SHIPWRECKED

As January 5th marked the anniversary of my dad’s passing, I want to celebrate him with a story that has been on my mind.

            While studying the book of Acts, I noticed something that made me think of one of my dad’s stories about his calling to be a minister. Paul is on a ship, as a prisoner, headed to Rome, because he has appealed to Caesar after pleading his defense to Festus, and King Agrippa, in Jerusalem, where he was falsely accused. Rome is exactly where God planned for him to go, so he could be His witness to the “ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). But while at sea, a severe storm came up that blew them off course and threatened their lives. Paul received a message from an angel of God who told him not to be afraid and that he still had to stand before Caesar, therefore he nor the others would be harmed (Acts 27:22-25). In other words, God’s purpose will stand, not even a storm can stop it. Paul took comfort in that fact and told the other passengers there would be no loss of life, only the ship. Paul’s presence on the ship assured everyone’s deliverance.

            My dad told us that when he was a teenager, he was drafted into the army, and had to travel by ship. A bad storm came up, that tossed the ship around, and everyone was scared. He fastened himself in his bunk and felt at peace because he received a message from God that told him he had not preached yet. Like Paul, I think the fate of my dad and God’s purpose for him to preach preserved the lives of the other passengers that day. One of my dad’s biggest regrets was that he did not think to comfort the other passengers.

            I have also been reflecting on the fact that on the day my dad passed, I became an orphan, in the earthly sense of the word, because my mom had just passed 6 days earlier. But as I look back at what unfolded that year and have a better perspective of how God orchestrated the events, I realize that before I even knew I would lose both parents, that I had accepted Christ and followed through with the profession of faith in baptism only 3 months prior and had essentially been adopted by my heavenly Father. Even though my dad, at the time, could not understand why I wanted to be baptized again since I had been baptized as a child, I can’t help but believe, he gets it now.

SCARS

When I began my journey to healing, it started with forgiveness. Not only of those who hurt me but for myself as well and the part I played in allowing others to use and abuse me, even if I didn’t know another way at the time. I needed to forgive myself for the way I allowed others to treat my body. I know now that my body is a temple, and how I treat it matters (I Cor. 6:19). I know when we forgive others it gives us freedom. Harboring unforgiveness in our hearts only hurts us. I also believe we can forgive ourselves. Even though, as someone pointed out to me, it is not in the Bible. I do read in the Bible that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:39). To me, this implies that we need to love ourselves to love others well. Doesn’t that include forgiveness? How can we forgive unless we love? Likewise, how can we love unless we forgive? Both ourselves and others. It was a big part of my healing; learning how to love, forgive, and trust myself. And because we are made in the image of God and we are to follow Jesus’ example on how to live, I think since He loves us, forgives us, and shows us grace, that we can do the same; not only for others but for ourselves.

Like I have said before, forgiveness does not mean we forget. Remembering is an important part of moving forward while not repeating the same mistakes. Our scars are a part of how we once were, but they also serve as a beautiful reminder of who we are now, through Christ. A friend recently gave me a broken heart, mended with gold. She said it is representative of our brokenness and how the honest parts of our past should be celebrated, not hidden. It is a Japanese art form called Kintsugi and is used to mend broken pottery with gold to stand for all the beautiful things that have unique imperfections. Just like our scars, wounds, and imperfections are our beauty. The little card with it says, “You’re more beautiful for having been broken.”

This reminded me of a message I received from the Holy Spirit a few years ago after my accident.

Scars are another symbol of remembrance. My hands tell a love story. Your scars mark the day I saved you and brought you back to Myself and the Father. We won the battle together. You are a victor in Christ. Let your scars tell your story. Our stories collide. The scars of your past mistakes and sins run deep but My scars cover all of yours in love for complete healing.”

God has restored even the most broken parts of my past and redeemed them in ways I could have never imagined. If my pain and brokenness can be used to help others – it is worth it. That is what makes it even more beautiful. I believe God chose me for such a time as this (Esther 4:14). I had a professor that said all our past painful experiences are keys on a keychain. God uses them to unlock the hearts of others. I love that.

YHWH

There are many names for God. So many I will only give a few examples, but you can do a little research on your own to discover them. They all point to God’s character and people in the OT used them to describe the God they encountered. God’s name is His promise to dwell within His people (John 17:6). His divine name reveals God’s power, authority, and holiness. El, which is commonly prefaced by other names of God is simply a generic term for God or deity, used as a synonym for Yahweh. El-Shaddai: “God of the Mountains” or “The Almighty God”; El-Roi: the “God who sees me”; El-Olam: “God of Eternity”; Yahweh-Jireh: “The Lord will provide”; Yahweh-Me kaddish: “The Lord sanctifies” (reveals His holiness, set apart); I would be remiss not to list others such as King, Judge, Shepherd, God the Father, Abba, and so many more from the NT.

