Giants in the Land

The Israelites were moving closer and closer to the land of Canaan. There must have been loads of excitement in the air. They were almost home. They could feel a sense of relief and accomplishment. God had provided for them, but they had complained. Soon they wouldn’t have much to complain about. They would root out the people who were living there, according to God’s command. He had told them to clean house and move in. So Moses sent out a reconnaisance team to scout the land. They wanted to know what the area looked like and get a feel for their new homeland.

Imagine being the twelve who were chosen to scout the land. Imagine walking the roads and byways. Watching the people. Were there many or few? Were they large or small? Were they well-fed or hungry? What was the lay of the land? This was going to be home, and the energy among the scouts must have been electric.

The scouts reported that the country was very bountiful. Lots of food was available. They even carried back a sampling from a massive grapevine. There was plenty of land for everyone to settle into. But the people who lived there. It was hard not to notice them. They seemed to be giants. And ten of the scouts were deathly afraid of them.

They said they saw giants. And they were afraid. They were afraid the people who were bigger than them were bigger than the God who had rescued them from the Egyptians. Didn’t they realize these giants were much smaller than the God who had parted the sea so they could walk right through it. Didn’t they realize these giants were much less powerful than the God who provided for all of their needs. Didn’t they realize that these giants would be handed over to them by God? They forgot all that God had done for them. They forgot all that God had promised them. So frozen in a moment of fear, they lied.

These ten men who were afraid of the giants were part of a group of twelve who had been sent out to spy on the neighboring country. God’s plan was that they would eventually conquer the land and take it back as their very own. You see. The land of Canaan was the birthplace of their ancestors who had moved to Egypt due to a famine over four hundred years earlier. And now that they had been freed from slavery in Egypt, God was giving their homeland back to them. It was a time for celebration and victory. But their fear and lack of faith turned one of the best times of their life into forty years of the worst. It was a forty year sentence for them. And for most, it was a death sentence.

After exploring the land for forty days, the men returned to Moses, Aaron, and the whole community of Israel at Kadesh in the wilderness of Paran. They reported to the whole community what they had seen and showed them the fruit they had taken from the land. This was their report to Moses: “We entered the land you sent us to explore, and it is indeed a bountiful country—a land flowing with milk and honey. Here is the kind of fruit it produces. But the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak!” Numbers 13:25-28

So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you. Deuteronomy 31:6

It should have been a rather uneventful journey. The twelve spies set out on a short trip to check out the land the Lord had given to them. Oh. They weren’t sure what they would find, but they were pleasantly surprised. The reconnaisance mission was deemed a success by all twelve until ten of the men spoke their fear and doubt out loud. Those doubtful words caused the people of Israel to go mad. How dare Moses lead them out of Egypt where all their needs, except for freedom, were fulfilled. How dare Moses lead them to a land, although flowing with milk and honey, that housed giants. How dare Moses expect them to move into the land to conquer it and remove the giants. How dare he. But really. What they were saying was….how dare God. How dare God expect them to fight to take back the land that was rightfully theirs. How dare God expect anything of them when he had promised to always be with them. When he had handpicked them out of all the people on the earth to be his chosen people. How dare he.

These twelve men weren’t the runts of the litter. They weren’t the weaklings. They were leaders in each of their tribes. They weren’t nobodies. They were respected men. And their faith fell weak when they ran into people bigger than themselves. Oh. When we run into problems that are bigger than us, we can’t just get scared and run the other way. That’s the moment we step into our faith and live it out loud. We don’t let fear hold us back from obeying God. We walk by faith.

We weren’t meant to slay giants on our own. God will handle the giants in our lives. Our job is to trust and obey him. For there’s no other way to live in Christ except in full surrender. Even when we’re faced with giants. Many times the only thing we see standing before us is the giant. We don’t see all the blessings and abundance that surrounds us. We see the one thing that could cause problems, and we focus only on it. We obsess and grumble. We moan and groan, because we have no idea how we’re going to overcome this one thing. And all around us lies the answer. God has already given us the land. We have to trust him to make the way of provision. In his timing and in his own way, God is faithful to provide the victory for us. But we must step out in faith. God will work through us.

But the fear and doubt put the joy and happiness of nation of Israel on a back burner. Because of their disobedience, God punished them by making them live forty years across the river from their promised homeland. Forty years. And everyone aged twenty and above would not be allowed to enter that new land. They would die before the nation moved forward. So for forty years, they saw every one of the adults live and die in their temporary homes. The promised freedom was just within reach. The fulfillment of God’s promise was just within sight. But because of their lack of trust and respect for God’s command, they paid a huge price.

Let’s not make that same mistake with our lives. Oh. The price for us may not be forty years of living in the wilderness. It may not be forty years of eating manna. We don’t know what we miss out on when we defy God. We just know that when we’re not living in submission to Him, we’re not living in God’s abundance. And abundance doesn’t necessarily mean health and wealth. It’s peace of mind. Joy and contentment. Fulfillment in the will of God. Let’s live abundantly in God’s grace and not our own fear and cowardice. Let’s take the land God has given us.

And those giants. They may not take the fight lying down. But with God on our side, nothing is impossible. Those giants will be cast aside with our hand in God’s. The fight may get dirty, but God will be the victor. Let’s never forget that. He will not fail us or abandon us. God never loses the battles he fights.

Waste of Time

God had just delivered his people, the Israelites, from the hands of the Egyptians. The Israelites had been living in Egypt for over four hundred years, and God had promised that he would lead them out. But the waiting had been long and hard. Over time, the Israelites became slaves of Egypt. They worked hard, but the work was for the benefit of Egypt. Not for the Israelites. Oh sure. During the long period of years they were in Egypt, they prospered. They grew from seventy people to a nation of millions. There was an abundance of food to go around, so their tables were always full. But the work was backbreaking. Their job was to build the cities of Pithom and Rameses, the supply centers for Pharaoh. And they weren’t free people. They couldn’t just walk away.

