Wrestling?  ME?

Part 1

“This is not a wrestling match against a human opponent.

We are wrestling with rulers, authorities, the powers who govern this world of darkness,

and spiritual forces that control evil in the heavenly world.

Ephesians 6:12

For me, anything to do with “wrestling” is about appealing  as cleaning a fish.   When my eldest son took up the sport in high school, I spent most of the time covering my face and looking in the opposite direction, praying that he wouldn’t die.  It looked like one body with 4 arms, 4 legs, and 2 heads, one being my son’s.  And his head should not have been in the place  nor position it was poking out of. UGH!!

However, I have since come to appreciate the raw, human struggle that wrestling embodies.  My desert nation has the sport of wrestling in their ancient history, and I have come to understand the human struggle it demonstrates.   There is no distance  between the two wrestlers.   It is one of the most ancient and raw human means of physically struggling with another person.  Face to face, hand to hand, skin to skin.  Wrestlers do not have heavy armor for their matches.  They wear very little, actually.  Their defense and offense is purely physical.

In this passage, wrestling is used to exemplify the very real human struggle in which we are engaged during our time on earth.  It is not as tangible as a wrestling match with a human enemy.  Our opponent is not a physical, visible being.  It is much more sinister and evil.   But it is as real as anything physical…and always takes place in our own minds.  Our Wrestling match is against the Enemy of our Souls….the dark, deadly Ruler of this earthly world.

In the sport of Wrestling, there is no armor nor weapon.  It is hand to hand, face to face, and skin to skin combat.  Wrestling is one of the most ancient sports of combat that exists.  God describes our time on this earth as being a wrestling match between us as humans, and the spiritual powers of evil that cover our world.

In our “wrestling match” on earth, we are in a battle against the Evil One who dominates this planet.  God knows that we are not strong nor powerful enough to battle the evil forces on earth.

Evil has covered the earth, and had its way for far too long.  God is drawing us into this Battle, but not as a wrestler who has no weapons.  This Wrestling Match is not one of human to human.  This one is against evil itself.

Our Hope….our Light in the midst of the Darkness is God Himself, and all that He has provided.

….To be continued….

 

ALONE

“Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane,

 and he said to them,

‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’

He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him,

and he began to be sorrowful and troubled.

Then he said to them,

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.

Stay here and keep watch with me.”

  Matthew 26:36-37

I have read this story every year for as long as I can remember.  But this year, perhaps because of the global fear that has covered this old earth, I read it differently than ever before.  I had always looked on the horrific death that Jesus suffered as the very worst point of  His earthly experience.  But this time, something else is standing out for me . . .

I hear in His words in that olive garden the deepest battle that Jesus was going through.  There was a battle taking place in His very soul.

He said His soul was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.  He didn’t want to be alone.  He was in a battle that would be the deciding moment for all of Eternity….for all the people who would ever walk this earth.  His Battle was with Satan himself.  It became so intense that He repeatedly went to his closest friends, asking them to be with Him….to engage in what was happening in His Mind…His Heart…His Soul.  His horrific inner battle came out of His very pores… sweating blood.  He described His sorrow as overwhelming “to the point of death.”

This was where the Battle of all battles was being fought.  I imagine all the voices of Hell, led by Satan Himself, screaming…screeching in Jesus’ ears…  “DON’T DO THIS!!!”   “DON’T DO THIS!!!”  “THERE ARE OTHER WAYS!  YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO THIS!!!”  Here was Jesus’ deepest Battleground.  It was the Battle of making the final choice.  His final decision…to die as the Perfect, Sinless Lamb of God.  Everything for the rest of eternity hinged on this battle.  It would spell the final outcome for all of humanity for the rest of history.

Jesus showed no resistance when it came to His arrest later that night….His “trial”…. His beatings….His public humiliation….His torture….His horrific crucifixion….His final breath….His death.   He had made His Decision in the garden.  Alone.  Sweating blood.

All of the powers of hell itself could not stop Him from His choice to give His life as the Final Sacrifice for the people of this earth.

His response to the deafening screams of hell,   “DON’T DO THIS!!!”   ???

“It is finished.”

………

What is your toughest battle ground?  What pain can push you to the point of feeling like you’re on the brink of being destroyed?  I have had pain in my life that I did not think I could survive.  This included decisions of others that would impact the rest of my life….watching them move on without me, watching…bloody and barely able to think.

When Jesus needed His Friends most, they literally went into hiding.  He had to face “the worst” without them.  He was abandoned by those with whom He had walked side by side every day.  Yet, there were others who had been less close to Him, simply “being there” out of love.

In my own darkest moments, Jesus was there.  His Spirit…His Presence came so near.  Not with a sermon, or a book, or instructions.  No words were needed. . . He was there, and that was what I needed most.  He didn’t “fix” it…He didn’t change it.

He was simply there.

 

 

SIMPLE

“Arise and eat.”

1 Kings 19:5

Elijah was a drama magnet.  He never seemed to have just a “normal” day like the rest of the people around him.  Just in the chapter before this simple verse, he lived through dramatic extremes that no other man had experienced.  It was part of being “chosen” by God.

I have a dear friend born in the land of Israel in the year it became a nation (1948), who recounts the history of the Jewish people (God’s “Chosen People”) as well as their current history.  As a result, he often says, “God!  Can You please choose somebody else for a while!”

I think that Elijah may have had similar thoughts.  He was at the end of his rope.  He had nothing more to give….in fact he had sunk into a sense of hopelessness that made him want to die.  He had isolated himself.  He did not want to go on.  With the dramatic backdrop of the miracles God had used Elijah to carry out, a death threat from a woman hit him so hard that he literally wanted to die.

But God had been with him.  He was still with him.  God’s heart toward His dear servant remained as patient and faithful as always, even though Elijah was not feeling it.  In His great Compassion, God sent His angel to be with Elijah.  No judgement.  No quoting Torah verses.  No condemnation regarding the hopeless condition of His dear Servant Elijah.  Not even reminders of Elijah’s recent “mountain-top experience” with God.

“Get up and eat.”  God’s Presence was there.  Simply.  Practically.  Kindly.  No shaming or blaming to His dear servant.  No lecture.  God simply laid out fresh, warm bread and water, right where he was.

May we think of God’s Kindness toward His servant Elijah when we have become so depleted that we have nothing else to give.  May we see His Provision in those hopeless moments . . . the simple things of life . . . the bare necessities that He sets before us without fanfare nor shame.  And may we receive from Him those simple, everyday provisions that He offers us, trusting that He knows what is ahead and today’s provision…from His Hand….will be all we will need to step into tomorrow.

LAUGHING MATTERS

“Abraham fell facedown; he laughed…”

GENESIS 17:17

 Life is serious.  So many things can weigh us down.  Sometimes we just seem to need a good laugh.  God created us with the capacity to laugh.  And I have a strong suspicion that God sees moments in our own lives that would be cause for Him to laugh…at least chuckle…as well.

Abraham and Sarah both have notes in their stories that include laughter.  God took note, enough to include it in the Story He was writing in their lives.

Childless and beyond the years of childbearing, God made a promise to Abraham. . . the promise of having a son.  Although Abraham and Sarah had devised their own solution to the problem (a son with Sarah’s servant Hagar), God’s Plan still moved forward.  It involved a miracle.  A miracle baby – a son – would be born to this elderly couple.

When Abraham was told of it, by God, he laughed.   Later, when Sarah was also told, by visiting angels, she laughed as well.

But their laughter was more out of disbelief than of joy.  It was a promise that was humanly impossible. Unbelievable.  Laughable.

A year later, their little miracle baby boy was born.  The Promise of God came into their lives…into their arms.  They named him “Laughter” (Isaac.)

Abraham and his family went on to impact the world and all of history.  Was their life easy?  NO! But I have a sneaking suspicion that every time Abraham and Sarah spoke Isaac’s name – Laughter – they remembered their own laughter of unbelief. Isaac’s very presence was a reminder.  They watched their huggable, loving, flesh-and-blood  Evidence that God’s Word is true.  What God says is solid, living, and absolutely worthy of belief.

HOPE

“May God, the Source of Hope,

fill you with joy and peace through your faith in Him.

Then you will overflow with hope

by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Romans 15:13

My world has changed.  Our world has changed.  Seemingly out of nowhere a dangerous virus is spreading.  At first it seemed a far distant danger.  Now it is at our door.  Every door.  Everywhere on this globe.  Nations, cities, and homes throughout the earth are being affected.

We have been taken by surprise.   We cannot fix this.   We must step into the Unknown, and walk a path we have not walked before.

There was a man named Paul, long, long ago who wrote of watching his world turn upside-down.  He was successful, brilliant, respected, and very powerful.  But in one blinding moment, his entire world changed forever.  All of his political power, affluence  and success came crashing down.

He had nowhere to look but Up.   Then,  a life-shattering encounter with God….and he would never be the same.

Paul went on to become a key writer for the Bible’s New Testament.   His prayer (above) has passed through the ages, and is as appropriate for us as it was for those to whom he had written  2000 years ago.  He knew very personally what it was to suffer physically, emotionally and mentally. . . directly because of his faith and faithfulness in following Jesus.

Yet, his new reality  became one of joy….peace….hope.   Only the Spirit of God can do that in a person.   Paul had experienced  The Source of Hope in the midst of becoming hopelesscompletely “undone.”   All of his affluence and power faded.  But out of that single encounter with Jesus, Paul experienced HOPE from its very Source…God.

 May we, in our present Moment, blinded and on the ground, LOOK UP.

Darkness

“As the sun was just about to set,

a deep sleep

-a dreadful, deep darkness-

came over Abram.”

Genesis 15:12

Abram had just experienced an amazing time with God.  He had promised Abram some life-changing events that were in his future….glimpses of what He had planned for him.  God had sealed those promises with a private ceremony….just between Himself and Abram.   Then, midstream, Abram experiences “a dreadful, deep darkness.”

