The following words awoke me from my nap: Fortify the gates. Before my eyes were fully opened, again I heard: Fortify the gates; strengthen the walls. Which gates, Lord? Which walls?
My first order of business would be to pray, but first, I would play some worship music for just a few minutes to bring my mind into focus. I opened the music cabinet and selected a CD from the worship section at random, which happened to be one I hadn’t listened to in quite some time, but one that seemed quite fitting.
As I listened to the first few moments of the traditional hymns, presented by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, I lifted my voice in praise. Then, as I intended to pray, I found I couldn’t; all I could do was listen to the soul-stirring hymns. Sometimes you need to speak, said the Lord, and sometimes you need only to listen.
I stretched-out on the floor and allowed the words of those glorious old hymns to saturate my spirit until I heard the Lord say Rise. As I did so, the Lord spoke quietly to my heart. He had already revealed that the gates that needed fortified were my own children and the walls that needed strengthened were the youth of our nation.
To fortify something usually means to impart strength to it. That was certainly applicable to what the Lord was speaking to me. He reminded me, though, that this word can also be applied to nutrition. The youth of this nation, including my own children, need more of the Word, He said, for they are greatly lacking. Most are starving for truth. The walls have been broken down.
Dear reader, the truth of matter is that our youth do not have anywhere near the same opportunity to hear the Word of the Lord as did the former generations —not even in church! They are so very hungry for truth and righteousness, even if they do not realize it. The secular world will do everything in its power to keep the Word of truth from them. It is all the more imperative, then, that those of us who call upon the name of the Lord impart the Word to those who need it most, those who are most vulnerable to deception, our youth.
The Lord spoke through the prophet Isaiah: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in. (vs 12). These words are very relevant for today’s world. But who will stand in the gap to raise up the foundations, and where do we begin? As the Lord spoke to me earlier, sometimes we need to speak, and sometimes we need to listen. Doing the right thing at the right time is very important, and the Lord will surely guide us in our endeavors is we ask His guidance; and for the sake of our youth, I pray we do!
There is a wildlife park not far from my home which houses many rare and exotic animals including White Bengal Tigers. These beauties are 8-10 feet long and weigh nearly 500 pounds. Can you imagine how intimidating, if not downright terrifying, they would be when glaring at you from a standing position?
A friend of mine recently took his family on an outing to this park and they stopped to see the tigers. He hadn’t before realized how mammoth those tigers are. His family was right next to the tiger’s enclosure, he explained, when one of those mammoth cats reared up on its back legs and looked down on them from a fully vertical position. “He was bigger than a grizzly bear!” my friend exclaimed. This man, who is more than six-foot tall, motioned with his hands above his own head, explaining, “My head went to about here on the tiger, and that wasn’t even up to his shoulders!”
As we talked for a few moments about those beautiful Bengals, he related something very noteworthy that I would like to share with you.
While most of his family stood frozen, staring at the upright tiger, one of the children, an adorable, bright-eyed five year-year-old, squealed with excitement. “Daddy! Did you see that?” See it? I was a bit frightened by it, her father thought. Naturally, the man assumed his daughter had been mesmerized by the monstrous tiger, but what exactly had caught her attention? Was it the tiger’s large sharp teeth, its towering height, which to her must have seemed like a mountain, or perhaps something else?
“See what?” he asked.
“The ladybug, Daddy, look at the ladybug!”
Children sometimes say the most thought-provoking things without even trying, and that was one of those times. My friend immediately took note of the lesson to be learned in his daughter’s simple words.
“It’s all in one’s perspective,” he said. “There I was focusing on this enormous thing before me, and how dangerous it could be, and my daughter didn’t even give it a second thought because her attention was excitedly fixed on a pretty little ladybug.” Life can be like that. We all face our own giants in this life, but our attitude is always determined by that which we are focused on. The choice is ours. Will we choose to focus on the problems which loom large in front of us, or will we focus on the Lord and His many blessings?
Let all that I am praise the LORD; may I never forget the good things he does for me. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s! Psalm 103 2-5
Bedtime was still a few hours away so the girls and I each settled into our own pleasurable activities to wind-down for the night. One of the girls was giggling at an old movie while her sister was on the phone talking faster than anyone could possibly listen.
I too was occupied, completely unaware of the approaching storm. It wasn’t a big storm, just one of those that rolled in quickly, hit furiously, and left suddenly. But there we were, inside a house suddenly blackened by a power outage.
Immediate sounds of scurrying and bumping indicated that someone was slightly frantic. She was searching wildly for her cell phone because she had been disconnected. I suppose it was the urgency of the matter that caused her to forget how helpful the light can be. Her sister was a bit disgruntled at the forced intermission but decided to make the most of it by fixing a sandwich. She could not see into the refrigerator, however and grumbled, “How long till we get the power back?”
Quite amused, I waited a few moments before shedding light on the subject (literally). Because my husband and I are always prepared for a blackout, we always keep two oil lamps, candles and flashlights readily available. If a power outage happens at night, therefore, we are never left unprepared in the dark.
Still, neither of my daughters had thought to take advantage of the light which was practically at their fingertips. I lit one lamp and watched the girls settle into a more peaceful state now that they could see things more clearly.
Gazing at the soft, soothing glow of the lamp, I thought about the ten virgins who took their lamps to meet the bridegroom (Matthew 25:1f). Five wisely prepared their lamps with oil, five did not. Once these five realized they had forgotten the oil, they scrambled in desperation, much like my daughter did for the phone. It was too late. Their lack of preparation cost them dearly.
I thought too, about the unexpected storms of life. There have been times in my life when I was far less prepared than I needed to be when they hit. And like the girls, I was so distracted by immediate circumstances that I didn’t immediately reach for Jesus, the true Light.
One of the things that I dearly love about my husband is his calmness in the face of every storm, both physical and spiritual. Many years ago we faced a very destructive tornadic storm, which caused me great anxiety. I was on the other side of town, when several tornadoes began touching down near my home.
Regardless of the danger, I was determined to return home to my family. Our children were very small at the time and we lived in a mobile home park. Those are not the safest places to live, as evidenced on my way home. Several of the mobile homes from a nearby park had been thrown onto the highway and a few were perched in trees; few were left standing in the park. And to make matters worse, a radio announcement reported that the town located only miles from our home had been mostly leveled.
I assumed my family was in the storm shelter, and I knew deep down that God would protect them, but that didn’t stop worry from gripping my heart. It was not until I pulled into our park entrance that I began to relax; minimal damage was evident, but all was intact.
Rushing through my front door to grab a few things before joining my family, I was stunned to find all of them inside. I sternly asked my husband, “Why aren’t you in the shelter?” My husband smiled at me, raised his hands, and his gaze, heavenward and confidently answered, “I am!”
Obviously he knew where The Light was all along and was fully prepared.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105).
Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand (Ephesians 6:13).
Like any good soldier, I put my armor on daily –at least most of it- but this old armor is dented, scratched and tarnished from battle. Come to think of it, so is my husband’s. I can only look back with amusement to those long-ago days when I, like most foolish schoolgirls, dreamt of my very own knight in shining armor whisking me away to the land of happily ever-after.
My knight did finally come along –and he was tall, dark and handsome- but his armor was certainly not fancy or impressive. Truthfully, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Yes, I could have settled for some dazzling knight in shining armor. Nevertheless, by the time my would-be husband entered my life I had matured enough to realize that true warriors were experienced in battle and their armors were well-worn. The Lord had sent me a man who was quiet and unpretentious on the outside but spiritually robust inwardly. I knew that whatever battles we would face in life, my rugged knight would be up for the fight.
That is not to say, however, that we have never been injured in battle. The Bible says that we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Ephesians 6:12). Therefore, the battles we face are often arduous and exhausting, leaving us battle-weary and dazed.
Consequently, putting on the full armor of God is absolutely essential if we are to overcome these forces. Scripture instructs us to put on the armor so that we can withstand (resist) in the evil day, having done all, to stand. The Greek word for stand, pronounced his’-tay-mee, is speaking of abiding in steadfast faithfulness.
In other words; if we clothe ourselves in our spiritual armor each day -which is truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation- we will be equipped to overcome every battle –never faltering in our relationship with the Lord and never retreating from His service.
The whole concept of medieval knights has been greatly glamorized over time, but in reality the average knight, although well-respected, rarely achieved the fame and status that modern legend has portrayed. Though born of nobility, they were very hard-working soldiers who were trained in battle from the earliest days of their youth. They devoted their entire lives to serving their lords and protecting the general populace, laying down their own lives when necessary. The knights of old, like soldiers of Christ, never retreated from service.
Furthermore, the average knight rarely wore a shining, unblemished armor. Those who did were generally the lazy, uncaring men who flaunted their wealth and self-professed superiority. These men loved to don their most elaborate armor and participate in exhibition events. Not much has changed. There are a lot of folks walking around in shiny spiritual armor. They may look the part, but I would much rather be surrounded by the soldiers in God’s army whose armors show signs of use.
Why? Because there are times when I need other warriors to fight on my behalf. Sometimes “I drop my sword and cry for just awhile, ‘cause deep inside this armor, the warrior is a child. Unafraid because His armor is the best, but even soldiers need a quiet place to rest…” (Twila Paris song, The Warrior is a Child)
What about you? Do you feel that life’s battles have left you battle-weary and dazed? Jesus lovingly admonished: Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).
