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Hear Me: There Is Only One God!

DSC01601e“In that day the people who live on this coast will say, ‘See what has happened to those we relied on, those we fled to for help and deliverance from the king of Assyria! How then can we escape?’”Isaiah 20:6, NIV

Isaiah 20, a mere six verses, carries a strong warning for God’s people and for those they might be tempted to depend on. In this chapter, God leads Isaiah to demonstrate the suffering and humiliation that Egypt and Cush are going to experience. (You can read the gory details at BibleGateway.com by clicking here.) The reason for this humiliation: God’s people turned to those nations for help instead of relying on God.

The message for us is two-fold. First, if ever we, as God’s children, choose to place someone or something in God’s place (especially if that someone encourages or allows this like Egypt and Cush did), God will bring that idol down. There is only one God. If His people forget this, He will reveal the truth. He will demonstrate His power and show the idol’s lack thereof. Need I say that we’re not doing any person we care about any favors if we attempt to put them in the place of God. No one wants to end up like Egypt and Cush.

Does this mean that God is self-centered and power hungry? Absolutely not! God loves His people. He also knows that He is the only One with the power to care for them, protect them, guide them, and, ultimately, lead them into His glory. All others will only lead them astray.

God puts idols in their place for our good, though we may suffer with them for a time when He does. Verse 5 of Isaiah 20 says, “Those who trusted in Cush and boasted in Egypt will be put to shame.” God’s people turned to these nations for help instead of trusting in God. When God put these nations to shame, His people were humiliated, too. Everyone involved learned a painful lesson about their place before the only Almighty God of the Universe.

DSC01931eSecond, if ever someone else turns to us before calling on God, it’s our responsibility to point them to God. Otherwise, we’re guilty of the sin of Egypt and Cush. No nation can take the place of God in its people’s lives or any other people’s lives. No parent can take the place of God in his or her child’s life. No pastor can take the place of God in the lives of a congregation. Those who try or who accept such a position will be brought low by God.

Does this mean we shouldn’t help people when we can? That no one should be able to depend on us? Absolutely not! Children depend on parents. Congregations depend on their pastors. Citizens depend on their governments. The Bible even endorses this. God places people in leadership positions to serve and care for others. But those who accept this God-given responsibility must point those others to God, giving Him the glory, not taking credit for themselves.

Two Bible characters come to mind as perfect examples. In the Old Testament, both Joseph and Daniel served rulers in countries not their own. God placed them in positions of authority where they could honor His name. Both men were asked for assistance by the rulers they served. Both did what God enabled them to do, giving all the credit to God.

When Pharaoh asked Joseph to interpret his dream, Joseph said, “I cannot do it, but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires” (Genesis 41:16).

Likewise, when Nebuchadnezzar asked Daniel to interpret his dream, Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come” (Daniel 2:27-28).

When God blesses us with the opportunity to care for, protect, or lead someone else, it’s our privilege to be able to give the credit for our abilities to Him. Doing so blesses everyone, builds God’s kingdom, and honors His name.

Father, thank You for this graphic reminder, not only of Your power, but also of Your desire to be our God and to care for us. Remind us to turn to You first whenever we need help. And help us to see each opportunity for service that You provide as a beautiful chance to tell other people about You. We know that You love us and are so thankful You’ve drawn us into relationship with You. Help us to live to honor that in everything we do. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

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Facing Our Biggest Vulnerability

DSC01459e“The leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders also mocked Jesus. ‘He saved others,’ they scoffed, ‘but he can’t save himself! So he is the King of Israel, is he? Let him come down from the cross right now, and we will believe in him!”Matthew 27:41-42, NLT

When Christians serve God faithfully, they often expect to be surrounded by loving supporters who will encourage and praise their efforts. They think that because they are doing what God has called them to do, the path will be easy, they’ll find all the resources and assistance they need, and everyone will be pleased with them.

It doesn’t always work this way.

In fact, if you’re doing what God wants you to do, serving Him faithfully and drawing people to the Lord, Satan is going to throw all the resistance in your path that he can. If he can, he may even use those closest to you against you. (They are your biggest vulnerability, after all. Satan knows this well.) The way may get surprisingly difficult.

It comforts me to know that even Jesus encountered this. When He told the disciples that He was going to die, Peter said, “Never Lord!” Jesus rebuked him. In fact, he said:

“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (See Matthew 16:22-23.)

On the cross, Jesus had to endure scoffing from priests, teachers of religious law, and elders. They told Him that if He’d do what they expected from Him and come down off the cross, they’d believe.

How often are we tempted to change our strategy or choose different activities to meet the expectations of people around us? We know what God wants us to do, but others tell us that our ministry will be more effective or we’ll be please them more if we do something else. (This can be especially true if you’re called to move often and rarely live near home.)

