Faith

All posts tagged Faith

Paul, A Prisoner of Christ

Published January 7, 2018 by Dawn

I sat down with the Word of God this morning, specifically praying that God would transform my heart and mind (Romans 12:2) and make me holy by cleansing me with the Word (Ephesians 5:26). I’ve needed it, as I have felt overwhelmed by the battle lately, abandoned in acts of obedience, and left alone to bear the burden of life.

My last long study session, I read most of Acts so I pulled the satin strip of a bookmark out as I flipped open my Bible and began where I left off at Acts 25. Paul was imprisoned and had been handed down from Felix to Festus. It seemed the will of God kept Paul captive to a succession of administrators who needed to hear the gospel. When Festus questioned him and thought to send Paul back to Jerusalem so he could finally put an end to Paul’s trial, Paul appealed to Caesar. This appeal guaranteed his continued imprisonment, and we later find, after Paul witnesses to King Agrippa, that if he hadn’t made his appeal to Caesar, he could have been set free. The men who had accused him years before had lost their fervency and forgotten their accusations.

I wonder, if Paul had known how close he was to freedom, if he would have went back. This man, whom God continually gave wisdom to and great discernment, did not have this one piece of information that could have been his get-out-of-jail-free card. The truth is, God had kept this information from him because it was God’s will that Paul go to Rome. Paul never questioned God in this because he knew that the fulfillment of his vision for ministry, the vision God gave him, was that he should minister in Rome.

I find this truth slightly discomforting: God’s will for Paul was a purposed captivity. We find through the next few chapters that God provided a relative amount of freedom and comfort, and even safety, in Paul’s service, but at the end of the day, Paul spent years in captivity – years as a prisoner – because it served God’s purpose.

In Acts 27, Paul’s captors defy logic and reason, ignore Paul’s discernment, and set out on a ship with 227 men during the worse time of the year for sailing. Their zeal to finish their assignment swept them headlong into a massive shipwreck. Fourteen days on a harrowing, turbulent sea. Days without food, living in constant fear for their lives, these men could have avoided all of this if they would have just listened to Paul’s Spirit-led advice. Because God, was gracious, though, the storm eventually drove them to Malta where all survived, although they lost their ship and all their supplies.

Almost as soon as they had reached the beach, Paul began to build a fire and a viper latched onto his hand. He should have died, but instead, he just shook it off and kept going. This part of the story has awed me for years. I marvel at Paul’s faith, but to him it was a simple thing: God had said he was going to Rome, so he was going to Rome. There was nothing that could keep him from God’s plan for his life, no matter how scary and deadly. Paul was settled in this knowledge and it carried him through every attack of the enemy to make him fear otherwise.

Not one to waste a moment of His minister’s life, God used the shipwreck on the island of Malta to bring healing to the nation there, spread the Gospel of Christ, and replenish His missionary-in-chains. He used every bit of the shipwreck – used Paul in that place – and prepared him to go on in God’s ultimate plan.

Chapter 28, verse16, tells us that Paul arrived in Rome, in fulfillment to the vision God had given him. This fulfillment came through captivity. Clearly, it wasn’t Paul’s plan; who plans to live his life in captivity? It was God’s plan which Paul submitted to because he saw himself as an obedient servant, not a master of his own life. This plan was good, even if it didn’t feel good.

The end of Acts, the end of 28, tells us that Paul was a captive in Rome, preaching the gospel unhindered in his own rented house. I just can’t get over this. He was fulfilling God’s ultimate plan for his life as a captive, but living as a free man in his own rented house and preaching the gospel without hindrance. That blows my mind! God fulfilled Paul’s vision and used everything Paul endured. He encouraged Paul through others and kept him safe by posting guards outside his house. Otherwise, Paul was “free” to minister to the Romans.

As I read all of this today, I was astonished. Never did Paul waver in his faith. Never did God waste a moment of suffering. And never did God allow Paul to be harmed as he fulfilled God’s plan for his life. Paul was obedient. He didn’t complain. He took everything that happened with such a deep conviction that God could use it and all he had to do was yield in all ways to God’s will. Everything that happened was an opportunity for Paul to minister and he did. He never worried about himself. He endured discomfort for the sake of the lost, and was led in chains everywhere God wanted him to go. Satan had no power in any of this. Anything that might have been the work of the devil was thwarted and repurposed by God.

