Here I Raise my Ebenezer

“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us.’” 1 Samuel 7:12

Samuel took this stone and set it up as a memorial because of the way the Lord had helped the Israelites win a battle with the Philistines. If you have ever heard the hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing then you’ve surely heard the line that says “Here I raise my Ebenezer”. For years I didn’t really know what that line meant, but it comes from this verse in 1 Samuel. The word Ebenezer means “stone of help” so Samuel set this stone up and named it Ebenezer so that the Israelites would have something to look upon to remember how God had helped them in battle to defeat the Philistines. 

Well for the past couple of years we have been in a battle with this unseen virus that is attacking us from all sides. And just when we think maybe it is subsiding, I will know someone else who has it and is battling it. We are also battling things these days like inflation, our gas and grocery prices are getting higher and higher. There are times that it is hard to get goods and services that we normally could just go down to our local Wal-Mart and pick up. Never in my life did I think we would ever see a shortage of baby formula. Things are just plain crazy. 

But when we raise our Ebenezer, we want to look at the ways the Lord has helped us thus far. I think sometimes reflection can be good. Especially when you don’t feel like you are making much progress. It is good to look back and see how far you have come. You see when you are in the middle of the baby steps it is so hard to see the progress. But when you look back and see how far you have come it somehow will help spur you to go a little farther on. I think looking back over the last couple of years helps me to not take for granted the things that I did before, like going to church. When our churches were shut down and we were worshipping from our living rooms I missed fellowship. Now, I am so grateful to walk through the doors of my fellowship every Sunday. I don’t HAVE to go to church on Sunday, I GET to go to church on Sunday. 

As I think back over the last couple of years, they have been hard years but I want to say that as I raise my Ebenezer, I am closer to the Lord than I have ever been. He has helped me thus far by meeting with me daily. He has become my constant companion. Oh I know He was there all along and I have had a daily quiet time for many years but I can tell you that some of the isolation that I felt during Covid fostered a more intimate, more personal, more steadfast relationship with my Savior. I know Him better, I trust Him even more than I did before. I love Him more and I am grateful for His ever present constant companionship. 

So how about it? What’s your Ebenezer? How has the Lord helped you in this Corona-battle thus far? Or whatever battle you have been facing? Maybe you have been going through a personal battle that is just between you and God? Maybe it’s a marriage that has fallen apart? Maybe it’s rebuilding your life after a financial breakdown or a rehabilitation? Maybe it’s loss of a loved one or a diagnosis? Go ahead, look back, reflect a little, raise an Ebenezer, to look at and remember how the Lord has helped you thus far! I think it will encourage you to take the next steps! 

When Evil Wins a Battle

A couple of days ago, in Texas, parents dropped their kids off at school or watched their kids get on a school bus and didn’t realize it would be the last time they would see them breathing. I’d like to say there is no way you can hear about it or you can watch it on the news and not be heartbroken. But the hard truth is there are evil people in the world. And someone somewhere is not heartbroken. I can’t imagine it, you probably can’t imagine it but the cold, sobering truth is that is true. Why do I point that out you may ask? Because it’s that very evil that caused those children and those teachers to not get to go home that day. It’s that very evil that is alive and well in the world. And it’s that very evil we must be aware of. As our friend Peter says: 

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8

I keep hearing and seeing, we must do something and yes, I do totally agree. Our schools need to be more secure, where a madman can’t just walk in with a gun. We need to be able to go to school, or the grocery store, or the movie or get on a plane and feel safe. But we also have to realize that evil people have been around since Cain killed Abel. People with their own agendas, people with their own warped minds, people with no thought but their own selfish gain. And as long as there are people who are criminals, there will be criminal acts against innocent people. I know that those are not very comforting words but I also know in my own simple minded way, that those are true words. 

But what we can do is lean in a little closer to Jesus today. We can know that as long as there are people walking around on this earth and until the day of Jesus’ return that there will be evil amongst us because that adversary is amongst us too. But we can also know and keep deep in our heart who wins the war in the end. That lying lizard may have won a battle in Texas the other day, but we know that Jesus wins the war and because of that we can place our hope in him. We grieve those children, and those teachers in Texas, but we do not grieve as those who have no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13) We continue to pray that God will help us and our loved ones to be safe against the adversary and the evil people in the world. And we pray for the parents and families who didn’t have someone come home from school. I can’t even imagine. And we also pray for the loners in schools and that we would be more aware of them and befriend them before their mind gives way to evil. We pray for safety and we pray for peace. And we keep our eyes fixed on the one who can give us peace. 

