The Only Way Is Through

Recently, we got hit with a big rainstorm here in Arizona. At my workplace, I usually park under a covered parking space…and so after I parked on this particular day…having the covered parking was great as I stayed dry while gathering all my belongings and then headed into my office.

Now while I worked throughout the morning I can hear the down pour of rain on the roof of the building. I had no idea how much it had rained until I headed back to my car at the end of the day. The rain had slowed down… thank goodness…but I noticed that the parking lot had flooded around my car. There was about 8-10 inches of water surrounding my vehicle! Seriously right now?!

I began to contemplate my situation. How could I get into my car…let alone get to it without getting my feet totally drenched?

I realized quickly that I couldn’t get around the flood on either side of the car…I couldn’t get on top of my car and somehow crawl to the door and get in…clearly there was no way under the situation. The only way to my car was through…through the 8-10 inches of water!

So I took off my shoes and rolled my jeans up to my knees (FYI…not an easy task with skinny jeans!) and I walked through the nasty water to the back car door…the back door and not the front door because the water got deeper and nastier the further I went!

And yes! I made it into the back seat and climbed over to the driver’s seat…backed the car out to dryer land…loaded up…and headed home…so looking forward to a shower!

Just as the only way to my car was through the flood…So it is when we face the challenging floods of life…so it is with the downpours of life’s difficult circumstances. As hard as we may try to jump over our situation…duck under our situation…go around our situation…many times the only way is through!

I know what you are probably thinking…You don’t like “through”. Well, I don’t like “through” either! Why?

“Through” can be tough…through can be hard…through can be heartbreaking…through can be challenging…through can be tiresome…through can be draining…through can be flat out lonely.

And that’s why we tend to look at ways to jump…duck…or go around it! But unfortunately, many times the only way is through. We must just go through it.

God is asking us to go through. God has a plan for us through our circumstances.

“Through” is defined as “from one end or side to the other; from beginning to end; over the total distance; all the way; to completion, conclusion, or accomplishment.”

God wants us to push “through”…push from side to the other…push over the total distance…push all the way…push to completion…push from beginning to end…not giving up…pushing to completion!

Furthermore, the Bible says that God is the Alpha and the Omega. God is the beginning and the end! That means He knows the beginning and the end of our circumstance. And not only does He know the beginning and the end…He is with us from beginning to end…and everywhere in between!

“I am the Alpha and the Omega–the beginning and the end,” says the Lord God. “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come–the Almighty One.” Revelation 1:8 NLT

And what is so awesome is that God is all about completion and so He is with us in the “through”…to see us through!

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6 ESV

We may not like “through” or always understand “through” but God knows what is on the other side of “through”.

As we get ready to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ this Christmas, we can see clearly what is on the other side of “through”

The road to Jesus’ birth was certainly not easy for both Mary and Joseph. They could have clearly questioned their situation…tried to jump over…duck under…or go around it…but they trusted God and went through a challenging circumstance that lead to the birth of Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-24, Luke 1:26-38; 2:1-20)

Mary was a virgin and engaged to Joseph when an angel appeared to her stating that she was chosen to carry and give birth to a son…God’s son… named Jesus. And because Mary became pregnant and wasn’t married…she could have easily been brought to court…found guilty of breaking the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 22:20-21)…and stoned to death! Talk about having to go through a tough time!

And then there is Joseph! We don’t always give Joseph enough credit!

When Joseph finds out that his fiancé Mary is pregnant, he decides to break off the engagement but was determined to do it in such a way that it would not cause public shame to Mary. After all…even as much respect that Joseph had for Mary…how can anyone accept and wrap their mind around the fact that the child’s father was God!

Then an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream confirming Mary’s story and asking Joseph to still wed Mary. Joseph obeyed God…married Mary…and honored her virginity until the baby was born.

Because Mary and Joseph trusted God…chose to accept God’s plan for their lives…and go through their challenging circumstance…a new life began…Jesus Immanuel was born!

And because Jesus…33 years later…accepted God’s plan of redemption and went through the most painful and tortuous death…many new lives can begin today…we can be reborn…we can have eternal life through Jesus Christ!

Imagine if Mary and Joseph and Jesus all dodged their situations and figured out a way to avoid going through what they had to go through?

God planned for them each to go through what they went through because He knows what’s on the other side of “through”.

God has a plan for whatever you are going through today and will go through. Trust him and instead of trying to jump over it…duck under it…or go around it…accept that more often than not…the only way is through!

Because God has a plan and a purpose in and through every situation you face in life…a plan and a purpose that goes even beyond you.

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus this Christmas, let’s reflect on what God has done “through” His son’s birth and death…and be thankful for an eternal present that has been given to each of us…His presence from now to eternity!

I pray you all have a Christmas full of love…joy…peace…and hope…rejoicing in the birth of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. I wish you all a safe and Merry Christmas!

Reflection Points:

  1. When facing a difficult circumstance in life, do you try to jump over it…duck under it…go around it…do everything you can possibly do to avoid it? Or do you accept that the only way may just be through it?
  2. As much as going through something can be tough… hard… heartbreaking… challenging…tiresome…draining…and lonely…do you still trust God? Or give up?
  3. Do you understand that God has a plan for you in the “through” and He knows what is on the other side of “through”…even if you don’t?
  4. How can you stay focused on God as you push through difficult circumstances in life?

