Thursday, July 27, 2017

Strong-Walled Places


This year's summer Bible study, Think Differently*, by James MacDonald, has taught me a lot. So far I have learned how difficulties, dispositions and dysfunction are the tools used to bend, begin, and build multiple strongholds in my life.

The key passage for this study is 2 Corinthians 10:4-6...

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,  being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

I was curious, so I looked up the original Greek word for strongholds. This is what I found... the word - ὀχυρωμάτων - is a genitive plural noun that indicates possession. In other words the strongholds (plural) mentioned in the verse belong to us. It's our warfare, therefore these are our strongholds.

The Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament clarifies the translation further... In some languages a ‘fortress’ may be described in terms of its function, for example, ‘a place for protection’ or ‘a place to defend oneself.’ Often, however, a fortress is described in terms of its construction, for example, ‘a strong-walled place.’

As I continued to study I found myself in Psalms 18:1-3... I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.

The Hebrew word for stronghold  -  מִשְׂגַּבִּֽי  - is a first person singular construct noun that also indicates possession.  In this verse it means my stronghold, and that stronghold is God.

The Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon of the Old Testament describes the word as a metaphor—God as a refuge. Tie this together with the lexical meaning and you have a "high point for refuge", which indicates a high, inaccessible place that keeps us safe from enemies.

As I pondered the connection between these verses I was reminded of Isaiah 55:8-9 ...For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

There it is... Everything about God is higher than me. All my life I have built my strong-walled places with my strong-willed arguments and opinions. I may believe that these strongholds are safe, but God is the only fortress that truly protects me. Only God can lift me to a safe place that was never built by human argument or opinion. Therefore, I must learn to combat my strong-willed ways so I will stop building strong-walled places. I must choose to take every thought captive to obey Christ. This and only this will bring God's peace to the battlefield of my mind.

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Remember this... you are loved and you are always in my prayers.

In Christ, Cheryl

August 2017 Lamplight - Strong-Walled Places
Written by: Cheryl Harrison
Copyright 2017. All Rights Reserved.


*Think Differently, written by James MacDonald; Lifeway Church Resources; January 2017.


Monday, May 1, 2017

Fan the Flame


A few weeks ago my DLife group tackled Revelation 3:14-21. The discussion questions ranged anywhere from "How does Christ introduce himself to the Church in Laodicea?" to "If you were to take your spiritual temperature today, would it be cold, hot, or lukewarm?"

Jesus, the "Amen, True Witness, and Beginning of God's Creation" gives a warning to the Church in Laodicea... "I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth." ~ Rev. 3:15-16

The ESV translation translates this as, "...I will spit you out of my mouth." However, a closer look at the original language reveals something interesting...

οὕτως  (Thus) ὅτι (because) χλιαρὸς (lukewarm) εἶ (you are) καὶ (and) οὔτε (neither) ζεστὸς (hot) οὔτε (nor) ψυχρός, (cold) μέλλω (I am about) σε (you) ἐμέσαι (vomit) ἐκ (out) τοῦ (the) στόματός (mouth) μου (of me/my).

Translation: Thus, because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold I am about to vomit you out of my mouth.

This slight adjustment in translation reveals a depth to God's holy patience with His people. God faithfully disciplines his children, and the words, "Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent," not only serve as a warning, but should also remind us about God's boundless love. He loves us way too much to allow us to become self-sufficient or complacent. Therefore, whenever we forget whose we are and why we are, God faithfully heats things up.

As my DLife group pondered the question, "If you were to take your spiritual temperature today, would it be cold, hot or lukewarm..." the initial response was, "Can we just skip that one?" It's obviously one of those questions that puts you on the spot. After a few minutes I suggested that we view the question a little differently. Instead of measuring our spiritual temperature by "what we do," I suggested that we measure by "what God is currently doing in our lives." Then, instead of measuring by the amount of church attendance, Bible reading, or hours spent in prayer, we focused on God's activity in our lives.

