Thursday, April 18, 2019

"Zebras... Stay Alert!"

1st Samuel 22.23 NKJV

“Stay with me; do not fear. For he who seeks my life seeks your life, but with me you shall be safe.”

I’m fascinated by the animal kingdom. I fulfilled a boyhood dream by earning an undergraduate degree from the University of Washington in Fisheries with a minor in biology. I worked in a pet store cleaning bird cages, commercial fished in Southeast Alaska, and found employment with a distributor of animal specimens for college dissection classes. I grew up collecting snakes, turtles, spiders, crayfish, bugs, butterflies, salamanders, lizards, hamsters, rabbits, gerbils, tropical fish, dogs, and cats. I even had a pet goat and a skunk! My poor mother.

I still love to learn about the animal kingdom and watch spellbound when TV wildlife shows graphically depict a predator stalking and capturing its prey. I am amazed by female lions who stealthily surround a band of grazing zebras before springing into action.

The results are predictable. The victim is always the one that strayed too far from the herd.

David offered protection to Abiathar after the brutal slaying of his father Ahimelech.

“Stay with me; do not fear. For he who seeks my life
seeks your life, but with me you shall be safe.”

Jesus offers you and me the same protection. Oddly, zebras appear to possess only a vague notion of their vulnerability. The prey seem genuinely surprised when a lion leaps from the grass. If I were a zebra living in lion country, I’d stay near the middle of the crowd at all times.

According to the New Testament writer, Peter, I am a zebra living in lion country. 

“Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil,
prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
1st Peter 5:8 NASU

There’s only one way to keep from being 'picked off' by the enemy of my soul. Remain near Jesus and His people. If I’m close to the edge, I’m an easy target. I must be aware of my own vulnerability and stay far away fro the outer limits of barely permissible, unwise, or isolated activities. 

“Stay with me; do not fear. For he who seeks my life 
seeks your life, but with me you shall be safe.”

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

My Success

1st Samuel 18.14 NLT

“David continued to succeed in everything he did, for the Lord was with him.”

David rocketed to the highest limits of political power in Israel about a thousand years before Christ. What was his secret? How did he achieve so much with so little? It was the Lord. God was the secret of David’s rise to super-stardom. He was successful because “the LORD was with him.”

David had little to do with his own success. Check his resume...

The prophet Samuel anointed David as king to replace Saul (1st Samuel 16.12-13).

King Saul chose David to be his personal musician (1st Samuel 16.19).

The Philistine giant Goliath fell before this boy with a slingshot (1st Samuel 17.49).

David’s military victories were too numerous to count (1st Samuel 18.5, 7).

The children of Saul, Jonathan and Michal, loved David (1st Samuel 18.1, 20).

The entire nation, both the tribes of Israel and Judah, followed David (1st Samuel 18.16).

David’s success appears random, not of his own doing. It was God-ordained. The Lord was with him. God was the secret of his success and the reason for the prosperity he enjoyed.

My personal success is not up to me. It’s God’s call. I can make myself available and endeavor to obey the Lord. I can show courage and muster faith when necessary. I can be energetic, creative, and imaginative. I can act with integrity, work hard, and put my trust in Jesus. But that’s about all I can do. The rest of my life appears random, but it’s not... God is in control. 

I cannot guarantee an income, secure a position, or make someone love me. I am unable to fully plan my future or absolutely insure the safety of my family. Nothing I do comes with the promise of success. I will do my best, but will try to remain aware of this fact: Life is wrought with risk, and failure is always a possibility. I can do is my small part, but success is solely in the hands of the Lord.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

"Exchange My Mind"

1st Samuel 15 NASU (selected verses)

Samuel anointing Saul by Guy (Giro) Rowe (1894-1968)“Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, ‘...I have carried out the command of the LORD.’” (v.13)

“Then Saul said to Samuel, ‘I did obey the voice of the LORD...’” (v.20)

