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Two Witnesses

Last year my BSGs did a study on Revelation.  It was a challenging deep dive into one of the most mysterious books of the Bible.  Any Hollywood script writer or New York Times bestselling author would probably consider the story told in Revelation to be a pinnacle piece.  It weaves its way through the story of the complacency of the times and the coming storm of evil.  It has heroes and martyrs.  It has all the special effects of world-wide destruction to win an Oscar.  And it has a savior.  And a beautiful new beginning for the world.  

There’s been plenty of apocalyptic movies and stories told in the last 100 years or so that draw upon the themes found in Revelation.  Man and satan lead the world in its own inevitable destruction and a savior rises from the ashes.  But what is unique about the Bible’s Revelation is it’s all true.  

From Genesis to Jude, new beginnings abound.  But in this one final book of God’s Word, we see 1,000s, millions even.  Martyrs rising from the ashes to take their place near the throne. The 1444,000 appointed Jews who are to be God’s instruments in spreading the word of the final judgement.  And of course, the rapture of believers, taken up before the final judgements are passed on this world.  

But there are two people that have a special place in this book.  Two ordinary people to whom God will speak and send out to the world as prophets or truth tellers.  Smack in the middle of the 22 chapters of Revelation you’ll find two people whose new beginnings will send shockwaves around the world.

And I will appoint my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” Revelation 11:3

The two witnesses’ identities have long been up for debate.  Suffice it to say if they were extraordinary people I believe the text would say so.  But they aren’t even given names, just like Naaman’s little slave girl.  And unlike Jonah, they appear to walk boldly into a hostile world without pause.  Maybe God has a pre-game “pow wow” with them where He explains the plan.  More likely, God tells the witnesses, after having been prepared through their own study and trials, to go to Jeruselem at an appointed time and start spreading the Word that judgement time had come.  But also unlike Jonah, they will tell how to avoid a terrible death.

“Now when they have finished their testimony,…” Revelation 11:7

Notice the two witnesses won’t go about town crying out, “The end is near!”  They instead speak of God’s rescue from sin — their testimony.  God will protect them for 1,260 days while they tell the world of the Good News of the Gospel and yes, about the impending judgement.  And when God’s time for them is up, they will be killed by evil forces.  It appears their new beginning would end there.  But their death is just the middle of their story.  For all the world to see after three and a half days lying dead in the street of Jeruselem, God will cause them to rise to their feet, sparking terror in the hearts of those who celebrated their deaths.  Their new beginning, a reunification with the Lord, sets the world on fire.

At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. Revelation 11:13

Thousands, most likely, will give glory to God.  Because of two unnamed people speaking the truth about God’s love, promises, rescue and judgement.  Two people that are like you and me – flesh and blood.  Two people, who like Noah, heard God’s voice and obeyed courageously.  Who like Moses sought out an intimate relationship with God.  Who like Queen Esther will stare into uncertainty and know God will not fail her.  Two regular humans like Onesimus who studied at the feet of a teacher and then asked for forgiveness from both his spiritual and earthly masters.  Like Joseph who stood alone against judgement by his community knowing God was with him.  And like the 3,000 who put discipleship at the forefront of their faith.

In my study of Revelation, Warren Wiersbe points out the Gospel of John shows us how and why to believe.  The epistles give us confirmation of who God is and what He expects of us.  And Revelation is all about being ready.  Ready for what?  Ready for your new beginning.  To be a witness for all of God’s glorious ways.  

Friend, we don’t know when the events outlined in Revelation 11 will happen.  But we need to be ready, they are nearer today than they were yesterday.  You might be one of the witnesses called to be part of this amazing New Beginning for the world.  Your name may never be known by man but God has a plan for you.  A plan for your new beginning.

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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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I’m Fine, It’s Fine

Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think to yourself that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. Esther 4:13

In a way, I hope you’ve never heard of Annie Lobert.  But, if you or someone dear to you has ever found themselves trapped in the world of sex-trafficking and drug abuse I pray that God would lead you to Annie.  She started out as an ordinary girl from Minneapolis, Minnesota.  She became a prostitute, exotic dancer and drug addict.  To make more money she moved to Las Vegas, Nevada with her then boyfriend who soon took her ID, her cell phone and every penny she earned, in effect turning her into a sex slave.  After five years of physical abuse she escaped her pimp.  In 2003, Ms. Lobert found herself in a hospital, the result of a cocaine overdose.  As she tells her story this was the moment she finally took a true stock of her life and turned to God.

