Fallout Shelter

Back in days of the Cold War, “fallout shelter” became a familiar term as people grew increasingly aware of a threat of nuclear war. It wasn’t altogether uncommon for some serious preppers to build an underground bunker similar to the tornado shelters of the Heartland. I can remember, as a child, that I didn’t fully comprehend what a fallout shelter actually was; but I knew that it was protection from something ominous. The symbol on the outside of our county courthouse and other public buildings was an unsettling yet comforting reminder that if some bad thing were to happen, there was perhaps a place to run and hide.

Last night as I was brushing my teeth, I stared at the Psalm 91 print on my bathroom wall and in my mind, I recalled the fallout shelter symbols that were so commonly seen in my childhood. Although the most popular translation of Psalm 91 refers to the “secret place” of the Most High where a believer can dwell perpetually in our relationship with God, I pondered the aspect of that place of safety where the righteous might congregate when peril grips the land. We don’t really grasp what that means because in general, we haven’t felt unsafe out there rubbing shoulders with the world. We haven’t truly sold out to the idea that we’re not supposed to be absorbed into this culture; because though it shocks us from time to time, it holds the same kind of seduction that Sodom and Gomorrah held for Lot and his wife and daughters. The danger is perhaps a little exciting. We’re not genuinely repulsed, as well we should be, by the effects of sin on this world.

I’ve never had to run to a fallout shelter, nor hunker down in a reinforced space during a bad storm, and I hope I never will. Recurring nightmares of floods, wars, tornados, and disasters where I couldn’t find my family were more than enough drama without the real thing coming to pass. Yet, as I think of my most terrifying and vivid dreams, I can put that Psalm 91 shelter into perspective. Yes, it is plausible that something terrible could happen where we might have to be (if not outright hidden from an attacker who seeks to abduct or kill us) somewhere safe and secure from danger. Those of us who’ve lived in safety all our lives can’t really fathom a warning blast and having mere minutes to escape imminent danger. We don’t even have disaster drills in most locations because we’ve never had to have a rapid response plan. Yet the Psalmist, a man not unfamiliar with war, animal attacks, and danger, penned such a wonderful illustration when he wrote:

You who live in the shelter of ‘Elyon,
who spend your nights in the shadow of Shaddai,
who say to Adonai, “My refuge! My fortress!
My God, in whom I trust!” —
 he will rescue you from the trap of the hunter
and from the plague of calamities;
 he will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his truth is a shield and protection.

You will not fear the terrors of night
or the arrow that flies by day,
or the plague that roams in the dark,
or the scourge that wreaks havoc at noon.
 A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand;
but it won’t come near you.
Only keep your eyes open,
and you will see how the wicked are punished.

For you have made Adonai, the Most High,
who is my refuge, your dwelling-place.

No disaster will happen to you,
no calamity will come near your tent;
for he will order his angels to care for you

and guard you wherever you go.
They will carry you in their hands,

so that you won’t trip on a stone.
You will tread down lions and snakes,
young lions and serpents you will trample underfoot.
Because he loves me, I will rescue him;
because he knows my name, I will protect him.
He will call on me, and I will answer him.
I will be with him when he is in trouble.
I will extricate him and bring him honor.
I will satisfy him with long life
and show him my salvation.”
(Psalm 91, Complete Jewish Translation)

David frequently used verbage that described God’s protective nature, referring to Him in such phrases as “strong tower,” “shelter,” “secret place,” “refuge,” and others. We gloss over these phrases because few of us have ever had to cry out to God from a foxhole with the sound of exploding artillery all around us, or from a sinking ship being inundated with dark water. Our idea of trouble is Him getting us through a rough day at the office, or perhaps help during a financial crisis when we’ve had more month than money. David, Isaiah, and others knew danger when they penned words about Him hiding us in a safe place until calamities be past. I can only imagine the terrifying closeness of death that people feel when a tornado rattles vehemently over the locked doors of the underground shelter, and how glad they must be that they knew in time to run to safety. I feel that in these upcoming days, we will probably get a clearer revelation about what it’s like to be in a protected place while the sounds of disaster shake everything that can be shaken.

We need once in a while to be reawakened, re-sensitized to the fact that we are in the last days. We are about to see hard, sad, terrifying phenomena as the clash between righteousness and unrighteousness creates rumblings in the earth. Whether it would mean literal physical danger from war, or natural disasters, or famine and pestilence, or the intense battle for the souls of humankind, this earth is no longer a neutral ground in good versus evil. We need an established place of refuge in our God–familiar because we have been in His presence already–and know where to run and bring others when the worst day of our lives happens. And we will all have that worst day of our lives. Is He Lord of your life? Are you ready in the event that all hell breaks loose? Is the secret place ready to run to, or have you instead turned it into a junk room where there’s no way you could access it at a moment’s notice?

The interesting thing about museum depictions of the Cold War fallout shelters is that they weren’t just big empty rooms with walls meant to block the direct effects of radiation poisoning. They were ideally equipped with necessities for survival in the event that one might have to remain hidden for a time. Food, water, heat and light sources, etc., were kept stored in these bunkers for use by the hidden ones. I like to think of God’s provision in His Psalm 91 shelter as that way, too: if ever we have to take refuge from terrible life circumstances, He isn’t prepared just to shield us momentarily, but also to sustain us as long as it is necessary. I’ll be honest, I don’t want to think about being in survival mode; I like peace and I like an easy life. I’m glad, however, that my Father sees farther down the road than I do and is leading me to focus on something greater than the lull of my immediate comfort.

We don’t know, as these last days’ cataclysmic events unfold, what our previously free-and-easy lives might encounter. Food and supply shortages, infringements upon our civil liberties and religious freedoms, even invasion of a foreign enemy could change life as we know it. Covid-19 could just be the first of who knows how many more pandemic pestilences that invade the nations. Ungodly cultural shifts etch away at both our children’s and our own sense of right and wrong. We feel the pressure to conform even though we know we must be instead transformed by the renewing of our minds (just so we can continue to discern what’s good and acceptable to God!). If we have been lax in nurturing our relationship with the Father, now it is high time to shake off the complacency and begin familiarizing ourselves with His place of safety. We are going to need it even if we don’t fully comprehend what dangers lie ahead.

