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Our Captain, Our Lord

In my last post I spoke about how God is with us to help us in any personal change we need to make.  As I read through Joshua, I'm reminded of God's presence with us through conquests as well.

In Joshua 5 we find our man, Josh, getting ready to lead the people of Israel into their first battle for their promised land.  God had dried up the flood stage Jordan river so that Israel could cross over on dry land and the people of Jericho were shaking in their sandals because they had heard of the miracle.  I'd be shaking too if I knew that the people coming to attack me had that kind of supernatural power on their side.  Wow.  God's purpose with that miracle was accomplished.  He wanted all the people of the earth to know that His hand was powerful.  (Josh 5:24) What better way to do that than by parting the waters of a raging river?

Jericho's people were shaking behind their walls and Joshua was flat on his face before God. 

Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand.  Joshua went up to him and asked, "Are you for us or for our enemies?"

"Neither," he replied, " but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come."  Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence...  (Josh 5:13-14 NIV)

Then the Lord said to Joshua, "See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men...(Josh 6:2 NIV)

Readers, what is your Jericho?  What is your promised land?  Is it a ministry that God has called you to do or a personal stronghold that He has asked you to conquer?  We get so afraid sometimes of taking that next step in our faith walk with God that we become paralyzed.  Did you notice that the captain of God's armies came down to talk to Joshua?  Like with Joshua, God is with us too, and has most likely gone ahead of us to prepare the way by parting the waters of the river blocking our paths.  We are fighting God's battles too and the captain of His army is on our side.  We just need to remember that God is in the miracle business and follow His instructions for our lives.  Like Joshua followed God's instructions to march around the city of Jericho and sound the trumpets to make the walls fall down, God can do the same for us.  Just look at His track record. 


God in Our Change

Seeking God for me almost always results in a revelation that I need to do the changing rather than everyone else around me.  Can anyone else relate?  The closer we get to God, the more His light shines upon us, revealing all of the "dirt" that can't be seen in the dim or even the brightest of artificial light.  But since there is no darkness in God at all, it is no wonder that we don't hold up to well under the comparison.

But we can't be defeated in knowing that we have no chance at ever achieving the sinless perfection of Jesus.  God doesn't ask us to be perfect - because He knows we cannot be; He only asks us to do our best where we are with what He has given us.  And, the great thing is, God even gives us the tools to do even better than our best by tapping into His Holy Spirit for strength.  Obviously, I've been doing a lot of self-examination of late. 

In the book "The Winning Attitude" by John Maxwell, we see outlined the source of power for all of our ability to change.  We are not left without help, as God has provided His Word, prayer and the Holy Spirit to mold and guide us in His ways.  From the last chapter "The God Above You", Maxwell shares with us his thoughts on the ways that God strengthens and supports us through change (p. 174-177):

1. God's Word.  The bible tells us over and over again how marvelous God is and how nothing is too hard for God to accomplish in our lives.  God can and will change us. (Jeremiah 32:17, Isaiah 43:18-19)

2. Prayer.  One of the purposes of prayer is to call out to God for help.  Maxwell quotes Richard Foster as as saying:

To pray is to change.  Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us.  If we are unwilling to change, we will abandon prayer as a noticeable characteristic of our lives.  The more we pray, the more we come to the heartbeat of God.  Prayer starts the communication process before us.  At that point we will either forsake our prayer life and cease to grow, or we will pursue our prayer life and let him change us.  Either option is painful.  To not grow in His likeness is to not enjoy His fullness.  When this happens, the priorities of the world begin to fade away.

3.  Holy Spirit.  "Power was promised when the Holy Spirit was received." (Acts 1:4-8)  We can have the same power to change because as Christians we have the Holy Spirit inside of us to help us.  Remember 1 John 4:4 says that "You are from God, little children, and have overcome them, because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world."

Great stuff, huh?   All of us can change if we just choose to use the tools!!!  Are you ready to make even more of a difference in your life by using all of God's resources?  I know I am.  Let's get going.


