For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. [Philippians 4:13 (NLT)]

great blue heronAlthough it was noon during the heat of the day when most people would be resting, the woman came to the well for water. Perhaps, because she’d been married five times and was living with a man not her husband, the other women in the village made it clear that she wasn’t welcome in the early morning or late evening when they gathered there. Nevertheless, it was with this woman that Jesus had the longest one-on-one conversation recorded in Scripture. It was to this Samaritan woman that Jesus revealed He was the Living Water she so desperately needed.

Throughout Scripture, we find God using those who seem least qualified to do His work. An unnamed woman of questionable character became His first evangelist in Samaria and a Gentile man so possessed by demons that he’d been chained and shackled in a cave was chosen to evangelize in the Decapolis. Abraham, a coward who twice gave his wife to other men to save himself, was God’s unlikely choice to be the father of all nations and his wife Sarah, an infertile old woman, was chosen to be the mother of those nations. God chose an old man with a speech impediment to demand that Pharaoh let His people go and a shepherd boy with a slingshot to fell a giant and lead a nation. A man so afraid of the Midianites that he hid in his winepress while threshing wheat and called his clan the weakest and himself the least of them, was chosen by God to defeat Israel’s oppressors. Chosen to spread the gospel to all nations was a Pharisee who hated Christ’s followers and silently watched while Stephen was stoned by an angry mob. A prostitute, a widow who masqueraded as a prostitute, a hated Moabite, an adulteress, and an unwed teen from an insignificant village were chosen as part of His Son’s family tree. To bear witness to the empty tomb, God chose women: people who couldn’t even testify in court!

Were any of these people qualified for the role they were called to play? Probably not, but that didn’t matter because God will qualify the ones he calls. Can we fell giants with a slingshot or lead an outnumbered army to victory? Probably not…unless God calls us to do that very thing! When we answer His call, He will equip the unequipped, enable the unable, strengthen the weak, embolden the meek, empower the powerless, encourage the discouraged, and do the extraordinary with the ordinary.

Now may the God of peace… equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen. [Hebrews 13:20,21 (NLT)]

He said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. [2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (NLT)]

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And I’ve got something to tell you, too: you are Peter, the rock, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell won’t overpower it. [Matthew 16:18 (NTE)]

Kandersteg - SwitzerlandAfter Simon Peter professed his belief in Jesus as the Messiah, the Lord declared that he would be known from then on as Peter (Petros) meaning rock (petra). Yet, a short time later, the Rock became a stumbling block when he resisted all that being the Messiah required: Jesus’ suffering and death. When studying the man our Lord chose to lead His church, we find Peter had enough faith to climb out of the boat but not enough faith to trust Jesus when the wind started to blow. Impetuous, Peter immediately wanted to memorialize the Transfiguration rather than learn from it. Presumptuous, he hastily spoke for Jesus regarding paying tax to Caesar. Rash, he used his sword to wound the high priest’s slave. He resisted Jesus when the Lord knelt with a wash pan at his feet and, after boldly declaring his commitment to Jesus, denied him three times within a few hours! Yet, it was to this man that Jesus entrusted the job of shepherd and the task of feeding His sheep!

The rest of the disciples were no better. Along with Peter, they thought Jesus was talking about bread when He warned them about the yeast of the Pharisees, argued with one another about who among them was the greatest, fell asleep when asked to pray, abandoned Jesus following His arrest, and returned to fishing after the crucifixion.

Not a one was a scholar, aristocrat, or priest. Yet, it was to these common ordinary men, men who had sinned and who were likely to sin again, men who had failed Jesus while He was flesh and blood, to whom Jesus entrusted His church! Although the only thing extraordinary about the disciples was their faith in Jesus, He charged them with the Great Commission: the future of His church. Have you ever wondered at the tremendous faith Jesus showed in the disciples 2,000 years ago? Legions of angels could have spread the Good News wider and faster than any mortal and yet Jesus had faith that His band of ordinary men would obey His command and succeed!

Christ’s followers continue to be as unremarkable and flawed as were Peter, John and the rest of the disciples. Nevertheless, Jesus continues to have faith in us. It is through the power of His Holy Spirit that we carry on the good work begun by those first believers. Let us continue to have faith in the God who has such great faith in us!

A dozen ignorant peasants proclaiming a crucified Jew as the founder of a new faith; bearing as the symbol of their worship an instrument which was the sign of ignominy, slavery and crime; preaching what must have seemed an absurd doctrine of humility, patient suffering and love to enemies – graces undreamed of before; demanding what must have seemed an absurd worship for one who had died like a malefactor and a slave, and making what must have seemed an absurd promise of everlasting life through one who had himself died, and that between two thieves. [“The Divine Origin of the Bible” by B.B. Warfield]

Jesus came towards them and addressed them. “All authority in heaven and on earth,” he said, “has been given to me! So you must go and make all the nations into disciples. Baptize them in the name of the father, and of the son, and of the holy spirit. Teach them to observe everything I have commanded you. And look: I am with you, every single day, to the very end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20 (NTE)]

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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)]

ground squirrel - chipmunkWith each new day feeling like yesterday, we decided to watch the 1993 movie Groundhog Day. In it, the discontented TV weatherman Phil Connors, played by Bill Murray, is trapped in a time loop and keeps reliving February 2. At first, he takes advantage of never having to reap the consequences of his selfish actions but grows tired of his hedonistic life. When the predictability of the day causes boredom, depression, and cynicism to set in, he commits suicide several times—only to wake again and again on the same February 2. Eventually, Phil comes to grips with his situation and decides to make the most of it. Among other things, he learns to to play jazz piano, speak French, memorize the life story of everyone in town, sculpt ice, and master the art of flipping cards into an upturned hat. As he betters himself, he begins to better the lives of the people around him. The time loop eventually ends when the changed man finally gets the day right by caring more about others than himself.

Although many people have tried to estimate how many Groundhog Days Phil experienced, even co-author Danny Rubin wasn’t sure. He said the point of the movie “was that you had to feel you were enduring something that was going on for a long time… I don’t know. A hundred years. A lifetime.”  Psychologists actually have named the feeling that we’re caught in a rut the “Groundhog Day Syndrome” and, with this self-quarantining, we may feel as trapped as was Phil Connors.

Even though they can’t agree on what it means, people from various religious backgrounds view Groundhog Day as a spiritually meaningful movie. Buddhists see samsara or continuing rebirth and Hindus see reincarnation. With good deeds begetting more good deeds, Jews see the fulfilling of the Torah’s 613 mitzvoth while Roman Catholics see Phil’s situation as purgatory. Psychiatrists see it as a metaphor for psychoanalysis, soldiers as a film about boredom, motivational speakers as an illustration of transformational self-improvement, and one film critic saw the groundhog as symbolic of the risen Christ! Sometimes, however, a movie is just a movie.

Perhaps the meaning of Groundhog Day comes down to the words in Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” After all, even though Phil changes, his circumstances and the people of Punxsutawney don’t. But, once Phil starts changing the only thing over which he does have control, which is himself, the weatherman finds that his circumstances eventually do improve.

Whether it was Max Lucado or Mark Batterson who originally said, “The circumstances we ask God to change are often the circumstances God is using to change us,” they’re right. Phil’s circumstances changed him for the better and God can use our circumstances to change us—if we let Him. Let us remember that, until our last day, we are works in progress; even though we can’t change what is happening around us, our hearts and minds can change. As they do, we may just find the world around us changing, as well. COVID-19 will still be here, just as Punxsutawney and the groundhog were still there for Phil. Nevertheless, Phil’s life changed and, just as he found joy in his circumstances, we can, too!

We have little control over the circumstances of life. We can’t control the weather or the economy, and we can’t control what other people say about or do to us. There is only one area where we have control—we can rule the kingdom inside. The heart of every problem is the problem in the heart. [Warren Wiersbe]

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. [1 Peter 1:6-7 (NLT)]

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NLT)]

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So, my dear family, this is my appeal to you by the mercies of God: offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. Worship like this brings your mind into line with God’s. What’s more, don’t let yourselves be squeezed into the shape dictated by the present age. Instead, be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you can work out what God’s will is, what is good, acceptable and complete. [Romans 12:1-2 (NTE)]

agoseris (orange) - mountain dandelionLike Job, we want to know “Why?” Wanting to understand the inexplicable, there are some who claim this pandemic is a sign of the end times; indeed, it is a terrifying time. When Jesus spoke of the end times, however, He warned His disciples to be wary about the signs and not to be misled. When we start looking for signs, we begin reading meanings into things that aren’t necessarily there. While we know that chaotic and difficult times will pave the way for Jesus’ return, we also know that chaos, difficulty, and even pandemics have been characteristics of life since the exile from Eden. I don’t know if this is a sign of the end times but I am cautious of doomsday prophets who claim to know what God is doing. Let us remember Jesus’ own words: ”No one knows the day or hour when these things will happen not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.” [Matthew 24:36] If neither Jesus nor angels knew, I doubt a mere mortal does! Whether or not the Australian wildfires, African locusts, and COVID-19 are precursors of things to come doesn’t change what’s happening or our reaction to them.

