Throat Punch Thursday

A friend posted this convicting encouragement on Instagram recently:

My immediate tempting thought was “Can I throat punch them first?” — not even realizing that today is “Throat Punch Thursday”.

Surely Jesus must have covered that and it just got left out of the book? Every mean, aggressive, unfriendly, unfair person could use a good throat punch to humble them, right?

But no, that’s what they already know and understand. We need to bring something new and peculiar into the realm of possibilities within their world — underserved, unmerited, unexpected grace.

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.
Matthew 5:43‭-‬48 NLT

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord . Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.
Romans 12:17‭-‬21 NLT

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
Romans 5:6‭-‬8 NLT

You know, we laugh at this because we don’t normally go around assaulting people or we would be locked up in jail or prison if we did.

But what about those unkind responses we “throat punch” others with online and justify to ourselves that “they were wrong”, or “they deserved it”, or “they needed to be corrected”?

We can’t use the excuse “I’m sharing truth in love” when we haven’t virtually extended our hand to help them up but we’ve shocked them with a virtual throat punch.

Lord help us. Lord help me. Amen.

Strawberry Shortcake Poke Cake

My daughter and I are baking today. We are going to make a “Strawberry Shortcake Poke Cake” (think of all the flavors, textures, and pleasures of Strawberry Shortcake in a two layer cake format). We came up with this cake idea together and used some other people’s individual recipes for individual components on the way to making our vision into a reality.

We are starting with this recipe for the 2 layers of white cake:

https://sugarspunrun.com/the-best-white-cake-recipe/

Cake Ingredients

  • ▢6 Tablespoons unsalted butter softened to room temperature 85g
  • ▢2/3 cup canola oil or vegetable oil 160ml
  • ▢2 cup sugar 400g
  • ▢1 Tablespoon clear vanilla extract
  • ▢2 2/3 cup + 2 Tablespoon all-purpose flour 345g
  • ▢1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • ▢1 teaspoon salt
  • ▢1 cup milk room temperature preferred (235ml)
  • ▢6 large egg whites room temperature
  • Double batch Vanilla Buttercream Frosting (click link for recipe)

We created a Strawberry Puree from frozen strawberries,  strawberry glaze, and sugar.

Puree Ingedients

2 lb (32oz) Frozen Strawberries

14 oz. Marie’s Glaze for Strawberries

1/8 cup sugar

And we made a Cool Whip Frosting.


Classic Cool Whip Frosting

  • 1 3.5-oz package instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 8-oz tub whipped topping (thawed, if frozen)

The Best White Cake Recipe

“This BEST white cake recipe yields a fluffy, snow-white cake that’s light and soft but still sturdy enough to stack or cover with fondant.”

Prep Time: 35 minutesCook Time: 35 minutesTotal Time: 1 hour 10 minutes Servings: 12 slices

Cake Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350F and prepare two 8-inch round cake pans by lining the bottoms with a round of parchment paper and generously greasing and flouring the sides. Be sure to shake out excess flour.
  • In a stand mixer (or using an electric mixer), beat butter on medium-low speed until creamy.
  • Add sugar and oil and beat until all ingredients are well-combined and creamy.
  • Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and then stir in your vanilla extract.
  • In separate bowl, whisk together your flour, baking powder, and salt.
  • Measure out your milk.
  • With mixer on medium speed, gradually alternate between adding the flour mixture and the milk to the butter mixture, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Stir until each one is almost completely combined before adding the next.
  • Pause occasionally to scrape down sides and bottom of bowl.
  • In separate bowl combine your egg whites and using a hand-mixer on high-speed beat until stiff peaks form.
  • Using a spatula, gently fold your egg whites into your batter. Take care to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl so that ingredients are well-combined, and take care not to over-mix.
  • Evenly divide cake batter into prepared pans.
  • Bake on 350F for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake layer comes out clean or with few crumbs (should not be wet). For best results, rotate your cake pans halfway through baking to ensure even baking.
  • NOTE: You can work on the Puree while these are baking.
  • Cakes will be a light golden brown when done baking.
  • Remove cakes from oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the inside rim of each pan and invert each onto a cooling rack.
  • Note, you willAllow to cool completely before poking holes in the cake that will be used for the bottom layer using a dowel, spoon handle or other cylindrical object. (You will wait to poke holes in the second one after it is stacked on top of the first, so WAIT.)

Puree Instructions

Add half of the frozen strawberries and half of the glaze into a blender and puree.