There is an old hymn that will sometimes play over and over in my mind when my heart is broken over something or when I don’t have a direction. It’s the answer to everything that my heart needs, especially when I don’t know what my heart needs. 

Turn your eyes upon Jesus, 

Look full in his wonderful face. 

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, 

In the light of His glory and grace!

THE STATE OF MY HEART! 

Wow! I originally wrote this at the end of Spring Break week last year in March. I ran across it this morning and not only did I spend last week with my favorite little people, I also saw my friend. And I find, that it all still holds true to me today! 

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV)

My heart has been on a rollercoaster this week. We did some traveling and we got to go see our favorite little people, as well as our favorite grown people and it was a fun, sweet special time. I also went to visit my best friend who is slowly succumbing to the ugly disease of Alzheimers. We raised our babies together, she had girls and I had boys but they grew up thinking they may as well have been brothers and sisters. She is 8 years into her battle and it is heartbreaking and sweet all at the same time. She is in a happy place right now and that is a blessing to her family and all who love her. But my heart does still hurt because I miss her and the talks that we had. She had such a way of always pointing me back to Jesus. I am so glad that He brought her into my life as a young mama and that He allowed me to have the advantage of her friendship and her wisdom for most of my adult life! 

I am back on my porch this morning with the Lord and my heart has just been all over the place. It is a cloudy day but there is still a hint of color. I am at the end of my spring break week which means I will be headed back to work Monday morning and my mornings will have to have a little more structure to them. As I was praying this morning and asking God what message He wanted to give to me, He led me to this verse and I thought it was very sweet of Him. Isn’t it just amazing how He does meet us where we are? I love that on a morning where I can’t seem to find the words to put on a page because my heart is leaping in so many different directions He gave me affirmation that He knows that. As I read this over and over and then if you know me, you know I went to other translations it was like a balm to my heart. I want to quote you a couple of other translations. 

The ESV says it this way: 

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! Psalm 139:23-24 (ESV) 

There are those exclamation points I have come to love so much. I love the emphasis of an exclamation point in scripture. 

But one of my favorite translations of this scripture is in The Passion Translation

“God, I invite your searching gaze into my heart. Examine me through and through; find out everything that may be hidden within me. Put me to the test and sift through all my anxious cares. See if there is any path of pain I’m walking on, and lead me back to your glorious, everlasting way- the path that brings me back to you.” Psalm 139:23-24 

I love the way this one reads like a prayer. You see if we belong to Him, and even if we don’t, God knows our hearts, whether we invite Him in or not. But I find that when my emotions and my thoughts and my heart are all over the place that inviting Him in will help me to get back on the path! I ask Him to examine me through and through so that I can make sense of all the things going on in my heart and in my mind. If I am harboring grievous thoughts or hurts or if I have offensive ways, I want Him to show me. He knows my anxious cares and He knows if I am headed down a path of pain and I need to be redirected back to Him.  

INTO the Wilderness!

“When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, ‘Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.’ But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle.” Exodus 13:17-18

The first time I really noticed this verse was a couple of years ago. I felt like I was in the middle of a spiritual battle and I could not understand it one bit. I have walked with Him for years, why would He allow me to have to go through some of the pain that I was going through at the time. The words “God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near… But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness” jumped off the page to me. What? God actually led those Israelites INTO the wilderness when there would have been a shorter route to where they were heading? I wonder if any of the Israelites knew their geography enough that they were wanting to say “Hey Moses, we are going the wrong way!” I wonder if when they got to the Red Sea if they were thinking to themselves, “Uh-huh if you had gone the right way we wouldn’t be hemmed in with this sea in front of us and an Egyptian army behind us!” But God didn’t want them to have the easy way. He knew that the way that they saw as easy would have obstacles too and it would set them up to make an easy retreat too. See God knew that taking them through the wilderness would build some character in some of them AND that it would give Him opportunities to show His glory in ways that the easy way nor an easy retreat would. If the Israelites had never gone by way of the wilderness they wouldn’t have seen the Red Sea parted nor would we have that wonderful story to still be talking about today. God knew that the time in the wilderness was going to give a greater story and give Himself a greater glory! 