Action Points:

  1. As hard as it is, many times the only way past our difficult circumstance is through it. Instead of questioning God, getting angry at God, and trying to figure out God…we need to understand that God has a plan through our circumstance…that goes way beyond us.
  2. God wants us to push through…with Him! We aren’t alone! He is with us from beginning to end and every step in between our situation.
  3. Trusting and relying on God is key in getting through difficult circumstances in life. We may not always understand why we are going through what we are going through but God does. And He knows what is on the other side of “through”. He has a great plan for you and for me. (Jeremiah 29:11)
  4. You can stay focused on God through your difficult circumstances by praying and spending time reading the Bible. Difficult circumstances in life draw us closer to God…and that’s one reason God allows you to face challenges. He wants you to spend more time with Him…trust Him…and rely on Him more than ever!

A Personal Altar of Thanksgiving

How easy it is to focus on the things we do not have in our lives instead of focusing on the things we do have!

I recently allowed my mind…once again…to wander to the things I don’t have in my life such as…

Not owning a home…Not driving a car with heat…Not having a kitchen with much counter space (especially when I love to cook!)…Not having family living close for help (the good Lord knows I need it with my 2 little precious yet energetic boys!)

Note Key Words: “I allowed” …Yes it is my choice as to what I choose to focus on. And it is your choice as well as to what you choose to focus on in life.

Do you tend to focus on the things you don’t have versus the things you do have in your life?

And so once again I realize that I take so much for granted the things I do have in my life and the importance of being thankful.

And just why is it that we need the Thanksgiving Holiday to remind us each year?

Thankfulness should be an “everyday” thing. Thankfulness should be a “Thankful-Daily” thing.

Why? Because God has given us all that we have and just as He has given, He can also take away! It’s like being reminded of the old saying “You don’t know what you got till it’s gone.”

We should show our thanks and gratitude to God…NOW…because we really don’t know how long we get to keep what we got!

And furthermore…We really need to know what we got!

We need to not only know what we got with our minds but know what we got with our hearts!

Knowing with our hearts results in true satisfaction and contentment. Our hearts determine what we feel…what we think…what we say…and what we do.

 Above all else, guard thy heart; for out of it flows the issues of life. Proverbs 4:23 JB

The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? But I, the LORD, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve. Jeremiah 17:9-10 NLT

But even when many of us know what we got…we still choose to focus on what we don’t got! Don’t we???

And I am not just talking about material things and possessions…although we still should be thankful for the roof over our heads…the car that starts each morning…our jobs…our health…our families…and so much more!

How about being thankful for our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ who died the most horrible and painful death so we can have eternal life? For a God who is so gracious and merciful and doesn’t punish us as our sins deserve? For a God who is patient with us and gives us second chances…third chances…fourth chances…infinity chances…to get it right?

Are you thankful daily for your Savior Jesus Christ and the God who has given you all that you have…and not just all that you have…but made you all that you are?

We need to know what we have and stop focusing on what we don’t have. We should be so thankful…And we should build a personal altar of thanksgiving.

A personal altar of thanksgiving? Yes!

There are instances in the Bible…especially in the Old Testament…where altars were built for a number of reasons…and one reason being…for thanksgiving.

In order to better understand this personal altar of thanksgiving, we need to understand what exactly an altar is and what the altar represents in the Bible.

The Hebrew word translated “altar” is mizbeach which comes from the word zabach meaning “to slaughter” such as an animal. The Greek word translated “altar” is thusiasterion meaning “a place of sacrifice.”

The dictionary defines “altar” as a raised place or structure where sacrifices are offered and religious rites performed; any structure of earth or unwrought stone on which sacrifices were offered.

In the Bible, altars were generally erected in conspicuous places. The first altar we read of in the Bible is erected by Noah (Gen. 8:20). Altars were also erected by Abraham (Gen. 12:7; 13:4; 22:9)…Isaac (Gen. 26:25)…Jacob (33:20; 35:1, 3)…and Moses (Ex. 17:15) and many others.

The Altar is commonly a place where animal sacrifices were made…however the altar represents much more than “animal sacrifices” and has relevance for us today.

The Altar is a place for…

An Encounter with God. (Genesis 12:7)

Personal Sacrifice. (Genesis 22:7-9)

Dedication. (Exodus 30:1-8, Leviticus 6:12-13)

Forgiveness. (Leviticus 1:1-5)

Worship and Thanksgiving. (Genesis 8:20)

Now when I mention that we should be thankful daily and should build a personal altar of thanksgiving…I am not talking about building a physical altar as exemplified in the Bible.

Just as the altars in the Bible are a place of …encountering God…sacrifice…dedication… forgiveness…worship…and thanksgiving…so too is a personal altar.

A personal altar is a place where you meet God daily…a place of encountering God…personal sacrifice…dedication…forgiveness…worship…thanksgiving.

And personal altar of thanksgiving is just that…a daily time to be thankful and focus on God and his blessings in our lives.

God rejoices when we praise Him and thank Him! Even Psalm 22:3 says that God inhabits…dwells…in our praises!

But you are holy, O you that inhabit the praises of Israel. AKJV

And thou art holy, thou that dwellest amid the praises of Israel. DBT

So as we celebrate this Thanksgiving Holiday…let’s make thankfulness a “thankful-daily” thing as we erect a personal altar of thanksgiving. Let’s enter into His gates with thanksgiving…everyday!

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. Psalm 100:4 NIV

When we praise God and thank Him for…all He has given us…all He has done for us…all He has done in us…all He has done through us…and all He will still do…we won’t have the room in our minds and hearts to focus on the things we do not have!

