“Life is Like a Box of Chocolates…”(F.G) or a Bag of Balloons…


“Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things?”  Acts 4:25, Psalm 2

So, today’s a sidetrack but not a sidetrack.  Life happens in the midst of our devotions and meditations and diverts us, not from meditating, but sends us deeper into prior meditations.  So that’s where I’m dwelling right now.

Not long ago, I was memorising Psalm 2:   “Why do the heathen rage and the people imagine vain things.  The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take council together, against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, ‘Let us break their bands asunder and cast away their cords from us.’  He that sits in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.  Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.  ‘Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.’  I will declare the decree: ‘The Lord has said unto me, You are my Son; this day have I begotten You.  Ask of me, and I shall give you the heathen for your inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession.  You shall break them with a rod of iron; you shall dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.’  Be wise now therefore, O you kings: be instructed, you judges of the earth.  Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.  Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little.  Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.”

At first read, maybe that sounds depressing and harsh.  I mean, it talks about the Lord dashing the heathen to pieces and breaking them with a rod of iron.  That’s harsh.  That sounds “Old Testament”-ish.  It doesn’t apply today, right?

Well, maybe we haven’t been reading it rightly.  Because this is the same scripture that the new believers referred to as they were rejoicing following some of their first persecution after Peter and John healed a man by the power of Jesus (Jesus-that one that God was ultimately referring to through David’s words, the one He has set on His holy hill of Zion).  So, I want to see where Peter and John and the new believers go with this.

Peter and John had been heading to the temple in Jerusalem, and on their way this day, there was a man crippled from birth laying outside one of the main gaits for entering the temple, the Beautiful Gate.  There he was, asking for alms, because that was the only way he had of making a living.  Peter and John, didn’t just have compassion on this man but they listened to the Holy Spirit on how to show that compassion.  They had no money to give him.  They had something better.  Peter didn’t just see this beggar man.  He fastened his eye on him, and John did as well.  There was something greater going on here.  Then they told the man to heed them, not just look at them.  So he did, but only expecting money.  But, that wasn’t what he got. 

“Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.”  And Peter took him by the right hand, lifted him up, and he lept and walked and entered the temple with them praising God.  Everybody saw.  So why didn’t everybody believe?

Sometimes, we all get so caught up in anger and in imagining and striving toward things that are just vain, just empty.  We get so caught up, we can’t see the truth in front of our own eyes.  The truth is that there is Someone reaching out to us who is able “to do exceedingly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us…” (Ephesians 3:20)  If only we would let that power work in us…

Life is like a bag of balloons.  Well, that’s rather “Forrest Gumpish, isn’t it?  But I’m a balloon twister sometimes.  And my whole bag of balloons is really useless unless I fill them with air and form them into balloon creations.  What good is a bag of balloons that just stays a bag of balloons.  Here in the heat of the Philippines, they will just degrade before long.  Then what good were they, unless I let them be filled with air and shaped and molded and allow them to bring joy to others.

God’s whole goal is for us to be “filled with the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:19)  Our problem is that we’re too busy occupying ourselves with things that just keep leaving us empty.  We keep our imaginations and thoughts and strivings on things that can’t fill us, and never will.  The truth is, knowing the Son is the only way to know the Father.  Knowing the Son is the only way to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  “Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.”  (Psalm 2:12)

One of the things these verses from Psalm 2 and Acts 4 reminds me is that there are hard things in life.  But even in the midst of difficulty, God’s fullness in Christ brings power, prayer, and praise.  Look at Peter.  Look at John.  Look at the lame man.  Now see the glory of Psalm 2 for yesterday and today and forever:  “Lord, thou art God, which has made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is:  who by the mouth of your servant David has said, ‘Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things?  The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ.  For of a truth against your holy child Jesus, whom you have anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever your hand and your counsel determined before to be done.  And now Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto your servants that with all boldness they may speak your word, by stretching forth your hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of your holy child Jesus.”  And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:24-31)

Do I believe that God is in control of every circumstance in my life, even the bad?  Do I cry for escape or is my greatest prayer for boldness to proclaim the wonder and power of God?  Who am I like?  Where are my thoughts focussed?   Lord, may my thoughts be focussed on you no matter what kind of chocolate I pull from the box.


The Same Way of Thinking Part 1


“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.”  1 Peter 4:1-2

Christ suffered in the flesh.  I’m supposed to think the same way as You, Jesus.  What does that mean?  Paul banked his whole being on this thought and encouraged us to do so as well.  “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—  that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead.  Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own…I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.” (Philippians 3:8-12, 14-15) 

Being human, being in the flesh, means suffering, whether I am a believer or not, but especially as a believer.  Why?  This flesh is not my forever home.  This flesh is wasting away.  I know that.  I was a baby once.  I was a toddler.  Then I was a child, a teenager, a young adult, and now, not to0 far off of being a senior.  We all age.  We go through aches and pains.  We wrinkle.  We can’t do what we could when we were younger.  Why spend my life satisfying what can’t be satisfied in this life?  Why live feeding an appetite that will never be full?  When living for God in Christ satisfies our deepest longing, when that was what I was created to do, why not live for God with all of my being and count everything else as loss that doesn’t matter, to gain what truly does?  The good news is that God, in Jesus and by the power of His Holy Spirit, helps me to think like this, like Jesus.  Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, because of His suffering, and because of His new life, I can know God personally and experience His power, which empowers me just as it did Jesus to walk in Him, to live in Him, to suffer in Him.

Maybe that sounds hopeless, but it’s anything but hopeless!  It’s because of the truth of the hope we have in God that allows us to press on when things seem unbearable.  Paul exhorted the believers in Thessalonica, “…we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.  And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.  For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea.  For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved…” (1 Thessalonians 2:12-16)  How can I do this?  How can I think like this and live victoriously in the midst of suffering?  How can I want to?

I accept the word of God that I am encouraged here by as exactly that—the word of God.  I treat the word of God as truth, the final word of truth.  I bank my life on it.  I bank my joy on it.  I bank my eternity on it.  I even bank the lives of those around me on it.  And I let God have His way in me through it.  I let Him work in me as a believer as I walk in belief.

Peter brings it all together.  “For to this you have been called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:21)  “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit…” (1 Peter 3:18)  “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” (1 Peter 4:1,2)  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10)

Why allow myself to suffer for Christ?  Because You suffered for me.  You suffered becoming man even though You are one with God.  Why?  For God’s glory and my redemption.  You counted the losses to You all as more than worth it for the glory that was to be revealed in the outcome You knew God had promised.  You call me to have that same mind set. 

Lord, let me look forward to Your final restoration of me, the full restoration of me, instead of trying to restore myself.  Let me look to Your confirmation of me and stop trying to confirm myself.  I’m so blind to my own faults and inadequacies.  How can I perfect myself when I am by nature imperfect?  I need someone who is perfect to perfect me.  Hmm.  That only leaves You!  Let me look to You to strengthen me, because my idea of strength has been skewed by the world.  Let me be established by You, because otherwise, I’m like a house built foolishly on the sand.  I don’t want to seem established here in this world.  I want to BE established for all of eternity.  I want to be all of this in You and by You no matter what it takes.  Let me honestly come to the point where I would count everything else loss, and accept my suffering as a gift to draw me closer to You and make me more like You.  Thank You that I am never alone in my suffering.  No believer is.

Walking with God in the Details


Photo credit to http://www.shutterstock.com


“But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” Genesis 6:8

Today I’m back in Ezekiel reading about the measurements and specifications of the future temple, the future house of God. Only here I am quoting Genesis. Why? As I was reading and thinking about all the specifics in Ezekiel and about how the details matter to You God and how Your details ought to matter to us, I couldn’t help thinking about Noah and how You equipped him to build the ark.

Here was the condition of the world and the condition of the hearts of the people of the world in Noah’s day: “And the Lord said, ‘I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repents me that I have made them.” Why did it repent You or make You sorry You had made us? Because “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” And that grieved Your heart because man, people like me, had so twisted who we were, by twisting our thoughts and our actions, that we no longer resembled what we were created for. And why couldn’t we resemble our purpose any more? Because we threw away the details. We wouldn’t pay attention to the Master plan. And get this. The Master Plan was someone we could know and respond to, like Adam and Eve or Cain or Abel. But like Cain, we turned to our plans instead of Yours and our lives became twisted.

But then comes this beautiful verse. “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” Maybe I’m wrong, but I see that as saying when God looked at Noah and examined his heart and life, He found within Noah a spark of something beautiful to God. What was it? What was that beauty in Noah? That Noah still held on to the presence of God in his life. That He remembered the stories and clung to the God he knew.

In this corrupt world of Noah’s time, He was just and perfect. What? Noah was a perfect man? Not in the sense that we think of perfect. He was “entire.” He was full of integrity and truth. He was without spot and undefiled. He was whole. He was perfect in God’s eyes because His heart clung to God and followed Him. He walked with God. Come on now. Look back at Adam and Eve. Isn’t that what we were created to do? Aren’t we to be walking with God every day of our lives? Hasn’t He designed us to know how and to do it? If a man without a written instruction book can figure out how to do that and do it, then what’s our problem? What’s my problem?

