Here I Am; Send Me

"Then I heard the voice of the LORD saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"

Such were the words of Isaiah in answer to God's call, yet we must anticipate the trepidation with which he responds, for he has just recognized his own unrighteousness in view of that of the Lord God.

Likewise as Joshua is given charge of leading the Israelites into the promised land upon Moses' death, he too must have accepted this role with many misgivings and much foreboding. The Scriptures tell us that Joshua was encouraged by both men and God regarding his responsibility. Joshua is told to be strong and courageous by Moses as he passes to reins of leadership (Deut. 31:7), and then the same phrase is repeated by the Lord FOUR times (Deut. 31:23; Joshua 1:6,7 and 9) and finally again by the people he would lead (Jsh. 1:18).

Answering the Lord's call is never a whimsical decision. I recall most vividly being called to lead a men's leadership/discipleship class some years ago, and how unworthy I thought myself to that responsibility. I prayed for direction, asked friends to pray and it was only after some wise counsel that I answered the call.

The counsel was this. . .yes you may be weak, but in recognizing and acknowledging your weakness, God is strong – and it is only then that He can use you. I came to understand that I would not be the teacher – that work is done by the Holy Spirit. My only contribution was to be His instrument.

I remember upon graduating that first class I was presented with a shirt with the title "Instructor" emblazoned across the chest. I knew better and shared with those in attendance that I had not been the instructor – God had. I had merely been a facilitator. I was neither wise enough nor knowledgable enough to teach God's principles, His morals, and His Holy Word.

In the ensuing years of leading those classes I did improve my 'teaching' skills, but that was no more than we are called to do as we hone the particular skills of our Spiritual gifts. There were even times when I found myself being taught by the students I proposed to lead.

I do believe my first Spiritual Gift is teaching, but let us look again at how we receive these Gifts. In enumerating some of the Gifts in 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote "Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good" (1 Cor. 12:7)

How many times had I read that passage before the lighs came on? Paul is saying that the Gifts are not worked "by" us but "through" us. We are not using the Gift of XXXX – that work is the Holy Spirit working through us. The Gift is the 'manifestation of the Holy Spirit' as He exerts Himself – as He labors in that mode which we term a Spiritual Gift.

Now think on that for a minute or two. . .God, through His indwelling Holy Spirit, is using your God given talents, your experiences, your passions, and your character to glorify Himself. All these things He designed in you at birth, (Psalm 139:13-14), He now puts to use for His glory. There is nothing in this world that thrills me more than to know God is using me for His glory!! 

How many have been called to a ministry, a chore, or a role within the church and refused thinking they were unqualified in some way or another? God did not call the mighty Charleston Heston to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. He called a weak-willed, mealy-mouth, fugitive to lead them. What did Moses know about leading a nation of slaves through the desert to an unknown destination? And yet, unqualified – even grossly so – as Moses was, this was God's choice so that He would be glorified.

When we answer God's call to ministry – it is not for our glory. God is glorified in that the church is served, and that the members see how He can use even the least of us. Perhaps they can then say, "If he [you] can do ______ then I can step up and do something."

I pray you will shrug off your doubts and say "Here I am LORD. Send me!"

Into the Valley

 

1. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.

3. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

4. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

5. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.

6. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.

(Psalm 23 NKJV)

Walking hand in hand with God is such a wonderful experience. You know that you know that you know. . .that His Holy Spirit, who is alive – no, more than just alive – He is living, working, leading in and through you. You are so very aware of His teaching, His rebukes and His gentle push when temptation would steer you off that narrow path. He opens your eyes to the wonders of God's Holy Word – that most precious of possessions. He takes this Word and burns it into your mind and then He tenderly places it on your heart, so that it becomes so much part of you that it is as another vital organ without which you cannot survive.

You are so deeply grieved by your sinful contribution to our Savior's death – death on a cross; I may have just as well driven home the nails myself. Could I, could you, look my murderer in the face and say "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do"? All these things are integral to that wonderful experience of a Christian walk.

