I Got Nothin”

Twirling a pen in my hand I just sat there. I stared at the card in front of me, waiting for an idea, for something, anything, to say. A few words popped into my brain but they seemed trite and shallow. So I sat there, staring at the card waiting for the right words but I got nothin’.

Over the past couple of weeks I have had to sign way too many greeting cards. Generally I like choosing and signing cards but this most recent batch were all for the unhappy occasions of life: Get Well, Thinking of You, and the saddest, With Sympathy.

What is there to say when the news is bad/sad? When you know the person receiving the card is struggling and in pain, physically, emotionally or both? What do you say when the person is standing in front of you with tears in their eyes?

Other peoples pain can take us by surprise, leaving us at a loss for words, uncertain how to acknowledge their sorrow, how to support, not knowing what to say or do. My heart hurts for the other person and I have that sinking feeling of frustration; that any words I might say trivialize their pain. There are times when silence is best, a hug, a comforting touch might be all that is needed and wanted but there has to be some verbal or written response, some words of understanding, some acknowledgement…

In the midst of pain our hearts cry out for comfort, for an answer or reason, for hope that the pain serves some purpose and that life is not meaningless. I always pause; I don’t want to say or write anything stupid and I don’t want to make the situation worse. I want to be sincere and genuine; I can’t know exactly how the other person feels but I do know what it feels like to lose someone, to be afraid, to worry. I want my few words to be comforting, positive and hopeful.

The Bible has a lot to say about pain and suffering. Jesus is described as a man of sorrows; He knows what if feels like to be lonely, rejected, mocked and tortured. Many of the psalms are vivid descriptions of the authors’ fears, despair and pain. Many of those who wrote and are written about in the Bible experienced great loss and prolonged suffering.

Through all of the sorrow and challenge in the Bible runs a long and unbroken thread of hope; the hope of a better life, of an eternal home, of a promised Messiah, of blessing, of purpose. The hope spoken of and demonstrated in familiar Bible stories is not just a vague wish but also the absolute certainty that God has permitted every experience, good and bad. It is a sure hope for those who trust Him and believe in Jesus that God has a plan and His plan is for our good.

But, sometimes God’s Word is not welcomed or wanted and even openly opposed. It makes me profoundly sad that His words of comfort and strength cannot be shared and that is why it has been so difficult to sign the cards, to say the words. All the “acceptable” words, the “politically correct” words (whatever those are) have no real meaning or substance and everything the world offers is only temporary.

When I cannot share the hope of heaven, the love of God, His plan, His comfort, His peace, His presence, His eternal and greater purpose there truly is no meaningful hope I can offer, no words of lasting comfort.   Apart from God, from Jesus and His Word,

I got nothin’…

 

Whom have I in heaven but you and besides you I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:25, 26

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bursting the Bubble

Bubble – noun –anything lacking firmness, substance or permanence; an illusion or delusion.

Every day we get reminders our world is a dangerous place. Home invasions, car jacking’s, terrorist bombs are tragic and terrifying daily occurrences. Bomb sniffing dogs, home alarm systems, gates, fences, and security guards are in place to feed our cherished illusion of safety and security. We are shocked when these “foolproof” systems fail and rush to blame someone/thing/agency. Some of our safety nets are more ordinary and seem justifiable; investing for retirement, eating the right foods, not eating the “wrong” things, endless warning labels.

For three years Jesus had traveled, taught and lived in close and constant contact with his 12 disciples. He had told them His time with them was short; He knew He was hours away from betrayal and a horrific public death yet they still just did not get it (Luke 22:24 – 38). They continued to think Jesus was going to be a glorious and majestic King who would deliver the nation of Israel from Rome’s oppressive rule; their bubble was about to burst.

So they argue about which of them was regarded as the greatest (v24). Don’t you just love how easy it is to relate to these men? How quickly the “self” and pride rears it’s ugly head? We hear about a co-workers promotion and, to our shame, our very first thought is, “Oh but I work just as hard/harder than they do!”

Peter, the disciple most likely to put his foot in his mouth, boldly declares that he is ready to follow Jesus to prison and death (v33) but Jesus knows his weakness and, very soon, Peter will know it too. God allows trials and testing to burst our bubble of self-confidence, independence and strength; to reveal our desperate need to depend on Him and to increase our faith.