The good news is, He’s already got a special fallout shelter ready for those who will make Him Lord of their lives. God’s will is not for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance…which simply means, to do a “180” of heart and mind! When our hearts and minds change, our lives and actions will follow. You don’t have to be left defenseless from the attack of the enemy, because our Lord has already made a way. If the appeal of a cozy secret hideaway where you and God can meet in the cool of the day doesn’t draw you to the place David described in Psalm 91, then consider the non-optional fallout shelter of Psalm 91: for it’s not a matter of IF, but WHEN you’re going to need to be shielded from calamity as sin and iniquity continue to open the floodgates of demonic attack. You’ll not survive the storm about to engulf humanity if you don’t have a relationship with God.

Father, I pray that all of us will discern the times in which we are living, and that none will remain out from under Your protection. Convict hearts, O Holy Spirit, that we who are fickle might run without delay through the door Christ opened for us by His life’s sacrifice. We accept the risen Savior today and we ask You to not only save us, but to keep us, body, soul, and spirit. Teach us to cherish the place You have carved out for our preservation. Teach us to value holy living as well as listening for Your guidance. You will reveal pathways for our good and not for our destruction, through Your Word and through Your messengers. May the lives we live post directions to YOUR fallout shelter so that we might preserve many. In Yeshua’s name we pray, Amen.

Honoring and Guarding Our Sabbath: A Devotional and Prayer for Ministry Leaders (and Workaholics in General)

“So then, there is still awaiting a full and complete Sabbath-rest reserved for the [true] people of God; For he who has once entered [God’s] rest also has ceased from [the weariness and pain] of human labors, just as God rested from those labors peculiarly His own. Let us therefore be zealous and exert ourselves and strive diligently to enter that rest [of God, to know and experience it for ourselves], that no one may fall or perish by the same kind of unbelief and disobedience [into which those in the wilderness fell].” (Hebrews 4:9-11, Amplified Bible, Classic Edition)

I remember once hearing Joyce Meyer say something to the tune of, “The Lord’s the author and finisher of our faith, but He’s not obligated to finish what He didn’t author.” The following paragraphs are not intended to make you bail on your calling, lie down on the job, or abandon your work ethic or loyalty; but rather, to compel you to work smarter instead of harder, and to actually consult the Holy Spirit before you start filling up your daily planner with what God may not have told you to fill it with! And you guessed it. I’m talking to me here…

Take care, friends, that you begin to respect your bodies and minds and start cutting ties with what God didn’t author, even what appears to be good or productive. Some of us are addicted to busy-ness and we gauge our stock value in the Kingdom (and everywhere else) by how far we can push the envelope abusing our bodies. Sometimes we feel a little more important, pious, “martyr-ish,” and yes, even prideful when people are fawning over our dedication with, “Wow, I don’t know how you do all you do.”

Let me lovingly submit to you that God doesn’t violate His own precepts! If you are not allowing yourself a Sabbath–on whatever day you choose to celebrate it–you are walking contrary to the system He Himself set in place and was the first observer thereof! God doesn’t need downtime…the God who never slumbers or sleeps doesn’t actually need to recharge; but He set the example for us by resting on the seventh day. Now, I realize that a “Sabbath” looks different for everyone–folks have work shifts, assigned workdays, etc., that are set for us without negotiation; but the point is, there must be designated downtime; set-aside blocks of time. For someone whose job mandates unreasonable 7-day schedules, I can’t tell you that you must leave that job, but I will tell you to make yourself a Sabbath block of time. That block may be hours instead of a full day; but I urge you, set aside your block large or small and guard it as sacred! For those of you who have the luxury of a 5 or occasionally 6 day workweek, you don’t get to fudge in this, either. Start establishing a Sabbath in your life instead of treating your quiet time with God like a power nap.

And full-time ministry leaders who aren’t under secular workplace mandates, this applies to you, too–perhaps especially to you. Start setting a better example for those in your circle of influence! Even a 3-shift coal mine sets scheduled downtime for maintenance on its equipment, if it wants to stay in business! Keep running that machine without greasing and regularly changing hoses, etc., and see how costly it gets when things start burning out, locking up, and falling apart… In Exodus, when God established the Sabbath, He did it not just for that head of a household and his family, but also for the sake of the animals and hired servants/slaves…He even designated Sabbath years for the sake of the land, which could be overworked out of zeal, greed, or a variety of motivating factors. Relentless leaders not only abuse their own bodies, they wear out anyone or anything who’s close to them or under their authority!

So why do we people in leadership feel compelled to give the “do as I say, not as I do” excuse for abusing our bodies? We reference Scriptures like “work while it is day because night comes when no man can work” to justify never, ever taking a break? And we tune out the voice of reason who urges letting go of a few things so that the remaining works we do are done more effectively. Are we letting the enemy guilt us into walking in rebellion, deceiving ourselves into thinking that because we are in the last days, we must override common sense (and the Word) to be as busy as we possibly can be? Can we do so and expect to be exempt from the health and emotional consequences of priding ourselves in being workaholics?

I submit to you as well, we as spiritual leaders have a moral obligation to live in balance, for the sake of those who emulate our example. If we don’t respect our own body/soul/spirit, we must, MUST think of our families, our constituents, and a lost world around us–all of whom look to us for at least a reference point of guidance. Hebrews 4 doesn’t beat around the bush here…suggests that we can actually be a spiritual liability to ourselves and others if we disobey God’s directive on right balance. It’s not legalism to suggest that we treat the rest-time He has given us as a holy thing. God engineered all of creation to flow with that same protocol. You aren’t too important to observe some form of a Sabbath, and neither am I! Let’s start re-drawing the boundaries in our lives so that we can be healthy and strong–emotionally, physically, and spiritually–for these last exciting days before our Lord returns!Pray with me…

Lord, I sincerely appeal to You first for mercy, as a person who is guilty of making myself busier than I should be. My spirit man suffers and my words tell on me when I have spent myself beyond reason. While I don’t like the stress and aggravation of no downtime, I confess and repent before You that I’m a recovering addict of work. I drive myself to be busy while making others miserable, because I make sure they’re busy too. I’m working twice as hard for half the impact, because I’m breaking Your rules and expecting You to bless my dismissal of common sense and Your example.

