We Can Win or We Can Lose

May your God, whom you serve so faithfully, rescue you.” -Daniel 6:16

Bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, full count, score is tied, and of course, it’s for the league championship. The anxiety in the small stadium of our hometown builds as the high school pitcher, adjusts his cap, glances over his shoulder to first base, winds to throw…

Life is like that. Sometimes we are faced with difficult odds. I’ve been that pitcher and so have you. The solution could go either way – we can win or we can lose. One throw. One chance.

Daniel’s life was at stake because he chose to worship God and not the king. Even though he knew by worshipping God he would be thrown into the lion’s den, he openly stood in his window, in full view of everyone, and praised his God. His sentence by the king, as he well knew, was the lion’s den.

When I struggle with faith, I often imagine Daniel walking to the pit, knowing the lions had not been fed for several days. Was he afraid or was he assured? I can imagine he remembered the times in his life God had shown up before. He knew the power of God’s miracles; and yet, his life was not without trials and struggles.

Daniel had been taken captive from his home as a young man and made into a eunoch by the Babylonians. His entire life had been twisted and uprooted, separated from his family and culture, and forced into slavery. I’m sure as he journeyed to Babylon, he diligently prayed for God to save him; to free him from bondage; to prevent bodily harm to him; but God didn’t – not in the way Daniel probably wished.

As he walked to the lion’s den, what was on his mind?

Sometimes in life we know the situation could go either way. Mistakenly, we use faith as a wish. Like a child, “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight!”Faith is not about having life work out the way we want; faith is about believing God’s way is the best way and trusting in Him for the best solution.

May your God rescue you… Every step Daniel took toward that lion’s den, God was with him. Every time he lifted his foot, God placed it on the ground. As he fell freely into the den of lions, God surrounded him lovingly, assuring Daniel of His presence for Daniel was His son. As he faced the lions, God shut their mouths and Daniel was not harmed.

Faith is knowing no matter the outcome, God will always rescue you. It might not be in the manner you believed. Daniel probably hoped God wouldn’t allow the soldiers to drop him into the pit. Talk about the bottom of the ninth! But God did show up and He did rescue Daniel and He will rescue you, too.

Faith is really about the courage to step. It is about lifting your foot not knowing the direction of placement or where exactly you will be landing. Faith is about trusting in God that whatever happens, it will be for His purpose and your good.


Blazing the Trail

John 10:1-4, “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.”

This morning as I type this devotion to you, I’m thinking of the words, “he goes on ahead of them…” I know God is an intricate part of my day. I ask Him to control who I meet with each day. I ask Him to help me as I speak to others and put the words He wants to come from my mouth. I pray for His guidance in decision-making and His ability to love others unconditionally; but today I’m focused on that particular group of words. “He goes on ahead of them…”

Isn’t it a comfortable feeling to know someone is blazing the trail for you? The feeling that there is someone up ahead taking in the issues; covering the difficult parts; preparing the way? The reality of it all is most of us really don’t believe that. After our prayer time, some of us shower, get the kids to school, walk the dog, maybe jump on the treadmill or go to the gym. We start our work days with coffee and fruit. We open emails and answer texts and somewhere about mid-morning we have totally forgotten Who is making our path. We’ve forgotten because we are making our own. Does that describe you?

I remember hiking with my children, and we came up to a cave. My daughter grabbed my hand and whispered, “Daddy, you go first.” She wanted to know everything was OK inside that cave. If I went first, she would follow because I would never lead her into harms way. If something bad happened, she knew I’d get her out of there. My daughter knows, I’d kill a tiger with my bare hands for her. That’s how God is for us – only so much more. And when we take control of our day; when we pass Him on the trail; we open ourselves up for trouble.

Today, put the machete away. The trail you’re cutting is going nowhere. Stop trying to make your own way and let God lead. Use God’s GPS for a change.


Listen

Psalm 35:9, “Then my soul will rejoice in the LORD and delight in his salvation.”

Take a moment today to stop and enjoy life. We are all moving on the fast track. Schedules are filled to the maximum with appointments and activities. We are so busy doing our list that we do not even realize if we actually like what we are doing.

When is the last time you stopped to notice which bird in your yard was chirping so beautiful. Do you even listen to them for any length of time? What about the stars at night, or the flowers blooming, or a butterfly passing by? When is the last time you really looked at your children? Noticed their eyes?

Time stops for no one and it is moving quickly.

Yesterday, I was running late for an appointment but as I was leaving the building, I noticed children on a nearby playground, playing.  It was their laughter that caused me to stop. I leaned up against my car and simply listened. The voices reminded me of my children many, many years ago. Oh, how I miss that sound! I can remember coming home and hearing the kids in the yard and how they would drop everything and come running toward me.

Don’t miss your life because you’re too busy living it. God created so many splendid things for us. Take the time today to really notice what is around you. Refresh yourself. Taste your food. Listen to the sounds surrounding you. Touch those you love. Rejoice in the God who gave it all to you. Fill your spirit with Him.

Today, delight in the God of your salvation.


The Absence of God

Sometimes it is the absence of God which brings the greatest impact – the reality of the empty tomb, for example.

Even the most cynical, snarling, skeptical historians, philosophers, theologians and archeologists agree – a man named Jesus was crucified, buried in a tomb, and then was found absent. The tomb no longer inhabited the body. No one could find the body but hundreds of people professed to seeing this man alive again.