Jesus reminds Peter (v35) of the time He had sent him out into the world with nothing yet, Peter was taken care of; Jesus kept the twelve close, in a bubble of protection and provision, they did not fully understand all He had told them and were ignorant of the future. That is all about to change.

The disciples point out the two swords they have in their possession and Jesus ends the discussion abruptly, “It is enough.” (v38)

What is “enough”? The swords? No way can two swords deter the well-trained and armed Roman soldiers. Talking? Was Jesus angry at their thick heads and foolishness, tired of explanations? I don’t think so. As I read this story again it struck me in a new way.

Jesus death and resurrection burst the bubble of safety; the veil was torn and access to the most holy place was exposed for all to see. The torn veil, truth exposed, means the moment of decision is at hand and each person must choose to accept or reject Jesus. The disciples were about to be sent out into their world to pour out all that Jesus had poured into them for the past years.

Like these men, we can choose; we can stay within our safety bubble or pick up our weapons, step out in faith and follow Jesus.

We delude ourselves by thinking earthly and man-made systems, walls and fences, big bank accounts and airport scanners keep us safe and secure.   We often live as if doing the “right thing” (whatever THAT is) gives us a guarantee and complete protection. The bubble of people-pleasing safety, of shortsighted living, of trusting emotions instead of truth, of trusting myself is the greatest illusion.

Jesus’ abrupt “enough” is His instruction to take my great treasure (Jesus Himself) and invest my time and energy in the only real security and safety; my guaranteed eternity in heaven.  My weapons (the Word and the Spirit) will sustain the life of faith I am called to live and tools I can and should share with anyone and everyone.

“Enough” is my daily challenge. Oh Lord, show me how to live a life that demonstrates my belief that You are enough. Keep my heart and mind focused only on You!

“The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You.” Isaiah 26:3

 

Keep it Light

DISSIPATION
noun
1.the act of dissipating.
2.the state of being dissipated; dispersion; disintegration.
3.a wasting by misuse: the dissipation of a fortune.
4.mental distraction; amusement; diversion.
5.dissolute way of living, especially excessive drinking of liquor;intemperance.
6.Physics, Mechanics. a process in which energy is used or lost without accomplishing useful work, as friction causing loss of mechanical energy.
If you knew a major storm was coming, what would be your words of warning and advice to your family and close friends?  Probably, you would give them some practical suggestions; store some food and water, gas up your car, maybe consider evacuating to safety.  Jesus, in Luke Chapter 21,  informs the disciples that devastating destruction is coming, He issues a storm warning.

“Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day will not come on you suddenly like a trap;”  Luke 21:34

Jesus warning to all His disciples is to prepare, to be on guard and alert, to live expectantly.  But His concern is not for the practical, the material, but for the heart…always the heart…

  • Not weighted down with dissipation – keep your heart from wasting itself on things that do not matter.  God created a wonderful world and He wants us to enjoy it but when fun becomes our priority we are left empty.
  • and drunkenness – avoid over-indulgence in anything and everything that replaces God in our affections.  Jesus is referring directly to becoming drunk on alcohol but we can become addicted to anything: shopping, TV, food, etc.
  • and the worries of life – when a heart is full of worry it is full of pain, unable to function well.  Life has many problems and challenges but God does not want us to worry ; He want us to trust Him in and for everything  (Matthew 6:25-34).

I love how Jesus groups these three “problem children” together – dissipation, drunkenness, and worry.  All result in wasted time, energy and effort.  Like a gerbil in a wheel, spinning at top speed, going nowhere. The only way to keep going is to go faster but it is a waste.  The combination of dissipation, drunkenness, and worry are like heavy rocks that we carry with us everywhere.  These burdens consume our energy and thoughts and become the focus of our lives.  We are so busy carrying the “rocks” we don’t pay attention to anything or anyone else.  Our hearts are dragged down, damaged and crushed by the weight…

