A WEAPON OF WAR

How long will you hurt me and crush me with your words? You have insulted me ten times now and attacked me without shame. [Job 19:2-3 (NCV)]

hot air balloon When writing about nitroglycerin yesterday, I realized there’s something else in our lives much like this strange chemical that can both hurt and help. Like nitroglycerin, man’s capabilities are a dichotomy between good and evil, building and destroying. The same mind capable of creating a vaccine that saves lives is capable of creating a bomb that can take those lives. While most of us have nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction and can’t destroy thousands with the push of a button, we all carry a weapon that can destroy one life at a time: our tongue!

Like nitroglycerin, our words can cause an explosion and major destruction. We can squash ambition with disparaging and demeaning remarks. We can shoot down someone with blame and guilt. While we’d never think of physically harming a person, with a few words, we can wound an ego. We’d never murder anyone but we certainly can manage to kill someone’s hopes and dreams. We’d never destroy a person’s home, yet we can destroy their reputation with just a few words! Ridicule and shaming can deflate self-esteem faster than an arrow can a hot air balloon. Our words, like nitroglycerin, can be devastating weapons.

Nevertheless, like medical nitroglycerin, our words also can help. Words of love, comfort, forgiveness, encouragement, respect, or sympathy can lift burdens and defuse situations better than any bomb squad. It is our choice as to whether we crush or nurture, rend or mend.

Father, forgive us for our thoughtless and often cruel words. Guide us to use our tongues with wisdom and love; show us how to heal, not harm. Let our words be ones of encouragement and support. Rather than destroyers, show us how to be builders; rather than combatants, let us be peacemakers; and rather than adversaries, let us be advocates.

Only speak words that make a heart grow stronger. [Ann Voskamp]

If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all! [My mother’s advice]

What you say can mean life or death. Those who speak with care will be rewarded. [Proverbs 18:21 (NCV)]

With words an evil person can destroy a neighbor, but a good person will escape by being resourceful. … Good people bless and build up their city, but the wicked can destroy it with their words [Proverbs 11:9,11 (NCV)]

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NITROGLYCERIN

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. [James 1:2-4 (NLT)]

crown vetchMy father had heart disease and often suffered from a burning chest pain called angina. When that occurred, he would stop what he was doing and place a nitroglycerin tablet under his tongue. Medical nitroglycerin acts as a vasodilator by dilating or expanding the blood vessels so the heart doesn’t have to work so hard to pump blood through those vessels.

When I was a girl and my dad took one of his nitro tablets, I didn’t know how they worked. Having seen enough Saturday matinees to know that liquid nitroglycerin is so unstable that the slightest jolt can cause it to explode, I couldn’t understand how my father could safely carry it around in his pocket, let alone put it in his mouth. After all, Sylvester the Cat exploded when Tweety Bird put it in his medicine and I’m sure Wile E. Coyote tried to use it on the Roadrunner! Whether in its liquid form or stabilized with clay in dynamite, nitroglycerin is the most dangerous and unstable explosive there is. How could something capable of blasting a hole in the side of a mountain keep my father’s heart from exploding in a heart attack?

I suppose trials are a little like nitroglycerin—they can destroy or help us. The end result depends on what we make of them and how we use them. We live in an imperfect fallen world and, like it or not, every one of us will face ordeals and troubles. Some we bring on ourselves as consequences of our own sin. But, as happened with Job, many of life’s trials seem as random as a tornado and descend upon us without rhyme or reason. Without God, those trials can demolish our lives as easily as nitroglycerin can demolish a building. With God, however, like medicinal nitroglycerin, trials can help our heart for Him.

God’s purpose isn’t to give us easy comfortable lives; He wants us to grow into the image of his son, Jesus Christ (which is what sanctification is all about). Everything in our lives, both good and bad, is designed to help us reach that goal. Unfortunately, when all is going smoothly, we tend to forget about God, just as easily as my father forgot about his diseased heart when relaxing in his recliner. But, just as the pain from stress or strenuous exercise made him turn to his nitro, trials force us to turn to God.

I lose the parallel between trials and nitroglycerin here because, while those tiny nitro pills alleviated the pain in my father’s chest, they didn’t cure his heart disease. They were merely a temporary fix and he died of a massive heart attack at the age of 56. Trials, however, do more than ease the symptoms of what’s wrong with us; they can actually shape and fix us. Disappointment, despair, and disaster, unlike heart disease, don’t have to kill us. Faith is a muscle and, just like the heart, it grows stronger when it is exercised. Somewhat like a cardiac surgeon, God fixes our hearts with trials.