Then there’s Moses. He had a checkered past with Israel and Egypt. He was born to an Israelite couple, but he was raised in Pharaoh’s palace. By Pharaoh’s daughter, none the less. Because before Moses was born, Pharoah became very concerned when he realized the Israelites outnumbered the Egyptians. He was afraid that if war broke out, the Israelites might side with his enemies and fight against him. That’s when he made them his slaves. Then he ordered the midwives to kill all the Hebrew baby boys upon their birth. The midwives rebelled and said no. So the Israelite camp continued to grow. It was during that time when Moses was born. When he was a very young infant, his mother put him in a basket and set it adrift in the Nile River. Pharaoh’s daughter found the baby boy in the basket and raised him as her own.

Now, here we are. Moses is eighty years old and has returned from Midian to free the Israelites from Egypt. And through a series of plagues and broken promises by Pharaoh, the Israelites are once again a free nation. They are homeward bound. It’s Canaan or bust.

Oh. I’m sure the Israelites were excited about the prospect of leaving their prison land behind. After all, their ancestors arrived in Egypt as free people. But little did they know that throughout the years, they would become forced labor for the Pharoah’s pet projects. And now God was redeeming them from slavery and moving them back home to Canaan. How exciting for them to know that they would be returning to the place of their ancestors. There must have been some fear of the unknown, though. After all. None of these people had lived anywhere except for Egypt. They had no idea what to expect on their journey or in their new homeland. They just knew they were following Moses as he received direction from God.

The distance from Egypt to Canaan was roughly a week’s journey. On foot. Some of their forefathers had made the trip more than once and survived without mishap. But this group was much larger and more demanding. It would be the trip of a lifetime. To put it mildly.

Early on, the Israelites began to complain when they heard the foreigners traveling with them do the same. It didn’t take long for them to miss the good food Egypt had to offer. Now they were eating manna three times a day. Manna was a miracle food that God provided for them every morning, but they soon tired of it. They missed the variety of foods that were readily available in Egypt. Didn’t they realize the trip from Egypt to Canaan wasn’t really that long? They wouldn’t be eating manna forever. They weren’t trusting God. They were thinking only of themselves. They had lost sight of the promise God had given to liberate them from their Egyptian slave drivers and give them a new home. They forgot the price they might have to pay in order to arrive in Canaan. Freedom isn’t always free.

Complaining never pays.

With your unfailing love you lead the people you have redeemed. In your might, you guide them to your sacred home. Exodus 15:13

Then the foreign rabble who were traveling with the Israelites began to crave the good things of Egypt. And the people of Israel also began to complain. “Oh, for some meat!” they exclaimed. “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!” Numbers 11:4-6

The Israelites took their eye off the prize. A bit of suffering, sacrifice, and perseverance to get to the goal is worth it in the end. They forgot that. Oh. They had heard the stories of their ancestors making the trip from Canaan to Egypt. They heard all the details. The packing. The walking. The herds of livestock. And they heard how they finally arrived in Egypt and settled in. But that was then. It’s one thing to hear the heroic stories of your ancestors. And it’s a completely different story to actually live it yourself.

So. Why were they so disgruntled? Why did this one week journey turn into a 40-year trip? It was so unnecessary. Or. Was it? Sometimes, we only learn the lesson of dependence on God through the long obedience. Our stubborn hearts and insistence on doing things our own way spells trouble. But we’re too selfish to see it. And God took them through a longer route, because he knew they had wayward hearts. He knew that if he took them through enemy territory that they would become distracted and want to return to Egypt. He knew they might become weak from fear when facing their enemies. He couldn’t have that. He needed their entire attention and devotion pointing straight toward him. Oh. It was a long lesson for his people to learn. But he led them through the wilderness in spite of their complaints and idol worship. He never reneged on the covenant he had made with his chosen people.

Did these people, the chosen nation of God, waste forty years of their lives? It was a death sentence for those aged twenty and above. They would never see the promised land. And those under twenty and born later must wait to receive the promise. For forty years, they ate manna every day while the abundance and variety of fresh food was just across the river. All because of disobedience to God. Their fathers and uncles and brothers didn’t trust God to take care of them, when he had promised that he would. They didn’t trust that he was giving them the land of promise. He said he would deliver the land to them, but they would have to clear it of their enemies. The land was plentiful and spacious. But lack of faith cost a generation the fulfillment of God’s promise.

So many times when we’re in the middle of a wilderness journey, we want to take the shortcut to peace and prosperity. Or whatever it is we’re hoping for. But the long road of obedience is where the pruning and the shaping and the growing occurs. We’re a stubborn people set upon our own ways. In order for God to bend our wills to his, he allows the long path of life to lead us to him. If we’re bendable. If we’re willing to learn from hard lessons that life isn’t fair or easy. Life isn’t quick and perfect. Faith and perseverance grow as we journey through life. It’s a sanctifying process each day we walk the journey. But the eternal end is worthwhile if we stay the path that leads to the Promised Land.

We don’t have to eat manna for forty years. We can believe God’s promises are true and will be fulfilled in his time. We know God is faithful. Our job is to hold the enemy at bay and fight for our God. Full surrender to God’s will and guidance will lead us to the land of plenty. We must remain faithful.

God is Able

Life is hard for a lot of people right now. Just watch the news, and you’ll see a senseless war that’s been going on for far too long. Thousands of people have been killed. Millions more are homeless. And still the fighting continues. Cities are decimated. Lives are changed forever. Will the madness ever end?