With the support of a former customer who had fallen in love with her, and her new found faith, Ms. Lobert left prostitution behind and started a new life.  The former customer trained her in estimates and service reviews in order to work with him at his auto body and design firm.

A wonderful, true story of God’s intervention into the lives of a non-believer, a sinner for certain.  To some, a “throw-away,” a person so entrenched with the devil that a changed life seemed impossible.  And by all accounts her story, if it ended there, would sound admirable and a great testimony to God’s love for all people.  But that wasn’t His plan.  In fact, if you read all the stories in the Bible, God’s gift of pulling us from the fiery furnace is never the end of the story.  It’s never the end of His expectations of us.  It’s always a new beginning.

“the king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.” Esther 2:17

The story of Queen Esther has some disturbing parallels to Annie Lobert’s.  After becoming an orphan, Esther (a Jewess originally named Hadassah) was raised, by all accounts, by a good and decent Jewish cousin named Mordecai.  However, when King Xerxes decided he needed a new queen he called for all the most beautiful young women to be brought (kidnapped) into his harem.  Night after night these very young virgins were raped by the King.  They were then placed amongst his concubines.  Stripped of their names, their families, their everything, they became sex slaves.  

And Esther, who was eventually selected as the new queen, could end her story at reaching such a high status.  She had received wisdom and help from the right people – pagans and Jews.  She had attendants, great food, a comfortable life.  In fact, when palace intrigued resulted in a decree to kill the 15 million Jews scattered throughout King Xerxes’ dominion she was insulated from the information.  When word came via a messenger that her cousin, a palace official, was at the gates in torn sackcloth crying in despair her response was simply to send him new clothes.  She didn’t want to know what caused him so much grief.  Her life was good.  I’m fine.  Everything’s fine.

“Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show it to Esther and explain it to her and command her to go to the king to beg his favor and plead with him on behalf of her people.” Esther 4:8

It was not known by the king and his people that Esther or even Mordecai were Jews.  But Mordecai’s very public reaction to the decree made their background known.  And therefore, he implored Queen Esther to act on the Jew’s behalf.  She was uniquely positioned to petition the king for relief.  But she initially refused out of fear.  She refused because the king still didn’t know she was a Jew so why not just leave it that way?  Why rock the boat?  I’m fine.  It’s fine.  

She had decided when her God-given new beginning would stop.  For some of us that’s where we stop.  God has rescued us over and over and over.  He has placed us just where He wants us and we stop.  We thank Him for the past with our words and don’t plan on thanking Him with our works.   I’m fine.  It’s fine.  

But you can see by today’s first Bible verse Mordecai reminds Esther that she too will be swept away eventually.  That the decree will come to all of them.  She finds herself at a crossroads of sorts.  To speak to the king without being called by him might mean death.  To not speak up for the Jews will probably also mean death. For some of us we get stuck here.  Fretting about what to do.  And Esther finally decides to show the Lord her commitment to Him — to continue on her new beginning.

Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai,“Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” Esther 4:15-16

She, in effect, prays.  And she trusts.  God had placed her with Mordecai, who himself had good standing in the government.  He placed her with Hegai, the eunuch in charge of the harem with whom she found favor.  Hegai imparted wisdom on how to act and speak around the king.  God placed her as Queen.  God put all the players in place for Queen Esther to bring about the removal of an evil man from the court and overturn the death sentence for the Jews.  And the new edict which she helped the king craft elevated the Jews to such a place that “many people of other nationalities became Jews.” (Esther 8:17) And to this day, the Jews celebrate Purim in her honor.

God is preparing His heroes and when the opportunity comes He can fit them in to their places in a moment and the world will wonder where they came from.  

