Strength in Your Touch

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“And, behold, a hand touched me, which set me upon my knees and upon the palms of my hands.” Daniel 10:10

 
When I first learned of Jesus as a child of five years old, the thing that attracted me to Him most was the fact that He reached out and touched, that He let the little children come unto Him. And here we have Daniel, who was fasting and praying and pouring his sorrowful heart out before the Lord, not only for himself but for his nation, his people. For three full weeks he ate nothing but plain, basic food (probably just what would sustain him to have energy to be faithful to his responsibilities), he drank no wine, and did not anoint himself with oil which I suppose would be like using aftershave for a pleasant odor. Something was on his heart and he was lifting it up to You Lord, and looking for and expecting an answer.

 
Well, because You are a God who reaches out and touches us, Daniel looked up one day and there he saw a man unlike any other. But the people around him didn’t see this vision. Instead, they trembled and in fear, fled and hid themselves leaving Daniel to himself and this man unlike any other. Daniel was not unaffected by the sight and presence before him. He lost all strength. All his goodness or loveliness of body and character was destroyed and void in the presence of this man. He was nothing but a spineless jellyfish in comparison. And at the sound of his voice, he was cast into a deep sleep prostrate, face down on the ground. Now imagine that the word for that deep sleep can also imply death. This is serious fear here. This is serious power.

 
Yet, here is this “man” who is not a man of earth, with such a foreboding presence and what does he do to Daniel? He reaches out his hand and touches Daniel, setting him up on his knees and on the palms of his hands. In other words, he begins to help him up. And as he is helping him up in his presence, he begins to speak words of encouragement to him. “Daniel, you are greatly beloved, understand the words that I speak unto you, and stand upright: for unto you am I sent.” And Daniel stood, still trembling.

 
There was something about this “man” that continued to be more than Daniel could handle so he continued his encouragement, “Fear not, Daniel: for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to chasten yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I am come for your words.” Do you know why it took three weeks, the length of time Daniel had been seeking God’s wisdom? The man visitor had been hindered fighting spiritual battles with Michael, the archangel, against the spiritual forces of the kings of Persia. Daniel’s prayers were a part of fighting that battle.

 
So this angelic man prepares to tell Daniel about what shall befall his people in the latter days and again Daniel’s face is to the ground and he became speechless. Come on now, this is a fearful thing. This isn’t the normal stuff of men here. And another being comes, like the “sons of men” and touches Daniel’s lips and opens his mouth so he can speak. Yet, even so, Daniel announced he was to weak to breath, and he was strengthless. So now one like the appearance of a man came and touched him and strengthened him and again encouraged him, “O man greatly beloved, fear not: peace be unto you, be strong, yes, be strong.” And he was able to be strong and speak in his presence.

 
“Do you know why I am coming unto you?” he asked Daniel. And I’m wondering if it’s more of a statement like, “You know why I’ve come to you.” And now this “other” is going to continue the spiritual warfare that has been going on, that spiritual battle that Daniel has been praying over and seeking God. the battle of spiritual forces vying for control over Persia and those to effect Greece. But the truth of scripture concerning it all, the spiritual realms and the effects on men will be made clear to Daniel. Why? Because there were very few, almost none, holding faithfully and clinging to this fight but Michael, Israel’s prince. And I can’t help but think that Daniel was included.

 
Can you imagine a spiritual battle over extreme evil forces being fought by only three? And imagine that one of those fighting that extreme battle and not even realizing it, was a mere man? And God loved him dearly for it! I don’t know if this man angel was Christ or not, but he sure touched like Jesus does and he sure imparted strength and power like Jesus does, and he sure encouraged like Jesus does. But I love to think about why he came and touched Daniel and why Daniel was so beloved by God and the angels.

 
Here is this man, this man set above most other men, and yet all he wanted to do was know and understand and walk in the ways of His heavenly Father and Master and Lord and King. His eyes, no matter what was going on around him, were not distracted by wealth or disaster or love or anything. His eyes were so firmly seeking after You, Lord. He was completely Yours; You were his everything. And You always reach out and touch those who seek You.

 
And even if there is only one in all the world, “the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.” (2 Chronicles 16:9) Now, it’s not hard for God to search the whole world over. He can do it in a blink of an eye. He’s not just searching the world for good people doing good things. He’s not even searching for that at all. That’s not impressive to Him. That’s why Daniel fell in fear and the others ran. Goodness doesn’t cut the cake compared to God’s goodness. He’s looking for those “committed to His purposes” so He can make them strong in a world that is not committed.

 
When this “angelic man being” tells Daniel that none holds with him, it’s this Hebrew word chazaq. It’s about holding fast and standing with strength. It’s about God loaning us His power like when Daniel was afraid and enabling him to get up and speak. But He only does this when we are in line with His purposes and not ours. Because Daniel’s heart was in line with God’s heart, God laid on his heart those things to pray for and God gave him power to prevail even in the spiritual realm over the nations.

