Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Dark Shadow

                                                                                   photo by Luke Goodway

In a pleasant clearing, cushioned with a carpet of soft grass and  bathed in sunshine, sat a group of friends around a table.  Leaning toward one another, they  were focused intently on the conversation that completely absorbed their attention.
They were unaware of the Dark Shadow that lurked at the edge of the wastelands just beyond the grassy knoll on which they sat.  He seemed very interested in the group and was straining to hear what they were talking about.

One person, who seemed to be the leader, said, "Last month when we were together we spoke about how we needed to simplify our lives for the purpose of not giving the enemy room to distract us or take us away from our whole-hearted commitment to our Lord. So, what have you done?"

One person said, "We sold our large home and downsized. Now the financial pressures are so much less and my wife and I are more relaxed and free to help others."
Another said," I sold my motorcycle."   A gasp went up from one or two of the others around the table and one exclaimed,"Your motorcycle?  You love your motorcycle, I thought nothing would ever separate you from it !"
But with a smile he replied,"Yes, you are right. I did love my motorcycle, I loved it too much.  It was too tempting to go on road trips with my motorcycle friends, and I neglected my family.  Now, I  enjoy doing things we can all do together and I have noticed how much my boys' behavior has changed! And my wife is happier, I'm home to do those honey-do things and she no longer worries when I am out racing my motorcycle."
Another said, "I cut up my credit card .. life is so much easier living by the rule, 'If I don't have the cash, I can't afford it'. "
Another said, "I cancelled my club membership ... now I have time to go to the neighborhood bible study with my wife."
The leader smiled, "Very good !"

The Dark Shadow had crept closer to the group around the table, but when he, in anger, reached out to strike one of the people, he scowled and pulled back his arm as though he had hit a solid wall.  One person, glanced up and asked the others, "Did you feel something?"   They looked around, but saw nothing to alarm them. They returned to their conversation.
The leader continued ... "You have done well, in 'stopping the waters' so the enemy will not find ammunition to use against you.  But we must do more."
Eagerly, the group pressed forward ..."And what is that?"
The leader explained,"We must be diligent in our bible study, in prayer, in times of devotional quiet listening for what the Lord would say to us. Also, we must not neglect our meeting together, to strengthen, encourage one another and point one another to that 'tower' to which we can flee and find refuge.  If we stand together we need not fear the darkness nor the enemy that rules it. We stand in the Power of our Lord, and in His Strength we put our trust!  He has given us armor to wear so that we are at all times protected! We need to keep that armor polished and in good repair!"

Thoughtful heads nodded around the table, as they considered the wise words spoken.

The Dark Shadow was pacing, obviously angered, his fists clenched yet he had given up trying to strike them.  Another way - there must be another way !

If the group had been aware of the Dark Shadow, they would have been relieved to see him glide back into the wastelands surrounding them.   But the Dark Shadow was not giving up.

Not long after, an attractive young man approached the table and without greeting them said, "I couldn't help overhearing your conversation. Do you realize how foolish it is to put your trust in something/someone who can't help you, someone you can't even see?   Do you not know how powerful the Dark Shadow is and have you not heard how many have been destroyed  by his hand? "
The young man suddenly changed before them, and with his disguise stripped from him, they recognized him as the Dark Shadow himself.  While their hearts began to pound, and their eyes grew large, they did not waver.  "Ignore him!"  they said to one another.

Furious, the Dark Shadow called in his demons to bring influence to bear in high places, and letters were drafted - letters of intent: threats of a job loss, a difficult medical diagnosis, a called in loan, a false accusation, a relational crisis.
But all these did not cause anyone around the table to waver.

The rage of the Dark Shadow was escalating and he called in his armies to cause the table-group bodily harm.
The group rose from the table, their meeting ended, and they began to walk along the path that led to their individual homes.
The escalating roar of a motor alerted them, and even as they looked left and right to see where the vehicle was coming from,  they were suddenly frozen by fear as they saw a large military -type vehicle coming straight for them!
The leader called out for divine help!
And Divine Intervention was immediately sent .. The hand of an angel turned the vehicle just before it would have struck the group, and it lost control, crashing into a tree and tumbling over the edge of a cliff.  All was silent.
A cheer went up from the group, with words of thanksgiving to the Lord, in whom they trusted - to whom they belonged.
They went forth to be a witness wherever they went in their daily lives, causing the name of their Lord to be exalted and praised.

