Keep on keeping on

Or, God’s timetable isn’t like ours…

Luke Chapter 1 tells the story of an old man named Zecharias. He was married to an old woman named Elizabeth who was a relative of the Virgin Mary. They lived in the hill country of Judah, exact location unknown.

Both were of the priestly line. They had no children – Elizabeth was barren, and in their culture barrenness was considered a punishment for sin. Yet both were righteous in God’s eyes, and to the best of their ability they continued to worship Him, keeping the law.

Zecharias (and no doubt Elizabeth) had long prayed for a son. But, he was old and she was barren, so it was now impossible. So, was he still praying? He was still faithful to do his job, in any case.

One supposedly ordinary day Zecharias was going about his business, doing his ordinary priestly job. This soon became an other than ordinary day for him, however…

“Now it came about, while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.” (Luke 1:8, 9)

It was his turn to minister before the golden altar of incense in the Holy Place, possibly for the first time in his priestly service. With so many priests serving in the Temple, entering the Holy Place and kindling the incense upon the golden altar was possibly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared to Zacharias, standing to the right of the altar of incense. The angel gave him an extraordinary message, on this extraordinary day. His prayers had been answered; he and Elizabeth would have a child. And not just an ordinary child, an extraordinary son. He was to give him the name John. Read the chapter for yourself.

Some thoughts about Zecharias:

  • He was old. So was his wife.
  • He was childless, thought by the culture to be a punishment for sin.
  • He was considered by God to be righteous, however. Blameless.
  • He had prayed for a son, starting in the days when having a child was still possible, biologically speaking.
  • He was faithful to his job, his calling, despite that disappointment.
  • He was granted favor, mercy, compassion; an answer to his prayer.
  • His prayer wasn’t answered in an ordinary way, in an ordinary location – an angel came to his job site, while he was doing his job; being faithful to do his job.
  • He was human; he doubted the angel’s message. Considering his age and the length of time he had been praying, that was a quite understandable response.
  • He was corrected but not condemned for his doubt.
  • He wasn’t removed from his ordinary job, or replaced in his extraordinary new job: being a parent. A very old parent!
  • He was granted a device to help him assuage his doubt: silence until the baby was born.

How long have we prayed the same prayer, over, and over, and over? How often have we decided to give up, quit doing this job, quit worshiping, quit praying, quit believing? Until it will take a supernatural, extraordinary miracle for it to happen?

But those do still happen. Zecharias and Elizabeth were just two of many people who received miraculous answers to prayer.

Never quit being faithful to your current assignment. Never quit praying. Never quit believing.

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Gideon’s do-nothings

“They also serve… ”

The soldiers were gathered, 32,000 of them! Why did they come?

Gideon was a nobody. Why follow him? Why come when he called?

Read Judges 6-8. Fascinating story. Israel was surrounded and hounded, ridiculed and harassed by her enemies. Things had gotten bad, really bad. Midian, a pagan country to the far southeast of Israel, had overrun everything and everyone. Stealing herds and crops, they were reducing the population to a life of abject poverty and constant fear.

Why? Well, Israel had been warned about idol worship but they had ignored the warnings. They were reaping what they had sowed.

And then God sent an angel to a nobody, the youngest of his family and least of his tribe. Hiding in a winepress, Gideon was trying to thresh enough grain to keep his family from starving, when the angel showed up.

A series of strange events followed, first to convince Gideon that he was indeed God’s choice to rescue his people, and then to convince those people that Gideon wasn’t crazy, that he had indeed heard from God.

Well, he did a good enough job to round up 32,000 fighters! And then God sent 22,700 of those fighters back home. How weird is that?

But the point of my thoughts today is this: those who went home were following God’s will, too. Those 10,000 who were afraid. Those 700 who didn’t do things exactly right. They were willing to fight, but they didn’t have to. Others fought and some of those died, but the battle was won. It was a huge victory! God got the glory.

And those back at home… what did they do?

They probably prayed, we’re not told. They didn’t get any thanks, any awards for valor, any recognition for a job well done. But they obeyed Gideon and God, and their return home was just as necessary as Gideon’s 300-man army.

They were obeying God’s will, too.