God's Loyalty

We all know that there are consequences to our decisions and actions, good and bad.  Sometimes we can turn from a bad decision and come out of it unscathed and sometimes it takes a long time before the consequences of our actions can be overcome.  I think of this as I come to the end of Deuteronomy where Moses is recapping God's words regarding His promises for Israel - blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience (Deut. 28).  God is faithful is in His promises, isn't He?  As I think back on my own life and the decisions I've made at times, He has blessed me and cursed me rightly as well. 

However, again I see the longsuffering of God and in it the love He has for His children - the nation of Israel and for you and for me.  In Deuteronomy 30:1-4, we see again the "second chance" God gives to those who return to Him:

Deut. 30:1 When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come upon you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses you among the nations, 2 and when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today,  3 then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you.  4 Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. (NIV)

He will bring us back.  No matter where we've been.  Isn't that incredible?  God will change our hearts to make us love Him.  It may be painful, but the change will be worth it.

The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and that hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. (Deut. 30:6)

Think about that for a minute.  God will figuratively cut away the outer part of our hearts so that He can get inside and work on us deeply.  He works to change us through prayer and His word.

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (NKJV)

Yes indeed, the words of God have a way of penetrating even the hardest of hearts, impacting them for good.  However, we must be reading our bibles for the most change to take affect.

Questions to ponder:

1) How is my quiet time with God?  Is it something I just check off of my "to do" list or am I really thinking about how I can apply the bible passages I read to my life?

2) Am I spending enough time with God so that He can make an impact on me, renewing my mind day by day?

3) When was the last time I memorized scripture so that it could cut deep into my heart?


God is God

Most of us have heard about the trials of Job and how God allowed him to be tested by Satan in order to prove to Satan that Job was a good man indeed.   Job did not know how great a purpose his suffering was accomplishing now did he?  He didn't know that God and Satan were having a discussion about him.  Do you ever wonder if that is going on in heaven regarding you?  That's an interesting thought to ponder, but is beyond the scope of this post.  :)

What is the "scope of this post"?  Well, it is this.  My favorite part of the book of Job has always been the last five chapters (38-42) where God finally puts Job in his place by asking Job a boatload of questions that he could not possibly answer.  God said to Job "Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me." (Job 38:2 NIV).  Yikes.  Have you ever felt like God was doing that to you?  I have.  Recently.

Job finally realizes who he is in light of the majesty of God after God asked him 81 questions that he could not possibly answer.  He could not answer them because only God would know the answers.  You and I would not know the answers either, in spite of all of our technological advances.   Eventually we too, must answer God as Job did:

Then Job replied to the LORD: "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked,  'Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?' Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.

"You said, 'Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.'

My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.  Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes."  (Job 42:1-6 NIV)

The point I'm trying to make is that we never know why God has put us in our allowed us to be in our current  circumstances.  His thoughts and ways are higher than ours - way higher!  We just need to settle into knowing without a doubt that God is good to the core of His being and trust in His heart when we do not understand His plans for our lives.   We must become like Job and confess that we have said and thought things, and even judged God for His actions, without adequate knowledge to do so.  Sometimes it takes tragedies in our lives for us to finally see God.  Even Job had to move from a state of just hearing of God to actually seeing God.  (Job 42:6) God wants to be God in our lives.  It is time to let Him be just that.  Are you willing?


