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Keep Calm & Pray On

Lessons from Cherith

Do not be afraid.  Stand still and watch the Lord rescue you.  Exodus 14:13 NLT

Are you a panicker?  I can raise my hand and say I still haven’t fully removed panicking from my life.  In my “baby Christian” and pre-Christian days panicking in my world looked a bit like this: bad news comes, I immediately pull back (finances, emotion, socializing, etc), and Mrs. Fixit comes to live in my brain.  How was I going to fix this overwhelming problem?  If “fixing” the problem was truly out of my hands that really threw me for a loop.  And, if it was a personal failure, I’d add a hefty dose of self-disdain as in, “why in the world would you do that you stupid, idiot?”  Or this always helped: “Of course this happened because you are a failure and no one even likes you.”  Surefire ways to solve any problem, right?  

I opened up my Strong’s Concordance to see how many times the word “fear” appears in the Bible.  It’s two pages and four tiny columns long of references to the word “fear.”  That doesn’t include “feared,” “fearest,” “feareth,” “fearfully,” and many more!  According to on-line sources the words “fear not” show up about 140 times in the Bible (not 360 which is frequently proposed).  It seems God really wants to get a point across about how to handle our fears.  And yet we still panic.

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” 29 “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Matthew 14:28-30

From beginning to end of the Bible we see people who literally have the hand of God reaching out to them panicking.  Isn’t that what Adam did when God asked, “Where are you?”  They freaked out and hid.  The Israelites, after having God lead them night and day with clouds and fire, provide food from heaven, freaked out and cried, “We want to go home!”  And poor Peter.  Even with Jesus admonishing him just seconds prior to, “Take courage! It is I,” he takes his eyes off the Lord and on to his own feet and the world.

So, take heart my dear friends we are not alone. But God still wants us to grow each day, each disaster toward Him.

I’ve been rewarded by the world for what my own style of panicking looks like.  I go into research and development mode.  My computer keys alit with fire as I search for reasons and solutions.  I start problem-solving how to save more money while imagining a giant victory garden to sustain us.  I organize, make charts, create checklists, watch YouTube videos.  And I forget to pray.  And be still. The world doesn’t reward with peace.

Elijah himself was a study in two sides of this panicking problem.  On one hand he did as directed by God and told the king how his evil behavior would result in a drought.  Then he seemed to calmly go to Cherith Ravine under God’s direction.  See how God provides when we obey and are calm?  But after all this plus the amazing display of God’s power and might on Mount Carmel he suddenly panics.  He runs away and hides in fear for his life.  And God asks him, “What are you doing here?”

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Matthew 16:8-9

It’s been a hard fought lesson between Jesus and me about not panicking.  About staying calm in the face of scarcity, whether that be finances, food, love and even yes, toilet paper.  But time and again God asks us, “What are you doing here?  Don’t you remember what I’ve done for you before?”

And so, while in my own Cherith when another person suddenly showed up for lunch or dinner I forced my thoughts back on Him.  I kept calm and prayed.  “You will show up, Lord.”  When I didn’t know how the 100 mini-birdhouses we had to hand out at Bev’s funeral would get painted (side note: she had planned to give them out at her wedding anniversary party and asked, “is it ok to give out party favors at funerals?) I prayed for help and a small army of women volunteered.  When the angel volunteer, who was planning the funeral reception, called and said all the sunflowers she had ordered were lost somewhere between California and Colorado I prayed that it would all turn out fine.  And on the day of Bev’s funeral the church and reception looked so beautiful thanks to many hands.

God started on me many years ago with the verse from Psalms 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.”  It showed up everywhere, even on vacation while attending a church for Mother’s Day.  The gift they handed out? Pens with that very verse.  And when I can’t sleep at night from worry I repeat that verse over and over.  Be still.  Don’t panic.  God’s got this.  It wasn’t until my time in my Cherith that I finally really got it — In times of great strife panicking is never the solution because peace and calmness are waiting for us

Friends, the Lord has so many better solutions for problems that we can’t even imagine.  So why not just give every one of them, no matter how small or large to Him right now?  We need to stop fearing the world and give glory to the only one we should fear with reverence and majesty, the Almighty God.  