I have opened this devotional with the 23rd Psalm, a most beloved passage we learned as a child in Sunday School and repeated often in Vacation Bible School. Of the whole of the psalter the 23rd is probably known by more people than any other. Perhaps initially because it is short and therefore easy to memorize, but I think as the words grow within us, even as we physically and mentally mature, they become a cherished crutch to call upon when days grow dark – when we find ourselves in 'the valley of the shadow of death'. If we back up one Psalm to the 22nd we can hear the anguish and distress David is experiencing and perhaps one song led to the next.

It is curious to me that the 23rd Psalm was the first passage that came to my mind when I found myself tumbling off a mountain top recently. I have known myself to be living a mountain top experience for a number of years now. I have shared that cognizance with most of my friends. I have even prayerfully questioned God why I was so blessed, while I was surrounded by so much suffering by those I love. They say you shouldn't look a gift-horse in the mouth. Maybe they were right.

Over the past few weeks I found my footing on the mountain top slipping just a little and midweek this week I came falling, tumbling, sliding off that mountain top, right into the valley of the shadow of death. A doctor's visit jerked the rug right out from under our feet. You see, the doctor says my bride, my love, my best friend has cancer and it is an ugly cancer. I suppose all cancers are ugly, but for Judy and me this one seemed more ugly than what we were ready to face.

We made a few phone calls and send a couple of emails to ask our friends and family for prayer. I so very distinctly remember how distant God seemed from me. That wonderful, hand in hand experience I described above seemed now so far away. In one email I noted that although I knew the Lord was with us, I just could not at the moment see where He was in our picture.

I stayed up very late that evening, much of the night on my knees. Not only praying for a miracle for Judy, but that I would know His presence – that He would show His face. I so desperately missed knowing His nearness to me.

God answered my prayers – in spades. He showed His face in ways I had not expected. He sent His angels – earth angels. Some of the angels had titles, like Pastor and Doctor; most were those of His faithful – our friends and family. Judy and I were inundated with phone calls, email and text messages, flowers, and knocks at our door. It was in these of our loved ones, as they circled the wagons around us, that I saw the face of God – this was the hand of God telling me that He will indeed lead us beside still waters to lie down in green pastures. This was God assuring me that we should fear no evil for He is with us.

Our walk through the valley of the shadow of death is far from over – it has really only begun. But as wonderful as was the mountain top, so too now is this valley, as I know He is with us on the journey. Surely and indeed my cup runneth over.

Trusting God when all is well is such an easy thing. I think it also can be a time we may take His blessings too much for granted. I don't think I had done so – perhaps He thought differently. But I thank Him for this 'valley', as I am more sure today than yesterday that I know that I know that I know He loves me and He will never leave me nor forsake me.

I would never wish ill for anyone, but I do pray God will take you into some valley, that you may come to know Him in a way you'll never know from the mountain top.

God bless

 

Counting the Midianites

Some days the sun shines, the air is warm, and we ride the crest of a wave of life. But too many days are overcast, cold and stormy, and if there is a crest it is that of a terrible calamity of  misfortune. Such is life (John 16:33b). But God is faithful. Never will we find ourselves outside His umbrella of protection. (1 Cor. 10:13)

Oh that we could see our valleys as did David. In reading the Psalms of David we find so often his pleading with God for His help. Read the opening verses of Psalms 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. In each of them David is tormented by some distress. He is fearful of his enemies (Ps. 3, 5, and 7); he speaks of shame (Ps. 4), and of the LORD’s anger with him (Ps. 6). But David always knows the source of his strength and salvation. He concludes each of these Psalms, and so many, many others in praise and thanksgiving that God has or will see him through whatever he faces.

God was David’s strength – that was God within him. God was David’s defense – that was God around him. David was God-possessed and God-encompassed. God dwelt in him and he in God. There was no demand for which God was not sufficient, no peril that God could not keep at bay.

You find yourself too weak for some great task that has been entrusted to your care. Without question, only the wisest and the best of those you know could deal with such a burden. You stand before a great stone wall that grows taller, wider, and deeper even as you look upon it. It’s a rebellious child, or an unfaithful spouse; creditors or perhaps sickness, even death knock at your door. Where is your help – where is your deliverance – what is the answer?? How great are the foes you face? What is your response ? “Look at this overwhelming problem,” or is it, “Look at my overwhelming God!”

