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Jan 22, 2022; Death Where is Your Sting

Posted on January 23, 2022 at 12:30 AM

Isaiah 57:1 tells us “The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil.” Charles Stanley says “we will never know until heaven how many godly men and women have died early in life as a result of God’s grace.”

 

Many times we view death as a punishment. Even those of us who are seasoned Christians will fight it tooth and nail, citing all the reasons why we should keep struggling against the inevitable ravages of time or illness. And I think God blesses our indomitable sense of survival – after all, He gave it to us. We are particularly baffled when God takes someone early, simply because we can’t understand the reason for it. But there comes a time when we must allow God to work how He sees fit. Just because His thoughts and ways are not ours, doesn’t make them punitive or imperfect.

 

Because at the end of the day, for Christian’s death is a reward for finishing the assignment God has given us here on earth. When He allows us the privilege of coming home, He’s saying “well done, good and faithful servant.” I know it can be difficult to view our immortality in that way, particularly when our time here (or that of someone we love) has been short. After all, we spend an inordinate amount of time trying to look and act younger, battling against the inevitable decline of the temporary tent we inhabit in this world.

 

But what a blessing is the passage in 1 Corinthians 15 that asks us “O death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” While our minds and bodies may long for life here and the comfort of what we are familiar with, we have the everlasting knowledge of what is to come. So, death is actually a victory and not a defeat!

 

I think a lot about what heaven will be like, particularly as I to come to grips with the temporary nature of my body. And while I don’t long for death, I’m not going to try and embrace or hasten it either. But being afraid of what is inevitable is just another type of bondage. Hebrews 2:5 tells us that we have been freed from the slavery of the fear of death.

 

It took me a minute to understand how we could be slaves to something that was embedded in us to give us a sense of self-preservation. But then I realized it’s not death itself that is the chain, it’s the fear of it that is the problem. There’s a difference between fighting the inevitable and working with the knowledge that the end is inevitable.

 

Many cultures honor death but don’t really embrace the fact that it, too, is temporary. It’s simply a step between this world and the next. What an honor and a comfort we have in knowing that when we draw our last breath here on earth, the next one we fill our lungs with will be in the presence of our King. There’s an old hymn, written by Jim Hill, that says:

 

What a day that will be when my Jesus I shall see

 

When I look upon His face – the one who saved me by His grace

 

When He takes me by the hand and leads me through the Promised Land

 

What a day, glorious day that will be

 

So, for today let’s live as if these are our last moments here on earth, but secure in the knowledge that it is only a small step into our glorious and perfect future. Death – where IS your sting?

Be blessed, my Friend.  God is on the throne.

 

 

January 1, 2022 Changes and Challenges

Posted on January 1, 2022 at 1:00 PM

Have you ever heard the expression, “the more things change the more they stay the same?” If I had to choose one sentence to describe life, this would be it. And what a challenge it can be to embrace the inconsistency of our human condition.

 

In a blink, our children go from toddlers to teenagers and our whole world is upended. What fifteen years? Wasn’t it just fifteen minutes ago that we were changing their diapers and they were looking up to us with complete trust that we were the only living superhero?

 

One moment we have our loved one to laugh with, and the next they have gone on to heaven and all the things we had planned to do ‘someday’ is no longer possible. A flash and our plans are forever altered, our reality is skewed, and we’ve been thrust along a pathway we never anticipated and certainly wouldn’t have chosen.

 

Here we are at the beginning of a brand-new year, and there has been a lot of sarcasm about things getting worse rather than better. We found ourselves in the middle of an incomprehensible mess in 2020, it was carried over to 2021, and now we’re bitterly talking about it being twenty-twenty-too. Like the movie “Groundhog Day” it feels like we’re just reliving the same nightmare over and over and over.

 

The truth is the more things change the more they stay the same. From the time our ancestors were removed from Eden, the constancy of perfection that was taken for granted was no longer available. Even blessings, like the birth of a child, involve some sorrow and pain. We want to blame God for the many things we can’t understand but the truth is, mankind introduced pain into life -- not God.

 

But God still stepped in as our Rescuer. He can turn those changes we dread into challenges that will cause us to experience a different blessing. That defining moment in time that makes us feel like the earth has spun off it’s axis can also be the very second that God moves to give us something we need to grow and evolve. Because really, without change everything will eventually whither and die. And that in itself can be a change.