Whether our trials are as destructive as liquid nitroglycerin or as therapeutic as nitroglycerin pills depends upon our reaction to them. We can become bitter or we can consider them a blessing. We can rebel or choose to trust God and accept His grace to deal with our difficulty and pain. Fortunately, rather than a cardiologist, we have the Holy Spirit who will give us all of the comfort, strength and wisdom we need to endure our trials. Because of Him, we can emerge from our trials with mended hearts and a stronger, purer and more mature faith.

And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. [Ezekiel 36:26-27 (NLT)]

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BEAR-PROOF

When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came. [Luke 4:13 (NLT)]

black bearMany people are unaware that south Florida is home to more than 1,000 black bears. Highly intelligent animals with a sense of smell that is seven times greater than a bloodhound’s, they can easily sniff out and find food. Opportunistic creatures, they take advantage of whatever is easily available (often man’s garbage). It’s estimated that they can smell a food source from as far away as 20 miles and, once they’ve found a good source like a berry patch, a stand of beech trees, or a trash can, they will continue to return to the same location for years. Relocated bears have been known to travel as much as 120 miles to return to an abundant food source.

While people are smarter than bears, we’re impatient and rarely willing to inconvenience ourselves or spend time solving a problem. Because the bear-proof dumpster we had in Colorado was difficult to unlock, it often was left unlatched and, even though they know they should wait until morning, our Florida neighbors find it easier to put out their garbage the night before pick-up. Bears, while not as smart as humans, are tenacious and will spend hours solving a problem if food is involved. No dummies, after determined bears in our Colorado town learned they could open the doors of Subarus, no unlocked Subaru in town was safe.

Satan is as opportunistic and tenacious as any black bear. Rather than sniffing out the aroma of a garbage can, he has an uncanny way of sniffing out our vulnerabilities and spotting our weaknesses. Think of the story of Job. When Satan couldn’t get him to curse God by taking his wealth and livestock, servants, herdsmen, workers, and children, he came back and took his health. Although Job never cursed God, he lost perspective and cursed the day he was born. Determined and unwilling to admit defeat, perhaps Satan was behind the words of condemnation spoken by Job’s wife and friends. When the devil failed to tempt Jesus in the wilderness, he departed “until the next opportunity.” The enemy does not give up easily. He may change tactics a bit but, like the Terminator, he’ll be back.

As for the bears that can open car doors: once they’re inside, the door often closes and traps them. Before they manage to make an exit, the car’s interior is wrecked and the bear has done what it usually does in the woods! When the enemy finds us vulnerable and attacks, he can do the same thing to our lives!

One of the ways to prevent Satan’s attacks is to be self-aware. Recovery programs often use the acronym HALT as a reminder. Standing for hungry, angry, lonely and tired, these feelings make us vulnerable to Satan. While we often think of hunger as that grumble in our tummies, it is more. Hunger is dissatisfaction, frustration, a desire for something more or different and often has nothing to do with food. Anger isn’t just being mad at someone; it’s holding on to unforgiveness, hostility, and resentment and often includes casting blame. While lonely seems self-explanatory, we can feel isolated, deserted, and desolate even when surrounded by people. Being tired can be physical exhaustion, but it also can be feeling drained by circumstances (or people) or wanting to abandon both hope and effort.

Being aware of these feelings helps us take extra precautions to protect ourselves. We redouble our efforts to worship with praise and thanksgiving, gather in Christian fellowship, study God’s Word, and pray; we may even need to seek Christian counseling. When we leave ourselves vulnerable with hunger, anger, loneliness, or tiredness, we’re little safer from the enemy’s attack than people who keep their food in their tents when camping, store garbage outside, don’t lock their Subarus, or fail to latch bear-proof dumpsters. Whether from bears or Satan, we’re just asking for trouble.

Satan loves to fish in the troubled waters of a discontented heart. [Thomas Watson]

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. [1 Peter 5:8-9 (NLT)]

But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one. [2 Thessalonians 3:3 (NLT)]

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FROM BAD TO WORSE

O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way? How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day? How long will my enemy have the upper hand? [Psalm 13:1-2 (NLT)]

Once a pampered prince, forty years later, Moses was living as a Midianite shepherd. When speaking to him from the burning bush, God laid out His plan for freeing the Israelites from Egyptian slavery and the pivotal role Moses would play in it. Protesting, Moses made excuse after excuse but God countered every excuse with a solution. Provided with a shepherd’s staff and Aaron as his mouthpiece, Moses reluctantly accepted God’s charge. Before approaching Pharaoh, however, he first met with Israel’s elders to convince them that he was on a mission from God.

