One Step At A Time

Sometimes God’s leading seems to fuel more questions rather than answers. Like children we want to know where we are going, how long it is going to take to get there, why we have to stop by here, and is the driver (in this case, God) lost? We are told, however, of God’s instructions for Abraham:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. ~ Genesis 12:1 (ESV)

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. ~ Hebrews 11:8

Notice, God did not give specifics. Abraham did not know where God was leading, he only knew God told him to take steps away from what was familiar. Abraham made mistakes along the way, at times running ahead of God’s leading. This only added to the difficulties of his journey of faith, but God remained faithful.

Perhaps your journey does not seem to make any sense, do not lose heart. Obey where you know to obey; rest where God permits you to pause; be productive in any work He assigns. 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. ~ Proverbs 3:5-6

A Score Is Being Kept

Politics and major businesses are filled with corruption and all kinds of wickedness. So much evil is applauded, justified, and covered up—all for the love of money and power. Nevertheless, the people of God are told:

Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. ~ Psalm 37:1-2 (ESV)

Furthermore, we are told to:

  • Trust in the Lord, and do good (vs.3);
  • Delight in Him (vs. 4);
  • Commit our way to Him (vs. 5);
  • Be still before Him and wait patiently for Him (vs.7).

Although the wicked see themselves  as invincible and untouchable, and they boast, “There is no God” (Ps. 14:1), and “The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob does not see” (Ps. 94:7), the Lord is keeping score. He is keeping track of their lies, bribes, coercion, thefts, extortion, and murders. He is preparing judgment for their persecution of the righteous and silencing the cries of the innocent.

Like pins standing proudly at the end of a lane, God’s wrath is going to charge down:

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. ~ Psalm 1:5-6

Dear ones, the days might become difficult, but let us keep our eyes on the Lord and our faith anchored on Him. Trust in, delight in, commit your way to, be still before, and wait patiently for Him. In the end, God will preserve His own, and the wicked will face the horror of the consequences of their gross rebellion against Him.

Sacrifices of Praise

A sacrifice comes with a cost. It is to surrender something we desire for something better, and the cost can be undesirable as the heart breaks. 

Typically, “praise” is associated with joy, gladness, and an eager willingness. Honestly, often it is. However, have you ever been in a church service with a broken heart and fractured soul? You still loved God, although you might not have “felt” like it, because your heart ached and your mind was being bombarded with an onslaught of questions. Perhaps only you and God knew what was tormenting your heart, mind, and soul: loneliness, guilt/shame, loss/grief, anxieties, betrayal, etc. And while those around you sang with enthusiasm, it was an extraordinary accomplishment that you got out of bed and made it to church.

What does all this have to do with sacrifices of praise? During these times praise is a sacrifice, feeling heavy as lead as our feeble voice struggles beneath the strain. Chances are, for many, during these times you do not want to offer such a sacrifice. Believe me, I have been there (and still am, at times). Such an offering is not without pain, but it is a sacrifice for something better (albeit, not immediately). While seemingly small sacrifices, God accepts the sacrifices of tear-sprinkled praise arising from broken hearts: “You are faithful, God!” “I love You, Jesus!” “I trust You, Lord.”

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. ~ Hebrews 13:14-15 (ESV)

When God Is Silent

There, perhaps, is no other indescribable anguish of the heart and spirit than the silence of God—especially for those who have experienced His love, witnessed His power, and can recount times of closeness and answered prayer.

Extended periods of God’s silence and inactivity can truly test one’s faith. Emotions can seem like a turbulent sea, with questions tormenting the mind like seemingly endless waves pounding on the shore. Dark storm clouds block out the light of the sun—and nights are ever darker still.

Such experiences are not uncommon for the people of God. The psalmist writes, 

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? ~ Psalm 13:1 (ESV)

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. ~ 22:1-2

The prophet Habakkuk cries out,

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? ~ Habakkuk 1:2

The prophet Jeremiah pleads to the Lord,

Be not a terror to me; you are my refuge in the day of disaster. ~ Jeremiah 17:17

In the New Testament, although it was clearly confirmed to John the Baptist that Jesus is the Messiah, after being imprisoned he sent disciples to ask Jesus,

Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? ~ Matthew 11:3

Times of divine silence, especially extended periods, causes common questions to arise:

  • What has happened?
  • What did I do?
  • Is God angry with me?
  • Will God speak again?
  • Has God abandoned me?
  • Is God trustworthy?
  • Why?