Gratitude has a way of changing our attitude…and our focus!

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

 

 

 

Live to Love

A number of months ago I was sending a text message out to a friend and I ended with “Love you!” I noticed that after I typed in the word “love” …I had actually typed in the word “live”.

Probably not much of a surprise since the letter “o” is sitting right next to the letter “i” in the keypad…and for those of you who may be wondering…it wasn’t an auto-correction. I had to take that off my phone because the auto-correction was auto-annoying! Never getting words right! Some of you may know exactly what I am talking about!

Well, after that moment, I noticed this switch in words happened quite often…actually every single time! …“live” kept appearing instead of ‘love”…so much so that I really sensed the Lord was trying to show me something.

I had to keep changing “Live” to “Love” and then it hit me one day that God created us…we are alive today…we are living today so we can love… Love God and Love others!

The passage in Matthew 22:36-40 makes this very evident. One of the Pharisees tested Jesus with the question in verse 36. The Pharisees, who had classified over 600 laws often tried to distinguish the more important from the less important. So this particular Pharisee characterized as “an expert in the law” asked Jesus to identify the most important law.

36“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Jesus’ response reveals that if we truly love God and others…we will naturally keep the commandments.

As Christians, so many times we worry about all the things we shouldn’t do instead of concentrating on all the things we should do to show our love to God and to others!

Love is more than just a feeling…an emotion…an affection. Many people in society throw this word “love” around so loosely without really understanding and demonstrating it. Unfortunately it’s a big reason why so many marriages end in divorce because couples are willing to say they love each other to on another but don’t back it up with action.

Real love requires action and has a lot to do with sacrifice. It is a selfless act.

God clearly demonstrated the greatest ultimate love…the kind of love that no human can top…through His greatest ultimate sacrifice…sacrificing his one and only son’s life on the cross…for you and for me.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 NIV

John 3:16…one of the most well-known Bible scriptures known by Christians and non-Christians…one of the most publicized scriptures at every televised sporting event…you can’t miss the guy holding up the sign!

Is yet a scripture that unfortunately many have overlooked and haven’t grasped…that the true meaning of love is sacrifice.

If sacrifice is a true measure of real love…how are you measuring up…loving God…loving your spouse…loving your children…loving your family (even your in-laws!)…loving your friends?

Is there action behind your “I love you” words? Is there sacrifice behind your “I love you” words? Or is it merely a feeling? Merely words?

Many of us are familiar with how the Bible characterizes love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-6.

4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Again, to truly express love as mentioned in this scripture…there must be action…the action of sacrifice. This sacrifice involves sacrificing our thoughts (what we really think)…our emotions (what we really feel)…and our will (what we really want to do). It is sacrificing our time, energy, and even money.

The Bible speaks of two types of love…phileo and agape. Both are Greek terms and appear at different points throughout Scripture. The Greek language also has terms for two other types of love…eros and storge…which do not expressly appear in the Bible.

Storge is an affectionate love, the type of love one might have for family or a spouse. It is a naturally occurring, unforced type of love. Some examples of storge love can be found in the stories of Noah, Jacob, and siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

Eros is passionate or sexual love (eros is the source of the English word erotic). While eros is important within a marriage relationship and is created by God (see Song of Solomon), it can also be abused or mistaken for storge love. The Bible is clear that sexual immorality (out-of-control eros) is a sin. (1 Corinthians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 4:3)

Phileo refers to brotherly love and is most often exhibited in a close friendship. Best friends will display this generous and affectionate love for each other as each seeks to make the other happy. The Scriptural account of David and Jonathan is an excellent illustration of phileo love. Agape speaks of the most powerful, noblest type of love…sacrificial love. Agape love is more than a feeling…it is an act of the will. This is the love that God has for His people and that prompted the sacrifice of His only Son, Jesus, for our sins. Jesus was agape love personified.

As Christians, we are to love one another with agape love. Since phileo love involves feelings of warmth and affection toward another person, we do not have phileo love toward our enemies. However, God commands us to have agape love toward everyone.

This includes those whose personalities clash with ours, those who hurt us and treat us badly, and even those who are hostile toward our faith (Luke 6:28, Matthew 5:44).

In time, as we follow God’s example of agape love for our enemies, we may even begin to experience phileo love for some of them as we start to see them through God’s eyes.
And so love…just like other Christ-like character traits…must be developed.

Developing the character trait of love will help us develop the many other character traits that are bound by love.

12Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3:12-14 NIV

Paul says that we are to “put on” love…first and foremost…above all other virtues. Love is the binding ingredient for us to develop Christ-like character.

It’s like making a burger…you add ingredients like salt…pepper…garlic…onion…sweet n’ smoky seasoning (my personal favorite)…some bread crumbs…an egg (the binding ingredient)…to the ground beef or turkey.

The egg is what keeps the ground meat and other ingredients all together and allows you to shape it into a burger!

Without the egg…we have no burger. Without love…we have nothing…we gain nothing.

1If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NIV

We need to develop the Christ-like character of love first and foremost. And as the first commandment states…We are to love God first…We must learn to love God first. This how we will understand love and learn to love others…by loving God first!

Realizing that love is an action…love is a sacrifice…we can truly love the God who created us and love others…even our enemies…with the agape love we are to demonstrate!

We live to love!

