Deliver Me, O Lord, From Evil Men

I love to read about David’s, a man after God’s own heart. A man who was the apple of God’s eye. I want my heart to always be after God’s own heart. Sometimes, when I read King David’s words, I realize how far my heart is from God’s though. Do you ever get that feeling? Read this:

Deliver me, O Lord, from evil men;
preserve me from violent men,
2 who plan evil things in their heart
and stir up wars continually.

~ Psalm 140:1-2

How does this show me that I’m far from God? Well, usually, and I don’t think it’s just me, I think, “God, keep me from handling this evil person”. Because, I’m one of those guys that just wants to do things myself. I pray for God to not let me do anything stupid. But, I realized in reading that passage, that I rarely just give things like this over to God, and trust that he’ll take care of it. God says “Vengeance is mine”, but many times, I want vengeance to be James’s.

When someone is trying to do evil against me, I need to just ask God to deliver me,  and trust that He will – and it may not even seem like it sometimes. In these times, my faith will be tested, like King David’s, like Job’s, and many other folks throughout history. I know the end of the story, but, I need to put my trust in that more.

Do you ever fail to ask God to take care of the evil coming against you? Comment below and let me know.

~James Oliver

Mercy & Grace

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” ~ Titus 3:4-7

In these verses, Paul explains a huge part of the journey in our walk with Christ. Building up to this though is first the summary of where we came from. We were all living in a life of sin prior to knowing God. He gives specific examples of all of mankind living in a foolish way, being disobedient and deceived by all things. We were virtually slaves to our passions and pleasures, while still living in malice, envy and hatred.

I thank the Lord that the message doesn’t stop there with all of us trapped in that kind of life. Instead the writer expounds on the redemption, justification and salvation processes we are given through the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is within this text that two magnificent principles are explained: Grace & Mercy.

A very wise man (okay…it was Garth Brooks) was asked the question once of the difference between mercy and grace. I always believed the explanation was a very accurate and beautiful response to the difference we see in those two principles. He said mercy was often seen when God didn’t give us something we deserved while grace was God giving us something we didn’t deserve.

Being honest I know from my experiences and life prior to knowing God that I certainly don’t deserve what He has blessed me with now. Living a life like many of us do prior to living in Him I know that I probably “deserve” a far different and even worrisome future. Instead of Christ taking this stance He shows me (and all of us) His kindness and love in the extension of His mercy.

Even after being spared by His beautiful mercy I am certain that I don’t truly deserve anything more. Yet once again, Jesus shows me His love, kindness and in this case grace. He grants me something I could never reach on my own or even with the help of any person, act or good deed. Instead He shows me His grace. He shows me how God appears to me and how the Holy Spirit is given to me through Jesus Christ. He gives me something that I don’t deserve by any far stretch of the imagination- he shows me His grace through redemption and eternal life in Him.

I am very thankful that we have the ability to serve a God who is so loving and kind to every person. I am also grateful that he gives us the opportunity to renew ourselves in Him and to become an heir to a life with Him for eternity.

 

Psalm 8

How Majestic Is Your Name

To the choirmaster: according to The Gittith. A Psalm of David.

O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Do you ever stare up at the stars at night? It’s better if you can get out away from the city lights, out in the country, on a dark moonless night. How far the eye can see, how many stars the eye can spy. And we know that our eyes can only take in a fraction of what we can see with the best telescopes. The vast universe, larger than our brains can imagine, splattered with uncountable pin pricks of light against the velvety blackness of endless night sky, speaking to God’s immeasurable majesty. I feel washed over with awe as I take in the beauty of the stars–what an awesome God we serve. And yet, like David, I wonder: 

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,

what is man that you are mindful of him,

and the son of man that you care for him?

Photo by Pawel Nolbert on Unsplash

In The Beginning the Lord Created the Heavens and the Earth


I spent the greater part of last week on the coast of Texas. Our room was located at the corner of a peninsula and had an amazing view of the gulf. While down there I also visited Johnson Space Center for the first time in almost 30 years. Everything I saw was moving and beautiful.
I spent quite a bit of time staring out across the water and knowing I was only seeing the surface. I spent a great amount of time at the Space Center thinking the same thing. As humans, we have only explored up to our own moon, and even our the oceans here have creatures rarely seen and yet to be discovered.
It moved me to learn that the crew of Apollo 8, after orbiting the moon and seeing the Earth come into view began to quote Genesis 1:1-10.
The expanse of creation makes me feel both small and significant. God delights when we delight in His creation, and His hands are deep within every part. We will not reach the end of what is to be discovered; He has already created well beyond what we can see.
Spend time this week marveling at what He has created for His and our pleasure. Be awed by His presence in the things He created.

