Taste and See

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When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, Scripture says He hungered (Matthew 4:2). I’ve read before that for hunger pains to return after such a long period of fasting, it was sign that Jesus was literally starving to death.

Has the Spirit of God ever led you to a place where you felt like you were starving to death?

Spiritual hunger, much like physical hunger, makes us desperate – desperate for relief, desperate to be filled. Hunger humbles us. It produces a need for provision.

So how do we react in these wilderness seasons? How do we react to to the hunger? Do we look to Heaven for manna? Do we look to Jesus with His five loaves and two fish?

Or do we walk around downtrodden? Do we question God’s goodness for leading us to a place of such emptiness? Do we question His faithfulness leaving us so hungry?

I’ve noticed throughout Scripture, and in my own personal experiences, that when Satan attacks – the first thing he wants us to question is the goodness of God’s character.

He did it with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He did it with the Israelites roaming in the wilderness. And He tried to do it with Jesus…

But Jesus answered and said to him, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4 KJV).

Jesus was prepared for Satan’s attack, because He had found nourishment and sustenance in the Word of God. Jesus counteracted Satan’s attack with a quote from Deuteronomy 8:3 – a reminder of what God had done for the Israelites.

The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years. God was leading them to a promised land, but they were longing for the days of slavery. They couldn’t see where they were going, and couldn’t understand why God was taking them the way He was. The desert is a dry and desolate place. It makes us doubt the goodness of God. It makes us doubt His presence, doubt His power, and doubt His promise. But even in our doubting, God is faithful still. The Israelites were starving in the desert. They hungered – they longed to be filled. The wilderness felt like a wasteland, like a waiting room – and death was just beyond the door. But the Lord heard their grumbling, heard their complaining, and He said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions” (Exodus 16:4 NIV).

God was faithful to provide what they needed most, when they needed it most. But God’s provision didn’t look like what they expected. In fact, God’s provision didn’t look like anything they had ever seen before. Scripture says when the Israelites saw it the next morning, they said to each other, “What is it?” because they didn’t know what it was. They called it manna, which literally means “What is it?”

In her book One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp writes, “Hungry – they chose to gather up that which is baffling. They fill on that which has no meaning. More than 14,600 days they take their daily nourishment from that which they don’t comprehend. They find soul-filling in the inexplicable. They eat the mystery.” I love that connection – because we all go through wilderness experiences in our lifetimes. We all go through dry seasons. We all go through times when we can’t wrap our minds around why God does the things He does. But if we could wrap our mind around it, would He even be God?

One of the Scriptures that brings me the most comfort in wilderness seasons is Isaiah 55:8-9 where the Lord is speaking and says, “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts and my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts’” (NLT).  We have to trust in that. We have to believe that God has something greater in store than we could ever imagine. We can’t fathom His faithfulness, because we can’t imagine the thoughts He thinks or the path He has prepared. All we know is what we see, and all we see is what we feel. We feel lost when a loved one dies, because we can’t see a future without them in it. We feel thirsty wandering a desert with no water in sight. We feel hungry when our strength is fading and there is nothing nearby to satisfy what seems to be our deepest need.

The sky may grow dark with sorrow, but by God’s grace, the sun will rise. Joy comes in the morning – even in the mourning. And in the morning, when we rise, we’ll see God’s grace. We’ll see His grace in the form of drops of dew on the ground. And from that dew will appear “thin flakes like frost” – and we’ll ask “What is it?” And we’ll hear the words of Moses echo, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat” (Exodus 16:15 NIV).

The Israelites gathered the manna – whatever it was – and ate it. They ate the mystery, ate the provision. And Scripture says it tasted “like wafers made with honey” (Exodus 16:31 NIV). When we taste God’s mysterious manna, we will taste and see that He is good (Psalm 34:8). The Israelites couldn’t see the future. Their eyes couldn’t see, their ears couldn’t hear, and their minds couldn’t imagine (1 Corinthians 2:9). But when they tasted that manna – they were getting a foretaste of glory divine. They were getting a foretaste of the Promised Land – a land “flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 33:3). They were getting a foretaste of the Promised Messiah – a Messiah who said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35 NLT).