 
This is the kind of heart attitude and life attitude that God reaches out and touches. This is good news because we can turn our hearts to God like that. It’s not making the right choice in life or doing the right thing that brings power and fulfillment. It’s the One we choose to line our life and being up with. Success is about our goals being in line with God’s purposes. Why? Because success isn’t about what we attain. It never was. Success is all about being touched by God, having a relationship restored with Him, being His wholly and unabashedly, being the image of Him in this world that we were created to be, and delighting in Him every moment of every day. Wow! Our goals have gotten so messed up, haven’t they?

 
We’ve gone from relationship with a God who wants to joy in our presence and us in His, to a people who run after “domination, expansion, protection, success, and fame.” We settle for momentary pleasure instead of eternal pleasure. We even fight battles for it. And then someone comes along and tells us the “bad” news that this isn’t the way. There’s not just a better way; it’s the Only Way. But will we align our lives with God’s way? Do we even care to feel His touch? Do we want to know His power and His strength? Do we really want to see what He sees and fight for what He fights for?

 
I’ll never feel Your loving touch like Daniel did, or the woman with the bleeding issue, or the children at Your knee, or John as he leaned his head upon You until and unless I align my will and ways with Yours. Do I want to be on my own?  Do I want everything I do to be numbered?  Do I want to fall and my plans to fall with me? Am I completely mine or will I be completely Yours?  Only one leads to You and to Your fellowship and Your touch and Your strength. Is my heart completely Yours?

 
Let the world turn its back to me. I want You to touch me and raise me up and give me strength that I might hold with You always. It’s funny, the religious leaders of Your day, Jesus, on earth wouldn’t touch other people’s burdens, but here You are, bearing our burdens with us. You touched Naman and other lepers no one would touch. You touched sick people whose family’s sought You for their healing. You touched the blind so they could see. And let’s not forget the crippled. Well, I’m like them all. I’m sick of spirit without Your touch. I’m blind and crippled without You. I’m an unholy cast off unless You do something inside of me. I’m just as desperate as Daniel for You, Lord, and I need Your touch just as much to raise me up and make me who I need to be in You. I want to be wholly Yours, Lord. Help my weakness so that You turn it into strength in You.

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The Immeasurable Value of Humility

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“The pride of your heart has deceived you…”  Obadiah 1:3

Pride is a dangerous and destructive compeller.  It’s more than an attitude and it’s deeper than character even though it’s both.  It’s a driving force and seems to overtake whoever chooses to grasp it for their own.  Once you grab, it seems to have you, and it’s awfully hard to shake loose from it once you realize how much it has a hold on you.  But it can be done.

I wonder a lot about things.  Now I’m thinking back on the time that Edom began, when Jacob and Esau were first born.  They were twins within their mother’s womb.  And they were so active in their mom’s womb that it was called “struggling together” and it really stressed her out so that she asked the Lord about it.  And You already knew everything about those two baby boys, those leaders of two nations.  One would be physically stronger than the other, yet the other would be under the rule of his “weaker” brother.  And Esau started to come out first and was named, and as he was out, his brother, Jacob, had his little hand on Esau’s heal.  Both babies were named according to how they looked or what they did as they came out.  Esau-the rough one.  Jacob- the heal catcher, supplanter. 

I guess I just wonder how much of the boys’ attitudes were because it’s who they were and how much was because of the perceptions of the people around them.  I mean, knowing Your words, that one would be stronger and one would rule the elder, wouldn’t it have been good to support that as something that could work together?  I mean is it bad that Esau would be the strong one?  And is it bad that the younger would have the better discernment to rule?  What if Your words had been valued more than the traditions and desires of the forefathers or the parents?  What if Isaac and Rebecca would have valued both abilities equally and shown the boys how to benefit each other by them?  I wonder if that was an option?  But I guess that’s a mute point, because it wasn’t the option taken.

And so, many years later we have the fruit of the competition continually growing.  We have a nation fighting continually against his brother nation because of pride.  We have a brother deceived into thinking what he is doing is right, who thinks his strength is because of himself and due to his own making.  We have a brother who doesn’t get that his strength is from the Lord and only true strength when he finally submits to God and his brother because that is Your design.  He has come to worship his own strength and to despise the God who gave it to him.  He exalts himself like an eagle, but eagles can be brought down. 

You didn’t say that there would be a stronger baby and the younger, weaker brother would rule if the stronger one was O.K. with that.  You said, “This is how this will be.”  Now, in anything You say, if we choose not to obey, or to disregard it and do it our own way, then we suffer the consequences that action naturally brings with it.  We miss the blessing.  The sad part here isn’t that it was just Esau’s choice.  Their parents and society didn’t choose Your way either.  That’s a hard concept to get that You get to choose who You will.  That I might be called to serve someone else despite my “rights.”   That I might have to use my gifts and talents to bring glory to something bigger than myself.  That I might have to step into the background so someone else can be made much of by my strengths.  What kind of crazy thinking is that, right?

