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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Who Do You Think I Am? - The Strength of Our Heart

My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever. - Psalm 73:26

I realize we've already discussed God as our strength and our portion, but I want to cover the phrase "the strength of my heart," because while it is similar to strength as a whole, it is also very different.  To fully understand the concept, we must focus on the first part of the verse:  My flesh and my heart faileth.

Let's put that in today's terms.  I'm weary and tired.  I'm weak and frail.  I'm ready to give up, and my body is spent.  I'm sick in both spirit and body.  Can you relate?  Have you ever been to the place where you felt too tired and discouraged to keep going?  You knew you shouldn't quit, but to continue would take more strength and energy than you had.  That's where the psalmist finds himself.  Too weak to go on.  Too frustrated to keep trying.  Too helpless to do much of anything.

Fortunately, the psalmist had a hope to which he could cling.  He knew God and understood that when he was weak, that's when God was at His strongest.  Yes, the psalmist realized that God lay at the end of his strength and failures.  When he felt he didn't have what it took to carry on, He tapped into strength from another source.  But not just any strength.  Strength of the heart.

As I mentioned earlier, we've already discussed God as our strength in the sense that He gives us courage and makes us physically and spiritually strong.  But now, we see that God also makes us mentally and emotionally strong.  He not only provides us with the strength to fight the battles, but He also gives us the desire and motivation to do so.  God strengthens our hearts.  He gives us the will to keep going, to keep fighting, to keep on keeping on.  Without Him, we're doomed to fail.

Perhaps you're in a place right now where you feel you can't take another step.  Your body is tired and weary.  Your heart aches.  Your emotions are frayed.  Your eyes burn from the constant tears.  Your mind feels like some amusement park ride that spins you around and around.  You know you need to keep going.  You know it's never right to quit.  But you also know you have nothing left to give.  Your tank is empty.

If that's you, take comfort from the psalmist's reminder.  Even when your flesh and heart fail, you can depend on God to get you through.  It may not be quick or easy, but He will bring you to the other side of your suffering.  He will be the strength of your heart that provides what you need to keep pushing through.  Pushing through the pain.  Pushing through the doubt.  Pushing through the confusion and frustration.  No, there's no need to despair.  You can keep on keeping on.  You merely need to tap into the strength of your heart.  He's waiting.  All you need to do is ask.

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. - II Corinthians 12:9

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Falling Apart or Falling into Place?

I'm taking another short break in our series in Psalms to share with you a lesson I learned this weekend.  As you know, Barnabas (our new dog) suffers from severe anxiety issues.  As he's gotten to know and trust us, he's gotten much better, but he still has a difficult time with separation anxiety. . .especially where Jason is concerned.  Yes, we realized that he reacts much better to my absence than he does to Jason's (talk about feeling loved!).

Anyway, in route to our hiking destination this past weekend, we needed to make a quick stop on the way.  Jason typically goes into the store, leaving me to sit with the dog in the car, but with Barnabas' issue, we've been swapping roles.  However, as we discussed this, we realized he would never learn if we didn't put him in the position to learn.  Here's the gist of what I said, "I know he gets upset and freaks out, but he will never figure out how to deal with these issues unless we make him face them.  I hate to do it to him because I know how anxious he gets, but I hope that, over time, he'll experience this type of situation enough to realize that everything is under control, and it's no big deal."

There's that heavenly thump in the back of my head.  The words came out of my mouth, but I heard them in a different voice altogether.  Instead of me talking to Jason about Barnabas, it was as if God was speaking to Jesus about me.  "Yes, I know she gets upset and freaks out, but she will never figure out how to deal with these issues unless we make her face them.  I hate to do it to her because I know how anxious she gets, but I hope that, over time, she'll experience this type of situation enough to realize that everything is under control, and it's no big deal."

I learned that exposure to stressful situations is not some cruel, cosmic joke or some form of punishment for the wrong I've done but rather a teaching experience.  Through this experience with Barnabas, I feel I better understand what it means to go through tough times and what God expects from us.  He hopes we will learn, grow, and increase our faith.  He doesn't long to see us tired, weary and anxious, but He knows it's the only way we'll learn to trust Him fully.  Sometimes, the only way to overcome a problem is to face it head-on time and again until we are victorious.

Barnabas is figuring this out as well.  Jason went in the store, and while our poor pup pitched a bit of a fit, it was a smaller tantrum than it had been in times past.  We also made another stop on the way home.  This one was longer, but Barnabas did reasonably well.  He's learning.  He's understanding that he doesn't have to freak out every time he's unsure of what's taking place.  He's beginning to comprehend we love him and have his best interest at heart.  It may take several more tries before the fits stop altogether, but progress is progress, so I'm happy.

I wonder, though, can God say the same about me?  Am I learning?  Am I understanding?  I believe I am.  No, I haven't arrived, but progress is progress, and God is still working on me.  He's still working on you too, so don't despair when you find yourself in difficult straits.  Know that He loves you enough to do what's necessary to help you grow.

Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: - Philippians 1:6

Monday, October 16, 2017

Who Do You Think I Am? - Our Hope

For thou art my hope, O Lord God: thou art my trust from my youth. - Psalm 71:5

What is hope?  In the days in which we live, the word "hope" seems to have a limited meaning compared with its usage several years ago.  For many, the word "hope" is synonymous with the word "wish." I hope it doesn't rain.  I hope I get the job.  I hope the deposit goes through before the bills come out.  I hope.  I wish.  I desire. I want these things to happen, but in truth, it's only wishful thinking.

But if you look up the word "hope," you'll discover that it means "to cherish a desire with anticipation, to desire with expectation of obtainment, or to expect with confidence." It goes far beyond wanting to the realm of expecting. And it is this genuine hope that is one of the greatest gifts God bestows upon us.

When viewing God as our hope, however, we must be careful that we accept Him as our expectation and not merely consider our expectations of Him.  In other words, we must beware against expecting God to be at our beck and call, treating Him as some genie in a magical lamp.  We must also guard against expecting Him to do for us things He never promised He would do.  These types of expectations only lead to doubt, discouragement, and disappointment.  We cannot expect God to be what we want Him to be.  On the other hand, there are many things we can expect from God—all of which have Scriptural backing.

With God as our hope, we can expect the following:

God will always be God. - Psalm 48:14

God is good. - Psalm 145:9

God is just. - Deuteronomy 32:4

God is holy. - Revelation 4:8

God will fulfill all His promises. - II Peter 3:9

God will never leave us or forsake us. - Hebrews 13:5

God will always love us. - Romans 8:38-39

God will come again and take those of us who are saved to Heaven to live with Him eternally. - John 14:2-3

God can be trusted. - Psalm 22:4-5

God is the same yesterday, today and forever. - Hebrews 13:8

God is not a respecter of persons. - Romans 2:11

God is in control. - Job 12:10

Yes, in these truths (and many more), we can have confidence.  We can expect God to be true to His nature, and in that, He is our hope, and He gives us hope.  Hope for a brighter tomorrow.  Hope for a beautiful future.  Hope for answered prayers and wiped away tears.  Hope to live and breathe day after day.  Hope to be all He wants us to be.

My mind drifted away for a moment to a line from my favorite television show.  In the midst of a dark situation, one of the leading characters asks the wise physician, "Is there no hope?  No hope at all?"  The physician answered, "My lady, there is always hope."  Amen to that!  God is eternal.  He has no beginning or end.  And if God is hope (which according to today's verse, He is), then hope is also eternal, with no beginning or end.  Yes, as long as there is God, there is hope!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Activate Your Faith

Activate your faith.  What a simple, yet profound statement.  I heard it proclaimed yesterday at a ladies' meeting.  The speaker spoke of how the phrase changed her life, and in the moments after she said it, I realized it was going to change mine as well.

