought since we can’t worship in our temple (it was destroyed) or be free in our own land, we can’t worship? Perhaps they thought since they were being ridiculed and taunted, they couldn’t worship? Perhaps they thought their worship music was too holy and undeserving in front of pagans? Perhaps they thought the visual of hanging their harps in the trees to be silenced was in harmony with their feelings of captivity – a display of praise under siege? We don’t actually know what they thought as they put away their praise, yet we do know what they thought about before they put away their praise. Guard your thoughts. Don’t hang up your harps!
Don’t put away your praise. In the midst of praise, your focus is changed – because the focus is on God – the mountain mover – not the mountains! Living a life of praise will literally change your life no matter what your circumstances are. TIP: Worship is not just for Sunday mornings – worship is a way of life. Have you heard that saying – “it’s all in your head?” Isaiah 26:3 says “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in you” – so yeah, it kinda IS all in your head. The mind is often the battlefield. Praise and worship takes your heart and your mind straight to the One who you are praising. Psalm 89:15 – “Happy are those who hear the joyful call to worship, for they will walk in the light of Your presence, Oh Lord.” In case you were wondering if you are called, yes you are called to joyful worship! Question is: do you hear the call?
There are so many ways to worship and this is only the short list! Just for starters in Psalm 98 you can (1) sing a new song, (2) declare His deeds, (3) remember His faithfulness, (4) “shout” to Lord, (5) break out in praise (I want to see your breakouts! Mine are usually dancing in the kitchen and no, I don’t post them to Tik Tok!), (6) sing for joy, (7) harps, (8) sing melody, (9) harmonize, (10) trumpets, (11) joyful symphony (sounds like any instrument will do, including the spoons, so go for it, get creative), (12) clapping, (13) joining nature in praise. Psalm 96:8 is (14) bringing your offering. Psalm 99:5 is (15) bowing low. Psalm 100 is (16) with gladness (17) acknowledging He is God and (18) entering His gates with thanksgiving. A word about thanksgiving – thankfulness causes you to focus on everything you are thankful for – who the people in your life are, what you have, what you’ve been given, who gave it to you - basically all the goodness of God extended to you. Thankfulness always brings you right back to Him.
The singers referenced in Psalm 137 hung up their harps because things changed. Their life circumstances changed. I empathize with them because it was in all seriousness a traumatic change; however, is change really a reason to put praise away? It’s easy to put praise away when things are NOT going the way we want them to go. Boo Hoo - that sounds a little like a toddler temper tantrum. I know it’s not funny, it’s deadly serious. We are in the messy middle of a pandemic with thousands fleeing fires raging throughout the west coast. Yes, things have changed. But God has not changed. We cannot focus on the things changed, the messy middle, or the bombs going off – we have to focus on the one true God. That’s it – look up Christians! Look to the way maker, look to the God of Heaven’s Armies, look to the One who gave His life for you, look to the One who hears your prayers, look to the One who created you for His purposes, look to the One who is your towering rock of safety – then declare His faithfulness and praise His name!
To up your praise game, I challenge you to read five Psalms a day for the next 30 days. It works out perfect because there are 150 Psalms. At five a day, you’ll be done in 30 days!
I give you permission (wink, wink) to skip the longest chapter in the Bible Psalm 119 and read it on the 31st day of a month. Whether you take the challenge or not, I guarantee praising your way through a pandemic will change your perspective! Go ahead heed the call! Psalm 89:15 “Happy are those who hear the joyful call to worship, for they will walk in the light your presence, O Lord.” You can’t be the light to the dark and dying world unless you are in the light.
Called to Persevere
David knew at an early age he was called to serve. Just because it didn’t happen immediately, he didn’t throw in the towel. He didn’t say, “Oh, I guess I had it all wrong; I wasn’t really called to do anything.” He worked within the sphere of influence he held at the time; and notably, that sphere changed throughout the seasons of his life. If you felt the call to serve, and then the pandemic hit, well – you are still called to serve because you are called to persevere. If you thought 2020 was your year, well – it’s still your year because you are called to persevere.
Just in case there is any question about whether we are called to persevere – we are called! Hebrews 12:1 says “.let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” God has been pouring into us so we can pour into others. I don’t know what that looks like. I just know we are called to persevere. Each of us has a purpose for this time and this place God designed us specifically for. It’s not just about running our race, it’s also what WE bring to the race. Matthew 5:30 says “You are the salt of the earth, but what good is it if the salt has lost its savor?” We all know salt is a preservative. The way we preserve the world in a pandemic is to be salty – season the world! For more on this salty topic, see the blog post “Let’s Get Salty!” Colossians 4:5-6 says, “Live wisely among those who are not believers and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive – “seasoned with salt” – so that you will have the right response for everyone.” Let your 2020 words be salted with the grace of God.
