The God of Jacob

The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Psalm 46:7

I have put all my trust in the God of Jacob.  But why the God of Jacob?  Why not “The God of Israel”.  That’s the question I can’t stop contemplating.  When you stop and think about it, something very specific is being magnified in that verse.  It’s the God of Jacob who is my fortress.

Jacob came out of the womb holding his twin brother’s heel.  His mother named him Jacob because the name meant to grab the heel of another person, or literally to supplant or trick someone out of something.  And Jacob’s name characterized him from the beginning.

Let’s look at him for a moment.  What is Jacob known for?  He tricked his brother out of his birthright.  He tricked his father-in-law out of his livestock. He was lied to and treated unfairly.  He was terrified and hid from his brother for years out of fear of retribution.  And then he wrestled with God and demanded a blessing.  

So, to recap: Jacob was a liar, a trickster, a scaredy cat, and a control freak who thought it was perfectly fine to make demands of God, steal from his family, and hide and run away from his enemies.

And it’s the God of Jacob that is our fortress.

Is it sinking in yet?  The God of Jacob is our fortress.  The God of the trickster, liar, coward, narcissist, control freak is our fortress.

I’ve had a lot of conversations with God about how unworthy I am.  I get hard on myself.  I’m overly critical.  I’m a perfectionist that fails at perfection on a daily–no, hourly–basis.  To chase a rabbit for a minute, sometimes I think that the only reason God loves me is because of Jesus.  Seems like a fair statement.  

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21

So before Jesus I wasn’t good enough for God.  Right?  Not quite.  

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8

So, he died for us while we were his enemies, while we were sinners.  Before He died for us He loved us.  And we know that because of Jacob.  (And a million other people in the Old Testament who were equally awful.)  We know that God loves us before and after our salvation.  

The God of Jacob is our fortress because God made a promise to Abraham and God doesn’t break His promises.  

 When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty;[a] walk before me, and be blameless, 2 that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, 4 “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be called Abram,[b] but your name shall be Abraham,[c] for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. 7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”
Genesis 17:1-8

The next time you think God isn’t with you because of what you’ve done, I want you to remember this one simple fact:  The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.  

And who are we?  We are made by God with an offer to accept the rights of God’s promise to Abraham.  God made a way for us (and we know that way to be Jesus) and in that we have salvation from our enemies, even if your enemy is yourself.  

The God of Jacob is our fortress. It’s liberating, isn’t it? 

Unfaltering Faith: All is Well

Unfaltering faith.  It is a gift God offers us on a daily basis.  Do we have the faith to trust Him with our provision?  Do we have the faith to walk in submission to Him? Do we have the faith to even believe He is real, moment by moment, day by day?  Faith can be a bit of a sticky mess when we start to think about it.

We get caught up in our circumstance.  There isn’t enough money in the bank to pay the bills.  There’s been a horrible diagnosis from the doctor. Someone needs prayer, and we can’t even muster the faith to pray for ourselves.  And then enemy uses shame or fear or sorrow to come in and steal whatever he can of the little faith we have left.

But God isn’t content to let our faith be stolen.  We all know that He promises He will work all things for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28) Though, when we’re in the faltering moment, it can be hard to remember that.  Faith needs to come from God through hope: hope that God is who He says He is.

8 One day Elisha went on to Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to eat some food. So whenever he passed that way, he would turn in there to eat food. 9 And she said to her husband, “Behold now, I know that this is a holy man of God who is continually passing our way.10 Let us make a small room on the roof with walls and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that whenever he comes to us, he can go in there.”
2 Kings 4:8-10

This wealthy woman takes it upon herself to honor a man of God.  Her hope isn’t in the man, but in the God the man serves. She wants to serve this man of God and give him her best because of her blind hope in God.  She shows a faith she may not even be aware of, all because of hope.

God honors her hope and builds her faith further by offering a blessing through Elisha, His servant.  

11 One day he came there, and he turned into the chamber and rested there. 12 And he said to Gehazi his servant, “Call this Shunammite.” When he had called her, she stood before him. 13 And he said to him, “Say now to her, ‘See, you have taken all this trouble for us; what is to be done for you? Would you have a word spoken on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?’” She answered, “I dwell among my own people.”
2 Kings 4:11-13

The woman asks for nothing in return for her provision for Elisha.  She never looked at her hospitality as a way to earn anything from God or His servant.  She gave from what she had. I don’t think she thought anything more about it, but that it was right to honor God’s servant. She was content with the blessing of being able to serve God as she had.