Remember that, when it seems like God hasn’t called you to do anything spectacular. “They also serve who only stand and wait.” *

* John Milton, 1655. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/When_I_Consider_How_My_Light_is_Spent

Here are a few more posts about Gideon:

https://estherspetition.wordpress.com/2013/10/19/gideon-man-of-valor/
https://estherspetition.wordpress.com/2013/10/19/gideon-and-the-angel/
https://estherspetition.wordpress.com/2009/09/14/gideons-army/

 

Awaiting angels…

awaitingangelsAnd there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:8-11)

What is it about shepherds

Photo by Sara Branstetter, April 2008. Used with permission.An angel brought an unusual message to a group of shepherds in the night, somewhere near Bethlehem.  They were watching a flock of sheep who were bedded down in a field, not in a stable or sheep cote.  A little history lesson – sheep were allowed in cultivated fields twice a year, after the fields had been harvested and after the poor of the community had gleaned the fields.  Other times they were elsewhere, either in the hilly uncultivated countryside or in the caves that doubled as stables, where feed and water troughs carved from large stones could be seen (otherwise known as mangers).

In any case, these sheep were in the fields with the shepherds watching them.  One minute they were alone in the darkness, the next minute the night sky lit up with a blast of light.  One minute there were only sheep and shepherds, the next minute an angel was standing beside them.   I don’t know about you, but I would have been terrified too and probably think the world was coming to an end.

Then the angel spoke. The first thing he said, as usual, was “fear not.”  Easier to say than to do!  He delivered his message, a lot of other angels showed up to give a loud and glorious “amen” to the message, and then they all left.

There are several points that struck me about this passage from Luke chapter 2.  One, God has a thing about shepherds.  When he plans a turning point in the history of mankind, you might just find a shepherd in there somewhere.  (Abel, Abraham, Moses, David, etc.)

Second, these shepherds knew what the Messiah coming meant.  No long theological lesson was necessary.  Shepherding might be the lowest position on the economic and social ladders of the day, but these were not ignorant men. Jews for many generations had been waiting for this message.

They weren’t foolish, either.  If the angel said the baby Messiah was somewhere in a Bethlehem feed trough – a stable/cave – wrapped up as newborns always are in swaddling clothes, then he was.  Let’s go see him for ourselves, how many chances do you get like this in a lifetime!

And so they did.  Now, the angel didn’t specifically tell them to go visit, but the hint was pretty broad.  There may have been several babies born in the neighborhood that night but only one would be lying in a feed trough.  That made him a cinch to locate.

The third point has to do with sheep.  Bethlehem is where the sheep for the Temple were raised.  Only sheep raised in Bethlehem could be used for sacrificial animals.  The hillside sheep, the cultivated field sheep, the cave/stable sheep – these were Temple  sheep.  Sheep to be killed and offered as sacrifices for sin fed from that “manger,” the feed trough.  What an appropriate place for the baby Messiah’s first cradle.

In the creation account in Genesis 1, when were the sheep created?  On the 6th day, just just before Adam was created.  Why do you suppose that was?  Well, from what I’ve learned about sheep, they require a shepherd to survive.  Sort of like human beings.

Who was the first shepherd?  I asked that question when teaching Sunday School last week and some said Abel.  After all, Genesis says he kept sheep.  And he sacrificed one of his sheep to God.

But who did God give those sheep to in the first place, to look after? Who taught Abel how to be a shepherd?  Adam and Eve were given that responsibility.  From the very creation, God ordained shepherds.

Jesus, the Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the world, and Jesus, the Great Shepherd!  There’s a lot about shepherds we can learn from the scriptures.  Father God has a thing about shepherds…

Comfort / Comforter

Comforter ComforterRescuer

What kind of comfort do you need?

The origin of the English word comfort from the Oxford online dictionary: “Middle English (as a noun, in the senses of strengthening, support, consolation; as a verb, in the senses of strengthen, give support, console): from Old French confort (noun) or conforter (verb), from late Latin confortare, strengthen, from com- (expressing intensive force) + Latin fortis, strong. The sense of something producing physical ease arose in the mid 17th century.”

Thus scriptural comfort is a reinforcement of strength – mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical.

In 2 Corinthians 1:4 the Apostle Paul said this about comfort:

  • “who (i.e. the God of all comfort, v. 3) comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” (KJV)
  • “who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (NIV)
  • “who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (NASB)
  • “who comforts and encourages…” (AMP)

Note: The KJV word tribulation in this verse is from the Greek word thlipsis, meaning pressure, oppression, affliction, distress, straits; it’s translated trouble or affliction in other versions.