At one time His name was so revered people did not dare to even speak it, YHWH – Yahweh. When writing the Hebrew language, they did not include vowels. Readers supplied them as they read. Reverence for the divine name led to the practice of avoiding its use. This was mostly out of respect and fear. It was too holy to pronounce at all, so they began to use other words such as Adonai, which means “Lord” or the Latin form: Jehovah, but it was not a real word at the time, or the El alternative used above.[1]

After I started writing this message, I watched “Christmas with the Chosen” and they too were explaining the use of the name Yahweh. The speaker said the people were afraid if they spoke it their tongue would rot and fall out. This comes from a couple of passages in the OT and is one of the Ten Commandments given to us by God Himself. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Exod. 20:7, ESV). Also, “Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death” (Lev. 24:16). (Emphasis added) The NLT version uses the word ‘misuse’ instead of the word ‘blaspheme’- which means to do anything that makes God appear insignificant or worthless.

People in the OT did not take it lightly, and neither should we today. It has become widespread practice to use His name flippantly in everyday occurrences. Which, I believe, is taking His name and making it appear to be worthless. The name of God is Holy – sacred- hallowed. When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, He began by showing them God’s name is to be kept Holy and exalted (Matt. 6:9). The notes in my study Bible also explain Exod. 20:7, saying it refers to someone taking a deceptive oath in God’s name, involving God’s name to sanction an act in which the person is being dishonest, and it bans the use of God’s name when associated with sinful acts, religious rituals, magic, irreverently, or disrespectfully. In this instance, Yahweh is warning Israel against the use of His name as if it were disconnected from His person, presence, and power.

Some people want to dismiss the OT Scripture and instructions saying they do not apply to us, but I disagree. There are many OT references in the NT that we can take instruction from today. The Ten Commandments are still relevant in shaping our moral character. As we understand the OT better, it foreshadows the coming of the Messiah, who is Jesus Christ. It is a beautiful love story of God’s redemption plan for His people, who He wants to be in a relationship with…which is us.

My dad, who was a minister, taught me that Reverend is a title reserved for God alone -not man. We tend to exalt ourselves in ways that are only for God, the great I AM, as well as disregard the deity of His holy name in everyday language. If this is a habit you have picked up over the years and not thought much about it, I would challenge you to pray about it. Ask God to help you change any bad habits and reveal to you any areas in your heart that you can clean up to make more room for His holy presence. It is worth the effort, because God is worth it, and He says you are worth it. He values you and wants to be in a closer relationship with you.

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Is. 6:3)!

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10).


[1] Chad Brand. ed., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, (Nashville: B & H Publishing, 2015).

WORDS

Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged, together with its 1993 Addenda Section, includes some 470,000 entries. (Not including the 455 new words Webster added this year).

Words roll off the tongue with great ease never pausing to realize their ramifications until it is too late. Regret sets in for some of us, others not so much. Words can pierce the heart like an arrow that cuts deep into our soul or create a smile on a sad face. They can sting like a bee or soothe like honey.

Words can bring comfort and hope. They come to life on the page and paint a vivid picture in our minds. They take us to the forest to climb a tree or to the stream to catch a fish on a summer day.

The right words, spoken with the right intention, are like a powerful weapon. Words can shape who we think we are. We should handle our words with great care as they can caress or distress. Words are a gift, if used properly they can create a new perspective and change a life.

Words take us on a journey without moving from our comfy chair. They can bring color to our lives. They shoot off the fingertips onto the page like darts trying to hit the mark. They can be eloquent, blunt, kind, or harsh. They can wash over us, drown us in sorrow or lift us up.

I want my words to paint a picture of what Christ did for me on the cross and how beautiful the journey to freedom has been. A victory shared with others is a glorious gift. My words are meant to shine a light on the truth of God’s love and the knowledge that can help others act against a dark world. To live for Christ is freedom and a victory won that leads others to the kingdom of His glory.

Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth. Avoid worthless, foolish talk that only leads to more godless behavior. This kind of talk spreads like cancer. 2 Timothy 2:15-17, NLT

This is a great message from a past Southland Devo – the first scripture referenced was James 1:26, which is another great reminder about keeping a rein on our tongue. “The Bible is painfully clear that if God doesn’t have our heart, it’s going to show up in our words.”

There are so many references to words in the Bible it was hard for me to choose which scriptures to include, so here are a few of my favorites.