 

So, while we can’t always understand the whys and wherefores of the scariest transitions in our lives, we can cling to the sure knowledge that we’re not facing them alone. In Deuteronomy 31:6 God told the people of Israel to ‘Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” God’s children were facing the fiercest of battles, but they were told they would be victorious despite great obstacles. In Hebrews 13:5 those same words are repeated -- “I [God] will never leave you nor forsake you.”

 

I have no idea what challenge (read change) that we may be facing as this bright shiny new year kicks off, but I know it will have a measure of pain as well as joy. And I also know that ‘although we walk through the shadow of death, we don’t need to fear…” So, let’s make a resolution to keep walking – not pitch a tent and wallow in our despair.

 

God is always breaking new soil in our lives, and that means some things must be plowed under for the new growth to occur. We don’t have to pretend to be happy about it, or even try and make it take on some sense, but we need to trust in the many promises that whatever we’re going through we are not alone.

 

My theme verse for this coming year is 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. I would invite you to learn it, work to let go of whatever is causing you pain and fear, and hold to its great assurance. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed (read changed) day by day. For our light affliction (I know it does NOT feel light), which is but for a moment (in God’s time), is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

 

Remember -- in the change is a challenge. Let go, LOOK UP, and let God -- new day, new start, fresh blessings.

 

 

 

Happy New Year my Friend, God is on the throne!

December 25, 2021 His Will, His Way

Posted on December 25, 2021 at 6:55 PM

I hope that today you are enjoying the loving laughter of family and eating more food than is technically good for you. But many are in a position where they are just struggling to find a warm place to land. Last night we had an intruder at the church. The young woman didn't come to do any harm, she was just looking for warmth. As I watched the police gently work with her, I couldn't help but wonder where her family was, and what circumstance had brought her to push her way into a closed church door.

 

In moments of lucidity, does she wonder what happened to get her so off track? I know that, while my life is fairly ordered and stable, I can't help but question whether I've done everything just the way God had planned. What if I had chosen differently? Would I have been richer, smarter, more successful or famous? I'm guessing these questions aren't one that I face on my own. Do you wonder sometimes if God’s will for your life is a big deep dark secret that you may never know? I struggle with embracing the fact that God’s will for my life is not only in the big picture, but in the small everyday details of my existence. And sometimes the road He chooses can be bumpy and rough.

 

We tend to want to make God a big mystery, full of grand gestures and miracles, gold dust falling from the sky for no apparent reason and grandiose and fathomless power. He is all that and more, but He is also the God who sees us as we are, and loves us anyway.

 

He’s the God who created the clouds and the cockroaches (both literally and metaphorically). He’s the God of the big and small blessings. We wonder where He could possibly be when our prayers aren’t answered in a miraculous and awe-inspiring way, all the while forgetting that He is continually answering our prayers, and attending to our needs, in small but mighty ways.

 

So often we ask God “why” something is happening, forgetting that He is looking at a huge picture and moving the puzzle pieces around for our good and for the good of everyone. We don’t always get to know “why.” But like 3-year old's, we will keep asking, driving ourselves crazy looking for an answer that may never come.

 

Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do good things happen to bad people? There may be no answer on this side, except one. We can always lean on the promises of God. His Word is His will. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and He will make straight your paths.” That straight path may be a long way ahead, but His hand is always guiding us in the right direction if we will just fill our minds with His perfect Word.

 

Peace is sometimes difficult to achieve, and even when we do find it, it can be hard to maintain. But if we remember that it’s not our will, but God’s will, we can rest in the assurance that He’s watching our every step and working out the details for our good. When you’re feeling weak, hang on to that promise. CeCe Wynans released a song a few years ago that says, in part:

 

His strength is perfect when our strength is gone

 

He’ll carry us when we can’t carry on

 

Raised in His power the weak become strong

 

His strength is perfect

 

His strength is perfect

 

Even in the hardship, God is the one who has the reins firmly in hand. Being in His will simply means seeking His will.  

Be blessed, my Friend.  God is on the throne.

 

 

Dec 18, 2021 The Plan

Posted on December 18, 2021 at 11:20 AM

Sometimes things don’t go exactly as we’ve planned. We get busy with this or that, trip over the dog and break a bone, have a little less in the bank than we’d thought, or just have a fussy toddler that doesn’t want to cooperate with us leaving for church in the morning. And those are just the little things.

Then there’s the big stuff. A life-threatening medical diagnosis or death in the family, the loss of a job or home, hurricane, earthquake, and war. The one thing we can count on is that there is nothing we can actually count on. Well… nothing that is, except God.

We can stand on the promise that God knows the plan, even though our human flesh really REALLY wants to participate in the process and, if we’re completely honest, the decision making. It’s a lot easier to talk about leaping off the cliff, hanging onto faith as our anchor, than it is to make our feet move in whatever direction God is telling us to go.

I think my biggest problem is with that word PLAN. I’m a preparer by nature, and I want to have everything mapped out in a sequence that makes perfect sense to me. When things get a bit out of order, I can give in to worry and confusion. But I’ve come to the conclusion that faith isn’t just about doing, sometimes it’s about not doing.

As much as it feels uncomfortable, there are going to be times when we need to stop, take a breath, and let God do all the orchestrating. Otherwise, the voice in our head (our own by the way) can become so loud we stop hearing what He wants from us. Psalm 31:15 says “my times are in Your hands…” In other words, all the happenings and circumstances of our lives are being held in the protection of our Father’s most capable care.

We tend to pull from that verse that our time, our mortality, is in God’s hands. While that’s true, we need to remember that every moment is in His control. Our times: every single circumstance, heartbeat, panicked moment, second of joy and pain. The only one who feels our ups and downs as much as we do is Abba Father.

During those hours when our hearts are overflowing with the ‘what-if’s’ in life, we must remember that we can put all our trust into God’s hands. As 1 John 3:20 tells us, “God is greater than our heart, and He knows everything.”

We can be the best planner in the world, but God is the ultimate Director. Proverbs 16:9 says “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” In other words, we can do all the preparing we want, and I think He is even pleased with our willingness to be ready, but the actual walk is going to have to be determined by His lead if we are to stay in fellowship with Him.

But there is a real blessing in the lack of control that has most of us so anxious. Our great Father doesn’t just have a plan for us, but it is – as stated in Jeremiah 29 – one that is designed to prosper us, to give us hope, and to give us a future. And praise God, that future is not just here on earth, but beyond that, it is with Him in Eternity.

Having trouble navigating the path? “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight” [Proverbs 3:5-6]. I don’t know about you, but I’m happy I don’t always have to count on my very flawed sense of direction.

Be blessed my Friend, God is on the throne!

 

Dec 11, 2021; Entitled?

Posted on December 11, 2021 at 11:15 AM Comments comments (312)

Discouragement is difficult to avoid these days. Mental health issues, addiction and anxiety are on the rise – even among Christians. A news broadcast can make us feel fearful and uncertain, and a sense of isolation is more common than not. When you add to that some of the natural circumstances of our human condition – failing health, financial strain, relationship tension – it’s hard not to be discouraged.

We all have a yearning to be in control of our own destiny. When some rock in the pathway causes us to stumble (whether spiritually, emotionally or physically), that authority over our own lives is challenged. Often we respond to the threat in ways that are not very Christ-like. We see how hard we’ve been struggling and ask God ‘why?’ It’s even easier to compare our lot with that of those around us and wonder about the justice of life, and more importantly, how God can allow situations to unfold.

But we must separate our view of justice from God’s. We are so fortunate that He doesn’t see it in the same way we do. If God were to mete out what we deserve it would be all bad, because we sure don’t want to pay for every single thing we could be held accountable for. For us, justice starts with a level playing field. For God, it starts wherever we need Him to be, and in whatever way we invite Him in.

Quite frankly, to think we deserve some kind of elevated existence is a bit entitled really. It’s easy for us to think we are property owning, happiness deserving, easy street living children of God. Instead, we should keep focused on the fact that we are only stewards here – and we actually own (and are certainly owed) nothing.

The Christians at Thessalonica initially thought that they would all be living at the time of Christ’s return. While they understood that Christ had risen from the dead, they still held to their fleshly thoughts that their own physical bodies could be destroyed by the circumstance of the human condition – particularly death.

Clearly, they believed that their suffering was only going to be for a short time. Imagine their disappointment when realizing there was no guarantee that they would be exempt from the same trouble the world experienced.

But Paul comforted them with the knowledge that we don’t have to “sorrow as others who have no hope.” In 1 Thessalonians 4 he reminded them that “if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.”