When the disciples gathered with Jesus at the last Passover meal, they couldn’t see into the future to know it would be their last meal with Him. When He broke the bread and gave it to them, it was like gathering manna. They didn’t understand what He meant when He said, “This is my body, which is given for you” (Luke 22:19 NLT). The manna doesn’t make sense when it’s in your hand, but once it’s digested – you’ll look back and see the faithfulness of God. You’ll see His presence with you in the toughest battle. You’ll feel His power fighting along beside you. You’ll understand that the path He took you along was the path you needed to travel to fulfill His greatest purpose.

The disciples didn’t know what they were doing when they took the bread and ate it. But when they saw His body broken on the cross – did they remember the broken bread in His hands? And flash forward to a few days later… Still blinded by sorrow, they journeyed to Emmaus with the resurrected Savior and still their eyes couldn’t see, their ears couldn’t hear, and their minds couldn’t comprehend. They didn’t even recognize Him… until they sat down to eat. Scripture says, “As they sat down to eat, He took the bread and blessed it. Then He broke it and gave it to them. Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him” (Luke 24:30-31 NLT). What was it that caused them to recognize him at that very moment? Every scar tells a story – was it the scars on His wrists that reminded them? Or was it the bread – the manna, the mystery? Did the words He had spoken replay in their mind at that moment?

“This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

Everything we do should be in remembrance of the Lord. Every time we sit around a table and break bread together – it should be a reminder of the body broken for us. We need to be reminded. That’s why the Lord commanded the Israelites to preserve some of the manna. He had them put a portion of the manna in a jar, and that jar was placed with the tablets of the law in the sacred Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 16:32-34). He wanted them to preserve it for years to come so that future generations would also be able to see and know of His faithfulness in the wilderness.

The disciples recognized Jesus at the moment they did, because they remembered. They had seen the scars and heard the stories, and they remembered His faithfulness. The manna they had tasted at that Passover meal had since digested. Looking back, they saw with more clarity the hand of God at work. The manna made sense – it wasn’t so mysterious anymore. No longer blinded by hunger – they had tasted and seen! They had tasted the Bread of Life, and received the Word of Life. Never to hunger again, never to thirst again – Completely satisfied, completely fulfilled. Even in the darkest of days and driest of seasons – The Word of God remains, and His Bread sustains.

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Hide & Seek

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The concept of “Seeking God” has always fascinated me. The first time I really felt God speaking directly and personally to me was through Matthew 6:33. When I was in middle school, I seemed to see that verse everywhere I turned. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” The concept followed me through every other stage of life, in different ways and through different verses. In high school it was was Jeremiah 29:13, “And ye shall seek Me and find Me when ye shall search for Me with all your heart.” And in college it was Isaiah 55:6, “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near.” Then one day I stumbled upon a verse that threw me for a loop. It was Romans 3:11 which says, “There is none that understandeth. There is none that seeketh after God.”

What was that supposed to mean… There is none that seeketh God? Not one?

As I was reflecting on this, I began to think about the game of hide and seek. What does the game consist of? Someone hides, and someone tries to find them, right? But is God hidden that He needs to be found? What kind of God would hide himself from the people he loves and came to save, and then command them to come searching for him? I imagined this kind of God peeking his head out from around corners, laughing at us in our fear and confusion. And just when we’ve almost found him, he runs and hides again. That’s the image of God that a lot of people have in their minds today, but that’s not the God we serve. God is not hiding. God is not playing games. He is not mocking us. God reveals Himself to us everyday, in both big and small ways. Since the beginning of creation, God has desired a close and intimate relationship with us – but it’s our sin that separates us from Him. Isaiah 59:2 says, “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear.”

We are the ones who are hidden.

Look at Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They were created in the image of God. He formed them from the dust of the ground and breathed His very life into them. And for a time they lived and moved among Him. They walked and talked with Him. They were completely naked in the presence of God, and they felt no shame. That’s the way God intended us to live, with nothing to hide and no need to seek. But our sin separated us from Him. Scripture says Eve saw the fruit of the tree. It was pleasing to the eye and desirable for gaining wisdom, so she took it. She ate it, and she gave some to her husband, and both of their eyes were opened. For the first time, they saw their nakedness and they felt shame. So what did they do? They sewed fig leaves together. They made coverings. They tried to hide it.

Adam and Eve disobeyed the clear instructions of God, and a moment of desire led to an eternity of shame and suffering. That is the power of sin. That is what God warned us about, and that is what He tried to protect us from, but we turned away. We are led astray when we open our eyes to what the world offers and close our ears to what God orders. We are led astray when we listen to the lies of the enemy over and above the truth of God’s Word. We are led astray when we seek pleasure over purpose.

