Blog — April 9

Our lives are full of baggage. Past sins, disappointments and hurts can weigh us down. Saul, when he was about to be anointed as king of Israel, could not be found. He was hiding in the baggage. As Samuel called to Saul to come out from the baggage, so too God is calling us to leave the baggage behind and fulfill our rightful place as sons and daughters of the Most High God. I challenge you to seek after God with all your heart and leave the baggage behind. Let your desire be to learn the Word of God and make wise and godly choices.

Are you prepared to leave your baggage behind—your past actions, feelings, hurts, disappointments, and lack of commitment? What matters is your heart.  1 Samuel 8:7 says that when the children of Israel asked for a king, Samuel was upset. God said to him, “it is me they are rejecting not you.” When we allow the baggage of this life to overwhelm us, we are hurting ourselves and our relationship with our loving God.

Sometimes the baggage we need to get out of our lives is sin; sometimes it is not. It can be attitudes, behavior, or the lack of commitment.  The devil wants nothing more than to keep you down. Rather than giving the devil the victory, rise up to the anointing God has for you. I have decided to allow God to change me. The choice is yours too.

“Samuel said to all the people, ‘Do you see the man the Lord has chosen? There is no one like him among all the people.’ Then the people shouted, ‘Long live the king!’” (1 Samuel 10:24).

Blog — April 8

When I read the story of Samson and Delilah in Judges 16, I often think about the phrase, “Fool me once, shame on you – fool me twice, shame on me.”  But Delilah fooled Samson three times!  I’m amazed that he would tell her the true secret of his strength after she had twice demonstrated what she was going to do with that information.  Why did he do this?  Why do any of us do seemingly idiotic things?  The answer, I believe, is contained in Judges 16:20: “Then she called, ‘Samson, the Philistines are upon you!’ He awoke from his sleep and thought, ‘I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.’ But he did not know that the Lord had left him.”  Samson had forgotten that the gift of his strength had been given to him by God.  He was so puffed up with pride that he didn’t even consider that the Lord may have removed his strength and that he would not be able to fend off his attackers.  I would dare say that many, if not all of us, have looked to our own strength or ability or wealth or ‘fill-in-the-blank’ and have temporarily forgotten where that blessing comes from. Our own pride can cloud our minds and pull our focus away from the true, great One – God.  It is at these times that we, like Samson, are vulnerable to the enemy’s attack.

But Praise God, the story doesn’t end there.  Although Samson’s life ended tragically, God did not forsake him.  Judges 16: 28 explains: ‘Then Samson prayed to the Lord, ‘Sovereign Lord, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.’” God restored Samson’s strength because he asked.  No matter what mistakes we have made, we have this assurance from God: … “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5, quoting Deuteronomy 31:6).  Don’t get me wrong, this is not a license to sin but rather a reminder that God is merciful, forgiving, and just.  God hates sin (pride is just one of those sins), but He has given us a covering for sin in His Son Jesus Christ.  When we mess up and do something idiotic, we can ask the Sovereign Lord for forgiveness and receive redemption.  Thank you, Lord.

So now maybe I won’t be so hard on old Samson. I’ve experienced my own share of forgiveness from God. Just when I think I have it all together and I’ve got the world by the tail, I’ll let Samson remind me that everything I have and everything that I am is because of the One that made me.

Engage discussion questions for April 8

1. What did Jesus teach in Matthew 6:25-34 about how believers should respond to anxiety?
2. What do Matthew 26:39 and Philippians 4:6-7 reveal about our need to pray for relief and deliverance from whatever tempts us to be anxious?
3. Our frustration, which usually involves being upset at whatever or whoever blocks our plans or desires, has roots in ungodliness, because we are living as if God is not involved in our circumstances. What comforting and encouraging insights can we gain from Psalm 139:16?
4. How does Psalm 139:16 help us deal with circumstances that tempt us to be discontented?
5. Why is anxiety so common in our culture?
6. Do you think God sometimes allows us to face difficult, unchanging circumstances for reasons we may never know?

Blog — April 7

In today’s reading we see the interaction between the Philistines and Samson spiral out of control, beginning with the betrayal of his Philistine father-in-law.  Samson burns the Philistine fields, vineyards and olive groves in retaliation of this betrayal.  The Philistines respond more severely by burning to death his wife and her father.  Escalating even more, Samson kills many Philistines “ruthlessly and with great slaughter” (Judges 16:8, NASB).  The Philistines go on the offensive, pursuing Samson as he hides out in a cave.  The men of Judah are so afraid of these pursuers that they hand Samson over, bound and seemingly helpless.  The Spirit of God comes upon Samson and he breaks free of his bindings and strikes down 1,000 Philistines.  After this miraculous victory, Samson is spent.  He cries out to God for water and is granted this request as the Lord allows him a time of refreshing.  Samson goes on to fulfill the plan God had set in place for him, to be a judge over the very people that betrayed him. He serves in this capacity for twenty years.

