The Shield

Our country is permeated by a climate of hate and fear. Many are anxious as they take in the increasingly popular reports of evil. Watching the news I can’t help but think of Don Henley’s song, Dirty Laundry:

I make my living off the evening news
Just give me something – something I can use
People love it when you lose,
They love dirty laundry.

We got the bubble-headed-beach-blond who
Comes on at five
She can tell you ‘bout the plane crash with a gleam
In her eye
It’s interesting when people die
Give us dirty laundry.

Can we film the operation?
Is the head dead yet?
You know, the boys in the newsroom got a
Running bet
Get the widow on the set!
We need dirty laundry.

Dirty little secrets
Dirty little lies
We got our dirty little fingers in everybody’s pie
We love to cut you down to size
We love dirty laundry.

There’s more, but you get the idea.  I had stopped watching the news for quite a while and just picked what was important off the internet.  I was tired of the sensationalizing of people’s misery, of placing a microphone in the face of someone in the midst of tragedy, using their grief for entertainment.

But the elections drew me back in.  Like an addiction, I couldn’t get enough of it all.  The media succeeded in entertaining me with all the sordid details of two imperfect candidates picking each other apart.

I need perspective, which I lose when my focus is on the cares of this world versus God’s eternal plan.  Truth does not scream at me.  It is calm, humble and loving. It wants me to look for it, it wants to be found as opposed to forcing itself on me.  I won’t find it on the evening news, and it probably won’t be in the emotion charged conversations I’ll have with angry or frightened people.  It gently knocks on the door of my heart, inviting me to rest in the assurance of God’s eternal plan.  He is with us – He will never leave us nor forsake us.

After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward. Genesis 15:1

“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior — from violent people you save me.” 2 Samuel 22:3

You make your saving help my shield; your help has made me great. 2 Samuel 22:36

Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.” But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain. Psalm 3:1-4

But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.  Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield.  Psalm 5:11-12

My shield is God Most High, who saves the upright in heart. Psalm 7:10

 The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. Psalm 18:2

 The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him. Psalm 28:7

We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.  Psalm 33:20-22

For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you. Psalm 84:11-12

In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:16-17

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Have you ever had someone go to bat for you?  That’s exactly what Laurie did for me many years ago.

My husband had been ill for a while and his situation took a turn for the worse. After visiting him in the hospital, I returned to work weary and overwhelmed, unsure of where to turn. He needed a major surgery, but our insurance was declining coverage. Without the surgery his life expectancy was not good. I shared the news with my co-workers and began pushing through my workday, contemplating what to do next.

I was helping some longtime customers wade through a stack of escrow papers when Laurie gently interrupted.  She apologized to us all, but explained that she had just received word that our insurance company had reconsidered and everything was approved – she wanted to let me know right away. While I was struggling under the weight of the dilemma, trying to muster strength for a battle I was ill-equipped to fight, Laurie had stepped in! Those poor customer didn’t know the story, but from my reaction they knew this was big news. I broke down in tears of relief and appreciation in the midst of their signing, and they both joined me!

I arrived at work overwhelmed, feeling helpless and powerless to identify a solution on my own.  I didn’t know where to turn.  Laurie took up my cause. She knew where to start, who to call, and she used her influence on my behalf.

That is exactly what Jesus Christ does for us.  Jesus is our advocate with God the Father, interceding on our behalf.

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.  Romans 8:31-34

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.  1 John 2:1

Jesus lived a perfectly holy, righteous life before surrendering it to the cross for us.  Before his death he was comforting his Disciples and explaining what was to come:

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”  John 14:15-17

After his resurrection, Jesus took a seat at the right hand of God, advocating for us there.  But he also promised that he would ask God to give us another advocate to help us and be with us forever – the Spirit of truth.  This Spirit lives with us and in us when we love and obey Jesus.

The Holy Spirit was a mystery to me for a long time.  A copy of C.H. Spurgeon’s 1859 sermon entitled Grieving the Holy Spirit inspired me to look at Scriptures on the subject.  Soon after, a friend confessed that she was really confused about who or what the Holy Spirit is. I’m sharing my explanation below in hopes it helps anyone else who may be struggling with it too.

Who is the Holy Spirit?

When you place your faith in Christ, He places his Holy Spirit within you.  It is a deposit, God’s gift to you, setting you apart as a child of God.  God is a trinity – three in one – God the Father, God the Son (Jesus) and God the Holy Spirit. God manifest Himself as Jesus to redeem us, Jesus came to live among us in bodily form as a perfect example of who He is and how we should live.  But, Jesus is God and without sin, while we are born sinful.  Ever since sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, we became unable to live perfect, holy lives.  Our fellowship with God was broken.  Genesis 3 describes what happened.  I love verse 8, when Adam and Eve heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day and God called to Adam, “Where are you?” God created us to love Him, to walk with Him in the garden as with our most loved and cherished friend.  But when we were deceived and chose to disobey Him our relationship changed.  We are now separated from a Holy God by our sin.  He so loves and desires a deep relationship with us that He sent His very Son in the form of a man to live among us and lay down His life to bridge the gap between us.  Jesus took on all that sin, bore the consequences that threatened to eternally separate us from our Holy God. When He died, establishing a path to eternity with God, He took on our sin that otherwise separated us from God and brought us together, creating access to the Father again.  When He rose again, Jesus walked among the believers, the early church. In Acts 1, before ascending back to Heaven with God, He commanded the church to stay in Jerusalem and “wait for the gift my Father promised”. In verse 8 he explained, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, an in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