Sometimes it’s like that for us too. In fact if we let God do the work in us in our wilderness experiences it will always do that. It will build a character in us that we couldn’t get if we always had the easy life and the easy way out. If we lean into Him in those wilderness experiences we will grow in character and in our spiritual lives in ways that won’t happen otherwise. I know that things I have gone through that I hand over to Him, always turn out better in the end. I can’t say that I would want to relive them but I have learned to be grateful for them. When you lean into Him when things are going rough, He can weave something beautiful out of your circumstances. You can know Him on a deeper level and with a deeper understanding than you would ever have known Him if He didn’t have to carry you. And you will have opportunities to give Him the glory. 

What wilderness are you going through right now? What pain do you wish He would just take away? What hurt is so deep that you can’t even see what or how He will ever be able to redeem for you? As you sit back and you think of things that came to mind when you read those questions, invite Him in. Ask Him to redeem the pain and the hurt for His glory. Ask Him to lead you and to guide you and to grow you as you walk out the wilderness He may have you in right now. And if you need to, ask Him to carry you. And then know dear friend that one day you will be able to look back and see where He parted some seas for you so you could walk on dry ground. Have faith and keep on walking.

NEW THINGS?

Good morning friends! 

Whenever I end a series that I have studied and written about I always ponder just what I will write about next. I have been committed to a daily quiet time for many years now, and I have pretty much journaled for the entire time that I have had a quiet time, at some times more consistent than others, but I have only been writing this devotional consistently about what I learned since the beginning of the pandemic, for the last two years. The truth is though that sometimes the surgery that He is doing on my heart is too personal to put out publicly. So sometimes it feels like, while I am learning from Him, that I struggle a bit with what to say because some times are just for me and Him, at least for the time being. Who knows what He will do with what He is teaching me in the future.  

That being said, I may be entering a season of some hit and miss times. For one thing I am about to enter summer mode in my job which will put me having to be at work an hour earlier 4 days a week than I do during the school year. I already get up very early to have my quiet time that I find it difficult to back that up any further so it cuts my time for writing down significantly. And for another I have some things processing in me that are not ready for me to put out yet publicly. I have two options. I have enough writing that I can do some repeats here or I can just hit and miss. I would like to hear from some of you as to what you would like for me to do. And between what you feed back and what the Lord leads I will do. 

Please please continue to mention me in your prayers. Above all, I want my life as well as what I write here on this page to be about loving Jesus and honoring God. I am so very human, aren’t we all? And I know that sometimes what I live out, especially to those closest to me does not always align with this. Bless my family’s hearts. I have said many times before that I will write these devotions as long as the Lord leads me to. So I ask you to pray that I will hear Him clearly on what my next steps are. And if you want me to post repeats even if I am not in writing mode, please let me know that, either in the comments or in a private message. I would appreciate the feedback. Thank you all that read and comment and share, it humbles me so much. 

For now … 

“Behold I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19

GOD HAS BIGGER PLANS

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” Ephesians 3:20-21 (NKJV)

I know I have claimed many many verses in scripture as “my favorite” but this one, this truly may be my very very favorite verse of all time!!  It blows me away every time I read it. I quoted it here in the NKJV because I so love this wording “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think”. That is truly amazing isn’t it? That means better than you can even imagine yourself. 

I can honestly say to you I have had it happen. I have had situations I prayed for and I gave God a play by play in my book and it turned out way better. There are so many times that I have been so grateful to God that He didn’t answer my prayers the way I asked because what I ended up with turned out way better than I could have ever thought.  

So why is it, that I still in my hard headedness want to take things into my own hands and I want to give Him the play by play of how I think things are to work out? I am not sure why I still do that. I have seen Him work, I know His power. I know He has better thoughts than me and I know that He has better plans than me and I know that He has a better way than me. I think I am a little like the father of the child in Mark that cries out “Lord I believe, help my unbelief!” But still, I say to Him “Lord, I know you can handle this, but this is how I want you to handle it.” “Lord I know you can heal, but this is how I want you to do it.” Why do I have to relearn my lessons over and over again? 

I am so glad that God is patient with me and loves me anyway. So again this morning I am going to drag my big bag of burdens that I picked up yesterday all day long as the day went on and I am going to lay them at the foot of the cross and I am going to say. 

Lord, I have this thing, that is hurting my heart, but I know that you have a better way, you have a better plan, you have better thoughts than me and I want to lay them down to You and I want You to do exceedingly, abundantly, above and beyond anything my mind can imagine! And I will give You all that glory right now! 