“So, encourage each other with these words.” I Thessalonians 4:18, NLT

“Wise words satisfy like a good meal; the right words bring satisfaction.” Proverbs 18:20, NLT

“The words of the godly are a life-giving fountain; the words of the wicked conceal violent intentions.” Proverbs 10:11, NLT

“…the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire.” James 3:5, NLT

Merriam Webster https://www.merriam-webster.com/help/faq-how-many-english-words

THE MARCH OF THE MATRIARCH

Elephants have always been very prominent in my life. I loved them even as a child. Not that I had one for a pet or anything. I just thought they were fascinating. I even remember riding one at the circus one year. I let them go for a little while and now they have marched back into my life with exponential meaning.

I sought out some interesting facts about them. Did you know the male and female herds do not stay together, for the most part? The matriarch leads the female herd until she dies. Then her oldest daughter or a sister takes her place at the front of the line.

The older females are known to be full of wisdom and great at leading herds away from potential dangers. In other words, they are mature female leaders of the pack with abundant knowledge on helping the younger elephants survive in the wild.

Their large ears aid them in hearing the call of another elephant from their herd. They can hear the distress call from over five miles away, as well as any predators that could threaten their young ones.

This got me thinking. Aren’t we supposed to do the same thing as mature adult women of Christ? We can lead other women to the truths of God’s word, share our wisdom, and experiences with our friends, family, and young girls to steer them away from the potential dangers of this world.

If we could use our keen sense of hearing God’s voice and be obedient to His call, we can show up when others need our help and support them through Christian love. The best leaders are those who are servants, to Christ first, and then to others by putting their knowledge into action and setting good examples as role models.

If you have not watched the new Disney Nature series on Elephants, I highly recommend it. God’s design and intricate details are fascinating.

“Wherever you go, I will go; where you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” Ruth 1:16

GOLD VS PLATINUM

I recently watched 7 hours of DEI video training sessions as a requirement for work. Now while this is a necessary endeavor in our world today, I found them lacking in riveting content. There were nuggets of truth along the way that gave me better insight, but a common theme that I noticed was the dismissal of the Golden Rule which at once sent up a red flag in the ‘man’s way of thinking versus God’s ultimate authority’ section of my brain.

You are probably familiar with it but in case you need a reminder, Jesus stated, “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” or “do to others as you would like them to do to you” (emphasis mine), (Matt. 7:12; Luke 6:31, ESV). This has become known as the golden rule. I have heard that interpreted as thinking of something you wish someone would do for you and taking the initiative and doing it for them.

The platinum rule, which I had never heard before, states that we should treat others the way ‘they want to be treated.’ This stood out to me like a sore thumb. I began to research where it originated. I first found credit given to Dave Kerpen, who wrote it in his book, The Art of People in 2016. But then I found another source who credited Tony Alessandra and Michael O’Conner in a 1996 publication of their book by the very title, The Platinum Rule.

I began to pray for discernment and search Scriptures for God’s truth on the matter because frankly, anything that tries to dismiss the Word of God does not sit well with me. When reading the verses in the Bible, we must also look at the verses before and after, not just pull one verse out as a stand-alone. When you read the pre-cursor and what follows, we find that love is the most crucial factor to the equation. Treating people, the way we want to be treated comes from a place of love, which should come naturally to those believers who love God with all their hearts, minds, and souls and who love their neighbor as themselves (Luke 10:27). We must go beyond this one verse to realize the lesson is love; a fundamental ethic that governs all behavior (Rom. 12:14-21). Jesus is our model through His self-sacrificial love for others.

If people’s priorities are out of order, then they may need a different guide, such as the man-made platinum rule, to know how to treat others. But if we are in alignment with God, it will come naturally to treat others with love. I read a list Mr. Kerpen wrote that included 101 things for which he was grateful. I am not putting him down and am happy that he is grateful for so many things including God, but it did reveal where his priorities lie as God made the list at number 55. According to his list, even the sun and planet made the # 2 slot. My question is, who created the sun and planet? Even the Mets made it on the list above God at # 26.

If we are not loving God more than anything else, and loving people as ourselves, then maybe we can accept the platinum rule. But not all of us are in that category. Instead of dismissing one over the other, it could be an ‘AND’ instead of a ‘either/or” concept. Although the platinum rule is not biblical, and Jesus’ own words are conclusive and attribute to the Golden Rule; there could be one rule for believers who follow Christ and one for the secular population who haven’t experienced the love of Christ or understand how to love others as Christ’s example tells us to even love our enemies as ourselves.

But in my book, there is only one set of rules, One God, One authority, and One Word, but man will always attempt to make his own rules to suit himself when he doesn’t understand or accept God’s rule and authority.