What’s your “panic mode?”

What are you worried about right now that you need to give to God?

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The Heart of the Matter

“And I am so angry I wish I were dead.”  Jonah 4:9

I’ve shared before about the miraculous year I had doing God’s will during our 100 Lunches project.  When Jesus first spoke to me, directing me to make 100 lunches and deliver them to the homeless in downtown San Diego I had no idea the lessons He had in store for me.  Initially, I thought it was just a need that He directed me to fill.  My spiritual gifts were perfect to complete this task – or so I thought.  What began as a one-time submission to God became a year-long lesson in trust, compassion, faithfulness and humility.  Definitely not traits I would’ve confidently listed amongst my gifts.

With each passing day that year, God placed new trials and new opportunities for me to finally grasp what He really wanted of me.  I could administer any program at my church, work or other organization.  I’m organized, comfortable with leadership, a successful multitasker, and can teach readily.  As long as I was in charge life was good, so it seemed.  Until someone was unhappy with me or disagreed with me.  Or I hurt someone’s feelings.  Or I felt overlooked and unappreciated.  Praying came after the fall, if at all.

But the Spirit of God came upon me that fateful day.  I like to think of God seeing my potential.  My new beginning.  And He knew with some pruning and care I could shake off many of my old ways and start working on new ones.  Starting with praying to Him to help me make the change.  And learning that God wants our heart first, above all, so that it’s our heart that pours out to the world.

“Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. Jonah 1:2-3

The story of Jonah and the whale rank up there with Noah and his ark as being widely known by Christians and non-Christians alike.  Jonah tried to get away from God, jumped overboard, was swallowed by a giant fish, prayed to God and God spit him out onto the shore.  A nice story of turning back to God in faith, right?  But in these four little chapters there’s so much more!  There are lessons on being a “I’m fine, it’s fine” sleepy Christian.  Lessons like Moses experienced when he told God he wasn’t up for the job.  Lessons on how one person can help save so many.  

Jonah was actually a man of great faith.  He knew that if he went to Nineveh, a sworn enemy of the Jews and well-known for its evil ways, God would most likely use him to rescue the people there.  But Jonah’s patriotism got in the way of his faith.  So, he resigned as God’s prophet.  He didn’t want his new beginning to look like betrayal back home.  But God gets His way no matter how hard we try to thwart Him!  

Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah 3:3

So yes, Jonah sees how amazing His God is while sitting in the mouth of a giant fish and prays, remembering how God saved him before and asking for him to do it again.  And Jonah finds himself once more pressed on toward Nineveh.

While there he spreads God’s message that in 40 days the city would be destroyed because of their wicked ways.  But there’s something missing.  Within this story you will not find a message from Jonah on how to stop this destruction.  You won’t find compassion and love for these 1,000s of people.  He states the fact, does it efficiently and without pause.  In three days this one man had reached the ears of every citizen, including the king.  Pretty impressive right?  And although God loved the fact that they believed and turned from their evil ways you can’t help but think the real target of this lesson was just one man – Jonah.

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. Jonah 3:10-4:1

Jonah had the gifts of prophecy, faith, evangelism and apparently administration.  And he begrudgingly used them.  Where God saw an amazing new beginning as a man who could help bring so many to faith, Jonah saw embarrassment and shame.  He didn’t want to go home to face his people who hated the Nineveh citizens and be known as a traitor.  He stopped remembering that God loves everyone and God can work miracles in all our lives, even our enemies.

In chapter 4, Jonah is like the Prodigal Son’s elder brother – critical, selfish, sullen, angry and unhappy with what was going on.  It isn’t enough for God’s servants simply to do their Master’s will; they must do “the will of God from the heart.” Eph 6:6

Warren Wiersbe

So as Jonah sits on the hill outside town in the last chapter of this amazing story God takes another shot at softening Jonah’s heart.  He provides another lesson for him to experience and learn.  Because God is love He doesn’t give up on us.  He wants our new beginnings to be filled with love and compassion.  I love this quote from a sermon by Charles Spurgeon on Jonah:

“The deeper your trouble, the greater are your possibilities of adoration.”