So instead of choosing to fight for my brother, or my sister, or my husband, or my wife; instead of choosing to cover them and take the shame for their sake, I would choose to stand by like Esau and watch my brother be carried off.  I would gloat over him or her getting what was coming to them.  I would set them up for failure myself.  I would watch and do nothing.  I would rejoice when they hurt and suffered.  I would gloat over how much I won in the divorce settlement.  See, what You are sharing through Obadiah is prophetic.  It happened and is still happening.  It applies to the nation of Israel totally.  But it also applies as a lesson in life to each of us.  Because as Jacob and Esau go, so may we.  Because it’s all about relationship.

Relationships based on us, fail.  This was a relationship based on God.  It should have flourished.  But when we don’t line our thoughts up with Yours, this is what happens.  Instead of lives filled with blessing and mutually beneficial relationships, we compete and hurt and damage and kill.  But it didn’t have to be this way.  And it doesn’t have to be this way now.  The truth is, what goes around comes around.  “[A]s you have done, it shall be done unto you: your reward shall return upon your own head.”  Maybe keeping that thought in mind, would be enough to change our response to others.  Do I want unforgiveness served back on my own head?  How about bitterness?  How about impatience?  How about any of the actions or attitudes I show to that other person?

But the good news is that we can be delivered from this false thinking and this dangerous pride that causes us to choose wrongly.  “Upon mount Zion shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness…”  Yes, a day is coming when God will restore Israel but You are also looking to deliver anyone who will trust Your way and let go of their own.  You are offering deliverance to Jacob, and Esau, to Israel and to all nations.  But we can only find deliverance upon mount Zion, Your way, through Jesus.  We can only find deliverance by understanding that we have to let go of our ways and grab onto You and Your ways.  I have to stop looking at the faults of my brothers and sisters and look to the perfection and wonder of You.  I have to stop looking and thinking about my own strength and look at Your power and Your glory. 

Ultimately, here’s the truth.  We can call Mt. Zion the mount of Esau if we choose.  We can call it Mt. Zion.  But Mt. Zion in itself is not even for itself.  Call it one or the other but the truth is, the “kingdom shall be the LORD’S.”  Who does my kingdom belong to?  Who does my family belong to?  Who does my husband or wife belong to?  Who does my house or my future or my ministry belong to?  Do I get it?  If what I’m calling mine, really belongs to You, I really need to change my perspective, don’t I? 

Esau isn’t the only one paying a price.  Isaac payed a price.  Rebecca payed a price.  Jacob payed a price.  They all payed the price of broken relationship.  Is that the price that I want to pay to hold onto my pride?  No, I don’t want to pay that price.  I want to learn.  I want to learn to submit to You, Lord.  And in learning to submit to You, I have to learn to submit to others.  In learning to submit to You, I have to let go of my pride and care about others first.  I have to use my strengths for the benefit of those around me and not for myself.  If I really start to get it, I’d realize that in submitting, You, my Heavenly Father, would be my strength and my protector because I would be under Your ultimate authority.  Yeah, I think the King of kings and Lord of lords can take care of me just fine.  Help me to get it, Lord.  Help me to understand the immeasurable value of humility.

To Sing and Rejoice Where Others Balk

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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.

Ruth, A Visibly Virtuous Woman

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“And now, my daughter, fear not: I will do to thee all that thou requirest: for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman.”  Ruth 3:11

If you’re a mother or even just a woman, have you ever stopped to wonder what it means to be a virtuous woman?  I have.  Especially recently.  I’ve been stopping and asking the Lord what His design is for me as a woman.  And here I find an example in Ruth of a virtuous woman.  Was she just a moral woman who met everyone’s expectations as a woman, a wife and a mother?  Or is a virtuous woman something more?

I mean, think about Ruth, foreigner married to a man from another country living in her own homeland where she is comfortable.  Her husband dies and she chooses to cling to Naomi, her mother-in-law, and to make her people her own and Naomi’s God her own.  She leaves all that she knows and comes to a land where she has nothing and noone but Naomi.  She takes care of Naomi as though she were her own flesh and blood.  She adapts to the ways of Naomi’s people.  She labors hard in the fields every day just to eat.  She doesn’t complain.  She works and serves with such a spirit that everyone notices.  They even notice that she is self-controlled and not busy with trying to find a new husband.  They can see that the most important thing for her is caring for Naomi.  They see the love and service evidenced in everything she does.  And what they see, they call virtuous.

Virtuous doesn’t mean morality.  It’s not just about doing the right thing.  Virtuous is valour.  It’s strength.  It’s a word used of warriors.  Ruth is being called a valourous woman.  She’s a warrior woman.  She protects and holds fast the safety and welfare of those around her.  She’s like a warrior protecting her nation, only her nation is those people God has placed into her life, and as she clings to Him, He teaches her how to cling to them as He clings to us and cares for us.