AB Simpson

You and I are being prepared to be ordinary heroes.  You and I have been rescued by God already so many times and placed here, right now for these times.  But too many of us say I’m fine, it’s fine.  We say it by telling ourselves, our Christian friends, our pastors, that we aren’t needed by God or we don’t have enough time.  We’ve retired and now want to coast. We say we are happy where we are and don’t need to send God a “thank you note” by obeying His Great Commission.  We say we feel uncomfortable feeding His sheep.  We say we don’t need a new beginning.

Warren Wiersbe issues this warning in his commentary on Esther: God will accomplish His purposes even if his servants refuse to obey.  Esther could’ve been the loser in this story.  We either miss out in participating in His full glory like Moses did when he told God not to ask so much of him or we get disciplined like Balaam when he refused to do God’s bidding.

If we love God, love the fact that He loved us before we were even out of the womb, we must be compelled to be His servants instituting His plans.  I heard a pastor today say we need to “Get in, Get out, or Get Run Over!”  Complacency in faith, complacency with the gifts God has given us is no faith at all, truly.  And it certainly isn’t God’s plan for our new beginning.

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” John 21:16

As for Annie Lobert?  She came to a crossroads too.  She could’ve been like so many Christians and said, “Thanks for saving me Lord” and gone about her life.  Instead in 2005, she established Hookers for Jesus, a safe house program in Las Vegas with the mission to Hook (outreach), Hope (Jesus), Help (housing) and Heal (restoration). 

Annie Lobert is an ordinary person committed to God’s plan to rescue others from evil.  We may not all be in the position to save as many people as she will but if we can at least commit to not being “fine where we are” and to ask God every morning to place us in positions to share His Word and do His good works we are well on the way to being an ordinary hero. We would be well on our way to our new beginning.

There are such calls in the Bible as “Universal Calls,”  ones which every follower of Jesus is called to.  One of these is 2 Corinthians 5:17-20:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

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The Singing Warrior

“At this they tried to seize Him but no one laid a hand on Him because His hour had not come.”  John 7:30
“Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” Exodus 6:22

My church is in the midst of a study of Genesis and a few weeks ago we landed on the story of Noah. Christians and non-Christians alike are very familiar with this famous Bible story.  How often do we see cute children’s books, artwork, decorations that take up this story showing all the cute animals piled into a tiny boat riding out the storm with a rainbow overhead?  

During the sermon I was struck with the thought that this is not a sweet story at all.  It’s a story of total depravity on the part of man versus the faith of one warrior for God.  The face-off between a world bathing in the flesh and one, lonely soul swimming against that tide.  The ark was a last chance lifeboat built by a soldier, an obedient servant who loved God.

For anyone who has ever seen the movie, “Evan Almighty” – a theatrical depiction of a modern-day Noah – the result of being a warrior for God, even a reluctant one, is shown in all its technicolor truth.  Friends, family, neighbors, the media, and even the government may come against us.

“When you give your best to the Lord, it’s not unusual to be criticized by people who ought to encourage you.  Moses was criticized by his brother and sister.  David by his wife, and Mary of Bethany by an apostle.”  

Warren Wiersbe commentary on 1 Samuel

During the extreme lockdowns of 2020 there were many “warriors for God” who found themselves on the receiving end of much criticism from Christians and non-Christians.  Pastors and even Catholic bishops who insisted that churches needed to remain open and serve their flocks were impugned by church authority, the media, non-believers, and parishioners.  In some states the government brought the full force of the law down with arrests and extravagant fines.  

Now, some might still say churches should’ve been closed to protect people from illness.  But these flock protectors felt called by God to bring healing to people’s hearts and minds and souls.  Church attendance has never been a requirement for anyone.  And they believed those who needed church should be allowed to partake in its offerings.  Parallel arguments about keeping people from getting sick included the admonishment to obey governments based on Romans 13.  And yet the clarification of hierarchy of obedience is spelled out in Acts 5.

"The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”

Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings!” Acts 5:27-29

About a few months into the lockdowns, I started seeing a confident warrior for God pop up in my Instagram feed.  This young man had originally run for a state office in Northern California.  He ran as a conservative Christian in a heavily liberal area and lost.  I had donated a small amount to his campaign about a year before and had apparently “followed” his account.  He is a musician by trade, a devout family man, and a fervent follower of Christ.

