Bowling with the Devil


“The world is the devil’s bowling alley, and we are the pins.  The devil takes particular delight in knocking down Christians.  He tries to topple us with systems of temptation, adversity, and persecution – and to give the devil his due; he’s an excellent bowler.  But what Satan hates most is when he has bowled his best and a few stubborn pins just won’t fall.”

(unknown author)

The enemy is always attacking us. He stands at the door doing his thing: accusing us. He wants us to feel unloved, unwanted and unworthy. He tempts us to isolate ourselves and tricks us to believe that it’s just independence. He uses this isolation to taunt us with his schemes of deception and despair.

This is the Devil’s way. It’s how he plays his game.

The question poses, “How do we become that stubborn pin?”

In all of Satan’s deceptive ways, we can be grateful that we are not left alone to be overcome by him. We have Jesus! We have the most powerful God on our side. We have even more.

God loves us so much that He gave us the church. The church is not a building, its people. God knew that there would be times in our life when the devil might win; when he would lay flat the pin. He would lie to us, and we would believe him. God knew we needed others in our life to speak truth – to encourage – to strengthen – to help us. He knew our desperate need for relationships.  He knew we could not do life alone and triumph against this dark evil enemy.

Even God said about Adam who lived in the perfect garden, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper as his complement” (Genesis 2:18). Yes, this was directed to a relationship between a man and woman, husband and wife, but the truth remains:

People need good-willed godly people in their life.

We battle every day – we battle between good and evil, temptation and right living, hating and loving, hoarding and giving, and the list goes on.  The battle can deplete our energy, and cause us great stress and anxiety. We lose this battle every time we choose to go this life alone. But when we choose to live it with others, we win.

Moses learned the strength of others who supported him, those who encouraged him and shared his burden. The Amalekites challenged the Israelites. They wrangled and fought. They did what they could to defeat God’s people. But Moses knew what to do. While Joshua led the Israelites to battle against their enemy, Moses stood on the hilltop with God’s staff in his hands and held it high.

While Moses’ hands were held high, God’s people prevailed.  They found supernatural strength in Moses’ prayers to God.

But then human imperfection interfered. The arms of Moses got tired. When he dropped his hands, the Israelites began to lose and suffer loss.

Aaron and Hur, Moses’s top leaders, saw his weakness; they could have watched the weakness of Moses and said,“Just give it up, the battle is too hard.” They could have even run for their lives! Instead, they sat Moses on a stone so he could rest. Then Aaron and Hur supported Moses hands, one on one side and one on the other. Together, the three of them held Moses’ hands up. And Joshua and the Israelites defeated the enemy. They won! They conquered their enemy! When all was said and done, Moses built an altar and named it, “The Lord is My Banner” (Exodus 17:8-15 paraphrased).

Who did God use to be His Banner? He used two faithful, brave men who stepped into the trouble. With Moses, they became the chord of three strands not easily broken. The wisdom of Solomon still speaks, “Two people are better than one. They can help each other in everything they do” (Ecclesiastes 4:9).

Are you doing life alone? Do you feel defeated? How about overcome? Are you in a rut?

You need people – good-willed, godly people to rally around you. Don’t let the lie of independence and the busy life hold you captive to the enemy’s game. Be free! Be with others! Find that supernatural strength that can only come from the support of many.

Go bowling, but be stubborn.

Let the other pins be your support as you all stand firm in the power of God.

 

 

 

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Getting Real When You Pray


“How very simply does the good man pray, and yet with what weight of meaning! He uses no ornamental flourishes; he is too deeply in earnest to be otherwise than plain; it were well if all who engage in public prayer would observe the same rule.” C. H. Spurgeon

Be real when you pray. God can handle it! He does not want some superficial, fabricated, over religious fake of you. He wants you! He wants the heartbroken, angry, hurting, fearful, joyful, and thankful you!  Peter tells us to “give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7). With all of your might and with all of whom God made you, cast your cares on Him. It’s the humble, the real, and the transparent with whom God wants to dialogue. When the real you intersects with the true God, amazing things happen.

Just before telling us to give our worries and cares to God, Peter also tells us to “humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time” (1 Peter 5:6).

To be humbled means “to be leveled, to be reduced to a plain”.* It means to get to who we are underneath all that superficial, shallow, and surfaced self that culture encourages; it’s the real person who feels rejected and dejected.