I’m sorry for thinking that You make special exceptions for me because I carry a heavier responsibility. Yes, to whom much is given, much is required–but the “much” is in terms of a closer walk with You and a deeper level of consecration. And even if it were much more required in the physical realm of activity, there are a lot of things on my plate that You didn’t give, Father. Oh, I like to think of all these responsibilities as given by You, but some of them are of my own doing. Some of them are just because I won’t say no to people who can’t wait for me to get even busier doing things THEY want me to be doing! And I say yes and pencil it into my bloated calendar, knowing all the while that I need sleep, I need study time, and just a break from having to think and run so much.

Forgive me, Lord! You gave me a healthy body meant to carry me well-into old age; and I live like I intend to wear it out in half its life expectancy. I pass up sleep and exercise; and I rationalize that if I’m spending that time doing good works, it will never catch up with me.

I repent and I appeal to You for mercy on all others, too, who have become the work adrenaline-and-approval junkie I’ve allowed myself to become. We don’t know how to change except by submitting ourselves to You and listening for Your counsel. We will have to hear from You because we can no longer hear the appeals from our own bodies. We shush our compromised adrenal glands by pumping them full of caffeine. We have a pill for everything. You in turn have a Scripture for everything and a word MODERATION that we ignore because we convince ourselves that we must be always working 24/7 because of who we are.

I will find a way to be less busy, Lord, with Your grace. I will respect this body as the temple of the Holy Spirit and stop giving You an efficiency apartment with worn-out furniture and tired, cloudy windows to look out of. I will make not just room for You, but the best room. I won’t be merely shooting You a copy of my to-do list after I’ve filled it and crammed more into the margins and started on a new sheet. No, I will say, “Here, Father. Take Your eraser and start removing the sacred cows of a busy addict.” In fact, wad up my to-do list and just start me a new one. Put only Your agenda on my list, in Jesus’ name I ask. And I’ll start asking Your permission before I make all those plans that leach the life right out of me and anyone else who has to tag along.

What? You just wrote in a full night’s sleep and a Sabbath! More time with relationships with real people and less time on computers and electronic devices? And even orders to put healthier foods into my body and more time walking and moving! Wow, You are ordering me to get my act together so that You can get maximum return on Your investment in me. I thought maximum return meant how many items were on my list.

You’re after quality. You are after a ten-ring shot and not a broader spray pattern. Most of all, You are after my heart. You want me chasing after You, walking with You in the cool of the day for RELATIONSHIP, not for my sales pitch to You of all the things I did in Your name (or rather, in the name of “ministry”) which You may or may not have instructed me to do! You want me to know You. Your yoke is easy and Your burden is light? Wow. I guess I wasn’t listening to that (even though it was…written in red).

And Your way of governing balance will help me be first a better daughter to You, and then to be a better leader and better family and society member, too?

Yes.

Selah.

(Adapted from a Facebook post I made 03/31/17)

In Whose Shadow?

shadow-1-1545067
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will remain secure and rest in the shadow of the Almighty [whose power no enemy can withstand].”  (Psalm 91:1 AMP)
Do you have a parent, sibling, coworker, spouse, ministry constituent, or friend to whom you feel inferior? Does someone close to you in that way shine so brightly, so talented or gifted or just favored, that you feel there’s no room for you to ever excel and be lent credibility? You may feel like you’re in someone else’s shadow, but I encourage you today to choose WHOSE shadow you’re going to stand in. Choose to stand in God’s shadow. Learn to be at home in the shadow of the Almighty…you don’t have to stand in anyone else’s shadow, but you belong to Him and you need the rest and comfort and protection of His wings! That’s the only place where you won’t be plagued by the temptation and bondage that comes with comparison!
Stop comparing yourself to other people and viewing yourself as less-than (or for that matter, as more-than!). Stop buying into what other people have said or implied about you…a teacher or a parent or boss or someone who may have said, “Why can’t you be more like ____ (a sibling, a peer, or someone else who was/is used a measuring stick)?” You were not placed on this earth to fulfill His plan for their lives, but to fulfill the plan He tailor-made just for you. It is an insult to the power and imagination of our Creator, for us to try to make ourselves signed-and-numbered prints off of some priceless original. No, each of us is a priceless original, and He never runs out of creative power.
Be free from the spirit of comparison, from pride, from inferiority, from any other emotion or mindset that hinders you from living life to its fullest.
Lord, we cast down these crazy imaginations and “high, lofty things” that work overtime, which cause us pain and limitation whenever they run contrary to what Your Word and Your will for our lives has spoken. Forgive us for spending so much time looking at ourselves and comparing and lamenting and walking in fear. Fear tells us we will never be good enough because we cannot excel past certain other people. Fear tells us not to even try because we are doomed to failure. Your Word, however, says we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
 
Forgive us as well for carelessly speaking damaging words over ourselves or others out of ignorance. We are not guiltless in the area of having made statements like “He/she sure is no ____” and compared one of Your precious originals to someone else we perceived to be be more skilled or talented or good in some way. You don’t create counterfeit, cheap knockoffs, and You don’t use a cookie cutter to mass produce lives void of authenticity. We are sorry for ever trying to establish the standards for excellence over ourselves or anyone else! We are not the Creator. We submit our words and actions to You again on the potter’s wheel and ask that You give us clean hearts that in turn compel clean words. We will resist the devil when he tries again to make us feel intimidated by the giftings and abilities of others, and if we resist–as often as necessary!–he will flee.  We forgive and release anyone who may ever have hurt us by comparisons, and we ask You to forgive them too, because they knew not what they were doing.
 
