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Death Valley

Do you ever feel as if you are living in a spiritual version of Death Valley?  The heat is continually being turned up, and you feel as if you are being consumed to the point that there is almost no life or motivation left in you.  You thought you were in the right place, but it doesn’t feel right anymore.  The sun beats mercilessly down and saps your energy.  You feel as good as dead and cannot escape from the lethargy and futility of your situation.

Ezekiel describes a similar scene as he observes the valley of dry bones.  Facing a valley full of very dry bones, Ezekiel is not certain that even God can make those bones live (verse 3).  God then asks Ezekiel to prophesy to the dry bones.  Ezekiel probably wonders why God doesn’t just do it Himself, since He knows what He plans to do anyway!  However, God instructs Ezekiel regarding the specific words to speak.  Ezekiel is told to command the bones to hear the word of the Lord.  He proclaims what God will do for those bones:  make breath enter them, make them come to life, attach tendons to them, make flesh and skin cover them, put breath in them, and cause them to come to life.  Ezekiel obeys and proclaims the words God commanded him to proclaim.  While he is speaking those words, the bones come together; tendons, flesh, and skin appear. However, no breath is yet in those bones. The Lord then instructs Ezekiel to command the breath to enter the dead, so that they may live.   When Ezekiel speaks to the breath, the people all come to life and stand up as an entire army (verses 4-10).  God then explains to Ezekiel that the dry bones were the bones of His chosen people whose bones were dried up and whose hope was cut off.   God, however, does not leave them in a condition of death and hopelessness:  He brings them out of their graves!  He takes them out of the place of death and hopelessness.  He puts His Spirit of life in them and establishes them in their own land (verses 11-14).

When we feel our strength is sapped and our hope cut off, when we are languishing in Death Valley, we can call upon God to instruct us how to speak life to us in our dead places.  He is Lord over the dry bones, the lifelessness, and the inertia that so often paralyze us.  He is Lord of His Kingdom purposes and of His very Breath in us.  He will stoke the Breath of His Life in us and fan us into flame again.  He will cause our desert places to blossom as the rose (Isaiah 35:1-2).  Moreover, we will realize that we are not alone in a dry place, but that God is raising up His army and establishing us in a strategic position in His ranks!   May His Life and Presence rise up powerfully in us and position us to fulfill His purposes!

The Empty Plate

During the holiday season, our senses are barraged by all manner of stimuli that scream for our attention and threaten to suffocate us. Is it really possible to cultivate a heart of gratitude at Thanksgiving when budgets are tight, to-do lists are impossibly long, jobs are in jeopardy, relationships are rocky, and stamina is waning?  Moreover, Christmas arrives hard on the heels of Thanksgiving.  For some, the Christmas season is fraught with too many gifts to buy, too many events to attend, too many people to please.  For others, it is a season of profound pain and isolation exacerbated by the synthetic merriment of our commercial culture.  At the end of it all, our plate looks sadly empty.  A promised season of gratitude and feasting too often leaves us hungry for something less fleeting, something more lasting that seems continually to elude us.

What good is faith, if it doesn’t accomplish anything until we receive our ticket to heaven?  What good is the gift of Jesus, if He waits until we die to transform us and those around us?  What good is eternal life, in fact, if it only means we spend endless years in the squirrel cage of frenzy?  Why bother filling our plate if it somehow remains empty?

I believe that this overwhelming sense of hollowness has its root in a lack of understanding of what Jesus died to give us.  If we think that His kingdom belongs only to Him and that we must wait until we die to even hope for a taste of eternal life, then we are powerless, hopeless people indeed!  In fact, the Bible tells us that it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom! (see Luke 12:32) With the birth of Emmanuel (God-With-Us), God invaded Earth with His life-giving, transforming power and presence.  Our faith in the Living, Resurrected Savior gives us access to His life NOW!  Our plates need not be empty, and our hearts need not be hollow. The enemy of our soul loves to lie to us, consume us with cares and worries and burden us with thoughts of what we cannot do.  He loves to trick us into thinking that HIS hopelessness and fruitlessness (the enemy’s days are numbered — read the end of the Book!) are OURS!  Somehow, in the fray of life, we tend to believe him rather than believing God!

However, Jesus, the Lord of lords and King of kings, came to give us abundant life — a full plate that is full to overflowing.   That plate is full of salvation, joy, provision for every need, healing, deliverance from addictions, and freedom from torment.  It is full of acceptance, not rejection.  It is full of belonging, not isolation.  It is full of comfort, not affliction and abuse.  Dare to ask Him to give you Kingdom transformation now.  Dare to ask Him for what seems impossible.  It is His PLEASURE to give you His life in exchange for your sorrows.

