February 2010

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

Psalm 91: 1

Where do you choose to live; what is the neighborhood like; and how do its inhabitants hold their relationships with God? We don’t always get to select exactly where our home is located or what kind of neighbors we will have, but that doesn’t mean that we have to conform to all of the lifestyle choices that they make. Still, we do get to determine the sorts of input, advice, and direction that we follow, and we can become an influence on the world around us through those decisions.

The residence that matters most is the one where we place our hearts and minds, and God wants to take us into His place of comfort, protection, and nourishment. He has prepared a warm and satisfying spot at His side for us to stay throughout our life’s journey, and the Lord works continually to fill each of His children with all of the truth, wisdom, and knowledge that we will need to travel through the day. In this place there are found peace for the spirit, strength for the journey, and direction for our daily mission. It is here that we get to know our God deeply and to know our true selves well.

All of the directions that we will need to take up residence with the Lord are found in His word, and He also provides all of the help and support that we require to do the heavy lifting to get settled in there. God asks us to make an on-going, daily decision that we will stay close to Him and that we will seek to bring others into the shelter of His love. As we choose to live in this close relationship with our Lord, we will spread the shadow of His loving provision over our physical neighborhoods; thus, the world around us can be changed.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 3: 16

Since 498A.D. when Pope Gelasius declared February 14th Saint Valentine’s Day, people have marked this date as one on which to commemorate and to honor love. The need for love is a basic one that all people have, and we put a great deal of energy into its pursuit. Yet, all of the effort, anguish, intensity, and expense that every person throughout history has invested in seeking after and holding onto love is as nothing in comparison to what God did in order to perfect His promise to love us perfectly forever.

The card that God sent to us was written in verses so elegant and complete that there is no aspect of human experience that are not covered by them, and they were penned in the blood of Jesus so that they would never fade and their promise would be unbreakable. All of our experience of true love comes from God, and our greatest and only hope for lasting love comes from a relationship with Him. God’s sacrificial love for us is the foundational model for the sort of love that can be self-sacrificingly humble while not abandoning the identity that God has gifted each of us with. His commitment to us is total, and He asks each of us to return that commitment to Him through the way that we choose to be loving toward others.

Receive the heart gift of Christ’s absolutely sacrificial love, reflect on the verses of His life poem to your heart, and delight in His everlasting presence; then, share that gift with others in your life. God desires to be the faithful lover of every soul, and His greatest desire is for each person in the world to know the deep joy of being loved totally. This is the Valentine’ Day blessing that God wants everyone to receive.

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; and do confirm the work of our hands; yes, confirm the work of our hands.

Psalm 90: 17

When a child has completed a craft project or done a job around the house that required some special effort, she will often come to a parent with that special, expectant look on her face and an uneasy sort of anticipatory tension in her body language. The child is waiting for the look of acknowledgement and words of acceptance of the efforts that she has put out. This need to have the work that we have done approved by one who loves us and who we respect never goes away; we all still want to hear and understand that what we have done is good and worthy.

Unfortunately, many people are reluctant to give praise or to even make mention of the efforts of others; there seems to be an unwritten rule among people that says that everyone should just know when they are doing things well and that too much praise causes others to develop inflated egos or to become lazy. However, the Lord doesn’t seem to function that way, for He never stops bringing words of encouragement to His children. Sometimes they are expressed in the form of a quiet voice that seems to just exist somewhere inside of me, He also speaks from the pages of His word straight into my heart, and God uses the expressions of other people as His way of telling me of His praise and approval. Regardless of the method, my God is never silent.

When I am questioning my direction, when I am wondering about the validity of my efforts, or when I am hearing disapproving voices, I need to stop the busy activity of my mind and open my heart to listen to Lord’s voice. I need to stop and talk with Him, slow down and allow the deeper meaning of His word a chance to be revealed to me, and make my voice be quiet so that I can hear the words of my Lord. For, as a reminder to myself, God is never silent and He is always the One who brings praise and encouragement to my soul.

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

1 Peter 5: 8

Things are fine, for life has settled into a day to day sort of truce with the fates that seem to cause strife and stress; maybe, there has just been a time of great upheaval that has passed by or that has found a form of resolution or at least a flag of truce has been raised over your warring camps. You are able to breathe a full breath for the first time in ages, and you are not opening the door or the mail with trembling hands and dread on your heart. Well, I am sorry to be the one to say this, but you are probably experiencing the eye in the storm or that lull in the battle that happens while your enemy is reloading. The calm won’t last.

No matter what you do to live well and regardless of how strong you become, challenges, strife, and hard times will thrust themselves straight into your face. They strike with the intensity of a hurricane, and they hang on with the tenacity of a bulldog. These struggles are fueled by the fury of the soul of anger that is Satan, himself, and his aggressive assault upon everyone whose heart has been or could be surrendered to his great rival, Jesus the Christ, is relentless. So, this is why preparation matters.