And when our churches shut down in California, he stepped out onto a stage bigger than he’d ever imagined.  Compelled by visions given by God, he would show up at a beach with a local pastor, his family, a few other musicians and put on a revival meeting of sorts.  As word grew, each time he held a “Christ concert” more people would find their way to listen.  More people asked to be baptized in the cold ocean waters.  And more people started harassing them.  And fines by local authorities started piling up.  And he wouldn’t stop.

You may have heard by now about Sean Feucht and his merry band of “Let Us Worship” team.  They’ve since led large worship services all over the United States, including Washington DC.  Sean may have lost a politician’s job but he gained so much more. Throughout the pandemic their small pastoral team helped lead thousands to give up fleshly addictions and find Christ.  All the while, others would show up at these events screaming demonic words, throwing blood on them and even accosting his pregnant wife.  

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” Matthew 4:10

I can only imagine how many times Sean and his family have reminded themselves of this statement by Jesus to Satan.  I’ve watched the videos of Sean’s meetings in Portland and Seattle.  It’s some of the most disturbing things I have seen in terms of demonic possession of people.  You may raise an eyebrow at that statement but truly, I have never seen anything like it.

Sean is just a man.  A man with a family to protect.  A man who is trying to make his way through this world just like you and me.  He didn’t start serving the Lord suddenly during the pandemic, he has a quiet history of spreading God’s Word including countries outside the United States.  He has led missionary trips to Afghanistan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.  He is obviously a man used to trusting God.  And isn’t it fascinating to know that he went to those dangerous places to share the gospel seemingly as preparation to lead thousands into worship in a “safe” place like the United States?

We won’t all be warriors for God just like Sean but every person who chose to attend one of his meetings during these difficult times was a warrior in their own way.  Today, every person who hears God’s urging to step out in faith and stand for Him takes up the armor and can call themselves a warrior.  We have a lot of good soldiers who have paved the way for us, to drawn on how they trusted God to protect them until their time was done.

As God always does, He has placed quite a lot of podcasts, sermons, and Bible studies in front of me in the last few weeks on this very character trait of Jesus.  I wanted to share with you a prayer from Sparkling Gems from the Greek to help spur our warrior character on.

Lord, help me start seeing myself as a might soldier in the army of God.  You have provided every weapon I need to prevail against the enemies that come against my life, my family, my business, my friends and my church.  I want to stand tall and firm against the wicked plots the devil tries to exert against people’s lives whom I love and need.  Holy Spirit,  give me the power and strength I need to successfully resist every attack and to drive all dark forces from my life and from the lives of those close to me!   I pray this in Jesus’ name!

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Laying By The Pool

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”  At once, the man was cured. John 5:8

“Lord Jesus, I offer myself for Your people.  In any way.  Any place.  Any time.”

Corrie Ten Boom, The Hiding Place

I was reading recently about what it meant that Jesus called Himself a humble servant of God.  To some that seems contrary – for someone to call themselves “humble.”  And at the time of Jesus the word “humble” was a vile and contemptible thing.  According to Christian author Charles Jefferson, there was no virtue in the all the pagan world known as “humility.”  It was a defect.  

As Christianity spread across the world so did its values.  One of its unique additions to the world was the concept of Christ-like humility and servitude.   It is possibly one of the most misunderstood of Christian values.  To some, it means having a low estimate of ourselves.  To others it means we deny ourselves and make ourselves inferior.  But if we accept all of Christ’s words as true we then must also accept these:

“I am meek and lowly in heart.”  Matthew 11:29

And yet we have never met a person who held their head higher, with more confidence, with such loftiness, as Jesus.  So often it seems we create a vision of the various character traits of Jesus and each believer then feels they must change their personalities to fit that ideal.  When we picture a meek and humble person (not Jesus) do we imagine a rich person?  Do we picture a courageous and bold person?  Or do we picture a small, weak person who lets people walk all over her?

As I’ve progressed in my faith this concept of being a humble servant is something I’ve really mulled over.  I’ve tried “playing” various roles that seem to fit the ideal.  And it’s funny.  When I try to be so quiet and meek-like it usually backfires.  The recipient can tell I’m being a phony.