Father, I want that kind of faith. I desire an obedient heart like Paul’s. Give me ears to hear and a strong, steadfast belief in your love and ability. Increase my faith, increase my love and give me a heart that desires your will above all things. If your will for my life requires me to be uncomfortable, I pray for a love for you that surpasses my own self-love, so that I can do your work unhindered by my selfishness. Thank you for your Word, that brings healing and comfort, that renews us and helps us to continue. I love you.

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For the Hopeless

Published December 20, 2017 by Dawn

“Jesus wept.”

His dusty feet were following the mournful cries of Lazarus’ family and friends along a winding path to the outskirts of town. He heard their accusing whispers. “Couldn’t he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” His heart broke. For them, not for himself, because he knew what was to come. His heart broke for them, who saw every sign of ending and loss and watched every bit of hope be wrapped up in grave clothes and laid to rest days ago.

Mary and Martha had sent word, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” Jesus had seemed passive about it then. “This sickness will not end in death. It is for God’s glory, so that God may be glorified through it.” Yet here they stood, next to their crying Friend, overcome with grief that death had once again triumphed. Lazarus was gone.

I want you to understand something, friend. It wasn’t that God had failed them in that moment. Their perspective was limited to what they knew. They knew sickness led to death. They knew death was a finale, not an interim. They knew Lazarus had breathed his last, was in the grave and experience told them his body would stay there. They had never experienced an act of God so great, so logic-defying, that they could hope in something more in that moment.

Jesus cried because he saw their despair. Their utter hopelessness. Their devastation. They knew what he was capable of and in that moment, they were disappointed in him. Lazarus’ friends and families had all the faith in the world that Jesus could have saved him from death. In their hearts, Jesus had disappointed them.

Jesus knew death was not the final curtain. He knew Lazarus had an encore. He restrained his power so that God could bring Himself a greater glory out of the situation. He allowed his best friend to die. He understood their grief as they poured it out at his feet. He understood their unasked pleas: “Why weren’t you here, Lord? Why did you allow this? You are able to change this situation. We do not doubt your ability.”

But then death came, and like a massive earthquake, it shattered hope and toppled their faith. It shook everything that could be shaken and exposed the weaknesses of every structure that wasn’t built on the solid foundation of God. In the wake of such agony and inner destruction, Lazarus’ friends looked at Jesus and wondered that he could stand by without uttering a word, without panic or fear, with seeming indifference, while their hearts were torn from the loss.

“This sickness will not end in death.” But it had.

Until Jesus prayed.

He wept while he climbed the hill to the sepulcher. Then he stood there at the stone-covered entrance, gave one last look at the hopeless faces around him and raised his eyes Heavenward. He prayed, not for his own benefit, but so that those around him would know and understand the connection Jesus had to God. The immediate, powerful, life-changing connection of the Son talking to his Abba Daddy. “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

The sickness, the death and decay, the days of mourning, it all happened so that they might truly believe. Which means one thing: they didn’t yet.

Mary and Martha spoke to Jesus about their faith. They knew he could have healed Lazarus and they affirmed their belief in his ability to do so, but then death came and their faith seemed useless. They did not believe that Jesus’ ability to heal Lazarus transcended the grave. Not because their faith was weak, but because it was only so big. Their faith had grown naturally to include all that made sense based on their experience. But this new experience was beyond their ability to believe. No one had ever been raised from the dead, so how were they to know it could ever happen? It was a preposterous thought!

Until He spoke.

“Lazarus, come forth!”

When Lazarus walked out of the tomb, still wrapped in grave clothes but very much alive, those standing around watching in despair were raised to a new level in faith. As they walked home with Lazarus, laughing and rejoicing to have him back, they knew Jesus differently. They had hoped in him before, but now they KNEW him. There was nothing in life, not even death, that would cause them to distrust Christ again. Their faith was solidified. Rock solid on a foundation that cannot ever be destroyed. A little while later, as they watched him on the cross, this was the group that knew he could rise up. Knew that he would rise up. They had seen his power manifest in the impossible. Nothing could stop what God had ordained. Nothing.

There’s probably something in your life that is dead or dying. A hope that is dim and fading fast. A hope that has been dead a while, or even a hope you intentionally buried to keep it from hurting you. You don’t know how to believe because you have cried out to God and it seems like He is indifferent. He’s quiet. He hasn’t shown up in your time of despair. It’s tempting to give in to it. I get it. I’m there too. I sat down to read my Bible and this story wouldn’t let go of me. Jesus disappointed his friends the same way God seems to be disappointing you and I right now. We’re crying out, “God, why?”

His glory.

If we hold on long enough, God will do something. It might be after all our natural understanding lies broken all around us. It might be well after we have abandoned all hope. It might be when absolutely nothing makes sense. That might just be the place God is taking us to. Our faith can’t grow if we are still only experiencing things we’ve experienced before. But it can grow. It just might hurt a little. Something might die. It might feel like its us. When you’re there, friend, crying out with what little strength you have left, and it sounds like you are screaming in an echo chamber because your prayers are coming back to you unanswered, I want you to hold on to two things: Jesus wept and Jesus prayed.

He understands our pain and suffering. He understands our despair and the inner turmoil we feel. He sees the restraint of God and he feels for us. He is our advocate and as he sits on the right hand of God, he looks down with love and weeps. We are His. He loves us. He didn’t die for nothing. He died for us. He prevailed over death, hell and the grave to have us. He loves us tremendously and we matter to him. So in our pain, he weeps with us.

If that isn’t comfort enough, know this: He’s speaking to the Father on our behalf. He sits at the right hand of God and intercedes for us (Romans 8:34). Our cries reach his ears and he turns to the Creator of All Things and mentions them with a trembling voice and tears in his eyes. When God restrains himself, He is growing our faith. He is taking us to a new level, spiritually speaking. Our fleshly hope will be turned into a knowing that we know, because God will do something supernatural and beyond comprehension.

We have this hope and an anchor for the soul, firm and steadfast” (Heb. 6:19).

 

Faith is Better than Fear

Published October 19, 2017 by Dawn

It’s three o’clock in the morning and instead of sleeping, I’m thinking about the first time I conscientiously told a lie. I was in fifth grade. I even remember where I was standing when I made the decision to lie, against my better judgment. I was right outside the gym in my middle school. I don’t remember who I was talking to, but I do remember the struggle. Angel on one side, demon on the other. I bit my lip and told a lie knowing in my heart it was wrong and I shouldn’t have done it. That’s not quite the same as all the lies I might have told before, when my conscience had not yet been awakened. This lie was pivotal: I realized how beneficial lying could be to me, and the first seed of suspicion was sown into my heart.

I’ve always been a little naïve. Apt to trust others’ words more than their actions. Imagine my surprise when, at 13, someone told me that everything my dad had ever told me about his life growing up was a lie. I thought the world of my dad. He was the bravest, most daring man I knew and I loved the adventurous stories he shared of his life. Then I found out they were all lies. It crushed me profoundly. But perhaps not as badly as the lies my first “real” boyfriend told. All the time. I wanted everything he said to be true so badly, I lied to myself in defense of him until I was 20! I can’t imagine how gullible you must think me, but then again, it’s probably accurate because … I was 20 when I finally stopped believing what everyone else knew wasn’t true YEARS before.

The problem became, not my believing everything, but suddenly, I believed nothing. My naturally trusting nature became naturally suspicious of everything and everyone.

The Lord confronted me about this a few weeks ago at church. A little background here: God has given me promises. Not just me, but all of us. I take them very personal. I believe my children are His children, and when God said in His word, “I will contend with those who contend with you, and your children I will save,” I wrote down the date He spoke this into my spirit because it was a rhema word to me. Boy, did I need it!

My son has embarked on a treacherous climb up his own mountain without me. God is training him to be a warrior and moms aren’t invited on that adventurous trip. There’s no way I could ever help my son become a man because princes fight dragons and princesses fear them. There’s a valiance that needs to be awakened in a boy that moms, in fear, can really impede. You couldn’t convince me otherwise because I’m living this truth. It’s not mere words to me.