Our vocation as Christians is to declare who God is to the world – and the world needs us more than ever right now to do that declaring. Funny, how I circled back to praising your way through a pandemic – declare His faithfulness and praise His name. I get it, we are all a little tired. I’ve heard and seen the memes “2020 – let’s get this over with!” Turns out, you were made for 2020! You are the chosen generation! I Peter 2:9 says, “You are a chosen people, you are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for He called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.” You are the light because God designed it that way. It is God in you, it’s not of your own doing, it is His salvation working in you. Now is the time be that light! It’s dark out there and the world needs to see His light shining through us!
Light is a change agent. Where it goes, the darkness cannot extinguish it. When the power is out, a simple flashlight will light your way. The smallest candle will light up a room. My point is even the tiniest light is powerful and doesn’t take much to change a situation. You are the light because says you are. Be that light. Be who He says you are.
Matthew 5:14 – You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven.
Whether we admit or not – Covid 19 has UNMASKED many of our strengths and weaknesses. Some of those strengths are heartwarming and encouraging stories of humans helping humans survive. Farmers and other businesses donating their crops or other goods to food banks or needy people while they themselves face the chance of losing their family farms or business. School administrators and communities coming up with creative ways to help struggling students make it through the year and celebrate their 2020 graduates. Unmasking the bright spots in an otherwise very dark world right now is what we need more of. Even so, some of the unmasking reveals a dark and twisty weakness in our humanity that is really ugly and sad. We pray for our nation and we know God is on the move! I don’t know about y’all but I am exhausted by all the washing the groceries, being careful not to get too close, wearing masks, and carefully planning excursions. Experts call this “quarantine fatigue.” At this point, I just call it my season of “Let us not be weary in well doing...” We can’t wish it away, ignore it away, or hope it away, we have to pray it away. So we continue to pray for our nation and each other. With that said, I’m thinking I can’t be the only who had a lot of questions. It’s human nature to want answers. And boy, did I have questions!
A few months back as the pandemic emerged in cities across our nation and eventually showed up in my little hometown, I began to search for information. I had questions and I wanted to know everything. In hindsight, the reality was not much was actually known and what was known at the time would change anyway. Yet, I did many hours of research on trusted sites so I would know how to protect my vulnerable loved ones and myself. As a former school and child care administrator, I worked in settings where hand washing protocols and disinfecting surfaces was practiced 20 times a day or more to ad nauseam. My questions were much more nuanced about how long this virus lives on certain surfaces or the postal worker touching every mailbox up and down the street, could they be a silent super spreader? As it turns out, cardboard box deliveries just need to sit in the sun for 24 hours to kill this wicked thing. Or now some say it’s only three and a half hours, so who really knows? Either way, that’s only a problem if what’s inside the box might melt because you know we all need chocolate to endure these crazy times! I searched long and hard to find out how long the mail should sit before I could safely touch it. I even went to trusted former postal workers and asked the question that nobody really knows. The CDC had nothing to say about how long this virus lives on paper. The state or local Public Health Departments were silent, nil, nada, nothing to say. I was chasing an answer and I was not about to stop! One day I asked God, so what’s the deal with this? How long does this virus live on paper, such as the mail? To my surprise, He said, He didn’t know either! JUST KIDDING! What I felt He whispered to my heart that day was this – “I know you want answers. Just remember, answers don’t give you peace. Only I give you peace.” Before you react to this, let me just say – I don’t believe He was in any way telling me not to follow the science of what is known with regard to public health safety protocols – I believe He was gently reminding me that I could know all the answers to all my questions and still not have peace. For me, it was clearly a heart check! Did I want those answers because it was a wise thing to know how to protect others and myself or did I want those answers because I thought answers would make me feel safe? In times like these, God’s little heart checks are so, so good. Love them! “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives give I to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” - From the version of John 14:27 planted in my heart. Interestingly enough, the Message version says it this way “I’m leaving you well and whole. My parting gift to you is peace. ...you are not abandoned.” We are not on our own, He is with us guiding us every step of the way.
Let’s have a little chat about masks! In my county, they are mandatory so I think we can talk openly about this! Wear a mask -- I don’t WANNA! My head knows it’s for the good of the community, I know it will help limit the spread of this killer virus. I just don’t WANNA! I’m not exactly sure why. Vanity? I’ll look funny. True, but probably not the reason. Comfort? I’m really uncomfortable in it and it doesn’t even fit. Not likely the reason either, since the thought of spreading the virus and someone potentially dying is a lot more uncomfortable than just wearing the mask. Rebellion? Okay, maybe... I’m one who likes to go barefoot, thinks a good organic orange juice cures almost everything, and doesn’t really like being told what to do! Does anybody really like being told what to do? Perhaps its not just a little; perhaps I have a strong aversion to being told what to do! Heart check. Whatever the reason, I’ve been thinking a lot about masks and I was reminded of this one time.... No it wasn’t Halloween – it was Christmas Eve!
