My Jericho

(from Joshua 6 and 1 Kings 16: 34)

God tore down these fortress walls;
My dirty hands rebuild them.
He commands, He warns, He whispers, He calls;
My willful heart ignores Him.

I pour the foundation and bury my Lord;
I raise the gates and nail Him high.
The bricks are whetstones to sharpen the sword
That pierce His heart and mine.

He destroyed what once held me.
I build it back in zealous lust,
Too proud to kneel, too blind to see
The mortar is made of blood and dust.

Dear Lord, I wish to let my hammer drop,
To let the fortress lie,
To let green grass cover the barren spot,
And rivers fill the streets so dry.

 

Strong

Joshua 1: 6-7 – “Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or the left, that you may prosper wherever you go.”

Strength. It seems as if more than once, especially over the last couple of months, people have commented on my having spiritual strength.

But am I really that strong? Or am I just so weak that God’s strength shines through?

Because when I look at myself, I know I’m not strong. Sure, I can be. When people need me, then I will do everything I can to come through for them, to be strong for them. And, in most situations, it seems as if God allows me to be strong for them, to be that person on whom they can lean. And I am so thankful for that; I am so thankful that God has made me a person whom others can rely upon.

But when I’m alone…I know who I really am. When I finally just shut my door and sit on my bed, when I quit focusing on all the crazy activities of life, when I finally let myself be still before Him…then I realize how overwhelmed and weak I am.

I am not as strong as people think I am.

Those times when I am at my “strongest”? Those are undoubtedly the times when I was begging God for His strength and guidance, knowing that my abilities were entirely inadequate.

In 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10, Paul says, “And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I hope that when people see my “strength,” they can recognize that I am only the weak and broken pot, and that God is the Strong One who is holding me together and making me a serviceable vessel. Because the Strong One they see isn’t me — it’s all Him.

Enough

Habakkuk 3: 17-18a

Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor the fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls — Yet I will rejoice in the Lord , I will joy in the God of my salvation.

The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, And He will make me walk on my high hills.

The picture painted here is one of utter desolation. The trees and vines produce no food, crops aren’t growing, the livestock are gone…it’s a bleak, hopeless outlook, especially for people whose lives depend on agricultural output (which, really, all of us do). But there is no hope here, no joy in a dead farm.

Nothing is growing, nothing is going right. Despair, destruction, hopelessness, failure.

Life.

Tell me, where’s the joy in that?

I don’t believe there is any.

But Habakkuk doesn’t find joy in that life. He finds joy in God:

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

God is enough. He is our joy. No matter how dismal my life is, I can still find joy in Him. We need nothing else; He is our joy.

Even when we are the lowest of low by the world’s standards, when we have absolutely nothing, when life is the most barren desert we could ever imaging passing through, just look at the position God puts us in. Look at verse 19:

The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, And He will make me walk on my high hills.

I like how my footnotes explain this passage:

“The Lord God”: Here the divine name Yahweh is tied to the term Adonai, which means “Lord.” “my strength”: God will strengthen those who trust in Him [….] He will give those who live by faith the same confidence that a surefooted deer has  in climbing mountains [….] like a victorious army, the righteous with God’s strength will occupy the high hill.

God is the Strength I need to face this life.

He makes me able to maneuver the crags and crevices and predators and danger zones.

And He gives me the victory. Oh my goodness, He gives me the victory to stand tall with Him, no matter how Satan attacks.

God is my Everything.

Not “Just”

I recently borrowed a movie called Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. While there were certain aspects of the movie that I didn’t approve of, I fell in love with the overall theme of the movie. It’s a story that focuses on using one’s imagination, believing the unbelievable, and making the impossible possible. It has a beautiful plot with incredible quotes and photography that encourage the viewer to take a childish, innocent, and awed look at the world without any of the legalities and restrictions that our “realistic,” “mature” adult minds tend to use.