I fully believe that a vibrant relationship with God is not measured by anything that we do. On the contrary it is measured by what God is doing in and through his children. Oswald Chambers touched on this when he wrote, "Never forget that our capacity and capability in spiritual matters is measured by, and based on the promises of God."

Personally, I guess it can be summed up this way... The only thing special about me is God's promised Holy Spirit that indwells me. I am completely dependent upon Him for all things eternal. Because of the Holy Spirit, God is able to change me from the inside out. He aligns my heart and mind with His plan, and as long as He continues to fan the flame of my spiritual temperature there is no limit to what He can accomplish through me.

Remember this… you are loved and you are always in my prayers.

In Christ, Cheryl


May 2017 Lamplight - Fan the Flame
Written by: Cheryl Harrison
Copyright 2017
All rights reserved

Sunday, April 9, 2017

It's Personal

Photo 79828 Lightsock by Pearl
In 2006 I wrote a seven day devotional series — Conversations with Jesus — that was subsequently published in Fruit of the Vine, a Barclay Press Publication. The series highlighted Jesus’ conversations with Nathaniel (I Saw You), Nicodemus (I Tell You the Truth)The Samaritan Woman (I Who Speak to You Am He)The Paralytic (Do You Want to Get Well?)The Leper (I Am Willing), and Thomas (Blessed Are Those). To this day my favorite part of the series has remained to be Nicodemus and The Samaritan Woman. What follows is a portion of both.
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Nicodemus -- "I Tell You the Truth"  (John 3:1-15; Deuteronomy 18:15, 18)

Why did Nicodemus come at night? 

Nobody knows for sure, but the most important thing for us to understand is that... he came.

Why did Nicodemus come to Jesus? 

He came because of miraculous signs; however, he still failed to recognize Jesus as the promised Messiah.  Nicodemus was a well educated religious leader of Israel, and at the very least he should have recognized fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy:  "The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers.  You must listen to him." ~ (Deuteronomy 18:15)

The correlation of Jesus’ words, "I tell you the truth," with the ancient words of Moses, "You must listen to him," should have spoken volumes to Nicodemus, but the consequences of unbelief had deafened him.  Nicodemus failed to realize that he must let go of his dependence upon Moses (the law) and enter into a personal relationship with Jesus (eternal life). Thus, instead of responding with understanding and action, Nicodemus remained confused and noncommittal. Even though the narrative doesn’t clearly state that Nicodemus received God's gift of salvation, tradition holds that he did.  A hint of softening near the end of the Gospel offers valuable insight not only into Nicodemus's heart, but also into our own.  The Lord offers everyone an opportunity to hear the truth;  how we respond remains our choice.

Samaritan Woman -- "I Who Speak To You Am He"  (John 4:7-28)

Nicodemus and the woman at the well lived at opposite ends of the cultural spectrum.  He, a Pharisee and respected member of the Jewish ruling council, most likely would never cross paths with such a woman.  She, an uneducated, Samaritan woman knew rejection all too well, and no man, especially a Pharisee of good reputation would dare come near her.

The differences between Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman far exceeded social and cultural status.  Remember, Nicodemus sought Jesus under the cover of darkness, and though he was highly educated, when their conversation had ended he remained confused and noncommittal.  In contrast, Jesus intentionally waited by the well for the Samaritan woman to arrive. He knew she had grown accustomed to rejection, and though most people recoiled from her presence, Jesus purposely drew near to her.  Thus, a forbidden conversation in man's eyes soon lifted this shamed woman to a new understanding of God.  She knew about Israel's promised Messiah, and at this pivotal moment in her life, the Samaritan woman received divine revelation. Jesus revealed his true identity... "I who speak to you am He."  Unlike Nicodemus, the woman responded with faith and action.
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At the time I wrote these devotionals I was intrigued by the comparison between Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman; not only by the contrast in their response, but also that Jesus chose to reveal his true identity to a “rejected” woman. These passages in John have always been on my list of favorites. I have listened to sermons, read devotionals, done bible studies and word studies; however, a few weeks ago I found something new. Don't you just love it when that happens?

