Unity in the Kingdom – 13 in a Series Songs of Ascents Psalm 133-134

Unity in the Kingdom
13thin Series – Songs of Ascent
Psalms 133-134
Good morning,
  Today is 13thand final in a series Songs of Ascent – Psalms 133-134. Normally, I would write about one Psalm in each writing but, I noticed from these last two go together. According to the Blue Letter Bible, Psalm 133 was inserted toward the end of David’s life (1 Chronicles 28:21), and 134 was written on the return from exile (Ezra 3:7); so, you have an extended period of time and events.  I have found throughout this series and through the reading of the word of God that all of the writings have a purpose and reason for their placement. When we read the Psalms, we see 150 Psalms but, that is not the way they were written. In the beginning of this series, the 120thPsalm spoke about “breaking away from the treacherous” and now culminating with “Unity in the Kingdom” all of this comes about through a process of time, struggles, and above all pain. Man is not accustomed to things taking time and for it runs ahead of the game “Running with Your Head Turned”. God knows that we need to take baby steps in all that we do because, he matures us as we go along so that we are able to face the next battle “Strength for the Next Storm”. It would be very nice and expedient if we were whisked into Heaven (raptured) so as to skip over the trouble but, that is simply not reality. God takes through the journey so that we understand the value of our relationship with God and with each other; only then do we treasure it like one of our most prized possessions (Matthew 13:45-46).
As we are approaching the last step to the Temple of God, I want to remind you that it is at this point where the wheels come off and problems crop up. Moses had led the nation for over 40 years and just before the nation was to enter Canaan, it was then that he forgot himself and for his actions, was not allowed to enter the promised land (Numbers 20:1-13). In the same way many today have been disqualified for service because of a mistake in judgement on our part. God forgives sin, that is absolutely true; however, what you do not read in scripture is a case where God lets us off of the hook for our decisions. My prayer for you today is that you will finish the race strong and that nothing will stop you from walking the path God has for you.
Point 1 – Unity in View of Turmoil (Psalm 133)
The Hebrew word for “unity” as it applies to this Psalm is yachad which means “harmony”. By man’s very nature, harmony is not one of our native traits; because, as humans go, we like things “our way” and we are very hard-headed; or, as scripture puts it “stiff necked”(Exodus 33:5).  So, why would the writer admonish the people to be in harmony (verse 1)?  Because, God will not dwell where there is discord (James 3:16). You will never see a church or family for that matter where there is discord and a powerful move of God at the same time. So, we need to decide for our self what we’ll have in our family: discord or unity. From there, we bring that into our home/family/church. There is a term I want to introduce you to, “choosing by default”. In choosing to unite with others, we are choosing to not allow turmoil in the world to alter God’s best for our life. Conversely, choosing to not unite we are in fact stating “I chose to allow turmoil to control my life “.
Turmoil is a natural part of the human experience (Ecclesiastics 2:23). No one gets through life without facing it at one time or another. No one likes it but, it does serve a purpose. During the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon was at the zenith of its power; it was a model city that every nation wanted to be part of.  In the years following Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon was in flux as it came to grips with its world being shattered by the wars and threats to its autonomy or, the birth pains of something new.  In the same way, Israel in the time of King David and Solomon, the nation was a mighty force; in the years following, the nation was in flux as it grappled with “who am I now since that which defined me is gone”? Good times tend to cause us to become comfortable and we are not so willing to move beyond where we are in life; that is, until something changes in our life and/or the world around us. From this change, we are more willing to be pliable and willing to let go and move on in life. Turmoil is not the end of our world but, in all reality, it is the beginning of something new and we can be a part of it or, a forgotten stone in the path.
Point 2 – Standing the Midwatch (Psalms 134:1-2)
The closing Psalm of this series asks God for blessings over the Priests who stood the midwatch in the temple. Being custodian of the temple is not a boobie prize nor, is it for the weak willed. Anyone who entered the Temple to serve must do so respectfully and completely in line with the Word of God. The priest’s job was to keep the candles burning, the temple secure, and to seek the face of God on behalf of the nation through prayer and petition. Like all jobs of the priests, the priest is held accountable by God for happened on the priest’s watch. As parents and leaders, we are tasked with protecting our home, children, and those we lead. In the same way that the Aaronic priests were commissioned to service by the anointing of God, so are parents. Having the anointing of God upon our lives is great; however, if we waste it by not acting upon it, it will be taken away from us in ways we cannot possibly comprehend. In one of Jesus’ parallel stories, he spoke of the man who got a single talent and went off and buried it. What we do in the midnight hours, time alone in prayer, and the direction of our hearts will greatly determine the success or failure of the family, church, and nation.
In the 2ndverse, the priests were told “lift up your hands to the sanctuary and bless the Lord”. But, how does one bless God? Is it about singing a Christian song, repeating fragmented scripture or, saying a simple prayer? In a stunning indictment against the nation Israel, the prophet Micah proposed the question:
“With what shall I come before the Lord [to honor Him]
And bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings,
With yearling calves?
Will the Lord be delighted with thousands of rams,
Or with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I present my firstborn for my acts of rebellion,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
Except to be just, and to love [and to diligently practice] kindness (compassion),
And to walk humbly with your God [setting aside any overblown sense of importance or self-righteousness]? (Micah 6:7-9 amp)
As odd as it sounds, all of the aforementioned are great gestures but, when the heart is not in it, all of it becomes ritual rather than sacrifice. When the priest stood the midwatch, it wasn’t a time of relaxed control nor, was it just a time to look holy; it was a time of serious business because, the success or failure of the nation rested on these men. In the same way, parents today are a firewall between an ungodly world and the children they are sworn to protect. If the parent fails to stand the watch or does so like a hired hand would, the child could be lost to the ways of the Devil and the parent will be held accountable. I charge parents everywhere today to carefully consider the ones you are given charge of. Your job, parents, is an unthankful one and filled with many traps, hard aches, pains, and sorrows; yet, when you stand before God on your judgement day and asks, “what is your testimony”? You can proudly say, “I stood the midwatch, I lifted my family before you with holy hands and You did not fail me. To a dying world, I was a contrast.  I finished the race”! To you, will be the words “well done good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).
Point 3 Allowing God’s Blessings (Psalm 134:3)
It is a common cliché among Christians to say “God bless you” when someone is leaving or has given us something of value. When you read this final verse of the series, I want you to consider that we can receive blessings or, we can push them away simply by our attitude coupled with behaviors. So, the question I want to propose to you as we reach the final step to the temple is, “May God bless you”? Consider, if you will, the case of the man whose hand was shriveled up (Mark 3:1-6). When Jesus said, “give me your hand”, the man could have refused the blessing by saying “no” and, in an unspoken way, said “I don’t want to be healed. Who in their right mind would refuse to be healed? The answer is, many including our self.
We tell God not only by our words but, by our actions “I prefer the painful lessons of life”. As parents, we want our kids to make it through life’s journey without falling into the pits of sin; some of the pits we have fallen in our self along the way. In the book of Isaiah chapter 28, God is speaking to the tribe of Ephraim, who was the 2ndson of Joseph, about a pending exile. The people of the time believed they were getting the meat of God’s word by preferring the hard line of the law over the life blood of the word. God’s response, and the part I want to hone in on, is “very well I will teach you by a more humiliating method so that you will fall under the pressure instead of being lifted up” (Isaiah 28:8-13 amp). This may sound cold-hearted but, I want to remind you that God is holy, and he is Just; he will not give blessings when we walk at cross purposes to his word. Just because we go to church, read God’s word, and participate in Facebook blogs, does not imply that “we are being blessed”. For this reason, Jesus during the teaching of the Beatitudes spoke of making things right with those we in contention with or have committed sin and need to make it right (verse). Jesus’ admonishment to Peter after having proclaimed the coming power of Peter’s ministry (verse) speaks to the concept that we can stop blessings just as assuredly as we can let them flow in our life and those around us.
Conclusion
The journey up the steps to the Temple, to me, is one of making decisions which path will I take; each step can take me closer or farther away from God’s throne room. How we order our life either opens the door for Jesus to fill our life or tells him “vacate it”. My prayer for you today and every day is that you will allow God’s blessings in your life to work in and through you. Remember, what Jesus did was just the tip of the iceberg of we are capable of doing with him in control of our life (John 14:12-14).  Thank you for walking with me.