The empty tomb started a message which to this day continues to invite nonbelievers to the foot of the Cross.

That morning when the stone was rolled away…when the women came…when the Angel spoke…when the guards shook in fear…when the disciples ran to see…started it all. The emptiness gave life to believers.

I spoke with a friend a few days ago who is struggling with grief. My heart breaks for him because I know all too well what he is going through. The seasons when we just can’t seem to put one foot in front of the other and God seems very distant and far away. Our hearts feel empty – very much like the tomb. AHHHH…but there is a bigger picture. Bigger than Peter imagined when he sliced off the ear of the soldier. Bigger than Mary imagined when she pleaded with the “gardener” to tell her where the body was. Bigger than the guards, the stone, the Cross.

During those times when we feel only His absence, we need to remember how important that empty tomb was to you and to me.

God does not leave us. While He may appear to be gone, He is very present.

Whatever you are facing today, know He is with you, orchestrating an answer, guiding you to the best resolution.

John 20:17-18, “ Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.”


Fixed Upon the Things of God

Ecclesiastes 5:1, “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.”

The Hebrew word for guard is Sha-mar meaning to take great care of something. It means to pay close attention and to protect from intrusion. The word Sha-mar places the responsibility on self. It is our duty to guard and protect and defend.

In this scripture from Ecclesiastes, we are requested to watch ourselves carefully as we go to house of God to worship Him. Our worship must be about HIM and our minds must be fixed upon the things of God.

To honor God in worship, here are some steps you can follow to help you guard yourself:

1. Prepare for worship. Have a good mental attitude. Go before the Lord with a humble and expectant heart. Look forward to going to church or reading your Bible in the morning or meeting with God in prayer. It isn’t a chore but a privilege.

2. Prepare yourself to adore Him. Open your heart and spirit to emotionally connect with Him. It isn’t a ritual; it is an action of openness prompted by one’s self in loving expression to our Father.

3. Be prepared to concentrate. Turn off your cell-phone. Stop making mental lists of what you have to do. Stop planning and find a place in your head to focus on God, and only God.

The scripture tells us to “go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools.”

4. Approach your time of worship prepared to hear from God either through music or sermon or the Word of God. Don’t be foolish and run your mouth endlessly. One of the reasons people have a difficult time hearing from God is not because God isn’t talking, they aren’t listening!

5. Listen to God and then respond. It is so difficult to speak to someone who you know isn’t listening to you but calculating a verbal response in his or her head. When God speaks to you, listen to what He is saying.

Worship is a time to glorify God; to connect with Him; to hear His Word; and to rejoice in Him and praise His Name. Think about how you worship God. Make changes if necessary. Enjoy being in His presence for He adores hearing from you.


Express, Accept, and Surrender

Galatians 2:20, “ I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Most of the original 12 disciples were crucified because of their ministries. But when Paul wrote this, he wasn’t suggesting the same for us obviously. He wanted us to realize that in order to have spiritual victory over the evil of this world; in order to live as Christ lived; in order to allow Him to move and work in and through our lives, we had to be crucified with Christ. No longer do we have the right to control our own lives. In being crucified with Christ, we find the power to live a life filled abundantly with the joy, power, and abilities of Him.

Christ left so that the Holy Spirit could fill us and live in us. This gives us the ability to do “what Jesus would do.”  Through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, whatever we encounter, we have the ability to conquer because Christ lives and works within us.

Today, in your prayer time, talk with God about living through you. Here are some guidelines to help start a dialogue with Christ:

1. Express to Him that you want very much to be a person of God. There are times when you feel defeated and inadequate. There are times when you do not know how to deal with certain people or do certain things. Admit to Him, you need Him.

2. Accept the authority of Christ to give you exactly what you need, whether it be in words or actions, believe you can overcome every obstacle because Christ is directing you.

3. Surrender to Him. Give Him express permission to live His life through you. Release the controls. Be crucified in Him.

You may have to pray this prayer on a daily basis until you can freely surrender to Him. Discipleship begins when we allow Christ to live in and through us.


When We Cry Out to Him…

Discouragement comes at the most inconvenient times. It is not selective of persons. Discouragement hits anyone at any time and at any place. Even the best of us have a tough time covering that heavy, weighted down feeling which makes our feet feel like they’re wearing cast iron shoes. A fog moves in, thicker than pea soup, hovering over us, hammering down on our shoulders.

“I cry aloud to the LORD; I lift up my voice to the LORD for mercy. 2 I pour out before him my complaint; before him I tell my trouble. 3 When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who watch over my way. In the path where I walk people have hidden a snare for me. 4 Look and see, there is no one at my right hand; no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge; no one cares for my life. 
5 I cry to you, LORD; I say, ‘You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.’ 6 Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need; rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me. 7 Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name. Then the righteous will gather about me because of your goodness to me.” Psalm 142: 1-7
When David wrote this Psalm, he felt like he had lost just about everything. David writes of feeling as if he were in prison. His words read hopelessness, despondency, despair. The heaviness of all that is happening in his life has ensnared him in the prison of despair.
Have you been there? Do you know how he feels?
David cries out to God for help. What about you? Are you crying out to God or to someone around you? Maybe its alcohol or drugs or some other form of addictive behavior. Maybe its food or isolation that you seek for comfort.
God tells us when we cry out to Him:
Revelation 21:4-5, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’”

Psalm 107:19, “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He sent out his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind.”

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

I want to challenge you today to reach out to God for your source of help. He is ready and available to see you through.