Archive for the “Trials” Category

Christmas cookies…celebrations with friends…family dinners…special (once a year) foods…the dreaded or much anticipated fruit cake (depending on your perspective)…New Year toastings…Did I mention Christmas cookies? For the person who is learning to eat in a more healthy (and weight conscious) way, Christmas might also be known as the Season of Temptation. This week I have had such a longing for raisin cookies made using my great grandma’s recipe. They’re not your typical raisin cookies. Hers is a unique recipe that calls for coffee and lots of raisins and lots of flour. And my mom made them every year at Christmas. Earlier in our marriage I followed the tradition. I could make them now…but I’d eat them and my recent weight loss success would be undone.

I’ve weathered two Thanksgiving dinners and one Christmas party quite well. Then I got to thinking about those raisin cookies. Then came a trip over the weekend to a market with great prices on cheese and a sampling counter. That’s when the phrase “Season of Temptation” struck me.

Only one more Christmas lunch, two Christmas dinners, and one New Year’s Eve celebration. (sigh!) Oh, and the impromptu invitation to share an afternoon with friends.

A Perversion of the Christmas Season
It’s less than a week before Christmas and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to include holiday celebrations with friends and family in my healthy eating plan each week. Of course all those traditions and celebrations center around special (i.e., high fat, high calorie) foods. And my mind is becoming increasingly willing to justify bad choices. Hey, it’s only once a year – enjoy! When do you ever get to eat these things? That family member made this just for you, you have to have another serving! One taste won’t hurt! You deserve to treat yourself after the day/week you’ve had.

As I walked the aisles of the local market, I was struck by the phrase “season of temptation.” Here we are, in a season which celebrates the birth of our Savior and it has become a season of personal and societal overindulgence. How sad it must make Jesus feel sometimes!

Let me be clear – I believe Christmas should be a season of celebration. It’s just that somehow it doesn’t seem that all the celebration should be so self-centered. I want to eat all those things because I want to indulge my taste buds. I’ve learned that my stomach won’t be indulged – it will just feel over-full, bloated and perhaps even a bit queasy or acidic. But my mouth will sure enjoy it while I’m eating it!

Temptations Abound
The holiday season brings with it many different kinds of temptation. Notice that I called it the “holiday season.” Christmas – the celebration of Christ’s birth doesn’t bring those temptations. Rather, our enemy seeks to continually divert our attention away from the reason for the season and onto the “holiday” nature of the season. He tempts us in various ways, encouraging us to:

  • Over eat
  • Over spend
  • Drink to excess
  • Speak too much and widen that gap between you and a family member
  • Indulge in self-pity or entertain loneliness
  • Accept too many invitations and lose the time you would spend with the Lord
  • Choose to worry instead of rest in Christ

With less than a week before Christmas, I suspect that you, like me, are in the midst of your season of temptation. I’m praying you’ll take a step back with me to (1) consider your situation and (2) make a plan. Let’s do it.

Consider Your Situation
I am encouraged when I remember that Christ understands my temptation. Scripture says that He was tempted in all things.

Read this:

1Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

4Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Matthew 4:1-4

Matthew 4:1 says that Jesus “was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” This was done on purpose, folks! It didn’t just happen that Jesus was praying and fasting for forty days and then satan tempted Him. Part of his “assignment” here on earth was to experience our temptations. He was tempted to satisfy His earthly, human appetites for food, drink, power and riches by using supernatural power.

Were those powers rightfully His to use? Absolutely! He was God and never stopped being God while He lived life as a man on earth. But He voluntarily chose to suspend His supernatural powers and do only as He saw the Father doing.

The second, and perhaps more important question, is “Was it part of God’s plan for Jesus to use His supernatural power to satisfy His earthly appetites at that time?” Clearly the answer is no. Jesus’ temptation was much larger than any temptation we will ever face. He was fully capable of using His supernatural power to accomplish anything at any time. Yet He chose to not satisfy His desires, but those of His Father. And His Father had bigger things in mind for Him.

The same can be true of us – I am blessed because I have the power to eat most anything I want whenever I want. I have the money to buy the food and I have the capability to eat the food. The question is, is it part of God’s plan for me to use my power in that way? The answer is no, so I face a choice – obey God confident that He has bigger things in mind for me, or indulge myself.

That’s my situation. You have a similar situation. I don’t know what your temptation is, but recognizing it and the true reality of it is the first thing necessary to overcoming that temptation. So I encourage you, friends, to think about what you are or will be tempted by this week…ideally before that temptation has an opportunity to take you by surprise. There’s more to my situation and yours, and we’ll learn about it as we begin to plan.

Make a Plan – Add the Spiritual Element
In reading about Jesus’ temptation in the desert, we see that He overcame temptation by keeping His focus on the Truth and extinguishing satan’s fiery darts with Scripture.

The truth is that God’s plan for me is to have a greater impact for eternity than I can imagine and my ability to walk in that calling is directly tied to my submission to His will. Each time Jesus was tempted, He chose to stay in God’s will – He refocused His mind from the earthly temptation to the greater will of God. When I remind myself of the link between my temptation and God’s will it reframes the picture. My ability to resist the temptation takes on a spiritual dynamic that has so much more power than my faltering willpower.

Jesus replied to satan, “It is written…” – He used God’s Word in His battles with temptation. This goes beyond reframing the battle by bringing weapons into our arsenal that we don’t have in the natural. I can repeat in my mind, “I won’t eat that piece of cake, I won’t eat that piece of cake, I won’t eat that piece of cake,” for hours on end (which I did yesterday as I sat around a table visiting with friends while a half-eaten cake sat in the middle of the table just begging to be snacked on). Or I can remind myself of these Scriptures (I’m paraphrasing to personalize them):

I have overcome the world, because the One who is in me is greater than the one who is in the world.
1 John 4:4

No temptation has seized me except what others have experienced. And God is faithful; He will not allow me to be tempted beyond what I can bear, but when I am tempted He will also provide a way out so that I can stand up under it.
1 Corinthians 10:13

Man (or woman) does not live on cake alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.
Matthew 4:4b

And God is able to make all grace abound to me, so that in all things at all times, having all that I need, I will abound in every good work. 
2 Corinthians 9:8

Which type of self-talk is more likely to lead to victory over the temptation? Obviously the scriptural one. Refocus your thoughts when tempted. Let the voice of God’s Word drown out the voice of the enemy.

