Monthly Archives: February 2015

He knows victory is at hand

“The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. ” – Zephaniah 3:17

John Paul Jones, a Scottish sailor who fought during the American Revolution, uttered the words when taunted to surrender by the British, “I have not yet begun to fight.” His statement rallied the troops to victory.

There are times in life when taunting causes us to want to doubt our abilities. The pounding from life’s struggles brings confusion and at times, makes us wonder where God is in all that is going on. I know very few people who have not experienced despair at some point in life. We allow our minds to tell us to surrender, to lower the colors, to give in to what is trying to consume us.

But, what if we shouted into the storm? What if we like David when facing Goliath announced, “…You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” – 1 Samuel 17:45? What if we stood firm and with the boldness of John Paul Jones and professed, “I have not yet begun to fight!”

God has not forsaken you. He is not in turmoil, knotting his hands together, and rocking back and forth wondering what you are going to do. God is a Mighty Warrior. He is ready for battle. He knows the strategy and He knows victory is at hand. And all He needs is for you to listen and obey Him.

Today, know that He is with you, and He is with me.


The Bigger Picture

Has your life ever taken a turn that left you stupefied – standing in the road in utter shock as to how things could possibly turned out this way? I can imagine it is how the disciples must have felt as they saw Jesus being arrested, beaten, and crucified. He was the miracle worker! He was their King! Had they misinterpreted His actions that much? Had others been right about Him? Was He not who they thought He was?

Sometimes we make a decision we believe is from God. We’ve gone to Him in prayer. We’ve studied His word. We feel assured He is with us. Suddenly, out of nowhere, it turns bad and we don’t understand. Were we that off-base? Is God really who we thought He is?

I am a big believer in “the BIGGER picture.” While we may feel we are the ones going through the fire, God knows different. Maybe He is sparing us from something far more tragic than the supposed failure before us. Maybe He is preparing for something much better than we imagined. Maybe what we see as failure is a stepping stone to a greater purpose.

Jeremiah 29:11 reads, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'”

Those are not just words to make us feel better.

In the South, we often greet people, “How are ya?” Everyone knows it isn’t literal. No one would ever stop and say, “Well, my bursitis is flaring up and my septic tank overflowed and flooded the basement.” The response is, “I’m good, you?” And when we depart from one another we add, “Come see me!” No one would ever say, “OK. When? How ’bout Friday night?” The response is, “We’ll do!”

When God says He knows the plans He has for you, He means it! When He says He will prosper you and not harm you, He means it!

The next time your plans don’t fall into place as you expected, praise God for it! He is either preventing you from something painful down the road, setting you up for something much better, or using the process as a step-up to something you’ve never even thought. God is our hope for the future.

When you ask, “What happened?” Know this, God happened. And I’m so grateful He did.


Rely on Him today!

Deborah was known as one of the wisest people of Israel. She called herself “a mother in Israel.” Deborah, a prophetess of God, held court under a palm tree to help the Israelites settle disputes. The Canaanites’ commander, Sisera, was a cruel man under the reign of Jabin, king of Canaan, and for 20+ years, the Israelites suffered because of him.

One day, Deborah called for Barak and says to him, “…The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’” – Judges 4:6-7.

Whether Barak believed her or not is unknown, but he insists that she come with him. Deborah went with Barak and ten thousand men to Kedesh. She realized that Barak was not following God’s words exactly and she stated, “But because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.”

The interesting part of this passage is Deborah’s willingness to do whatever God asked of her. Not only was she stepping outside the cultural norms being a judge for the Israelites, but she was willing to go into battle. The scriptures do not indicate that she argued about going. When God directed, Deborah followed.

Then Deborah said to Barak, ‘Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you!'”

Every man in Sisera’s army was killed, and Sisera fled on foot! Later, Sisera was killed by a female named Jael while trying to hide in her tent. Talk about a victory!