All about Love

1 Cor 13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
God spoke, at least to me, last night.  As I've been pondering lately the meaning of life, okay, the meaning of my own attitudes about things, I was reminded by a friend of a little book entitled "Secrets of the Vine", by Bruce Wilkinsen.  I'm sure that I've mentioned it before on this blog, as I just love the book.  Rather, I love the truths it presents throughout its pages.  I was told by this friend to read chapters 7 & 8, and as I read the pages I was reminded again about a time a year and a half ago when I fell in love with John 15, and abiding in the vine. Being rather than doing. Abiding.  Tears filled my eyes as I meditated on that truth and I knew that God had spoken to me in a special way.
Abide in Me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.  John 15:4-5
Somehow this verse brought me to that familiar passage about love in 1 Cor 13.  If love is longsuffering, is not puffed up, is not provoked, bears, believes and endures all things, where has mine been lately?  I've been the branch barely abiding in the vine, trying to live on my own, while my attitude has been slowly crumbling.  I need to be still and know that He is God (Ps 46:10), and realize that I am not.  I'm tired of being a clanging cymbal.
All of us, no matter where we are in our journey of our Christian lives, experience times when we become clanging cymbals rather than sweet sounding music to God's ears and to others.  It is in those times, I believe that we have somehow let the busy-ness of our world creep  too much into our lives, causing our time with God to diminish in quality as well as quantity.  The interesting thing to me is how it can happen sometimes without us even realizing it.  I feel that is has happened to me lately and today, I'm putting a stop to it.  :)  While I have not neglected my daily quiet time with God, the demands of my life and ministry have caused me to need more, and I haven't stopped to just abide - to rest in Him, knowing that God is God.
I challenge you to take a look at yourself today.  Are you abiding in God's presence or are you getting irritated by silly things?  Are you stressed out and feeling overwhelmed or are you giving your concerns over to God immediately in prayer?    Are you so grafted into the vine that you never lose energy because you are so attached to the source of Life?  It is all about love.   We need to have a love so deep for God that we never want to leave His presence.    If we have that, the rest will fall into place. 

How is Your Heart?

How is your heart?  I'm sure you realize by the nature of this blog (i.e. I'm not a medical professional or advocate) that when I speak of "heart" I am speaking of those inner thoughts and attitudes.   It is so much easier to fix a physical  problem than to fix an attitude problem, isn't it?  What is interesting to me is that we think that we can hide these attitudes easier than we can hide our physical problems.  But can we really?

Jesus says that "...out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks." (Mt 12:34 NKJV)  He also says that it is "Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth , this defiles a man." (Mt 15:11 NKJV).  Putting these two verses together then, what is God telling us?  Is He saying that we better make sure our attitudes and thoughts (our heart) are right so that we don't defile ourselves?  I think so.  After all, if our heart is the source of our words and the words we speak can reveal our hearts, we better take control of our thoughts.

Taking control of our thoughts is easier said than done though isn't it?  We can't just take control of them by suppressing them, however.  Suppressing thoughts and attitudes only causes them to erupt later out of control just like a carbonated beverage that has been jostled spew out when opened normally.  We must take our thoughts captive at the heart of the matter.  How can we do this?  Well, really, I don't think we can do it alone.  We must involve God's Holy Spirit inside of us to accomplish the task.  We must seek Him.  We must cry out to God:

"Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me." (Psalm 51:10)

God is in the heart changing business.  He has to be or He definitely wouldn't have fellowship with us, now would He?  He knows our hearts (1 Sam 9:7) and has given us the tools of prayer and His word (He 4:12) to help us see the areas of our hearts that need to be changed.  The "heart surgery" is not a pleasant experience, but is any change process truly pain free?

What is the issue you are wrestling with today?  I've got one...no, several, where I need God to give me a change of heart.  He can do it if we let Him.  Go to Him today and ask Him to reveal your heart problem.  Maybe you don't have one, but if you do, be sure that He will show you.


Tall Orders

And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord's commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? (Deut 10:12-13 NIV)

Continuing on in my trek through Deuteronomy, I got stuck on the above passage a few days ago.  As I read through it carefully, I realized what a tall order this really is. Moses had just been reminding the people of all that God had done for them as He delivered them out of Egypt and sustained them through their wanderings.  The thing to remember here is that God is not just asking for their love and obedience just because He is God, but because He loves them so much and wants what is best for them. 

Remember that the nation of Israel in the bible is a picture of God's people, you and I, delivered from our own Egypts (our sin and old ways) into a new way of life.  What God wanted from them is what He also expects from us.  Like I said in the title of this post, it is a tall order to give God what He wants and deserves from us.  So what does God ask of us according to the passage above?  He wants us to:

1) Fear God.  God wants to be revered.  Reverence encompasses a healthy fear of God's power.  Again, this is for our own good!  Remember, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  (Pro 1:7)

2) Walk in all His ways. Isn't this easier said than done?  Knowledge of the bible is the easy part.  Living out our knowledge is a challenge at times because of the distractions of everyday life.  Oh, and the fact that we are human, doesn't help our cause, now does it? (Ro 7:19)