Reflection Points:

  1. How do you define love? Is love a feeling?
  2. If sacrifice is a true measure of real love…how are you measuring up…loving God…loving your spouse…loving your children…loving your family (even your in-laws!)…loving your friends?
  3. Is there action behind your “I love you” words? Is there sacrifice behind your “I love you” words? Or is it merely a feeling? Merely words?
  4. What types of love are demonstrated in the Bible?
  5. How are you developing the Christ-like character trait love in your life?
  6. Do you find it hard to love your enemies…love those who have hurt you…love those who come against your faith in God? Do you demonstrate agape love

Action Points:

  1. Love is an action. Love is a sacrifice.
  2. As Christians, we need to develop the Christ-like character of agape love. This type of love is the noblest type of love. This is the way God loves His people.
  3. Developing this type of love, requires getting to know the One who created love and is our greatest example of love…God. Reading God’s word…studying God’s word…meditating on God’s word is the key to understanding what love is all about.
  4. Discipline yourself to spend time with God on a daily basis…reading His word and praying.
  5. Begin to see ways you can demonstrate sacrificial love to your spouse, children, family and friends.

Refining Moments

As I was rushing to get ready for church recently, I began quickly grabbing my jewelry to add the final touches to accessorize my outfit. My eye caught…just a little longer than usual…the silver ring I had just slipped onto my finger.

This particular ring isn’t just an accessory to me. It has great sentimental value as it belonged to my mother who passed away 5 years ago.

And just maybe the actual day of her death just a few days prior had prompted my sudden emotions at this moment as I reflected a bit longer on the silver ring. I had acquired most of mother’s silver and gold jewelry after her passing and cherish it very close to heart.

Silver and gold…precious pieces of metal that continue to gain value in our world today. And with our modern technology who would ever stop to think about the time and effort it took years ago to refine these metals.

We live in such a modern culture where machines and computers have taken over that we don’t tend to hear much about silversmiths and goldsmiths these days. But the process of refining silver and gold is quite interesting and truly an art…and actually has some life application for us as well!

The silversmith and the goldsmith start their work with impure silver and gold ore. Through the refining process they extract and mold the pure gold and silver by removing all of the impurities in the ore. These impurities are referred to as the dross.

This process involves fire and the close attention of the smith. The smith puts the ore in the fire to burn out some of the impurities…then takes it out and shapes it…and then he puts it back in the fire. All the while he keeps a close eye on his precious metal.

The goal of the silversmith or goldsmith is to fashion and mold the precious metal until it is pure and shines bright. He heats and works with his metal until he can see his image reflected in it.

The word refine is defined as “to become pure; to become more fine, elegant, or polished.”

It is through this refining process that we can enjoy these pure…fine…elegant…and polished pieces of silver and gold jewelry that may have sentimental value to us and as women so love to accessorize with!

How about in your life? Have you ever gone through the fire? Maybe you are in the fire right now…

As Christians, we will certainly have moments where the heat is turned up in our lives….where the fire may seem so hot…where the challenges may seem to consume us…where the struggles seem unbearable. Because…after all…the Bible never said “if” we face trials but “when” right? (James 1:2)

We will have moments in the fire…and it is in the fire that we will be tested…Because whether we like it or not…whether we feel ready or not…life is full of tests.

Tests that will test our character…test our patience…test our loyalty…test our faith…test our obedience…test our faithfulness…test our commitment…test our love…test just about anything!

Just as the silversmith and goldsmith use fire to mold and shape their precious metals… It is in the tests…it is in the fire… that we too are molded…we too are shaped…we too are fashioned into the image of Christ.

It is in the fire we are tested…It is in the fire that we are refined. And God says…

I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. Zechariah 13:9 NIV

The Bible actually characterizes God as our Refiner…

For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, Malachi 3:3 NIV

For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes. He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the LORD. Malachi 3:3 NLT

There are some very interesting and encouraging points to note about this verse from these 2 bible translations.

First of all, He [God] will sit like a refiner…This is so significant because just as a smith will sit to refine his metal, God will sit with us to refine us as we go in…and yes through the fire! (through has much better ring to it than in…doesn’t it?!)

This clearly demonstrates that God will never leave our side! He is with us the entire time…no matter how hot the fire seems!

And to drive this point even further…The smith keeps a close watch…close attention…on the piece of metal in the fire to make sure it isn’t destroyed or consumed by the fire.

Wow!

So not only is God merely with us in the fire…God is also actively keeping a close watch…close attention…on us to make sure the heat isn’t too hot to destroy or consume us!

He cares so much for us that even though He may turn up the heat…He will pull us out before we are overcome by the flames. He is only interested in turning up the heat hot enough to melt away the impurities…to melt away the dross…to melt away those areas of our lives that may not be pleasing to Him…to refine us!

Can you see any specific areas God is trying to melt away and refine in your life?

We will have these refining moments in our lives…we will have many refining moments in our lives…Because God is interested in making us look more and more like Him. He is interested ultimately in seeing His image reflected in us…just like the smith knows his metal is refined and finished when he sees his image reflected in it.