“Then Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have sinned;… because I feared the people and listened to their voice.” (v.24)

“As Samuel turned to go, Saul seized the edge of his robe, and it tore. So Samuel said to him, ‘The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and given it to your neighbor, who is better than you.’” (vv.27-28)

The human mind can rationalize and justify almost anything. Saul was given a specific order from the Lord. He obeyed one part of the command. Saul convinced himself, “I have carried out the command of the LORD.” It was not relevant to Saul that he did so only partially. When challenged by the prophet, Saul persisted: “I did obey the voice of the LORD.” Samuel did not agree and, while Saul eventually admitted the truth: “I have sinned,” the damage was done. It was too late for Saul to make amends. He lost his opportunity to serve the Lord.

In a final attempt to secure his royal position, Saul used violence. Saul assaulted Samuel, and succeeded only in tearing the prophet’s robe.

Samuel rebuking Saul by Guy (Giro) Rowe (1894-1968)
I have seen the same pattern in me...
  1. I fully understand what is required of me but I choose to perform less.
  2. I convince myself that partial performance is good enough.
  3. I become defensive when others point out what is lacking.
  4. I finally admit to my shortcoming and expect my new-found honesty to make everything OK.
  5. Everything is still not OK.
  6. I get angry and take it out my frustration on those nearest to me.
  7. I lose my hope and quit trying to perform altogether.
Only Christ can heal this hopeless and pathetic behavior pattern. In the quiet admission of my utter failure, Jesus offers me another chance. This time I am expected to do more than change my mind. I must exchange my mind. My mind plays tricks on me. I can’t trust it. It will justify and rationalize anything. Not so with the mind of Christ. 

Thankfully I can exchange mine for His.

“…we have the mind of Christ.”
1st Corinthians 2 16.b NASU
_________________________

The paintings above are by American artist Guy (Giro) Rowe (1894-1968) depicting Samuel anointing Saul as the first king of Israel and later the prophet rebuking Saul.

Monday, April 15, 2019

"Make It Count!"

1st Samuel 12.23 NIV

“As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right.”


Samuel was a real leader. He was a prophet, priest, and judge in Israel about a thousand years before the birth of Christ. He was a father of the faith for his countrymen. Samuel was called to pray for his nation and teach truth to his people. For Samuel, to fall short of his divine mandate was to commit gross sin.

I too am called to shepherd a flock. My flock is much smaller than Samuel’s, but no less significant. My precious wife, who died of cancer three and a half years ago, gifted me with two incredible teenagers I am privileged to finish raising. Some of my kids are grown and live far away from home, but they occasionally call on me for what we amusingly refer to as “cheap fatherly advice.” I’m even blessed with four cool little grandsons (one is not so little any more!) and three beautiful granddaughters. I have an outstanding daughters and sons by marriage and a host of amazing in-laws. I’m surrounded by good neighbors and scores of excellent clients and vendors. I belong to a large church which meets in a warehouse and I have an active ministry with hundreds of men and women. I stay in touch with many friends from the past. I even participate in a couple social networks and play racquetball with a bunch of guys at a local sports club. This is my little flock.

As I visualize these people, I know what I must do. I must teach them by my example, attitudes, and words “the way that is good and right.” Furthermore, I must not “sin against the LORD by failing to pray for” them.

This is an awesome calling, which I don’t always fulfill as I should. But God inspires me to try. I have have an opportunity to love and cherish the people Jesus gave me. These relationships are priceless. 

Whether together in person or apart on my knees, I want every minute I spend with each of these special humans to count.

Friday, April 12, 2019

"You..." (Part 2)

Super Hero by Michael Dougherty (www.mikedougherty.net)1st Samuel 8.19-20
“The Message”

“But the people wouldn't listen to Samuel. ‘No!’ they said. ‘We will have a king to rule us! Then we'll be just like all the other nations. Our king will rule us and lead us and fight our battles.’

