Monday, August 25, 2014

Have You Collected Your Plunder?

Imagine you’ve been captured by pirates sailing to steal, kill, and destroy your homeland.  After months, perhaps years of slavery to these cruel masters a great Hero comes to rescue you. He opens your prison door and removes your chains and shackles. You stand weakly to your feet and begin to battle the enemy beside Him. 
They jump ship to escape His blade, others are not so lucky. Your Hero tends your wounds and feeds you. As you begin to exit the ship with Him, He turns and asks if you have gathered your share of the plunder. What do you do? Do you run to gather all you can, thanking Him for riches beyond your wildest imagination? Or do you exit the ship, cursing the pain and wasted years in the hands of the enemy, bent on revenge?

It would be ridiculous to pass up such a chance and yet we do it all the time. We get so caught up reliving the servitude that we don’t fully enjoy the freedom available to us. The Hero I mentioned is, of course, Jesus Christ. He has come to release us from the captivity of sin and take us to a place of spacious freedom and JOY in Him. He not only wants to defeat the power of Satan over us, but He wants us to gather all the plunder we can on our release.

The Old Testament gives us a literal picture of this in the true story of the Exodus. The Israelites spent over 400 years in Egypt as slaves. Before it even happened, God promised that when they came out, He would make them rich. “I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions” (Gen. 15:14). 

Sure enough, Jacob (Israel) and his family went to Egypt to escape famine and settled there. The Egyptians later forced them into slavery. Exodus chapters 1-11 tell the incredible events leading up to their rescue – Moses’ birth, attempt to rescue his people in his own strength - murdering an Egyptian and escaping into the wilderness for forty years. God brought him back to do the job His way - displaying His unlimited power through plagues and miracles over the false gods of Egypt. When they left, Moses told them to take the riches of Egypt with them. “The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing” (Ex. 12:35).
Their captors were physical; ours are spiritual. What has held you back from experiencing freedom in Christ? Memories of abuse, insecurity, addiction? The fallout of divorce, bitterness, fear, anxiety? Abandonment, doubt, ignorance? All of these hold us back from walking in JOY with God. He wants us to know when our Savior rescues us from sin that the spoils are ours for the taking. Out of the dungeons of pain come the plunder of compassion, wisdom, empathy, peace, faith, love, and more.

What do we do with our spoils? The Israelites used part of theirs to build a place of beauty and worship that everyone could enjoy. Moses said, “From what you have, take an offering for the Lord. Everyone who is willing is to bring to the Lord an offering of gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen…acacia wood; olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx stones and other gems” (Ex. 35:5-9). God used it to bless them all over again.

We can do the same. We can use the plunder we have gathered and give a share back to God to beautify and build His Church – the people He longs to rescue. What we have gained from imprisonment, we can use to comfort others in similar circumstances and help them find freedom too.
The choice is ours. We can either live as scarred survivors with a haunted past, or as grateful prisoners set free, using our plunder to point the way to Jesus.  

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

No Shame in the Name

There have been a lot of weddings this summer. I’ve been to a few myself. Though some brides no longer take their husband’s last name as their own, most still choose this evidence of oneness.

I love being identified with my husband...most of the time. I like to see him across a room or outdoor expanse and point him out to others. “That’s my husband over there. Yeah, the one talking wildly with his hands and making everyone laugh.” Yep. He’s mine, and I am his.

If you raised your children to know and believe in God, you hope to see them transition from ‘the God my parents’ serve” to ‘the God I love and serve.’ When they proudly speak His name and say they are His, it’s a day worth celebrating.

In Isaiah 44:3-5 God says, “I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They will spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplar trees by flowing streams. Some will say, ‘I belong to the Lord’; others will call themselves by the name of Jacob; still others will write on their hand, ‘The Lord’s,’ and will take the name Israel.” (NIV)

The first step is saying, “I belong to God.” He declared His love for me and I accepted. I am His.

The second step is when you refer to yourself by His name. Not your denomination or rules, but stating that you have a relationship with Jesus Christ as your Savior.

This scripture mentions people wrote God’s name on their hands. My commentaries agree they were most likely tattoos, like the mark on a soldier, showing his allegiance to his commander. My daughter and her husband tattooed their ring fingers – to declare their love and commitment to God and each other. Many Christians today have Jesus’ name or His Word permanently imprinted on their bodies to show their love for Him.

