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Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Sucker Punch

You’ve seen it in the movies.  Some guy is walking along thinking life is good, but there is someone approaching from behind.  The man approaching is on a mission.  He’s angry, and he’s got tunnel vision on the guy ahead.  The other guy is blissfully unaware of this situation, and then is tapped on the shoulder.  He turns around and that’s when it happens—WAM!  He is sucker punched by the angry man and almost knocked out. 

The enemy of our souls also works in this way.  He is angry.  He wants to halt your forward progress.  Yet, so often we are blissfully unaware.  We’ve been praying; maybe we’ve been fasting.  We’ve achieved a tangible peace about something we have been seeking God over.  Then out of the blue we are tapped on the shoulder and WAM!  We are hit hard in a way that is meant to knock us out.  We are hit with news or situations that are specifically designed to send us into a tailspin….those very things that make us make us want to curl into a ball and retreat.

The problem is if we do that, then the enemy wins. 

In order to get back on our feet for the fight, it’s important to understand a few things.
1.  The reason the enemy uses the element of surprise is because it is one of his most effective strategies he can utilize to win. 
“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” I John 4:4 (NIV)

When your opponent has a greater strength than you, the element of surprise becomes very powerful.  While we on our own are not stronger than the enemy, Christ in us IS more powerful. 
2.  We really shouldn’t allow ourselves to be taken by surprise by the enemy. 
“Keep your mind clear, and be alert.  Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion as he looks for someone to devour.” I Peter 5:8 (GWT)
We know that the enemy is looking for opportunities to take us out.  Simple as that.  It isn’t something to be fearful of, but it is something to be aware.  We do not need to allow ourselves to get distracted, or think that we are immune.  That sets us up as an easy target.  Think of Elijah after his huge show-down with Baal’s prophets & standing in faith for rain on the land.  It was right after that when the enemy used Jezebel to “sucker punch” him with a death threat, causing the mighty prophet of God to literally run for his life (see I Kings 18:16-I Kings 19).  I was told once by a wise leader in my life to always watch for the enemy trying to knock me out right after a spiritual high. 

 3.  We must be armed and ready for battle at all times.
“Last of all I want to remind you that your strength must come from the Lord’s mighty power within you.  Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand safe against all strategies and tricks of Satan.  For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against persons without bodies—the evil rulers of the unseen world, those mighty satanic beings and great evil princes of darkness who rule this world; and against huge numbers of wicked spirits in the spirit world.
 So use every piece of God’s armor to resist the enemy whenever he attacks, and when it is all over you will still be standing up.
 But to do this, you will need the strong belt of truth and the breastplate of God’s approval.  Wear shoes that are able to speed you on as you preach the Good News of peace with God.  In every battle you will need faith as your shield to stop the fiery arrows aimed at you by Satan.  And you will need the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit—which is the Word of God.”  Ephesians 6:10-17 (TLB)

When we are armed and ready for battle, when we are vigilant and watchful of the enemy’s tactics, we are able to lessen the impact of his attempt to take us by surprise. 

But what if you in a moment forget to be watchful?  
Know that the immediate punch still hurts.  That is what it is designed to do.  It is also designed to make you react rashly instead of respond responsibly.  In that moment, you must often do the things that are counter-intuitive.  First, know that it is okay to tell God that you don’t understand what is happening and why.  But use that to then respond with your full trust in His faithfulness and provision.  The enemy may have taken you by surprise, but God is all-knowing.  He knew about the moment long ago, and has orchestrated the steps to turn it into something that will somehow work for your good (see Romans 8:28) and for His glory.  
Here are a few immediate steps to help get you back on your feet and moving forward again.

1.       Ask God for comfort as well as direction. 
2.       Seek immediate prayer from trusted friends and leaders. 
3.       Act opposite of what your “flesh” tells you. 
If your response is to want to withdraw and cease making an impact, immediately reach out and do something that has Kingdom impact.  The purpose of the punch was to prevent you from something.  By getting back up and continuing forward on the path God leads you, it immediately negates many of the effects of the attack. 

