Back At It!

One thing about life that I know for certain is that nothing is certain!  Life suddenly got crazy busy and I found that there was little time and no energy for writing or reading and commenting on others’ blogs but, happy to say, I’m back…

Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it?  Lamentations 3:37

One of the most challenging truths of the Christian life is knowing that nothing happens without God’s permission.  The good, the bad, the ugly, the bitter and the sweet – any and all of it, God allows in our lives.

You probably know the story of Job; he is the supreme example of a man whom God allowed to be tested and tried with every possible calamity.  A man upright and blameless, God permits Satan to test him.  First, much of Job’s livestock is stolen and the rest burned; the raiders kill all but one of the servants responsible for watching and caring for the herds of oxen, donkeys, sheep and camels.  Next, Job’s seven sons and three daughters die when a windstorm causes the collapse of the house where they were having dinner. Job is then afflicted with sores over his entire body and his wife, in her grief, tells Job to curse God and die – being dead has got to be better than being in this mess!

But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.  Job 2:10

And that is the key, we believe the lie and the liar who whispers that a God who is really good would never allow trouble, grief, struggles or pain into our lives.  The same liar that persuaded Eve to bite the fruit tries to convince us that a “little” sin is ok because God does not want us to be “unhappy”.

Now don’t miss this, over and over the Bible gives examples of people pleading with God to relieve their pain and suffering and God answers; much of Jesus’ ministry was devoted to healing.  Job honestly poured his heart out to God and asked Him more than once why he had even been born.  God knows it all, there is no point in holding anything back from Him so pray for your difficult circumstances to change and remember that God may want to change you.

I know God has allowed me to learn more about myself during trials than at any other times.  I have learned how dependent I am on Him, how weak I am, how much pride is hidden in my heart.  Adversity has shown me my strength, helped me understand His grace, and developed my faith in Him.  Pressing through adversity with acceptance brings Him glory.

Yep, the past few weeks have been busier than usual with a lot of things, many of them really great and memorable; all of them an opportunity to witness God’s goodness all the time.  Thanks God, for ALL of it!

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…

Men of Issachar

Media is blowing up with news, controversy and opinions on Caitlyn/Bruce Jenner and the Duggar family.  Arguments and accusations fly back and forth.  Christians are accused of hiding truth, of being judgmental.   Some Christians are appalled and angry at the situation and the generalizations of Christians as unkind and unloving; other Christians cry that America is worse than Sodom and Gomorrah.  It can be difficult to know how to respond amidst the confusion.

David, the great King of Israel, was able to achieve his many battle victories because of God’s blessing and his faithful followers; his Mighty Men.  1 Chronicles 12 describes the Mighty Men as men who were:

  • Ambidextrous – could handle weapons with both right and left hands.
  • Well-trained.
  • Faces like lions.
  • Swift as gazelles.
  • The least of which was equal to 100 “regular” men, the greatest equal to 1,000.
  • Strong and brave swimmers, crossing the Jordan when it was at flood stage.

Two groups of men in particular capture my attention:

  • Sons of Issachar were few in number, only 200, but they are commended as men who understood the times and had knowledge of what to do, and,
  • the men of Zebulun who had undivided hearts.

Oh God, I pray that you would make me like the Sons of Issachar, a woman who understands the times in which I live. Help me to know when to speak and when to stay silent.  Help me to know how to respond;  that my words would be seasoned with salt and useful to those who hear them.  That I would not hesitate to speak truth from Your Word and that I would be a grace-extender in accordance with the great grace I have received.

Oh God, help me to be like the men of Zebulun, that my heart would be totally dedicated to following You as these men followed David.  Help Your church to be unified in purpose; to know You and to make You known.  

Oh God, help me, help all of Your followers, to be found worthy of being called by Your name; of being called Christian.

Woman Without a Name

Prospective parents spend hours discussing and researching the right name for their little ones. Countless books and websites as well as friends and family are full of helpful  suggestions, opinions and ideas. Your name identifies who you are but actually tells very little about the whole person.   Due to marriage, divorce and remarriage, my name, like the names of many other women, has actually changed a few times. Unless a person is really important to you or it is someone you see frequently, their name is easily and quickly forgotten.

The book of 2 Kings, tells of a woman of Shunem. This woman is mentioned in Chapters 4 and again in Chapter 8; we are never told her name, she is referred to always and only as “the Shunammite”.