In the narration of Gideon’s encounter with God we learn that the Midianites and Amalekites were as “swarms of locusts”, (Judges 6:5) Gideon’s first response to God’s call was as ours so often is. His cry, “O Lord, how shall I save Israel? Behold, my family is the poorest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” rings in our own ears. We see ourselves incompetent and ineffective. We say the Holy Spirit indwells us – and He does – He lives within. But do we seek Him for His protection? Just as certainly as He lives within – He lives around us. He is our ever-present help in times of trouble (Ps. 46:1)

The secret of David’s security lay in his attitude toward God; you are my refuge in times of trouble”, (Psalm 59:16-17).  Is this our attitude? Too many believers plead their prayer but fail to look up the ladder for the descending angels, laden with the heavenly answer. Many ships pass in the night, touching at our wharf with the precious freight that we have been praying for, but we are not there to receive it. Many a relieving force comes up the pass with glittering spears and flashing helmets, but our gates are closed. Many a dove comes to our window from the desolate waters, but we are too immersed in other things to notice its light tap at the window. We pray, but we do not wait. We ask, but we do not expect to receive. We knock, but we are gone before the door is opened. We were busy counting the Midianites.

One of our young pastors recently had a two year long battle with cancer. He was, and is dearly loved by all who come to know him. He was in all our prayers over those two years, and recently he shared with the congregation his victory over the disease and the source of strength he and his family relied on through dark and often pain filled days. I’ll never forget his words. He said he refused to focus on the cancer. He said “I kept my focus on Christ”. He never counted the Midianites.

This lesson is for us to learn – to count on God, to tarry for the vision, to wait till Samuel comes, to believe that He who taught us to trust cannot and will not deceive our trust.

Consequences

“Be sure your sin will find you out!”

Joe sat at his dying wife’s bedside. Her voice was little more than a whisper. “Joe, darling,” she breathed, “I’ve got a confession to make before I go. I’m the one who took the ten thousand dollars from your safe and spent it on a fling with your best friend, Charles. And it was I who forced your mistress to leave the city. And I am the one who reported your income tax evasion to the government.”

“That’s all right, don’t give it a second thought,” answered Joe, “I’m the one who poisoned you.”

 

There aren’t very many free passes when it comes to wrongdoing.  The sinner often doesn’t ‘reap what he sows’ right away.  He may skate for a season, unaware, even uncaring of the wake his trespass has wreaked.  Sometimes it is years before he realizes the aftermath of his offense, how many have been affected, and how deep the hurt he caused.  But the fallout can be, and most often is both immediate and unending for the offended.  There are consequences to sin – both physical and spiritual.

Our best example of this is that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Their sin was both immediate and unending.

The initial result of their sin was their awareness of their nakedness. They had lost their innocence. Close behind had to be the first impression of fear and guilt.  Never before had they felt the need to hide from God.  And once they were exposed God’s punishment was both immediate and unending for both they and all mankind that would follow.

They were exiled from the Garden; their sin had introduced physical death into the world.  In fact in order for God to have provided them with clothing made of skins, (Genesis 3:21) an animal had to have been slain.  Prior to that Adam and Eve, and all animals were vegetarians (Gen. 1:30).  Most Biblical scholars agree that man was intended to live eternally in the Garden.  But now God decrees that man shall return to the dust from whence he came.

Famine and pestilence were now introduced as God curses the earth, (vv 17-19).  Never before had there been disease, crime, storms, or evil of any kind.  No poisonous beast nor plant populated Eden. Man would now labor ‘by the sweat of his brow’ for his sustenance. Woman would now suffer greatly in child bearing, from morning sickness, through agonizing labor pains, to postpartum depression.  She would be subservient to her husband, though many women would rail against this natural law, it was God ordained.

But the most dreadful and wretched consequence of sin would be mankind’s separation from God.  God is holy, ans as such He cannot abide with sin, and now man is sinful.  There would be no more walks in the Garden with the Creator.

But God, in His mercy, would provide mankind with a ‘get out of jail free’ card, an escape clause from our contract with spiritual death.  In His omniscience and wisdom He had planned our opportunity for salvation before the beginning.

Though we are forgiven our trespasses, that does not erase the consequences. God does not, nor can those afflicted, erase the outcome of trespass. Families are torn apart, lives are lost, relations are shipwrecked. I can personally attest to this.  Mistakes, self-serving attitudes, and selfish pursuits years ago by your author caused permanent scars for my family and friends. Though I have been the recipient of undeserved forgiveness, the wounds are permanent.  We need always remember that forgiven sins retain the repercussion. . . the fruit of that which we sowed.