Make a Plan – Practical Ideas
Don’t rely only on the spiritual element to bring victory. We live and interact in the natural world. God brings supernatural power to the battle, but we are foolish if we don’t also apply natural wisdom and practices to the battle. For example, not everyone at the gathering yesterday was sitting around the table with the half-eaten cake that was tempting me. Eventually I realized my foolishness, got up from the table and visited with others gathered in the living room. The temptation to eat more of the cake vanished almost immediately!

While each of us deal with our own temptations in different ways, here are some practical suggestions for curbing your overindulgence;

  • Identify the activities and events you will face in the coming week that will bring the most temptations with them. Identifying them in advance allows you to pray about them and develop a plan of attack. Our enemy has plans for attack. Let’s counter them with our own plans.
  • Pray about those anticipated activities and events. Pray about the people who will be there. Pray for ideas about how to escape the temptation. Remember 1 Corinthians 10:13 – with the temptation, God will provide a way of escape so that you may be able to bear it.
  • Can you avoid problematic events? Sometimes the answer is “absolutely yes.” We are not required to participate in every holiday celebration we’re invited to. We’re not required to have every minute of our schedule full – in fact, doing so makes us more vulnerable to temptation. Be sure your calendar includes time to spend with God and time to recharge your battery. Tired warriors are beaten warriors.
  • Remove yourself from activities that feed your temptation. Are you tempted to over spend? Leave the store and/or walk away from your computer Internet shopping. Do something different! Are you tempted to feel sorry for yourself? Make a plan to serve at a homeless shelter on Christmas eve or Christmas day or invite a friend to spend the day with you.
  • Is it possible to change the situation either by removing some element or adding a new element. For example, if you have required events that bring with them a temptation to drink to excess, bring your own beverage that sparkles with flavor – some sparkling water, juice or cider. Spend your time visiting with the sober crowd. Chew gum. Invite a family to take a walk around the block with you to escape the crowded house and catch up with what’s happening in their life.

There is victory over temptation, friends. Jesus’ temptation in the desert teaches me two things: Jesus understands our temptation and is able to help us when we are tempted. Hebrews says it this way:

10In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering…

18Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Hebrews 2:10, 18

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Lessons from Habakkuk, Part 3 (Habakkuk 2:2-4)

In our study of Habakkuk so far, we’ve seen Habakkuk’s burden for his country and God’s response when Habakkuk poured out his heart. Remember, that God urged Habakkuk to “look at the nations and watch – and be utterly amazed.” Just as I wrote that I was again blessed that God so specifically told Habakkuk where to look and what to watch – He didn’t want Habakkuk to miss this! God is so good – when we take our complaints to Him and then listen for His answer to us, He will tell us where to look and what to watch for! Again, I am reminded of the verse Amos 3:7:

Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing
without revealing his plan
to his servants the prophets.
Amos 3:7

We saw Habakkuk’s faith surge then falter again after God’s first response. So he poured out his heart again. After pouring out his burden to the Lord, he picked himself up and said:

I will climb up into my watchtower now and wait to see what the LORD will say to me and how he will answer my complaint.
Habakkuk 2:1 (NLT)

We have to do that sometimes, don’t we? After pouring our hearts out to God we kind of straighten our shoulders and say “OK, I’ve cried out about this enough. I’m going to quit talking and listen and watch for God’s answer.” Well, that’s where we left Habakkuk. Let’s begin to listen in on the Lord’s response by reading it in two translations:

2Then the LORD said to me, “Write my answer in large, clear letters on a tablet, so that a runner can read it and tell everyone else. 3But these things I plan won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed.
Habakkuk 2:2-3 (NLT)

2Then the LORD replied: “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. 3For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.
Habakkuk 2:2-3 (NIV)

There may be some historical reference in this passage, that public announcements were engraved or written in large letters and posted in the marketplace for all to see and read, but there is great application to our own lives. When we have cried out to God, then set ourselves apart to hear His voice, we ought not to forget the important step of writing down God’s answers. In Habakkuk’s day, the messages were written so that a runner could read them and carry them on to others. In our lives, writing what God reveals to us serves several purposes:

  • Like the runners of Habakkuk’s day, we also run through life. Taking time to write the message causes us to pause and consider it. These are not simply messages about upcoming events. This is revelation from God. God is revealing Himself and His plans to us. Is there a thing more worthy of being put in permanent form? Notice that both translations use the words “tablets” – these are not messages to be written on parchment. These are messages that deserve a more permanent record
  • The process of writing the message often helps to clarify it. Notice that Habakkuk’s letters are to be large and clear. God wants everyone to understand. I often find that writing brings great clarity and understanding to what God has said.
  • Revelation from God that has been clearly written down serves as faith mile markers with which we can track our journey. When I read my old journal entries, I am reminded that there was a time when I didn’t know some of the things I know now. As I read about the struggles I went through to learn some lesson of faith (often struggles that have been long forgotten), I am encouraged that my current faith struggle will also lead to growth and a greater understanding of the goodness of God.
  • Writing the message makes it available to posterity. I have one of my grandmother’s old diaries. While much of it is filled with everyday kinds of things, what a blessing it is to read the entries that talk about her dreams for life and answers to her prayers.