In the greatest country on earth, we are in shambles. Someone leaked a very confidential piece of information earlier this year, and we’re even more unsettled than we already were. People are on edge. Whose right is more important, yours or mine? The born or the unborn? The markets have been tanking, while gas prices have risen. Interest rates are rising. We’ve been warned of shortages. Famine in some parts of the world are expected in the coming years. We wonder what this world is coming to.

And then even closer to home, we have someone who’s received a diagnosis that has shaken them to the core. Someone else has lost their job. Others are having difficulty making ends meet. And yet the sun comes up every morning and sets each evening. So we keep breathing in. Breathing out. And life goes on. Even if it’s hard. Life goes on.

A billionaire who once was the leader of the free world has announced he’s once again running for office. Many opinions float amongst us about that issue. Another billionaire just bought the largest social media platform. He’s unblocking all types of once censored information and blocking others who track his whereabouts. He’s causing heads to spin. He’s recently announced he isn’t suicidal. Just in case. And a third billionaire has been arrested for one of the greatest financial frauds of all times. Only time will tell what’s on the horizon for him and his victims. Do these men think their money can buy the safety and comfort of the world? Don’t they know that the Savior of the world has already been born? And he was killed by those deeply opposed to him.

We ask why all this is happening? Why now? Why?

Should we be afraid? Are we headed toward really difficult times? Will lives be at risk? Will we face a recession or depression? Or another lockdown? Will mandates become the norm? Are those some of the many questions swirling in people’s heads these days? Is this what we will call normal from here on out? People are anxious and unsettled, because life continues to throw twists and turns never before navigated.

Oh. There was once a large group of people. A nation. And they were afraid. There were headed on a journey to places unknown. God told them not to be afraid. He would fight for them every step of the way. He had fought for them as they were foreigners in a land for four hundred years. Now he was delivering them from slavery. And he had a magnificent plan laid out for them. All they had to do was obey him.

All they had to do was obey God.

He went before them as they traveled through the wilderness. He performed miracles in front of their eyes. He made a path in the middle of the river so they could walk on dry ground. He provided food when there was none. Their clothes didn’t wear out throughout this forty year journey. God was with them every step of the way. He provided for all their needs. All they had to do was obey him.

All they had to do was obey God.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Ephesians 3:20

Oh. These people weren’t perfect. They complained. They disobeyed. They did their own thing. They turned from God. And they were punished. They learned the hard way that obedience always pays. God must be first. It’s that simple.

God planned to move them to the land he had promised them. He was with them throughout the journey. He knew the land they would settle in had everything they needed. Plenty of space for everyone. Plenty of food. Plenty of land for the livestock. Their new homeland was filled with abundant goodness.

God also knows our lives on this earth. He knows when we struggle to trust him. He knows when we’re fearful. He knows when we turn from him. He knows when life seems too much to bear. He has plans for us that are far beyond our imagination. But he also requires our obedience. God is able to provide abundantly more than we could ever hope or imagine. We must trust him, not only in the good times, but also in the trying times.

All we have to do is obey God.

Even during uncertain times, God is with us. We will be fearful when we face the unknown. We will be consumed with the cares of the day. But God is our refuge and strength. God’s abundance doesn’t necessarily mean material wealth or happiness. It means God is with us through all of life’s unexpected turns.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Psalms 46:1-3

If we’re God’s child, we are surrounded by him. So why do we fear when troubles come? He goes before us and he goes behind us. He paves the way. He fights for us, so we are to be still. We don’t need to fight. We are to obey. We must let God direct us. Our problem is that we want control. We want to be in charge of making decisions. We don’t want to follow God. We want to be God. And that can’t happen. That won’t ever happen.

So in our attempt to pave our own way, we forget that God is able through his mighty power to accomplish more than we could hope or imagine. He will walk with us through the darkest nights. He’ll be beside us when the waters surround us. He is in control. Always and forever.

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord ! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights. Habakkuk 3:17-19

God is able to do so much more than we can imagine. But he only does those things that fit within his purpose. He could calm the raging storms of our lives right now. He could turn the tide in these uncertain times. He could heal every sick and hurting person. He could open doors that are closed. He could right all the wrongs that have ever been done to mankind. I’m not saying he won’t do these things. But he will if they fit his plan and purpose. And if his plan is for his people to go through deep trials and testing, then he will be with us. He won’t leave us to suffer alone. Oh sure. Suffering is hard. Pain is unbearable. Loss is unfathomable. But God is good. And God is good all the time.

We must separate our hard times from God’s goodness. In our difficulties, God is still good even though he allows those difficulties. He will walk with us through the storms of life and through the fires of oppression. He is the one and only holy God.

When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord , your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. Isaiah 43:2-3

Heart Search

He was young and rich. Possibly handsome, but we weren’t given that information. He was a ruler. But who knows what he ruled. He was most likely a member of the Sanhedrin, which was a tribunal, a Supreme Court of sorts in the land of Israel. All he did was ask a simple question of the Incarnate God, Jesus Christ. This young man asked what he had to do to have eternal life. And Jesus responded with a seemingly effortless response.

Once a religious leader asked Jesus this question: “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “Only God is truly good. But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother.’ ” Luke 18:18-20

The instructions Jesus gave him were simple. He’d been observing those commands his entire life. After all. He was a devout Jew. Whew. He thought. If that’s all I need to do, then life is a breeze. I’ve got it from here. But Jesus continued on letting the man know there was one thing left to do.

The man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.” When Jesus heard his answer, he said, “There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Luke 18:21-22

This nameless young man was accustomed to putting others on trial for various reasons. And yet, by asking a simple question, he found himself in a trial where he had to define his heart’s intent. It was very unexpected for him. And the command was too much to ask. That’s what he thought.