Many years ago, very late in the evening, December 24th, Christmas Eve, I was standing in a busy crowded store when suddenly my phone rang. I answered and a close friend said, “I was calling to see how you are.” I quickly answered, “Oh I’m fine, just at the store looking for something.” Let me tell you friend, inside I was throwing the phone on the floor, screaming out in pain, yelling at the top of my lungs! It’s late at night, I’m five hours away from home in a crazy crowded store surrounded by strangers who wait until Christmas eve to do their Christmas shopping while I’m looking very specifically for sweat pants without drawstrings and shoes without laces for someone I love who had been admitted to the hospital and had no clothes. My heart is breaking; but, hey – “Oh, I’m just fine.” What I said was very different than what was actually going on. I call this MASKING.
I think, like me, many have mastered the skill of masking. As women we do it so often, it’s like putting our daily make up on. It’s just so easy and habit forming! What is really happening: running on a few hours sleep, one kid throwing up, one kid throwing a fit, need groceries, house is a mess, and there’s peanut butter in my hair. What we do: throw hair in a messy bun, pretend all is well and calm, pick up oldest kid from school and wave to friends while shouting “let’s do lunch next week!” Survival and masking on autopilot for busy moms. Well, I guess if you’re a man reading this, you know you do it too. Whenever you need to just not talk about what’s really happening and hide in the shelter of your own making.
Sometimes life is just a mess. Sometimes I’d rather mask the mess than talk about the mess, or worse – let the world see the mess! Been there? You know what I’m talking about? I’m not saying you want to spill your guts to every person you know or tell every stranger on the street what a jam you’re in. Of course, discretion and wisdom are called for. Problem with masking is you have to pretend so hard, you often find yourself pretending with God too. He really does want you, your authentic self, to just lay down all your cares and burdens at His feet. He doesn’t even care about the mess. He just wants to love you through it. Take off your mask and get real with God.
Then there’s that other problem with masking - you know, the one where you are so exhausted from pretending, masking with others, you come to God at the end of your day and your prayer goes something like this – Hey God, it’s been a day – you know what I’ve been dealing with. Is there some lesson I need to learn here? Then you sort of exhaustingly nod off while you’re convincing God you need Him to hurry up this process. You didn’t really have time to unpack the issue with God, really lay everything at His feet, accept rest from the heavy load, and listen for His guidance. Once you take off the mask and get real with God, don’t try to rush Him. Rushing is for football and soccer tournaments! Just let the mess simmer unmasked in God territory and He’ll take care of it.
While masking masquerades to the world that you may be fine, it also masks to you the safety of your hiding place, which really turns out to be just a prison preventing those around you who love you from providing the love, support, and contact you need. Friends, let’s get real. Have you been open and honest with a true friend? Have you been open and honest with God? Do the work of laying the mask down and let God do the rest. We are not alone, He is with us every step of the way.
Note: we are still in the middle of a pandemic so... OF COURSE – if you are headed to a public place, wear your mask, wash your hands, social distance, pick up some chocolate, and trust God to keep you safe. Just don’t “do the masking thing” with God or with those who love you.
Here is one of my favorites for times such as these – “This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; He is my God, and I trust Him. He will rescue me from every trap and protect me from deadly disease. He will shelter you with His wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.”
Brave hearts are hearts that don’t give up! We are going along life’s journey and everything is smooth sailing. Then life happens – out of nowhere an unexpected bump in the road, and the road is not as smooth as it was before. If you are like me your first efforts are to pretend things are going just as smoothly as they always have and you’ve just hit a little bump in the road. I’m very good at reminding myself others bumpy roads are worse than mine; therefore, I have nothing to really complain about it. Then the situation does not get better, in fact it gets worse. One begins to wonder if one’s prayers are just bouncing off the ceiling? You press in harder, you pray more, you enlist your friends to pray. You’ve gone to your knees many times now and after a while, you notice this a long season...
“Don’t be afraid, just have faith.” These are the words in Mark 5:36 Jesus says to Jarius when servants inform Jarius his daughter is dead. The beginning of the story starts out when Jarius, a local Jewish leader, asks Jesus to come to his house and lay hands on his dying little daughter so she may live. He knows his daughter is dying and he knows Jesus is his only hope. Jesus agrees to go with him. As they go, a great crowd is surrounding them and suddenly, Jesus feels healing power leaving him and asks, “who touched me?” His disciples are like – whoa, man take a look at this crowd, how can you even ask who touched you.
So here is this woman, we don’t know her name. What we do know is she has some kind of bleeding issue and it’s been going on for a long time. Verse 26 tells us “she had suffered a great deal from many doctors and over the years, she had spent everything she had to pay them, but she had gotten no better. In fact, she had gotten worse.” Twelve years into this constant bleeding issue, she hears about Jesus and she thinks to herself, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.” We also know under Jewish law, she is considered unclean because of the bleeding. Anything or person she touches will also be unclean. Let’s just say she wasn’t supposed to be out in a crowd of people. She probably lived in isolation most of the time. So it’s likely she is sneaking through this crowd, maybe down low, or even crawling, and certainly hoping not to be noticed.