When I first went into our 100 Lunches project, I was certain I could complete this simple task with efficiency and ease like Jonah.  But God put me on the hill, overlooking all that I had done that first week and said, “You have much more to learn.”  

With each distribution of lunches He said, “do it again, this time like this.”  He showed me how to be ok with people turning me down when I asked for help.  And how to be grateful when people came out of nowhere to help. He taught me how to slow down and look the hurting in the eye and offer a kind word or even a gentle touch.  He reminded me to trust in Him, to love Him.  He answered prayers which encouraged me to pray even more.  He allowed me to be loved by society’s “unwashed”, giving me the opportunity to tell them of God’s glory and provision. 

Jonah’s story ends without a word from him letting us know he “got it.”  His last lines are the first in this look at Jonah – “I wish I were dead.”  God’s last words are about His love and care for all people – no matter their nationality, financial status, religion, or sins.  Think of the amazing new life Jonah could’ve had when he left Nineveh.  Not just knowing about God, not just having faith that God is in charge.  But loving God and loving the fact that He wants us to live like Him, in love.  

Jonah’s faith was a divided one.  He held onto his patriotism and pride with a vengeance.  It caused him to withhold his love and compassion.  When we think of the Bible’s greatest lessons about love, 1 Corinthians 13 probably comes to mind. In verses 4-13 Paul tells us what love is. So many think these passages are about romantic love but in the context of the entire letter it’s about how we serve out God’s will with our gifts. In a way, the more important lessons are in verses 1-3. The lesson God was trying to teach Jonah. The lesson which can help us all in our new beginnings as God’s servants.

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” 1 Cor 13: 1-3

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The Perfect One

Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him Hebrews 5:8-9

My BSGs have decided we can whittle down any Bible study to one word: “Obey.”  We joke now about how if we want any blessing, to hear His Word, to see our lives transformed well, all we need to do is “obey.”  Easy enough, right?  Just ask a few thousand Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years.

In a study we are in right now the question was asked: “What happens between childhood and adulthood that causes children and adults to respond differently to God?”  We all knew, and had experienced, the various reasons.  My friend Caroline shared that a child’s faith is so pure and beautiful but an adult’s return to faith takes on a different and deeper beauty.  We all agreed a child’s faith has yet to be tested.  Yet to be disappointed and hurt.  

I came to my Christian faith as an adult.  I believed in God throughout my childhood.  I don’t know why – some amazing work of God reaching into my child heart and mind telling me He was there.  But I fell away from that quiet, pure relationship as I got older.  I didn’t understand how His ways were so completely different than the world’s.  And now, as an adult I’m learning something that has set my feet more firmly on the path to Him.  He is perfect.

Today I praise God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit for their perfection.  For when we accept that basic truth, we can turn back to it over and over when we consider disobeying Him.  Because we have to examine why we choose to disobey His Word.  Is it because we think we know better?  We don’t trust Him?  Or maybe we just haven’t taken the time to listen to Him?

When things go off kilter in our lives and we also accept that God is perfect we then must also accept that what is happening has a purpose.  Which means we need to lean in closer to listen and obey.  We need to rest in the peace that He’s “got this.”  We don’t need to run ahead of Him and solve every problem on our own.  We don’t need to stay awake night after night brewing and stewing over our children, our job, our relationships.  We take it to Him and say, “You have the perfect solution.  Show me.  Lead me.  And I will obey.”

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

For so many of us this is our hill to conquer.  Our place of greatest need.  To acknowledge His perfection and our imperfections.  To accept that we need to humble ourselves and accept His correction or wisdom.

I may no longer rest my head at night with the same pure, unquestioning faith that there is a god.  But my adult-sized faith has been set in the kiln.  My relationship with God has become a beautiful piece of art.  In His perfection He is transforming my heart into something worthy of His love.   