Comfort here is from the Greek word paraklesis (G3874, noun), defined in Strong’s as meaning:

– a calling near, summons, (esp. for help); importation, supplication, entreaty; exhortation, admonition, encouragement
– consolation, comfort, solace; that which affords comfort or refreshment
– thus of the Messianic salvation (so the Rabbis call the Messiah the consoler, the comforter)
– persuasive discourse, stirring address
– instructive, admonitory, conciliatory, powerful hortatory discourse

John 14:16-17 (NIV) says, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”

Advocate here in the NIV is translated Comforter in the King James Version. It is from the Greek word paraklatos (G3875, noun), defined in Strong’s as:

– one who is summoned, called to one’s side, esp. called to one’s aid
– one who pleads another’s cause before a judge, a pleader, counsel for defense, legal assistant, an advocate
– one who pleads another’s cause with one, an intercessor
– of Christ in his exaltation at God’s right hand, pleading with God the Father for the pardon of our sins
– in the widest sense, a helper, succourer, aider, assistant
– of the Holy Spirit destined to take the place of Christ with the apostles (after his ascension to the Father), to lead them to a deeper knowledge of the gospel truth, and give them divine strength needed to enable them to undergo trials and persecutions on behalf of the divine kingdom

John used this word to describe the Holy Spirit. It is translated Comforter in KJV, Advocate in NIV, Helper in NASB, and Helper (Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor—Counselor, Strengthener, Standby) in the Amplified Version. He is all that, in every imaginable variation and circumstance.

What kind of comfort did Peter need?

  • Understanding, wisdom, speaking ability, revelation knowledge
  • Angel for a jailbreak…

5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him. 6 The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists. 8 Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. 9 Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him. (Acts 12:5-8 NIV)

What kind of comfort did Paul need?

  • Understanding, supernatural information, healing from beatings, resurrection from stoning, deliverance from mobs
  • Earthquake for a jailbreak…

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” 29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:25-30 NIV)

See the Book of Acts for these and many other examples. Also see I Corinthians 12 for Gifts of the Holy Spirit, i.e. God’s power tools, equipment, supplies, inside information, wisdom and weaponry.

God the Holy Spirit, the believer’s indwelling Comforter / Helper / Assistant / Intercessor / Strengthener does more than just bring emotional calmness and peace of mind which is what most people today tend to think of as comfort, although he certainly does that.

And he isn’t just called alongside to help, he’s INSIDE to help.

So – what kind of comfort do you need?

Who are you, Lord?

TimesAreChangingHolySpiritFireMarch 26, 2016

“The times, they are a-changing.” Odd day, today. Odd atmosphere. Odd time frame. Out of sync somehow. Out of order.

For several nights in a row I’ve had dreams to remember again, dreams with actual story lines and spiritual components. There I am, sharing a testimony with someone I don’t know, helping someone in need, or traveling somewhere I don’t recognize. Suddenly I’m in an unfamiliar scene, speaking to people, helping somehow.

There’s an urgency in these dreams, as if events are too quickly unfolding and time is growing short, too short!

It’s Saturday, according to the calendar. According to the television news and the daily morning newspaper, today is Saturday. But it doesn’t feel like Saturday. Just like yesterday didn’t feel like Friday, or any particular day. It just feels odd. Like waiting for the other shoe to fall, odd.

My conversations with the Lord lately have been mostly about Him. Who are you, Lord? I asked him a week or so ago. Others have asked that question through the ages, of course. I can understand their curiosity; I’ve always been curious myself. I’ve written down my own feelings and beliefs about Father God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit on many pages.

But this time I wasn’t studying for an article to write or a class to teach. I just wanted to know for me, myself, my own spirit and soul and mind. Who are you, Lord? Who ARE you? Tell me about You, yourself. How do you describe yourself?

Well, he’s never been hesitant to answer my questions before and he wasn’t this time. He has told me a lot over the days since then. Sometimes it’s hours long, these conversations, as patiently he pours out words, mental images, descriptions and explanations.

  • Protector. We went back to before I was born and from that time until today, he revealed to me things I never knew. Dangers avoided. Tragedy averted. Angels in many guises, many sizes, guarding and guiding. That extra nurse in the newborn nursery. That man you passed in the street while walking downtown… not a man really, he just looked like one.