In order to stay in Your shadow and to dwell in the secret place, we have to be on the move, as well! You don’t stand in one place with your wing of protection stuck out for us to stand under. No, You are moving and working constantly—so our secret to staying in Your shadow is to move with You, to go where You go, to do what we see the Father do, to speak what we hear You say. What worked for Jesus works for us today–operating under the canopy of submission to You. We submit ourselves to You today and we will stay under Your protection, fulfilling every wonderful thing You have ordered for our lives! We are free from approval-seeking and self-exaltation and self-deprecation and any other tool the enemy would use to shift our eyes onto ourselves and off of You. Be glorified in us today, Father—all of it—You get all the glory and we will gladly stand in Your shadow, we pray in Jesus’ name!
#Psalm91 #2Corinthians10 #callthosethings

 

Release and Renew: Prayers for Those with Heartbreaking Jobs

”I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13 NAS1977)

Be deliberate today in your pursuit of the goodness of God. I speak especially to those in careers where you daily see the ugliest side of humanity, or perhaps the most hopeless-appearing situations. Soldiers, law enforcement, social workers, oncology nurses/doctors, ministers, teachers, counselors, and others–at the end of your day you must find a way to disconnect from the despair, lest you become a casualty instead of a catalyst for healing and hope. You can find that in prayer. At the beginning of your day you have to coat yourself in the hope of the Word to shield yourself from what you’re going to encounter. You might say, “why aren’t you suggesting I pray for the people I encounter instead of myself? This feels so selfish. What about their problems?” I’m writing this today to help keep you strong enough to do the hard work you do. You can’t help others if you wind up taken out by despair. It’s time to gear up because we NEED you doing what you do. Please, stay strong! Take care of your spirit!

Our world is sad. It’s bad out there. There’s so much despair and so many wicked activities taking place. There’s so much sickness and tragedy and cruelty. So many children, elderly, weak, innocent who are preyed upon. So many people operating under demonic influence inflicting pain and suffering on themselves and others. So much ADDICTION.

I’ll be honest. I went through my Twitter feed earlier this morning and the bad news was exhausting. I wanted to go back to bed and pull the covers over my head. I honestly thought, “Death’s not such a bad thing…it’ll be a relief to leave this world and go on to heaven!” But then I remembered what Paul said about it being more expedient (needful) that he remain behind to help others instead of going on to be with the Lord. I want heaven. I want to go and be with the Lord and be away from all the madness for all eternity…eventually. But what I really want to do first is effectively hold back the worst of evil by collectively offering up effectual fervent prayer. I want to point others to Jesus and be someone who hammers signposts in the ground of life that show a lost world the direction in which to run to find hope. THE ONLY way I can remain objective is to have God’s Word tattooed on my heart and mind, and to stay close enough to Him to hear His voice. Otherwise I just disappear into the sludge of despair with everyone else who’s given up and is waiting to die.

So for all of you who are so bravely doing the jobs I could not do (or rather, don’t necessarily WANT to do), I just encourage you this morning to cover yourself. Even if you’re already well into your shift, there’s no time like the present to start. Pray with me:

“God, thank You for helping me survive all the situations I encountered yesterday. Your Word says Your mercies are new every morning. Today I receive Your new mercy. Clothe me with salvation, with humility, with strength. Just like the “whole armor of God,” I put on my tactical gear. My head’s covered with salvation. My heart’s covered with righteousness. My tactical belt is truth…I can attach every tool I need to do my job to this truth. My feet are covered with peace. My shield is faith. My defense weaponry is Your Word and Your Spirit! That said, Lord, I’m getting ready to walk into the unknown today. I will encounter messed-up lives. I will meet hurting people. My heart will break over what’s not fair. Use me to make a difference, to be Your light bearer in a dark place. Help me to respond not out of anger, but with great wisdom.

Help me to do my best while I’m on the job and then help me to LET IT GO at the end of the day. Lord, help me not to carry these problems home to my family. I need my family and they need me. Help me to appreciate and be ministered to by the innocence of the home I’ve worked so hard to build and protect.

Keep me safe today, guard me against burnout; help me to strategize with the mind of Christ about how I can use my gifts to bless others and my strengths to help those who are in the place of need. Help me not to lose my sense of compassion nor my sense of duty to minister to the disparaged. I don’t want to be callous or insensitive when someone is needing treated gently. Help me to be just and fair with all people, even those who aren’t just and fair with me. Remind me that I represent YOU and can’t afford to let my words and actions go contrary to Yours. Help me not to think as the world thinks, but as YOU think about situations. Keep me from being jaded. Keep my heart tender even as you keep it from breaking in two at the things which also grieve YOU. In Jesus’ name.”

And at night (or the end of your workday, whenever that is 😉 ):

“Father, thank You for helping me to make it to the conclusion of another day. These burdens I bore all day long, these suffering people I worked with, the situations I can’t necessarily fix with an easy button…these worries and cares all want to come home with me. The memories want to invade my ability to wind down, to hear my spouse and children’s conversations, to keep me from the place of prayer and the much needed place of recharging and sleep.

But just like a set of coveralls, I choose to unzip the activities of the day and I step out of them. What I couldn’t fix today, I will deal with tomorrow, but for now I let it go. I’m not God–You are. I trust You to put things on hold, to keep the people I can’t help 24/7, to send others alongside to help, and to keep this world spinning on its axis for another day. In Jesus’ name I reject the effects of constant exposure to negative forces. I will not cope with frustration and sorrow by engaging in substance abuse or destructive relationships. I will seek out things that keep my heart pure and guileless, I will freely laugh at every possible opportunity, and I will give mindful thanks for the simple blessings You afford me, like a beautiful sunrise or the giggles of a small child.

I boldly declare that the helmet of salvation will keep my mind and protect me from becoming a walking case of PTSD. You are strengthening me, You are renewing my mind, You are restoring my innocence, and You ARE my joy, my strength. I will run to You and not be so “tough.” You’re the One I run to when I’m out of my league. It’s ok for me to be vulnerable in Your presence because You heal me and help me. I plead the blood of Jesus now to wash me clean, to cleanse the portals of my mind from what I need to let go of. Thanks now for blessing my family time, my worship time, my downtime and strengthening me to fight another day. I love You and trust You. Amen”

Thorn-Proof Determination

macro-thorn“…I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time 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.”  1 Cor. 12:6-10 NLT

I think often of the Apostle Paul and the “thorn” (2 Cor 12) that remains a mystery to us all to this day. Perhaps it was meant to be an unnamed source of contention, so that we could identify it with our own thorns.  Interesting, isn’t it, that Paul didn’t refer to an entire thicket of entanglement…just one lone irritating thorn;  like a splinter that is stubbornly embedded, or an itch in the middle of your back that you can’t quite reach.  You’ve dealt with all the rest and there’s this one that you haven’t been able to conquer yet.  Am I getting warm here?  Does this sound like any area of your life where you’ve not yet succeeded in getting permanent victory from struggle?