She is a prominent woman but we are not told how this came to be (2 Kings 4:8). She is hospitable, inviting Elisha to dine and building a small room for his exclusive use when he is in her neighborhood (2 Kings 4:10). She is content; when Elisha asks how he can repay her kindness she asks for nothing. She is childless and her husband is elderly; Elisha tells her she will embrace a son next year (2 Kings 4:16). She is courageous, calm, and determined, when her son dies, she tells no one and rides quickly to Elisha (2 Kings 4:20 – 27). She is humble and grateful; Elisha comes to her home, restores her son to life; she falls at his feet in gratitude (2 King 4:37). Some time passes and Elisha warns the Shunammite woman to leave her home and find a new place wherever she can; a seven-year famine is coming. She is wise and obedient; she does not hesitate, she leaves immediately and settles in the land of the Philistines for seven years (2 Kings 8:1, 2). She is bold, upon her return she appeals to the King for the return of her house and property (2 Kings 8:3). She is honest, the King, hearing about her, asks her to tell her story; her story matches what he had been told and the King not only restores her property but orders that she be given any produce from the seven years she was away (2 Kings 8:6)

In a time of plenty, the Shunammite is generous. In a time of sorrow, she is purposeful and controlled. Given a gift she is grateful, given advice she listens. During a time of want she is not afraid but takes practical and decisive action. She is known, recognized, recorded and remembered as a woman with no name but of vast integrity.  I believe God purposefully does not tell us her name because He wants the focus on what matters; on her actions and character. She could be “Anywoman”.  The story of this woman without a name makes me wonder how people would describe me.  I pray that my character is worthy of remembrance and imitation long after my name is forgotten and that God would transform me from the inside out, conforming me to His image. I know that when I get to heaven God will give me a new name, the perfect name – I can’t wait!

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it. Revelation 2:17

Mukuntuweap – Stand Straight Land

Years ago I took one of those self-assessment tests.  This particular test was intended to help you understand what to do or where you need to be to feel close to God; the idea is that once you know this about yourself you need to go and do that activity or be in that place – often and regularly.  My assessment told me I hear God best when I am studying His Word and feel especially close to Him when I am out in nature.

This week I was able to combine both when I visited Zion National Park in Utah.  Mukuntuweap, or Stand Straight Land, is the name given to this area by the Paiute Indian people.

As the sun was rising over the peaks of this Stand Straight Land, I turned to Psalms to help me praise the Lord…

“Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God has shone forth.”  Psalm 50

“May the Lord bless you from Zion, He who made the heaven and the earth.” Psalm 134

“The Lord will reign forever, Your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the Lord.”  Psalm 146

…and my favorite…

“How blessed is the man whose strength is in You; in whose heart are the highways to Zion.”  Psalm 84:5

Later that same day, hiking the Kayenta Trail to the Lower Emerald Pool, I was brought to tears by the beauty of this place and how blessed I felt to see and experience a small part of it.  Every few steps I had to stop and gaze at the surrounding rocks and landscape.  Really that is what Zion is, just rocks, trees, tall rock walls, many rising straight up from the ground, and if you’ve seen one rock you’ve seen them all right?

But if Zion and places like it are not such a big deal, just bunches of old rocks, why do people travel from around the world to spend time here?  There are places that are much more accessible, much easier to walk in.  There are temperature controlled places so you are neither too hot or too cold.  It is work to get to the spots with the breath-taking views and other people have already been there and done that so you could just look at their photos and YouTube videos and save yourself some time, money and effort.

I think a lot of people are like me; they long to be in a place where they can feel close to God and that place is in His creation.  Not all of these people know that God is drawing them.  Some will deny this reason.  But something larger than ourselves draws us to see and personally experience beautiful places and the spend time outdoors.  That “something larger” is God and now part of my heart remains on the highway to Zion, among the incredible and beautiful rocks of Stand Straight Land.

“My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.”

Tri-focal – Now Choose

On another Sabbath He entered the synagogue and was teaching; and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find reason to accuse Him. But He knew what they were thinking, and He said to the man with the withered hand, “Get up and come forward!” And he got up and came forward. And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to destroy it?” After looking around at them all, He said to him, “Stretch out your hand!”And he did so; and his hand was restored. But they themselves were filled with rage, and discussed together what they might do to Jesus.  Luke 6:6 – 11

When you encounter Jesus, you must choose and there are only two choices:

Come closer – the man with the withered hand came forward, he stood next to Jesus.  He turned away from the crowd and looked at Jesus with expectation.  He knew something was going to happen but he did not know what; he didn’t care, he just wanted to be near Jesus.  He chose Jesus; he chose healing and restoration.

Turn away – the Pharisees turned and whispered among themselves.  They rejected Jesus and rejected the truth of The Word.  They were full of rage and the trap they were hoping to use on Jesus revealed their hearts.  They chose to cling to their old life, a life of bitterness, anger, and self-righteousness.

Today is a good day to choose for yourself…

“If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve:” Joshua 24:15

Tri-focal – Part 3

On another Sabbath He entered the synagogue and was teaching; and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find reason to accuse Him. But He knew what they were thinking, and He said to the man with the withered hand, “Get up and come forward!” And he got up and came forward. And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to destroy it?” After looking around at them all, He said to him, “Stretch out your hand!”And he did so; and his hand was restored. But they themselves were filled with rage, and discussed together what they might do to Jesus.

Focus On – The Pharisees

The scribes and Pharisees were watching Him closely – good idea!!  Watching Jesus closely is so worthwhile, He is interesting, endearing and altogether lovely BUT why were they so interested? They hope to trap, accuse and persecute Jesus; their motives were all wrong.

But when Jesus puts the  focus is on them, they remain silent.  They have no answer to His direct question.  They claim they are the defenders and teachers of the law; they should know it perfectly.  Why don’t they answer?

A withered hand is restored and the Pharisees are filled with rage, not just frustrated and annoyed, enraged – why?  They just witnessed a miraculous healing, why aren’t they celebrating with the man and praising God?  Not the Pharisees, they whisper together, to them, people don’t matter, rules rule.  They would rather be plotting a trap for Jesus.

Christians are always being watched and the more public we are the more closely we are watched.  Pharisees watch hoping to catch Christ followers in sin, failure, or hypocrisy. Believers are not perfect and we will and do sin, fail and act like phonies and fools.  When we do, we need to be quick to ask for forgiveness from those we’ve offended, to admit our sin and failure, to make amends.

Oh Lord, help me to be aware that I am being watched.  Help me to live above reproach and when I fail to ask for forgiveness quickly.  Help me remember that I am not the target, Jesus is!  It is the reputation of Jesus Christ I need to uphold, it is the reputation of Jesus Christ that is being attacked and defamed. Lord, show me if I am ever being a “Pharisee”, if my attitude or words are judgmental or condemning, help me to be someone who extends grace .  Help me to walk in a manner worthy of being called by His name, Christian.

Tri-focal – Part 2

On another Sabbath He entered the synagogue and was teaching; and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find reason to accuse Him. But He knew what they were thinking, and He said to the man with the withered hand, “Get up and come forward!” And he got up and came forward. And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to destroy it?” After looking around at them all, He said to him, “Stretch out your hand!”And he did so; and his hand was restored. But they themselves were filled with rage, and discussed together what they might do to Jesus.

Focus on The Man

I have a large scar on the back of my right hand.  I have had this scar since I was a baby and in my younger years it was much larger and very obvious; it has gotten smaller with the passing of time.  I never think much about it unless someone notices and comments. I used to feel very self-conscious and uncomfortable whenever I was asked about it.

Jesus sees the man with the withered hand and tells him to come forward.  I can guess how the man feels, awkward and  uncomfortable, not wanting to be noticed, yet,the man does not hesitate.  Jesus could have healed the man from across the room but He wanted him to come close to Him.  What was it about Jesus that compelled the man to obey?  Whatever it was, I want that same “Jesus fragrance”.  I want to be someone who draws people closer to Jesus.  I want to stay close to Jesus, breathing deep of His aroma.

The man does not hesitate but walks forward; He makes the best decision and moves in the right direction – towards Jesus!  Oh God, help me to continually press in close to you!  The man was willing to be exposed before the crowd when he stretched out his hand and revealed his shame, his embarrassment.  When we expose our weakness, our shame, sin loses its power over us and God’s glory is displayed for all to see.

What did the man think was going to happen?  Jesus did not give a hint.  The man walked forward in faith.  He expected nothing and got everything!  Oh Lord, increase my withered faith to obey you immediately without caring what others think!

Up Next – Focus 3, The Pharisees