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God’s Guardrails

For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. Deuteronomy 30:16

I grew up not wanting to have children.  In my isolated world I experienced a parenting style that used harsh, physical, anger-fueled discipline.  I didn’t know there was any other way and knew it wasn’t what I wanted impose on any children.  So often as we become our own people, cleaved from our parents, we take the elements of parenting we don’t like and try to do the exact opposite.  However, I also acknowledged as a new adult that the harsh discipline kept me from a lot of dangerous behavior.  So where was the balance?

If you take a brief walk through the history of parenting you’ll see a modern conflict similar to the one I was having.  The harsh disciplinary view of old was met face on with Dr. Spock and his more “loosey goosey” style.  But as the Spock kids became the radical children of the 60s and 70s parents searched for a middle ground.  One psychologist, Dr. James Dobson took up the challenge.  He brought parents back into the position of authority but done with love.

Discipline isn’t, by definition, a bad thing. Studies have shown that the most effective way to foster healthy relationships with children and give them the ability to learn and utilize self-control is through positive discipline. 

Lauren Steele, Fatherly.com

We humans need fatherly guardrails.  It’s a proven fact since the beginning of time.  We need to remember that when Moses came down the mountain with the 10 commandments they were NEW rules.  New guardrails of how to worship God, how to treat other people, how to be respectful within our families, and how to protect ourselves from well, ourselves.  

The Old Testament has a shadow story woven throughout.  Yes, we follow the woeful Israelites through trials, tribulations and successes.  But put in context God is constantly showing them how to live differently than all the other nations around them.  Nations that He created as well but saw how they overwhelmingly desired to live outside His guardrails – rampant sexual exploits, child sacrifice and more.  He was testing them all, just like today.  Free self-reign or accepting governance by God.

I praise God today for His guardrails.  For the 10 Commandments He gave us to live within.  Because just like our children we prove over and over that without them we can get ourselves into a lot of trouble.  Without His guidance, His narrow path, we wander off into parts unknown, get lost, live in fear and despair, and ruin not just our lives but the ones we love.

When I met my husband and told him why I didn’t want children he assured me we’d figure it out.  He wouldn’t let my past keep me from a full future.  Thankfully as we took the journey, we met God along the way.  I may have pushed up against those guardrails a few times but He always calls me back to the center of the road.  


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Living In The Light

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. 
2 Corinthians 4:6

I’ve been thinking a lot about separateness lately.  As the world seems to move farther and farther away from the message of Christ, I find myself feeling separated from so much of the goings on.  Politics, social and moral issues that the world promotes appear to be so upside down.  At times I’ve asked, “Where is God in all of this?”

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” 

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

“What on earth is He up to?” is, I suppose, the better question.  Since the beginning of time God’s work has been about separateness.  He separated the dark from the light.  The land from the sea.  The heavens from the earth.  He even set apart man from beast.  And when He commanded that there would be light it also meant He would set apart good from evil.  From that day on He started working in our hearts to bring us into the light.  The light that Jesus gave direct access to through His sacrifice.

I’ve been visiting a new church with my husband.  The pastor is Adriel Sanchez.  Some of you may recognize him as one of the duo from Core Christianity – a podcast and radio show heard around the world.  His church has begun a new series on Genesis.  And he spoke on the creation of light and dark.  

God created beauty, order and light and He didn’t need ingredients.  He made them out of nothing, darkness.

Pastor Adriel Sanchez

He went on to put the Jewish (and eventually Christian) creation story in to context.  The Jews were most likely wandering in the desert when this story was possibly given to Moses from God.  Their lives were dark and chaotic.  And while other religions of the time, just like today, have their own creation story, those religions created gods out of what was created – the Sun God, Moon God, God of Nature, etc.  You’ll notice in Genesis that the sun and moon aren’t called those names.  Possibly to avoid man from elevating them to a worshipping status.  God created all the things that these other religions made into little gods.