I’m a woman.  And I know I’m far from perfect.  And Ruth, even as a valourous woman, wasn’t perfect either.  I know that because there is only One who is good and perfect and right, and that’s You, Lord.  But thank You, Lord, that You are bringing us to be more like You every day through every circumstance.  And a family with children is one of the best circumstances to grow and learn through.

But I want to understand Your idea of valour, of virtue, of a woman warrior better, because sometimes it’s just really hard being a woman, or a mother, or a wife.  I need to know how You designed me.  So I’m going back to Genesis before the fall.

In Genesis 2 we see God making this statement, and this is something we need to reallly think about.  “And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.”  God is saying that not even man, nor woman, nor any person is sufficient to bear His image alone.  Man was not created to bear God’s image one by one, because there is no unity in selfishness.  Unity, like that of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit comes in cooperation and working as one unit, in oneness like God.  To bear God’s image, man and woman were created to cooperate with God and each other.  There is a mutual surrendering and mutual love and caring just as God responds withing the trinity.  At least, that was how we were designed.

I know this because woman was taken out of the body of Adam just as the source of Adam was God Himself.  It was not good that Adam would be a separate appendage of the body, missing the other appendages that would make him whole.  Sounds like the body of Christ, right?  But it gets better!

God parades all the animals for Adam to name, and not just that.  God is helping Adam to see something about Himself that God already knows.  Adam comes to recognize his aloneness.  Now he is ready to receive his help meet for him.  So God brings forth Eve of Adam’s own body.  And Adam recognizes her in excitement.  “Wow!  Now this is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!  This woman is part of me!”  This was unity before the fall.

But understand what Adam understood as his help meet.  The Hebrew words are ezer kenegdo.  And they are not weak words.  They are not words that mean that Eve was less than Adam.  These are strong and powerful words.  Ezer is a word that is used of God in the Old Testament.  It’s a warrior word.  It’s a word that tells of God sweeping down and rescuing Israel when all the odds are against them and it seems impossible.  It’s when God just sweeps in and defeats the vast enemy armies just like that, no problem at all.  That’s ezer.  It’s a word of warrior strength and caring for Your people like that.  And what about kenegdo?  Kenegdo means standing face to face.  Adam and Eve were designed to see each other face to face and appreciate each others giftings and persons as equally valued.  Neither one was to be more or less than the other.  It’s that idea of esteeming others above yourself and giving honor, not expecting it.  It’s based on a relationship like the right hand is to the left hand or like the right wing of a plane is to the the left wing.  We were designed to be coheirs, and corulers because we were designed to rely on each other as we trust each other and rely and trust in God.

Women were designed to have their husbands backs and to protect them and care for them.  But women were also designed to have their families backs and to protect them and care for them like a warrior.  Think about it.  Adam and Eve had this and loved this relationship, until….they focussed on something other than delighting in God and obeyed someone else’s voice.  The moment trust in God was destroyed, trust in one another was destroyed, and that’s where we are today.  It’s why our marriages struggle, and our children fall away.  But our call is still the same.  God is calling us to be who He created us to be.  He is still calling us as ezer kenegdos.  He designed us to be his warriors for our families and friends and neighbors and enemies.  He is still calling us to follow Him instead of our own ways, His desire instead of ours.  What if our husbands won’t listen.  Will we still listen and follow?  What if our children won’t listen.  Will we still listen and follow and faithfully trust and set the example of valor and virtue and trust in Him?

I can’t guarantee that there won’t be disappointments.  Jesus told us there would be.  But what if through it all, we responded as the ezer kenegdo, as that valorous warrior God designed us to be?  I wonder if one day, Proverbs 31:10 would come true and our children and our husbands would call us blessed?  Well, I don’t really hear it a lot, and sometimes I wonder because I often feel like I’m missing the mark, but God is so sweet that when I feel my lowest, He sends those times of refreshing, and I have heard that promise in Proverbs 31 come true a couple times.  And when I was struggling just this past month, one of my daughters who God uses to encourage me in some of my most down times sent this birthday message on Face book-  “Happy birthday to my very special, very joyous mother.  She taught me quite a bit about school, but a whole lot more about Jesus and love and grace and faith, and how to be a wife and a mother and how to serve and encourage.  She taught me a lot about joy and smiling and having fun, and not being ashamed to be silly.  Happy birthday, Mommy, I love you!'”    You know what?  For all the times of pain and doubt,  it’s absolutely worth being God’s warrior for others and loving people that intensely.  Because even though I don’t see the effects and know how I’m influencing someone else’s life, God is using it and He knows, and every now and then, He’ll give a glimpse back.  And that glimpse is enough to keep me going for the sake of those around me and His glory and love.  And I just pray that He’ll continually make me a woman that stands out as virtuous with His character to the the eyes of others and before Him as I seek to follow Him with all of my heart and all of my being by loving and caring for those He places around me.  It’s not a simple task.  But You, Lord, can equip me with everything I need to lead and love well, just like Ruth.