“Pray all the time.  Ask God for anything in line with the Holy Spirit’s wishes.  Plead with him, reminding him of your needs, and keep praying earnestly for all Christians everywhere.” Ephesians 6:18 (TLB)

Fight the good fight, my friends.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Proverbs 31 Woman (yes, her!)- Day 7: Lasting Legacy

Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the LORD will be greatly praised. Reward her for all she has done. Let her deeds publicly declare her praise. (‭Proverbs‬ ‭31‬:‭30-31‬ NLT)

As women, we want to spend our most substantial efforts on the things that are the most long-lasting in our lives. This is why nurturing the relationships with and meeting the needs of our loved ones is so important and so deeply ingrained within us. With this in mind, we must remember that what we want to spend our greatest efforts on in our own lives are the things that will stand the test of time.

Our youthful beauty fades. We are reminded of this when we look in the mirror year after year. Our images transform into something else. And while we may have another kind of beauty as we age, the youthfulness we so often try to cling to disappears. It isn't wrong to take care of ourselves and our appearance. In fact, I believe taking care of our bodies is part of stewarding the resources we have been given. The issue (as with most things) is an issue of the heart. What is our motive? The quest for beauty can become an idol just like anything else. We must ask ourselves if outer beauty has become the focus of our life. If it has, it's not too late to shift your focus and priorities.

Charm is defined as "the power of giving delight or arousing admiration."  It is also defined as "to control or achieve by (or as if by) magic."  Charm is deceptive.  We aren't talking about the first kind of charm....we are talking about the latter.  You know to what I'm referring--batting eyelashes, changing your countenance, or accentuating other attributes to manipulate people or situations in order to get what you want.  You may think it's harmless, but the truth is it hurts you, the person you are manipulating, and your relationship. Very plainly, it is control and it is deception.  It's a tactic employed when you don't think that "playing by the rules" will get you the outcome you desire.  It may start out innocently, but it can quickly become a habit.  Allowing manipulation to rule your relationships will lead to resentment on both sides.  They will resent you because they know you are being manipulative.  You will resent them because you don't feel you can reach a positive outcome without manipulating them into doing what you want.   Manipulation is an erosion to the foundation of truth and trust in your relationships.

So what is lasting?  Our character is something that is lasting because it is something that effects our legacy.  The results of our character are what will outlast us, and will impact the generations to come.  This passage specifically talks about our fear of the Lord.  What does it mean to "fear" the Lord?  Doesn't the Bible talk about perfect love casting out all fear?

This type of fear is not the same type of fear that some of you may be thinking.  This is referring to "reverential awe."  We are simply amazed at our Lord.  We worship Him because of His greatness.  It is something that we are in admiration and amazement over because we simply cannot grasp His fullness.  It is awe-inspiring.  When we have that reverential awe and worshipful attitude toward our Lord, it changes how we look at everything around us.  It causes our perspective to shift.

Can you imagine living in such constant trust of your Savior because you are in such awe of Him? When we trust Him and His plan for our lives, we are obedient to what He calls us to do.  When we are obedient to what He calls us to do, the results do not rest on our own shoulders.  They rest squarely on the shoulders of the One that is capable to bring His plans for our lives to pass.
If you will humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, in his good time he will lift you up. (I Peter 5:6)

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Proverbs 31 Woman (yes, her!)- Day 6: What we give, What we get

When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness. She carefully watches everything in her household and suffers nothing from laziness. Her children stand and bless her. Her husband praises her: “There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!” (‭Proverbs‬ ‭31‬:‭26-29‬ NLT)
On this day 6 of 7, I hope that we are all beginning to see a pattern in our study. Several themes are repeated over & over again with respect to the characteristics of our Proverbs 31 woman. Our lady has tabs on her household and she's not a slouch.  If you need a refresher on these topics see day 2, day 3 (Superwoman), & day 5 (Peace, Love, & Clothing). The main point to remember is this: it all comes down to our hearts.  So far we have learned a lot about what this woman does, but we only have a few glimpses into her she really treats those around her while she's out "being amazing."   We know that she is intelligent, capable, and that she comforts and encourages her husband.  This passage fleshes out another couple of details for us.  

