Hemmed In

You hem me in behind and before, and 
you lay your hand upon me. 
Psalm 139:5

My BSGs were talking the other day about sensing God’s presence.  More specifically about the times we felt God was far away from us.  So often when we are experiencing difficult trials we think “where is God?”  But I’ve come to realize in my faith journey that the real question is the one God asks, “Will you come back to me and rest in my love?”

God surrounds us each and every day.  In our verse today it’s expressed as “hemming us in.”  For some that might seem restricting.  But to me it evokes the concept of wrapping a baby tightly in a swaddling cloth.  We do it so the baby feels the warmth and safety once felt while inside the womb.  And that’s what God wants for us. 

I will not leave you comfortless: I will 
come to you. 
John 14:18

Those are Jesus’ words.  He sent us the Holy Spirit to always be in us.  We don’t need to go looking for it.  We don’t need to beg for it to descend upon us.  God indwells.  So, what is truly required of us when we experience difficult times is to rest in what is already available to us.

“It may look like I’m surrounded but I’m surrounded by you!”

Upper Room, Surrounded (Fight My Battles)

When I think about the times I felt distanced from God I also think back to when the Israelites were out in the desert.  They could actually see God’s spirit hovering over their camp day and night.  And yet, they asked, “Where is God?”  I don’t have the benefit of seeing a cloud follow me around day and night.  And, I don’t have the physical Jesus to sit down with at dinner to share my problems.  So, I give myself a bit of grace when I forget He is always with me. 

When I rest and tap into the strength and love and goodness of the Holy Spirit I find that promised peace.  It most likely won’t change the circumstances of the trial I’m experiencing.  But knowing He is with me, with His hand laid upon me, gives me the strength to continue.

My friend Betsy is an avid, extreme hiker.  Last year, at 70 years old, she set off to tackle the John Muir Trail solo.  She came to a particularly difficult portion and her body starting giving her troubles.  She has dreamed of this trip for years – and attempted it a few times.  She became distraught that she couldn’t go on.  With her, in case of emergency, was her Iphone.  She made the decision to use it to listen to some Christian music in the midst of this struggle.  As she reached the crest of the difficult portion, filled with the music of the Holy Spirit, her mind was transformed.  She had plugged back in to her closeness with God.  

Betsy wasn’t able to complete her goal.  But she gained so much more.  A confirmation that God never leaves us.  We just need to rest in that “hemmed in” space He provides.

Here’s a prayer from Sparkling Gems from the Greek to pray when we feel separated from God:

Lord, I thank you that I am not a spiritual orphan in this world.  You did not abandon me or leave me to figure out everything on my own.  You sent the Holy Spirit to me to be my Teacher and Guide.  So right now, I open my heart wide to the Holy Spirit, so He can be the Helper You sent Him to be in my life.  I give You thanks for sending this divine Helper and I ask You to teach me how to lean upon Him more and more in the course of my life.  I pray this in Jesus’ name!

The Quiet Mind

The Lord will fight for you; you 
need only to be still. 
Exodus 14:14

I am not a “still” person.  If something feels lacking in me, I do a personal inventory and then come up with a plan to fix it.  But I finally realized that my relationship with God needed to be approached differently.  I sat on the edge of my bed one day years ago and cried out to God like the unbelieving Israelites: “Where are you?  I’ve done a lot of stuff to make you happy but you just aren’t here for me!”

Me, me, me, me.  What “I have done for God.”  The Israelites were constantly complaining to Moses about having sacrificed leaving their homes in Egypt only to find themselves without food or water.  They romanticized their old lives – one which they were prisoners to pharaoh.  And in the verse today they found themselves at the edge of the sea with no obvious way to cross.  From behind, pharaoh’s men were approaching to kill them all.  And the complaining began.

Moses reminds us to be still.  To stop fretting and complaining about our situation.  To stop whirling our minds around worldly solutions.  To stop grasping at fixing things ourselves and working so hard on our sanctification path.  Be still.

That day I complained so loudly to the Lord and He spoke even louder back to me.  “What have you really done?” He asked me.  In my frenzied, “doer” world I thought that I needed to take the bull by the horns and join more Bible studies, volunteer more at church, wear my cross around my neck more often.  But what He was telling me was to stop and pray.  To stop and just believe.  To stop and listen to Him.

The Lord will fight for you and me.  We need to stop and listen to what He actually wants us to do.  For the Israelites it was to pray and then, in faith, step into the water.  For me it was to set aside my “to do” list and dive deep into His Word every day.