Elisha, though, is prompted to do more for her.  He wants to show her God’s blessing. God’s blessings can be a reward for faith.

16 And he said, “At this season, about this time next year, you shall embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord, O man of God; do not lie to your servant.” 17 But the woman conceived, and she bore a son about that time the following spring, as Elisha had said to her.
2 Kings 4:16-17

God offers her something miraculous.  The gift of a son wasn’t even on her radar, and that’s what He offers her.  God uses her faith to foreshadow the coming Messiah: a son born of miraculous circumstances.  The woman is startled and uncertain, but she receives her son.

And then he dies.

18 When the child had grown, he went out one day to his father among the reapers. 19 And he said to his father, “Oh, my head, my head!” The father said to his servant, “Carry him to his mother.” 20 And when he had lifted him and brought him to his mother, the child sat on her lap till noon, and then he died.
2 Kings 4:18-20

Wow. The son she was given dies. How could that be a blessing?  How could that be good? Why would God punish her for serving Elisha with such a cruel joke? It’s hard not to think these things.  People do it all the time. Something goes wrong in the moment and the response is to go right to the source and question God.

But not this gal.  Nope.  She’s resolute.  She’s unfaltering.  Her faith is solidly built on the hope of God’s reality.  Like Abraham, she decided to persist in her faith, even though her son was dead.  Even Abraham didn’t have to go that far! He got provided with a ram for sacrifice before having to kill his son. (Genesis Ch. 22)

Then she called to her husband and said, “Send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, that I may quickly go to the man of God and come back again.” 23 And he said, “Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor Sabbath.” She said, “All is well.” 24 Then she saddled the donkey, and she said to her servant, “Urge the animal on; do not slacken the pace for me unless I tell you.” 25 So she set out and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel.
2 Kings 4:22-25

Her response?  “All is well.”  Wow.  What a powerful testimony.  Unfaltering faith in action! She knows all will be well because of her faith and hope in God. With expediency she sets out to receive her son’s life back.

When the man of God saw her coming, he said to Gehazi his servant, “Look, there is the Shunammite. 26 Run at once to meet her and say to her, ‘Is all well with you? Is all well with your husband? Is all well with the child?’” And she answered, “All is well.” 27 And when she came to the mountain to the man of God, she caught hold of his feet. And Gehazi came to push her away. But the man of God said, “Leave her alone, for she is in bitter distress, and the Lord has hidden it from me and has not told me.”
2 Kings 4:25-27

Again, as she approaches Elisha and he asks her what is going on, she responds with “All is well.”  Wow, again! Though she is in the midst of “bitter distress” she clings to the hope of God with the steadfast truth that “all is well.” In her heart, God would and could give her son life.  

The foreshadowing of Christ returns again!  When Jesus died on the cross, all was still well, even in the distress and pain and fear of that moment.  His friends and family were distraught. But all was well. Jesus would be resurrected! The Promise was not defeated.  The Promise was victorious. Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead!

Life would also be given to the Shunammite woman’s son.  But not before a testing and trying of faith and hope. What happens if nothing happens?  

28 Then she said, “Did I ask my lord for a son? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me?’” 29 He said to Gehazi, “Tie up your garment and take my staff in your hand and go. If you meet anyone, do not greet him, and if anyone greets you, do not reply. And lay my staff on the face of the child.” 30 Then the mother of the child said, “As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So he arose and followed her.31 Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the face of the child, but there was no sound or sign of life. Therefore he returned to meet him and told him, “The child has not awakened.”

It’s hard to keep ahold of hope when nothing happens.

But something does happen.  Elisha contends for the woman’s son.  He doesn’t give up. He stands in faith with the woman that God will act.  They partnered in faith and stubbornly waited for God.

32 When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. 33 So he went in and shut the door behind the two of them and prayed to the Lord. 34 Then he went up and lay on the child, putting his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands. And as he stretched himself upon him, the flesh of the child became warm. 35 Then he got up again and walked once back and forth in the house, and went up and stretched himself upon him. The child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. 36 Then he summoned Gehazi and said, “Call this Shunammite.” So he called her. And when she came to him, he said, “Pick up your son.” 37 She came and fell at his feet, bowing to the ground. Then she picked up her son and went out.
2 Kings 4:32-37

A partnership of unfaltering faith between the woman, her husband, the servant Gehazi, and Elisha, brought life.  Partnership strengthened faith. Hope in God strengthened faith. And unfaltering faith brought life.

So, as we look to Jesus and his death, burial, and resurrection, may we join together with unfaltering faith, knowing that the Lord will be true to His promises for us.  All is well.

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

 

God Looks at the Heart

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”
1 Samuel 16:17


Reading through Samuel, I’ve marveled at the loyalty David showed to God’s anointed King Saul, even amidst the cruel reality of twisted rage and jealousy Saul possessed.  There is a lesson here from both men. Both had been chosen by God, and yet the two men couldn’t have been more different in loyalty, value, and service. Plainly, God did this for a reason: to teach us that man looks at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart.

God chose Saul in order to answer the Israelites desire for a human king.  He chose a strong and handsome man from a wealthy family. He was a man of great stature and he had a commanding presence. He looked the part in every human way!  The Lord also chose Saul from a humble family, a family that was small and insignificant. I believe the Lord chose him in the hope that Saul would remain humble because of his background.  Even knowing that Saul’s hubris would defeat him, the Lord gave Saul the opportunity to succeed. Free will is a powerful thing. And Saul would always have the ability to choose the path he would take, whether it be for God or for himself.

There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish, the son of Abiel, son of Zeror, son of Becorath, son of Aphiah, a Benjaminite, a man of wealth. 2 And he had a son whose name was Saul, a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people.
1 Samuel 9:1-2


On the other hand, David was a doe-eyed boy with a faith in the Lord that struck courage in the hearts of his companions, and fear into the hearts of his enemies.  Whether defeating Goliath, or defending his sheep, David’s victory always came from faith and trust in the Lord. David trusted in God regardless of his audience. His faith came from his heart, and the Lord blessed him with victory.  Yet the victory of God often doesn’t look like the victory of a man. And David’s victory looked like serious defeat for many years, while the Lord worked.

Jealousy and fear became hallmarks of Saul’s leadership.  From the beginning, he both loved and hated young David. David had made him look like a fool by defeating the taunting Goliath after days of humiliating and demoralizing ridicule, with nothing more than a slingshot and faith.  I think this only highlighted Saul’s own lack of faith and trust in God. Still, Saul tries to stand on the side of David and the side of God. He spends half his time trying to kill David, and the other half of the time trying to love David. This must have been horribly difficult.  However, Saul’s biggest fault always seemed to be that he wouldn’t take responsibility for his own shortcomings. He lacked humility. Everything that happened to him was always someone else’s fault. And every mistake Saul made he justified in some way.

David, on the other hand, abided in the Lord fully.  He never put his faith in a kingdom or even King Saul, but instead his heart beat only for the Lord.  To God this was a beautiful and valuable offering. Even though David was quickly anointed as king due to Saul’s folly, David would never raise his hand or his heart against him because no matter the circumstances, even if Saul’s actions were evil and dishonoring to God, David respected the Lord’s chosen, and also trusted the Lord in His promise to raise David up as King.

How often am I guilty of not trusting the Lord and His promises for me?  I look at someone’s poor leadership, or their sinful actions, or their blatant disrespect for God, and my heart instantly goes to bad places.  In my flesh I want justice. I want to make things right. I want to fight for the sake of God’s Name! David’s companions were the same way. Time and time again they would encourage David to kill Saul, and they’d use the justification that God had allowed Saul to fall into his hands, or they would argue that God would bless him for taking down the unrighteous king.  Yet, through it all, David refused to raise a hand against God’s chosen.

Jesus did the same thing.  No wonder we are constantly given the parallels between the two of them!  David always tried to trust in God’s promises. Jesus perfectly trusted God’s promises.  Israel didn’t want to accept Jesus because he came to the world as a servant and not a conquering king.  So, too, David served and waited and trusted. Volumes of books have been written on the subject!

I want to trust God like that!  Because trusting God from the heart is to mirror Jesus! And because of God, I have been given His Spirit to walk in trust.  I don’t have to worry about God taking away His Spirit from me, the way He took it from Saul, because our righteousness is now Jesus. My calling is now Jesus.  My redemption is set by the blood of the Lamb and no folly or failure can take that from me. So, as David did, I shall boast in the Lord alone. Because on my own, I’m no different than Saul.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards,not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 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 1:26-31

 

Confidence in a Still, Small Voice

But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”
1 Kings 19:4

How often have I fallen victim to defeat even after great victories won in the Lord! Only a breath beyond the defeat of the priests of Baal by fire and sword, Elijah fell into a deep, suicidal depression.  Why? Because the defeated enemy cried out in desperation for vengeance to kill him! Only days before, Elijah had mocked and defied the prophets of Baal because of his confidence in the Lord! And now he was in the desert lying under a tree asking God to take his life.

Story of my life.

I get so high off of the victories of God.  I love to see Him work in power through me to bring someone to repentance or salvation or victory.  And then, as sure as the Lord had victory, I look at myself and my circumstances and I’m ruined. Like Elijah, when I look at myself honestly, I see how small  and powerless I am, and I’m ready to give up.  I’m ready to forget the Lord’s power and sulk in my own weakness.

9 There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”
1 Kings 19:9-10

Of course God meets Elijah in his pain and asks him the age old question, “why are you here?”  In other words, “Why are you hiding, Elijah. Why don’t you trust me today?” And Elijah, in his pain and discouragement, proclaims to God that he’s all that’s left of His prophets and there is just no way he can stand up against all that evil all by himself.  And God teaches him something.

And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.12 And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.
1 Kings 19:11-12

You know, I’ve always been taught that God speaks to us in a still, small voice, because of this passage of scripture.  But recently I realized something fresh, something deeper about that still small voice lesson that God gave to Elijah. And it isn’t that God talks in whispers.  It’s that God can and will use one small voice to proclaim his victory over His enemies. Elijah was the still small voice that the Lord of Hosts proclaimed. Elijah, God’s chosen prophet, God’s chosen voice, weak and defeated and broken and depressed and suicidal.  One still, small voice that by God’s power had defeated all the priests of Baal with confidence in the Power of God, and God alone. And God came with fire. Hiding in a cave, alone with the Lord, Elijah found comfort. God comforted him. He showed him the power of his small, little voice.  Then, once God had reminded Elijah of who he was in the Lord, he gave him a taste of what was to come.

And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” 15 And the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. 16 And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. 17 And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. 18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
1 Kings 19:13-18

Elijah felt alone and afraid.  What could one voice do against Jezebel and Ahab?  What could one voice say that could make any difference?  A voice empowered by the Lord is enough. Still and small though it may be, it’s power source is the Spirit of God, and it is strong.  Elijah just needed a reminder. He needed to know that more victory would come, and that he wasn’t alone.

So, when I feel defeated and lost, broken from looking at myself instead of at God, God will remind me of this story.  And he says to me, “You are a still small voice, my love, but I am a roaring lion. And I am in you.” I can be confident in my still, small voice, because I belong to and serve the Risen Lord.  In the hands of the Living God, one voice can always be enough.

A Call to Repentence

And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” 4 So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the Lord only.
1 Samuel 7:3-4

Beloved Savior, the people are dying.  They are defeated and broken and lost and they don’t even know it.  Your Presence is so far from them, mighty Yahweh! They don’t even believe You exist anymore.  Show them, my King, show them You are real and true. Show them that Your Power will save them if only they would turn away from the false gods they serve and look to You for their salvation.  

You are asking so little of us, Lord.  You ask so very little.

if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Romans 10:9-13

Why are they so stubborn, Lord?  Please Father, break their hardened hearts to pieces.  Show them the power of Your love against their enemies and urge them into the shelter of your Presence.  It is Your Presence, Your Salvation, Your Power that brings salvation to the lost. Not images. Not ideals.  Not even crosses. It is Your Victory over the cross that brings salvation to any who would believe it!

Even the Philistines got it eventually.  Sort of.

Why should you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? After he had dealt severely with them, did they not send the people away, and they departed?
1 Samuel 6:6

They finally acknowledged what they were dealing with, and tried to make amends to You with a guilt offering.  (see 1 Samuel Chapter 6) Our world now doesn’t even believe the history that has been protected for thousands of years, a history that declares Your faithfulness and Your salvation offered for all of humanity.  It took the Egyptians ten plagues that eventually led to death, just to submit to Your will. Even then they didn’t repent. And the Philistines, who finally acknowledged Your existence with terror, only wanted You to go away.