There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears. Philippians 1:6 MSG

The following two commentary excerpts continue to paint the picture of God as our refiner even further…

He shall sit as a Refiner. Christ, by his gospel, shall purify and reform his church, and by his Spirit working with it, shall regenerate and cleanse souls. He will take away the dross found in them. He will separate their corruptions, which render their faculties worthless and useless. The believer needs not fear the fiery trial of afflictions and temptations, by which the Saviour refines his gold. He will take care it is not more intense or longer than is needful for his good. Mathew Henry’s Concise

As a refiner sits and observes his metal while it is melting, and waits the proper time to pour it out and separate the dross from it; so Christ is here represented as sitting, while his people are purifying and refining by the various ways and means he makes use of: it denotes the continued care of Christ over them; his eye is upon them, that nothing be lost but their dross and corruption; and his patience in waiting to be gracious to them, and do them good; and his diligent attention to the proper season of doing it; designing by all that he does, not their hurt and damage, but their real good, for he saves them, though it be by fire; and indeed every trial and affliction is for the purifying of their souls, and the brightening of their graces, and increasing their spiritual experience, light, and knowledge. Gill’s Exposition

I love this! Don’t you?

God doesn’t want us to be fearful or afraid in our lives when we go through the fire because…

With Him in control…we will not be consumed or destroyed.

With Him in control…we will not be left alone.

With Him in control…we will become more fine, elegant, and polished.

With Him in control…we will become more like the image of Christ…more like Him!

With Him in control…we will be refined!

So…Be encouraged today!

We will have refining moments…and the fire may seem real hot…but God the Master Refiner is in control…He will never leave you and will keep His eye on you the entire time…and in His time He will pull you out…more refined than you have ever been!

After all, God and His word are far “more precious than silver and gold” …even the silver and gold we so cherish and accessorize with! (Psalm 19:10, Psalm 12:6, Psalm 119:72)

Reflection Points:

  1. Have you ever gone through the fire? Are you are in the fire right now?
  2. Does the fire seem so hot that your challenges and struggles seem unbearable and ready to consume you?
  3. Can you see any specific areas God is trying to melt away and refine in your life?

Action Points:

  1. We all will have moments in the fire. It is important to understand God’s plan and purpose in the fire. That he is the Master Refiner refining you.
  2. If you are going through the fire…pray and ask God what specific areas he may be trying to melt away and refine in your life.
  3. Trust Him that the fire will not consume or destroy you. Trust Him that He is in control. Know that He will never leave you and is keeping close watch over you.
  4. Know that He loves you and cares for you so much!
  5. Rejoice in the refining process…because the result of this process is that you are looking more and more like Him!

Your Rod and Your Staff, They Comfort Me

There will come a time in all of our lives when we want to be comforted…whether we are currently seeking comfort in a difficult circumstance we are going through right now…. whether we are still seeking comfort in a challenging situation we went through in our past…or whether we will seek comfort in a tough trial we may face in the future.

Who or what do you look to for comfort?

Do you look to your spouse, family, friends, or church? Do you look to things in this world to comfort you like drinking, eating, smoking, drugs…even TV, social media, shopping or working out?

How about God? Do you lean on Him for comfort first and foremost or only after seeking comfort from other people or things?

Now I am not saying that people cannot provide you with comfort…because they certainly can…but why not go first to the source and creator of comfort?

The Bible is very clear that our God is a God of comfort….And not only is He a God of comfort but the God of all comfort!

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 2Corinthians 1:3-5 ESV

As I have been focusing this week on this truth of God being the God of all comfort, I was reminded of verse 4 in Psalm 23…which really heightened my interest and curiosity!

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4 NIV

Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me… NLT

Your rod and your staff reassure me… NET

Your rod and your staff give me courage… GW

Have you ever thought…what is so significant about the rod and the staff?

I mean I have read Psalm 23 over and over again and even memorized it in Sunday school as a young child and never really thought about the meaning of the rod and the staff! Have you?

If you aren’t familiar with Psalm 23…it’s ok! I highly suggest you read through it as there is so much beautiful imagery of the Lord our God being our Shepherd.

This Psalm was written by David…the greatest king of Israel. And many years before David became king, he was a shepherd boy and tended flocks of sheep in the hills around Bethlehem…which FYI…was where many years later an angel would find shepherds and tell them about the birth of our Lord Jesus!

And so, therefore, David was very familiar with sheep…and just as he was a shepherd to sheep, he uses this imagery of the Lord as a Shepherd to us…His sheep.

So why exactly are the rod and the staff a comfort to David…and to us?

Why do they give us comfort, protection, reassurance, and courage as the different bible translations imply??

A better understanding and greater perspective can be developed by digging deeper into the Hebrew meanings of these two words.

The Hebrew word for “rod” is shebet and has the idea of a “stick”. It originally referred to a part of a tree.

In the Old Testament, the rod was used to count sheep (Leviticus 27:32).

The “rod” was also used to protect the sheep from other animals. The rod was a club about 2 feet long with a knob on the end of it about the size of one’s fist. It was used to ward off enemies such as a bear or a lion because with one quick blow you could put to death such an animal.

The “rod” is also described in the book of Proverbs for discipline (Proverbs 13:24).

This “rod” was the shepherd’s symbol of authority, power, discipline and protection from danger.

The Hebrew word for “staff” is mishena and has the idea of “something to lean on,” “trust,” or “support.”

The “staff” was slender stick with a small prong on the end of it which served as a hook. It was used to help get the sheep out of trouble such as when it was stuck in thick branches or to help get the sheep who wandered off. It usually came from an almond tree which was a tree that represented long life. It was very strong so one could lean upon it for strength and support.

The “staff” was the shepherd’s symbol of strength, support, guidance, and direction.

