Monday, September 26, 2011

I can ask...

Week 39:
Judges 6:36-40 36Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised—look, 37I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor.  If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.”   38And that is what happened.  Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water.  39Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me.  Let me just make one more request.  Allow me one more test with the fleece.  This time, make the fleece dry and the ground covered with dew.”  40That night God did so.  Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew. (NIV)
For much of my Christian walk, I was uncomfortable with people asking for signs from God.  I felt it was a sign of a lack of faith in Him to ask deeper than just a prayerful request.  I’m not sure if I was acting out of fear that God would strike me down if I were to ask for signs as if faithless, or if I felt that fate was just part of God’s plan.

Now, as I read over the familiar stories of the Old Testament, I see them with a more mature set of eyes.  When I was younger, I was more black and white.  I lived my Christian values as a bunch of do’s and don’ts.  I was unconsciously earning points for heaven and would not dare question God or ask for anything material.
The story of Gideon is only one example of a Biblical hero asking God for a sign or a request.  Abraham pleaded with God over Sodom and Gomorrah, Moses intervened when God was going to destroy the Israelites and when he was going to withdraw his presence, and Hezekiah pleaded for more years of life from God.  The list can go on.  As I read these stories and study these men’s relationship with God, I see a couple of things.
First, these men had a relationship with God.  They were in a position to ask because they knew God as more than just someone or something up in heaven pulling puppet strings.  They had a relationship that was two-way.  I do not think that they approached God afraid, only with a fear-like respect.  These men knew that God would shoot straight with them.  They knew he would not destroy them for approaching him.  That is where I need to be…in such a relationship with God that is can ask what I normally would deem inappropriate.
Second, I do not believe that these men doubted God.  That has always been my judgment, that when men of the Bible would ask for a sign, they doubted him.  Now, looking at the stories, I believe that they doubted themselves.  Gideon for example felt unworthy of taking on this task for God.  It was more of an attitude of, “Are you sure you can use me God?”  Judges 6:15  “But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel?  My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least of my family.”  Gideon follows this up with asking God to show him a sign even before the fleece miracle.  How many times have I thought I was in doubt of God, when really I was in doubt of myself and the abilities that God has given to me?  When pondering on this thought of doubting myself, another passage comes to mind:  Ephesians 2:10  “For we are God’s workmanship/handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.“ Wow!  Who am I to do God’s good works?  I do not doubt God, I doubt myself.  But God has made this promise that He will do good works through me.  Yet, many times I am like Gideon and ask God to show me that I can. 
So, the challenge is to have the type of relationship with God that I can ask for signs and question what God is doing.  Furthermore, I need to realize that my doubt is in myself and not God and His abilities.
1.       When you have doubted God how did you handle it?
2.      Have you ever asked God for a sign?  What was it?...or, Why not?
3.      Describe your level of discomfort when you hear others doubting God’s goodness or faithfulness?
4.      How have you been moved or changed by seeing this interpretation of these passages?


Don't forget to visit my Amazon links.  General purchases:  Click on the Banner at the top of the blog.  For a list of my favorites go to:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Shield of Faith...

Week 38:
Ephesians 6:16  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
This particular passage is tucked away amongst the pieces of the Armor of God.  For weeks, this particular piece, the shield of faith, stood out to me.  A couple of things come to mind here.

First, why is faith so important for extinguishing “all the flaming arrows of the evil one”?  What is it about faith that gives me the power to protect myself from these arrows?  Why not the breastplate of righteousness that protects my heart?  Why not the Helmet of salvation which protects my mind and saves me?  Why not the sword of the Spirit which is His word that gives me ammunition?  Why the shield of faith?  This lead me to a passage in 2 Peter that I call a list of character traits all Christians should posses.  Notice what is listed first.
2 Pete 1:5-9  5For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.  8For if you posses these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  9But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.
In fact, it is listed as if one already has faith and faith is origin or starting place for all of these other character traits.  I would even go a step further and say that without faith, it is hard to posses the rest of these.  When you look at the list of character traits, you see things that can help you in the battle against evil.  But still…why faith?
Without faith in God and His existence and His grace through Jesus, we have hollow character traits to stand on.  If we do not have faith in God, then the evil one can get his lies into our belief system.  Our faith in Him is what the evil one wants to shake.  The devil attacked Jesus’ faith both during his 40 days of fasting and in the garden.  If the evil one can get to the heart of our faith, he knows he has won.  So, we must stand firm in our faith first and foremost.
Another observation about this passage is the part of the passage that says, “…extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one”.  Notice it does not say “some”, or just “arrows”, or “that might come”.  It is stated as a fact.  The arrows from the evil one will come and they will be flaming.  This faith gives us the ability “extinguish” the flaming arrows.  This also could mean that the arrows will land.  Wounds will occur.  But the shield of faith extinguishes them.  My faith in God gives me the strength and ability to do that.
So, remember, that faith is the basis from which other traits are empowered. 
1.      Do you agree that faith is the basis of which all other traits are empowered?  Why or why not?
2.      Have you ever put other character traits and pieces of armor ahead of faith? 
3.      Which traits were these?
4.      Spend some time in prayer this week asking God for guidance in understanding faith at a deeper level.  Watch closely to see how that surfaces for you.


Don't forget to visit my Amazon links.  General purchases:  Click on the Banner at the top of the blog.  For a list of my favorites go to:

Monday, September 12, 2011


Week 37:
Galatians 6:3-5  3If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  4Each one should test his own actions.  Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, 5for each one should carry his own load.
How often do I compare myself to others?  I am sure more than I realize.  I catch myself making judgments according to where someone is in his/her life and where I am.  I will compare where I am spiritually to others.  I will compare myself vocationally with others.  I will compare myself financially with others. 

