The Measly and the Mighty

NOSELESSIn Psalm 135, a vivid contrast is painted in broad strokes that compares the almighty and robust God of King David to the puny and powerless idols of the Canaanites. The Psalmist describes the inept and impotent gods: They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths.

A recent viewing of some photography reminded me of this Psalm. The photographer had captured the image of some artifacts that portrayed their gods with smashed ears and crushed noses. I wondered if these ancient scars were the work of vandals or mischievous imps.

After reading Julia Wolkoff’s article on the subject, I found my answer: The ancient Egyptians, it’s important to note, ascribed important powers to images of the human form. They believed that the essence of a deity could inhabit an image of that deity, or, in the case of mere mortals, part of that deceased human being’s soul could inhabit a statue inscribed for that particular person.

By smashing the ears and crushing the noses of these images, the perpetrator thought he was castrating the idol and nullifying its power.

My worship and prayer aren’t focused on a toothless god who can be rendered impotent by the hand of man; my devotion is to the Omnipotent God who is great, above all gods, and the One who does whatever He pleases.

The God who is the focus of my attention is the one spoken of by the prophet Isaiah: I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose (Isaiah 46:9-10).

Strength, Confidence, and Courage

Courageous-posterAfter the death of Moses, Joshua took the leadership reins of the Israelites and guided them along the path to the Promised Land.  In one of his first speeches, he admonished them, saying: “Only be strong and very courageous to ensure that you obey all the instructions that my servant Moses gave you—turn neither to the right nor to the left from it—so that you may succeed wherever you go (Joshua 1:7).”

Joshua’s call to courage reminds me of the words of Alfred North Whitehead: True courage is not the brutal force of vulgar heroes, but the firm resolve of virtue and reason.

Some people act courageously because they assess a situation and move forward with confidence in their abilities.  There are others who are just as confident, but for a different reason; their available resources give them a sense of boldness.

David is a good example of both forms of courage.  In Psalm 27, he said: “The Lord is my light and my salvation. Who is there to fear? The Lord is my life’s fortress. Who is there to be afraid of? Evildoers closed in on me to tear me to pieces. My opponents and enemies stumbled and fell. Even though an army sets up camp against me, my heart will not be afraid. Even though a war breaks out against me, I will still have confidence in the Lord.

Courage, as David used it in this Psalm, is resource-based. He speaks of his trust in the presence and power of God.

Earlier in his life, David displayed courage that was focused more on his own ability.  This was the  skill he used to kill the wild animals as attacked his sheep.

There may be times when you doubt your ability, but you should never doubt God’s availability.  Just as God was present to walk David through the trials of life, He is present for you as well:

  • God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble—Psalm 46:1
  • God is the shield of Your salvation, and His right hand will support you—Psalm 18:35
  • God will deliver you because He delights in you—Psalm 18:19
  • The Lord is near the brokenhearted, and He saves those crushed in spirit—Psalm 34:18

While there’s not a single one of us who can look to the future and know for certain what challenges await us, each of us can be confident in knowing that God is waiting to guide us.

Solomon believed this, and he wisely said: “The heart of man devises his way, but the LORD directs his steps . . . He that follows after righteousness and mercy shall find life, righteousness, and honor.”

Pressing On

Pressing-OnLeeAdianez Rodriguez is a 12-year-old girl from New York, and her actions in a recent race are the epitome of “pressing on and going the extra mile.”  LeeAdianez was registered for a 5K race, but ended up running a half marathon.  About halfway through the course, she realized she was running with the wrong group. Instead of quitting, she decided to run the 10 extra miles and finish the race.

When I read this story, I wondered why this was the first time LeeAdianez had competed at this level:

  • Had her parents denied her permission?
  • Was it because her coach told her she was unprepared?
  • Did she doubt her ability?

A person can limit himself by doubting his ability and sometimes we limit God because of a lack of faith.  A little mind-shift in your cognitive approach to life is a step in the right direction, and it will help if you will:

 Recognize that doubting is normal:

  • There were times in the life of Abraham when this man of incredible faith doubted.  In each of these instances, he was focused more on his personal strength and ability than he was on the powerful promises of God.
  • When in doubt, zoom out.  Make God your point of focus:  “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble in dread before them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not fail you or abandon you (Deuteronomy 31:6).”

Recognize the value of good friends and good principles:

  • Instead of doubting your faith, try doubting your doubts.
  • Assess your recent resources for news and information. Have you surrounded yourself with doubters and skeptics or people of faith?  “In the same way that iron sharpens iron, a person sharpens the character of his friend (Proverbs 27:17).”
  • Are you propping yourself up with false reasoning or trusting God?  “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil ( Proverbs 3:5-7).”