Jesus’ storm warning causes me to look into my heart.  How much time do I waste in a day?  Time is NOT a renewable resource!  Is my energy focused on indulging myself or does it flow outward to others.  How do I “spend” my time and energy?  Am I more focused on people or on myself and things?  Does what I am doing bring me closer to God of pull me away from Him?  Worry, is the worst of the three in some ways.  It is so easy to convince ourselves that with all that is going on in the world, we should be worried.  There are so many terrible things that can happen, we feel like worry makes sense, right?  WRONG!  My worry always indicates my lack of trust in God’s plan, purpose and care in my life.  Worry is a gigantic weight around my neck that hurts my back, makes my heart work too hard, and paralyzes me, causing me to be useless and ineffective.   Worst of all, worry is a sign of unbelief…

Oh Lord, help me keep you first in my heart.  There is no substitute for you, anything but you is a shadow.  Help me to properly balance work, rest and the enjoyment of the life you have graciously given me.  Help me trust you and keep my mind at peace.  Keep me light-hearted…

 

My Two Cents

Ever been inside a large, crowded casino? It is an assault on the senses – colors, people and noise. Slot machines dominate with music, bells, beeps and the sound of coins. Coins dropping into the trays below with every win – over and over and over…

Jesus is in the temple of Jerusalem (Luke 20), teaching and preaching the gospel to the people. The temple would have been very crowded; it was days before the Passover, the highest holy day for Jews, many would have made the journey to the city to remember God’s deliverance of the Jews from Egyptian bondage with the Passover meal.

Jesus must be been in the Court of the Women, off to the side is the Temple Treasury. History records that the Temple Treasury was an area set apart to receive offerings. There were thirteen boxes set around the walls and each box had a large, trumpet-like opening; the faithful would put their coins into these trumpets. In my mind it must have sounded a lot like a casino floor minus the beeps and bells.   In the midst of all this noise, the press of people, Jesus notices a single woman (Luke 21).

A poor widow who puts her two tiny coins into the opening and walks away. The tiny tinkle made by her little coins was probably lost in the cacophony of the larger and more numerous coins of other givers yet Jesus sees and hears her. If the story ended right at that moment it would be enough for me because this incident is one of those that makes me love Jesus. Women in Jesus’ day were looked down upon, men did not speak or even look at women in public, they were on the edge of society but Jesus changed that – He spoke to women, He looked them in the eye, He treated women with respect and honor – I love this about Jesus!

Jesus also observed the rich putting their coins; He was watching HOW they gave. Many of them made a big show of their generosity; they wanted to be noticed and to be known as big givers. Jesus had just warned His disciples about these religious phonies who wanted the admiration of the people but “devoured” widows by taking advantage of their desperation.

Jesus commends the widow, not for the AMOUNT of her gift, but for it’s COST. Those two tiny coins were all she had to give and it cost her everything to give them. She gives in obedience and out of love, not seeking any notice or reward.  She had to work her way through the crowd to put her coins in, being jostled, and possibly scorned or mocked as she pushed up to the trumpet.

The widow’s gift causes me to examine my own heart towards giving. What is my true motivation for giving?  Do I only give when it is easy/comfortable? Do I give with a poor or begrudging attitude?   Is my gift for “show”, because I have to or because I want to.  Slot machines no longer accept or pay out in actual coins.  When you collect your winnings a paper receipt prints out which you can use in another machine or redeem for cash.  As the receipt is printing you hear the sound of coins dropping into a tray – it is an illusion, a sham.  Jesus saw what was phony, He saw what was real – Oh God, help me be real…

Search me, O God and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting…Psalm 139:23

 

Oh, Danny Boy…

Oh, Danny Boy!

Whenever we move from one year to another there are lists all over media…Top Stories, Funniest Moments, Most Influential People, etc. etc. you’ve seen them. I don’t mind confessing that I like lists; not only do I like these re-cap lists but I like the ones that tell you 10 Ways to Organize Your Closet, 6 Foods to Eat Now and I also like making lists. I make grocery lists, vacation lists, I have lists of restaurants I want to visit, books I have read, books I want to read – yep, I’m one of those!

Lists help me stay organized and focused, help me set personal goals, let me find things easily and, most important, remember stuff.   A well-written list is clear, exact, and brief. When life is very busy and chaotic, a list helps me feel like I have been productive as I cross off the “dones”.