I had always compared my faith to an automatic function like that of the adrenal gland.  The adrenal gland is the part of the body that senses danger or excitement and automatically activates to send the body into "fight or flight" mode.  You know--adrenaline rush.  This process is not something we have to think about.  When being confronted by a frightening situation, we don't have to tell our hearts to beat faster.  It just happens.  It's a reaction.  It works the way God intended for it to work.   It's our bodies' automatic response.

Faith is not like that at all, and until yesterday, I hadn't really thought about it.  To be honest, I've often felt that I must be the lousiest believer on the planet because every time stormy circumstances come my way, I find myself running for cover instead of braving the winds.  Faith?  What faith?  Why can't I be like Paul who boldly said, "Infirmities.  Persecutions.  Trials.  Bring it on.  It's no big deal"?  What? Are you insane?  Of course it's a big deal.

But now I understand the difference between Paul and myself.  Paul activated his faith; I've merely been waiting for mine to automatically kick in.  It just doesn't work that way.  Activating our faith takes time, effort and a willingness to be uncomfortable for a little while.  Activating our faith requires us to study, memorize and claim God's promises.  It requires us to be on guard against the deadly darts of the devil such as destructive thoughts and attitudes, "little sins," and feelings of envy or bitterness.  It requires a conscious decision of "No, I will not give in.  No, I'm not running this time."  And it requires us to give up the reins.  We must stop trying to live our lives by our plans and agendas, and must instead completely surrender to God.  (I never said this would be easy!)

Activate your faith.  It doesn't work on auto-pilot.  And the process will not be an easy one.  But I guarantee you this:  it will be rewarding!

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. - Hebrews 11:6

*Excerpt from Rise Up and Build Devotional:  52 Inspirational Thoughts for Dealing with Anxiety and Depression

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Who Do You Think I Am? - Our Habitation

Be thou my strong habitation, whereunto I may continually resort: thou hast given commandment to save me; for thou art my rock and my fortress. - Psalm 71:3

While we haven't yet discussed the term "habitation," we have looked at its meaning through several of the other terms we've studied thus far.  The word "habitation" refers to a dwelling place, a refuge, a safe place, or a place in which we can abide.  God is that place.  In Him, we are protected from harm, but more than that, we can be ourselves and be at rest.  In Him, we are free to be comfortable and at peace.  In fact, He longs for us to feel at home in His presence.

As if all of that weren't awesome enough, look at the descriptive phrase that follows the word "habitation" in the verse above—whereunto I may continually resort.  The word "resort" means "to enter into," and I think we all know what "continually" means.  God is not just a place we can sometimes go.  He's not just a refuge in the storm or a habitation during the good times.  He is always available to us.  We may enter into His presence continually.  As often as we'd like.  As many times as we need.  He will never turn us away.  Never will He give us a dismissive wave of His hand.  On the contrary, every time we are welcomed with open arms and a loving smile.  He never grows weary of our company or wishes we would go away.

As I think on this, I'm reminded of the events that took place moments after my return from my prayer walk this morning.  I slipped out while Barnabas was eating his breakfast, so the leaving was fairly simple.  However, I didn't make it back until after Jason had left for work, which meant poor Barnabas had been alone for about thirty minutes.  He doesn't like to be alone.

Anyway, I opened the door and found an empty house.  Within seconds, fifty-five pounds of black dog came tearing through the doggie door and hurried to my side.  I led him to the couch and sat down.  Suddenly, all I could see was dog.  Evidently, he missed me enough that sitting next to me was not sufficient.  He had to sit in my lap.  For the next several minutes, we sat on the couch together—his massive body curled up in my lap, eating up whatever attention I gave him.  And while I felt my legs might break under the weight, I felt happy and loved and appreciated.  Whether I'm gone five minutes or five hours, the welcome is generally the same.

I imagine that's how it is with God.  Whether we last spoke to Him an hour ago or a week ago, He can't wait to hear from us again.  No matter the last time we were in His presence, He longs to see us again.  And every time we go to Him, He welcomes us with that love and affection that makes us feel happy, loved and appreciated, even though we're not worthy of any of that.

What a privilege to know God is always available to us, and we can abide in His presence continually.  We never have to leave, and if we do, it's our choice.  But know this, we are always allowed to return.  God is our habitation, and He wants all of His children to come home.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Who Do You Think I Am? - The Almighty

When the Almighty scattered kings in it, it was white as snow in Salmon. - Psalm 68:14

I realize that the verse itself seems odd, especially out of context, but we're going through the titles of God in the book of Psalms, and it wouldn't be right to skip "Almighty," which is derived from the Hebrew word "Shadday" or "Shaddai."  El Shaddai--the Almighty God.

The name "El Shaddai" is first used in Genesis 17:1-2, when God promises to make of Abraham a great nation.  And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.  And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly.

Notice God proclaims Himself mighty and then makes a claim only One of unlimited power could bring about.  God is speaking to Abram at the age of 99.  His wife, Sarai, is 90, and they have no children.  Yet God is promising to make an entire nation from the seed of Abram.  What seed?  Sarai was barren, and it was certainly too late for them to start a family.  Wasn't it?  Not for the Almighty, the One who can provide, sustain, bless, nourish, supply and satisfy.  There is nothing beyond His power.  There is no task too difficult, no circumstance too overwhelming.  No, there is nothing He can't do.

The name El Shaddai is used many more times throughout the Bible (mostly in the Old Testament) and is usually found within a passage where God is making grand claims or promises.  For the Almighty God, no claim is too wild, no promise too vast.  And fortunately, God is also One to be trusted, for each of His promises have come to pass.  Each claim has been verified save for the ones dealing with His imminent return, the tribulation, and millennial kingdom, but we can be assured by His track record, that those claims will be proven true as well (and probably sooner than we imagine).

In this world of trouble and sorrow, isn't it good to know our God is all-powerful and all-sufficient?  Don't you find comfort in knowing there is no problem too big for Him?  What a blessing to know this Almighty God is also gentle enough to care for us with tender nourishment and provision.  Through El Shaddai, we can be blessed and satisfied.  We can put our trust in the One who will never let us down, the One who can give us above and beyond all we can ask or think.  The trick to putting our trust in the Almighty God, however, is that we must first recognize our own insufficiency.  We must realize and accept that we do not have the strength or power to provide for and nourish ourselves as God can.  There comes a point when we've done all we can do.  Beyond that, there is El Shaddai.

He wants to help us.  He wants to provide for us.  He wants us to find satisfaction in the presence of His power and might.  Call on Him.  Lean on Him.  Get reacquainted with this God above all gods.  Who knows?  You may discover more about Him than you ever dreamed possible.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Who Do You Think I Am? - Our Confidence

By terrible things in righteousness wilt thou answer us, O God of our salvation; who art the confidence of all the ends of the earth, and of them that are afar off upon the sea: - Psalm 65:5

God is our confidence.  In Him, we can be assured.  Why?  The rest of the chapter sheds some light on that.  If we read on, we'll see how God cares for His creation.  He sends rain (which we are experiencing this week in my neck of the woods) to water the earth and aid the plants in their growth.  He calms the winds and waves.  He cares for the crops and provides food for His children and the animals.  He rules the day and night with rejoicing.  Yes, the heavens declare the glory of God.