God of a New Day – 12 In a Series Song of Ascents Psalm 132

God of the New Day
Psalms 132
Good morning,
  Today is 12th in a series Song of Ascents Psalm 132. This Psalm, according to various commentaries the most convincing argument is that the Psalm was written just after the completion of the exile because of two specific references: God’s promise to David and the struggles David went through during his lifetime.
Throughout scripture, we read of people who have over-come various tragedies, pains, and sorrows to be the man/woman God has in mind for them. Each individual in scripture came to the Lord at different places in their lives. Some, like Samuel, were given to the Lord in their youth and continued to serve all the years of their lives. David, who is mentioned specifically in this psalm, might seem like an anomoly because, he committed sin, murder, and adultry yet, was still loved by God, still considered his son, and was forgiven. Add to the picture, it said of him “he was the greatest king that ever walked the earth”. Yet, when you put all of the pieces of God’s word together, he wasn’t an anomoly afterall, he was a child of God who knew what it was to please God in sin and in righteousness. As I present three points that I believe are crucial to your walk up the steps to the temple of God, my prayer is that you will see your life in God’s holy and righteous plan.
Point 1 – David’s promise (verse 1-5)
In scripture, we read “God’s promises never end and nor does God change his mind about what he promised” (Number 23:19, Heb 13:8, and James 1:17). In the first verse, the writer is asking God to not forget what David went through in life in his service to God nor what he had promised to do. One might ask, “why should God care about what happened in history”? The answer is that, although for us history is past tense, in the Kingdom of God, it is still in play. By that, I mean: while we think that God adapts to our world’s ways “promise something and then conveniently forget it”, his laws are still eternal and will still bless those who bless us and curse those who curse us (Genesis 12:3). When we sin, the same law that was written milleniums ago still holds true today; that has not changed to meet the world’s mentality.
David had promised that he would go to what ever lengths required to build a place for the ark of God’s covenant. David, as you know from reading about him, was a man of his word and he always sought to please God even if his promise would cost him everything. In return for David’s promise, God spoke through Nathan the Prophet a very large, over-flowing, over-abundant promise that would never end (2ndSam 7). Fast forward a little over 500 years when a small group in comparison returned from captivity, the writer is asking God to not forget what David went through in his life time. The intent of the statement was not to tell God “David went through a lot – so you have to honor your word”; it was a way of saying “David did not fail, we did” and accepting personal responsibility for the failure of the nation. This kind of heart is what God found so endearing about David and what connected the family lineage. In the same way, God’s promise to Jesus applies to us. In our failures, we go to the throneroom of God to beg for forgiveness. The words out of our mouth would echo the writer “Remember what Jesus went through and the price he paid; It was not Jesus who failed, it was me! I accept responsibility for my failures. I know that you have greater plans for my life; may your plans be my plans”. God then forgives us for our sin and the blood of Jesus covers the sin. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, people for all generations can come to the cross and claim the promise of God no matter where they are in their life’s journey.
Point 2 – From Brokenness to Healing (verse 6-10)
When you read verses 6-8, you can get the idea that the writer is not speaking of the current condition but, of the desired condition for their life. So, to reverse engineer this section, what God might hear between the lines is “I came from brokenness, my temple destroyed, and all joy is gone. The righteousness that God desired of me I did not do, and my life is in shambles. I heard the truth in Ephratha; I had my sins forgiven over the mercy seat and yet, I walked away. The Priests and the Prophets I chose to listen to are utterly corrupt just as you said they were. My only hope is in you. Please forgive me”! Is God standing with a smirk on his face saying, “I told you so”? by no means. In the same way, even today, when we come to the blood stained cross, he is able to take the little we bring with us and make it into something special; just as the case of the fish and bread (Luke 9:12-15) points out.
God’s desire is and will always be for his children (all of mankind). His promises are not just for the super righteous nor, just for the people in one specific church or denomination. When we turn our hearts to God, he accepts us no matter where we came from or, what we have been through; simply, he receives us like the father in Luke 15. When you consider the journey of Israel from Egypt to the nation of Babylon and back, you can get a picture that for “the chosen people” they were nothing like the God who had chosen them. It is even recorded that God had issued the nation a divorice decree (Jeremiah 3:8); which, could only be issued in case of unfaithfulness. So, is God through with Israel? Absolutely not! In the same way, when we come to repentence and then fall away, our temple gets destroyed. Yet, from the ashes of disaster, God is able to rebuild the broken walls. The Devil will always tell us “you are too far gone, you can’t be healed, and God will not receive you because of ______”. Faith says, “Even if he slays me, yet will I trust him” (Job 13:15).
Point 3 – Blank Slate and Our Opportunity (verses 13-18)
It is amazing to me that, no matter how far we fall, how dark our past is, and/or how deep the hole we find ourselves in, God is still able to put our lives back together. Jerusalem was completely destroyed by the Babylonians. So, when the diaspora returned, there was nothing, but the ground left of the former temple. The years of abuse by the priests were now history; what laid ahead for the diaspora was a land much like what Abraham found.  that in the same way, when we sin eventually, we are destroyed first from within then those around us.  So, when we come back to the place we left, what we come back to is about the same as the exiles – usually nothing but a blank slate. When I was school, the teacher’s first words after welcoming us to class were “each of you will start off with a clean slate”. Starting with a “clean slate” implies “whatever happened prior (bad grades, missing homework, and tardiness) has no impact on what we do going forward”; we have the opportunity to start over again.
In the book of Ezekiel and again in Revelations, the Spirit of the Lord is directing the Prophet on the dimensions and specifics for rebuilding the Temple (Ezekiel 40:44 – 42 and Revelations 21). The difference between the two is that Ezekiel’s vision is of a physical temple where as Revelations is a spiritual temple (the heart). In both cases, the former was destroyed, the ground cleared, and Babylon is destroyed. When there is nothing left of the former things of our life, we have the courage to dream bigger dreams, see beyond ourself, and walk in the path that God has for us. Consider if you will Rushford, MN which is sprawling town in southern Minnesota about 43 miles from LaCross, WI. About 11 years ago, the town was destroyed by a flood. Once the flood subsided and the rebuilding began, the business owners worked together to rebuild their businesses. Some of the owners buildt new buildings; others, moved them down a block from their location and allowed new businesses to come in. The bank where I work completely rebuildt the drive-up bank and the main bank; when the building was done, one would never know it was destroyed. The point is, before the destruction, the dreams we have for our life are hampered by the existing walls (our will) and we just cannot see past them; once the walls are destroyed, we are able to enact our dreams.  So, if your life is being destroyed by whatever forces against you, see it as an opportunity to do things you never dreamed of or, enact dreams that have been lost for years.
Conclusion
From one end of scripture to the other, there is the affirmation that God has great plans for our life. His desire is, and will always be, for us to have the best of what life has to offer. Along the way from the cross to the throne-room, many of us get lost. The pressures of life, work, and spiritual care get weighed down with the cares of this world. If you are dealing with sin in your life that appears to be so over-whelming that it is literally taking your breath away, I want to assure you that you are not alone; you are the not first to fall short of the kingdom of God and, you won’t be the last. When the nation of Israel returned from captivity to rebuild the temple, it was a much smaller number as compared to the number of people who were carted off; in the same way many of us have followed the group into sinful practice(s) only to return alone. Captivity in any form is not the will of God; his desire for your life is that you will be free to walk in the fullness of his glory all of the few days you have on earth (Eccl 11:8). Come walk with me.

David’s Life Letter_11 in series Songs of Ascent_Psalm 131

David’s Life Letter
Song of Ascents Psalm 131
Good morning,
  Today is 11 in a series of songs of ascent Psalm 131. This psalm is one of the shorter of the series but, one of the hardest lessons to learn and that is, “trust in God” (Treasury of David). According to John Gill’s commentary, this psalm was most likely written in David’s younger days before he was anointed by Samuel as the next king of Israel and Judah (1 Sam 16:1-13); Let’s call it a personal letter was written by David to David[1]. Writing a letter to yourself has benefits in that it helps to clarify your thoughts, goals, and aspirations[2]. In life, there are a plethora of sources of advice and wisdom to flood our minds with. Yet, the one person we rarely hear from is “our self”; that is, “what do we want to accomplish”.  It is very easy to succumb to the world’s way of thinking because it requires no mental thought; all you have to do is go with the flow and close your mind to the vastness of God’s plans for your life. In a way, this letter is a Declaration of Independence from the tyranny of the World’s Mentality. As I present three points that I believe are fundamental to our life, my prayer is that you too will write a letter to yourself.
Point 1 – Setting the Heart’s Course (Verse 1)
While I was onboard ship a number of years ago, I was struck by the thought that the Captain controls the speed and direction of the boat simply by giving orders to the people who are responsible for the engines and the helm. In the same way, we have a God-given mandate to control our lives. Which means, we cannot control the environment but, we can control how we will respond to the problems of life in view of our mandate. In David’s time, it was the age of the judges who would be the voice of God. As you read through the book of Judges, you might have noticed that life in Canaan was not all that good; because the moral compass of the nation depended on the compass used by the Judge of the time. According to the underlying theme of the book of Judges, “At that time there was no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Judges 21:25). So, in writing this Psalm, David is setting his moral compass according to God’s commands through Moses. Today, we have the same choices: do what the majority does or, walk in the path that leads to God’s throne room.
It is said of David “he is a man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam 13:14). What does it mean “a man after God’s own heart”? Does it mean “perfection”, “never commits sin” or, “never makes a mistake in judgment either by omission or commission”? We know, based on the outcome of his life choices, that neither of the for mentioned is true. Rather, “being a man/woman after God’s own heart” implies, “pliability”; that is, God can use us even when we fail. Failure, sin, and mistakes are an inevitable part of the human experience. For this very reason, “we have a mediator of the New Covenant” (Heb 9:15). It is striking that no matter how far we fall, how big of the mess we make or, how far sin takes us from the Kingdom of God, we are still loved by God and he is able to heal us right where we are.
For a seed of any type to grow, the ground needs to be first tilled up to remove rocks and other debris; then, the seed needs to be planted, then watered, weeded, and then harvested. In the book of Proverbs, the writer tells about a field that belonged to the lazy person.  The weeds were overgrown, the land was not tilled, and no seeds were planted. So, come harvest time, there will be no vegetables to harvest; ergo, this person goes hungry right along with his/her family (Prov 24:30-34). In many ways, the heart is like the field. When it is left to go to seed, it grows weeds of discontent, rocks of bitterness, and an unresolved hunger that only God’s word can fill. When the heart of the parent is unfulfilled, the kids in turn, also languish. How does one develop a heart like David? It begins by choosing to follow what God’s word says. When we make a conscientious choice to follow the word of God over the word of the world, we are making the first step in the right direction.
Point 2 – Contentment Quality of the Child of God (verse 2)
The concept that comes to mind here is “contentment in life”. Being content is a gift we give to God in response to the gifts he gives us. Being content means “a state of peaceful happiness” (dictionary.com).  Being content in life is easier said than done; because, as humans go, we are prone to want more than we already have. David used the illustration of the child weaned from the breast to point out the status of his heart. Infants care only for their immediate needs; when those needs are not met, they cry. When our children were infants, everything we did revolve around their needs. For us to go out on the town, we needed babysitters. When selecting food, the child’s needs came before our needs. When the child was ill, we put our schedules on hold in order to care for the child.  As the child grows up, it learns to take care of itself (1 Cor 13:11). As children grow, they learn about the world around them; how to get along in the community, and how to be a productive member of society. Hopefully, it is instilled in them from an early age that “they are not the center of the world”; rather, a player in a game called “life”.
Trust goes hand-in-hand with contentment. Trusting is easy when life is at its best and our needs are continually met. Trust is far more difficult if not impossible when life turns sour; read the prologue in Job as an example. While it would be really great if all we ever had in life was the sunshine and plenty; unfortunately, that kind of life leads toward problems eventually. The sour times grow us, strengthen our resolve, and mature us in our faith. Paul’s argument in Philippians “I can do all things through God which strengths me” (Philippians 4:13) makes for a really good daily motivation; however, the implication is that “no matter what life throws at me, I will trust God” which makes trusting God difficult while, at the same time, rewarding[3]. What I love most about trusting God is that he will never fail us nor, will we ever live to regret placing trust in him (Psalms 34:5).
Point 3 – A Voice of Experience (Verse 3)
Internet shopping is a fun thing because you can buy just about anything from soup to nuts with a simple search. Unfortunately, the part we cannot see from a picture is the quality of the merchandise. So, we have to go see the product before signing the deal. In the same way, before we can buy into the notion of “Hoping in the Lord”, we must see the outcome of it (verse).  David’s declaration came not because it sounded good at the end of the Psalm but, because he truly hoped in the Lord and knew what it was to walk in God’s favor and enjoyed the fruit of it.  In the book of Matthew, the parable of the sower points out that a plant will grow in just about any soil but, the fruit will tell the true story (Matthew 13:1-9). From David, we, 21st-century believers, can still come to faith in Jesus not just because “the bible says so” but, because we can read about David’s fruit through the different vantage points of his life (Romans 15:4).
Have you ever wondered why the bible would detail the failures, mistakes, and misgivings of God’s anointed? After all, “these are holy men and women that we see in paintings with haloes over their heads and a pious look on their face. In writing “Israel hope in the Lord” and not “hope in David”, he is stating “keep your eyes on God for through Him there is a fullness of life”.  Some, I included, would rather the bad stuff disappear altogether. Unfortunately, our life is made up of both the good and the bad. If the only thing that was reported in scripture was the good stuff, one might get a lop-sided picture of what faith in Jesus is. When the bad times occur because of sin, we’ll fall away because “we just didn’t measure up”. Better yet, when we find out that God’s anointed sinned, we’ll become disenchanted.
Conclusion
As I said in the beginning, this Psalm is a life letter written by David to David. In a way, it was a declaration of freedom and granted him permission to trust in God no matter what may come. I know the letter is heartfelt and it is the truth because, as scripture details, David lived his faith in and out of sin. He did not become a mighty warrior simply because of the letter but, the letter guided him in his life. David was a one of a kind; there was no king on earth like him and no one could fill his shoes after him. At the end of his life, he got to see what very few if any would see and that is, his son ascending the throne. Prayerfully, you too will write a similar letter to yourself declaring your freedom to trust in God despite the path(s) you have taken; if you have written one already, dig it out, brush the dust off of it and, feel free to post it to this blog.  God has given us a new day to live for him and to walk in freedom. Come walk with me!


