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The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. Psalm 121:5-6

I overheard a co-worker one day stating her frustration with a coach for her girls volleyball team. Seems mom and daughter were not at all pleased with the amount of playing time that the coach was giving her. The phrase that caught my attention was “So, I went all momma bear on her…”

Anyone who lives in bear country as we do, knows full well what that means. The one thing you don’t want to do is to get between momma and her cubs. Unfortunately, some who have inadvertently done so have lost their lives. Momma bears don’t take kindly to seeing their cubs in danger.

A friend of ours was jogging on a forest trail one day and came around a corner and noticed a large bear on the left side of the trail. Off to the right were a couple cubs. Momma bear let our a roar and stood on her hind feet. Our friend made an about face and made record time home! Don’t get between momma bear and her littles!

That analogy, which may be a little weak in some ways, reminds me of Psalm 121:5-6. This song was sung by pilgrims on their way through the Palestinian wilderness on their way to worship in the Temple in Jerusalem. It’s message gives us hope and encouragement today as it did then and reminds us of the great privilege we have of prayer as we travel our own wilderness.

He watches over us

Like a momma bear our Father watches over us. When we go to him in prayer we can be assured that he has already scouted out the area we are in. He’s aware of dangers we are facing. More aware, in fact, than we are. Just as a bear cub may wander into a situation that would cause harm, we often stray into areas that may cause danger. When you pray, you don’t need to pray to a saint, or to Mary as some do. You can go directly to the Father through Jesus because of his work on the cross.

The Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day

When you go to the Lord in prayer you can also feel the comfort and refreshment of his presence. I’m not a fan of extreme heat. On a recent trip into the western states we encountered temperatures consistently in the low 100’s. We found it very refreshing to find times when we could shelter ourselves from the heat underneath the shade of a few trees. There we could relax, refresh ourselves and get energy to move on. Our Heavenly Father wants to be the shade you need to move on. Physically, heat causes exhaustion, dehydration and other debilitating conditions. The shade our Father gives us protects us from the elements spiritually, just as the shade of a tree refreshes spiritually.

the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.

For many years, the moon was thought to attack the mental health of an individual. The word ‘lunacy’ is derived from the word lunar, or moon. This last phrase of this section of the Psalm has special meaning for us. Not only does our Father protect us from the things we see, he knows our mind. He knows how thoughts and attacks from people can hurt our self-esteem, our confidence and our sense of well-being. We can come to him as our safe-place. We can share our feelings with him without fear of judgement or criticism. There will always be those who attack us. There will always be those who shake our hand and greet us warmly while they stab us in the back. There will always be those who we can not trust. So when those things happen remember, we have a Father who passionately waits to hear our hearts. He’s our safe place. Day and Night. In the heat of battle and the quiet of the evening.

No matter where you find yourself in life, your Heavenly Father is there and waiting to hear from you. Your Father is well aware of everything that you struggle with. You can come to him in confidence knowing he has the power to protect you from things seen and things done in secret.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” John 12:4-5

On occasion I am a referee for basketball games. While the money isn’t bad, I mostly do it for the exercise and because I enjoy the sport and the kids. I certainly don’t do it for the esteem or the accolades I get from the fans. In fact, when I’m on ‘the other side’ and sitting watching a game I’m amazed at the ignorance and impatience fans have with the men and women in stripes. On the lighter side, there’s an old joke among sports officials. “If you leave the gym with everyone mad at you, you’ve called a good game!”

The reality is, you will never please everyone and sometimes it’s hard to please ANYONE!

What’s true for basketball officials is unfortunately true for leaders as well, especially for spiritual leaders. The number of men and women who felt ‘called to the ministry’ and have since dropped out due to spiritual abuse is staggering.

To be fair, when a spiritual leader falls or leaves the ministry battered and bruised, it’s not always the fault of their followers. Like the basketball official, they make bad calls from time to time. But all too often the attacks on leadership are based on personal differences and have nothing to do with the ‘call of God’ on someone’s life.

Truth of the matter is, when you set your mind on your own agenda you will never see God’s working. A good case in point is none other than Jesus Christ himself. If you are like me, you have often marveled at what it was like to sit at the feet of Jesus; to see him heal the sick; to watch him deal with those who were demon-possessed or struggling with some life issue.

Yet, even Jesus wasn’t immune to the attacks of people. Some of those people were those closest to him! Take for example, Judas. At some point Judas must have seen Jesus as one worth following. Why? We aren’t sure. But there was something in Jesus Christ that attracted him, and conversely, something in Judas that attracted Jesus or he wouldn’t have chosen him as one of the 12, and the groups treasurer. (Okay, some of you theologians are going to argue that it was all part of the divine plan, and I’ll give you that, but from a human perspective, there was an attraction at the outset so bear with me!)

Somewhere along the line, Judas became disgruntled with the spiritual leadership (aka: Jesus of Nazareth). From that point forward, there was nothing that even the Son of God could have done to change him. Judas’ decision was from the heart and God will always allow us to choose. Rather than trust God, Judas chose to trust his own perspective and the results were devastating.

As spiritual leaders we are called to lead as Christ led – as servants. As those under the tutelage of spiritual leaders we are called to pray for and support our leaders. When these two attitudes are followed the body of Christ will prosper.

Don’t allow yourself to be a Judas and question how God wants to work in your life and the lives of others. Once you allow disgruntlement to set in (as a leader or a ‘follower’) you will never see the power of God manifested.

PRAYER: Father God, I confess to you that sometimes I struggle with my attitude towards those who are leaders in my life. Help me to keep a clear mind and to pray for those with whom I may disagree. Amen.

Do not say, “I’ll pay you back for this wrong!” Wait for the LORD, and he will avenge you. Proverbs 20:22

The toughest prisons are the prisons with no visible walls. Prisons of our souls that rob us of our freedom to love, our freedom to trust, our ability to live free of fear. In a ‘real prison’ the walls are built thick and strong by someone else for the express purpose of keeping you inside and protecting others from you.

The prison of the soul is built with your own hands. Brick by brick. Hurt by hurt. Failure by failure. Misunderstanding by misunderstanding. In your own mind, whether it’s a conscious thought or not, the prison walls of the soul are built to keep others out and to protect you from any more hurt. You’ve contracted with the master builder of walls, vengeance to make sure no one ever hurts you again.

One of the key ingredients to wall building is the desire to get even. We want to make sure that the perpetrators of our wound ‘pay for what they did’. We want to see justice served and are willing to do whatever is necessary to ensure that happens.

The problem is, when we try to settle the score with someone else we usually just imprison ourselves in bitterness, anger and fear. ‘If I don’t trust, you won’t fail me; If I don’t love you, you won’t hurt me again; If I don’t forgive you, you will never forget what you did to me.’

Your heavenly Father has a better way. His is the way of freedom; of hope; of love. His way offers you the healing you need from the emotional, spiritual and physical scars that weigh you down every day. His is the way of love, forgiveness and trust. Not trust in others, trust in His ability to take care of the situation in his time and in his own way.

When you forgive someone you aren’t saying what they did is okay, you are saying you trust God enough to let him take care of the situation. Think about that for a moment. Who better to deal with the enemies of your soul than the creator God of the universe? Trusting God to handle each situation in your life not only frees you from the prison of your soul, it protects you from the enemy that seeks to destroy you.

Who better to defeat your enemy than the creator God of the universe who loves you so much he was willing to give his very own son so that you could live free. It’s time to tear down the prison walls of your soul. It’s time to live in the freedom of forgiveness and trust. Not trust in mankind, but trust in an almighty God who wants desperately to free you from your hurt.

PRAYER: Father God, I’m angry today. I’m looking out at a world of hurt and fear from walls I’ve built to protect me. I sought freedom and gained incarceration. I thought pain-free living, but live in anguish and worry. I can’t tear these walls down on my own. I need your help. Empower me with your Spirit to be able to hand all this ugly stuff over to you. Help me to forgive for my sake and trust you to take care of the rest. In Jesus name, Amen.

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Romans 12:11

The Apostle Paul admonishes us to keep up the energy level in our lives. If you have ever been around a new Christian you have an idea of what he is talking about. Someone who has just accepted Christ into their lives seem to manage to include Him in every conversation. They are excited about the new life they have found and have a peace that nothing can shatter.

Then, gradually, that fervor fades. Sometimes old habits start to show up. Old life style issues raise their ugly heads, and soon it’s hard to tell the difference between them and the rest of the world. Paul tells us to keep that fervor. Keep that excitement. Constantly remind yourself of what Jesus did on the cross for you.

That’s easy to say, but sometimes reality deals us some ugly blows. Perhaps the biggest thing that can be a ‘zeal zapper’ is our own failure to conquer bad habits or addictions in our lives. “Jesus heals. Jesus forgives. So why can’t I stop smoking, swearing, looking at porn, etc. etc.” We keep adding ‘things’ to our list to try to do better but nothing works. With each failure on our part the enemy reminds us that we aren’t worthy. He’ll tell us we aren’t really Christians. He’ll remind us that God is displeased with us. (By the way, that’s a lie. God is never displeased with us. He may be displeased with our actions but NEVER us.)

Another Zeal Zapper is the comparison game. We look at how others in our groups, churches, etc. have ‘mastered the Christian walk.’ Some of them even (not so grace-fully) tell us how we too can be just like them. We fill our lives with all sorts of activities to try to be better and only end up wanting to give up all together or suffering emotional, physical and spiritual fatigue. We lose heart when we realize we simply can not be like them. (Did I mention that God never tells us to be like other people? He tells us to follow Him and He is NOT a cookie-stamper God).

Zeal Zapper number three is disappointment with other people. Sometimes our expectations of others falls short when we put too much faith in them. Sometimes our expectations are shattered beyond recognition by the way we are treated by  Zeal Zapping, Grace killing Christians who feel it is their duty to make sure you follow their ten easy steps to spirituality. There was only one person perfect enough for us to emulate. Stop trying to live up to the standards you place on yourself or others place on you. Allow your relationship with Jesus Christ to form your identity. Then, press on along the journey of life knowing that whether you walk confidently or stumble, Jesus is at your side guiding you all the way.

Zeal Zapper number four is disappointment with God. Your Heavenly Father loves you dearly. Sometimes He doesn’t do things the way we expect or want. Sometimes God’s ways are just plain confusing! But His ways are the best ways. Trust means that we give God permission to place whatever He chooses in our way in order to make us more reliant on Him.

Don’t let the Zeal Zappers take away the joy you have in Christ. Failure will come. Disappointment will happen. But He is always there wanting to encourage and energize you for whatever life places in your way.

PRAYER: Father God. I’m tired. I’m tired of trying to live by other peoples standards. I’m tired of trying to measure up to what I think you want instead of growing in relationship. I’m tired of being judged by others who seem to think they know all the answers to the easy spiritual life. I ask that you would forgive me for trying human things to accomplish divine results. Empower me with Your Spirit to live grace-fully for you. In Jesus name, Amen.

It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 1 Corinthians 13:5

Remember growing up and having that ‘friend’ that always made the rules about the games you played? Remember how, for some strange reason, the rules always gave them the advantage? Remember the time you tried to stand up for yourself and change the rules to be fairer and how your friend ‘wasn’t your friend anymore’?

That’s not love.

Remember the time you made a stupid mistake and offended a dear friend? Remember how he/she exploded in anger and said some really hurtful things. Now the relationship isn’t the same, in fact, you barely speak to one another?

That’s not love.

Remember that argument that you had with your spouse/significant other/ family member/boss? You know, the one where all the mistakes you ever made in the past were brought up as fuel for the fire. Things you thought were long forgiven and forgotten suddenly became missiles that pierced your heart.

That’s not love.

The hardest part about loving someone the way Christ wants us to love is that we are so vulnerable. We lay ourselves out emotionally and physically in such a way that it is easy to get hurt. True love is that Christ-like kind of love that seeks what is good for the other person in every circumstance and relationship we find ourselves in along this journey we call life.

The struggles of life and the fact that we are human is the hardest part of loving. When you offend me (for the umpteenth time!), love says it’s okay. We’ll work though this. When I offend you (for the umpteenth time!), love tells me I know I can come to you and ask forgiveness without fear of this situation coming up in a much later conversation. Love endures countless emotional and physical let downs. Love knows when to stand up for ourselves or walk away graciously when we are in danger.

Christ-like love should be like a healing salve on the emotional, spiritual and physical wounds that others have put on us. It comforts, builds up, understands and forgives. Christ-like love is supernatural because in my humanness I’m too weak to love the way I want to. It is during those tough times of life when I rely on His love to give me strength and to strengthen those around me.

PRAYER: Father when I think about all the things love really means I’m in awe that anyone can love. When I see the many ways I’ve failed to love others and the many ways human love has hurt me, I am tempted to give up on love all together. I ask that you would encourage me to see that the love Paul describes is ideal, supernatural love. It’s not just the love you expect us to have for others, it’s the love we can expect from you. Empower me through your Holy Spirit to learn how to love those around me like you do. In your name I pray, Amen.

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June 2023
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