I can understand why she did what she did. Desperation. When you have spent all your time and all your money over many years, and you are out of options, only to discover there is no cure. Desperation leads people to do things they might not otherwise do, like crawling through a crowd of people when they are not even supposed to be around people. What takes you to your knees may be the very thing that makes you stand up tall.
The minute she touches Him, she is immediately healed and she feels it in her body. She knows and He knows. He is asking, “who touched me?” She is hoping He won’t notice her but He keeps on looking around to see who it was. She is frightened now of what might happen and she goes to Him and falls on her knees in front of Him, telling Him what she had done. In verse 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.”
What resonates with my heart about this story is after 12 years, she could have easily given up and thought why even bother. She could have used her uncleanness, or isolation, as an excuse to stay put. Sometimes we use our season of suffering to stay in isolation or feel isolated. Yet, for some reason, her faith was stirred when she heard about Jesus. She thought, “if I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.” Not giving up looks a lot like FAITH to me. Her brave heart didn’t give up and her faith made her brave heart step out, find a way to get through a crowd unnoticed and touch his garment. Her faith activated the healing power of God, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, went out from Him to her in that moment. Trembling and frightened she falls on her knees --- only to be told stand up and go in peace. Although Jesus was in the middle of something else, He was not too busy for this needy woman.
Brave hearts don’t always have a smooth ride. Courage is built in the face of fear. If there is no fear involved, then there is no bravery in the equation. Brave is not giving up in the face of fear. Brave is traveling the rough and bumpy road and not quitting even when others say, there is no hope. Funny thing about the rough and bumpy roads – those are the very roads that send us to our knees in prayer. Yet we don’t give up, we don’t quit there, we keep on praying, and we wait for our rescue. We don’t when or how that might come to pass. What we do know is God is listening and He has a made a way. That way is Jesus Christ.
Meanwhile back at the Jarius ranch, his little girl lays dead in her bed. Enough time has passed for his servants to meet him. They bring bad news - telling him not to even bother bringing Jesus home, his daughter is already dead. Jarius could have given up at this report. He hears Jesus say to him, “don’t be afraid, just have faith.” Jesus did go home with Jairus and heal his little daughter – raising her from the dead when He said, “Little girl, get up!” Whether you’re down and out, or you’re just down, this same Jesus will raise you up too. Don’t be afraid, just have faith. Faith looks a lot like brave. And it seems like a little dab will do ya.
In a way, faith is like a muscle. You have to exercise it or use it to build it. Nothing happens if you never pick up a weight. Whether it’s a long season or a short season, remember to get on your knees and ask. Bring your requests humbly to Him. Asking starts the process of building the faith. As a bonus, what takes you to your knees – is the very thing that will draw you closer to God than you ever thought possible. So wherever the bumpy road takes you, make sure it takes you to your knees. And don’t give up brave hearts!
Brave hearts are poured out hearts. “I was pouring out my heart to the Lord,” she said when accused by a high-ranking official of public drunkenness in the holy temple. The story begins in I Samuel chapter 1. We know her name is Hannah. Her husband, Elkanah, also has another wife, Peninnah, who has children. They live in the hill country north of Jerusalem and are a “devout” family in a season of Israel’s history when everyone did what they thought was pleasing in their own eyes.
The annual family vacation was a trip down to Shiloh to worship the Lord. Elkanah, Hannah, Peninnah, and Peninnah’s children would make this one to two-day journey over several miles. In verse 4 we find when the day of sacrifice came, Elkanah would give a portion of meat to Peninnah and a portion to each of her children and he would also give a “choice” portion to Hannah who had no children. Peninnah would taunt Hannah and make fun of her “because the Lord had kept her from having children.” Verse 7 records “year after year, it was the same – Peninnah would taunt Hannah as they went to the tabernacle. Each time Hannah would be reduced to tears and not even eat.” Her husband would ask, “Why aren’t you eating? What makes you so sad?” He would comfort her with, “You have me – isn’t that better than having ten sons?”
Imagine this yearly “vacation” – Hannah remembers how cruel Peninnah acted the year before and she thinks, this time I won’t let her get to me, I won’t let her see me cry. Or Hannah hopes – perhaps this time she will be gracious and comfort me? From the Bible, we know for sure this tear-jerking taunting happens every time they travel to worship. Although the Bible doesn’t say, it is likely this was a continuing event throughout the year that seemed to crescendo during the annual trip. In any event, I’m sure it was no easy task to live with a mean girl. What should be a happy time is deliberately made miserable by another’s cruelty. Should Hannah just not go? Interestingly enough Hannah does not let pain, suffering, or shame stop her from worshipping her God. Knowing Peninnah would play on her sensitivities and deliberately try to hurt her (and she was successful), Hannah did not let others interfere in her worship.
