Rivers of Difficulty

“But now, O Jacob, listen to the LORD who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.”
– Isaiah 43:1-2 NLT

God does not open paths for us before we come to them, or provide help before help is needed. He does not remove obstacles out of our way before we reach them. Yet when we are at our point of need, God’s hand is outstretched.
Many people forget this truth and continually worry about difficulties they envision in the future. They expect God to open and clear many miles of road before them, but he promises to do it step by step, only as their need arises. You must be in the floodwaters before you can claim God’s promise. Many people dread death and are distressed that they do not have “dying grace.” Of course, they will never have the grace for death when they are in good health. Why should they have it while in the midst of life’s duties, with death still far away? Living grace is what is needed for life’s work and calling, and then dying grace when it is time to die.


Fear and Discouragement

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. “See, all your angry enemies lie there, confused and humiliated. Anyone who opposes you will die and come to nothing. You will look in vain for those who tried to conquer you. Those who attack you will come to nothing. For I hold you by your right hand— I, the LORD your God. And I say to you, ‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you. Though you are a lowly worm, O Jacob, don’t be afraid, people of Israel, for I will help you. I am the LORD, your Redeemer. I am the Holy One of Israel.’ You will be a new threshing instrument with many sharp teeth. You will tear your enemies apart, making chaff of mountains. You will toss them into the air, and the wind will blow them all away; a whirlwind will scatter them. Then you will rejoice in the LORD. You will glory in the Holy One of Israel.”
– Isaiah 41:10-16 NLT

Could any two things be in greater contrast than a worm and a threshing tool with sharp teeth? A worm is delicate and is easily bruised by a stone or crushed beneath a passing wheel. Yet a threshing tool with sharp teeth can cut through rock and not be broken, leaving its mark upon the rock. And almighty God can convert one into the other. He can take an individual or a nation, who has all the weakness of a worm, and through the energizing work of his own Spirit, endow that person or nation with strength enough to make a profound mark upon the history of their time.


Waiting on God…

“Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”
– Isaiah 40:28-31 NLT

There is a fable about the way birds first got their wings. The story goes that initially they were made without them. Then God made the wings, set them down before the wingless birds and said to them, “Take up these burdens and carry them.”

The birds had sweet voices for singing, and lovely feathers that glistened in the sunshine, but they could not soar in the air. When asked to pick up the burdens that lay at their feet, they hesitated at first. Yet soon they obeyed, picked up the wings with their beaks and set them on their shoulders to carry them.



Matthew 5:43-48New International Version (NIV)

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a]and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

For years I thought of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5–7) as a blueprint for human behavior, a standard no one could possibly meet. How could I have missed the true meaning? Jesus spoke these words not to frustrate us, but to tell us what God is like.

Why should we love our enemies? Because our merciful Father causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good. Why store up treasures in heaven? Because the Father lives there and will lavishly reward us. Why live without fear and worry? Because the same God who clothes the lilies and the grass of the field has promised to take care of us. Why pray? If an earthly father gives his son bread or fish, how much more will the Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask?

Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5–7) not only to explain God’s ideal toward which we should never stop striving but also to show that in this life none of us will ever reach that ideal.

Before God, we all stand on level ground: murderers and tantrum-throwers, adulterers and lusters, thieves and coveters. We are all desperate, and that is the only state appropriate to a human being who wants to know God. Having fallen from the absolute ideal, we have nowhere to land but in the safety net of absolute grace.

My Prayer:
Dear Lord, I am a sinner and I need Your forgiveness. I believe that You died on the cross to pay the penalty for my sin. You did what I could not do for myself, and in humility I accept Your gift of grace. Help me to live a life that is pleasing to You.

Only God can transform a sinful soul into a masterpiece of grace.

The Annointing

Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him . . . and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. – 1 Samuel 16:13

When people were anointed (and filled with the Spirit) in the Old Testament, it was usually for a specific time and purpose. For example, when the Spirit came on Saul (who was anointed the first king of Israel before David), Saul joined with some prophets in speaking God’s word (see 1 Samuel 9-10). This sign reassured Saul and all Israel

that God had chosen him as their first king. Later, however, Saul spurned God’s word, so the Holy Spirit left him.

Now, after God had chosen David and Samuel had anointed him, “the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully” on David “from that day on.” David remained anointed to the end of his life, and though he wasn’t perfect, God promised that his throne would be “established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16).


God’s Spirit On Me

Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” – Numbers 11:29

Today’s verses relate a bleak story as the Israelites travel through the wilderness. They complain that they have no meat, and God provides them with quail. Tucked in the middle of this story is an important truth about God’s Holy Spirit.

Burdened by Israel’s whining, Moses cries out to God in despair. Graciously answering, God not only provides Israel with meat; he also relieves some of Moses’ burden.