So, if death can’t even hold us how could any other threat? It’s our nature to want to be in charge, and to think we should have some implicit protection from the insanity of the world. But what we have instead is far more valuable. We have the promise of eternity.

Psalm 46:2 tells us that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling.” In other words, no matter what our human circumstance is, God is with us and He has our back.

We may not be exempt from sorrow, but it holds no power over us. Because we are not in control – our Heavenly Father is. As we begin to look at the upcoming new year, let’s make a promise to shift our thinking from what’s going on today, and hold onto what is promised for tomorrow.

Be blessed, my Friend.  God is on the throne.

NOV 28 Making Room

Posted on November 27, 2021 at 1:10 PM Comments comments (186)

Here we go! We’re officially entering into the Christmas season. No sooner had the Thanksgiving leftovers been stowed in the fridge than I started decorating. I hauled out my old tree, which is being retired this year (nothing a little duct tape can’t mend for the season), the many ornaments from years gone by, so MANY lights, and all the little bits of foil and ribbon that have somehow managed to get stashed into the Christmas storage boxes.

I don’t know what it is about opening those totes filled with holiday stuff, but it makes me happy. The mix of pine needles, gingerbread cookies, peppermint candles and great memories wafts into the room and I am transported through time in flashbacks and moments that mix together in my heart. The added poignancy of why we celebrate and what we’re acknowledging, washes over me, and fills my soul with childlike wonder.

Make no mistake, there have been years that Christmas didn’t immediately fill me with anticipation. Some holidays were brutally hard, whether because of the loss of a loved one, financial strain, or separation from family and friends. Sometimes the joy of those around us can make us feel the pain more intensely, and it can be difficult to avoid resentment that the world is celebrating while we are in mourning. If that is your circumstance this year, let me just tell you I understand, and so do millions of people across the globe. That doesn’t change the pain, but perhaps it can open a little room in your heart.

Because at the end of the day, it comes down to making room. Luke 2:7 records that when Mary, the mother of Jesus, gave birth “she wrapped Him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Herod, the king of that day, when confronted with Jesus’ birth, sent his soldiers to kill every male child over the age of two years. He decided there was no room for another King, and Christ was certainly that – child or no.

And the end of the Messiah’s earthly time came because Satan was convinced there was no room for him and the perfection of Christ in this earthly realm. And God allowed the sacrifice of His Son to orchestrate our redemption. By allowing man to reject Jesus, He knew He was giving us our only permanent opportunity to make room for Him in our hearts, and so share eternity with the Father.

But then it’s up to us. The space is opened up, but we must decide what we fill it with. This season we can load it with presents to each other, holiday parties, decorations and celebrations – and I don’t believe God has any problem with that at all -- but we also have to focus on the real ‘reason for the season.’

While we’re shopping for each other and preparing huge meals, dressing up our houses and wrapping gifts, we must not lose sight of why these celebrations were initiated. Does it matter that Jesus was likely born in Spring, not Winter? Is it important whether we get together on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve - or not at all? What is important is that we are bringing to our minds the very reason we exist – to celebrate the room that was made in our lives for salvation.

And beyond Christmas, we should be making room for Jesus every single day. The Messiah’s name was called Immanuel, meaning “God with us.” The Bible tells us that “even when we walk through the darkest valley, He is still with us [Psalm 23:4]. In Isaiah 41:13 we’re promised “I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right and hand and says to you, do not fear; I will help you.” He is here, but we must make room. Unlike the intrusive push of the world, God will never force Himself on us, but wait patiently for an invite into our hearts and our circumstance.

So, whether we’re feeling the holidays this year or not, let’s be sure and focus on the beautiful gift we were given, and make space for His love in our hearts.

Be blessed my Friend, God is on the throne!

 

NOV 21 Thanksgiving

Posted on November 21, 2021 at 12:10 AM Comments comments (325)

Thanksgiving is upon us! What are you most thankful for… beyond the grace and love of God? I am so grateful for my family, both biological and spiritual, a warm and beautiful home that God gifted me with, my health which is pretty robust for a nearly 65-year-old grandma, and the ability to recognize all the amazing things and people God has placed in my life.