Why were the people so desperate for a king? Probably for the same reason I want one today. A king, like each of my imaginary super heroes, saves me from all that is hard about life relieving me from the responsibility to make a better life for myself and others. A young woman imagines her ‘knight in shining armor’ will swoop down and save her from the mundane and make her feel like a princess every day of her married life. A young man thinks the marital union will be just like being single except now he gets unlimited sex, good meals, a clean house, and folded clothes.

These human expectations have collided on more than one occasion leading to a national divorce rate of over 50%.[1] I should exchange my expectations for His. My expectations are not really pertinent to real success in any endeavor. Only divine expectations matter. It’s not about what I expect from others. It’s all about what God expects of me.

The people of Israel wanted a king so they could be “just like all the other nations.” Then they would relax and enjoy the good life. “Our king will rule us and lead us and fight our battles.”

Oh, how much I want a king like that; my very own hero, father, president, mentor, leader, mommy, shepherd, personal trainer, personal consultant, personal valet, personal savior, etc. Someone who would make life better for me without any investment from me.

A crown for King Christopher by Michelle Amarante
The worst of all possible outcomes is that God would answer my prayer like He did for Israel. They got their king and were forever sorry they did.

I don’t need a king. I already have one. With Jesus I can step up and be my own father, trainer, mother, shepherd, mentor, and hero. I hear His voice today: “You don’t need an earthly king. I am Jesus. I am enough for you. You rule yourself. You lead yourself. You fight your own battles. I will be with you. I will never leave you or forsake you. With Me you can do all things. You fulfill my commands. You perform my will. I have empowered you.”
_______________

[1] “50% percent of first marriages, 67% of second and 74% of third marriages end in divorce”, says Jennifer Baker of the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology in Springfield, Missouri. These statistics are exaggerated or outdated ccording to Belinda Luscombe in a TIME magazine article dated November 16, 2018, entitled The Divorce Rate is Dropping. That May Not Actually Be Good News 
(http://time.com/5434949/divorce-rate-children-marriage-benefits/). The article places the current divorce rate in America for first marriages at 39%. This is due, in part, to the delay of marriage among millennials and the increase in cohabitation. "More Americans under 25 cohabit with a partner (9%) than are married to one (7%). Two decades ago, those figures weren’t even close: 5% were cohabiting and 14% were married." Today, "the median age at first marriage in the U.S. is now nearly 30 for men and 28 for women, up from 27 and 25 in 2003." Decoupling, especially among co-habitants, is probably as common as ever. 

The cartoon "Super Hero" was created by commercial artist Michael Dougherty who works as a character designer at Nickelodeon Animation Studios in Burbank, CA. You can view his art at his personal blog at http://michaeldougherty.blogspot.com/.

Michelle Amarante shot the photo of a crown called "A crown for King Christopher" and displayed it on her photo blog at http://www.michelleamarante.com/. Michelle is a professional photographer from Hope Valley, Rhode Island.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

"You..." (Part 1)

1st Samuel 3.13 “The Message”

“Im letting him know that the times up. I'm bringing judgment on his family for good. He knew what was going on, that his sons were desecrating Gods name and Gods place, and he did nothing to stop them.”

I’m intrigued with the account of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of five thousand people.

The disciples prodded Jesus to send the crowds away after a long day of healing and preaching so that “they could buy themselves something to eat” (Mark 6.36 RSV). The Master’s matter-of-fact response recorded in all three Synoptic Gospels surprised his followers then just as it does me now

“You give them something to eat.”
Matthew 14.16; Mark 6.37; Luke 9.13

Jesus made His disciples responsible for feeding the hungry crowd and He makes me fully responsible for the role I must play in the drama of living out my Christian faith. This divine expectation is exactly what distinguishes my existence before and after Christ. Before I knew Him, God expected little of me. Now that I am a disciple of Christ, I must “give them something to eat.”