But God, in His infinite mercy, doesn’t abandon us in our place of weakness. As Adam and Eve hid from God among the trees, God called out to them, “Where are you?”

We are the ones who were led astray. We are the ones who were lost. We are the ones who covered ourselves with fig leaves, like empty good deeds, to cover our sin and conceal our shame. We are the ones who tried to hide among the trees – unable to look upon the face of the One True God, much less go searching for Him.

“…There is none that seeketh after God.”

But God, in His infinite mercy, came looking for us. He came searching. He came calling. Luke 19:10 says, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Jesus came to seek us and save us. He came to call us out of hiding. But it is up to us to respond to the call.

When God called out to Adam and Eve, “Where are you?” – It was not because He didn’t know where they were. There was a purpose behind it. I’ve noticed that whenever I’m upset about something, my friend always asks me, “What’s wrong?” And it frustrates me – because I know she knows me well enough to know what’s bothering me. So what’s the purpose of asking a question you already know the answer to? But she does it for my own well-being. She does it because she knows I need to give a voice to the hurt. I need to admit it, confess it. I need to let it out so it doesn’t fester inside of me. And it’s the same way with God.

God doesn’t ask a question He doesn’t already know the answer to. Jeremiah 23:23-24 says, “Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord.” God is both near and far, He fills both time and space. He is omnipresent – in all places. We cannot run from His presence. He is omnipotent – all-powerful. There is nowhere we can hide that He can’t find us. He is omniscient – all-knowing. He knows us better than we know ourselves. We cannot hide our heart from the God who created it.

When He asks, “Where are you? – It’s because He wants to hear our response. God could have gone directly to Adam and Eve, He could have forced them out of hiding. But what would that have accomplished? Relationships are built on communication – call and response, question and answer. God desires a relationship with us. He is our King, not our Dictator. We have been adopted as children, not forced as slaves. He desires our loving obedience, not robotic obedience. A relationship with God is an invitation to commune with Him. He knocks at the door of our heart (Revelation 3:20), He doesn’t force entry. John 10:1-3 says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.” This is the same Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 to go searching for the one lost sheep (Luke 15). This is the same God who comes searching for us in the midst of the storm, in the midst of our fear and confusion, and bids us come to Him walking on the water (Matthew 14:28-29). This is the same God who says, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). This is the same God who says, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

He is calling, He is waiting.

Seeking God is not about going out searching to find a hidden God – It is about coming out of hiding. It is about stepping out of darkness and into marvelous light. It is about running wholeheartedly toward the One who has revealed Himself to us. It is about drawing near to the God who has already drawn near to us. It is about seeking and finding the God who seeks and saves us when we are lost.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found.

 

 

Transparency

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What does it mean to be transparent?

The Merriam-Webster definition is 1) “having the property of transmitting light without appreciable scattering so that bodies lying beyond are seen clearly, fine or sheer enough to be seen through” or 2) “free from pretense or deceit, easily detected or seen through, readily understood, characterized by visibility or accessibility of information.”

Transmitting light. Clearly seen. Free from pretense. Free from deceit. Easily detected. Readily Understood. Characterized by visibility.

These are all qualities we desperately need in the body of Christ.

We call ourselves “Christians” – and we’ve painted an image of what a “Christian” looks like… But our image doesn’t reflect the Christ we represent. Our Christ was transparent. He was light. He was life. He was truth. He told His followers, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Jesus was real. He was honest. He withheld nothing. He lived to please no one but the Father. The religious leaders scorned and ridiculed Him, but God delighted Him and declared over Him, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

To look at Jesus was to see God.

When the disciples asked, “Lord, show us the Father.” Jesus boldly declared, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:8-9). That’s the definition of transparency. That’s how well Jesus represented the Father. If we call ourselves followers of Christ, then should we not strive to live just as transparent?

If we are representing light, then why is there still so much darkness in the world?

If we are representing truth, then why is there still so much deceit in the world?

It is because we have our light hid under a bushel, and we’ve concealed the truth behind a mask. We’re afraid to be seen, afraid to be known. But in our fears, we’ve blocked the world from seeing and knowing who Christ truly is.

Hiding has never been easier than it is now.

Masks have never been as accessible as they are now.

