Friday, February 28, 2014

A Not So Divine Revelation

Submitted by Lara Cook

"But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you."  Matthew 5:44

Sometimes getting those Divine Revelations and “AHA!” moments are not so fun.  Usually it is something we really already know, but sometimes in the great battles of life we lose sight of what is right and what is wrong, including the condition of our hearts and even the motives of our prayers.
We all have people in our lives that hurt us.  We have people in our lives that we would just like to see get what they deserve.  It is difficult not to have these feelings about people who are hurting us or others around us.  It may be hard to understand why God doesn’t seem to be punishing them.  It may be impossible for you to confront them for some reason, and especially to expect a positive result. 
As Christians this is a very challenging position to be in.  This could be a spouse, a son or daughter, or a sibling.  I am not just talking about acquaintances that you can avoid as you wish.  I am talking about flesh and blood, in your life, relatives.  How are we supposed to handle that kind of betrayal, keep our hearts right and focus our prayers where they are needed?  Our flesh wants to pray “Lord, just let ‘em have it!  They deserve it!”  This is how hurt can leave us feeling.  But this is not what God wants you to pray.  He does understand your hurt.  He knows your heart.  He sees your pain and what has happened to you has not gone unnoticed by Him.  As much as He understands, He tells us in Matthew 5:44 to pray for those who curse you, hate you, spitefully use and persecute you.  He loves you yes, but He loves them too.  He hurts for you and He hurts for them as well.  He wants the same good things for them that He wants for you.  You are both His children, a difficult thought to embrace. 

A Reason for the Season
It is essential to remember that God may have you right where you are for a reason.  He may be growing you through this trial and getting ready to use you in some way for His glory.  It is true that with God all things are possible, but that is only true for people who are willing to let the Holy Spirit work in their lives.  You can only control you.  You can’t control how another person acts or reacts.  As a result, pray for God to work on you. Shift the focus from fixing the other person to your own spiritual healing and growth.  Pray for God to reveal what He wants you to learn from this situation.  Ask Him to make your heart right towards the other person and to keep you from becoming bitter and discouraged.  Pray and release this situation fully to Him for His will to be fulfilled.  This is hard to do in such a situation, but it is not your job to fix other people, or even to pray for God to fix other people.  It is only your job to be obedient to God in your actions and response.  Also, remember to seek God and His will, whole-heartedly, on your knees in this pain.  Well-meaning friends and loved ones will give lots of advice but often they are reacting to the pain they feel when they see you hurt.  No one can seek and know God’s will for your life like you, even as hard as it may be to discern at times.

It is hard to love people through some things.  That does not mean that you have to continue to allow disrespectful or abusive behavior towards you and it does not mean that you have to cut them out of your life completely.  Remember to pray for this person rather than against them.  It may be part of your healing process as well. 

Scripture to Claim:

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  Ephesians 4:31-32 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Power of Release

Submitted by Lara Cook

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable.
Isaiah 40:28.

I just love the wording of this verse. I don’t know of any words ever spoken that could be more comforting than those in the verse above.  .Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  It seems as if it is saying What are you thinking?  Why are you so distraught?  You know better than this!  It is like something I would say to my kids.  Why are you so upset?  You know this! THIS IS NOTHING NEW!
It is funny how fast we forget when we are faced with adversity and trials.  We have heard it before, some of us our whole lives, yet in an instant we can panic and our faith goes to nothing.  We hear the pastor preach it, the Sunday school and Bible Study leaders teach it, and we even speak it on a regular basis, to others, our children and ourselves.  But when the time comes to really believe it; sometimes it is just downright hard. 

Part of the problem is that we often react to life rather than respond.  Our emotions seem to take over and our reasoning ability goes out the window.  It is human instinct to react, and often irrationally, when things go crazy, when the unexpected happens, or the dreaded expected thing really does happen after all.  In that moment it is so hard to remember that the Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth has everything under control.  Everything feels so out of control but that is not the truth.  Our perception is nowhere near His reality. 

The Power of Release
Have you ever been on one of those kicks where you just rip through your house, cleaning out closets, cabinets, and drawers and throwing stuff away?  It is such an empowering and freeing feeling to me to get rid of stuff.  Sometimes it is “stuff” I have held onto for a long time thinking I would use it or that I might need it someday.  I have had those moments in regard to my faith in God too.  There have been times, not as many as there should have been, but a few times that I have actually released something that was burdening me into God’s hands.  What a great feeling!  Then, the feeling I got when I actually saw Him working things out was even more amazing.  There is so much power in just handing it over to God who does not become weary or tired, especially when I am so very tired by the “stuff” I am carrying.  Not only can He carry it for me, but He works it out for my good.  He loves me and has my best interest in mind and He is exponentially better at problem solving than I am. 
Yes, the Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth is in control of my life.  Does that mean I will never have any pain and suffering?  Does that mean I will never have any financial hardships or trials of any kind?  Absolutely not.  It just means I have someone who loves me and is there waiting to take my “stuff” and carry it for me.  He is there with inscrutable understanding, with an action plan to make all things work together for good.  It is so hard to trust Him sometimes.  It is so hard to release all my “stuff” into His hands.  It is easy to throw my hands up in the air and cry and fall apart.  He understands that too and He waits patiently for me to stop and release it to Him.