The same Protector, the same gracious and merciful God, will be still with him – leading him, guiding his steps, shepherding him, keeping him from evil. Thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff – i.e. thy shepherd’s crook, and thy staff of defence – they comfort me. They make me feel that, however long and however dreary the way through the dark vale, I shall still have thy guidance and thy protection. Pulpit Commentary

And to further grasp a greater understanding of what exactly this means for us…I think it is important to examine the sentence just before David describes that the rod and the staff comfort him.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4 NIV

Whether we are going through the daily challenges of life or walking though the darkest valley we have ever walked through…Jesus is there to comfort us with His rod and His staff. Jesus is with us to protect us…strengthen us…support us…guide us…direct us…and even discipline us.

Not only does He tell us to not be afraid or discouraged, but we can find comfort that the Lord actually goes ahead of us! Isn’t that what a guide does? As a guide walks with us, he also walks a few steps ahead of us.

Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.” Deuteronomy 31:8 NLT

There’s more here! Check this out! In Psalm 23:4, David isn’t talking about just a rod and a staff…He says your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

This is significant because David is talking about the Lord’s rod and the Lord’s staff! The Lord’s rod and the Lord’s staff comforts us!

And what is the Lord’s rod and the Lord’s staff?

I believe the Lord’s rod and the Lord’s staff refers to God’s Word. God uses the Word as His rod and His staff.

Think about it…The Lord…our Shepherd…can use His Word in just the same ways as a shepherd uses his rod and his staff.

God uses His Word to protect us…strengthen us…support us…guide us…direct us…and discipline us.

What God does with His Word is very much like what a shepherd does with his rod and his staff.

So if we allow God to use His Word in our lives…if we read and listen to His Word and try to do what it tells us…God will not leave us comfortless. His rod and His staff will comfort us!

The rod and the staff…His rod and His staff…paints a picture of a strong protective Shepherd who we can trust to comfort us no matter how dark and how difficult our valleys in life may be!

Do you trust Him and His Word today enough to experience the comfort from the God of all comfort?

Reflection Points:

  1. Who or what do you look to for comfort when you are faced with difficult circumstances…past…present…and for the future?
  2. Do you look to your spouse, family, friends, or church? Do you look to things in this world to comfort you like drinking, eating, smoking, drugs…even TV, social media, shopping or working out?
  3. How about God? Do you lean on Him for comfort first and foremost or only after seeking comfort from other people or things?
  4. What is so significant about the rod and the staff in Psalm 23:4 and why are they a comfort to us?
  5. Why does Psalm 23:4 say your rod and your staff, they comfort me?

Action Points:

  1. Many times it’s easier to just to lean on our family and friends for comfort…and there is nothing wrong with that. But how much more comfort will we find if we leaned first and foremost on the source and creator of comfort…the God of all comfort?!
  2. Understand that the “rod” was the shepherd’s symbol of authority, power, discipline and protection from danger. In addition, the “staff” was the shepherd’s symbol of strength, support, guidance, and direction. This clearly demonstrates how the rod and the staff can serve to comfort a shepherd.
  3. Moreover, understanding that God’s Word is the Lord’s rod and the Lord’s staff we can receive the Lord’s comfort during difficult circumstances. We must trust in God and His Word. Trust develops when we have a relationship with Him and grows when we spend time praying and reading the bible.

“The Process”

Do you ever just dread “the process”? We live in a results oriented culture…We want results and we want them now! Don’t we? …I know I do!

And so what exactly is “the process”?

“The process” I am talking about can be defined as “the systematic series of actions, steps, or stages directed to some end result.”

“The process” can have varying time frames…

“The process” can be short but more likely too long in our eyes…

“The process” can be something we choose or not choose…

“The process” can make us feel weary and tired and even discouraged…

“The process” can make us doubt ourselves…and even God.

Life is full of “the process” and it certainly can be challenging!

Whether we want a project finished like remodeling our home…whether we want a particular season in our life to end like changing diapers! …whether we want just a daily task completed like cleaning our house with 2 active little boys! (Yes…that would be me!)…

We must go through “the process.”

And then there are those instances in life…where ‘the process” is more than just challenging…

“The process” is flat out hard and heartbreaking…like wanting a difficult circumstance in our life to change or improve ie. our finances, health, or relationships…

And yet again…we must go through “the process.”

Are you currently facing “the process” somewhere in your life?

Whether we have control over “the process” or not…we are usually looking, waiting, praying, believing or working toward a positive end result.

We may not celebrate “the process”…we may not embrace “the process”…we may not enjoy “the process”…but that’s not always a negative thing.

Whether we like it or not…“the process” is clearly in the backdrop of many end results.

We tend to look forward to the end…the final result…the ultimate goal…the finish line…

And not so much “the process” that we must go through to reach that final outcome…whatever it may be.

And so with our focus on the end…oftentimes…we tend to miss the value in “the process.”

It is in “the process” that we find “the purpose” ….God’s purpose.

We serve the God of “the process” the one who created and uses “the process” not only for our purpose of an end result…or a completed goal…but for His purpose…and His glory!

God knows the value of “the process” …so much so that the Bible depicts “the process” in the lives of many individuals demonstrating that our God is the God of “the process” and “the process” has a purpose.

Abraham, Joseph, and David are just a few who went through “the process.”

Abraham went through “the process” when he was promised by God that he would be the father of many nations but he and his wife Sarah were so old that having children seemed impossible. “The process” took 25 years from the moment God made this promise to Abraham to the moment he actually had a son named Isaac. (Abraham’s Story Genesis 12:1-25:18)

It was in “the process” that God grew and deepened Abraham’s faith.

Is God growing and deepening your faith in Him in “the process” you are facing?