So Noah walks with God. That means that he cares about and acts upon what is on God’s heart. And God includes Him in what He’s doing. And here come all these measurements as God instructs Noah on how to build this ark, this first of it’s kind, this giant boat in this place where there isn’t even water to float it. But Noah doesn’t stop to say, “Hey, God, why are You giving me all these details? What’s up? Do I really need this? Is this important?” I think for Noah that this is a no brainer. He already knows that God’s way is the right way and the only way. He already lives like every detail matters because it does. And because He’s already living in God’s will, God is already protecting him and preparing him from the coming judgement. Not only that, but God is making Noah a beacon to others, an opportunity for others to walk with God instead and rejoice in God’s plan and in His details.

This has nothing to do with Noah’s abilities. He was just a man who walked with God. Because he walked with God, God walked with him. God gave him everything he needed to be His representative on earth. That’s what we were created for, to be God’s vessels on earth, to shine forth the power and love of God. And God does that work in us. Noah couldn’t build the ark without God. God gave Noah everything he needed from the detailed measurements, to the physical provision, to the skill to do so. And it didn’t stop there. God was the One who sealed Noah and his family safely inside the ark.

Which takes me back to Ezekiel. Chapter 41 starts with, “Afterward he brought me to the temple…” Doesn’t that sound like people walking together again? It does to me. It sounds like God is walking Ezekiel through something special here, something worth thinking about and valuing. And like Noah, if Ezekiel hadn’t already been walking with God, he would have missed this. And it’s not like this is just any building that You are showing Ezekiel. This is the temple that will one day be where every believer can walk into Your presence in Jesus Christ. This is the reality of You come to earth.

God’s word and instructions are all about being invited into an intimate relationship with our Maker. He gives us the details so we can participate fully with Him. They matter. As we participate with Him, we get to come to see and know things about Him. Building the ark wasn’t some mundane task that Noah was expected to do. It was amazing participation with God and amazing protection and salvation and deliverance. But if Noah had not participated with God? If Noah had disregarded the importance of the directions?

And what about Ezekiel. He didn’t get to build the temple but He paid close attention and then He declared what He was asked to declare so that this would be words of future encouragement. One day God is going to bring every one of those details to pass. Just like Noah had to wait for that appointed time before the ark was complete, so Ezekiel knew that the appointed time would come. So we can know also. What does this temple tell me? That God is coming, here to earth, to be with us. Jesus is coming back. Jesus will reign in His full capacity and I can look forward to that.

And since Jesus is coming back, we ought to be busy letting people know so that they can be ready for that appointed time. How do we get ready? We respond to God’s word by participating with Him in what He says. We pay attention to the details. Sometimes we hold onto it and ponder it in our hearts like Mary did until it was time for it to make sense. But all along, we obey. Listening isn’t listening unless the appropriate action to the listening follows. If I want God to be close then I ought to be close enough to His word to know how to be close to Him. And the only way to be close to Him is to participate with Him.

That’s why Jesus came. He redeemed us so that God’s glory could shine in us again. He redeemed us so that we could be reunited with God and participate with Him again in the way we were created to. Grace is there, always. But we won’t find it unless we find the One who offers it. Noah found grace because He walked with God. He found where grace flowed from and clung to Him. Ezekiel found grace because He walked with God and clung to where grace flowed from. What about me? May I cling to the One that grace flows from and walk with You in obedience and in intimate relationship by loving all Your words and allowing them to have their way in my life.

“This Isn’t Who I Created You to Be”


“Thus says the LORD: ‘For three transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they have rejected the law of the LORD, and have not kept His statutes, but their lies have led them astray, those after which their fathers walked.” (Amos 2:4)

It seems that this theme of following lies is rather prevalent throughout the prophets.  Now I’m also thinking, that there must be some things that all men were aware of, some truths that were just self-evident, and part of the nature of being human.  Because it’s not just Judah and Israel being judged for their transgressions.  The Pagan or Gentile nations surrounding them are also being held responsible as though they should have known better and as though they should have known the right way to treat others. 

It’s not like there is uneven playing ground here.  All men are held to the same standard and it must be that somehow all men know intrinsically.  And somehow, all these people got caught up in abundant transgressions, in abundant pesha. This word pesha is about revolt and rebellion.  It’s that kind of sin.  It’s not where someone happens to sin by mistake or without realizing it.  This is full on and deliberate.  When you revolt, when you rebel, there is no question in your mind what you are doing.  You know it and you choose it.

And that choosing happens to be where the Lord is leading today.  Because the Lord also pronounces judgment on Israel and gives a long list of wrongs that they had rebelliously committed.  And after that list of wrongs, You remind them and us what You had done, and how they had corrupted that.  In Amos 2:11 You share, “‘And I raised up some of your sons for prophets, and some of your young men for Nazirites.  Is it not indeed so, O people of Israel?’ declares the LORD.”  I was wondering about those sons and young men.  At first I was wondering if the sons were always sons, or sometimes daughters.  And I wondered about the young men, too.  And I found out something interesting about Your plan and expectation and design for men and even women from asking those questions. 