Hopefully, the above story sounded familiar to you, dear reader, because it is my paraphrase of II Chronicles. 32:1-23 in a more modern setting. While I took literary license, I believe that the Old Testament story is a picture for us today.  Satan cannot harm a believer ... we have a wall around us.  All he can do is deceive us,
 cause us to fear,
 or be confused.
 He is only a Dark Shadow.   If we have strengthened ourselves spiritually, we will recognize him and not be moved by 'his devices'. We will stand strong and unmovable in the Light of our Lord!

Just to show you how applicable this Old Testament story is to the life of a believer, look at the meaning of the names in the story.

King Hezekiah - means Yahweh Strengthens --  Jesus is our King and He strengthens His followers to be strong IN Him !

Lachish - where Hezekiah and his people were gathered.   Lachish means, impregnable or obstinate - What a safe place we have in the kingdom of God.  It is 'impregnable' by the enemy, and we can stand obstinate in not giving in to his shouts or threats.

The Milo -  was a tower or fortress in the city of David.  This reminds me of the verse in Prov. 18:10 that says, "The name of the Lord is a high tower, the righteous run to it and are safe!"  How safe we are when we abide in His Presence!

Sennacherib - means Sin , or Sin-god,  or Sin sends many brothers -- all descriptive of Satan, the god of this world, the god of sin, and the one who pulls others into his darkness.

Hezekiah and his people were of the tribe of Judah. Judah means 'praise' and are we not all called to live in praise and thanksgiving to the One to whom belongs all praise?

Be encouraged, my fellow-believers !  We need not fear the dark forces, nor the prince of darkness .. he is but a Shadow ...  Our Lord had/has victory over him !

"....The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil !" I John 3:8

And because Jesus had victory, we also have victory IN Him !

".....  I have written unto you young men, because you are strong and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the wicked one." I John 3:8

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Better to Chew With !

Lips, Pink, Smiley, Mouth, Teeth, Human

Evolution is really an amazing process, and because it has such incredible wisdom I will here refer to it as IT.  I recently had occasion to be confronted with evidence of IT's intelligence, and was duly impressed!
At some point, in the Evolution of man,  IT decided that if human beings were to prolong life they would have to eat and since most food required chewing, IT designed teeth.  Amazing.  But IT soon discovered there was a dilemma.  Teeth large enough to fit an adult's mouth were too big to fit into a child's mouth, so IT quickly came up with a solution. Baby teeth until the mouth grew enough to accommodate the larger teeth for meat-chewing adults.  Good theory .. but how to get rid of the baby teeth to make room for the adult teeth... (never mind that IT had already figured out how to put the adult teeth in position up above the baby teeth).  Not a problem for the wise IT, so full of wisdom and creative ability.  A perfect solution was at IT's fingertips.  At just the right stage of development, the roots of the baby teeth would dissolve,  causing the tooth to become loose until only the edges of the gum held it in place until it easily fell out when the child bit on something hard or wiggled it completely loose. Now with the baby tooth gone, IT simply flipped the switch that called for the permanent adult tooth to drop down into position.
What a wonderful plan IT came up with !

Of course I am being facetious ... evolution, even as a theory, has no leg to stand on. IT is only a figment of man's imagination.
 Only an all-wise, all-powerful God could design a human body so "fearfully and wonderfully made".

I experienced something this week  - that triggered the thoughts of this post.

During a teeth cleaning, my hygienist discovered a potential problem below the gum line of a back molar.  She took an x-ray, I had a consultation with my dentist and he said he wouldn't know until he looked at it but he suspected that, rather than normal decay,  it could be a Root Reabsorbtion problem  -- meaning that  my body decided that  the tooth did not belong to me and  would therefore simply command my cells to 'dissolve' or reabsorb the root leaving the tooth vulnerable - chances of saving it being slight.  I have a wonderful dentist  and he surgically accessed the root, scraped out the destructive cells and packed the remaining root with a compound that hopefully will stop the absorption and allow the body to regain some root growth.

