Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Fly Like an Eagle: Exchanging our strength for God's

But those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:31).

I posted this verse on Facebook and Twitter; it received a lot of attention. This popular verse is a favorite for many of us who follow Christ. After all, it makes us feel good. But what does it mean – below the surface – in the heart of the passage?

It’s in the middle of a long prophecy by Isaiah. A little context will help us here. Isaiah 40 alternates back and forth between descriptions of God and descriptions of humanity. Here they are in summary –

This is Him. He is…

  • The glory of the revealed King (40:3-5).
  • The eternal Word (40:8).
  • The God of power and reward (40:9-10).
  • The Good Shepherd (40:11).
  • The Creator of the earth (40:12).
  • The Source of wisdom and knowledge (40:13-14).
  • Superior to man-made idols (40:18-20).
  • Enthroned high above the earth (40:21-22).
  • The Creator of the starry universe (40:25-26).

This is us. We are…

  • Deserving punishment for sin (40:1-2).
  • Withered grass and fallen flowers (40:6-8).
  • Nothing – even our greatest nations and rulers are nothing (40:15-17, 23-24).
  • Grasshoppers (40:22).

And yet we say…

Despite the awesomeness of who He is and despite the temporal, disobedient mess that we are, we have the nerve and the audacity to say, “God doesn’t know and He wouldn’t care if He did” (40:27 paraphrase).

But here’s the point…

He alone is the eternal Creator. He’ll never grow tired or weary. Even kids eventually get tired and wear out but God doesn’t. He won’t. He can’t (40:28-31).

We may be as weak as a withered piece of grass. We may deserve punishment for our sin. We may appear as a grasshopper. But God is willing to renew us. That little word renew – don’t skim by it! Take a moment to think about it. It means to substitute, to change for the better, to make new. That’s a pretty amazing offer for the eternal Creator to be willing to take our tired, worn out, weak selves and give us His strength instead. We can exchange our strength – or lack thereof – for His incredible strength that never does wear out! Only then can we “run and not grow weary;” only then can we “walk and not faint” (40:31)

How is that possible?

He offers this exchange to those who trust Him – to those who put their hope in Him (40:31). It’s that simple. Recognize who God is and Jesus the Messiah as His Son. Recognize He is eternal Creator and you’re a sinner in need of rescue from coming punishment. Click here to read more about a relationship with God.

In case that’s not enough…

Those who trust in the Lord will exchange their strength for God’s strength but there’s more. They will also soar on wings like eagles. This is some pretty cool symbolism. I say symbolism because Christ’s followers don’t really fly on the wings of some giant, magical eagle. Just thought I’d make sure you knew that.

Three other times in God’s Word He used the symbolism of His people being carried on eagle’s wings. They are all pretty significant.

In Exodus 19:3-6, Moses wrote that God carried the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt on the wings of an eagle. He even went further and promised that if they obeyed His Word and kept covenant then they would be His treasured possession.

In Deuteronomy 32:8-12, Moses wrote of Jacob. God found Jacob alone in the desert; at that time, He gave Jacob the Promised Land as an inheritance. From then on, God shielded Jacob and cared for him as an eagle does her young – just as she carries them on her wings. Jacob trusted God alone – no foreign God – and God alone led Him.

In Revelation 12:14, John prophetically wrote of a still unfulfilled time period. At that time, God will once again give Israel the wings of an eagle to carry her to safety during the time of the Antichrist.

These three Scriptural examples tell us a lot about the freedom to soar on wings like eagles. Just as God did the Israelites in Egypt, God frees those who trust Him from the oppression of slavery and makes us His treasured possession. Just as He did for Jacob, He leads those who trust Him until they reach the Promised Land of eternity. Just like He’ll do for Israel in the future, He’ll protect those who trust Him as He brings defeat to our enemies.

Like I said, it’s a pretty cool exchange. I’m ready to fly like an eagle.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Build your Walls with Water - not Rock

I prayed for someone the other day.

For my story, it doesn’t matter who it was or what the issue was. But I prayed that their walls would come down – that God would continue to chip away at them until He brought them crumbling down around my loved one.

Guess what Bible story came into my mind as the words came out of my mouth…

Yep, Jericho and her infamous crumbling walls.

And then I remembered a study I did once upon a time based on a question a friend asked me…

Why did the walls fall in Jericho? Why did God use that method to conquer Jericho?