Yes, Jesus and the Samaritan woman conversed about many things. There was back-and-forth about thirst and the spring of water that wells up into eternal life. They spoke about personal relationships, places of worship and true worship. Jesus even revealed to her that He is the promised Messiah. But when the Samaritan woman left her water jar and ran into town and witnessed to the very same people she was avoiding... she didn't say, "Come see a man who told me about a spring of water that leads to eternal life." She didn't recant their discussion about places of worship and true worship. She didn't tell them about his true identity. On the contrary she said, "Come see a man who told me everything I ever did!"

The Samaritan woman responded with faith and action because of her conversation with Jesus, but the thing that impacted her most was that Jesus had gotten personal with her. Jesus knew everything about her, but he still revealed truth to her. We can learn a lot from the Samaritan woman, but I especially pray that we will grasp the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus.

We may shy away from it, but Jesus definitely wants to get personal. 

Remember this... you are loved, and you are always in my prayers. 

In Christ, Cheryl

It's Personal, written by Cheryl Harrison
Copyright 2017
All Rights Reserved


Sunday, February 28, 2016

Communication


The art of communication has certainly advanced in recent years, and most of us would agree that our reliance on cell phone technology, e-mail, instant messaging and social media has increased exponentially. Gone are the slower-paced days of "snail-mail" and rotary dials. Farewell to the era when fewer screens competed for our attention.

It may be a surprise (especially to those of you who were born after 1990) that cell phones and electronic mail have not been around forever. On the contrary, pocket cell phones began to gain ground in 1990, and what we now know as consumer e-mail has only been around since 1993. This technology wave took the world by storm. In less than twenty-five years we’ve gone from land-line busy signals to cell phone notification bells. Scripture addresses this fast-paced phenomena in the book of Daniel where the prophet was given a revelation. He was told to write everything down and to seal the scroll for delivery at a specific time...

"But you, Daniel, keep this prophecy a secret; seal up the book until the time of the end, when many will rush here and there, and knowledge will increase (Daniel 12:4).

As knowledge increases, so does the urgency of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. Thankfully the Lord did not leave us to our own devices. He knows the urgency of getting His Word out. He also knows that we need help. This is why Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit...

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth" (John 14:15-17).

"The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you" (John 14:26).

The technology of human communication continues to change with lightning speed. Store shelves are  lined with upgraded phones and devices that are specifically designed to catch our fancy.  Thankfully  the way we  communicate with God never  needs an upgrade. Busy signals never interfere with our prayers and there is no need for cell towers. God hears our prayers, even when we can’t find the words to pray… the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who  searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God (Romans 8:26-27).

God gave us His phone number... Jeremiah 33:3... "Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own (The Message)."

God doesn't have call waiting... but He is waiting for us to call.

Remember this... you are loved and you are always in my prayers.

In Christ, Cheryl


March 2016 Lamplight ~ Communication
Written by: Cheryl Harrison
Copyright 2016. All rights reserved

Thursday, October 22, 2015

"What does it mean to enter the joy of your Lord?"

This past week, my  D-Life group discussed Matthew 25:14-30. When the thought provoking question--"What does it mean to enter into the joy of your Lord?"-- was on the table, I watched the wheels begin to turn and listened as the group voiced their thoughts.

Most of us are familiar with the Parable of the Talents. It's the story about the master who entrusted three servants with his property. To one he gave five talents of money, to another he gave two talents, and to another he gave one.

Just for fun, let me preface this article with some important background information...

~ First, a talent is a form of measurement. The "talent of money"  referred to in Matthew 25 was the largest unit of measurement available at the time. By today's standards, five talents of gold would be worth over five million dollars. How did I come up with that number? Well... the current value of gold is approximately $1,168.00 per ounce. Multiply this by 16 ounces and you learn that one pound of gold is worth $18,688.00. Five talents are equivalent to 300 pounds; therefore, by today's monetary standards five talents of gold would be worth approximately $5,606,400.00. How's that for super math skills!

~ Second, parables are simple stories with a heavenly meaning and this particular parable packs a strong heavenly message.

