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Resist the temptation to be like everyone else…

Read Judges 1:19-36

And it came to pass, when Israel was strong, that they put the Canaanites to tribute, and did not utterly drive them out. (vs 28)

Now read Judges 2 – how sad.

…but ye have not obeyed my voice: why have you done this? (Judges 2:2b)

Sheep on a hillside in Israel. We are “like sheep”.

Ancient stairs in Jerusalem

Consider the promises of God & how wonderful they are. All we have to do, like the children of Israel, is follow God and possess the promise. Easy enough?!? Yet, they could not do it and neither do we.

It is imperative that we keep our eyes on Jesus and not ourselves. Verse 19 of chapter 2 tells us, “…they ceased not from their own doings, nor from their stubborn way.” When we allow ourselves to be enticed by self-gratification and pleasure for a moment, we are not concerned with God’s blessings. We must open our eyes and wake up!

The promises of God are eternal! Look at the big picture. Look at the end of an action before taking that action. Are we settling for a temporary “fix”, or are we laying up our treasures in heavenly places for an eternal blessing?

Read Judges 2:4. The people wept. Repentance is more than just being sorry for our actions. We must cease to do the things that cause the sorrow as well. Confess those things and turn from doing them.

God has given us promises today, in the 21st-century. We have been empowered by God to go and possess whatever He has promised. But we cannot allow ourselves to be enticed by the enemy so that our standards slack. We cannot alter our belief system based upon the trends of the times, but we must rather be steadfast and unmovable concerning the commands and promises of God.

What trends in today’s society seem to sway your convictions and beliefs? What can you do?

Ask God to equip you to be strong and resist the temptation to “fit” the mold society is providing.

Shine for Jesus

Acts 7:57 (NLT)

Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting….

ears

The story of Stephen has always been one of my favorites. Beginning with Acts 6:5, we meet “Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Ghost.” (KJV) Stephen had been going about preaching the Good News of Jesus and performing miracles. This brought about the attention of the temple rulers. Men began to debate with Stephen; but none could match Stephen’s wisdom, so they decided to spread rumors against him. Stephen was arrested.

As he was brought before the council and questioned, Stephen boldly responded. I find Stephen’s response compelling (Acts 7:2-53). The Bible says Stephen’s face shone like an angel (Acts 6:15).  Stephen began with a history story upon which everyone could agree. He started his defense with the story of Moses. He reminded the leaders of Moses receiving the law on Mt. Sinai, a law which they all upheld and believed. However, Stephen also reminded them of the shamefulness in their history, “But our ancestors refused to listen to Moses. They rejected him and wanted to return to Egypt.” (vs. 39) They all stood by and intently listened to all Stephen had to say, even agreeing with his every word. Until verse 51, Stephen says, “Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you!” Stephen called them murderers of Jesus, the Messiah.

Have you ever talked with children, and when they didn’t like what you had to say, they put their hands over their ears? Perhaps once you were that child! It’s high time we listen! Sometimes the truth hurts. We can be quick to judge others and understand the judgment of those in the history books. As an onlooker, we see the foolishness and arrogance that leads to destruction. But, looking in the mirror, oftentimes puts us on the defensive. We do not want to see our mistakes, admit wrong doing, or change.

mirror

These leaders of the temple could not stand to hear Stephen’s accusations because they were guilty. The King James Version says they “gnashed” on him with their teeth (vs. 54). Can you imagine grown men biting another grown man? They were chaotic in their charge against the righteous man, Stephen. As they stoned him to death, he had a vision of Jesus and forgave them as he died (vs. 56-59)

Do you find yourself just going through the motions of Christianity? Do you find yourself quick to judge others and hanging on every line of the law simply to accuse them of failure?

Find a relationship with Jesus today.  Certainly He wants you to serve Him, but He wants you to serve from a heart of love.  Spread the Good News to others in a fashion, so they will actually believe that Jesus is Good! Let others see Jesus shining forth from you.

The Happinesses

Matthew 5:3-11

Jesus speaks to the crowd from the mountain overlooking the sea of Galilee. There is a church built on top of this mountain today. It is beautiful and the acoustics are amazing. You can understand why Jesus would teach here. This famous sermon recorded in Matthew is often referred to as “the sermon on the mount”. The first few verses are commonly called the beatitudes. I never really understood why we call them that, but since I was a child, I just accepted the word “beatitude” having no idea what it meant. To me it almost looks like it means “beautiful attitude,” and I suppose that’s not a bad description. But, thanks to modern technology and Google, I know the truth.