The seasons of rest we now enjoy may be temporary, but always remember, someday soon the Lord will return to whisk us all away to the land of happy ever-after. I can hardly wait. Till then, I plan to keep this battered old armor; it has served me well.
“Here is a test to find out whether your mission in life is complete. If you’re alive, it isn’t.”
― Lauren Bacall
A little over a month ago, I confided in a dear friend that I felt I had lost my sense of purpose. Additionally, thoughts of eternity frequented my mind as I wondered what my eternal homecoming would be like. You see, this past year I experienced some rather pesky health issues that presented some difficult challenges for me. The Lord has been so faithful through it all, but some of my newly acquired inabilities had left me wondering if my service to Him was pretty much finished. And if it was, did that mean that my departure from this life was drawing near? I had, after all, committed my life to my precious Lord and to His service, and to that of my family. Not being able to do anything substantial for any of them was disheartening and certainly increased that sense of lost purpose.
I couldn’t honestly say I was ready to cross over into eternity because I love my husband and children dearly and I wasn’t ready to leave them, or the dear friends that I am blessed to have, but aside from them, there is nothing that this world has to offer that has a hold on me. Thus, I totally relate to the Apostle Paul, who wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” Philippians 1:21-24
Paul wasn’t making an egocentric statement here; quite the opposite, in fact. He was weary and desperately longed to be with the Lord, yet he understood that as long as he had breath in his physical body, he would continue to labor for the Lord, and that could only be beneficial to those for whom he labored.
Yes, that is the better choice, I thought, to stay here and give my all. While I pondered what kind of fruitful labor might be left in me, the Lord gently reminded me that there are seasons in each person’s life and each season is different; some seasons are very still, but we should strive to make the most of each nevertheless. Paul instructed that whatever we do, we should do it all for the glory of God. Whatever we do! Remember, every act of service, no matter how seemingly small or insignificant, is a fruitful labor that can benefit those around us, often times affecting them in ways that we cannot even comprehend. The important thing is to give of ourselves in whatever capacity we can. This is what truly gives our lives purpose.
I realize, dear reader, that amid all of the chaos of today’s world, it is sometimes easy to lose our sense of purpose, but know this, the Lord has never forgotten your purpose, or mine. His gifts and callings are irrevocable. (Romans 11:29). His purpose for our lives is unchanging.
As for me, I decided to simply rest in His promises and trust in His faithfulness during my challenging season, knowing full well that as long as I have breath in my body, I have purpose, and the ability to fulfill my purpose —as do you.
By way of update, I am pleased to inform you that just days after confiding in my friend (who definitely prayed for me), the Lord very quickly renewed my physical strength, revitalized both my passion and my purpose, and gave me fresh vision. Now, rather than wondering what the immediate future holds, I am excited to see what the Lord will do, and I look forward to being a part of it! Friends, I am absolutely certain he will do the same for you if, for whatever reason, you feel you have lost your sense of purpose. To quote Paul once more, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16
There is a popular saying, here in America, which I find to be more relevant with each passing day. In case you have never heard it, it goes like this: “Sitting in church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.”
I found myself repeating that phrase several days ago when a woman, whom I had just met, unexpectedly opened-up to me about her many emotional pains, most of which were caused by years of mistreatment and neglect. Regrettably, most of her tormentors, she said, were self-proclaimed Christians. “I’ll tell you one thing,” she stated caustically, “The people in the bars (taverns) are a whole lot nicer than most Christians.”
This was definitely one of those times when listening was far more important than speaking, but I was very quick to point-out that not everyone who claims to be a Christian truly is. To be a Christian, I explained, is to be Christ-like; showing-forth the character of Jesus Christ in word, action, lifestyle and every other way. True Christians, I told her, hold firm to their convictions, but they are patient, loving and kind.
While it is true that the title of “Christian” has been so distorted and convoluted over time that it has taken on an entirely new meaning, especially here in America, it is still an absolute fact that true Christians live their lives so that Jesus Christ is honored and glorified in every way.
Today, there will be those who read this message who are Christian, and those who aren’t. To those of you who aren’t, may I exhort you to judge Christianity by those who truly live it, and not by mean-spirited, carnal people that don’t. The Bible warns that there will be many (ungodly) wolves out there wearing sheep’s clothing, or in other words, people who claim to be Christian but certainly are not –people that give Christianity a bad name and bring harm and destruction to Christians and non-Christians alike! How can you know the difference? The bible instructs that you will know us by our fruit. Simply stated, if our fruit is rotten, then we are not Christ-like, therefore, we are not true Christians.