This holiday season, may the Holy Spirit open our eyes to see what He has placed on our plate.  May we feed on Him and His abundant supply, right in the face of our all-too-apparent insufficiency and inadequacy.  May we feast on His joy, His deliverance, His healing.  May we dare to ask Him for second helpings, thirds, and even more of Himself!  May He fill the longing and heal the gnawing pain in our hearts.  May He overflow us with His love.  May the mouth of the liar be stopped, and may our eyes be opened to God’s glorious, indescribable gift to us of Himself!  May His Kingdom invade us now — not just later!

What Is That in Your Hand?

Often we expect God to use other people to serve as the catalyst for our spiritual breakthrough.  Other people seem more spiritual, more gifted, or, at the very least, more experienced than we know ourselves to be.  We  ask God to move in our lives or to speak to us in a more intimate or life-changing way, and then we hesitate when He does.  Somehow, when God confronts us with the reality of His greatness and our inadequacy, we are overwhelmed with the understanding that we are only dust.   However, He wants us to recognize that His presence is with us in our destitute state and that He has already put something into our hands — something that may look ordinary to us but that He plans to use as an instrument of His power.  In Exodus 4:2, God asked Moses, “What is that in your hand?”  Moses stated the obvious:   a staff.  The Lord wanted Moses to acknowledge what he was holding in his hand; Moses then was instructed to wield that staff as God directed.  If we simply submit ourselves to God and acknowledge the ordinary things that are in our hands, God will use us for His purposes.   He will direct us.  Yes, He has given us the various members in the Body of Christ for the purpose of supporting and encouraging one another.  Yes, some people may be more gifted than others in certain areas.  However, we all have something in our hand that God can and will use, if we will declare ourselves willing.  Don’t shrink back when confronted by an opportunity God offers you.  Resist the temptation to say “Please send someone else” (Exodus 4:13b).  Don’t wait for a more powerful prayer warrior to come pray for your sick friend.  Don’t wait for a more eloquent speaker to explain the truth about the life and freedom in Jesus Christ.  Don’t wait for someone with a more dramatic testimony to share the love of God with your friend.  Start where you are, with what is already in your hand.  God will transform it with His amazing power.  He wants to visit YOU!

Recognizing the Pearl

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“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid, and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.  Matthew 13: 44-46

Have you ever wondered who would bother to dig for treasure in a field unless he knew ahead of time it was there?  What an arduous process that would be!  However, the implication in this snippet of a story is that the purchaser of the field knew for a fact the treasure was there, as he had already found it prior to the purchase.  Similarly, the pearl merchant recognized the value of what he was buying.  In fact, he knew the pearl was so highly prized that he was willing to give all that he had to buy it.   These stories both describe how Jesus set His heart upon me and gave His all to purchase me for Himself.  He recognizes my value, regardless of how hidden or dirty or lost I am.  He regards me as the treasure hidden in the field, as His pearl of great price.

In fact, we love Him because He FIRST loved us (1 John 4:19)!  Only His unlimited and whole-hearted purchasing power can give me the ability to recognize Him in return as the treasure, as my Pearl of Greatest Price.  He set His love on me, and He empowers me to set my love upon Him and give Him all that I have and all that I am, however paltry that may be by comparison to what He gave for me.  Paul explains this treasure hunt in Philippians 3:12:  “I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” Jesus has acknowledged me as His pearl, sought me out, and laid hold of me.  He then prompts me to acknowledge Him, seek Him, and lay hold of Him as the quintessential Treasure!

Sometimes we don’t recognize treasure when we see it.  Its value may be hidden under layers of dirt, or it may be that we simply lack the understanding of and appreciation for the value of something.  I remember throwing out a piece of dried-out, old cheese when cleaning up a work area at my place of employment  Unfortunately, in my ignorance, I had tossed a piece of real Italian aged parmesan cheese in the trash!  My co-workers were not happy when they discovered I had tossed out their treasure when I cleaned out the refrigerator.   I had failed to recognize a treasure!

God recognizes our value when no one else does, and He has already paid all He had for you and for me.  May He fill me with His overwhelmingly powerful love in return, so that I can fix my eyes on the Pearl of Great Price and give my all for Him!

