THE BATTLE IS THE LORD’S

God equips us for battle through spiritual armor (Eph. 6:10-18, ESV). We are victors because of Christ, not our power or strength, but God’s. God uses the weak and foolish things by the world’s standards to show His power and strength (I Cor. 1:27-28, ESV). He gets all the glory.

We see an example of this in the OT. When we are introduced to Gideon in Judges 6-7, he is threshing wheat in a winepress. Typically, the threshing floor was in a high place in the open so the wind would blow away the chaff. But Gideon hid in the winepress from the Midianites, who were oppressors. God sent him a message that he wanted him to fight them.

Gideon pleads with God by telling Him he is the weakest person in the weakest clan. But that is precisely whom God wants to use. He reassures Gideon that He will be with him. When he arrives for battle, God reduces what army he has from 32,000 to a mere 300 men. With God’s wisdom and power, they came away victorious. Gideon was fearful and didn’t want to go- but in his obedience, God used him to carry out a purpose.

2 Chron. 20:15-17 is similar; we read about God telling Jehoshaphat to stand firm, fear not, and that they would see the salvation of the Lord fight for them. The ESV Study Bible notes that it was not Judah’s place to take up arms but rather to exercise their faith and offer prayer and praise to God. Jehoshaphat’s call to faith is based on Is. 7:9, “If you are not firm in the faith, you will not be firm at all.”

Jehoshaphat calls the people to believe in the Lord your God, and they will succeed (2 Chron. 20:20). Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). Whoever draws near to God must believe that He exists and that He will reward the ones who seek Him.

Knowing what we deserve and who we are by nature invokes fear, but knowing we are chosen and redeemed by the power of the blood of Christ, and we know whose we are,= no fear. It all leads to faith and obedience in the One who made us and fights for us, the One we can believe will be with us through all our battles.

I have battled a fear of public speaking since I was a child. I would have gladly taken an F instead of doing an oral book report, but that wasn’t a choice. I will say that in my jobs, and now in my personal life, there are many opportunities when God calls me to speak in public. It is still not the easiest, and I am not an eloquent speaker, but I have learned to trust God, whom I say must have a sense of humor, to help me through it. In that way, I can personally relate to God using the weakest for His purpose to bring glory to His name.  

PRISM

The Oxford Dictionary defines a prism as “a glass or other transparent object in prism form, especially one that is triangular with refracting surfaces at an acute angle with each other and that separates white light into a spectrum of colors.

We could be called God’s prism. His light shines into our lives, illuminates us, and refracts back into the lives of others, bringing an array of color to those around us. But without Jesus, there is no light to refract. Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5, ESV). He adds color and light to our lives.

Recently, I heard a speaker share their story and use the analogy that depending on what audience they are speaking to decides the version they tell, either plain glass or stained glass. The latter includes God, while the other does not, highlighting the same moral principles. The plain glass has the same premise as a white peacock; it still spreads out a full array of feathers without a colorful display.

Stained glass is colorful and full of beauty and intricately detailed artwork; it changes how we see the light reflected through it. I hope always to choose stained glass because Jesus is at the heart of it. He is the only reason my story exists. Because of God’s redemptive story, which is the theme of the entire Bible, I would not be here to share my story.

Upon being requested to talk with our group, the speaker admitted that they asked if it was safe to mention God. I am not saying I always get it right; I know I have missed the mark many times by passing by someone I should have shared Jesus with; I pray for courage, strength, and God-confidence to do the things God asks me to do. The speaker gave a remarkable testimony with an inspiring personal and business model. But, as we see how the disciples were treated in the early days after Jesus ascended to heaven, proclaiming Jesus as our Savior isn’t a safe endeavor. Still, we are called to share the Good News of His saving grace (Matt. 28:19-20, ESV).

As I thought about this testimony, I wondered if it could be compared to Paul, who writes that he became all things to all people so he might save some (I Cor. 9:22, ESV). But even when he was in Athens, a city full of idols, he told them about God when he shared with them that the alter of the “unknown god” they were worshipping was God, who sent Christ to die on a cross so they may be saved (Acts 17:23-31, ESV). As an influential person in society, maybe the part they are leaving out of their plain glass story is precisely what the other crowd needs to hear. Hence, their perception of the light will reflect all the colorful details of God’s handiwork in our lives through the lens of Jesus Christ.

WATER LILY

A beautiful bloom that emerges from the mud.

As a habit, I tend to take the same route on my morning runs. Still, I realize there are other streets I can take to change up my routine; on occasion, I do. Admittedly, it’s usually only when something impedes my path, and I’m forced to alter my route. It could also just be an uncomfortable feeling that redirects me.

This happened recently, and as I chose a new street and zigzagged through my neighborhood, exploring new choices, I Cor. 10:13 popped into my head. Paul writes of God’s faithfulness and that through even the worst temptation; God always provides a way of escape.