Perhaps my little OLM (Obsessive List Making) may seem weird to you but it works for me and I think God must like lists too because His Word is full of them.  The Ten Commandments comes to mind as one of God’s most well known lists but recently I found an amazing list in the Book of Daniel.

As a young Israelite man, Daniel was taken to the land of Babylon to serve in the household of the king. He served for about 70 years and, in the Book of Daniel, he describes his experiences.

In Chapter 10, Daniel had been mourning, fasting and praying for 3 weeks.   He sees a vision of an amazing man dressed in linen with a face like lightening. The man speaks to him, calling him a man of high esteem (v11)…How did Daniel become “a man of high esteem”?!

Ready? Here’s the list, Daniel was:

DETERMINED – Daniel “made up his mind that he would not defile himself” – Daniel was a man of firm resolve, strong in mind, determined.

 OBEDIENT – He seeks permission from the commander to not defile himself – he obeyed earthly authority! He was bold, not afraid to speak to the authority over him when he knew he answered to God.

WISE – When the commander said he was afraid of his leaders, Daniel had a wise solution, “lets do a test!”

DEPENDED ON GOD – Daniel is asked to interpret the Kings dreams. By asking for time to consider the dream – he demonstrates wisdom. He consults his friends, he knows he needs support, together they ask God, he depends completely on God to supply. Chapter 2 has a wonderful prayer of praise to God, he was a man who knew the source of wisdom and blessing, he was humble.

GOOD INFLUENCE – Daniel’s three friends face a horrible test when they are ordered to worship a statue. Daniel’s example of strength much have been a good influence.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abnego refuse to worship the statue and are thrown into a raging inferno, they trust God to deliver them.

COMPASSIONATE – The king has a dream and God gives Daniel the interpretation. Daniel is appalled by the meaning of this dream and wishes, for Nebuchadnezzer’s sake, that the dream did not apply to him, a man of caring and compassion!

HONORABLE AND HARD WORKING – There’s a new king on the throne.   It was common for a new ruler to kill any servants that might possibly be loyal to the old king. Not only did Daniel serve well, he distinguished himself. Daniel was accomplished, and worked hard with excellence.

PRAYERFUL – When the order is given to pray to the King, Daniel is found making his usual petitions and supplication to the Lord. Daniel was a man of consistent and disciplined prayer.

GUARDED HIS TONGUE – Daniel never speaks against those who plotted against him; he was a man of honor. He does not cry out or plead for mercy when put into the lion’s den, he trusted his God. When the pit is opened, he still honors the king who put him in there and gives glory to God. Daniels example caused this pagan king to praise the one true God and give the order that all should honor God.

KNEW THE WORD – Daniel read the Word (Chapter 9 – he reads the words of Jeremiah). He was a man of prayer and fasting. He was a man of confession who humbled himself before God and confessed the sins of the people. He was deeply grieved over sin. He knows God has allowed these difficult days and knows that God has the power to because of His great compassion.

Daniel, the man of high esteem, is given a wonderful promise. The angelic being tells him to “go your way to the end, then you will enter into rest and rise again for your allotted portion at the end of the age.” Daniel 12:13

Daniel obeyed and honored God all his life. There is no record of his ever asking for anything for himself yet God gifted him with great wisdom, gave him favor with 3 different rulers/kings and preserved his life. Over and over Daniel consistently demonstrates wisdom, integrity, humility, obedience and devotion to God.

Want to be a person of High Esteem? Be a Daniel!

 

When Your World Quakes…

Before…

Routine keeps me on time, on task, nothing forgotten.  Mental to-do list of who, what, where, when and how.  Small warning signs of trouble may be ignored but this time, God was speaking, preparing for the test and trial.  I knew something was coming, I did not know what.  Easy to praise the Lord when life is going according to my plan but much too easy to coast and think, “I got this…”

During…

The major interruption.  The unexpected, unplanned, unanticipated event; not on my schedule.  All routine out the window, calendar useless, reminders, lists, obligations, email alerts all ignored.

