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ReNamed

20141015_112710A cute little terrier mix puppy arrived at our house last week. She’s about 5 months old and couldn’t be properly taken care of by her previous owner. So being suckers for furry canine faces, we decided to give her a new home and adopt her into our pack. So far, she is getting along with the other dogs, and even our high strung yorkie is enjoying the ‘elevated’ level of puppy activity. The only thing we didn’t like about her was her name, Madeline. It just seemed to be too laid back of a handle for such an active bundle of energy. So, after much debate, we picked a new name for her… one that seems more fitting to who she really is.

You know, God is known for doing the same kind of thing.

The book of Genesis contains a story of the re-branding of a familiar Old Testament figure. At birth, Isaac’s second son was given the name ‘Jacob’, which means “supplanter, schemer, and/or deceiver.” (Gen. 25:24-26) The text from Genesis 27 shows how he lived up to his label by manipulating his brother out of his birthright and then deceiving his father in order to steal his brother’s blessing, effectively robbing him of his inheritance. Then, many years later, Jacob engaged in his famous all-night wrestling match with the Lord (Gen. 32:22-26), but before he ceased his struggle, he demanded a blessing… This time a real blessing and not a stolen one. The Angel of the Lord responded by asking his name. (vs 27) It was then that the father of the future Jewish nation finally stopped pretending to be someone else and admitted who he really was … Jacob … a schemer & a deceiver.  The scene culminated with a dramatic name change.  No longer to be known as Jacob, his new name would be Israel (vs 28) … which is sometimes translated as “Prince of God.”

Jesus did that for the people he met and knew as well! Outcasts were renamed ‘disciples.’ Sinners, He called ‘companions.’ The immoral, He labeled ‘forgiven.’ The unwanted, He marked as ‘Beloved.’

When you become a Christian and join your life to Christ, God will do that for you too. When Christ becomes your Savior and brother, the Father adopts you into His family and renames you as His own. No longer do you have to wear labels of shame and worthlessness. When you come clean about your guilt and sin and stop pretending, He offers a brand new start and will immediately rename you as “Valuable,” “Cherished,” and “Loved.”

“And you will be called by a new name which the mouth of the Lord will give.
You will be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
a king’s crown in the hand of your God.
You will no longer be called “Left Alone.”
Your land will no longer be called “Forgotten.”
But you will be called “My joy is in her,” and your land “Married.”
For the Lord finds joy in you.”
~ Isaiah 62:2-4 (NLV)

Meet Pepper!
Meet Pepper!
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Trail Blazes

My boys have been fond of camping since they were in grade school, and they still manage to go on at least a couple of outings every fall and spring. In fact, Jason just got home from a backpacking trip two weeks ago.

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Appalachian Trail
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I’m not a big camper anymore, but when I was in college I did manage to go on a mountain adventure every now and then. I remember it being pretty fun to hike the Appalachian Trail and enjoy being up close and personal with nature. I’m pretty sure that most of my skills are completely rusted over now, but I do remember enough to know that back before GPS and a host of other electronic gadgets, serious hikers had to be keenly aware of the trail ‘blazes’ to keep their bearings.

hiking-trails-338457_1280To outdoorsmen, a “blaze” is a mark generally cut into or painted on a tree which is used to identify a trail. The symbols are usually of uniform size or color and are placed at regular intervals to help explorers be sure they are going in the right direction, and more importantly, that they are still on the correct path. And when the batteries fail in their GPS, these markers still serve hikers well. With a simple map in one hand and a compass in the other, backpackers can still reference these markings to help them know two things:

What their current location is and where they need to go next.

Believers need to always know those two things as well.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. ~ Psalm 119: 105

You know, it’d be great to have a few well-defined marks cut into a nearby tree to consult when God wants us to make a course change, but rarely are His directions that concrete. But at the same time, we aren’t just left to wander along life’s path and hope we’ll end up getting to where we need to be either.

signpost-60092_1280God has given us His written Word to function in a similar manner as those “blazes.” This black & white reference tool gives us an objective standard to help us take a regular assessment of where we are along the path of righteousness and what we need to do to stay there. It’s essential to train yourself to recognize those spiritual trail markers because the cost of missing an important turn and going off the path can be high. Even a short jaunt away from the designated trail can delay God’s purposes for your life for months or years. Sometimes markers are the clearly written “do’s and don’ts”; Other times they come in the form of the more subtle principles that are not as plainly stated. But with a little practice, you can learn to spot them and heed their guidance.

Remember that (as Psalm 119:105 says) the Bible isn’t usually a spotlight that illuminates the entire horizon. Instead, it’s a lamp that gives us just enough light to take the next step on the journey. That’s why we need to be prayerfully reading and absorbing God’s truth so that we can know Him better and be alert for His key blazes that signal crucial course changes.

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I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,
 along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
I will turn the darkness into light before them
 and make the rough places smooth.
These are the things I will do;
 I will not forsake them. ~ Isaiah 42: 16

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Reflected Light

Sky watchers got a special treat early this morning with the appearance of a stunning total lunar eclipse. The burnt reddish brown beauty that captured the attention of millions lived up to its nickname, the blood moon. Brilliant red hues resulted from the peeks of sunlight that were filtered through the earth’s atmosphere and reflected off the moon’s surface.  It’s as if the ‘man in the moon’ was viewing a celestial sunset, and the ruddy light bounced off his face.

