Posted in Faith Nuggets, Thoughts from Scripture

Who Are My Counselors?

Recently, I was reading 2 Samuel 10 in my daily Bible reading. What a sad story. Because King Hanun listened to the bad advice of his princes, a series of battles followed that cost hundreds of lives.
I can’t help but compare this to Rehoboam in 1 Kings 12 or King Xerxes and Haman in the book of Esther. Even Absalom in 2 Samuel 17 is an example of following bad advice, even though we all cheer when we read his story, knowing that Hushai’s counsel was actually intentionally given to save the lives of King David and the people with him.
Considering all of these stories, I can’t help but come to a couple of conclusions.

Counsel is important.

There’s a lot of cockiness wrapped up in every one of the personalities mentioned above. Yet, each one of them sought counsel. Even with their high opinion of themselves, they still sought out the counsel of others.
Most of what we observe in the character and behavior of these men is not admirable, and we should not strive to emulate it. Except in this one thing. Like them, we should never be too proud to seek counsel.
But, we should remember a second reality that these men, sadly, ignored.

Our choice in counsel is even more important.

This is where I’ve been parked lately. How do I choose my counselors? Do I seek out those who will simply support what I already want to do? Do I look for the popular or easy to follow advice? Or do I see advisers that will steer me well, regardless of my desires?

The wise choice seems obvious, doesn’t it? Yet, so often that wisdom does not flow through into our practical choices. We instead surround ourselves with advisers and counselors who advise based on practical ideas or pros and cons or what they see will make us happiest or what will keep our relationships and status quo running smoothly.
The advice we need has nothing to do with the most practical option or even our happiness or relationships. It has to do with the will of the Lord. In fact, far more often than not, His will seems to completely contradict the practical and “obvious” route. His will involves trust even when the path is not clear. It involves obedience even when the results seem painful.
Godly advisers will help us know how to trust and obey. Are those the counselors we seek?

Posted in Faith Nuggets, Thoughts from Scripture

Thus Far & Beyond

In my personal writing files, I have all sorts of little notes with topics I’d love to write about. I include memory triggers and thoughts, but none of them are fleshed out. Yet, so many times as I sit down to write, I read through the old thoughts intending to utilize them, only to end up writing something new. The new might be inspired by the old, but it’s never quite a fleshing out of those old thoughts.

Eventually, I want to go back and flesh out those old thoughts. But as I sit down today and start from scratch yet again, I’m reminded why it’s so important for me to jot down those thoughts, even if I never use them to create a blog post, article, or even a book chapter (maybe someday!).

Those thoughts are my Ebenezers.

The Bible is replete with remembrances. The Israelites are continually pointed back to their origins and the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Even in the New Testament, the majority of Stephen’s sermon as he is on trial before the Jewish leaders recalls the history of Israel (Acts 7). Remembrance of the work of God in this world is critical to our growth. We cannot go forward if we do not build on what brought us here in the first place.

And that is why, in 1 Samuel 7, the prophet Samuel set up a stone and named it Ebenezer. He knew the people needed a tangible reminder of God’s work among them, not only His historical work of their exodus from Egypt and early settlement in the land of promise, but also of His recent work in redeeming them after they had turned from Him yet again.

Scripture is my solid foundation. It is the history that I must know and constantly learn more about in order to grow. But, my Ebenezers are my personal experiences. They are my “thus far the Lord has helped ME” reminders. They are personal.

But I cannot stop there.

“Thus far” indicates that this is not the end. God wants to take me further. Where I have been is critical, for all of my past experiences are critical building blocks of my faith. And I need to remember and revisit those lessons. I need to keep them in my heart and mind and even go back and dust them off and clean them up now and then to make sure those lower blocks are not decaying as I try to build on top of them.

But, if I only reminisce on and flesh out my Ebenezers, then I am effectively preventing any new growth. I’m keeping the lower blocks clean and fresh, but never adding to them. That causes me to transfer my focus to the Ebenezers themselves and away from the Lord who has brought me to each and every point.

So, today, I am enjoying going back and reading through some of those Ebenezers. And, at some point, I’ll probably flesh them out and share them, little by little. But for today, I’m building a new block. I’m setting a new stone. I’m thanking the Lord for His faithfulness to bring me even further, past my last Ebenezer and to my current one.

Thus far the Lord has helped me. And, oh how beautiful to know that He will not stop here!