So, what does that have to do with us?  How does that portray God as our confidence?  It's quite simple.  If God can do all that (and He can), don't you think He can take care of your problem no matter how big it is?  He made all things and controls all things.  There is nothing so small that it escapes His notice and nothing so great that it surpasses His power.  He is God!  He spoke, and the world came into being.  He spoke to the winds and waves, and they calmed.  Surely, we can be confident that His words can calm our troubled souls and create a solution to our problem.  He has proven Himself faithful time and again; therefore, we can place our confidence in Him.

But more than that, we have access to Him as our confidence, meaning when we face our trials, we don't cower or tremble in fear.  Instead, we stand fast.  We look that giant right in the eye and boldly say, "I'm not afraid of you.  With God on my side, I can't lose!"  God Himself becomes the confidence we need to face any situation.  Because we trust Him, we do not need to fear.  God's got this—no matter what "this" is.  The rest of creation has no trouble having confidence in God.  Why should we be any different?

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?...Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident. - Psalm 27:1,3

Monday, October 9, 2017

Who Do You Think I Am? - The God of Our Mercy

The God of my mercy shall prevent me: God shall let me see my desire upon mine enemies. - Psalm 59:10

Unto thee, O my strength, will I sing: for God is my defence, and the God of my mercy. - Psalm 59:17

Not once, but twice in the span of a few verses, David declared God as the God of his mercy.  Notice the wording there.  It's easy to read right through that and see "God of mercy," which God certainly is, but that's not what it says.  It says "the God of my mercy."  To understand the meaning, we need to comprehend the storyline in which this psalm takes place.

At this point, King Saul has just tried to kill David because of his jealousy over the people's loyalty to David.  Even though Saul didn't know about David's secret anointing as the next king, he felt threatened by David's abilities and growing popularity.  So, he sought to kill him, and David had to sneak out of his own house to save his life.  It is in the midst of this turmoil and chaos that David wrote Psalm 59.

If anyone had cause to get even, it was David.  If anyone felt the need to strike back against those who had wronged him, it was the psalmist.  But instead, we find him thanking God for not only giving him mercy but also for instilling mercy in him to show unto others.  We know from later events that David was not above premeditated murder.  The people were for him long before he was king.  He had already been promised the kingdom.  All he had to do was get rid of Saul—the man who had just tried to kill him.  He could have staged a palace coup.  He could have taken matters into his own hands and sought retaliation beyond self-preservation.  But instead, he showed mercy.  And in the myriad of emotions that consumed David during this time, the psalmist felt led to note that the desire to show mercy had to come from God because it certainly didn't stem from the flesh.

Matthew Henry put it this way:  "It is very comfortable to us, in prayer, to eye God, not only as the God of mercy but as the God of our mercy, the author of all good in us and the giver of all good to us."  We are nothing in and of ourselves, and nothing good resides within us save the Holy Spirit (for those who are saved, of course).  Any good that we do comes directly from Him.  He is the source of the compassion we show to the needy, the love we portray to the unlovable and the mercy we pour out upon the undeserving.  That is, after all, what mercy is.  It is the act of giving goodness and forgiveness to those who don't deserve it.  Just as God pours out His mercy upon us day after day, so does He expect us to do the same for others.  As we are forgiven, so should we forgive.

One last thing I want to point out is this:  in verse 10 of chapter 59, the psalmist says,  The God of my mercy shall prevent me.  The word "prevent" here means "to go before," which leads us to conclude that the God of our mercy will go before us.  That alone is worthy of praise, but if we'll look at the familiar passage of Psalm 23, verse 6 tells us, Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.  Now mercy is following us.  Mercy ahead.  Mercy behind.   God's mercy and the God of mercy Himself have us surrounded.  There is no escape, not that we would want to.  But it's also imperative to remember that mercy is within us if we have the Spirit of God; therefore, we should be givers of that great mercy and not receivers only.

While David was far from perfect, in this, he did well.  Until his dying day, he loved and respected Saul.  Despite Saul's many attempts on David's life, the psalmist allowed mercy to flow.  Will we do the same?

Friday, October 6, 2017

Who Do You Think I Am? - Our Defense

Because of his strength will I wait upon thee: for God is my defence. - Psalm 59:9

Sometimes, life is just not fair.  People let us down.  Circumstances arise that are unfair and unjust.  Enemies come against us. During these times, it's a comfort to know that we don't have to take matters into our own hands.  We can leave it up to God.  He is our defense.  He will avenge our wrongs.  He'll take care of things in His way and in His time, and I can guarantee you He'll do a much better job than we ever could.  Besides, who are we to act as judge and jury?  If you recall from yesterday's lesson, that's not our place.  It's God's.  The Bible tells us as much: Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21)

In essence, God is saying, "You let me handle the bad guys.  As for you, kill them with kindness."  Those are our orders.  Are we going to follow them?  We might as well.  We'd certainly be better off.  After all, God's got our backs.  He is our defense.  Let's turn the problem over to Him and leave it there!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Who Do You Think I Am? - Our Judge

And the heavens shall declare his righteousness: for God is judge himself. Selah. - Psalm 50:6

Picture with me, if you will, a courtroom.  On one side, the plaintiff sits behind a large wooden desk, a sneer on his face.  The plaintiff is none other than Satan, the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10).  He has an extensive list of accusations to present to the high and holy Judge, God Himself.  On the opposite side of the courtroom, you—the defendant—wiggle in your chair.  You have no case, and you know it.  You're guilty.  You committed those sins, told those lies, omitted that prayer time.  As the Judge enters the courtroom, you sink lower in your chair, dreading those imminent words, "Guilty as charged" and the sentence surely to follow.

Before the proceedings begin, another form enters the courtroom and makes His way to your side.  Smiling at you, He places a reassuring hand on your shoulder and whispers, "Don't fear, child.  I'll take care of this.  I'm here to represent you."  Once your Attorney is seated, the Judge calls for the court to proceed.

Satan gives his opening statement, and then, in a flurry of activity, presents a list of faults.  His witnesses agree with his accusations, and why wouldn't they?  They're true.  By the time he's finished, you're shaking and feel ready to faint.  Turning back toward his seat, he sneers at you once again and mutters to your Attorney, "You're up."

Unruffled by the plaintiff's taunts, Jesus stands and directs His words to the Judge and Him alone.  "If I may, Your Honor, I have something to show the court that will prove this child's innocence and right to be free."

The Judge nods.

You move to the edge of your seat, confused yet curious.  What could this man possibly have that would prove your innocence?  You're not innocent.  Never have been, never will be.  Without a word, Jesus turns to the courtroom and holds out His nail-pierced Hands.  He stands quietly as gasps are heard throughout the room at the sight of the gruesome wounds. Then, with a clear, soft voice, your Attorney turns back to the Judge.  "While my client is not innocent of wrongdoing, I submit to the court that his sentence has already been served.  I paid his debt when I died on the cross for his sins and the sins of all others.  I urge the court to recognize this payment for sins committed and declare my client free."

The courtroom is silent as Jesus returns to His seat.  Satan is now the one wiggling around in his chair.  For the first time since the proceedings began, he looks unsure and unconfident.  The Judge looks down at you and smiles.  "Based on the evidence, I declare you 'Not Guilty.' You are free to go."

"But that's not fair," Satan cries.  The Judge turns to him with eyes of fire, and the plaintiff takes two steps back and lowers his gaze.  "One day," the Judge declares, "I will bear your accusations no more.  Do not forget Who's in charge around here."  And with that, Satan slinks out of the courtroom, leaving you alone to thank your Attorney and the Judge who allowed justice to be done.

