Ever Watching

It was growing dusk.  When I left the house in the late afternoon I believed I would be home before dark.  Now a gray cloak was dropping from the sky.  By the time I pulled into the drive, darkness covered the earth.  As I drove up a small hill, and then descended, I could see the porch light in the distance.  Nearly there my mother opened the door and stepped outside.  I pulled in, turned off the engine, and looked up.  Our eyes met.  We smiled.  All was well.  I had come home.

As I lay in bed later that night, picturing my mother looking for me, I thought about the trumpet sound which signals the event of Jesus meeting every child of God in the air. In I Thessalonians 4:16-18 we read, “For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God.  First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves.  Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  So encourage each other with these words.”  

Christians around the world are looking for this event.  Especially as the days grow darker around us, as we watch the world turn its back on God, as people are deciding their own ways are best, we strain to see Him coming.  As my mother longed to see the car’s headlights coming over the hill, so you and I yearn to see the One we love so much coming in the air.  Imagine the joy that will illuminate our faces and His.  We will have travelled far during the days of our lives on earth.  We will have experienced the darkness of ungodliness descend around us.  We will have anticipated in earnest the sound of the trumpet.  

Just as my arrival brought peace, relief, and joy, the arrival of Jesus will bring an even greater peace and overwhelming joy.  We will join Him.  We will be on our way to our eternal home.  Darkness for all who know Him will be no more.

“Oh, what joy for those who disobedience is forgiven, whose sins are put out of sight.  Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of sin.”  Romans 4:7-8 

“For whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”  Romans 10:13

The Football Champ

He was a high school football player and he was drawing a lot of attention.  He could run fast, throw the ball with accuracy, and tackle with intended result – stop the opposition.  The TV sports reporter asked him how he came to be so good.  The teen answered, “I put in a lot of practice.”  His mother, standing nearby added, “He worships the game.”  Now, the player’s mother wasn’t actually meaning her son worshipped football like a god; the remark was intended to highlight her son’s love of and commitment to the game, but it got me to thinking about what we love and are committed to concerning our relationship with God.

This football player was indeed committed and he did put in a lot of practice.  There is no way he could be so fast, accurate and strong in defense without practice, and lots of it.  To be a good football player and to maintain excellence, practice is essential.  It’s the same in our spiritual world.

Our arch enemy, Satan, is always opposing us.  He attacks us with lies seeking to bring us down emotionally and spiritually.  An effectual counter attack can only come with practice.  I love a simple but powerful verse in James 4:8, “…come close to God and God will come close to you…”  The preceding verse tells us, “Humble yourselves before God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”  It’s rather like football.

The opposing running back is coming.  There must be contact to bring the opposition down.  There must be a tackle before the enemy on the sports field flees — for a while.  He always comes back, just like our arch enemy, but as we practice, learning how to counter attack just like Jesus did, with the inerrant words of Scripture (Matthew 4:1-11) stating before the enemy, “It is written”  then satan cannot stand strong against God’s Word. He will be defeated time and time again.  Yes, he will come back for another attack, but the practiced player on the field is always ready.

When we mediate upon God’s Word, when we talk to God often throughout the day, we are “drawing near to Him.”  What happens then?  God’s Word tells us the enemy will flee.  It’s a constant battle, but winning is always on our side when we follow the coaching of the Holy Spirit.  When we draw near and worship, we become aware of God’s holiness.  We are reminded of the truth of Luke 1:37 that “with Him nothing is impossible.”

I hope we all practice and never stop training.  Never stop looking up.  Never stop calling out to Him.  Never stop worshipping Him for all He is and all He has done and always will do for us.  When we practice and follow our Holy Coach’s leading, we are always champions.  

The Happy Calf

The solid black calf with a white face is the cutest thing as my mother and I watch it daily frolicking about.  His happiness shows with his running circles around his mother or racing ahead as the herd goes marching on.  This was not the case last week.

Last week this calf first entered the world.  We kept our eyes on the proceedings the day he was born.  Only hours old he was laying in the grass with head lifted taking in his new surroundings.  The mother had walked away.  I’ve come to realize this is not abnormal after initial birth.  Perhaps mama cow is tired and needs some alone time.  