Finally, those who love Christ above all others take His name as their own. The word Christian was originally a derisive term meaning “little Christ,” because early believers talked and acted so much like Jesus. The Church - the Bride of Christ - pray the longer we walk with Him, that people will see Him in us, just like couples who’ve been married for decades.

Our world is currently experiencing another wave of persecution against those who call themselves by the Name. ISIS terrorists in Iraq are forcing Christians to move, convert to Islam, or be killed. Men, women, and children are being slaughtered by the hundreds. The identifying mark for genocide is the Arabic symbol for Nazarene. Jesus the Nazarene.

It’s one thing to identify yourself as a Christian when it’s stylish. It’s quite another when bearing His name brings insults, job loss, or death. Many times throughout my life I’ve resisted being too outspoken about my relationship with Christ for fear someone would reject me. This is to my shame.

But now, I want to stand tall and say, I belong to Jesus Christ and my brothers and sisters being slaughtered in the east. He is our Lord and Savior. Not only do we bear His mark, but He has written our names on His hand. He promises all who love Him, “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:16, NIV). He is not ashamed of us either; in fact, He’s rather proud.

What about you? When faced with offending others or possible persecution, will you call yourself by His name? Who do you belong to?

Friday, August 8, 2014


 Kelly and I are losing weight, again. If you’re like me, as soon as you determine to eat healthier and exercise more, you immediately begin to crave a frappuccino and bismarck donut (my personal favorites) and a nap by the pool. Completely counterproductive to the pool-worthy body I’d like to achieve. 
I have other cravings that often get in the way of what I need in order to become who I want to be. They’re unrealistic, but I get my heart set on them just the same. I crave comfort, acceptance, praise, perfection, days without interruption, sunshine without wind.

I recently read a phrase in the Bible that jumped out at me:

“In the desert they gave in to their craving.” Psalm 106:14, NIV

The Israelites craved the food and comforts of Egypt (even though slavery wasn’t comfortable), the familiar (they’d never been anywhere else), the sensual orgies of false worship (even though it ended in hangovers and heartache). They wanted to take the fast and easy route – back to Egypt!

The first question that came to my mind was, “Why did God lead them through the desert knowing that it would be so difficult. He was aware of the temptations and hardships they’d have to face. Why didn’t He make it easier for them so they wouldn’t give up?

God answers these questions in other passages of the Bible:

1     1. The only route from Egypt to the Promised Land was through the desert.

2     2. After 430 years of slavery in a land steeped in idol worship, most of the Israelites didn’t even know who God was. They needed to be taught about their God.

3     3. God wanted to show them His love, His power, His ability to provide and protect.

4     4. They needed to become a unified nation, instead of a ragtag group of slaves. Facing hardship together forced them to pull together.

5     5. He was protecting them from war until they were a cohesive group, leaders had emerged, and they had weapons and skills to use them.

In our own desert times we ask God why, and His answers are much the same. He says to us:

1     1. The only way to go from slavery to sin to your home in heaven, child, is through the desert times. I will give you refreshment, companionship, laughter, and joy, but until you’re home with me, you will also have to go through pain, need, death, and the unknowns of desert life.

2     2. I want you to know me, my dearest one, and as soon as I heard your cry for help I came to rescue. I want you to know me; let me cleanse your mind and heart of all the lies you’ve believed and see me for who I AM.

3     3. I want to show you my love, my power, my ability to provide for and protect you better than any god you have known. The desert helps you learn to trust me.

4     4. The Church is your people; you need them and they need you. When you praise together, pray together, grieve together, and travel this life together, you will become the unified group I desire. That is my plan - the Church loving me, loving each other, and loving the world into my arms.

5     5. When you first gave your heart to me, did you notice that you had a lot to learn? You weren’t ready to do battle yet. The desert is the place to learn – read my Word and learn how to pray (your spiritual weapons); get to know my Son and be empowered by my Spirit. I will not send you into battle without equipping you.

     There’s an interesting phenomena that happens when you starve the harmful cravings and feed the good ones. You begin to crave what’s good for you. Since dedicating ourselves to healthful eating, I’m starting to desire raspberries, peas, carrots, zucchini, and potatoes from the garden more than heavy fatty foods. I feel so much better when I eat them. And I see progress toward my goal.

As I head for my home in heaven with the Lord, I know the same is true in my spirit. The more I starve the cravings for the comfortable, the easy, the quick fix and feed my cravings for all God has for me, the more I will yearn for and trust in God. I hope you will crave Him too.