I could be wrong, but I like to think that instead of a chronic or recurring physical illness, Paul’s thorn was–and ours is– a personal ‪#‎struggle‬ on the battle front of the mind.  All of us have our areas which need work; and if you don’t, I sure do. I won’t bore you with the details, but there are areas of my life that require more spot-checks and maintenance than others. There are areas which, if I don’t renew my mind daily to the Word, will cause me to start reverting back to previous wrong mindsets. What’s your thorn? Is it disappointment in yourself or others…unforgiveness…a nagging temptation to do something that you know is wrong…a terrible feeling of inferiority that sabotages your best attempts for success…an old wound from someone who should have loved you but didn’t, and it robs you of peace?  The enemy has convinced many of us that sickness and disease is our thorn, and that God wants us to stay sick to teach us some kind of lesson.  What a load of garbage!  No, I don’t think the “thorn” represents sickness at all–but I do think, however, that the thorn in our mind can interfere with us receiving the physical, spiritual, and mental healing God has already provided, if we allow it to dwarf our faith with a cloud of unbelief. Where you see sickness manifest, however, there’s quite possibly also the presence of the thorn. Whatever your thorn might be, it operates as a distraction, an annoyance, an attempt to divert your focus from the truth. And yes, the thorn can fling you headlong into ‪#‎depression‬ when it digs in long and hard enough. The thorn whispers and taunts, “God doesn’t care about you. If He did, why would you be having this problem? You’re just a reject, a castoff. I don’t know why He even puts up with you!”

Your answer from ‪#‎God‬ is the same as the answer He gave Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you.” God didn’t tell Paul He would never remove the thorn; but He did tell Paul that His grace would cover those times when the thorn seemed to get the best of him. Who’s to say that God didn’t remove the thorn before Paul died? We only know from his writing that Paul apparently quit asking after the third time. Maybe at some point, Paul was so confident in God’s ability to keep him that the thorn no longer mattered.  The most important take-away of this passage is, God never lifted the grace that covered Paul’s weaknesses; He never left him to the wolves. If that thorn were endangering Paul’s soul or the heavy calling on his life, I believe God would’ve wiped it out the moment Paul were in imminent danger. Paul concluded that as long as he continually had to lean on the Lord and not his own strength, it kept him reliant on God; and it prevented Paul from believing himself to be somehow superior to the people with whom he shared the Gospel. Most of all, we see that Paul grew at peace in the fact that God loved him, thorn or no thorn. The thorn was not Paul’s identity; and you must not let the thorn become YOUR identity, either! God LOVES you!

Take this walk with ‪#‎Jesus‬ a day at a time. You may be high-fiving one day and needing pulled out of the ditch the next day. Maturity in the Word does help minimize the severity or number of times when you’re “the ditch person,” so be encouraged that you’re going to be having increasing good days as you gain strength and momentum. When you are in need of a helping hand, however, for heaven’s sake don’t isolate yourself out of shame. Your brothers and sisters have dealt with their own thorns that are just as embarrassing and tormenting as the one you’ve encountered. Let them help you. Let God help you. Keep a list of the Scriptures that pertain to your struggle somewhere that you can access at all times, and don’t just read them–speak the Word OUT LOUD over your circumstances. The demonic forces assigned against you can’t hear you reading silently, but they sure hate when you read and speak the Word into the atmosphere, where they have to hear it and tremble!

I suspect that if you’re reading this post, you’re having a low day. My friend, God has not left you, and He isn’t orchestrating some cosmic ‘pick-on-YOU’ party for his amusement. Our Father doesn’t work like that; Satan, however, is very much amused by your struggles and failures. God wants you to WIN. Stop beating yourself up today over the fact that you’re there, again, in that big hole where you’ve wound up numerous times before. God isn’t beating you up. No, if you’ll look closely, He is assembling angel armies around you to stand guard while you dust yourself back off. He is sending prayer warriors to intercede on your behalf. And He has already provided a finished work in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The same grace that saved you is the same grace that will cover you while you get back on your feet. It isn’t our excuse for courting a sinful lifestyle or for giving less than our best; it’s the mortar that holds our pieces together and makes up for what we cannot, even on our best days, give. Let His grace cover you now. Feel God’s love and forgiveness and yes–even understanding–scrubbing away all those hateful things the enemy is trying to write about you in your mind. Let it go. Receive God’s help. And whether the process is instantaneous or takes a little while to complete, it’s ok…God’s got your back.  If you’re depressed as you read this, remind yourself, “This is a temporary state and I’m already in healing and recovery mode. I can trust God while I wait to “get over the hump” and back to my normal self again.”

Pray with me: “Father, I’m hurting today. The enemy has launched another attack on a vulnerable spot, and I’m in need of Your mercy. You told Paul that Your grace was all he needed when “the thorn” pressed in and caused him pain. You didn’t love Paul any more than You love me. You’re not comparing the many amazing things Paul did and wrote against the small life I live. You’re willing to give me JUST AS MUCH grace as You gave Paul because the thorn in my life is important to You too. You’re just as much in favor of my being victorious. I release this wounded-ness to You today, and I surrender the fight to handle it my way. Whether it’s an addiction, an attitude, or a hurdle I can’t seem to get beyond no matter how hard I try, I am encouraging myself in You today and reminding myself of Your promise NEVER to leave or forsake me. It’s not Your will that I be destitute, sick, defeated, walking in lack, depressed, feeling inferior or walking under any kind of cloud. I submit myself to You, as Your Word has instructed, and then I resist the devil…and he MUST flee from me. I don’t care if he tries to come back again and again, I will fight him until You say, “Enough!” I plead the blood of Jesus now over my life, and I draw the bloodline around myself. I receive Your grace and I wrap myself in it, like a big protective bubble. The shield of faith deflects every piercing weapon the enemy tries to injure me with. Even those bruises and scratches and wounds I’ve already encountered are being healed by the Balm of Gilead! Thank You, Father, because Your Word is enabling me to see myself as YOU see me. I’m NOT a reject! I’m that earthen vessel in which You choose to house Your precious treasures. You are using this imperfect me–yes! And You are getting glory for the miracles You perform through me in spite of the fact that I’m not yet where I WILL BE when You’ve finished with me!  I will walk holy before You and trust You to carry me across the terrain that’s too rugged for my own feet to navigate.”