[2] Zoya Wazir. Dear Me Get It Together: The Benefits of Writing Letters to Yourself. Affinity Magazine (8/26/2017). Accessed http://affinitymagazine.us/2017/08/26/dear-me-get-it-together-the-benefits-of-writing-letters-to-yourself/
[3] Jon Bloom. The Secret to Peace and Contentment. Desiring God (3/18/2016). Accessed https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-secret-to-peace-and-contentment

The Wound, the Pain, and the Salve – 10th in a series Song of Ascents

The Wound, the Pain, and the Salve
Song of Ascents Psalm 130
Good morning,
  Today is the tenth in a series on the Songs of Ascent, Psalm 130. Sir Bernard Williams said, “There was never a night or a problem that could defeat sunrise or hope”. Hope is a powerful thing because, when we refuse to let go of it, the mind of man will find a way to make through the storms. According to the dictionary, “hope” can be used as a noun or a verb; the noun form of hope is “the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best”; the verb form “to feel something desired may happen”. According to Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary and Theology, hope is “a sense of trust”. The question we need to ask our self is, “with whom is my confidence”? The answer to that question will either be a fortress to us or, be our weakest link.
Forgiveness is a crazy thing because, when we feel we do not need it, we take little or no recognition of its power (Luke 7 in reference). The over-used phrase “We are all sinners” implies a common thread. Unfortunately, it requires very little to say it until we fully recognize its implications. Only when we have sinned and have come before God and received forgiveness do we come face-to-face with the reality that our home should be in school if it had not been for the cross. Derwin Grey’s assessment is that the bad times of our life challenge us to rely on Christ’s love and forgiveness[1]. We must understand that God will never chase us down to forgive us nor, will he give a blank check of forgiveness to be cashed whenever we feel like it. To be forgiven for anything, sinful actions must be atoned for which, requires a sacrifice. In the book of Leviticus, Moses is given a whole litany of things of situations and steps that must be taken. In the New Testament, there is the cross where the final sacrifice was committed (Hebrews 12). As I present three points that I believe are crucial our journey up the steps to the Temple of God, my prayer is that you will find the encouragement you need for your life today.
Point 1 – Asking for Forgiveness (vs. 1-4)
In the first four verses, the writer is in the presence of the Almighty God seeking forgiveness for whatever he is facing at that moment. You will notice that he is not praying like the self-righteous Pharisee but more like the poor man (Luke 18:9-14). This kind of prayer is a called a “shiggeonoth” which is an emphatic deeply felt prayer. One does not pray this prayer like one would repeat a movie quote; rather, it is stated when we know the truth and it has set us free (John 8:31-32). From this prayer, the writer, I believe, was able to come out of the presence of the Living God with his heart weighing far less than what he carried into the room. In the same way, many of us have carried deep and heavy bags of sin to the only place where the sin(s) can be laid down and never picked up again. I do not imply that the cross is a mere dumping ground so that we can have room for more sin; rather, it is the place where we can walk out free and able to free others who have hurt us as the parable of the forgiven debt implies (Matthew 18:21-35).
Forgiveness is a resounding theme throughout scripture. Asking for anything requires us to recognize our need; or, we will not ask for it. Unfortunately, as humans go, we do not always ask for forgiveness because either we do not think we have sinned or, it “wasn’t our fault”. In the book of Revelations, chapter 3, we read about the Church of Laodicea. Accordingly, the church said by its actions, “it was rich had no need of anything” (Revelations 3:17-18). This arrogant view is common to man because, as long as the money is available or the power to influence, man thinks they have all they need (Revelations 3:17-18).  When the money is gone or, a job is lost, the man comes to his /her senses.  Consider Nebuchadnezzar how he was humbled in an instant (Daniel 3).
It is no secret that sin keeps apart from God; not because God holds a grudge against us but, because sin and righteousness are anti-thesis of each other (Amos 3:7). How many times in life has each of us sinned against our parents, family, or friends and then stayed away from that person for long periods of time? Why did we do that? Because facing the person would mean confronting the problem (sin) and making it right. Remember, the Devil of old has no desire to see us receive forgiveness because, while we are in sin, he has control over us. Consider it this way: if you had done something wrong that only one person knew about. What power would that individual have over you? It is that kind of power that the Devil holds over the person who lives in sin.
Point 2 – Bridging the Gap (Verse 5-6)
There is a part about forgiveness that is often overlooked and that is, “it takes time” and it requires something of all parties involved. The easiest thing in the world is to say is, “forget it” and think the problem(s) is/are solved. In Proverbs, it states “through love and faithfulness a sin is atoned for; through the fear of the Lord man avoids evil” (Proverbs 16:6). Unfortunately, forgiveness is more than just a three little word sentence, it is the point of truly letting the person go. The person who committed the sin must live with what they did and spend the rest of his/her life making things right. After Paul was forgiven, he spent some time alone in a dark place. During that time, I can only imagine the pain that he felt knowing what he did and yet, to hear “you are forgiven”. When Jesus met the disciple Ananias and gave the instructions to go meet with Saul of Tarsus, it would be the most difficult thing he would be sent to do; because, it would mean he too would have to forgive Saul and take the lead at inviting him in to the house of God (Acts 9:10-18).
When we make things right, the pain we caused still remains somewhere in our hearts. Stephen was taken from his family and no amount of forgiveness would bring him back. However, forgiveness bridges the gap between bitterness and the ability to move forward to healing[2]. The church in Damascus could have used the opportunity to treat Saul the same way he treated Stephen. In forgiving him and accepting him, the church was able to move forward, and Stephen’s death served a purpose.  In the same way, today, as we hear of wars and rumors of wars (Matthew 24:6-13), it is our opportunity to take a lesson from Saul and forgive whatever is holding us back.
In scripture and in the pulpit, we hear how Jesus’ death paid the price for sin. I’m not sure if anybody else has had a lingering question in their mind “how his death paid the price” or not; but, for me, I always wondered why the cross was necessary. Wouldn’t it be easier if he had just coalesced to the whims of the Sanhedrin and lived a morally upright life and then died in good time? The answer is, “yes” but, the effect would have been short-lived. When you get injured, there is usually a wound to contend with which, must be treated or, it will become infected. Sin is much the same way; the problem is, it is hidden from sight and is usually ignored. For some of us, wounds heal very quick for others, not so much. The same is said of sin. There are the innocuous sins that are easily forgiven and later laughed about; such as, the antics of our kids when they are young.  The ones that are more problematic are the ones like the case of Saul, David, Solomon, and many others. For the like, the cross stands in the gap with the sign “Paid in Full”.
Point 3 – Rightly Placed Hope (vs. 7-8)
In life, we have two areas where our hope can be placed when we sin: in our resources or, in God that he will forgive us and not use our actions against us. Unfortunately, the first response of mankind is to rely on our resources more than our source. Consider if you will how the kings Ahaz, Jehoshaphat, and ___ took parts of the gold from the temple in Jerusalem to buy themselves out of a fight. In the same way, many of us rely on our checkbooks to save our behinds. Only when we get to the bottom of our accounts is God able to do what he does best and that is, to set us free.
Sadly, earthly resources are a poor wall to lean on; because, finances like a kingdom and human connections, will not save us nor, can they absolve us from our sins. Only in Jesus can we be fully forgiven and fully restored. Saul, above all people, was fully connected to the ranks of the Pharisees and was fully within Sanhedrin’s authority to do what he was called to do (Acts 9). Saul’s position was a wall of protection of sorts. When Jesus stopped him on the road to Damascus, all that Saul thought was right and just became sin in his mind and he died spiritually (Romans 7:4-6). When we stand before God in judgment, our arguments and sound reasoning for our actions will not stand in God’s court; because, his word which was written long before our time still stands as the voice of truth. If you will look back on history, you will notice that every evil kingdom, no matter how strong it is, does not last for all ages (Proverbs 27:23-24).
Conclusion
Doubtless, the ways of the world will lead us down paths we should not go because, its leader, Satan, makes it all seem like a party.  When the party is over and the party guest, you, are depleted of resources, it is cast aside. Regretfully, we cannot go back and undo our mistakes, heal the wounds, or make all of the woes go away.  We can, however, look to the cross and find the strength to cross the gap toward healing. Crossing the gap means, letting go of the thing that causes us pain and allowing it to be covered by the blood of Jesus. Forgiveness is far more difficult than what we may or may not understand. Some of us have carried wounds in our heart for 30, 40 years or more believing we are justified by our feelings.  Yet, in holding onto the wound, parts of us die right along with the pain and we miss out on the very best things of life.
Nowhere in scripture will you find an instance where God says, “just forgive the person, it’s no big deal so what if he/she treated you badly”. Rather, he understands our pain and only desires for us to be free (Isaiah 53:5). My prayer for you today is that whatever you are facing, you will find the strength and courage to let go of the pain and sorrow. Come walk with me