I believe we can use this filter to decide the best way to treat others: Ask ourselves if it is God-honoring to both parties? Are we seeking the approval of man or God (Gal. 1:19)? Love is the key factor, and the Golden Rule demonstrates this best since we have Christ to model it after and can share the love that God bestows on us to everyone we meet.

In all fairness, I do not know these authors, nor have I read their books. I am only using the tiny bit of information I netted in my search as a basis for my comments. You could say I literally judged a book by its cover. However, the point I want to make is that we should not be so quick to dismiss God’s Word, especially those spoken directly by Jesus, for something fabricated by man. I read that book daily.

NEW REALITY

On an early morning run this week, I met an ominous sky lurking over the horizon and a wind that was brewing something that would surely send the leaves flurrying to the ground. I realized my last chance this season to capture the rich array of fall colors that lined my streets, was in that very moment. So, I ran back to the house and grabbed my phone so I could finish my run as well without lugging the larger camera around my neck. The bright yellows and oranges stood out even more prominent behind a brilliant fuchsia skirt that adorned their trunks.

Having snapped several photos at different angles, I headed back in a sprint towards the house, thinking about how these trees may very well be barren the next time I see them. The sharp contrast of winter is right around the corner and with it will come death to many plants, trees, and flowers. But Spring always follows and brings with it new life. God is always faithful and even in nature we see how things must die to receive restoration; made new in a different season of their life.

We see it in other parts of God’s creation as well such as the caterpillar whose transformation is remarkable. An entirely new creature that lives a vastly different life than the caterpillar. It is the same with us. We must die to self to receive the new life Christ offers that creates a new season of life now and an eternal Springtime season to come (Eph. 4:20-24, ESV). We can experience transformation that makes us feel like the butterfly living quite a different life than the one we lived. As the Bible Project put it in a video I watched recently, “the gospel is an announcement about Jesus that opens up a new reality.” In our new reality, we receive a new perspective, and a new life that changes everything, for the better. I am grateful every day for my new reality.

THE SON IS IN MY EYES

Recently, on a mid-morning run, after the sun was beaming brightly through the crisp fall air, I was headed directly into its rays. All I could do was focus on the road directly in front of me as it was too bright to see very far ahead. I was reminded that when we keep the ‘Son’ as the focus of our gaze, it is easier to stay in His presence in the present moment without looking too far into the future and worrying about what is next.

Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow, it will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough to today (Matt. 6:34, NLT). Some days this is easier than others, but when I can accomplish it, my day goes so much smoother. I can leave everything in God’s hands and be present in the moment, watching for my next cue from God, while I stay in step with the Spirit (Gal. 5:25) doing God’s will.

We can even find ourselves worrying too much about being in God’s will and making the right choices. But we are not to worry about that either. When we are doing our best to follow Jesus and being obedient, we don’t need to worry about doing God’s will, because He will reveal it to us. On days when I am in alignment with God, the sun is a little brighter, my morning tea a little sweeter, and my oatmeal a little more savory.  

Anything in our lives that does not align and is disobedient to God blocks the Holy Spirit’s work and we can feel disconnected. It is not God who has left us, but rather us who has strayed away from God. These times are sometimes necessary for us to realize that when we choose God each day as the One we will serve and not attempt to control things on our own, that is when we are more productive. When we recognize the patterns and that taking time to spend with God helps us through our day; we can choose to do it each morning as we arise to face the Son. One of my professor’s says his day is too busy not to spend time with God. It is all a matter of perspective, being intentional and slowing down long enough to listen and allow God’s love light to shine on our face.

ELIJAH

the story of a faithful prophet

In I Kings, we are first introduced to Elijah as a prophet from Tishbe of Gilead. His prophetic role placed him in confrontation to the kings of Israel and isolation from others of like faith, during the split of the northern and southern kingdoms, after the downfall of Jerusalem around the ninth century. It was time of great despair for God’s people. Doubt set in for many and they began to question God’s existence and promises. Many kings were worshipping other gods, like Baal. Elijah’s faithful obedience sets the backdrop for multiple miracles performed by God to demonstrate He is still in control, crush idolatry and the work of evil king Ahab who provoked God more than any other king, along with his wife Jezebel, who influenced him greatly. Perhaps, even more remarkable than the miracles themselves is the intimate relationship he shared with the Lord. Something still available to us today.