So he walked away. The young man, who had a promising future as a member of the Sanhedrin, walked away from the free gift of eternal life. Oh. He realized it wasn’t so free after all. He would have to give up his material possessions. His wealth must be given to the poor. And he realized down deep in his heart that his possessions were more precious to him than anything else. His heart’s desires were put on full display in front of the only One who could save him from his sins. He walked away. He said no and refused the offer of an eternal lifetime.

But when the man heard this he became very sad, for he was very rich. Luke 18:23

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. Psalms 139:23-24

Sometimes we don’t know what’s in our hearts until Jesus commands us to act or speak in a way that isn’t easy for us. When we refuse to obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit, our heart issues are revealed. Oh. Perhaps not publicly. But our stubbornness and refusal to bow to God’s leading says it all. And that could be only in a one-on-one setting between myself and God. Or yourself and God. But not submitting to God lets us know that we have placed our will above God’s. In case we didn’t already know it, disobedience to God puts us in our place. Spiritually, of course. Because our private acts of disobedience may only be known to God and ourselves. It may never become public knowledge. It doesn’t have to become public in order for it to be sin in God’s eyes. Private sins are just as eternally incriminating as public sins.

Following Jesus may require us to give up something we really want to hold onto. It could be a career. Or a relationship. Or a vocabulary. Or an attitude. Or selfishness. It could be an addiction. Or stubbornness. It could be an unforgiving spirit. It could be a twenty-year old grudge. It could be a lifestyle. Or an identity. What we’re required to give up in order to be more like Jesus Christ is for our own good. It will draw us closer to the One who created us. And as believers, our one true goal is to be like Christ. We are his image bearers, after all. And as ones who have had their sins forgiven and erased from God’s memory, we are now called children of God.

Our life is no longer our own once we pledge to serve God. Oh. Some say it’s a sacrifice. But Jesus sacrificed his physical life so we could have eternal life. Perhaps the one thing we lack is loving God more than loving ourselves. What’s a little sacrifice on our part if it provides us freedom in Christ? Who are we to think that our lives on earth are of more importance than our eternal life with God? We have much to learn. And it may too late by the time we learn that lesson.

Let’s act now and repent of our sins while there is still time. God knows our hearts and our motives. He will forgive if we repent.

Truth or Consequences

As I was reading Jeremiah 26-29, I read that the prophet Jeremiah had a message from the Lord for the people of Israel. And this message was that if they repent and return to God’s ways, he will revoke the punishments he has planned for them. And when Jeremiah shared that message with those in charge, they didn’t like the message. Jeremiah confronted the evil of the day, and they wanted to kill him. He had to defend himself against an angry mob. Some of the leaders agreed that he shouldn’t be killed. Then when someone else prophesied the same message, he was killed. But a courageous man named Ahikam stood up for Jeremiah, and Jeremiah’s life was spared.

Nevertheless, Ahikam son of Shaphan stood up for Jeremiah and persuaded the court not to turn him over to the mob to be killed. Jeremiah 26:24

Now there was another prophet named Hananiah who also shared a message he said was from God. Only the message was a bit different. This message said that once the Israelites were exiled to Babylon, they and all of the items removed from the temple would be returned to Jerusalem in two years. And that was in stark contrast to God’s message to Jeremiah that they would be held captive by the Babylonians for 70 years. And yet Hananiah said it would only be two years. Of course, the people wanted to believe Hananiah because a two year exile was much different from 70 years.

Jeremiah continued to tell the Israelites of God’s warnings and plans to punish them for ignoring him and turning their backs on his commands on how they were to live their lives. They disobeyed God and bowed down to idols. They worshipped the creation instead of the Creator. When Hananiah had given his message that their punishment would only be two years, Jeremiah told him that he had shared a great message. I hope you’re right. Jeremiah said. But the only way we know that if the message is from God is if it comes true, because all of God’s promises and prophecies come true.

This story reminds me of a story in the New Testament. A man named Stephen was sharing the gospel, the good news that Jesus Christ was the actual promised Messiah, the Son of God. Many people didn’t believe it and were hunting anyone who shared or believed this type of message. They would hunt them down, imprison or kill them. And when Stephen had the courage to speak up and share his testimony, the crowd went crazy. They grabbed him and took him outside the city gates. There they stoned him to death. As they were stoning him, a man standing by the wayside was holding the coats of the people throwing stones. He stood by silently watching these people kill Stephen. And as Stephen knelt on the ground being pummeled by stones, he looked up into heaven and said, Father forgive them. Don’t hold them guilty for this. He begged. Even in his final moments of life, he was still asking God to forgive these people of the damage they were doing by killing Christians. He didn’t want them held responsible.

And this man holding the coats of those who were stoning Stephen was just as guilty as any one of the stone throwers. He could have stopped them. He could have stopped the people from throwing stones. He could have stopped this death penalty verdict that was handed out so easily. He could have spoken up. But he didn’t speak a word. He agreed that Stephen should be killed.

People didn’t like what Stephen was saying. They totally disagreed with him, because he was preaching a new way. He was preaching that the Promised Messiah had come to earth already. And these other Jews did not believe it. So they were hunting him and others who believed that same message. They were hunting them down and Saul stood there in silence, approving this act of violence against an innocent man. And that day Stephen faced his eternity and found himself in heaven with Jesus Christ. His suffering was no more.

We know that Saul approved of the killing of Stephen. Saul was trained in the Jewish tradition by a sought after rabbi named Gamaliel. Saul observed the Jewish traditions. He could quote the Torah. But he hadn’t accepted the message that Jesus was the promised Messiah. He fought the truth when the truth was staring him in the face.

Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen. A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. Acts of the Apostles 8:1

Now in the Old Testament, Ahikam stopped the killing of Jeremiah the prophet. Ahikam, the protector of the prophet, came from a strong family line. His father was a prominent scribe, who also led the restoration of the temple. This family was well respected in their time. So it was right that this son stood up for the prophet, Jeremiah. And when he spoke, the people listened. Jeremiah’s life was saved.