The followers of Jesus received the Holy Spirit as Jesus promised in Acts 2. God became flesh in Jesus, and became Spirit in the Holy Spirit.  When you come to believe in Jesus, the Holy Spirit also begins dwelling within us.  God first created us and directly walked among us. When sin broke that direct presence, God no longer walked among us. He became flesh in Jesus, died on the cross to restore our relationship with Him, and manifests Himself as a Spirit within us when we confess Jesus as Lord.  His Spirit is what led us to believe and helps us understand His teachings, and restrains us from and/or convicts us of sin, and nudges us to make decisions that honor Him.  His Spirit is what overwhelms us at times with joy and peace, and leads us to worship God.  His Spirit within us leads us to use our gifts and talents in a way that honors God.

The Holy Spirit is our blessed instructor, leading us to truth, taking the things of Christ and applying them for us.  He is our comforter when we fail or experience trials.  He gives us power, strength and confidence in the midst of circumstances because we acknowledge we are a child of Christ.  Whether you say God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit, they are the same, all three in one, just in different forms.  The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit teaches us, prays for us when we don’t know how or what to pray, intercedes for us so that our prayers reach the ears of Christ and are presented to God.

It is by the Holy Spirit that we are sealed until the day of redemption, a pledge of our inheritance, conformation that we are truly a child of God. If we set our heart on anything that is evil, if we openly sin, if we neglect prayer or the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit will be grieved. He bears with us and nudges us to repent and return to righteous living.  When you sin and find yourself miserable, void of joy, knowing you are out of fellowship with God and dabbling with the things of this world in way you should not, it is the Holy Spirit that you feel grieving inside you, letting you know something’s not right, drawing you back to right living with God.  And when you hit your knees to confess and beg forgiveness, it is the Holy Spirit leading you there & filling you with such joy, knowing you are forgiven.  That’s how lives are miraculously changed in an instant, addictions halted, lives turned around so drastically – the power of the Holy Spirit within.

Praise God that we such an advocate living with us and in us when we place our faith in Jesus!

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“Look at the Dolphins!”

IMG_4853I set out for a brisk walk along the beach this morning with lots of missions to complete – get some much needed exercise, feel the sand between my toes, enjoy the sound of the waves, watch for sea life, find some sea glass, people watch, and on and on. I didn’t get too far before I forgot most else and became captivated with sea glass. I slowly inched my way through the sand and seaweed, scanning the beautiful pebbles and shells, picking out lusterless fragments of white, green, brown and brilliant blue.

My concentration was broken when I sensed someone nearby. As we made eye contact, the man planted in a beach chair watching the swells shouted, “Look at the dolphins!” I turned to see pods of dolphins and seals breaching just in front of where I stood.

I watched for a few minutes, probably longer than I really cared to, out of respect for the stranger’s expectation. Before resuming my “brisk walk,” I noted how close I still was to where I began. I hadn’t accomplished much exercise. That’s when I made the conscious decision to abandon my original agenda in favor of my quest for sea glass.

As I inched along, appreciating the beauty of tiny pebbles washed up in patches along the sand, I began humming How Great Thou Art, wishing I could remember all the words. Having made the choice to be single in purpose, I relaxed.

My sea glass harvest was bountiful! When my pocket was full, I began my short walk back, content. I considered the full list I of objectives I’d set out with and chuckled at myself. It’s hard to break long established habits. While they were all things I enjoy, having an agenda of any sort this trip really defeats the purpose. I came to take a break from itineraries, multi-tasking and schedules. My goal is quiet time with Jesus, a personal retreat with my Savior.

I love the beach. It is a place that is easy for me to sense God’s presence. The constant pounding of the surf muffles any competing sounds. The sight of the waves thrashing the shore and the vast, seemingly endless expanse of the sea demonstrate His majesty and the wonder of His creation.

I spend most days of my life planning, multi-tasking and working through the list of responsibilities required of me. They are necessary and mostly rewarding, but they are not my purpose. My purpose is to love God. I do that by becoming more like the Son he sent to die for my sins and by loving the people he places in my life. Unfortunately, I fail frequently. But because of God’s measureless love and mercy, I get to start afresh with a clean slate each time I confess and turn from my sin.