Have you ever had those bright, shining moments….only to be followed by the opposite extreme?   I know that sometimes I’ve felt like a ping-pong ball….being batted back and forth between two opposing circumstances.  The “shining moment” becomes a “dark cloud” that has come out of no-where.

Sometimes, the “LIGHT” of God surrounds us in moments that are almost blinding.  Then the “shadow” hits.  The contrast is so confusing!  Frustrating!

What if . . . God’s Hand is creating the shadow.  What happens in the shadow?  On this earth, when the sun hits us full-force, it becomes too much to bear.  We look for shade.  We head toward a shelter that will give us some relief from the blazing light and heat of the powerful sun.  God describes Himself as Light, and speaks of the “shadow of His Wings.”

When God’s own Hand casts a shadow on our lives, there is always a purpose.  It is not cruelty, or just  playing with our minds and hearts.  That is not Who He is.

When I am in the desert, the sun can be absolutely unbearable.  Finding a shadow is crucial, and remaining in that shadow is the best place to be.  With the blazing heat of the sun so near, I need . . . want to remain in the shadow.  Further physical activity must pause.  Time, slowly ticking moment by moment,  becomes the perfect setting to think….to listen.   

Abram was learning this. He was learning how to listen to God.  God continued to speak to Abram even tho’ he was in a darkness that God had allowed.  His Promises continued.  His plans continued to unfold, but in a way that He had Abram’s full attention.

When the Shadow comes, don’t run… don’t scramble to create your own light.  Be still. Wait.   Listen.   God is in the Shadow with you.                                   [read all of Genesis 15]

Things That Tick God Off

[The Lord Invites Israel to Turn Away from Sin ]

 “Wash yourselves!

Become clean!

 Get your evil deeds out of My sight.

Stop doing evil.

 Learn to do good.

Seek justice.

Arrest oppressors.

Defend orphans.

 Plead the case of widows.”  

Is 1:16-17

Wow!!  Although the note before these verses calls this an invitation, I read it as a strong challenge!  I think the Writer…the Lord (via Isaiah)…sounds pretty ticked!   There is strong emotion in his words.

He begins with the challenging list that speaks to the reader’s own personal condition…sin!  It’s a short list of heart issues…attitudes….things hidden in our own hearts, but blatently clear to God.  He hates sin.  It ruins us, ruins our relationship with Him, and wreaks havoc on the  people in our lives.

It’s as if God is taking our faces in His Hands….”Look at Me!  Listen!!”  These commands have to do with our own choices. . . things we need to do ourselves.  I hear passion and emotion in His heart towards this pointed list.

Then, there comes a short list of behaviors that should be outcomes of the work we need to do in our own hearts and attitudes.  They have been placed in a catagory that focuses on “others.”

Seek Justice:

  • Arrest oppressors
  • Defend Orphans
  • Plead the case of widows

Justice involves setting the “wrong”….right.   The three examples listed are such a common part of life in our world.  These are not descriptions of people in a certain part of a city, or some other country……they’re often right in our own neighborhoods and circles of relationship.

Arrest oppressors:   Oppression involves using power to push others down.  Vulernable people are easy to see.  And it’s a fair assumption that those in a position of greater strength or power in the life of “the weaker” have used that strength or power to push someone else down….or out.  Whether it’s a matter of oppressing someone’s  life circumstances, or their emotional vulnerability,  their financial poverty, physical or mental limitations, or tough circumstances of life that have put them in a place of weakness, the people who take advantage of that become “oppressors.”  The implication in this verse is that there may have even been illegal actions that have pushed those who are already “down” even further down.  Arresting means putting a stop to what is going on….perhaps even legally.   God’s heart is always soft towards those in vulnerable, weakened, broken conditions.  His Heart is for the humble….humbled.  Shouldn’t ours be as well?

 Defend orphans:  We do not have “orphanages” in our American world, but we still have orphans.  Broken families are everywhere.  Children abandoned by a parent, or parents, are often put into a legal system that allows for moving children from home to home.  Millions of children have lived with no sense of stability, safety, emotional attachment or commitment from either their birth parents nor the temporary care of others who may or may not have a love or commitment to the child in their care.   God’s Word often specifies His Heart for orphans….He

cares for them.  He sees them, and looks to us to get involved in such a way that we add to their sense of being safein this dangerous world.  The Bible often refers to God as “FATHER”

because we ALL need a father.

Plead the case of widows:   Widows in ancient times stood a good chance of losing everything if their husband died.  They became terribly vulnerable.  Having lost a husband, they also lost their sense of safety…protection…having that husband who had stood between them and the things of this world that would hurt them.  They had no voice.  They were “easy targets” for those who would use them for their own benefit.  Without the one who had been their protector, the widow now takes the brunt of what this world throws at women who have lost so much, on so many levels.  No matter how strong the widow, when the “two” becomes “one”, life is forever changed.  It is often still true today.  A wife who loses her husband experiences repercussions that continue for the rest of her life.

For God to name these two specific catagories of human reality through Isaiah, matters.  His Words are strong.  This isn’t a suggestion.  His challenge began with heart issues, but ended with practical action.