DSC01478eI wonder if even Jesus wrestled with this as he suffered such excruciating pain. When he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46, NLT), was He wondering if perhaps He had made a mistake? Or was He surprised at the intensity of His suffering? Had He expected God to make His mission easier for Him, knowing that His own Father could have shielded Him from some of the pain? I can’t begin to fathom how lost and abandoned He must have felt!

In John 16:33, Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

When our path becomes lonely, dark, and full of obstacles, (and sometimes, it will), we must cling to God’s Word and continue to do whatever we know God has called us to do. This doesn’t mean we can’t ask God if perhaps we’ve made a wrong turn. If there’s any chance of that, we should explore the possibility. This just means we must walk as closely to God as we can, believing in His Presence, knowing He’s faithfully watching over us—whether we sense Him or not.

In Luke 14:26-27, Jesus said:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

Jesus doesn’t really want us to hate anyone. What He means, as I understand this, is that when those closest to us attempt to stand in our way, to keep us from doing God’s Will, we must continue to go God’s Way. We tell Satan to get behind us and move on.

This can hurt. Both us and any loved ones who tell us to choose another path. If they don’t share our sense of purpose, they will be confused.

We may think, “If I do things their way, they’ll be happier and my life will be easier.” Perhaps, like the religious leaders mocking Jesus, they’ll even say, “If you do things my way, I’ll believe,” and tempt us to change our course for their soul’s sake. But, if it’s not God’s Way, it’s not for their sake. We must hold our ground and trust God to lead them to believe in His time and in His way.

If Jesus had given in while on the cross, no one could have come to believe. Not even the religious leaders who told Him that they would. Like Jesus, we must entrust those who give us opposition to God’s care and continue to do what God leads us to do.

When we follow God, sometimes our path is difficult. When this is so, we seek His assurance and continue to walk His way. He will lead us in paths of righteousness—for His name’s sake—even when it’s through times of trouble and pain.

Thank You for leading us, Lord. Help us to follow only You, wherever the path leads, even if it’s through pain. For Your name’s sake, we’ll continue to obey You, entrusting the opposition to Your care. Amen.

I’m sharing this post with others at these devotional blogs: The Weekend Brew, Spiritual Sundays, and The Sunday Community.

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A Single Seed

Red Wildflowers“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”John 12:24

When life doesn’t go the way we plan, it’s only human to ask God why. As Christians, however, we must ask God to take us beyond the human response. It’s okay to ask why and wait for the answer that may or may not come. But we can’t stop there. We can’t stubbornly dig our heels in the ground as God urges us forward. We can’t look up into His face with determination and say, “I’m not moving one more step until You tell me what this is all about!” God reveals some information on a need-to-know-only basis (for our own good, no less). When we don’t understand, we must choose to trust.

Moving forward in trust means leaving the question of why in God’s hands, while asking the more important, more relevant questions of the moment: “How do You want me to respond to this?” and “What do You want me to do now?” These questions show that we are ready to move forward, to obey regardless of circumstance.

On this Good Friday, let’s reflect on the fact that Jesus didn’t want to die on the cross (see Matthew 26:39). Jesus knew, though, that God’s ultimate plan for the salvation of mankind hinged on His willingness to obey. He gave His life–freely, by His own choice. At this time, we may not know what hinges on our obedience, but we owe a servant’s heart to Jesus Christ just the same.

Father, my life is a seed in Your kingdom. Plant it where You will. Amen.

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Praying for Flowers That Matter to Bloom

IrisesI love finding surprise flowers growing in my yard. I have no idea where these came from, but I’m treasuring the gift.

I’m getting impatient, though! I’ve been waiting three days for them to fully open up, to show their glory in the bright sunlight. Earlier this year, two different bunches of daffodils started to open just before the weather changed. One bloomed beautifully just in time to be destroyed by a sudden downpour. The other was buried in snow before it ever had a chance to show its splendor. I’m hoping the weather doesn’t turn ugly on these. Even now, I can see their potential. These are going to be gorgeous!

These flower thoughts are leading me to think of people I know today. God inspired several authors in the Bible to compare people’s lives to flowers: Isaiah, Job, David, Solomon, James, and Peter–to name a few. Even Jesus used the analogy. I’m thinking of Peter’s (which quotes one of Isaiah’s) today:

“For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, ‘All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.'”1 Peter 1:23-24

In light of eternity, our lives are as brief and as fragile as the flowers in my yard. Some people live very short lives. It seems they move on into eternity before their lives bloom fully. Others live a long time but refuse to bloom at all. I have several like this in my yard right now. The green part of the plant came up, but the flowers have yet to show. For whatever reason, they probably won’t this year. That is just as tragic as being squashed before the bloom. And then, of course, there are the ones whose flowers reach their full potential, so we can enjoy them for a little while before they die.