The cords of death encompassed me, and the torrents of ungodliness terrified me. The cords of Sheol surrounded me; the snares of death confronted me. Psalm 18:4, 5

Trying to breathe, to remain calm, to put two coherent thoughts together.  Who to call/text?  There is one, the One who is above all others.  In these moments, I can only fall at His feet.  Heart pounding, I open His Word…

“I love You, O Lord, my strength.” The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. … In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried to my God for help; He heard my voice out of His temple,
and my cry for help before Him came into His ears.Psalm 18:1 – 3, 6

This enemy is bigger than any ever imagined and foundations are cracking, rendered powerless, without knowledge, adrift without a schedule or plan to follow.  Refusing to dwell on what might happen, what could happen, what is the worst that could happen; choosing to focus on the One Who gave His permission for this trial, this test.

Then the earth shook and quaked; and the foundations of the mountains were trembling and were shaken, … He bowed the heavens also, and came down with thick darkness under His feet. He rode upon a cherub and flew; and He sped upon the wings of the wind. Psalm 18:7, 9 – 10

God rushes in, He allows every earthquake to accomplish His purposes and He stands at the epicenter with His arms wide.  He gives strength to bear my burden, He sends Aarons and Hurs to keep my arms strong and heart lifted to Him.

He sent from on high, He took me; He drew me out of many waters.
He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my stay. He brought me forth also into a broad place; He rescued me, because He delighted in me. Psalm 18:16 – 19

The quake was strong, intense and thankfully short.  There were aftershocks that occurred without warning; they were accompanied by shortness of breath, sleeplessness, loss of appetite and ability to focus, a constant sense of anxiety.  God, His character, His Word, His Truth needed to be repeated, often, and deeply planted to recognize and reject the lies, to slow the breathing, to quiet the mind.

As for God, His way is blameless; the word of the Lord is tried; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him. For who is God, but the Lord?
And who is a rock, except our God, the God who girds me with strength and makes my way blameless? He makes my feet like hinds’ feet, and sets me upon my high places. He trains my hands for battle, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You have also given me the shield of Your salvation, and Your right hand upholds me; and Your gentleness makes me great. You enlarge my steps under me, and my feet have not slipped. Psalm 18:30 – 36

After…

Back on schedule with minor, manageable, interruptions; they are welcome after all the rocking and rolling.  God chose to deliver and give what was requested, He was gracious and merciful to me.  Ultimately He gave the one thing He always and consistently gives, His gave according to His will and purpose.  Would I be praising the Lord as much if my request did not agree with His will?  Difficult to say, I like to think I would and I know I would trust Him to lead me through whatever He allows and I know there will always be another quake. Lord, help me continue to sing…

The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock; and exalted be the God of my salvation, … He delivers me from my enemies; surely You lift me above those who rise up against me..Therefore I will give thanks to You among the nations, O Lord, and I will sing praises to Your name. Psalm 46 – 49

What’s That Smell?

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things?  For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God. 2 Corinthians 2:14 – 17

Sometimes when I am reading I wonder why the author wrote what he/she wrote?  I just wish I could ask the author to clarify what I am reading so I can understand it better; to explain to me what the words on the page mean and what difference they should make in my life.   God, who inspired men to write the Bible has given that gift to His children.  As I read The Word I can have an immediate, on-going dialogue with the author, God, as I reading – no other book, no other author can do that, no other book or author even invites that ceaseless conversation.

So, when given the assignment to read and pray through the verses above from 2 Corinthians, I knew I had some questions that I needed God to answer:

  • How do I “manifest the sweet aroma of Him in every place”?
  • How do I become “the fragrance of Christ”?
  • Or in simpler terms – How can I smell like Jesus to everyone, everywhere, all the time?

Aromatherapy is not a new thing but for some reason using essential oils for theraputic purposes seems to be enjoying renewed popularity among many women I know so I started to think about how these oils are made.  Most of them are made by pressing or crushing organic materials to extract the fragrant oil they contain; sometimes heat is applied to release the fragrance; the resulting essential oil has a powerful and pervasive smell.  The oil is not released on it’s own; the perfumer applies the pressure and must know when and how to apply the correct pressure. God was showing me that crushing is required and the original material will be destoyed but the result is a sweet aroma.

God kept answering my questions by reminding me that pleasant fragrances are attractive, they make me want more, they can be comforting and soothing. Fragrance has the power to bring back memories and the sense of smell is more effective than any other senses in bringing back past experiences.  An aroma is invisible, like a breeze it moves through unseen but if not refreshed somehow it can become stale or lose strength.