Amen! 

TAW ~ Teach me and Allow your Word to sustain my life! 

169 Let my cry come before you, O LORD; give me understanding according to your word! 

170 Let my plea come before you; deliver me according to your word. 

171 My lips will pour forth praise, for you teach me your statutes, 

172 My tongue will sing of your word, for all your commandments are right. 

173 Let your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts. 

174 I long for your salvation, O LORD, and your law is my delight. 

175 Let my soul live and praise you, and let your rules help me. 

176 I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments. 

Psalm 119:169-176

This is our last passage of this Psalm, and it is a perfect way to end this study. In some ways it reiterates a lot of the high points of this Psalm. It is a cry for understanding, deliverance, help and salvation from the Lord and it is a declaration of praise and love to the Lord too. David, our Psalmist is praying for understanding and deliverance in the first couple of verses. He wants his life to be transformed according to God’s word. That is not to say he has or will ever be completely transformed until the end of his life. None of us will, but he has recognized that there is a process to the transforming and that it is to always be taking place. That’s the same with us, until we meet Jesus face to face, we will always be human and fallible. But there should always be growing and learning and transformation taking place in our lives. Or at least there will be if we keep God’s word ever in front of us. 

David also praises God for the ways He is teaching him. He pours forth praises because of what he has learned. David declares his love for God and for his word and for the deliverance and help he has received from God because he has chosen to live in God’s ways. 

But my favorite verse in this passage is verse 175. 

“Let my soul live and praise you, and let your rules help me.” v. 175 

I think David had reached a point in his life that he truly wanted others to see God in him. He was not perfect by any means but he wanted to live his life in such a way that glorified God. In some ways it is the same as the man who had brought his child to Jesus for healing and he said Lord I believe, please help my unbelief. David said I want my life and my soul to praise you Lord, but Lord help me to do it. In verse 176 he recognizes his own humanity that he has gone astray and maybe what he means is he goes astray, he fails every day but he is asking the Lord to keep seeking him because he knows where his help and his soul lies. 

May we all feel that, may I feel that! I want my life to glorify God, yet I know that I fail Him on a daily basis. I pray and believe that He will continually seek me so that I may continually return to Him. 

SIN AND SHIN ~ Awe of God’s Word 

161 Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of your words. 

162 I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil. 

163 I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law. 

164 Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules. 

165 Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble. 

166 I hope for your salvation, O LORD, and I do your commandments. 

167 My soul keeps your testimonies; I love them exceedingly. 

168 I keep your precepts and testimonies. For all my ways are before you. 

Psalm 119:161-168

For most of our study of Psalm 119 we have just assumed that David was the Psalmist and this passage certainly points to the idea that he could be. Verse 161 says “princes persecute me without cause” and if we have studied the life of David, we certainly know that Saul persecuted and hunted and sought to kill David without cause. Saul knew that God had anointed David as the next king of Israel and he thought the only way to prevent that was to kill him. But Saul also did not take into account the protection and deliverance of God for David from Saul. David would have had to keep his heart close to God and the scriptures to have endured what he did from the hand of Saul for all those years. At least I think he would have had to. One thing I know to be true is that enduring trials and hardship whether they be persecution without cause, or even because of things we have done, trials such as financial trouble, health problems, children problems, family issues, all of these things can bring you to a place where you have to lean into God more and more. That has been true in my own life. And when these trials and tribulations bring you into a deeper relationship with God, you find yourself relying on his word more and more to just simply get you through the day. And when that happens, you will find your heart more and more in awe of His word and His ways. I love the next verse. 

“I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil.” v. 162

When you enter into a study of God’s word, more and more you will find hidden treasures in His word. I know that the more I study and learn, the more I understand and the more I understand, the more His word will be revealed to me. I found a quote in my study by Spurgeon. 

“Our rejoicing will be measured by our reverencing.” Spurgeon

Do you reverence God’s word? I know there were years that my Bible sat on a shelf from Sunday to Sunday. I prayed for God to give me a love and understanding of His word. Oh believe me I have so far to go but I have come so far too and the more I study, the more I love it and the more treasure I find. 