Being part of our big, noisy, malfunctioning (sometimes) family is both an enormous blessing and a huge responsibility – but never a curse. In the day-to-day business of trying to get through life it’s easy to become complacent about our relationships and annoyed at the recurring irritations that go with them. That is, until we stop and think what life would be like if they were suddenly absent. The old saying “absence makes the heart go fonder” is really very true. Sometimes we don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone.

The Apostle Paul knew how to prioritize the balance between thankfulness and annoyance. He embraced the one and accepted the second for what it was – a temporary and fleeting issue that could be, with the appropriate work and correction, turned into a teaching moment. I wish we had half his common sense, and all his ability to love folks despite whatever they were going through.

I think his graciousness of spirit came because he realized how to love people through their imperfections. Maybe because of who he was prior to his ‘Damascus Road experience’ where God literally blinded him in order to give him true insight [Acts 22]. He was quite a mix of grit and grace.

In 1 Corinthians 1:4 he says, “I always thank my God for you…,” meaning the first thing he was grateful for was the very presence of the people in his life. He didn’t qualify it with anything by adding a ‘but’ to the end of that statement, he just thanked God for them – with all their idiosyncrasies, freckles and warts.

And then Paul finished the thought by stating his gratitude for “the gracious gifts He [God] has given you…” Primary was the person, secondary was what they would bring to the table. And that pretty much sums up what real thankfulness is all about.

We need to develop a mindset of gratitude at all times, and in all circumstances. That doesn’t sound easy, and it is not! But Paul even covered that, and perhaps gave his own formula for demonstrating the attitude he worked so hard to develop. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 he tells us to “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” All means all – the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly.

While we need to continually express our thankfulness to God for His other gifts, including grace and salvation, we must also learn to thank Him for the many dysfunctional, flawed, perfect, unexpected people He has placed in our lives. Because, trust me, they will be thinking the same about us. Being grateful for even the hard moments in our relationships puts it all in perspective.

Learning to express true gratitude to God is good for us and serves to remind that every good gift is from Him (James 1:17), including those we think we don’t really want. And it also helps us keep focused on the very real truth that we are all broken in one way or another. I embrace your blemishes and you embrace mine, and we give God the glory for putting us together in one strong well-knit unit.

So, this year at Thanksgiving and every day after that, whether I remember to tell you or don’t “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.”

Be blessed my Friend, God is on the throne!

 

NOV 7, 2021 MY GIANTS

Posted on November 14, 2021 at 12:05 AM Comments comments (287)

This morning my devotions brought me to 1 Peter 2:15-16. Because I had been working on a sermon, my bible app was open to the Message bible, a translation of scripture that I use from time to time because the language is so down to earth. It read: “Make the Master proud of you by being good citizens. Respect the authorities, whatever their level; they are God’s emissaries for keeping order. It is God’s will that by doing good, you might cure the ignorance of the fools who think you’re a danger to society. Exercise your freedom by serving God, not by breaking the rules. Treat everyone you meet with dignity. Love your spiritual family. Revere God. Respect the government.”

I’m not sure why that hit my heart so hard, except that I’ve tried to be a little more aware of what’s going on in the world lately. During the past election, and the with all the hate being spewed around the world, I had started ignoring the news – instead choosing programing that lifted me up rather than planting fear or anger.

But like David with Goliath, we can’t slay our giants unless we acknowledge and confront them, so I’ve made a resolution to watch an hour of news every morning. Starting my day like that was daunting at first, but I’ve come to appreciate that it gives me something to pray over beyond my own personal needs. More importantly, I’ve learned that just because I am aware of something, doesn’t give it power or authority over me. That is something only I can grant.

This scripture was likely written during the bloody reign of Nero, who took the persecution of Christians in Rome as his personal mission. In fact, Peter was brutally martyred during this history making time. Surprisingly, the Apostle wasn’t calling for God’s people to hide or be silent, but to model good behavior. The NKJV says “by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men…”. Submission to our governmental leaders and laws doesn’t mean we can be denied our Christian freedom, because our freedom isn’t determined by any man. But it is an act of truly free people to recognize what needs to be changed and to work toward that goal without causing even more chaos.

Romans 6:22 tells us that having been set free from sin we become slaves of God, and that our continued pursuit should be holiness. We are not under the rule of our circumstances or a failing government. We are in the total control of God whom we need never question. It can feel like our lives are in the hands of a faltering administration, economic structure or deteriorating planet, but those are just giants and nothing to the Father of lights from whom every good gift and every perfect gift comes… and with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning [James 1:17].

If we shift our thinking from believing that the circumstances and chaos around us can affect us in any meaningful way, to the knowledge that our only Master is God – and that He alone is in charge of our destiny, it is easier to adopt an attitude of humbleness and to break the bondage of fear.

With God’s help, we can silence the ignorant talk, or as Peter said, “cure the ignorance of fools,” by acting in a way that demonstrates holiness rather than anger. It’s not easy, and it’s not going to happen all at once, but our true freedom depends on total trust in God.

Of course if we’re asked to choose between God’s law and the governing authorities, we choose submission to God. But we need to take care and understand that genuine freedom, as defined scripturally, means it is exercised under the law not outside of it. Liberty is not a free pass to do anything we please. Jesus taught with love, showing His righteous anger sparingly and only when appropriate, and so should we.

So yes, we acknowledge the giant. But we also rest in the knowledge that God is our final authority and that there is nothing He can’t tear down. He doesn’t need rioting, angry mobs or fire in the streets. Just a tiny stone and a faith-filled heart.

Be blessed my Friend, God is on the throne!

 

OCT 17 HELP MY UNBELIEF

Posted on October 17, 2021 at 12:00 AM

In Mark 9 we read about a man who came to Jesus to ask for healing for his son who, as scripture describes it, “has a mute spirit.” Later, Jesus says the boy is possessed by an “unclean” spirit. We know from other scripture passages that an unclean spirit can affect its host in many physical and emotional ways.

It’s more than just the Hollywood portrayal we’ve seen. There is true warfare going on around us right now – both on earth and in the heavenlies -- and Satan is vying for our attention in any way he can. More than anything the Enemy would like to make us deaf and mute. Deaf so we can’t even hear God’s voice, and mute so that if we do happen to catch a whisper we can’t speak it out and infect those around us with hope.

We are looking at an unprecedented time in our world. Hate and distrust has spread like a wildfire – not just through our neighborhood, city or state – but through the entire planet. The battle is heating up, and we’re not the only ones armoring up for the fight.

It’s so easy to resort to anger when we view the state of our world. The anger really comes because it’s more manageable than fear, and the truth is we are terrified on many levels. Let me encourage you, that feeling of helpless rage is not an ungodly emotion and it’s certainly not an indicator of a lack of faith in God. It’s simply a human response to a very real threat.

What we must fight is allowing our emotion to become a consuming spirit within us – and one that causes us to become deaf to the direction that God is telling us we need to take. While the anger may not be possessing us, it can certainly control us if we give it that authority. And that makes it a spiritual stronghold that has to be broken.

Argentinian evangelist and author Ed Silvoso defines a spiritual stronghold as “a mindset impregnated with hopelessness that causes us to accept as unchangeable, situations we know are contrary to the will of God.” Isn’t that a perfect description of what is happening to us today? We are so overcome with fear, something we manifest as anger, that we are becoming hopeless and unable to hear God’s calming voice telling us that He is still in control of the situation.

But let’s go back to the angry and fearful father we read about in Mark 9. The disciples had done everything they could to try and rid the boy of the unclean spirit but had not had any success. Just picture this youngster and his frantic dad. The boy was likely covered in burns and scars from throwing himself into fires and water, probably disfigured and close to death, he’d been shunned by everyone around him (again a response to fear), and since it had been going on from early childhood, stripped of hope for a life or a future.

Jesus steps onto the scene and this bereft man tries one last time to get help for his child. The Savior tells the man “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” I can’t help but wonder what this dad’s thought process was. Perhaps, as we sometimes get, he was weary from begging God for the same thing over and over. It’s even possible he was starting to doubt whether God existed or even cared about him and his son. Certainly, the disciples who were Jesus’ emissaries, had been incapable of providing any relief.

So the man, in a fit of complete desperation and honesty says “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” Instead of responding in anger because the father had admitted he had doubt, Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit, and reaches out a hand to the boy who has collapsed at His feet.

You see, God isn’t angry at our unbelief. He doesn’t punish us for our ‘lack of faith,’ as some would imply. He doesn’t even stop working on our behalf when we are feeling disbelieving, angry or afraid. If we think that miracles won’t happen simply because we are uncertain, then we really have no idea where our deliverance is coming from. And we surely don’t understand the incredible love that God has for us, let alone His limitless power.