I know that not everyone is a writer and the thought of writing the vision and making it plain almost paralyzes you. There are other ways to record the vision. Here are some ideas for those of you who are disinclined to write the vision:

  • Record the vision. Speak into a tape recorder or record it through your computer. There is a website that allows you to record messages and share them with your friends. I’ve used it in these blogs.
  • Create a pictorial record of the vision. If you’re an artist, draw the vision. You may even have received the revelation from God more as a vision than as words whispered in your spirit. Be careful to include enough in the picture that the vision will be clear when you look at it next week, next month or next year.
  • Create a scrapbook for the vision. This record may include images and words that bring to life the revelation God has given.
  • Create a “treasure box” for the vision. Spend some time filling a box with items that bring the revelation to life in your mind and spirit. If God spoke a specific Scripture, write it out and include it in your treasure box. Find objects or symbols that represent the completion of the revelation or the process that will bring it to pass.

The goal is to record the revelation, making it clear, so that it points toward what God has revealed that He will do. This step is important because God makes it clear in verse 3 that “these things I plan won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled.”

Our microwave generation doesn’t do “slowly and steadily” well. Having God’s revelation documented helps us in those times when we begin to wonder if He will ever move on our behalf.

Finally, God gives Habakkuk and us instruction and reassurance: “If the vision seems slow in becoming a reality, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed.” Having just said that it would occur “slowly and steadily” God wants to make sure we understand that it is not being delayed. In other words, no one is stopping the flow of His plan. No person or demon is delaying His plan. The writer of Hebrews encourages us similarly:

35So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. 36You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 37For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. 8But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” 39But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.
Hebrews 10 (NIV)

We’re not to lose confidence, but to live by faith. Our life journey as a Christian is a walk of faith. Paul writes the same thing:

16I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
Romans 1:17 (NIV)

Where is it written? In Habakkuk 2:4. In verses 2-3 we’ve seen God telling Habakkuk to write the revelation and make it clear. God then turns to the message He wants Habbakuk to communicate and He begins with this profound statement:

“See, [the proud or wicked man] is puffed up; his desires are not upright— but the righteous will live by his faith—
Habakkuk 2:4 (NIV)

Isn’t that wonderful – all the way back in the Old Testament, God’s message of salvation by faith is clear! While the Old Testament provides the Law – rules and regulations about how to live a life of holiness, it also clearly points to salvation being the result of faith, not the result of following the Law. That message is embodied in the life and teaching of Jesus and written and made clear in the New Testament epistles. I love how this Book we’re reading paints a consistent, cohesive story!

What a great passage! Are you seeking God for answers to your challenges? Are you documenting His answers clearly? Then are you holding on to the revelation He’s given as you walk toward its fulfillment? That’s living by faith. Walking in such a way that you are always preparing for and expecting the fulfillment of God’s revelation. It’s where I want to live my life – in the adventure of God’s revelation. Will you join me? As my pastor would say, “Cowabunga, Dude!”


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Lessons from Habakkuk, Part 1 (Habakkuk chapter 1)

I like the book of Habakkuk! It was part of our Resting at the River’s Edge reading this week and I was so blessed by it. The book records Habakkuk’s cries to God for justice and God’s responses. It is filled with despair and hope; Habakkuk’s reality in this world and His faith-filled response to it.

When I sat down to write several hours ago, I thought I would write a single blog that would pull a few verses from the book that bless me. As I began to study it more, however, and it soon became apparent that more than one blog would be needed to share Habakkuk’s world and faith with you. So as you begin to read this short series of blogs, my prayer is this:

Lord, open our spirits to hear His message for each of us – spoken through Your Word and Your Voice heard deep within our spirit. Teach us Your Ways and give us hearts to be transformed. For the glory of Your precious Son, Jesus. Amen.

Habakkuk sees the world around him and asks God “How long?” Ultimately his cry is not answered, but the prophet stands in faith waiting for it with great tenacity and hope. My breath is taken away by his closing prayer…but that’s a message you’ll read about a couple of blogs from now. Let’s start with Habakkuk’s first lament and the Lord’s response. If you are reading the King James Version, the first verse is translated like this:

The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see.
Habakkuk 1:1 (KJV)

Notice that what you are about to read is Habakkuk’s burden – it is his heart’s cry to see justice. Instead all he sees around him is destruction, violence, strife and conflict. The book isn’t recording the annoyance that Habakkuk is experiencing today. It is the burden of his heart and he brings it before the Lord. Let’s read a portion of what he says to God.

2 How long, O LORD, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?

3 Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Habakkuk 1:2-3 (NIV)

I don’t want to diminish Habakkuk’s circumstances – he was looking at the nation of Israel and seeing destruction – but I when I read the verses I personalize them. There have been times in my life when I cried out to God “How long must I call for help but you don’t listen, Lord?” Perhaps you have experienced times when it feels like your life is falling apart around you and you’re about to fall with it. Perhaps there have been times when you’ve been on the receiving end of injustice, destruction and strife. Take heart! God answers Habakkuk’s cry:

Look at the nations and watch—
and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe,
even if you were told.

Habakkuk 1:5 (NIV)

It’s as if God whispers in Habakkuk’s ear – “Just watch this! I am about to do something you wouldn’t believe if you hadn’t seen it with your own eyes!” Notice that God didn’t just start doing things in response to Habakkuk’s prayer – he simply told Habakkuk that He was going to do things. This teaches me several things about God and His ways:

1 – God wants to reveal His plans to us – He wants to draw our attention to what He is doing. Check out this verse:

Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing
without revealing his plan
to his servants the prophets.

Amos 3:7 (NIV)

The Lord does nothing without first revealing His plans! That excites me! Let’s keep praying “Lord, show me Your ways! Draw my attention to the things You are doing so that I might give you glory.” That is my prayer during this month of thanksgiving – that He would open my eyes more and more to the things He is doing so that I can give Him glory. Our God is a God who constantly reveals Himself and His plans to us. Whether through His Word, the world He created around us, a conversation with a friend, or His whisper in our ear, He makes His ways known.