The Lord has fought for me.  And when I listen, He tells me when to break camp and when to settle in.  Make stillness a priority today.  Let the world’s problems swirl around the outside while you sit with Him.  He’s got this.  

Unity Strengthens

Be on your guard; stand firm in the 
faith; be courageous; be strong. 
1 Cor 16:13

Isn’t it just like us humans, when dealing with multiple leaders, to try and take sides?  Whether it be a job, a volunteer position, in our families, a group of friends, or at our churches so many of us seek to align ourselves with the best and strongest.  If you’ve ever watched an episode of Survivor, you’ll see how drawn we are to this concept.  But alliances and divisions lead to others being on the “out” and others being “in.”   And so often if our seeking of alliances has anything to do with our church it only serves to erode our faith. 

We see behavior that is ungodly.  We, ourselves, take to gossip or manipulation.  We celebrate the uplifted position of who we follow and revel in the failures of the “other side.”  All along its our own relationship with Christ that is suffering. 

When Paul wrote this letter, he was working with the up and coming faith leader Apollos.  Within the Corinth church people had created a division amongst the two men.  Who was the better leader to follow?  It doesn’t appear that Apollos had anything to do with the strife taking place.  In fact, Apollos seemed to try and head off any favoritism issues by telling Paul he wasn’t ready to return to Corinth.  

In Jesus’ world everyone has the opportunity to be “in.” And as Christians, we are to fight against our tendencies to divide and conquer.  We are to be always “on our guard” when we see these types of rifts arise around us.  It takes courage to stand up to gossipers and the pull of others to align ourselves with the “right people.”  It is faith-strengthening whenever we turn our backs on how the world wants us to act and turn toward how Jesus expects us to act.

A church I was at for almost 20 years was ruined by this type of behavior.  It was reduced to almost ashes by people gathering up others to “their side.”  And it’s sad to say it started within the pastoral and elder level.  What we needed were a few courageous and strong faithful Christians to speak the truth and say “enough is enough.”  The destruction of many people’s faith was truly one of the most disturbing things I have witnessed in a church.

“And yet, what are some Churches but semi-religious clubs, mere conventions of people gathered together? They have not in them that holy soul which is the essence of unity.”

Charles Spurgeon

We can’t take a stand for our faith if we aren’t willing to step outside of our worldly, envious, fearful ways.  When we go along and try to play the game of “who’s the best” and then try to align ourselves with them we fall prey to the devil’s divisiveness.

But when we stand firm in our faith and are courageous against those who wish to divide, God stands beside us cheering us on.  And our faith is reignited when we walk with closely Him.

Unswerving Faith

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we 
profess, for he who promised is faithful.  
Hebrews 10:23

We sing songs about God being our Rock.  We hear sermons about not living as though on shifting sand.  And yet so often I find myself having days where my faith feels more like something I’ve placed in a box to access at a later date and time.  I rush about “doing life,” not as a Christian but as a citizen of the world.  I let go of my Rock and hold on to my to do list.

But what do we, as Christians, really want to accomplish in our lives?  If it’s simply completing to-do lists every day, we miss out on some of the greatest human qualities God gifted us – the ability to dream and grow and have hope. 

When I was in high school, I wanted to be an astronaut.  I met with Air Force recruiters who were enthusiastic about me joining up.  But when I sat down with my parents, they immediately discouraged me.  They thought I couldn’t handle the rigor and discipline of training.  I had two choices – to ignore them and join anyway or give up my dream.  Had I a strong prayer life, I could’ve lifted up this quandary to God.  And then be guided by Him.  At each roadblock I could’ve held fast to the knowledge that He put me on that path.  But I’m sorry to say, I neither prayed nor kept my dream alive.

This verse today harkens back to Abraham and Sarah’s unswerving faith in God.  They went through terrible trials in which it would’ve been understandable had they given up on God’s promises.  We see throughout the Old Testament when the Israelites did give up hope.  They grumbled to Moses and set off in directions which brought death.  And who can forget Lot’s wife – looking backward rather than forward to God’ promise?

How often do we pray for help from Jesus, knowing that He answers prayers, and then after things get a bit tough or we feel the wait is too long we give up on our hopes and dreams?

Blessed is the one who perseveres under 
trial because, having stood the test, 
that person will receive the crown of 
life that the Lord has promised to those 
who love him. 
James 1:12

God never breaks a promise.  It’s always us.  It’s us that needs to take our faith out of the box and place it at the top of our list each day.  We need to hold fast to the knowledge that God is working for us and not against us.  Whenever we are tempted to give up or get discouraged about our dreams, we need seize the promises that God has shown us.

Here’s a prayer from Sparkling Gems from the Greek that might help you, through faith, “hold unswervingly” to your dreams!

Lord, I am well aware that events will occur in life that will tempt me to release the dream You put in my heart.  So right now, I ask You to fill me with the courage I need to refuse to let go of my dream.  Even though my mind and the circumstances around me may send signals that the dream will never come to pass, I know that You are faithful to what you have promised.  Help me wrap my arms of faith around your promises and never let go until I see them come into manifestation!  I pray this in Jesus’ name!  

Burn Brightly

Then you will shine among them like 
stars in the sky as you hold firmly 
to the Word of life. 
Philippians 2:15-16

I have to admit in the carrot and stick scenario of motivation I tend to be more of a “stick” motivated person.  My fear of punishment or failure outweighs any reward I might be offered.  It’s probably why my favorite book in the Bible is James.  He’s upfront, to the point, and sounds a bit chastising at times.  So, when I read about the glorious promises of faithfulness to God, I can sometimes gloss over them.

But when I read this section in Philippians – where Paul is urging the church to obey God’s word – I was struck with the visual he presents as our reward.  “To shine like stars.”  He reminds us to pray, be obedient and faithful without grumbling or arguing (a bit of chastising).  He also reminds us that as Christians, we are to be constantly viewing ourselves as being “set apart.”  

Do everything without grumbling or 
arguing, so that you may become blameless 
and pure, children of God without fault 
in a warped and crooked generation.
Philippians 2:14-15

And the reward for being set apart through this constant reminder that we are firmly attached to Jesus’ main vine? To be like those beautiful, twinkling stars in the night sky.

My husband and I walk our dog each night after dinner.  We are just far away enough from the city to have a decent darkened sky.  Each night we stop in one place briefly and look at the stars.  From our location we can easily find the Big Dipper and Orion’s Belt.  I’ve always had a fascination with the stars – wondering what is beyond our tiny blue planet.  When we are in a season to see other planets, we bring out our phone’s star apps and marvel at the world beyond.

Although in reality there are billions upon billions of stars in the sky, we can only see a few of the brightest ones.  They wink at us saying “hello old friend!”  And when I look up and see the ones familiar to me, it brings me comfort that they are the same today as they were when I was a child.  They steadily burn bright.

That’s what the apostle Paul wants for us.  To be those shining, steady beacons. Comforting many who see us as ones set apart for the glory of the heavens. This is surely the carrot in our motivation story.  But it is the chastising spirit of the stick – obeying God, immersing ourselves in His Word, praying regularly – that will help us burn brightly.

Fresh Fire

That ye be not slothful, but followers 
of them who through faith and patience 
inherit the promises. 
Hebrews 6:12

I don’t typically pull Bible verses from the King James version.  But in one of my devotionals this version of Hebrews 6:12 was the focus of that day’s study.  It got me thinking about my own faith and where I stand with “slothfulness.”

When you hear that word “sloth” you probably think of the lazy animal, hanging out in a tree accomplishing next to nothing all day.  Yet slothfulness is not the same as being lazy – which is how the word is translated in the New International Version.  In fact, the word “slothful” in Greek is quite different.  And in the context of the verse in Hebrews it means to not allow our faith to become monotonous or without a blazing flame.  

Slothful: nōthrós – slow, sluggish; monotonous

Strong’s Greek

For many Christians we say we are religious because we attend church regularly.  We get up Sunday morning, find our usual spot to park at church, listen to a sermon, sing a few familiar songs, and look forward to the donut or muffin on the way out.  We might chat with a few friends then head to whatever else we have on our plate for the day.  We can check off our “faith” for that week. We might even go to a Bible study during the week to put another tick mark on our “faithful” list.

And for you overachieving, super involved Christians, it’s interesting to note that the author of my devotional is an accomplished author, missionary and evangelist.  He realized he was a good “worker” for God.  But somewhere along the line it became just that – work.

But what God wants of us is deep, passionate faith. And if you already have that – awesome!  I hope you will still enjoy what is to come in my Fresh Fire posts! 

He wants us to be in love with Him.  He wants us to be eager to speak with Him and to be sad if we don’t feel His presence.  He wants us to stand for Him in the face of those who would speak against Him.  He wants us to seek the opportunities to speak about His glorious promises.  He wants us to remove all spiritual neutrality and instead burn red-hot for His message of love, forgiveness, redemption and salvation!