First, she is wise.  Wisdom is different than intelligence.  Intelligence is obtaining and using knowledge.  Knowledge is simply facts, information, and familiarity.  Wisdom is able to appropriately apply that knowledge in the best way to make good decisions.  In order to speak wisely, we must consider the content, the motive, and the timing of our words.  You may be thinking "that's a lot to think about before I speak."  True.  Chances are our Proverbs 31 woman isn't speaking off-hand or flippantly.  (Ouch)

Also, she "gives instructions with kindness."  How many times are we demanding, nagging, or otherwise negative when we are instructing or making requests of those we love?  Tone says a lot, and it all comes from our hearts.  Remember, we must take care to take care of ourselves. (See day 5.)  When we spend daily time with God, our heart is full of Him and His presence.  We are able to respond from a full heart.  When we neglect the recharging and refilling of our hearts, our responses become harsh, bitter, and biting.  

Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. (Luke 6:44-45 NIV)
Beth Moore has an AMAZING teaching on this called the Law of Kindness that you owe it to yourself to check out!  It's a 3 part series, and each segment is roughly 18 minutes each.  I can't stress it enough--Watch these!  No really.....seriously.  Take the time today.  (Have I made my point?)

What are the results of our Proverbs 31 woman pouring her heart and soul into her family?  It's very simple.  Her husband and children feel loved, cared for, and respected, so the natural outpouring is that they speak highly of her.  She is honored. 

Is there any greater compliment that we would want to receive than being honored by those dearest to our hearts? 

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Proverbs 31 Woman (yes, her!)- Day 5: Peace, Love, & Clothing

She has no fear of winter for her household, for everyone has warm clothes. She makes her own bedspreads. She dresses in fine linen and purple gowns. Her husband is well known at the city gates, where he sits with the other civic leaders. She makes belted linen garments and sashes to sell to the merchants. She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. (‭Proverbs‬ ‭31‬:‭21-25‬ NLT)
Another day, another list? As we learned on Day 2, this passage isn't necessarily a checklist that we need to add to our daily routine.  Of course she makes her own bedspreads....the woman makes her own cloth for goodness sake!  But remember, she didn't have a Stein-Mart or Dillard's right down the block.  So what is this section of scripture really saying? 
1.  She takes care of herself and her household.  

Most of us have at least half of this down.  You make sure that your loved ones have what they need.  You take care to turn your houses into homes by stewarding your resources to the best of your abilities.  The most difficult part of this seems to be the part where we are supposed to take care of ourselves.  Our Proverbs 31 lady is dressing in fine linen and purple gowns--this is the stuff of royalty.  She is taking care to take care of herself.  Here's what's great:  it's not to the exclusion of her family--she isn't selfish.  She is simply doing what she does in every aspect of her life; she is being a good steward and manager of what she has been given (including her body), and treating all aspects of her life with care.  

2.  Her family has a leadership lifestyle.

Our Proverbs 31 woman is an upstanding lady, and her husband is also apparently well-respected. Based on our previous verses, it seems that she helps bring out the best in him.  I believe it would also be safe to say that he helps bring out the best in her.  They are involved in civics and business.  Perhaps we could say they are simply good model citizens.  
3.  Her clothing isn't the covering that people notice about her. 

Our woman is obviously dressed well, but that isn't the most important thing she wears.  She is clothed in strength & dignity...what could that really mean? Clothing functions as our covering, and it's what people often notice immediately about us.  It also serves as protection from the elements or our environment.  

By being clothed in strength and dignity, it is noticeable to the people that encounter her.  She doesn't have to point it out to anyone, just like you don't have to point out the fact that you (hopefully) remembered to put on a dress or pants today!  It's obvious in her interactions, in the way she carries herself.  You know women like this--they just have this aura around them.  You can see these traits as easily as you could a new outfit.  

Her dignity and strength of character are also things that help shield and insulate her from things that could be going on around her.  She is able to face the future with joy.  There is no caveat for circumstance.  When we live with character and integrity with our dependence upon God, we know that regardless of what we face, we will be able to face it head on.  Imagine: Laughing with no fear of the future.  It sounds a whole lot like peace and joy to me.  I don't know about you, but that is something that I crave.  
"Live in such a way that if anyone were to speak badly of you, no one would believe it."~Unknown
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 ESV)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Proverbs 31 Woman (yes, her!)- Day 4: Got Compassion?