We read in the New Testament of what happened to Saul when he approved the killing of an innocent man. We also know that Jesus spoke to him and called him to preach that Jesus was the Son of God. And Saul’s life was changed. He recognized that he was chasing innocent people. He was going after the wrong crowd, imprisoning them. He had a change of heart. He became one of the hunted instead of the hunter, because his message of forgiveness and redemption was powerful. He had first-hand experience of what a changed life was like when Jesus saves you from your sins. He lived forgiven and he shared the message that forgiveness and salvation were available for everyone. Saul realized that he had been wrong. He had been standing for the wrong message.

Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love. 1 Corinthians 16:13-14

Who do you identify with?

So today, we also have a choice. Are we going to be like Stephen and Jeremiah who speak the truth? Are we going to stand up for biblical truth, for justice, and for right. When those who disagree with us want to cause physical harm, financial ruin, or job loss, are we still willing to stand? Or will we silently stand to the side?

Are we willing to stand as Jeremiah and Stephen did, or will we take the easy way out? Will we go with the crowd and stand by silently approving the harm of innocent people. People who are determined to be courageous in a fight for truth. We need to seriously consider how we’re going how we live our lives. What we’re standing for and what we’re standing against.

Truth seems to be a rare commodity these days. Something else that’s hard to find is those who will support truth tellers. Why is it so hard to stand for truth these days? Oh. We’ve never faced persecution and threats for speaking the truth, but the tide has turned. We may become the hunted. Are we prepared?

Will we stand with Ahikam for those who speak biblical truth or will we remain silent as Saul and overlook the persecution of believers? We have a choice. Will we find our voice before it’s too late?

Just so you know, Satan wants to bring God’s followers down. We too could be hunted and threatened. Are we willing to accept that? Oh, we say it’s not happening to us because we live in America. That doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen. It is happening in America today to people who stand against biblical truths. They are sued and repeatedly taken to court for daring to stand for their beliefs. Their faith has not wavered. Is my faith that strong? Am I that courageous? We need to stand true and strong to our beliefs. God help us.

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:10-12

Persecuting Jesus

Saul and his crew were on their way to Damascus. After all, he had received written permission from the high priest authorizing him to hunt and arrest anyone who believed the message of Jesus Christ. As he traveled down the road in midday, a light brighter than the sun shone all around him. He was instantly blinded. Suddenly, he heard a voice from heaven. Jesus, the Son of God, asked Saul why he was persecuting him.

Saul was not searching for Jesus when Jesus called his name. He was searching for those who believed in Jesus. Oh. Saul knew what he was doing. He was persecuting those who believed that Jesus, the promised Messiah had come to earth to deliver his people from their sins. And Saul didn’t believe that. He was stuck in the traditional Jewish beliefs and traditions. He didn’t believe the prophecy about God’s Son had actually been fulfilled. So when Jesus called his name, Saul asked who was calling. And he then realized this Jesus was the one he had been denying.

Saul, Saul.  Why do you persecute me? 

Every believer that Saul persecuted was taking the place of Jesus Christ.  For all intents and purposes, Saul was persecuting Jesus Christ everywhere he went.  When he arrested and imprisoned those who accepted the Good News of Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection, he was arresting and imprisoning Jesus himself. With every capture and arrest Saul made, he thought he was honoring God. He thought he was following God’s will. But instead, he was persecuting God’s son. He was fighting God, not obeying him. How could he have gotten it so wrong? 

What Saul didn’t realize was that he couldn’t hold back the Son of God from doing the work he was commissioned to do. Sure. The Son of God had returned to heaven, but his followers on earth were now doing his work. And nothing Saul could do could stop what God had started.

I used to believe that I ought to do everything I could to oppose the very name of Jesus the Nazarene. Indeed, I did just that in Jerusalem. Authorized by the leading priests, I caused many believers there to be sent to prison. And I cast my vote against them when they were condemned to death. Many times I had them punished in the synagogues to get them to curse Jesus. I was so violently opposed to them that I even chased them down in foreign cities. Acts 26:9-11

Saul was a learned man of his times. He had studied under the well respected Jewish scholar, Gamaliel. Saul knew the Scriptures. He was determined to punish anyone who dared to believe differently from the traditions. And yet, God had to bring him to his knees and blind him before he was willing to admit the truth that Jesus was the Son of God, born and died for every last one of Saul’s many sins.

To read the full story of Saul’s conversion, read Acts 9 and Acts 26.

Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Colossians 3:16

Soul, soul.  Why do you persecute me? 

What if my name was in front of that sentence.  Why do I persecute God?  Why do I challenge him and run from his ways?  Why don’t I automatically fall on my knees and worship him in adoration?  Why don’t I automatically choose to obey God? I who know the Scripture and have been taught from an early age to love and honor God. Why am I so careless with my faith?

Do we not do the same as Saul did?  Every time we act selfishly and sinfully, we are acting against God. When we reject Christ and his will for our lives, we’re persecuting him. Do we even realize what we’re doing? Do we take God’s knock on the door of our hearts seriously and open up to him?

What will God have to resort to to bring us to our knees in humble acknowledgment and repentance? Why do we run from him?  Why do we think our ways are higher than his ways? We who’ve been taught the Bible know the truth, yet we deny what we’ve been taught. We ignore the Scripture teaching us how to live an authentic Christian life. We do our own thing. We don’t look for God’s guidance. We become complacent. It’s all about us, we think. Not about God.

I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! Revelation 3:15-16

Anytime we sin, we’re nailing Jesus to the cross all over again. Our decision to deny Jesus and please ourselves puts him right back on that cross. Each time we disobey, the weight of our sins becomes heavier for Jesus to bear as he hung on that cross, causing him more pain and suffering. If we continue to run from God and disobey him when he’s calling our name, we’re persecuting him. Is that what we want?