About a year ago I heard about the book, “The Hiding Place.”  I know many Christians have read this at some point in their lives.  As a refresher, the story is a Christian family from Holland living at the start of World War II.  As Hitler’s army advances, the local Jewish community starts to disappear.  Two of the main characters, sisters Betsie and Corrie Ten Boom, find themselves answering God’s call to not just hide Jews but also play integral roles in the underground system of protecting Jews from all over.  What struck me about this book were the opposite personalities of the sisters.  Both answering God’s call to be humble servants in their own ways.

Corrie was the bold one.  She found herself tasked with much of the dangerous work outside their home.  While in prison it was Corrie who dealt with the officials.  Lest we think this was easy for her because of a strong faith, Corrie frequently questioned God about what He wanted her to do.  And each time she prayed.  And each time either a word from God or someone close to her encouraged her to move on His command.  Near the beginning of their story, Corrie is tasked with obtaining extra food rations cards.  She was led to speak with a local man who recently took a job in the Food Office.  But she wasn’t sure it would be safe.

“Lord,” I prayed silently, “if it is not safe to confide in Fred, stop this conversation now before it is too late.”  

Corrie Ten Boom, The Hiding Place

She found herself asking not for five cards but suddenly 100.    And within a week they were in her hands.  The danger she faced – being turned into the authorities– was replaced with her trust in God’s urging for her to be a “doing Christian.”

Throughout her ordeal, while at home and eventually in prison, she wanted to be so angry with the Germans and those who supported them.  She balked at loving her enemies and showing them mercy.  Really, who could blame her?  And yet over and over she submitted her heart and hands to God.

“My job was simply to follow His leading one step at a time, holding every decision up to Him in prayer,” she wrote.  “I knew I was not clever or subtle or sophisticated; if my home was becoming a meeting place for need and supply, it was through some strategy far higher than mine.”  

Corrie Ten Boom, The Hiding Place

You can contrast her submission to God with a local pastor she encounters.  He, on the other hand, when asked to take in a Jewish mother and child into his home was clearly frightened.  He admonished her for the “illegal” activity and warned her that what she was doing wasn’t safe.

The concept of being a humble servant doesn’t require of us to be a person of a certain personality or style of living.  A longtime pastor can fail while a wealthy man can succeed at this effort.  Throughout “The Hiding Place” one such wealthy man aids the underground effort with both his money and his own hands. 

In all of Jesus’ teachings we see Him asking us to do two things: love one another and take action.  Like the man at the pool who had been waiting for healing for almost 40 years he asks us to first believe Him then get up and start moving.  Along the way he wants us to be teachable and willing to learn.  He asks us to put aside our vanity and social aspirations.  He tasks us to serve and feed His sheep.  He doesn’t ask us to underestimate ourselves, make ourselves small, or feel unworthy.  In fact, He wants us to stand firm in the knowledge we are doing His work.

Corrie Ten Boom was bold and faithful and humble at the same time. She was always looking to serve the less fortunate and those in need.  And when she forgot about serving her enemies, her sister stepped forward to remind her.

I once took a leadership personality test at a conference.  The results weren’t that surprising.  I have a bold personality and I’m good at organizing.  But what makes any leadership situation successful for me is to be paired with a softer, gentler leader.  That person remembers those who aren’t as obvious and reminds me to slow down to see the whole picture.

Betsie Ten Boom was that kind of leader.  The book in which they are written of highlights her bold sister, Corrie.  But it’s this quieter, gentler servant of God that I saw as a thread throughout.  It was Betsie who would send up prayers for the Germans soldiers who were torturing them.  It was Betsy who thanked God for fleas in their new barracks.  While Corrie was dealing with the big problems, it was her quiet sister drawing people out of the shadows for prayer meetings in the middle of the night.

During one difficult transfer to yet another barracks, the women were made to stand for hours and hours.  The two sister’s personalities and approach to being God’s servants was evident in this exchange:

“Betsie!” I wailed, “how long will this take!”

“Perhaps a long, long time.  Perhaps many years.  But what better way could there be to spend our lives?” Betsie replied.

I turned to stare at her.  “Whatever are you talking about?”

“These young women.  That young girl back at the bunkers, Corrie, if people can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love!  We must find a way, you and I, no matter how long it takes…” Betsie said with excitement.

Are we that excited to serve God humbly? To be teachable, free from ambition, and vanity?  Have we looked Jesus in the eye and said, “I trust you.”  And when He has told you to get up and pick up your mat have you obeyed Him?  Or have you decided that you aren’t “good enough,” “strong enough,” or “smart enough?”  

Are you laying around by the pool, waiting for someone else to do the work for you? If you keep saying to God, “show me what you want me to do” and have yet to walk out your front door and serve your neighbors you’ve missed the point.  He takes all types in His Great Army.  Get your mat and get moving.

“All of us are different, but all of us can serve the Lord for His glory.”  

Warren Wiersbe

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First Love

But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always. 
Hosea 12:6

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a “doer.”  In the Bible, Martha is my spirit animal.  I can so easily picture myself cooking and cleaning all day, getting ready for Jesus to come for dinner.  Then while He is at my house I’m running around making sure the drinks are filled and people have enough to eat.  Cleaning up spills and getting a jump on doing the dishes.  All the while, slightly annoyed that others are sitting at His feet, enjoying His company while I slave away.  

There’s a lot of pride wrapped up in that thinking. And I’ve had to learn to accept my “doing” nature while learning two things: 1) accepting that other people are born to be the type to relax and soak up the moment and 2) learning how to balance being a doer and not missing out on those special moments.  Because Jesus admonishes us from His teachings in the gospels to His messages in Revelation to “return to our first love.”  Meaning, Him.

Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 
Revelation 2:4

This was the message to the church in Ephesus.  They were doers.  They took James’ messages to heart.  They worked hard, served many and were also great at making sure false teachers didn’t enter their midst.  But they forgot to be in awe and wonder for the Lord.

How often, when we feel like we are moving away from our faith do we turn to “doing” more rather than taking up Mary’s approach – sitting in awe and wonder at His feet?

Wonders are things out of the common, unusual things, extraordinary things. Usually they are unexpected; we wonder at them partly because they are novel and surprising. They take us aback; they are things which we looked not for. When they come they astonish us, and put us both in a muse and in a maze. We look, and look, and look, and cannot believe our eyes; we hear, and hear, and scarce believe our ears. 

Charles Spurgeon

Sometimes I find myself listening to a story of wonder by a fellow Christian – a story where God has worked miraculously in their life – and I do a quick acknowledgement and move forward.  As though this moment where God touched their life was so humdrum ordinary!

In a commentary on the restoration of our first love – the awe and wonder of Jesus Christ – Warren Wiersbe challenges us to take these steps:

Remember what we have lost.

Think back to when we were so excited about our relationship with the Lord.  Remember when He has worked miraculously in our lives.  Recall when we cried during our singing at church while we lifted our hands up to Him!

Repent (Change) our minds.

Decide that we want that awe, wonder and love back!  It sounds obvious but if you haven’t done it yet, evaluate why.

Repeat your “1st Works.”

What are those?  It was when you were devoted to prayer, mediation, Bible reading, service in His name, and worship

Thankfully, the world and God need both Marthas and Marys.  When I get caught up in my “Martha-ness” I remember that Jesus had His own special relationship with Her.  It was Martha that ran out to meet Jesus after Lazarus had died.  She proclaimed to Him that she believed Him to be the Messiah, the Son of God.

For some people, life may be monotonous and meaningless; but it doesn’t have to be. For the Christian believer, life is an open door, not a closed circle; there are daily experiences of new blessings from the Lord.  

Warren Wiersbe

I want to always be in touch with my “First Love.”  I want to live with that sense of awe and wonder.  And when I feel it fading I need only to sit in quiet mediation and allow His Holy Spirit to rekindle the flame within me.

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35,000 Decisions

…yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. 
Habakkuk 3:18

According to Psychology Today we make an average of 35,000 decisions each day.  That’s about 2,000 decisions per waking hour.  I remember when I was working as a public relations and marketing executive at a mid-sized company.  At the end of each day I felt exhausted.  I couldn’t even think about what to make for dinner.  I realized at some point I had decision-making fatigue.

So many of our decisions are ones we don’t really think much about – if we are going to get up and go to work, if we are going to brush our teeth before leaving the house, if we are going to get dressed.  We just sort of do them out of habit or necessity.  