Scripture to Claim:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.  Romans 8:28

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Second Sifting

Then the LORD said to Gideon, "The people are still too many; bring them down to the water and I will test them for you there. Therefore it shall be that he of whom I say to you, 'This one shall go with you,' he shall go with you; but everyone of whom I say to you, 'This one shall not go with you,' he shall not go." So he brought the people down to the water. And the LORD said to Gideon, "You shall separate everyone who laps the water with his tongue as a dog laps, as well as everyone who kneels to drink." Now the number of those who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was 300 men; but all the rest of the people kneeled to drink water. The LORD said to Gideon, "I will deliver you with the 300 men who lapped and will give the Midianites into your hands; so let all the other people go, each man to his home."  Judges 7:4-7

The Second Sifting
Having reduced the chosen army to fight the Midianites by two-thirds, God put Gideon’s surviving 10,000 men through a second test by asking them all to take a drink down at the river.

We never know when God is testing us in some ordinary experience of life.  More than one prospective employee has ruined his or her chances for a job while having lunch with the boss, not realizing they were being evaluated. 

“Make every occasion a great occasion, for you can never tell when somebody
may be taking your measure for a larger place.”

What significance was there in the two different ways the men drank from the river?  Since the Scriptures don’t tell us, we’d be wise not to read into the text some weighty spiritual lesson that God never put there.  Most expositors say the men who bowed down to drink were making themselves vulnerable to the enemy, while the 300 who lapped water from their hands stayed alert. But the enemy was four miles away (v.1), waiting to see what the Jews would do; and Gideon wouldn’t have led his men into a dangerous situation like that.

One well-known preacher claims that the 300 men drank as they did so they could keep their eyes on Gideon, but the text doesn’t say that either. My assumption is that God chose this method of sifting the army because it was simple, unassuming (no soldier knew he was being tested), and easy to apply.  Since the men undoubtedly came to the water by groups, Gideon was able to watch them and identify the 300. It wasn’t until after the event that the men discovered they had been tested.

Some churches today are mesmerized by statistics and think they’re strong because they’re big and wealthy, but numbers are no guarantee of God’s blessing.  Moses assured the Jews that if they would obey the Lord, one soldier could chase a thousand and two would “put ten thousand to flight” (Deut. 32:30). All Gideon needed was 27 soldiers to defeat the whole Midianite army of 135,000 men (Judges 8:10), but God gave him 300.

God graciously gave Gideon one more promise of victory: "I will deliver you with the 300 men who lapped and will give the Midianites into your hands; (v. 7).  By claiming this promise and obeying the Lord’s directions, Gideon defeated the enemy and brought peace to the land for forty years.
J.G. Stipe said that faith is like a toothbrush: Everybody should have one and use it regularly, but it isn’t safe to use somebody else’s.  We can follow men and women of faith and share in their exploits, but we can’t succeed in our own personal lives by depending on somebody else’s faith.  There is no doubt God has given us enough for every battle we face…for He is enough.

Scripture to Claim:

“There is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few.”  I Samuel 14:6

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The First Sifting

The LORD said to Gideon, "The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, for Israel would become boastful, saying, 'My own power has delivered me.' "Now therefore come, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, 'Whoever is afraid and trembling, let him return and depart from Mount Gilead.'" So 22,000 people returned, but 10,000 remained.  Judges 7:2-3

The last time we saw timid, but stubborn Gideon. He thought he was incapable of obeying God in rescuing Israel from the Midianites. He asked God for several signs - including two different signs with the fleece as a way of proving that God was really going to do what He said.  So now it’s almost as if God is saying: "So you want proof beyond a shadow a doubt, huh?"

Humility is not the absence of ability. Humility is the absence of pride.
Humility is the belief in God over self.
The First Sifting
God brings Gideon and a vast army up, then proceeds to strip Gideon of absolutely anything that could be considered confidence in order to show the only confidence we need is in God.  Here we see the creation of that humility in Gideon, and lessons for us as we attempt to obey God’s voice.  God is going to do a series of things here that are totally counterintuitive to military strategy or even common sense - to prove that He doesn’t need anyone to accomplish His will.

Christians are either overcome by of their unbelief or overcomers through their faith.
The familiar and exciting account of Gideon’s wonderful victory over the Midianites is really a story of faith in action.  You see, a faith that can’t be tested can’t be trusted. “We’re simply going to have to step out by faith!” leads to the question, “Whose faith?”  Here are two reasons God tests our faith:

  1. To show us whether our faith is real or counterfeit, and
  2. To strengthen our faith for the tasks He’s set before us.
God tested Gideon’s faith by sifting his army of 32,000 volunteers until only 300 men were left.  I wonder if Gideon is thinking - "Hold the phone, Lord - of course the people are fearful - we’re going to war after all!"  It would be like saying, "There’s a chance that you might die so if that makes you frightened then beat feet and get out of here!"  Perhaps he was secretly hoping that great courage had been instilled in the people or something - but it was not the case and in the first sifting two thirds of his fighting force turned and left. What a blow to the flesh!

God told Gideon why He was decreasing the size of the army: He didn’t want the soldiers to boast that they had won the victory over the Midianites. Victories won because of faith bring glory to God because nobody can explain how they happened.  Pride after the battle robs God of glory, and fear during the battle robs God’s soldiers of courage and power. People who live by faith know their own weakness more and more as they depend on God’s strength. “For when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).

Fear has a way of spreading, and one timid soldier can do more damage than a whole company of enemy soldiers. Fear and faith can’t live together very long in the same heart. Either fear will conquer faith and we’ll quit, or faith will conquer fear and we’ll triumph.  John Wesley may have been thinking of Gideon’s army when he said, “Give me a hundred men who fear nothing but sin and love nothing but God, and I will shake the gates of hell!” But God wasn’t done yet as we shall see.

Scripture to Claim:

“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4, NKJV).

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