And so this went on “year after year” until one year after the sacrificial meal,
Hannah got up and went to pray. Eli, the priest, was sitting by the door in his customary place. Verse 10 records she was “in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed.” Then she makes this vow, “O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, if you will look upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a son, then I will give him back to you. He will be yours for his entire lifetime and as a sign he has been dedicated to the Lord, his hair will never be cut.” As she is praying to the Lord, Eli is watching her. Her lips are moving and she is not making a sound, therefore, he jumps to the conclusion she is drunk. “Must you come here drunk?” he demands. “Throw away your wine!” You can imagine the priest might have had an angry or a disgusted tone? “Oh no, sir!” She replied. “I haven’t been drinking wine or anything stronger. But I am very discouraged, and I was pouring out my heart to the Lord. Do not think
I am a wicked woman. I have been praying out of great anguish and sorrow.” “In that case,” Eli said, “go in peace! May the God of Israel grant the request you have asked of him.” “Oh, thank you sir!” she exclaimed. Then she went back and began to eat again and she was no longer sad.
Childless – yet not prayer less! Closed womb, yet open heart. In this prayer, two things stand out to me. First – Hannah’s heart. This “poured-out” heart is solely focused on God and what He is able to do. In fact, she asks for divine intervention against the natural course of events “year after year.” While she is pouring out her heart to God, we don’t hear mention of Peninnah or her taunts. Instead we hear her address God as the “Lord of Heaven’s Armies” at a time in Israel’s history when their army was small and weak surrounded by powerful enemies. In the midst of her suffering, she became of woman of prayer who focused on the person of God and who He is. Second – God’s heart. No where do I hear God chastising her request or using the voice of Eli to remind her God knows best, or in His time, or perhaps you should be content with His will. I’m just noticing in this case -- human desire, even when overwhelmed by sorrow, is not sinful in God’s eyes. Although He already knows the desires of our hearts because He placed them there, God’s heart has ears to hear. Turns out this story is not about what Hannah doesn’t have, it is about the posture of her heart – a heart poured out to God in prayer.
She went back and began to eat again and she was no longer sad. Brave looks a lot like faith to me. Why was she no longer sad? At that moment, she still had a rival wife who hated her and she was still childless.
Pain finds refuge in prayer. She poured out her heart to the Lord and transferred her heavy burdens to the One whose shoulders were strong enough to carry them.
And so the story goes, they returned home and in due time, Hannah gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel because she said, “I asked the Lord for him.” Brave hearts are obedient hearts and she kept her promised vow to give him back to the Lord. When he was weaned, she left him at the temple to be raised by Eli. The story doesn’t end there though. Each year she brought a small hand made coat for Samuel and each year the priest blessed her saying, “May the Lord give you other children to replace this child you have given to the Lord.” While she went on to have other children, she did not exit Samuel’s life. A heart poured out before God has more influence than one would imagine. It’s not surprising Samuel was a man of prayer. She modeled prayer for her son, who then modeled prayer for an entire nation and it’s first two kings, Saul and David.
Not completely understood by her husband, mocked by Peninnah, rebuked by Eli, yet heard by God – the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, we know her for her sorrow (the pain of barrenness made more bitter by cruel taunts); we know her for faithfulness (she found strength and refuge in the Lord); we know her for her sacrifice (boldly leaving her little blessing at the temple). Hannah bravely faced life’s challenges through the act of pouring out her heart to God.
Whatever life’s challenges are today, big or small; bravely pour your heart out to God. He has ears to listen. Lord, I pray today that as we approach You, we don’t do it lightly, we go in whole heartedly – we pour our hearts out to You. In Jesus name.
Brave hearts are “ready for action.” The book of Ruth profiles a young women who was brave enough to take action when the action may not be the safest action and when someone she respected tried to dissuade her from said action. Her famous words “Your God will be my God” took her on a path from widow, foreigner, and gleaner (social services of the day) to beloved wife and great grandma of another brave heart, King David.
The story begins when a Jewish family (father, mother, and two sons) moves away from Bethlehem because there is a famine in the land. The Bible doesn’t tell us they were directed or led by God to move. We don’t know if they were running away from God, rather than trusting Him to provide for their needs. What we do know is they chose the country of Moab, a known enemy of Israel and a land of pagan gods. Unfortunately, the dad dies leaving the mother, Naomi, with two sons. The two sons married Moabite women. We don’t know why they did this instead of returning to their homeland or sending for Jewish brides. What we do know is the Israelites were forbidden to marry foreigners. As it happens the two sons die as well, leaving two widows. The mother, Naomi, hears a rumor the famine has ended and decides to return to her homeland. Ten years in a pagan worshipping foreign country has taken its toll, she is spent and she wants to go home. She sets out with her two daughter-in-laws, and on the way tells them to go back to their mother’s homes. In verse 9, she prays a blessing, “May the Lord bless you with the security of another marriage” and kisses them goodbye. They all cried and both girls, Ruth and Orpah said “No, we want to go with you to your people.”