2 – God is actively involved in growing our faith muscle – our journey with the Lord is a walk of faith, not sight. We hear Him whisper in our ear “watch this” and then He shows us His awesome power and glory. He puts it into our heart to pray for something, but doesn’t answer immediately because to do so would reduce Him to a heavenly gumball machine – we put our prayers in and immediately receive gumball that satisfies our craving for sweetness and activity! Yes, God answers our prayers, but He answers them according to His will and His plans for us and for the world. Often times that means we wait for our answers. During the waiting, our faith is challenged and we are shaped into the image of Christ. We learn to curb that craving for sweet things and powerless activity while we wait for the richness of God’s presence and the powerful anointing of His Spirit.

3 – Our God is a God of hope. The time was not yet right for God to interrupt Habakkuk’s world. So instead of leaving Habakkuk to dwell in the midst of despair alone, God whispered in his ear “I’m coming…just a little while…and it’s going to be glorious!” When life is at its darkest, we can agree with the prophet Jeremiah:

21Yet there is one ray of hope: 22his compassion never ends. It is only the Lord’s mercies that have kept us from complete destruction. 23Great is his faithfulness; his loving-kindness begins afresh each day. 24My soul claims the Lord as my inheritance; therefore I will hope in him. 25The Lord is wonderfully good to those who wait for him, to those who seek for him. 26It is good both to hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
Lamentations 3:21-26 (TLB)

Whew! Three wonderful lessons about the nature of God which fill us with confidence and hope in the midst of the most dismal circumstances. What a great start in this small book of Habakkuk! Chapter 2 continues the lesson…but would make for quite a long blog, so I’m going to resist moving on. Let’s use the next couple of days to let God’s goodness work its way deep into our Spirit before moving on.

I pray, friends, that today and tomorrow you would experience God’s revelatory nature – that He would reveal Himself and His plans to you in a greater way than He has before. I pray that you would be aware of (and joyful in) is activity in your life. That you would know that you know that you know that He is a God of hope – His compassion never ends. I pray that you would experience the goodness in hoping and waiting quietly for God’s response to your challenging circumstances.


Looking forward in anticipation to hearing from you and sharing the next passage from Habakkuk with you.

In the meantime…Enjoy God!

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Jeremiah hasn’t been the easiest book to read through, but as I’ve read, I’ve seen the emotional side of God more clearly. I’ve seen both His anger and His compassion. I’ve seen His patience and His enduring love. And seeing those things make reading the book worthwhile – even if it is hard work sometimes.

You can read my reflections from the middle chapters of Jeremiah here.

Upon finishing the book, I thought it appropriate to add my reflections from the latter chapters. Here’s what struck me as I read the latter half of Jeremiah:

  • God sends people to warn us before He brings judgment.
    • Sometimes we’ll be the ones sent to warn others. Do I take that responsibility seriously? Am I obedient when I am confident God wants me to give a warning to others or do I shy back? Do I handle the responsibility with love? Jeremiah didn’t want to spend his life bringing news of impending doom. (Likewise, Jonah didn’t want to bring news of repentance to Ninevah.)
    • Sometimes, others will be sent to warn us. Do I listen to the warnings or do I take offense and ridicule the person God has sent to save me? The first two verses of Jeremiah 43 caught my attention:

1When Jeremiah finished telling the people all the words of the LORD their God—everything the LORD had sent him to tell them—2Azariah son of Hoshaiah and Johanan son of Kareah and all the arrogant men said to Jeremiah, “You are lying! The LORD our God has not sent you to say…’
Jeremiah 43:1-2

It is arrogance – pride – that causes us to reject God’s Word when it’s not what we want to hear. We think we know better. We think that God will not bring His judgment. We’re wrong on both those accounts.

  • When we sin, we encourage those around us to sin. Notice in the verses above that it was the gang of men that accused Jeremiah of lying. Sinning doesn’t just affect us, it also affects those around us. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying “Misery loves company.” I would say that “Sinning loves company.” (We’ll see that lesson repeated quite a bit when we read Proverbs next week.)
  • Even in the midst of our sin God pursues us – always with the intent of helping us turn to Him in repentance and living a life that He blesses.
  • There is always a remnant of people who follow God. And we always have a choice of whether to align ourselves with those who are sinning or those who are following God.
  • In the midst of God’s judgment, He reassures us of His love:

“Do not fear, O Jacob my servant;
do not be dismayed, O Israel.
I will surely save you out of a distant place,
your descendants from the land of their exile.
Jacob will again have peace and security,
and no one will make him afraid.
Jeremiah 46:27

Remember to look for God’s love. It’s always there.

After reading through all of Jeremiah, then, it seems to me, that God’s compassion takes three forms:

  • Warnings given so that we might repent and live the life He has designed us to live.
  • Punishment or judgment sent to get our attention when warnings have failed. They are designed to bring us to repentance and/or mitigate our sabotaging influence over others.
  • His constant, always-present love for sinners. He graciously reassures us during judgment and rescues us when we cry out to Him.

What a gracious and compassionate God we serve! I can’t help but love Him more and more as I learn more and more about Him.

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7But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
2 Corinthians 4:7

Not many people carry treasures in old, dirty clay pots. Treasures are meant to be kept in special places and displayed with care for others to see. Yet Paul wrote to the Corinthians that they carried their treasure around in old, dusty, jars of clay. Wait a minute! Let’s back up – what is “this treasure?”

Chapter 3 and the first part of Chapter 4 make it clear that “this treasure” is our incredibly awesome relationship with God and the equally awesome ministry of sharing that relationship with others. The most prominent word in the passage is glorious! And yet we carry that treasure around in clay pots. Why? So that no one mistakes the glory for our own, but so it is clear that “this all-surpassing power is from God.” Halelujah!

Reading 2 Corinthians 3 through 4:7, one would think Paul lived on Cloud 9 all the time! The verses that follow make it clear he doesn’t:

8We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
2 Corinthians 4:8-9

As I was preparing to preach this passage recently it occurred to me that how we read it makes all the difference. It can be easy to fall into the trap of reading it like this:

8We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (emphasis mine)

That’s not how Paul wrote it, though. Sometimes it requires an act of our will to read it as Paul wrote it:

8We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair9persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (emphasis mine)

How are you responding to the difficult issues in your life today? Are you focusing on the fact that they are not crushing you? Are you resisting being in despair? Do you know that you know that you know that you are not abandoned? And are you confident that you will not be destroyed? That’s where God wants us to live – in full confidence that He has overcome the world and, living inside us, He will enable us overcome it. It’s what Paul says just a few verses later:

13It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, 14because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. 15All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
2 Corinthians 4:13-15

Verse 13 threw me a bit until I learned that the first half of it is taken from Psalm 116. The Psalmist begins in confidence:

1 I love the LORD, for he heard my voice;
he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me,

I will call on him as long as I live.
Psalm 116:1-2

Continuing to read the Psalm, we learn that the psalmist was near death when he called to the Lord and God rescued him. He spends several verses telling of God’s great love, compassion and power. Then he writes “I believed; therefore I said…” (v10). The Psalmist continues with his dismay in this world and finishes with complete confidence in God. Why does he have confidence in God in light of the condition of his world? Because God has already responded to his cries for mercy, because God has already rescued him, he is full of faith that no matter what he faces God will save him.

Paul was identifying with the Psalmist when he wrote the 2 Corinthians passage –

13…With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, 14because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. 15All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
2 Corinthians 4:13-15

In other words, it is with the same confidence that the Psalmist wrote about that we speak, because we know that God, who has already demonstrated His power when He raised Jesus from the dead, will one day raise us with Jesus and to present us in His presence. Wow! Already it’s easier to put the emphasis on the correct phrases in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9. I am not destroyed! I am not crushed or abandoned!

All this is reason for us to overflow with thanksgiving to the glory of God. It is the Summer of Praise and God has given us more than enough reasons to praise Him. When we are hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted or struck down, we can know that there is a greater purpose in it – for God to be glorified as others see Christ being developed in us. We can also know that He will one day raise us up to be with Him. Two wonderful reasons to celebrate and persevere!

Finally, Paul puts the finishing touches on the passage:

16Therefore [because of all of this] we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18

I die a little each day – outwardly, that is. My physical body crested the hill of life and is on the downhill slope toward death. I’m still somewhat near the top of the hill, but the slope seems to grow steeper with each passing year. Yet Paul writes that despite what is happening outwardly, we do not lose heart – we are not discouraged – because inwardly we can be renewed each day. That renewal comes when we have everything in focus – looking not on what is seen, but on what is unseen; not on what is temporary, but on what is eternal. Because what is eternal has a glory that far outweighs them all. Hallelujah! Bring to mind the most magnificent thing you have seen here on earth. It is like muddy water compared to the glory of heaven. Don’t focus on the muddy water! Focus on the glorious truth that the God who raised Jesus from the dead will one day raise up with Him. Hold on to the confidence that He will rescue you, just as He has promised and as He has done so many times before.

We carry around the treasure of our awesome relationship with Christ and all that He is to us and for us, and we carry it in our bodies of clay so that there is no question that it is Christ in us, the hope of glory.

Lagniappe: If you like worship dance and/or Whitney Houston’s singing, check out this video of Whitney singing the song “I Love the Lord” based on Psalm 116. Watch the video below or here.


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It was a week ago today that I introduced you to my “Summer of Praise.” Since then, my excitement has grown when I think about what God will do as I spend the summer focusing on praising Him. I have several themes running in my head – I suspect they’ll work their way into blogs in the coming weeks. Additionally, other articles, blogs and e-mails on related topics seem to be coming across my desk with increased frequency. I think we’re in for a great summer, friends!

Even as I write this, my mind reminds me that not everyone is celebrating: A friend is in pain, a nephew has lost his grandfather, another friend is over-stressed with life and yet another is depressed. Despite it all (and of course, there are many more examples), I am convinced God will transform us as we are obedient to praise Him, perhaps especially when that praise is a sacrifice. And I am excited about experiencing that transformation in myself and with my friends!

Today I read a blog that has been in my inbox for three weeks. Titled “Happiness is a Choice,” I expected the blog to be a bit too familiar – “there’s nothing new under the sun” was my reaction to the title. (Lord, forgive me for my cynicism and lack of respect.) The blog is written by a woman I’ve included here before, so I kept it in my inbox to read at some future time. The future became today, and I found that not only was I wrong about there being nothing new under the sun, but that the blog was extremely well written. Among other things, I love her line in the first paragraph about electricity and friction and her discussion about grafting our happiness onto others.

This “Today I Realized…” blog is worth the read. It’s short but powerful and will enhance your Summer of Praise.

Let’s make good choices and let’s continue to praise Him!

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Yesterday’s blog looked at the situation Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, found himself – a “vast army” had come from across the sea and were almost upon his country to wage war. He stood little chance of defeating the army on his own, and when he heard the news he was “alarmed” and “resolved to inquire of the Lord.” Yesterday’s lesson was that Jehoshaphat quickly moved from being alarmed to seeking the Lord. We’re going to pick up the story there and look at three things today:

  • How Jehoshaphat went about seeking the Lord
  • What he did when he transitioned from seeking the Lord to taking action
  • What the outcome was

Let’s start by reading the passage that describes Jehoshaphat seeking the Lord.

Jehoshaphat Seeks the Lord

3Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the LORD, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. 4The people of Judah came together to seek help from the LORD; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him.

5Then Jehoshaphat stood up in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem at the temple of the LORD in the front of the new courtyard 6and said:

“O LORD, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you. 7O our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? 8They have lived in it and have built in it a sanctuary for your Name, saying, 9‘If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.’

10“But now here are men from Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, whose territory you would not allow Israel to invade when they came from Egypt; so they turned away from them and did not destroy them. 11See how they are repaying us by coming to drive us out of the possession you gave us as an inheritance. 12O our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.”

13All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the LORD.

14Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite and descendant of Asaph, as he stood in the assembly.

15He said: “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the LORD says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. 16Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. 17You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you.’”