3) Love God.  As a friend of mind is so good at asking, "What does this look like?".  What does loving God look like in your life?  What should it look like? Loving Him is getting to know Him, not only through the beauty of creation but by reading His word. (Ps 1:1-3)

4) Serve God with all our heart and soul.  God's wish list for us just keeps getting harder.  I'm always convicted with the "all" part.  God wants all of my attitudes, activities and actions to be focused on Him and Him alone.  At least that's how I read this. We all have lives that we must live in this busy world (jobs, families, etc.), so we can not serve God in an official ministry capacity 24/7.  However, our attitudes must be such that we treat everything we do as a service to God, showing His love and character to others in all that we do. (1 Cor 10:31)

5) Obey God for our own good.  God only wants what is best for us.  He is that perfect parent, full of love for His children, who wants to see us succeed in life.  When we start to fret about all of the "rules", we must remember also His motive.  (Josh 1:8)

As I said earlier in this post, these are tall orders God wants us to follow.  How are you doing with them?  Only you know how you stack up to what God has asked of you.  The good news is, that God is there to help us change because He has given us His Holy Spirit.  He wants us to succeed.


Opportunities in Difficulties

This week's quote from In "Other" Words, has been somewhat of a theme of my life.  First of all, here is the quote:

"In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity." - Albert Einstein

For some reason, God has seen it fit for me to always be the strong person in the middle of a crisis --- or opportunity.  Opportunity for what, you ask?  An opportunity to show the strength of God through me to others no matter the circumstance.  I'll speak of my work experience as an example.  Twice in a 15 year accounting career did my boss resign and move on to another job, leaving me to step up to the plate under very difficult circumstances.  The last time, my boss was forced to leave right before my company declared bankruptcy.  I was in the middle of the worst career experience ever in my career.  Words can't do justice to what a controller goes through during a bankruptcy.  Needless to say, I had plenty of opportunities to declare that God was my strength.  And He was.

Throughout that dark time in my career, I kept focusing on the following verse from Proverbs:

Proverbs 24:10 If you faint in the day of adversity,
      Your strength is small.

I kept telling myself that verse over and over when I wanted to quit.  When I had more vendors calling demanding money that we didn't have, I wanted to quit.  When I heard my name paged over and over by these same vendors who got tired of leaving messages that I didn't have the time to reply to, I wanted to quit.  But I'm not a quitter.   Opportunities do arise in the difficulties.  When troubles arise around us we are to...

Do all things without murmurings and disputings:  That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;  (Philippians 2:14-15) 

As Christians, we are the lights of the world.  And what better place for a light to shine than in the darkness of  our difficulties. It is easy to act pleasant when things are going well, and thus no opportunity to shine.  Look for the dark times.  As you smile through your circumstance, no matter how hard the wind is swirling around you, people will take notice and you will have an opportunity to share with them the reason why you are able to stand.


One Step at a Time

I will get my own post up later on today, but I wanted to share something that I received in an email last week.   So many times we get overwhelmed with the magnitude of the problem before us that we fail to see the reality that things can change.  Unfortunately, change takes time.  It takes time in our own hearts and it takes time for others to recognize that we have in fact changed for the better as well.  I'm speaking of a specific situation here relating to a couple with marital issues, but the principle still remains.  Big dreams take shape one step at a time.  Reconciliation between two hurt parties takes place one step at a time.  Please take time to read the following story, The Daffodil Principle.  I think my favorite quote from the story is this:

"When we multiply tiny pieces of time with small increments of daily effort, we too will find we can accomplish magnificent things.  We can change the world."

We can change the world, and we can change our worlds, especially if we involve God in the process.  May you be strengthened with these words today.


THE DAFFODIL PRINCIPLE

Several times my daughter had telephoned to say, "Mother, you must come
see the daffodils before they are over." I wanted to go, but it was a
two-hour drive from Laguna to Lake Arrowhead.

"I will come next Tuesday," I promised, a little reluctantly, on her
third call.

Next Tuesday dawned cold and rainy. Still, I had promised, and so I
drove there. When I finally walked into Carolyn's house and hugged and
greeted my grandchildren, I said, "Forget the daffodils, Carolyn! The
road is invisible in the clouds and fog, and there is nothing in the
world except you and these children that I want to see bad enough to
drive another inch!"

My daughter smiled calmly and said, "We drive in this all the time,
Mother."

"Well, you won't get me back on the road until it clears, and then I'm
heading for home!" I assured her.

"I was hoping you'd take me over to the garage to pick up my car."

"How far will we have to drive?"

"Just a few blocks," Carolyn said. "I'll drive. I'm used to this."

After several minutes, I had to ask, "Where are we going? This isn't the
way to the garage!"

"We're going to my garage the long way," Carolyn smiled, "by way of the
daffodils."

"Carolyn," I said sternly, "please turn around."

"It's all right, Mother, I promise. You will never forgive yourself if
you miss this experience."

After about twenty minutes, we turned onto a small gravel road and I saw
a small church. On the far side of the church, I saw a hand-lettered
sign that read, "Daffodil Garden." We got out of the car and each took a
child's hand, and I followed Carolyn down the path. Then, we turned a
corner of the path, and I looked up and gasped. Before me lay the most
glorious sight. It looked as though someone had taken a great vat of
gold and poured it down over the mountain peak and slopes. The flowers
were planted in majestic, swirling patterns-great ribbons and swaths of
deep orange, white, lemon yellow, salmon pink, saffron, and butter
yellow. Each different-colored variety was planted as a group so that
it swirled and flowed like its own river with its own unique hue. There
were five acres of flowers.

"But who has done this?" I asked Carolyn.

"It's just one woman," Carolyn answered. "She lives on the property.
That's her home." Carolyn pointed to a well kept A frame house that
looked small and modest in the midst of all that glory. We walked up to
the house. On the patio, we saw a poster. "Answers to the Questions I
Know You Are Asking" was the headline.

The first answer was a simple one. "50,000 bulbs," it read. The second
answer was, "One at a time, by one woman. Two hands, two feet, and very
little brain." The third answer was, "Began in 1958." There it was, The
Daffodil Principle. For me, that moment was a life-changing experience.

I thought of this woman whom I had never met, who, more than forty years
before, had begun-one bulb at a time-to bring her vision of beauty and
joy to an obscure mountain top. Still, just planting one bulb at a
time, year after year, had changed the world. This unknown woman had
forever changed the world in which she lived. She had created something
of ineffable (indescribable) magnificence, beauty, and inspiration. The
principle her daffodil garden taught is one of the greatest principles
of celebration.

That is, learning to move toward our goals and desires one step at a
time-often just one baby-step at a time-and learning to love the doing,
learning to use the accumulation of time. When we multiply tiny pieces
of time with small increments of daily effort, we too will find we can
accomplish magnificent things. We can change the world.

"It makes me sad in a way," I admitted to Carolyn. "What might I have
accomplished if I had thought of a wonderful goal thirty-five or forty
years ago and had worked away at it 'one bulb at a time' through all
those years. Just think what I might have been able to achieve!"

My daughter summed up the message of the day in her usual direct way.
"Start tomorrow," she said. It's so pointless to think of the lost
hours of yesterdays. The way to make learning a lesson of celebration
instead of a cause for regret is to only ask, "How can I put this to use
today?"

-- Author Unknown


Chosen...just because

The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples.  But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of the Pharoah king of Egypt.  Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.  (Deuteronomy 7:7-9 NIV)

Did you ever stop to realize that God chose to love you not because you were the best, not because you were the brightest, but because you are you?  I love this passage because it says so much about God's character and what He looks for in a relationship. God chose us, like He chose the people of Israel just because... How incredible. 

He is faithful to keep on loving us through any circumstance.  Sometimes we get angry at Him.  Sometimes we forget about Him.  Sometimes we flat out disobey Him.  But He loves us still.  He performs miracles for us still.

Take some time today to really ponder the truth today in the verse I've posted above.  May you come to realize just how much you are loved.