People don’t get to choose the length of their life. They don’t really get to choose what their flower looks like either; God gives people their appearance, personality traits, abilities, interests, and such, then they work with what they have. But people do get to choose whether or not they will reach for the sun (be saved through Christ), drink in the rain (listen to God’s Spirit by reading God Word, praying continually, and worshiping with God’s people), and do all they can to become what God created them to be (practice spiritual disciplines, so they can know God and live in tune with His will).

All people alive on earth right now are somewhere in the process of that choice! And God, their Creator, is waiting in anticipation, along with all the hosts of Heaven, I’m sure, to see each person bloom!

Just stop for a moment and try to imagine that. I’ll wait. Close your eyes and picture it right now: God watching in earnest anticipation to see you reach your potential in Him.

I’m thankful that God is patient. He “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). “He is patient . . . not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

After we are born again, God wants us to continue to grow and mature. He wants us to grow in grace, in righteousness, in knowledge, in wisdom, in unity, in love, in Christ! All of these add to the beauty of our bloom, but salvation, as Peter explains in 1 Peter 1:23-24 is the most important thing. Our lives are short. If we bloom gloriously on earth without Christ as our Savior, then it’s all for nothing when we die. But if we’re born again, of imperishable seed (Jesus Christ), then we’ll share God’s glory forever whether or not our petals have a chance to bloom in this world.

The ideal progression:

  1. We’re born again in Christ and start to grow in Him now.
  2. We reach for the sun, drink in the rain, and do all we can to become whatever God has created us to be while we’re on earth.
  3. God takes us to Heaven where we share in His glory by His grace throughout eternity.

Let’s pray for all people as God waits patiently. He won’t wait forever. Let’s pray for God’s flowers to bloom!

Wildflower ThoughtsFather, remind us to pray regularly for all the people we know. Some are striving to bloom on earth without Your Son. Thank You for Your patience with them. Please make Yourself known and open their hearts to Your truth. Others know You and are growing. Help these to reach their potential. Help their lives to bloom brightly and glorify Your name. Still others feel they have done all they can and are waiting to go home. As they linger, according to Your timing, will, and perfect plan, draw them ever closer to You. As long as we’re breathing, that’s the ultimate reason why. We long to know You better as we wait to meet You face to face in eternity someday. In Jesus’ name, amen.

This post is linked to A Little R & R and Fellowship Fridays.

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Untouched by Trouble

Finding Home“The fear of the Lord leads to life: Then one rests content, untouched by trouble.”Proverbs 19:23

In a sense, no one lives untouched by trouble. Jesus himself promised, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). Each of us has problems to deal with and challenges to face. We will be misjudged, disappointed, and treated unfairly. Hardship hits those who live in palaces as well as those who live in hovels. Life is often tough to bear.

But having trouble as Jesus mentions and being touched by trouble as King Solomon describes are two different things. You’ve probably met people who’ve been touched by trouble. These people are bitter, resentful, angry, suspicious, tired, pitiful, and full of complaints. You can see the frustration on their faces before they even open their mouths. “Woe is me. Life has mistreated me and worn me down” is their motto–a banner written across the growing creases in their foreheads.

Those who fear the Lord, however, have true life. Please understand that Solomon didn’t mean fear as in dread or anticipation of punishment. He meant to respect or hold in awe. God is our Father! He gives us all we need, including discipline. He uses life’s hardships to accomplish His purposes on Earth and to prepare His children for Heaven. As He reigns over our lives, allowing in both good and bad, we’re wise to follow Jesus’ lead by praying, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
Jesus was touched by trouble; we see this in the scars in His hands, feet, and side. But He didn’t become bitter. He persevered; He forgave. (See Luke 23:34.) He was content to serve the Father. Someday He will welcome us Home!

Father, Teach me to fear You as I should that I may rest content in You. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Called to Pray Fervently

Red Lantana“Then once again I fell prostrate before the LORD for forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water, because of all the sin you had committed, doing what was evil in the LORD’s sight and so arousing his anger. I feared the anger and wrath of the LORD, for he was angry enough with you to destroy you. But again the LORD listened to me . . . I lay prostrate before the LORD those forty days and forty nights because the LORD had said he would destroy you.” –Deuteronomy 9:18-19, 25

God’s Word touched my heart this morning when I read these words written by Moses himself. In this passage, Moses is speaking to the people he’d been leading for more than forty years. These people, without Moses, are finally getting ready to enter the Promised Land. Though they are the same people, God’s chosen people—the Israelites, they are a different people, a new generation, most of whom have no memory of actually living in and being rescued from Egypt.