We weren’t created to serve the sun, the moon, or nature.  They were created FOR man by God.

Pastor Adriel Sanchez

When you think about what God did for us humans it’s pretty amazing.  Think about a gift you received that was the best gift ever.  Do you remember how you thanked the person who gave it to you?  Now imagine this gift that God gave us.  The light, the land, the skies, the animals.  How could we ever thank Him enough?  All He has ever asked of us is to set ourselves apart from the darkness. 

Our hearts are like the wilderness – dark and chaotic.  And God says to our hearts, “Let there be light!

Pastor Adriel Sanchez

So let’s go back to C.S. Lewis’ imagery of rebuilding the house.  God is working on rebuilding the world.  God works on large scale projects while also working on our tiny little bathroom remodel.  It’s the same work schedule He has maintained throughout history. There’s a lot of knocking down walls going on.  And with that comes a lot of pushback from people who don’t want the light to enter in the room.  They enjoy living in the darkness in order to put themselves and their desires at their center.   

I’ve heard people talk disparaging about the Bible – its violence especially.  Many uneducated about the Bible take issue with destroying whole towns and killing off all the residents.  But put in context it was a major remodel taking place.  Those cities were rife with termites and rot.  Child sacrifices and unbridled sexual exploits all in the name of satisfying some fertility god were rampant.  They were just plain evil.  

And while God was using other people and the Jews to destroy those darkened places He made it a point to work in each and every Israelite’s heart.  He cared about behavior but He cared more for bringing light to their hearts and minds.  They were to act like people set apart from the darkness. He cared enough about us, as individuals, to first send His Son and then leave us with the light of His Holy Spirit to dwell in each of us.

It’s hard to live set apart from the world.  It may cause our faith, at times, to wane.  But I’m finding when I change my question from “Where is God?” to “What on earth is He up to?” it helps me to see His work in me and the world.  For when I see my Savior I surely want to be remodeled, a house full of light.

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Awaken

So then, let us not be like others, 
who are asleep, but let us be awake 
and sober.  
1 Thessalonians 5:6

I just finished a study on the book of Numbers.  It finds Israel wandering about the desert grumbling, complaining and disobeying God at every turn.  And God gives mercy over and over at Moses’ pleading.  Until He doesn’t.  There’s so much death in this book because of the unfaithfulness.  Some because God allows the Israelites to try their own path, leading to deaths during wars.  And some because God rains down His punishment with plagues.

It’s so easy for us to read what happened thousands of years ago and judge the Israelites.  They were asleep to God’s ways and character.  

At the end of one of my commentaries was the statement that from God’s point of view there are only three locations in the Israelite journey and only three locations in our own journey.

  1. Egypt: the land of bondage
  2. The Wilderness: the land of unbelief, doubt and falling short
  3. Canaan: the land of inheritance

The question for us is, which location do we currently find ourselves in?

Throughout the Bible we find an underlying message about growing in our faith.  The sooner we recognize where we are and why we are there, the sooner we can move along on our journey.  

For I know that good itself does not 
dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. 
For I have the desire to do what is good, 
but I cannot carry it out. 
Romans 7:18

This statement by Peter is so self-reflective.  He has one foot in the wilderness while reaching with the other into the land of inheritance.  He actively searches his heart and soul, asking God to reveal the blemishes and the blind spots.

We can spend a lot of time, like the Israelites seeing what God is and does.  We can hear the good work He does in others.  But do we, like Moses, truly understand God’s actions?  Do we still ask “why” and wishing we could go back to Egypt?  Or do we ask God to do even more work in us so that we are constantly changing, stripping away our old selves for His glory?

We want to be awake, vivacious, alive in our faith journey.  We need to not just know “of” God but truly know Him – His character, how He works and how much He loves to see us grow.

You either obey, ignore or resist.  

Warren Wiersbe on the will of God

We humans like to blame the outside world for being stuck.  For not reaching our full potential.  We blame our church for not inspiring us.  We blame our circumstances for not having time for God.  We blame fellow Christians who have hurt us.   But the Holy Spirit resides in us.  It is a personal journey lived out for all to see.  King David, in Psalm 51 does some deep reflection on where he is in his faith journey.