“Do you suppose,” said a friend, “that God got so sick and tired of our bickering, conflicts, and complaint that He’s sent us all to our rooms as punishment?” Indeed, there are some who say this pandemic is God’s judgment upon his sinful children. He’s used plagues before and it wasn’t just the Egyptians who suffered them at His hands. After the Israelites worshiped the golden calf, God sent a plague upon them; when they complained of no meat, He struck them with another plague; and, when they complained about Moses and Aaron, a plague that killed 14,700 quickly followed. When David sinned against God by taking a census, 70,000 innocent people died in a plague. Since God used plagues to discipline His children in the past, we might wonder if COVID-19 is His punishment for our sins. We simply don’t know and I would be cautious of anyone who claims to know the answer; Job’s friends got in trouble for that very thing! God made it clear to Job that the “why” is really not ours to know.

Perhaps, rather than sending us to our rooms as punishment, our loving Father has given us a “time out” for an attitude adjustment. Could this be God’s version of a “market correction” when, following a drop of 10%, the value of over-priced stocks are adjusted to more accurate levels? Instead of stocks, however, could this be a time to correct our priorities: a time to reevaluate their value and adjust them to more godly levels? When viewed in the light of this pandemic, many of the things we once thought important have become meaningless and some things we took for granted have become precious. Just as a stock market correction is a reminder for investors to reassess their holdings, this pandemic may be a time for us to reassess our priorities and values. What is worth keeping and what should we let go?

Jesus told us that wherever our treasure is, there will be our heart. Perhaps we’ve been sent to our rooms to examine our hearts: to see ourselves in a spiritual mirror to determine how much like Christ we look, how attached we’ve become to the things of the world, and determine who and what comes first in our lives.

None of us can divine God’s purpose; He didn’t tell Jesus or Job so I don’t think we can expect to know. Rather than asking “why?” theologian and author Timothy Keller says the question we should be asking is this: “Is God to whom I look to and trust in when bad things happen?”

You must keep all earthy treasures out of your heart, and let Christ be your treasure, and let Him have your heart. [Charles Spurgeon]

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus continued. “Trust God – and trust me, too! … I’m leaving you peace. I’m giving you my own peace. I don’t give gifts in the way the world does. Don’t let your hearts be troubled; don’t be fearful. … I’ve said these things to you so that you can have peace in me. You’ll have trouble in the world. But cheer up! I have defeated the world! [John 14:1,27,16:33 (NTE)]

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God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through? [Numbers 23:19 (NLT)]

New England asterWith just 31,164 verses in the entire Bible, a Canadian schoolteacher named Everett R. Storms questioned claims that it held around 30,000 promises. During his 27th reading of the Bible in 1956, the inquisitive Mr. Storms compiled a list of all Scripture’s promises. Given that the books of prophecy are filled with promises (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel have over 1,000 each) and the psalms are steeped in promises, no wonder it took 18 months to complete this massive task! When finished, Storms had recorded 8,810 promises: 7,487 of which were made by God to man and 290 by man to God. Other promises were made by one man to another, by God the Father to God the Son, by angels to people, by man to an angel, by an evil spirit, and by Satan (all nine of which were lies).

While we’d like to lay claim to all 7,487 promises made by God to man, we must be cautious. Many of those promises were made to a specific person or in a specific situation. Although God’s promise to Noah that floodwaters would never again kill all life and destroy the earth is a promise for all of mankind, His promises to Abraham of fame, land, a son, and countless descendants were specific to him. God has not failed us if, unlike Abraham, we are without fame, property or children.

Moreover, many of God’s promises have conditions that test our obedience, require our trust, or act as a warning and those promises can’t be claimed without meeting the conditions. God promises us the desires of our heart in Psalm 37 with the conditions that we delight ourselves in Him and His character, commit everything we do to Him, and trust in Him. [37:4-5] When the Apostle James writes of the blessings and “crown of life” promised by God, the conditions include perseverance through trials by those who love Him. [1:5] In Romans, we find God’s promise of the free gift of eternal life, but it includes a warning that the “wages of sin” are death! [6:23] Unlike a legal document, God’s promises aren’t concealed or hidden in legalese; if there are conditions, they are spelled out clearly and any consequences are well defined.