They also have no memory of the above event, yet Moses speaks to them as if they were the ones who committed this grave sin: worshiping a golden calf instead of their one, true God.

Why? I kind of think Moses wanted these people at this time to know just how much he cared about them and just how much he wanted them to succeed, even though he wouldn’t be going with them into the Promised Land.

Just think about it: Moses had just spent 40 days and 40 nights on a mountaintop with God, receiving the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Law. During this time, Moses didn’t eat or drink an-y-thing. He comes down from the mountain only to find that his people have already turned away from God to worship an idol they made from gold. God is ready to destroy the people once and for all, but Moses prays for them.

Does he say, “Lord, please don’t destroy these people. Thank You. Amen.”

No.

He throws himself face down on the ground, I mean nose-in-the-dirt, and begs for their lives for 40 days and 40 nights—again, or maybe still, without eating or drinking.

Now that’s commitment.

I don’t know that I could ever pray that intensely, and I believe Moses needed God’s help to do so. But I do know there are times when God calls us to pray for our people with all the fervency and determination that we can muster—and He will help us, too.

I have a few ideas to share about this, but this post is long enough. I’ll continue over the next few days with thoughts on when and how to pray for others with urgency. I invite you to stayed tuned!

Father, thank You for Moses’ example—and thank You for hearing him. We know You hear us, too. Please teach us how to pray. Amen.

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Finding Home

Finding HomeIn honor of my newly released book, Home Is Where God Sends You: Lessons in Contentment from Nearby and Faraway, I’m launching a regular feature on this blog called Finding Home. Like my book, these posts are primarily for women who are moving, especially those who move often such as military or ministry wives. (Of course, I just happen to be both–a military and a ministry wife. One husband. One adventurous life!)

Since the key to finding home, however, is learning to be content wherever you are, whatever your circumstances–a condition that comes of knowing Christ as Lord of your life–I invite other readers to find encouragement in these posts as well. Sometimes life situations far out of our control can make us feel as if we’ve been kicked out of all that’s familiar. We may not have moved anywhere, yet we still long to find home. If you’ve ever felt this way, these posts are for you, too:

“Where you go, I’ll go. Where you stay, I’ll stay. When you move, I’ll move. I will follow.” -Chris Tomlin, I Will Follow

We sang this song in church yesterday morning and it had quite an effect on me. The powers that be are talking about my husband’s next assignment, and so, we’re praying, again, about my husband’s next assignment. I’m willing to go wherever, but the anticipation of where that’s going to be still has a tendency to rattle me. I just want to know what’s next!

But that’s one of the joys of Army life. You never really know where you’re going until you get there, and even then, the Army can change its mind. This can be perplexing, but the Army sends us where the Army needs us. There’s a bigger picture than what we can see. What perfect training for obedient Christian living! We see this pattern all through the Bible:

God had a plan to create a new nation. This plan required that Abraham and Sarah move. God didn’t even tell them where they were going. He just told them to pack it up and leave.

God had a plan to spare His new nation. This plan required that Esther move–right into the palace where she had to risk her life to save God’s people from genocide.

God had a plan to encourage that nation in its captivity. This plan required that Daniel be taken captive, too. He moved with the people he served, suffering as they did, too.

God had a plan to redeem the whole world. This plan required that Ruth the Moabite woman follow her mother-in-law and move. Ruth didn’t even know the God she’d come to serve, and yet, He used her in a wondrous way. (She’s part of the lineage of Christ.)

These are just a few examples. There are so many more: Joseph, Moses, the disciples, Paul. In order to make a difference for God, they all had to leave home. None knew how it would turn out. (For more information on any of these people, visit BibleGateway.com.)

When I was a teenager, and even a young adult, a lot of my friends talked about being afraid to follow God for fear that He’d call them to be missionaries in Africa. I wanted to be a missionary, so this just tickled me. The truth is, God doesn’t call too many people to move far away from all that’s familiar, from the people they love. (If you picture yourself helping Jesus pack belongings into big moving boxes whenever you sing, “When you move, I’ll move,” you are one of these few.)

What God does call us all to do is obey Him, to do whatever He calls us to do. When we sing Chris Tomlin’s song, obedience is what we’re all pledging. Some of us just get to follow literally like Ruth, and we trust, like all the movers of the Bible, that God sees and blesses this, too.

Father, where You go, I’ll go. Where you stay, I’ll stay. When you move, I’ll move. I will follow–each day. Thank You for leading. I’ll entrust the outcome to You. Amen.

For more about what people are discovering at church, visit Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday.