Oh Mighty Man of Valor

And the angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, “The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor.”
Judges 6:12

I’ve had a lot of people tell me I was courageous.  At times in my life I’ve felt like I was. I even have “Be strong and courageous” tattooed on my wrist.  But there are times when I just want to hide away from the world and stay “safe”, afraid and in the dark, but safe.  

But as I was praying this morning, the Lord reminded me of this verse from Judges.  Poor Gideon was hiding in a hole, afraid of getting killed, when he had a visitation and a calling from the Lord.  

Gideon felt and acted like a coward.  And that’s sometimes what I do. We all do it, right?  But that’s not what God sees. He doesn’t see our fear or failings.  He blotted out our transgressions, our fears, our cowardice, our doubt.  

Our God defined Gideon as a mighty man of valor before he’d done anything valourous at all.  But if you are familiar with the story, you know what happens with Gideon. God patiently, pleasingly, persistently guides Gideon into discovering who God made him to be.

We need to remember that.  We aren’t who we think we are.  We were made with a purpose, to be God’s ambassadors.  We were made to be strong and courageous, not by overcoming our fear and doubt, or fighting through our circumstances, but by God.  God made us strong and courageous. We walk confidently into battle because of Him.

As David said so confidently, as a kid with a slingshot against the world’s definition of a “mighty man of valor”:

“You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.”
1 Samuel 17:45

I think that one of the most important things we can learn from scripture is that we don’t have to rely on ourselves.  God is with us. And what a great relief that is. I don’t know about you, but I’m really done relying on myself. I put all my money on God’s power within me.

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
Romans 8:31

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In My Own Strength

27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
John 14:27

I’ve been told my whole life how strong I am.  How courageous I am. I’m a fighter. People say I’m tough as nails, that I have true grit, that I’m so brave. I even have Joshua 1:9 tattooed on my wrist.  To the world, I am so strong.

But I’m not strong at all.  I’m weak and fearful and tired.  And every time I try to fall back on my strength and grit my teeth to work through something, I fail.  That’s right. All my strength, all my courage, all my grit is nothing.

Without Jesus it is nothing.  I am nothing. My strength, my courage, my lionheart…they all come from Jesus.  He is my strength. He’s the one who made me this way. He’s the one who brought me through trials over and over again.  When I rely on Him to see me through my circumstances I somehow manage to make it through. He has made me strong.

I think for too long I’ve thought that God’s strength at work in me was actually me.  So when I tried to fight through things I struggled, I bruised my knees, I cried, I failed.  Ya. It sucks to fail. And it’s hard to admit that I can’t do anything in my own power. Even the air I breathe is dependant on God’s grace.

But when I look back on all the triumph, and all the times I made it through to the other side of whatever I was fighting, I see that the one thing they all had in common was Jesus.  When something was hard and I succeeded in pushing through it, I realize that the power came from asking Jesus to help me.

When you’re in the midst of trial it is so hard to rely on God’s strength because everything is hard when you are suffering.  It was hard for Jesus to carry that cross to Golgotha.

What I’m learning is that I don’t have to feel, see, or even trust that God is giving me His strength.  I know that sounds crazy, but because I love God and because He has a 100% track record with me, I don’t have to get it.  I don’t have to understand. It is a fact that is not dependent on my understanding, or even my faith. It just is.

Releasing my feelings, and releasing my worry, and just remembering that God always sees me through is enough.  God brings His strength and peace because He promised He would. And that is enough.

So, Lord, help me get passed myself and my feelings and my arguments.  Give me the strength that you have promised me and see me through this trial and the next by Your power.  I don’t have to understand. I don’t have to worry. I can trust You. Help me to trust You, Jesus. Help me to trust Your perfect record with me. Give me faith. Help me stay in Your arms no matter what battle rages around me.  Help me to know that You are God. I love You, Jesus. Thank You for Your strength.

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
   I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
   he makes my feet like the deer’s;
   he makes me tread on my high places.
Habakkuk 3:18-19

 

Hiding in the Right Place

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
   will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
   my God, in whom I trust.”
Psalm 91:1-2

I’ve discovered something recently.  I don’t dwell in the shelter of the Most High enough.  I let fear rule me and I make hiding places like two of the three little pigs.  

Mostly, I think I do it out of laziness, if I’m being honest. I know how to hide in Jesus, but I get comfortable doing things my way.  I want to hide in my work, or a delicious piece of chocolate cake, or a big shopping spree. Instant gratification. Physical reward.