GPN-2000-001487Most of us know from grade-school science class that the moon itself has no light and serves only as a reflector for the sun. So if you take away the sun’s light, it becomes a fairly unremarkable and inanimate rock.

You know, humanity is the same.

The Creation of Adam Michelangelo
The Creation of Adam
Michelangelo

The familiar story found in the first couple of chapters of Genesis reminds us that Adam began as a lifeless, and uninteresting mound of dirt.  He had no beauty.  No innate glory and was no more inspiring or special than a pile of rocks. But… that radically changed when the breath of God entered his nostrils. Genesis 2:7 records the moment that the life of God animated Adam and he “became a living being.” We can only imagine his dazzling appearance as he drew his first breath, and this living soul was robed in the  reflected radiance of the Almighty! What must he have been like as  he took his place in the world as the only “image-bearer” of God?

Though the ugliness of sin eventually marred that ability and often eclipses the light of God, we need to remember that even today, all men and women still exist as the sole beings capable of bearing … and reflecting… the image of God. However, the New Testament makes it clear that being made in His image isn’t enough to make us a part of God’s family.  But it does explain God’s special love for humanity and His willingness to surrender the life of His Son to reestablish a relationship with us.  He has made each of us special!  Remarkable! Glorious!  Not because of anything in us.  But solely, because of Him.

So, the next time you see that person in the next cubicle who just drives you crazy, the irritating cashier at the store, the individual with the opposing political view, or the obnoxious fan of your rival team, remember that each one of them also bears the image of God and is precious, loved and, if/when rightly related to Christ, able to reflect God’s glory to the world.

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For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
~ 2 Corinthians 4:6

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Setting Sun

The sun sank low on the horizon beyond the hill out behind our house. As the blazing orange orb melted into the distance, red, pink and purple clouds seemed to ascend into a deepening blue sky in a way that would have made the most skilled of artists weep. As I paused to behold the glorious display, a story that I’d recently read in the book of Joshua came to mind.

A lesser known miracle recorded in chapter 10 occurs during Israel’s battle with the Amorites. The writer of Joshua tells us that five kings of the surrounding area planned to attack the Gibeonites because they had signed a treaty with Israel.  (vs 1-3) Coming to the defense of their new ally, Joshua and the Israelite army executed a surprise attack on the camp of their common enemies.  (vs 7-9)

In verse 8, God assured Joshua of the outcome by saying “Do not be afraid of them; I have given them into your hand. Not one of them will be able to withstand you.”  Not surprisingly, Israel handily beat the Amorites and drove them from the city. But, as the Israelite army pursued the Amorites to seal their victory, the sun began to set. Seeing this, Joshua prayed a bold prayer… “Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.” (vs 12)

And the amazing thing is… the sun stood still in the sky!  (vs 13-14)

You know, I love that story because it’s a dramatic picture of our miracle-working God responding to bold prayers of faith that are centered on His promises.

evening-sky-414687_640But as I stood there in the overgrown grass surrounding our house observing that evening’s sunset, it occurred to me that sometimes… maybe a lot of times… believers trust, pray and believe as best as they know how, and the sun doesn’t stop in the sky. Even while clinging to the last scrap of faith, daylight disappears and is soon replaced by the long shadows of night.

It’s difficult to find answers that satisfy during times when our desires go unfulfilled, our prayers appear to be unanswered, and hope and confidence seem hard to find. I won’t attempt to gloss over real pain and frustration with fluffy platitudes and easy fix-all solutions that do little to repair dreams that are dashed into pieces on the ground.

What I will say is this…

You can still trust God.

That doesn’t mean that if you hang on long enough, you always get what you are hoping for, because the reality of our fallen world is that sometimes the miracles don’t come in our timetable. Or don’t look like we thought they would when they finally arrive. But no matter what happens, our trust should never be placed in our external circumstances. We must anchor our hope in God who by His very nature is trustworthy.

cross-211989_640Beyond any doubt the Lord has already proven His love and care for you in a tangible and concrete way. Romans 5:8 says it like this. “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” You don’t have to lean on warm feelings, nor on skewed assessments of what in our view seems to be the best outcome. The cross is an objective and enduring exhibition of the love of God. On that, you can place your full trust without question.

I do not know why some miracles come in such grand fashion, nor do I understand why so many times the sun silently sinks away.

What I do know is that even when the light retreats and night falls with its all-encompassing blackness, you can still believe in the unending love and compassion of our God. And when the sun does set, and disappointment settles over you like an evening mist, you can still choose to hang onto your trust in Him.  And…  when, in the face of sorrow and heartbreak, you do remain faithful, perhaps it’s then the Lord will set ablaze His greatest miracle deep within your heart that will ultimately shine brighter than the sun.

Your sun will never set again,
    and your moon will wane no more;
the Lord will be your everlasting light,
    and your days of sorrow will end.
Isaiah 60:20

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