The Win/Lose Scenario (Or, When I’m Worried About Being A Loser)

What do you do when success for someone else means failure for you? David had to ponder this question a number of times, starting as a boy, when he fought off lions and bears to protect his flock.

This became a refrain in David’s life. Once he was anointed to be the next king of Israel, this roused King Saul’s jealousy, and Saul made numerous attempts on his life. The Philistines didn’t much care for David either. Sometimes his own people — even his own officials — betrayed him and fought against him. Finally, his own child, Absalom, came against him and drove him from his throne.

In each of these situations, there was no intention of creating a win/win scenario. Former friends and family members turned into mortal enemies. And for them to win, David had to lose. So David had to learn how to handle his fears, sustain his hope, stay strong in faith, and be courageous in battle.

If you read the Psalms that were composed during these periods in his life, a pattern begins to emerge in David’s prayers. He would often follow a version of this pattern:

  1. Lord, I see my situation. I am going to be real with you, God. This situation frightens me. It keeps me up at night. It gives me an upset stomach and high blood pressure. I struggle to calm my troubled thoughts, or to get this situation out of my head, or even to think about anything else.
  2. Lord, I see you. I know you are my God. You are my powerful Deliverer. You are my shield from harm. You have promised to be my Savior from sin, my protection in danger, and my hope in death.
  3. Lord, I see your goodness. We have a track record with each other, God. You have always been kind to me, and sheltered me from harm. You gave me strength to slay the lion and the bear when I was still a little boy — with my bare hands! That was not me, Lord. That was you. Remember what you did for me when Goliath came at me? You sent that very first smooth, round stone into Goliath’s forehead. Remember Saul? Or that time with the Philistines, when they were attacking me? Each time, you helped me. You protected me.
  4. Lord, I see your victory. Others may have their plans to see me fail — to see me stumble and fall. But you have victory in store for me. It may be earthly victory, Lord, if that’s your will. Or it may be eternal victory, if that’s your choice for me. One thing I know about you. You love me as your child. You have a special place in your heart for those who have been humbled. And you will see to it that in the end, justice is done. Because I am your child, I will rise victorious and your name will be glorified.

What a great pattern for any of us to follow when we find ourselves in our own win/lose situation. If you find yourself in that set of circumstances right now, can I urge you to find a quiet place, take several deep breaths, close your eyes, maybe even count to ten, and say,

“Lord, I see my situation… Lord, I see you… Lord, I see your goodness… Lord, I see your victory…

…May your name be glorified, Lord!”

“O LORD, I say to you, “You are my God.” Hear, O LORD, my cry for mercy. O Sovereign LORD, my strong deliverer, who shields my head in the day of battle — do not grant the wicked their desires, O LORD; do not let their plans succeed, or they will become proud… May slanderers not be established in the land; may disaster hunt down the violent. I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy. Surely the righteous will praise your name, and the upright will live in your presence.” (Psalm 140:6-8, 11-13, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, December 11, is Esther 1:1 – 2:18, Revelation 2:18 – 3:6 and Psalm 140:6-13.

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Powerful Words for Times Like These

Have you ever experienced something that absolutely knocked you off your feet? Have you ever been so terrified that you completely froze?

I think of recent events in Paris and California. There were people in both incidents who were so terrified that the only thing they could think of to do was to pretend they were dead. They played “possum” as their only means of survival.

The apostle John had this very experience himself. As the book of Revelation opens, the apostle John turns around to see a rather terrifying vision of “someone like a son of man” that caused him to fall down and become motionless as though he were dead.

The vision was a vision of Jesus in all his power, with all his authority, and all his holiness in full evidence. The thing is, no one can stand in the presence of such glory — not even “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” In reality, John was blessed to be only “as though dead,” and not really, truly dead.

But what happens next is absolutely wonderful, and perhaps a bit unexpected given the vision John is seeing. Jesus’ next action makes explicit the kind of relationship he wants to have with his people. The powerful, authoritative, holy Son of God places his right hand on his apostle, and he says four very powerful words to him: “Do not be afraid.”

What amazing words! And what an amazing act that Jesus placed his right hand on John. The significance of Jesus placing his right hand on John — a significance that can easily be missed — is incredible. In ancient times, a person of very high rank would place his right hand on a person to indicate that he is giving him equal honor with himself and recognizing him to be a person of equal dignity and authority.

The beautiful symmetry of this is that Jesus himself stands at the right hand of God the Father, even as he places his right hand on John. This shows that the one granting such mercy to John is the Messiah to whom is given the power and authority to subdue his enemies. Psalm 110:1 says, “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”

This is the Son of God who is rightly terrifying to sinners. This is also the Savior of all mankind, who in grace and mercy looks at a sinner like me (and like you) and tells us in mercy and grace, “Do not be afraid.”

Jesus says to each of us, “Do not be afraid of me. Do not be afraid of beginnings or endings. Do not be afraid even of death. I have my hand on your shoulder. I give you equal honor to myself. I assure you that you possess the same dignity and authority as I do. By faith, you are mine, and all I possess is now yours.”

Do not be afraid. Just four simple words. But, what powerful words for times like these!

“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Revelation 1:17-18, NIV).

Jesus, help me to hear your voice speaking to me, “Do not be afraid.” I repent of the times when I have allowed my life to be driven by fear, and my heart splintered with terror. Allow me through your promises and your Spirit’s power to be fully confident that your right hand is also on my shoulder.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, December 9, is Zechariah 9:1 – 11:17, Revelation 1:1-20 and Psalm 140:1-5.

Header image based on "Paris" by Moyan Brenn, CC By 2.0

Perfect Protection

God’s promises are like a powerful shield that guards us from the slings and arrows of life. Make no mistake, life will throw its best blows at us. But God’s promises are our perfect protection — whether from sin, the temptations of Satan, or even death itself.

God’s promises are our rest. We can lie in them when we feel exhausted.

God’s promises are our rescue. We can look to them when we feel lost.

God’s promises are our medicine. We can find healing in them when we feel broken.

God’s promises are our power. We can find strength in them when we feel weak.

God’s promises are our vindication. We can find justice in them when we feel wronged.

God’s promises are our guidance. We can find direction and purpose in them when we feel life has lost its meaning.

And the Israelites were all of these when they were exiled in Babylon. They were exhausted, lost, broken, weak, wronged and felt life had lost its meaning. So God sent Ezekiel to them to remind them of his promises.

According to Ezekiel, the Israelites would find everything their souls were missing in the promises of their gracious God.

And so will we!

“I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice” (Ezekiel 34:15-16, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, November 18, is Ezekiel 33:21 – 35:15, James 2:1-26 and Psalm 128:1-6.

Lord, your promises are wonderful. Help me to always remember how important and helpful they are. They are my perfect protection. I want to look to your promises for everything my soul needs in life.

Header image based on "Museum of London - London before London - Bronze shield" by Elliott Brown, CC By 2.0

Faith-Filled Self Talk

When we’re under pressure, we have to monitor our self-talk. Because the difficulties and challenges we face may well turn our minds onto a negative track. That’s why the apostle Paul wrote, “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV).

If we fail to take our thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ, we’ll find ourselves coping with pressure by blaming others, or getting frustrated and flying off the handle, or putting ourselves down. Thanks to our sinful nature, negativity takes over and we begin to take our pessimistic point of view as reality.

The Hebrew Christians were under a lot of pressure. They were being persecuted from two different sides — the Romans and the Jews. Their friends were leaving Christianity. Their property and possessions were on the line — as were their businesses and employment. Their personal freedom was no longer a given. Their very lives were in danger.

Samuel Johnson once said, “It is more necessary to be reminded than it is to be instructed.” Long before Samuel Johnson, the author of the book of Hebrews seems to intuitively understand this, and he reminds the Hebrew Christians what their self-talk should sound like.

These are the things that we still need to remind ourselves of. And we need to do this frequently. Inside our own minds, we have to make sure that we say true things to ourselves — that we say faith-filled things to ourselves — things that are based fully on God’s gracious words and promises.

What are the things I can tell myself when I’m under pressure? Take a look:

  • The Lord is my helper, so I can put aside anxiety and be fearless.
  • Because the Lord is my strength, and death is already defeated, mere mortals can not really damage me.
  • God has give me leaders here on earth who can coach me and mentor me. In other words, I have allies. I need to remember them. If they’re still around, I can find them and learn more from them. And I need to imitate their successful way of life.
  • Jesus doesn’t change. That means his love for me doesn’t change. His promises don’t change. His forgiveness doesn’t change. His patience doesn’t change. His offer of strength and hope doesn’t change. His gift of eternal life doesn’t change.
  • Jesus doesn’t change, so that also means his teaching doesn’t change. What he taught people in Bible times still applies to my life today. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise or tries to introduce strange new teachings.
  • There is nothing better than God’s grace. That grace is mine. Truly mine. And that is a good thing for straightening and strengthening my heart.

“So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’ Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace” (Hebrews 13:6-9a, NIV).

Lord Jesus, help me to speak faith-filled words to myself. I am sorry when pressures in my life cause me to respond sinfully and with negativity, rather than with faith and hope. Forgive me. And remind me of your words and promises, so that I can remind myself of those same words and promises. I want to take every thought captive and make it obedient to you.

Our Bible reading for Monday, November 16, is Ezekiel 30:1 – 31:18, Hebrews 13:1-25 and Proverbs 27:23 – 28:6.

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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.

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Divine Safety Net

Marcus Aurelius was the original “philosopher-king.” Emperor of Rome for 19 years, from 161-180 AD, he was also considered one of the greatest Stoic philosophers. He was a big advocate of self-sufficiency and personal self-empowerment. He once wrote, “Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”

What Marcus Aurelius said almost 2000 years ago has become a rallying cry for modern American culture. “It is all within yourself,” we are told. We can make our own way, create our own life, carve our own path. Be fiercely independent. Or, as Frank Sinatra famously put it in his iconic song: “I did it my way.”

But it’s all an elaborate deception. That message is a lie.

There is a much better way, and it involves not going it alone. It means doing life together with God. It entails leaning on him for strength and wisdom, for courage, forgiveness and peace. It means believing that God is right when he tells us, “Two are better than one.” And that’s especially true when one of the two is God.

Consider this. When God is at our side, we have the Creator of heaven and earth beside us. When God is at our side, we have one who never needs to rest or sleep beside us. When God is at our side, we have One who desires to shade us from harm and who wants to to keep our foot from slipping. He knows the entirety of our life, and he knows the little bits and pieces of our life too — right down to every time we leave to go somewhere, and every time we return.

Sometimes life can be as risky as a trapeze act. But God is our divine safety net. He is where our help comes from.

Which means — as the Psalmist writes — he would be a pretty good person to keep close at hand at all times.

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore” (Psalm 121:1-8, NIV).

Lord, thank you for being my protection. I am grateful that you watch over me, and over my coming and going. Help me to always recognize my need for you and your protection. Walk with me and guard my life.

Our Bible reading for Monday, November 9, is Ezekiel 17:1 – 18:32, Hebrews 9:16-28 and Psalm 121:1-8.

Header image based on "Lily on the Net" by Eden, Janine and Jim, CC By 2.0

Keep It Together!

Starting with Moses and ending with Malachi — with Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and many others along the way — God delegated many different prophets to speak to his people. There were many spokesmen, but with one voice they all made sure the world would hear of God’s plan to rescue them from sin and death.

Sometimes people think it’s still that way. They look for signs and revelations from God. They want to hear his voice directly, or they latch on to someone who claims that they have heard his voice directly. And there are certain people all too willing to exploit those who seek God this way.

The author of this letter to the Hebrews says that things have changed. Now God speaks to us through one person. That person is his Son, our Savior Jesus. If we want to know God, if we want to understand his plan for us and his message to us, then we are to listen to him. We do this today when we read what the evangelists and apostles recorded and reported in the New Testament.

By his Son, God created this beautiful world in the beginning. Jesus shows us exactly who God is. Jesus paints a portrait of God and all his characteristics so vibrant that it leaps off the canvas.

And just as Jesus created all this, created us and all our loved ones, this same Jesus continues to provide, protect and nurture us. He is the Creator and he is the Sustainer too. Just as he created all things from nothing by his powerful world, so he redeems us from our nothingness and purifies us from our sins by his powerful word — the gospel.

Jesus now sits in the seat of power, commanding and controlling all things for the benefit of his church — for your good, and my good. So when we listen to him, when he becomes our One Source (of information), and our One Sustainer (of life, peace, joy, and forgiveness), then his power becomes our power.

Keep it together, people tell us. With Jesus’ love and authority in our lives, we absolutely can and will keep it together, no matter how challenging the circumstances. Because he holds it all together for us by what he says to us — in his powerful word.

“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Hebrews 1:1-3, NIV).

Lord Jesus, help me to daily draw on your word for my life. I know that your words and promises help me keep it together. Without you, and without your word, I also am sure that I cannot keep it together. I repent of trying to live independently. Help me to know you, Jesus, as true God, and my Creator and Sustainer.

Our Bible reading for Friday, October 30, is Lamentations 3:40 – 5:22, Hebrews 1:1-14 and Psalm 119:129-136.

Header image based on "Holding together" by Tom Good, CC By 2.0