Hiding in Jesus looks like nothing in the physical.  It looks foolish. It looks vulnerable. It looks very poorly planned to the outside world.  But I was reading in 2 Kings this morning and I got embarrassed.

15 When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” 16 He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
2 Kings 6:15-17

I was embarrassed because this is a story you learn in Sunday School.  This is the type of story we teach in Vacation Bible School and backyard Bible Club.  This is a familiar story to me. Very familiar. And, like Elisha’s servant, I revert to looking only at the physical, instead of seeing and knowing from experience that my God has power in the unseen as well as the seen.

This can sound like I’m beating myself up a bit, but I’m not!  I’m rejoicing that the Lord kept me from taking this truth for granted.  He reminded me again that He is my shelter and that there are things in the unseen that carry power in the world that we can’t perceive with our eyes. Power for good and power for evil.  And I need to make my shelter in the strong fortress of God if I want to be protected!

27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 1:27-31

See, this isn’t about me.  It’s about God.

if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
2 Timothy 2:13

God is faithful when I am not.  I’m a fool. I lack wisdom. I see the world instead of looking with the eyes of the Spirit God gave me.  But He is faithful. He is happy to show me the angels camped around me with their stony eyed glares and their fiery chariots.  That’s our God. That’s my God.

Lord, help me take shelter in You, the unseen fortress of strength and courage that protects me amidst the flying arrows of the enemy.  Give me spiritual vision and deeper faith to trust You even when it’s hard. Let Your name be glorified in me, Jesus. Let Your name be my shelter. Amen.

 

 

Come Let Us Reason Together

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
   they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
   they shall become like wool.
Isaiah 1:18

Going back to the Garden of Eden, we get a story of how the Lord intended things for humanity.  He created a world that man and woman could live in, enjoy, and tend to. He gave them stewardship over all that He had created.  And in that creation, He walked with them. He listened and encouraged them. He gave advice. He made suggestions. He reasoned with them.  God and man worked together in His creation.

Only when Adam and Eve were seduced into the arrogant notion of gaining the “knowledge of good and evil” for themselves, did they cut God out of the picture, and fall into the terrible temptation and condemnation of sin.  They no longer reasoned with God over what was right or wrong, they decided for themselves.

The battle between right and wrong entered into the world of man, and with it life and death.  This perversion of God’s plan started a series of events that would culminate into the Salvation and Restoration of God’s people to Himself through Christ.

With it also came the tragic perceived contradictions in scripture that often play havoc with our intellect. If we are not clear and precise in our understanding of the character and transformative power of Jesus, we will question and doubt God, or worse, only consider ourselves in regard to our interaction with the world and God’s plan for it and us.  

The knowledge of good and evil broke our dependence on God to show us right from wrong, and brought into question every future act committed by man.  Right or wrong, man got to choose, and in so doing, his perspective might or might not line up with God’s. Man had been shown in the Garden that obedience and partnership with God brought life and happiness.  Unfortunately, man also learned that life apart from God would bring death.

To man, the human existence is life, followed by death.  Comprehending the reality of what life and death mean to the human condition is best explained by the Lord himself.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
John 12:24

Death comes before life. Jesus proved this point through His own body.  He allowed himself to die, be buried, and then resurrected, to give us the ultimate picture of the obedient sacrifice and what it would bring. He gave up His own “right” to life in order to receive the fullness of His deepest most joyful desire: the salvation of the lost (Hebrews 12:2).  His was a perfect sacrifice with perfect obedience. His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, right before being arrested was this:

“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”
Luke 22:42

Too often I think our church culture suggests that we beat down who we are and what we think in regard and response to Jesus: that beating down our own thoughts is how we “die to self.”  We tell ourselves and each other that we must consider “what Jesus would do” and forget that Jesus might want to actually have a conversation with us about it. Jesus had a conversation with God in the garden of Gethsemane, not a silent robotic command.

We don’t give up our self to “live as Christ, to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).  We let ourselves shine by sharing our thoughts with God and then letting him tell us how best to proceed, knowing that His decisions will lead us on a course of life.  We die to having the “final say” on what we will do. We let Him tell us what is right for us and what is wrong.

I’d like to add, though, that as we muse and ponder and plan with the Lord, though, we should act with care and caution.  Otherwise we open ourselves up to the attack of the enemy, who prowls around at all times, looking for ways to exploit our weakness and stir our insecurities.  