[1] Derwin Grey. How Can We Have Hope When Everything Looks Hopeless? Christianity Today (April 2015). Accessed https://www.christianitytoday.com/derwin-gray/2015/april/how-can-we-have-hope-when-everything-looks-hopeless.html
[2] Rlfor Women staff. Bridging the Gap Between Bitterness and Freedom – Forgiveness. RlforWomen (3/19/2013). Accessed https://rlforwomen.com/bridging-the-gap-between-bitterness-and-freedom-forgiveness/

In Fear of the Lord – Nine in a Series Song of Ascents Psalm 128

In the Fear of the Lord?
Good morning,
Today is the ninth in a series on the Song of Ascents Psalm 128. This Psalm was most likely written by or for David based on the theme “A Treasury of David”. According to the commentary, it is a Family Hymn; that is, it teaches how to have a happy and blessed home. I firmly believe, if it is followed, the blessings will transcend the home into the church, schools, city, state, and nation. Anybody who has read about King David might ask them self, “how is an adulterer and murderer qualified to speak about ‘how to have a happy home’”?  While this is a great retort, we must bear in mind that in our failures, it does not imply that God’s ways are not viable; rather, our failures only prove that God’s ways are right. Sadly, people look for a perfect person in our world and never find one; so, we must learn from the mistakes of our life and from that of others.  As I present four points that I believe are essential to our journey up the steps to the Temple of God, I challenge the reader to put their lives in the plumb-line of God’s word.
Point 1 – Two Paths of Life: Freedom or Enslavement (Psalms 128: 1-4)
In the time of King David, the nation was finally coming into its own and goodness prevailed. To stop this flow, the Devil opens a door of enticement. David had two choices: freedom or be enslaved. In the heat of the moment, the last thing mankind ever thinks of is “what are the long-term ramifications of my choice(s)”? The choice not to commit the sin must be made before the battle of the day begins not one second after enticement has caught your eye. Everything the Devil does appear innocuous on the surface. For this reason, we hear the phrases: “It’s only once”, “I’m just experimenting with ____”, “it’s just a fling” and, “I can give it up anytime I want to”. What we never hear is “I am choosing enslavement over freedom”. King David unconsciously chose to enslave himself, his family, and his nation that would remain in play even until this very day.
What behaviors we display in front of our kids, they will repeat them in ways we cannot comprehend. Consider the case of Jacob and his clan on the way back to Bethel. His sons learned the ways of deception from the master (Gen 34) and it meant they had to leave the land immediately or face certain death. David, the great king committed adultery and he knew it would offend God. Following this event, his 2nd son raped his brother’s sister Tamar (2 Sam 13). After that incident, Absalom killed his brother in revenge. After David rested in death, his son Solomon would go on to marry many foreign wives which led him astray; leading to the demise of a once powerful nation. After Solomon, Rehoboam would go on to insult the people and lose what was left of a kingdom. Do you see the problem? When the Devil dupes the parents, the children are always next and on-and-on.
Point 2 – Sin’s Long-Range Problem
It is my contention that if King David had been privy to the long-term effects of his choice, he would have turned on his heels and went about his business. Across social media, the term “free choice” is thrown around as a license to do whatever we darn well please without expectation of impunity. The problem with freedom of choice is that the price tag and outcome always come as a result and not by “instant gratification” as we in America are so accustomed to. As I mentioned in the introduction, the writer of the Psalm is David. Up until his fall, he led an exemplary life and would have been a prime example for the reader to follow (2 Sam 11-12); instead, he became the example not to follow. You will notice that the Bible contains many exhortations to avoid evil. The problem is, much of it was written to warn others from following the paths the writer had been down; read the words of Proverbs 1-8. The reason God allowed the many parts of the person to be recorded, is so that we can see the effects of sin, what it takes to overcome sin and the power of forgiveness. When God forgives our failures, whether we intended to sin or not, my brother and sister, they are forgiven! That does not, however, imply that they never occurred or that God somehow brushes them under the carpet to make the sinner look like a saint (1 John 1:19).
Our adversary, as I have stated I previous writings, entices us to do what is wrong to use that action against us in the form of blackmail. This is where “fear God” comes into play. Now fear God, means “Having respect for who he is, what he stands for, and acting on the plans he has for your life[1]. When we sin, we have a choice: live in the shadows of guilt or bring them out into the open for healing. Every act of sin requires a sacrifice of some sort (Leviticus 5). Sometimes, that sacrifice is a ministry we have worked so hard to build only to have it undone. The Devil knows that if you are successful, a wave will sweep over the area where you live changing lives for Christ. The Devil cannot stop good news but, he can stop you by playing with your temptations and each of us has them. In writing this Psalm, I can only imagine the pain David must have felt in his heart as saw in his mind’s eye his face prints on the ground where he fell. Half to ¾ of what we see in scripture is the outcome of sin coupled with God’s forgiveness. The reader has the choice follow the sin or follow the path that person should have taken.
When you read how the man who fears God is blessed, that is the outcome of our choice(s); but, what the price tag? In scripture, it is recorded “being a friend of the world means being an enemy of God” (James 4:4). If there was no price tag on this choice, I’m pretty sure everyone in their right mind would want this kind of blessing for their family and their life. Yet, God’s word is clear, it means coming out from among the nations ideals, behaviors, and attitudes, to be the difference (Revelations 18:4). The term “contrast” comes to mind; it means the state of being strikingly different from something else, typically something in juxtaposition or close association” (Dictionary.com). The commonality or association we have with the world is that we are human beings; subject to the same problems of those around us. God left us with a choice: freedom or enslavement.
Point 3 – Who are you Listening to?
A part of decision-making that needs to be brought to the forefront is that who we listen to through the process is as important as what we do. I think of Rehoboam the successor to the throne following Solomon. In 1st Kings and Chronical, it is recorded how Solomon fell from grace thanks to the foreign-born wives he had married. Rehoboam ended up with only a 1/3 of the kingdom that his father inherited. The only thing that Rehoboam did right was to ask his father’s counselors for their advice and then chose to listen to the group of men he grew up with instead. This breach of protocol would set the stage for the events that would occur years later. In the 31st chapter of Proverbs, the writer pseudo-name Lemuel recounts the encouragement of his mother on living up to the calling on his life. One of the first words out of her mouth was “listen to my son”.
Point 4 – Where the path makes a turn (Psalms 128: 6 – 129:3)
I heard it said, “not everyone will agree with our choices”. The problem is the underscoring need to be accepted will lead us down roads to failure or, to success depending on who you listen to. God calls us to listen and follow him (John 10:27-30). The question we need to ask our self is, “why am I following God’s commands”? Is it because of the blessings or, is it because we are convicted by credible information that his path is the right path? In the time of Jesus, many hundreds of people followed him and journeyed several days to listen to him and be healed; yet, when the tone shifted, people abandoned him and became witnesses for the state (John 6:60). It is much the same way in America today. A generation ago, the church held prominence and the churches were filled to capacity. Now that the moral climate has shifted in favor of “do as you please”, being a Christian is seen as unpopular. So, for the child to be accepted by his/her peers, he/she has a choice: live like them or, be the difference.
After David’s moral failure, ruling his kingdom became that much more difficult. Prior to the fall, warriors flocked to become one of David’s valiant fighters. After Uriah’s untimely demise, one could only imagine the concern the warriors had for their lives. David’s sons were now old enough to take the kingdom away from him by force if necessary. When Absalom tried to overthrow David, it is recorded that David fled for his life (2 Samuel 15:13-17). Understand this, sin will put you on the run, compel you to lie to cover up the offense and/or add more offenses against you.
In Revelations, we see the term “new Jerusalem” (Revelations 21:2) meaning, the old is passed away; when something passes away, the good and the bad go right along with it. I will tell you when we sin, the world as we knew is changed irrevocably. In the case of Adam and Eve, their new world came about after they committed sin (Gen 6). What we envisioned would occur before we committed sin, rarely comes to fruition; because, the instigator, Satan, is a master at word pictures and, bait-and-switch. For this reason, the writer of Proverbs 1-8 spoke about avoiding adultery; because, he had first-hand experience. Then, our roads never go back even after we confess and repent of the sin; the only thing that changes is our outlook on life and the direction we take after that.
Conclusion
What we do in life will either benefit us or be our greatest judge. Thankfully, no matter how much we fail, God still loves us and still forgives us. Unfortunately, though, what we do on earth affects those around us. For David, his illicit relationship with Bathsheba almost cost him his kingdom; as it was, it cost him his relationship with his natural sons. What is ironic about this Psalm and the warnings of Proverbs, the same person who wrote them also violated them. In fearing God, we turn our attention away from the temptation and say yes to God’s best for our life. It must be on our mind daily to make a choice to serve God no matter what we face because to do otherwise will make us another sad statistic. To know what it is to fear God, we must know what the word says about God, what it is to honor him, and the difference between good and evil. Come walk with me
Mike


[1] Mike Bennet. Fear of the Lord: What does it Mean? Life Hope and Truth. Accessed https://lifehopeandtruth.com/god/who-is-god/fear-of-the-lord/

God’s Dream for Your Life – Eight in a Series Song of Ascents

God’s Dream for Your Life
Good morning,
   This is the eighth in a series Song of Ascents Psalm 127. At the time of the writing of this Psalm, Solomon was about to embark on a project that would take years to accomplish so, he would need guidance from the God of his ancestors. Solomon would be filling a big set of shoes left by David his father unlike the path David followed. Potentially, this Psalm was written by his father to encourage the young man in the road ahead of him. Imagine, if you will, receiving the mantle of leadership over an entire nation and a set of instructions to build another person’s dream. What questions would you ask and what prayers would you pray? David had every confidence in Solomon and trusted him to fulfill a dream. In the same way, God has dreams for your life that transcend what we believe about ourselves.  God has every confidence in us and shows it by entrusting us with his most precious gift “our life”(2 Peter 1:3). As I share with you four points that I believe are important for the journey, I would like to challenge you, the reader, to awaken the dreams within your heart and find confidence to make them come to fruition.
Point 1 – Let God Orchestrate the Dreams of Your Life (Vs 1 and 2)
Each of us has, at one time or another, has had a dream(s) for our life; maybe, it is a dream job, house, a vacation, or a major goal. Regretfully, many dreams never came to fruition either because of a nay sayer, we were talked out of it by a well-meaning relative, or we just gave up on it. I’ve heard people say, “I had to give up my dreams to take care of _____” sadly, they never went back to the dream. Unfortunately, when give up on our dreams, a little part of us dies with it. Building the temple was King David’s dream and he had every intention of seeing it come to pass before he passed away.  However, David trusted God implicitly so, when the word came down that David was not the one to build the Temple but the son of his loins, it had to break David’s heart; but, he was obedient. In writing the words “Unless God is the builder, the labors work in vain that build it”, there must be an understanding that it does not mean we can’t do the project just that it won’t turn out right. Years ago, I told God exactly what I wanted to do in life and he responded by saying “what if I change the direction of your life”?
If the lesson of the tower of Babel should teach us anything, it should be: if God is not the orchestrator, we will build to glorify ourselves (Gen 11:1-9). Consider the dream of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker who started a TV ministry that reached an untold amount of people, in the building of Heritage USA as an example[1]. The two dreamed about building a resort for Christians as a place to go for respite, counseling, and healing in the late 1970’s.  What could honor God more? When we catch the fire of God, people will come along side especially, when our dream echos their sentiments. The danger is that when we lose site of God and build for our glory.  When we fall into sin, the Devil uses the opportunity to say, “I told you ___ is a hypocrit and shouldn’t listen to them”. We owe it to ourself, our family(ies), and those who follow us to live a life fully connected to the throneroom of God and live on our knees before God in prayer.
Point 2 – Prepare for your Dreams
Have you ever wondered why it was so important to the writer to notate David’s preparatory work for the Temple even though he would never see the completed project? It would have been very easy for David to throw his hands up and say, “fine I won’t do anything then; Solomon you are on your own”. If we never prepare for our dreams, God will have nothing to work with and the dream might never come to fruition. It is very easy to fall into complacency and then blame God when our dreams fizzle out because he didn’t come through like scripture promises (Prov 19:3). Making dreams come true is hard work and no one is going to fulfill our dreams if we do not do our part. Consider the two gifts of Adam and Eve’s boys: the one picked the best the other, the first thing he could find (Gen 4:4-7). There is a stark difference between something we worked very hard on and something we threw together. As a young boy, I boasted to my parents how much I liked putting models together and so, my dad got me a model of the Cutty Sark which was a British war ship from the 1800’s. When I opened the present at Christmas, my dad commented “if you do a good job on it, your mother can display it in the Livingroom”. What I heard was “Mom is going to display it in the living room” and I imagined how great it would be. So, I promptly opened the package to get started.  Those of you who build models of any kind know that these things take time to build and lots of patience which I had none of. I ended up slapping the project together and it showed. I complained to my dad that the product was bad. He simply said to me “you went too quickly”.  In the end, the ship never spent a day in the living room; instead, it was tossed out and my parents did not buy another model for me.  In the same way, when we do not put forth our best effort, we cannot expect that God is going to fulfill his promise.
When I first started writing about 8 years ago, I thought “the world needs to hear what God has to say to his creation”. From that thought, it was impressed on me the importance of what I wrote. My greatest dream is to be a source of encouragement for those around me and for those who read the words on my blog site. At first, my writing was horrible; after some college and practice, the writing became clearer and the words more alive. If I had not taken time to at least try to write and just let the thoughts in my mind go, you would never hear the encouragement from Heaven. The word of God itself is a dream that was conceived centuries ago. If the Prophets of the Old and New Testament had not taken time to do the ground work, we would not have this thing called a “Bible”. A thought came to me a few weeks ago and that is “what we do in life needs to create the pathway to the Kingdom of God for someone else to follow”. The Devil’s lie is “No one really cares”. If we listen to the lie, what we desire to create will go dormant and die.
Point 3 – Your choice: God’s Reward or Booby prize (Verse 3)?
There is a game show called “Let’s Make a Deal”. The contestants dress up in funny costumes in order to be recognized by the host. If you are recognized, you get the chance to play a game to win something; but, beware of the “Booby Prize” which is a joke prize meant to have fun with you. In the same way, God offers us real rewards through our family, the gifts he provides in raw form and, the talents we possess naturally.  What is at issue, is that gifts from God do not always present themselves as gifts because, he wants to see what we make of it.  As the father of a handi-capped child, I was presented with a gift that many would see as a curse because of the myriad of events that would occur. Matthew could not play the normal games of children and would never excel in sports so, we played using our imagination and by it created long lived memories seven years after he passed away.
God gives us children to bless us, to fulfill us, and to teach us about life in an unpredictable world. Too many children are left to their own vices today and we are paying the price for it. Across the memes of Facebook, we read about the Millennial Revolution that is turning our nation upside down. People have commented in not so pleasant terms about this group as to make them out to be the bad guy.  In all reality, we the previous generation are as much to fault as they are. In scripture, the term “last days” or “latter days” (days to follow) imply that something will happen as a result of choices made by the populace of that time (2 Timothy 3:2).  Those words should never be taken to mean “don’t try to stop the wave” simply, it means “live a life pleasing to God so that someone else may catch the fire (Galatians 1:10). Whether our children will fight against the world’s ways or fall in line with them, to some extent will depend on how we, the parents, live our life today.
Today, people work until they fall from exhaustion in an effort to buy things. I talked to a Mortgage lender at the bank where I work about the rising cost of mortgages.  He said, “Because people have expensive homes, doesn’t imply they have the money to afford it; it just means they would have to sacrifice something (usually the family)”. In America, it is illegal to be married to more than one wife but, that doesn’t stop us from being married to our job; Nor, does it stop us from overcommitting ourselves. I knew a Pastor some years ago that could not say “no” when asked for his help. The man would give the shirt off his back to anyone who needed it; however, as the number of balls in the air increased, so did the propensity for something or someone to fall through the cracks. Unfortunately, the wrong thing falls through the cracks and that is the people who should be your first responsibility – your family.
Conclusion
Now, a dream is just a dream unless it is acted upon; that, is where Solomon came into play. Solomon had a few choices: act on the dream, dismiss the dream, or think about it. As we’ll find out, Solomon was faithful and completed the structure. I will get into what happened after the temple was finished in future writings.  In the same way that Solomon received David’s dream, we receive God’s dream for our lives and have the same choices as Solomon had. Dreams are important in our life as they give us purpose and something to strive for. No one can make a dream reality for us unless we put forth our own effort. Equally, dreams are lost due to our mis decisions or, selling our selves short. No one can make us give up on our dreams but, that doesn’t stop us from getting talked out of them. Today, just about every media outlet tells about the bad things in the world to the point of depression. I encourage you, my readers, to dream big dreams and find joy in your life today. Yes, the world is corrupt but, that gives us all the more reason to plant good things and find the joy in our salvation. Come walk with me!
Blessings for your day
 Mike


[1]Emily Johnson. A Theme Park, a Scandal, and the Faded Ruins of a Televangelism Empire. Religion and Politics (10/28/2014. Accessed http://religionandpolitics.org/2014/10/28/a-theme-park-a-scandal-and-the-faded-ruins-of-a-televangelism-empire/

