You Need a Log

a small pond surrounded by trees

In the wilderness of Shur, the Israelites had no water. At Marah, they had water, but it was bitter (poisonous); so that they could not drink it. 

We find this account in Exodus 15:23-25 (ESV): When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” And he cried to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a log, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.

God Leads us to Bitter Waters

There’s a great lesson (probably several) in this brief passage of Scripture. God often leads us to “bitter water,” not to be cruel but to use us for change.

Moses and all of Israel arrived where God led them, but what they found was unsuitable for them or anyone. Immediately all of the Debbie Downers began complaining. Wow, if you’ve ever been in a leadership role of any kind, you know how “helpful” whining and complaining is to solving problems!

We’re There for a Reason

Nevertheless, God put His people there for a reason. And He will do the same for each of us. Why? Because God chooses to use His children to affect change; to transform bitter waters into sweet waters. We are well equipped for these assignments because the Holy Spirit lives within us, and He intends to use us to point people to Jesus.

No, we don’t walk around with blessed logs that we’re to through into bitter situations (there’s a lawsuit). What God does is show us the tool, the instrument of change, the “log” that He has prepared to transform situations, problems, people that are poisonous into something wholesome, healthy, and refreshing.

Don’t Panic

Don’t panic, don’t join the complainers but pray, seek God’s will, ask for the Holy Spirit to show you the “log” that is needed and then act in faith and watch God work. When once you’ve experienced this, you will desire God to lead you to the next crises; well, maybe not, but you’ll sure be ready!

Photo by Alfred Kenneally on Unsplash 

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By testing you may discern

driving in the rain

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2 ESV

I don’t know about you, but there are times when I’m driving that I need quiet. Somehow the shouts, and laughing and commotion from my passengers become too distracting when I’m dealing with poor driving conditions. 

I don’t fully know why my hearing overwhelms my driving skills, but it does. The same can be true in our walk with our Lord. The noise of the world around us can become so distracting that we have difficulting knowing what God would have us do with problems we come upon as we journey with Him.

When we come upon poor driving conditions, we test the road and test our car. We’ll tap the brakes to see if it’s slippery, we’ll look for the painted lines on the road to see if we are straying out of our lane, and so on. In our verse today, we find, “that by testing you may discern.” 

Every moment of every day, we must test so we may discern the behavior that is God’s will, “what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Photo credit: jochenspieker on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-SA

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God Orchestrates

God Orchestrates – Yesterday I was listening to a song that reprised a singer/songwriter that had passed away. The end of the song fascinates me. The tempo began to wind down, and off-key notes began increases with each repetition until, finally, the song ended, leaving listeners somewhat unsettled. It was a fantastic performance.

In Romans 8:28 (ESV), we read this oft-quoted verse, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

I like “Barnes’ Notes on the Bible” for Romans 8:28. It says, “All things – All our afflictions and trials; all the persecutions and calamities to which we are exposed. Though they are numerous and long-continued, yet they are among the means that are appointed for our welfare. Work together for good – They shall cooperate; they shall mutually contribute to our good.

Romans 8:28 In Action

We find a contemporary example of Romans 8:28 in Paul’s letter to Philemon. In this book, we see Paul’s plea for Onesimus, a slave that ran away but volunteered his time to Paul. And, in Philemon 1:15-16 Paul is in the middle of laying out his argument for Onesimus’s defense.

Philemon 1:15-16 (ESV): “For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

Perhaps

It’s a bit unexpected to read a saint such as Paul say “perhaps,” presupposing but not sure how to precisely state this situation. Paul knew “all things work together” for he wrote that by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Even Christ’s closest followers are confronted with situations where it isn’t clear why something happened. Nevertheless, the faith they have in Jesus, planted by the Holy Spirit, compels them to declare the good from the confluence of events that affect their lives.

So often I fall back on the metaphor of a symphony for each of our lives. Within a symphony there can be valid movements when some instruments play off-key, creating discord within the music.

When done correctly, you can’t imagine the symphony not having that discord. All the parts work together. And, that’s how God works with us. God orchestrates all of the good, the bad, and the ugly for our good. And that’s good news.