Like my walk on the beach this morning, I have to be intentional about my purpose. Distractions fill my days. Unless I intentionally set aside time to learn God’s plan for me by reading my Bible and reflecting on His Word, stepping out of the whirlwind of life, jealously protecting quiet time designated with Him to discern his desires for me, it just won’t happen. Someone or something will always pull me back to life’s wonders or whirlwinds, shouting “Look at the dolphins!”

How Great Thou Art

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation,
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration,
And then proclaim: “My God, how great Thou art!”

– Carl Boberg

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Simple Joy

At night I often journal what I’m thankful for.  It’s so easy to overlook how God has blessed me, so I try to be intentional about it.

Tonight I walked a couple laps around the block after dark tonight. I was feeling thankful, happy and blessed for no particular reason. As I walked, a memory from earlier today returned. I thought of a young woman I watched ordering lunch at the sandwich shop earlier. She had a very young boy in a stroller, a girl about 4 at her side, and was toting a full backpack. It reminded me of such days when my kids were young. We shared a car with my husband and, long after he’d gone to work, often set off on foot for the day. We’d trek to the park or store, run an errand or walk to the beach. We didn’t have much, financially we were just scraping by. But it warmed my heart remembering how we enjoyed those simple days together.

I also remembered a time visiting our family in San Diego. It was a special anniversary celebration and we were all staying at the same hotel. My sisters and our husbands had walked a short distance to a restaurant and were on our way back when we spotted a long, black limo waiting in the parking lot of a restaurant along the bay. I thought it would be crazy fun to see if the driver would take us the remaining 1/8 mile to the hotel, hoping someone would see us arrive by limo. Our husbands would have nothing to do with the idea, but my sisters and I made a bee line for the limo. Sure enough, after hearing our request, the limo driver loaded us up. As he pulled onto the street we rolled down a window to wave and say hi to our deeply embarrassed husbands who’d married such ridiculous women. Unfortunately, their stern faces pretending they’d never seen us before made us laugh even harder and no words would come. All we could do was cackle at them.

It took us a couple minutes to get to our destination. We pooled all the money we had to thank the driver richly. He insisted on the royal treatment when we arrived at the front of the hotel. He walked around and opened the door just in time for our step brother to watch him offer his hand and help each of us out of the limo. My brother’s face with his jaw hanging low is still etched on my mind… priceless.

I’m not sure I’ll ever grow up. Such simple memories bless me over and over each time they come to mind. Tonight they left me with a smile on my heart.

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Get Back on the Horse!

I started my day with Lisa Harper’s Believing God, a study from the Books of Luke and Acts.  I just read Luke 22:24-34, 54-62 and 24:12, 34.   These verses follow Simon (also called Peter), who was one of the 12 Apostles, and his actions when Jesus was arrested, crucified and resurrected.

Just before Jesus’ arrest, during the Last Super, Jesus told Simon that Satan would test him. Jesus said, “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

That made me think of a friend who was questioned whether she had the right to turn back to Jesus now that she needed Him, after drifting away. In case you ever have any lingering doubts, the story of Simon and his relationship with Jesus answer that question loud and clear!

Jesus knows when we will be weak and distant, caught up in the world and life circumstance. He also knows if and when we will turn back to Him! He is there waiting… “And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” was His command to Peter, which is exactly his command to us!

Simon responded with, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.

When Jesus was arrested later that day, Simon followed at a distance, settling by a fire in the courtyard.  When others around the fire accused Simon of being with Jesus, three times he denied even knowing him.  With the third denial Jesus, “The Lord turned and looked straight at Simon. Then Simon remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him, ‘Before the rooster crows today, you wild disown me three times.’ And he went outside and wept bitterly.”

It is hard to imagine the anguish of that day for Simon.  From the fellowship of the Last Super where he was among the 12 Apostles disputing which of them was considered to be the greatest, to pledging to go with Jesus to prison and to death, then locking eyes with Jesus as he heard Simon denying that he even knew him.

There are times when I fail to be or do all I’ve intended in response to my faith in Jesus Christ. The disappointment in myself, the regret and conviction that follow, can leave me broken with a sorrowful soul… and ineffective in my walk of faith. Looking at this passage gives me great hope and encouragement. Jesus knows that I will flounder. His own disciple, so dear to him, denied him three times – and Jesus knew he would. He expected it and told him the proper response when it happened, “And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

That is AWESOME encouragement for us imperfect, sinful followers of Christ who never seem to be able to live up to our convictions!

Can you imagine how Simon/Peter’s mind was swirling when word came three days after the crucifixion that the tomb was empty? Luke 24:12 describes Peter’s response. While the others did not believe, “Peter, however, go up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.”

And look at the love Jesus has for Simon, who denied him when he appeared to need him most. Luke 24:34 says, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” That is all that is recorded about their reunion. Can you picture the love shared, the confession and restoration between Simon and Jesus? Jesus sought Simon and blessed him with forgiveness and renewed, confident faith. Simon responded as commanded before the denial, spending the rest of his life strengthening his brothers – just like we are to strengthen each other through our fellowship as his living church!

What a beautiful truth to share for Christmas!

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