We live in a world where we create the life we want to portray to the world. We only post the pictures we want people to see, and we only share the stories we want people to read. We photoshop and shape our image to meet our standards – ignoring the fact that God Himself, in all His Glory, created and shaped us into His image. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, but what God sees as wonderful, we see as woeful – so we hide it away. We literally conceal and make-up our faces, and filter our memories. We delete what we don’t want, and edit what we want to change. We pick and choose, cut and paste, move around and re-arrange. We, the created and formed, try to take on the job of creating and forming.

We are the work of God’s hands, not the other way around. He is the Potter, and we are the clay, but we’ve tried to shift the roles. Romans 9:20-21 says, “But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?”

Special is purposeful.

Common is useful.

God has a plan and a purpose for every aspect of our lives. We may not always understand His ways, but we have to trust His will. And in order to stay in His will, we must stay on His wheel. When we neglect the process of the Potter, we slow the progress of the clay. The Potter is powerful enough to create the most beautiful of masterpieces from the most broken of messes. When Jeremiah went down to the potter’s house and saw him working at the wheel, God revealed a powerful message to him. Jeremiah 18:3-6 says, “So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, ‘Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?’ declares the Lord. ‘Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.'”

Like marred clay in the hand of the Potter, so are we.

I heard it said once, “There is nothing more beautiful than to be broken in the arms of the Savior.” These words ring so true in my life. Some of the most beautiful moments in my life have been moments of brokenness. We need to learn to embrace the beauty of our brokenness. Brokenness brings us together like nothing else can. It unites us with other broken people who share our same sorrows and bear our same burdens. More importantly, brokenness brings us closer to the Savior by awakening our need for His presence and power in our lives.

We live in a broken world, but if the world never knows we’ve been broken then how will they ever know we’ve been healed?

Without transparency, how can we relate to the brokenness of others? How can we bear one another’s burdens? How can we comfort and encourage one another? How can we give hope if we never share our hurt?

How can we ever live out the Gospel if we never extend the Grace that was given to us?

This world needs truth.

This world needs transparency.

There are broken people in the world who need to see through your healing, past your heart, and to your hurt. They need to see Jesus through it all – to see the hand of the Potter at work.

Don’t stand still. Don’t keep quiet.

Don’t let fear hold you captive. Don’t let shame hide your face.

Share your brokenness. Share it boldly. Share it beautifully.

At the communion table, Jesus broke the bread so He could give it away. At the cross, Jesus, the Bread of Life, was broken so He could be given away.

The word “communion” in the original Greek language is “koinoia” which means “sharing in common.” When we break the bread and drink the wine of communion, we are sharing in the suffering of Christ. The cross ties us together by a common bond. We have all sinned. We all fall short of the glory of God. We all know the death, disease, and destruction that comes as a result of the sinfulness of this world. We are not alone in our brokenness. We are not alone in our shame, nor in our sorrow.

The word “koinoia” also translates to “fellowship” – and transparency is what makes deep fellowship possible. True fellowship requires transparency, and true transparency requires confession.

Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”

James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed…”

Confession is an act of surrender. It is opening yourself up to receive mercy, opening yourself up to receive healing.

I challenge you to be more transparent. Find someone to confide it. Confess whatever sins and struggles you are facing right now. Expose your weakness to find your strength. Tear down the walls of your pride to build trust and find peace. Take off the mask you created and learn to embrace your true identity in Christ. Let go of everything that holds you back and weighs you down. Stop playing games and pretending to be someone God never intended you to be. There is freedom in surrender.

Don’t be afraid to make yourself known. When you lay down the burden of hiding and pretending, you will discover the joy of simply being. Be loved. Be who God has called you to be. No more shame, no more fear.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will— to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”

– Ephesians 1:3-10

 

Learning to Lean

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“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”

– Proverbs 3:5 (NIV)

Lean not on your own understanding.

I don’t know about you, but I have a tendency to lean on things a lot. When I walk in a room to talk to someone, I lean on the doorpost. When I’m sitting at my desk at work, I lean on the armrest of my chair. When I’m driving, I either lean on the car door or lean on the center console. When I’m sitting at a table, I either lean forward on the table or lean back in my chair. Blame it on my poor posture, physical weakness, or just plain laziness – I’m not sure why I do it, but leaning just seems to come naturally to me. It’s not that I couldn’t stand up straight if I wanted to, or support my own weight if I needed to, it’s just more comfortable not to.

And it’s the same way in life.

I lean on my friends, my family, my church, my work, my talents, my hobbies, my finances, etc. I depend on these people and things to be there when I need them to be there – I depend on them to meet my needs and satisfy my desires. I look to them for comfort, and I lean on them for support. I seek their advice, their counsel, and their understanding.

I trust them, because I see them. I hear them. I feel them. I’m not Thomas, I can’t touch the holes in Jesus’ hands and side… so why should I trust Him? I can’t see His plan, so how could I understand?

When I make these kind of excuses, I am a hypocrite. Why do we condemn Thomas and label him by his faults when we ourselves doubt God’s power every day. Meanwhile, we lean on our own understanding and put our trust in weaker powers.

In the book Live Loved, Max Lucado writes,

“You take steps of trust daily, even hourly. You believe the chair will support you, so you sit your weight on it. You believe water will hydrate you, so you swallow it. You trust the work of the light switch, so you flip it. You have faith the doorknob will work, so you turn it. You regularly trust in power you cannot see to do a work you cannot accomplish. Jesus invites you to do the same with Him.”

Trust in a power you cannot see to do a work you cannot accomplish – that’s what it means to lean on Jesus.

I love the perspective of trusting Jesus in this video, please take the time to watch:

https://youtu.be/D9sPVwmbBD4

How often do we find ourselves in this same situation? We have ourselves convinced that we understand God’s plan, that we’ve trusted Him completely… But it’s our own understanding we’re leaning on. God  is calling us to bigger and better things and yet we find ourselves crippled with fear, crippled by doubt.

There is a reason Scripture tells us not to lean on our own understanding – It’s for our good. It’s meant to protect us from falling flat on our face, or flat on our back, or falling flat in whatever direction our leaning is leading us.

Our understanding is based on our thoughts, our opinions, and our views of the world and how it operates. Look at all of the leaning we see in politics – There are people who lean left, and people who lean right. There are people on the left who lean a little the right, and there are people on the right who lean a little to the left. Then there are people who lean so far one way or the other that I find myself wondering how they haven’t completely lost their balance and toppled over yet.

When we lean on our own understanding, we are leaning on the belief that our understanding is correct – absolute truth, completely trustworthy. But in the wise words of The Black Eyed Peas’ song Where is the Love… it’s our “lack of understanding leading us away from unity.”

Romans 3:11 tells us, “There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God” and Romans 11:33 says, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”

We can’t even begin to understand the plans of God – His ways are higher, His thoughts are  higher (Isaiah 55:8-9). Scripture tells us no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind can comprehend the things God has prepared (1 Corinthians 2:9).

So why do we trust so much in our own understanding, and so little in His? Why do we choose to lean on our lack of understanding, rather than leaning on the One who gives understanding?

Isaiah 29:16 says,

“You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “You did not make me”? Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”?”

This world is full of division because we are all trusting in our own understanding. We are all so convinced that our plans are the best plans, and our thoughts are the best thoughts, that we close our minds to anything contradictory. The anger and hostility, the arguments and hateful words – It could all cease if we would simply learn the right way to lean.

What a world this would be if we would only learn to lean into each other rather than away from each other, if only we would learn to listen simply for the sake of listening rather than listening in order to form a rebuttal, if only we would learn to seek to understand rather than seek to be understood. I think that kind of world would look a lot more like the Kingdom of God, a lot more like the body of Christ – living and active, working and moving together. But in order for that kind of world to exist, we must be fully trusting and fully leaning on the power of God – the power that gives us the strength and ability to do a work that only He can do. We must lean to learn, and we must learn to lean.

Thorn in My Flesh


“…So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.”

– 2 Corinthians 12:7 NLT

We all have weaknesses of our flesh. Whether Paul’s thorn was a physical ailment or not has been, and will continue to be, debated. Despite all the research and speculation regarding it, Biblical scholars cannot give us a definite answer as to what his thorn was. I think that’s the beauty of God’s Word. If He wanted us to know, He would have told us, but because this particular detail is missing – we can all relate. We can all identify with Paul’s struggle in one way or another.

So what’s you thorn?

Is it a sickness or physical limitation that makes you feel weak? A mental illness or emotional burden that seems to drain you? An addiction or temptation that Satan consistently uses against you?

Thorns hurt. They’re uncomfortable, and humiliating, and they make us feel powerless. They empty us of our pride, of our strength, and of our sense of self-control.

And it all starts with sin.

In Genesis 3:17-18, God says to Adam,

“…Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains.”