Gee, Do I Gotta? — The Power and Fruit of Obedience

apple_green_fruit_240421_lIn our culture of individualism and free thinking, obedience has negative connotations. Obedience has fallen out of vogue — it tends to evoke thoughts of compulsion, duress, or even abuse. In fact, we think we should have the right to decide for ourselves what is best in every situation.  Typically, we don’t like to have to answer to anybody else.  The reasoning goes like this — Anyone who requires anything of me should be able to give me a legitimate reason for that requirement, and I have the right to determine whether that reason is enough to warrant my compliance with the requirement at hand.  At least in the western world, we insist that we as individuals are our own final authority on nearly everything.

In fact, the only positive association most of us have with obedience is when it applies to our own children.  As parents, we can usually see the practical benefit of teaching our children to obey us.  No one wants to have to argue with a child over every little thing that needs to be done during the course of a day.  In twenty-nine years as a mother, I have learned that I don’t always have to explain to my children my reasons for absolutely everything I ask them to do.  Some things they will find out for themselves.  If they choose not to eat the dinner I cook, they will be hungry later in the evening.  It is a long time until breakfast.  If they choose not to pick up their rooms when asked, their toys may disappear for a period of time.  Over the course of time, they all learned that obedience eventually pays off.  Most importantly, it builds a relationship of mutual honor and trust between parent and child. This type of relationship is vitally important to God.

When it comes to obeying God, our feelings simply don’t matter. Whether we “want” to or not, or whether we think God is being fair or not, or whether we understand the reason behind the request, has nothing to do with our ultimate decision to obey.  Jesus demonstrates that obedience to the Father has nothing whatsoever to do with our feelings. “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, Sir,’ but he did not go.  Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said to Him, “The first.”  (Matthew 21: 28-31; New King James)

Often the fruit and power of obedience do not become apparent until much later.  Jesus spent his entire life resisting every temptation known to man.  Had He not obeyed His Father in every detail, the power and fruit of the Cross would have been rendered null and void.  I have no right to demand that God explain everything to me.  I don’t have to obey.  I don’t have to WANT to do what He asks of me.   God is not obligated to give me immediate fruit from my obedience.  I have the privilege of CHOOSING to obey, trusting Him in that area, and knowing that He will release His power in that place of my obedience.  Ultimately, there will be fruit from my choice to obey.  In the meantime, I will enjoy an intimate relationship of trust and honor with my heavenly Daddy, who will be faithful to complete the work He has begun in me (Philippians 1:6).

The Brown Crayon

371548900_eb3e706773_mWhen our oldest son was around four, we decided he was old enough to have a box of 64 Crayola crayons.  Not only would the variety of colors enhance his art work, but his vocabulary would increase as he learned the names of each crayon.  He happily selected one or two crayons at a time and stashed the box carefully behind his back as he lay on the floor coloring one of his masterpieces.  He often invited my husband or me to color with him.  During one particular season of such artistic companionship, he would specifically select the orange and the brown crayons from his box.  He would show me both crayons and invite me with great kindness, “Which crayon do you want?  I am using the orange one.”  I would stare stupefied at the lone brown crayon, my only option, and I would wonder how he could view that option as if he were doing me a favor.  There WAS no real choice!  However, if I wanted to color with Matthew, using the brown crayon was clearly my only option.  This happened repeatedly to my husband and to me over the course of a few months, and I began to suspect that God was giving me a spiritual lesson.

In Isaiah 43:19, God declares that He “will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”  Of course, that sounds like (and it IS) a great promise, but have you ever wondered why you have to be in the wilderness to see the road? Why do we have to be in the desert to find the river?  It’s analogous to the brown crayon…   if we had a wide array of options, we probably would have trouble figuring out which was the right one!  I often cry out to God and beg Him to show me the right road, the right place, the right direction.   At least, if I am in the middle of a wilderness, there is no confusion about which option is the best!  In the wilderness, the contrast is huge between the dry places and the river.   The roads in the wilderness are few and are thereby far easier to discern than the roads in the crowded city of my heart in the land of abundance.  We can indeed praise God for His Presence in the barren places.  It is there in the silence that He allows His voice to be heard, His direction to be made evident, and His refreshing to be manifestly available.  Moses met Him in the wilderness in the form of a burning bush.  The Israelites met Him there in the form of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  After Jesus was baptized by John, the Holy Spirit used the wilderness to equip Him to combat the evil one on our behalf.  The wilderness may not look inviting, but God’s direction and provision there are guaranteed.  The brown crayon may be our only choice, but it can be the key to fellowship with our Father.  Take it and find it unlocks the many facets of His presence!