The physical consequence to sin will vary with the sin that is committed. However, the spiritual consequence remains the same; for the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). The solution to the spiritual consequence of sin is revealed in the completion of the verse. . . “BUT the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord“. Salvation from our sins does not remove the physical consequences of sin. If you drank too much and developed hardening or cirrhosis of the liver, it won’t go away. If you committed sexual sins and picked up a disease or became pregnant, those problems will remain. However, the long term problem, our separation from God and eternal life can be cured. In addition, learning to live life God’s way will give us the tools to handle the results of our past mistakes

I would encourage you to be quick to forgive those who have wronged you,.  You must know that you have wronged someone in your past and we all pray for grace regarding them, just as Christ Jesus provided forgiveness for our own sins.  We pray for their forgiveness and we trust the Holy Spirit has led us to repentance from those wrongdoings.

Forgive as you have been forgiven.  May the Lord God bless you abundantly, and may you be a blessing to those around you.

God bless,


Trust and Obey

The last verse of a favorite hymn goes,
“What He says we will do;
Where He sends we will go;
Never fear, only trust and obey.”


And then the refrain tells us,
“Trust and obey, For there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, But to trust and obey”

No other way to be happy in Jesus. As believers in the one true God we are called to adopt a lifestyle that includes charity, love, humility, forgiveness, and obedience.  One of the most difficult, if not impossible, things for many of us sinners is the obedience part.  I have only been able to become obedient by my trust in the Lord God; and this  through the work of the Holy Spirit.  Obedience follows trust as surely as day does night.  It is impossible for us to be obedient to all we are called to do as Christians if we don’t trust God.  We must trust all the promises we find in His holy Word.

Obedience is one of those free will things that get us into so much trouble when we choose wrongly.  Psalm 37 tells us to “wait patiently” for the Lord.  In Isaiah we read, “. . .the Lord longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for Him!” (Is. 30:18)

Abraham is exalted as having his righteousness being ‘credited to him by his faith’; his trust in God.  And we know that in many things Abraham was obedient to God’s commands even to his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac.  We find many heroes and heroines of the Bible who were obedient, some to the point of ridicule and even death.  For the most part those who were obedient were rewarded.  Those who were not obedient, who rebelled, often found themselves dealing with God’s wrath.

I think of a most unlikely hero in Gideon.  Not only was he fearful, but he thought himself unworthy and incapable of leading an army against the Midianites.  But even as God pared his army down to three hundred men, who lapped water like a dog, Gideon obeyed all the Lord’s commands, and led the Israelites to victory.

We can only imagine what went through Hosea’s mind when God told him to take the adulterous Gomer as a wife and then commanded him to continue to love her even in her sin.  Hosea was obedient – and that can only be by his trust in the Lord.

Imagine now Mary and Joseph – the Lord God had not been heard from in over four hundred years.  Yet upon receiving the divine notice of a holy pregnancy from Gabriel, Mary’s only response was, “I am the Lord’s servant. . .may it be as you have said.” (Luke 1:38)  Likewise Joseph offered no protests to the angel’s command that he take Mary as his bride discounting most certain mockery and ridicule.

Jesus set the bar for obedience.  Speaking to His apostles He said, “. . .the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.” (John 14:31)  Several times Jesus said that the Father had ‘sent’ Him, and that He was there to do His Father’s will.

Being obedient is difficult sometimes – maybe more than sometimes – maybe often times.  We think we’re on the right path, we think we’re making right choices, and then act without consulting the Lord in prayer.  We trust too much in our own judgments.  We trust worldly views, someone else’s opinion, or contemporary logic.

Have you ever considered just throwing your hands in the air and saying, “OK God, I’m giving my all to you.  All my belongings (which were only on loan from You anyway), all my treasures, my talents, my time, all my decisions, everything I surrender to you.  Send me where you will.  Use me for your kingdom.”  I wonder how many of us trust Him that much?  If we did, then we could be the obedient servant He wants of us.

Until next time, may God bless you and yours and may you be a blessing to someone else.