That pretty lady in the dime store, that young boy on the bicycle, those ordinary looking people driving by in their family car. Angels, looking out for Father’s beloved children. Who knows who all those people are in the grocery store, the gas station, the mall? Some of them just aren’t people at all, and we never suspect.

  • Provider. Provider of material and spiritual things, blankets, hamburgers, books to read, shoes and socks and jeans and tee shirts, cars and gasoline. Roof. Sidewalk. Grass. Brainpower. Intellect. Fascination with new things. Emotional connections. Friends. Relatives. Jobs. Interests. Hobbies.

It’s not just employment and paychecks, it’s everything and anything, needs and desires, comprehension, realization and enlightening – mental acuity, talents, abilities, spiritual hungers and satisfactions. The list is so very long! People, places and things. Place to be born, place to grow up, place to work and play. Every stick of everything in every place, every room of every house I’ve ever lived in, and there have been a lot of those, from birth to now.

  • Teacher. Who was your first teacher? He asked me. I didn’t have to think too hard – mama of course, and daddy, grandmother Mimi, grandfather Da, even younger brother Harold. Many aunts and uncles, nursery workers at church, Sunday School teachers, kindergarten teachers, grammar school… their faces began to roll slowly through my mind, although some of them I hadn’t thought of in years.

This week, he asked, have there been teachers this week? Oh yes, but mostly online nowadays, I thought. Well, no, not the most important one: Holy Spirit is always teaching! Wonderful teacher, bringing to mind the Word, the scriptures. New insights, new understanding of his unchanging Word. Ever present, ever available.

  • Lover. I could feel the soft baby blanket wrapped around my infant self, feel the rocking chair gently moving. I could feel the hugs and hear my squeals of delight as daddy tossed my toddler self up into the air a little, feel the rush of air as someone patiently pushed the yard swing a bit higher. I could hear our competitive laughter as we played scrabble and Chinese checkers in the evenings, brother and me trying our best to out-do the experts – i.e. the grownups in the room.

I saw, really saw the behind-the-scenes sacrificial love of my parents, their authentic affection for each other and for us. I also saw the many mistakes I’d made, looking for love in all the wrong places… but then he showed me the more recent years, my wonderment of being cherished, understood and appreciated by his hand-picked marriage partner.

There was a day or so of “other stuff” kinds of prayers and answers, time to digest and meditate before I asked again.

Who are you, Lord? The atmosphere in my room seemed to sharpen as swift moving images of the past became images of the present and the future – near future perhaps.

  • Warrior.

Involved. Complex. Complicated. Detailed. Power. Weaponry. Tactics. Strategy. Stealth. Flexibility. Overt. Covert. Strength. Martial arts. Intelligence. Individuals and teams. Network. Deception. Commandos. Rangers. Seals. Ground troops. Air forces. Submarines. Navy. Marines. Listening. Undercover. Civilian and military. Paramilitary.

Inside every believer in every field of work, Holy Spirit is there. From news reporters and editors to theologians, entertainers to computer coders, hand-to-hand fighters to stealth pilots; from legislators to secretaries, school boys to “little old ladies,” from insurance agents to secret agents, manufacturers to assembly plant workers, industrial spies to MI5.

Members of national and international commissions, committees, think tanks, NATO, UN, EU, governments and militias, rebels and patriots, and everything else you can imagine on every continent, in every nation.

Anywhere there is a Christian, there is the Holy Spirit observing and working from the inside. Linking. Networking. Educating and training, instructing and directing. Filling in the gaps. There is no such thing as a closed nation to Holy Spirit. Whisperer; fire starter; warrior.

I may wait a bit before asking that question again.

Cry havoc

JehovahSabaothCombinedAt 4:00 AM on the morning of September 13, 2014, a loud voice in my spirit woke me up from a sound sleep.

“Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war!”

I had been dreaming an ordinary, nonsense sort of dream – nothing about war, fighting or politics. No conflict of any kind. Suddenly, as if inserted from beyond the dream came that emphatic statement.

It’s a quote from Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar. It means, Declare war! Send forth the battle warriors. Marc Anthony was declaring vengeance for the murder of Caesar.

Is there a new war somewhere, I wondered? There are so many armed conflicts around the world already.

Wide awake and meditating on those words, I soon realized who had been speaking. The Spirit of God was letting me hear His declaration of war.

Humans were not declaring yet another war, God himself is declaring War. Jehovah Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts is loosing his battle warriors across the earth.

(See Joshua 5:13-14)