For I know my transgressions, and my 
sin is always before me. Against you, 
you only, have I sinned and done what 
is evil in your sight; 
Psalm 51:3-4

The Israelites blamed Moses and God for not quickly and without hardship reaching the Promised Land.  They lacked David’s self-reflection.  They sat for so many years in the Land of the Wilderness.  It took me almost 20 years of wandering to finally wake up and begin understanding God.  So, I have no place to judge them. 

If you are stuck it’s time to look inward.  It’s time to shake off your sleepiness and do a deep dive with God into your own heart.  Only then can He lead you to the Land of Inheritance.

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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!

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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.  

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The Ripples of Pride

Lesson #10: Make Jesus the King of every aspect of your life, especially the parts you grasp tight control over.

“The pride of your heart has deceived 
you, you who live in the clefts of the 
rocks and make your home on the heights, 
you who say to yourself, “Who can bring 
me down to the ground?” 
Obadiah 1:3

My BSGs (Bible Study Girls) now know each others’ longstanding mini-kingdoms that we like to control.  When we are asked questions in various studies about our sins we laugh and say, “Oh, I can answer that for you!”  This is why I love these ladies.  We have opened our lives to each other in trust.  And, we expect to be held accountable for growth in our troublesome areas.  I, for one, had an epiphany a month ago about one of my mini kingdoms which brought me a bit of embarrassment along with conviction.

These last few months I’ve really struggled with how angry I become when I head out for all my errands.  My irritation and annoyance with people in general was heightened with the COVID related rules and fears.  I’d see a person alone in their car with a double breather mask on and wanted to roll down my window and scream at them.  The one-way rules for the grocery store aisles frustrated me when I found myself accidently going the wrong way and got dirty looks.  People were either too slow, too lazy, or too dumb – in my opinion.  I kept it all bottled up and would arrive home in turmoil.  And then one day, while doing my Bible study, it hit me.  My problem was pride.  

“When pride comes, then comes 
disgrace, but with humility comes 
wisdom.” 
Proverbs 11:2

Yep, I was being the queen of “Miss Know It All” land.  And I had to admit it to my group.  It wasn’t until that conviction hit me that God could then begin the re-building process.  I’m now praying each day I leave my house that the Holy Spirit will remind me to live as a loving, compassionate, forgiving person.

In this week’s small Bible book, we hear from the prophet Obadiah.  As prophets go, he’s not all that well known.  In fact, there’s quite a lot of disagreement about who he was and about what time period he prophesized.  But what we do know was he came to warn the people of Edom about their prideful ways.

Edom was a city from the line of Esau.  You might remember him as Jacob’s brother.  And ever since Jacob illicitly received Isaac’s family blessings there was enmity between the two brothers.  One of the great, longstanding feuds began that day.  

So, hundreds of years later we find ourselves in Edom, who conspired with Judah’s enemies to overthrow Jerusalem.  And God is not happy.

“Though you soar like the eagle and 
make your nest among the stars, from 
there I will bring you down, declares 
the LORD.” 
Obadiah 1:4

Throughout the Old Testament we see God’s people, some of whom actually had the cloud of God living among them, attempt to take control over every situation.  They conspired with enemies, took the opposite path, demanded earthly kings, worshipped other idols to bring favorable weather.  We have the benefit of looking through the entire Bible and shaking our head in disbelief.  “Why didn’t they just do what God directed them to do?” one of my Bible study questions asked.  I can only look at my own life and ask myself the same question.

“For everything in the world – the 
lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, 
and the pride of life – comes not from 
the Father but from the world.” 
1 John 2:16

When we build up our own mini kingdoms, be it about finances, our care and keeping of our children, our jobs, our social life, our health, and so on we seek to place ourselves higher than God.  Our pride tells us that we know better.