For my fellow Christians, I encourage you to remember that “Christian” is not a dirty word. I know so many Christians who no longer care for the title, nor claim it for themselves, because its once enduring legacy has become so very ambiguous and unclear —distasteful even. However, you’ll remember that the designation of “Christian” was meant to be derogatory when it was first coined in Antioch in the first century as well. “You follow Christ!” they accused, and so dubbed the Christ-followers as “Christian.” Thus, the title Christian is nothing to be ashamed of, no matter how vigorously others try to defame it. It is time that we Christians stand proud and restore its honor!
As a wise man once said, “Christians do not need to change their name; they simply need to live up to the one they already have.”
“The only man who behaved sensibly was my tailor; he took my measurement anew every time he saw me, while all the rest went on with their old measurements and expected them to fit.” ~George Bernard Shaw
We read that King David was a man after God’s own heart. But according to Scripture, there were many people, even amongst his own countrymen, that did not believe David measured up to his role as king, let alone as a child of God. King David’s critics probably couldn’t let go of his past failures and mistakes, which is understandable because even David struggled with them occasionally.
I very much doubt that you and I will ever be exempt from that kind of scrutiny either. As long as there is breath in our bodies, someone is bound to question whether or not we measure up in one way or another. Truthfully, dear reader, as long as God considers you to be a man or woman after His own heart, it doesn’t matter in the least what anyone else thinks —and here’s the kicker; that includes you!
Most of us need to learn to forgive ourselves a little more readily. Why is it so easy to forget others’ mistakes and failures, but cling to our own like some unshakeable disease, when the Lord promised: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9). Furthermore, Scripture informs us, He takes our iniquities and casts them into depths of the sea (Micah 7:19).
Thus, the next time you are tempted to dredge up your own past failures, remember that you don’t even know where God’s sea of forgotten iniquity is, so you couldn’t possibly going fishing in it even if you wanted to. Besides, there’s nothing in there worth retrieving anyway.
The next time an enemy throws your past in your face just smile and hand him a mirror. Oops, scratch that –I was just thinking out loud; I’m sure you can think of something a little more spiritual.
Finally, every time the enemy tries to bring condemnation by reminding you of your past, simply remind him of his future.
None of us are perfect, but if we remain faithful to the Lord and His instruction, we will measure up in the end; He will see to that!
So what’s on my mind today? The words of Stephen R. Covey: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
Yesterday I was involved in a back-and-forth email discussion. My own submission would, I knew, challenge a few people, but I also felt it was okay to share. The discussion was going well enough until I checked on today’s responses to see how the conversation had progressed. Not surprisingly, a few folks decided to offer their rebuke both in the group discussion and by private email as well.
Show of hands, how many of you have had a similar experience? I see that hand, God bless you.
The sad thing is that those who chose to rebuff me had not actually taken the time to check their facts. I had been examining the topic in the article I shared for well over a year and am quite certain the information is valid; they, on the other hand, simply went to one of those “Ask a Question” websites and found an opposing answer from someone who was hardly qualified to give it, someone who was clearly not knowledgeable about the subject; then proceeded to copy it and paste it into the discussion thread to “prove” that I had presented heresy.
Am I angry? No, at least not any more. As the old saying goes, “Let the ignorant be ignorant still.” (which by the way, is a saying that is rooted in I Corinthians).
However, the incident was a timely reminder to myself to heed, and to practice, the words of Proverbs 18:13: He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.
Dear reader, if you didn’t raise your hand earlier, you will almost certainly have occasion to do so at some point. How will you react? You and I cannot stop others from rebuffing us unjustly, but we certainly have control over how we engage with others. Thus, we have the responsibility to not only choose our own words wisely, but also to dismiss the words of a scoffer like water off a duck’s back — I ask you, how often have you seen a disgruntled duck?
Some day, I plan to buy a steam cleaner for my kitchen and bathroom floors. But I have to admit, there are times when I actually enjoy getting on my hands and knees and scrubbing them the old-fashioned way. Of course, I do have a mop and bucket, but once-in-a-while I just get that toothbrush-to-the-nooks-and-crannies, kind of urge to do some deeper cleaning.
Last week, while I was on my knees scrubbing away, it occurred to me that some of the most rewarding things in my life are done on my knees —playing with children, cleaning, gardening, and praying, to name a few.
If only I could get up and down like I used to!
Since I can’t, I find the time on my knees is becoming less and less frequent. And for that reason, I don’t even pray on my knees as much as I used to. This has never really concerned me though, since our Lord hears our prayers despite our physical position. Many times, the luxury of praying on bended knee is not afforded us. In fact, it was reported of General Stonewall Jackson, “While the battle was raging and the bullets were flying, Jackson rode by, calm as if he were at home, but his head was raised toward heaven, and his lips were moving evidently in prayer.”¹
Still, there is just something special about those times spent on our knees in prayer. Scripture informs us that even Jesus prayed this way at times. Thus, I leave you with the following words from the apostle Paul:
For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21).
¹ America’s God and Country, William J. Federer, p.27