Courage to Stand Out

Lately, I have been focused on the book of Isaiah and the book of Matthew during my times of study and reflection.  Many think or assume that the book of Isaiah is just an ancient book about an ancient kingdom and that it is not relevant to us today. On the other hand, many scholars will tell you that many of the prophets writings though already fulfilled in many cases, will have a future fulfillment. It is possible that we will see them within our lifetime. For example, as I read Isaiah 5 a couple of weeks ago, I could not help but see some of those very things God had pointed out among the Jewish people were also very prevalent in our world and in our nation. God was loving and patient with His people during the time of Isaiah but eventually, when they did not turn back to God; He acted.

     His people would begin to fit into the culture of the people around them. Honestly, isn’t that the tempting and easy thing to do? It is much harder to hold ourselves accountable and guard our heart by following God’s guidelines while others pressure us to go along with them. God loves His people so He would send prophets to encourage them to return to Him and His ways. They were warned about fitting into culture and worshipping false gods of the neighboring people groups. When they returned to God all was well. Then there were the times after many warnings and a refusal to return to God and His ways; they ended up in captivity to another nation or some other punishment. It was easy for those people to blame God when they ended up serving as slaves to other nations! But realistically it is not God who is to blame. 

      The people were given guidelines to live by, not to hold them back but for their protection. They were told if you follow these precepts, you will be blessed and enjoy life and then very clearly they were told the curses that go along with disobedience.  These precepts were taught to each generation from childhood. (Deuteronomy outlines the law and the blessings and curses can be found in chapter 28)  God spoke to them in Deuteronomy 30 an said in verse 19-20  “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.” 

       If we look objectively, it was not God who put the Israelites into captivity. They put themselves in compromising situations through their disobedience many times to fit in or make alliances with enemy nations and the result of their compromise was captivity and loss. Fitting in is always easier than standing out!  This is still true in our world today. When you stand out from the ‘norm’ of culture in years past you might have been labeled as different, peculiar, odd, weird and similar labels but over the last few years it has escalated to being labeled as a hater. This is true from political points of view to religion, marriage, abortion and list could go on and on. Once upon a time civil debate was a welcome exchange of ideas where people discussed differing opinions intelligently and those who were not swayed by the preponderance of the evidence presented would agree to disagree agreeably. Not so much today! Todays debates more resemble duels of words with the intent to eliminate the opponent. 

         How do we find the courage to stand out? To hold fast to our beliefs as the world often runs in the opposite direction from the beliefs and morals we hold? How do we respond when despite our outrage over a captive lion being wrongly killed; we are even more outraged over Planned Parenthood employees talking about illegal selling body parts of aborted babies for profit over a lunch?  How is a lion worth more than a human baby? A life is a life! How is it if you are pro-life it is twisted to say your are anti-choice? Most pro-lifers will tell you they are all for choice and there were about a dozen of choices that could have prevented that unwanted pregnancy before it ever happened. When did it become almost a crime to stand out in how we live or to have an opinion other than the ‘vocal majority’? When did we decide to just give in to those who are “vocal”?  How did one lady’s offense at prayer in school win out when statistics say at the time 78% of the nation identified with some form of Christian religion?  How did we get to a time where we allow life to happen to us or around us? 

     As I ponder these things, I can not help but think about John the Baptizer, Jesus and the disciples! Their goal was to follow God; to please the Father; to love Him completely and to love others. They stood out in their culture and there was no doubt that they were different. People knew everywhere they went that they were not like others around them. Had they just fit-in, they would have never found themselves persecuted, imprisoned, beaten, and even martyred. Maybe that is part of the problem…do we keep quiet or conform to the world out of fear? Are we just to busy with living life? 

      Christ drew people to Him by the way He lived and loved, as should we draw people to Him by loving like he did.  Jesus also drew large number of religious leaders that hated Him, were threatened by His faith and how He loved and followed His Father. We should not be surprised when that happens to us. Religious leaders of His age labeled Jesus and if we all out follow Him, we will also be labeled by some. He was labeled possessed of the devil, crazy, a rebel; just to name a few. He suffered immeasurable pain and grief to bring us access to the Father and to bridge the separation that came through sin; to restore that which was lost in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. He bought us the chance to have right relationship with God the Father. Can I/we do more to stand for Him resulting in people being drawn to Him? Are we fitting in or are we standing out? Are we allowing life to happen to us or are we happening to life by being a living demonstration of His love, mercy and grace to those around us? 

To Soar Like An Eagle

For some reason this morning, a treasured memory has flooded my mind and heart. Last April on the 23rd., Kevin and I were blessed to spend several hours with some great friends just before they returned to minister in Europe and in Israel. Our first stop was a quaint coffee shop with a great view of the Chattahoochee River. We purchased our coffee and made our way outside to enjoy the beautiful scenery from the bank of the river. As we chatted and caught up a bit on each other’s lives, something grabbed all our attention. Right in front of our eyes, up in a perfectly blue sky, soaring over the river right in front of us were five beautiful bald eagles circling around in front of us. After circling a few times they began to fly away. Kevin and I have been to this very spot a number of times, never have we seen even one eagle and this day there were five! It was an amazing sight to behold, sitting in quietness with special friends who we don’t get to see near enough, listening to the rushing of the waters and seeing that majestic sight. What a great way to start off our visit; what a great memory!