Let’s break this passage up. Starting in verse 3…the deception is twofold.  First, if I compare myself to someone I perceive as more “lowly” than me, and then I am deceived by a false sense of superiority.  That sense of superiority allows me to become a “poser” and believe I am something I am not.  I get a false security in my superiority and I am either set up for a fall or I am not prepared for my next step in my transformation.  Take for instance athletics.  If I compare myself to what I perceive as an inferior opponent I may get a false sense of how good I really am.  When I then run into an equal or superior opponent I am set up for a beating.
Secondly, if I compare myself to those that I perceive as superior to me then, I get a feeling that I will never reach where that person is spiritually, physically, financially, and/or vocationally.  When I do this, I set up my life to be a victim of my circumstances and begin to shift blame and responsibility.
Paul tells us in verse 4 to test our own actions.  He tells us to compare ourselves with ourselves…so to speak.  I take this as reflecting back on where I was and where I am now.  When I take time to reflect, I realize that God has been transforming me all along.  This also allows me to set goals for myself that are attainable within my realm not somebody else’s.  I want to take a side note here.  This does not mean that we set “safe” goals.  I believe we are to step out into situations that seem lofty or impossible in order to be stretched by God.  That would be subject for another discussion another time.  The main point here is, do not work off of someone else’s goals and aspirations.  Work off of yours…it will give you a better depiction of where you are. 
By testing my own actions, I am now able to compare myself with myself.  I am able to get a true measure of where I am, where I have been, and where I am going.  And, I believe that once I have done this, it actually frees me to carry my own load without relying on others to set the bar for me.  Once I have hit a milestone, I can take pride in the work I have done through the power that God has given me.
So remember…”If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  Each one should test his own actions.  Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.”
Questions and challenges:
1.       How do you compare yourself with others? 

2.       How do you follow the “twofold deception”?

3.       How does it make you feel when you compare yourself with those “inferior” to you?

4.       How does it make you feel when you compare yourself with those “superior” to you?

5.       Where in your life do/have you compared yourself with yourself and taken pride in what you have accomplished?

6.       Spend some time in meditation over this passage.  Ask Jesus to come alongside of you and point out to you (a) where you need to do your own inner comparison and (b) what transformation in your life you have accomplished.


Don't forget to visit my Amazon links.  General purchases:  Click on the Banner at the top of the blog.  For a list of my favorites go to:

Monday, September 5, 2011

Be Still...

Week 36

Psalm 46:10  He says, "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."

I have read that verse and sung the little devotional song that comes from it so many times in my life.  But, how often have I followed what that passage has said.  In this face-paced, busy society (Of which I am caught up in) I do not take the time to be still enough.  I even keep searching for God and His will in my most busy of times.  Now, I'm not saying He doesn't speak during my busy times, or that He does not guide me through my fast-paced life.  But, there is something to be said about "being still" and listening for God.

Scholars and Authors believe (Including Richard Foster; Celebration of Discipline, Henry Blackabay, Experiencing God, and James Bryan Smith; The Good and Beautiful God) that silence is an essential part of drawing closer to God.  In fact in I Kings 19, God came to Elijah in a whisper after Elijah looked for Him in many awesome wonders.  God coming to Elijah in a whisper has always intrigued me. 

So, why is it so difficult for me to listen for God in the midst of silence?  I don't know about you, but I'm addicted to noise.  I have to have something going all the time.  I get into my vehicle and have the radio already on.  I come into the house and turn on the TV or radio.  When I sleep I have a fan going (Not just because I am hot natured) in order to have "white noise".  Furthermore, my noise does not have to have volume.  I am continually checking email, checking websites, looking at Facebook, playing games on my phone, etc.  Sometimes I can see God at work amongst the noise, but do I really hear Him speak during those times?  Rarely.

So, here is my challenge to myself and to you.  Practice silence and listen.  This is difficult to do.  I have done it in the past and fallen away from it.  James Bryan Smith in The Good and Beautiful God gives some great pointers.  Here are some of them.

1.  Block out some time to have silence in your day.  Even if it is a couple of minutes.  Build up to five minutes, 10 minutes.  I know some simply turn off the radio in their cars going to work.  The challenge here is to listen and not be in prayer.

2.  As you spend your time in silence, journal.  At first, journal the noise that distracts you from your silence.  You will notice as you practice this that your distractive noises will decrease.

3.  Listen and pay attention to random thoughts.  Write these down if needed.  God may be speaking in these random thoughts.  Ask God/Jesus, "What do you want me to get out of these thoughts?"  The answer may not come to you right away; it may show itself days later.  In one of the men's groups I attend, we actually practice an exercise called "Tending to Jesus."  Simply, we pray for Jesus' guidance then spend time in silence listening for what may come up.  We pay attention to random thoughts.  After our time of silence, we share what came up for us.  We don't give advice or prophesy; we just speak what came to heart.  If what we have spoken sticks with a person in the group, we figure it came from Jesus and that person pays attention to where it shows up in his/her life.  I've been amazed at what God has done through this type of work.

4.  As eluded to in the above exercise, after a time of silence, pay attention over the next few days to what comes from your time of silence and what God put on your heart. 

There are other forms of silence that can be practiced as well.  The three books mentioned above are a good start.  I challenge each one of us to learn how to "Be Still" more often.

Study questions/challenges:

1.  Are you addicted to noise?

2.  Do you feel as if you are distant from God?

3.  Could it be your noise getting in the way?

4.  Are you willing to take the challenge this week to practice silence?

Don't forget to visit my Amazon links.  General purchases:  Click on the Banner at the top of the blog.  For a list of my favorites go to: