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More than once I have sought consolation in God's encouraging words to Cyrus found in Isaiah 45:3: "I will go before you and will level the mountains..." Other versions translate the phrase as "make the rough places smooth," or "make the crooked places straight." At first glance, leveling mountains, smoothing rough places, and making crooked places straight seems like a daunting task. That is, until one reads the promise again. The promise is, "I will go before you..." The rest of that verse indicates the result.

Throughout the Scriptures, God often posed a simple, faith-building, rhetorical question to those facing mountains: "Is anything too difficult for Me?" Remember Abram in the book of Genesis: the 99 year old childless son, whose name was changed to Abraham, meaning father of a multitude? Remember his beloved, only ten years his junior, also was given a new name, Sarah, meaning "princess"? When it was prophesied that the "Father of a Multitude" and a "Princess" well past the age of childbearing, were going to have a baby, God answers their question with a question: "Is anything too hard for the Lord?"

Remember Moses in the book of Numbers: the pioneer leader of an ungrateful, yet hungry people, out of Egypt? Though God promised provision of meat, Moses stood before a mountain of logistical impossibility of a limited number of people gathering food for all of the children of Israel. God answers his question with a question: "Has the Lord's arm been shortened?"

How about Mary in the book of Luke: an unknown teenager in every way, told she would conceive and bring forth a Son? Facing this mountain, she asks "How can this be?" The angel of the Lord answers, "With God, nothing will be impossible."
Even the disciples: when asking "Who can be saved?" after Jesus' dialogue with the rich young ruler in Matthew, Jesus looks at them and says, "With men, this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible."

Though each was facing a mountain, the reality is that the miracle waited on the other side of their obedience. God, indeed, went before them, took them by the hand (literally and figuratively), and led them through! Hear the great news: the God who went before Abraham and Sarah, Moses, Mary, and the disciples, goes before you today. You will walk into situations where you will discover that God has already been at work leveling mountains, smoothing rough places, and making crooked places straight.
Be strong and take courage
Do not fear or be dismayed
For the Lord will go before you
And His light will show the way
So be strong and take courage
Do not fear or be dismayed
For the One who lives within you
Will be strong in you today

Be Strong And Take Courage, Basil Chiasson | Camp Kirkland | Tom Brooks | Tom Fettke © 1985 Integrity's Hosanna! Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing (IMI)) For use solely with the SongSelect Terms of Use. All rights reserved. CCLI License # 214390

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One Saturday afternoon while taking a break from yard work, I came across a TV program called "Bait Car." The show chronicles the attempts of police to expose and arrest car thieves by baiting them with an easily accessible vehicle. Unlocked, with keys in the ignition, and appearing to have no owner in sight, the car is parked on the street. Would-be thieves have no idea that their every action is monitored through hidden cameras, microphones, and a GPS. The vehicle can also be locked and the engine stalled remotely, literally trapping the one who "takes the bait." When the vehicle is stopped, the authorities then interview the driver.

I was amazed and humored by the elaborate stories crafted by the one caught in the trap, particularly in light of the fact that the driver has no idea that every spoken word was heard and every action was seen. My smug arrogance grew with each "Gotcha." Shaking my head in disbelief, I thought, "I cannot believe the audacity of these people trying to justify their behavior!" Before I could snuggle all cozy into my self-righteousness, the Holy Spirit gently spoke saying, "You are not so different." While my flesh wanted me to balk at the thought, God gave grace to be still and to pray a simple prayer: "OK, I am listening..."

The Lord reminded me of an illustration in John Bevere's book, "The Bait of Satan." Bevere correlates the peril of choosing to become offended in a relationship to the consequences of taking the bait from a set trap. When we "take the bait" by picking up an offense, we spring the trap of unforgiveness. Much like "Bait Car," the Lord gently showed me that when I have stalled in my relationship with God because of unforgiveness, I have been equally creative and elaborate in my rationalization for "taking the bait." Yet, much like the driver, ultimately, I am without excuse. There is nothing I can say.

In the painful silence of conviction comes a gift of the Spirit's whisper: a promise wrapped in an invitation to all of us who have taken the bait and find ourselves trapped in unforgiveness. "If we [freely] admit that we have sinned and confess our sins, He is faithful and just (true to His own nature and promises) and will forgive our sins [dismiss our lawlessness] and [continuously] cleanse us from all unrighteousness [everything not in conformity to His will in purpose, thought, and action]" I John 1:9 [AMP].

David wrote in Psalm 32, "When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the Lord." And you forgave the guilt of my sin."

You want to... now will you?

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Recently, my wife Pam and I watched the television program, "So You Think You Can Dance." Perhaps you have seen it: Dancers, some skilled, and some who think they are skilled, go through the process of auditioning to become part of the "top 20" who will then compete to become that season's champion. Like other competition shows, the program is spiced with the colorful interaction between the quirky judges as they offer feedback about the dancer's performances.

During a recent episode, one of the judge's evaluations came in the form of a rhetorical question. He asked, "Do you think God placed you on this earth to do anything else other than what you just did up there on that stage?"

That question stopped me in my tracks. In fact, it felt like a clip from "America's Funniest Home Videos" where the oblivious person standing on the beach with their back to the ocean is overtaken by a giant wave. Taken off my feet by the impact of that question, I felt as if God reiterated that question to me: "Do you think God placed you on this earth to do anything else other than what you are doing right now?"

Realize that the weight of that question lies in the reality that we don't have the luxury of time to be doing anything else but living a life that proclaims the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light [1 Peter 2:9]. How do we do that?: By the equipping grace of the Holy Spirit. The Message paraphrases 2 Peter 1:3 saying, "Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God. The best invitation we ever received!" God invites us to pursue a life-long path of unwavering obedience.