Picking Up the Pieces – Seven in a series Song of Ascents

Picking Up the Pieces
Good morning,
This is the seventh in a series Songs of Ascent Psalms 126. This Psalm was written about the time of the return from captivity in about 538BC. This Psalm was most likely written either by Ezra the Priest or Nehemiah. The first delegation that returned to Zion came with the express purpose of rebuilding the Temple that had been destroyed ultimately by the Babylonians prior to 586BC. In this Psalm, the people were coming back to an utter destruction that once was their home, Temple, and community.   When I consider this picture and the words of the Psalm, Sin, by its very nature, is not bias it destroys everything in its path. One might believe that the Temple of all things would have been spared because of the prayers of Solomon; yet, as we will read, it too was destroyed right along with houses, businesses, and civic gathering places. 21st century man faces the same issues – living a life of sin and watching it get destroyed. God never paints a rosy picture of the job ahead of us in the tasks he sends us on. If you receive a rosy picture, you can be sure you are listening to the wrong person; consider the case of Ahab and Hezekiah (1 Kings 22). As I present three points that I believe are crucial to our healing from sin, I challenge you, the reader, to think about your life pre-sinful fall, steps to forgiveness and, what it was like trying to pick up the pieces.
Point 1 – Starting at Ground Zero (vs. 1-2, Luke 15:11-32)
Many know the story of the prodigal son and can probably recite it from memory but, I feel the story has wider implications specific to the events being told in this Psalm as well as for the 1st century Jew and, present-day mankind. The journey back home from a life of sin is always agonizing because, the doubts and fears that scream in the ears “What are you thinking? How can you possibly go back to ___ when you wasted ______?” The Devil uses these fears, our failures, and misgivings to keep us from having peace in our life; because, he profits from sin and destruction. When we get to the kingdom of God, we find that our fears are for naught because, we find in God forgiveness rather than a lecture. This does not mean that there will not be a rough road ahead nor, that the people we hurt by our actions will be as quick to forgive much less welcome us back. When we sin, life as we know it, changes irrevocably. Equally, the luxury we enjoyed prior to the fall does not by proxy return simply because we came to our senses; so, we start off with less and sometimes, nothing at all except the knowledge that we are in the place where healing begins. Consider the case of Naomi (Ruth).
Sin by its very nature and disposition, separates us from a relationship with God (Isa 59:2); consequently, it also separates us from the ones we love. You will notice that the young man in the parable did not just go to his room and live his life, he left his entire family behind. Rebuilding our broken lives, unlike mending a simple wall, requires much more work, a strong stomach and, a renewed vision. Sin destroys everything that is in our lives one step at a time. We try to cover up our sins by giving away items that do not belong to us; for the kings of Judah, it was the gold and silver that adorned the Temple (2nd Kings 18:16). In present day, we do not strip valuable metals off of our house but, we strip away precious things like, our spouse, kids, our home, jobs, etc. that we may never be able to reclaim again.  When we seek to rebuild our lives, it must be with the understanding that the people we have hurt may never trust us again much less have anything to do with us. In the book of Proverbs, it states “through love and faithfulness a sin is atoned for; through the fear of the Lord, evil is avoided” (Pr 16:6). The point is, healing from sin takes time, persistence, and patience.
Point 2 – Tale of Two Exiles (vs. 3-4)
In the history of Israel, there were two noted periods of exile; the first being the 400 years in Egypt and the 2nd the exile of 586.  In the first exile, the people came to Egypt 70 in all and left with more 10,000 (Ex 4). My hypothesis is, the people who were exiled to Babylon had a preconceived notion, based on false prophesy, that God would do the same thing in the present exile as he did in the 1st.  Jeremiah, the prophet they should have listened to, said “the exile will be 70 years” (Jer 29:10 and Daniel 9). So. Following my hypothesis, all the people had to do was wait out 70 years and then “wa Lah, we’re a powerful nation once again”.  Unfortunately, the 70 years came, and 70 years went, and the nation remained, for the most part, in Babylon.  Did God fail them? Of course not! What you will find out, in the course of reading scripture, is that things rarely if ever happen the same way twice as Israel found out at the time of Christ.
In the book of Ezra, the Emperor gave the command that “anybody whose heart was stirred could go and rebuild the temple” (Ezra 1:15). When Ezra left for Jerusalem, 1315 people went with him which seems like a rather large number until you consider how many went into exile and the growth of the population during the 70 years (Ezra 8). That means, that there were a whole lot of people whose hearts were not stirred by the thought of the temple and Jerusalem.  When the number of people going one direction is smaller than the number going in the other, the smaller number might think “maybe I am wrong and need to change my mind”’ Yet, we read Jesus’ take on it “wide is the path that leads to destruction, narrow is the gate that leads to life” (Mat 7:13-14). When we come out of sin, we face the same problem that is, many will not come with us. For example, when a marriage is dissolved because of infidelity or debt, or any other reason, one of the two might come to the cross for salvation but the other may not to say nothing of the kids. For this, we must adhere to the verses 3-4 to pray for them (Matthew Henry Commentary). We must be prepared for the fact that even with our very best prayers and pleadings, the people may never come back; consider how 10 tribes disappeared in 70 years.
Point 3 – Doing our part (vs. 5-6)
As a child of God, it is easy to think “I will wait on God” and do nothing to help; after all, it says in one verse “wait upon the Lord and he will renew your strength” (Isa 40:31).  Yet, these two verses speak to the need for us to put our hands to the yoke that God has called us to.  We are each given gifts that we will need for our journey what we do with them, is our gift back to God.  If we neglect these gifts, they will be given to others who will use them.
Sometimes, we may find ourselves surrounded by differing groups of people.  On one side are the hecklers who tell us what we cannot do. On the other, are the critics who tell us we should do. On the third side are the armchair quarterbacks whose favorite line is “if I were doing it, I would _____”.  Yet, there is a fourth and that is the ones we need to listen to and that is our cheering section (Heb 12:1-3).  Christian ministry, like parenting, can be a daunting task because, the pressure we see can seem bigger than the faith we hold on to; this, leads us to second guess ourselves and to eventually quit. Satan uses the noise from the present pressure to scare and intimidate the child of God into surrendering his/her post. Whenever God gives his servant a task to do, he equally gives them everything they need to do the task right.  Our response to the Devil’s prodding is found in Psalms 56:3-9.
Conclusion: Picking up the pieces of our lives after a disaster like the exile of 586, must come with the understanding that all of the pieces may not fit together correctly.  Unlike a jigsaw puzzle, in which the parts are evenly cut, parts of our life are shattered by the storms and quite possibly lost forever.  When we put the puzzle of our life together, we cannot exclude the bad things we did nor, can we overlook them; because, it is from the bad times that we came to the cross.  So, we fill in those shattered areas with grace as Paul’s message to the Corinthian church speaks to (2nd Cor 12:9). Each of us has something or many things in our past that we are not proud of and, if there was any way possible to go back to 10 minutes before we acted, we would gladly do so. However, once we sin, it is a done deal! Fortunately, it is not the end of our story simply, the start of a new chapter if we chose to take the journey. For my readers who have not accepted Jesus into your life, I want to hear from you so that, together, we can make that right. Please, come walk with me!
P.S.   I welcome your comments and suggestions on all of my writings.

Running with Your Head Turned – fourth in a Series Songs of Ascent

Running with Your Head Turned
Good morning Facebook friends,
Today is the post 4 of 15 from the Psalms of Ascent Psalm 123. When I read this Psalm, I thought of how often people run into life without really looking where they are going and end up disappointed in the end. As the Psalm begins, the writer is using a comparison of a servant or slave looking to the master for daily sustenance in the same way we look to the Lord for direction in our life. This kind of focus referenced in this Psalm is more than a passing glance, it is a permanent fixture. As an avid motorcyclist, I learned from day one that whatever direction my head is turned, the bike will go in that direction. As an experiment, try walking in a straight line with your head turned in either direction and I am willing to bet that your body will gravitate to that direction. As we are walking in the pathway to the Temple, if our head is turned in the wrong direction, we will never get to the Temple; hence, the title of this post. I would like to share with you a few key points to think about as we walk up to the Temple.
Point 1 – The distracting noise
Anybody who has taken photographs or a video knows how important it is to focus in on the subject in order to have a solid presentation. In scripture, we are reminded that our focus needs to be on God at all times; that is, in the good times and bad, in sorrow and in joy, in peace and in times of storms (Prov 3:4-5). The book of Job, whether true story or a Mesopotamian story, presents a man whose heart is fully set on the Lord only to lose everything. It wasn’t bad enough he lost everything, he had three so-called friends who told him how bad he was, how much he was steeped in sin and all he had to do, was confess his crimes and everything would be good just as it was before; if only it were that easy. The enemy uses noise to scare us, to provoke us to foolish anger, and to turn our eyes away from the solution, God, to the problem, the sin.
The noise tends to throw us off kilter and causes many to walk away from our God-given calling. Consider how Saul son of Kish the first King of Israel, having been touched by God, received the prophecy of his kingdom and, yet walked right into the trap. In the end, Saul was removed from his kingship. His remaining years would be spent going from fear to fear, disappointment to disappointment, anger to anger, rage to rage until he died by his own sword having watched his sons die by the hands of the Philistines. Sadly, this is not a unique story as many strong Christians fall by the same noise as Saul. To me, it is tragic to hear of a soldier for Christ caving into sin because, it isn’t just that one person but everyone who associated with that person, it is anyone that was thinking of joining that church as well. In the 80’s when TV evangelists Jim and Tammy Baker fell into sin and were put in prison, the world was all a buzz. When Jimmy Swaggart confessed his sins a short month later and was also removed from the pulpit, Time Magazine did an expose on the sorted affairs of these three called “An Unholy Row”. What the writer of the article failed to mention but was recorded in the Kingdom of God was the number of souls that would never again enter the House of God. The enemy is clever and knows just how to get our goat and he does it with great ease. What is hard to believe, is that often the noise we hear is word pictures whispered to our imagination.
Point 2 – Daily Setting the Focus of our Life.
Life is about making conscientious choices about what we will do with our gifts and calling, what our values will be, and how we will respond to the noise of the enemy. If we make no decisions and choose to take life exactly as it comes to us, we have made a decision to go at life unprepared and ill-equipped for the struggles that lie ahead. I think of the Gedaliah son of Ahikam the 1st Governor of Israel after the leadership was taken to Babylon at the start of the exile in 586BC. The Governor was warned of a pending assassination plot against him by the king of the Ammonites and chose to ignore the warning and would be killed by Ishmael. After his death, the remaining people in Israel were taken to Egypt where many would never return (Jeremiah 40:13 – 42:22). I remember working on a copier at a church in Champlin, MN and I heard the sad tale of the church’s collapse following the Pastor getting charged with rape; the saddest part of the tale was the trust the people had in the man being crushed and would probably never trust a man of the cloth again. I never went back to the church again but, I think of how one person’s decision led to the collapse of a much larger audience. The focus of our life is never really limited just to us but to everyone in our family, extended family, work relationships, etc that hinge on what we do with our lives.
Point 3 – Job’s Resolve in the Storm
Of all the things Job said in his discourses, the one thing that sticks out is “I have made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a woman” (Job 31:1 NIV). In making a covenant, it is, in fact, stating, “no matter what happens, I will _____”. Paul speaks to this covenant by using the illustration of marriage, choosing to marry or not marry, and living for God through our choices (1 Corin 7 NIV). In the midst of a storm, it is easy to lose your way. I think of a cartoon I saw years ago in which the main person was driving in a snowstorm but couldn’t see where he was so, he followed another car until it stopped abruptly. The main person chastised the other driver for stopping without warning only to be told: “it is my driveway”!
As a man, I know how hard it is to stop and ask for direction and chose to continue on a road that I had no idea where it is going to; everything within me cries out “stop immediately” but I ignore it. As an example, when I was stationed at Kami Seya Naval Base Japan, I drove over to Atsugi Naval base which was about 10 minutes away. I had never driven there by myself, so this was a first for me. I ended up getting lost for about two hours all the while I was getting angry and frustrated. I finally asked for direction and the guy told me “go about 1 block and the base will be on the right”; again, I got lost. I saw the same person and asked him to ride in the car with me until I got to the base which was just one block away with a great big sign that said, “Welcome to Atsugi Naval Base”; I had driven around the base for over 2 hours and all I had to do was look slightly to my right and I would have found the base. As funny as this story may be to you, it is a common ailment of mankind. From this ailment, people walk away from marriage after as many as 30 – 45 years, walk away from ministry, and other callings in life simply because they got lost.
Conclusion: God’s greatest desire for mankind is that he/she will be happy and content with where he/she is in life, and with what God has so richly provided. We cannot control the storms we face, we can only control the attitude of our heart. May you find peace today in your journey, that you never lose sight of God and will always allow him to lead you with his eyes. Come walk with me up to the Temple. I leave you with a poem by J Trevor Roberts.
In false ideas of mind evil is sustained That drives away the very truth of God, Carnal nature with us is maintained When we dwell in anti-Christ abode; To cast away the evil, we must atone in the works and words of truth believe, As taught by Jesus, seek him alone, For us its power of life receive.
Carnal nature dominates man through life when he chooses his evil ways to live, It brings him sorrows in vicious strife When his heart to sensuous thoughts doth give; The promise mind of truth in Jesus’ word. Is far from those in sensuous sin, their very being does not accord, the promise blessings God’s peace to win.
To cast away the false ideas we must, To obtain the promise blessings due to man The light of truth within shall remove the lust, In the promised gift in the Father’s plan; Bring blessings to all the people of the earth, This is the promise now fulfilled to all, That shall remove the carnal nature’s dearth, Our Father’s purpose in the heavenly call. “Abide in me” are the living words to note, That Jesus spoke that brings man to life – To cast away the mind in traditional thought, That’ll remove from all the evil strife; “Abide in me,” those loving words of Jesus They shall make us clean of carnal mind, Shall restore the power of life within us, Shall establish our thoughts in the Father’s mind