“Follow Me.”

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Wherefore I beseech you, be followers of me.”  (1 Corinthians 4:16)

These are Paul’s words to the Corinthians, to believers who seemed to be following whatever teaching was on the breeze.  Now, I want to do something that I don’t know if I have the freedom to do.  But do it, I will.  What if You Jesus are using Paul’s words to tell us that You are beseeching us to be Your followers?  What if that was what Paul was trying to do?  What if he wasn’t really trying to get people to follow him but to get them to follow You like he was following You?

That seems logical to me because if I drop down four verses I see how Paul is saying that he will come shortly “if the Lord will.”  And what was he looking for when he came?  Whether or not Your power was in the words and actions of those who were puffing themselves up as teachers.  It seems that Paul was saying that there is evidence of following You and it’s not the evidence of our words but the evidence of power.

In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, (1:7) Paul reminds us that “God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.”  I suppose I ought to understand what power is, then.  The Greek word used here is dunamis which means force, specifically miraculous power, ability, might.  But if we look at the Hebrew connection it’s more than about “ability, capacity, vigor, strength, and will.”  It actually takes more than one Hebrew word to tranlate dunamis.  In the Hebrew, it has to do with strength, wealth or an army.  It’s the influence one has on others.  It can be financial or numerical or military.  It’s also about “not lacking, not being deficient or not having poor quality.”  It has to do with our going out and our coming in or what causes our going out and our coming in.  In the same sense, it has to do with bringing forth vegetation and feelings.  That’s not all.  Another word for it has to do with ascending, taking away, and offering; and yet another about waging war, mustering for war, serving.  And all of these things wrapped up together bring forth the concept of power.

So what is power?  Well, part is that Greek mindset.  There is an idea of “capacity, strength and will” but it plays out in conjuction with everything else.  See, strength is in relation to our influence.  It’s more than physical.  Someone has influence over another.  It’s what was happening with the Corinthians.  What was their source of inluence, or rather who?  Who is my source of influence?  Because the strength of that source will flow to others and they will wind up relying on either my weak influence or the true influence of God.

But it doesn’t stop there.  Power was tied to sufficiency.  I mean, in those days subsistence was important.  If you didn’t lack food, shelter, and the basics, you had power.  Without them you were powerless and dead!  But the truth for believers is that our sufficiency goes beyond subsistence, or maybe that our subsistence has to be in a Person and not things.  We have to come to the point where we truly know that “we are not sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; who also has made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.”  (2 Corinthians 3:5,6)  The whole point in these verses as that we are enable wholly by You, God.  Our power comes from and in You.  That word for sufficiency, sufficient, and able in verse six are all related in the same base word hikanoo.  We are made able, qualified, or enabled through not the words written in a book, but through the life within those words and from the Person who shared them with us.  You are our sufficiency.  You make us able.  You are our Power.

Now, as if that isn’t enough, power is also tied in to being able to “come and go.”  In the days of Paul’s authorship, they knew about slavery and about being a vassal.  Slaves and citizens under the rule of another power were limited in movement.  To have power is to be “able to move at your own will.”  Not only that, it includes the freedom to “express your own feelings.”  Think of how many citizens were nailed to crosses and impaled on spikes or burned at the stake because of expressing feelings contrary to the power in charge over the course of history.  Think of the many persecuted even today.  And with this power we must keep in mind the idea of war or warfare.

Well, those last concepts seem to make sense.  But what of this additional concept of power- to ascend, to take away?  The word for this is a verb and it’s about “sacrifices and offering.”  It’s about the power “to remove guilt.”  Did you ever think of the importance of this power, this power of sacrifice?  Maybe now is a good time to think about it, because God certainly thought about it in the power of Jesus Christ, and Jesus thought about it and demonstrated it.

So sure, many of us have lots of power.  We live lives where we are sufficient, where we have political freedom, where we have influence over others, and we are able to express our feelings freely, for the most part.  But we also have the “ability to have our guilt removed through sacrifice.”  I mean, how equipped is that?

But do I really realize what all this power bestowed on me means?  What did Jesus use His power for?  He used it for the benefit of those He came to seek and save.  He used all this power to find the lost and to save them and to make them His own.  How do I use the power that You give me as a believer, that power that comes from the life of the Spirit in me, that power that flows from the heart of God in Jesus Christ?  Am I only focussed on myself or am I, like Jesus, focussed on the lost and the hurting and the lonely and the broken?  Is my power for myself or is it a gift and a privilege, and a duty to share it with those who have not yet experienced it?  Is this power something that multiplies when it is shared or something to be horded?