I have no idea how to fulfill God’s expectation of me. That I am willing to perform His will may be more important than how I do it. He will show me how when I step into the arena of faith and face my lions of fear and doubt. Jesus will do for me just as He did for his first disciples on the day 5,000 were fed. Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on DiscoverySchool.com

Eli knew his sons were misbehaving. He was fully aware of their crimes of theft and rape, yet “he did nothing to stop them.” Eli may have truthfully complained, ‘I don’t how to stop them.’ But Eli could have saved his sons lives by taking bold restraining action. He should have insisted they desist from their sins. He might have risked their wrath by standing in their way when these boys wanted their own self-centered way. That was his role as their father. Had he mustered the guts to force the issue, Eli could have fulfilled God’s will and witnessed His miraculous power. Instead, he nagged his boys without enforcing consequences, a practice to which his sons responded in a predictable manner: “They would not listen to the voice of their father” (1st Samuel 2.25 NASU).

Eli’s opportunity was no different than the disciples of Jesus or mine...
Eli: ‘My sons are out the control.’

God: ‘You control them.’

Disciples: ‘The people are hungry.’

Jesus: “You give them something to eat.”

Me: (What needs to happen. Fill in the blank.)

God: ‘You do what needs to happen.’
______________________

"Bread and Fish" created by Mark A. Hicks, illustrator. Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on http://www.discoveryschool.com/.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

"I Got Noticed!"

Ruth 2.10 NKJV

“So she fell on her face, bowed down to the ground, and said to him, ‘Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?’ 


The Bible says Boaz noticed Ruth when she “just happened to end up in… the field belonging to Boaz” (Ruth 2.3). The literal Hebrew reads: “her chance chanced upon” his field. According to The NET Bible study notes:

“The text is written from Ruth's limited perspective. As far as she was concerned, she randomly picked a spot in the field. But God was providentially at work and led her to the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who, as a near relative of Elimelech, was a potential benefactor.”[1]

It was no accident that Ruth found herself gleaning in the field of Boaz and it was not accidental that Boaz noticed Ruth. We romanticize the text but the book of Ruth is not primarily a love story between an rich man and a lovely Moabitess virgin. If Ruth’s beauty was so captivating that Boaz couldn’t help but to notice her, then Ruth’s relative closer than Boaz may have claimed her for himself (see Ruth, chapter 4).
 
Let’s examine the historical context. There was a famine. The immigrants from Moab were verging on starvation. Ruth was probably horribly skinny with sunken eyes, weather-beaten skin, and baggy, torn clothes. She couldn’t afford expensive, guaranteed-to-attract-a-man make-up. Limited sexual electricity there. Gleaning was hard work. Ruth was a foreigner, impoverished, homely, dirty, and covered in sweat. 

There was no good reason for an upstanding wealthy Israelite like Boaz to notice Ruth. Yet notice her he did. Boaz noticed Ruth for the same reason she chose to glean in his field… God was orchestrating the entire story. It was no accident. It was providential.
 
I’m like Ruth. No great catch. Nothing special to look at, but Jesus noticed me. I caught His eye. It was no accident I became a child of God. I did not stumble into this divine relationship. I was part of His plan. He directed my steps. He conceived and wrote the story of Ruth and the story of Dave. He redeemed me. I was and still am under the watchful eye and providential care of Jesus.

“A man's steps are directed by the Lord.”
Proverbs 20.24 NIV

“…no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father”
Jesus, John 6.65 NASU

I didn’t make it happen, God did. I was on a journey gleaning my way through life when I “just happened” to land in Christ’s barley field. For reasons I shall never fully understand, He noticed me and chose to have me as His own.
______________

[1] The New English Translation (NET Bible) ®, Copyright © 1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C., Dallas, Texas, www.bible.org. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

The painting at upper right is titled Les Glaneuses (The Gleaners, 1857) by Jean-François Millet who was part of the Realism Movement that began in France in the 1850's.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

"The Ambush"

Judges 20.29-30, 37, 42 Amplified Bible

So Israel set men in ambush round about Gibeah. And the Israelites went up against the Benjamites on the third day and set themselves in array against Gibeah as at other times.”