18Jehoshaphat bowed with his face to the ground, and all the people of Judah and Jerusalem fell down in worship before the LORD. 19Then some Levites from the Kohathites and Korahites stood up and praised the LORD, the God of Israel, with very loud voice.
2 Chronicles 20:3-19

In seeking the Lord, Jehoshaphat did seven things. We can learn from this process an approach to seeking the Lord when we are alarmed. Let’s look at what Jehoshaphat did:

  1. He brought others into the process – he didn’t seek the Lord alone (verses 3-5)
  2. He humbled himself with fasting (verse 3)
  3. He acknowledged God as sovereign over all (verses 6-7)
  4. He admitted his weakness to God (verse 12)
  5. He demonstrated faith (verses 9, 12 and 18)
  6. He waited (verse 13)
  7. He worshipped (verses 18-19)

While there’s no “magic formula” to seeking God, Jehoshaphat’s approach is a good one because it brings us into a right relationship with God through humbling ourselves and admitting our weaknesses, demonstrating faith, properly exalting God and waiting upon Him. We would do well to emulate Jehoshaphat when we face seemingly insurmountable battles in our lives.

In response to Jehoshaphat, “the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel” and he prophecied a wonderful promise from God – that the people would not have to fight the battle. I find the prophecy fascinating in that God tells the people “you won’t have to fight, but take up your battle positions and stand firm.” At first it caused me to wonder why they had to take up their battle positions and stand firm if God was going to fight their battle for them. Why did they have to go out to face the enemy if they didn’t have to fight that enemy? I’m sure the Israelites were wondering this, and God doesn’t answer the question, He simply reassures them that He will be with them. Let’s tuck this question in the back of our mind and read on to learn what happens.

Jehoshaphat Leads the Israelites into the Battle

20Early in the morning they left for the Desert of Tekoa. As they set out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Listen to me, Judah and people of Jerusalem! Have faith in the LORD your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful.” 21After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the LORD and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying:

“Give thanks to the LORD,
for his love endures forever.”

2 Chronicles 20:20-21

After seeking the Lord, Jehoshaphat did three key things as he prepared to step into the battle.

  1. He encouraged the soldiers. He builds up their faith. We can do that to ourselves. Psalm 42 provides just one example of King David encouraging himself. “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God…” (verse 5a).
  2. He got advice of others – “after consulting the people” he made decisions. Proverbs 15:22 tells us that “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” King Jehoshaphat wasn’t afraid or too superior to ask for advice.
  3. He led with worship. There are many reasons to lead with worship. Here are just a few:
  • It continually builds our faith.
  • It glorifies God.
  • It demonstrates the source of our victory.
  • It stirs God to action.

Well, Jehoshaphat and the Israelites are headed into the battle the Lord has promised them they will not have to fight. How will God keep His promise? Let’s finish the story and find out.

Victory, God’s Way

22As they began to sing and praise, the LORD set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated. 23The men of Ammon and Moab rose up against the men from Mount Seir to destroy and annihilate them. After they finished slaughtering the men from Seir, they helped to destroy one another.

24When the men of Judah came to the place that overlooks the desert and looked toward the vast army, they saw only dead bodies lying on the ground; no one had escaped. 25So Jehoshaphat and his men went to carry off their plunder, and they found among them a great amount of equipment and clothing and also articles of value—more than they could take away. There was so much plunder that it took three days to collect it. 26On the fourth day they assembled in the Valley of Beracah, where they praised the LORD. This is why it is called the Valley of Beracah to this day.

27Then, led by Jehoshaphat, all the men of Judah and Jerusalem returned joyfully to Jerusalem, for the LORD had given them cause to rejoice over their enemies. 28They entered Jerusalem and went to the temple of the LORD with harps and lutes and trumpets.

29The fear of God came upon all the kingdoms of the countries when they heard how the LORD had fought against the enemies of Israel. 30And the kingdom of Jehoshaphat was at peace, for his God had given him rest on every side.
2 Chronicles 20:22-30

Doesn’t it just make you want to shout? Hallelujah! “As [the Israelites] began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against [their enemies].” That’s my kind of God! Let’s look at the results of those ambushes:

  • The “vast army” was a desert of dead bodies.
  • The plunder – so much of it that it “took three days to collect”– went to God’s people
  • Praise and worship – the people returned joyfully and went into the temple and had a praise party! One of the greatest lessons in all of this is that what starts in worship ends in worship! The people entered the battle in worship. They ended it in worship.
  • The fear of God came upon all Judah’s other potential enemies
  • There was peace

That’s a God-sized result!

Remember that question you tucked away until the story was further developed? The question about why the people had to go out to the battle if God was going to win it for them? Scripture doesn’t answer the question outright, but I believe that it was largely to increase their faith. God’s instruction to the Israelites in verse 17 was “see the deliverance the LORD will give you.” God wanted them to see with their own eyes and be a part of the action to build their faith. Could God have accomplished the same thing while the Israelites slept? Absolutely. Do you think the impact would have been the same? I don’t. I think the Isarelites needed to encourage themselves in the Lord, and they needed to put their faith into action by suiting up and marching out toward the battle. They needed the practice of holding on to the promise of God. And perhaps, just perhaps, God wanted to “wow” them – to see the looks on their faces and the rejoicing in their hearts when they looked upon the battle God had won for them.

I know I need those things. I need God to increase my faith sometimes, and the way that happens is by allowing me to be put in situations that cause me alarm and force me to push past the alarm and run into God’s arms – situations where I am required to demonstrate my faith by taking steps toward an enemy (or a challenge) that only God can defeat (or accomplish).

I love that about God! He wants to help me grow and He wants to delight me in the process. That’s the purpose for the battles in our lives. I encourage you, as I did in yesterday’s blog, to choose the supernatural response when facing your battles – “resolve to inquire of the Lord.” If you follow a pattern similar to Jehoshaphat, I’m confident that you’ll “see the deliverance the Lord will give you.”

Friends, I pray God’s richest blessings for you – and that includes situations that might initially cause you alarm, but allow you to see Him in greater glory!