I feel like that’s the world we live in now, God.  Only it’s even worse than that. People refuse to see You.  They refuse to acknowledge You. And their time is running out.  Their hearts are so hardened and so committed to the lusts of their own desires, that breaking through that seems an impossible task.  But You are faithful, Yahweh! You can breathe life into the things of this world that are dead, even if they don’t yet know they are dead.

So breathe Your life into the world one last time before the end.  Perhaps a few will recognize their folly before it’s too late. And let Your words permeate this planet as a final warning siren of Your eminent judgement.  Lord, I know that it is your will that none should perish. Please, convince them, Jesus. Convince them that Your love and forgiveness are worth turning away from the false idols that have given the world nothing but death, war, famine, and pain.  Fleeting pleasures are nothing compared to the glorious riches that await the ones who recieve Your Life and Your Salvation.

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
2 Peter 3:8-10

 

When I am Faithless…

I seem to start a lot of my conversations with, “I’m sorry, God.”  Lord, I know full well that repentance is a fine and necessary thing.  But Lord, I’ve neglected to accept Your punishment for my crimes against You as already PAID IN FULL.  I’ve walked around, suffering and moaning with the failures that surround my day. I am sad and I hear myself say, “I know I’m just suffering the consequences of my own actions.”  So sad. And I know that I often do have to suffer the consequences on occasion. But I have neglected to fully receive from You that the consequences for my sin were paid on the cross of Christ.

I have victory.  I am forgiven. I have let the enemy convince me that I have neither!  I have walked in grieving and loss. I have walked in guilt and shame. I have walked in all the things You conquered for me in Your payment for my sins on the cross.  You rose from the dead! You PROVED your victory. You proved it and proclaimed it and then sealed it as a promise in our hearts by giving us–giving me–Your Holy Spirit.

But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.”
Ruth 1:11-13

Why do I ever think You’ve left me to my fate?  Why do I act the way Naomi did when everything she depended on in the physical world had been taken from her.  Distraught, she cried out in her misery, but not to You, God. She cried out in shame and worry and hopelessness.  How many times have I felt that same way? I’ve walked in the sorrow of my circumstances instead of the peace of Your Gospel.  

But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”
Ruth 1:16-18

Ruth, on the other hand, who had nothing, and by worldly standards was fated to a worse fate than Naomi, chose to trust in You.  As a foreigner she had no hope without You, and so she chose by faith to walk to the very end trusting You regardless of how things looked.

I’ve always thought I knew the story of Ruth and Naomi.  I’ve always thought of Naomi as so faithless. And today I saw that I have been walking like Naomi, in faithlessness.  But You are faithful even when we are faithless. Thanks for that, God. Please give me more faith. Teach me to trust You more and hope in Your salvation.

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
2 Timothy 2:11-13

 

The Power in Death

After this he loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. 5 And the lords of the Philistines came up to her and said to her, “Seduce him, and see where his great strength lies, and by what means we may overpower him, that we may bind him to humble him. And we will each give you 1,100 pieces of silver.”
Judges 16:4-5

Dear God, I can’t help but think about all the times I’ve been seduced by worldly desires Like Samson, at times I’ve let confidence in myself be the backbone of my battles instead of You.  I’ve pushed aside Your Spirit’s wisdom speaking warning into my mind, and chose willingly to arrogantly rely on my own tactics to win the battle. You are the giver of all good gifts. Any strategies I might consider come from the intellect You have given me.  My passion, my boldness, my strength, just like Samson, came from Your design. I was made to worship You and be a tool of Your kingdom, yet I have pursued victory with arrogance and trust in my own power.

I know that the lesson here can be that You will still use me, sloppy and self-serving as I am, for Your greater good, because that’s what You do.  You chose to partner with me, knowing my flaws. But Lord, I think the deeper lesson for me is that the enemy is tricky and will beguile me into falling for schemes that cause me harm.  If I would take the time to be vigilant and watch for the attack of the enemy, my defense will be stronger. I would rely on You for my salvation, instead of myself.

You want me to use the gifts You have given me, but under Your leadership and authority.  When You give me power, it must be for Your Kingdom and not my own. I can’t serve myself and also serve You.  That’s Christianity 101. I know that.

So why do I fall short?

I’m so broken, Lord.  

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

Then maybe we can get some stuff done!  I love you, Jesus. Thanks for taking me broken and gluing me back together with Your Spirit.  I will walk in Your restoration. Only when I die to myself and my own strength, can we truly win the battle for life that is Your Victory.