I say, “Devil, you cannot have me. I belong to God. You can’t even have me in my mind. I believe God’s Word and He is even helping me with any areas of unbelief…so be gone, in Jesus’ name! In Jesus’ name, I break your assignment against me today, all of you evil spirits who are trying to take me down. You WILL NOT wreck my day and you WILL NOT get my soul. God already knows my weaknesses and His grace is holding me together in spite of them. You don’t win in the court of Heaven today because I’m already forgiven. You have no authority over me. You are under my feet. I’m not listening to your lies. If you want to bring accusation, talk to the hand—the nail-scarred hand!”

Snakeproofing Your Path…or at Least Your Feet

garden.jpgThis morning I drifted back off to sleep and dreamed that I was in this pretty, rustic frame house overlooking a beautiful view…one of those gardens that has stone walkways and big leafy plants. The temperature was perfect. It had balconies and decks on every imaginable angle and level. I thought…finally somewhere to go where I can clear my mind and just relax! I remember feeling thankful that the Lord had blessed me with this time away. I took off down a set of the steps leading to the garden and just as my foot started to hit the landing, I saw the biggest copperhead I’ve ever seen stretched out facing me, with its head lifted up and what looked almost like a smirk on its face.

I took off back up those steps and started warning people not to go down into the garden, and I watched in despair as I could see animals and people already wandering around the various paths down there…imagining that there were no doubt more where he came from; and I just turned away so I wouldn’t see. They couldn’t make out what I was saying as I shouted down. I finally went back inside and slammed my door shut. And then I woke up.

As I lay there in the bed, I recalled the smug look on that big snake’s face. There have been so many times when I was so close to stepping into a new place, only to be met by this spirit of fear…and just as he intended, I would be driven by that snake right back into my comfort zone. It’s strange, as I dreamed this, I didn’t sense the garden to be necessarily a dangerous place. I didn’t blame the garden for the snake, or perceive it an evil trap. It was just a place where I could go and rest my mind and body. Why would he be waiting there, daring me, taunting me? And then the Lord immediately brought this Scripture to my remembrance: “Behold! I have given you authority and power to trample upon serpents and scorpions, and [physical and mental strength and ability] over all the power that the enemy [possesses]; and nothing shall in any way harm you.” (Luke 10:19 AMP). And I then thought of “having your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” (Eph 6:15)

I can’t say whether the dream had a special meaning, but I can tell you this: we don’t have to shrink back from opportunities God gives us for fear of the enemy. Oh, that old serpent is liable to be peeking out along just about any path we’re walking on; but we don’t have to spend our lives running back up the steps into perceived safe places just to avoid him. If we belong to Jesus, we can put on that footgear of peace and go wherever He leads us. Who would’ve thought that peace is in our feet, not our head! I can almost envision a big tall pair of “snake proof” boots with a heavy heel for just such occasions. We are wearing God’s peace, we are protected, and we are given authority to clear the path for others by crushing what causes danger under our feet. We are given this charge not just for our own benefit…but for an entire humanity God wants to reconcile to Himself.

Knowing now that we can do this without fear, let’s get out of our enclosed “safe place” and interact with others. They need us and can’t hear us just shouting down at them. We have to get on a level where they can understand the Gospel, and be ready to defend them from the devil if needed. And, we can do it all while remaining in a state of rest and peace! No fear!

Prayer Confession Over Anxiety

Prayer over anxietyI am sitting down in Your presence, Papa God, spending the night with my Most High God. I am pressing in close to You–close as I can possibly get. I’m Your little shadow–right under Your wing! I say to You, “Abba, You’re my refuge. I trust in You and I’m safe!”

That’s right…and even now, I thank You for rescuing me from hidden traps, shielding me from deadly hazards. Your huge outstretched arms are protecting me— under them I AM perfectly safe; Your arms fend off all harm. YOU LOVE ME AND I’M CERTAIN OF IT!

I will fear nothing—not wild wolves in the night, not flying arrows (or bad news, or big bills, or negative doctors’ reports, or money worries, or even family drama) in the daytime. None of these things will cause me to lose my peace and not one ounce of sleep!

I’m not affected by fear of disease that prowls through the darkness, nor of disaster that erupts at high noon. When the enemy does his worst, YOU WILL DO YOUR BEST!  When he tries to flood me with despair, YOU are my floodwall of protection and YOU ARE SHUTTING THE FLOODGATE ON DESPAIR!  I am safe until the torrent subsides.

Even though others succumb all around, drop like flies right and left, no harm will even graze me. I am standing untouched, watching it all from a distance, I watch the wicked turn into corpses, watching it on tv news, yet not being a part of it. I DON’T FEAR THAT THOSE SAME THINGS WILL HAPPEN TO ME!

Yes, Papa, because You are my refuge, the High God my very own home, evil can’t get close to me, harm can’t get through the door. You’ve ordered Your angels to guard me wherever I go…and that’s just what they’re doing! Even if I would stumble, they’ll catch me; their job is to keep me from falling. Thank you, Papa God, for having my back (and all the rest of me) covered!

There may be feisty young lions and cunning serpents lying in wait on my pathway, but You’re keeping me safe. I walk safely along just as though they’re not even there…and if they try to attack, You’re empowering me to just kick them out of my path. I will treat them as the nuisance that they are and nothing more. They will not break my spirit and they will not break my stride.