Then liquify.

Once liquified,  slowly add the rest of the frozen strawberries and glaze.

After liquified,  stir in the sugar and  blend consistently.

The puree can be refrigerated until the cakes are finished baking and are cooling. However, when the cakes come out of the oven, the puree should come out of the refrigerator to regulate towards room temperature.

Once the cakes are cooled and holes have been poked in the bottom layer, pour the puree so that it soaks into the poke holes.

You will need to make the Cool whip frosting so that you can top the bottom layer.

  • Pour milk into bowl add pudding mix and vanilla extract.
  • Beat with wire whisk for 2 minutes.
  • Gently fold in whipped topping.
  • Apply to top of first layer

Add puree drizzle to top of frosting

then stack the second layer

Poke holes in the second layer

Pour puree on the second layer

Top the cake with your frosting

Frost the sides of your cake

Add puree drizzle to the top of the cake (preferably with piping bags and decorating tips)

Keep refrigerated until serving

There were several times today while we were baking that we could have chosen to cut corners. We ended up needing a few trips to the store instead of just one. We made everything (other than adding the glaze to the puree) completely from scratch instead of using cake box mixes or ready made frosting. We had to make the frosting twice because we didn’t do the first one in the right order. But each time, we didn’t compromise — we gave our best effort.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
Colossians 3:23‭-‬24 ESV

We spent our day, from around 11AM until 4:30PM making this cake together. We did other things in between steps, letting the cakes cool, letting the frosting set up, letting the puree soak in, etc. But we weren’t in a hurry. We were enjoying the time together. You see, getting to eat the cake wasn’t the purpose, it was a product of the purpose. The purpose was to spend time together doing something special.  The beautiful cake to eat afterwards was an added bonus, but the real treasure was us laughing and taste testing and talking with each other throughout the whole process.

It is the same with our walk with the Lord. The “blessings” aren’t near as wonderful as time with the “Blesser”. During this Christmas season,  that’s an important lesson amidst gifts and decorations and songs and meals that are all byproducts of us celebrating the rain for the season.

God bless.

Intimacy with God

The word “intimacy” usually makes us think of romantic movies like “The Notebook” or that special person that is close to us like our spouse, fiance, or beloved.

And for some, the thought of intimacy with a God they can’t see and don’t know personally might seem weird, creepy, scary, or fanatical/crazy. Even for the religious scholar who knows a lot “about” God but doesn’t really know God close and personal and intimately — the idea of an intimacy with God that parallels the intimacy recorded in books like the Song of Songs may be too much for them to wrap their theology and traditions around comfortably. But we are the Bride of Christ, beloved — He is our prize and portion, and He isn’t some far away, dead teacher who taught good things — He is our risen Lord and Savior and our beloved.

Does this stretch our faith, when we consider the love we have our have not shown in return for our beloved who didn’t just romantically say, “I love you so much I would die for you”, but He actually proved it on the cross?

Does this bring to light, not condemnation that we “aren’t doing enough for Him”, but conviction that leads to repentance out of the realization, belief, and gratitude does what our beloved his done and who He is to us?

Have we been out whoring with the distractions of the world again and neglected our quiet, intimate time with our beloved?

Just like I long for intimacy regularly with my wife — not just physical intimacy in sex, but relational intimacy in sharing our lives together, and emotional intimacy in love and care and sacrificial (willingly compromising) service to each other — I also long for spiritual intimacy with the Lord. Just lime my body aches for physical contact, like my ego aches for interaction and engagement with others in life, like my heart aches for emotional bounds with others, my spirit aches with a God sized hole that only He can fill.

David was considered a man after God’s own heart ands wrote Psalm 63 that touches upon intimacy with God:

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. But those who seek to destroy my life shall go down into the depths of the earth; they shall be given over to the power of the sword; they shall be a portion for jackals. But the king shall rejoice in God; all who swear by him shall exult, for the mouths of liars will be stopped.
Psalm 63:1‭-‬11 ESV

https://bible.com/bible/59/psa.63.1-11.ESV

Signal Fires Breaching the Darkness

The darkness of anxiety, depression, etc. is not comfortable for anyone.

A friend who is a behavioral therapist recently shared this photo as we discussed the challenges of dealing with anxiety:

In her thoughts on this illustration, Marsha shared from personal experience that:

“I’m an advocate of being very open in regards to mental health because I struggle so greatly and I know how dark the thoughts can get. I also know how desperately lonely it is to fight by yourself.

I have good days and then something shifts and I’m in tears from stress that’s out of proportion to the impact of the circumstance, the inability to not worry and constant obsessive thinking. Constantly needing reassurance from people you love and then when you get it you feel so annoying and obnoxious that there’s no way anyone can love you like this so why bother , why be around, why exist…
A waste.
Not enough.
Not normal.
You’ll lose their love.
They’ll get bored and over you.
You’re crazy… The thoughts never stop. They may be less some days and manageable , but some times …they are loud and invading every single word of every single thought.”

And this is a subject close to my heart,  because I know that enemy too, so my response to Marsha on Facebook was:

My wife and I were talking yesterday during lunch about our own areas of our lives where anxiety tries to come in and ruin the day, and how there are similarities and major differences. And even though we know each other very well by now, I think that our discussion gave me a better respect for what she and I call the “crazy things” that tend to stir up anxiety in us.

I think that you used the word “trigger” and that’s a pretty good description. But for me, it isn’t trigger like a gun (that quickly strikes and kills), but “trigger” like I’ve stepped in a trap and now the noose is wrapped around me and is cutting off my air or blood supply — and I’m frantic and don’t know what to do or how to get away. And it is easy to know while you aren’t in the trap that struggling and pulling against the trap just makes it cinch down tighter — but when it is on you and you are in the moment, being calm is the exact opposite of what every fiber of you’re being is screaming at you to “react”.

Traps, triggers, and anxiety seem to me to be all about a “feeling” generating a “reaction” – so it would seem that those who have learned how to avoid letting their “feelings rule them” might be more protected from such things. But how does a person do that without being cold and detached, but instead still maintain their sensitivity and compassion and emotional acumen?

I don’t have it figured out, but I’m learning that trusting something more than just my circumstances and my feelings really acts as a buffer — like a “wall of protection” from the “trigger”. And the more trust I can build up during the good times (with family, with friends, with God) — the better chance I have not to completely lose my mind when the trap tightens again.

Even with a good support system, though it can still be maddening and disappointing when my mind seemingly overpowers me once again and has me in the place this picture illustrates so perfectly.

So why do I share this if I’m not giving you an easy checklist to follow to “fix it”? To encourage you that this enemy has not defeated either of us, and that it has failed so many times in its attempts to crush us. We come back with a little more experience, and by sharing transparently like you have, we can tell the world that even though we may have wounds and/or scars from the trap, we have lived through it, and others are not alone if they have known this same enemy in their own minds.

Love you, sis. I think it is good when we talk openly about these things and “bring boldly into the light” things that pride, shame, or fear of judgement may have once told us to keep hidden. We never know when it might be the string of hope one of us might need for the next trap.

Today’s verse put a nice bow on all of that this morning:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.
Isaiah 9:2 ESV

And the Old Testament record of what God has done for His chosen people reminded me of the call to action in The New Testament of how we, His children, the body of Christ should react to that reminder:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 5:14‭-‬16 ESV

I share some of my innermost thoughts, dreams, beliefs, experiences, struggles, feelings, etc. publicly online through writing and singing.  I can be a little anxious at times about sharing because I know that not everyone will appreciate or enjoy it. But I see others around me being a bright light, and they bring an energy into the world through that pure, bold, vulnerability of not hiding themselves from the world. I want to be more like that too — not for the attention, but for the impact, and that God will be glorified.

Imagine a world where we were willing to bring out into the light those innermost and help each other in the process. Then look to today’s verses and know that He is the waymaker, the healer — the one who turns what was once dark into light. He is the chain breaker and the one who sets the captives free!

When I think about the picture above showing what I would describe as demons above the person’s head, I’m reminded that the Bible tells me that the demons are headed for the fiery pit, and I think about fire and flames. And this inevitably leads me to consider the flames of Holy Spirit fire above the heads of Christ followers at Pentacost.

What if we saw anxiety and such, not as a huge Goliath that could slay us, but as an opportunity for Good to show up and prove those things as fuel for the fires that bring Him glory? What if we made it less about our own shortcomings and more about who He is, what He has promised, what He has done, ands what He is doing in this process of reconciling us back to Him?

What if our bringing it out into the light was just the spark needed — to start a chain reaction of signal fires being lit across the tops of mountains for miles and miles — celebrating what God has done and sounding the trumpet for what lies ahead?