She extends a helping hand to the poor and opens her arms to the needy. (‭Proverbs‬ ‭31‬:‭20‬ NLT)

Compassion: (from Merriam-Webster)
Main Entry: com·pas·sion
Pronunciation: \kəm-ˈpa-shən\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French or Late Latin; Anglo-French, from Late Latin compassion-, compassio, from compati to sympathize, from Latin com- + pati to bear, suffer
:  sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it

How often do we allow our hearts to be broken by the things that break God's heart?  Our Proverbs 31 woman acts to alleviate the suffering of those around her.  Notice she doesn't just send help.  She also "opens her arms to the needy."  This speaks to embracing and comforting those around us that are hurting.  Sending help without sending love is corporate. Sending love without sending help is an excuse.  We get it right and it actually makes a difference when we do both.

Matthew West has a great song entitled "Do Something."  I believe his words speak more powerfully than mine ever could.  Take a listen to his official YouTube video, and let's pray that no matter where we are on the compassion spectrum, God will open our eyes and sink us even deeper into it.  May our eyes and hearts be open and observant, and our hands and feet ready to act.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Proverbs 31 Woman (yes, her!)- Day 3: "Superwoman"

She finds wool and flax and busily spins it. She is like a merchant’s ship, bringing her food from afar. She gets up before dawn to prepare breakfast for her household and plan the day’s work for her servant girls. She goes to inspect a field and buys it; with her earnings she plants a vineyard. She is energetic and strong, a hard worker. She makes sure her dealings are profitable; her lamp burns late into the night. Her hands are busy spinning thread, her fingers twisting fiber. (Proverbs 31:13-19 NLT)

THIS is the part of Proverbs 31 where many of us want to cry “uncle!” Who IS this woman?  When we start reading through this list it is easy to buy into the line that we are supposed to be “superwoman.”  I mean, really….this woman makes her own cloth and she goes to far away destinations just for proper food.  She is an economics master, and obviously could put Martha Stewart to shame with her skill set.  She gets up before the sun, and she goes to bed long after the moon has risen.  Better than that—she apparently does this all with great energy and strength!  She makes me tired just reading this partial list of what she does. 

Why does reading this list cause such a reaction in me (and maybe some of you, too) on some days?  Why is it that other days I find myself inspired to be more when I see all that she does for her family?

I believe that one possibility is this:  When we are reading this as a “checklist” to see if we “measure up” as a woman, it will quickly lead to frustration.  Comparison is always a dangerous game, and it is one that will always cause us to lose.  It is a trap.  When we compare her “checklist” to our checklist, we may feel that we don’t measure up.  Or, we can be so strangely competitive with this woman found within the pages of our Bible that we construct our own daily lists to top anything that she could ever consider doing—and we find ourselves burning out fast. 

When we find ourselves inspired by all that she does, what is different about our frame of mind and the posture of our hearts at that moment?  I believe that this again (as we learned on Day 2) ultimately boils down to a heart issue.  Her heart is to serve her family and do all that she can for those she loves.  When our hearts are looking to serve and we are dependent upon God to be our strength, then we become this “superwoman.”  Being “superwoman” isn’t about our own abilities and what we can push ourselves to accomplish.  It’s about simply being the woman God created us to be, and partnering with Him and His supernatural energy, wisdom, and Presence.  HE brings the “super” to our “woman.”  It’s a partnership, not a solo act.

Once our hearts are in the right place, what are a few practical things we can glean from this passage?
  • Don’t be afraid of hard work.  Don’t be lazy.  This doesn’t just go for your job or cooking and cleaning.  The laziness trap is most deadly when it come to ourselves—our health, our bodies, our own spiritual walk.
  • Do seek wisdom and then use it!  Pray and seek God’s wisdom and discernment with your decisions, and also have spiritual leaders in your life (people ahead of you in the journey) that can give you wise counsel.  [Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers, they succeed. Proverbs 15:22 NIV]
  • Do know how to delegate DAILY.  Our Proverbs 31 woman plans what she will delegate when she prepares breakfast.  When do you prepare and eat breakfast?  EVERY DAY.  I believe it’s safe to say that every day we have tasks that could be delegated to others.  Remember to “do seek wisdom?”  If this one is hard for you (and I believe it is for many of us), ask God and your trusted advisers to help you identify and plan how to delegate in your own life. 

