Monthly Archives: September 2014

Checkmate

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One of my favorite games to play is chess. I learned to play it as a young child on my dad’s chess board. I learned what moves each piece can make. I learned how to strategize and to have patience. The lessons I learned playing it have drifted over into how I live my life. I look at decisions, weigh out the consequences and make the best choice based on what I think will happen in the future as a result of it. What works in chess and life though, doesn’t always translate well to the spiritual.

If you’re unfamiliar with chess, the entire front row is comprised of pawns. There are many of them, they can only move one space at a time and have to stay on their line. I am more than willing to sacrifice them and to put them out there to try to draw out my opponent’s key players. On the other hand, I see my queen as the most valuable player. She can move in any direction and as many spaces as she likes. I do everything I can to protect her.

In life, there are many things I’m willing to sacrifice like my pawns in chess. It’s no sacrifice really. I have plenty of whatever it is and I don’t see it as a loss when I lose them. It’s the key things in my life that I try to protect. I’m not willing to sacrifice them and give them to God. When I look at Abraham, he was willing to sacrifice Isaac. He put what was most precious to him out there to be taken. It doesn’t make sense in life or in chess, but He was rewarded for being willing to.

I look at my life and wonder if I’m being too careful with things that I think matter. Am I too willing to sacrifice the things that don’t matter to me and not willing enough to sacrifice the things that do? Jesus was in the habit of asking people to sacrifice what was most important to them. He asked the disciples to give up their sources of income to follow Him. He asked the rich young ruler to give up all the possessions he held so tightly to. He honored the widow who gave all she had in the offering.

If we really want to follow Christ, it means we are going to have to put ourselves in position to face checkmate. We are going to have to make the hard sacrifices, the ones we haven’t been willing to make. In return, He promises to give us more than we could ever ask or think. It’s time each of us stopped “sacrificing” things that don’t matter and started really sacrificing what does. Only then will we get a full revelation of who He is.

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Mountains To Molehills

One of the songs we used to sing at church came from Zechariah 4:6-7. It went, “Not by might. Not by power, but by my spirit sayeth The Lord. This mountain shall be removed by my spirit sayeth The Lord.” I remember wondering what the deeper meaning of that scripture song was. As a child, I didn’t have the capacity to understand it, but I sang it with all of my heart. I had no idea those scripture songs would come back to life in my mind years later.

As I read those verses recently, I started reading them in different translations. An angel was showing Zechariah things in the spirit realm. One of the things he saw was a lamp stand made of gold with a bowl for oil and seven lights with spouts down to the bowl of oil. There were two olive trees on either side of the lamp stand where the bowl was getting its oil from. Zechariah asked the angel what it meant.

In the Message version, the angel replied, “You can’t force these things. They only come about through my Spirit. So, big mountain, who do you think you are? You’re nothing but a molehill.” In my own life, I’ve been known to force things to make them happen. I tell myself, “If things aren’t happening, make them happen.” I pride myself on my determination to get things done. If there’s a brick wall I can’t get over, I do what I can to knock it down. I don’t let it stand in my way. I’m learning that I can’t force things that God wants to do in His timing.

In the Amplified translation, the angel replied, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit of whom the oil is a symbol, says The Lord of Hosts. For who are you, O great mountain of human obstacles? You shall become a plain. A mere molehill.” Here I see that we have to stay plugged in to God’s Spirit. The oil feeds the lamp and keeps it burning. The bowl was connected to the olive trees so it wouldn’t run out. Our connection to God gives us the strength to get past the obstacles in our lives created by ourselves or others. It’s not by anything we do, but only through Him that we will succeed.

In the Good News Bible translation, the angel replied, “You will succeed, not by military might or by your own strength, but by my Spirit. Obstacles as great as mountains will disappear before you.” I like this one because when we face mountains in our lives, we wonder if we will ever get past them. Here, God reminds us that we will be successful and it won’t be dependent on anything we do. It’s through Him that we will be successful. When we realize that, the mountains in our lives will no longer look like mountains because of our perspective. A mountain is tiny in God’s eyes.

Whatever mountain stands in your way today, know that you will be successful in getting past it, but it won’t be because of your own strength. It won’t be because you forced your way through it. You will succeed because you are tapped into God’s Spirit and recognize His strength in your life. When you give up your strength and tactics to accept His, you will see those obstacles in your way disappear and become mere molehills. Trust in God today and get into His Word so you have oil in your lamp to see what He is about to do for you.

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10 Scriptures To Comfort The Grieving

1. “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. (Matthew 5:4 MSG)

2. He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the LORD’s favor has come, and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies. (Isaiah 61:2 NLT)

3. The LORD cares deeply when his loved ones die. (Psalms 116:15 NLT)

4. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55 ESV)

5. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more, neither shall there be anguish (sorrow and mourning) nor grief nor pain any more, for the old conditions and the former order of things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4 AMP)

6. He will swallow up death [in victory; He will abolish death forever]. And the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces; and the reproach of His people He will take away from off all the earth; for the Lord has spoken it. (Isaiah 25:8 AMP)

7. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime! Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Psalms 30:5 NLT)

8. To grant [consolation and joy] to those who mourn in Zion–to give them an ornament (a garland or diadem) of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, the garment [expressive] of praise instead of a heavy, burdened, and failing spirit–that they may be called oaks of righteousness [lofty, strong, and magnificent, distinguished for uprightness, justice, and right standing with God], the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified. (Isaiah 61:3 AMP)

9. You have allowed me to suffer much hardship, but you will restore me to life again and lift me up from the depths of the earth. (Psalms 71:20 NLT)

10. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 NLT)

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Dead Ends

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On September 25, 2003, my life hit a dead end. My now ex-wife had left me for someone else, my house was about to be foreclosed on, I was facing bankruptcy, and I lost my business because of some bad decisions. Everywhere I looked I saw a dead end. There was no way out. My world was closing in fast and I didn’t know what to do. As I thought about the only option I felt I had, God reminded me what He had spoken to me only months earlier. He said, “What seems like an end is only a beginning.”

I was definitely at the end. I felt I had no reason to live. There was too much pain. Too much failure. Too much disappointment. As I laid there on the floor contemplating everything, I prayed, “Lord, I give up. I can’t do this anymore.” He spoke back, “Finally.” I had to come to the end of myself before I realized I truly needed Him. I had to come face to face with my own insufficiencies before I could see His sufficiency. I had to feel my weakness in its full effect before I could experience His perfect strength.

In II Kings 3, Joram had just begin to reign as king of Israel. King Mesha of Moab decided to quit paying tribute to him as he had paid it to his father. Joram became upset and decided to go to war with Mesha. On the way he sent word to two other kings and asked if they would join him. All three kings and their armies decided to take a round about way of getting to Moab to attack. The route went through a desert. After seven days, the armies were thirsty and were facing death before they even got to the battle. They were at a dead end.

When they realized there was no way out, they decided to seek God’s help. Their men were going to die unless God intervened. They sent someone to get the prophet Elisha. He showed up and told them to dig trenches. He said, “You won’t hear the wind, you won’t see the rain, but this valley is going to fill up with water and your army and your animals will drink their fill. This is easy for God to do.” The men in the army were dog tired from walking through the desert. They were dehydrated and without hope, yet God asked them to pick up a shovel.

They dug all night until they couldn’t dig anymore. The next morning, a flash flood filled the valley with water. As it passed through, it filled the trenches with water and the army regained their strength. They went on to face the army of Moab and defeated them. God had done exactly what He said He would do even though they thought there was no way He could. He made a river in the desert.

What seemed like an end for them ended up being a new beginning. When they felt like giving up, they worked hard and then God came through. He is faithful to meet our needs in our times of trouble. Your dead ends are really just an opportunity for God to come through. It’s His way of showing us that He can get us out of the mess we got ourselves into. What seems hard or impossible to us is easy for God. He may ask us to dig trenches in the night when we have no strength and it doesn’t make sense. When we do, we will be ready for the fulfillment of His promise.

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An Understanding Heart

Ever since I was a child, I’ve been taught that Solomon asked God for wisdom. I tried looking up the scripture where he asked God for “wisdom”, but the Bible doesn’t put it that way. In I Kings 3:9, Solomon asked God for an understanding heart so he could judge the people well. In essence he was asking for wisdom, but as I dug deeper, he wanted more than just wisdom. He wanted to do well in God’s sight and to care for His people.

When I looked up the word “understanding” as it was used in this context, it had three meanings. The first was to hear. Solomon wanted a heart that could hear not only God, but what others were saying too. He didn’t want to just rely on what his ears heard, he wanted to really hear what people meant. Wisdom comes in not just hearing what is spoken. It comes when we can discern the true intent of the words spoken.

The next meaning of “understanding” was to listen. Almost everyone is born with the ability to hear, but only a few ever learn to listen. I believe that God is always speaking to us. We hear Him, but we don’t really listen to what it is that He’s telling us or showing us. Solomon was concerned about the ability of his heart to listen to God. He wanted God to know that he understood the only way to truly govern the people well would be if He could listen to His voice.

The third meaning of “understanding” in this context is to obey. It’s not enough to hear or listen to God. We have to obey what He tells us. I’m sure that Solomon had been told of Saul’s disobedience and of God’s response in I Samuel 15:22. Obedience is better than sacrifice. God is more concerned with our obedience to His word than in our obedience to religious rituals. Anyone can walk through the motions of a ritual, but only the wisest among us obey a God at all costs.

Wisdom was a by product of what he truly wanted. Hearing the voice of a God, listening to what He really said and acting on it from his heart is what made Solomon truly wise. You and I can experience that wisdom. Solomon’s request for an understanding heart is one that you and I can ask for today. James 1:5 says, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you.” God would love it if each of us possessed the wisdom that comes from an understanding heart.

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Prayer Changes Us

In II Timothy 2:1, Paul says, “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf and give thanks for them.” When I read those words, I wonder if they challenged Timothy as much as they do me. Paul didn’t tell him to just pray for people he liked. He didn’t tell him to just pray for Christians. He told him to pray for all people and to ask God to help them.

To me, that’s hard to do. There are people that selfishly I don’t want God to help. I’m like Jonah a lot of times. I know God’s desire is to bring others to repentance, but I don’t always act in accordance with that. When God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, he disobeyed because he didn’t like them. We know that because later, when God spared the city, Jonah threw a hissy fit. He said, “I knew you were a merciful God. You are eager to turn back from destroying people.”

I wonder if Timothy was beginning to show the same signs. I wonder if he was being selective in who he shared the Gospel with. It’s not up to us to be selective with it or with our prayers. God doesn’t want anyone to perish. When we truly get that, we will start praying for others. We will intercede on their behalf. We won’t hold back from sharing the Gospel because we know that’s what God’s heart is.

God knows we let our human emotions get in the way of His will. We let how we feel about someone to override how He feels for them. Paul knew the remedy for the situation is to pray for them and to give thanks for them. When we begin to pray blessings on people we don’t like and thank God for them, our vision of them changes. We stop seeing them as humans and start seeing them as souls. We quit looking at their value to us, and see the value God places on them.

I’ve always heard that prayer changes things. One of the biggest things it changes is us. That’s why Paul urges Timothy to pray. He knew as a young minister, he could fall into the trap of being selective with the Gospel. He knew that Timothy needed a greater vision. One that included all men, not just a few. It’s a vision that you and I need today. The way we get it is to begin praying for all and asking God to help them. If we truly want to see the world changed, we have to get on our knees and spend some time interceding.

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When In Doubt…

When I was young, I loved the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. Each time you read them, it could be a different story. Every couple of pages, you had a choice to make. If you thought the character should do one thing, you turned to a certain page. If you thought they should do another, you turned to that page. Sometimes, I made the wrong choice, the character died and the book was over. I’d flip back, choose the other one and keep reading. It was easy to keep the story going.

In real life, it’s not that easy to go back and make the right choice after you’ve made the wrong one. Our story is forever altered by the decisions that we make. Often we are presented with dilemmas where there is no clear cut right or wrong answer. There are times when we can’t foresee what the outcome of our decisions will be. It’s hard to know what to do. Sometimes those decisions have eternal consequences and we can’t easily just go back and make the other choice.

At the first ever ReWrite Conference, I got the opportunity to meet and interact with Peter Strople. I was invited to attend a small group meeting with him and a few other writers. That meeting had an impact on my life and will be something I remember forever. In that meeting, he said, “When in doubt, love.” It’s so simple, yet so profound. I find myself constantly trying to find the right answer for every situation, and the answer is always the same. Love others.

A few years back, everyone was wearing “WWJD” bracelets. I can tell you what Jesus would do in any given situation. He would show love. He made His decisions based out of love for the person. It wasn’t always the easy decision, but it was the one He made constantly. He loved Peter enough to go to him after he had denied Him. He showed compassion to the woman caught in adultery. He was patient with Martha when she was concerned about all the wrong things. He didn’t disassociate himself from the woman at the well who had been divorced multiple times and was living with a man.

Jesus knew that love is what is required in each situation. That’s why when someone asked Him what the greatest commandment was, He added a second. In Matthew 22:37-40, He said the most important commandment was to love God with all your heart, soul and mind. Then he said, “The second is equally important: love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Both of the greatest commandment were about love. Loving God. Loving others. When you learn to love both, the right decision becomes clear. When in doubt, love.

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