When I studied out the answer, I loved what I found. But then I forgot about it until God brought it back to mind the other day. I think He must have saved it for now.

The first use of the word wall (Hebrew: chowmah) is when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea. God built walls of water on either side of the people as they crossed through on dry ground (Exodus 14:22). Many people today – even non-religious types – have heard the story of this famous miracle.

It was the same way in Joshua’s day. Forty years had passed by the time Joshua and the Israelites were ready to conquer the city but the people of Jericho knew the story of what had happened with the walls of water. Rahab – a prostitute enlisted by two Israelite spies to help them – told the two spies that fear fell (Hebrew: naphal) on the people of Jericho when they heard of the walls of water (Joshua 2:9-11). They encountered the power of God through this miracle yet they let terror rule rather than humble themselves before God. They trusted in their rock walls (Hebrew: chowmah).

Fast forward to after the scouting mission but before the conquest.

Joshua also encountered the power of God when pre-incarnate Jesus appeared before him. Jesus came as “commander of the Lord’s army” with exact instructions on how to conquer the city of Jericho. Joshua's response was to fall (Hebrew: naphal) prostrate before the Lord. He humbled himself and asked God what He would have him to do (Joshua 5:13-6:5).

You probably know how the story of Jericho ends. It’s almost as popular as the parting of the Red Sea. In case you don’t though, the Israelites march around the city of Jericho for seven days. At the end of their march, they blew their shofars (trumpets) and the people shouted. God brought the walls crumbling down.

What God can do

God’s power isn’t confined to what we think is normal. He can do what He wants to do. He can build a wall out of water; He can make a wall of rock crumble into pieces. The real question is what we are going to do about it.

What we do

When the people of Jericho encountered the power of God, debilitating fear and terror fell on them. They panicked.

When Joshua encountered the power of God, he fell humbly before Him. He offered himself in service to do whatever God asked him to do. He conquered.

When you encounter God, are you going to put your trust in the works you have done – in the walls you have built? Or, are you going to humble yourself before Almighty God and trust Him? Are you going to panic or conquer? 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Liberated to Live Free: 3 Aspects of Spiritual Freedom

Can you imagine a Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz concentration camp who chose to stay when Soviet forces liberated the camp? Would an inmate in Alcatraz refuse if a boat pulled up and offered him passage to freedom? Would a POW at the Hanoi Hilton stay huddled in his cell when the door opened and freedom awaited?

“Christ has liberated us to be free. Stand firm then and don’t submit to a yoke of slavery. … For you were called to be free, brothers; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love” (Galatians 5:1, 13).

Set Free to Live Free

Freedom became available for all humanity when Jesus died and later resurrected. He didn’t sacrifice so greatly for our freedom so we could continue to live in bondage. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1 NIV). He set us free to live free! He opened the cell door, liberated the camp, and offered the passage to freedom. Why do some of us not step out of the prison cell darkness and into the light?

Stand Firm

D. L. Moody once quoted a former slave woman in the South following the Civil War. “Being a former slave, she was confused about her status and asked, ‘Now is I free, or is I not? When I go to my old master he says I ain’t free, and when I go to my own people they say I is, and I don’t know whether I’m free or not. Some people told me that Abraham Lincoln signed a proclamation, but master says he didn’t; he didn’t have any right to.’” (Source) 

This enslaved woman needed to learn the same lessons we need to learn as well. Abraham Lincoln defeated his enemy thereby retaining the power to set the woman free; likewise, Jesus Christ defeated His enemy and retained the power to set us free. Her former master told her lies to keep her confused as to her status of freedom. Our former master – the enemy of Jesus Christ – tells us lies as well to keep us from living in our freedom.

We can’t stand firm in our freedom if we crumble every time Satan attacks. We can’t let our former master put the yoke of slavery back on us with his lies.

Free to Love, not Indulge

Here’s the part where many fall apart. The fear is that many who choose to live free will throw off all self-restraint. Morals and standards will disappear as people live free to do whatever they desire.

But freedom is not the absence of responsibility.

Freedom granted by Christ follows His example. He used His freedom to choose sacrificial love – not to satisfy selfish indulgences. We live free to serve others and love them sacrificially – not as an opportunity to satisfy our human desires.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Ditch the Devotional: 8 steps to energize your time in God's Word

Three different friends have told me lately that they want to spend time in God’s Word on a daily basis but they don’t know what to do.