The next couple of verses show the Psalmist’s hatred for falsehood and for lying and his love for God’s laws. I believe that to be true too, the more you find yourself falling in love with God’s word the more you will hate the falsehoods that are in the world. The Psalmist also makes a declaration that he praises God seven times a day. I wouldn’t want to get caught up in the legalism of a number but I hope I find myself praising him at least seven times a day. I praise Him when I see His creation, I praise Him when I call on Him to help me through the next 10 minutes, I praise Him under my breath all day long. 

In the next verse the Psalmist is recognizing the peace that he feels because of his love for God’s laws. Learning and studying God’s word brings you into a closer relationship with God. And that will naturally put you on more of a sure footing, “nothing causes them to stumble”. The Psalmist is recognizing this and is declaring his love one more time for the commandments of God and the salvation that they will bring to him. And he is laying it all out, his love for God, for his precepts and his testimonies and that his ways are before God. David knew that God knew his ways, and God knew what was in his heart, but this was one of the ways he praised God, by verbalizing it. God knows what is in our hearts, but I believe that God loves it when we verbalize our love for Him and for His testimonies. 

RESH ~ Revive me According to Your Word! 

153 Look on my affliction and deliver me, for I do not forget your law. 

154 Plead my cause and redeem me; give me life according to your promise! 

155 Salvation is far from the wicked, for they do not seek your statutes. 

156 Great is your mercy, O LORD; give me life according to your rules. 

157 Many are my persecutors and my adversaries, but I do not swerve from your testimonies. 

158 I look at the faithless with disgust, because they do not keep your commands. 

159 Consider how I love your precepts! Give me life according to your steadfast love. 

160 The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever. 

Psalm 119:153-160

As my commentary put it, the Psalmist did not live in an ivory tower studying scripture all day. He was a real person, with a real life and he interacted with real people. At first glance from this entire Psalm we see him jumping all over the place from passage to passage. One day he is praising, the next he is asking for understanding so that he can obey and then the next day (today’s reading) he is asking for deliverance from his afflictions and from people who disgust him because of their own disobedience and faithlessness. At first glance we could find him fickle because of the many ways that he jumps around, but then I have to take a good look at my own life and aren’t I pretty much the same? I love God and I desire to follow His will and His way for my life. I desire to know His word. I desire to live a life that is worthy of any calling He has put on my life. But you give me just a minute and I will not be living my life worthy of the calling but will be disgusted with people surrounding me that I look on as faithless. I do like how the Psalmist keeps returning to God though and oh may it be so of me. 

The Psalmist starts this passage pointing out his own afflictions and asking for deliverance. He is saying “I do not forget your law”. He knows where his help is coming from and he is asking for deliverance because he knows the word of God and he knows that God is where his deliverance and help will come from. He goes on to plead his case to God and he asks help me because of who You are God, according to what I know to be true about Your word. The Psalmist knew the scriptures so he was in effect able to pray the scriptures back to God. I think God loves it when we ask Him to help us according to what we have learned! 

The Psalmist goes on to point out that the wicked, his adversaries were far from salvation. The reason is not because they couldn’t be saved, but it was because these people were not  seeking salvation. They did not have God in them, therefore it wasn’t that there was no hope for them at all, it was just that there was no desire in them to turn from their wicked ways. The Psalmist goes on to recognize the mercy of God, which saved him, and he prays again for revival in his own heart according to God’s law and his rules. 

The next couple of verses give us a picture of the world that the Psalmist was living in. He was living in a world with people who were persecuting him and in turn he felt they were persecuting his love for God. He was living among a faithless people and he felt disgust because he felt they were a disgrace to God and His word. It wasn’t that he expected godly behavior from the ungodly but that he felt the people around him were open about their disgrace to God. He didn’t just live among the ungodly but maybe the ungodly were trying to impart their own ways to him. I can see that it is a precarious place to be, because don’t we live in a world that is much the same way? We, as Christians are called to be tolerant of non-christians, yet it’s not just about tolerance any more is it? We are now being asked to accept the ways of the ungodly. Several years ago we were called to be silent about what goes on around us by the world. And now, the world wants us to accept the things of this world. It’s a fine line, but we need to have a disgust for the ways of the world and still remain a light in the world. 

We have to start with knowing His word and His ways. The Psalmist cries out to God one more time for this. And when we know His word and His ways, we will love His word and His ways more and more. This is why we stay in the word. The Psalmist says “give me life” or as some translations say “revive me”. We must keep coming back to the word to be revived to get our life so that we can navigate the faithless and to get deliverance from our adversaries. Oh may it be so Lord! Revive us Again!