Lord, have us willing to lay down our weaknesses as fuel for the fire of your glory. And use us as you see fit to demonstrate your abiding presence, your kingdom influence here on earth as it is in heaven. Let them see you, ands let the darkness be overcome by your light. Amen.

Mark Pangel’s sermon at 4 Points Church today offered some great confirmation and a strong push if you’re interested in more on the subject:

A Pilgrimage

In 2020, many of us may feel like we are on a long journey. A close friend and I joked over text message last night to encourage each other:

So what does all of that have to do with today’s verse?

Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!
Psalm 126:5 ESV

Psalm 126 is 7th in a series of 15 Psalms that were for pilgrims coming to Jerusalem. There are several instances where Jerusalem (Zion) was restored from captivity, so tying this to a specific event like after the return from exile under Ezra and Nehemiah or after David’s brief exile from Jerusalem in Absalom’s coup is probably speculation rather than hard proof. However, the point of knowing “exactly when” isn’t nearly as valuable as recognizing the pattern. These pilgrims had been away from Jerusalem themselves — either from real captivity — or from things they might consider a season of symbolic captivity from their beloved Zion.

We are reminded by this verse that great joy is often preceded by a season of tears. Some joy may come suddenly like in verse 4 (like the dried up desert streams when the rains come like a pure gift from heaven) — while other comes slow like in verses 5 and 6 (where our laboring proves complimentary with God’s promised renewal). By nature, most of us want to reap the joy without sowing the tears — but would prove a fat, lazy, and ineffective faith that bears little fruit.

For me, this term “sowing in tears” can most often be tied to my prayer life — that place of “spiritual labouring”. I find that there have been seasons where my prayer life has “felt” like a sort of captivity, a time where my heart hasn’t been fully into my prayers and they aren’t “tearful” for the burdens and cares and pains of those around me, but they are a bit more repetitive, distanced, isolated, and cold.

And when I find myself clearly in this place because I realize that I don’t really know the details or circumstances of someone else’s hurt, pain, struggle that I would consider a close friend or family — not because I didn’t have the opportunity to ask, but because I did not care enough to share in their burdens because I was too worried with my own — I realize my own need to make that pilgrimage back to Zion with my people. I realize my own need to put in the work of sowing in tears.

F.B. Meyer noted that some farmers soak (steep) their seeds before sowing them, and then applied the idea: “It is well when Christian workers steep their lessons and addresses with their prayers and tears. It is not enough to sow; we may do that lavishly and constantly, but we must add passion, emotion, tender pity, strong cryings and tears.”

And Spurgeon has this to say: “He drops a seed and a tear, a seed and a tear, and so goes on his way. In his basket he has seed which is precious to him, for he has little of it, and it is his hope for the next year. Each grain leaves his hand with anxious prayer that it may not be lost: he thinks little of himself, but much of his seed, and he eagerly asks, ‘Will it prosper? shall I receive a reward for my labour?’ Yes…doubtless you will gather sheaves from your sowing.”

And VanGemeren: “The people were not to sit by idly, waiting for God to come through. They had to go out and sow, praying that the Lord would be true. The phrase ‘seed to sow’ (v. 6) is reminiscent of Haggai’s encouragement to the people to sow whatever little they had left, because the Lord will bless them.”

Lord, I fear how often I have let a word spoken, a lesson written, a prayer lifted go out as seed cast idly wherever it may fall — with not so much care and love as you clearly demonstrated towards each individual circumstance you encountered during your travel through this land as a pilgrim returning to Zion. But in my repeated and obvious weaknesses, your strength and power and glory is made all the more evident to me. Forgive me for my wanderings away into captivity, and my expecting the rains to “just come again” like they always do, and my forgetting that I have a blessed opportunity to participate. Forgive me for fearing the vulnerability that true intimacy with others and their challenges and faults will reveal so many of my own challenges and faults. Help me to instead long for renewal, fellowship, and relationship — both with my brothers and sisters — and most importantly, with you. Amen.

Loosen Up

The first thing that our dogs do when I get up to take them outside — is that they stretch. Even if they were already moving around and making noise to wake me up, once they see that it is actually time to get up and go — they stretch.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
Romans 12:12 ESV

Harvard Medical School has this wonderful article on the benefits of stretching: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-importance-of-stretching

And beloved, when we start our day rejoicing in Christ our hope, we have stretched spiritually in the way that prepares us to be patient in tribulation — The Way that starts the marathon of our day in that constant, abiding prayer of an enjoyable walk with the Lord.