What of those 290 promises made by man to God? After God promised His blessings to Israel if they obeyed Him and kept His covenant, they responded: “We will do everything the Lord has commanded.” [Exodus 19:8] Sadly, their well-intentioned promise was repeatedly broken. As flawed mortals, we continue to be unable to live up to our promises to God. Fortunately, because He is a God of grace and true to His Word, we can live our lives depending upon His promises to us.

I can’t name the 7,487 promises God made to man. Nevertheless, during Lent, I compiled a far shorter list of verses with God’s promises to serve as an anchor of my faith. I know that He promises to give us wisdom if we ask, to provide a way out of temptation, and to finish the good work He began in us. He promises that our belief in Jesus gives us eternal life, that our salvation is secure, and that nothing can separate us from His love. God promises that He can turn every circumstance around for our long-range good, that He’ll never leave or forsake us, and that He will return! Without a doubt, what God promises will come true!

So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. [Hebrews 6:18 (NLT)]

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HE DIDN’T HAVE TO TAKE IT! – Easter Monday

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

penitente morada Abiquiui NMWhen asked about the temptation of Christ, we probably think of Satan’s three temptations in the wilderness. Since the gospels don’t mention other specific temptations, it’s easy to think that Jesus, unlike the rest of us, was only tempted three times. “He left him until the next opportunity came,” wrote Luke and, while reading the four gospel accounts of the crucifixion during Holy Week, I know He had to have been sorely tempted that awful last day. Right up to the end, Satan must have been at His side, whispering into his ear and reminding Him that He didn’t have to take the abuse—after all, He was God!

Satan just was warming up with his temptations during Christ’s forty days in the wilderness. When Jesus prayed so hard He sweat blood in Gethsemane, that wasn’t because He was afraid to suffer and die. That was Jesus resisting Satan as the enemy made false promises, cast doubt on His mission, and tried to keep Him from the cross.

I can’t believe Satan went down without a fight and it was in the hours following Jesus’s arrest that he must have made a determined last ditch effort to thwart God’s plan of salvation. It may have been a man’s body suffering the unspeakable abuse that horrifying Friday but, inside the bruised and bloody flesh, it was God! He’d fed a multitude with a few scraps, turned water into wine, cast out demons, healed lepers, and stilled a storm. Jesus didn’t lose His power when He was arrested; He deliberately chose not to use it!

When Jesus was wrongly accused and false witnesses testified before the high court, when the people who’d hailed Him just a few days earlier called to crucify him, or when the crowd ridiculed Him as His tortured body hung on the cross, could the One capable of giving hearing to the deaf been tempted to strike them all mute? Jesus was there when an angel of the Lord killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers outside of Jerusalem’s walls. As He was being spit on, slapped, beaten with fists, hit on the head with a reed stick, flogged with a lead-tipped whip, and mocked with a crown of sharp thorns, surely Satan invited Jesus to do something similar to His taunters and abusers. Could the One who gave sight to the blind have been tempted to take away the sight of the soldiers as they gambled for his robe or knelt in mock worship? As they nailed His hands to the cross, could the One who’d cast demons into swine been tempted to kill the men who were torturing Him? Jesus was God. He existed before time, space, matter and energy began and, up to His very last breath, the One who could walk on water could have freed Himself, stepped off that cross, healed his wounds, and destroyed every last one of the soldiers and onlookers with just a thought. But, He didn’t!

Perhaps it was my familiarity with the crucifixion story (and the fact that I know the good news that follows) but I don’t think I truly grasped the anguish of Christ until I read all four gospel accounts in one sitting. I knew He suffered a gruesome tortuous death but I didn’t see how tempting it would have been for Him not to do so! Perhaps resisting the temptation to quit and punish His abusers was even harder than enduring the pain of the cross.

How long would you hold your hand over a burning flame when all you had to do was pull it out of the fire? Would you do it for people who reviled and berated you? Jesus didn’t have to suffer and die for us; He chose to do so out of love. I, for one, can’t comprehend a love that great! Thank you, Jesus!

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. [1 Peter 2:24 (NLT)]

Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. [Romans 5:7-8 (NLT)]

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