Photo credit: Bart Heird on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND

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Do, or Die, But Never Yield

Never Yield

I don’t remember which of the kids was studying family crests, but as they went through them, we decided our family motto is “Die but never yield” because it speaks to our family’s core attribute. I’m not sure which side or sides of the genetic tree it comes from but, let’s face it, our family is exceptionally hard-headed; I mean insanely hard-headed.

So, thinking about our motto led me, of course, to Scotland and the battle of Bannockburn, which led me to this passage from the poem called “Battle of Bannockburn“:


Countless banners floated gaily,
Trumpets sounded loud and long,
As that glorious host advanced –
Full a hundred thousand strong.
Face to face those hostile armies
Looked across the combat field;
Every Scot’s heart echoing proudly,
Do, or die, but never yield.

How easily I relate to that poem. Bring ’em on, I say. Unfortunately, it’s easier to fight a battle with an army you see lined up across a field from you than it is to fight a war of attrition. Sniper shots, booby traps, IEDs and such. That wears an army down.

It is rarely the big sin that destroys us

For Christians, it is rarely the big sin that destroys us. Instead, it’s the constant grinding on our weaknesses that brings us low. I read someplace that Satan’s first attack upon a Christian is rarely a big sin – adultery, murder, theft, and so forth. No, he wears a Christian down with small transgressions, fears, and impure desires. After the Christian has compromised, then the big sin is natural, the one that is family ending, career-ending, reputation ending; the big sin is easy for the defeated Christian.

And, to be sure, many of us have been brought low at some point, perhaps at many points, in our lives. It’s when we fall that we must remind ourselves, “Do, or die, but never yield.”

Falling isn’t a failure. Not getting up and continuing the advance is a failure; that is yielding. Only if we don’t get up, only then should we be ashamed. That’s why the passage in Isaiah 50:7 (ESV) is so important to me. It says, “But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.

We need to “set our face like a flint.” No matter what the enemy throws at us or what self-inflicted wounds we cause, we must always get up. We must advance; die but never yield.

Photo is Public Domain: A depiction of the Battle of Bannockburn from a 1440s manuscript of Walter Bower‘s Scotichronicon. This is the earliest known depiction of the battle.

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The 3.5% Rule

The 3.5% rule is non-violence

This “3.5% Rule” devotional is not at all political.

Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan did an in-depth study[1] on the effectiveness of violent versus non-violent acts for the overthrow of oppressive governments. 

They set rigorous criteria for their study. Not even Mahatma Gandhi’s protests in India against the British was as non-violent. To their surprise, purely non-violent actions were more than twice as successful as violent acts. Their science-based study was so surprising that Ms. Chenoweth was asked to do a TED talk about it, and their research has been published worldwide, from Harvard to newspapers.

For me, this result wasn’t surprising. I was blessed by having an excellent Mennonite friend when I was growing up. He took me to many church services and conferences, which helped shape my trust in non-violence. So, it was just an affirmation when their study stated that the best way for people to achieve political change was through nonviolent or civil resistance. In fact, from 1900 to 2006, genuinely nonviolent campaigns worldwide were twice as likely to succeed outright as violent insurgencies.

The 3.5% Rule

Here’s the jewel in the results of their research. No campaigns failed once they’d achieved active and sustained participation of just 3.5% of the population. Granted, that may be a lot of people for a country the size of America. However, for smaller, more close-knit countries, 3.5% is a reasonable level of participation.

Now let’s go back to Israel when the Church was young. Luke has provided us in the book of Acts with detailed accounts of the first collisions the Church had with civil authorities. 

We have no documentation about the number of people that morally supported the Church, but there were enough people to sway Jewish leadership. We read in Acts 4:25, “Then someone came and said, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.” At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them.

I think it’s clear if you read Acts, chapters 1-5, that God’s hand is in all of these first confrontations between the Church and civil authorities. For me, the big takeaway is that we must follow as God leads and not assume what God will do. He may shield us from abuse or allow us to suffer so we can celebrate suffering for Jesus. However, in every situation, God’s love is with us. Still, His focus is always on His work to advance His kingdom in this broken, ineffectual, and sinful world.
 1 – https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2019/02/why-nonviolent-resistance-beats-violent-force-in-effecting-social-political-change/

Photo by Mercedes Mehling on Unsplash

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Be Bold

There was a time when my mom and dad were in big financial trouble. Dad was out of work, and none was to be found in our hometown. So, on a Saturday, they packed up their car, tossed us kids in the car and started driving, intent on finding work before the few dollars they had run out.

Dad was going to stop in every town until he found work. He reached a moderately-sized town before noon that day and started driving around looking for factories. He knew their offices would be closed for the weekend but the family was in dire straights, and he wasn’t going to waste the precious little time they had before really bad things started to happen.

It turned out that there was a large factory in town and when he pulled into the parking lot one of the big loading-dock doors was open, and he saw some men sitting around a large electric motor, working on it. Dad walked over and started up a conversation. One of the guys was a supervisor, and before long he offered Dad a job and told him to come back on Monday to start work. That was great, but there was still some daylight.

Dad was a dedicated Christian. He knew that God moves in mysterious ways and God also moves in practical ways. So, Dad continued to drive around town and snagged two more job offers that Saturday. Now, confident he had work, Mom and Dad searched for an apartment, found one, moved in that same weekend and Dad went to work for on Monday.

Here’s what Jacob said when he and his clan were caught in famine: When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you just keep looking at each other?” He continued, “I have heard that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy some for us, so that we may live and not die.”

Genesis 42:1-2 (NIV)

By nature, we’re all frogs. Troubles start slowly heating the water we’re in. Up and up it goes until we’ve been boiled alive. Sometimes, God uses trouble to get our attention and get us moving.

God provides but we must acquire His provision, whether it be manna from heaven, rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, salvation, or food for our table. For us to live by faith that faith requires action (James 2:24). Be bold!

Photo by Steve Harvey on Unsplash

Hey mister, are you my neighbor?

Lyrics to Mr. (Fred) Rogers’s Neighborhood song:
It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?

We live next door to an elderly widow who has re-taught us how to be a neighbor.

She welcomed us to the neighborhood with her home-baked cake. And, since that time, we’ve exchanged goodies, usually initiated by her; never return an empty plate has been our motto.

Just the other day, my wife called her to see if we could borrow a cupcake pan. It thrilled her! She was so happy to be called on for help. That got me thinking.
Being a Christian regularly puts me at odds with my nature and forces me to surrender my will. Countless times, that’s not been easy for me, seeing that I’m a hard-headed guy.

As an introvert, meeting and talking to people is uncomfortable for me; it goes against my nature. So, having a true neighbor started me thinking about how to meet other neighbors. Even so, my inner man was thinking about how to avoid them.

This internal battle led me to Luke 10:29, “…who is my neighbor?”, which led me to consider how to be a Christian and still escape having to meet my neighbors.

There were other rabbit trails I went down, but those aren’t relevant to this post. I was stuck. Being a Christian requires me not just to love people but to go and be among them so that they can smell me; “to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life...” (2 Corinthians 2:16 ESV)

In my spiritual wrestling match, I finally landed on the good Samaritan. When Jesus asked, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” (Luke 10:36 NIV), The implied truth was that being a neighbor carried responsibilities. When I considered that I knew I was in trouble.

My neighbors aren’t just the folks that live within 100 feet of me. I can’t legalize, parse or categorize my way out of it; everyone is my neighbor and, as a neighbor, I have responsibilities to them – all of them!

The sick, broken, suffering, lost, clean and tidy, or rough and ragged, close at hand or far away, God holds me accountable whether I like it or not. Acknowledging and putting God’s love into action for my neighbors are the least of my responsibilities as one who carries the Name of Christ. It’s time for me to die, again.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Yellow-bellied

yellow bellied prinium

Years ago, I drove past a church’s sign that had the quote, “Sometimes silence is golden, and other times it’s just plain yellow.” That memory came to mind this morning while reading Biblegateway.com’s “Verse of the Day.” The first thought I had when I remembered that quote was, “Why is yellow a code-word for cowardly?” This information was especially important because, as a kid, every week on “The Lone Ranger” I heard, “You no-good, yellow-bellied, horse thief!” 