In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers wisely acknowledges that each step on that path of obedience is marked by daily choices to live in "sanctified abandon" to Christ rather than "selective affinity" for Christ. "Selective affinity" is easy. I select what I like, when I want, and how I want it. "Sanctified abandon?" Not so much. The reality is that God did not place me on this earth to walk in selective affinity. He placed me on this earth to live in sanctified abandon! Oswald Chambers taps into our true calling on this earth when he writes, "If you abandon to Jesus, and come when He says "Come," He will continue to say "Come" through you; and you will go out into life, reproducing the echo of Christ's "Come." That is the result in every soul who has abandoned and come to Jesus."

With sanctified abandon, let us extend Christ's "Come" to those around us through the power of the Holy Spirit. Do you think God placed you on this earth to do anything else?

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edblog813As the weather warmed earlier this spring, and new growth became evident on the plants around my house, I began the process of cleaning out our landscaping. Along with weeding and raking, I pruned and trimmed some of the shrubs. As I gently handled the plants, admiring their growth, my mind journeyed back to when and how I had first acquired each plant and placed them in the ground. The more I reflected, the more my heart was filled with gratitude as I realized just how many "family" members have contributed to the landscaping around my house. There was bamboo nandina from Sally, ferns from Paula, hostas from Vicki, and azaleas from Louise. There was forsythia from Frank, day lilies from George, irises from Melissa, and the poplar tree from Gary. Then there was the lilac from my dad, snow on a mountain from my mother-in-law, canna lilies from a friend of a friend, and zebra grass from Kathy. The reality is that over the years, my landscaping has been shaped and enriched by the generosity of others.

With each plant came a flood of memories and prayerful gratitude to God for each person. You see, the true significance was not the plants themselves, but the blessing of relationship with that person. Beyond the gift of shrubs and perennials is the lasting gift of the example of their grace-filled lives. Yes, the landscape around my house has been enriched, but even more so, the landscape of my life.

As each one has modeled what it means to live a Spirit-saturated life, my appetite for the fruit of the Spirit to grow and the gifts of the Spirit to flow in my life has been whetted. I hunger for that Acts 2:47 life: "They praised God and demonstrated God's goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved" (CEB). That kind of living transformed the landscape!

Over the years, those plants have grown and multiplied to the point where I am now able to pass on to others the blessings I have received. Every day, by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, I have the privilege of living out Colossians 1:10, impacting the landscape of others: "daily live a life worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him in every way: by producing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God."

One last thought: While ideally we choose what is planted in the landscaping of our lives, sometimes the wind blows seeds of fear and doubt that quickly germinate, grow, and overtake if left untended. Small thorn bushes of criticism have a way of multiplying if not diligently weeded out. So would you join me in praying for fresh empowerment of the Holy Spirit to daily live out Colossians 1:10 in our personal lives and in all of our relationships?

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2 Kings 25:27-30 tells us about Jehoiachin, a captive king, who experienced the favor of the reigning king. Evil-merodach, king of Babylon, "released him from prison; spoke kindly to him and ranked him above the kings with him in Babylon." This, now-free-king, put off his prison garments and dined regularly at the reigning king's table, and received daily provision for the rest of his life.

There is a beautiful parallel between Jehoiachin's experience with the king, and ours with the King of kings. As Jehoiachin was favored by the reigning king, so, we, too, are favored by God. The Psalmist in 5:12 declares, "For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover them with favor as with a shield" (NRSV).

Describing the actions of the king of Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah said, he "lifted up the head" of Jehoiachin and "brought him out of prison" (Jeremiah 52:31 AMP). We celebrate the fact that God, the lifter of our head (Psalm 3:3) is the One who "leads the prisoners out to prosperity" (Psalm 68:6 AMP).

Jehoiachin's next action is significant: the Scripture says he "put off his prison garments." Why? The answer seems obvious: Why wear outward symbols of imprisonment when you are no longer a prisoner?"

While that parallel seems simple at first, realize that there is one who is intent upon believers retaining their prison garments. Satan, "the accuser of the brethren" is active day and night bringing charges against believers (Rev. 12:10 AMP). John describes satan as "a liar [himself] and the father of lies and of all that is false" (John 8:44 AMP). The enemy would delight in you holding on to the prison garments of your past. However, the Truth of I John 1:9 is that if you have confessed your sin, God is faithful and just to forgive you your sin and to cleanse you from ALL unrighteousness. Isaiah 61:10 says "He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness." You are no longer a prisoner! God's invitation is to take Jehoiachin's example and "put off the prison garments" and to, as Romans 13:14 instructs, "Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ."

Jehoiachin also "dined regularly" at the king's table and "a continual allowance was given him by the king, every day a portion, for the rest of his life." As we dine in fellowship with God, we discover as the Psalmist declared, "God is the Rock and firm Strength of my heart and my Portion forever" (Psalm 73:26 AMP).

Perhaps you've been walking around in prison garments of condemnation, fear, or intimidation, God's invitation is to put off the prison garments, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and feast at the King's table. "At the King's table, there's grace we can find, breaking the bread and pouring the wine. At the King's table, mercy is spread. Hearts can find comfort and souls can be fed."

At the King'sTable, David T. Clydesdale | Lowell Alexander | Steve Amerson © 1996 Word Music, LLC, Dayspring Music, LLC, Bridge Building Music, Inc., Randy Cox Music, Inc. CCLI#214390

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