He Will Come To Us In A Whisper

I was reminded recently to wake up every morning with the expectation that God is going to show up. Many of us interpret this to mean that God is going to work a miracle in our own lives, answer a prayer we have been praying for, or fix something we need help with. I think it is important to realize, that although that may be God’s plan for the day, his plan may be somewhat different. His plan may be to show up through us, using our sphere of influence to demonstrate his love and grace to others.

Matthew 5:16

16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

I am challenging myself to shine the light of God’s grace and love through every trivial daily task. We never know who is watching or paying attention to our actions, how we treat others, or even how we go about our day to day tasks. If we claim to love God, how important is it that others see us exuding that love throughout the day. At the same time we must be aware and attentive to the people around us, people that God may be planning to use us, our past trials and tribulations, and influence to bring to God’s grace and never ending love.

I am reminded often how important it is to listen more than we speak.

1 Kings 19:11-12
11 The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

The Lord will come to us in a whisper. It is our responsibility to be attentive to others and what their struggles may be, listening carefully, not trying to fix their problems with what we feel they should be doing, and wait for God to show up and hear his whisper. He will use our past experiences, our trials, who he designed us to be, to show up in someone’s life and demonstrate to them how awesome his Grace and never ending love is. Everyday God will show up, you just have to expect it and pay attention.

A Matter of Choice

In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes Lord,” he answered. The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place hands on him to restore his sight.” “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.
Acts 9:10-15

Choices…we all have them, of that we can be certain and understand that is an absolute for all of mankind. In looking through verses for this writing I came to an obvious yet interesting (at least to me) observation. Throughout God’s Word I don’t believe there is a single person who didn’t have a choice to make at some point that is described or explained. Many of these choices could have been small while others were enormous in nature.

In this verse Ananias is given a direction by God himself, which turns into a choice to be made on the part of Ananias. Even after hearing God’s instruction Ananias still doubts and essentially tries to argue with God. My initial reaction to this was utter shock, thinking that if God tried to tell me something directly that I would of course never disregard what I was instructed to do but simply listen. I then realized this isn’t always the case and is something I like many of us struggle with. Do we not hear what God is sometimes telling us and then use our own rationale to cause doubt and argue with God? We can often use our own human mind to talk ourselves into hearing and doing what we want. In the end, Ananias yielded to the direction from God and made the appropriate decision to hear the word of God and follow it.

Without overstating, because this premise of choice affects us all I have talked with a multitude of friends and family this week that are facing very different circumstances and choices therein. Of course some are large that could change their lives while others have been smaller. No matter the scope of the choice my advice has been constant. That advice has been go to the Lord in prayer and seek only His will and to also ask for others to pray that they might hear from the Lord in making their decision. I can only hope and pray that all of us will take our choices before Him and align ourselves with His perfect will for our lives. When we hear His voice we can take such a comfort in knowing that because He only plans good for us that we are to be so blessed in following His voice.

I’m So Far Behind…But God is Good

It’s been one of those months…

This month has been a fun one. It hasn’t been without any of the normal student ministry drama, family shenanigans, and personal health situations. Throughout all of that, I’ve managed to miss my weekly Inscription post all but once or twice. I cannot express how awful I feel about that, especially because I love getting to sit down and share what the Lord has been doing in my life, and praying that it encourages someone along the way.

Throughout all of the crazy that’s happened, God has moved in some incredible ways. One of the situations that occurred was me having a nodule on my vocal cord. Along with that, my doctor assigned me to not speak for 2 weeks. I’m a student pastor, y’all. I don’t have time to not be able to talk, much less for two weeks during the summer. But alas, I followed the directions of my ENT…for a week.

During that time, I got to sit back and watch. I had the opportunity to see my students worshiping, unhindered, at camp. I got to listen to one of my adult volunteers teach, followed by one of my students who is called to ministry, teach for the first time. He knocked it out of the park, by the way.

There are lessons in strugglebus times

Several people have asked what God is teaching me through this situation. The first week of this time, I was so wrapped up in self-pity and frustration that I was missing what I needed so badly. I needed to stop trying to do it all and just listen and watch for God to move.

One of my fellow local ministers shared a passage in 1 Kings 19 with me, and I missed it when he shared it with me. After reading it a few times, I finally got what his point was. The passage was 1 Kings 19:9-13, which says:

 “There he went into a cave and spent the night.