During one scene in the movie, the business-minded accountant — who has no belief in magic whatsoever — is asking the store manager Molly Mahoney what the matter is with the Emporium, which is Mr. Magorium’s toystore. Molly tells the accountant that it’s a magical toystore but he refuses to take her word literally, sure she’s using “magical” as a figurative way to describe the store. Frustrated, Molly tells him that he is a “just guy” —

“A guy just like you. Same hair, same suit, same shoes, walks around, no matter what, you think it’s all just a store, it’s just a bench, it’s just a tree. It’s just what it is, nothing more! “ (IMDB)

Ever since watching that movie, I’ve noticed the same “just guy” (or “gal”) mentality popping up occasionally in one of the Bible studies I attend. While we try to dig into Scripture, sometimes a verse just seems straightforward. Somebody will explain, “It just means that it’s only by grace that we’re saved,” or “It just means that Christ is the second Adam who saves us, just like the first Adam condemned us.” And then we move on. It’s just this, it’s just that. No awe. No amazement. It’s just matter-of-fact, take-it-as-it-is.

I’m getting to the point where I want to scream, “No, it’s not!”

Jesus Christ didn’t just die for us. God didn’t just sacrifice His Son for us. We weren’t just given His grace. We weren’t just saved from the punishment we deserve for our sins.

The problem is that we have heard these messages so often that we have lost our wonder for them. We have adopted that stagnant, this-is-a-fact-of-life mindset even in relation to the Scriptures. And let me ask you, how believable are the stories and messages in Scripture if we take a look at them as if we’ve never seen them before? God literally became a human being? God is three Persons in One? Jesus lived a perfect life and after He died and was buried for three days, He came back to life again? All of the wrongs we have ever done in our entire lives can be washed away by the blood of one Man? God actually cares about the measly human beings here on earth?

How believable is any of that? How “just” is Scripture?

No wonder Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it” (Luke 18:16b-17).

Children implicitly believe what they are told, and they tend to adore the teller. Jesus desires that same implicit belief and adoration. But children also never lose their sense of wonder and amazement toward the world around them. Don’t you think Jesus wants the same from us? For us to be ever in awe of what He has done in the past as recorded in Scripture, of what He is working in our lives on a daily basis? For us to never take Him for granted, to never rationalize and simplify what He has done as mere fact, to never say “He just does this” and move on with our lives?

Have we forgotten how magical, improbable, and impossible our God is? Do we speak of Him as “just God” or as….

God?

My God Is Beautiful

10 My beloved is white and ruddy,
Chief among ten thousand.
11 His head is like the finest gold;
His locks are wavy,
And black as a raven.
12 His eyes are like doves
By the rivers of waters,
Washed with milk,
And fitly set.
13 His cheeks are like a bed of spices,
Banks of scented herbs.
His lips are lilies,
Dripping liquid myrrh.

14 His hands are rods of gold
Set with beryl.
His body is carved ivory
Inlaid with sapphires.
15 His legs are pillars of marble
Set on bases of fine gold.
His countenance is like Lebanon,
Excellent as the cedars.
16 His mouth is most sweet,
Yes, he is altogether lovely.
This is my beloved,
And this is my friend,
O daughters of Jerusalem!

Song of Solomon 5:10-16

 When we are in love with somebody, we see how beautiful that person is. And all of their beautiful attributes seem even more glorious through our loving perspective.

 Do I see God as beautiful? I see Him as Masterful, Wise, a Faithful Father, Perfect, Just….and sometimes I do realize how beautiful He is. But probably not often enough. Like recently. I’ve been complaining about the snow, the mud, the soggy critter pens, the flooding river, the potential issue of not being able to get back to Dillon on Friday….all I see is the dullness of the situation. Sure, I see God’s power, but can I also see His beauty in all of this?

 The beauty of the sound of the rain, which is probably one of my favorite sounds in the world.

 The beauty of the unusual weather itself – only God could give us -20’s one week and 50’s with rain the next.

 Gray rain cloud skies. They are truly beautiful in their hue, expanse, and impermeability.

 A cup of tea. *laugh* — it’s so simple, but it truly is a beautiful thing right now!

 He makes everything beautiful in it time. So maybe it’s hard for me to grasp the beauty in all of this right now, especially when so much destruction is imminent. But I know God will bring something beautiful out of all of this. He always does.

 

Acts 27 “The Sin Ship”: Part 4 of 4

As I was typing out the previous devotional notes, another point came to my attention which I hadn’t initially noticed, but which I cannot fail to overlook now that God has brought it to my mind. I’ll admit, it’s something I don’t want to talk about because I’ve thought it before, although not in the context of Acts 27, and I honestly don’t even like thinking about it let alone writing about it. But I believe God wants me to, hence the fourth part of this series.

The sailors and the centurion deserved to face the Tempest of Sin. They deserved the suffering and terror they fared aboard the Sin Ship and in the sea. It was just; it was fair. But what about Paul? Had he sinned? Had he chosen to disobey God’s will and press forward on the sailing journey? Did he deserve to bear the suffering he too was forced to share?

No.

It’s a simple answer. Why then did he suffer as much as anybody else?

Because we can’t keep sin to ourselves; it is going to affect other people, regardless of whether we want it to or not. We think, “Oh, I’ll just keep this sin hidden in my own personal world. If nobody knows about it, then it can’t hurt them.” Lie. Go ahead, keep telling yourself that – until truth comes knocking at your door and the reality comes out. The fact that you’ve been hiding the sin only adds to the pain it causes others.

Even if you manage to keep your secret from the people in your life, God knows. How much do you think you’re hurting Him by choosing to live in your hypocritical lifestyle every single day?

(Honestly, how much do I hurt Him?)

Sin is contagious, contaminating everything and everybody it touches. My mom made an analogy once that has stuck with me ever since. We raise livestock, which means we have to haul in loads of hay to feed them over the winter. Unfortunately, not all of that hay is good feed; if it has mold it cannot be fed to our animals because the mold will sicken – if not kill – the animals. When there is a tiny mold spot in a flake of hay, the spot spreads and spreads until the whole bale is worthless garbage…and then the mold spreads to the surrounding bales in the stack. Even if those bales were the cream the crop when first hayed, they too are damaged by the first moldy bale.

That’s what our sin does. When it rules us, it spreads into the lives of others. It damages them, hurting them, wounding them, cutting them, contaminating them. Something which we thought we could keep to ourselves is suddenly hurting those we love, and it’s hurting them far more than it is us. That truth – the knowledge that what we have done has absolutely broken those whom we would never wish to break in any way – brings an agony to our hearts.

Sin, like mold, can’t be contained to one moldy spot or flake. If it isn’t entirely taken out of the bale, then it will escalate until it wrecks far more havoc then we ever could ever imagine.

David’s sin with Bathsheba cost Uriah his life and Bathsheba her husband. Judas’ greed cost Jesus His life. A drunken driver wrecks the other car coming home from the basketball game, killing the mother and maiming the child. Selfish, materialistic ambitions cause the deaths of hundreds of neglected animals whom people insist on raising but cannot – or will not – feed.

Rather simple, ordinary sins, aren’t they? Lust. Greed. Drunkenness. Selfishness. Materialism. And the results are so extreme. So dire. So….

Deadly.

Maybe our sins won’t cause a physical death for somebody else. But they will cause an emotional death. And it seems to me as if the emotional wound is usually far more painful and takes a longer time to heal than the physical wound.

I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum – the wounder and the wounded. I ashamedly guarantee, the former is the worse position to be in. It’s far easier to forgive someone who has hurt you, then to forgive yourself for hurting another. It’s far easier to forgive a person than it is to watch them suffer day after day, to see the hurt in their eyes every time they look at you, to know they want to cry every time they see a picture of you.