During our discussion we identified the Master as Jesus, the servants as us, and the talents to be spiritual gifts of  great value. We discussed the importance of knowing and understanding our unique gifts. We also talked about the blessings of allowing the Lord to use these gifts as he works through us to accomplish his purpose. Then came the next-to-the-last  question..."What does it mean to enter into the joy of the Lord?" We decided that before we could answer this question, we first needed to understand the following..."What gives the Lord joy?"

Hebrews 12:2-3 -- "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men that you will not grow weary and lose heart."

This passage has always touched my heart because it reveals the truth of God's love. My humanity can't figure out why anyone would "joyfully" endure the torture and suffering of the cross. However, as Jesus helped me to see the cross through his eyes, I learned that he wasn't worried about pain and death. On the contrary, Jesus had his eyes fixed on the final outcome--God's demonstrated love.

Jesus joyfully carried the weight of the splintered cross on his wounded back. He graciously allowed himself to be humiliated as they pierced his flesh and suspended him on that very same cross. He mercifully endured scorn, suffocating pain, and anguish as the full weight of the world's sin landed upon his shoulders. Jesus could have stopped everything the moment he realized his Father had forsaken him... but, because of the joy set before him... Jesus followed through. His cry, "It is finished!" meant just that. Jesus died on that cross for you and me, and three days later... praise the Lord, He rose again!

Now, link this scripture with the final line from the parable of the lost coin in Luke 15:10. Here, the woman rejoiced after finding her lost coin, and in conclusion Jesus said, "In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

Many people understand this verse to mean that the angels rejoice when one sinner repents, but I challenge you to read it again. Do you see it? Does it say that the angels rejoice? No, it says that there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels. In other words... the angels witness the joy of the Lord! Can you imagine what the angels must see when God rejoices over one sinner who repents! Oh what a sight!

So... is the answer to the question, "What gives joy to the Lord," found in these passages? Personally, I think it's clear that the Lord greatly rejoices every single time a sinner repents and receives His free gift of salvation. Now, back to the initial question, "What does it mean to enter the joy of the Lord?" Could it be that we enter the joy of the Lord when we begin to rejoice in the things that bring Him joy? Hmmm... I can't wait until my D-Life group gathers again. I pray you are having as much fun in your group. If you haven't joined a D-Life group, please let me know and I will help you get plugged in!

Remember this... you are loved, and you are always in my prayers.

In Christ, Cheryl

November 2015 Lamplight ~ "What does it mean to enter into the joy of your Lord?"
Written by: Cheryl Harrison
Copyright 2015. All Rights Reserved.


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For more information on D-Life, visit www.livingthedlife.com

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Pain Defined

The art of conversation is a blessing. God didn't have to give us a way to communicate, but he did and every once in awhile I find myself involved in a dialogue that has great take-a-way value. For example, a few weeks ago, a concerned friend inquired about my husband's neck surgery.  I explained that the surgery went well, but even though most people experience immediate relief, my husband's pain has not gone away. Apparently his pinched nerves are confused and angry about the whole situation.

After sharing this information my Marine friend said, "Pain is just weakness leaving the body. At least that is what the Marine Corps taught me."

I pondered his words and then responded, "That is so true. I think I will share your wisdom with my husband."

These words ring true in so many ways.  Pain is evidence that something is happening in and around us... 
  • Physical pain often arrives with the onset of illness or injury, but it is present during recovery as well.
  • Emotional pain usually surfaces along with some kind of loss.
  • Spiritual pain usually begins the moment we stray from the Lord.
Physical, emotional and spiritual pain is very real and human weakness is evident in all three. 

~ Physical pain proves that weakness resides in the temporary.

Personally I am relieved that this body is temporary. I can't imagine living in it for eternity. Thankfully we can hold onto the hope of Revelation 21:3-4... And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

~ Emotional pain reminds us that our thoughts are not like God's thoughts.

God's view of suffering is far different than ours. He understands suffering, but also knows that it is temporary.  His words written by Paul in Romans 8:18 say it best... I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 

~ Spiritual pain is beneficial. We need spiritual pain to keep us alert.