Naomi must have prayed for her husband to live when she saw he might die in Moab. Surely she prayed for her two sons not to die and perhaps prayed other prayers she felt God did not answer. Yet she didn’t stop praying. She prayed this blessing and thought to send them on their way. When Naomi sees the girls aren’t going to follow her request, she puts up a strong argument. In verse 11, she asks, “Why should you go with me? Can I still birth other sons who could grow up to be your husbands? No, my daughters return to your parent’s homes, for I am too old to marry again. Even if it were possible and I were to marry today and bear sons, what then? Would you wait for them to grow up and refuse to marry anyone else? No, of course not, my daughters. Things are far more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord Himself has raised His fist against me.” At this, they all cry again and Orpah kisses her mother-in-law goodbye. Ruth clings tightly to her mother-in-law and refuses to leave her. When Naomi realizes this, in verse 15 she tries to dissuade further Ruth by saying, “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods. You should do the same.” HOLD the presses! Wait, what? She told her to go back and serve her pagan gods?? At this point, we don’t know if Naomi had begun to doubt the God of Israel was the one true God, or if she was just convinced He no longer loved her? Or perhaps she had let ten long years of what she considered disappointment color her judgment?
She had just. told Ruth and Orpah the Lord had raised His fist against her. Later when she returns to Bethlehem, she tells her friends (who, by the way, all seemed to survive the fierce famine) to call her “Mara” because “the Almighty has made life very bitter for me.” It seems to me Naomi has some stinking thinking going on right now and is not the best counselor for Ruth. What’s a girl to do? Go back and worship pagan gods or chose the one true God? Ruth is ready for action. She disregards Naomi’s advice and instead makes an oath to her. In verse 16 Ruth says, “Don’t ask me to leave and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people. Your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal severely with me if I let anything but death separate us.” When Naomi hears Ruth’s determination, she says nothing more. Perhaps the famous line, “Your God will be my God” is what shut her down?
Numbers chapters 21-24 record some of the incidents between the Israelites and the Moabites, including the infamous story of Balak, King of Moab, who calls on the prophet Balaam to prophesy against Israel. Remember, even the donkey tries to stop Balaam from going and in the end, Balaam ends up prophesying blessings over Israel three times. After that, some of the Israelite men defiled themselves by having sexual relationships with local Moabite women. They also feasted with them at sacrifices and worshipped the gods of Moab, inciting the Lord’s anger “to blaze” against His people. In the account recorded in Numbers 25:1-9, God orders Moses, who then orders all the judges of Israel to put to death any of the men who have joined in worshipping the false gods. As the instructions were being given, one of the Israelite men was bold enough to bring one of these women right into his tent in Israel camp. A priest got so angry for the Lord he rushed to this dude’s tent, thrust his spear through the man’s body and into the woman’s stomach. The plague was stopped, but not before 24,000 people had died. Talk about drama. The circumstances exemplify that Swift song, “now we got some bad blood between us.” Suffice it to say the Israelites and the Moabites have some “bad blood” between them. When Ruth, as a woman from Moab, shows up in Bethlehem, she will without a doubt, be regarded with suspicion as a foreigner and perhaps in some cases, as the enemy.
Ruth was born in a country that worshipped false gods and parents who likely did not acknowledge the one true God raised her. She was not one of God’s chosen people. She chose to follow God. “Your God will be my God.” Brave looks a lot like faith to me. Whether it’s from national history or from the family she married into, she knows enough about the God of Israel to put her faith in that God, rather than the false gods of her nation, who were known to demand child sacrifices. One might argue she knew a little something from her husband. I’m going to go out on a limb and say, perhaps not. Imagine that conversation - uh, honey, I’m not even supposed to be married to you, it’s against the laws of my God, but let me tell you about Him. Perhaps she knew something about the God of Israel from her mother-in law? The one who now says her God has raised his fist against her and counsels her to go back to her nations gods. At this point, we don’t know how Ruth arrived at her decision. A weeklong journey alone for two widows held much potential for danger. What’s important is faith stirred in her heart and she chose to make Him her God. Her God will be the One known as the one true God, the only living God, the God of Israel.
As the story goes, the pair arrives safely in Bethlehem. At some point, Ruth learns about the provision in the Jewish law for the poor and needy to follow the harvesters and glean the leftovers. Ruth is again ready for action. In Chapter two, verse 2, “One day Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go out into the harvest fields to pick up the stalks of grain left behind by anyone who is kind enough to let me do it.” As it happened, she found herself working in the field of Boaz, a distant relative of her deceased father-in-law. Remember Ruth was not raised Jewish and likely has no knowledge of the Jewish kinsman redeemer laws. She is just out there taking action, doing what she needs to do to provide for herself and her mother-in-law in the way God has provided. Later when Boaz notices her, and he offers her safety (to stay in his fields) along with water and food, she falls at his feet, thanking him, asking what she had done to deserve this kindness, and confessing she is only a foreigner. In verse 11, Boaz lets Ruth know he knows she is a foreigner yet he also knows what she had done for her mother-in-law. Then in verse 12, he lays out this bombshell...