8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
1 Peter 5:8

In our obedience to God, and our active intention to put to death our sinful desires, we find peace.  Peace and joy and power come from walking in the Presence of the Lord and reasoning together with Him. When we follow our own hearts without God’s input, we are submitting to the death of this world instead of receiving the life of Jesus that we are promised.

Jesus said,

10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
John 10:10

 

Adversity Brings Intimacy with God

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

As hard as it may seem to be to believe, adversity brings intimacy with God.  But it takes practice, trust, and faith. Throughout the Bible we are given a series of lessons regarding our response to suffering and adversity.  God wants us to know the fruit of what adversity brings. He wants us to learn to look beyond ourselves and find the joy in looking only to the Lord Jesus.  

When we catch glimpses of God’s plan to glorify Himself and us through our trials, we can see and experience the depth of trust and love we can have with Him.  We aren’t promised a life free of struggles, but we are ensured that as we love Him and follow Him with our whole hearts, He will exchange beauty for ashes.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
   because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
   he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
   and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
   and the day of vengeance of our God;
   to comfort all who mourn;
3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
   to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
   the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
   the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.
4 They shall build up the ancient ruins;
   they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.
Isaiah 63:1-4

There’s no better way to experience and receive God’s offer of renewal and intimacy than through that passage of scripture.  God has sent Jesus to restore all that has been lost and broken. He’s promised us that! He’s promised our trials and struggles will be repaired and restored.  What a wonderful way to know God better, than to meditate on those promises, especially when we are in pain.

Adversity draws us closer and closer to God. So when we read in James about counting our sufferings as joy, we can remember why! The Lord will be glorified and we will be drawn near to Him, and become stronger in our understanding and intimacy with Jesus!

2 Count it all joy, my brothers,when you meet trials of various kinds,3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
James 1:2-4

Lacking nothing! We lack nothing when we are within the shelter and comfort of the Lord.  That’s the biggest, deepest intimacy there is! No wonder everywhere we look in scripture we are urged to trust in God, hide in the shadow of His wings, be protected in His fortress, and more!  These are all a call to intimacy with Him! When we have faith in Him, we have hope in His promise of Salvation and Love.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Romans 5:15

There’s great comfort in those words.  Not that we are to enjoy our adversity, but in that we can see what adversity brings us: intimacy with God. And what Christian doesn’t want that?

Here’s another look at building our intimacy with God.

Love to Forgive

 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Colossians 3:12-13

Bearing with one another is hard.  I get so irritated with people. Someone parks too close to my car in the parking lot.  A customer service person ignores my multiple attempts to get her attention. My teenager talks back.  No one comes to the table when I tell them dinner is ready. Some stranger next to me at the movies is scrolling facebook while the movie is playing.  I could spend the next ten pages listing out examples of people who irritate me.

But God is telling me to forgive those people just as the Lord has forgiven me.  So, how do I do that? The answer is in that second part, “Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”  Forgiveness is the most beautiful example of God’s love, and the testimony of forgiveness tells the one forgiven that Jesus also wants to forgive them.  It’s like becoming an ambassador of God’s forgiveness.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
2 Corinthians 5:20

I’m not making this stuff up!  We are supposed to be representing Christ to a lost and broken world.  Does that mean we can’t be irritated? I don’t think so. I think it just means we don’t act on those feelings, but instead act on the righteousness of Christ that we have become.  We need to represent Jesus and His forgiveness. How else will people know His love?

Forgiving irritating people is hard enough.  What about forgiving people who have hurt you?  How do you forgive a rapist? How do you forgive a murderer?  How do you forgive yourself? These are harder questions, but the answer is still the same.

And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
Colossians 3:14-15

Love is hard. Really, really hard.  But representing Christ by forgiving people is what makes His love most known.  

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Without love, we show the world nothing.  It is the ultimate embodiment of who God is and what He has done for us.  To share the love of Christ with the world, we must love the world. And if we love the world, we must forgive just as Christ forgave us.

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7

In the fullness of every Believer in Christ, is the Spirit of the Living God.  He is capable of doing more and more than we could ever even fathom. As Ephesians 3:20 says, “He is able to immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His great power at work within us”.

God doesn’t ask us to forgive on our own.  He knows we aren’t capable of that. That’s why He gave us His Spirit: to seal us as His own and to help us do the impossible.  It’s not by Power, Not by Might, but by the Spirit!