“And the men in ambush quickly rushed upon Gibeah, and the liers-in-wait moved out and smote all the city with the sword.”

“Therefore they turned their backs before the men of Israel and fled toward the wilderness, but the battle followed close behind and overtook them; and the inhabitants of the cities destroyed those [Benjamites] who came through them in their midst.”


Sin is very tricky business. It’s impossible to sin just a little, especially for any length of time. The devil’s strategy includes plans for your complete destruction. Don’t be fooled. You can be easily lulled into tolerating an acceptable level of sin only to discover there’s no such thing. You are quickly swept into the power of your enemy, engulfed by the flames of fire you meant only to touch.

The tribe of Benjamin had two military victories under its belt. This day would be no different. Benjamin’s fighters would chase and defeat the men of Israel as before. But this time Israel set an ambush. As Benjamite warriors left Gibeah to pursue fleeing Israelites, those in hiding sneaked into town and burned it to the ground. The smoke of their victory signaled Israel to turn on their attackers. Benjamin was caught in an ambush, surrounded on almost every side. Benjamin’s soldiers were out of options and “fled toward the wilderness” where they were slaughtered by more Israelites secretly waiting there for them.

Sin has a way of drawing us outside the protective walls of our inner city. While chasing our pleasures, something inside of us dies. We violate our integrity. We stray too far from home and get caught in a spiritual ambush between our sinful desires and the loss of self. We’re forced into the wilderness where we die at the hands of our souls’ enemy. The “wages of sin(Romans 6.23) and Satan’s plan are the same... death!

There is another way. Stand still. Don’t be fooled by the temptations of the evil one. Never play with the fire of sin. Refuse to be lured into open interaction with the enemy. That’s a set up for a spiritual ambush. There’s nothing for you out there. Press into Jesus. Stay close to center of His will. Avoid the boundaries of permissive behavior. Don’t peer over the edge of holy living to imagine your life in the chasm of sin. Run to  Jesus. He’ll fight your battles for you.

“Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord
will bring you today... The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
Exodus 14.13-14 NIV

Monday, April 08, 2019

"Thanks Ned"

Judges 18.27-28 NIV

“Then they took what Micah had made, and his priest, and went on to Laish, against a peaceful and unsuspecting people. They attacked them with the sword and burned down their city. There was no one to rescue them because they lived a long way from Sidon and had no relationship with anyone else. The city was in a valley near Beth Rehob.

The people of Dan felt squeezed. They were the last tribe to roll the dice for an inheritance in Canaan. Stuck between four other tribes, Dan got the property leftovers. Besides being the smallest portion of land, “the Danites had difficulty taking possession of their territory” (Joshua 19.40-48). Apparently the original inhabitants were hard to dislodge. So the leaders of Dan sent six hundred warriors to locate a less protected piece of real estate. Israelite spies found Laish at the northern tip of Palestine “where they saw that the people were living in safety,… unsuspecting and secure. And since their land lacked nothing, they were prosperous. Also, they lived a long way from the Sidonians and had no relationship with anyone else” (Judges 18.7).

Perfect! Just what the soldiers of Dan were looking for. The people of Laish thought they were secure and “living in safety.” They were “prosperous” and “lacked nothing,” but they were also naïve and “unsuspecting.”

False security is easily breached. Laish had no idea what was about to happen. They lost everything and it could have been avoided. Laish could have developed allies of neighboring cities for just such a time as this. Instead they were all alone and “had no relationship with anyone else.” This made the city an easy target for war-savvy Israelites. Laish was destroyed “with the sword and burned” to the ground.

I attended a dance at my high school somewhere around 1968. A couple of long haired guys from another school cornered me and I felt threatened. Ned noticed my plight. He quietly strolled over and asked if everything was all right. Ned was a big guy. He was a lineman for the Ingraham High School football team and best of all, Ned was my friend. The bullies quickly got the picture and vanished. Thank you Ned.