The reasons for God’s silence varies. Sometimes it is to humble us, and to remind us of our dependence on Him. If we are not careful, we can become conceited and think we are quite “spiritual”. Such pride usually lacks love.

Sometimes God’s silence is due to willful and persistent sin.

But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. ~ Isaiah 59:2

Still, sometimes God is silent to stretch and grow our faith. We live in an age in which feelings are exalted. Too often we lean, depend, and even put trust in our ever-changing feelings. However, our faith is to be anchored on God, His character, and His promises.

When experiencing God’s silence, what are we to do? First, we should examine ourselves. Are we refusing to confess and repent of sin (e.g., immorality, unkind words, unforgiveness, idolatry, prayerlessness, etc.)? Second, we need to remember God’s faithfulness in the past. God is unchanging. He remains faithful. Third, and this is the most difficult, we are to continue to trust in spite of our feelings and doubts.

The prophet Micah shared in such experiences, too. He writes,

My enemies, don’t be glad because of my troubles! I may have fallen, but I will get up; I may be sitting in the dark, but the Lord is my light. I have sinned against the Lord. And so I must endure his anger, until he comes to my defense. But I know that I will see him making things right for me and leading me to the light. ~ Micah 7:8-9 (CEV)

Love of Dogs and Lessons from the Spirit

Those who know me know that I love dogs. I have a Peanuts t-shirt with Charlie Brown and Snoopy. The caption reads: “Life is better with a dog.” I have a couple of shirts my wife had made for me that read, “I just want to pet all the dogs.” And our son’s girlfriend had gotten me a hoodie that reads, “Easily distracted by dogs.” Each of these are true of me. I am the person who, if there is a dog in a room filled with people, wants to make a bee line to the doggy.

I shared with my small group leader recently that people think I am joking when I say that I tend to love dogs more than I do people, but I really do. To me, dogs are one of the most noble creatures God has made. Yes, they have some peculiar qualities; however, I know of no other creature that displays such profound and unconditional love, loyalty, and acceptance. People, on the other hand, can be so ugly and mean-spirited. I am perplexed by cities with ordinances which prohibit pit bulls, because each of the pitties I have ever met are sweet little “cuddle bugs”. I have not been bitten by one. However, I have been “bitten” by people many times—even from some whom I had ministered to and thought to be friends.

During a recent small group gathering, the leader had mentioned that God calls followers of Christ to love with agape love; that is, a love that is unconditional and is genuinely benevolent toward others—regardless how we are treated. He reminded us what the Scriptures say:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:1 (ESV)

I later told him that it was as if God was saying to me, “Child, it brings joy to Me that you love dogs so much. So do I, because I created them. I am glad they are a blessing to you and that you have no desire to mistreat them. However, they do not bear My imprint. People are the creatures who bear My image. It is people who are redeemable, it is people for whom I died .” People—the only creation fashioned in God’s likeness and the only creation for whom He died. People are redeemable.

Will we see our beloved pets in heaven? I do not know. I sure hope so. What I do know is the Bible says people will be in only one of two places: heaven or hell, and the former is only by people placing their hope and trust in Jesus Christ because of His redemptive work on the cross. The rest will enter the misery and torment of the latter. Nevertheless, God pleads with humanity.

As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil w in ays, for why will you die…? ~ Ezekiel 33:11 

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. ~ 2 Peter 3:8-9

Do you realize just how much you are loved by your Creator?

Though I Walk Through the Valley

Fear. Each of us have experienced it at some point, and many are experiencing it now. We are living in times of upheaval, unrest, uncertainty, and chaos. The ripples of terrorism, threats of economic collapse, rioting, natural disasters, etc. are being felt around the world. Many are fearful, not knowing what to make of Covid.