They’ve used little devotional booklets but they feel like they need more. These little booklets have their place in spiritual growth. They can be a good resource to help us develop the discipline of spending time with God daily. However, the brief “share a story – tie in to biblical teaching – quote a Bible verse” format often leaves us hungry for more of God’s Word.

They’ve tried reading long portions of Scripture but the time investment is high. The frustration level also increases as they try to figure out the overall message of the text, wonder what words mean and who people are, look up cross references, look for answers to questions, and figure out an application for their life.

I don’t know if this will help, but I shared a technique with them that I’ve used in my own life for a few years now. I’d like to also share it with you.

I developed this method as part of the Grow Barefoot focus theme for each month. However, even if I stopped sharing each day on social media, I would still use this method for a morning devotional time.

Here’s what I do

1 – Pray for God to give me a word for the month. He’s been faithful every time to answer that prayer. However, sometimes He doesn’t give me one until the last day before the start of a new month; I have to be patient. The important thing is that He guides you into a theme; you don’t pick something at random. When you pray, listen for the answer. He wants you to read His Word so He’ll work with you on this.

God knows what your coming month is going to hold; when He guides, you’ll be amazed at how valuable that word will be as you face the month. For example, this month my word is “peace.” That word has been very significant as I’ve helped friends with less than peaceful situations and considered the turmoil breaking out in the Middle East.

Sometimes a theme is very broad; an example of this might be the word “love.” In those cases, I narrow my search to a specific section of Scripture – such as the Psalms, the Old Testament, the Gospels, the writings of Paul, or the writings of John.

2 – Search for the word on a website like Blue Letter Bible or Bible Gateway. I make sure to do the search in my favorite translation. If you have more than about 100 results, consider narrowing your search to a specific section of Scripture as I mentioned earlier.

3 – Copy and paste the results into a spreadsheet. This is just me – I like to use Excel more than Word because I can do more with the results. A lot of people don’t like spreadsheets and are more comfortable with word processing software. That’s fine – not a big deal. Just paste your results into some file you can come back to everyday. Don’t forget to save your file.

That’s the monthly prep work – actually doing it will probably take less time than it has taken you to read through this article so far. Here’s the daily part…

4 – Find a time each day to read through the list and pick a verse. I read through the verses until I find one to focus on for the day. This means I read the list through many times – not the whole thing every day but by the time the month is over I’ve read it a lot.

5 – Pull one thought out of your chosen verse and put it into your own words.

6 – At this point you’re going to have to figure out what to do with your verse and thought. Here are some ideas…
  • Share it on your favorite social media such as Facebook or Twitter.
  • Write them on a post-it note. Stick it to your computer monitor so you’ll see it often throughout the day.
  • Text it to your spouse or a good friend.
  • Come up with your own, unique method of focusing on the verse and thought throughout the day. If you have one, share it in the comments below to help others!
Whatever you decide, do something with it. This is important as it will help you focus on the verse and thought more throughout the day. Writing or typing it helps your brain retain it plus writing your thought helps you develop it clearly.  

7 – Start noting aspects of the theme that you see repeated. Toward the middle or end of the month you’ll start to see that Scripture repeats itself on some important issues related to your theme. For example, this month is peace. As I read through my list each day, I've repeatedly noticed four key points…

That last one I actually picked up on the last time I focused on peace in April 2013. It led to one of my most highly read blog articles.

8 – Let those key points transform your thinking. Some examples from my peace focus…

  • If I hear someone talk about finding peace within themselves or hear of peace talks in the Middle East, I know it’s not true peace because that only comes from a relationship with Christ.
  • I start making efforts to live at peace with those around me because peace won’t just spontaneously happen on its own. I have to pursue it.
  • Living at peace means I’m also extending grace to others because the two often come in a package deal.
  • Peace is possible in my life because God is a God of peace. He who created the universe desires peace within it. That’s why He thought of and instituted a plan to enable peace…a plan that involved the death and resurrection of His Son so we might experience forgiveness and a peaceful relationship with Him.
So there you have it. It may not be perfect; it may not be for everyone. In fact, it isn't. But it might work for you if you give it a try. I encourage you to do so with the start of a new month only a few days away. Be sure to come back and tell me how it went in the comment section!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Jesus' Last Word on Peace

"White House mulls special forces in Iraq crisis"

"Palestinians celebrate Hamas kidnappings of three Israeli children"

"DHS adviser says Caliphate’s return inevitable"

"US adds firepower in Persian Gulf"

"US forces nab suspect in Benghazi terror attack"

This sampling of today’s headlines doesn’t give us much hope for peace. The Middle East has been a bubbling cauldron for years; a boil over of hostilities is inevitable. Unfortunately, that boil over will have worldwide implications. I don’t base that statement on the vast amounts of oil in the region, the possibility of other nation’s troops joining the fight, or conflict between political parties.