Recognize that absolute certainty is an unreasonable expectation:

  • You will never have full and complete knowledge about everything. The quest to know more is the fuel that energizes honest research.
  • Just because you cannot know everything there is to know about God, doesn’t mean that you should limit yourself in seeking to know more about Him.

Recognize that not understanding is different than not believing.

  • While you may limit yourself because you don’t believe in your potential, don’t limit God by trying to constrain Him with a finite mind of rigid boundaries.
  • When the Israelites left Egypt, they thought the trip to the Promised Land was going to be an easy sprint; but, their doubt turned it into a 40 year marathon.

Doubt is to perseverance what krypton is to Superman.  Like LeeAdianez Rodriguez, you can press on when you recognize the correct message and listen to right voice—the voice of faith.

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Hatred in the City of Brotherly Love

AP_phili2_ml_160108_4x3_992The dimly lit intersection of 60th and Spruce in Philadelphia grew even darker at 11:40 PM Thursday night when the ISIS-inspired and hate-filled Edward Archer began firing at Officer Jesse Hartnett.    Archer fired at least 11 rounds at Hartnett, striking him three times and leaving the officer seriously wounded.

Law enforcement sources have said Archer made a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia in 2011 for Hajj, and he went to Egypt in 2012. These trips may have resulted in a radical indoctrination that corrupted his mind and then erupted in this assassination attempt on Officer Hartnett.

Archer, and others like him, believe they’re defending the honor of Muhammad when they kill people who violate the teachings of Islam.  The attack on Officer Hartnett is an attack on anyone who wears the uniform because they are sworn to uphold the Constitution of the USA and not Sharia Law.

The actions of Archer are a stark contrast to Christianity.  While these radicals think it’s necessary to protect the honor of Muhammad, Jesus never asked His disciples to defend His.

The focus of Jesus was on forgiveness and turning the other cheek.  It was never exacting revenge like the beheading-bigots of radicalism.

I’ve made this request too many times over the past year, and I make it once again now:  Please remember to pray for the safety of our law enforcement officers.

Officer Hartnett, you are in my prayers.

Christmas: God With Us

Immanuel_1_1110_624

Last night I was contemplating the significance of Immanuel and the powerful promise hidden within these 8 letters that form His name.

Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”

Matthew 1:23

His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6-7

Because He is God with us:

We are in awe and wonder of His wonderful ways.

We are consoled by the counsel of His Word.

We bow in reverence of His majestic might.

We are children to the everlasting Father,

And joint-heirs with the Prince of Peace.

Because He is God with us:

The sins of the world are forgiven.

The gift of salvation is offered.

Names are written in heaven.

The Christ Child has come.

. . . Immanuel—God is with us . . .

Virgins, Mice, and Mothers

Mouse-Phobia.jpgBoth mice and mothers can be found hastily scurrying about the floor of kitchens.  The one will eagerly and earnestly scour the floor for the crumbs that fall from the delicious tidbits prepared by the other.  To be honest though, mothers choose not to coexist with mice.

Most mothers would rather stomp a mouse than study it; unless, you’re a mother in a lab studying Mus Musculus, the common house mouse.

Researchers at New York University were studying the mother-child bond and used mice to determine the role of the brain and how a mother nurtures her children.  The researchers had noticed that when baby mice fell out of their nest, their cries of distress alerted their mothers; however, virgin mice didn’t respond until they were injected with oxytocin. After a series of injections, the virgin mice were transformed and began to respond to the cries of the baby mice..

This research reminds me of the mercy of God.  It’s in His nature to nurture, and He responds to the cries of His children: “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt. I have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows.  I have come down to deliver them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up from that land to a land that is both good and spacious, to a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:6-8).”

When sorrows come and you cry out to God knowing: The Lord has heard the voice of your weeping. The Lord has heard your supplication; The Lord will receive my prayer (Psalm 6:8-9).  Then in response to His goodness, you can sing to the Lord and shout joyfully to the Rock of your salvation (Psalm 95:1).

Counting Down The Days

count-downMany people, and especially the kids, are counting down the days to Christmas and know that it is just a couple of weeks away.  A much smaller number of people are eagerly counting the days to another event that will happen eight weeks after Christmas.

In about 72 days, the umps will shout “Play Ball,” and baseball’s Spring Training will begin.  Each of these talented players caught the eye of a scout because he was an All Star during his high school or college years. When he steps across the white chalk line to play America’s Game, he joins the best of the best and the cream of the crop on a finely manicured field of dreams.

Aren’t you thankful that God didn’t scout you and make you prove your worth before He chose you?  He selected you just like He did the Hebrews:

“It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.” ~Deuteronomy 7:7-9

Even though there’s nothing special about you, Moses says that God has chosen you and made you the special object of His love. If the two verses above were a book, the four chapter titles would be:

  • The Lord Loves You
  • God Keeps His promises
  • You Can Be Redeemed From Whatever Enslaves You
  • God Is Faithful and His Love Is Steadfast

He doesn’t love you because you are good, smart, pretty, wise or because you have great faith. God loves you because He is love; and, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (I John 4:10).”