There was a time in my life I didn’t know I had a better choice. Satan doesn’t want us to know there is always another way. I was once given an ultimatum from the devil himself (through my abuser). My options looked bleak. I made the wrong choice, leading me down a dark road.

My old habits caught up to me. I was in mire up to my eyeballs and ready to sink before I saw the light and surrendered everything to God. God gave me a literal wake-up call. He is The Better Choice. He taught me how to find my voice and say no to the wrong things that kept me in the pit for so long. Therefore, I can relate to the water lily as it arises from the mire to transform into a work of art by the hand of God.

I want others to know there is always a better choice. A non-sinful choice that honors God and us through healthy decision-making. There is a new life waiting. God’s love is enough.

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation, he will also provide a way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (I Cor. 10:13, ESV, emphasis mine).

THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK

As a kid, I remember hearing my dad preach from Hebrews 6:19-20, “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” (Emphasis mine)

I often wondered what that meant. I think I had questions I never asked my dad, like if Melchizedek was a real person, and if so, what does it mean that Jesus became a high priest after the order of another human? What curtain? Understanding what ‘the order of’ meant would have significantly helped. But somehow, I never got around to asking him.

I was reminded of this verse recently and realized it was time I took a deeper dive to get a better understanding with God’s help. The first time Melchizedek is mentioned in the Bible is in Genesis 14:18. He was the king of Salem, which is associated with or short for Jerusalem. He was a priest of God most high.

He is mentioned again in Psalm 110:4 and then in Hebrews. But that is it. Scripture doesn’t tell us where he came from or what happened to him. Hebrews’ account of him is that he was an ordinary man, his name means king of righteousness, and he was king of Salem– meaning king of peace. Hebrews 7:3 says that he resembles the Son of God and continues to be a priest forever. In Scripture, there is no recording of the end of his life, so in that sense, he continues forever.

After the order means to be like someone, a model or pattern, also known as a “type.” We see this with Adam, who was a type of Christ. According to the ESV Study Bible, both are covenantal heads of humanity; as such, we are either in Adam or Christ. All of us are born in Adam by physical birth as sinners, while those born again in the new birth are in Christ. With that in mind, Melchizedek was a type and figure that foreshadowed Christ. Christ is truly the King of Righteousness who brings true Peace.

Before Christ, Levitical priests offered sacrifices in the Most Holy Place behind the veil or curtain once a year; no one else could go there, so the priest provided the sacrificial blood of animals to draw near to God on others’ behalf. But when Christ died on the cross, he tore the veil and made a way by His blood for everyone to draw near to God, once and for all. He defeated death when He rose from the grave. The passage in Psalms primarily tells us about the final King, the Messiah, and that it cannot be revoked once it takes effect.

Jesus Christ, by God’s oath, is a permanent and eternal Priest of God Most High and King of all Kings who will live forever, allowing His followers access to God- to draw near Him in a Most Holy Place, based on His person and work. Melchizedek’s name alone can indicate a person’s relationship with God, and he came as a foreshadowing of Christ, pointing others to the real King and Priest, who sacrificed everything for us so that we might live forever.

God’s righteousness and holiness demand an answer for sin. But His love for us is so deep that He supplied the answer through His Son Jesus Christ. Bottom line: God wants to be in an intimate relationship with us. His biggest desire is for us to accept the offering of His Son, Jesus, in our hearts. That is the point of the redemptive story of the Bible. God sent Jesus, who made way for us to draw near God. That’s it! The secret ingredient in the recipe of life. The key to navigating this broken world while we wait expectedly for Christ, the King, to return. We make drawing near to God the biggest desire of our hearts. We will never measure up, but because of Christ, we don’t have to.

IN THE GARDEN

Humming with her father, she carefully planned each step, stretching her little legs as far as possible to reach the imprint he had made in the freshly tilled soil. She placed her tiny foot inside his impressions nearly three times before moving on to the next. Heeding his instructions, she dropped one or two seeds into the holes he prepared. He did not need her help to carry out his goal but delighted in teaching her the way his father had shown him.

The tiny building beside the garden where livestock once found shelter from the storms now only housed the dry dung from long ago. Using the dirty silver bowl she found inside, she joyfully scooped one serving at a time and carried it to the garden as a fertilizer to ensure ultimate growth. The dry, arid land lapped each drop from the jug; she gripped the handle tightly as she moved on to the next. Helping her father in the garden was hot work but would be most rewarding when new life sprang forth.

Many years have come and gone, and her earthly father has passed. But, once again, with childlike wonder, the little girl carefully follows in her Father’s footsteps to help Him in the garden, trying her best to follow every instruction. With each drop from her bucket, thirst is quenched.

She spreads the seeds of His love in the cultivated hearts, fertilized with the dung from her past. She knows she may not see the final stage of new life that springs forth, but she is content to share even a tiny part of their unique journey.