Even in his faithfulness, he was still human and had his faults. One may tend to aspire to be more like Elijah or other biblical characters and look to them as a role model. We can do the same with people around us today. I know of a leader at church that could easily fit this bill in my book, with his humble obedience and words of wisdom, however, we should only strive to be more like Jesus. We should try to be more like the One reflected in the good parts of others’ lives, a not the person themselves. All humans have flaws, but we can also learn from the mistakes of others. With Elijah, in his isolation, we see that he allowed his feelings of loneliness and depression take over and he believes he is the only person left who is faithful to the Lord. But God shows him that there are still others who have persevered, seven thousand to be exact. God comes to find Elijah hiding in a cave, where he ran for fear of his life from the queen, who threatened to kill him. God sends a mighty windstorm so strong it shook the rocks, then he sends an earthquake, and then a fire. But God was not in any of those things. Afterwards, Elijah hears a gentle whisper and knows it is the voice of the Lord. He covers his face and stands at the entrance of the cave. God was showing Elijah that he does not only reveal himself in powerful miracles, if that is all we are looking for, we will often miss Him, as He is most likely found in the stillness of a gentle whisper of a humble heart.

God instructs Elijah to anoint Elisha as his predecessor before he takes him to heaven by a whirlwind. He is one of only three people mentioned in the Bible taken to heaven in bodily form. Enoch before him and Jesus after him. This must have been a great honor to be chosen to be with God and whisked away to heaven by chariots of fire. Elisha asked for and was granted a double share of Elijah’s spirit. It was granted because his motives were pure. He did not selfishly ask for his own gain but to do more for God. We too can ask for great things but should examine our motives to make sure they are pure.

We see God give John the Baptist the power and spirit of Elijah, this fulfills the prophesy of Malachi when he says Elijah will come before the day of the Lord. Later in the NT, Elijah is mentioned and appears with Moses on Mount Sinai to talk to Jesus, where Peter, John and James were invited to go so God could show them who Jesus really was. Moses represents the law; Elijah represents the writings of the prophets (the entire Old Testament) and Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah with divine authority who fulfills both the law and the prophets and is greatest of them all. As Jesus explains in Matthew 5:17, “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or writings of prophets. I came to accomplish their purpose.”(emphasis added) We can only understand the OT in the light of Jesus.

Mount Sinai is a sacred place where God met all three at different times and at the same time in Luke 9:28-36, ESV. All three of them, at different times, fasted in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights. If we take time to search them out, we can find similarities in the lives of biblical characters who lived at different times. But it is important to remember to look for how each one points us to Christ and ask how we can apply those lessons in our lives today.

To recap the miracles God performed through Elijah:

  • God provided food to Elijah by ravens
  • Widow’s food multiplied
  • Widow’s son raised to life
  • Altar and sacrifice consumed my fire
  • Calling fire from heaven upon the second 50 soldiers
  • Jordan river parted
  • Transported to heaven

Big lessons can be taken away from the study of biblical characters that are often overlooked. I have said this before and believe it to be true, as we see in the life of Elijah, if God brings us to it, He will bring us through it. Through faithful obedience we can trust God to provide what we need to carry us through anything He commands us to do.

References:

Brand, C. ed., (2015) Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, B & H Publishing.

Chronological Life Application Study Bible, Tyndale Publishers

ESV Study Bible, Crossway

NLT Study Bible, Tyndale Publishers

Topical ESV Bible, Tyndale Publishers

JACKPOT

‘Skittles’ on one of his visits to my front door

I saw a cat on my run a while back that looked like a neighborhood cat that likes to roam from house to house. It used to hide in the shadows on early mornings and jump out at me as I pass by. As I got closer, I realized it was not ‘Skittles’ at all (a name I gave it). Its demeanor was quite different even though the markings were similar.

It made me think about my relationship with God. The more intimate my relationship gets, the easier it is to recognize Him and test the spirits. Only He knows my heart and the hearts of others.

He does not give us a guarantee that our life on this earth will be easy. In fact, He says in John 16:33 we will have troubles. But His promises are for an eternity of joy – a hope we can look forward to now and later. God does not want us to just be ‘happy’ in this life – He does want us to be full of joy no matter our circumstances. There is a difference. Happiness comes from circumstances and joy comes from our relationship with God regardless of our circumstances.

He may not help us win the lottery, but if we are using our gifts and talents to their fullest for His glory, the joy, and blessings we receive will be equivalent to hitting the jackpot. His joy and blessings are for an eternity and will last forever where the winnings of a lottery will soon be gone and become meaningless.

Our hope of an inheritance with our Father and the beauty that comes with it gives us the strength to continue in this life, looking to Him for comfort, peace, and grace.

The Spirit is God’s guarantee that He will give us the inheritance He promised and that He has purchased us to be His own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him. Eph. 1:14