Abba, You’ve said, “If you’ll hold on to Me for dear life, I’ll get you out of any trouble. I’ll give you the best of care if you’ll only get to know and trust me. Call Me and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times; I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party. I’ll give you a long life, give you a long drink of salvation!”

Well, that’s just what I’m doing! Thank You for getting me out of trouble, for giving me the best of care as I strive to know and trust You more. Thank You for always answering when I call, for staying right with me through thick and thin. Thank You for rescuing me and then making me feel celebrated and special…because I’m Your child and I know You love me! Thank You for quality of life, a satisfied life, and a perfect salvation which will last me all of eternity.

I am taking a deep breath now and breathing in LIFE. I receive Your Holy Spirit with every breath! I am exhaling and pushing out every negative thought. I expel any thoughts that would crowd my mind from the knowledge that YOU are in control. I clear my soul of any problem that tries to look as tall and strong as my Lord Jesus! Any idea that violates my peace, any thought that would cause me to doubt that YOU are Sovereign, I arrest, handcuff, bind, toss into jail and throw away the key!
In Jesus’ name, anxiety has no more control over my life!

(Adapted into a prayer from Psalm 91:1-16 Message and KJV translations; and also from Isaiah 59:19, John 20:22 and 2 Corinthians 10:5)

Prayer Over Christian Intercessors

Ever watch a movie featuring scenes of ancient methods of battlefield engagement? You can see the soldiers march forward x number of steps, kneel, lift their rifles on command, fire at one another, and repeat; as unprotected soldiers on both sides of the battle fall dead or injured with every command to fire weapons. It’s kind of horrifying to imagine that this is the way wars were fought even on our native soil. There’s no protection, little hope of escaping a bullet or a a musket ball or a bayonet…and no resolve to the battle except total annihilation of one side or the other, or surrender. Even with some of the horrors we see in modern-day warfare, that “last one standing” type of fighting seems like an almost certain waste of lives!

I see us, as the Body of Christ, allowing our intercessors to march into battle unprotected very often; and we must change our rules of engagement immediately! Spiritual warfare is heating up, and we can’t allow those who are on the front line praying to go without a prayer covering. Even if you don’t consider yourself a “prayer warrior,” may I challenge you today to pray protection over those who are praying for you? Pray with me:

“Father, there are people who have responded to Your call to prayer on another level. These are our intercessors. Surround them with a bloodline of protection–an encircling by the powerful Blood of Jesus–as they stand in the gap for me, for Your church, and for this fallen world. Protect them and their families from disabling attacks by the enemy. Keep them healthy. Keep their minds clear of unnecessary distractions. Help them to be strengthened anew so that they might remain on the front line. When they need to take a furlow from active duty, awaken the desire to pray in other people. I pray today you would refresh them. Bless them. Bind up their wounds and enable them to return to the front line. I pray that you will protect them in every kind of engagement: hand-to-hand combat, ambush, air attacks, ground attacks, guerrilla soldiers, suicide bombers; protect them from betrayal by loved ones. Cause them to remain hidden in Christ, and shielded from every fiery dart of wickedness. Encase them with stealth and camouflage. If the enemy comes at them in one direction, cause the enemy to flee in seven directions! Cause their prayers to have a synergistic effect when combined with the prayers of others. And Father, help me to remember to pray for those who are praying for me! I declare the blessing of Isaiah 58:8 over those who are operating on all levels of intercessory prayer: ‘Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the LORD will protect you from behind.’ Thank You for those precious people who are hard-core intercessors! May the lamp of prayer never go out in the house of the Lord! In Jesus’ name…”

MAY THIS PRAYER AND OTHERS LIKE IT DISBURSE THROUGHOUT THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH ALL OVER THE WORLD! RAISE A SHIELD AROUND OUR INTERCESSORS…IT IS CRITICAL THAT WE PRAY FOR OUR PRAYER WARRIORS!

The Full Armor of God–in Camo Print

forestOk, you already know I’m a bona-fide hillbilly…so I’m allowing God’s voice to work through me today to share an interesting perspective with you.  Tough country girls will automatically feel a kindred-ness, and you guys will appreciate a teaching moment geared up in manly camo print that opens up the Scripture to another level.  Isn’t He awesome?  He brings the Word to where we are, and like the parables of Jesus, the Word always is relevant.

Here in the rural hills of West Virginia where I live, you don’t have very many straight lines of vision.  The hills are nestled close together and they often hide entire communities from one another.  A destination which is only a mile or two by the way the crow flies may translate into 15 or 20 miles of winding travel; or if on foot, a heart-pounding hike to climb over that mountain. That’s so like life, isn’t it?

Sometimes there are no roads to your destiny.  Very often, I forget that there’s anything beyond that hill which closely faces my office window, when in fact a whole world is out there past my line of sight. In my spirit life, I often have to put effort into seeing beyond the obstructions of the moment as well.  Did you know that you have an awesome destiny, even though you may not see it at the moment?  It’s there…in the dark, behind the curtain, around the corner, over the hill, across the swamp, through the tangled vines of present hindrances.  And I want to remind you that God is timing it all to  intersect with the precise opening of that portal to your life’s purpose.  You have permission, then, even an obligation, to occupy until He comes!  Not just occupying until He returns to get us; but occupying while you wait for Him to swoosh away the busy-ness of your present circumstances to reveal what you’ve waited your whole life to come into. 

I’m occupying, too.  In other seasons, I occupied as a caregiver to a sick or injured loved one.  I’ve occupied while dealing with large-scale personal problems; and I’ve occupied (sometimes bravely, others, not so much) in the place of lack, illness, uncertainty, depression, even despair.  I’ve occupied in the place of giving so much to benefit other people that I had nothing at all left for myself, my dreams, or my revelation of God’s life plan for me.  I’ve even occupied while reaping the tares of poor choices and deliberate sin.  And then there’s the present–the pesky tyranny of the urgent.  Those nagging unfinished tasks which are piled up in stacks all around me, which threaten to swallow up any time I might have to come into God’s true purpose for my life.