Anyway, back to the believing thing: my faith has wavered for a while. I took my suspicion into the throne room in prayer and waved it in God’s face. He’d say something and I would get all defensive because I have learned to trust my sight much more than the words I hear – so antithetical to faith, but the world works opposite from God. He has spoken promises to me, and I have looked at the floor and angrily shaken my fist, refusing to believe. “But what is the truth here?!”

The Lord said to me while I was praying, shaking my fist, “You have been filled with suspicion, and you have questioned everything I have spoken to you. But God is not a man, that he should lie to you.”

That’s in Numbers 23:19, but it’s also been engraved on my heart since then, and this powerful truth has literally changed the battle in my prayer time. Whereas before, I would grovel at the Lord’s feet in utter turmoil because what is happening is so vastly different than what I expected things would look like (in my weakness, this does still happen sometimes), I am learning to pray boldly, speaking the promises of God into the atmosphere, reminding myself of scripture and the promises of God concerning my kids. Instead of allowing the devil to destroy my heart and mind with fear, I am pronouncing faithfully those things God has spoken. His words have become a weapon in my home, bringing peace and security into what has otherwise been the worst time of my life. I haven’t slept all week, but I have prayed powerful prayers in a place of real pain and heartache.

I might not be able to accompany my son on this long, scary trek. As his mother, I would have forbidden it. God knew that, so he took the matter out of my hands. He is raising a warrior. I would have raised a tall boy still clutching to his momma’s apron strings. However, although he’s in the hands of his Father, my prayers are with him, and I am speaking light into the darkness on his behalf:

God is not a man that He can lie (Numbers 23:19).

My children, He has promised to save (Isaiah 49:25).

No weapon formed against us will prosper, and this is not just my promise, but my son’s promise too (Isaiah 54:17).

When my son walks through the water, God will be with him. The rivers will not sweep over him. When he walks through the fire, he will not be burned (Isaiah 43:2-4)

If I raise up my children in the way they should go (which I have), when they are older they will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6).

There are so many other precious promises in the Bible that I have begun to declare in faith because God cannot lie to me. And He will not, because it is not in His nature to do so. We do not need to regard the things He says to us with suspicion because if God spoke it, it is true. Although our feelings and our sight might disagree, we can bank on it. We may not know how, or when, God’s truth will come to pass. The timing thing is still something I am getting used to. God is working on a completely different timeframe than me and I don’t really understand it, but again, He told me I wouldn’t. God has never lied to us. His ways are higher, and His thoughts as well (Isaiah 55:8). We won’t always understand what He is doing. I promise you, though, if you begin to believe His word over your experiences, you will have peace and I believe Satan will tremble as you speak the promises of God over your circumstances.

If, on the other hand, you struggle to believe because of your experiences, I encourage you to read your Bible more. It is a record of God’s faithfulness in the lives of many other people, just in case you can’t overcome your suspicion that easily. Take your heart to God and read of His faithfulness. See if you do not experience a mighty change of opinion toward Him. Faith is so much better than fear, friend. God bless!

 

 

God of the Hills and Valleys

Published August 3, 2017 by Dawn

“Afterward, the prophet came to the king of Israel and said, ‘Strengthen your position and see what must be done, because next spring the king of Aram will attack you again.’ Meanwhile, the officials of the king of Aram advised him, ‘Their gods are gods of the hills. That’s why they were too strong for us. But if we fight them on the plains, surely we will be stronger than they.”

“The next spring … the man of God came up and told the king of Israel, ‘This is what the Lord says: “Because the Arameans think the Lord is a god of the hills and not a god of the valleys, I will deliver this vast army into your hands, and you will know that I am the Lord.’”” (1 Kings 20:22-23, 26, 28)

I was picking up around my room yesterday morning, and it was a rare moment where I really wasn’t fixated on anything in thought. My mind was quiet, which hardly ever happens. I’m glad it did, though, because I heard the Holy Spirit say something that I needed to hear, very clearly.

You over-estimate the devil, and under-estimate God.

It was a mouthful of something bitter I needed to chew on. The truth is bitter sometimes, you know. I was glad the Holy Spirit confronted me on this, even though in that moment, I was uncomfortable. I mean, I know my thoughts are laid bare before the Lord all the time, but sometimes, I put on a good enough front, I can even fool myself into believing I have rock-solid faith. It’s all a sham, I’m afraid. When the Lord spoke this to me, I knew instantly I had been called out on something He wanted to deal with.

I wrote it down on the whiteboard in my bedroom. I put my prayer requests on it, quotes I want to think about, scriptures that are doing a work in me … pretty much anything I need to ruminate on go on the whiteboard. I wrote this “word” down and went about the rest of my day, thinking back to it often because let’s be honest, when the Holy Spirit speaks so clearly, you know God is about to do some major work in you.

I sat down to read my Bible this morning and eventually ran into the above scripture, and recognized myself in it immediately. I think this is my problem: I see God as master over certain situations, but deficient in others. I also tend to look at the enemy in certain circumstances and immediately give him the victory in my heart because I’ve seen him victorious before. I also worry a lot when I don’t see the whole picture, afraid that God is not going to prevail in things that are truly important to me. You see, I have designated Him a God of the mountains. I have come to expect the mountains, strive in climbing them, meet Him there, but then I descend (as we all inevitably do) into a valley and immediately lose sight of God because I believe Him to be up on the hill somewhere above me.

I don’t expect God to be with me in the valleys. I don’t carry with me the faith that He truly will never leave me or forsake me, even though He said so and the word assures me He cannot lie. In the valley, I am often defeated in my mind before the battle even really begins, and because of that, I cannot see the victories until I am up on the next hill looking backward. He hasn’t failed me ever, but I often feel He is failing me because I allow my abandonment issues to rise up and cloud my vision.

Add to all of this, the fact that I give Satan credit where none is due, and I can clearly see why the valleys seem so deep, dark and troublesome. I feel alone in a place I know the enemy is lurking. He’s got a plan and before he even begins to work at defeating me, I’ve raised my hands in surrender, trembling at the thought of what he’s capable of. I get my eyes off the Lord because I don’t trust Him to truly be with me and deliver me. In my heart, I have believed that God is not God of the valleys.

Just like the prophet said, the enemy is preparing for battle all the time. We need to muster our courage, check our defenses and strengthen what remains. We need to strategize and have a plan (it’s not hard … my plan is to rely on God and see His victory!). We need to stand up and face life head on KNOWING that our God is God in the valleys just the same as He is God on the hills. I probably don’t have to tell you that in this story, He reaped an awesome victory. He will do this in our valleys too. While our enemy may be encouraging us to see his own strength and to fail in our faith, God is lovingly imploring us with His tender gaze to TRUST HIM. He is no less God in the bleak days. He is no less powerful in the darkness or storm. He is no less loving in our struggles to believe. He is God who cannot change. The same yesterday, today and forever. He is for us. He is victorious!

Our God is God of the hills and valleys!

A Word to the Elect

Published July 31, 2017 by Dawn

“The man of God said, “I cannot turn back and go with you, nor can I eat bread or drink water with you in this place. I have been told by the word of the Lord: ‘You must not eat bread or drink water there or return by the way you came.’

“The old prophet answered, ‘I too am a prophet, as you are. And an angel said to me by the word of the Lord: ‘Bring him back with you to your house so that he may eat bread and drink water.’ (But he was lying to him.)

“So the man of God returned with him and ate and drank at his house.

“While they were sitting at the table, the word of the Lord came to the old prophet who had brought him back. He cried out to the man of God who had come from Judah, ‘This is what the Lord says: ‘You have defied the word of the Lord and have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you. You came back and ate bread and drank water in the place where he told you not to eat or drink. Therefore, your body will not be buried in the tomb of your ancestors.’

“When the man of God had finished eating and drinking, the prophet who had brought him back saddled his donkey for him. As he went on his way, a lion met him on the road and killed him, and his body was left lying on the road, with both the donkey and the lion beside it” (1 Kings 13:16-24).