What an awesome scene, huh?  While the elements may be fictitious, there is much truth in this story.  Satan is the accuser of the brethren, and He loves nothing better than to point out our faults both to God and to us.  Likewise, Jesus is our Representative.  No matter what we have done or will do, He only has to show that He has already paid the debt for our sins, and God, the Great Judge, has no choice but to proclaim us "Not Guilty."

So, you see, not only is God our Judge, but He is also our defense attorney, and that's still not all.  Isaiah 33:22 tells us, For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; he will save us.  Not only is God the One who enforces the laws, but He's the one who creates them in the first place.  Who better to be the Judge than the one Who made the rules?  This ensures real justice.  There are no loopholes.  We cannot accuse the Judge of misinterpreting the law or misjudging the situation.  How fitting that the One who knows all, sees all and hears all is also the One Who judges all.  And He does judge all.  I know it often seems like many people are getting away with things, but I promise you, there will be a payday.  God is the Judge, and justice will be served!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Who Do You Think I Am? - Our Guide

For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death. - Psalm 48:14

Imagine, for a moment, that you are being led by a guide down a dark path.  Not only is the path itself dark, but everything around you remains unseen.  There is no light, no hint about what's surrounding you except for what the guide tells you.  Led by the guide's unseen hand, you stumble along, hoping that he won't let you fall.  At one point, the guide stops and whispers to you, "You are now surrounded by ultimate beauty.  I know you can't see it, but I assure you, it's absolutely amazing."  You search the darkness for any sign, any indication that your guide is being truthful, but all you see is darkness.  So, you have a choice to make.  You can carry on blinded by the dark, or you can take the guide at his word and envision yourself in a place that is beautiful beyond description.  What do you do?  What have you already chosen?

You see, this is not a fairy tale; it's life!  Many times the path before us is dark and unfamiliar, and we are forced to carry on with nothing but the direction of our Guide.  Led by His unseen hand, He assures us we are safe and that, even in the darkest of valleys, we're surrounded by beauty.  The beauty of grace.  The beauty of mercy.  The beauty of a God at work.  But we can't see it.  We only see the darkness.  And we must decide how to carry on.  We can continue stumbling in the dark, believing that this is all there is, or we can choose to take our Guide at His word and trust that there is beauty beyond what these earthly eyes can see.  Either choice will keep us moving forward, but only one of them will lighten our hearts and put a spring in our step.  The choice is up to us.

Are you trusting in the unseen hand of your Guide?

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Who Do You Think I Am? - The Health of Our Countenance

Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God. - Psalm 43:5

They say the key to a healthy smile is proper dental habits such as brushing, flossing, regular exams and the like.  But according to Psalm 43:5, a healthy smile involves much more than oral care.  It requires spirit care.

In Psalm 42 and 43, we find David talking to himself (glad I'm not the only one who does that).  He's downcast and upset, frustrated and discouraged.  Or, the way I like to put it, he was in a funk.  Ever been there?  You can't place your finger on the cause of your mood, but whatever reason, you just feel down.  You want to cry but don't have the energy.  You long to feel better but don't know how.  And, if you're like the psalmist and me, you question yourself.  "What is wrong with me?  Why do I feel this way?  Why is my soul disquieted?  Why don't I feel peace?"

Without an answer to our myriad of questions, we typically end the conversation and go about our mopey way, but David doesn't.  He stops the questioning and begins a pep rally.  "Don't be sad, soul.  Hope in God.  Think about all He's done.  Remember Who He is.  Focus on Him not the problem because, as He has promised, this too will pass, and then I'll be praising Him for bringing the smile back to my face."

The health of our countenance.  The reason for our smile.  Let's face it, there are many things in life to cause a frown, a tear and even a sob.  Sickness, disease, job loss, financial struggles, marriage issues and on and on.  But what the psalmist is reminding us is no matter what life throws our way, we always have a reason to smile.  We can always hope in God because He has proven Himself worthy time and again.  Remember, He isn't affected by our trials like we are.  At no point during our predicament does God feel unable, unconfident or lacking.  He's God.  The Almighty.  The Everlasting.  The all-powerful One.  He's got this, no matter what "this" is.  And with our thoughts on Him rather than on our problems, we can smile.

In the Bible, the word "countenance" typically refers to the face, often in connection with the expression on the face.  Our countenance says a lot about us.  In fact, it says more about us than words do.  A troubled expression on the face of a Christian tells others we don't believe what we say we believe.  A constant frown indicates mistrust and disbelief in God and His promises.  A smile, on the other hand, conveys that, even when circumstances are not ideal, we will hope in God because He can be trusted.

So, you see, a healthy smile doesn't begin with a toothbrush (though I encourage you to use one daily); it starts with the eyes.  Where are we looking?  Are we focused on the problem or the Problem Solver?  One results in a downcast soul and weary heart.  The other brings about a smile that reflects the genuine peace within.

The purse I'm currently using has a picture of Eeyore, the gloomy donkey from Winnie the Pooh.  In big letters, it reads, "This is my happy face."  Of course, being Eeyore, the countenance looks anything but happy, hence the humor of the saying.  However, it's not as cute in real life.  So, I ask you, are you wearing your happy face, and if so, can others tell it's your happy face?

Monday, October 2, 2017

What's at the Root of Your Anxiety Issues?

The Lord has a sense of humor.  As most of you know, I am not the calmest or most logically thinking individual.  Perhaps that's why the Lord inspired me to write a book for those like me who often find themselves anxious or depressed.  Perhaps that's also the reason God entrusted to me a new loveable mutt who has anxiety issues.  Yes, our new family member, Barnabas, is just like me.  When faced with the unknown or unfamiliar, he resorts to either pitching a fit or crying like a baby.  Yep!  Just.  Like.  Me.

As I prayed for wisdom and peace to train Barnabas so he'll realize he's safe and loved, I had to laugh.  It's all too much like the blind leading the blind.  Yes, I've come a long way with my anxiety issues, but seeing Barnabas' behavior over the past several days has made me realize I still have a long way to go.  His anxiety is making me anxious.  Please don't misunderstand.  He's a wonderful, loving dog who wants to please, but like most animals from the shelter, he has a few trust and anxiety issues.  Or perhaps it would be better to say he has anxiety issues that stem from a lack of trust.  He hasn't been with us long enough to understand that we'll take good care of him.  He doesn't know yet that we have his best interest at heart when we correct him or try to train him in the way he needs to behave.  He doesn't understand yet that our love for him doesn't depend on his behavior.  And so, he's skittish.  Leery.  Suspicious.  Yet hopeful.

As I examine his behavior and the reasons behind it, I can only nod in understanding.  Been there, done that.  Just like Barnabas, my anxiety issues stem from a lack of trust.  It's taken me a while to understand that my Master will take good care of me.  It's sometimes difficult for me to remember that He has my best interest at heart, even when He has to correct me or train me in the way I should go.  Sometimes I forget my Master's love for me isn't dependent on my behavior.  And so, I'm anxious.  Too afraid to trust in what I should already know.

Fortunately, my Master is patient and kind, and He will never give up on me.  No matter how trying it may be.  No matter how much time it takes.  His love for me is so great that He will continue to work with me and on me until I know and understand, without a doubt, how much He loves me.  Likewise, I will do the same with Barnabas.  It may cost some time, lack of sleep, and a few tears (both his and mine), but I know we'll get through this because our love holds true.  And when we're done, that sweet mutt of mine will know, without a doubt, how much we love him!

Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: - Philippians 1:6

Need help with your anxiety?  Rise Up and Build can help!

Friday, September 29, 2017

Who Do You Think I Am? - Our Exceeding Joy

Judge me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation: O deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man. For thou art the God of my strength: why dost thou cast me off? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles. Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God.Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God. - Psalm 43

Doesn't your heart just break for the psalmist here?  He was having more than just a typical bad day.  It sounds more like he had a bad life!  Discouraged.  Defeated.  Oppressed.  Yep, we are definitely reading the diary entry of one miserable person.  However, in the midst of such a dark hour, we find another title for God:  my exceeding joy.

Despite what many dictionaries and thesauruses say, the words "happiness" and "joy" do not mean the same thing.  They are not interchangeable.  Sure, on the surface they seem to be the same thing.  Happy, joyful, in a good mood, free of sadness.  But there is one significant contrast that makes all the difference in the world.  Happiness is based on circumstances.  The psalmist who wrote Psalm 43 was not happy.  His circumstances were grim, and so was his attitude.  Joy, on the other hand, is not dependent on our circumstances, but rather on the Lord.  If we have Jesus in our hearts, then we have joy, and nothing that happens in our lives can change that.

In Hebrew, the phrase "exceeding joy" is "simchah giyl."  Interestingly enough, both "Simchah" and "Giyl" mean "joy or joyful," so, in essence, the psalmist is saying, "God my joyful joy."  I can think of no better place in the Bible for this name than right here in the midst of the psalmist's dark hour.  Its placement here distinguishes real joy from mere happiness.  Many things can make us happy, but only God can give us joy because He is joy Himself.

"Note the holy rapture with which [the psalmist] regards his Lord! He is not his joy alone, but his exceeding joy; not the fountain of joy, the giver of joy, or the maintainer of joy, but that joy itself." - Charles Spurgeon

Bad days will come.  Trying circumstances will arise.  Happiness will flee.  But joy is here to stay.  Didn't God promise He would never leave us nor forsake us?  So if God is joy and He never leaves, that means joy is ever-present.  No matter what life throws our way, we can have everlasting peace through God our Exceeding Joy!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Who Do You Think I Am? - The Living God

My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God? - Psalm 42:2

I wasn't planning on covering the titles within the Psalms that contained the words "God" or "Lord," as in "God Most High" and the like.  Mostly because these terms (like "most high") have already been covered in one respect or another, but also because I didn't want the series to run too long.  However, when I came across today's title, I could not skip it. Of all other religions, not one can claim to serve a living God.  Their gods are dead and buried.  Their idols are lifeless.  And as such, their "gods" can't do anything for them.

Our God, on the other hand, has conquered both death and hell.  He has always been alive and will always be alive.  He is the living God, and because He lives, we have hope.  Hope that He sees our needs.  Hope that He can intercede on our behalf.  Hope that He can meet our needs and solve our problems.  Hope that He can protect us.  A dead god can't help his people.

I'm reminded of a story told by a missionary to Africa.  He was struggling to get the village leader to understand the difference between his idol god and the one, true God.  Finally, he broke down and asked this question, "So, if your hut were to catch on fire, would your god save you, or would you have to save your god?"  His point was made, and eventually, the village leader surrendered his life to Christ.

We first see the term "the living God"  when the children of Israel are standing on the banks of the Jordan River, waiting to see if they could take the land before them.  They'd been down this road before.  They had walked across on dry land as the Red Sea was parted for them after they had escaped from Egypt.  They had seen God's provision, yet the thought of fighting the "giants" of the land scared them to where they forgot all God had done and all that He could do.  And so they were left to wander.  Now, here they are, facing a familiar scene.  An uncrossable river.  A land filled with enemies.  A decision to be made.

So before giving the orders, Joshua gives the people a little pep talk, and in the midst of it, he reminds the people that they serve a living God.  And Joshua said, Hereby ye shall know that the living God is among you, and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Hivites, and the Perizzites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Jebusites. (Joshua 3:10)  Within moments, the entire nation once again defies nature by walking across the Jordan River on dry ground.  Only a living God can make the waters stand still.

We see the phrase again when King Darius sneaks out to check on Daniel after the man of God had been thrown into the lion's den the night before.  After seeing that Daniel was unharmed and that God had delivered him from the lions' mouths, the king said, I make a decree, That in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for he is the living God, and stedfast for ever, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be even unto the end. (Daniel 6:26)  Only a living God could have delivered Daniel from those hungry lions.

Those are not the only times the title is mentioned.  In fact, the Bible has quite a lot to say about the living God, but what does it mean for us?  For starters, it means that we serve a God who is both worthy and able to receive our praise.  It also means that we can take great comfort because our cries will be heard, our joys will be seen, our requests will be considered, and our hearts will be loved.  Our God is alive, and because of that, He can do for us what no other could do.  He's watching.  He's paying attention.  He's always awake, always alive and always available. He lives for us.  Is it too much to ask that we live for Him?

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Who Do You Think I Am? - Our Trust

Blessed is that man that maketh the Lord his trust, and respecteth not the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies. - Psalm 40:4

Trust, like the word "stay" we discussed earlier in the series, is often used as a verb rather than a noun, as in "I trust in the Lord."  But with Psalm 40:4, "trust" is most definitely a noun—specifically a noun referring to the Lord.  But notice the difference here from all the other terms we've discussed thus far.  Every other term has been phrased "The Lord is. . ." or "You are. . ."  They tell us that God is this and that no matter what.  He is our hiding place, refuge, shelter, salvation, and so on.  But here, the wording is different.  David doesn't say God is our trust but rather that we can make God our trust.  Interesting!

The psalmist is telling us that God is able and willing to be our trust, but ultimately, it's up to us whether we're prepared to accept Him as such.  According to the online dictionary, a trust, regarding a person, is one in whom confidence is placed.  Not one who is confident, but one in whom we place our confidence.  In other words, we have to trust God to be our trust, and that's often easier said than done.

In this world, it's easy to place our confidence in other things like money, jobs, families, health and the like, but the truth is we can't count on these things.  They are temporal.  They are fickle.  They are fleeting, ever-changing and unreliable.  But God is the same yesterday, today and forever.  He has always been faithful and always will be.  He sees the beginning and the end, and we can place our todays and tomorrows in His capable hands and breathe easy knowing He is in control.

Go back to our verse again and notice the first word:  blessed.  In the Bible, the word "blessed" means "happy."  Do you want to be happy?  Do you long to smile through your tears and to find joy no matter the circumstances?  Would you like to wake up every morning with a spring in your step rather than a knot in your stomach?  If so, the recipe for happiness is right here:  make God your trust.  Place your confidence in Him.  Let go.  Stop trying to micromanage every facet of your life, and leave it in God's hands.  He can be trusted with every problem, every decision and every heartache.  So, give it all over to Him.

Oh, and just in case you weren't aware, this isn't a one-time thing.  It is possible for God to be your trust today but not tomorrow.  It's completely up to you.  Having God as our trust means making the daily decision to put our faith in Him no matter what we face or how bad things may look.  The decision is ours, and as the Bible attests, our happiness depends on it.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

How Do We Abide in Christ?

This morning, I have been pondering abiding in Christ.  For that reason, I feel the Lord would have me share with you an excerpt from my personal journal this morning.  I pray it will be a blessing to you.  Lord willing, we'll get back to our study through the Psalms tomorrow.