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In the history of Judah there was a king named Jehoshaphat. Jehoshaphat was generally a good king. He went to his various towns and urged the people to follow the Lord, and he urged the priests to judge righteously.

In 2 Chronicles 20 we read that a “vast army” of warriors from three different nations were marching to toward Judah:

1After this, the Moabites and Ammonites with some of the Meunites came to make war on Jehoshaphat.

2Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Sea. It is already in Hazazon Tamar” (that is, En Gedi). 3Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the LORD, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. 4The people of Judah came together to seek help from the LORD; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him.
2 Chronicles 20:1-4

When Jehoshaphat learned that the enemy was coming to “make war,” Scripture records his two reactions.

First, it says he was “alarmed.” This was not some bully down the block who had come to steal his lunch money. He might be able to deal with the bully. No, this was a vast army from three nations coming from the other side of the sea and they were almost upon Judah. You don’t travel that far unless you plan to kick some Jehoshaphat butt!

So “alarm” was Jehoshaphat’s first, and very natural reaction. There is nothing wrong with this natural reaction. Jehoshaphat did not sin in having this natural reaction. When I get phone calls that have “catastrophe” written all over them, my first reaction is alarm. I’ll bet the same is true with you.

You undoubtedly have seasons and situations in your life when enemies come together to make war with you. It might be those times when you feel like you are fighting the battle on too many fronts. When things are going wrong in too many areas of your life or you are suddenly too busy in too many areas of your life. You are in the same position as Jehoshaphat. And you probably feel like you can’t get it wrong in any of those areas or your life will come crashing down. You and perhaps those around you will be defeated.

Or maybe your “vast army” is a single pressing issue that is advancing like a vast army about to overtake you. Maybe it’s a looming bill that needs to be paid or an upcoming event.

Whatever “vast army” is advancing upon you, it’s important that you have the same second reaction as Jehoshaphat.

Jehoshaphat’s second reaction was to “resolve” to “inquire of the Lord.” This might be described as Jehoshaphat’s supernatural reaction, because turning to the Lord happens only when we look beyond what we can see in the natural.

Notice that Scripture records Jehoshaphat’s two responses in a single sentence – He was alarmed and he resolved to inquire of the Lord. A mark of our maturity in the Lord is how quickly we move from our natural response to a supernatural response. Stepping away from our natural response requires a decision and a resolve on our part. It’s so much easier to wallow in our fear and anxiety. It’s so much easier to dwell on the enemy or enemies coming against us. But we need to respond supernaturally to the situation those enemies pose immediately rather than continue in the natural. If we want to live supernatural lives, we have to make supernatural choices.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the Jehoshaphat’s supernatural response in more detail, but for today, I invite you to join with me in resolving to inquire of the Lord – immediately when we feel alarmed. Let’s invoke a supernatural response quickly so that God can impact our situation quickly.

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Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
Acts 26:32

These words have always haunted me. Poor Paul. If only he had not uttered the words “I appeal to Caesar” in the last chapter! But he did and now a few days later King Agrippa states plainly to Festus, the civic and military leader of Judea (of which Jerusalem was a part and where Paul was arrested) that Paul could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.

It seems to me that I’d have been thinking “If I had only kept my mouth shut! Now look what I’ve gotten myself into. I’ve already been in prison for nearly a week and now they say I could have been set free.” I would have been frustrated.

The story continues. As a result of Paul appealing to Caesar, he was sent to Rome – not an easy trip we learn. Terrible storms buffeted the ship for more than two weeks and they were eventually forced to abandon ship at the small island of Malta. The narrative makes it clear that was windy, rainy and cold.

I think we so often romanticize Scripture narratives. The citizens of Malta join them on the beach and build a fire for them. Beach party! Not quite – let’s picture this as it really is – after more than 2 weeks of being battered by storms, their ship breaks apart and they swim to shore. It’s still raining and windy and cold. They are soaking wet, their clothes and hair are being whipped around their body as they search for wood to help make a fire in the rain. The 276 passengers and crew from the ship now have no ship to serve as their home away from home and to take them where they are going. No food to sustain them. No clothes to change into. It’s not a beach party, it’s a disaster and they feel devastated. And it all could have been avoided if Paul had not appealed to Caesar. But he did, so the story continues.

After three months on Malta, they set sail again for Rome.

Mini-Lesson in the Narrative
Upon arrival in Rome, Paul is greeted by believers who had heard he was headed to Rome and traveled a distance to see him. Scripture records:

At the sight of these men Paul thanked God and was encouraged.
Acts 28:15b

I’m thinking Paul needed the encouragement. It doesn’t say that Paul was discouraged, but it makes a point of including this half-verse saying that he was encouraged. The Apostles were great men of God, but they were still humans and I think God, in His grace, sent those believers to Paul simply to encourage him. The short lesson from this half-verse is that God knows when we need encouragement and He sends people to encourage us. Isn’t he a wonderful, compassionate and loving God?

Having arrived in Rome, you’d think Paul would have his day in court – have his opportunity to appeal to Caesar and get on with his life. The lesson of this narrative, though, is that God wants us to be a witness for Him throughout all the interruptions in our life. While on the island of Malta, Paul prayed for those who were sick and they were healed. Undoubtedly (knowing Paul), he was not only healing the sick, but also sharing the Truth about Christ at every opportunity. Upon arrival in Rome, the trial he had been waiting for seemed to have been delayed…

30For two whole years Paul stayed there [in Rome] in his own rented house [being guarded by a soldier while awaiting trial] and welcomed all who came to see him. 31Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.
Acts 28:30-31

What began in false arrest, imprisonment and hardship resulted in Paul’s opportunity to “boldly and without hindrance” preach the Gospel and teach about Jesus to believers and non-believers alike in Rome.

When I am tempted to regret something I’ve done that seems to have changed the circumstances of my life for the worse, it’s important to remember that we don’t yet know the end of the story. (Well, we know the final end of the story – that I will spend eternity with God – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – in heaven, a place so unimaginably great that anything I consider pales in comparison to it; but that’s a different blog.) But in the midst of life on this earth, we don’t yet know where our circumstances are leading us in Christ. Continued obedience to Him and His Word might just be leading us to years of unrestrained opportunity to preach and teach about Jesus. Let’s not diss the Lord and His activity in our lives by keeping our eyes on the storms and hardship around us when those very storms and hardships are just the scenery on the journey to serving Him.