Eagles are Beautiful and interesting creatures. Here are just a few facts about them…

  • Eagles are powerful birds of prey.
  • They have hooked beaks and powerful talons to hunt prey.
  • There are over 60 species.
  • They build their nests on high cliffs or in tall trees. Bald eagle nests can weigh as much as a ton.
  • Some eagles hunt animals as large as a young deer.

Credit to:  Science kids.co.nz

  • They have very sharp eye sight, perhaps among the best of all other species.
  • Bald eagles are known for spectacular aerial shows.
  • Considered symbols of power, transcendence, and freedom.

Credit to: Onekind.org

  • Mate for life; Once pared together, bald eagles remain together until one of them dies. Life span-20-30 years
  • Most are approximately 3 feet long with wings spans of 6-7 feet and weigh 10 to 14 pounds.

Credit to:  defenders.org

Eagles are mentioned in scripture between 31 to 34 times depending on which translation you may be reading. Some scriptures compare God to a mighty eagle, others may refer to His enemy as an eagle. Perhaps one of the most quoted verses about eagles is Isaiah 41:30-31 “Youths may faint and grow weary,and young men stumble and fall, but those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint.”

What a beautiful picture that paints for us! It is truly a beautiful sight to watch an eagle soar up high, whether it is one or five! Just think…His Word tells us that we can soar on wings like eagles when we trust in Him; when we wait upon Him. He promises to renew our strength, that we will soar; run and not grow weary; walk and not faint… What a promise! We exchange our worry and doubt for trusting God and the benefits are beyond most of our expectations! We can be refreshed, renewed, and we can soar above our circumstances just by trusting God with our lives and our circumstances.

This is my hope and prayer for us for 2015: to trust God more; make Isaiah 40:31 more of a reality in our lives; to dig deeper and go deeper with God; to leave our cares with Him and trust Him to even turn the tough things in life into something beautiful and that He will cause us to be able to soar!  Don’ s words from that afternoon, as best I remember were… “May you soar above any turbulent waters and may you be found standing on a rock in the middle of the river holding a cup to catch the blessings when the blessings are flowing all around.” What a blessing to speak over your friends, and may it be so for each of us as we enter this brand new year! May God take us to a place of deeper relationship and deeper trust.  May we both give and receive mercy and may we be overwhelmed by His grace and peace.

Encouragement for a Struggling Heart

    Though we fight it, dread it and do all we can to avoid it, struggles come in our lives. Times when we would rather just bury our heads in the sand and hide out until the storm passes by. Some attempt to sleep through it, others shop through, some worry through, eat or drink through and many of us just muddle through times of darkness or distress!  It has taken many lessons over many seasons for me to learn to take those times quickly to the Lord. So many times I have tried to handle things myself and after making a mess or coming to a dead-end, finally choose to seek Him. Today I found a very helpful passage as I was reading in Psalms. Maybe I’ve read it before, I probably have. Perhaps it was because I was reading a different translation, but it struck a deep chord in my soul and I would like to share it because we are living in a time when many are struggling and need encouragement and this passage breaths fresh hope and encouragement!


Psalm 112:1-10 Praise the Eternal!How blessed are those who revere the Eternal, who turn from evil and take great pleasure in His commandments. Their children will be a powerful force upon the earth; this generation that does what is right in God’s eyes will be blessed. His house will be stocked with wealth and riches, and His love for justice will endure for all time. When life is dark, a light will shine for those who live rightly—those who are merciful, compassionate, and strive for justice. Good comes to all who are gracious and share freely; they conduct their affairs with sound judgment. Nothing will ever rattle them; the just will always be remembered. They will not be afraid when the news is bad because they have resolved to trust in the Eternal. Their hearts are confident, and they are fearless, for they expect to see their enemies defeated. They give freely to the poor; their righteousness endures for all time; their strength and power is established in honor. The wicked will be infuriated when they see the good man honored! They will clench their teeth and dissolve to nothing; and when they go, their wicked desires will follow. (Voice translation)

 

     What a blessed promise for those who revere God and seek to walk in His way! Their children will be a powerful influence and will be blessed; needs met; love for justice will endure. Those that are merciful, compassionate and love justice will be blessed with light even when all seems dark!when our trust is in our God, we will see good even when times are not particularly good. We will reach a place where fear and bad reports will lose their power over us because we have learned God is good and to trust He is for us. We gain confidence that God is in control and He is not caught by surprise by the things that bring us struggles or pain. He can bring good things out of every situation. He is able to turn difficult situations into life changing victories. What the enemy means for harm in our lives, He can turn for our good and His glory. It has been proven time and time again and my life and for this I am very grateful. Many times I did not see His hand at work during the struggles but now in hindsight I can trace the work of God’s hand through it all and can confidently say His Word is true, He is faithful! He has never left or forsaken me! Pain may have endured for a night or a season but joy comes! Peace comes! Blessing comes!