Joseph went through “the process” that began when he had a dream at a young age that he would rule over his brothers. But before that dream came true, he was…beaten by his jealous brothers…thrown into a pit… sold into slavery…accused of rape…put in prison. “The process” took over 22 years when Joseph’s dream eventually came true! And guess what? (Joseph’s Story Genesis 37:1-50:26)

It was in “the process” that God built Joseph’s character…the character that was necessary to accomplish the greater purpose God had for Joseph…and the purpose that went way beyond Joseph and his family!

Is God building your character in “the process” you are facing?

David went through “the process” of being known as just a young shepherd boy…and not old enough or big enough physically to fight in the military.

However, David learned and developed the skill of using his sling shot to kill lions and bears to protect his sheep. And so “the process” brought him…at the very young age of approximately 15years old…face to face with the giant Philistine Goliath who he overcame and killed with just one sling…one stone…and one try! (David’s Story 1 Samuel 16:1-31:13 and 2 Samuel)

It was in “the process” that God developed this young shepherd boy’s skill and abilities to face and kill the giant Goliath and this feat was just the beginning for the greater purpose that God had for David…ultimately as a king!

Is God building your skills or abilities in “the process” you are facing?

In the lives of Abraham, Joseph, and David, God had a purpose in “the process” …whether they knew it or not!

And so it is for us! God has a purpose in “the process” we too are facing!

For us… life as a Christian is full of ‘the process” as we face the challenges and difficulties that come our way…

But ultimately “the process” of becoming more and more like Christ…perfect Christ-likeness…should be our end goal…even though it will not come until the end of time.

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. Philippians 1:6 NLT

God doesn’t work in spite of “the process”. He works through “the process”!

He works in us and on us and even out of us so that He can work through us!

God will use “the process” to show you what He has put in you so He can use you for His greater purpose… because you just might not know what you got!

God will use “the process” to work on you to build your faith, character, abilities, and certain qualities in your life to have greater trust in Him and make you more Christ-like…because you won’t be able to grow and be strengthened in these areas otherwise!

God will use “the process” to show you what He wants out of you so you can then move forward to accomplish His plans and purposes…because God knows what’s holding you back…even if you don’t!

What is God working in you…on you…or even out of you…in “the process” so He can work through you…to make you stronger and more Christ-like?

There is purpose in “the process” and God will use “the process” for His purpose! Just as He did in the lives of Abraham, Joseph, David and many more!

Viewing “the process” through God’s eyes will hopefully help us and encourage us that we can get through “the process”…no matter how long…no matter how difficult…no matter how painful…no matter how tired we may be.

Viewing “the process” through God’s eyes will help us see the value in “the process” as God strengthens us in areas so He can ultimately accomplish His purpose through us!

Reflection Points:

  1. Are you currently facing “the process” somewhere in your life?
  2. Are you so focused on the final result that you are missing the value in “the process”?
  3. Can you see the purpose in “the process”?
  4. What is God working in you…on you…or out of you…in “the process” to make you stronger and make you more Christ-like?

Actions Points:

  1. If you are facing “the process” somewhere in your life right now, it is important…no matter how hard it is…to remember that God loves you and cares for you and has a plan for your life. (Jeremiah 29:11)
  2. Remind yourself that Gods thoughts are higher than your thoughts and His ways are greater than your ways. (Isaiah 55:8-9) We may not always understand why we may be going through what we are going through but know that God has a purpose for taking you through “the process”.
  3. If you aren’t sure what God is working in you…on you…or out of you…pray and seek Him. Pray and ask Him to show you any areas in your life that are not pleasing to Him or any sin that may be holding you back from moving forward in accomplishing His purpose in your life. (Psalm 139:23-24)

Doubters to Doers!

We all experience doubt in our lives. When was the last time you doubted something…someone…or even yourself?

Doubt can creep in right after we make decisions…Did I make the right decision?

Doubt can creep in when we are trying to accomplish a job or task… Am I good enough? …or Do I have the ability to do this?

Doubt can creep in when we face struggles in life…Am I going to get through this?

We may doubt people, things, our abilities and even circumstances in our lives…

But how about God? Do you ever doubt or question God?

Doubt can creep in when our prayers aren’t answered right away…Does God hear me? …or Why hasn’t God answered me?

Doubt can creep in when we face what may appear to us as hopeless situations…Can God really help me? …Or Will God help me?

Doubt can creep in when we see bad things happen in our world…Why would God let this happen?

The word doubt is defined in the dictionary as “being uncertain about or lacking belief; distrust or questioning; lacking confidence; fear.

Even as Christians we can struggle with doubt. For some reason, we think that as Christians, we shouldn’t ever have doubt or that it is wrong or sinful to doubt…especially doubting God! We may have even learned that doubt is the opposite of faith and therefore, if we doubt…we have no faith.

And I can certainly see why we may think that way! After all the bible defines faith in Hebrews 11:1 as “being certain of what we cannot see”…and we just defined doubt as “being uncertain.” But check this out!

I love this statement made by Christian Theologian Paul Tillich…

“Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.”

This is such a profound and eye-opening statement! It is stating that doubt is an element of…a component of…a part of…having faith!

Have you ever thought that? This is so significant because it shifts our perspective about doubt. And even biblically, we can see the truth in this statement.

God used many people in the Bible to accomplish great things…and guess what? They started out as real doubters!

There are many examples in the bible of individuals who experienced doubt…doubts in their abilities…doubts in their circumstances…and even doubts in God! Yet God not only chose to use them but accomplished great things through them…and through their doubts!