At any rate, as the sun began to set, mama came to check on her little one.  She licks him.  Feeling encouraged, the calf stands on shaky legs.  The mother finishes its bathing of her baby and walks away.   At about thirty feet she looks back.  Baby calf is standing, looking, not moving.  The mother doesn’t move either.  Fifteen minutes, which seems like an hour to my anxious heart, willing the calf to go to its mother, the calf takes tentative steps.  The mother keeps looking, waiting.  Finally, the little one takes one step and then another until he is next to his mother.  The baby gets another mother’s lick and discovers milk!  Relieved the calf has found its way to his mama, we let down the shades to shut out the approaching darkness of night.

Early the next morning the calf is already trotting around with all appearance of great happiness.  I found it interesting how like a cow you and I can be.  Our Heavenly Father washes us clean as we enter spiritual birth.  Joy floods us.  We have been forgiven of everything!  The slate is clean, but like the calf, we have much to learn.  

We know our Father’s presence is with us, but at times He seems so far away.  Why doesn’t He come to us?  Like the mama cow from afar, why does He do nothing more than wait for us to come to Him?  When we do, He fills us with that sweet sense of his love for us, but why not come to us in the first place?

The calf learns many important things in the act of coming to his mother.  He is assured she is there waiting.  He grows stronger himself with every step he takes.  Never forget that faith grows one step at a time.  The first steps are shaky, uncertain; nonetheless, each foot forward takes him to mama where his needs are met and where he may drink from his mother’s goodness.

It is no different for you and me when we take steps toward our Father.  Our faith grows as we are reminded anew that, “He will never leave us or forsake us,” (Hebrews 13:5), that He will forgive our delay and wash us in loving forgiveness, not some of the time but all of the time, and He will lead us to fresh pastures running with living waters where we may eat and drink, gaining strength to face whatever each new day brings us.  (Psalm 23)

Then, like the happy calf who has learned where to go for his needs, we frolic and run free in our Father’s care for us.   

Not As Good As…..

Maintaining a healthy self esteem is a battle at times for all of us.  Our arch enemy, Satan, understands how important a low self esteem is to bring us down.  He does not want you to be happy, peaceful, or successful. Never forget that this dastardly enemy never means well — ever!  If he fails in keeping you from knowing Jesus personally, his next endeavor is to keep you from having a close, loving, and joyful relationship with God.  How does he set out to accomplish this horrible task?  He does what he has always done from the beginning.  He lies with the goal to make you miserable!

Satan wants you to feel terrible about yourself.  He wants you to believe any good idea that comes to your mind is foolish.  He will whisper that you are stupid, appear silly to others, that someone else could accomplish any task better than you, that you were born a loser and will always be one, that no one respects you, loves you, or believes you to be anything special.  His lies are relentless. 

Your Heavenly Father, by stark contrast, tells you the truth at all times.  He tells you that if He puts an idea into your mind, it’s workable.  He is not concerned that someone else may do the task better than you; He is only concerned that you understand the truth of Luke 1:37, “For with God nothing shall be impossible.”  He also tells you in Zechariah 4:10, “Do not despise small beginnings for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.”  Why does He rejoice?  Because He knows what comes next.  He knows this small task He has assigned to you, that He has trusted to you, is not only doable, but that pressing on to accomplish all He has given you to do will bring inner peace and joy that cannot be measured.  God Almighty desires with all His heart of love that you grow in peace and joy.  He wants you to have a healthy self esteem, to understand that He loves you so much, that if you choose to receive the gift of His salvation, you will live eternally with Him.  He adores you so much it cannot be measured.  Satan hates you so much it also cannot be measured.

Our arch enemy always whispers it can’t be done, you’ll fail, how foolish to even attempt.  He always tells you you’re not as good as someone else.  Your Heavenly Father urges you to go forth, to trust Him to be your everything to get you through anything.  He whispers that He has a plan, custom designed for you, to give you hope and a future.  (Jeremiah 29:11)  You are in the center of His heart.  You are the object of His love; that’s why He sent His Son to pay the ultimate sacrifice so you may live in perfect joy with Him forever.  Concerning that future home, He gives us this magnificent promise in Revelation 21:4, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain.  All these things are gone forever.”  Imagine that — gone forever.

God’s eternal joy is yours for the asking.  Tell Satan in Jesus’ name to take a hike.  Refuse to listen to his relentless lies.  Choose instead to focus on Jesus.  Do whatever He puts in your heart to do, knowing of a certainty, it’s not important that someone else could do it better — God chose you.  He wants to bless you for your obedience to His ways.  He knows that with His help you can do anything.  If He didn’t know that, He would have never asked in the first place.  So, lift your face to the heavens and go forth in joy.  Your Heavenly Father is your best cheerleader and enabler.  