Although the elders were convinced, Pharaoh wasn’t. When Moses asked that the Israelites be given just three days to journey into the wilderness and worship their God, Pharaoh didn’t just refuse. Accusing Moses of interfering with his people’s work, he cruelly increased their work load. Instead of having the straw needed for brick making provided, they had to find their own straw while still meeting their daily brick quota. When they failed to do so, the Israelite foremen were beaten. Faced with an impossible task, they approached Pharaoh. Pitilessly refusing to lighten their load, he accused the Israelites of laziness. Protesting to Moses, the foremen blamed him for the harshness of their Egyptian masters. Disheartened at his lack of success and Egypt’s increasing brutality, the Israelites lost all confidence in Moses and God’s promise of relief. Instead of going from bad to better, things had gone from bad to worse.

Sadly, even Moses lost faith. Forgetting that God told him Pharaoh would not let them go easily, the despondent Moses cried out to God. He questioned God’s purpose and even accused Him of doing nothing to help!

Things looked bad for David more than 420 years later. After Samuel anointed him king, David spent the next fifteen years on the run from King Saul who was trying to kill him. Like Moses, he was following God’s plan and yet things had gone from bad to worse for him, too. Like Moses, he cried out and asked God why he’d been forsaken.

Things looked dire for Elijah, as well. Like Moses and David, he wasn’t winning any popularity contests by obeying God. In his case, the prophet was giving unpleasant prophecies to some evil people. The enraged Jezebel was out to kill him and he’d just received her message that he’d be dead within 24-hours. The exhausted man sat under a broom bush and, sure that he was as good as dead, told God to kill him then.

Scripture teaches that, when we’re following God’s plan, we will face opposition in the world. It’s been suggested that if we don’t face the enemy’s opposition, we’re probably not doing God’s work. There will be times when our circumstances look bleak, God seems to be looking the other way, and the enemy seems to be winning.

When Jesus’s followers stood at the foot of the cross, watched Him suffer, and heard Him speak the words of Psalm 22 asking God why He’d been abandoned, it probably seemed that all hope was gone and the enemy had won. Three days later, however, it was clear that all hope had arrived! We can’t give up on the power, wisdom and goodness of God because his plan sometimes seems to have gone awry. Let us always remember that God’s promise to the Israelites is as true today as it was over 3,400 years ago: “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.” [Deuteronomy 31:8 (NLT)]

The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. The righteous person faces many troubles, but the Lord comes to the rescue each time. [Psalm 34:17-19 (NLT)]

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” [John 16:33 (NLT)]

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HE WON’T BE STOPPED

At that time Moses was born—a beautiful child in God’s eyes. His parents cared for him at home for three months. When they had to abandon him, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and raised him as her own son. Moses was taught all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was powerful in both speech and action. [Acts 7:20-22 (NLT)]

pipevine swallowtailFor the Israelites, 1526 B.C. was a terrible year to have a baby boy. Fearing the growing strength of the Jewish nation in Egypt, Thutmose I ordered that all Hebrew male babies be killed. Fifteen hundred years later, the Jewish historian Josephus would explain that Pharaoh’s counselors gave him this warning: “There would be a child born to the Israelites, who, if he were reared, would bring the Egyptian dominion low, and would raise the Israelites; that he would excel all men in virtue, and obtain a glory that would be remembered through all ages.”

When Jochebed and Amram had a baby boy, Jochebed was unwilling to see her child thrown into the Nile. After waterproofing a papyrus basket, she placed her infant in it and hid him among the reeds. In one of God’s beautifully orchestrated events, Pharaoh’s daughter (feasibly the only person in the nation who could save the one who would lead Israel out of bondage) just happened to be bathing at the river, hear the baby’s cries, and take him as her child.

She was one of the most important women in the history of God’s people and Scripture doesn’t even tell us her name! While much is speculation, historical documents lead most scholars to believe that she was Hatshepsut, the only surviving child of Thutmose I and his primary wife Ahmose. With no living brothers, the heir to the throne became the son of the pharaoh’s secondary wife, Hatshepsut’s half-brother Thutmose II. To legitimize his claim to the throne, the half-siblings were married. Hatshepsut wasn’t able to bear sons so, like their father, her husband had a son by a secondary wife. When Thutmose II died, Hatshepsut became co-regent with her infant step-son, Thutmose III, and ruled for 22 years until her death. At some point in this story, Hatshepsut took Moses and raised him as her child. As step-brothers, Moses and Thutmose III probably knew one another. Once Hatshepsut died, Moses may have been perceived a threat by the young Egyptian king. When Moses fled Egypt just a few years after his adoptive mother’s death, political intrigue along with murder may have contributed to his hasty departure.

We know some of Hatshepsut’s history but, other than reading that she felt sorry for the crying baby, we know little of her. How did she have the audacity to defy Pharaoh’s command, challenge tradition, and come before her father and his advisors with a Hebrew baby? Did she think her father weak for being afraid of an industrious people or cruel for killing innocent defenseless children? Perhaps she thought that, by adopting this orphaned boy, he could become Pharaoh’s legitimate heir and she would have power rather than her half-brother. Or was it simply God’s whisper in her ear that gave her both the courage and compassion to save this child?