To relieve Moses of the heavy load of leading so many people, God promises to rest his Spirit on seventy elders of Israel. When the Spirit fills those ­elders, however, some of the Israelites, including Joshua, try to quench the Spirit in them. Moses responds, “I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!”




“There are four small creatures, wisest of the wise they are— ants—frail as they are, get plenty of food in for the winter; marmots—vulnerable as they are, manage to arrange for rock-solid homes; locusts—leaderless insects, yet they strip the field like an army regiment; lizards—easy enough to catch, but they sneak past vigilant palace guards.”

Proverbs 30:24-28 MSG

“Observe the ant,” the great Oriental conqueror Tamerlane told his friends. In relating a story from his early life, he said, “I once was forced to take shelter from my enemies in a dilapidated building, where I sat alone for many hours. Wishing to divert my mind from my hopeless situation, I fixed my eyes on an ant carrying a kernel of corn larger than itself up a high wall. I counted its attempts to accomplish this feat. The corn fell sixty-nine times to the ground, but the insect persevered. The seventieth time it reached the top. The ant’s accomplishment gave me courage for the moment, and I never forgot the lesson.”
—from The King’s Business



The Invitation

Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. — Luke 5:29
Do you know the story of Cinderella? Her mean stepfamily made her do all the work in the household. She wasn’t allowed to go to the ball because her stepmother and sisters hated her. Out of nowhere, Cinderella was greeted by a fairy godmother. She turned a few mice into readymade horses and arranged for her to go to the ball, where the prince was smitten with her. When the clock struck midnight, everything returned to normal and Cinderella ran back to her old life. The prince conducted a search and found the young maiden, and they lived happily ever after.
Stories like this happen only in children’s books and Disney films, right? Yet every culture around the world has a Cinderella story.
Levi was a tax collector for the Romans. He was despised by the local culture as a traitor and a thief. But Jesus didn’t despise Levi. He looked past what others saw and called out with two words to the man whom no one really knew: “Follow me.” The heart of Levi was melted by the love of the Master, who looked beyond appearances and saw his value and his need.
Levi needed to repent, of course, and repentance leads to soul health in Jesus, the one doctor with the cure we all need. Unfortunately we all have the disease of sin, and, like Pharisees, we often think we are righteous. Do you want the cure, or are you insisting that you have a clean bill of health?
Father, I need your help to fight sin. Please heal my heart and soul with your love, joy, peace, and forgiveness. Thanks for always pursuing me even when others rejected me. Help me find those who are feeling outcast and help me help them find you. Amen.

Do You Need a Change?

“Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?” – Luke 5:23. Read the full story in Luke 5: 17-26.

I read an article about why change is so difficult for many people. The author explained that most people fail “to distinguish between technical change and adaptive change.

A technical change is straightforward: you have the resources and skills to fix something, so you fix it. An adaptive change is much more difficult. . . . Adaptive change involves soul-searching, learning, and changing who we are and how we live. Why is change so difficult? Because most significant change is adaptive. . . . It involves changing us” (adapted from The Banner, May 2014).

People had flocked to a home where Jesus was teaching. Likely most of them were not looking for the deep change that meant adapting their lives to serve Jesus as Lord. But they were about to witness something they never expected—a total overhaul of life. This is what Jesus proclaimed to a packed house of onlookers, religious teachers, a desperate man, and his friends.

The man on the mat was looking for physical healing. He probably never thought Jesus would be interested in healing his sin-sick soul. But that’s what everyone needed to hear: “Your sins are forgiven.”

Spiritual change is hard! But it takes place when grace sur­prises and shocks us to praise and thank the Jesus we really need.

What kind of change you are seeking from Jesus?


Lord, I need deep change. Help me accept your forgiveness as the first step toward the change you really want for me. Amen.


Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted[a] by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” – Luke 4:1-3.

For years, Professor Richard Lischer taught preaching at Duke Divinity School in North Carolina. He knew all the right answers and could debate with the brightest of students. Then his only son, Adam, came down with cancer, and Lischer had no answers. Still, he could go with what he knew as a Christian. He wrote, “Two paths opened before [my son]: one would take him through the maze of chemo and radiation to an uncertain end. The other, originated in his baptism and nurtured by the rituals of his new founded community, would lead through the labyrinth to his true destination” (Stations of the Heart). Lischer believed his son’s identity was forged in his baptism, not in his having cancer.

When Jesus was baptized, he received the amazing confirmation that God was pleased with him. Then the Spirit led him into the wilderness for a showdown with the devil. Would Jesus follow Satan’s suggestions for living to please himself?

The devil is always eager to help us live for ourselves instead of for God. Will you exchange your true identity as a son or daughter of the Lord for earthly things? Do you really­ want to be like Jesus? The challenges in the desert can only be overcome if we follow the words of Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”


Father, remind me of my identity in Jesus. Help me to resist Satan with your Word and wisdom. Amen.