I am always a bit confused by the thought of abiding in Christ. To abide is not to do but rather to be. Being has always been much harder for me than doing. By nature, I'm busy. Productivity seems to be the benchmark by which I judge my faithfulness to the Lord, yet I always find myself lacking.

According to Max Lucado, abiding is the process of being at home. When I am at home, I feel safe and protected. I am comfortable and know I can be myself. No costumes or disguises are needed—just plain me. There is also great familiarity. Despite my lack of direction, I need no map within my home. I know where to go and which way to turn to find what I need or what I seek. Safe. Comfortable. Familiar. This is what it means to abide in Christ.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. - John 15:4-5

Monday, September 25, 2017

Who Do You Think I Am? - Our Hiding Place

Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance. Selah. - Psalm 32:7

When I pondered what it means that God is my hiding place, I immediately thought of this story by an unknown author I read just a couple of days ago.

A young soldier found himself in a heated battle during the Scottish Reformation. The enemy was defeating this young man's army. He and his comrades hastily retreated from the battlefield in defeat, running away in fear of their lives. The enemy gave chase. This young man ran hard and fast, full of fear and desperation, soon found himself cut off from his comrades in arms.

He eventually came upon a rocky ledge containing a cave. Knowing the enemy was close behind, and that he was exhausted from the chase, chose to hide there. After he crawled in, he fell on his face in the darkness, desperately crying to God to save him and protect him from his enemies. He also made a bargain with God. He promised that if God saved him, he would serve Him for the rest of his days.

When he looked up from his despairing plea for help, he saw a spider weaving its web at the entrance to the cave. As he watched the delicate threads being drawn across the mouth of the cave, the young soldier pondered its irony. He thought, "I asked God for protection and deliverance, and he sent me a spider instead. How can a spider save me?"

His heart was hardened, knowing the enemy would soon discover his hiding place and kill him.

And soon he heard the sound of his enemies, who were now scouring the area looking for those in hiding. One soldier with a gun slowly walked up to the cave's entrance. As the young man crouched in the darkness, hoping to surprise the enemy in a last-minute desperate attempt to save his own life, he felt his heart pounding wildly out of control.

As the enemy cautiously moved forward to enter the cave, he came upon the spider's web, which by now stretched completely across the opening. He backed away and called out to a comrade, "There can't be anyone in here. They would have had to break this spider's web to enter the cave. Let's move on."

Years later, this young man, who made good his promise by becoming a preacher and evangelist, wrote about that ordeal. He wrote:

"Where God is, a spider's web is as a stone wall. Where God is not, a stone wall is as a spider's web."

I have no idea if this is a true story, but I see no reason it couldn't be.  My God is a God of miracles.  David understood what it was like to be on the run, fearful of losing his life, but he also knew what it was like to find peace knowing that God was his hiding place.  A place of shelter, refuge and protection.  A secret place known only to those who know how to find Him.  Impenetrable to the enemy.  Hidden from the eyes of the prowling foe.  A place to rest and regain strength for the continuation of the race.  Yes, God is our hiding place, and we can find shelter in Him today as long as we are running to Him and not away from Him.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Who Do You Think I Am? - Our Light

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?  - Psalm 27:1

I don't know about you, but I don't like the dark.  It's not that I'm afraid of the dark, but rather that I'm afraid of things that may lurk about in the dark.  Just last night, I heard a scratching sound in the bathroom.  I know it's not uncommon for critters to find their way inside our walls, especially the bathroom walls, but I knew I wouldn't be at ease until I verified there wasn't something actually in the bathroom.  I crept toward the door, listening for the sound of scratching.  As I pushed the door open slowly, I reached in and flipped on the light.  With the room lit, I then felt comfortable to go in and explore. . . but not in the dark, never in the dark.

Speaking of dark, I recall a vacation Jason and I took to Pigeon Forge several years ago.  We were staying in a cozy little cabin, but the first night we were there, the power went out.  Now, I don't know if you've ever been tucked back in the woods of Tennessee, but let me tell you, it's an entirely new level of dark.  There was no light anywhere.  No street lamps.  No moonlight, for it was overcast.  No light from electronics because the power was out.  The darkness was stifling.

I first discovered the power outage as I stumbled, feeling my way along the walls to the bathroom early in the morning.  I found the bathroom door and then the light switch.  I flipped the switch, but nothing happened.  So I did the most logical thing I could think of—I flipped it again and again.  Strangely, each time I flipped the switch, a new sense of panic welled up inside me.  It was dark.  I was in an unfamiliar place.  And I was getting scared.  Of what?  I have no idea, but darkness does that, you know.  It creates fear for no reason at all.  That's why I'm glad I know the Lord as my light.

No matter how dark our path may get, we will never truly be in darkness as long as our eyes are fixed on the Lord.  He is our Light.  He offers shelter from the impending darkness as well as peace from the fear it evokes in us.  It is that Light that guides us by illuminating the paths we should take along our journey.  Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. (Psalm 119:105)  And it is that Light that serves as a beacon of hope when situations look grim, and we feel like giving in.

Do you know what else?  Nothing, and I mean nothing, can extinguish His light.  No power outage can diminish His glow.  No cloud coverage can block out His rays.  He is an ever-present Light, and because of that, we need never walk in darkness.

As for our cabin experience, I've since made a habit of carrying my cell phone to bed with me when abiding in unfamiliar territory.  That way I know light is within my reach.  Something about the knowledge that instant light is waiting on the nightstand allows me to rest peacefully and even to enjoy the darkness.  It's strange, I know, but darkness brings out peculiar behavior.

Funny, they say darkness is the absence of light, but if God is our Light, and He is never absent, can there truly be darkness?  How's that for a thought to ponder today?

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Who Do You Think I Am? - Our Shepherd

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. - Psalm 23:1

I could spend months talking about the Lord as our shepherd (and I have—just ask my ladies' Sunday School class), but for the sake of continuing our study through the book of Psalms, I'll try to reduce my thoughts to this one post.

As I understand it, shepherds have a personal relationship with their sheep.  Not only does a shepherd know each sheep by name, but he is also aware of the personality, weakness, and quirk of each sheep.  He knows them better than they know themselves.  And as the shepherd, he has a huge responsibility to care for those sheep because, let's face it, sheep can't exactly take care of themselves.  They're not the brightest animal among God's creation, now are they?  (And of all the creatures God could relate us to, which one does He choose?  That doesn't say much for our intelligence, now does it?)

The fact is that sheep are helpless.  Unlike many other animals, sheep have no natural means of protection.  No claws or sharp teeth or stink spray.  Not only that, but they are navigationally challenged (like myself), making it difficult to find good pasture or clean water.  They don't have any enhanced senses, so they are preyed upon by wolves and other wild animals.  Helpless, completely helpless!  And yet, anytime I see a field of sheep, they look so content and peaceful.  Why?  Because they are.  As long as the shepherd is nearby, they feel safe, and a good shepherd never leaves his sheep.

Psalm 23 is one of the most familiar Bible passages of all time, and it paints a beautiful picture of the Lord's role as the Shepherd in our lives.  Penned by David, a man who knew a thing or two about shepherding, this psalm begins with today's name:  "The Lord is my Shepherd."  And on the heels of that statement, David proclaims, "I shall not want."