The younger prophet had received a word from the Lord, was confident it was God, and shared it with Jeroboam, the one it was sent to. He fulfilled his duty to God, and when the King (Jeroboam) invited him to stick around for dinner, the faithful prophet declined. He knew that God had told him not to eat and drink there, and because he had just pronounced a judgment on Jeroboam, probably didn’t feel very comfortable staying much longer anyway. He took off without a backward glance. But then, an older man, known to also be a man of God, invited him to turn back and come sup with him. The prophet first stuck to his convictions. He knew God’s directions to not turn back or eat or drink there. But the elder prophet was more persuasive and because the younger trusted his leadership, he turned back. It was obvious disobedience to what God had spoken to him, but he trusted that the older prophet had received a true word and trusted the man. He turned back for dinner.

In the middle of the meal, the older prophet shares a true word from God: a word of rebuke and impending destruction. The younger man’s trust was misplaced in a lie and for that, he was going to reap the wrath of God.

It happened then, and still happens now. People of God have a hard time trusting their own discernment. They receive one thing from the Word of God, and another from a man of God, and refusing to trust the Spirit of God within themselves, they willfully trust in a lie. This is very evident in the church’s adulterous acceptance of New Age theology, calling itself “Reformed”, whereby the church has grabbed onto man’s understanding instead of seeking God through His word. Why? I have a hunch:

  • Reading the Bible takes time many of us refuse to give to God.
  • Understanding the Bible is hard to do, unless you allow the Holy Spirit to minister through it.
  • We’ve lost all respect for authority and most people don’t want to be taught; they just want to pretend they know it all already
  • The church is more comfortable putting together a program and sticking to it than getting together for prayer and leaving God to plan His own “thing”
  • People trust other people’s interpretations of scripture because they don’t want to spend time reading the Bible.
  • We expect our elders to be in touch with God, and feel freed from the responsibility to know God for ourselves because we have placed our trust in men.

In order to not be in error, we first must commit to our personal walk with the Lord. We cannot know God through others. We never will. We will know them, and we will know their walk with God, but we will not know God. We can be led to Him, but if we aren’t willing to take up that cross and begin a personal walk with the Lord, we are in danger of error.

Secondly, while the texts of others can certainly lead us to truth, relying solely on the wisdom of others and disregarding personal prayer and devotion will most certainly always lead us into some error. There is no man who is 100% correct about God. Everything we hear, we should always take back to the word of God and search it out like the Bereans in the book of Acts (17:11). They were considered more righteous because they didn’t take the apostles at their word, but searched the scriptures daily to make sure that what they heard was in fact true, according to the word of God.

We also must spend time with God. In His word and in prayer. We cannot hear or heed the voice of God if we are unfamiliar with it. How can we trust that what we hear is God if His voice is that of a stranger? No, we must spend personal time (devote personal time) to our Lord, tucked away in a secret place and listening intently to what He is speaking through His word and in our prayer time. God is not often silent; we are just often not listening!

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:1-2). We have much to fear, church, if we are not students of the Word and stewards devoted to prayer. These people inhabit the pulpits. They teach on TV. They have a form of godliness, but deny His power and instead work in their own. They interpret scripture to cater to the feelings of their congregants or the tide of money flowing through the church. Many have heard God in the past, and are capable of hearing Him still, but instead minister lies to a vulnerable populace. How do we avoid the snare? We must remain guarded; girded with truth, listening with ears that hear the Spirit of God, and willing to admit wrongness so that God may be proved right (Romans 3:4, for clarity on this).

“For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24). I tremble at the thought. May studying the Word of God and prayer become the passionate pursuit of my heart! May it be yours as well, friend.

Going Through the Motions

Published July 6, 2017 by Dawn

“Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines. The Israelites camped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines at Aphek. The Philistines deployed their forces to meet Israel, and as the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand of them on the battlefield. When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, ‘Why did the Lord bring defeat on us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Shiloh, so that he may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemy.’

“So the people sent men to Shiloh, and they brought back the ark of the covenant of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim. And Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.