Yes, I don’t think Paul wanted us or his people to follow him.  But I think that Paul wanted his people and us to learn from him that the only and true source of power lies in following Jesus.  Without knowing Him, without surrendering to His authority, without being adopted into His family and born of His Spirit, there is no power and we are but mere men.  Paul reminds us in Romans 8:37 that God’s purpose for us is to overwhelmingly conquer.  Why?  Because He is the Overwhelming Conqueror and the battle is His and it’s already a victory.  We just have to hold onto the ball until the end of the game.  And He’s passed the ball to us.  We’ve been made ready and equipped by the One who is the Source of Power.

Who I follow is important.  My life and my victory and the life and victory of those around me depend upon this choice.  It was important to You too, Jesus.  You commanded, “Follow me,” in over fifteen instances in Scripture as You walked this earth.  If a thing You repeat is important, than certainly understanding what it is to follow You is of major importance to me.  “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.”  It only comes from following, from attaching, from being dependent upon, and from being enabled by You.  “Follow Me and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”  “If anyone whold come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”  “If any man serve Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve Me, him will my Father honour.”  “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to you?  Follow Me.”  “Follow Me.”  “Follow Me.”  “Follow Me.”

You know, sometimes as “baby” believers we need to follow someone else as our example, someone else we can see and feel and touch.  But with maturity comes greater responsibility.  There has to come a day when we stop needing to follow Paul and we experience You Jesus for ourselves.  There has to come a day when we know You so well that we follow You, that we listen to You, that we know Your heart.  There must come a day when You are my heart’s desire and joy.  You have to be the focus of my emulation.  There has to come a day when I see that all this stuff that has to do with the power I need is right there and has always been right there in You.  And if I’m still following some other believer’s method or style, I need to fall on my knees and just start relying on You and accepting all that You have for me and stop disabling what You desire to enable in me.  You didn’t create anyone else but Paul to be a Paul.  You desired for Timothy to be his own Timothy in You.  You designed for Bong to be her own Bong in You.  You designed for Jessica and Gemma and Betty and Sharon and Carla and Mickie to be who You created them each to be, specifically different by design.  You designed Jack and Warren and Mike and Eric and Carl and Genesis to be who You created them each to be, specifically different by design.  But my question is, am I living in Your design for me or my own design?  What a shame it would be to be invited and have the ability to follow the King of the Universe, to follow the Jesus who saved me and the God who made me, and to not choose to follow Him intimately.  Oh, that I, that we, would learn to follow You all the days of our lives!

For Christ’s Sake!

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“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake:  for when I am weak, then am I strong.”  2 Corinthians 12:10

How can you be weak and strong at the same time, Paul?   How can you take pleasure in being sick?  How can you take pleasure in being reproached?  How can you take pleasure in being in need?  How can you take pleasure when you are persecuted?  How can you take pleasure when you are in distress?  How does Jesus enable you to do that?  I need to know.  Because the same way Jesus enables you, is the way Jesus will enable me.

This is pretty strong stuff here.  This pleasure is from the Greek word “eudokeo.”  It means to think well of, approve, to take pleasure in, to delight in.  It’s the same word family that God used to say, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  So how do I learn to delight in all this hard stuff to the extent of God’s delight in Christ?  Is that possible?

Well, Jesus, You say that the answer is a loud, “Yes!”  You tell me that “with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  (Matthew 19:26)  You tell me that if I “can believe, all things are possible” to the one that believes. (Mark 9:23)  And in Mark 14:36 when You were preparing to go through these kinds of things Yourself to the worst degree, You affirmed, “Abba, Father, all things are possible unto You.” But to that You added the clincher that I need to remember.  It’s not about my will, but all about Your will.

Sickness is a tough thing, especially debilitating diseases.  But You are telling me that even if I have a debilitating disease, I can delight in the midst of it.  What in the world am I delighting in?  Can I really delight in my disease? I can do it for Christ’s sake.  But what does that mean?

Can I do it because I’m suffering for Christ?  Is that what that means?  The Greek words are actually “huper Christos” and when I look at Strong’s it tells me that “huper” is about being over, above, beyond, or casually for the sake of.  But I don’t think this is casual stuff here.  But that “huper” part, that above and beyond,  in Christ, well that intrigues me.

I mean, what if I’m not doing these things for the sake of Christ in the english sense?  What if Christ is doing this in me?  What if, in the middle of all these negative situations, He is rising above the situation, ruling over me and my heart and my mind and the circumstances?  What if I am allowing Him to stretch me beyond my limits because there are no limits in Him?  I don’t think this is a casual thing and I don’t think it’s about me and my power.  I think it’s all about hupos Christos, that my Jesus is above and over and beyond everything.  And when I come to submit and surrender to that reality, to Him in every situation good or bad, then I get to delight in the hupos Christos Himself as He raises me above each situation even in the midst of the situation.