It is silliness to simply tell people, “You shouldn’t be afraid,” or worse, “Fear is a sin.” The fact of the matter is, many of the great saints of old experienced fear: Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, and the disciples. If you are experiencing fear today, you are in good company. The challenge before you, then, is how to manage your fear?

The psalmist writes,

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. ~ Psalm 23:4-5 (ESV)

Traveling through a dark valley, seemingly alone—even in death’s shadow, not knowing what might lurk beyond one’s vision—this sounds like a pretty scary place to be (imagine the complete vulnerability of a sheep or lamb). The psalmist is not trivializing the dread. However, he acknowledges the presence of the Shepherd. The first thing the child of God must remember is God is always present with His own (even if His presence is not “felt” or “sensed.” Our feelings can be very deceiving.

Next, he mentions the Shepherd’s “rod and staff.” This is a metaphor referring to God’s Word—His instructions and promises. For example, God’s Word can shed light on the fact that our difficult situations often serve a purpose. Furthermore, God’s promises remind us that we will get through the difficulties as we lean on the Lord.

Contrary to popular belief, Jesus says we will have difficulties. He tells His disciples to not be afraid, not as a stern commandment, but because He knows there will be times they will be afraid. There are times we are afraid; however, in Him, we do not have to be overcome by fear. Perhaps you are experiencing fear today. God knows. I hope you will look to Christ, the Great Shepherd, and experience peace in His presence and Word today.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. ~ John 16:33

Every Spiritual Blessing

The Scriptures declare the true followers of Christ are blessed in Him “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3). Notice, we are blessed with every spiritual blessing, not necessarily physical blessing. We are not promised earthly wealth, great health and longevity of life, popularity, or freedom from suffering. Yet, regardless of one’s position/condition here on earth, the person who is in Christ has every spiritual blessing. But what does this mean?

In the first chapter of Ephesians we are told that the true people of God are chosen in Him. We are made holy and blameless (that is, cleansed and made new). We are predestined for adoption as sons and daughters of God. We are redeemed, forgiven, and granted an (eternal) inheritance. And we have been sealed with His Holy Spirit.

In the second chapter of Ephesians we are told that we were once dead in our sins, followers of the devil, and children of wrath who lived in the passions of body and mind. But God, in His marvelous love and grace, made us alive in Christ. All of this is given to us by His grace. We do not—cannot—earn it. All of it is given to us as a gift.

We were once separated, alienated,  and at enmity with God. However, in and through Christ, we are brought near and reconciled to God by the blood of Jesus. Through His cross He killed the hostility.

I do not know what your circumstances are, but I do know that life is difficult. Look upwards to Christ, cling to God’s promises, and remember your identity and position in Christ. All of this is by His great mercy and grace, not by our doing. Regardless of how lowly our position is on earth, every spiritual blessing belongs to each person who is in Christ. Be encouraged, my friend!

Armed for Battle

In such times as this, when evil is advancing, it is all too easy for the follower of Christ to mistake the real enemy. While there is an element of truth in wicked people being our foes; yet, Jesus died so that persons, regardless how evil, might repent and be saved. Yes, we are to resist the advances of the wicked, but the true war lies beyond our natural realm. 

We read in the Scriptures,

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. ~ Ephesians 6:11-12 (ESV)

From whence does this modern thrust to abandon God, decency, and all that is sacred? From whence comes this push and applause the unnatural killing of offspring, and the morbidly growing dismissal of the heinousness of pedophilia? From whence comes the growing renouncing of order and justifying the criminal? While it is true each of us is plagued with a sinful heart, throughout history most civilizations still valued virtue and shunned vice. But our present world is changing this. Why?

We are told in the Scriptures that our real enemies are wicked, demonic spirits that hate God and humankind made in His image with an absolute, malicious hatred. How are followers of Christ to engage in the warfare? With blazing guns like the heroes in the movie, The Matrix? Certainly not! 

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. ~ 2 Corinthians 10:3-4

We are told our armor consists of truth, faith, righteousness, (knowledge of) salvation, and the gospel of peace. Our weaponry are the Word of God (the Bible) and prayer (see Eph. 6:10-18).