Laish had no such friend. Do you? There will come a time when you wish you did. -

Friday, April 05, 2019

"Love Can Say No"

Judges 14.1-3 NLT

“One day when Samson was in Timnah, one of the Philistine women caught his eye. When he returned home, he told his father and mother, ‘A young Philistine woman in Timnah caught my eye. I want to marry her. Get her for me.’

His father and mother objected. ‘Isn't there even one woman in our tribe or among all the Israelites you could marry?’ they asked. ‘Why must you go to the pagan Philistines to find a wife?’

But Samson told his father, ‘Get her for me! She looks good to me.’

Young Samson needed a strong dose of the “N” word. His parents were too permissive. What Sammy wanted, Sammy got. It did not matter who was inconvenienced or hurt. If it ‘caught his eye’ and ‘looked good’ to Samson, he made a fuss until he got what he wanted. Mom and dad weren’t strong enough to just say “No.”

In his best seller No: Why Kids - of All Ages - Need to Hear It and Ways Parents Can Say It [1], author David Walsh writes a chapter on “Self-Esteem: Kids Need the Real Thing.” He proposes a “Self-Esteem Quiz” reprinted below.  --

Self-Esteem Quiz Answer the following questions Yes or No, depending on whether you think these efforts will help Adam build positive self-esteem.

  1. Adam’s parents praise his performance regardless of the effort.
  2. Adam’s teacher never uses a “red pencil” because he doesn’t want Adam to feel that his work is not good enough.
  3. Adam learns songs and reads books that remind him how special he is.
  4. Mom praises Adam for any effort on chores around the house.
  5. Adam’s parents steer him away from things that might frustrate or discourage him.
  6. When Adam’s teacher corrected him, his parents got upset and called the teacher to complain that she was hurting his self-esteem.
  7. Adam’s parents tell him not to pay attention to what other people think and that “the important thing is to please yourself.”
  8. Adam is learning the most important goal is to “feel good about yourself.”
  9. Adam’s parents don’t want him to feel guilty because they’re afraid that would hurt his self-esteem.
  10. Adam learns that if he loves himself, he will be successful.

“All the above answers should be No because none of these actions will build Adam’s real self-esteem” according to Dr. Walsh. He goes on to describe three self-esteem myths…
---

-----Myth 1: Self-Esteem Comes First and Leads to Success ---
-----Myth 2: Self-Esteem = Feeling Good ---
-----Myth 3: Stress, Challenge, and Disappointment Damage Self-Esteem.


Samson was called and empowered by God to lead Israel for twenty years. But this man’s existence was destined to become a series tragic episodes. He was an “R-rated” guy. Sex and violence dominated his life. He demanded the pleasure of unfaithful women and killed more than his fair share of ruthless men. Samson spent the last days of his life in a Philistine prison and died a violent and horrible death.

Imagine how much better life would have been for Samson if he had heard “No” more often as a child. Denying kids their every wish will not hurt their self-esteem. False affirmations, permissive parenting, and over-attentiveness are more likely to endanger a child’s self-esteem than catering to their every whim. Self-esteem isn’t free. It doesn’t come in a bottle.

If you want to help a child increase self-esteem, make it real. Give him age-appropriate opportunities to earn it. Earned success always leads to positive self-esteem. The stress, challenges, and disappointments on the road to success are a necessary part of that journey.

Don’t be afraid to say “No” to your child... or to yourself the next time you’re acting like one.
________________

[1] No: Why Kids – of All Ages – Need to Hear It and Ways Parents Can Say It, David Walsh, PhD, Free Press – A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2007, pp.57-79.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

"Midolescence"

Judges 12.2-3 NIV

“Jephthah answered, ‘I and my people were engaged in a great struggle with the Ammonites, and although I called, you didn't save me out of their hands. When I saw that you wouldn't help, I took my life in my hands and crossed over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave me the victory over them.’”