I can take pleasure in my debilitating disease because Jesus is there doing wonderful things in my life despite the ravaging of the disease.  I can delight in the reproaches of others when I am walking firmly in His way because He rises above the reproaches and speaks more loudly and lovingly in my ears.  When I am in need, I can delight, because I know that You, Lord, will meet my need, You will rise above it and provide.  When I’m persecuted for standing for You, You will stand for me because I am Yours.  I can delight in waiting on You and on seeing and experiencing Your fellowship and vindication because my joy is in You and not the physical deliverance.  See, You are my Deliverance.  And when distresses and calamaties and hard pressing rise against me, You raise higher.

See, it’s not about what Paul did.  It’s not about what I do.  Well, we both have to rely on You and depend on You and expect You to be You.  But this hupos Christos is all about You being You in our lives.  It’s all about me having the right expectations, knowing that these tough things are coming.  But as tough as they are, You will always be above them.

Therefore, when I am weak, because, in the midst of these things I am very weak, then I am strong.  Why?  Well, it’s not because of me at all just as it wasn’t due to Paul.  It’s because You are right there with us.  You were with Paul every step of the way.  You never leave us nor forsake us.  And if we don’t leave You or forsake You then we know we can depend on hupos Christos.  When I am weak, then I am strong because You are always strong and You are always there in me and for me.

I have to confess, I’ve been thinking about weakness a lot lately.  It’s been in my thoughts over the last couple of years and recently.  And maybe I’ve been focussing on my weakness and it makes me feel wearier.  And I think that when I focus on my weakness, I have a tendency to use it as an excuse and I become weaker.  But then that’s lying about my relationship in You.  And I don’t want to believe that lie any more.

The fact of the matter is that on my own I am utterly weak.  But I’ve placed my trust in You; You own my life, my everything.  I’m not weak any more because I am in hupos Christos.  You are my strength.  And though I’m weak and when I’m weak, I’m really not so weak any more because You are strong in me.  So my prayer is that I would never forget that truth.  I want to always live in the truth that You inhabit me with Your strength.  And it’s just a matter of me continually surrendering to You.  I want to be strong.  I need to be strong for my sake so that I don’t fall into temptation and into sin.  But I’m also learning that I must be strong for the sake of others.  Because if I hold on to my weakness and fall, I will take others with me.  I don’t want to do that.  That would break my heart.

So, Lord, give me a heart, mind, and spirit that continually trust in and rely on Your strength in me.  Teach me how to be strong in You that I may teach others how to be strong in You.  Take my eyes off of me, and firmly and forever rivet them on You.  Because of Who You Are, because of Your strength, I can be strong like Paul.  I will trust in You, my sword and my shield, my forever deliverer.

He’s Stronger Than the Anchor, And He’s Strong Enough for Me!

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Then he said to them, “Go your way.  Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord.  And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”  Nehemiah 8:10

This is one of the verses I have posted on my wall.  I reread it this morning to be reminded.  I find that I need constant reminders and encouragement because I so easily get discouraged in the middle of life’s “stuff.”  Funny thing is, that this verse that came off my wall and was being used to build me up (and hopefully others!), is about another wall that had just been built and the people were being reminded about the true Foundation of the wall and the city of God.  Actually, it went deeper than that.  They were being reminded and encouraged in the heart and knowledge of You, Lord.

This special day, all the people had been gathered together and Ezra, the priest, brought the Word of God out, the Book of the Law, before the gathered assembly, men, women, and children, and read the Word to them.  And the people listened.  And they blessed the Lord together.  And the Levites helped the people to understand the Law.  So as Ezra read, the Levites made sure the people had the sense of the reading and understood.  And in their understanding, they wept.  Why?

Because they had forgotten all the promises and precepts.  They had let God’s Word fall loosely aside.  They had left things in their lives unrepaired like the wall of the city.  And now they were understanding how far they had fallen, how unrepaired they were, how broken.  That’s a sad thing to find out.  It hurts.

And the truth of the matter is that all the weeping in the world will not fix my brokenness.  I will always be broken.  I am continually in need of repair just like the city wall.  And I can’t repair myself no matter how badly I want to.  Could the wall repair itself?  Neither can I.

So what could they do, now that they found out the truth about their fallenness?  What can I do?  Once I come to the sorrow of repentance, then where do I go?  Wasn’t Ezra basically telling the people to go celebrate?  It was a holy day.  Why?  Was it holy because You were at work, Lord?  Was it holy because Your Word was sinking in and they were understanding and now it was moving them to action?  Was faith returning?

“Don’t be grieved.”  Why?  God has opened your eyes to know your problem, to see your sin, and He is the answer.  He is here.  He has come.  His answer to your problem is in Him and in His Word.  He made the way and He is making the way and He is the way.  “The joy of the LORD is your strength.”  He’s the answer.  He’s your way.