Thorns were not part of God’s original creation. Thorns were  not what He intended for us. He didn’t breathe them into existence, didn’t speak life into them, and definitely didn’t say that they were good. But that doesn’t mean He can’t still use them for good.

Look at the story of Joseph. Joseph had 11 thorns in his flesh – 11 brothers who hated him. He was despised and rejected, thrown in a pit, and left for dead. But God rose him up to a place of power, and many years later when he stood before the same brothers who nearly killed him, he said, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people” (Genesis 50:20).

Satan intends to destroy us with thorns, but those thorns can be turned around and used for good. Time changes our perspective. What we see as painful thorns today, we may be able to look back on and see as hedges of protection.

When Jesus teaches the parable of the sower in Matthew 13, He gives an example of seeds that fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked the young plants. In his explanation of the parable, He said, “The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s Word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced” (Matthew 13:22). Don’t let the worries of this life be the death of you. Don’t allow the thorns in your life to choke you out and prevent your growth.  Don’t just listen to the Word of God, hear it. Don’t let the lies of the enemy drown out the voice of God’s truth. Allow His Words to soak in and saturate every part of your soul. Allow His Words to refresh and nourish you, and give you the strength to go forward. Allow the light of Grace to shine upon you. Don’t just hear His Word, but make His Word come alive in you. Then you will begin see patches of wisdom growing through the patches of thorns – growing through, in spite of the thorns. Satan will yet again taste the bitterness of his defeat as you begin to rise above what was intended to take you out.

Thorns grow from the ground where sin in planted – They came about as a result of sin, as a result of the curse.

But Jesus came to reverse the curse.

He came to rescue us from the curse.

Galatians 3:13 says, “But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.'”

He took upon Himself the curse we deserved.

He took our punishment.

He took our shame.

He took our thorns.

Some of the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into their headquarters and called out the entire regiment. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him. They wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head, and they placed a reed stick in his right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mockery and taunted, “Hail! King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and grabbed the stick and struck him on the head with it. When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified.”

– Matthew 27:27-31 NLT

I have related to Paul’s thorn in different ways, for different reasons, throughout different seasons of my life. But this week, God laid a particular sin very heavily on my heart and identified it as a thorn in my flesh. Something that may seem so menial to someone else, became a very real and very big problem in my life. A little thorn can do a lot of damage. A little lie. A little disobedience. A little pornography. A little drink. A little pride. A little greed – It cost our Savior’s life. We don’t know the damage we are doing to ourselves and those around us when we sweep our sin under the rug and neglect to remember the cost that was paid to free us from it’s consequences.

I can relate to Paul’s struggle – My flesh is weak. But because of what Christ did for me on the cross, and because what I experienced on September 23rd 2006 and everyday thereafter – I can also relate to Paul’s salvation.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26 NIV).

That is why, like Paul, I can boldly proclaim, “I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me… For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLT).

Faith Begins with Fear

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Have you ever had a dream that scared you? That felt bigger than you? A dream that made you feel inadequate, like it required  more than you had to offer?

Ever felt called in a direction beyond the border of your comfort zone? Called to a place where you felt like your weaknesses would be exposed and your strengths would come up short of being enough?

If so, you’re probably right where God wants you to be.

If you’ve ever stood on the edge of a mountain and looked out over the expanse of earth beneath you and before you, then you know what it feels like to stand on the edge of God’s calling for your life. It is breathtakingly beautiful and simulaneously terrifying.

Imagine Abraham – looking up at the stars of the sky and hearing God tell him that his descendants would be just as  many, but knowing the barrenness of his wife and their continually increasing age (Genesis 15:1-6).

Imagine Moses – a murderer with a speech impediment, standing before a burning bush, hearing God tell him that He is sending him back to the place from which he fled to lead the people of Israel out of slavery and into the promised land (Exodus 3:3-6).

Imagine Mary – a young virgin, engaged to be married, hearing an angel of the Lord tell her she will become pregnant and give birth to the Son of God (Luke 1:26-33).

In each instance, these giant heroes and heroines of our faith had to be commanded not to fear. We revere and honor these names now, but in their own day and age their lives seemed so small and insignificant. Can you imagine?!

We serve a big God with big plans, and He desires to use the lowliest of servants to accomplish the grandest of goals. It’s only natural to be afraid when God calls us to something big. Faith begins with fear. But what I find so amazing, and hard to believe, is that God-sized dreams do not require God-sized faith.