The best defense against this sort of beast, against the demons that lie in wait and are hiding everywhere in this world, is to be saturated with God’s truth so that their strongest weapons, which are fear and uncertainty, are overcome by the Spirit of Christ, who is alive and mighty in your own heart. Although the Spirit lives in the hearts of everyone who believes and accepts Christ as Savior and Lord, our hearts are strengthened by the regular process of reading God’s word and considering deeply what He is saying to us about who He is and how He is transforming us into His perfect image. Then we need to pray, to talk with God, carry on a conversation with Him, that goes to the total depths of our hearts and that opens our minds to hear His voice in response. Strength, courage, and the ability to fight the righteous fight when the beast does strike are found when we are constantly and consistently immersing our hearts and minds in God’s word and communicating with Him about its truth and relevance for each moment of our day.

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.

1 Peter 2: 9

This is a truth statement about you and about me and about everyone who knows God; for a relationship with the Creator involves a total change in all of our core forms of identity and expands our connections and affinities by an unimaginably large factor. As we are in Christ, we are also included in this very select but substantial family that occupies God’s household; thus, we are among a group of people that God has decided to love and to protect despite our lack of worth or our unloveliness.

When the Lord possesses a person, He doesn’t just grab us and hold us captive; rather, He wins us over by showing us that He has a love for us that penetrates to the depths of our need and that His love is the only truly unconditional and unchanging one that exists. As we allow the Lord to possess our hearts and our minds, His Spirit works on them to transform us into people who also understand and who act out of righteous love. It is a part of our human nature to fight back against God’s possession, to hold on to parts of our old ways of viewing life and of living it, but darkness tends to fill these areas where we hold back.

The best thing that we can do to eliminate these dark corners from our hearts is to express our praise for the Lord. This needs to become a daily part of how we live until it is an important part of who we are. Consider the goodness that Christ brings into your life, read of God’s mercy and grace in His word, thank Him for the ways that He has touched the lives of those around you, and develop your own thoughts of the ways that God’s presence infuses your world; then, start to talk with Him about it. As you let God know how much you notice and value who and what He is to you, He will speak these same truths back to your heart in ways that will make them even clearer and more understandable. The best way to fill your day with light is to continually speak praise for God from your heart; then, He will shine the warming light of peace, joy, and freedom onto every step of your path.

Even now You have made known to me what we requested of You,

For You have made known the king’s matter.

Daniel 2: 23b

Daniel was in the sort of position that most of us don’t actually need to face, for he had already received a death sentence from the King of Babylon, and he was a man who had the power and the ability to make whatever he wished happen. Daniel was in need of insight and understanding in matters that were far outside of the human realm, and he needed that wisdom in a big hurry. Since he had taken the time to build a relationship with God, and he trusted his God to have any and all of the answers that each life situation required, Daniel has confidence that the outcome of this death or life situation will be a successful one.

All of us are placed into situations where our responses do have the ability to change the course of people’s lives, and some of those situations involve really small events or actions and some of them involve things which are played out on a much larger scale; yet, there are real death defeating opportunities in every one’s life. You may not be a person who goes about seeking this sort of adventure, or it may be the very thing that gets your day started; regardless, it is a part of what living as children of God in this world is all about. Like Daniel, we all need to continually seek God’s wisdom and understanding, and we need to come to a place in our relationships with Him where we can absolutely trust the Lord to provide everything that we require to be victorious.

There is no better starting point than now, and there will not be a greater opportunity to trust God with everything in your life than this one. Talk through what you are facing today, open your heart to God regarding the things that are causing concern or worry, and trust His Spirit to speak truth to your mind. If this sort of interaction with God is a well established part of your life, then continue to go deeper with Him, for no one has even scratched the surface of the depth of God’s wisdom and understanding. If this idea is new, then trust the Lord to be faithful with you as He was with Daniel and He has been with everyone who seeks His face.

To Thee, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise,

For Thou hast given me wisdom and power.

Daniel 2: 23

Everyone has a family history of faith, and it doesn’t matter if your parents and your grandparents knew God in a deep and an intimate way or not, for each person who does know the Lord in this personally redemptive way is the descendant of a long line of people who have likewise been close to God. I am truly thankful to God for the way that He has always been the active seeker of the hearts of people, and I am very blessed by the way that He has worked trough these people to make Himself more accessible and better known to me. God has caused others to write down their story of how they came to know Him, of what the Lord has done in their lives, and of the transformation that His love brought about in them; then, He continually speaks to my mind to provide me with an understanding of these stories that makes them applicable to my life.

God wants to be understood and clearly available to all people; He doesn’t need the type of power that comes from being obscure; so, He makes the process of entering into a relationship with Him very simple. Then, God stays with us through the entire journey of life, and His loving grace continues to make it possible for even a person as flawed and weak as I am to stay closely connected to Him. Thus, I am thankful to God for His love for me, for His desire to be close to me, and for His continued interest in my life story. Additionally, I praise God for the amazing ways that He works in my heart and my mind on a daily basis to bring about an on-going process of growth and of movement toward His will.