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Romans 3:23

If we are the body of Christ, let’s wear the name in humility. We must consciously hear and obey God’s words. Let’s act on the promptings of the Holy Spirit and live in obedience. let’s listen well and listen thoroughly when God calls our name. Let’s not be surprised when God calls our name to follow and obey him. Let’s follow willingly.

Hearing Impairment

My ears have been clogged for six weeks. My hearing has been greatly diminished. We’ve activated the closed caption setting on our tv. The volume on the radio and phone are set at full blast. When I talk on the phone, I set it to speaker and then hold it close to my ear and still have trouble hearing. The problem is simple. I just can’t hear. And it’s all due to a virus that has run rampant across the globe for the past two and a half years. I wonder if this is permanent or a temporary setback.

I called the doctor and was told there was a few weeks’ wait to to see him. So I waited. Wondering the whole time if this wait would cause permanent damage. I wasn’t sure what to expect at the visit. Was it a simple procedure to restore my hearing? Or would permanent devices need to be ordered and attached to my ears? One never knows. Especially as the aging process seems to be advancing at breakneck speed.

I’m working harder to listen, but I still can’t hear. I want to know what someone is saying to me. I want to hear the music or the news. I want to carry on conversations and not only hear a few words. I want to hear. Because I want to know what’s happening around me. I want to be prepared for what life brings. But I can’t be prepared if I can’t hear. When I’m alone in the house, I want to know if a door opens. I want to know if someone enters my home. I don’t want to live in confusion or fear. So I find I must listen well. I must intentionally and actively listen to every word that’s being said.

The day arrived for my doctor’s appointment. It seems the global virus caused fluid buildup in my ears, which shifted the wax. This caused my hearing to be diminished. Once the wax was removed, my hearing was restored in one ear. We’re working to reduce the fluid in the other ear.

I feel like a new woman. I can hear. I had to turn the volume down on every device I own. The phone. The laptop. The tv. I turned off the closed captions. I’m grateful for a simple solution to a deafening problem. Now I’m beginning to wonder why everything sounds so loud.

During these few weeks without full hearing, I learned to appreciate the sound of barking dogs. Lawn mowers. Door bells. Soft voices. Loud voices. Automobiles. I didn’t realize how much I took for granted the simple yet complex act of hearing.

Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. Matthew 7:24

The Israelites were God’s chosen people. He had told them that for many, many years. So they knew that God’s favor was a very real thing, because they had experienced it over and over again. And then they got cocky. They became more sure of themselves than they were of God. They become successful and wealthy. They became strong and fearless. They had everything they needed, so why did they need God? They began worshipping false gods. Offering sacrifices to idols. They began disobeying God’s commands. They were living their lives on their own terms.

Oh sure. God was patient. Very patient. We all know how it is when a parent patiently watches their child make bad decisions with the hopes that they will learn a lesson and turn their lives around. So God waited. And waited. And then when he saw that their stubborn hearts were so turned against him, he turned against them. It was time for Israel to pay the piper.

Israel was no longer listening to God. They weren’t following his commands. They had blocked out the voice of God. But God wasn’t finished. He allowed difficult times to fall on his chosen people, with the hopes that they would turn back to him. But they didn’t. They continued to follow their own path.

“Go ahead and offer sacrifices to the idols at Bethel. Keep on disobeying at Gilgal. Offer sacrifices each morning, and bring your tithes every three days. Present your bread made with yeast as an offering of thanksgiving. Then give your extra voluntary offerings so you can brag about it everywhere! This is the kind of thing you Israelites love to do,” says the Sovereign Lord . “I brought hunger to every city and famine to every town. But still you would not return to me,” says the Lord . “I kept the rain from falling when your crops needed it the most. I sent rain on one town but withheld it from another. Rain fell on one field, while another field withered away. People staggered from town to town looking for water, but there was never enough. But still you would not return to me,” says the Lord . “I struck your farms and vineyards with blight and mildew. Locusts devoured all your fig and olive trees. But still you would not return to me,” says the Lord . “I sent plagues on you like the plagues I sent on Egypt long ago. I killed your young men in war and led all your horses away. The stench of death filled the air! But still you would not return to me,” says the Lord . “I destroyed some of your cities, as I destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. Those of you who survived were like charred sticks pulled from a fire. But still you would not return to me,” says the Lord . Amos 4:4-11

“The time is surely coming,” says the Sovereign Lord , “when I will send a famine on the land— not a famine of bread or water but of hearing the words of the Lord . Amos 8:11

Have we, like Israel, moved into a famine of hearing the words of the Lord? Has our hearing been diminished by the loud noise of distractions and sin? Have we forgotten how to listen to God? Has God stopped speaking to us because we’ve stopped listening? Has our hearing hardened to the voice of God?

I would dare to say that now is not the time to harden our hearts to God’s message of truth. It’s time to obey him and strengthen our relationship with him. We must act now to please God in all we do and say. Because judgment day is coming. We just don’t know the day or the hour. We must be ready. We can regain our hearing. We can once again tune into the voice of God. While there is still time, we must turn to God and obey him with all our hearts.

The doctor gave me one small piece of advice. Don’t use q-tips. They will push the wax down deep into the ear. And over time, we will experience diminished hearing. We need similar advice today when we can no longer hear God’s voice. Are we allowing other things in our lives to deafen us to hearing God? Are we intentionally or unintentionally harming our ability to know when God is speaking to us? It’s time to remove the wax from our ears so our famine of hearing the words of the Lord will be restored.

Under the Radar

He was the commander of the king’s army. The king had great admiration for him. He was, after all, the king’s right hand man. He had the king’s ear. And his trust. He had secured great victories against their enemies. But this man suffered from leprosy.