Honestly, even now, I can go days at a time without even considering that there is more to life than my present circumstances–a life with a view.  And I know I’m losing my foothold when those circumstances cause me to become sullen, ungrateful, and shallow.  I need to climb higher.  I need to turn down the volume of the world so that I can listen for His voice.  I need to draw from His Word strength and faith…that substance of things hoped for, that evidence of what I can’t yet see in the natural.

Perhaps you, too, are facing your own obstruction.  There’s a tree across the path.  A swollen river raging between you and God’s best for you.  The enemy has built a spite fence which makes the real estate of your life seem devalued and undesirable.  You can’t see any farther than the exhaustion of today’s schedule.  The forecast for tomorrow and next week still calls for fog, fog, and more fog.   And I’m urging you, just as I urge myself–DON’T GIVE UP!  Your destiny is STILL THERE!

I further encourage you to understand that (God’s just teaching me this as I write these words) there is a difference between OCCUPYING and being OCCUPIED.  One involves being deliberate, with a goal.  The other suggests surrender to “the inevitable,” and a sense of futility toward hope and the season of new beginnings beyond our view.  Occupying requires faith.  Being occupied, conversely, requires nothing.  Occupying says, “Yes, Lord, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  Even this wilderness place in my life will lead toward a season of blessing and abundance.”  Being occupied just causes us to sigh with frustration and say, “What a waste.  This is not the life I hoped for.  I guess whatever will be, will be.  I’m such a loser.”

THERE IS HOPE, but it’s going to involve some forward thinking and action on your part!  We usually think of the whole armor of God as merely the implements of hand to hand combat; but I challenge you to put it on as WILDERNESS GEAR today!

Put on that Kevlar vest of righteousness to protect you from sharp protrusions as you cut your way through the dense forest.   Proverbs says we are to guard our hearts with all diligence, because out of the heart flows the issues of life.  That heart can’t pump life through the body if it has been pierced.  So we pray, “Father, keep my heart pure, whole, and free from injury as I put on Your righteousness.  The sharpness of my circumstances will not cause the life to leak out of me, for your righteousness guards my vulnerabilities.”

Next, don those Rocky boots (smile) of the preparation of the Gospel of peace.  Peace will protect our feet wherever we go, no matter how rough the terrain.  We don’t go hiking in flip-flops, but we choose sturdy protection for our foundation.  “Father, I prepare myself for traveling through this world in which I don’t belong!  I put on the rugged footwear of peace.  Peace will not allow my surroundings to cripple me.  Peace will allow me to tread on the enemy’s head without getting bitten.  Peace will tromp down the weeds and even leave a path for others to follow.”

Grab up the shield of faith!  And though a shield is typically a full-body implement, I’m going to specify an area we need to protect while moving, and that is the eyes.  “Father, we don’t gauge our lives by what is seen, but what is unseen.  We put on the goggles of FAITH.  Faith will keep us from being blinded.  It will allow us to traverse through dark places, storms of life, and it guard our vision from sudden and unexpected projectiles.  We will see through the lens of YOUR WORD and not the vulnerable sight of our flesh.” Another aspect of a shield, in certain settings, is camouflage.  We are hidden in Christ…so our faith can serve as a shelter not obvious to the enemy.  Faith is our stealth covering.  We can see out, but the enemy can’t see in!  Faith that comes out through our confession hides from Satan when we feel afraid.

Put on the helmet of salvation…or in the case of a wilderness traveler, your HAT.  Headgear accomplishes a lot.  It protects the head from falling objects, insects, it protects us from the burning rays of the sun, and it even helps us to see better in many situations.  Salvation is the best thing you can do for your head–specifically your brain.  Since you need your head for the rest of your body to work correctly, know that a God-controlled life will set you up for right decisions.  The devil doesn’t just attack you from underneath.  He likes to ambush you from a higher elevation, too. But your helmet of salvation will deflect all the debris he tries to rain down on you!  “Father, I put on Your helmet of salvation.  My relationship with You keeps my head straight.  Salvation is my thinking cap, my hard hat, my visor, and my protector.  My soul will not have dominion over my spirit man because Your salvation allows my thoughts to align with what Your Word says.  It keeps the devil from getting into my head.  Thank you that not only is my heart protected, but my head, too!”

Don’t set out on your trek without the sword of the Spirit.  Outdoor outfitters know that a blade is essential survival gear.  Whether you’re using it to cut through the thick brush, or to chop down branches to make a shelter, in self defense from a predator, or your to kill, clean, dress, and cut up your food, it’s unimaginable to be stuck out in the elements without one.  The Word of God and His Holy Spirit accomplishes this in your life–so don’t be caught without Him!  He enables you to move forward, to build, to be not just on the defense but also the offensive.  His Holy Spirit is your comforter, and prepares a table before you in the presence of your enemies!  His Word demolishes thoughts contrary to His will.  When you have it in your heart, it will keep you from sin.  “Father, I receive Your Holy Spirit and I purpose to digest and be nourished by Your Word.  Your Spirit, revealed through Your Word, is my weapon against the onslaught of evil; and as blades go, You are my “Swiss Army Knife” of tools for survival all in one.  Whatever I need in the moment, You are to me; and right now, I need the compass of Your Word to lead me in the right direction.  Thank You that all these things are part of Your provision.  You empower me not only to survive, but to be effective and to help others make it through as well.  I am bold.  I am strong in the Lord and the power of Your Might because I allow Your Holy Spirit to reign in me now.  I allow Your Word to govern my thought life and to be the final authority on all my life decisions.  Even death itself has no place to rob me of hope, because I am clothed in and armed with Your gear!’

You are not alone today, friend, and you are not defenseless as you forge through the circumstances you’re facing.  Perhaps you’re like me–more of a “redneck hillbilly” instead of a medieval knight of war–but our need is the same.  We need protection and we need to keep moving forward.  What you cannot see today, “the forest for the trees,” you will see clearly a little farther on the journey; but you’ve got to move.  Rest, regain your strength, but never lose awareness that a journey involves continual movement and change.  And since you are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28), He is orchestrating ultimate good for you in spite of the mud, the weeds, the thick brush, the sharp rocks, and the walls you may be encountering.  Know that this journey ends well!  Be strengthened today as you meditate on His goodness…