Inadvertently, Pharaoh’s daughter prepared her adopted son to speak before another Pharaoh, free the Israelites, and record the first five books of the Old Testament. Educated in the royal harem along with others of royal blood, he would have studied hieroglyphic and other scripts, copied and memorized lengthy lists of words and names, and learned the languages of the world. Both public speaking and the ability to write well were highly valued in the royal classroom. When reading the exodus story, it’s easy to wonder how Moses and Aaron could gain an audience with the Pharaoh. When Moses returned to Egypt, Amenhotep II, the son of Thutmose III, was on the throne. As the adopted son of Hatshepsut, however, Moses was the step-uncle of the king! Moreover, having been raised in the royal harem, even forty years later, others in the court remembered and respected the son of Hatshepsut.

Because of Hatshepsut, the Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses was perfectly prepared for his God-given destiny. Little did she know when she adopted him that he would be the one about whom her father’s counselors had warned! Just as happened 1500 years later when another boy child was born to the Israelites and another cruel ruler tried to stop the one who would deliver His people, God’s plan could not be thwarted. He cannot be stopped!

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. [Romans 8:28 (NLT)]

I am God, and there is none like me. Only I can tell you the future before it even happens. Everything I plan will come to pass, for I do whatever I wish. [Isaiah 46:9b-10 (NLT)]

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DON’T ADD OR SUBTRACT

Do not add to or subtract from these commands I am giving you. Just obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you. [Deuteronomy 4:2 (NLT)]

tri-colored heron - snowy egretIt’s easy to have misconceptions about Scripture. If you were to ask someone the identity of the forbidden fruit, chances are the answer would be an apple. Scripture, however, never names the fruit. The Hebrew word used was peri which is a generic term for “produce,” “results,” or “reward.” We probably got the idea that it was an apple from later translations of Scripture into Latin since the Latin word “evil” is mălum, a word quite similar to the Latin word for “apple,” which is mālum. Renaissance painters continued to perpetuate the myth with their depiction of an apple at the temptation. Scripture, however, never identifies the fruit because its identity is not important; the evil wasn’t in the fruit but rather in Adam and Eve’s disobedience.

The three kings were neither three nor kings. Rather than kings, they were magi or wise men, perhaps philosophers, astronomers, or counselors of kings. Familiar with Hebrew Scripture, they knew and understood the various Messianic prophecies. It is merely tradition that their names were Gaspar, Balthazar, and Melchior. While we know there were at least three gifts, we don’t know how many magi there were.

If asked about Mary Magdalene, most people would say she was a repentant prostitute and probably the sinful woman who anointed Jesus’s feet but there is no evidence to support this. All four gospels do mention this Jewish woman from Magdala who helped support Jesus and the disciples, witnessed the crucifixion and Jesus’s burial, and saw the risen Christ at the empty tomb. Although Luke tells us tells us that Jesus healed her of seven demons, we have absolutely no reason to think of this once mentally ill woman as immoral or wanton; she was no more a sinner than were any of the disciples.

If you were to ask most Protestants about the “Immaculate Conception,” they would probably say it refers the conception of Jesus in a virgin’s womb, but it doesn’t. While Jesus was, indeed, born without sin, this Roman Catholic doctrine refers to the conception of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and states that, unlike the rest of mankind, Mary had no original sin and remained sinless throughout her life. Scripture, however, never describes Mary as anything but an ordinary, although godly, woman: a woman who needed a savior as much as the rest of us.

We often quote scripture that isn’t Scripture. Money isn’t the root of all evil; in fact, it can do all sorts of wonderful things. The Apostle Paul, however, warns us that it’s the love of money that is the root of all kinds of evil, which is not quite the same. While “it came to pass” occurs about 400 times in the King James Version of the Bible, “This too shall pass,” never does. God does work in mysterious ways but that sentiment comes from a 1774 hymn by William Cowper. “God helps those who help themselves,” is nowhere in the Bible and probably came from one of Aesop’s fables and, while the Old Testament has lots of rules about cleanliness, “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” is not one of them. In fact, Jesus tells us to worry more about the sin in our hearts than the dirt on our hands!

The Bible is the written testimony of God’s word. When we quote the Bible, we want to be sure that what we’re quoting actually is in the Bible and, when we’re telling Bible stories, we want to tell the story correctly. God told the Israelites to neither add nor subtract from His commands; neither should we. We are to seek what Scripture actually means, not what we’d like it to mean. “I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you,” said the Psalmist. [119:11] Let’s make sure the words we’ve put in our hearts actually are God’s!

Oh, how I love your instructions! I think about them all day long. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are my constant guide. … Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path. … The very essence of your words is truth; all your just regulations will stand forever. [Psalm 119:97-98,105, 160 (NLT)]

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