Posted in Faith Nuggets, Thoughts, Thoughts from Scripture

In

Several months ago, I was praying for a friend who had been in the midst of some great challenges. As I prayed, one of my go-to passages popped into mind: Philippians 4:4-8. But, somehow, I didn’t get far past “rejoice in the Lord.”

Actually, I got hung up on one word: in.

It’s easy to fly over that phrase and not truly stop to ponder what it means. “Rejoice in the Lord.”

Okay, Lord, let me see what I can be thankful for right now. It’s hard, because I’m overwhelmed by the circumstances, but I’ll try. Maybe. Yes…here goes. Oh, Lord, HELP!!!!

Unfortunately, that’s usually how it sounds when I try to start my prayer with thankfulness. But, here’s the problem. I’m still focused on circumstances. I’m just trying to find some way to be thankful for them.

And there’s another problem. Thanksgiving is not actually what this phrase commands. The whole thankfulness instruction comes later in the “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving” part. For now, it is simply “rejoice in the Lord.”

Now, to come back to the word “in.”

You see, so many times we get stuck on word “rejoice.” We stop there and wonder why it is so hard to obey that simple command.

I confess I have to laugh a bit as I process through this. Why? Because this is a grammar issue more than a heart or mind issue. And as an editor, I’m all about grammar! Will you bear with me for a moment while we look at this phrase through an editor’s eyes?

For those of you who aren’t too fond of grammar, here’s a quick two-part side note. First, an imperative is a command, often encapsulated in a single word. Second, a preposition is a word that lends a sense of direction, like in, of, for, to, under, over, etc. It is followed by a noun called the object of the preposition, telling you to whom or what the direction relates (under the table).

Now, back to the passage.

The opening of this passage is not just a single imperative word with no further modification. It is a phrase with an imperative verb followed by a prepositional phrase. And a preposition always has an object.

Rejoice (imperative) in (preposition) the Lord (object of the preposition).

What happens if we don’t stop with the imperative, but continue on to the prepositional phrase? What if we truly rejoice in the Lord?

I know what happens to me. I get a refocus. I find myself in the center of Him instead of in the center of my circumstances. I am moved. Transformed. Lifted. The circumstances don’t change, but I do. And it makes all the difference.

When I rejoice in the Lord, the following commands come much more easily:
– let your gentle spirit be known to all men
– pray with thanksgiving
– think on these things

Yes, it’s all a natural progression, but only if I start by truly rejoicing in the Lord.

Posted in Marriage, Thoughts from Scripture

Marriage Monday: Thinking of You

Okay, so I’m a day late for Marriage Monday! I got this written, but not edited yesterday. But, as I’m trying to be more diligent about posting, I’m going to go ahead and publish today. Enjoy! 

This morning, the power of thought is hitting me strongly. Oh how powerfully our thoughts intertwine with our actions, speech, and relationships. What happens when your mind is full of delight? What about when you rehash something that made you angry? What if your thoughts are melancholy? Or sad? Your words and actions follow those thoughts, don’t they?

Although there are instances when we can be good actors when the need demands, it is extremely hard to truly act in a manner that contradicts our thoughts. And often, if we consciously separate our behavior from our thoughts, we either find our focus and mood conforming more to fit our actions or we become so exhausted that we can no longer maintain the charade.

Thought & Marriage

Let’s apply that to marriage. I’ve written before about the importance of speaking positively about our spouses in public, especially in this culture where spousal bad-mouthing is an art form! But, how can we expect to be honestly positive about our spouses in public if our thoughts do not flow accordingly?

Think about the last time you were angry or aggravated with your spouse. Think about the thoughts that flowed through your mind. Did you combat those thoughts or stew in them? Did you talk out your frustration with your spouse, or did you just let it simmer? How do you feel right now when you remember your agitation? Does it quickly stir up negativity in you again, or does it leave you wondering why you got so upset in the first place?

When we let negative thoughts stir, simmer, and stew in our minds, we do not truly grow our marriages. Instead, we set ourselves up for that moment when exhaustion sets in and our charade is exposed. It might take a while. Years, even. But eventually, we will awaken to discover that our marriages are crumbling and a fix is going to take a whole lot more than just a mental adjustment.

What Scripture Has to Say

But, what if we do something about it right now? Today? What if, in this very moment, we choose to follow the scriptural mandate to take authority over our thoughts?

We can find insight into this scripture mandate in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6. In the grander context of the passage, Paul is offering a defense of himself, but these specific verses sum up the reason he feels the need to defend himself. He has had some challenging words to say to the Corinthians, and they’ve apparently fussed a bit about it, challenging Paul’s authority in the process. He responds by telling them why it is so crucial that they listen to his teaching. Take a look:

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.

Is marriage any different? In the grand scheme of things, is your fight truly with your spouse? Or is it possibly with the spiritual forces against which we are battling? Should it not then follow that we, too, must take every thought captive in our marriages as in every other area of life?

My Prayer for You and Me This Week

Perhaps your week has gotten off to a beautiful start, and your thoughts toward your spouse are pure and beautiful right. But perhaps you are struggling. Getting into a new week has you scrambling and frustrated, and that frustration is seeping into your relationship.

May I encourage you to take captive your thoughts about your spouse? May I pray with you as you seek to ensure that your obedience in marriage is complete? Oh, how I pray that you will be able to delight in your spouse today and throughout the week, in thought, in speech, and in interaction!

Posted in Faith Nuggets, Thoughts, Thoughts from Life, Thoughts from Scripture

Purpose Enough

I’ve done it all my life. When I hit a bump in the road, a struggle, a discouragement, or a time of suffering, I ask why. I think the reason will help me cope. It will make it worthwhile. It will give me joy in the suffering.

More than that, it will help me comfort others. “Look what God is doing,” I could say.

But what happens when a reason is not given?

I’ve been there. Instead of, “Look what God is doing,” I have to fall back on, “God is in control and He does love us, whether we feel it or not right now.” That’s harder, my friends. So much harder.

I confess, the lack of being able to see God’s hand – an inability to see how He was being glorified through the situation – has distracted me from resting in Him at times. I needed evidence. He gave me none.

Instead, He gave Himself.

He gave just the provision needed to process through the struggle.

But I wanted more. I wanted some great vision of how this fit into His grand plan. And when that vision didn’t come, the fight against bitterness and disillusionment was strong.

What was the point of the struggle if I could not see Him glorified?

Little did I know that my real struggle had nothing to do with our physical circumstances and everything to do with my train of thought. I looked for an immediate purpose. I looked for clarity. I looked for Him to reveal some magnificent glorification through our suffering.

But God…

Just stop for a moment and soak up those words. But God.

I’ve been overwhelmed by those words before, and even as I type them now, I cannot get away from them. In any situation when our hearts cry out in anguish, we need only hear those words, and our whole perspective turns around.

But our amazing God doesn’t leave us with only those words. He goes even further.

Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. 1 Peter 4:1-2 NASB

He reminds me of the point to our suffering: TO CEASE FROM SIN!

Wow. Just soak that in for a moment. When we endure suffering faithfully, suddenly those fleshly lusts lose their allure, don’t they? We realize what is truly precious, and we cling to it, turning away from the sin that once ensnared us.

Yet how many times do we forget that truth when we are standing in the midst of a struggle? We ask for more – or, should I say, lesser – purpose for our suffering.

I would love to be free from suffering. But, I hunger more to be free from sin. And if I have to choose one or the other, I choose to suffer and do away with sin. And even while I suffer, I will think with joy of the day when both will be done away with and we will live in perfection with Christ our Savior. With God our Almighty Father and Creator.

No matter what the suffering, may that truth return to my memory and be purpose enough for me.

Posted in Faith Nuggets, Thoughts, Thoughts from Scripture

Weary to Renewed: Driven to the Word

I’ve been weary lately. And in my weariness, I’ve been crying out to the Lord for strength. One morning this week, a those passed through my mind before I was even fully awake.

The Lord will renew your strength.

As I awakened fully, I realized that the thought was just a inaccurate version of Isaiah 40:31. I’ve transitioned most of my Scripture memory to NASB, but even if I memorize this particular verse in other translations, I believe my mind will always go first to the beautiful KJV:

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength…

Do you see the difference between my early morning thought and the actually verse? “They that wait…shall renew” versus “The Lord will renew…”

Because of the differences, I was driven back to Isaiah for context. I knew the idea of the context, but what were the exact words? Why would I think, even in my dreaming state, the words “The Lord will renew your strength” instead of just drawing comfort from a familiar and well-loved memory verse?

As I read backwards a bit, I saw this:

Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”? 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. He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Isaiah 40:27-29

Oh, how much I could say about the whole process that took me from full-fledged weariness through an early morning sub-conscious thought to renewal. But, the truth is that such a process is intimate and personal. It comes from relationship, and there is nothing I can share that will draw you into that renewal. That’s between you and the Lord.

But, two other powerful realities struck me through all of this.

First, God takes what we have and builds on it.

I cannot remember when I memorized Isaiah 40:30-31. But I know that I’ve returned to it so many times that it is an ingrained part of me. This week, God took it, His Word, the seedling of His very Spirit within me, and used it to renew my strength.

Oh, my dear friend, if you are not hiding God’s Word in your heart, making it a part of you, then you are missing the most powerful avenue by which our Father connects with us. I’m not talking memorization, although that is the most direct avenue by which God’s Word is hidden in our hearts. I’m talking immersion. Digging deep. Not just reading to read, but learning, growing, and interacting with the Word of God, making it an integral part of your being.

Secondly, always go back to the Word.

The thought that came to my mind was not just intended to help me remember a beloved verse. It was intended to drive me back to the Bible. To study. To evaluate context. To explore more deeply. Not to simply rely on what I remembered, but to discover more.

We have the amazing privilege of having Scripture readily available to us. Not only do we have it in print, but most of us can pull up our phones and computers and snag any translation at the press of a button. There are hundreds of thousands of people lacking that privilege. But, we have it.

And our heavenly Father wants us to use it.

No matter how many great snippets of Scripture you’ve memorized, how many wonderful sermons or devotionals you’ve heard, how many solid interpretations you’ve heeded, always go back to the Word itself. It is alive. It is breathing. It is active. It is fresh. And when we return to it with open hearts and minds, the Holy Spirit will reveal living truths that speak to our immediate standing with Christ, even from the most familiar of passages.

Perhaps today your struggle is not weariness. Perhaps it’s something else entirely. Whatever it is, I guarantee your heavenly Father is ready to speak life and strength and power and truth into your need. Will you immerse yourself in His Word and allow His Spirit to bring renewal to your heart?

Posted in Faith Nuggets, Thoughts, Thoughts from Scripture

Able To Aid

Some mornings as I sit down to process through my readings, I get sidetracked. This form of sidetracking isn’t by glancing at e-mails or Facebook, texting with a friend, or anything like that (although I confess that does happen far too often). In this particular instance, I’m referring to getting sidetracked by a verse that isn’t really part of the “point” for the day.

Then again, maybe it is. God has a funny way of doing that.

This week, the distraction was a passing devotional reference to a verse in Hebrews. It’s easy for me to get lazy and just ignore passing references like that, so years ago I determined to be intentional about looking up those references every time. Here’s what I read when I looked up this particular verse:

For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted. Hebrews 2:18 NASB (emphasis mine)

As I read these verses, I realized that I’ve always had an incomplete foundation when it comes to temptation. Had I ever stopped to process my understanding of how we are to biblically handle temptation, I would have realized that my foundation lacked something. But, until this week, I never gave it a second thought.

Here’s the foundation I’ve always had:

  • James 1 teaches that temptation is not of God, and I must flee it.
  • 1 Corinthians 10:13 shows me that God will provide a way of escape from temptation.
  • I still fall to temptation, but the blood of Jesus covers me, and I can come before Him in repentance and receive forgiveness even when I do not take the way of escape.

But, looking at Hebrews 2, there’s something else I was missing. Another crucial truth: I don’t have to run away on my own strength. I don’t have to find the escape with my own clouded vision. Jesus is able (and therefore willing) to come to my aid!

That is so logical. It’s so clear. It’s nothing really new. Yet, how often do I act on it?

I confess, often when I’m struggling against temptation, I feel too weak to even look for the way of escape. But my precious Savior has not left me to do it on my own. He is ready and able to help. I just have to call on Him.

He is my way of escape.

We cannot fight temptation on our own. We do not have the strength. (If we did, we wouldn’t need Christ’s salvation.) Only with the Spirit living within us can we walk through the escape provided. But in the ugliness of our temptation, we don’t feel able or worthy or permitted to call upon the purity that is Jesus Christ.

But oh how opposite from truth that is!

No, we’re not worthy. But even at our best we lack worth. And able? It only takes a plea for help! Oh, and the most glorious part is that we’re not only permitted, we’re invited. Welcomed. Encouraged. Admonished. Instructed. Commanded, even, to call upon Jesus.

And how do we remember that in the throes of temptation? How do we fight the darkness enough to convince ourselves that we can call upon Jesus for aid? By memorizing this verse now (and maybe a few around it – the whole context is powerful!), putting it in our arsenal so the Spirit can bring it to our minds in the moment of weakness.

He is able to come to my aid. Oh what a glorious truth!