“Beatitude” is Latin. The Latin word for happy is “beatus” and as a noun “beatitudo”. When Saint Jerome translated the Bible into Latin, he began each phrase with the word “Beati” which translates into English as blessed or happy. So the noun in English is beatitude.

We saw the cave where Saint Jerome lived for 30 years translating the Bible when we visited Bethlehem. They would lower his food to him on a rope, and he never left the cave for those 30 years, then he died in that very cave. He is buried there today. There is a Catholic church built on top of the cave. Fittingly the church is named for St. Jerome.

As you ponder the following beatitudes perhaps you should call them the happinesses as you read them. For we can only find true happiness through serving our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

Rejoice and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets who were before you.”

☺️🙏🏼☺️

What’s it to you?

John 21:22 (NLT)

Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.”

As I was listening to my Bible app the other day, this conversation between Peter and Jesus took on a whole new meaning for me. I actually got tickled thinking about it! 😄 Jesus and Peter just concluded this deep heart-to-heart moment where Jesus repeatedly asked Peter, “Do you love me?” (Verses 15,16,17)

Peter was so overcome with emotion as the Lord asked him the third time, and Peter anguishly repeated himself, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” And, Jesus continues to prophesy over Peter ending with the command, “Follow me.” (Verse 19)

Then, Peter turned around, looks at John, and says, “What about him?” Wow! Isn’t that how we are? What about him? What about her? What about that group? What about that organization? We are always worried about someone else.

When we focus on others rather than ourselves, we fall into the trap of comparisons. When we compare one to another, we will never be satisfied. In some way, we always fall short. We are unique individuals. No two people share the same fingerprint. If even our fingerprints differ, why would we expect other aspects of our body to “look just like so-and-so”? Our physical appearances are distinct, our personalities vary, and certainly our talents and abilities are diverse.

I love how Jesus answered when Peter inquired about John, “What is that to you?… Follow me.” Right back to his command from verse 19, “Follow me.”

If we keep our eyes on Jesus, and follow wholeheartedly after him, perhaps we will cease to meddle in the business of others. We are not called to judge but love. When the comparison tempter arises, remember Jesus’s words, “What’s it to you? Follow me.”

Consider the Bluebonnets

1 Peter 5:7 (NLT)

Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about you.

Matthew 6:28b-30 (KJV)

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall He not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?

My daughter and I made a 24 hour trip simply to see the Texas wildflowers blooming alongside the road way. Naturally, we threw in some eating and shopping along the way. We took our time, and on more than one occasion, we stopped and took advantage of the picturesque views.

Jesus said, “Consider the lilies….” I can imagine if Jesus was from central Texas He might have said,

“Consider the bluebonnets….”

As I gaze upon the field of wildflowers, I marvel at the beauty and contrast. Bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrushes, and Butter Cups are a few of my childhood favorites. Each flower unique in color and form, yet together, they create a beautiful blanket for the earth.

Jesus said of the Father, “…shall He not much more clothe you?…” Why is it so difficult to place our trust in God? He proves himself season after season. God’s got this! He clothes the flowers, and He will clothe me.

1 Peter 5:7 assures me. I am what God cares about! He cares for me. The word “care” in the Greek means: to be of interest or concern. God is concerned about me. God is interested in me.

All my cares, worries, and anxieties I have in this world are no match for my God. I must give my cares to Him. You must give your cares to Him. For, He cares for me, and He cares for you!

Shameless.

Shame. The emotion floods in as strong today as it did over twenty years ago. As if time and life haven’t continued to move, as if I’m the only one to have ever made a mistake, as if I haven’t successfully helped others through similar situations, as if I’ve never done anything “good”, the shame hangs over me like a weight.

Naive. Could I have been any more gullible? I was always a little boy crazy and eager for that first kiss. Always overweight and worried I wasn’t pretty enough for the boys to like me. Always flirting, hoping for attention, and afraid of rejection. So whenever attention came my way, I clung to it like a lifeline unaware of the intentions behind the attentions.

Unrestricted. I had no rules. Always the “goody two-shoes” growing up, I expanded my horizons upon entering college. I had never attended a party where alcohol was accessible. It intrigued me. All of my new “friends” were familiar with this scene. I learned to play the drinking game, quarters. I didn’t care for the taste of beer, but I played along for the fun, and it was fun. Drinking was not always involved. We went dancing until late in the night and just enjoyed hanging out. I pledged a sorority.

Frat brothers. As a member of the band, our sorority was nerdy. It was our new goal in life to turn it into a cool sorority on campus. The fraternity associated with us had some cool guys, who were also members of another frat house on campus. This opened doors to meet even more guys: boy crazy, remember. As a pledge, their wish was my command.

The president. When the president of the fraternity paid special attention to me, I was flattered. He flirted and made a point to always hang out with me. I encountered him multiple times a day in the band hall for rehearsals but also in the student union among his other frat brothers. He asked me to visit with him at his grandmother’s house on a couple of occasions. Coincidentally his grandmother had lived in my hometown and had a historical book in which my relatives were mentioned. He kissed me and would try to touch me in inappropriate places, but I was able to resist him. However, desires were ignited inside me from the new touches.

Temptation. The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” I had a way of escape. I don’t know if I didn’t realize that this night was different than the other nights when I had been able to resist him. But, this night I did not escape. I recall a portrait hanging on the wall in the room where I was waiting to make-out. In the portrait, Jesus is standing at the door knocking, and I realize now that should have been my sign to escape.

Overpowered. Being a child of the 80s, I was not familiar with the term “date rape”. It was not something I had ever considered. Looking back, I know this happened to me. I do not recollect many details from that night. I remember crying. I don’t remember falling asleep, but when I woke up, it was morning. I was nude, in a twin sized bed with “John”, and I was bloody. Later, I discovered bruises on the inside of both thighs. I can only suppose that he had to hold my legs open due to my resistance.

Blame. I did not blame “John”. I blamed myself. I attended the party; I drank alcohol; and, I wanted to make-out. I should not have been drinking. As the years have passed, I have realized that my fault stops there. I know that I did not consent to sex. If only I would have asked for help.

Disappointment. The reason I did not ask for help was because I did not want to see the look of disappointment in the faces of my family. I still don’t. I remember telling my high school friends that I had lost my virginity and the shocked look that filled their faces. I don’t think I ever told them the whole dirty story.

Details. The “walk of shame” accompanying my story cannot be diminished until I stop traveling that path. Revelations 11:12 says, “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” I believe my release is in my testimony, every ugly detail. My closest friends were not at this particular party. Perhaps if they had been there I would have a different story to tell. We were at a fraternity pledge’s house. His parents were out of town for the weekend. We played quarters, and I may have had a beer. I do not remember drinking too much, and now I know I was drugged. I know we went into one of the bedrooms to make-out. Apparently he had grander plans. Details are fuzzy, and I actually remember very little. I can remember crying. I don’t recall undressing, so I must have passed out. I awoke the next morning, naked, nervous, and confused. I slipped out of the bed and noticed my clothes in a pile on the floor along with a used condom. I dressed quickly and headed straight to the bathroom. I cleaned up as best I could, but I was bleeding and never stopped for an entire week. I supposed the incident must have triggered my monthly cycle. I went back to the bedroom and surveyed the site before me. There on the bottom twin sized bunk lies “John” and a bloody mess. Humiliated as I feel, I am compelled to clean up the mess. I struggle to pull the sheets from around and under him. I search the house to find the laundry room. I just start the load washing and am startled by “Tommy”. This is his house. I imagine he wonders what I am doing, but I know he probably knows. I wish I could have fallen into his arms, cried, and told him I needed rescued.

Lost. I want to get away from here as fast as I can, but I have no idea where I am. I drove my car, but I just followed directions and really paid no attention to where I was going, so I’m stuck waiting on “John”. As I wait to remake the bed, “John” wakes up, and we talk a little. I do not remember what we spoke to each other, but I can remember being disgusted. I could see dried blood around his fingernails. I wanted to scream, “Go wash your hands!” We tried to clean the mattress before remaking the bed. The blood stains were stubborn, so we flipped the mattress and made it up. I cannot count the number of times I have imagined that family discovering the stained mattress.

Damaged. How can one night change everything? Lesson learned, I suppose. I gave up boys. Saying no was not a problem for me after losing my virginity. I realized that the boys really were only interested in sex and not me. “John” continued to plague me even though he never asked me out again. He would come up behind me at band functions and make noises in my ear. Noises he said I made during that night. This damaged me, for years after being married, I tried very hard not to make noises during sex. My husband thought he was doing something wrong because he wanted to hear the sounds of my pleasure. My personal hang ups took patience and years of love to overcome. I still have moments I struggle.
Found. With my decision made to forget boys, I was invited by friends to a Christian fraternity party. Soon after, I ran into a boy I met from the party, and he asked me for my phone number. So much for forgetting guys! We hit it off! Everything seemed to click. I was smitten.

Confessions. Our relationship escalated quickly. My new love interest is a preacher, a man of God, and from a preacher’s family. I love Jesus, and my entire life I could picture myself in full time ministry. I am falling fast in love. But, I’m faced with a great fear: “Will he still want me when he finds out I’m not a virgin?” I remember the day: we were sitting in the front circle drive, and before I could go any further in our relationship, I had to tell him the truth. It was one of the most difficult conversations of my life. Just saying the words tortured my soul. My heart broke telling this man, who I hoped would be my future husband, that I was used. I felt remorse, humiliation, fear, and sadness.

Redemption. He never blamed me, and he desperately encouraged me not to blame myself. His love for me was greater than any confession I might have. He loved me anyway. In spite of my circumstances, he showed me mercy. Instead of throwing out the pieces of my broken heart, he began the diligent process of putting the pieces back together again. I am loved.

Husbands. Ephesians 5:25-28 says, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.” Jesus loves us so much that He gave the ultimate gift of His life. He died that we might live. It’s unconditional love personified. We deserve death, but if we accept His free gift, we are granted life and life more abundantly. My husband loves me with that unconditional love. I live an abundant life with no fear. In the eyes of my husband, I am blameless. His love is greater than my sin.

Nothing. Romans 8:38-39: “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Nothing can separate us from the love of God. God would not have any to perish and that’s why He sent Jesus to offer hope. (John 3:16) However, we have the choice. We must choose Christ, believe He is God’s son, and live for Him. His love is there for the taking. Only we have to accept it. It is easy to live with regret and unworthiness.

Everything. Matthew 11:28: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” There is an old song that says, “Take your burdens to the Lord and leave them there.” We carry our sins like a heavy weight, as if they define who we are. We can be so much more! “…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”(Hebrews 12:1-2) Lay your past and present burdens at the feet of Jesus. He will restore everything you feel you have lost.

Shameless. Merriam-Webster puts it simply: “having no shame”. Romans 8:1 puts it: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus….” You ask God for forgiveness, He forgives and forgets, and that is important for your eternal life in Heaven. Now, you need to forgive yourself because that is important for the rest of your life on earth. Past mistakes and circumstances certainly have a hand in molding us to the people we become, but they don’t need to define the people we are today. Who you are today is determined by what you choose to do today. “Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.” (Romans 10:11) I encourage you to let go of the past and begin to live a shameless life today!

No Longer A Slave

Philemon vs 19 (NLT)

I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it. And I won’t mention that you owe me your very soul!

This short letter written to Philemon from Paul contains a story of second chances. History explains that Onesimus, as a slave, stole from his owner, Philemon, and ran away. Onesimus came to know Paul, and Paul introduced him to Jesus and a new life. Now that Onesimus has changed, Paul intends to send him back home, not as a fugitive slave, but a redeemed brother in Christ.

It’s comical to me. Apparently Paul knows that Philemon has a past, too. Paul does not elaborate but simply reminds Philemon, “…I won’t mention that you owe me your very soul!” Like a line from a sitcom, Paul says he won’t mention it, yet in that very statement, he mentions it.

I am certain Philemon’s heart melted toward his runaway slave, Onesimus, once Paul reminded him of his own second chance. Not only was Onesimus to be allowed to return, but he was also to be elevated. Onesimus left a slave but returned a brother. What an amazing God we serve!

We serve a God of second chances. And third chances, and fourth chances…… The redeeming blood of Jesus and our step of faith is all it takes.

Philemon vs 6

“I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ.”

Today is a new day. The sun shines new every morning. I hope you realize your place in Christ and begin to live like the child of God you are not the slave of this world.