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Philippians 4:13

We have a promise from God to be able to forgive.  He doesn’t expect us to do it on our own. We’re not alone.  We have the Spirit of the Living God pulsing through us. And God can and does forgive all who would accept it.  Therefore, we can too.

Jesus, teach me to forgive.  Give me the power and courage to trust You to help me forgive people.  Help me forgive myself. Help me to testify to Your love through forgiveness. It’s so hard, God.  But You have promised me that I can do all the things You ask of me because of Your power at work within me.  So, help me get out of the way so You can work, God. Help me put aside pettiness and insecurity and anger, so that Your pure love and forgiveness can be channelled through me.  Shine Your light through me, Father. Amen.

A Worker Approved

15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:15

For a very long time, and sometimes still, I have felt that the work I’ve done for the Lord was insignificant.  I longed to be known for my good works. I longed to be recognized for my “accomplishments” for the Kingdom of God.  Embarrassing, right?

I’ve come so far over the years, though, and that is something only God could do.  Is my ministry more famous or more recognized now? Nope. Is my work for God more relevant now? Nope.  My work is generally the same. It’s only me that’s changed.

So, Paul’s advice to Timothy was to be unashamed, approved, and to rightly handle the word of truth.  Hmm. So working for God means being the perfect pastor, right? Or maybe the perfect evangelist? We know a lot of their names.  The ones on tv must be pretty good. They are surely unashamed and approved or God wouldn’t let them be on TV, right?

Wrong.

Obedient submission to God is what grants us the ability to be unashamed.  To have the faith to accept that God’s answer for my salvation is from Him and not from me. The righteousness of God, given as a free gift, unearned, undeserved, that’s what lets us approach the throne of grace with confidence.  Having Jesus as our high priest, Jesus as our righteousness, Jesus as our savior, Jesus as our King. That’s what gives us the right to be unashamed.

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
2 Corinthians 4:7-11

So how do we know we are approved?  “We are afflicted and not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed, always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”

And look at what Paul says in Romans:

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
Romans 4:1-3

Approval doesn’t come from anything we’ve done or are doing!  It comes from faith. Abraham believed God. That’s approval. When I believe God and what He says, that’s approval.  That’s it. Nothing more. Faith brings God’s approval.

So, when I act according to God’s will for me.  When I trust that He is going to use me as He sees fit, that He will give me opportunities to trust Him and serve Him, and revere and worship Him, that’s when I’m working for God.  He’s given me gifts and tasks to use for His glory and not my own.

Did He ask you to hug that lady at the grocery store, and you obeyed?  That’s God’s work. Did He ask you to give up your career and serve refugees in the Middle East and you said, “ok”?  That’s God’s work. Buy someone’s groceries because you felt stirred? God’s work. Preach a sermon because the Lord has burned it in your heart to share what He has taught with His people? Yep, God’s work.

But here’s what’s not God’s work: quitting your job to become a missionary because that sounds like a great adventure.  Or, going on a mission trip to Nicaragua every year because the church body will know how holy you are. Or, teaching a Bible Study because you want people to think your smart.  Or being the front man of the church band so that you can maybe get a record deal or you love the attention. The list can go on forever.

So many things in this world sound good to us.  King David thought building a temple for God was a great idea, but did God ask him to build it?  Nope. Did God let David’s son Solomon build the temple? Yes.

God will partner with us even when we’re wrong.  He’ll partner with us in folly just to teach us how to hear His voice better.  Was building the temple folly? Of course not. But did it last? Nope. God will let us “work” for Him in a million different ways, just to teach us, just to show us that it all comes down to Him in the end.  Nothing else.

Have faith in Him, the One who made you, the One who calls you. To work for God is to submit to His rule.  You must stop obeying your own heart and the picture the world has offered you of what ministry is supposed to look like.  You’re never going to find it that way. And you’re not going to accomplish much for the Kingdom, either.

Instead, keep your eyes on Jesus.  Trust Him. That’s it. Only trust Him and do what He says.  That’s how I’ve changed the most over the years. I’m much quicker now to want to glorify Jesus, instead of myself.  If God asks nothing more of me than to point my silent smiling face to the King of Kings, then that’s what I’ll do. That is being a workman approved.  

Jesus, give me the faith to trust You.  Help me to stop looking at myself. Help me to hear Your voice and obey Your commands.  Thank you for how far You’ve brought me. Teach me and help me to go further for You and for You alone.  

7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
John 10:7-18