In Matthew 17, the disciples saw Jesus transfigured on a mountaintop. The fullness and brightness of His glory was too much for them to behold. They were terrified, and in their fear they fell down before Him. As they got to the bottom of the mountain, a large crowd was waiting for them, and a man approached Jesus and knelt before Him seeking healing for his son. The son suffered from seizures, and although the father had brought Him to the disciples, they had been unsuccessful in their attempts to heal Him. Jesus became obviously frustrated upon learning of their failed attempts, saying, “You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me” (Matthew‬ ‭17:17‬ ‭NLT‬‬). After Jesus heals the boy, the disciples question Jesus about why they had been unable to usher the same healing. He responded by saying, “You don’t have enough faith… I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible” ‭‭(Matthew‬ ‭17:20‬ ‭NLT‬‬).

A little faith begins with a lot of fear.

But there are two different types of fear – There is fear that paralyzes you, and there is fear that propels you. Fear that paralyzes you holds you captive and keeps you from experiencing what God has to offer. It is a fear of the future, a fear of what people will think, a fear that you won’t be enough. This type of fear will keep you always looking for God’s promises, but never taking active progress towards them. On the other hand, fear that propels you towards God’s calling gives you drive and ambition. This is a reverential fear – It is a fear that believes in the power of God, and trusts that He is able to do what He says He will do.

The disciples feared God on the top of the mountain.  They bowed down before Him in their fear after seeing the brightness and fullness of His Glory displayed. But the father, desperately seeking Jesus, waited patiently and bowed down before Him at the foot of the mountain. His eyes had not beheld what the disciples had beheld, yet He wholeheartedly believed in what Jesus was able to do. That is the definition of faith – believing without seeing. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” This father believed in what he could not see – and his little bit of faith led to the moving of a mountain in his son’s life.

We aren’t all so faith-filled. Some of us are paralyzed with fear. We don’t believe because we don’t see, and we don’t trust because we don’t understand.

After Jesus was crucified and risen from the dead, He appeared to His disciples again. Infamously, Thomas did not believe Jesus was who He said He was until he was able to touch the wounds and feel the holes. Jesus responded to Thomas’ doubt by saying, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me” (John‬ ‭20:29‬ ‭NLT‬‬).

We are blessed when we believe, but Jesus is faithful even when we are faithless. He doesn’t give up on us when our faith measures up to less than the size of a tiny mustard seed. He doesn’t deny our requests for evidence of His Power. He continually reveals Himself to us and makes Himself known to us. We are simply holding on to the wrong kind of fear. We have no need to fear not being capable or powerful enough to complete God’s calling. This kind of fear will flee in the presence and truth of who God is. He is all-powerful, completely capable, and in control of all things. He dwells within us, and lives and moves among us.  We have no need to be paralyzed with fear.

We need to let our fear propel us towards our calling – the place where our fears and our faith collide.

When we focus on our inabilities rather than God’s ability, we are putting our faith in ourselves. And when we put our faith in ourselves, we will always end up disappointed. It is not the size of our faith that matters, it is the size of the God we are putting our faith in. A little bit of faith in the hands of a big God can accomplish unexplainable tasks – That’s what makes it miraculous. Our weaknesses display God’s strength, and our inabilities point to His abilities. Faith beigns with fear – Not fear of what we are unable to accomplish, but fear of what He is able to accomplish. The power of His presence should evoke a fear in us that brings us to our knees in complete surrender to His plan and purpose. Once we place our mustard seed faith in His faithful hands, anything is possible.

Any dream given by God is within your reach – Don’t let the wrong kind of fear hold you captive. There is no dream so great that God is not greater still. Where He leads, He provides. And where He guides, He strides. He won’t abandon you in the place of your overwhelming fear, but will walk along beside you every step of the way. He won’t plant a dream inside your heart that He is not prepared to bring to fruition. He will nurture and stregthen you to become all He wills you to be. He will make a way. Your vision will become a reality – You simply have to trust Him. You simply have to believe that God is who He says He is and that He is able to do what He says He will do.

His promise is true, His presence is with you, and His Power is within you. Trust and believe. Take hold of it. Step out in faith and watch as your fears fall. Christ is within you – You are capable, powerful, and destined for greatness. You are fearfully and wonderfully made – set apart for a high calling and divine purpose.

You. Are. Enough.

So don’t be afraid to dream big.