I once wrote an article about the affects of spiritual sleepiness. This drowsy feeling  is much like the feeling we have when circulation is cut off from one of our limbs. Most of us have experienced the feeling of a leg that has fallen asleep. First comes tingling; then numbness. We quickly realize that an adjustment to our position is needed so that blood can begin to flow.  Then that dreaded moment of excruciating pain arrives right before the leg fully awakens. Oh how it hurts! But alas, it serves to remind us the importance of good posture. We must not sit in any position that cuts off our circulation.  Spiritual pain is evidence that  we are cut-off from God. It proves   the weakness of humanity, but thankfully God doesn't allow his children to wander too far from his presence. We can rely on his promise in John 10:28...  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.

Not many of us have survived marine boot camp, but most of us have suffered pain. The words, "Pain is just weakness leaving the body," will stick with me for a long time. They serve to remind me that all pain is temporary, because God's grace is sufficient and His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).  Praise the Lord!

Remember this... you are loved, and you are always in my prayers.


In Christ, Cheryl

November 2015 Lamplight ~ Pain Defined
Written by: Cheryl Harrison
Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Greater, Bigger, Higher

Last week I was able to spend some time with my beautiful granddaughter. I know that time flies quickly, but it sure doesn't seem possible that she will be three years old in October!  She is growing up so fast and in my completely "biased" opinion... she is a genius!

It's true, she is a genius, but at times I still need to corral her playtime enthusiasm. I try my best to protect her when she wants to do something that is beyond her toddler-ability. For example, while we were playing a game, she wanted to do something that was slightly dangerous. Of course I immediately intervened and said, "You aren't tall enough to do that!"  It was apparent that she didn't agree with me because she looked me straight in the eye and grinned. Suddenly, she bent down and touched her ankles, then her knees, waist, shoulders and threw her hands into the air, declaring, "I great big!"

I laughed and said, "Yes, you are great big, but still not big enough for that!"  Not only is she cute... she's a hoot!

As I consider this precious moment with my granddaughter, I am reminded that no matter how big we think we are God is so much bigger.  Isaiah 55:8-9 says...

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

I think we can all agree that a lot of things in our world don't make sense. I recently watched a news report about Syrian refugees who have fled their home in search of safe haven. Syria is a very dangerous place and these people have left everything behind. The video of crowded rubber boats filled with exhausted parents, crying infants, and small children was gut-wrenching. These families have nowhere to go and it's hard to fathom what comes next in their journey. So many roads to travel. So many countries. So many borders, but none have welcome signs.

It's true. Helping these people is a daunting task, but some volunteers are trying to make a difference. I was especially touched by the image of a European woman moving amidst the crowd with a small loaf of bread. Periodically she paused, reached into the bag and then handed a single slice of bread to anyone who would receive. In the grand scope of things this small loaf of bread may not seem like much, but in my eyes it was huge.

My brain can't begin fathom the depravity of mankind. I can't grasp why a band of terrorists would drive people from their homes. I may never understand the whys of suffering, but I have learned to trust God's Word. He is big enough to handle the Syrian situation and He is big enough to handle anything else that doesn't make sense. No matter how appalling our world becomes I am confident that God is higher, He is bigger and He is greater.

In conclusion, please be blessed by the lyrics from the song "Greater" by MercyMe...*

There'll be days I lose the battle
Grace says that it doesn't matter
Cause the cross already won the war
He's Greater, He's Greater

God is bigger, greater and higher than anything we may face. Please remember to pray for the Syrian refugees. Ask the Lord to help them understand that He has provided a Savior--the Bread of Life--Jesus Christ.

Remember this... you are loved, and you are always in my prayers.

In Christ, Cheryl


*Lyrics copied from the song "Greater" by MercyMe. Recorded on the album "Welcome to the New"; Label: Fair Trade Services © 2014.


September 2015 Lamplight ~ Greater, Bigger, Higher
Written by: Cheryl Harrison
Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.