Knowing Our Destiny

One of my best childhood memories is of a camping trip to Hopkin’s Prairie in central Florida.  For a whole month we lived in a tent with no one else around.  We cooked on an open fire, swam in the lake just 30 feet from our tent, fished, and went row boating.  I was given a small hatchet and took great pride in chopping up small branches for the fire.  I was eleven.  Probably I was imagining that I and my trusty hatchet were saving the day by keeping the family warm and fed.  

As the time for our camping trip grew closer, so did my anticipation.  To this day I can still remember the excitement I felt as I dreamed of all we would do on that camping trip.  Not once did I tell myself — we’ll all be eaten up by mosquitoes, snakes may crawl into our camp, an alligator could attack us in the lake, the boat might turn over when we’re far from shore.  Were any of those things possible?  Yes, caution had to be taken.  We sprayed mosquito repellant, wore life jackets in the boat, and our eyes were always watching for any predators or crawling reptiles.  

In spite of all that could go wrong, none of that was our focus.  Such negativity would have certainly put a damper on the upcoming vacation.  Instead, while being careful in our surroundings, we concentrated on all the fun.  Such positive focus gave us inner peace and joyful anticipation.  

It’s the same in our spiritual world.  Our arch enemy, Satan, is always skulking about, seeking to destroy our inner peace and joy.  It’s easy, if we focus on negativity, to lose our peace and joyful anticipation.  We pray for God’s guidance and then tremble in the “what ifs.”  What if I don’t get a job to pay my bills?  What if I get sick?  What if I’m in an accident?  What if I can’t make friends when I move?  What if….what if….what if.  

Bad things do happen in our physical worlds, but anticipating the bad doesn’t have to be our focus.  Instead of wondering about the negative — what if — we may focus instead on the — what we know.  God’s Word is full of promises.  He promises to never leave us even when bad things happen.  He promises to give us His own strength to get us through all the hard times.  Best of all, He promises that a life is coming with Him when there will be no more tears, sorrow, death or pain.  (Revelation 21:4)

Here’s another verse that gives us immeasurable anticipation:  “Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into His glorious presence without a single fault.”  (Ephesians 3:20) That’s even better than looking forward to that childhood camping trip that made me so very happy.  At that time I couldn’t think of anything better.  Now I look forward to something that is literally —  out of this world!

Hearing and Listening

Listening is an interesting thing.  It’s actually an art to be developed.  Listening to many doesn’t come easy.  We confuse listening with hearing, but there is a subtle difference.  Hearing is a physical receptor coming into our ears.  Listening goes a step further and takes what we hear into our minds and hearts for consideration.

There is a story in I Samuel 3.  Samuel was just a boy working for Eli the priest.  One night as Samuel was sleeping he was awaken by a voice calling his name.  His ears could hear the voice but his listening had not developed to recognize it.  He thought the priest was calling him.  Eli said it wasn’t him and to go back to sleep.  This happened three times that night.  Finally, Eli understood that it was God calling to Samuel.  He then gave Samuel some wise instruction.  He said to Samuel in I Samuel 3:8. “…Go and lie down again, and if someone calls you, say, ‘Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”  Samuel was about to go from mere physical hearing, to mind and heart consideration.  

Sure enough, as Samuel lay again in bed, the voice of God was heard calling his name.  This time Samuel answered in just the manner Eli had instructed.  God gave Samuel His message and Samuel, in obedience, considered and obeyed the message.

It’s easy in our busy worlds to merely hear without listening.  For example, we know the importance of reading God’s Word daily.  It is our spiritual food.  Physical food is needed daily; spiritual food is needed daily, too, to have the strength we need to face any obstacle, to make decisions.  Therefore, we quickly read some Scripture or a devotional.  We have “heard” the written Word, but have we listened?  Have we asked the Holy Spirit to shine His truth into our understanding?  Have we asked the Holy Spirit to make the truth we read and hear to be applicable in our lives, to guide us in some direction we are seeking?  Without the Holy Spirit we may hear but we aren’t really listening.   