My son-in-law once shared with me Charles Spurgeon’s compilation of prayers called, “Spurgeon on Prayer and Spiritual Warfare.”  I soon got my own copy and was amazed with the fervor level of his sermons.  There’s nothing slothful about Mr. Spurgeon!  I wanted to share this excerpt about praying with a blazing heart:

“I would that some of you prayed more vehemently! “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matt 11:12) An old Puritan said, “Prayer is a cannon set at the gate of heaven to burst open its gates.” You must take the city by storm if you would have it. You will not ride to heaven on a feather-bed, you must go on pilgrimage; there is no going to the land of glory while you are sound asleep, dreamy sluggards will have to wake up in hell. If God has made you to feel in your soul the need of salvation, cry like one who is awake and alive; be in earnest; cry aloud; spare not.

Charles Spurgeon, The Raven’s Cry

Whew!  I get exhausted each time I read that!  And yet, during the “Great Covid Pandemic” I watched friends’ faith fall by the wayside.  They were comfortable with sitting in their PJs watching a church video and nothing more.   I also watched others be lifted to higher heights.  Their Bible study life became daily and hour-long.  Their prayers became constant and vibrant!  Their work of sanctification grew by leaps and bounds!  I have written before that I believe a great sifting has occurred.  Those who choose to be “slothful” in their faith will continue to slide out of a relationship with Jesus.  But we don’t want to be lost into the world.

For five weeks, I’ll share 25 verses about strong, energetic, and passionate faith.  A few may feel familiar but my hope is that most will be something new.   Because that’s what this series is about – stripping away the “usual” and monotonous and injecting a bit of new fire.

God’s promises are so much more beautiful and glorious than anything the world can ever offer.  It’s up to us to grab hold of our faith with renewed vigor and fire.  It’s up to us to burn in passion for our Lord.  

Here’s the prayer from that day’s devotional about slothfulness.  I hope you pray it as a stepping off point for the study!

“Lord, help me understand how totally unacceptable it is for me to lose my passion, momentum and desire.  I ask you to forgive me for allowing any hint of slothfulness to operate in my life.  Today I repent and deliberately turn from slothfulness.  Holy Spirit,  I turn to you now and ask you to stir and reignite the fire in my heart.  Please help me regain the zeal, the thrust and the fire I once possessed.  Help me to keep that fire burning this time, never to lose it again.  I pray this is Jesus’ name!”

New Emboldened Podcast

Hello friends! Did you happen to miss a Tiny Yet Mighty blog post because life just got too busy? Now you can follow along through the series on the new podcast, Emboldened- a bold Christian life on Spotify! Bring the messages of the tiniest books of the Bible with you while heading to work, out exercising or even just while stuck at home. Listen in today!

The Sword of God

Life Lesson #15: Our best defense against false teaching is to stay rooted in the Word of God.

But even the archangel Michael, when 
he was disputing with the devil about 
the body of Moses, did not himself dare 
to condemn him for slander but said, 
“The Lord rebuke you!” 
Jude 1:9

We find ourselves at the end of the Tiny Yet Mighty series appropriately enough with a lesson on defensive strategy against false teaching.  False teaching comes in many forms.  We may initially think it’s just a televangelist telling followers if they pray hard enough all their financial woes will be eliminated.  But the world of false teachers reaches so much farther than our Christian leaders.

You’ll notice in our Jude verse today that even the archangel didn’t take up an argument with the devil using his own words or knowledge.  He relied on God’s Word.  And when unbelievers or doubters take verses out of context it’s our opportunity to use the truth of God’s Word in reply.

But we can’t stand for a God we don’t know.  

Too many Christians are not Bible scholars.  And yet, it is our greatest comfort and weapon against the devil.  I, for one, in the first 10 or 15 years of being a Christian rarely even opened a Bible.  During one season of sermons at my church we tried something “out of the box.”  The pastor wanted each of us to take the pew Bible and mark it up as he spoke.  You could see the hives break out on people instantly!

I’ve been in plenty of Bible study groups where more than half the people didn’t read any of the study, hadn’t been to church the Sunday before to hear the sermon, or hadn’t gone on-line to hear the sermon being studied.  And somehow we expect to be filled with the Word of God.

No soldier, no athlete, no surgeon, no salesperson would ever enter their arena of expertise expecting success without first preparing.  So why, as Christians, would we expect any different?