The Hebrew word used for the idea of sons can sometimes mean daughter, but the Hebrew word expressed in this “young men” is bachur.  Now, in Hebrew, the way to make bachur feminine is to add an “ah” to the end.  But You won’t find that used for woman anywhere in the Tanach or Old Testament.  Instead, you find betulah.  It appears that Jewish sages of old posed a question about this.  “What is the essence of being a young man?”  A contemporary rabbi, Rabbi Daniel Lapin answers, “being on the cusp of vital choices.”  He sites Exodus 17:9 as an example, “And Moses said to Joshua choose for us men…”  It’s why men choose wives and careers and ways of serving others.  A bachur is a chooser.

Rabbi Lapin says that’s why most often it’s the man who chooses his wife, not vice versa.  He is the proactive chooser.  And it’s not that she can’t choose.  She also chooses things like careers and ways of serving others and she also chooses her husband through her acceptance or rejection.  As I think about this politically incorrect concept, it makes sense.  The young man is on the cusp on one of the most important decisions of his and her life.  At creation, God set a standard for marriage.  One standard is that it be between a man and a woman.  The other standard is that it be in His image, in the image of a holy and righteous God.  Another standard is that it be in self-sacrificial love.  The man may even actually be in the process of this simple choosing of being tested.  “Will you obey my statutes?  Will you honor me here?  Or will you rebel against the fundamental truth of the nature of the creation of man and woman?”  Here is a story about “a young man on the cusp of choosing a wife and a young woman making decisions that value herself and encourage him to choose wisely.” (Rabbi Daniel Lapin)

If that idea makes you cringe because it seems to give too much power to a man and not enough to a woman, maybe you ought to check yourself and see if you’ve bought into some lies, if you might be guilty of three transgressions or four.  It just doesn’t stop here.  Let’s go back to the beginning, to Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.”  That’s zakar for the male and neqevah for the female.  The root of zakar means to be sharp pointed, and the root of neqevah means to pierce.  As a verb though, zakar means to remember.  But in Hebrew, remembering isn’t just cognitive, it means doing what you remember.  You remember and take it to heart.  “[T]his cognitive activity is personal relational activity that results in volitional choice.  It is thinking that becomes doing.” (Skip Moen)  It’s this idea expressed in Psalm 103:18, “To those who keep His covenant and remember His precepts to do them.”  Could it be that the man, yes, the man has the first responsibility to to remember who You are and to remember how You are related to mankind?  Is he the one held responsible for remembering who You are and his obligation to You?  You set everything before him. 

In the garden, Eve wasn’t present yet when you commanded the man about eating or not eating of the trees.  Eve wasn’t present when you formed every beast of the dust of the ground.  But Adam was there and I suppose he saw and You brought them to Adam to name which was a way of establishing his authority bestowed by You.  As a matter of fact, Adam was created outside the garden and You placed him there to dress it and keep it.  And even with all that, God knew that Adam was not complete, that Adam could not live up to the task on His own.  Only Adam didn’t see it until he took part in naming all the animals.  But all Adam knew was something was missing.  But You God, knew what was missing.

So you put Adam to sleep and take of his own flesh to make a woman, the partner that Adam needed to know unity like You know.  Flesh of the same flesh.  Bone of the same bone.  We are one!  We are not the same, but we are one!  Now how does man know how to handle that relationship?  He remembers his relationship with You, God, for he became a living soul from your breath, breathed into him.  He remembers how You handed over Your authority to him to keep order over chaos.  He remembers the love You have for him and how You met his innermost needs and he extends all of that to Eve as he remembers and follows suit. 

Is it such a hard thing to want the man to remember who God is, and how he is related to Him, to remember where he came from, who he serves, and whom he depends on?  Is it such a bad thing for him to have been given the responsibility of reminding us?  Is it so bad to think that “man is human in the action of bringing to mind the necessity of obedience to God and doing what is required”? (Skip Moen)    Abraham Heschel says, “to believe is to remember.”  Even the Hebrew word ish used for man in Genesis carries the essence of remembering what God said and doing it.

And isn’t that the problem we keep hearing over and over again?  Isn’t it that the men who should be remembering where they came from and who is over them, have forgotten?  And as they forget, doesn’t their relationship with their wife or their family or their fellow man break down with it?  Isn’t it that the farther man walks from God’s ways and His presence into his own thinking, that the value of others diminishes in his eyes?  Isn’t it that the farther from remembering God that we are, the closer we are to selfishness and the less we think about self-sacrifice for the good of others?

Now, none of this negates the value of Eve or the woman.  God said Adam needed her and it wasn’t good for him to be without her.  But she was God’s gift to keep him in God’s boundaries.  Adam is the rememberer who is to act upon that remembering.  Eve is the boundary keeper, being alert and discerning so that they don’t overstep God’s bounds.  Authority unchecked becomes tyranny.  God knew that.  It doesn’t happen with You God, because You have no selfish motives.  But authority can be a dangerous thing in our hands if someone doesn’t help us keep watching the boundaries of Your will.  This is God designed unity.  This is what fell apart in the garden on that day the tempter came.  Eve believed a lie that she could care for Adam and help him better by greater wisdom.  Adam chose to remember his commitment to Eve more than his commitment to the God who created him.  And we’re still stuck in that rut of thinking today, just as they were in the day of Amos.

It certainly is a far cry from creation.  It certainly looks a lot less human than what was intended.  And maybe that’s the problem.  We’ve created a lie about what humanity should look like and maybe we need to get back to seeing humanity the way You intended it.  “It is indeed conceivable that man may continue to be without being human.  One of the most frightening prospects we must face is that this earth may be populated by a race of beings which though belonging to the race homo sapiens according to biology will be devoid of the qualities by which man is spiritually distinguished from the rest of organic creatures.” (Abraham Heschel, Who is Man?)  Eve chose to believe a lie.  Adam chose to follow another.  How long will we choose to follow our fathers instead of following God?  How long will we choose to believe lies?  How much more rebellion will fill our lives? 

I don’t want to fight against You, Lord.  I want to know the truth and follow it because I know it will set me free.  And it doesn’t just set me free for a day.  It establishes my life in freedom and joy no matter the circumstances around me because in the truth of You, I can finally be fully human and fully who I was created to be.  I guess that’s what I’m looking for.  I just want to search You out until I know who You created me to be.  And being isn’t just about knowing, but about doing.  But I can’t forget that in finding out who I was created to be, You show me who I was not created to be.  And You show me who others were created to be.  So help us each to be who You created us to be in unity with You and each other.  And let us not usurp or misuse or misguide each others true humanness in You.   Let’s repent of our transgressions of being what we weren’t created to be.  Let’s not reject Your order and Your ways and Your heart.  Let’s embrace it and live it out instead.

To Sing and Rejoice Where Others Balk


Photo credit to Betty Westmoreland.

“Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.”  Habakkuk 3:17

Habakkuk lived through some really good things and some terribly awful things.  He saw the end of King Josiah’s reign as King over the people of God.  With King Josiah had come a revival.  But after the death of King Josiah, came a change in the heart of the people toward God.  Habakkuk was witness to invasion by a conquering people.  He saw judgment rain down on his people.  He was foretelling of judgment that would come by God upon their oppressors, the Chaldeans.  With the terrors that he had witnessed, he could have embraced the horror, the depression, the hopelessness, the lostness, but he didn’t.  He was radical.  Just think about it.

“An embrace” is the meaning behind Habakkuk’s name.  He could have embraced what was going on around him, embraced the circumstances and gotten caught up in them by allowing them to control his character.  He could have just acclimatized to the new culture, embraced it, and adapted to it and its gods.  But he didn’t.  He embraced God through it all, and he embraced Your character and conduct.  He embraced every thought about You.  He listened to Your words and kept his eyes on Your vision, the vision of You. 

That embrace is apparent in chapter 3.  You would think that this prophet would just write about You or tell about You vehemently to get people to believe and hope or change their ways.  But what Habakkuk does is write a song.  “I’m going to sing a song that tells about the greatness of You, God, and what You are preparing to do.  I am going to write a song and give it to those who make it into music to be sung by others.  And then they will teach others to join in and sing this song.”  How do I know that?  Because verse 1 tells me this was his prayer upon Shigionoth.  Easton’s Bible Dictionary tells us shiggayon “denotes a lyrical poem composed under strong mental emotion; a song of impassioned imagination accompanied with suitable music; a dithyrambic ode.”  That’s pretty radical thinking, isn’t it?  In the midst of rough times, looking forward to God’s victory and restoration, but still in the midst of the tragedy, he sings. 

But what is the song about?  What is this song I should be able to sing?  It’s a song about the fear of the Lord, this God who puts nations in place and removes them in His timing.  It’s about a God who in the midst of His wrath never forgets mercy.  It’s about a Holy God whose glory covers the expanse of the heavens and whose praise fills the earth.  It’s about a God whose brightness outshines the sun and who has real power coming out of His hands yet He controls that power and withholds it as He wills.  He is what everything is measured against.  The mountains and the water, the sun and the moon tremble at Your voice and obey more readily than we do.  But You don’t go forth for the salvation of the mountains and water and sun and moon.  You come and go to the extremes for the salvation of Your people, for every one who will one day turn to You as their only salvation and as their only hope.