To be humble is often understood as being humiliated, but that is the farthest from its definition. To be humble means to be authentic – to reveal the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, the temperamental, the all! Is it uncomfortable to be real? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely!

God already knows who you are, but often we come to Him all dressed up, full of “false” confidence and that “I got it all together” apparel. Sadly, this is not only false; but it also makes our prayers ineffective. The phony do not get the attention of God; only genuine faith does. And faith is best planted in the one who can be real.

One of the hardest things about prayer is that we must place ourselves under God’s authority – His control rather than our own. When we decide to be humble before the Lord, to be real with who we are, and understand that God’s hand is a hand of love, grace, mercy, and comfort; then we can come to Him trusting that He is our good, good Father, who only gives us good gifts. We can confidently approach the throne of grace, knowing full well that our good, good Father will bless, not curse. He will hold, not hurt.  He will lead, not desert.

Again Peter says, “give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” Did you see that? He cares about you. He cares about me. He cares for His people. This concerned Father is the God we place ourselves under. We are under the shadow of His wings, and He protects, as well as loves.

Why would we not bow under this? I’m shaking my head in wonder at myself.

Since we serve a God, who is a good, good Father, He delights in exalting His children. To exalt means “to raise us up to dignity, in honor and happiness.”* He is pleased to put our feet in a spacious place, and to grant us the strength and peace we desperately need in any and all situations that we face.

We may find ourselves strangled by the net of troubles in our life, but the net does not strangle our Father in Heaven. He is outside that net and has every intention to cut it with His omnipotence. As C. H. Spurgeon says with such description, “When we poor, puny things are in the net, God is not. In the old fable the mouse set free the lion; here the lion liberates the mouse.” Oh, how true! When God exalts us, He liberates us from the net of troubles and lodges us in the promise land of His favor.

There was a time in my life when my heart was so troubled. My world had turned upside down. I thought the scar of pain in my soul was wounded forever. The details of the situation I am not at liberty to share, but I can tell you about how I felt. And I can tell you how I prayed to our good, good Father.

The laceration this situation put on my heart was indeed unbearable. I remember so clearly the drive home from church that night. I went over and over in my mind what had happened. I cried and cried. The tears were so many that I could barely see the road in front of me. I prayed out loud. I screamed at God. I cried to Him. I told Him of my disappointment, my pain, my inability to forgive…my hopeless premonition. Broken, wrecked beyond belief, I bowed under His wing and asked Him to help me. “Help me forgive. Give me the grace that is foreign to this land. Make me a vessel of mercy. And please God, heal my heart and make it whole again.”

I’m telling you; He did just that! Today, I don’t even know what that pain felt like anymore. However, I do remember that God lifted me. I remember the mercy, the grace, the forgiveness that saturated my soul – literally my very being. And today, that situation has become my ministry to others who find themselves in the same place.

Oh how our God restores, so that we can restore others! God is really good at turning our misery into His ministry! He’s amazing like that! 

I learned from that time in my life that God could take all of me. I was leveled.  There was no energy to fabricate a false happy. Unhappy was all I knew. The pain was my intimate friend. My companion was despair, failure, and infamy. However, in that humble state, I reached up. I looked at the Maker of my life. I got real! And what freedom I felt!

Getting real with all of my being, God showed me that I could step onto that holy ground where the One and Only, could revive what had been lost.

I don’t know what you face today. I do know that life is full of its troubles, but none is bigger than our God. He knows all, can heal all, and overcome all. Pray, my friend. Come to the Father of Light and tell Him plainly all you feel and think. And watch…wait for it…He will exalt you. He will bring you to that spacious promise land that you want so badly!

Oh, how His grace is fully sufficient in our time of need. We just need to get real.

 

*definitions are from blueletterbible.com

Change Your Child’s Behavior


Our actions and behaviors say a lot about the condition of our heart. As C. H. Spurgeon has said, “It is a rich sign of inward grace when the outward walk is changed and when ungodliness is put far from our actions.”

Jesus gives us a great illustration concerning our inmost heart and how it affects our outward behaviors: “A good tree doesn’t produce bad fruit; on the other hand, a bad tree doesn’t produce good fruit. For each tree is known by its fruit. Figs aren’t gathered from thorn bushes, or grapes picked from a bramble bush. A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.” (Luke 6:43-45).