As a young child, I was confused by that verse, for in my immature understanding, I took the verse to mean that David didn't want the Lord as his shepherd.  I was too young and uneducated to realize that the word "want" here is not defined as "desire" but rather as "need, require, or lack."  So, in fact, what David is saying is this:  "Because the Lord is my shepherd, I need nothing else.  There is nothing I lack."  And then he explains that statement in great detail:

vs. 2 - He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. - The Shepherd provides rest.
vs. 2 - He leadeth me beside the still waters. - The Shepherd provides refreshment.
vs. 3 - He restoreth my soul. - The Shepherd provides salvation.
vs. 3 - He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. - The Shepherd provides guidance.
vs. 4 - Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. - The Shepherd provides peace and safety.
vs. 4 - For thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. - The Shepherd provides companionship and correction.
vs. 5 - Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies. - The Shepherd provides nourishment.
vs. 6 - Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. - The Shepherd provides blessings above and beyond what we can ask or think.
vs. 7 - Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. - The Shepherd provides the fruit of the Spirit by which we can live our lives.
vs. 7 - I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. - The Shepherd provides hope for the future.

Let's face it, the psalmist could have simply said, "The Lord is my Shepherd.  'Nough said!"  But he didn't.  Instead, he made sure that there could be no misunderstanding.  He spelled it out so that even the most ignorant or na├»ve among us could understand.  If the Lord is our Shepherd (and if you're saved, He is), then He's all we need.  No matter what comes our way, He will provide.  Just like the shepherd, God loves His sheep and will do everything in His power to care for us.  We've already established that there is no limit to His power, so what does that mean for us?  It means there is no need too great, no situation too dire, no foe too frightening, and no wanderer forsaken.  It means we're taken care of.  It means the Shepherd is all we need!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Who Do You Think I Am? - The Governor of Nations

For the kingdom is the Lord's: and he is the governor among the nations. - Psalm 22:28

Strong's Concordance defines "governor" as "one who rules or reigns; one to whom is given power and authority."  Yep, that's our Lord.  He rules.  He reigns on high.  He has all power and authority.  The Bible makes this abundantly clear.

For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; and hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. - John 5:27

And hath put all [things] under his feet, and gave him [to be] the head over all [things] to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. - Ephesians 1:22-23

So, how does this affect us?  In what ways can we find comfort in the fact that God is the Governor of nations?  For me, it brings peace when I think of all the turmoil in our world.  Wars and rumors of wars—yes, we're living in the last days.  Peace on earth seems like wishful thinking.  But no matter how chaotic things may appear, we can trust that God is in charge, and one day, everyone will answer to Him.  He has the final say.  He always has and always will reign supreme.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Way It's Supposed To Be

Lord willing, we'll return to our study of the names of God in the Psalms tomorrow, but this post has been on my heart, and I felt I needed to share it with you.

Last week, I was watching a show on television.  The youngest of three daughters had her heart set on going to West Point to become a soldier.  Her attitude was right.  Her motives were pure—to serve God and country.  But in the end, her application was denied, and she was heartbroken.  As we often do when we're hurt, she lashed out at others, particularly her dad.  When he questioned why she was mad at him, her response was something akin to this:  "You taught me wrong.  You said if I did right, worked hard and played by the rules that things would work out for me.  But you're wrong.  That's not how life works."

Oh, how I can relate.  I, too, have lashed out at my Father (the Heavenly One).  I recall when our first dog, Tessa, had to be put down because of cancer, I struggled to find something to fill the void in my heart.  Unfortunately, what I grasped hold of were anger and bitterness.  I felt just like the daughter in the show.  I felt I had been duped.  I served God, lived right and tried my best to follow His commands, even when they made little sense, and this was my reward?  Yes, the bitterness gripped me hard, and I'm sorry to say it held me for years.

In fact, I thought I had it firmly at bay until a couple of years ago when we had to put our second dog, Tippy, down.  Suddenly, all of those angry thoughts and bitter feelings came back with a vengeance.  Why was God being so cruel?  Didn't He love me enough to keep things like this from happening. . . again?  I'll be honest, I've spent the past couple of years trying to deal with this bitterness.  I knew it was wrong.  I knew God was good, but I was struggling to get my head and heart in sync.

Fast forward to last week.  Mitch's tumor had been growing at an alarming rate.  We knew it was only a matter of time before we'd have to make that horrible decision that no "parent" should ever have to make.  Then, without further warning, we were in the midst of heartache and despair.  The decision had to be made, and even though Jason and I both knew it was the right thing to do, we didn't want to do it.  It was too hard.  We loved him too much to let him go, but at the same time, our love for him was too great to allow him to suffer.  So, we did what was best for him and grieved.

As I cried off and on over the weekend, I had a realization.  I was sad, almost hollow inside, but I wasn't angry.  I didn't feel bitter or resentful.  In fact, I even thanked God for various things and praised Him in the midst of the storm.  And at that point, a small smile interlaced with my tears.  I've grown.  I've matured spiritually.  Somewhere along the way, I've finally come to believe that even when things are bad, God is still good, and He still loves me.

And you know what I think had an enormous impact on me?  The study we're going through on who God is.  It's no coincidence that I've been studying and writing on God as our refuge, strength, help, high tower, deliverer and so much more.  Through this study, I've been able to learn more than just what God does.  I've learned to appreciate Who He is and to understand that He never changes.  This knowledge has helped me through these troubling times.  Yes, it hurts.  Yes, I'm still sad.  Yes, I still feel Mitch's loss, and I know I will for some time.  But this occasion, unlike all the rest, I find myself able to turn to God for comfort rather than turning to Him in accusation.

I don't know what you may be facing, but perhaps you're in a situation where you're saying, "God, I've done right, played by the rules and lived according to your Word. Why is this happening?  It's not supposed to be like this!"  I remind you that even in the darkest hour, God is good.  He is kind and loving and does not enjoy seeing His children suffer.  But what I've come to understand that it is in these most challenging times that we grow the most.  God is molding us to become more like Him, and that molding is often painful but always worth it.  Don't be afraid to cry.  There's nothing wrong with tears.  You can rejoice in the Lord while you sorrow.  But in the midst of that difficulty, watch out for anger and bitterness.  They can creep in unaware and, like the most stubborn weeds, they're difficult to get rid of once they've taken root.

Instead of examing the situation, look to God.  Remember Who He is.  Note how much He loves you.  Then turn to Him for comfort.  He'll see you through!

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. - James 1:2-4

Friday, September 15, 2017

What a Great Comfort!

We are going to take another short break from our study on the terms of God found in the Psalms, though technically what I want to discuss today is another term for God.  I share with you this post because of a current tragedy at our house.  Most of you know that we have a twelve-year-old dog named Mitchell, and some of you may remember that Mitch has been dealing with a growing tumor/cyst on his left back leg.  Until the past couple of weeks, despite the growing mass, Mitch had been his normal wild and crazy self.  He loved life and enjoyed hiking as much as possible.

Recently, he began to suffer from more weakness in that leg, but still, his excitement for life lingered.  This week, however, things have been different.  A portion of the tumor burst open and began bleeding.  Over the past few days, we've dealt with the bleeding, which is off and on depending on how much he messes with it.

Unfortunately, that isn't the only thing that has changed.  Mitch is not Mitch anymore, and Jason suspects he may have had a mild heart attack.  He is very lethargic and dazed.  We took him out for a hike (which we both suspected would be his final one), hoping that he would regain some of the "Mitchell bounce" we were used to.  He could only walk about ten steps without collapsing to the ground and panting wildly.  We quickly abandoned the hike and simply allowed him to enjoy the car ride (another favorite on his list of things to do).  As of now, he is still not himself, and the tumor is growing worse.

