Monthly Archives: March 2012
John 15:1I am the true vine, and My Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit. He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.
“Sometimes God does so much in our lives that when he wants to work in a new way we resist, ironically because we have become so attached to all he has brought us. What can happen is that the things God has blessed us with become an anchor that keeps us grounded ashore rather than launching us out into his dream for us. I would never have experienced all the wonderful things God had for me if I had held onto what I had simply, because I couldn’t see what was coming.”
“Life is not a color-within the lines project; life is a work of art. You have to keep mixing colours, creating new blends, and seeing things in fresh ways. And you must be willing to get paint all over you. Life is about growth. Growth demands change. Change requires humility. Sometimes you need to bring change; sometimes you need to be changed.”
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Some stories don’t have a beautiful ending.
I can still feel the angel’s hands pulling us urgently out of the city. They told us to never look back. They told us!
In a moment, the shape of my life twisted. I no longer had a loving wife to grow old with me. I wouldn’t get to lay her to rest in a cave, adorned by flowers and incense and song. She was pulled from my side on the day of His judgment, without honor and without appeal. The salt from my tears is a stinging reminder of her turning away from God to look back. She turned away from us as well, from my daughters and I. That horrible moment is burned in my memory forever.
Even then, the divine hands of the supernatural gripped me tightly, strengthening me beyond my ability to bear it. It was firm but loving in an understanding kindness that swept us along, step upon step to safety. But she was still lost to me.
We didn’t have the child of promise. My daughters are far from God and drifting. I don’t know if that will ever change. They were widowed that day too. My sorrow is like the stars in the sky and the sand beside the sea, thoughts of sadness without number.
My story is not one of success or greatness or legacy. My children are not the stuff God will use to build the nations. My story is the sad tale of an average man who is steadfast and wholly committed to God. In spite of faith, my days here will end in heartbreak and sorrow. I would give almost anything to have Abraham’s story, to have the tragedy averted in the last moment as God brings provision and blessing. To have the circumstances reversed and the one who loses everything finds God’s blessing and provision and power.
For me, that isn’t how it was written.
My men have left me for better work. My flocks have dwindled. My wife is gone. My daughters executed an evil scheme to get what they wanted, though I don’t remember it.
My palace is a forgotten cave, secluded and alone and here is where I die. I have been faithful to God but my story is one of the hardest lessons of all.
I grieve my loss and my family, but you must know that I don’t grieve as one who has no hope. I trust Him. And I will continue to trust Him. Do you understand why?
Abraham told me of the conversation he had with God over Sodom and Gomorrah, after it was all over.
What if there are fifty righteous people?
What if there are ten righteous people?
And if he didn’t say it, I still think God’s heart was clear enough.
What if there is one righteous person?
That person was me.
God sent angels to rescue my family and me. In the Day of Judgment and destruction He sent us help from heaven itself. It wasn’t just for Abraham; God came because of His love for me.
He loves me.
He loves me as much as He loves Abraham. When I lie with my fathers and these eyes close for good, I will stand on the shores of eternity with my uncle at my side… and I will glorify God and enjoy Him forever. That doesn’t make it easy, but it does give me hope.
Some stories don’t have a beautiful ending.
Don’t lose heart. Some stories are finally beautiful, but their beauty lies beyond the chapter of what we know, told in His words, beyond what we can see.
Devotional Thought for the Day
God never promised us a perfect life or a happy ending as believers. In fact, Jesus promises trouble and simply assures us that He has overcome it. In Him, there is peace no matter what life holds. John 16:33 Why is it when things aren’t going well, whether poor, sick, calamity-stricken or depressed, our tendency is to assume God has taken His hand off of us or we’re suffering for a reason? Oh that God would forgive us for placing this world’s standards of expectation over His more excellent way!
Sometimes you just have to say it.
It’s not enough to think it. You actually have to say it out loud. With those first two steps down, you then have to say it where people can hear you.
It’s a word that I hated, that leaders I’ve met hate too much. I’ve come to know that a well placed “no” can be ordained by God and is often the key element in accomplishing what He’s called you to do. Know “no.” It will bless you and your calling.
When my brother told me about Jerusalem, I wept. How could the people that God loves so much, be in such disarray? Mourning led to resolve, and through grief and prayer I felt my heart temper into a divine purpose to act.
With the call of heaven and the blessing of my king I gathered resources and a team of people and went to the city that He had put on my heart. I was their leader and they looked to me for decisions and guidance. It was a wonderfully terrifying time in my life that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
When we surveyed the city it was like I was looking into the soul of our nation. We were broken, covered in rubble, devastated completely. It was impossible to bear. We had to do something. So I gathered my people and made the call.
Let’s rebuild the wall.
The response came from somewhere deep within us. With one voice we agreed and set to organize the project as best we could. The broken stones before us combined with the vision to rebuild became the hope that things can change, that our walls of lives could live again.
Things went well, better than I could have hoped in fact, and it was clear that God was aiding our effort. Families were each working on their section of the wall and it was coming together. Those early weeks were filled with hope and sweat.
At some point, and there just isn’t any other way to say it, we were tired. In any large project, there comes a point where it seems like it will never end. Clearing the rubble was cumbersome and the cycle of clearing versus the cycles of building were all but impossible to manage. In addition, we were afraid of being attacked before the wall could be completed. People were losing heart. The work was slowing. They were asking me for help, asking me for a break in the effort.
It was the first time I had to say, “no.” That was harder than I thought it would be, I was exhausted too.
Stopping the work to rest and reset wasn’t the right way to go. We were at such a delicate and vulnerable time in the process. Stopping would have been defeat, but we did need to change our approach. We had to work differently to protect the people involved.
I set guards to protect our families. I had workers carrying tools in one hand and a sword in the other. I constantly encouraged our folks to not lose heart, to not give up, to not be afraid. God was with us. He would help us. He would protect us.
We hit the halfway point and it turned a corner. Suddenly there was less work left to do than we had already accomplished and the possibility of actually completing the wall filled us with renewed determination. At that point, neighboring leaders, threatened by our progress, sent me a request for a meeting.
It was the opportunity for my second, “no.”
I was tempted though. Maybe I could stall them, or distract them, or reassure them or talk them out of attacking us long enough to get the walls to a position of strength. I wasn’t unfamiliar with the political posturing of such attempts but somehow I felt strongly that I should stay. Four more times they approached me, threatened me, tried to slander what I was doing.
Four times I gave them a polite and deliberate, “no.”
My people needed me more. God’s work needed me more than my own ego needed to say, “yes” and try to talk down our opposition.
In seven weeks and three days we built a wall. It was three stories high and more than a mile in circumference. It was miraculous. It was clearly not something we could have accomplished on our own. It was the second best thing God did that year.
For in seven weeks and three days, something even more amazing happened. God called us back to Himself. We read His words to us and renewed the promise and agreement He made with our fathers. It was the most marvelous “yes” of my life.
But the provision, the miracle, the redemption of our generation was set free by a single word. I believe that if I had not found the strength to say it God would have found another way to build the wall.
It wouldn’t have been through me. A single word was my strength and the key to releasing God’s power in my life:
So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God. (The Account of Nehemiah, 6)
Devotional Thought for the Day
Nehemiah pushed through what seems like an impossible feat. God provided in every area of need so that the project was complete in only 52 days. Impossible without Him! Are there places in your ministry right now that look impossible? Is God trying to do something through you that can only be accomplished by His presence and help? Are there any projects you are currently leading that when finished, you’ll confidently say, “Only God could’ve done that!”?
I woke to the laughter of my enemies.
Blinking, I looked to my left and to my right. It was dark, with the flickering light of torches in the distance casting mocking shadows on the wall before me. My shoulders hurt from the awkward weight of my position. I pulled my feet underneath me and slowly stood.
I was underground. My hands were bound at the ankle by thick bronze chains leading to the stone behind me. My feet were restricted in similar fashion, the heavy chains made soft noises as they resisted my adjusted stance. I swung my right hand in a quick circle and felt the bronze links in my hand. I did the same with my left.
Rolling my neck and shoulders I pulled myself a shuffling step forward, until the chains binding me went taut. My restraints were about to become my weapons. Their laughter would die with cries of terror and surprise soon enough. Taking a deep breath, I flexed against the chains to pull them free of their stone housings.
Growling, I reset and stepped forward again, losing my balance and jerking myself upright. The muscles in my arms and chest were flexing as I shook my head to feel my hair around me. Something was wrong. I tilted my head to the left and rubbed my ear and scalp on my shoulder. I could feel the rough remaining tufts of stubble on my skin. My hair was gone. The symbol of my vow had been cut away completely. I was betrayed.
Panicked, I pulled at the chains desperately. Wide-eyed and straining I began to tremble in futile effort. It was no use. God had abandoned me. My strength was gone, replaced by cold anger. I didn’t deserve this. I would make them pay.
I would make her pay.
Someone was coming, in fact, many from the sound of it. They rounded the corner of the passage before me and were carrying several items I didn’t recognize. A large metal pot with a heavy handle, glowing with red-hot coals, swung slowly between the two soldiers carrying it. A makeshift table with blocks and straps was being carried as well but it was too tall to be a table, I didn’t know what its purpose would be. A smallish man, carrying a scroll was reading in a monotone, it sounded like he was reading a list of names. I cursed them all soundly.
The soldiers set the coals on the ground to my right. The table carrier brought the apparatus directly in front of me and set it down. I tried to grab him but the heavy chains combined with my exhaustion made me easy to avoid. Even so, it took three of them to manhandle me on top of the table and they began adjusting the straps and blocks to hold my head in place. I was still chained to the wall and I just couldn’t get enough leverage to resist. The small man was still reading names, one after the other.
From the corner of my eye, I saw the lead soldier put a sharpened length of bronze into the coals and over time, it started to glow with the heat from the surrounding material. At some point I realized that the names were names of philistine families.
They were the names of the men I had killed.
It took hours to read them all.
When his voice finally droned away into silence I was in agony. My back was cramping from the unnatural position, my arms and legs were still chained and I couldn’t straighten or move my head at all. The small man handed his scroll to a soldier and picked up the heated bronze. Looking at me intently, he held it in front of my face. Its glow cast an unholy light.
For the first time in my life, I was afraid.
I dislocated my shoulder in a frantic effort that succeeded in pulling me back about an inch. I was quickly repositioned, tightened, and in a single, practiced, terrifying and eternal moment, one half of the world went black. Screaming and unable to move, burning bronze took the rest of my vision away from me forever.
I awoke on the ground with feet still chained and my shoulder throbbing but bound close to me in a makeshift sling. Reaching up, I felt cloth covering my eyes.
The next few months were a cycle of food, sleep, manual labor in the prison mill and a searching of the soul. I revisited every memory and prayed for God to deliver me to death. At some point I came to the conclusion that I deserved everything I had received and the litany of my failures became my morning and evening prayer.
I am Samson. The one who dishonored my mother and father. The one who broke and disdained the vows of the Nazarenes. The one who touched things unclean. I am Samson, the greedy, Samson, the hungry. I am Samson, the violent and ill tempered Judge of Israel. The one who ruled with vengeance and impetuousness instead of wisdom and prayer. I am Samson, whose strength can barely lift a spoon of cold gruel to my lips and whose life is dependent on the mercy and provision of my enemies. I am Samson the selfish, husband of philistines and speaker of lies.
I am Samson the weak, Samson the shorn, Samson the forsworn. I am the blind child of the God I ignored and took for granted. My victories are the bones of a tomb. My memories are the faint heat of stone giving no comfort from sweet summer days. I am Samson, the judge who has been judged and found wanting. I am Samson, the miller of grain. I am the one who is hopeless, the one who waits to die.
For weeks I continued in a place even darker than my blindness could ever know. In the midst of that time God spoke to me gently.
And my hair began to grow.
My spirit was encouraged by the thought that I was just a man, but God was the God of everything. He knew the generations of my ancestors past. He knows the children of Israel’s future. His Hand is not weakened by my failure, or thwarted by the plans of His enemies.
His Hair has not been cut.
In that thought I found hope and in hope I found His Spirit surrounding me and comforting me again. I found a belief that God was still mine and I was still His and in darkness my heart was opened.
Not through strength, for I had none. Not through victory, for I was utterly defeated. Not through power or leadership, or judgment. Not through action, or battle, or any good that I could do. Yet He loved me.
He loved me, just because I was His and not because of what I did or didn’t do.
It wasn’t about what I could do. It was about being the man He called me to be and loving Him with my whole heart: as Judge, as son, as husband, as prisoner.
It was never about muscle and sinew. It was never about revenge or power. It was never about my sense of victory of the things I could achieve. It was about God’s purpose in the earth and my part to play. In many ways I succeeded, my faith and passion were great. In many ways I failed, selfishly focused on the moment.
Humbled, I became stronger than I ever was in health and victory. Blinded, I saw more clearly than I ever thought possible.
My strength was never my own.
My strength is His.
I am empty and I am broken. But I have one last prayer to pray. May God use me up completely and let His will on earth be done.
Then Samson called to the LORD and said, “O Lord GOD, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes.” And Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and he leaned his weight against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other. And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” Then he bowed with all his strength, and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life. (The Book of the Judges, 16)
Devotional Thought for the Day
Samson was blessed mightily by God. But somewhere along the way he began to take God for granted. To forget that God alone was the source of his strength. In the midst of what we may consider a successful ministry, we can lose perspective. We can forget that it isn’t our strength that sustains us, but His. Are you caught up in the frenzy of leading staff, getting ready for the weekend, social media expectations, etc.? Are you taking the time to be with the One who provides it all? The only One worthy of our devotion?
She was beautiful and I wanted her. There was nothing else in the world.
She was pregnant and we had to hide that from her husband. He would never know.
The cover up didn’t work. So I orchestrated an “accident” in battle, no one would ever know. But I knew. And a wife in mourning knew.
And God knew. It’s a horrible truth, but He loved me too much to let me get away with it.
I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. Everything normal in life was filtered through a lens of guilt and hidden shame. People applauded me taking her in and providing for her when her husband was killed. I smiled and spoke the words they wanted to hear.
They didn’t know I had killed him.
People were happy at our wedding; we made such a beautiful couple. We would make such beautiful children. When she started to show, they smiled and praised God for a coming child. They prayed for a prince to make my house even stronger.
They didn’t know what I had done.
She was in denial, focusing on caring for the coming child to the exclusion of everything else. It was all too much to deal with on the surface, so we pretended that everything was what it appeared to be. Even to each other when no one else was around, we never spoke of what we had done.
Days turned to months and the seasons changed. The whole earth moved but I was stuck. Everything around me came and went as it always had but sleep still wouldn’t come.
It was a boy.
When Nathan came, I thought it would be to congratulate us on a son. Instead he knew, he knew! And in judgment, he stripped everything away. My child would die, strife and bloodshed would never end for me, and disaster after disaster would haunt my family.
When he became sick, I became broken.
My kingdom, my voice, my songs have all become the ashes of this mourning. I’ve turned against You and against my friend. I’ve betrayed the trust of my people and my family. Even her. I can see in her eyes the words unspoken, the sorrow of her grief and it’s more than I can bear.
Please be merciful, don’t let my son pay the price for my mistakes.
The sky was calm, a stark counterpoint to the silent storm within the palace walls. Outside my door, people were arguing in whispers. I couldn’t make out the words, but listening intently I heard the sound that was causing so much fear.
A baby was not crying.
It’s funny. I can feel the five smooth stones in the palms of my hands. I can feel the warmth on my face, the shining sun of His presence as I dance into the city.
Yet in the dark of night as I sit alone, the miracle isn’t in my grasp. It feels like the miracle will never be in my grasp again. I’m trapped in this waking dream where the giant wins and the ark remains lost with our enemies. I’m trapped in a night where morning never comes. Is this how my story ends?
Is this how all stories end?
Cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean;
Wash me and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
Let the bones You have crushed rejoice.
Hide Your face from my sins
And blot out all my iniquity (51, a Psalm of David)
I know nothing but this: God’s love is bigger than our biggest mistake.
His love is not turned away when we fail. When I feel His presence, He is with me. When I feel nothing but the cold wind of silence, He is there. No despair is beyond His reach.
So I will place my heart in His hands.
Devotional Thought for the Day
Actions have consequences. And peace is hard to find when we’re not living in God’s will. But God is faithful and when we return to Him, He is at our side, even when we can’t ‘feel’ His presence. We all desperately desire peace. Is there an area of your life that keeps you mentally and emotionally stirred up? Are you experiencing God’s peace? Consider any areas of your life where confession and repentance is needed. Give it to the Lord and let him cleanse you from it once and for all.
What are you doing here, Elijah?
I’m the only one left. The work You’ve called me to will fail.
I’ve done everything You’ve asked. I’ve stood before kings to bring word of drought and economic ruin. I’ve called Your fire from heaven and destroyed the prophets of Baal.
We fed a widow’s family. We raised a little boy from the dead.
I’ve prayed for rain and You’ve answered. I’ve seen miracle after miracle I know You are Who You claim to be. But I still don’t understand so many things.
This nation has turned its back on You. Your covenant lies broken. The government is twisted in evil and your places of worship are a ruin. Your servants are dead. And in spite of Your power, I am in the wilderness running for my life and it looks like nothing has really changed.