If we, the people of God, truly desire  to see the advancements of evil hindered, it will not happen by vehemently opposing rioters or simply casting a vote, and it will not come by being either passive or aggressive. Positive change can only come as God’s people engage in battle through honest prayer, both individually and corporately.

Know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s. ~ 1 Samual 17:47

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. ~ 1 Timothy 2:1-4

Rising to Challenge Our Thoughts

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. ~ Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

The mind is an incredibly complex entity. Intangible, yet amazingly powerful. Still, for many of us there are predictable patterns—ruts—our thoughts will follow if we are not active in taking control over our thoughts. Such proactivity is not easy, but requires diligence and discipline.

Our thoughts, if left unchecked, can lead to the “gutter,” focus on destructive desires, toxicity (e.g., thoughts of sense of meaninglessness, failure, worthlessness, self-harm, etc.). Such thoughts trigger feelings, and the feelings will add reinforcement to unhealthy thinking. This will further distort our perception of reality and become a “stronghold” difficult to penetrate and conquer.

For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. ~ 2 Corinthians 10:4-5

The Relevance and Hope of Nehemiah’s Prayer

Recently, many of us saw the video of the unjust treatment and killing of George Floyd. Since then, chaos and destruction have inflicted cities all across the United States. There is a lot of concern, fear, anger, and rage. But is there hope?

Nehemiah was a Jew and served as a cupbearer to a foreign king. Word was brought to Nehemiah concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, the great city of his homeland. Upon hearing the news, he sat down and wept. For days, being anguished in spirit, he fasted and prayed.

I believe within Nehemiah‘s prayer we can find hope and healing for our nation.

First, he humbled himself before God, acknowledging His faithfulness in both love and word. As he prays, he says:

I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, “If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.” ~ Nehemiah 1:6-9 (ESV)

Notice, he confesses the sins of the people at large, he then shifts attention to his own sin and those of his father’s house. All of these sins contributed to the destruction of Jerusalem.

Our nation is spiraling downward. It has been for some time, but the pace seems to be increasing. There is not just a single sin by a particular group of people. Rather, there are a host of sins each of us have contributed.

At large, we have so many politicians and big businesses cemented in corruption—greed, lust for power, sexual scandals, deceit, and even crimes of all sorts. Then there is Hollywood with all its vain extravagance, well known for all its immorality and mockery of God. Added to this is its love for debauchery, not only indulging in sex, but also substances. Even the church is not guiltless, as many churches have turned away from the faith and true teachings of the Bible. Churches are well known for hypocrisy and judgmentalism. Yet, the sins do not stop here. Added to these are the areas of education and journalism, rewriting history and polishing stories, not for the sake of truly educating or showing what is happening, but rather propagating and brainwashing. Yet, again, the sins do not stop here.

Now, bringing it in closer to—but not quite—home, I saw a touching video. There were two groups: one side was “whites” and the other side “blacks.” The whites were kneeling, and one man prayed aloud, confessing to God our sins and the sins of our fathers. Acknowledging real injustices done to blacks. The black community joined in prayer, as a man pronounced forgiveness, then acknowledged the anger and resentment of theirs and their fathers. I know of one writer who mocked this video; yet, the prayers of these men and communities are in line with the prayer of Nehemiah. Neither side blamed the other, but simply owned up to personal sins and sins of society before God. This, I believe, can open genuine discussion and healing—IF we will let it.

Now, bringing it home, personally. This has been difficult as I have taken some spiritual inventory of my own life. I find it easier to burn bridges than to build them. I am guilty, at times, of being biased, partial, and assuming the worse in others before taking the time to know them. There are times when I do not validate another’s words or feelings. This is all sin, because I am not honoring those made in God’s image. I am not loving them as I love myself nor treating them the way I want to be treated. Thus, I have had to do my own share of confessing. But this has led to the reconciliation between a friend and me.

A lot of healing can take place in our world if we would humble ourselves, validate and honor others, genuinely own up to our own offenses, and let go of the anger, rage, biases, presumptions, refusal to forgive, and the like. Healing and hope are possible, even for our nation. However, the challenge for each of us is following the directions of what God prescribes to us. For many, this is too big a pill to swallow. Our own pride is often one of the biggest obstacles to genuine unity and healing.