The living water that flows from the Father above into her life and the lives of others is enough to sustain her. She joyfully sings a new song He places on her heart and praises His name for the freedom it brings. Free as a bird to soar overhead, carry His messages, and spread His love.  All of this He could do on His own- but He chose her for His purpose to give meaning to her life and help her grow in the full richness of His glory.

We are part of His grand design to follow His path and help each other using our gifts for His glory. The few who find it and follow in His steps will be blessed beyond measure. The more we lift to Him, the more that will be poured back down, to return even better than how we released it.

In the garden of life, He has set a path for us to follow. He goes before us to guide us each step of the way. In childlike wonder, we look up to the Father as He lifts us on His shoulders for a new perspective we are to share with others. The path leads to His kingdom and glory not yet known. But its beauty will amaze us – don’t you want to come along?

SURE-FOOTED CONFIDENCE

Habakkuk may be a small book, but it packs a powerful message that I believe is relevant to us today. Even though it refers to a time of unrest for Judah, the prophet’s cries to God are relatable. Habakkuk goes to God with his complaints and questions His tolerance of evil in the world. He begins in 1:3 with a lament to God and asks why He isn’t punishing sin. God responds in 1:5-11 by letting him know He has already started to answer his prayers. God is always working; we don’t always see it.

Then, he makes another complaint to God. His second lament is that God lets the wicked go unchecked (Hab. 1:12-2:1, ESV). God again responds and assures Habakkuk He will punish the wicked at the right time (Hab. 2:2-20).

Habakkuk begins to look forward to the day that God’s glory will fill the entire earth (Hab. 2:14). We certainly have hope in that truth. In verse 20, he recognizes the sovereignty of God who rules the whole world and that His extraordinary nature calls for silence. 

Finally, he remembers things God has done in the past, prays for God’s wrath and mercy, and begins to reestablish his trust in the Lord because of who He is (Hab. 3:1-19). He begins to rejoice in the God he knows he can trust, in the God who knows best. Even among the suffering, he finds joy in that trust because joy is not found in the circumstances but God alone. He finds strength in Yahweh for sure-footed confidence in God. He proclaims he can live on great heights even amid extreme cases (3:19).

He began with complaints and telling God how to run the world and ended by trusting God, who knows best and will bring justice to a sinful world. The same is still true today. Sometimes our faith waivers, but we can find hope in God’s sovereignty and that He will triumph in the end. We can also take our questions to God when we are troubled about the sin in the world. We may not always see what God is doing – but we know who He is and can trust Him as we lean on Him for strength and experience joy in all circumstances while we wait expectantly.

EXTREME MAKEOVER

Several years ago, the show Extreme Makeover Home Addition became famous and helped many families build new homes from the ground up. If you haven’t seen it lately, you may recall that they take a giant bulldozer, demolish the old house, and then build a gorgeous new home. Recently, I have enjoyed watching those old re-runs, and even though it isn’t something that just happened, it still touches my heart and gets me emotional when I see them help a struggling family. I have also enjoyed another show that helps people give their homes a refreshing look so they can sell them quicker.

            Both premises are set on refurnishing or rebuilding to make changes for the better. One episode the other day had a family member helping sandpaper a banister. All of this reminded me of how God works on us. Sometimes we may need a fresh coat of paint or a new perspective, if you will. Other times the changes may be like sandpaper, it goes against the grain of our nature and is painful at first, but the finished product far outweighs it in the end.

            Other times, if our foundation isn’t solid, God tears down the walls of our own making and helps us rebuild. When we come to God in shambles, weathered, and broken, He strips away the old and builds a new life from the foundation up. The process of sanctification through the Holy Spirit (dying to self) is never easy, but it is always worth it.

“Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom” (Ps. 111:10, NLT).

“But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand” (Matt. 7:26, NLT).

TRUTH OR DARE

Have you ever played truth or dare? Have you ever been fearful of someone asking you to play? I don’t know about you, but at one time in my life, I avoided playing the game because I knew I would have to choose the dare; that was sometimes a bit scary as well but at least whatever I was asked to do was better than taking a chance on what the question might be.

In this regard, the story of David hits home for me. David went to great lengths to hide the truth out of fear of what he did with Bathsheba. He tried to cover his sin, which led to more corruption and deceit, to the point that he had her husband sent to the front lines of battle and killed (2 Sam. 11:1-27, ESV).

At one time in my life, before I became a Christ follower, I was terrified of someone finding out about my dark secrets. I also went to great lengths to cover them up. I got good at half-truths because I did not want to be a liar deep down. One weekend I even sold my vehicle after being paranoid that someone saw it parked where it should not have been.

This is a miserable way to live. My fear manifests itself as panic attacks. I had never experienced them before, but I began to wake up gasping for air in the middle of the night. The doctors performed many tests on my heart without a clear cause, and they never called them panic attacks; that is my hindsight diagnosis. I can now see that no human test could have found what was wrong with my heart; that had to come from God several years later.

My fears were misplaced. Reasonable fear is of the Lord (Eccl. 12:13). I can also relate to David’s plea to God after being confronted by Nathan for going in with Bathsheba, “Create in me a clean heart, O God and renew a right heart within me” (Ps. 51:10).  Proper fear keeps us aligned with God’s desires for us. When our heart is right with God, our desires align with His because He is the One we most desire (Ps. 37:4).

PLAYING OFFENSE

Have you ever noticed how a small bird sometimes flies beside or behind a larger bird? Being the bird enthusiast I am, I’d like to think the larger bird is a role model and a leader in the relationship. But after a bit of research, the reality is that the smaller bird is playing offense and deterring the giant bird from the nest to protect its babies.

            What an incredible picture of how we are to help our fellow believers when the enemy gets too close to the nest of our loved ones. We cannot drive away the other person’s temptations for them or fix their problems, that is God’s job, but we can point them to the only One who can, Jesus Christ.

            While someone is experiencing a season of suffering, pain, loss, heartache, or temptation, we can:

  • Listen (James 1:19).
  • Pray with them and for them (James 5:16).
  • Hold their hand / remind them who holds them by their right hand (Is. 41:10).
  • Sing hymns of praise with them (Eph. 5:19).
  • Be their accountability buddy (Prov. 27:17).
  • Feed them- not just their body and mind but also their souls with the encouraging Word of God to remind them who Christ says they are (I Peter 2:9; Ps. 139:14; Eph. 2:10).
  • Direct their attention away from the temptation; play interference with the enemy by pointing them to Christ and His truth (James 1:12-13; I Cor. 10:13).

Next time you see a little bird following a large bird of prey, ask yourself- who can I play offense for today by pointing them to Jesus and offering a listening ear or word of encouragement?

MATTERS OF THE HEART

Our emotions, self-worth, and trust come from the heart, an easy target for the devil. Since this is a spiritual battle, we must guard it with the weapons and armor God provides. The breastplate of righteousness is a source of protection. But we cannot stop there. The devil is cunning in his tactics. He also attacks the mind. That is why we need the helmet of salvation, to ward off the lies of the enemy, who wants us to doubt God and His saving work through Christ. For this, we are called to “stand firm” and put on the belt of truth; for shoes, we strap on the peace of the gospel; hold fast to the shield of faith and the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God, the only offensive weapon, but is needed when the devil is tempting us (Eph. 6:11-17, NLT).  Speaking the name of Jesus will make the enemy flee every time. We have power accessible to us through the Holy Spirit.

            Over the last few years, I have been in battles for myself and others, but I did not know how to access the armor before becoming a Christ-follower. Another step must occur before we can adequately arm ourselves against the devil’s attacks.

In Colossians 3:12, Paul gives us a comprehensive list of qualities we are to “put on” as Christ-followers. Among them are compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, and more than anything else, love. He adds the peace of Christ and thanksgiving in our hearts while singing praises and Spiritual songs. A thankful attitude promotes inward peace.

            But this laundry list of attributes isn’t possible until we have cleaned ourselves up. We cannot do that on our own, but only with the help of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in the hearts of believers. Before we can “put on” these Christ-like characteristics, we must first “put off” the old filthy rags we’ve been wearing for years, our old self, which no longer fits. “Put to death therefore what is earthy in you; sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5, ESV). Paul adds we must put them all away, including “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth”  (Col. 3:8-9, ESV).

            “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, which defiles a person” (Matt. 15:18, ESV). Those are words out of Jesus’ mouth. One of the things believers often have trouble with is the mouth. Foul language is not becoming of someone professing to be a Christ-follower. We must strive to become more like Jesus every day. It is a process, but the Holy Spirit helps us. We must work at it and ask Him for help.

We will never be perfect while we are on this Earth, but since God made us in His image, we are to reflect that to others through our actions and words. Every time we spew something out without pausing to think about what we are saying and how we are saying it and not taking time to ask the Holy Spirit to guide our talk, we are prone to making the enemy laugh. I would much rather aim to make God smile as often as possible. We all make mistakes from time to time, but God knows our hearts more than anyone, even us. Eliminating these things from our hearts will make more room for Him.

            Paul’s message to the Colossians encourages them to make a decisive break from the old sinful ways they carried into their new lives as Christ-followers. It is a timeless message to all believers of all cultures. It is a process in which God shapes our new hearts over time. If you will, the change of “clothes” has already taken place, so we must align our behavior with our new identity. In prayerful discernment and humility, we will be more equipped to wear the armor, always staying alert, praying for all believers everywhere (Eph. 3:18, NLT).