But what about our faith lives?  How many of us have, along our journey, made the decision to fade away from our faith?  Not realizing we’ve made a decision to shut out God.  For some people, because of issues at their church or maybe a difficult time in their life they actually made a conscious decision to completely turn away.

There are basically three types of people shown in the Bible.  First there is the nonspiritual person who has not accepted God at all.  Second there is the person who has accepted Jesus as their savior but still lives by the world’s expectations. And third is what is considered a “mature believer.”  This person learns to do the will of God no matter how he/she feels or how difficult it is.

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  
1 Corinthians 13:11

This is where the term “baby Christian” arises.  It’s the second type person described.  Picture how a baby lives its life.  Crying and throwing a tantrum when things get uncomfortable.  Babies are very self-focused people.  They don’t care if you haven’t slept all night or exhausted from a long day at work.  They want, they need, they demand.  If they don’t get it, they aren’t happy.  They live off feelings and wants and needs.  It may sound harsh, but how many of us are living our Christian lives this way?

No matter what level we are on, we should want to grow , but if we find we are still in the baby stage of Christianity, we should certainly make a commitment to God to start working with His Holy Spirit toward maturity.  

Joyce Meyer, Change Your Words, Change Your Life

That’s why I like the verse from Habakkuk today.  Prior to verse 18 the prophet lists all the things that are going wrong – the fig tree isn’t budding, there’s no grapes, the olive crop is failing, and there’s no livestock.  Yet he will rejoice.  

Great faith is maturing faith. Great faith is growing faith. And great faith is becoming stronger and great faith is standing on the truth of the Word of God. Not feelings, not other people’s opinions, not the past, great faith stands on the truth of the Word of God. Here’s what God is saying. And the focus is on God. Great faith is always focused on God. 

Charles Stanley

And growing faith means choosing to be faithful. We humans don’t tend to like to be the cause of our problems. We want our lack of commitment to God to be about something that happened to us, an absence of the right feelings, or because of the world’s demands. But it’s really about where we have placed so many of our 35,000 decisions. In how many of them did we even consider God’s desires for us?

When you feel like quitting or running away, remember that you can’t run away from your troubles and you can’t run away from yourself. The solution is not running away; it’s running to. It’s running to the throne of grace and finding grace to help in time of need.

Warren W. Wiersbe, Prayer, Praise & Promises: A Daily Walk Through the Psalms

Take the time today to consider your decision making and how it relates to your commitment to God.  Sometimes we are tasked to just decide to run to Him – not waiting for a feeling or some grand emotion to well up inside us.  If we can make the decision to get up and go to work today or the decision to do the laundry or get the kids off to school we can make the decision to open our Bible. We can make the decision to have a conversation with Jesus. 

Most of the 35,000 decisions we make today will be for the world of the flesh.  How many can we carve out to be the ones that matter for all of eternity?

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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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A Tiny Message #4

Therefore, since we have these 
promises,dear friends, let us 
purify ourselves from everything 
that contaminates body and spirit, 
perfecting holiness out of 
reverence for God. 
2 Corinthians 7:1

When you think of the word “holy” the most likely target of our thoughts is God or Jesus. But the pursuit of holiness is what is required of us upon professing our faith. The word “sanctification” may be more aligned to what we think that process entails.

The ancient Israelites were tasked with bringing complicated offerings to God in order to work on their path toward holiness. Not only were the 10 commandments expected to be obeyed but many detailed animal sacrifices were to take place for the cleansing of sin. But the Israelites only could receive a shadow of complete forgiveness. As Christians, Jesus has taken the place of all those rituals. The rituals and forgiveness yes, but not the task of working toward holiness through obedience. I read this quote the other day while studying Leviticus that might help to spur us on toward right thinking about holiness.

Happiness, not holiness, is the chief pursuit of most people today, including many professed Christians. They want Jesus to solve their problems and carry their burdens but they don’t want Him to control their lives and change their character. It doesn’t disturb them that eight times in the Bible, God said to His people, “Be holy, for I am holy,” and He means it.

Warren Wiersbe on Leviticus

Let’s work together offering ourselves as living sacrifices so that our sanctification process brings us closer to God’s desire of holiness for us.