I had never heard of Root Absorption and sat down with Google to see what I could find. I learned, to my surprise, that while Root Absorption is very rare in adult teeth,  it is the process by which baby teeth make room for the adult teeth to come in. I found it strange that I had never heard this before!

But, it gave me pause to stand in awe of God's wisdom in how He created our bodies - it seems there is no end to the intricate details that God put in place to allow us to live and function in our daily lives.
How much we simply take for granted!

Again... I wrote this post to simply say ...

"I am in awe, O Lord, of your wisdom - of your infinite love and care in the details of your creation - from the beautiful flower in my garden to the workings of my body.  Thank you, Lord ! Thank you, that you did not leave this world to 'evolve' out of chaos, but your hand fashioned every bit of it. Your omniscient mind left nothing to chance, but everything designed in perfection.
You are the God I worship,
the God to whom I lift my praise,
the God I love, the God in whom I trust!"

Thursday, May 19, 2016

When God Answers Gimme-Prayers

                                           Deer gazing - longingly?-  in neighbor's window

We live in a 'demanding' society where energy is often focused on self serving rights and  entitlement. - putting personal wants/needs before the good of others.
What is sad is that this attitude - perhaps more than we realize - has crept into the mind-set of Christians.  And doubly sad is that it is not only the world that has influenced this attitude but some high profile bible teachers have taught that it is God's will for us to demand the things that we want and to tell Him how we want our prayers to be answered.
But is this entirely new?  No, as we search the scriptures we see that there has always been the human tendency to tell God what we need and why and how He should fulfill our requests demands.

I have been hearing more and more often how the bible is outdated in its teachings and no longer applies in our modern times.  Is it possible that we have 'outgrown' the ancient teachings of God ? Hardly - I believe they were never more needed or relevant.

The scripture has been given us for our protection and knowing God's will. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, ~ II Tim. 3:16  And according to Rom. 15:4, the old testament stories are not just recorded history but were specifically chosen because they picture for us the lessons we need to learn.
The question I want to look at is not - "Should we pray God-Gimme prayers?" but rather, "Do we want God to answer God-Gimme prayers?"

The first bible example we have of a 'gimme-prayer' is in the story of Lot.  It is easy to miss the implications of this detail in light of  the story's more distracting elements.
God told Lot to flee for safety to the mountains.  Note God's words .."Escape to the mountains, lest you be destroyed."~ Gen. 19:17.   But look at Lot's response... "I can't escape to the mountains because some evil might overtake me and I die..  Let me go to Zoar and I will live!"~vs.20
God answers Lot's gimme-prayer, but what do we see unfold?   Though Lot's demand was granted, he did not experience what he sought - safety. Reaching the city, Zoar, he finds he is too afraid to dwell there.  God had told him where he would be safe ...  Lot's 'gimme' answer filled him with fear.

Lesson number 1 about 'gimme-prayers' -- If God grants them we may end up with the very thing we feared most , the very thing God's way would have spared us from - Fear, not peace, is woven into the results of granted 'gimme-prayers'.
We have another story from the life of Hezekiah.  Hezekiah, as the king of Israel, had been a good king, ruling in righteousness and experiencing the favor, protection and even miraculous intervention of God on his behalf. But then came the day he became very ill and God sent the prophet Amos to him with the message... "Thus says the Lord, set your house in order, for you shall die and not live."~II Kings 20:1.   This message did not find a 'thy will be done' response in Hezekiah's heart.  Hezekiah's bitter response was,"All my life I have tried to please and serve you, and this is the thanks I get?"  
God answers the 'gimme-prayer' of Hezekiah,  and grants him fifteen more years.
One probable reason for Hezekiah's bitter response is that he had no son at the time God said it was his time to die. We know how important it was for kings to have sons so that they would have an heir to the throne.
What played out as the result of God granting Hezekiah his 'gimme-prayer' ?
Two things happened in these fifteen years that changed history.
The first was that Hezekiah trusted the enemy and showed them all the treasures in his house. This 'befriending' of the enemy led to Hezekiah's descendants taken captive into Babylon and made eunuchs.
The second thing was that the son born to Hezekiah in those 'extra'  fifteen years was named Manasseh, who became one of the most wicked kings of Israel.  In fact, because of Manasseh the people of Israel became so wicked that God turned his back on them, saying, "So I will forsake the remnant of My inheritance and deliver them into the hand of their enemies and they shall become victims of plunder to all their enemies." ~II Kings 21:14.