And the Edomites thought they knew best.  They were going to destroy Judah through alliances with her enemies.  Meanwhile the Edomites, who built their city high up in the mountains as sturdy fortresses, were sure that no harm would come to them.

“But how Esau will be ransacked, 
his hidden treasures pillaged!” 
Obadiah 1:6

The thing about God though is that so often instead of an outright destruction of our mini kingdoms we get hit from the flank.  We demand or beg to be in charge and He sits back and says, “Ok, have at it.”  And we think we’ve won the battle.  And then the stress comes, the destroyed relationships, lost sleep, ulcers, and more.  And yet some of us hold on tighter because our pride won’t let us release our drawbridges and welcome God into our kingdom.

When we hold on to the sin of pride it creates ripple effects throughout our entire lives – and maybe even beyond.  We pass down family hatreds and attitudes toward others.  We teach our children to “never give an inch” in situations.   We divorce because we couldn’t see the other side and therefore create broken homes.

My friends, the people of Israel were promised, while still in the desert, a great year of Jubilee.  In that year, all debts would be forgiven, all slaves set free.  It was to be a year-long celebration of God’s love for His people.  And it never happened.  Before they could even get to the promised land, they decided they knew better.  Thousands of young men died because they wouldn’t trust the God who had taken care of them.  The God who created food out of nothing and gave water from a stone.

God wants you to experience His Jubilee – a freedom from the slavery that pride brings.  Jesus paid the price to release us.  It’s already done.  It ourselves that have re-shackled our hearts and minds.  I read this story the other day that I hope will bring you your own epiphany.

“There was a farmer that got word that one of his sheep had been stolen and lie dead in a ditch outside town.  He headed out to retrieve the carcass.  Once he arrived, he realized the sheep wasn’t dead.  It appeared as though its legs were still bound together although no rope remained.  The farmer called to the sheep to get up but the animal laid there as though unable.  He smacked the sheep on the backside to get up and yet it remained.  He realized the sheep still thought he was tied up.  So, the farmer pulled the animal’s legs apart to show him he was no longer bound.  And finally, the sheep hopped up and ran up the hill.”

Are you that sheep?  Jesus has already released you from all bondage.  But are you still acting, out of pride, as though you are still a prisoner inside your own mini kingdom?

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Be A Heart Changer & Soul Saver

Life Lesson #9: Christians are in the job of changing hearts and saving souls.

Perhaps this is the reason he was 
separated from you for a while, 
so that you might have him back 
forever, no longer as a slave but 
more than a slave, a beloved 
brother—especially to me but how 
much more to you, both in the 
flesh and in the Lord. 
Philemon 1:15-16

When I was in college, I was approached by two missionaries on campus.  I believed in God, to an extent, but didn’t know anything about Him or Jesus.   I asked the typical questions – “Why does God allow bad things to happen to people” and “Why did He give us free will instead of just making us all good people?” I’m sorry to say they couldn’t give me even a best guess.  I wonder if you were tasked with talking to a friend about Jesus would you be ready with passable answers to these questions?

I heard a talk by Joyce Meyer the other day where she took up the question of why evil things continuously happen in the world.  She’s seen some pretty bad situations in all of her world-wide missionary work.  She prayed this question one day.  The answer she got back was, “I’m waiting on my people to obey me and take care of each other.”

The righteous know the rights of 
the poor; the wicked have no such 
understanding. 
Proverb 29:7

I’m currently doing a study that takes me through the entire Bible.  It’s fascinating to see in Leviticus how sin offerings are adjusted for the poor.  Even thousands of years ago God was making sure the downtrodden were taken care of.  But notice you won’t find in the Bible that the Israelites or Christians are told to take up arms to eliminate poverty.  Verse after verse we are tasked to do one thing with the poor – to help them.