“ When the ark of the Lord’s covenant came into the camp, all Israel raised such a great shout that the ground shook. Hearing the uproar, the Philistines asked, ‘What’s all this shouting in the Hebrew camp?’ When they learned that the ark of the Lord had come into the camp, the Philistines were afraid. ‘A god has come into the camp,’ they said. ‘Oh no! Nothing like this has happened before. We’re doomed! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods that struck down the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness. Be strong, Philistines! Be men, or you will be subject to the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Be men, and fight!’

“So the Philistines fought, and the Israelites were defeated and every man fled to his tent. The slaughter was great; Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers. The ark of God was captured and Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, died” (1 Sam. 4: 1-11).

Isreal, God’s people, were in battle. Surrounded by the enemy and being defeated mercilessly. They were so sure of victory, they went into battle a little under prepared. We know that because they didn’t even take the ark of the covenant with them. It had been at the forefront of their trials in the desert, their crossing the Jordan and stepping into the Promise Land. All the battles won as Joshua was obedient and conquered the land so the people of God could have a place to call home. The ark went before them, symbolic of the presence of their great and mighty God. They knew where their strength lay … for a time, at least.

Then it happened: they went zealously into battle against a great enemy. The giants in the land – the Philistines. Israel, so sure of victory, went into that battle with nothing more than a grand illusion and lost. They had forgotten to bring God into their plans, and subsequently, their plans failed.

An elder knew immediately what was wrong. The ark wasn’t there. But to the new generation of Israelites, who hadn’t been in the desert, it was only a relic. They went after it, of course, and brought along the “priests” as well, but it almost seems like they just set it up ceremoniously on the edge of the field of battle, celebrated their forthcoming victory and again, went into  battle in their own strength.

It amazes me to think of how it happened: they Israelites even shouted in praise that the ark was there. Their praise was so loud, it shook the ground and got the attention of the enemy. It scared the Philistines, and awakened them to their impending doom. Their solution? Fight harder.

It worked.

How?!

I literally sat here and cried after reading this. It’s just like us, friends.

I prayed to understand, because frankly, I’m sick of being defeated. Here’s what happened:  The Israelites were defeated the first time because they went out high on past victories, in their own strength and completely underestimating their enemy. When they were defeated, someone reminded them that their past victories were due to the presence of God among them, so they went back and grabbed the ark. Sadly, to them, it was the symbolism that mattered, not the reality. They went through the motions and expected that God was in it. He wasn’t … because they hadn’t spent time seeking His will and His way to victory.

The really disturbing part is how their hollow worship scared the enemy into action. The Philistines recognized something the Israelites did not: They had brought gods into the camp. Not God. Little Gs … gods. They had brought their own idolatrous ideas and plans into the camp and worshiped as fervently as they knew how. Their enemy noticed and although they afraid, their fear was based on what God had done for the Israelites. Not what the Israelites had done for themselves. Are you getting this? The Philistines’ fear led them to fight stronger and because the Israelites had a form of worship with no power, they were defeated.

This scares me, church. And humbles me. And suddenly, the continuous battles and frequent defeats make sense. Maybe it’s because, instead of truly seeking God, we’re just going through the motions. Maybe that’s why America’s church is powerless and the world is in chaos. Satan seems to be winning because he is, I’m afraid. Because we’re fighting him with gods; our own ideas and strategies are failing us. We have for so long refused to get still before the Lord and seek His face. Instead, we’ve changed the program a hundred and fifty different ways trying to bring people in, but all this time, what we really need to do is bring God back in. Not with our preconceived ideas of how things need to go, or what people want to hear. People need God. They want to hear God. Not you. Not me. They are dealing with deep calling unto deep, but we’re beckoning them into shallow church services. We’ve reduced the movement of God to a program and put Him in a box we refuse to let Him out of. That’s what Israel did. They went back for the box, but they didn’t open it up and let God do what He wanted to do (technically, they were forbidden from opening the ark, but I’m speaking metaphorically here). They were afraid it would look a little foolish, maybe. After all, they defeated Jericho by walking around the walls and shouting. They defeated the Midianites by breaking clay jars and blowing trumpets. All God’s plans, and let’s face it: it was a little weird sharing the war stories. A little humbling. They couldn’t take credit. Maybe that’s why they went out without Him. Maybe they wanted to actually look and feel like warriors instead of weirdos. How’d it work out? Defeat.