Even though it is wrongly attributed to Confucius all over the Internet, my mind is brought to the quote first attributed to Princeton Philosophy professor Arthur Szathmary:

An old-timer I knew used to tell his students: ‘Find something you love to do and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.’

It is amazing how a stretch, a preparation, an attitude adjustment to start our day can have such a powerful impact — it is a right alignment with God’s grace.

Lord, thank you for so many blessings. Thank you for beloved friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, and a job and calling that allows me to serve others in a way that isn’t burdensome. I know that this freedom wasn’t free and that you have bought me out of that old life where I looked at things wrong and dreaded what lay before me — mainly because I did not start by surrendering, humbling, remembering what curses I truly deserve as opposed to what blessings I have received. Your grace is so deep, so wide, so strong. Thank you. Amen.

Side Note: This is a pretty good practical application video that I watched last night that you might find interesting and helpful: https://youtu.be/B1kMj5fIUNY

See the Error, Prepare the Way

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'” John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Mark 1:2‭-‬4 ESV

We see John “preparing the way”, proclaiming a baptism of repentance — and that Jesus did not do away with the message of repentance but expanded it.

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Matthew 4:17 ESV

Look at how John himself contrasts the baptisms of water, spirit, and fire:

I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Matthew 3:11‭-‬12 ESV

Repentance is seeing the error in our own ways and turning to go a different way. But how blind is a person who justifies and excuses and accepts and continues in his own sin? And how blind is a person who doesn’t even think he is sinning?

Many are blind who do not look and examine themselves. And many are blind who look, see, and do not repent — who see their ways but do not accept the error in them. They might acknowledge that it is called sin, but not accept that “the wages of sin are death” and “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish”.

And true repentance isn’t a one time event where a preacher scared us enough to get us to accept John’s baptism of water so that we could return to our hellish ways — like a fool who goes to a car wash once and months later sues the car wash when his car is dirty again. No, the grace and mercy of God’s extending forgiveness is meant for a deeper purpose:

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
Romans 2:4 ESV

Do we see how kind He has been towards us?

Do we believe what He says about the presson of sin?

Cam we both admit wotrh our mouths and accept in our hearts and minds the roots of our own ways and choose to walk in The Way?

Yes, this is His will being done on earth as it is in heaven,  that people like you and I should humble ourselves, pray, seek His face, and turn from our wicked ways.

And beloved, He delivers us to the freedom of walking in a different way — not just by our own consciousness of our error (this isn’t just weak philosophy and dead religion), but by the supernatural strength of His Holy Spirit according in us.

Lord, I can be willful, foolish, and even blind at times. I am sorry, and I see the error of my ways. Help me, Lord. You are mighty even when I have proven myself weak. Thank you. Amen.

Superheroes

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
Isaiah 43:2 ESV

“Cookie cutter Bible verses” can be dangerous. Imagine someone pulling this verse out of context and walking into a raging river or a raging fire of their own will and being surprised when their foolishness brings them to harm’s doorstep.

Let’s please not be so eager to use “whatever we read” and “however we read it” as some systematic approach of dictating or demanding how God “must fulfill” His promises.

I do realize how in times of great need or dispair or suffering, that we may need to stand upon the promises of God and cry out to Him for help. But it seems there is a huge chasm between the two, because the first has us demanding God submit to our will and purposes — while the second has us submitting to God’s will and trusting Him for protection.

Is our focus on the part of the verse that says “I will be with you” (speaking of us and God together) — or did we skip over that to the parts that only mention us and the circumstances (“they shall not overwhelm you”, “you shall not be burned”, and “shall not consume you”).

Sadly, how often do we make what should be about Him, into something about ourselves?

God is not in the business of building up superheroes and celebrities so that people revere other people. He is revealing Himself as the Lord and Savior for His glory and honor — because He is worthy.

In this train of thought,  you will see repeatedly in the Bible how “important people” (even the recognizable names of people close to God) are humbled by their own shortcomings. Whether it is wise Solomon’s foolish pursuit of women, or bold Peter’s thrice denial of knowing Christ Jesus — all are not revealed as superheroes — but as flawed people who need a perfect, holy God Savior.