One of this man’s conquests was raiding the land of Israel with his army. And with this mighty victory, they brought home prisoners of war. This great leader placed a young girl in his home who served his wife. She was a servant. A slave. One of the spoils of war. But what he didn’t know was that she had great faith in the God of her ancestors. And when she saw him suffering from this incurable disease, she told his wife that he could be made whole if only he paid a visit to the prophet Elisha in Israel.

So Namaan took a trip to Israel to find out about the healing that was spoken of by this lowly foreign slave. He eventually made his way to the home of the prophet where he was told to go dip himself in the muddy Jordan River seven times. He was insulted and said no. But the army officers with him convinced him that if he was told to do something great he would. So why not try it. And when he came out of the water on that seventh dip, his skin was cleansed of the deadly disease. Namaan had been healed.

He now believed in the God of his stolen slave girl. He now believed that the foreign gods he had been bowing to were worthless. He must now only bow to the God who created the universe.

So he made a trip back to pay respects to Elisha. He wanted to honor his new found faith and offer gifts to the one who had a hand in his healing. He felt indebted to the giver of new life. But there was a problem.

Namaan worked for the government. He spent time with the king on a daily basis. There was no way he could escape his responsibilities as he served the king. And the king bowed down every day to a false god. Namaan was expected to do the same. And now that his allegiance had turned from a false god to the One True God, he knew that in his heart he couldn’t bow to the king’s idol. He must only bow to his Creator. But how could he do that when he was expected to honor the king’s wishes? How was he to show that his faith was now in his Heavenly Father while bowing to a manmade object? How is it possible to do both? And he knew that would be a problem.

He had to keep his faith a secret in order to keep his job. Could he do it? By keeping quiet about his faith, would he lose his faith? Speaking openly about his newfound trust in God Almighty could prove the downfall of his career. Was he willing to risk it all for his faith? Could he be a light in the darkness that surrounded him?

Then Naaman said, “All right, but please allow me to load two of my mules with earth from this place, and I will take it back home with me. From now on I will never again offer burnt offerings or sacrifices to any other god except the Lord . However, may the Lord pardon me in this one thing: When my master the king goes into the temple of the god Rimmon to worship there and leans on my arm, may the Lord pardon me when I bow, too.” “Go in peace,” Elisha said. So Naaman started home again. 2 Kings 5:17-19

Read 2 Kings 5:1-27 to read Namaan’s story.

I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. John 17:14-15

Christians today are having to make a choice of whether to speak up at their workplace about the cultural lies being forced on them. They don’t know if it could cost them their job or not. Some choose to fly under the radar and not make waves. Because really. If they aren’t being forced to state their pronouns or wave a pride flag, why speak up. I don’t know the right or wrong choice. I’ve not be placed in that situation. I haven’t been mandated to do anything. But what I believe is that this issue must be between each person and God. With much prayer and even fasting, God will make it clear to each of us how we should live and work in a world surrounded by those who are against God. And therefore, they are against us.

We must be concerned about what God thinks of our presence in a world full of sin. Oh. We can’t escape this world and remain alive. So while we’re still breathing and moving about on this planet, our desires must be centered on pleasing God while surrounded by the enemy. No. It’s not an easy task. No one said it would be. We can read of many examples in the Bible of great people who failed miserably. Some of them got up and dusted themselves off pledging their faithfulness to God Almighty. Others wallowed in their sins and never repented. I pray that we will be like the former and not the latter.

We know that we must live in this world as it is today. It’s our responsibility as believers to be in the world but not of the world. We must live in a way that honors God and his message of truth, hope and salvation. We must live for the eternity that awaits us in light of the forgiveness of our sins and our commitment to serving God and only God.

Consider those who live in distant lands where living their faith openly is in defiance of their government. They go about their work and live quiet lives. Yet they meet in secret with fellow believers and they hide their Bibles in out of the way places. Oh. They know full well what they’re facing if discovered. And yet they’re willing to practice their faith in private. They perform their work, even if it is back breaking and hard labor. They don’t give up their faith because their lives are hard. Their faith thrives in spite of their very difficult circumstances. In spite of being quiet in their workplace, their faith is firm. Can we do the same?

Sacrifice of Thanks

The Israelites lived a life of rituals. It was their lot in life. Mainly because God had commanded a life of physical and spiritual purity. There were many laws and customs that the Israelites were required to follow. Some were for keeping physically clean, most likely for health reasons. Other laws were for spiritual purposes. After all, the Promised Messiah had not been delivered to the earth, so they had no Savior. Their sins were forgiven by offering animal sacrifices.

And sometimes, it was easy to sin and just offer a sacrifice without being truly sorry for the wrong that was committed. Just kill a cow and your sin will be forgiven. That was the thought in some people’s minds. But God saw their hearts. He knew they weren’t truly sorry. And he called them out on it.

He reminded them that he owns all the cattle on a thousand hills. He owns every bird on the mountains. So he doesn’t really need their sacrifices. He doesn’t let them know when he’s hungry, because he’s not human. He doesn’t need food to sustain himself. He needs their obedience and allegiance. He wants their sacrifice to be thankfulness. Their thankfulness emphasizes what God has done for them, not what they’ve done for God.

I have no complaint about your sacrifices or the burnt offerings you constantly offer. But I do not need the bulls from your barns or the goats from your pens. For all the animals of the forest are mine, and I own the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird on the mountains, and all the animals of the field are mine. Do I eat the meat of bulls? Do I drink the blood of goats? If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for all the world is mine and everything in it. Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God, and keep the vows you made to the Most High. Psalms 50:8-14

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:1-2

Oh. How that still stings today. God sees our hearts. He knows our bent toward sinning. He sees the rituals that we cling to so we can call ourselves Christian. Sure. We go to church. We give our tithe. We volunteer to serve in church ministries.