The boil over of hostilities in the Middle East will have worldwide implications because of the surety of the prophecy of Scripture. “You are going to hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, because these things must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these events are the beginning of birth pains” (Matthew 24:6-8).

And yet, God calls us to peace. We pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6). Blessed are the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). The fruit of the Spirit is peace (Galatians 5:22). As much as possible, we are to live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18). God is not a God of disorder but of peace (1Corinthians 14:33).

How do we find peace in a world that’s boiling over?

Jesus gave us some last minute instructions during His last Passover meal with His disciples, a meal we also know as the Last Supper. In those parting words just hours before His crucifixion, Jesus gave us some help for how to live at peace.

These two passages line up side by side to give us three key points on peace. We need to remember these as hostilities boil over around the world.

Peace is from Jesus

Jesus is the source of peace that surpasses our understanding (Philippians 4:7). As He told His disciples at the Last Supper and He tells us today, He left that peace here! He gave it to us. He reminded us that in Him we have peace. He alone can give you peace at all times and in all ways (2 Thessalonians 3:16).

Jesus’ peace is nothing like the world’s peace

The world wants you to suffer. The world loves darkness and delights in evil (John 3:19). The world can’t accept Jesus or His message (John 14:17). The world hates you (John 15:19) and it's corrupt (2 Peter 1:4). But that’s not what Jesus wants to give you. He wants to pull you away from that and toward Himself.

Jesus has it under control

Jesus wants to give you peace. The world wants you to suffer. It’s easy to be afraid or worry because we experience the world all around us. It presses in everyday. As hard as it might seem, we need to let go of the fear and worry, though. We can let go not because of our own strength or because of some false premise of peace in the world. We let go of fear and worry because Jesus has conquered the world. That victory is our source of courage!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Find Hope in the Midst of Sorrow

On the day this article publishes, I’ll be attending a funeral for a friend of mine, the mother of one of my spiritual sisters. It’s going to be kind of a sad day but not nearly as sad as the last few weeks have been as she lay in a hospital bed, sometimes incoherent, always in pain, her body weakening by the day.

But it’s also going to be kind of a happy day, as well. We’ll talk about that more later, though.

My friend’s mom passed away a few days ago. That night, I took dinner to my friend and her extended family who had gathered at her dad’s house. As we sat – looking through old pictures and telling stories of favorite memories – my friend said something that resonated in my ears.

“I don’t know how people who have no hope do this.”

I said almost the exact same words to my dad the day before we buried my mom.

We’ve all lost loved ones. Many of us have even done so prematurely. Sometimes death comes at the end of many years after a life fully lived. Sometimes the loss comes with the warning of disease and suffering; other times shock overwhelms us as accidents or tragic events cause the loss.

Early or late in life, with warning or sudden shock; such are only two examples of differences that define the last moments of our loved ones.

One more difference defines the passing of our loved ones. One more difference separates anguish from bittersweet sorrow. One more difference defines the moment as full or devoid of hope.

Jesus is that difference.

The triune God is the God of Hope because Jesus' death and resurrection made hope possible. He is the God of Hope because the Holy Spirit empowers us to overflow with hope. Hope - made possible by Jesus, given by God, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

This was the difference in my mom’s death and the death of my friend’s mom. This was the difference for a couple who taught me about Him when I was a teenager. This was the difference for a man who lived a testimony of Him every day of his life. The rejection of the God of Hope has also made a difference for some I know who’ve passed on without Him.

There’s something you need to know about hope that comes from Christ. We use the word hope for an event or item that we wish or desire might happen. We hope to go on vacation this summer. Or, we hope doctors find a cure for heart disease. These things may or may not happen; we just hope they do. Scripture removes the uncertainty of hope, however.

Jesus never taught on hope because for Him the reality of the future is as certain as the reality of this present moment. He doesn’t wish He could return for us someday. He doesn’t aspire to offer us the same resurrection from the dead that He Himself experienced. He doesn’t dream of a kingdom on earth where He reigns in peace and righteousness. He is the reality and the surety of each of those coming events. His life and death guarantee their future fulfillment. So, in a relationship with Christ, hope is absolute and certain. It isn’t a wish, aspiration, or fanciful daydream.

My friend has the certainty of that hope for her mom just as I did years ago. The reason I spend hours writing my books and articles is so you also can know the certainty of the hope of a relationship with Jesus. Click here to read more about a relationship with Him. Use the comment section below or contact me on Facebook or Twitter if you’d like to talk even more.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Forgotten Love Letter

Imagine a situation with me…

A husband fights with an army combat team in eastern Afghanistan. Everyday his life is in danger; everyday he struggles to accomplish the mission to which he is called.

His wife's love for him runs deep. She serves here by maintaining the home the two have together; she does the work, she pays the bills, she tucks the children in each night.

Date nights are temporarily suspended as thousands of miles physically separate the two. Yet, the wife has a regular tradition. Every Saturday, after the kids are in bed, she sits down to write a letter to her husband. She tells him the important information from the week. She thinks of new ways to remind him how much she loves him and supports him. She shares dreams of the future when their family will reunite again.

She hits send.

At the same time, it’s already Sunday morning in eastern Afghanistan. Her husband knows the weekly email sits in his inbox – but he doesn’t bother to read it. Just like he did last week and the week before. Just like he has done every week since circumstances forced them apart.

Eventually, he remembers all of the unread words filling his inbox. He starts to wonder a little about what they might say. But just a little. After all, he doesn’t have time to read all of them as he's so busy with his military responsibilities.

He decides to find someone in his unit who has more time available. He asks his buddy to read through all of the letters and then summarize what they say in just a few words.

When the job is accomplished, the husband knows the overall points his wife tried to share. All is well at home. She loves him. They’ll be back together at some point.

The buddy doesn’t understand their relationship, though. He doesn’t know the priorities of their life together – their past, their goals, their intimacies, and their hopes and dreams together. He fails to communicate the passion and depth of her words.

Interesting scenario, isn’t it?

I can’t imagine a husband serving in the military would actually do this. But many followers of Christ do it all the time.

It’s been many weeks – many centuries – since circumstances forced us apart from our Loved One. He may not write us a new letter every week but He did write us one that’s about half a million words long. In it, He told us what’s going on, revealed the depth of His love and passion for us, and gave us hope for our life together when we reunite.

So often we settle for someone else’s summary of Jesus’ letter so we don’t have to take the time to read it ourselves. Yet, God wants to speak to you personally and intimately through His Word. He wants to pour life, hope, peace, and joy into you through the living power of His Holy Letter.

But I’m SO busy!

Yes, adding one more thing to our full schedules may seem like an impossible task. Modern technology is a great help, though. Apps and podcasts are available that literally read the Bible out loud. Go to iTunes, Google Play Store, App Store, or wherever you download on your mobile device. Search for “Bible” and you’ll find lots of free options – most of which have an option to have the Bible read to you. Then turn it on while you’re at the gym, cooking dinner, commuting to work, or sorting laundry. You won’t hear every word and you won’t be able to stop and study an interesting verse. But your thought patterns will start shifting away from the lies and towards the truth.

For those who haven’t yet entered the world of podcasts, apps, smart phones, and iPads… you can pick up a small, easy to read copy of the Bible at any Christian book store for only a few dollars. You don’t have to lug around a big study Bible. Pick up a small copy that you can carry in your bag or keep in your car. It’s ok to go ahead and read it while you wait at the doctor’s office instead of perusing the latest tabloid lying on the end table. Or, pick it up while you’re waiting in the car line. Or on your lunch hour.

But I don’t understand it!

I don’t believe one translation is absolutely right or absolutely wrong. I do believe, however, that some are a lot easier to read than others. Find the translation that fits you. Try different translations.

For daily reading and studying, I’ve used the New International Version for years. Gradually, though, I’m switching to the Holman Christian Standard Bible. But sometimes I look up the Complete Jewish Bible, the New American Standard Bible, or the English Standard Version just to see what different perspective a word choice might help me understand. Sometimes I even look up the King James Version (gasp!). It’s also interesting to find an easy to read translation such as The Message; you can sit and read through it like you would a novel.

These are all techniques and tools I’ve used over the last several years. Please give one or two a try. Or, come up with your own. If you do come up with another one – I’d love to hear it in the comment section below!