Do you know that the words ‘the Lord has gone ahead of you’ are not just for Deborah and Barak? Do you realize those words are for you and me too? In every situation God’s children face, He has gone ahead of us to work out the details for our good. Sometimes we know God is leading us but we want that assurance, like Barak, to ask Deborah to come along. Oh that we could  have the faith of Deborah and simply obey!

Listen for the word of God and follow His command. Even when you face the cruelest of giants, God has gone ahead of you. Rely on Him today!


Transcends all understanding

Philippians 4:7, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

As a pastor I have seen people at their best, and I’ve seen people at their worst. It is the reality of my job; but, I am most surprised at times by the strength and character I find in those who put their trust in God. Insurmountable odds; yet, there is peace. Unbelievable grief; yet, there is peace. Many times I have done a funeral and heard the comments of those around, “I don’t know how they are doing it. How are they putting one foot in front of the other?” God says we won’t understand it but He will give us what we need to get through the really tough moments of our lives if we rely on Him.

Isaiah 26:3, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You.”

What do you do when your world is falling apart? How do you deal with the crisis that seems crippling?

Tragedy does not discern race, age, education, or social status. It gives little warning and comes into our lives regardless of whether we know God or we don’t know God. For some people it visits more frequently than others.

My heart is broken today and my community’s heart is as well. We lost to severe tragedy three people – all with families – all with friends – all with promise for a beautiful future – all with hope for tomorrow.

How do you handle unthinkable tragedy?  That’s the question I contemplate today.  My friend is dead.  In fact, three of my friends are dead, all shot as a result of a foolish act of rage.  Two other friends are recovering from gunshot wounds.  Families I desperately love are reeling under the throes of grief.  Two children have lost both their parents.  How does one handle the loss of parents, a sibling, a child, a friend?

All these effects were caused by a senseless, staggering, nefarious choice.  So how do I and those I love respond?  What are we to think?  How are we to work through the heart wrenching pain?

It is in moments like these that one must face the ultimate realities of life.  Unanswerable questions flood our minds and overwhelm our emotions.  Fears grip our hearts, and in the gut wrenching hours that follow, we come face to face with what really matters in life.

Today, I challenge you to never take a single moment for granted.  Relish each one.  Celebrate every victory.  Passionately embrace every friendship.  Take the time to express love to your family.

Sometimes, you don’t realize the value of life until you are encompassed by death.  In those crushing moments of incredible grief when in a moment life as you know it changes, you come face to face with what really matters.  Repeatedly, we have learned it; it’s relationships, first with God and then with those we love.

I find myself unable to answer my own questions in this overwhelming moment, much less the questions of others.  In fact, the emotional challenges make me feel fatigue.

Yet, I find security, rest, and peace internally in God’s Word and in relationships.  I still have questions.  But none of them remove the awareness of the presence of God and the blessedness of His touch in my heart.  What is more, the embrace of friends helps sustain me.  Just like others, I face an imperfect world filled with imperfect people who do amazingly stupid things.  But, in the midst of pain pushed upon us by the circumstances we face, there is joy in knowing a God who cares and feeling His love expressed through those around us.

“…He will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6


Fear has no hold on us

1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

I once heard someone say that “do not fear” was written in the Bible 365 times – one for every day of the week. I loved that; but then I realized it wasn’t true and after studying the subject further, found that ‘do not fear’ is commanded a little over a hundred times. Still, God says it quite a significant amount of times.

Deuteronomy 31:6
Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you. 

Psalm 27:1
The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid?

Scriptures such as these encourage me. You and I have nothing to fear because God’s love casts out fear. He is the protector, the provider, the rock. With Him, we have nothing to FEAR.

Deuteronomy 6:13, “Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name.”

Joshua 24:14,Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.”

Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”

The very instructions not to fear in the Bible, which is found some 100+ times; the very same word is used in the context of God to fear Him. To take these scriptures and rationally lay them out – we are told “do not fear;” “love God;” “perfect love cast out fear;” but, “fear the Lord.” Looking at it this way, it seems contradictory and confusing.

