Saturday, April 2, 2016

Gideon and the Kindness of God

The kindness of God astounds me. 

The story of Gideon includes a moment when God spoke to him with such sweetness that I'm blown away again by how gentle God can be with us. (Judges 7:9-15)

You probably remember that Gideon was so fearful of the Midianites that he beat out his wheat inside a wine press so they wouldn't see him. Despite his fear, God called Gideon to lead an army of 300 men into battle against an enormous Midianite army (an numerous as locusts) with nothing more than trumpets, clay pitchers, and flaming torches.

Needless to say, Gideon was afraid. I would've been, too.

The night that Gideon trimmed his army down to 300 men, God spoke to Gideon. "I've given the Midianite camp into your hands already. Go down against it."

Here's where the sweetness of God comes into play. It's breathtaking to me.

"But if you are afraid to go down, go with Purah your servant down to the camp, 
and you will hear what they say; 
and afterward your hands will be strengthened that you may go down against the camp." Judges 7:10-11 nasb

God had asked Gideon to trust Him with a battle that, without God's intervention, would mean certain death for him and all his men. There was not a sword between them. Their only defense was Almighty God.

He was all the defense they needed, but they weren't experienced enough to know it yet.

God knew the limitation of their faith. He knew their fear, and He did a kind and beautiful thing. 

He sent Gideon, along with his servant Purah, to the camp to eavesdrop. What the two men heard shocked them. A Midianite man related a dream and his friend interpreted it. "God has given Midian and all the camp into the hand of Gideon."

Those words strengthened Gideon. He and his paltry crew went out against the Midianite army and God intervened. The Midianite soldiers ran. Gideon had a tremendous victory.

Our God knows us.

He knows our strengths and weaknesses. He knows our fear and He knows when we obey despite that fear.

His lovingkindness is so great that He created a divine appointment for Gideon and the man with the dream. With a few sentences, He wiped away Gideon's fear and replaced it with the certainty of God's provision.

No matter what we face, God is with us. He knows us. He helps us to obey and, at just the right time, He sends us the encouragement we need.

We can trust Him.

Today, let's trust and obey without hesitation, knowing that the kindness of God will be sufficient to carry us through whatever He has asked us to do.
In case you missed it, here are links to: The 7:14 prayers and The Left Hander, The Fat Man, and the Woman in the Tent.

#Warrior #faith #GideonandthekindnessofGod #linesfromleanna

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Left-Hander, The Fat Man, and the Woman in the Tent

Joshua led the children of Israel into the Promised Land. It was, as God had said, a land of milk and honey, richness and comfort. They had vineyards they didn't plant, houses they didn't build.

After Joshua died, the people lacked a strong, readily identifiable leader. They drifted away from God again and began to worship false gods. As had happened in the past, when they wandered into sin, God sent discipline, usually in the form of an oppressor, to draw them back to Himself.

Once the people grew weary of their oppression, they cried out to God and He sent a deliverer in the form of a judge. These judges were sometimes the most unlikely of individuals.

Ehud was one such judge. The sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord (Judges 3:12) and Eglon, the king of Moab, moved against them. He defeated Israel and occupied the City of Palm Trees. 

For eighteen years, Israel served Eglon. Finally, the people cried out to God for deliverance and He raised up an unlikely deliverer. 

Ehud was from the tribe of Benjamin, one of the smallest tribes and, therefore, one of the weakest. It is an example of God's grace and power being "perfected in weakness". (2 Corinthians 12:9) He was also a left-handed man with a mission. (Matthew Henry suggests he had a weak or damaged right arm, so that he was especially unlikely as a deliverer.)

Ehud made a two-edged sword that may have been more like a long dagger than the sword with which we are familiar. He bound it on his right thigh under his cloak before he headed to Eglon to pay the tribute due from Israel. 

Eglon was an incredibly fat man, and clearly a pampered man, as well.

Only God could have worked this next part out. Ehud met Eglon in his roof-top cool room, presented the tribute, and said, "I have a secret message for you, O King." 