Sin is destructive. Deadly. Contagious. We have to leave it behind – to jump ship. Yes, it’s going to be a painful, probably agonizing process. Yes, it’s going to wound others. But the longer you wait, the greater the sin becomes, and the more powerful an impact it has on those it touches.

The mold spreads from one bale to two…to three…to five…to ten…to twenty….

Did you know that if a haystack starts molding, the heat produced by the molding process can actually start a fire? That’s what happens if we just cling to the sin in our lives. Eventually, it will erupt in flames.

Hell here on Earth.

I do not want that in my life.

(Oh my goodness, I have so much to think about right now…so much to act on. I know that there are moldy flakes in my life that I need to get rid of, tackle and foodstuffs that I need to throw overboard. Before they grow into an entire Sin Ship. Before they consume me. And in so doing, consume those around me.)

But there is hope. Oh my goodness, there is HOPE!

Do you see the joy is in this serious discussion? In the story in Acts 27? It is the fact that “all” were saved! Look at it – just look at it in verse 44. They all abandoned ship – they jumped into that frightening Sea of Consequence and struggled to the land. Humanly, they were alone, every man for himself. But God was with them all the while – watching them, guiding them, holding them up. He brought them to dry land. He rescued them from sin. He gave hope when all hope was lost.

And He will do the same for each of us, if we are willing to finally jump ship once and for all.

Letting go of sin isn’t an impossible endeavor. On the contrary, throwing myself into the arms of a faithful, merciful God is the most possible thing imaginable.

So let go. Abandon ship. Face the tempest. Leave the unsteady rolling of the ship behind and set your feet once more on solid ground.

Good-bye, Sin Ship. Hello, Hope.

Acts 27 “The Sin Ship”: Part 3 of 4

Acts 27: 39-44

So this is what happens when we hit the end of our ropes, when we’ve ridden the ship of sin as long as we can and suddenly we can go no further. When it’s time to let go for good. There’s no easy landing, no easy dismount. We have to be humbled. We have to be shipwrecked. Sin isn’t something we can just sneak out of, no matter how hard we try. On the contrary – we must face the consequences of our sin.

Sometimes we wonder if we will ever survive that shipwreck. The sin that we have lived in for so long is being battered to pieces, being exposed for the frailty it is. The strongest sin is no match for God’s power. And as our sins are basically being torn out from under our feet, we too are being exposed – mere flesh and blood, helpless, weak. No more crutches, no more facades.

If we want to live, we have no choice but to abandon ship. Otherwise, we will be destroyed with the vessel. But in order to abandon ship, we must “jump overboard.”

Can you imagine how terrifying that must have been for the sailors and prisoners, especially those who couldn’t swim, to leap out of the safety of what they had known – however rickety and wrong it was – into the storm of God’s wrath and the just consequences for sinful decisions?

In the story in Acts, it sounds as if the ordeal was an every-man-for-himself situation. Similarly, when we own up to our sin, we often feel as though we are entirely alone and the whole world has turned against us. Those can be some of the most agonizing moments, days, months, or years we will ever face. When in that sea of consequence, we wonder if we will survive the tempest, if we will ever reach land again. Or will we just be destroyed by the agony that consumes us?

But there is a promise of hope.

The last sentence of this passage says, “And so it was that they all escaped safely to land.” Notice the “all.” Not some, but “all.” Because they were obedient and because they had the courage to leap overboard, God carried them through the storm. Yes, they had to suffer in the sea for a while, but God brought them through it. Just like He will you or I or anyone else who takes the plunge of faith and willingly faces the consequences of one’s sin and then leaves the wreckage of that sin behind.

It’s not going to be easy – those were probably the worst, loneliest, most painful months I have ever endured. Sometimes those sea waves still bombard me. Nevertheless, God has carried me through.

He has set my feet on dry ground once again. He set the ship’s passengers’ feet on dry ground again. He will do the same for anyone else who has the humbled, repentant heart to abandon the Sin Ship.