But the question is. Are we offering our “rituals” with a pure heart? When we walk through the church doors on Sunday, are we there out of love and thankfulness? Are we there to worship God and stand in His presence? Are we there to fellowship with other believers? Or is it just a habit that we haven’t yet broken? Is it only a social gathering? When we tithe, is it because the bill is set to autopay without a second thought? Or do we give sacrificially because of our desire to help spread the gospel? Are we giving a gift of thanksgiving for God’s provision? When was the last time we asked ourselves if we were giving cheerfully or just out of duty? When we accept the cup and bread of communion, is it an act of reverence and honoring of Jesus’ broken body? Or is it a ritual we’ve come to expect on Sunday? Is it an impersonal act we perform without considering the sacrifice of God’s only Son on the cross for our sins? Do we perjure ourselves by presenting our unclean selves as holy before a God who knows our hearts?

If we’ve lost the joy of being a Christian, how can we turn our hearts around? How can we fall in love with giving our tithe and not feel like it’s a drain on our finances? How can we reclaim the deep burning desire to be in church worshipping with fellow believers every Sunday? What will it take to get excited about serving God in the church again? How do we reclaim the joy and thankfulness we experienced as new believers?

Perhaps it time to stop and renew our relationship with God. Perhaps our fire has burned out, because we’re not putting God first. If God cares so much about the animals, he cares much more about we who are made in his image. God does not need anything from us. He accepts our offerings. And our service. And our worship. He commands we honor him. But rituals won’t satisfy him. He wants our hearts. He wants our confession. He wants our obedience. Our allegiance. Our trust. He wants our full surrender to his will. He wants our sacrifice of thanksgiving.

Does he have it?

Therefore, change your hearts and stop being stubborn. Deuteronomy 10:16

All or Nothing

It was his first year on the job as king of Israel, and it was unremarkable. Oh. It wasn’t a job he asked for. It was one his fellow countrymen had been asking for. They wanted a king. So God gave them a king. And when Samuel warned them that their desire for a king was sinful, they said they didn’t care. They wanted to be like every other nation around them.

This king, Saul, was chosen by God. And Saul failed early on in his reign. He failed because he was not a man after God’s own heart. He was after his own selfish ways. Never mind God. Saul would do what Saul wanted. And pay the consequences later, if need be.

And during his second year in power, he received a horrible performance review. Samuel told him that because of his disobedience to God, he would lose the kingdom. Saul’s early sin of offering a sacrifice that only the priest should make cost him his kingship. Oh. He remained in power, but none of his sons would inherit the throne. It would go to another.

And so the downhill decline started. So early in his reign, Saul saw his kingdom and legacy faltering. He was not a man of God. It didn’t have to be this way. But Saul made poor decisions early on in his reign that began a downward slide of continued disobedience to God’s commands. Saul led the nation of Israel poorly, and it showed. His monarchy would come to a screeching halt after his lifetime. It would not be carried down to the next generation. And he knew it.

I wonder how often Saul relived that day Samuel anointed him in private to be king of Israel. Didn’t he walk away a new man? God had given him a new heart. Once afraid, he was filled with boldness and bravery. He was now a statesman appointed to lead a nation. Oh. Saul did some good things. He won some battles. He rescued people from their enemies. He even prophesied. He was humble as he began his reign. But oh. How the tide turned.

Over the course of his reign, Saul’s sins were many. He was impatient, foolish and jealous. He attempted murder. He was vengeful. He consulted with a witch and disobediently offered sacrifices. When Samuel helped him guide the nation, things went well. Once Samuel stepped aside to let Saul lead the country on his own, Saul appeared to be awkward and weak. When left to his own devices, he made poor decisions.

Saul had a bent for disobeying the God who had chosen him as the first king of Israel. God rejected Saul, because he saw that Saul’s heart was set against him. Saul was self-centered and proud. He told himself he was being self sufficient when he took matters into his own hands, instead of waiting for Samuel to arrive and perform his priestly duties. Saul acted as his own priest. Because. Why not? He was king. He could do everything the priest could do. But that act of rebellion didn’t go down well with Samuel or with God. Saul thought he didn’t need God to instruct him. If only he obeyed God, his reign would have been a powerful statement of God’s grace. Instead, it was a powerful statement of how powerful men can be broken by sin and disobedience.

The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? Jeremiah 17:9

I wonder if King Saul ever stopped to examine his life and his decisions. Did he ever feel guilty about turning his back on God? Was he ever regretful for the many attempts to kill David? Did he realize he didn’t have to lose the kingdom to David? If only he had obeyed God, his family would have remained in power. But Saul was bent on having his way in his own way.

We never know how our lives will be impacted by responding wrongly to God’s will in our lives. Do we stop to think about how one decision can turn our lives in a totally different path with our disobedience? Or do we just go merrily about our business without a care? Disobedience doesn’t come out of nowhere. It starts in the heart. A turning of desires from pleasing God to pleasing self. It may start small. With just a glance. Or a thought. And it builds from there. Until one day, the desire to please God is a far distant thought.

Disobedience becomes easier the more often it happens. The conscience eases. The guilty twinges subside. Until disobedience becomes a lifestyle of comfort and selfishness. Our self sufficient attitude becomes an act of defiance to an all-sovereign God of the universe. And not a thought is given to pleasing God. Disobedience grieves the heart of God. Nothing about it pleases him.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We know that. Hearts can change. Hearts can be turned back toward God. Hearts can still be convicted if they are open to hearing God’s truth. Repentance can happen. Forgiveness is open to everyone who calls on the name of the Lord. Those who seek forgiveness will be saved. God is working in hearts and lives today. But we must seek him while he may still be found.

According to 1 Samuel 12:14-15, blessings await those who obey the commands of the Lord, while troubles are in store for those who disobey. Choose you this day whom you will serve.