I’m the only one left and now they are trying to kill me too.
Go out and stand on the mountain. I am about to pass by.
I went. Standing in wait I closed my eyes as a tempest built around me. The wind built and screamed until nothing could stand before it. The swirling air focused and increased in intensity. I opened my eyes to see the very mountain before me torn apart by the force of the storm.
I was in awe of the sheer power of it. The deafening roar took on a darker, pounding shape and the distant rocks themselves began to unravel in fits and starts. They literally blasted apart from the repeated blows of furious fists of wind.
It was a storm that could sweep the earth clean of Everything. My eyes went wide at the thought that this was the end. It was too much. We had gone too far and now the price would be paid in holy judgment. This tempest would swell and rise and flow until there was nothing left.
But the Lord was not in the wind. It began to subside, the storm of rage and dust lost its drive and power. More quickly than I would have believed, it fell silent entirely.
I heard a rumbling as a low frequency in the distance and the ground beneath me trembled then fell still. Tilting my head to find it’s direction, it began again. A wave buckled the ground as far as I could see in a surreal fluid motion my eyes wouldn’t accept. I waited for it to stop, for things to return to normal.
But it didn’t stop. The shaking grew in violence and depth until the mountains bowed to its inimitable will. Rocks fell and were thrown, sliding crazily and resettling as pieces of the earth rose and fell like the ocean.
No kingdom could stand against this. No city, no agency, no academic ideal could withstand the wrath of the very earth itself coming to swallow them up. How small we are! We’re a thin skin on the surface of the earth, easily scraped away to start fresh, like a child washing dishes after an evening meal.
But the Lord was not in the earthquake.
I held my breath as the next wave in my lesson arrived.
It was fire.
I felt the flames before I saw them, the heat radiating in pulsing waves as it crested the horizon before me. At some point, a cool wind began to blow towards the flames and I realized in a moment of fear that column of fire was pulling in air from the surrounding area to consume it, along with everything in its path.
Trees were consumed in seconds before a wall of fire hundreds of feet high. It charged across the side of the mountain leaving a field of ash. The flames superheated the trees and smoke rose black and white from the fury of the red storm running.
Again I thought, who could stand against this? Who would dare defy the One who, with a thought, could reduce a nation in glory to ash and ruin without appeal? I looked for the Lord, I listened for His voice.
But the Lord wasn’t in the fire.
After the fire came a gentle whisper. I heard it and pulled my cloak around me, returning to the mouth of the cave where I had spent the night in hiding.
What are you doing here, Elijah?
I’m the only one left. My words were very much the same as my former prayer.
But this time, it was with a different voice that I answered. I was shaken by the experience on the mountain, humbled by a power beyond imagining.
When God spoke again, it was with gentleness. I was to anoint kings over Aram and Israel.
And I was to finally meet my successor. The work would continue.
Most encouraging of all, I learned that I wasn’t alone. Thousands in Israel still followed the Voice that Whispered and God’s purpose in the earth was as it should be.
The things we do consume us. Our perspective fills up our world. Like children, the hurt and fear of the moment seems like everything there is.
But it’s not everything there is.
I had forgotten that our lives are threads in a tapestry in the hands of a master weaver. We’re not alone in what we do, even when we are faithful and discouraged and the path is hard to see.
Our effect to generations to come is measured by the One Who walks upon the wind, Whose very Presence causes the mountains to tremble and Whose Heart is an all consuming fire. Look beyond the enemies. Know that God is mighty beyond anything we’ve ever dreamed.
I learned that often He chooses to work, not through a show of power, but through a whisper to a human heart. The hope that I found wasn’t in strength to move mountains, but in the knowledge that I wasn’t alone.
We are part of something bigger than we could ever accomplish on our own. What discouragement could stand in the face of such love?
The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived. Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him to his mother and said, “Look, your son is alive!”
Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.” (The First Book of Kings, 17)
Devotional Thought for the Day
Elijah was devoted wholly to God, always waiting for Him and listening for His voice. And God responded to Elijah’s prayers. But surrounded by the unfaithful, he became fearful and discouraged. He lost perspective for a time focusing on his situation and himself rather than God. Have you noticed there are certain situations in your ministry where you lose perspective? Do you become discouraged easily when it isn’t going as you’d planned? What do you need to do to ward off discouragement, maintain perspective and more fully honor God?