It is through this process of recognition of all that God is in our lives that we come to a place where we are made open to the interaction of His Spirit in us, for as I look at the stories of my spiritual fathers that are told in God’s word and as I reflect on the odyssey that is my own life, I am led to see the never ending and unfailing touch of the Lord’s hand at every turn of those roads. Knowing God is to know His power, and truly knowing God’s power places me in a position to humbly allow Him to be my strength throughout the day.

It is the Lord who reveals the profound and the hidden things;

He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with Him.

Daniel 2: 22

There are many things in this life which are too deep to be readily grasped, and other things have the keys to understanding them well hidden. Some of these are the products of the hands of people; while, many of them are matters of human behavior and dwell in the province of the human heart and soul. Unfortunately, it seems to me that I get in the most trouble and have the greatest personal challenges when I am operating in this murky realm of grasping what others think, believe, and feel.

My greatest problem in this area is that I think that I can solve the mysteries of other people’s deepest selves myself; so, I make assumptions and reach conclusions about what is motivating another and about how to respond to that person; then, I formulate a plan and act upon it based on my own understanding and flawed wisdom. All of this has a success rate that is far from spectacular. There is one and only one source of true understanding regarding all things and situations that are deep, complex, and vital, for the Lord is the Creator of the human heart and mind, and He is the keeper of our souls. If we want to know how to respond to another, whether good or bad, or we need to know how to communicate with someone, the starting place for it all is in prayerful conversation with God.

My Lord knows the dark corners and the hidden recesses of my own heart, and He gets how all that is concealed there has a powerful influence on the way that I deal with others. God is also intimately familiar with this same terrain in the hearts and the minds of everyone, and He wants people to connect with each other in love, peace, and with a spirit of reconciliation. So, the Lord will provide each of us who seek after His wisdom and understanding with a clear perspective on how to interact with the people in our lives, and as His truth fills our minds, the Spirit of God makes us into beacons of righteous light.

It is He who changes the times and the epochs: He removes kings and establishes kings;

He gives wisdom to wise men, and knowledge to men of understanding.

Daniel 2: 21

Governments come and go; presidents, premiers, prime ministers, and princes gain power and lose it; and the times that we live in change in ways that seem good for a moment and seem bad for another. This is the nature of our modern world, and this was the nature of the ancient one that Daniel lived in too. All of the institutions that provide structure to our lives exist because God has ordained it; He created a universe that was orderly, and He gives back to us some form of that order to keep the chaos of our sinful natures in check until Christ returns and the original perfection is restored.

Still, if we want to have the wisdom and understanding that we need to make the best possible decisions regarding these rulers and about the way that we will interact with our world, we need to look much deeper than the current news or than our own feelings and impressions of what is right or what is good. The Lord promises us that He will give all wisdom to those who are wise enough to turn to Him for it. He has also given His Spirit to us to explain the great mysteries of life to our hearts and to our minds.

Wisdom comes to people who realize that they don’t know it all, and true understanding is granted to those who accept that fact that they know nothing in and of themselves. God calls on His people to humble our hearts and to open our minds so that we are prepared to be filled with the eternal wisdom of His word. The Spirit of God comes into us in order to show us the righteous way to respond to our world, and the Lord sends us out into life to be sources of light in our darkened age.

Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever,

For wisdom and power belong to Him.

Daniel 2: 20

We would all like to get up in the morning and be able to anticipate the very best from our day; so that, there would never be bills to pay, broken pipes, legal issues, harsh work situations, conflicts, or loss; yet, not considering those events as not only possible but as likely is naive at best and is probably foolishness. These are the sorts of things that come to all people regardless of state or status in life; however, the way that each of us responds to them tells a great deal about the current state of our relationship with God.

Daniel’s prayerful words of praise for God, although they were expressed in a very stressful moment, seem to be the outpouring of his continual attitude toward God and of his regular recognition of who God is, what He means in Daniel’s life, and of why that matters above everything else. In these few words there is recognition of the fact that the Lord is never absent, is always involved with us, and sees the entire picture of our lives; there is also understanding of the fact that God’s involvement in our lives is always directed toward our own good; thus, we need to keep thoughts of praise for Him on our hearts, in our minds, and on our lips continually. Daniel also recognizes that his source of truth and solid perspective on all that life will bring his way come solely from the Lord, and he expresses his grasp of the fact that there is no where else to go for the strength that he needed to handle it all. 

It is a simple and a too painfully proven fact that on my own I do not handle stressful situations and the people that seem to cause them very well, for I become fearful, thus angry; then, I lash out at others or become defensive; thus, I portray my God poorly, and I deny Him the opportunity to again prove the truth of His total, loving involvement in every aspect of life. The answer to this continual challenge is to take Daniel’s approach literally to heart; I need to prepare for the absolute probability that I will need to deal with hard situations today by staying close to my Lord at all times, by living life in a state of on-going conversation with Him, and by regularly reading the truths of His word and by listening to His Spirit as He speaks those truths to my heart. Lord, let Daniel’s prayer be the song of my heart through every moment of this day.

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