Then God said, “Turn here…”

Therefore, thus says the Lord,
“If you return, then I will restore you—
Before Me you will stand;
And if you extract the precious from the worthless,
You will become My spokesman. Jeremiah 15:19

Here was another part of my answer.  I need to allow God to transform me into a new person by changing the way I think (Romans 12:2). God will separate the precious from the worthless as I am “crushed”, purified and refined.  My part is to return to Him, read His Word, talk to Him about His Word and ask Him to seal His Word in my mind and heart.  God is the master perfumer, as He is applying pressure, the fragrance of Christ will be released and I will be able to “manifest the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Christ” as Jesus flows through me and I speak and act like Him, becoming His spokeswoman.

Those who catch a whiff of my “Jesus fragrance” will have one of two responses; they will be offended because it smells like death and judgment to them or they will be delighted because they recognize the smell of life.  But the way my fragrance is perceived by others is not up to me because it is not me pouring it out but Jesus!  I am completely free to stand and allow my sweet aroma to flow everywhere I go and to breathe it back in again.  Any time my scent weakens He will restore it to full strength!

God gives me a choice, will I turn to Him and trust Him to extract the sweet aroma of Christ His way or will I continue to go my own, unscented or worse, malodorous, way.

Or in simpler terms – my fragrance can either be sweet and proclaim Christ or it can stink things up!

What’s that smell?  JESUS!  Yeah – ain’t it sweet!

Small but Powerful

Down here is sunny Florida we have bugs galore, big bugs, small bugs, bugs that fly, crawl, infest and terrify.  I know bugs have a purpose and I don’t mind them as long as they stay on their side of the wall – the outside!  Not too long ago I opened a drawer and spotted a cockroach.  I was helping a customer at the time and I was pretty proud of myself that I kept my cool, closed the drawer and moved further down the counter!  But no way was I going to open that drawer again so I nabbed the first male co-worker available and he tossed that monster outside and stomped him good – go team!!!

Ezra is one of the lesser known men of the Bible.  In the Old Testament, the Book of Ezra is between 2 Chronicles and Nehemiah.  The Book of Ezra is fairly short and easy to skip and Ezra is not even mentioned until chapter 7.

Know Who You Are

Ezra is a Levite, a direct descendant of Aaron, a scribe who was skilled in the Law of Moses.  Ezra knew WHO he was and WHOSE he was.  The King gave Ezra all he requested because the hand of the Lord HIS God was upon him (Ezra 7:6).  Ezra travels to Jerusalem because the good hand of the Lord HIS God was upon him (Ezra 7:9)

Set Your Goal

Why was Ezra for blessed?  Verse 10, Ezra had SET HIS HEART to Study, Practice and Teach the Law of the Lord – Ezra loved the Word of God and he had made up his mind to read, study, live and teach the Word.  Ezra knew the importance of knowing God through His Word.

Lead by Example

Ezra knows God is giving him the strength he will need to make this 5 month journey to Jerusalem along with the priests, men, women, children, goods and supplies he is bringing to Jerusalem.  He stops near a river where he gathers ALL THE PEOPLE to humble themselves before God, fast and pray, seeking God and His protection.

Lead Humbly

Upon arrival in Jerusalem, Ezra is informed that  the priests and Levites in Jerusalem had intermarried with the women who “lived in the land”.  God had instructed the people of Israel not to do this; they were only to marry other Israelites, they were to keep themselves separate from the people who were native in that land.  Ezra is devastated to hear this news and some of the people who had traveled with him “trembled at the words of the God of Israel” (Ezra 9:4).  Ezra’s prayer in Chapter 9 shows Ezra’s love and devotion to HIS God, he:

  • Admits and confesses his shame and the sin and guilt of the people
  • Praises God’s grace in leaving a faithful remnant
  • Thanks God for revival and His lovingkindness
  • Recognizes God’s righteousness and right to judge the people’s sin.