The Prayer Elijah Should Have Prayed – Two in a Series Songs of Ascent

Psalm 121

The Prayer Elijah Should Have Prayed

Introduction: Today is part II of my journey up to the Temple of God. In Psalm 121, the tone shifts from a plea for help to acknowledging where our help comes from. Anybody who has started a journey understands that the trip of a 1000 mile begins with a single step. In step 1, it was recognizing where we are and where God wants us to be. In step 2, it is acknowledging our need for God through the journey. Walking with our Lord, as many knows are not for the faint of heart nor the weak of mind because, the enemy is real, and he hates us. As you may see the title, I am going to speak to the story of Elijah and how history was altered because of Elijah’s choice. I pray that you will be blessed with this writing and that you will be encouraged to walk with me up to the Temple.

The brief introduction to Elijah: He was a Prophet from Tishbe in Gilead about the time of Ahab king of Israel (874 – 853BC). If anybody was a thorn in the side of the wicked king, it was Elijah. It was Elijah that called for a drought that would decimate Israel; he proclaimed this in the hearing Ahab and so, Ahab blamed Elijah for the mess the nation was in. It was on Mount Carmel that Elijah mocked the false priests of Baal, showed the priests and Israel who the true God is, and then had the priests of Baal put to death. When Elijah called for rain, he told Ahab “you better get on home it is going to rain” and then outran Ahab and his chariot to the gates of Jezreel (1 Kings 17-19). In later writings, I will speak more in-depth about Elijah how and why I admire him and why I believe he was on the mount of transfiguration (Mark 9:2-32). Suffice it for now as a springboard into Psalm 121.

There are four points that you need to understand about Psalm 121 that will guide you in your walk with Christ Jesus.

Point 1 – Where you need to set your focus (vs. 1-2)

In our world present day just as it was in the time Elijah, stress, and struggles misdirect our view. Elijah was worn out after the events on Mount Carmel and the exhausting run to Jezreel. Single-handedly, he broke the back of Ahab and put himself in the crosshairs of Jezebel. We must understand that anytime we minister, we are in a battle for our lives and that of the listener. The enemy of our soul knows just how to push our buttons and what it will take to stop us. The first thing Satan does is put up what looks like a more imposing mountain to frighten us. For Samaria, that person was the wicked Queen Jezebel. In her time, nothing happened in Samaria without her explicit permission. This creates a problem for those who chose not to see a person like Jezebel as a goddess or swallow her poisonous ideas. The crux is that no one wanted to offend the Queen out of fear for their life. In the words of the Wicked Witch of the West, “Just try and stay out of my way. Just try!” (Wizard of OZ 1939). The Queen felt herself to be an impenetrable wall only to find herself on the receiving end of justice. God knows that the heart of man is always on the evil and for that reason, he commands us to focus our attention him and make him our fear and dread (Duet 6:13). I will have you know that there is no individual living on planet earth that will not pass away eventually and all of the plans, however good or evil, will pass away with them (1 John 2:17 and Eccl 9:6).

Point 2 – God’s Promise to Us if we Fear not (Vs. 3-4)

There is just something about fear that causes us to run headlong into trouble. The enemy of our soul, Satan, sets the scenery like the drama master that he is, in order to produce the right effect at just the right moment. Satan might have told Elijah “You are all alone so, if Jezebel kills you, God will not have a light in Israel; you had better run.” So, run Elijah did all the way to a juniper tree at the edge of Mount Horeb. Satan’s next lie was “You are a wimp Elijah! Some Prophet you are running away from a woman. You might as well be dead.” You won’t find these words in scripture but, consider Elijah’s prayer, “Lord take my life, I am no better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4 amp). When the angels provided food for Elijah that day at the tree, resonate the 3-4 verses of the psalm. God will never allow our feet to slip when we are standing on the solid rock of our foundation; it doesn’t matter what the Devil is telling you or how real it may appear. Elijah is 100% human and by very nature susceptible to fatigue; just like us. In our fatigue, God provides rest both spiritually and physically. In our hunger, God provides food both spiritual and physical. While we are regaining strength in sleep or eating, God’s angels are all around us to protect us. Hence, He who keeps you will not slumber, not briefly, nor deeply. When we can grasp this concept, we can stand up to our fears and the father of fears with the truth “Little children (believers, dear ones), you are of God and you belong to Him and have [already] overcome them [the agents of the antichrist]; because He who is in you is greater than he (Satan) who is in the world [of sinful mankind]. (1 John 4:4 Amp)”

Point 3 – The same one who holds the planets in place is the same one who keeps you (Vs. 5-7)

There are times in our life, just like Elijah, that we are at the end of our rope. Parents of children know the pain that Elijah must have felt. When all of our existence is spent either keeping the child safe or battling for their needs, eventually you get worn down. When we have given all that we have and are told “it is not enough”, the tendency is to sit back in a chair and refuse to do anymore. For Elijah, that chair was the mountain of God and a resting place in the grave. Elijah told God “I have been very [c]zealous (impassioned) for the LORD God of hosts (armies) [proclaiming what is rightfully and uniquely His]; for the sons of Israel have abandoned (broken) Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I, only I, am left; and they seek to take away my life.” (1 Kings 19:10 Amp). It is hard to comprehend how that in the midst of the worst tragedies that God is still in control; in fact, it is easier to quit then it is to trust God when the sky over you turns bronze and the grounds turned hard as iron (Duet 28:23 NIV). Elijah would go on to anoint another Prophet Elisha Son of Shaphat as his replacement, the next king of Israel, and be taken up in a chariot (whatever that would look like). Some might contest that what happened to Elijah was all a part of God’s plan; in reality, it was not. Understand that just because something happens, it is not necessarily God’s best for your life. Many ministries and families have been ended because the people did not understand the concept that if we can just hold on a little longer and be just a little more tenacious we can get through the storm.

Point 4 – The Lie of Omission Leading to Fear

In Life, we are pulled sometimes in as many as three or more directions. The storms of our time contend for a precious commodity – our time. When we are worn down, our minds can be easily influenced to lose sight of who is really in control. The enemy of our soul will whisper in our ears “You are the only one who ______. If ____ happens, God will be dishonored, and his plans will shrivel up and die. You need to run back and resign before ______ happens”. God tried to tell Elijah “you are not alone”; Obadiah told Elijah “I have hidden a hundred prophets of God in separate caves and supplied them with food (1 Kings 18:3-4). The enemy, when he lied to Elijah, omitted one caveat that would have made all of the difference in the world “where you are currently standing”. Many of us have been lied to in the same way and it has caused us the same problems as it did for Elijah. How many marriages have ended, careers sunk, and dreams dashed because we fail to understand that when a word is omitted, or similar word is used the meaning of what is said is skewed in the direction of the author’s viewpoint. The more times we repeat the lie, the more ingrained that belief becomes to the point, like Elijah, that nothing God or anyone else says will change our opinion. When we forgo God’s best for our lives, there is rarely a chance to get it back and, if we do get it back, it will not be without great difficulties. The children of Israel when the doors opened to the promised land, they shut by refusing to go up out of absolute fear due to the skewed report. When the report came down from God through Moses “fine I will make them wander for 40 years in the desert until every man and woman of this age has passed away. Only Caleb and Joshua would get to see the promised land because of their attitude and faith in God. When the people heard the report, they cried about it and then took it upon themselves to go up to the land just to please God but, it was too late (Numbers 14:39-45).