Lesson number 2 about 'gimme-prayers'  --  Even though, our way may seem to be far better than God's way, the result of our getting our way may have have far reaching effects that we could never have fore-seen or guessed.  Had we known what God knew in His sovereign knowledge we would never have demanded our gimme-prayer request.
Jesus in teaching us about 'gimme-prayers' told the parable of the prodigal son - a story we are all very familiar with.
It is the story of a younger son, who lived in the shadow of an older brother.  A brother who could do no wrong, who stood to inherit the family farm, who lorded his superiority over his younger brother  and shamed him in his youthful pursuits of enjoying life.
 It rankled the  boy's soul, that he should work for his older brother knowing it would be the older brother who would be the one to gain from his labor.  It was hardly fair.  And did his father understand how he felt?  No, it was always the older brother's example that was held up to him.
Until the night he resolved to take things into this own hands, and decide the course of his own life. He would demand what was coming to him - his inheritance.  Why shouldn't he have it ?   His brother could take care of the things were would be his one day anyway!
And so he demanded his father give him what was rightfully his - what difference if he received it now rather than after his father's death.  His father quietly agreed to the gimme-demands of his son and made the sacrifice to liquidate enough of his resources to give him his inheritance portion.
We know the story.   With money in hand to buy him happiness, he hurried from home to indulge his every want and desire.   Who said money couldn't buy happiness?   It did !!  -- but only for a time; there was not enough to sustain his chosen life style indefinitely.
Left destitute and alone, wallowing in misery and filth -  the son came to his senses, recognizing at last where the real foundation of health and joy was in the home of his father,  where he lived under his  father's provision and protecting love.
Did his father receive his now penny-less son back?   Yes, oh yes !  He had been watching and waiting for him to come home - quick to forgive him and embrace him in his waiting arms.

Lesson number 3 about 'gimme-prayers' - Oh yes .. the world's glittering treasures entice and invite and promise us everything we could desire and more.  We feel that 'if only' this or that was given to us, our life would be complete and we would be happy.   And yet, most often, the things we believe will guarantee our happiness are the very things that rob us of it and leave us wretched and empty and poor.  Along with Jesus' parable to teach us this truth, we can also look at the example of the Israelites who demanded meat, and lost their lives in the resulting plague.  We can also look at the example of when they demanded a king, and brought upon themselves taxes,  conscription of their sons into the army, even seeing their children offered in fire sacrifices to strange gods.  Wicked kings turned them away from the God that loved them.

Conclusion  --   Do I ask God for what I think I want, for what I believe is needful in the lives of my loved ones?  Yes, God invites us to come and share our hearts, thoughts and desires with Him, but I never leave off the 'fine print'  - "Lord, I give you veto power over my desires that are not Your desires.  I pray that you do, not according to my will, but Yours ... because I know that Your will is perfect, and your ways righteous and just and loving." 

Monday, May 2, 2016

"Don't Look Back!!!"

Pillar of salt, on Jordanian side of Dead Sea, known as Lot’s Wife (© Visitjordan.com)

The day began as any other for Mrs. Lot as she went about her household chores, her  two daughters working alongside her. How incredulous it would have sounded to them if someone had told them the day's end would unfold in such a 'news-worthy' way that thousands of years later people would still be talking about them.

Mrs. Lot''s activity was interrupted by her husband bringing two guests into the house. A quick glance informed her these men were non-residents of Sodom. She had never seen them before - and reading Lot's mannerisms, she concluded that these were not ordinary men.
Lot and his wife graciously entertained and fed their 'special' guests, then showed them to the guest room for the night.
But the expected restful night was not to be!