Two applications, among many, can be drawn from Samson’s life.  One is that we will have hardships, maybe even from our loved ones, as we seek to do God’s will.  Remember, it was his own people that handed him over to the Philistine enemy.  Second, our comfort and rest is found in Him.  Our strength is regenerated when we are charged by a glimpse of His heavenly rest.  A taste of His presence brings us fullness of life.

Blog — April 6

Samuel heard his name called and got up to see what Eli needed.  He did this several times, but it was not Eli calling him.  Eli finally realized that is was God who wanted to talk to Samuel.  It says in 1 Samuel 3:7 that Samuel did not yet know the Lord because he had never received a message from the Lord before.  I know the Lord speaks to us today through his Holy Spirit.

I’ve heard this communication described as a small, still voice and experienced it personally as a conversation in my mind between the Lord and me.  There were times that I heard that voice and, as Samuel, reacted but was unsure of who was behind it!  Eventually, I learned to recognize the Lord’s voice.  Like a baby recognizes the voice of his mother when she comes up unseen and whispers to the child, he will turn around with a big smile on his face in recognition.

I am sure that there are equally, if not a greater, number of times that God wanted to speak to me, and I was either too far from him to hear or failed to recognize the source.  Have you also had times that God wanted to talk with you?  Did you know it was Him?

We must learn to distinguish the voice of the Lord—to tune out all the unneeded chatter in our lives and to be listening for His sweet voice.   The Bible tells us to pray without ceasing and I interpret this as keeping the lines of communication open at all times, speaking to the Lord as I would my own father, talking and then listening for guidance or instruction. The Lord has much to say to us if we will recognize his voice and listen!

Blog — April 2

So here we are: “God’s people settled in the Promised Land more than a century ago, but their tribal loyalties and land allotments did not create unity, harmony, or peace among them.”  What a context!  God’s people freely dwelling in a land flowing with milk and honey – a land gifted to them by God – meanwhile, freely doing whatever seemed right in their own eyes.  They’ve long since forgotten the scene in Joshua 22 where together all the tribes of Israel were united in recognizing that the Lord is their God [v. 34].  What a sad, sad context.

How much different is this than the culture in which we now find ourselves engaged in—everyone doing whatever seems right in their own eyes and “Christians” (at least by their own account) forsaking true unity that only comes by the pursuit of holy lives honoring the Lord as God, meanwhile, chasing after this world’s unity that comes by pleasing self.  Sounds, looks and reads like my social media feeds.  What a sad, sad context.

Prayer is a big deal. Nothing I could possibly say could lessen the importance of prayer, nor would I ever desire to lessen prayer’s importance.  But let me make what to some might seem like an outrageous statement:  what we need are not “prayer warriors”* – what we need are people who understand what Hannah came to understand.  God delights not just in the prayers of His people but in answering the prayers of His people.  Dear friends, please recognize, God always answers prayer; it’s just sometimes we don’t like His answer.  Perhaps, we need to get to the place where we too (like Hannah) are willing to pray for things that will be wholly dedicated to God, in God’s timing, and for God’s glory – not our own.  Now, that’s the right context!  That’s the place we can find unity, harmony and peace!

*What is a “prayer warrior” anyway? This sounds like a term that should be synonymous with Christian, not a term to describe some special, gifted person.  To elevate “prayer warrior” as a special subset of believer, in my opinion, ultimately harms the church more than it helps the church and it denigrates prayer.  We are all called to pray (in the power of the Holy Spirit [Ephesians 3:16Jude 1:20] and in the name of Jesus [John 14:13]) not just give our petitions over to someone designated as more spiritually-minded or someone who simply acts in obedience to God’s Word and actually prays…. Wait! I take it all back – you, Believer, are a prayer warrior – now, act as one:  “pray[ing] in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Ephesians 6:10-18).

Blog — April 1

“Don’t call me Naomi; call me Mara…” (Ruth 1:20).

Many times life deals us a hard blow—so hard that the wind is knocked out of us.  We grope around looking for something, anything we can see or hold on to because the God we believe in is not visible with the human eye. We then think that He is non-existent.

Fast Forward:

“May the Lord reward you for what you have done…” (Ruth 2:12).

How can it possibly be a coincidence that Ruth ends up in the field of a man called Boaz—a man of integrity and one who feared God and greets his workers with “The Lord be with you” (Ruth 2:4)?

“Don’t call me Naomi; call me Mara…” (Ruth 1:20).

Sometimes in the bitter anguish of our soul and in life’s pains, God weaves a chain- an invisible thread of hope. Even though we do not see Him, it does not mean He is not there! Just as He led Ruth to Boaz’s field; He will lead us. And even if our faith is small and our pain great, that small faith we have in God can move our life’s mountains [Matthew 17:20]. He cared for Naomi and Ruth, and today, He wants you to know He cares for you [1 Peter 5:7; Jeremiah 29:11].