“May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.” His response indicates her reputation of faith in the God of Israel is well known. Brave hearts are hearts ready for action because of their faith in God. When things are upside down and they don’t look right, faith is the ingredient that changes everything.
The next few chapters reveal an unexpected love story, more bold action from Ruth, including a brave marriage proposal to Boaz, and a beautiful baby legacy. Do you think she might have experienced a moment of panic when she learns there is a closer relative and she finds out she might have to marry a stranger rather than the man Boaz who has been so kind to her? If she did, no matter. Even Naomi’s time of bitterness. no matter. A brave heart stirred by faith, ready for action, boldly stating, “Your God will be my God” changed everything for both of these women. The goodness of God rains down on Naomi as she cuddles that little grandbaby - a miracle, surely an answer to prayer. God has not left her because He promises He will never leave or forsake us. The God of Israel, whom Ruth chose to follow, shows up for her in a big God-size way. She gains a husband who wants her and understands her journey as a stranger in a foreign land, since Boaz’s mother “just happens” to be Rehab as revealed in the Matthew 1:5 lineage of Jesus. Then she has a baby, who just happens to be the granddad of the great King David. What’s a girl to do? Go back and worship pagan gods or choose the one true God? No matter what your situation, no matter who says what, always choose God. If God is for you, who can be against you?
Two ordinary women just like us, who experienced great loss, just like some of us. Both displayed very unique yet different reactions to their losses and life circumstances. Both in need of God’s grace, just like us. In this contrast we see God’s faithfulness and grace to all people. If you are like Naomi, a long time follower still praying, yet discouraged by life circumstances or feeling God has not heard your prayers, look up! God has more to do with you! Rise up, brave heart! If you are like Ruth, a new choice maker yet not feeling “qualified” or like a foreigner in uncharted waters, take heart! God is ready to use you for His purposes. Take action, brave heart!
The beautiful Queen Esther is one of the brave hearts of the Bible. One thing about brave hearts is they are prepared hearts. Her famous brave words, “If I must die I must die” only follow or come after “gather all the Jews together and fast for me, and my maids and I will do the same.” Although the Bible doesn’t quote prayer with the request to fast, one assumes they go together. There was a divine order – first, pray and fast and second, do the brave thing.
This was not false bravado or naïve courage. Esther knew it was against the law for her to approach the King without being summoned and she knew the punishment was death as revealed in Esther 4:11 “anyone who appears before the king in his inner court is doomed to die unless the king holds out his gold scepter.”
Her cousin, Mordecai sent her this message, “Who knows, if perhaps you were made queen for such a time as this?” When she heard those words, Esther knew in her heart what she had to do AND she prepared her heart to do the hard thing.
May I also say there is something quite wonderful about being the right girl in the right place at the right time? Listen carefully – because who knows if perhaps you are in the place you are for such a time as this? We are not here at this place in this time for no reason.
Brave also looks a lot like faith to me. Even though she was the Queen she knew her rescue would only come from God alone. She didn’t think about her own strength or influence, instead she prayed and humbly asked her friends to fast for her. Her faith was in God’s ability to change the situation. She put her faith to work. She let prayer do the heavy lifting.
So here’s the thing – We know from the history outlined in the Bible how she became queen. It certainly wasn’t her station or position in life as she was not the daughter of a king or even a relative who had some legacy to keep. Nope – Just an orphan girl who found herself winning a beauty contest she didn’t even enter. In Chapter two, verse three, we see the king appointed officials in every province to gather the beautiful, young virgins for his royal harem. She was simply chosen for her beauty and outward appearance. When her time came to be summoned by the king, she pleased him enough for him to place a crown on her and call her queen. In one of her messages to Mordecai, she states, “the king has not summoned me in 30 days.” In this moment, she doesn’t know whether she has fallen out of favor or even when the next opportunity to possibly have influence, if she has any, will occur. Talk about reasons for insecurity! This wasn’t like, “I’m having a bad hair day” or “My eyes are bit puffy, I need a facial.” This was if the king is in a bad mood today or he doesn’t like me, I will be put to death for showing up UNINVITED.
Esther knows the story of the ex-wife who was demoted for NOT showing up when summoned and the history of this king demanding obedience. The Bible doesn’t say how much time passed between the two queens. The Persians kept detailed accurate historical records and those reveal four years passed between Queen Vashti’s demotion and Queen Esther’s coronation. So what was the king busy doing during that time? The historical records show he was trying to conquer Greece as revenge for his father. He orders a bridge to be built on a narrow piece of water (the straight) between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean in hopes of sending his soldiers marching straight into Greece. A storm comes along and destroys the bridge before the soldiers could use it. The king is so furious he gathered all the engineers who designed and built the bridge and chops their heads off! Then he sends soldiers with whips to “whip” the water 300 times, throw shackles into the water to “bind” it, and stab the waves with red hot irons. This guy takes the meaning of “crazy ex” to a whole new level! He is irrational and you don’t want to get on his bad side.