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Blessings for Those who Dwell with God and Pass Through Dry Valleys

In the previous blog, we looked how very sweet God’s presence is and how very much the writer of the Psalm longed for it. At the end of verse 3, however, the Psalmist begins to make a shift in his focus – turning from the dwelling place itself to created beings dwelling near God. In verse 3, he looks longingly at the swallow who is privileged to make her nest near God’s altar. Let’s see how verse 4 continues:

Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.

Psalm 85:4

The shift is complete as the Psalmist turns to those who dwell in God’s house. He says “they are ever praising God.” Are you praising God, friend? If not, perhaps you are not dwelling in God’s house. Perhaps you are only visiting occasionally. The Psalmist says those who dwell in God’s house – who inhabit it, who live there – are ever (always) praising Him.

I am convicted because I recognize the truth and the reality of that statement. When I am dwelling with and in God, my focus isn’t on the problems of my life, but I become full of confidence in my God to deal with those problems for me.

A Journey of the Heart
Verse 5 describes two conditions which lead to us being blessed by God. “He blessed are those who…” That means we are and will be blessed if we meet the “those who” conditions. Let’s look at them.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.

Psalm 85:5

We are blessed when our strength is in God. Just a few sentences ago I wrote that “When I am dwelling with and in God, my focus isn’t on the problems of my life, but I become full of confidence in my God to deal with those problems for me.” Such confidence gives me strength – He becomes my strength when I dwell in Him. And I am blessed.

I find the wording of the second half of the verse to be a bit curious. The word pilgrimage would better be amplified to mean “pathway, thoroughfare or course toward God.” So another way to translate this part of the verse would be “Those who have set their hearts on God’s path are blessed.” Notice it doesn’t say those who have set their feet on God’s path are blessed, but those who have set their hearts on God’s path. It is a heart journey to God, not a foot journey. God is and always has been after our hearts – your heart and my heart. Our feet will follow our heart.

He blesses those who have set their heart to follow Him.

The Valley of Dry Places and Tears
Having just written that those who have set their hearts on a journey toward God (or God’s dwelling place), the Psalmist again makes a big of a shift. He begins to discuss difficulties we’ll face along the journey.

As they pass through the Valley of Baca,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.

Psalm 85:6

Some translations render verse six as the “Valley of Weeping.” Baca means both “weeping” and “balsam tree.” The balsam tree is a tree which flourishes only in very dry, arid ground. So this “Valley of Baca” might also be called the “Valley of Dry Places and Tears.” The Psalmist says that as those who have set their hearts on God’s path pass through the Valley of Dry Places and Tears, tears will no lo longer fall from our eyes, they will spring forth like new life from the ground and they will fall from the heavens!

I love that imagery! The Valley of Dry Places and Tears will become a place of life-giving springs and refreshing rain-water pools. Oh, Lord, may we know your refreshment and life when our journey takes us through the Valley of Weeping. May our hearts be set on You, Lord, when we walk through the Valley of Dry Places.

There’s another key phrase in the verse: “pass through.” We are passing through the valley, because we are on the pilgrimage, the pathway, the journey toward God. May we ever remember that we are passing through the valley, we are not dwelling there. We are dwelling in the House of the Lord. Don’t dwell in the Valley of Weeping – don’t live in your despair. Dwell in the House of the Lord. Live in the love and knowledge of the Lord God Almighty. That is the place of blessings. God doesn’t bless dwelling in the Valley of Dry Places and Tears. He does bless passing through it, though.

I hope you see the difference between dwelling in Baca and passing through it. I preached this series of blogs once, and the title of my message was “Where are you living?” We choose where we live – let’s choose God’s dwelling place, not the Valley of Dry Places and Tears. We can only live in one place at a time. We may own multiple homes, but we’re only living in one at a time. Live in God’s dwelling place while you pass through the difficult times in your life.

Balsam TreeThere is an interesting phenomenon, that happens as we pass through the Valley of Dry Places and Tears. Baca means both “weeping” and “balsam tree.” I wondered what a balsam tree looked like, thinking perhaps it might be something like our weeping willow trees. Not even close. In the En Gedi region of Israel, they are spiny plants that grow in dry, arid places. However, they “produced valuable and highly sought-after cosmetics, perfumes and medicinal substances. Their value was of such great economic importance that wars were fought for their possession, as when Mark Anthony conquered the Dead Sea area for Cleopatra.” [From]

Hmmm. Do you see where I’m going? The time we spend passing through the Valley of Dry Places and Tears can be a place in which God develops in us beautiful things – qualities that makes us more like Christ (can there be anything more beautiful?) and that He will use to bring healing in our lives and the lives of others. Hallelujah! If the plant is a physical illustration of what God does, it means that He uses our sorrows. They are not wasted.

Strength to Strength
Verse 7 assures us that the balsam tree is, in fact, an illustration of the way God works.

They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.

Psalm 85:7

Those who are dwelling in God’s house and who are journeying through the Valley of Dry Places and Tears go from strength to strength. Notice that our starting point isn’t the Valley of Weeping or the House of Blues. It’s the dwelling place of God – and we’ve already established that His dwelling place is filled with His sweet peace presence.

What a faithful God we serve, who turns our dry places and our tears into greater strength! There is also that promise in the second half of the verse – going from strength to strength until each of us appears before God. Hallelujah!

Friend, let me encourage you not to dwell in your dry places and not to dwell in your place of tears. Journey through them with your focus on the Lord and your confidence in Him. He will bring you into a new place of strength. He is that faithful and He is that good!

In our next blog, we’ll finish this meditation on Psalm 85, but for now and the next few days, let me encourage you to meditate on this portion of the Psalm and be blessed.

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