I think it’s time to stop going to war without God. Stop trying to win people to our ideologies and get back to what scripture actually says. Stop trying to make it fancy and give it to people straight. Stop worrying about if they like our worship and just worship. It’s not for them; it’s for Him. Stop candy-coating, or polishing up, the truth and give it straight. It is the truth that sets men free, not a confusing combination of cutesy anecdotes and platitudes. Our sermons have become so devoid of actual scripture, the garbage being fed to the multitudes is quite vomitus. No wonder the world can’t stand the church! God himself would like to spew us out of his mouth, no doubt!

Stop doing your thing, church. Do God’s. And if you don’t know what that even means any more, I think that’s a good indication it’s time to get on our knees and shut up long enough for God to speak. He hasn’t changed. He cannot. He will not. Therefore, we must.

Accidentally Running My Best

Published April 26, 2017 by Dawn

I just accidentally ran 3.75 miles.

You think I’m joking, but no … I am serious. And seriously terrified of how this is going to feel tomorrow. I don’t even know how this happened! Well, wait, yes I do. Here’s what happened:

My average run is a typical 5k. Slightly over three if I push myself, but no more than three most times. I run every other day, but mostly only three times a week. Never two days in a row. I need my heal-time.

Today, I went to my running guru, Stone. He’s the track coach at school and he works just a Stone’s throw away … see what I did there … Ha! Okay, I’ll quit.

Anyway, I asked him what his best advice was for me to transition to running every day. I told him my routine, and he suggested scaling my runs back to two miles and running every day until I can build back up to three miles on a daily. So that was my original plan when I started out today. I checked the weather on my five-minute warm-up walk and noticed it was going to rain tomorrow, and I don’t run in thunderstorms … rain ruins shoes. A light drizzle is okay, but storms are a NO. Do you see how anal I am? Now you must believe that this was all an accident!

I wavered, trying to decide whether to do two, or go ahead and do three since tomorrow was an off day. Since I’m goal oriented, I had to make a decision. I can’t just play it by ear because I’m a quitter if I don’t have a definite goal. Two or three it was, depending on how I felt at the end of two … do you see what I did there? This was the beginning of my losing control.

I ran one mile. My first is on that notorious hill that’s uphill both ways. I hate it, but it adds time and keeps me close to home. My first mile also includes “Quitter’s Hill.” This is the hill I walk almost every time I come up on it. If I can run this hill (I’ve only done it a handful of times), I can run the rest of three miles no problem. I lowered my head on Quitter’s Hill and pushed myself. I couldn’t look up because I did not want to see what was left of it, I just wanted to be over it. Halfway up it, I hear a loud, booming voice say, “You’re doing great! Keep going!” I looked up, fully expecting God to be wearing my favorite colors and waving a fan flag, but it was just a guy standing on his back porch. He said, “That hills a killer!” I laughed and replied, “Yeah it it. I hate it!” He hollered back, “You’re almost there, keep going!”

With encouragement like that, how could I quit? I waved, pushed my head back down and pressed harder into my foot falls. Finally, I crested the hill and began a slow descent. Not too long afterward, I heard my first mile on the app. Twelve minutes, eight seconds. I just kept going. My legs weren’t hurting yet, so I hit my second mile with a relish. I was really surprised when I heard my second mile time: ten minutes, twenty-nine seconds.

Guys! That’s a minutes, thirty-nine less! That’s a full minutes less than my usual second mile. This is where it happened. This is where I lost all control. I could have run forever on that high, so I pushed into my third mile with such gusto and not long afterward heard it: my third mile time. It was nine, fifty-six. At this point, I knew I had to get home but I couldn’t stop. I kept running. I ran three and three-fourths miles this evening. I didn’t mean to, but isn’t it amazing what a little bit of Christ-like encouragement and seeing victories can do to a person! It makes one lose control! In a good way!

Keep running the race, friend. Notice and acknowledge the little victories. Don’t give up, press on! And if you’re not running at the moment, be Jesus. Be an encourager. We’re all in this together. Let’s do this thing, and let’s do it well!