No Small Victories

Lent: Day 18 – Before I knew it I was hooked. Somehow I had managed to move from a 25¢ bag to the $1.49 bag of potato chips per day. What’s worse, I couldn’t look at a bag of potato chips without watering at the mouth! No one could tell it was happening, but it was still embarrassing. I knew some type of drastic intervention was needed or the weight I had gained would get worse and as summer would soon be on its way, I wouldn’t have the cold weather as an excuse. Lent was coming and I decided to go cold turkey with the chips. The first week I thought I would drown in my own saliva. It was much worse than I thought! Determined not to give in I had to cut out lunch to keep from ordering potato anything. I decided that perhaps scripture might help. At the time I only knew one by heart, “The Lord’s Prayer” and one in part, Psalm 23 verse 1. I know that sounds pretty sad, but I really didn’t have much of a relationship with God back then. Anyway, I figured if God’s word had any power in my pathetic situation, my limited knowledge at the time was going to have to be sufficient. So, every time I thought, or even looked at a bag of potato chips I just prayed what I knew. It worked and I lost 10 pounds! What’s even more significant, I realized God’s intimate concern for me in such a small matter in my life. Had it not been for a few verses I don’t know if I would have had that small but significant victory that I did. Truly, more than twenty years ago, it was the beginning of a different kind of relationship with my Lord and Savior and a different understanding of Lent, which endures to this day. Thanks be to God!

Psalm 78:1-39  They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved… He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and does not come again.

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God’s Favor Alone

When Jacob left Laban, God instructed him to do so. No longer did Laban favor Jacob, namely because Jacob’s wealth was amassed through God’s favor and subsequently as a result of Laban’s selfishness. What did Jacob owe to Laban? Nothing. Jacob belongs to God not to Laban. There are many people who will favor us because of what they believe they can gain from us. They enter into God’s favor and into God’s presence with us by pretending to be on our side or traveling this journey with the same goal and purpose of a life redeemed and reconciled through Christ. In reality their motive is skewed and eventually they come out of their sheep’s clothing. When this happens we may find our selves in a place we don’t necessarily want to be. That’s okay! God knows his sheep and his sheep know him. The sheep always have favor with God! Keep listening, stay alert, return to his Word and believe in his truth. Eventually, like Jacob, God will call you out and lead you in his favor, to where he wants you to be.

God saw my affliction and the labor of my hands… Genesis 31:25-50

‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit…I know my own and my own know me… John 10:1-18

I write to you, …because you know the Father…because you know him who is from the beginning…because you are strong and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. 1 John 2:12-17

Honoring Sabbath

Friday:

Taking time to honor Sabbath is critical in this journey and should be an act of our will.  One Advent season I had been completely busy; right up to day we packed the car to drive across the state to visit my oldest son’s godfather for the Christmas holiday. Four hours into the trip the pain in my back began at the first rest stop. I could barely move. I survived the nine-hour trip. However, as I finally allowed my body to rest I was in excruciating pain.  Although I had pneumonia, I didn’t have to stay over night at the hospital. It would be one month before my energy level was restored to full strength, but I got the rest I needed. Only then did I more fully understand the importance of taking care of the self: physically, spiritually and emotionally. Some of us can get by on 4 hours while others need as much as 8-10 hours of sleep, but sleep and rest are two different states.  Sleep involves immobilization of the body. Rest is separation (setting aside) from physiological, emotional, or mental activity, in order that one may relax (calm down, unwind, let go) and be restored. Too often we don’t remember regular Sabbath and keep it Holy. Take the time to be still, for in that stillness God speaks (if we are willing to hear) and his Spirit will nourish and restore the soul.

Psalm 23 He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside the still waters; he restores my soul.

Psalm 92 – A Song for the Sabbath Day

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
   to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
   and your faithfulness by night,
to the music of the lute and the harp,
   to the melody of the lyre.
For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work;
   at the works of your hands I sing for joy. 

Faith In The Winds

Saturday

My reality is that even the slightest wind is sometimes just enough to push me into an altered direction. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It doesn’t mean that I won’t reach my desired destination. However if the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, any redirection increases the length of my journey. My challenge isn’t the willingness to step out in faith, but rather the courage to remain in faith. All winds no matter how great or small have the potential to move us. The good news for us is that any wind that confronts our faith is never greater than God’s desire and ability to save us, then bring us back into his focus. Even though our faith at times may only be as strong as the next big wind, God’s faith is always stronger.