 

Fighting The Good Fight

rockyOne of the true facts of life is that it is rarely a cake walk and it often serves up a big slice of tough times.  Regardless of the path you choose to follow or the dream you will pursue, you may have to scrap a little along the way.

When the odds seem to be stacked against you, you might want to heed the words of Sylvester Stallone’s alter ego, Rocky Balboa and take it, “One step. One punch. One round at a time.”

Even though I never liked the politics of Muhammad Ali, I admired his prowess as a boxer.  The champ once said that, “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”

Ali was known more for his ability to bob and weave than he was for a knockout punch, and his rope-a-dope antics frustrated his opponents as well as his fans.  There were few, however, who questioned his dedicated preparation for a fight and his desire to win.

Just as a boxer trains hard, studies his opponent, and then steps into the ring with faith in his skill set, the Christian needs to:

  • Endure hardness as a good soldier (2 Timothy 2:3)
  • Keep a cool head. Stay alert because the Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up (I Peter 5:8, The Message).
  • Fight the good fight, finish your course, and keep the faith 2 Tim 4:7-8
  • Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:10-11).

The myth of Rocky Balboa was his ability to reach inside and find the inner strength to beat the unbeatable foe—he willed himself to win.

When you have to face a battle, remember the words of Psalm 144:1:  “Blessed be the Lord, my rock, He trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle.

God will do more than just train you, He will sustain you: “The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes (Deuteronomy 1:30).”

Note: One of my favorite theme songs is in this clip of  Rocky training with Apollo Creed https://youtu.be/TnqZl_blT7E

More Than Conquerors

conquerorsHe had to know it was going to happen at some point in time, and he may have thought what life would be like without him; however when he heard the thundering voice of God, he was still shocked:  “Moses my servant is dead.

Joshua took a deep breath and began to reflect on the life lessons he had learned from this mighty man of God.  He wiggled his toes as he thought of his pilgrim journey—the past as well as the future. The one had been the geography of the land and the escape from Egyptian purgatory, but the other was just ahead and was the long-awaited “milk and honey” territory.  One had been miles of pain traveled by foot, but the other would be acres of promises claimed by faith.

His thoughts were interrupted by the unmistakable voice of God:  “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not abandon you or leave you alone.  Be strong and brave! You must lead these people in the conquest of this land that I solemnly promised their ancestors I would hand over to them . . . Don’t be afraid and don’t panic, for I, the Lord your God, am with you in all you do (Joshua 1).”

Like Joshua, you have an inheritance to claim.  It’s more than a piece of dusty real estate, it’s a regal estate:  It’s a relationship that promises victory.  Paul said, “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Romans 8:37).”

When you read other translations of this verse, they speak of being “completely victorious through God; experiencing an overwhelming victory;” and, being “triumphantly victorious due to the one who loved us.”

There is not a single instance where God promised that the road of life will be completely smooth and detour free.  Moses and Joshua both experienced some trials and heartaches, and you will as well.  This is why Paul said, “We do not despair . . . even if our physical body is wearing away, our inner person is being renewed day by day.  For our momentary, light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison  because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen. For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).”

When the hard times come, “be strong and brave,” and “don’t despair” the eventual victory is yours because you will be “triumphantly victorious” in Jesus.

The Sweet Spot in a Sour Situation

The ups and downs and the hard turns to the left and to the right are exhilarating when you are riding a roller coaster; however, they are physically and emotionally draining when you encounter life threatening situations.

If you were one of the people who had followed Moses out of Egypt, you would have experienced a sudden shift in your perspective that was a gut punch that left you sucking for air and asking Moses, “Where in Egypt have you taken us?”

The Israelites had just felt the joy of deliverance, but their joy quickly became terror when they realized they were trapped between the Red Sea and a very angry Egyptian army.

Moses grasped a truth that seemed to evade the comprehension of his followers. Their intellectual inability to believe the basic promises of God hampered their spiritual progression and left them hamstrung.

Listen to Moses as he says: “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace (Exodus 14).”

Moses didn’t ask: “Where are you God.” He knew God was present, and he knew that God had led His people to this exact place and at this exact time, so they could experience an extraordinary miracle.

As you read this, you may find yourself with a dismal spirit due to a dire situation. Don’t dismay because God knows where you are and what you are enduring. The Psalmist wrote: “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; For the Lord upholds him with His hand (Ps. 37).”

Whatever your situation may be, there is a lesson to be learned and a way that God can be glorified. Take a moment to read Psalm 136 and remember that the mercy of the Lord endures forever.