“Yellow” was originally “yellow-bellied” and applied to birds that literally have a yellow belly, like the yellow-bellied sapsucker. From there, it came to mean an insult for cowards. If you’re afraid to ask someone on a date, you’re yellow-bellied. If you’re easily frightened or spooked, you’re yellow-bellied. This is often used as an insult or challenge, like “What are you, yellow-bellied?!” 

Vocabulary.com

There are times for us to be silent. I wrote a devotional titled, “All truths are not to be spoken to all persons at all times.” However, silence sometimes means a Christian is easily frightened. That doesn’t sound like a healthy Christian. The Holy Spirit lives within us, Paul wrote, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to put on our whole armor, and we have historical accounts, such as “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs” (epub free on Google Play), of mothers urging their children to look to Jesus while their children were burned at the stake for their commitment to Christ. No, “yellow” isn’t the color of a Christian.

What triggered my memory? “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13: 6-7NIV) In our daily life, it’s easy to be drawn into worldly conversations or to be slightly duplicitous in conversations. 

We must not be afraid to shut down or walk away from worldly behavior. By doing so, we protect Christians that may be afraid to take a stand. Moreover, we can teach them by setting an example of a healthy Christian, one who hates evil, always hopes, always, perseveres.

Photo by SK Yeong on Unsplash

Wasted for the Lord

Man in an empty room with chairs

Watchman Nee was a very active Christian minister, author, church planter, teacher, and established the movement for local churches in China. When the Communist Revolution took place, he was persecuted and imprisoned where he lived the last 20 years of his life. One of the truths he wanted believers to understand was the value of being wasted for Jesus. He would preach, “It is a blessed thing to be wasted for the Lord.”

Watchman Nee is not the only Christian leader to teach the value of being wasted for our Lord. Richard Wurmbrand, the author of “Tortured for Christ” and founder of “Voice of the Martyrs,” was a Jewish-Christian that lived in Romania during the same approximate time as Nee. He, too, was an active Christian minister and author that was imprisoned and tortured by the Romanian Communists. Alone in his prison cell, Wurmbrand would preach sermons.

One of the most challenging requests our Savior can ask of us is to wait. Waiting feels like being wasted. God has saved us, commissioned us, and gifted us. We’re supposed to be in the battle. Why would Jesus put us on the shelf and not use us? Or, even more difficult for American Christians is actually to be wasted; to be in a local church that won’t preach the gospel but our Lord doesn’t give us the liberty to leave or to have a ministry taken from us, and we’re left with a hole in our hearts and our lives.

God is sovereign, so He seldom answers our “why.” Part of being saved is our death and regeneration. This world is no longer our home. So, it is a blessing whenever Jesus uses us and if that use is to be wasted on Him, how marvelous!

Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” (John 12:3-4 NIV)

Photo by Patricia Valério on Unsplash

Failing the test

An old preacher told me many years ago that the test of God does not take place when you’re on the mountain top. It happens when you come down. How right those words are. I have personally experienced this as have so many other Christians both my contemporaries and those recorded in the Bible.

It’s when we’ve had the blessing of God upon us, and we feel strong. That opens a chance for God’s enemy to strike at us. And, there are times when God allows us to be tested for our benefit. If we believe our strength is ours by possession or by some individual channel to God that has come from this mountaintop experience, we will fail. For God’s highest gift from a mountaintop experience is humility.

Jesus, our Lord, humbled Himself and we are not higher than Him. Likewise, when we spiritually come down from the mountain, we must remind ourselves to trust God and not our natural skills. We will struggle during our testing, but we must not fail. We see Hezekiah fail his test after God’s mighty victory over his enemy. Notice what it says in 2 Chronicles 32:30-31, “…He succeeded in everything he undertook. But when envoys were sent by the rulers of Babylon to ask him about the miraculous sign that had occurred in the land, God left him to test him and to know everything that was in his heart.

First, the king had great blessings, including a life-saving miracle, but pride entered into Hezekiah’s heart, and the Lord was not pleased with Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 32:24-25). Notice Hezekiah’s test came right after his mountaintop experience.

We pray for God to touch us, to intervene in our lives, yes, even for miracles, but are we able to stand the test after our time with God on the mountaintop? We must be on guard when God does take us to a special time of prayer, fellowship and miraculous acts. These can easily puff us up. When God’s test comes, let’s pass with flying colors!

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