Matthew 14:22-36  So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ 

The Progression Of Light

Monday:

Distractions, diversions and deflections! It never ends. The moment you put your mind to a certain course of action, much like Nehemiah we too come under attack. The battle begins either in your mind (thoughts of doubt, uncertainty or worthiness) or from other people (known and unknown) or events. Theologian Thomas Fuller (1650) wrote; “The darkest hour is just before the dawn.” Physically speaking in nature this isn’t true. However, in life circumstance, it can be very real because when opposition and struggle are rampant we can’t always see the progression of light before the sun actually breaks the horizon. What we see are the distractions, diversions and deflections. The good news is that when we are able to discern these actions we have the opportunity to rebuke and resist them in the name of Christ and the manifestation of God’s purpose in our life will in time be realized. Even though we can’t always see God’s process, our light is the gift of the Holy Spirit within us, which brings with it both faith and hope and just like Nehemiah, our own walls of Jerusalem will be rebuilt.

Nehemiah 6:1-19 But now, O God, strengthen my hands.

James 4:7-12 Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Ephesians 6:11-13 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Rebuilding The Walls

Saturday

The prophet Nehemiah shares an incredible story about the Israelites rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem under great opposition. It reminds me of the many walls we build in our own lives, the ones constructed to protect us and the ones constructed to guide us. Yet, some walls provide a false confidence, evidenced by their level of vulnerability to pressure from external forces. What has become most meaningful for me in the Nehemiah story is that fortified with the Word of God, we too can and should rebuild those walls. Particularly when the opposition to rebuild is at its greatest, I believe the reward in Christ is even greater. Much like the walls of Jerusalem to the Israelites, anything that is important to who we are in Christ is always worth rebuilding.

Nehemiah 4:1-23  So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart. 

The Opposite of Faith

Wednesday

Philippians 4:12-13 I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

I have come to understand that the opposite of faith is fear, an emotion of distress, aroused by the threat of danger, evil, or pain. Whether the threat is real or imagined, the feeling or condition of being afraid both paralyzes and causes us to react irrationally and feeds anxiety, hatred, and controversy. Fear is the underlying factor that limits our believing that we can do all things through Christ, who strengthens us . While life can certainly be filled with scary events, especially the ones we encounter for the first time, living doesn’t have to be one of them.

Psalm 56:3,4 O Most High, when I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I am not afraid; what can flesh do to me? 

Psalm 118:8 “It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man.”

Isaiah 26:3 You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. 

Nahum 1:7  The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him. 

2 Corinthians 3:4-6 Such confidence we have through Christ before God.  Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.  He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

1 Timothy 4:10 That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. 

Bread For Thought

Friday

…on leadership and authority

A short strip of material at the beginning and end of a reel of film or recording tape for connection to the spool; a length of filament attached to the end of a fishing line to carry the hook or fly; a shoot of a plant at the apex of a stem or main branch; all three definitions we don’t often use to characterize a leader. However, metaphorically, sometimes our purpose as leaders in the church is as preparation for something greater (movie, fish or bloom) yet to come. The strength of the leader depends on how well it is connected to its foundation. Paul’s journey to Rome, plagued with storms, and his subsequent house arrest never weakened his obedience to spread the gospel to the Gentiles. In fact several of his letters to the churches were written while he was in “captivity”. Today 2000 years later the message of the gospel endures. We cannot be dismayed when God’s use of our ministry for his purpose seems to be non-functioning. On the contrary, our sure foundation in Christ is always at work leading the way.

Psalm 22 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

Mark 14:27-42 And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. He came a third time and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.’

Acts 28:1-16 The believers from there, when they heard of us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage… When we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.

Reconciliation

Tuesday

journey towards Jerusalem

Reconciliation occurs in several forms. But perhaps the most significant form of reconciliation for a Christian is bringing into agreement God’s purpose with our obedience to his perfect will. Sometimes the process of getting to this reconciliation is like tug-of-war because of the emotional battles we occasionally face in our earthly relationships. The Apostle Paul’s ministry was wrought with Jewish non-believers who were constantly trying to undermine his desire to build relationship with Gentile believers. Yet he never allowed the frustration with his own people to undermine his relationship with God and the living Christ. Instead, he made no excuses for his past violence against Christians and accepted God’s grace to use him as an instrument of love, peace and mercy. When Paul’s face turned toward Jerusalem not even the prophecy of his death kept him from striving towards his goal (Philip 3:1-16). Pray that our emotions don’t get in the way of God’s direction in our lives and our own journey towards Jerusalem. It is there that his love, peace and mercy for us become our love, peace and mercy for one another.

Acts 21:1-14 Since he would not be persuaded, we remained silent except to say, “The Lord’s will be done.”

2 Samuel 14:1-20 But God will not take away a life; he will devise plans so as not to keep an outcast banished forever from his presence.