When it comes to raising children, it’s tempting to work on behavior first. A total focus on behavior alone is where the discipline breaks down. After a while, a parent can discipline and teach a child good behavior yet also have a kid with deep anger and hatefulness in his heart. While the behavior may change temporarily due to fear of punishment or ridicule, eventually the results will break down, and the real feelings of the hurting angry child will come forth in his actions.

The beginning point in child rearing cannot be the behavior. It needs to be the heart. Surround a child with positive examples, encouragement toward the good, praise vs. constant ridicule, you will find that they will follow the positive. Correction doesn’t always have to be negative.

There may be more, but I have found that there are two influences that facilitate good behavior in a child: relationship and environment.

 

One of the best pathways to a child’s heart is not ridicule or condemnation, its relationship. Relationship unlocks a kid’s heart and opens it to the influence for good that comes from his parent. But what do I mean by relationship?

Relationship is patient, intentional, and timely.

It seeks to know the child. From this knowledge, a deliberate and patient discipline process is developed that will help the child move toward better behavior. However, the relationship does so much more than just correct a child’s actions. It creates a platform for continued instruction in wisdom and discernment.

Seeking the heart of the child’s negative behavior and then bringing the positive example to the table is not something done on the fly or in a hurry as the family runs out the door on various errands.

It takes attention – focused attention.

It takes slowing down, rearranging our schedules and hearing the child’s hurts, anger, wants and cares. It takes thinking about the right response and the best corrective approach that fits this child. It takes seeking wisdom from God and loving the child with His heart, not our unreliable emotions that rear their ugly head at the time of the incident.

For example, if a child is hitting his sibling, don’t just spout out and say, “Stop hitting your brother.” Instead, pull the child aside and take the time to find out why he hit his sibling. Seek to understand the child before making the rules understood. Reach the heart of the child by affirming their feelings and understanding their point of view concerning the situation. This affirmation doesn’t mean the child is right in his behavior, but it also doesn’t mean their feelings are wrong. When you take the time to understand, you earn a place of influence in the child’s heart.

Next soften the heart of the child by raising their sensitivity level for others. Point out the pain that his hitting caused. You might say, “Look at your brother’s eyes, not the toy he stole or the hurt he inflicted; instead, see how he feels.” Ask what those feelings might be. This type of evaluation causes the child to consider his feelings if another person hit him. It gets him in touch with his own heart.

As you expose the heart of the child with the effects of his bad behavior, point him to what repentance can do to a person. You might say, “Watch what happens to your brother’s eyes, when you say, I’m sorry.” In most cases the child will see the pain lift from his sibling’s eyes, and see his heart soften. A bonding between the two begins to form. Now, anger and hurt may still reside, but reconciliation begins to form. When two people begin that process of reconciling, their hearts get involved. Over time, this gentle approach to discipline creates a chord of love between the two children at odds. From the heart they demonstrate better behavior; it won’t be merely the consequences of breaking the rule that moves them.

 

Parents, it’s important that we provide the example of this positive behavior. We can instruct our children to live one way and then live the opposite. Sadly, this type of parenting confuses the child. Isn’t it true that a child will mimic what he sees long before following what he hears? Our behaviors, our words, our actions, and our responses teach our child how they should think, speak and do. We need to be careful not to be the bad example from which they walk.

The Psalmist says, “How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night.” (Psalm 1:1-2).

This scripture speaks of our environment.

Look at where our behaviors come. They can come from the advice of the wicked, the path of sinners, or a group of mockers…a.k.a. gossipers. They can also come from the Lord’s truth, His character, and His presence. They can come from being surrounded by the positive: what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable. Surround a child with good and you will see a different behavior. Saturate your kids with truth and they will spring forth the truth. Our environment and the examples displayed in our life often affect our behavior, and more importantly, they embed our heart.

What our children watch on T.V., what games they play, the friends they have and the influences we bring in the home can affect their behavior. The environment we allow and craft do shape the very heart and actions of our kids. As we delight in the Lord’s instruction and meditate on it day and night, our heart experiences that inward grace Spurgeon talked about; we end up leading the way for our children to follow.

Our relationship with our kids sets the stage for further influence. We can use that stage for good or for evil by the environment we intentionally create. It’s up to us.

 

When the Economy is Unfaithful


When my husband and I married thirty years ago, we were very frugal and saved our money. We planned for our future by putting aside money for our retirement, and we had a nicely funded savings account. This practice awarded us the ability to buy our first home. Great plan, right?