This is the attitude, this is the character of those who believe and trust in You, the God who uses nations to bring His people back into relationship with Him. This ought to be our attitude toward the God who rebukes nations for their treatment of His people.  This ought to be the character of those who love You and owe everything to You, the God who all of nature obeys.  “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.  GOD, the Lord, is my strength; He makes my feet like the deer’s; He makes me tread on my high places.”  (Habakkuk 3:17-19) 

I want to thank You, Lord, for using Habakkuk to speak to the people of his day and to speak to me today.  I want to be continually reminded that no matter what else, You are what matters most.  I could lose everything, yet You are still my God.  Of all things that could turn against me or could be stripped from me, it won’t be You because You are ever faithful and everlasting.  You are worth more than the figs on the trees or the fruit on the vines or the olives or the flocks or the herds.  They may sustain me for a time, but only temporarily.  You sustain me forever and ever in You.  So even when my life is threatened, I still have reason to rejoice because though I die, yet shall I live. (John 11:25)  Like Paul said, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  (Philippians 1:21)  I think Habakkuk had that same notion about God.  And Job got it too when he said, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.” (Job 13:15)

The thing is, we usually are in the process of learning, like Job, who wanted to argue his righteousness before God.  We get caught up in arguing why these things shouldn’t happen to us.  Lord, this is why I shouldn’t have this sickness, or why my loved one shouldn’t die, or why I shouldn’t lose my job, or why these people shouldn’t block my goals, or why my husband or wife should respond this way.  The list goes on and on.  But if we saw things the way Habakkuk saw the reality of You, we wouldn’t have room to complain any more because we would hear Your voice and our bodies would tremble at Your holiness and power and mercy.  Our own lips would quiver at the sound because we’d think of what has come out of them and disappointed Your holiness.  Rottenness would enter our bones and our legs would tremble as we saw ourselves for who we are apart from You.  We would look a lot more like the ones we want justice met upon than we would ever care to.  But the good news is, if we start realizing that You alone are our righteousness and wholehearted surrender is the only way to experience the fullness of You, then I can begin to learn to quietly wait for You and Your day.  Then I can learn to rejoice in You, the God of my every moment salvation.  Then I will surrender to let You be my strength.  Then I will let You lead my attitudes and invade my character.  So I guess it’s not just about You invading the enemy.  It’s about You being invited by me to invade me with Your Spirit so that Your character becomes mine, so that I can sing and rejoice where others balk.

The Reality of Our Every Breath


Photo credit goes to Psyche Angelik Mendoza Villacillo-Zuhura

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”  Romans 15:13

Yes, I’m still thinking about joy, Lord.  You gave us a lot to think about and meditate on and live in.  Today, I’m thinking about this joy I learned of in batach yesterday, and adding to that the thoughts about the joy chara.  Strong’s defines chara as “cheerfulness, that is, calm delight:- gladness, greatly, (be exceeding) joy (-ful, -fully- fulness, -ous).”  But I want to take that into context with some other thoughts/truths in Paul’s words here.  “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing…”  What does that mean?  What does “the God of hope” mean for me, for us, and what bearing does it have on our joy and peace in believing?

Is this about God’s hope?  Or is this about “the God who provides us with hope beyond us”? (Skip Moen)  How often have I stopped to think that it’s one thing for me to “will to believe” but a whole other thing for God to “will that I believe”?   I would like to share more of Skip Moen’s thoughts here, “God’s desire that I believe is beyond me.  It means that He will bend the fabric of the universe in order to bring me to the place of trusting Him.  He will do whatever it takes to provide me the opportunity to choose Him.  It is much more than my hope for something more, something better.  God involves Himself in my attempt to believe.  He steps in where I cannot step and transports me to a place I cannot find without Him.  He believes in me before I can believe in Him.”

The Greek word for hope here is elopes.  It means “to anticipate, usually with pleasure; expectation or confidence” and is tied in with faith.  But faith isn’t just about my head belief or doctrine.  Hope has to do with some Hebrew words.  It’s tied in with batach which is trust, and yahoo which is wait, and qawa which is to look for or wait, and tiqwah which is to expect.  Think about these words.  Hope or faith is an action.  It’s more than thoughts or words.  If we tie them all together we see that hope is trusting, waiting, expectantly waiting and looking for that hope.  Now, putting that all together, Skip Moen added these thoughts, “This means God trusts you, waits for you, looks for you, expects something better from you.  God hopes in you!  He doesn’t have to hope in Himself.  He has no need.  His hope is in what you and I will do, what we will become, how we will seize the opportunities to place our confidence in Him.”

Stop and think about that.  God wills that I believe.  He wills not only that I know Him but that I act upon that knowing.  He is confident that I will find Him.  He orchestrates that finding.  He is the engineer of my life.  He places things and events in my life to bring His will about.  He confronts me time and time again with His faithfulness in my life and the lives around me.  He acts before I ever thought about acting.  And because of His acting on my behalf I come to believe and enter into that acting.

Now that is the cause of joy.  When the shepherds saw the star and rejoiced exceedingly with great joy (Matthew 2:10) it wasn’t because they had to make themselves joyful.  They were seeing You interact on their behalf.  You found them in the fields where everyone else had forgotten them.  You engineered this moment and every day in their lives.  You placed this event there, for their behalf and on the behalf of all people, forgotten or not.  You acted when they were helpless to act.  Now tell me that You wouldn’t be filled with exuberant joy in that moment.  God cares.  God loves me.  God sees me.  God intervenes on my behalf.  I am not lost.  I am remembered.  I am valued. 

The problem is, sometimes we don’t follow suit.  It’s so easy to fall back into our habitual thinking patterns.  We forget the way You responded to us.  And like the seed sown on rocky ground, we hear and see and grab it up with the right kind of initial joy, but then we forget or we look back. (Matthew 13:44)  We stop trusting and waiting and looking and expecting something better from You.  But it doesn’t have to be like that.  I can choose to be like the man who found treasure hidden in a field and covered it and didn’t forget about it but sold everything he had to buy that field and went back and dug it up. (Matthew 25:21)

It was never about making joy happen.  I can’t.  It comes from the knowing of You.  It comes from experiencing Your intervention.  See, the faithful servant, interacted with what You were already doing.  You initiated; he acted upon that.  That’s faith.  He was faithful in the little things, the normal, the mundane where You were still acting and interacting.  And because He interacted with You in the normal and mundane areas where You walked and commanded, You invited Him into Your joy.  Your joy is only experienced in You.  Unless the servant walks in You and with You, he can’t have Your joy, and neither can I.  Because You are the Author of joy.  It’s the essence of Your presence.  It’s the reward of knowing and living in You. (Matthew 25:21)

Women go to the tomb of Jesus to care for His body.  But they find the tomb open and no guards and no Jesus.  Instead, an angel tells them that Jesus is not here, He has risen.  And he sends them to tell the disciples to get ready.  Maybe that seems like it’s just special because Jesus has risen.  It is, but He’s still turning culture upside down.  See, women weren’t recognized as witnesses.  Their witness couldn’t hold up in any court of law.  But God chooses women to be His first witnesses.  He gave them hope in Him.  He entrusted them with the Good News, He waited for them to act, He looked for them, and He anticipated it all expectantly.  He knew they would be the first ones at the tomb before they knew.  And look what His hope for them did in them.  “So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell His disciples.” (Matthew 28:8)

Zacharias and Elizabeth would have joy and gladness at the birth of John (Luke 1:14) because You were intervening in their hope.  The 72 disciples You sent out that ran back filled with joy because even demons were subject to them in Your name (Luke 10:17) were learning of Your hope in them and it brought joy to their hearts.  That’s what happens when we see You intercede in our lives, when we aren’t cast out and alone anymore, when we understand that You want us back with You and You do all this for us.

It doesn’t stop there.  That hope You have for humanity, for each of us and all of us, overflows in Your joy over us so much that it inhabits even the angels around Your throne.  “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”  What if the truth is, that we need to realize how great a thing God has done for us through Jesus Christ, from the beginning of time into eternity, by intervening on our behalf every moment of every day?  What if we all stand in need of repenting for all the times we’ve not seen and not realized and not rejoiced in His hope for us that is so tangible?  What if that is part of the sin we are guilty of? 

I want to stop trusting in false things.  I want to stop waiting for what doesn’t matter.  I want to stop looking for what I think.  I want to stop expecting wrongly and distortedly.  I want to trust in You, in all You’ve done, in all You’re doing, and in all You will do.  I want to appreciate every situation, good or bad, as an opportunity for You to demonstrate hope and bring me joy, not because of getting through or out of the situation, but by drawing closer to You and walking with You through it all, and experiencing You.  I want to wait for You.  I want to wait with You and in You.  I want to look for You in everything.  I want to expect You to be God.  I want to expect You to show Yourself and bring glory in every situation and in me.  I want to be that sinner who repents.  I want to enter into the joy of the Lord.  The truth is, I can have what I hope for.  You’ve already made the way for me and You are continually making it for me.  I just have to embark with You on it.   

Even when my hope and my joy fades, Yours doesn’t.  That’s why I can forever be confident of this very thing, that this good work which You have begun in me and for my behalf and on behalf of others and Your kingdom, You will continue it and complete it.  (Philippians 1:6)  You are the Strong One who will make me strong.  You are the Hope that gives me hope.  You are the Joy that fills my life with joy unspeakable.  It was never about circumstances.  It’s You.  You are my happy thought.  You are my joy.  You are the reality of my every breath.  And I don’t want it any other way.