Abraham expressed doubt when he was told he would be a father in old age. (Genesis 17:17)

Then Abraham bowed down to the ground, but he laughed to himself in disbelief. “How could I become a father at the age of 100?” he thought. “And how can Sarah have a baby when she is ninety years old?” Genesis 17:17 NLT

Sarah expressed doubt when she heard she would be a mother in old age. (Genesis 18:12)

So she laughed silently to herself and said, “How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my master–my husband–is also so old?” Genesis 18:12 NLT

Moses expressed doubt when he was told to return to Egypt to lead the people. (Exodus 3:10-15)

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” Exodus 3:10 NIV

Gideon expressed doubt when told he would be a judge and a leader. (Judges 6:14-23)

“But Lord,” Gideon replied, “how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!” Judges 6:15 NLT

Gideon replied, “If you are truly going to help me, show me a sign to prove that it is really the LORD speaking to me. Judges 6:17 NLT

Job expressed doubt when he questioned God’s justice. (Job 7:11-21)

If I have sinned, what have I done to you, you who see everything we do? Why have you made me your target? Have I become a burden to you? Why do you not pardon my offenses and forgive my sins? For I will soon lie down in the dust; you will search for me, but I will be no more.” Job 7:20-21 NIV

Zechariah expressed doubt when told he would be a father in old age. (Luke 1:18)

Zachariah said to the angel, “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.” Luke 1:18 NASB

Peter expressed doubt when he questioned the Lord’s reliability and power to sustain him from drowning. (Matthew 14:30-31)

But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted. Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?” Matthew 14:30-31 NLT

Thomas…and how could we forget Thomas! …The one even referred to as “Doubting” Thomas! He expressed doubt when told Jesus has risen from the dead. (John 20:24, 25)

So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he [Thomas] said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” John 20:24 NIV

All these individuals clearly expressed doubt…whether it was doubt in their abilities…doubt in their circumstances…or doubt in God and His promises. So what was God’s response to them?

God showed patience! God showed love and compassion! God showed faithfulness! And God used each of these doubters to accomplish great things…and used their doubt to grow their faith!

Abraham and Sarah became the father and mother of many nations and were blessed with descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky.

Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and even though he didn’t actually enter the Promised Land himself…the Israelites eventually did!

Gideon conquered a powerful army of several hundred thousand Midianites…with only 300 men!

Job was blessed by God in the latter part of his life by having his fortunes restored and receiving double portion.

Zechariah became the father of John the Baptist…who baptized many including Jesus!

Peter was one of the 3 closest disciples of Jesus and considered a model for Christians to follow. Jesus also called Peter his “rock” upon which the future church would be built.

Thomas is known to have traveled outside the Roman Empire to preach the Gospel, traveling as far as India. Thomas was also martyred for his faith clearly demonstrating his devotion to Jesus.

Clearly we can see how God used these doubters to accomplish great things…And in their doubts…through their doubts…These doubters became doers!

Their doubts…as an element of their faith…moved them to greater faith!

Honest doubt is not a bad starting point as long as we don’t stay there!

And trust is the bridge we must cross from being a doubter to a doer.

What doubts are holding you back today? What doubts are keeping you from doing what God is calling you to do today? How does doubt play a part in your willingness to trust God?

Doubt makes us realize that we need to depend upon God…We need to trust God.

So we come back to the question…Why is doubt an element of faith? Because it propels us to grow in our faith! Doubt moves us to trust Him more!

Trust is the bridge from being a doubter to being a doer!

So how can we cross this bridge from being a doubter to a doer?

We must TRUST…

…In His sovereignty (Deuteronomy 4:39, Deuteronomy 10:14, Psalm 104)

…In His love for us (John 3:16, Romans 5:8, Romans 8:37-39)

…In His plans for our life (Jeremiah 29:11, Psalm 32:8, Psalm 118:8)

…In His justice (Deuteronomy 32:4, Zephaniah 3:5, Revelation 15:13)

…In His faithfulness (1Corinthians 1:9, 2Thessalonians 3:3, Psalm 36:5, Psalm 119:90)

And this trust can only come from a relationship with God…a relationship that is purposeful in getting to know Him better…a relationship that pushes us to depend on Him and seek His will for our lives…a relationship that involves us spending time with Him praying and studying His Word.

One of the greatest things about our God is that He can and will still use us even in the midst of our doubts just as He did with these many individuals in the Bible.

Our doubts do not limit God from accomplishing His purposes. And instead God uses our doubts to help us grow in our faith! Remember this perspective…doubt is an element of faith.

Let doubt in your life help you move from a doubter to a doer…to accomplish and become all that God has planned for you…and consequently grow in your faith and trust in Him!

Reflection Points:

  1. When was the last time you doubted something…someone…or even yourself?
  2. Do you ever doubt or question God?
  3. What doubts are holding you back from doing what God is calling you to do today?
  4. How does doubt play a part in your willingness to trust God?

Action Points:

  1. Recognize that it’s ok to have doubts…but we can’t stay there!
  2. Begin to address the reason for your doubts…especially if it’s doubting God.
  3. Trust is the bridge that you must cross. Begin building your trust in God by strengthening your relationship with Him…praying and spending time studying His word.
  4. If you doubt God, draw closer to Him and depend on Him. Find scriptures that will speak to your specific doubts and pray that the Lord helps you move through your doubt and do the things He is calling you to do and be.