The Harvest is Ripe — but Do We Care?

pdrm0011Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.  Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.  For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’  I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors.” John 4:34-38 (NKJV)

So often, we think that there is plenty of time to get around to those spiritual duties we postpone….when I am uncomfortable with something, I put it off.  I assume that the “right time” to talk to that friend or neighbor about God will come later, but it certainly is not NOW!  I wriggle out of opportunities that make me squirm a bit or that are a bit unclear.  I ask God for MORE direction and confirmation.  I figure that the harvest will come later, when it is fully ripe.  However, Jesus says that the fields are ripe for harvest NOW!  The real issue is, do I really care?  Do I care enough about people to risk feeling uncomfortable with their pain, their unanswered questions, and my own ignorant bumbling to really dare to tell them the good news of Jesus Christ?   Or do I simply assume that the harvest is a job for special people with special gifts and particular training?  Do I excuse myself from participation in the harvest because I think only certain people with “THAT” kind of spiritual destiny are called to work in the harvest field?  Perhaps I don’t like the field I see in front of me — I prefer fields that are more removed from my home base, more exotic or more grandiose.  Perhaps I prefer to harvest kiwis rather than the soybeans in my own back yard…. I surely need to repent — to repent of my own unwillingness and reluctance, my own fears and insecurities, and my own distaste for getting a little dirt on my hands.  The harvest is HERE.  All I need to do is lift up my eyes and ask God to help me see it with His eyes.  The fields are before us, ripe for the picking.  God has called us to it, and we have no excuse NOT to plunge in and reap the fruit (and the rewards!).  He invites us to come.  He will meet us there, if we will but dare to step out!

Hosea 2:14-15 The Door of Hope

330px-glacial_valley_mthoodwilderness“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, will bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfort to her. I will give her her vineyards from there, and the Valley of Achor as a door of hope; She shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, as in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt.” Hosea 2:14-15 NKJV

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1 NKJV

Just as the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness, He sometimes leads us into the wilderness to give us victory over temptation and trouble. Hosea says that the Lord will speak comfort to us in the waste places of our lives. He even promises to give us fruit from those dry, devastated places. In fact, the Valley of Achor will be a door of hope. The word “achor” in Hebrew means trouble or disturbance. God says in this passage that the very depths of our disturbance He will transform into a door (literally, an opening) of hope. He will give us a door of hope, an opening, in the situations which have hemmed us in, disturbed us, and kept us from moving forward. The word for “trouble” in Psalm 46:1 is a word that literally means “narrow place,” “tightness,” “adversity,” or “affliction.” Here, too, the Lord promises to be present with us. When we find ourselves in the Valley of Trouble of any kind, we need to remember that the Lord intends to give us a door of hope in the midst of that trouble and bring great fruit from our afflictions. He is ever-present with us in the midst of difficulties of all types. He is faithful and will give us our vineyards from that place of seeming restriction and barrenness. Ask Him to show you the door of hope that He has promised. He will reveal it to you.

The Breaker: Transforming obstacles into gateways

images“The one who breaks open will come up before them; they will break out, pass through the gate, and go out by it. Their king will pass before them, with the Lord at their head.” Micah 2:13

God is in the business of transforming obstacles into gateways. The Breaker, Jesus Christ, makes this transformation possible. His Blood serve as the door, or gateway, through which we pass out of sin and death into His kingdom of light and life. When we feel hindered or obstructed in an area of our life, we can trust that the Breaker has a plan. As we pray, we can ask God to show us His will for that specific situation. As we then begin to pray for His kingdom to come and His will to be done, He goes about the business of transforming those hindrances into gateways. Jesus goes before us, and we follow His lead. Don’t assume that those walls and barriers are permanent. He is in the transformation business!  May the Breaker grant you breakthrough in your areas of challenge and adversity!

The Open Door,

“I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.” Revelation 3:8 (NKJV)

God has set before us an open door that leads to His will, plans, and purposes for our lives.  The question is:  dare I go through it?  The Bible says that no one can shut the door that God has opened for us (see Isaiah 22:22 and Revelation 3:7).  The enemy may attempt to obscure or camouflage that door, but he cannot shut it.  We can simply refuse to enter.  I pray that God will reveal to me the places the enemy has clouded God’s will for my life to the point that I am unable to see the Door He has opened for me.  I also pray for strength from the Holy Spirit to walk through that door.  His purposes await us!  Let’s go through the gates! (Isaiah 62:10)  “Open to me the gates of righteousness; I will go through them, and I will praise the Lord.”  Psalm 118:19doorway