A Living Belief


“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake…”  Philippians 1:29

I hear a lot of people say, “Jesus, and nothing else!”  That’s true.  But I’m wondering if everyone who says that really understands what they’re saying.  I’m wondering if when we say that we really understand what it means when it’s put into Your perspective, Lord.  Because I’m trying to really understand.  I’m trying to figure out if I’m responding correctly to some people and situations in my life and that’s why I’m reading and re-rereading Philippians right now.  That’s why I’m not just reading it but asking You about it.  That’s why I’m digging into what Paul’s words really mean here.

Sometimes I wonder if it is enough to just “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.”  And understand what I mean here.  I seem to see some people choosing to believe the facts about You, Lord, but they’re not believing the actions that ought to be following in their lives.  I mean, how can I read Scripture and see this radical change in life and actions flow out of Biblical believers but look around in my culture and not see that coming out of “believers”?  When did the meaning of “believe” change?

See, Paul puts the meat on the word believe.  It’s not just knowing and agreeing with the facts of the Gospel, with the facts about Jesus.  He says to believers, “it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake…”  To me, that means that believing is always accompanied by action that takes sacrifice.  That word “suffer” is from the Greek word “pascho”.  It’s all about experiencing and it’s also associated with pain.  The thing I find interesting is that this word is one letter different from “pascha” which is the Passover.  And I wonder if the whole image isn’t supposed to be interrelated here.  Only this isn’t supposed to be our life only when celebrating a holiday.  This is supposed to be our life every day.  Just like it was the life of You, Jesus, every day.

Paul says we ought to have the same conflicts as he had all the time.  We ought to see those conflicts in our lives.  Why?  Because look at all the conflicts You, our Savior, had in Your life, because You were not only proclaiming You and proclaiming the truth, but You were walking it out in the reality of Your life.  And walking out and living out the reality of God’s truth in this world is a radical thing.  Who touches the lepers and cares more about them then their own well-being?  Who breaks tradition to really do the will of God?  Who cares more about what God thinks than what man thinks?  Who is willing to spend their life for those who are His enemies?  Who is willing to look like a fool in order to please His heavenly Father?  Who is willing to not fight back in order to save the least?  Who is willing and able to give up everything for someone who doesn’t care?  Who would really sacrifice something for someone else without the guarantee of gaining something in return?  But this is what You, Jesus, did.  This was Your life.  And this was Paul’s life.  This is believing.  And if my life doesn’t look like this, what do I really believe about You?  Do I really believe?

These are the kind of believers that Paul is thankful to You, for, Lord.  These are the ones he prays that God would give more grace to.  These are the ones he remembers joyfully in His prayers.  Because he remembers and knows their “fellowship in the Gospel from the first day until now.”  And that’s not just talking that they are out their preaching with him.  He’s talking about these believers who were living out with all their lives what they believed.  They were living out the Gospel just like Paul was.  They were sharing in the same experiences, good and bad, because the Gospel isn’t just a belief.  The Gospel is life.  You live it.  You walk it.  You breath it.  You do more than just think it or think about it.  You do more than just tell people about it.

It’s something that God, through Jesus Christ and the power and work of the Holy Spirit does in a person.  At the moment of our surrender to You, You begin this good work in us.  And You continue to do this work in us until the day we are fully with You and You complete it.  And this work isn’t just inside.  This work begins on the inside and it flows out.  And this work unites us in You and with You.  And this work You are doing unites us with one another.  This glorious thing that You are doing in me, doesn’t just put You in my heart, but it puts others in my heart, just like it did with Paul.  Just like, You, Jesus, genuinely loved others, You do that in me.

Paul’s joy came from the way that these believers partnered with Him in the Gospel.  And that really means that.  It means that they were true partners.  They were people who came right alongside him, taking part in the worship and the work and the loving on people and the stepping out of their own comfort zones and into the realm of where Jesus walked.  It wasn’t just about preaching.  It was about living.  It was about your words matching your life and your life matching your words.  And it was all about your life and your words matching the life and words of You, Jesus.  So my question today is, do my words and my life match Your words and Your life?  And I don’t mean just a little bit.  You were radical.  Is my life radical like You?  If not, what’s holding me back?  Is there something I don’t believe?

Lord, if I could choose anyone to partner with, I would want You first.  And I’m so grateful for this work You have begun in me.  And I am so grateful that You are continuing it in me.  And I’m grateful that You are starting and continuing this work of Yours in others around me.  My prayer is that I and they would truly and fully partner with You to the point of experiencing both the joy and the suffering that comes from walking right there with You.  Because if I’m not experiencing what You experience, then I’m not really walking with You.  And to not walk with You, that would be the greatest tragedy I could ever imagine.  Lord, all I know is this, I don’t need an agenda.  I just need to walk with You in the reality of life, in the reality of every moment, and that is Your desire for me.  May You turn to me and be filled with joy to see that I am standing firm in one spirit with You, with one mind striving side by side with You in the faith that is You, living in every bit of Your beautiful, wonderful, miraculous, real, and present Gospel.