Perfect love casts out fear but the fear of the Lord brings wisdom. When we sin, we fear the consequences. When struggles come our way and hardships surround us, we fear the outcome. Because of the love of Jesus Christ, He took the burdens of our sins and trials and hardships and conquered them on the Cross. The only thing to fear is being without God; being away from His presence; being outside His protection. The fear of the Lord is being outside of Him; but His perfect love for us forces our fears away. He is BIGGER than anything we could ever encounter. He is STRONGER than anything that could ever harm us. He is more POWERFUL than any evil force that could influence us. What we have to do is stay in His perfect love and fear has NO hold on us.

Today, pray about your fears. Understand that your faith in God doesn’t prevent scary things from coming into your life; your faith in God equips you to handle them.


God’s wish for you

It is God’s wish for you that you enjoy life. John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” And we all know who the thief is; but, take a look at the second part of the scripture, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Another translation, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”

Those words to me mean “the most of” something. He isn’t talking about “just getting by” or “a little bit” of a part; no, God wants us to have it all!

Start your day the right way – with God. Experience first hand what it is like to feel His presence with you all day. This morning, take time to read His word and pray to Him. Ask Him for guidance today and listen throughout the day for His direction. While reading these devotionals are a great way to connect with God, don’t let it be the only way you reach out to Him. Diligently seek Him in His Word. I suggest you take the scripture that I am writing about and read further. See how God relates it to you and your life.

Most importantly, know that God will fill your heart and enlighten you. You will understand His peace and joy. Seek Him and allow Him to be with you all day. Once you experience the empowerment of His presence in your life, you will want to have Him with you every day. Don’t leave home without Him.

 


Faith is a risk

Matthew 14:27-29, “But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ 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!'”

This scripture comes from the story so many of you know. To summarize, Jesus has just performed the miracle of feeding the 5000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish near the Sea of Galilee. He sends the disciples ahead of him by boat so He can have time alone to pray. A gigantic storm comes up and the disciples are in the boat, fighting for their lives against the waves and the wind and the rain. Jesus walks out on the water toward them and they think He is a ghost! He calls out to them not to be afraid, “It is I.” Peter realizes the miracle. He sees Jesus walking on the water and he calls out to Him, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.”

Faith is a risk. We want to pretend it’s easy; but, we live in a world that tells us, “seeing is believing.” Jesus tells us differently, “Believing is seeing.” Faith takes courage. It is about stepping out when we have no idea of  the outcome. Some of us want to stay in the boat; even when Jesus is telling us to come, we are just fine in the boat – no thank you – but not Peter.

Jesus says to Peter, “Come.”

Peter steps out on the water. The winds are howling and blowing all around him. The rain is barreling down and the waves are rocking his body. He is in the middle of the storm. And when he notices that he is out of the boat, in the middle of the ocean, in a huge storm, he takes his eyes off His Master and looks at the wind.

This morning I’m writing a devotion, not about the 11 disciples that stayed in the boat. I’m writing a devotion about the 1 who got out of the boat.

As he begins to sink he cries out to the Lord and Jesus reaches His arm out and saves him. Understand, Peter didn’t just jump out of the boat, he asked Jesus. Jesus told him to “Come on!”

My question to you this morning is how many of you are sitting in your boats asking, “God, should I do this? Should I?” And God is saying, “Come on! Come on, Peter!”

I love that Peter was willing to do what no one else was willing to do. Yes, he sank; but he learned. He learned about keeping his eyes on God. He learned that faith is about concentration. The storms will always be around us. Our eyes have to stay fixed on Jesus. Peter became a bold and strong deliverer of the Word of God.

Matthew 14:31, “‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’”

Peter may have had little faith but far greater to have little faith than none.

How many of you are still sitting in your boat, watching Peter? It’s time to take that step out on the water despite the storm; despite the wind; despite the waves. It’s time to concentrate on the One who has called you.

On a final note, I’ve heard so many sermons and read many commentaries on how, why, when, and where Peter stepped out on the water. I’ve listen to people criticize and applaud him; but I’ve never heard the story of why John or Matthew or Andrew or James stayed in the boat.

It’s time to get out of your boat!