And when we see religious celebrities fall hard and far in very public ways, or those around us in ministry fall by the wayside — we cannot leave cold, hard stony hearts unrevived by the measure of grace and forgiveness meant for the day to say foolishly dangerous things like,  “He cast them out because they aren’t His.” What a horrible precedent to set for ourselves and others — to measure one another by the shortcomings of each other rather than by the power of the life giving blood of Jesus Christ,  the Lamb of God.

Imagine if your validation, your assurance, your proof of God’s love had to be proven to your physical eyes because you didn’t have spiritual eyes to see, or to your physical ears because you didn’t have spiritual ears to hear, or to your physical hands because you had not been spiritually touched by God in those deep, innermost places of your very being. Verse 8 brings this to mind:

Bring out the people who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears!
Isaiah 43:8 ESV

Remember doubting Thomas?

Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
John 20:24‭-‬29 ESV

Do not fret if you have doubted.

Do not fret if you have foolishly demanded from the Word of God that God protect you in the way that He protected Israel and His beloved.  Like an envious child seeing what his brother or sister received,  I have done the same,  beloved. And our God is so merciful and mighty that even in those moments,  He bid me thrust my fingers into His wounds to prove my doubts unfounded. But I was not nearly as overjoyed at my protection afterwards as I was humbled by my doubt. He loves, restores, and greatly uses men and women like Solomon, Peter, Thomas, You and I — not because of our worthiness, but because of His.

Pride would have us fearing things that bring humility and favoring things that bring us honor. Pride would have us seeking to be the unbreakable hero. But pride is the enemy.

Lord, the humble and faithful pass through the waters and the fires with you — to display you, not themselves. Even the righteous man falls for your glory and honor. Help us to praise you and glorify you alone, because you alone are worthy. Amen.

What brings you pride?

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Ephesians 2:8‭-‬9 ESV

What is the opposite of boasting?

Boasting is about inflating self — like filling oneself with hot air in order to rise higher like a proverbial hot air balloon. Many who boast the loudest and most often of themselves are actually trying to compensate for a lack of genuine self esteem and maturity by projecting what they think they “should be” in their words about themselves. It is not a pretty picture when we see it for what it is.

And Christ died for us,  and saved us,  not of our own works, SO THAT NO ONE MIGHT BOAST.

You see, we do not deserve praise and honor.

To a prideful man, he will look at all of his hard work and say,  “But I deserve…” when things don’t turn out the way that he expected. Or he will look at the less fortunate and justify in his own mind that he has more because he is not so lazy, even as he grumbles that those with more are somehow all crooks and swindlers. It is hard to consider the sovereignty of Almighty God and that His purpose cannot be thwarted when we believe that it is our own cause and effect that gets us our good rewards and that when we don’t get what we want, it is due to circumstances beyond our control. When we have the mindset that we are the earners of the good gifts that life and others haven’t found a way of cheating us out of — God’s grace and goodness is indeed far away from our comprehension (even though He is truly the source of EVERY GOOD GIFT).

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
James 1:17 ESV

It is easy to forget this, beloved, when the circumstances of life during a pandemic hit us — or when we feel the temptation to boast of ourselves. But the point of Christ revealed is to show us our right standing — humbly praising God alone. Those gifts and talents and abilities we are sometimes proud of in ourselves — God gave them to us, and He could just as easily take them away. So what good does it do to sing praises of ourselves, when He has entrusted us with these treasures and abilities to be used to bring Him glory.

Christ does not bring us pride, He opens our eyes to awe and wonder of God that naturally humbles a man before his maker. The enemy is the one who hangs out pride and lies and hypocrisy and judgement and comparison that gets us into so much trouble. But we can trade the bitter poison of that old enemy for the fresh waters of grace.

What have I “taken credit for” and “boasted of” in myself? I should lay it down, confess it, and walk in a different way, walk in The Way that Jesus had taught us instead.

How often we forget humility and end up in pride. How often we lift up the wrong person in our heart and mind as begging worthy of praise ands honor and glory. Lord, forgive us and mold us to be more like you — you who were willing to be humbled even to the point of death to free us from the trappings of sin and pride and wickedness and death. Amen.

As an online friend, Gabriel Cross, writes in his blog post today:

https://wp.me/pFkTv-83I

“The most powerful prayer is simply A cry to the Father for help.”

“When you’re going through the hustle and bustle of life, don’t forget to ask The Lord to help you specifically, and He will.”

But you, Sovereign Lord,
help me for your name’s sake;
out of the goodness of your love, deliver me. (Psalm 109:21)