Listening takes practice.  Samuel could not discern the voice.  It took practice and instruction before He knew it was God.  Through this practice, Samuel became one of the Old Testament’s great prophets.  He not only heard words, but discerned when it was God.  It’s the same with you and me.  Holy listening is developed through practice.  Ask the Holy Spirit to develop your listening hears.  That’s a prayer He loves to answer in the affirmative.  It’s an immeasurable joy to develop our listening ears, to know of a certainty when God Himself is saying to us, “This is the way, now walk in it.”

It’s Like Strawberry Preserves

There is a verse found in Psalm 121:7 that can be cause for confusion.  It tells us, “The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life.”  Upon reading this we can immediately bring to our memory all sorts of life situations that indeed brought us harm.  Some have been hurt by the death of a loved one.  Others struggle with physical or emotional illness.  Perhaps you’ve experienced the pain of divorce, the betrayal of a trusted friend, failure to be respected in your job, worry over your wayward children, financial difficulty.  The list of painful experiences that comes to us is long.  Why, therefore, does God tell us that He will keep us from all harm, when all of us have felt pain and sorrow?

The answer is in right perspective.  Since we live in a physical world where our experiences are either seen, smelled, heard, or felt, be it emotional or physical; then often, we read Scripture with an interpretation from the physical point of view.  In reality, we need to ask the Holy Spirit to interpret for us from the spiritual point of view.  The Holy Spirit is our teacher who guides us into all truth.

So, what is the truth of Psalm 121:7 that categorically says God will keep us from all harm?  It means something far greater than a physical protection; it means a spiritual preservation.  It’s like strawberry preserves.  Strawberries left in the open air will rot quickly.  However, when boiled with sugar, vinegar, a pinch of salt, then put in sealed jars, it can last a very long time.  It maintains its tastiness.  It’s the same in our spiritual world.  It means that no matter the rot of sorrow, pain, and unfairness the world can throw at us, by the Holy Spirit within, we have the treasures of God’s preservation.  Our joy, inner peace, courage and strength remain intact.  Those key ingredients to our spiritual well being keeps us from the harm of our arch enemy, Satan,  who “seeks to steal, kill, and destroy.”  (John 10:10)  

While our enemy does everything he can to steal our joy, kill our peace, and destroy all hope of anything good happening to us, our Heavenly Father is there to be our everything to get us through anything.  How do you and I acquire such preservation of constant joy and inner peace?  It’s all to do with how we think and upon what we let our thoughts dwell.  I love the verse in Philippians 4:8, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing.  Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable.  Think about these things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”  Upon what we choose to focus is key to understanding how, “The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life.”  He keeps us spiritually intact — just like strawberry preserves. 

In The Nick of Time

There is a familiar story in Matthew 14:22-36. It’s the story of Jesus walking on the water, but that’s not the main point of what was happening here. Previously to this event, Jesus fed thousands of people with only five loaves of bread and two fish. The people ate until they were full, at which time the disciples gathered the left-overs — 12 baskets — one for each disciple to carry. Do you think that was a faith building lesson for them? Even so, another coaching period was about to come.

The Scriptures tell us that it was evening when Jesus sent the disciples to their boat. He said he would send the people home and come to them later. During Bible times there was a reference of time called the night watches. These watches took place between 6:00pm and 6:00am. There were four watches in three hour increments. So, the first watch was at 6:00pm, the second at 9:00pm, the third at 12:00pm and the last watch was at 3:00am.

The Scriptures indicate that as Jesus, about 6:00pm was sending the people home, the disciples were in their boat, “far away from land and fighting heavy waves,” (vs.24-25). Now comes the really interesting part. Jesus came on the fourth watch. He came at 3:00am. What? The disciples had been battling a storm for nine hours before Jesus decides to show up? Then, what happens?

Instead of stopping the storm right then and there, He tells Peter to walk on the water towards Him — and Peter does that very thing. For several moments Peter is actually walking on the water! Then, instead of maintaining focus on Jesus, Peter glances around, sees the waves, feels the pelting of the rain on his skin and the whipping wind in his face, and he begins to sink in fear, but he does the exact right thing in his difficulty. He cries out to Jesus to save him. Jesus responds to his call by grabbing hold of Peter. Together they get back in the boat. Then Jesus asks that well known question, “You have so little faith, why did you doubt me?”

We argue in defense of Peter, saying, but he walked on water! He did display faith! Was Jesus being harsh here? Unfair? After all, Jesus waited nine hours before coming to their aid, in the first place. Why is it, that so often in our own lives, we meet turmoil and despair head on, and wonder, why isn’t Jesus here? Why isn’t He helping us?