 And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” Then he bowed with all his strength, and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life.
Judges 16:30

Samson did so much for You God.  He judged Israel for twenty years.  But He didn’t truly have victory until He’d experienced the truth of his power: that all his power was from God and not from himself.  He had to die to himself and live for Your Victory, knowing that only His death could bring victory.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
2 Corinthians 4:7

Jesus said it best:

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
Matthew 16:24-26

 

You Are a Miracle Working God

18 And the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?” 19 So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering, and offered it on the rock to the Lord, to the one who works wonders, and Manoah and his wife were watching. 20 And when the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the Lord went up in the flame of the altar. Now Manoah and his wife were watching, and they fell on their faces to the ground.
Judges 13:18-20

Beloved Lord, I have known Your name for a long time.  Your name is Jesus. You are wonderful, counselor, mighty God!  So, why do I question it all the time? You have worked so many wonders in my life.  So many times I have felt and seen and experienced Your power. Over and over You give me more than I could have asked or imagined.  So why do I question You? Why do I behave like I don’t know Your name? You are Hashem. You are “the Name”. And I behave like You are nothing more than a crutch to call upon to make myself feel better.  But that is not who You are.

I always know all the words to say.  I know how to pronounce Your truth. Your Spirit lives in me!  But inside my heart, my reason battles my spirit. I fight the truth the burns inside of me.  How can I know a thing and yet constantly question it? How can I experience Your divine Power over and over and over and still question it?  Lord, help me!

You are a miracle working God.  You work wonders in my life and the lives of all people.  Your name is wonderful. And I’m sorry for all the times I have questioned and doubted and fallen short of trusting in the truth You’ve seen fit to show me a million times or more.  Let me walk in the confidence of all the wonders You have done for me. Keep me from the temptation of falling back into the old habit of doubt that I stumble into at every turn. Build my faith.  You have authored it. You can build it up, Jesus. Build my faith. Renew a right spirit within me, O God!

Look to the Victory!

Now these are the nations that the Lord left, to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. 2 It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before.
Judges 3:1-2

God, it’s so easy for me to get caught up in the battle that rages all around me.  I guess that makes sense. It’s a big battle raging all around me! Hard to ignore!  But I keep forgetting that the war is won. The spiritual carnage all around me can be so oppressive.  It creeps up on me with complacency, discouragement, worldly delights, a critical spirit, and with shame.  Instead of looking at the victory, I look at the battle.

Thank you, God, that You’re not content to leave me that way.  Gently but firmly, You take me in Your hands and walk me through the destruction.  You place my feet on the conquests of Your own shed blood. You teach me the ways of war.  Your train me diligently. You personally dress me in Your own armor, the armor of Jesus, and You carry me forward as a wrecking ball of Your majesty.  

Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle;
Psalm 144:1

Why does my heart grow weary?  Why do I stumble? Why do I struggle?  Why do I doubt?

The victory is mine to inherit.  You’ve told me so! It is already won.  But You will continue to teach me. It’s not my power that brings victory, it’s Yours.  I’m sorry for trying to take responsibility for defeating an enemy that has already been made a footstool beneath Your feet by the power of the blood of the Lamb.

The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”
Psalm 110:1

The enemy will continue to fight until You put a final end to his reign of terror.  And until then I must be in the midst of the chaos. Help me remember that You bring order from chaos.  You are teaching me with each battle how to claim my victory! You are teaching me how to lead others. You are teaching me to keep my eyes on You and my faith in Your power and not my own.

You’ve let the enemy keep fighting for a little while so that I can participate in the victory as well as the spoils. I will know war and be taught by trial how to fight, just so You can look at me with a big grin on Your face and say, “We did it!”  I marvel at Your love and desire to let me partner with You. But partnering in battle means partnering in the suffering as well as the victory. Thank You for counting me worthy to suffer for Your name.

27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
Philippians 1:27-30

I know it’s only going to get worse.  The more I learn to fight, the harder the barrage against me becomes.  But with my eyes trained on You, trained with the experience of battle, I can trust You deeper.  I will have the victory. Let’s give them that “clear sign of their destruction” one more time.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
   I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
   your rod and your staff,
   they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
   in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
   my cup overflows.
Psalm 23:4-5

So, let’s eat!  The war is won.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
   all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
   Forever.
Psalm 23:6

The Gibeonite Consequence: the Flipside to Mercy

A few days ago I talked about the profound mercy of God when Joshua got tricked by the Gibeonites into a false covenant.  But now it’s time to look at the flipside of this egregious error. Disobeying God led to tragic consequences for the people of Israel.  The very thing that could have been a gift of mercy became a thorn.