I’ve known some fifty year old adolescents. I call them midolescents, people who never quite grew up. They still depend on others for their safety, happiness, and success. When they don’t get what they need, adult-children blame others. Aging parents are favorite targets of forty, fifty, or sixty year old children. Presumably, if their parents had been more (or less) attentive or indulgent; stricter or more permissive; kinder, nicer, more understanding and qualified, the child, who is now an adult, would be a well-rounded human being. The adult-child’s stressors, conflicts, traumas, disappointments, and failures are mom and dad’s fault (or anyone besides his or her own). Character flaws are not an occasion for the hard work of personal growth, but rather an opportunity to point fingers. 

Jephthah was the 10th judge in Israel (according to the biblical record if you count Barak and Abimelech, but not Eli). He ruled Israel for six years about eleven hundred years before the birth of Christ. 

If anyone had cause to blame his upbringing, it was Jephthah. Jephthah was the son of a prostitute. His father’s wife and other sons kicked Jephthah out of the home despising him as “the son of another woman” (Judges 11.2). Jephthah hung out with the wrong crowd, “worthless fellows” (Judges 11.3) and, having good reason to point the finger at his family of origin, could have remained a child for the remainder of his life. Instead, this man of God (as imperfect as he was) took hold of one important truth… 

No one was going to help Jephthah. 

If he was to better himself, he better do it himself.

This attitude gave Jephthah fierce confidence to lead Israel in a successful rebellion against the Ammonites and their eighteen year reign of tyranny. His unhappy childhood became an asset. It taught Jephthah self-reliance, a character trait that catapulted him to the top rung of Israel’s political ladder.

Jephthah asked for help in his war against the Ammonites, but when help was not forthcoming, he refused to whine or blame others. The judge of Israel simply took charge: “When I saw that you wouldn’t help, I took my life in my hands… and the Lord gave me the victory.”

It may be time to grow up. You don’t need to depend on anyone else for your safety, happiness, or success. Stop pointing the finger of blame and, taking full control of your life, affirm with Jephthah:

“I took my life in my hands... and the Lord gave me the victory.”

We all need a loving community of faith, but that starts with Jesus and you. He is more than enough. Jesus is the only savior you need.
__________________

Check out over 1,000 pictures at "Idioms by Kids" (http://www.idiomsbykids.com/). This is where I found the I found the clever "Grow Up" image.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

"Your Bed Never Looked So Good"

Judges 8.4-5 NASB

“Then Gideon and the 300 men who were with him came to the Jordan and crossed over, weary yet pursuing. And he said to the men of Succoth, ‘Please give loaves of bread to the people who are following me, for they are weary, and I am pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.’”


Gideon was a man with a mission. He was fully intent on the capture of “Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.” Nothing could deter him. With total abandon, the judge of Israel would not rest until the leaders of Midian were brought to justice.

Yet rest he must. His energy had limits. Even if he could go on, Gideon had three hundred troops to think of. These men were absolutely exhausted. They had the vision. They were invested in the mission. They shared the dream. Gideon’s warriors wanted Zebah and Zalmunna as badly as Gideon did. But they were tired and exhausted. Gideon and his soldiers were driven by a mission embedded in their corporate soul, but they were also at the end of their physical strength. 

The Bible describes Gideon’s experience as “weary yet pursuing.” Did you ever fall into bed entirely exhausted? You couldn’t even brush your teeth or put on your pajamas. You were so utterly spent you fell asleep before your fully clothed body hit the bed. You ran out of strength and were forced to quit by the sheer absence of energy. Your mission was too far out of reach, your resources depleted, and the pursuit of your dream was beyond your capacity to perform. 

Gideon and his band of three hundred were done, but they would not quit. They could rest later. But for now they had a job to do, a mission to complete.