So it’s okay to let the Lord know when we’re feeling overwhelmed. But let’s not forget to allow that little sliver of hope into our hearts and ask God to deliver us from our circumstance and our doubts. It’s a great big scary and overwhelming world we live in, full of so much chaos and strife. Satan wants to use every bit of that to keep us bound up and unable to hear God through the clamor. But even he has no real idea of the vast and unmatched power of the God we serve, and who calls us His child. He will help us, and He will even help our unbelief.

Be blessed, my Friend.  God is on the throne!

 

OCT 9: Freedom

Posted on October 9, 2021 at 10:30 AM Comments comments (193)

I’m so grateful for my salvation. I’m proud to call myself a Christian, and while not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, I can say for sure that I am not unaware of the price that was paid so that I could claim myself a child of God.

I think we conceptually understand what it means to be saved, and are forever changed by what this gift gives to us. It opens a door that offers freedom from our past, strength to get through our present, and the security of knowing that we have eternal life to look forward to. Literally, the chain of death is broken the minute we accept Christ as our Savior. Maybe not for our physical bodies, but certainly for our souls.

But even for mature Christians, maybe even more so, we need to shake ourselves up from time to time and be reminded of what that really means. Because, let’s face it, we still question why life must still be so hard even after we’ve gotten ourselves “right.” Age doesn’t necessarily bring acceptance or understanding, and once the initial giddiness wears off it’s easy to become complacent about the gift that was given, and resentful when it doesn’t turn out just as we’d mapped in our mind.

Give your heart to the Lord, we thought. It will be perfect, we thought. We made this huge life change, this incredible commitment, and here we are… still slogging through the same old mess. So apparently it’s not the ‘get out of jail free’ card we had hoped for. If we’re not careful, the weight in our thinking can shift, and we begin to wonder more about what we’re missing than what we’ve been given. And eventually it leads to us behaving like we’re the ones who made the sacrifice.

Make no mistake -- we are getting out of jail free. We’re just not getting out of jail innocent. Our salvation doesn’t ‘wipe the slate clean’ as much as we’d like it to. There was a penalty – it was just paid by One who was completely innocent of any crime.

It’s much easier to hold onto the thought that we’ve been granted innocence, than that we’re guilty but been given a pardon. But there is a huge difference. The reason we’re relieved of our death sentence is because it was paid long ago by Jesus. If that doesn’t make us humble, I’m not sure what will.

But here’s the thing. God unlocked the jail cell that we very rightly had earned. But then He stepped back because the next move is ours. We can stand there in the confines of those prison walls, complacently get our three squares a day, and enjoy our freedom from eternal death, but still not live in the joy and freedom that God intended. Because we will forever be restricted by the size of the cell we refuse to vacate.

Once we accept Christ, our next step will take courage. We have to let go of the disfunction that we’ve been living in and step into the freedom that He offers. But no matter how painful our sin-filled lives were, at least we knew what to expect. To step into something completely different – that’s where faith comes in.

And not only do we have to walk out of the prison, but we also have to keep moving! Because if we stop, we can start to rebuild those walls without even realizing it. We may use a different kind of brick – relationships, material possessions, the need for perfection or stability (as we view it), even the desire to be seen as righteous in the eyes of man. But walls are walls, and anything that comes between us and God is just another stone in our personal lockup.

Galatians 5:1 tells us “Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.” The writer, the Apostle Paul, was simply saying ‘don’t let religion (rules) get in the way of relationship.’

Salvation is more than just existing forgiven, because it doesn’t turn us into automatons. God doesn’t strip us of our freedom of choice and slap a rule book in our hand. He offered the pardon simply because He loved us – no strings attached. As scripture tells us, God gave up His only Son’s very life so that anyone that believes in Him would have eternal life. But He does yearn for an ongoing relationship with us, through the good times and the bad. And, if we want to be successful in any meaningful way, we have to accept that will require some molding and shaping on our part. And change doesn’t come without discomfort.

So, as we move through our day-to-day existence here, let’s keep our eyes forward, and our perspective on what our freedom really cost. Let’s live in the fullness that God planned for us and focus on the promise found in John 8:36: “If the Son set you free, you are truly free!”

Be blessed, my Friend.  God is on the throne!

 


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