And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

At camp, during the second week of my assigned silence, one of my good friends and mentors was teaching about silence with God. He, of course, made the required jokes about how I should be the one teaching the study. But, his passage to teach on was none other than the one my other friend shared with me the week before. The Lord officially had my attention.

Being still is hard, but is necessary

Once I decided to watch and listen to what God was going to do, I saw the Holy Spirit moving in my students. We had one of our students give her life to Jesus, which is amazing on its own. Her back story, however, is what makes everything so much sweeter. This particular student had been fighting the Lord for a while on whether or not she had a real relationship with Jesus. She wasn’t sure if she just had a case of coattail faith. Wednesday night, she relented and gave it all to Jesus. The peace in her persona is undeniable, and is a direct result of surrendering it all to Jesus.

She was one of three students from our group who surrendered it all to Jesus. As I was sitting back, not singing but watching, I saw the look of relief on these students’ faces as they gave Jesus control of their lives. They had heard the soft whisper that Elijah had heard. In the chaos of my own head, I had been trying to listen to the whisper. I’d missed it because I couldn’t get past my own perceived problems. Once I got over and past the self-pity, I began to realize that I don’t have to be able to use my voice to worship God. I don’t have to be able to physically sing to be able to cry out to Him. It’s okay to live vicariously through watching others praise Jesus.

What’s been my takeaway from this whole thing? I’ll be honest with you guys, I’m not convinced that God is done teaching me. I’m not convinced that I’ve really heard the gentle whisper. I’m anxiously awaiting to find out for myself what “life lesson” God is going to teach. I know it’ll happen, but until I know exactly what it is, I’ll keep trying to listen through the noise.

God is Good. He loves us. Sometimes we have to just shut up, grow a nodule on our vocal cord, and listen.

What ways has God used to get your attention and caused you to slow down, give up control, and listen?

Power, Love, and Self-Control

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. ~ 1 Timothy 1:7

I love the encouragement found in this scripture. It’s a great reminder that we should be bold in our faith! We have no power in and of ourselves, but through Jesus, we have power, and love, and self-control.

I struggle with self control – when it comes to food, exercise, and even busy-ness. When not careful, I can be a workaholic. I have to often evaluate what I’m doing and cut back to make time for myself to rest and for my family.

Whatever you struggle with, whatever your fears, give them to Jesus and live under His power and love.

 

New Beginnings & Second Chances

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1:11-12

First of all, I just want to say how amazingly wonderful scripture, the written word of God, really is. It is truly extraordinary to have at our fingertips a virtual instruction manual for every individual and unique topic that could surface in our lives. While writing these brief messages it is such a privilege to have the ability to consult the word on any topic that God has set before me. These passages are wonderful tools for all of us to use and learn from in order to not only abide by His will but also to draw closer with a deeper understanding of our Savior.

Generally speaking, we all enjoy the thought or feeling of being chosen. It means we are accepted, recognized or approved for who and what we really are. It creates feelings in us that can be very special. Generally, we all want to be a part of something bigger and be a valued component of something greater than what we could do on our own.

As I speak broadly about new beginnings or second chances this would, of course, be the ultimate one. God our Father has not only predestined that he did choose us but also that it is all according to his perfect plan and laid out in his will. We hope in the Lord and thus are given this amazing choice of following him in salvation and granted this wonderful second chance for a life free of sin, pain, and bondage in fear.

When we delve a little deeper into this thought of a new beginning or a second chance we are often met with resistance. This resistance comes not only from the world around us but also very within our very own self (yes I’m talking about our flesh again). Both of these will tell us all the usual lies such as we don’t deserve a second chance, what we’ve done cannot be forgiven or we just need to leave things alone and remain in the past. All of these are of course lies that are meant to keep us from having the personal relationship with the Lord we were meant to and realizing these new beginnings and second chances.

Speaking just on the side of circumstances that bind us in the past I can say that daily we are given the opportunity to change and start this new beginning. I myself several times in the previous weeks have chosen to move past things that have caused me pain for some time, to forgive and to live out this chance I have in the Lord daily to move forward in Him. When I say if I can do it we all can I truly mean that.

To achieve victory and set out on this path we must break free of the mindset that our circumstances try to place on us. We all have to strive to take hold of the new beginning and truly fulfill our life in Christ.

Where Does My Help Come From

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?

My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.

Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand.

The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.

The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.

Psalm 121 ESV

Photo by saeed mhmdi on Unsplash