In part, this was an excellent practice. However, we had a problem: our faith and trust was in what we built. Our large savings account and our retirement fund all gave us a sense of security. We believed in ourselves for our provision. This security was our little god. And we were faithful to it. Until adversity hit our finances and our little god was gone. Talk about feeling alone, defeated, and lost! We feared, quite literally, for our future.

This adversity was a test for us – a test from God. He wanted to direct our attention to His provision, not our abilities to provide. While being responsible is a virtue, being holy is better. Being holy is depending on the Lord as we live our life sensibly. Being holy sets us apart from the world’s view of success and finds its success in the power of God through our faith in Him alone.

The very first commandment that God gives us is, “I am Yahweh your God … do not have other gods before Me.” God continues to expand on this commandment with the second, “do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. You must not bow down to them or worship them.” (Exodus 20:1-4).

Seems simple, direct and easy to follow, right? No.

As we fast forward several hundred years, we see Jesus teaching the same lesson to a very rich young ruler in Luke 18:18-23. This young rich ruler asks Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus replies, “Why do you call Me good?” Then Jesus turns to ask this young rich ruler, “No one is good but One – God. You know the commandments:

Do not commit adultery;

Do not murder;

Do not steal;

Do not bear false witness;

Honor your father and mother.”

Aw, the rich young ruler was feeling fairly confident in himself when he heard this from Jesus. He replied, “I have kept all these from my youth.”

We would all probably agree that we are not much different than this young ruler. As I spoke of previously, when my husband and I were first married, we were certainly not committing adultery; murder was the furthest thing from our thoughts – that would have been a detestable act for sure! We did not steal, or bear false witness, and we honored our father and mother. Like this young ruler, these commandments were simple and easy to do. But the next one, the one that Jesus brought to this young ruler’s attention was the hardest for this young man, and for us.

Like peeling an onion, Jesus prodded a little deeper to get to the heart of this man, “You still lack one thing: Sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow Me.”

After hearing this, the rich young ruler became extremely sad, because he was very rich. He would have to remove his god in order to follow the One True God – Jesus.

There are many lessons to be learned in this story. But the one I want to focus on is the lesson of total trust in Jesus to provide. What did this young man trust more? His heart was embedded in his treasures. He bowed to its provision. He had gained complete security in what he had built for himself. Giving that up and trusting Jesus was a hard follow!

To follow Jesus is to do many things – to do as He does – to believe who He is – and to trust Him. Not just trust in Him, but believe Him – believe what He can do. To believe He is all powerful, that He can provide; and finally, to give Him total superiority over our lives is indeed a hard follow!

We may be virtuous, yet puffed up. We may believe that Jesus is the Son of God, Savior of the world and we may even confess with our mouth that He is our God, yet we may not trust Him fully. Craig Groeschel, Pastor of Life.Church calls this Christian Atheism. We say we believe Jesus can do all things, yet we live our life as if He can’t.

When everything in this world seems hopeless and empty; when our livelihood is at stake; when our bellies are hungry, our bills go unpaid, and our resources are slim or nil, this is the time when we are backed up against the wall and we are faced with the ultimate question – is Jesus God or not? Will we trust Him or trust ourselves?

My husband and I learned that trusting our resources alone to provide for us was an unstable god. At one point our resources were high, then tragedies such as medical issues, job loss, economy set-backs, and the like hit like a tsunami. Where’s our little god then? How can this menial god help us now? He can’t. The things of this world do indeed pass away. They leave heartache and hopelessness in its wake.

But Jesus! He is different!

As a young married couple and even on multiple times throughout our marriage, we have found ourselves learning to follow Jesus – trust Him, even more, when this economy is unfaithful. Right now, we are facing a great opportunity to trust Him or not. In reality, as things are, the odds are very much against us; yet, God’s favor is for us. And it is His favor we seek. We seek it with a total trust in His provision and His timing for what we need.

We must not pass over the final point Jesus makes in this story of the young rich ruler. Jesus said to his disciples, who were there listening to His conversation with the young man, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” (Luke 8:27).

Jesus was fully human on earth, but we must not forget that His name was and is Immanuel meaning “God with us.” The full deity of our all-powerful God was with Him on earth and this is still with Him today. Whatever we face, no matter the impossibilities presented; we can trust that they are already overcome by the magnitude of power that Jesus beholds!