“Who knows, if perhaps you were made queen for such a time as this?” She laid her insecurities aside and decided, “this is my time.” This is my time to be used for the purposes of God, whether I live or I die. The message from Mordecai struck a chord in her heart there is no place of privilege exempting a person from their responsibility to respond to God’s call. Faith stirred in her heart. Her faith was in God’s ability, not her position. When a situation seems hopeless, God breathes hope. Here the Jews are captives who were exiled to this city, this place in time. Even when God seems strangely absent, He is always so close. His presence is what makes us brave. We can rely and have faith in His presence.
Joshua 1:5 says, “He will never leave us nor forsake us.” For this reason, we can be brave enough to say – we are the right person in the right place at the right time – to carry out God’s purposes. Allow your destiny to be solely determined by nothing other than the purposes of God. Prepare yourself to be brave by preparing your heart. Spend the needed time in prayer.
My prayer for us today is: As we seek Him and pray for His guidance, God will reveal His purposes and plans for us. As we ask, He will answer. We will know His presence, our hearts will be stirred in faith, and we will bravely march forward. In Jesus name, Amen.
“Words Matter” reminds me God’s word is like a hammer building us up, lifting us, stabilizing us; and also, smashing to pieces those unwanted things. Words shape who we are.
“Words Have Power” reminds me God’s word breathes life into our soul and spirit, revealing our aliveness and identity in Him.
“Words are Intimate” reminds me I am His in a pursued, intimate relationship. He knows me intimately better than I even know myself. He is the author of my life. Before I was born, He saw my unformed substance and created my innermost being. He knit me together in my mother’s womb. He knows a word even before it is on my tongue. He knows the numbers of hairs on my head. I am known.
I love that my creator knows me better than I know myself. While it means I can’t hide from Him, it also means He reveals little secrets I didn’t even know about myself. Private chats with Him are often very revealing.
In my late 20’s Himself and I lived in a teeny tiny house with our two daughters, Smiley and Chatty. With about 800 square feet of living space, the bathrooms were often used as private offices for planning surprises, quiet moments, reading, private discussion, secret rendezvous, etc. If you ever lived in a motorhome with four or more people, you understand there is no place for privacy or alone time. If you wanted alone time, well, off to the bathroom you went. One day I sprawled out on the bathroom floor crying out to God about how “hurt” my feelings were. I don’t even remember the topic of the argument; I can only imagine something really dumb, not relevant to the grand scheme of things now. If you’ve ever really cried your eyes out to God, then you know what a comforter He is and just how loved He can make you feel. In His arms, there is healing like no other. My feelings were hurt, so I ran to my God. That day I cried hard and I told the Lord how “himself said this and then he said that, and then he did this, whatever the issue was.” While I don’t recall my exact complaints, I recall very specifically God’s response because I was surprised into silence when He said, “you never cry over me like this.” Not what I expected to hear.
Seven little words, one short sentence – piercing my heart with a thousand “knowings” all at once. Knowing I disappointed Him, knowing I didn’t love the way I should love Him, knowing my God is jealous over me, knowing He sees me and He knows me and yet He loves me still.
Quickly getting off the floor, standing in front of the mirror – looking back at the girl who was expecting comfort and healing, because God does heal broken hearts! He has done this so many times for me in my life. Gazing into my surprised somewhat somber looking face – girlfriend – its not fun when God calls you out – reveals something dark and twisty about yourself you didn’t realize was there.
He saw me. He chose me. He pursued me. His offer of sacred romance to become His bride was something I accepted, I longed for, and to be honest, I thought I had secured long ago. Perhaps it was drama. Perhaps it was emotional tears. Perhaps it was just the stillness of a solitary bathroom, the only private place in the house. God saw me for who I was in that moment and reminded me of my true identity. What exactly did I mean to Him? What exactly did He mean to me? He gave His life for me. Who exactly am I? Does a daughter of the King lay on the bathroom floor? Get yourself up and straighten your crown girl! If you want to be transformed into a new identity, then act like a royal. Be royal enough to fan the flame of the Spirit within you.
Jesus was clear about His identity and His worth – He said, “I am the bread of life, I am the true vine, I am the light of the world, I am the way, the truth, the life, and I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly” along with many other words. He did not say, “I have big toes, or I’m wide in the hips, or I carry my weight in the middle…” He didn’t say, “I don’t have experience or resources to do this or that.” He said, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” I am His, He is mine. The words we say declare our intimacy with Him.
There is a divine makeover that takes place in our thoughts, hearts, and conduct – which in turn equips us to do what God calls us to do.
John 15:16 -- "You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you. I have appointed you to go and produce fruit that will last, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give it to you.
I pray today that we pursue an intimate relationship with our God. That we boldly declare – I am His, He is mine!