In actuality, Jesus is showing great love in His delays. He designs our molding into His image, making us stronger, more courageous, filled with His own peace, the kind He had when the Scriptures tell us of another storm when Jesus calmly slept through the whole thing! Jesus knows that faith does not grow strong on the calm waters of life. It grows in the storm. Fatih strengthens when our eyes remain on Him no matter the winds of destress and waves of pain around us.

He is always there. He is always listening. He is always watching over. He is always teaching us, molding us. He is always right on time — even when it’s in the nick of time.

When Our Hair Is Messed Up

I was reading in the first chapter of James this week and was reminded of something most helpful. It’s about using tools available to us to make us stronger. It’s about looking in a mirror. A mirror tells us the truth. For example, I can look in a mirror and it can tell me that my hair is a mess. I then have two choices: to pick up my tool in the shape of a comb and remedy the problem, or walk away, pretending the problem isn’t there. The latter is never a good idea. The latter will never make my hair look any better. The latter will only make the problem worse as the disheveled hair continues to take on a bedraggled appearance.

It’s the same in our spiritual world. James 1:23-24 tells us, “If you hear the Word and don’t carry it out, it’s like seeing your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like.” We know that God’s Word is “a lamp unto my feet,” as we are told in Psalm 119:105. However, if we simply read God’s Word and don’t apply it to our lives, it’s like walking around with disheveled hair.

We need to use our tool. What is it? It’s the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told us in John 14:16, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Comforter who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit who leads into all truth…” The Greek word for Comforter is “parakletos” which also translates as Helper or Advocate. When we look into God’s Word for guidance, it is in using the tool of the Holy Spirit that He fills us with God’s comfort, that He helps us to understand the instructions, that when followed, are for our own joy and peace, and that He intercedes for us, pleading our case and our needs to our Father. What a wonderful tool that must not be ignored.

To simply read God’s Word without asking the Holy Spirit to reveal its truth so we may apply it our lives, is like — well — walking around with unkempt hair — not a pretty sight for anyone to behold.

The Key and The Shower

Our arch enemy has one goal for every Christian: to make one ineffective in his or her walk with God and to fill that one with fear and dread. Satan does not want you to be happy — ever! The Holy Spirit, by stark contrast, seeks always to keep you on a path of inner peace, overflowing with great joy. The Holy Spirit longs for you to walk this path every moment of your life. It’s a battle of good and evil — everyday. Sounds exhausting, does’t it, but it needn’t be. It’s all about using the key and the shower.

You see, when you do something wrong, when you sin, even if you tell yourself it’s just a little transgression and doesn’t matter — know this — it always matters. Since God is holy all of the time, then our intimacy with Him is intact when we are also holy. Does that sound impossible to achieve? Success in this matter depends upon whom you listen to and whose advice you follow. The battle between good and evil is subtle. Therefore, being on guard everyday is a must.

For example, let’s say you sin “just a little.” Satan will whisper that it doesn’t’ matter, no one is perfect, no one knows, just hide it away and carry on. The loving Holy Spirit tells you something very different. He tells you that your gown of white has become soiled. The tiny blot on the white stands out big time. The Holy Spirit instructs you to have the spot washed out. He tells you to confess to Father immediately and holy washing will ensue. Delay, pretending it doesn’t matter, attempting to hide it away is all detrimental to a daily life of joy, peace, and hope. Remember, it is obedience to Him that brings blessing.

So, the question comes: to whom are you listening? Read what the Apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 5:16-17, “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two factors are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.”

Just think, God Almighty loves you so deeply, that He craves daily conversation and interaction with you — but He is holy! Therefore, you must also be holy. (I Peter 1:16) Daily confession is vital! It’s key! There can be no close intimacy without it. Choose to make it a habit. Ask Father God to wash that little spot of sin away, and walk again in the pureness of His joy and peace. You know of a certainty, there is no happiness on earth to compare with a pure heart before God.

A daily shower is good for the body as it washes that dirt right down the plughole. A spiritual washing is just as needed for the heart, washing every wrong doing down the plughole of forgiveness. What refreshing peace and joy follows. Confession is the key that leads to the shower.

The enemy will say, ignore that little sin. The Holy Spirit says, confess and it will be washed away. One brings gloom while the other brings joy. I hope we all use that key of confession that brings on the holy shower.

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