How can you incorporate the take-aways from these verses in your life this week?  If you are struggling with the comparison trap, ask God to give you a fresh perspective to some of the ways He created you and the women you see on a daily basis.  When we learn to appreciate how we have each been uniquely made, pressure is released, the burden lifted, and the comparison trap is crushed. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Proverbs 31 Woman (yes, her!)- Day 2

A capable, intelligent, and virtuous woman–who is he who can find her? She is far more precious than jewels and her value is far above rubies or pearls. [Prov. 12:4; 18:22; 19:14.] The heart of her husband trusts in her confidently and relies on and believes in her securely, so that he has no lack of [honest] gain or need of [dishonest] spoil. She comforts, encourages, and does him only good as long as there is life within her. (Proverbs 31:10-12 AMP)

The "Proverbs 31 Woman" (proverbs 31:10-31) was written as an acrostic poem to give spiritual and practical understanding of what it means to be a woman/wife of noble character. While we may not all be married, there are still important virtues to glean from this first section.

First, it's apparent that not every woman is one of "noble character."  She obviously has to be searched out.  The Amplified Bible describes her as "capable, intelligent, and virtuous." Virtuous and noble are synonymous, but what do these words really mean? If you check out Merriam-Webster, you'll find that essentially these mean “of high moral character” or “chaste” [basically not having a sexual nature, or abstaining from such].  Seeing as how God placed Song of Solomon in the Bible, and if you study Paul's teachings, I am quite certain chaste was not the meaning intended concerning a man searching out a virtuous woman to be his wife. 

A second thing is quite clear:   when you are a virtuous woman, you are incredibly valuable.  We are able to be trusted completely.  Trust is priceless.  If you are able to explicitly trust someone, you are able to enjoy an immense peace.  Let’s ask ourselves some difficult questions. 
  • Can you be trusted to be fully honest, yet loving in your honesty....even in the toughest situations? 
  • Can you be trusted to always to look out for the best for your loved ones? What if the best for them means a more difficult journey for you?
  • Can you be trusted to not only react well & celebrate in the good times, but to respond appropriately and lovingly when difficult situations arise?  

Our third focus based on this passage is to be a “builder of the good” within our household.  In order to be a builder of the good, we can’t be a “destroyer with the negative.”  Are we seeking to criticize or belittle those around us?  We can’t be a builder if our favorite tool is a wrecking ball.
Our lovely Proverbs 31 woman “comforts, encourages, and does him only good as long as there is life within her.”  Certainly this can feel like a tall order.  Does him ONLY good?  That really doesn’t feel like it allows much room for error.  Young’s Literal Translation says it this way:
“She hath done him good, and not evil, all days of her life.” (v.12)
I don’t believe that this verse is calling for perfection.  That would quite frankly be a tall order we are each unable to fulfill.  However, when we look at Young’s translation we see that it comes down to a good ‘ole good versus evil scenario.  This begins to uncover more of a heart issue rather than mere action.  Are we acting out of a resentful or angry heart?  Or are we acting out of a heart filled with grace, love, and expectancy?

Practically speaking, whether you are currently married, engaged, dating, or single, this is an important foundation to build. 
  • What if we each sought to become a woman who held to a high moral standard, was completely trustworthy in ALL our ways, and acted to be a “builder of the good” within our sphere of influence?
  • What would our relationships look like?  How would that influence others within our circle? What about your children or the young people that are watching on a regular basis?
  • What if we focused on our relationship with Christ in the same way as described in these 3 verses?

Which of these concepts is most difficult for you at this season in your life?  Make note of that in your prayer journal/notebook, and ask God to reveal the steps you should take to be shaped into the best version of yourself in that area.  He is always faithful when we seek after Him with our whole heart!