Eglon looked at this strong young man and decided he wanted to hear the secret. It wasn't a sensible move, but this king sent everyone out of the room except Ehud, his sworn enemy. 

Ehud stepped up close to Eglon. "I have a secret message from God." He pulled the sword out of its scabbard and stabbed the wicked king in the belly. He was so large that the fat closed in around the weapon and Eglon died instantly. 

Thus, Ehud, the unlikely left-handed man, delivered Israel.

After Ehud died, Israel did evil again. Finally God sent Deborah, a prophetess, to judge Israel. She called Barak and told him God had commanded that he lead an army to deliver Israel from Sisera. Barak wouldn't go without Deborah. 

"Okay, I'll go, but you will not be able to claim this victory because God is going to give the victory to a woman." (Judges 4:9 Leanna Paraphrase)

They went. Sisera escaped Barak and went to the tent of Heber the Kenite and his wife, Jael. The woman invited Sisera inside, covered him with a blanket, and gave him some milk to drink. Sisera was so comfortable that he went sound asleep.

Jael saw her opportunity and took it. She grabbed up a hammer and a tent peg and hammered the wooden spike through Sisera's temple and into the ground. He died instantly.

Thus Jael, the unlikely woman with a tent-peg, delivered Israel.

These unlikely warriors did one daring thing for God and single-handedly delivered Israel. They were able to succeed because God sent them, God empowered them, and God equipped them.

There was nothing particularly remarkable about either of these deliverers. 

They weren't especially strong. They didn't have military might or power. They hadn't done numerous other brave and daring deeds. They didn't even have a great army to help them.

What Ehud and Jael had in common was their availability to God. 

He said go, and Ehud went. He said to shelter Sisera, and Jael sheltered him. He said hammer, and she hammered.

We, too, are ordinary people who serve an extraordinary God. We, too, can do incredible deeds for God, if we will.

It's easy to think that someone as common as cornbread can't make a dramatic difference for the Lord, but that's not true. Look at Jael. She never left her tent or her cooking fire, yet she delivered an entire nation.

I grew up reading stories of  unlikely heroes. Maybe you did, too. I've always longed to do something brave and good. My reality, though, is that I'm no longer a young woman. I live in a town of less than 500 people. I'm not a warrior. I don't have any of the skills or attributes that we expect in a deliverer.

There's good news. God delights in using the unlikely to do the incredible.

We don't begin to do a mighty work by grabbing a sword or a tent peg. We begin, right where we are, by drawing close to the Lord and sharpening our figurative sword, The Word of God. We begin by saying yes to God in the small things. 

One simple act of obedience at a time prepares us for that one-more-act-of-obedience that can change a nation.

The most amazing thing of all is that no sword or hammer is required. Only our availability to God. We can change our nation on our knees. Humility. Repentance. Prayer. Those are the only weapons required to make a difference, and we can all wield them.

Today, let's bend our knees, pick up the Sword of the Word of God, and begin to change the world through our prayers. 

"If My people which are called by My name..." 2 Chronicles 7:14

One man or woman, wholly available to God, can make a greater difference than we can imagine. Let's be that one.

#Godsword #ifmypeople #prayer #linesfromleanna

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The 7:14 Prayers

Our pastor introduced a new series at the Wednesday night service last night. We'll be studying the book of Hosea for the next few weeks. 

In case you don't remember, Hosea was one of the minor prophets. (Minor because the book he wrote is short, not because his message was less important.) 

Poor Hosea lived his message in a way most of hope we never do. 

God called him to marry a prostitute. Gomer was a faithless wife who took multiple lovers. Two of their three children were fathered by other men. 

Hosea's job was to love her anyway, just as God continues to love His people who are faithless. His life, in a way, was a living allegory for all to see.

Unless you've had a faithless spouse, one who repeatedly sought other lovers, you can't imagine how painful this must have been to Hosea. Let me tell you. 

It was like a slow and agonizing death of a part of him every single day. 

Whenever Gomer was out of his sight, Hosea was likely afraid she had found yet another lover. When she diverted her eyes while talking to him, he feared she was lying. Every day, there was a question in his mind. Was she faithful? Was she unfaithful? Was she telling the truth? Was she lying again?

When he looked at the children who looked nothing like him, it was a constant reminder. They are not my own. Yet he loved them. He loved Gomer. Despite one betrayal after another.

The knowledge that the people around him knew was terrible, too. Humiliating. 

He probably hated to be seen in public because he knew people would talk. "There goes Hosea. Has a wife but can't keep her." People likely said, "It takes two for trouble like this," as if it was Hosea's failure as a man that had caused her immorality. Because that's what people do.

The talk was terrible, the uncertainty was agonizing, but Hosea had a horrid certainty, too. Deep in his soul. He knew Gomer was unfaithful to him and it broke his heart over and over again.

God wanted His people to understand that Hosea's pain was His own.

At the time of Hosea, Israel was still a wealthy nation, but they were immoral. The leadership was spiritually bankrupt. The people followed false gods. They did whatever they wanted to do. They were still outwardly spiritual, but their hearts were far from God.

The nation of Israel was a lot like our own nation. Teetering on the edge of self-destruction. 

Hosea's job was to show the people how their actions looked to God (the actions of Gomer's harlotry) and how much He wanted them to repent and return to Him. Hosea loved Gomer. He continued to seek her and redeem her.

The teaching ended at 7:14 pm. Our pastor recommended that we begin a season of prayer for our nation based on 2 Chronicles 7:14. 

If My people, who are called by My name, humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14 nasb

For the duration of the study of Hosea, 6-8 weeks, the people in our church will be joining together to pray for our nation twice a day (at 7:14 am and 7:14 pm) for one minute each time. 

Two minutes a day do not seem like many prayer minutes to me, but God didn't say He would move based on the length of the prayer. What He requires is for humility, seeking His face, and repentance of sin to accompany our prayers, not lots of minutes.

Our country is in a terrible mess. From our leaders to our churches to our individual hearts, we are far from God, and it frightens me. 

America needs the prayers of God's people more than ever, and, as a nation, we don't even realize it. Corporately, we have removed God from the public eye, just as we have removed Him from our hearts. It's a wonder He continues to bless us.

The hearing, forgiving, and healing God promised Israel had nothing to do with the hearts and prayers of those who were not His people. That same principle holds true today. 

If God's people will humble themselves, seek His face, and pray, He will hear, forgive, and heal.

People of God, we must do what we can. The time for delay is long past. 

Let's begin by humbling our own hearts, turning from our own sin, and seeking God's face. With that job underway, let's also join together, twice a day, one minute at a time, to pray for God to hear, forgive, and heal this great land we love.

Will you join with me? I pray you do, for the future of a nation depends on the prayers of God's people. 
#ifmypeople #Godsword #prayer #linesfromleanna

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Somewhat Controlled Burn

I was already in my pj's and the Wonder Dogs and I were surrounded by a stack of pillows on my bed, working on my presentation for Saturday, when their heads came up and they started to bark. I shushed them several times before I realized they might not be barking for fun. 

We went to the door and I found that The Hired Hand and His Son had returned to check on a burning brush pile.

The two men pulled the rest of the brush into the pile and The Hired Hand commented on the sage grass around the lake.

"I hate weedeating that sage grass. It gets all tangled up in my Weedeater," I complained.

He stuck both hands in the pockets of his overalls and looked at me with a bland expression. "We could burn it off. Wouldn't take long."

"Okay. When do you want to do it?" 

The Hired Hand sighed, looked at His Son, and shook his head. "It's better to do it when the dew is on the ground. Go get your matches."

I have to admit that I didn't think this idea through. Not even for a second. I just ran to the house, got the matches, and hurried back.

Box in hand, I asked him, "Now what?"

"Strike a match and light the sage grass."

I lit the top of the tallest grass and they both rolled their eyes. "Light it from the bottom." He sounded patient but there was a lot of eye rolling between the two of them. In my defense, it was my first time to light a brush fire.