Conclusion

I encourage you today and every day to listen to the voice of truth. Search the word daily, like the Bereans (Acts 17:11), and never give room for the lie of omission. God will always keep you even in the driest, darkest, and most depressing times of your life if you faint not. This week as I wrote this post, many thoughts crossed my mind where I had taken the wrong path out of the belief that it was the correct one. Along the way, people have been wounded by my choices of words and/or actions. This does not imply that God has forsaken me or loves me any less; it just means that God puts a new plan is a place from where I am present and the old one passes away (Jeremiah 29:11). The same thing is said of you. God loves you; failures, foibles, troubles and all! Don’t ever let the enemy convince you that God is through with you because of where you are in life or what you have done through your choices. Somebody reading this post may be at the end of their rope and ready to use the remaining piece to hang them self; to you, I say “grab hold of the hand that is reaching out to you and come walk with me.” May you all be blessed today and every day of your life as we walk up the steps to the Temple of God.

Yours in Christ Jesus

Mike

Strength for the Next Storm – Five in a series Songs of Ascent

Strength for the Next Storm
Good morning Facebook Friends,
  Today is post number five in a series on the Song of Ascents Psalm 124. This Psalm is written from the standpoint of the team that had just come through a storm and is praising God for the victory. There was once a rowboat team that had worked to compete for a title.  Day and night the team worked together, albeit not always perfectly, to develop their skills. As the day of the competition arrived, the team got in the boat, the leader gave the command to pick up the oars and place them in the water.  When the shot went off, the leader gave crisp commands to “row” and so the team followed. At the end of the competition, the leader gave the command to pick up the oars as the boat reached the destination.  The observers remarked how well the team worked together and how brilliant the leader was in carrying out his duties. When the reporter interviewed the leader, the comment was made “Sir, you did a superb job with the military precision, how did you do it and what word would you give to anyone who is starting off”?  The leader said, “it looked easy because you didn’t see the first time we worked together”!  The storms you have gone through should give you strength to face the storms you are going to go through.   As a child, I watched my Dad interact with people, attack big projects, and it all seemed so effortless.  I asked him “why is so easy for you”? He said, “it looks easy because I had practiced”. In the same way, as we go through storms, we need to practice what God’s word says about our life so that, in time, we can weather bigger storms. As you read the points I am presenting, I would like to encourage you to think back on the storms you have gone through and ask God to speak to your spirit about those victories and/or defeats and then use them to encourage you through each succeeding storm. I would like to share with you four points that I believe are crucial to our life today; I hope that you will be blessed by this writing.
Point 1 – Have a Little Faith
It is hard to have faith when all we have received for your effort has been the disappointment, aggravation, and abandonment. Each of us can recall a time(s) when we have given our word and our best effort to those we support only to have at least one individual cast doubt because your promise did not occur immediately. As a child, I remember an interaction I had with my dad.  It seems he promised he would do something for me and he didn’t do it right away so, I thought he had forgotten all about it.  My dad turned to me at that moment and said, “Mike, have a little faith in me”. Having faith in someone can be difficult because each of us perceives time differently depending on how old we are at the time of the promise.  Who has not heard their child(ren) say “Mom and Dad just love ___ more than me because they didn’t ____ when they promised”?  I believe God hears similar refrains almost hourly and when we are in the midst of a test, he is not about to give us the answer – ask Job.
For us to make it through a storm, we need everyone in the boat to have faith in each other and not break it. Having faith is not easy because faith is believing without seeing the matter resolved (Hebrews 11:1).  If we have no faith in God, even though we say we do, we’ll always turn our focus inward and believe in self-preservation. The enemy uses the thoughts of self-preservation to push us over the edge. Consider the promise to Abram and Sarai how Sarai took matters into her own hands and for it, a future hostile nation was given birth (Gen 15-16,18:10-15, 21:8-21). It would not be until well into the 1st century that the reader would understand that the promise was not so much a physical seed, while there was a physical seed, as it was a seed of faith.  When we are in a storm, we hear God say, “I will get you safely to the shore” and think “how can that be”; yet, when we reach the shore, we thank God for getting us there.  When the next storm crops up, we’ll have the courage to hold on a little longer and so on.
Point 2 – Unity in the Rowboat
Towards the end of Jesus’ ministry, a storm was brewing that would shake the strongest most ardent believer in Jesus. Knowing this, Jesus said to the disciples “Behold I am with you always even to the end of times” (Mat 28:20).  I want you to write next to the word “times”, “the end of ‘your name’ life” (i.e. the end of Mike’s life). This was hard to believe because, knowing the disciples, the thought was “you are going to be killed how can you be with us to the end of our life”? After Jesus was taken from the group, the team had to learn how to trust and work with each other in order to survive the coming days of trouble. The disciples had many unspoken questions not to mention fears and concerns about who would lead them, teach them, and console them. For this reason, I believe, he said “Peace I leave with you; My [perfect] peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid. [Let My perfect peace calms you in every circumstance and give you courage and strength for every challenge.]” (John 14:27). In the same way, when someone is taken from us to death, mankind has a tendency to fight for control and then a ministry or marriage is upended.  For this reason, we need to be at one in the boat and keep it on course no matter what storm so that when the boat makes it to shore, we can be greatly uplifted by the words “well done good and faithful servant” (Mat 25:23).
The Bible is an amazing book but, I want to challenge your thinking a little bit.  Consider that the writings were done often in the aftermath of the deepest storms. What we see when we read the Bible is a completed version and we are not privy to all that went into the making. The 21st century Bible reader has the luxury of reading Psalms 23, 91, and many other comforting chapters; some of which we have committed to memory. The original writers did not have that luxury and by it learned to trust God through the “School of Hard Knocks, Bumps, and Bruises”.  In the same way, children look to the parents for clues on what a marriage looks, whether a good one or a bad one. From the children’s viewpoint comes the notion that “marriage is easy”, “all men are jerks”, and/or “all women are complainers”; what they usually do not account for is the events that would unfold in the parent’s time.
Ministry, like parenting, is very difficult because clashes occur in which the occupants may disagree on a course of action. In the book of Acts, as an example, we read about John Marc who purportedly abandons Paul and Barnabus for whatever reason (Acts 13:13). When two people or people groups are at odds with each other, it is tantamount to people rowing in opposite directions hoping to get somewhere. The funny part is, we put God in the middle and ask “which side are you on God” as though God really took sides. When the team members are not in agreement, troubles can occur that might require a time of separation (Amos 3:3).
Point 3 – Looking Past the Storm (V. 6)
It is hard to believe but, storms never last forever. Once the storms pass, there is usually some damage but, with time, work, and above all, patience, the damage is usually cleaned up. As an example, our neighbor lost a large Weeping Willow tree during a storm. When I got up in the morning and saw this huge tree laying across the road, I commented on it how much work it looked like it will take, and the neighbor said, “By this afternoon, you will never know the tree existed”.  When I got home at 4p, the tree was gone roots and all in place was a piece of new sod; the tree was only a memory. The story of Noah and the Ark brings out many topics of conversation but, among them is the rainbow (Genesis 9:13-17). A rainbow comes out just before the rain stops and as the sun shines through the raindrops (Mike’s definition). So, too, the storms of our life. During the storm, the boat is rocked in every possible direction but, after the storm, the waters are calm.
Peter, a man I greatly respect, faced many obstacles but, the one that stuck out the most was the day he denied our Lord. The Bible reader may say of Peter “why did you deny Jesus especially after hearing what he had to say”? The answer is there is a difference between knowing about an obstacle and going through it personally. We will not always do well in navigating struggles, but, we will always win at least one time in our life.  It is in those times when we are at our weakest that we need the help of others to get through what we are facing in life. Admitting to weakness is not a bad thing it is a good thing because in our weakness we are willing to ask for help. After Jesus restored Peter, there was no leader like him who was able to keep a ragtag group of men together with eyes focused on what was pleasing to God. The dangerous curves of life will either build us up or they will always defeat us depending on what we make of them.
Point 4 – Keep the Oar in the Water (V. 8)
It is funny but, I have never seen a rowboat move in a straight line when the occupant(s) stop rowing or row at cross purposes.  If we allow the storms of our life to dictate the direction of our boat, we will always be shipwrecked at some point in time or another. When we are in the same boat with other like-minded people, it is common to do what the group does and think “it must be the right thing to do”.  Unfortunately, the decision of the group is not always the right decision. I think of Paul on the final leg of his journey to Rome how he faced a storm of epic proportions; something Paul was very accustomed to, but the other occupants were not.  Everyone on the boat, except for Paul thought “we are doomed” and began to throw the supplies overboard to lighten the load (Acts 27:13-27). Paul could have quite easily have given up and thrown away needed supplies yet, listen to the verse 23 “Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said ‘do not be afraid Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar, and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you’” (NIV). Each of us has at least one person that is depending on us; because of this, we owe it to ourselves to never give up in our struggles.  For Joshua, it was the nation of Israel who was just about to embark on a new nation.  In the movie “Ann Frank”, the father recounting the horrors he faced said of his family “when you give up, they got you”. When God tells us something good is about to happen, we can be assured it will happen and we must never give up.
Conclusion: Life is difficult, and God knows it but, what makes it more difficult is when we quit trying or the occupants use the oars to fight with each other. I have read the pages of Facebook and have found numerous entries from my Facebook friends who are facing great difficulties; My heart goes out to you as I know just how hard life can be and how unfair it is.  When not if, we fail, and the storms overwhelm us, we can be assured that God still loves us and is still at work in our life (Phil 1:16).  Consider this, even a minor victory is still a victory. From each succeeding victory, we gain the strength to face the next storm. May you know the peace of God that surpasses today and every day of your life (Phil 4:7).  Come walk with me up the steps to the Temple of God.
May your day be filled with all the best of the Kingdom of God.