Put on the full armor of God, 
so that you can take your stand 
against the devil’s schemes.  
Ephesians 6:11

The full armor includes the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness given by Jesus, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit – the word of God.  Without any of these we are left to the evil devices of false teachers.

But let’s back up and start at the very beginning of false teaching.

"Now the serpent was more crafty than 
any of the wild animals the Lord God 
had made. He said to the woman, “Did 
God really say, ‘You must not eat from 
any tree in the garden’?” 
Genesis 3:1

We were babes in God’s glorious garden when the first false teacher spoke to Eve.  He tried to weave his way around God’s Word and deceive her.  One of the ways I’ve personally experienced this is concerning how God communicates with us.  How often have you heard someone say they received a directive from God but yet claimed God doesn’t “speak to them.”  I’ve heard famous preachers dismiss the idea of God actually speaking, using words, to speak to people.  We seem to have the need to define God “speaking” as someone standing before us speaking out loud.  This unfortunate definition has led so many people to feel as though God is ignoring them. 

I have a friend who has frequent interaction with God through others, music, signs, etc, and yet she spoke with sadness that she had never heard God speak.  The parsing of God’s messages, directives and laws to find the “out” or the “exception” is the devil’s work.  

“You will not certainly die,” the 
serpent said to the woman." 
Genesis 3:4

Sure, Eve wasn’t going to physically die (although she couldn’t know that for sure) but the death she was to experience would be much harsher.  Satan was relying on Eve not trusting the Word of God.  

In our modern times sexual immorality has become our apple in the Garden.  “What’s the big deal?”  “God didn’t actually say a man can’t marry a man.”  Like the statement to Eve of death, this one is true on its surface.  But God does, throughout the Bible state that a man shall take a woman for his wife.

That is why a man leaves his father and 
mother and is united to his wife, and 
they become one flesh. 
Genesis 2:24

But the Bible was written long ago and cultures change and we evolve, right?  There was only one great change in our Christian history – Jesus.  He did not come to remove the laws of God.  He came to fulfill the law.  God’s law reveals our sin, our brokenness.  We can never completely fulfill the law through our own means.  Jesus gives us the grace and righteousness needed to be right with God. 

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday 
and today and forever. 
Hebrews 13:8

These are but a few examples of how both believers and non-believers twist and turn the truth of God’s Word.  It’s all an attempt to live in the world of the flesh.  We are called to be a people set apart.  To know God as best we can.  To stay in constant communion with Him.  

To him who is able to keep you from 
stumbling and to present you before 
his glorious presence without fault 
and with great joy— to the only God 
our Savior be glory, majesty, power 
and authority, through Jesus Christ 
our Lord, before all ages, now and 
forevermore! Amen. 
Jude 1:24-25

When we find ourselves in the midst of false teaching it is Jesus Christ who we can draw on, both in Word and Spirit, to keep us from the fire.  Stay close to Him and the devil cannot strip you of God’s blessings.

I hope you enjoyed this series, “Tiny Yet Mighty!” Stay tuned for my next series, “Fresh Fire — 25 verses to invigorate your faith,” starting March 29. Just in time to celebrate Jesus’ sacrifice and amazing resurrection!

A Tiny Message #10

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did 
we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger 
or needing clothes or sick or in prison, 
and did not help you?’ “He will reply, 
‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not 
do for one of the least of these, you 
did not do for me.’ 
Matthew 25:44-45

The other day during my BSGs’ study on Easter we had a discussion about humbly serving. It was interesting to hear how some of us took the line “the least of these” to solely mean people in poverty. We also tended to look at serving only as a physical or financially act.

And yet Jesus said that He brings living water to the thirsty. Who are the “thirsty” around you? You might be surprised that there are many Christians who remain hungry and thirsty for what Jesus has to offer. They have accepted Him as His savior but are not living out the fullness of life God wants for them.

When we talk about sharing the gospel with others we usually mean the message of salvation. And yes, we must make as a priority the saving of souls through the introduction of the true message of Christ. But the Good News is also about the peace and joy and love of God. It’s also about the helping hand of the Holy Spirit.

When we dismiss the work of helping all God’s people, not just the poor, we create a hierarchy of “needs” that just isn’t present in God’s Holy kingdom. He see us all. He loves us all. And if we are called to help guide and teach a group of young, new believers that is exactly where we need to be — keeping them from being pulled back into the world. Or it may mean we speak the truth plus love to a friend who has been led to false teaching.

Wherever you have been called to humbly serve and share the gospel — be it with believers or non-believers — rest assured that your work is loved by God.