I knelt down, lit the bottom of the grass, and the fire took off. Did I mention how much sage grass there was? The fire happily danced from one bunch of grass to the next, helped by my long fireplace matches. 

I still did not stop to think this through, mainly because I trust The Hired Hand and His Son to be in charge of whatever adventure we undertake.

The Son cleared off a place at the end of the grass so the fire would stop. To be perfectly candid, we expected the fire to burn to the end of the grass, meet the clear place, and stop.

That was not what happened.

Someone mentioned the three old dead tree stumps together in the line of the fire, and someone might have mentioned wishing they'd burn, too. No one expected what happened next. The first stump caught on fire.

The Hired Hand said, "Well, good."

It was burning like a torch in the night and looking lovely when the dead tree on the other end of the line of stumps started smoking.

His Son said, "Hey, Daddy, look at that."

Flames burst from the middle of that dead tree and sparks started flying. It was like the Fourth of July without the sound effects. 

"Well, that is just great. Now we have to stay and watch these things burn." He didn't sound like it was great, but I thought it was pretty cool.

We watched for a long time before the third stump caught fire. Sparks flew up from all three dead trees and it was so beautiful, I could hardly believe it. The smell of wood smoke on a cool spring night was marvelous, and I suggested I get some marshmallows.

The Hired Hand and His Son looked at each other and then at me, but didn't say a word. I left the marshmallows in the house.

The pictures don't do it justice, but I walked back toward the house to survey the scenery. It was stunning and more than a little shocking. The night obscured everything except the fire, which was burning all along the edge of the lake.

In the dark, it looked like fire was everywhere, and I shuddered. The scene before me was sobering, and it wasn't fun anymore.

This is what hell looks like, I thought, only worse, and I'm glad I'm not going there.

In case you've wondered, Scripture tells us that there is a literal hell and we all deserve it. I know it's not popular to talk about hell and damnation, but if we don't know we're in peril, we won't understand we need saving.

We do need a Savior, though, and that's why Jesus came. To SAVE us from the penalty of our sin. (Romans 3:23 - all have sinned. Romans 6:23 - the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus)

The evil one seeks to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). Jesus came to save us from his clutches, and he did. (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)

Death, where is your sting? Gone because of Jesus. 

He gave us a choice. Choose the evil one and his eternal hell fires or choose Jesus, His righteousness, and heaven.

If you'd seen the fire I saw last night, the issue would be crystal clear. 

When the choice is between good and evil, choose GOOD.

When the choice is between Jesus or Satan, choose JESUS.

When the choice is between Heaven or hell, choose HEAVEN.

We have been given a choice, and our eternal destination depends on the choice we make.
Choose well.
In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: Occupying the Life God Intended
#WednesdayWisdom #hell #heaven #Jesus #Christian #linesfromleanna

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Occupying the Life God Intended

"So Joshua said to the sons of Israel, 'How long will you put off entering to take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you?'" Joshua 18:3 nasb

The children of Israel had made the decades-long journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. They lived in tents and traveled on foot. They were accustomed to the nomadic life, but it wasn't the life God had intended for them. He had fields, cities, and houses they hadn't built just waiting for His people to occupy them.

They reached the Promised Land and hesitated. They stayed in their tents rather than take the cities God had for them.

There were sturdy houses with stone walls. No more wandering. No more carrying possessions as they traveled. 

They would have stability. Prosperity. 

With all the abundant blessings God had promised just a few battles away, the people pitched camp and stayed in their tents. 

It took prodding from Joshua to get them to what God had intended.

It seems like a foolish decision to stop short of the blessings they'd spent years pursuing, but I wonder if we do the same thing. 

When I look at the first century church, I see something vastly different from most churches to which I've belonged. There was unity, community, connection. There was the presence of the Holy Spirit, miracles, powerful prayer, strong, godly leadership. 

People in the community who were not believers called the believers Christian, or "little Christ", because they acted so much like Jesus. That tells me the first-century believers lived the kind of God-loving, neighbor-loving life to which they were called by Our Lord.

"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; 
and greater works than these he will do, because I go to the Father. 
If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.
John 14:12-13 nasb

If those verses are true, and they are, why don't we see that kind of power in the church today? Maybe it's because of the verse that comes next. 

"If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." John 14:15 nasb

I am confident we could have a more vibrant faith, a deeper prayer life, a more Christ-like church if we did what Joshua called the children of Israel to do. 

Occupy that which God has promised.

I look at my own life and wonder why I don't see what Peter, John, Paul, and Silas saw God do. I want to experience the miraculous workings of God they experienced. 

But... I stop short at the imprisonment they endured, the beatings that threatened their lives, the martyrdom they accepted. 

The disciples were "all in", all the way to their deaths. 

I don't know if I could do that or not. A part of me wants to be that committed. A part of me wants to be faithful to the end. An equally strong part of me recoils from danger, embraces safety and comfort.

Just like the children of Israel.

But what if we decided to embrace our faith with everything in our being? What if we decided to occupy the promises God has given us?

Our circumstances might change. Life would be different, but, according to Paul, it would be infinitely better.  

"But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, 
and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ.
Philippians 3:8-9 nasb

If I want what God has promised, I must make a choice. Occupy the promises.

If we, as the corporate body of Christ, want all God has promised for His bride, the church, we, too, must occupy His promises. The land of Israel wasn't gained in day, but it wasn't gained at all until they made a start and began occupy it. 

May this day be the one in which we make a start and do more than claim the Promises of God. May this be the day we take possession and occupy them.
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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ #promisedland #Christian #Jesus #linesfromleanna

Monday, March 28, 2016

Life After the Cross: Encounter on the way to Emmaus

When the women went to the tomb early that morning, they found the stone rolled away, the tomb empty, and two angels who told them Jesus was alive. The women took the news to the disciples, but no one believed their words. Peter and John ran to see for themselves.

It was true. Jesus had risen. 

The news spread like wildfire through Jerusalem. Cleopas and another man were walking to Emmaus, about seven miles outside Jerusalem. They had been followers of Jesus and were heartbroken about his crucifixion, stunned and confused by the news the women had delivered. 

Jesus met them on the road, but they didn't recognize Him. He asked about their conversation and they told Him all about this "mighty prophet". I wonder if He had to suppress a smile as the two men told Jesus all about Himself.

Cleopas and his friend had hoped Jesus would redeem Israel, they told him, but he had been killed. There were rumors of His resurrection. They didn't know what to believe.

Jesus explained everything.

They'd sat at His feet, probably many times, but they didn't recognize Him.

Because of their grief and their unbelief (in the resurrection) they were focused on themselves, their sorrow, and their loss, not the man walking with them. As a result, they failed to recognize the Savior at their side.

I've been there before. I've had quite a few "after" days. Maybe you have, too. 

Devastating heartbreak. Shattered dreams. Agonizing pain. Crushing emptiness. Overwhelming loneliness. The struggle to make it through that first hour, the first day. The dark and lonely night. The dawn and the realization that the heartbreak is still there and life must go on. The fear that life will never be good again.

Jesus' disciples felt all those emotions and more. Their minds were a mass of confusion and uncertainty and grief. 

Their focus was on themselves.

Jesus was the same, yet different. He was unfamiliar, yet clearly recognizable. 

I don't completely understand why they didn't recognize Him, but the nail-pierced hands were the same, and the scars were still there. When they looked closer, the disciples saw Him. They recognized Him. They knew Him.

I'm not sure if grief or unbelief clouded their eyes, but their failure to recognize Him at the first did not change the reality of His presence. 

It's the same for us. In those first shocking moments of heartbreak, it's common to feel alone. It's important to remember, though, that feelings are not always the same as reality. 

Feeling alone does not mean we are.

Our God promised that He will never leave us or forsake us. (Deuteronomy 31:6) 

Our Savior promised a Helper who would be with us forever. (John 14:16)

No matter what we face, we do not go through it alone. 