You can rest later. Embody the spirit of Gideon. Capture his motivation… “weary yet pursuing.”
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Photographer Salbjörg Rita Jónsdóttir (Dalla) from Iceland captured this wonderful and cute shot of a child sleeping and called it "exhausted". She graciously gave me permission to place this image on my blog. View her work at http://www.flickr.com/photos/dallaportfolio/ and http://www.dalla.is/.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

"March On!"

Judges 4.2-3, 24 NASU

Pain photo from www.disaboom.com“…Jabin king of Canaan… oppressed the sons of Israel severely for twenty years.”


“The hands of the sons of Israel pressed heavier and heavier upon Jabin the king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin the king of Canaan.”


Twenty years is a long time, especially long when living in servitude under the oppressive reign of a cruel dictator like “Jabin the king of Canaan.”  
Substitute any cruel dictator’s name for Jabin… Pharaoh, Herod, Nero, Stalin, Hitler, Ayotallah Kohomeini, Edi Amin, Saddam Hussein. History is filled with political bullies and murderers. 

Oppression can be psychological, as well as political. Many people live under the mental bondage resulting from dark and unhappy memories of the past. Broken promises, unfulfilled dreams, dashed hopes, desperate times, untrue friends, physical suffering, prolonged illness, family loss, financial despair, unresolved conflicts, open hostilities, mountainous debt, unyielding boredom, chronic pain… can weigh a soul down until it crumbles under the cruel and relentless pressure of mental oppression. Decades pass and the roots of hopelessness take firm grasp in the soil of a broken heart.

How did “the sons of Israel” overcome their oppressor? Where did Deborah, “a mother in Israel” (Judges 5.7), find the strength to lead Israel out from under the heavy hand of tyranny? What did it take to inspire a down-trodden nation to press “heavier and heavier upon Jabin the king of Canaan” until its people reversed the balance of power?

I found a little secret in the text of Deborah’s victory song:

“O my soul, march on with strength.”
Judges 5.21c

Sometimes you must simply command your soul to “march on.” There are no other answers. Refuse despair. Hang on to hope. Eventually, personal resolve weighs “heavier and heavier” than the oppression you face.

Trust Jesus and make yourself… “march on!”
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I found the black and white photograph entitled "Pain" at Disaboom - Live Forward community dedicated to "connecting the millions touched by disability".

Monday, April 01, 2019

"Learn War"

Judges 3.1-2 NASU

Now these are the nations which the Lord left, to test Israel by them (that is, all who had not experienced any of the wars of Canaan; only in order that the generations of the sons of Israel might be taught war, those who had not experienced it formerly).

There is one thing every believer must learn… war.

The Lord did not drive the nations of Canaan from the land of promise until inexperienced “sons  of Israel might be taught war.” War was a reality for Jews over a millennium before the birth of Christ. It is still a reality for every believer. 

Jesus said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword”  (Matthew 10.34). We have dragons to slay, demons to crush, battles to win, ground to gain, and war to learn. We must face the enemy, engage in conflict, and learn to fight for our inheritance.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers,
against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness,
against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.”
Ephesians 6.12 The NET Bible

The difficult situations and persons in your life are there for a purpose. God will not remove them for us. Hard realities and challenges exist for the same reason the nations in the land of Canaan existed 3,400 years ago… that you “might be taught war.”

Yes, there are 'problem people,' but people are not the problem. Don’t make them the enemy. As Paul warned, your “struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against... spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.” The battle between good and evil exists primarily within ourselves. Externalizing evil by blaming others can actually create more evil of the kind we are trying to eradicate and compound the problems we hope to fix.   

The battle is in your mind. That’s where Satan directs his primary assault. Overcome him there. Nobody gets out of this life alive. Your time on earth will end as promised in the Word of God: “…it is appointed for mortals to die once” (Hebrews 9.27). Go out fighting for causes worth dying for.
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"The Archangel Michael" is on display at Our Lady of the Conception of the Capuchins in Rome and was painted by Italian Baroque painter Guido Reni in 1635.