A pounding on the door demanded the unthinkable in debauchery.  Lot was demanded to surrender his guests to the crazed mob outside.
To Mrs. Lot's horror, Lot stepped outside the door and raising his voice, impulsively offered the wicked men his own daughters instead.  What was he thinking??  To Mrs. Lot's immense relief, the guests pulled Lot back into the house and then ...  to her amazement ... struck the men outside with blindness.  Really?  Who ARE these men?

Trembling with shock and fear, she heard the message the guests came to bring Lot, "Take your family and flee! God is going to destroy your city."
Flee?  Flee where?  Their city, destroyed?  But wait ! Their future sons-in-law were  in the city. Given permission,  Lot rushed out to warn them and bring them back with him,  but he returned with the disappointing news that the young men refused to believe that their lives were in danger and had laughed in his face.  Mrs. Lot, eyes wide with dismay and disbelief, glanced from her husband to her weeping daughters, then  back to the two guests who calmly, but emphatically, repeated their instructions to Lot, "Take your family and flee!"

When they continued to hesitate, their minds grappling with the enormity of what was being asked of them, the two men grabbed their hands and led them outside the city gates, with one more instruction .. "Flee, and do not look back!"
Finally recognizing their very lives were in danger - they ran!
Almost immediately, explosions and a frightening cacophony of sound they had never heard before rose up in waves  behind them.  They ran faster, driven by fear.
 The command echoed in Mrs. Lot's mind ...but ... she questioned, why not?
She lagged behind, watching the gap between her and her husband and daughters widen.
What could it hurt to take a quick glance behind her ... just once ... no one would even know.
What was so wrong in looking back to see what was happening to the city that had for so long been her home - where her memories lay and all the things she treasured. Would she really never be able to go home?
 She resisted ... but then ... temptation overcame her and she turned  - just for one look. Did she even have time to turn around far enough to see her city burning before she was nothing more than a pillar of salt?

I read this story recently and was struck by how hard, how very hard, it would have been not to turn around to look back.  We take the emotion out of the story and, with hind sight wisdom, judge Lot's wife foolish - but, if we are honest - how much mental discipline would it have taken not to look back?  I think about the freeway traffic jams that are caused just because vehicles slow down to 'take a look'.   Would we have resisted that backward glance to see what was happening?

But ...  perhaps the bigger question is, not why did Lot's wife look back, but rather ...What is so dangerous about 'looking back' that caused God to picture it in such a powerful way in this recorded story?
We have Jesus' words repeating this command not to look back in Luke 9:62.
 But Jesus said to him, "No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."  And in Luke 17:32, again Jesus' warns, "Remember Lot's wife!"

Do we, as Jesus' admonished us, keep in mind the danger there is in looking back? When we have tasted of the good things God has for His children, when we have committed to being a Jesus-follower and we have turned away from the lure of this world's pleasures -  are we tempted to look back again to the things we have been 'saved from' ?
Being tempted is not sin, but giving in to the temptation is. It is impossible to serve two masters, and to look back with longing for the things Satan, or the flesh, tempts us with is to risk losing the 'salvation' that God promised to those who persevere.

There is another harmful effect of 'looking back' that Paul talks about in Philippians 3:12. He says... "Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected, but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."

In looking back, Lot's wife stopped going forward, and she lost sight of her goal.  She could not look in two directions at once.
When we cannot let go of the things in our past ...
 - things that hurt us,
- grudges and unforgiveness we hold onto, unable to look away from the wrongs inflicted upon us ,
- difficult circumstances or devastating losses that cripple us ...
... we are stuck.
In looking back, we stop looking forward, we turn away from the goal/salvation God is calling us to and are paralyzed where we are, unable to see anything except the things in our past.  Even looking back with longing at a good thing that no longer 'is',  keeps us from the next good thing that God has planned for us and we stop moving toward it, no longer "pressing toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Jesus Christ!" 

Did you ever stop to consider what a comfort it is that God tells us not to look back?  
God does not want us to carry our regrets for the things we wish we had done differently, nor does He want us to  lament the things we wish had not happened, nor hold onto the self-condemnation for sin God has forgiven, nor hide behind our insecurities because of past failures.  "Leave what is behind..."  so that we are unencumbered to go forward !   
What freedom!!  
What joy to be relieved of every burden from the past! 
Don't look back!!