We have a Comforter who goes with us and helps us. When we take our eyes off our own pain, we can see the clear evidence of God's hand at work in our situation.

That's what happened with the two men on the road to Emmaus. They stopped to eat, Jesus gave the blessing and broke the bread, and their eyes were opened. They knew Him. 

"Weren't our hearts burning within us?" they said afterward. (Luke 24:22)

Being in the presence of the Risen Savior changed them. His presence was too wonderful to keep to themselves. They left that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, another seven mile journey, to share the good news. 

Being in the presence of our Risen Lord should always leave us changed. 

For the believer, Easter makes all the difference. We serve a God who is alive and that fact makes a greater difference than we can fully understand.

Our God defeated death. Our God defeated sin. Our God defeated the power of darkness.

He is victorious, and we can be, too, if we will follow Him.

In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: Holy Week Day 7: The Empty Tomb

#Emmaus #Jesus #linesfromleanna

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Holy Week Day 7: The Empty Tomb and the Resurrection

"Now on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. And so she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, 'They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.'" 
                                                                          John 20: 1-2 nasb

"Peter therefore went forth, and the other disciple, and they were going to the tomb, And the two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter, and came to the tomb first; and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there but he did not go in. Simon Peter therefore also came, following him, and entered the tomb, and he beheld the linen wrappings lying there." John 20:3-6 nasb

Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and was utterly stunned by the open tomb. The stone had been rolled away and the guards were gone. She jumped to the only logical conclusion. Someone had stolen the body and hidden it. 

She ran as fast as she could to find Peter and John and told them the same thing. 

Stolen the body? Why would someone do that? It didn't make sense. 

There might have been an inkling of the possibilities in the two men's mind. Could He had risen from the grave? Maybe, as they ran, they remembered what He'd said about tearing down the temple and rebuilding it in three days. Maybe they remembered Lazarus.

John looked in. No body. 

Proximity to a dead body would make them ceremonially unclean, but Peter didn't care. He needed to be sure. He plunged ahead and found the most wonderful news. The linen wrappings that had been entwined around the body were folded and Jesus was gone.

There was no smell of putrefaction. The air was filled with the sweet aroma of the spices used to anoint the body, still lingering in the fabric that had been wrapped around Him. 

If someone had stolen the body, they would not have removed the wrappings. That stack of fabric told Peter all he needed to know. 

This wasn't a grave robbing. This was a Resurrection!

Peter and John had seen a dead man come back to life and they KNEW it was possible. When Lazarus came forth from the grave, however, he still had the linen wrapped around him. This was something bigger that the raising of Lazarus.

Their beloved Jesus was ALIVE! He was up and on the move.

That empty tomb changed everything. Jesus conquered death and sin and set us free from its tenacious hold on us. 

His sacrifice paid our sin-price but His resurrection bought our freedom in this life and the one to come. 

As I rejoice today over the victory that has been won, I don't want to lose sight of the fact that I was bought with a terrible price. The cross is more than the ornament I wear around my neck or the metal adornment on my wall. The cross was a place of torture and pain beyond any I will ever know. It was a place of death and despair, grief and fear.

That empty tomb, though, is the place of victory and celebration. 

Joy bubbling like a fountain. 

Laughter and happy tears and dancing in celebration.

I'm so accustomed to His resurrection that it's easy to lose sight of the great miracle it is, but today, I'm praying we will all take overwhelming delight in what God has done for those He loves.

He came. He lived. He loved.

He sacrificed. He died. He rose again.

He did it all for you and for me.

He is risen and that one fact changes everything. Let's live in such a way that the world will know we serve a risen Savior. Alleluia!

In case you missed part of this series:
Holy Week Day 1:The Scandalous Act of Love
Holy Week Day 2: The Betrayer
Holy Week Day 3: Instant Obedience
Holy Week Day 4: Jesus' Last Week
Holy Week Day 5: The Dark and Terrible Good Friday
Holy Week Day 6: The Silent Saturday
#emptytomb #resurrection #heisalive #linesfromleanna