In Joppa there was a disciple named 
Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); 
she was always doing good and 
helping the poor. 
Acts 9:36

As social justice issues go, the poor are always on the lips of “social justice warriors.”  Their desire appears to be to eliminate poverty and all social injustice via legislation, protests or even through violence.  But as Christians we are shown a different approach.  Take the issue of slavery, as discussed in the letter from Paul to Philemon.  The subject is the slave Onesimus.  Notice in the introductory verse that Paul does not chastise or demand of Philemon the release of his slave.  Paul, instead, appeals to faith principles.  He reminds Philemon that as a faithful follower of Jesus our hearts and therefore, our minds are changed.

“To me, a follower of Jesus means a friend of man.  A Christian is a philanthropist by profession, and generous by force of grace; wide as the reign of sorrow is the stretch of his love, and where he cannot help he pities still.”  

Charles Spurgeon

By teaching slave owners about the power and love and salvation found in following Jesus, the disciples were slowly changing the hearts and then minds of people who, not only owned slaves, but behaved in any number of sinful ways.  The new Christian is tasked with living in a new loving and giving nature.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, 
the new creation has come: The old 
has gone, the new is here! 
2 Corinthians 5:17

Had the disciples come into new cities preaching about abolishing slavery (let’s remember too that slavery in that time was mostly more like indentured servitude) they certainly would’ve been met with resistance.  Slaves were costly commodities – just as they were in the early years of the United States.  To preach that people had to give up much of their wealth in order to follow Jesus would not have been as successful as first telling of the Good News.

Last year, I watched as protests and violence broke out in cities across the United States by self-professed social justice warriors.  To be honest, at times I wasn’t even sure what some of it was about.  In Portland, Oregon, the young people rioting just seemed to hate everyone.  It was a perfect time for the church to rise up and do what we should do best – show love and help change hearts.  I hoped and prayed that in communities hit by violence that God’s people would come together and form prayer chains around the cities – enveloping it in God’s love.  Instead, I watched as pastors led more protests and took to microphones and megaphones yelling about injustice, pointing fingers at different races.

“It is easier to make laws than to make Christians, but the business of the church is to produce Christians and everything else is a by-product of that new creation.”

Vance Havner

The people of Jesus’ time expected a Messiah to come and bring justice.  They wanted punishment of those who had wronged them.  They wanted to see governments and whole groups of people destroyed.  But Jesus was not that kind of social justice warrior.  From town-to-town He cared about one thing – changing people’s hearts.  He did out-of-the-box things like sit with sinners, touch the leper, heal on the Sabbath, talk with the outcasts.  He brought the bread of life and the refreshing water of the Holy Spirit.  

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks 
this water will be thirsty again, but 
whoever drinks the water I give them 
will never thirst. Indeed, the water 
I give them will become in them a 
spring of water welling up to eternal 
life.” 
John 4:13-14

How amazing would it have been if, when our churches closed down in March 2020, they instead remained open.  Not just open but open 24 hours a day with a sign out on the street that said, “Need someone to talk to? We’re always open and ready to listen.”  I know this idea is radical.  And you’re probably thinking of all the reasons why your church can’t do this. But the work of Jesus and His apostles was radical.  So is the work of every Christian you probably admire.

“Behave at them.”

Ken Blanchard

As Christians we are not tasked to be worldly “social justice warriors.”  We are commissioned to be God’s soldiers.  When we are tempted to join a protest march and carry a sign we should first think how we can directly help those for whom we are marching. God’s plan for the world will only be accomplished through our active showing of love, grace, charity, and forgiveness of others — while espousing His truth. The spreading of the message of Jesus brings the changes we so long for – maybe just not as fast as we like.   He designed us this way.  

I do get outraged by many things going on in the world.  And then I remember to pray to God for peace in my heart so that I can listen for my marching orders.  When I feel overwhelmed by the problems we face, I remember that God works out-of-the-box in radical ways.  It’s up to me and it’s up to you to be in the heart changing business when God puts opportunities right in front of us.  We will always find ourselves on the right side of “He who is most important” when we obey God.

The Apostle Paul worked on one rich, slave owner at a time.  And over time, our Christian faith has led to a world-wide abolishment of sanctioned slavery.  What small step can you do today to help change one heart?