Battles

Let’s face it. It’s war out there. And the battlefields multiply. They are everywhere you turn.

There are battles in our schools, battles in our workplaces, battles on our roadways, and battles in our own homes.

There are battles with our parents, battles with our spouse, battles with our children, and battles with our boss.

There are battles with our health, battles with our finances, battles with our careers, and battles with our relationships.

And most deadly of all, we have battles with the devil, battles with the world, and battles with our own sinful flesh.

But we also have a God — a Savior, Jesus — who gives us a solid place to plant our feet for all these battles. He trains us for life’s battles through the teaching of his word. He provides us a safe fortress to run to, a stronghold in which to hide. He is our shield, our refuge and our deliverer.

He is our confidence, our courage, our hope and our ultimate victory.

No matter what the current battle might be.

“Praise be to the Lord my Rock,
    who trains my hands for war,
    my fingers for battle.
He is my loving God and my fortress,
    my stronghold and my deliverer,
my shield, in whom I take refuge,
    who subdues peoples under me” (Psalm 144:1-2, NIV).

Lord Jesus, I have many battles going on in my life. But with you at my side, I am confident of victory. You train my hands. You provide me a place of refuge. You are my shield and my deliverer. Thank you for all your love, mercy and forgiveness. Grant me especially to obtain victory over the devil, the world and my own sinful flesh.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, December 16, is Malachi 2:17 – 4:6, Revelation 7:1-17 and Psalm 144:1-8.

Header image based on "Think He Got The Point" by Paul Kitchener, CC By 2.0

Who Is Your Go-To?

Do you have a “go to” person in your life — someone you can share your hurts and troubles with? Or maybe it’s a “go to” place where you’re certain you’ll be safe and protected?

Philip Philips has a song titled, “Gone, Gone, Gone.” In the song, there are some lines that go like this,

You’re my backbone.
You’re my cornerstone.
You’re my crutch when my legs stop moving.
You’re my head start.
You’re my rugged heart.
You’re the pulse that I’ve always needed.

In a time of uncertainty, we need something reliable to keep us going. In a time of powerlessness, we need to know that there is a source of power that we can access. In a time of loneliness, we need to know there is someone who loves us. In a time of danger, we need to know there is a shield that can protect us from harm.

Who better than the One who came down from heaven, who though truly divine, became fully human? Who better than He who has power over the wind and the waves? Who better than the Creator of the heavens and the earth? Who better than the Speaker of prophecies and promises?

Surely you know who I’m talking about. We have God the Father. And his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. The living Word. He is our shield from harm.

This is why the book of Proverbs teaches us that the “fear of God” is the beginning of wisdom. When we respect God, when we trust his love and power, when we listen to his word as absolutely flawless, we have certainty in uncertain times, power in our powerlessness, a friend in our loneliness and a shield in times of danger.

He is our backbone, our cornerstone, our crutch, our head start, our rugged heart. Our very pulse.

“Who has gone up to heaven and come down?
    Whose hands have gathered up the wind?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak?
    Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and what is the name of his son?
    Surely you know!

‘Every word of God is flawless;
    he is a shield to those who take refuge in him'” (Proverbs 30:4-5, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, December 10, is Zechariah 12:1 – 14:21, Revelation 2:1-17 and Proverbs 30:1-10.

Lord God, thank you for being my certainty, my power, my friend, and my shield. When times are troubled and difficult, you are my “go to” and my refuge. Help me to always seek to be in you when my heart is hurting and weak. Your word is flawless, and your promises are my courage. You, Jesus, are my shield and refuge.

Header image based on "Kinard Beach today" by Barbara Walsh, CC By 2.0

Endurance

It’s so easy to get tangled up in sin. Walking our way through life is like walking through a thick forest of mesquite trees. The branches and thorns just keep grabbing at us, clinging to our sleeves and holding us back.

Imagine trying to run a race in such a place. You’re trying to make your way through as quickly and directly as you possibly can, but there is always another tree, another bramble, another thorny branch, trying to force you back, or make you go around.

That’s how the author of the book of Hebrews describes the “race” of our life of faith. Greed, pride, lust, despair, depression, anger, hatred, shame and guilt — these grab at our hearts and cling to our thoughts, he says. But we must throw them off and turn the spotlight of our attention away from sin to Jesus.

Recalling the joy with which Jesus ran his race — all the way to the cross! — will inspire us to run with gratitude. Such amazing love and sacrifice will motivate us to be ready to run our race.

Leaning on Jesus will help us be able to dig deeper when necessary, because he is the sole power behind our faith. Jesus is the one who created our faith and he is the one who will bring our faith to a beautiful state of perfection. Faith keeps us going even when times are tough.

Looking to Jesus as a model will instruct us in how a great race is run, so that we can imitate his racing skills and receive our crown. Even now, Jesus sits on his throne in heaven and is fully in control of the world for our benefit. So we do well to consider both his race and his final victory!

We must not grow weary, and we must not lose heart. That’s not easy to do when the briars and the bramble constantly grab hold. But Jesus has already marked out our race for us. He has promised to run ahead and clear a path for us.

The answer to keeping on going despite the challenges and the obstacles is to fix our eyes on Jesus. With the energy he gives us, we will find the endurance to run our race well.

Brush those thorny branches back. And keep on running.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3, NIV).

Lord, help me to throw off the spiritual enemies that want to hinder me and the sin that entangles me. I am sorry for listening to the voice of the world, of the devil, and of my own sinful flesh. Help me to focus my eyes on you, and on your forgiveness, love and power. And give me the strength to run my race with perseverance and endurance.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, November 14, is Ezekiel 26:1 – 27:36, Hebrews 12:1-13 and Psalm 125:1-5.

Header image based on "starr-011104-0068-Prosopis_pallida-thorns" by Forest and Kim Starr, CC By 2.0

Believing Is Seeing

Augustine of Hippo was a fourth and fifth century Christian theologian and philosopher. Viewed as one of the most important “fathers” of the early church, it was said of him that “he established anew the ancient faith.”

Augustine was well-known for his deep thinking. He once wrote: “Faith is to believe what you do not see. The reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” He may well have derived that thought from chapter 11 of the book of Hebrews. It’s a perfect summary of what that chapter teaches.

The truth, however, is that we may not see what we believe right away. And it’s important to know that sometimes we might not ever see the fulfillment of what we believe in this life at all.

This seems ridiculous to many. As humans, we like the tangible and the empirical. We want to see the evidence. And most of the time, if you want us to be truly convinced, we don’t want to just see it, but hear it, taste it, touch it, and if possible, smell it too.

Augustine thought like Moses. And that means he thought differently from the run of the mill person. When the book’s author describes Moses, he points out that he took great risks despite the fact that he could not physically see God. He could only see him through the eyes of faith.

Nevertheless, Moses gave up all the riches and power of being “the prince of Egypt.” He accepted being disrespected and mistreated. He chose the hard path with the people of God, rather than the easy path with their oppressive masters, the Egyptians. Even if it meant disgrace, it was disgrace for the sake of Christ, and he could handle that because he was looking forward to the reward that Christ would win for him.

Moses had the ability to look ahead and anticipate the good things that would come. He relied on God’s words and promises, not his own thoughts and experiences. He kept his eye focused firmly on the promised Messiah, and the forgiveness and eternal life he would bring.

Faith is like a set of binoculars. When you have faith in your heart you see things in a way that you haven’t seen them before.

How about us? Are we ready to trade the tangible for the intangible? Are we prepared to exchange the physical for the spiritual, the seen for the unseen? Are we open to seeing the future through the eyes of faith, and through the prism of God’s words and promises? Are we willing to take up the binoculars of faith so that we can see things we wouldn’t see otherwise?

If we are receptive, by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, to trusting God and accepting trouble because of our faith, then we will persevere as Moses did. And like Augustine says, we will see what we believe.

We can’t physically see it now. But we’re good with that, because what we do see is God’s promises. And believing God’s promises is seeing our future and our reward very clearly.

“By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:24-27, NIV).

Lord Jesus, give me the same eyes of faith that you gave Moses. I want to believe so that I can see.

Our Bible reading for Friday, November 13, is Ezekiel 24:1 – 25:17, Hebrews 11:17-40 and Psalm 124:1-8.

Header image based on "Binoculars Portrait" by gerlos, CC By-SA 2.0

Tread on the Heights

Often we gauge God’s love for us by the outward circumstances of our lives. We begin to believe that what’s taking place around us defines how much God cares about us.

When Habakkuk wrote, Babylon was becoming the dominant world power. Habakkuk, a prophet in Judah, was trying to forewarn the people of Judah that cruel Babylon would soon be coming to crush their nation.

This raised major questions, and Habakkuk puts those questions directly to God. Why is there so much evil in our world? How is it that the wicked seem to prosper more than those who are righteous? Do evil people get off scot-free?

Right away, Habakkuk starts off the book with a complaint, a bitter complaint he takes directly to God: How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?” (Habakkuk 1:2, NIV).

God listens to Habakkuk’s complaint. And he responds. God wants others to hear his response and he instructs Habakkuk to make it plain to them.

The answer God gives is that Habakkuk must take the long view. In the short term, it may sometimes seem as if the wicked are getting away with their wickedness — and doing so with impunity. But eventually, God assures Habakkuk, they will be judged and justice will prevail.