Tomorrow, the plan is for Jason to take Mitch to the vet, at which point, we will likely be saying goodbye to our precious pup who has given us over a decade of joy, laughs and love.  We've known for months that this day was near, but that doesn't make it any easier.  Words cannot describe how difficult this is for us, and so, for today's devotion, if you'll allow me, I want to focus on God as our comfort.

In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul. - Psalm 94:19

If you look up the word "comfort" in the dictionary, you will find the following definition:
1. strengthening aid, assistance, or support; 2. consolation in time of trouble or worry; 3. a feeling of relief or encouragement; 4. contented well-being; 5. a satisfying or enjoyable experience.

So, what comfort do you think this verse might be talking about. I have a few ideas:

God's grace
God's mercy
God's love
God's kindness
God's goodness
God's gentleness
God's patience
God's care
God's compassion
God's faithfulness
God's Word
God's peace
God's understanding
God's generosity
God's guidance
God's provision
And on and on and on. . .

In the midst of troubled times and turbulent thoughts, don't focus on the circumstances that surround you. Instead, focus on God, who is the Comfort of all comforts!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Who Do You Think I Am? - Our Redeemer

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer. - Psalm 19:14

I told you yesterday how salvation has been on my mind lately.  Interestingly enough, today's term for God (the next one I came across, I promise) is our Redeemer, which gives reference again to salvation.  To redeem means "to buy back" or "to offer a ransom."

Before salvation, not only are we dead in trespasses and sins (as we discussed yesterday), but we are also prisoners.  We are in bondage to sin and death with no way of ever getting ourselves free.  But Christ paid a high price on Calvary so that we could have the opportunity to be free.  He died a horrible death and paid the ransom for our deliverance.  Now, it is up to us whether or not to accept His great sacrifice.  The debt has been paid.  Salvation is ours if we'll only accept it.

For the Christian, the term "Redeemer" carries with it much more weight than the price paid on Calvary, though that would certainly be enough for which to praise God.  I think the best explanation for a Christian's view of our Redeemer can be found in the popular song, Because He Lives.  "Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.  Because He lives, all fear is gone.  Because I know Who holds the future, and life is worth the living just because He lives."

Our Redeemer died for our sins, but now He lives.  He sits on the throne and controls all things.  He knows all, sees all, and hears all.  Nothing eludes Him or escapes His attention.  He is never otherwise occupied to the point that He's absent from our lives.  He is ever-present, all-powerful and all-knowing.  He loves and cares.  He counsels and comforts.  He is our all and all, and because our Redeemer lives, we can face tomorrow and the tomorrow after that.

Do you know the Redeemer today?  Have you experienced His great power in your life?  If not, I beg you to accept Him into your life before it's too late.  He's waiting for you!

For those of you who have met the Redeemer, are you trusting Him with your physical life as you have with your eternal one?  What does it mean to you to know that our Redeemer lives and how does this give you hope?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Who Do You Think I Am? - The God of Our Salvation

The Lord liveth; and blessed be my rock; and let the God of my salvation be exalted. - Psalm 18:46

The God of my salvation.  Praise the Lord!  I've been thinking a lot about salvation lately.  Maybe it's because of all the natural disasters that have rocked our world recently.  Maybe it's because of the other signs of the times that remind me that Jesus' return is imminent.  I don't know what it is, but salvation has definitely been on my mind.

Perhaps that's why our pastor's sermon on Sunday morning took a different turn in my brain.  He was speaking on the raising of the dead son of the widow of Nain found in Luke 7.  During the message, the pastor mentioned how Jesus raised Jairus' daughter from the dead on her deathbed.  Then, Jesus raised this boy during the funeral procession.  Later, He raised Lazarus after he had been dead and buried four days.  The point our pastor was making was that nothing is too hard for God, and there's no such thing as "too dead."

The message struck a chord with me, but rather than thinking of physical death, I was thinking of those who are dead in trespasses and sins.  Yes, the Bible says that if we're not saved, we're the walking dead.  But as I listened to the message Sunday morning, I was reminded of a glorious truth.  There's no such thing as "too dead" for the Lord to save.  No one is too far gone.  No matter how stubborn or sinful they may be, God can save anybody, anywhere, anytime.  He is the God of our salvation, and He has rightfully earned that title.

If you have not asked Jesus to be your Savior, I plead with you to do so today before it's too late.  If you don't know God, you have no idea what it's like to truly live.  You may think you're living it up, but until you've experienced life in Christ, you ain't seen nothing!  Jesus is life.  He is peace.  He is the answer to every question and the solution to every problem.  You need Him, and He wants you.  Ask Him into your heart, to forgive you of your sins and to cleanse you from your unrighteousness.  Invite Him to be the Lord of your life.  He won't turn you away.  No matter who you are or what you've done, He is mighty to save.  Give Him the chance to prove it.

For those of you who are saved, perhaps there's someone in your life for whose salvation you've been praying.  Don't give up on them.  God longs to see them saved even more than you do.  Keep praying.  Show God you mean business.  And prove to that someone just how much you love them.  They are not "too dead" to be made alive by the power of Christ.  Do your part and trust God to do His.

The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing. - Zephaniah 3:17

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Storm's A'Comin' - A Repost

With Hurricane Irma being the main topic of discussion over the past several days, I felt it appropriate to share this older post.  It reminds us that storms will come and it's best for us to be prepared.  I share this post in honor of all those who are currently being affected by storms, whether physical or spiritual.  I pray it will be a blessing to you.

Regardless what many nonbelievers think, the Christian life is full of storms.  Yes, to describe the Christian life in simple terms, one could say it is a journey where the traveler is either going through a storm, heading into a storm, or has just come through a storm.  The truth is that storms will come.  There's no doubt about it.  The question is whether or not we're ready for them.

When I saw the weather forecast was predicting rain for the middle of this week, I made a decision.  On Monday and Tuesday, I brought firewood in from outside and stacked it in the box we have inside.  Load after load, I brought the wood in, even though the weather outside was most pleasant.  Why? Because I wanted to be prepared for the storm.  With the wood stove being our only source of heat, I knew we would need dry wood.

On a larger scale, when a hurricane is predicted to hit certain areas, those areas usually take precautions.  They board up windows and secure doors.  They supply their emergency shelters with food, water and other necessary supplies.  Many times, people flee to safer areas until the storm has passed.  Whatever the case, they prepare themselves for the storms.

I think we, as Christians, often fail to prepare for the storms.  When life is good, we're busy living it up.  We forget to read our Bibles.  We don't feel the need to pray.  We forsake our daily review of God's promises.  Then, when the storms hit, we're completely unprepared.  We run to our Bibles for answers, but are too unfamiliar with its passages to find the help we need.  We turn to God in prayer but feel as if we're talking to a stranger because it's been so long since we last spoke to Him.  We reach in vain for God's promises, only to realize we don't remember what they are.  And so, we face the storm unprepared and quickly lose hope of making it through.

Consider this your warning--the storms are coming!  If you want to make it through, here are the steps you need to take:

1.) Be sure you're on a solid foundation.  If you have not yet put your trust in Christ, now is the time.  Today is the day!  You're going to face the storms either way.  Wouldn't you rather face them with the One who can calm them?

2.) Be prepared.  As my pastor likes to say, "Make sure you're prayed up."  Keep fellowship with God at all times, not just during the tough times.  Keep in the Word, allowing God to fill you with daily strength.  And finally, rehearse God's promises.  Make sure you know exactly what God has said so that you can later find comfort in His truth.

The storm's a'comin.  Are you ready?

He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven. Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! - Psalm 107:29-31