It’s easy to look at our lives at times and think about how clever we are, or how kind, or how forgiving, but at the end of the day, if we aren’t obeying God, we will find ourselves, no matter how clever we think we are, on a path of tragedy.  If we truly believe that God is sovereign and omniscient, why do we rely on our own reason in any matter? Why do we presume to know what’s best, when only the Lord can know? God has given us a direct line of communication with Him through His Spirit, but we flounder in our self-sufficiency and fall short of all the good God has planned for us, as well as suffer the consequences for our poor choices.

What started out as an opportunity to show mercy with the Gibeonites became a stumbling block for all of Israel.  By enslaving the Gibeonites (and others along the journey) instead of destroying them, Israel brought upon themselves the taint of false worship and the lie of doing what seemed best in their own eyes.  The consequences of not asking God’s opinion brought profound suffering to the Israelites.  And don’t we think the same things?  How many times have I thought, “wow, God, that’s harsh” and questioned His judgement?  Thoughts like that or troublesome to Believers.  We want to believe God, but sometimes we don’t understand or see the big picture.  Why did God let that person die?  Why does God let bad things happen at all?  If God is love, why doesn’t He “accept” everyone?   Having faith and trusting God is hard.   

And they (the Israelites) abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. 13 They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. 14 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. 15 Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them for harm, as the Lord had warned, and as the Lord had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress.
Judges 2:12-15

Just as the Lord had warned, by allowing anyone to enter into their fellowship who was not willing to follow and obey Yahweh, the Israelites became influenced by, and began to worship, the pagan gods of their enemies.  They got sucked into evil by their own compromise. They incurred the wrath of the One True God and broke the covenant Yahweh had made with their ancestor, Abraham. Fortunately, however, the covenant Yawheh made with Abraham did not rely on the obedience of Abraham’s descendants.  (See Genesis 15) It was God alone who took responsibility for both sides of the covenant with Abraham. And just as God foretold would happen, the descendants of Abraham fell short of their obligation and promise to God.  They didn’t trust God to provide a way for them.  That’s why it’s so powerful that Abraham trusted God to provide a sacrifice when He was asked to sacrifice his own son.  Abraham trusted God and it was counted to him as righteousness!

And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
Genesis 15:6

God allowed the consequences of disobedience to be revealed and experienced by His people in the hope of showing them that trusting in God would bring them salvation, while trusting in false gods or themselves would bring only destruction.  Time and time again, Yawheh raised up leaders for His people to guide them in His ways. And time and time again, the people would be led for awhile and then fall away when their leaders died.  They failed again and again to trust the God who made them and saved them.

8 Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. 19 But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways. 20 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he said, “Because this people have transgressed my covenant that I commanded their fathers and have not obeyed my voice, 21 I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, 22 in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the Lord as their fathers did, or not.” 23 So the Lord left those nations, not driving them out quickly, and he did not give them into the hand of Joshua.
Judges 2:18-23

It seems clear to me that God’s mercy is great, so great in fact, that He is willing to see us hurt ourselves if it means we can learn that trusting in Him is better than trusting in ourselves or the things of this world.  We can’t ever fall into the trap of thinking we know best, especially if we feel confident that we are walking with God and know Him well! That is when we are in even deeper danger of straying away! If we gain too much confidence in ourselves, we begin to believe we know the will of God even if we haven’t asked Him!  We can trust the Spirit of God within us will guide us, but we need to take caution before making decisions. We need to stop and listen before we act rashly.

Jesus, I’m so thankful for the Holy Spirit within me that helps me and guides me.  Lord, thank You that You have done everything to teach me, guide me, and fulfill Your promises for me.  Thank You that You are not content to leave me where I’m at. You’re not content to see me suffer in the consequences of my past mistakes.  You’re not content to see me walk in the paths of death. You want me to be free. You want me to be strong. You want me to learn and grow and thrive in life.  So, Lord, I submit to Your rule in my life and in my decisions. Help me to stop and listen before I act. Help me to know Your will by communing with You regularly and keeping Your Presence near to me at all times.  Protect me from foolish choices and lead me in the paths of righteousness for Your namesake. Thank You that where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom! Help me to trust You more.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
2 Corinthians 3:17