See, it’s not about the Israelites here anymore than it is about me and what I can do.  And it’s not about my joy or the Israelites joy.  It’s about the effective work of Your joy, Lord, and how that work becomes our strength.

Today I learned that this Hebrew word for joy is “hedvah.”  And it’s a rare word in Scripture.  It’s only used twice, here and in 1 Chronicles 16:27 (“Splendor and majesty are before Him; strength and joy are in His place.”)  The word usually used for joy is “simhah” which is usually translated in Greek as “cheerful or glad.”  So “simhah” is associated with our emotions and actions, but not “hedvah.”  “Hedvat YHWH” or “the joy of the LORD” is solely and exclusively possessed by You, Lord.

“Simhah” calls for rejoicing that takes participation on our part.  It’s like with the festivals or rejoicing over our rescue.  It’s the human participation side where we express our gladness and thanfulness to You, Lord.  But “Hedvah” is totally dependent upon You.   So, how can I really understand this word that You only chose to use twice in Scripture?  Will You please give me sense of this word just like You did that day for the Israelites?  Will You give understanding?

Skip Moen shared a “picture” of this Hebrew word form its pictograph.   “Hedvah is a noun derived from the verb hadah.  The consonants are chet-dalet-hey.   The picture is “behold, a door in the fence.”  Now we see.  What is the joy of YHWH?  It is the gladness of providing a door in the fence – a path for coming into His presence.  What cheers our Lord?  A way in.  God rejoices that there is a door for us to come into fellowship with Him.  We are not shut out for He has provided a way back.  The joy of YHWH is that He can fellowship with us!”

Do I understand that?  Why were the Israelites weeping?  Because they realized they were closing themselves out from Your presence by their actions.  They didn’t know how to fix all they had forsaken.  But wasn’t Ezra telling them, “Stop weeping!  Your God has provided the way back.  Here it is.  Now, listen and obey, trust and follow.  Let Him be your strength and let His joy rule in you.”  Imagine that.  You, Lord, take people who have no power to fix themselves, and call it Your joy to fix us so that we can spend an eternity in Your presence.  Now I can cry different tears over that.  That brings tears of joy unspeakable because that is so full of mercy.

This whole message today reminds me of Mercy Me’s song “If I Could Just Sit With You Awhile.”  How many times, Lord, have I been so distraught and there is just no way to fix the hurt or pick myself up out of the situation?  How many times am I unable to rescue myself or even provide what I really need?  And I could just sit and cry and start feeling really sorry for myself.  But Your word to me is, “Stop crying.  You’re not supposed to do it.  I am.  And I AM.  Get up and keep walking in faith.  Look at me and get your eyes off the deceptive circumstances and feelings.  The door is always open.  Don’t choose to sit outside and weep.  Come in with Me.  Hide yourself in my pavilion.  You were never meant to have it all under control.  That’s for Me.  Bring those heavy burdens and let Me take care of them.  I’m just waiting for You to come in, I’m just waiting to hold You, I’m waiting for You to let Me be God.”

Yes, sometimes there is nothing I can do.  And that’s OK.  Because this is about that open door, the gift that You give, God.  It’s this blessed privilege that You give.  It’s all about “the privilege to enter in to harmony with God” and that is my strength.  You provide our strength.

That’s why I put Your Word up on my wall.  That’s why I surround myself with brothers and sisters in Christ who surround themselves with You.  Because there are days when I desperately need to be reminded that my joy isn’t based on my efforts.  Even my good efforts fall so short.  What I want is to sing, and shout, and clap my hands to You, and yes, even to dance for You.  But sometimes I feel so shipwrecked that even my joy feels like an anchor and I don’t have the strength on my own to lift that heavy weight.  But this is when Nehemiah speaks, “Don’t be grieved, for the joy of LORD is your strength.”  And You lift the weight, and You don’t only invite me in with You, You carry me.

In Matthew, Jesus shares the story about the good and faithful servant.  But I mustn’t forget that his goodness and faithfulness didn’t come from him, from the servant.  The Lord gave the measure of goodness and faithfulness to him.  That’s what I need to trust in, what You give me, Lord, because by Your Spirit and by Your power, You will make it effective in me as I trust in You with it.  I want to let go of the weeping and run with what You’ve placed in my hands, wherever You want me to run, and walk wherever You want me to walk, and sit wherever You want me to sit.  Because it’s always about what You are doing in me and through me and for me.  You opened the door wide for me.  I want to choose to enter because that’s where the joy of the Lord is, in You, and You alone are my strength.

Well, keep teaching me, Lord.  It’s a hard lesson to learn.  I have to keep being reminded.  But I appreciate every reminder, because with every reminder and with every time You lift that anchor and lift me, I experience You more and more.  And only as I experience You more and more do I see how much I need to experience You more and more.  I only come to know my dependence on Your strength by learning true dependence.