I love Ezra’s honesty in this prayer.  He pours it all out to God, he holds nothing back. He completely trusts God to do what is just and right and relies on God’s goodness and mercy.  The sin of the people broke his heart and it should break ours too. Ezra talks it all out with God BEFORE he talks to the leaders and the people.  This is great reminder to me to talk to God first about everything and listen to what God says before I seek wisdom from any other source!

Make the Tough Call

One of the priests comes to Ezra and says, “Arise! For this matter is your responsibility, but we will be with you; be courageous and act.” (Ezra 10:4)  Ezra knows what he must do.  He makes a proclamation and the people agree  to put away (divorce) their foreign wives.  He selects leaders to investigate and make a list of those who had committed this transgression.  Ezra makes the tough call to follow God and not what is easy, comfortable or socially acceptable.

Peer pressure is a powerful force and it is easier to follow the crowd.  God wanted the people of Israel to be set apart to holiness; God’s standards do not change, His people today are to be set apart to holiness.  I need to stand apart from the world, to live in the world but not be of the world.  Ezra takes decisive and difficult action to remove the sin; he does not hesitate.  His action seems harsh and it is but when God says, “Stop” there cannot be compromise or partial obedience; it must be all or nothing!  That cockroach was in the wrong place at the wrong time and he was messing with the wrong people.  He looked big in the drawer but pretty small squashed on the sidewalk!

Like most men of his time, Ezra was probably small in stature.  In addition to Chapters 7 – 10 of the Book of Ezra, he is mentioned several times in the Book of Nehemiah and then disappears from the Bible.  He helped rebuild the temple of Jerusalem and may have worked on the wall alongside Nehemiah.  Compared to many other men and women in God’s Word, his accomplishments were not so big.  Ezra did not seek to be in a position of leadership and responsibility, he knew God had placed him there and he knew God would lead him step by step and this made him a powerful and influential leader.  All of us are leading in some fashion and like Ezra, it is a lot easier to lead when you know who you are following.  So stay outside you cockroaches – I’m wearing boots to work from now on!

Pardon the Interruption – Luke 8

When my kids were young I had two wishes, 1. to finish a cup of coffee while it was still hot and, 2. to take an uninterrupted shower.  Two simple wishes that I think every parent or caregiver of young kids understands.  Is it a law that my phone will only ring when I it is on the other side of the room and I am sitting in my favorite comfy chair AND it is just a  phone solicitation?  Is there a bulletin that goes out saying, “She’s reading, start your conversation now!”  Why are these little interruptions so darn interrupting?

After being asked to leave the swine herders, Jesus gets a warm welcome at his next stop, (Luke 8:40) where He is met by a man named Jairus,  Unlike the Gerasene demoniac, Jairus was an important and highly respected man.  He is also a desperate man, a loving father whose daughter is dying.  He falls at Jesus feet, pleading for Jesus to come and heal his daughter.  I understand Jairus desperation; God taught me how to pray as I prayed for my children, when they were sick, when they were struggling, when they rebelled.  In those times, I prayed fervently and without ceasing, often without words but with groans and tears.  Desperation will drive you to your knees at the feet of Jesus and there is no better place to be!  Jairus came humbly but also confidently; he expected Jesus to answer, he expected Jesus to act.  When we lay it all down before Jesus we can have that same confidence; that if what we ask is in His will, He will hear and answer, how glorious!

BUT…

…an interruption…

A woman pushes and shoves her way through the crush of people and touches the fringe of Jesus’ cloak.  The briefest touch by a single finger and a quick withdrawal but Jesus notices – He always notices.  I love that about Jesus!  I am very goal oriented, I can be so focused on my agenda, my “to-do” list, that I miss the people around me, I miss an opportunity to give a kind or encouraging word.  If I am not listening to God’s voice, I can see interruptions as annoyances and not as divine appointments.

Jesus not only notices her, He draws attention to her and she is forced to proclaim her shame.  The hemorrhage would have made her “unclean” and unable to worship in the temple.  During her 12 years of suffering, she endured much at the hands of physicians and spent all she had seeking a cure.  And she shares the news of the immediate, miraculous healing she just experienced to the crowd – she must have been smiling as she told this good news.