God’s answer takes up all but the first verse of chapter two. Habakkuk absorbs God’s answer, and he responds with a prayer of triumph that concludes the book. The beauty of Habakkuk’s prayer is that it gives us a peek inside the heart of a man whose faith has been refreshed and renewed by God’s words and promises.

Habakkuk vows to stop judging God’s love by the circumstances and events that he is witnessing and simply trust God’s heart and God’s promises. Habakkuk commits to no longer allowing his feelings to be controlled by the externals, but rather by God’s willingness and ability to give him strength and help him through the tough times.

What we learn from Habakkuk is made plain. We do not see all that God is doing. And we cannot see all that God will do. But we can be completely confident that God is God, and he will do what is right in the end.

We can also know that God will strengthen us and carry us upward through the difficult times. God will renew our courage and confidence. Ultimately, through Christ, all God’s people will see victory and tread on the heights.

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LordI will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights” (Habakkuk 3:17-19, NIV).

Lord, help me to find joy in you, even when my outward circumstances are not joyful. You, Lord, are my strength, in good times and difficult times. In Jesus, I am confident you will enable me to tread on the heights of eternal victory.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, October 27, is Habakkuk 1:1 – 3:19, Titus 2:1-15 and Proverbs 26:3-12.

Header image based on "Panorama from the summit of Jewel Mountain. Chugach Mountains, Alaska" by Paxson Woelber, CC By 2.0

Keep Your Head

Keep your head. That’s so much easier said than done.

When emotional situations arise, the easiest thing in the world is instead to abandon self-control. Throw a tantrum. Pitch a fit. Have a cow. Lose it.

And anytime you are involved in ministry — or life — hard situations are going to be thrown at you. When life is going smoothly, it’s easy to keep your cool. It’s when things go south that our self-control really gets tested.

Can we keep our head when others are pushing our buttons? That’s the real question.

Paul, the apostle, is writing from prison. From these dire circumstances, he can see pretty clearly what’s coming. But he remains calm and steady. Whatever might come — discouragement, persecution, or death — Paul knows what Jesus has accomplished on his behalf. He is convinced that Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead, has him fully covered.

The finish line is coming, and Paul has never been more confident in Christ. He has kept the faith. While he anticipates his heavenly reward, he has words of advice for young Timothy, the pastor who will succeed him and keep advancing the gospel.

Hard situations are going to come, Paul tells him. I’ve been through them. In fact, I’m going through them right now. And you’ll go through them too.

But whatever comes, remain calm. Keep your head. Endure and persevere.

Most of all, don’t ever forget this. Jesus has always had my back. And Jesus will always have your back, too. So no matter what, let’s keep the faith and a crown of righteousness awaits us both at the end of this life. In fact, a crown of righteousness awaits everyone who confidently waits for Jesus.

“But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:4-8, NIV).

Lord, I can so easily lose my head in tough situations. Fear rules. Anger springs up. I ask for your forgiveness for the times in the past I’ve lost my head. Help me to have the peace and strength you gave Paul. Give me your Spirit and grant me endurance and faith in Jesus that does not end until I receive my crown of righteousness from him.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, October 25, is Jeremiah 51:15-64, 2 Timothy 4:1-22 and Psalm 119:97-104.

Header image based on "Jesse Jackson: Hold Your Head High" by BK, CC By 2.0

God-Given Disabilities

Paul was one of the most well-educated and brilliant scholars of his day. He had a gift for leading and communicating. He was energetic and hard-working. He was a man with a huge heart and a passion for people.

And he loved God deeply.

So why would God allow him to be imprisoned in a Roman cell, locked up and left to rot? Why would the God he loved disable him that way? Why sideline him?

It’s a great question. And the answer is that our disabilities play an important role in God’s kingdom. Our weaknesses can allow others to step up and grow stronger. Sometimes our being on the sideline can allow someone else to step on to the playing field.

That’s what happened when the apostle Paul was put in prison. Others had to step forward. They had to be strong and confident. As Paul had been doing, they would now need to get past their fear and proclaim the gospel. They had to act daringly, by faith in Jesus.

So yes, God gives us both our abilities and our disabilities.

Because he doesn’t want any of us thinking we’re indispensable to the work of the kingdom, or that we can do it all on our own. Our disabilities persuade us to work together with those whose abilities match our disabilities.

And so the church functions together as one for the glory of God.

“And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear” (Philippians 1:14, NIV).

Lord, help me to be content with both my abilities and my disabilities. Lead me to see that my disabilities can be part of your plan to include others in the vital work of your kingdom. Lord, thank you that you have built the church in such a way that we all need each other to function.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, September 29, is Zephaniah 1:1 – 3:20, Philippians 1:1-26 and Proverbs 23:29 – 24:4.

Header image based on "There's an Injured Player Down on the Field" by Ron Cogswell, CC By 2.0