In the meantime, Jairus is waiting.  Jairus knows every second counts, his daughter, his only daughter, is dying – why is Jesus taking so long?  So, another…

…interruption…

News comes, the worst news, Jairus’ daughter has died.  “Don’t trouble the teacher”,  (Luke 8:49) in other words, don’t bother Jesus, we don’t need Him any more.  Jesus always knows what is best and His timing is perfect; He knows what we think, He knows how we feel so He tells Jairus not to be afraid, He will make his daughter well.  Jesus goes to Jairus’ house.  The mourners laugh; it can be easier to laugh than to accept Jesus words as true and I wonder how foolish they felt when Jairus’ daughter got up!

Jesus orders that someone get her something to eat.  Jesus is both miraculous and practical.  This reminds me that after an amazing encounter with Jesus, I need to get back to the everyday business of living life, a changed life, a new life, an ordinary, interrupted life made extraordinary by Jesus!

Dead Man Walking – Luke 8

Have you ever eaten those frozen pot pies?  I have not eaten one in years but I used to love the chicken ones.  One of my early cooking attempts was baking a couple of them for an easy summer dinner for the family.  I had put a few of them on a cookie sheet and anxiously waited for them to finish baking.  As I took them out of the oven my hand brushed the pan.  I recoiled and dropped the pot pies, spilling them on the door of the oven and the floor, the pies exploded.  The contents hit my bare legs (I had shorts on) and it felt like hot lava. I screamed and jumped back – too late.  I had second and third degree burns on my upper left thigh.  For a long time I was afraid to use the oven.

Jesus has just calmed the storm in Luke 8 and in verse 26, Jesus and his disciples are back in the boat.  I can tell you that after being in those waves and wind the last thing I would have wanted to do was get back into the boat but that is not Jesus.  He goes where and when His father tells Him and the safest place to be is with Jesus.  They land in the Gadara (or Gerasene depending on your translation) and meet a demon possessed man.  Jesus does not seem surprised or dismayed by this man or his appearance – Jesus knows what is going on with him; He knows what is going on with me.

Luke 8 and Mark 5 taken together paint a picture of a man who was seemed more inhuman than human.  The man was naked and incredibly strong, he had been bound with chains but they could not hold or subdue him.  He was scarred and bleeding; he cut himself with sharp stones.  He screamed constantly.  He lived in the tombs among the dead bodies.  There is no record of how long he suffered in this condition but I picture his filthy, matted hair and beard and the nearly visible stench of his unwashed body and of death.  I would have recoiled and fled in terror. Jesus strides in; this is the fearless, warrior Jesus who has come to fight for this lost man, the Jesus who will come back to fight for His bride, who fights for me.

The demons possessing the man cry out when they see and recognize Jesus and they call Him by name, Jesus, Son of the Most High God.  These evil creatures know who He is yet how many in that day, how many today, still do not recognize Him, refuse to recognize Him.  Someday every knee will bow as they recognize Him when He comes again in glory and power.  The demons would rather be sent into some nearby pigs than sent into the abyss, the place of eternal torment.  It is sad to hear some today claim that they are not afraid of hell, that they prefer hell to heaven; these demons know what that really means, they understood the seriousness and the finality of eternal separation from God.

The herdsman run away, full of fear.  The townspeople come to investigate and ask Jesus to leave.  What are they all afraid of? Losing the pigs and the income they represented?  Are they afraid of change?  A genuine encounter with Jesus will cause a change and some are more focused on what they may have to give up than on what they might gain by yielding to Christ; fear holds many back but perfect love casts out fear and Jesus love is so perfect!  So Jesus leaves, He will not stay where He is not wanted.

The man, now dressed and in his right mind, begs to go with Jesus, but Jesus instructs him to go back to his home, to tell of the great things Jesus had done.  I am so glad this story is recorded for us.  Once upon a time, I was one of the walking dead. I was afraid that if I trusted Jesus I might lose out on the fun of life; I worried about what I might have to give up.   I was in chains and full of scars, now I am free in Christ, He broke the chains, He bears my scars.  All around me are dead men, and women, but they don’t know that apart from Christ they are dead.  Jesus came intentionally to the demon possessed man of Gadara to heal his mind, his tortured spirit, to set him free.  Jesus comes today to heal and free the captives, to bring those walking in eternal death to eternal life.  Only Jesus can do this, only Jesus…