Sunday, April 19, 2020

Live By the Sword

It is day 31, I think, of our mandatory quarantine. It's 6:00 am on Sunday morning. I've been awake now for a few hours. My heart is now becoming heavy.  The first few weeks of quarantine were actually nice.  Life seemed somewhat stress free.  We made the adjustments of working from home and even doing church online seemed to  make the switch with some ease. But Easter came and something shifted.  I don't know if it was the let down of not getting dressed up in something new, the gathering of church family, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus with family members for lunch, but that seemed to be the peak of this life of quarantine.

Over the next few days, something shifted. That peacefulness and stress-less life changed. My dreams have been much more active and I wonder if it could be from the lack of activity that my subconscious is reacting.  When this time of isolation began, I had a lot of faith and hope that we were going to see the Holy Spirit move in a new way.  We prayed for changed in 2020 and clear vision.  We certainly got the change, but as far as the vision goes, it's become more blurred.

The other morning, I woke up completely confused.  I had a dream that Jeff and I had a leadership conference in Temecula.  Temecula is southern California's wine country.  I'm not sure why there except we are either in need of wine or God was speaking to me about that location. Are we, as a church, being put into new wineskins? 

But in this dream Jeff kept referring to Isaiah 54:17, "no weapon formed against us shall prosper..." He had made a small paper "knife-like sword."  He said, "This is not a sword and this is what most of us carry as a sword."  Then out of butcher paper, he made a life-size fencing type sword.  He told the leadership that we were going to be making these for each one of us.  He had run out of paper and we had to buy it from CVS. It was then I woke up with wonder on my mind.

Was God speaking to us? What are paper swords? I did find it interesting that Jeff kept quoting Isaiah 54:17.  I decided to read that verse and it was interesting, which makes me believe now God was talking to me in my dream. It says, "But in that coming day no weapon turned against you will succeed. You will silence every voice raised up to accuse you. These benefits are enjoyed by the servants of the LORD; their vindication will come from me. I, the LORD, have spoken!" (NLT). Now the question is what does this mean.

I began to pray and as it literally began to unfold, this is what it means.  First of all, why butcher paper?  That seems so odd, but as I looked back, when I was a cheerleader, we would make team signs on butcher paper. The signs were to encourage our players to give their best and to "go, fight, win!"  We obviously know this type of paper is to wrap meat in when you get it from a butcher. I believe the paper sword represents the Word of God. We know in Ephesians 6:17 says to "take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."  The word of God is meat in a spiritual sense. In these days of crisis, we are not just fighting a physical disease, but if we aren't eating spiritual meat, we will not be able to sustain. But also as I mentioned, butcher paper is what we used to make signs on.  The paper sword represents encouragement. Habakkuk 2:1-3 says, "I will climb up to my watchtower and stand at my guardpost. There I will wait to see what the Lord says and how he will answer my complaint. 2 Then the Lord said to me, "Write my answer plainly on tablets, so that a runner can carry the correct message to others. 3 This vision is for a future time. It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled. If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed." (NLT)

Then lastly, why CVS? We know in reality, they don't carry butcher paper, but CVS is a place where we can purchase essential items and pick up medicine. The word of God is essential in our lives and in this time of disease it is also healing.  If we read the word of God daily, we are getting what is essential for us to sustain in this time of crisis, but also it will bring healing as we rest in Him.

I think this is a word for our church family that we are in a critical season.  Thinking about this, I realized as we are quarantined in our homes to keep us safe from being infected, but because we can't gather corporately we are being affected. This is a time for us to track with the daily bible reading and interact on the video chats.  The Holy Spirit is there in our midst, even if it is online.  Growing together in the word is crucial to this body.

I believe the word in this dream summed up is this: God is doing a new thing, He's making streams in the wasteland, of the internet. (Isaiah 43:19). We are being put in new wineskins,
"And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:17 NLT) As a Church we need to be eating the Word of God together daily and meeting together via video to continue growing, "‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”(Matthew 4:4). The past 6 years have been training us for this season. Jesus said, "Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword." I believe for us as a Church this means for us to put the word of God at the forefront of our lives. By putting the sword back in it's place, means it should be the first thing we turn to in our minds so we will be preserved and healed at the same time. No weapons of disease or financial loss formed against us will prosper. We will "live by the sword." And specifically the paper sword.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Stones of Remembrance

Today is the day we remember that Jesus conquered death! As I read through the events of that day this morning in Luke 24, the Holy Spirit caught my attention with something.

I want to share my story of God’s faithfulness to keep His promise to us.  Back in 2010 we moved from Irvine to Mission Viejo.  It was during the time when the housing market was a wreck.  Every house was a short sale and making an offer really meant putting your name in a lottery and if you had cash, your offer had a chance to be accepted.  Unfortunately, we were first time buyers so that meant we work looking at a different kind of loan.

We had no idea the challenges we were going to face. I remember one night, in the middle of the night, I heard the Holy Spirit whisper, “You’re going to have to go through this, but don’t worry, I will be with you.”  I had no idea what that meant until about a week later when Jeff told me the house we were in was going on the market and we had to move. I never dreamed in a million years the struggle it was going to be for the next 16 months. 

Long story short, we rented a house off Craig’s list. It was too good to be true. Looked at it and signed the lease that day. Rent was in our range and it was going to be month to month which was fine because we had made an offer on a house in the same neighborhood. 

The day we moved into the house, our life, as we knew it was over. The owner had leans on the house and had people stalking the house, threatening lawsuits and trying to remove us from the home. At first, we were okay because we were waiting on the offer to be accepted on the other house. That’s when we found out the short sale process. We were always denied. In 12 months we made 28 offers all to be rejected. The house ended up foreclosing and went back to the bank. Jeff decided we were going to buy this house. We met with the agent representing this house and he said it couldn’t happen. But we proceeded. For the next four months we were receiving eviction notices while we were trying to get our offer accepted.  Again, long story short, we almost lost it all, but just like God does, He came through at the last hour. We had been in the most stressful time of our life.  When it was all said and done, we were able to change from a first-time buyer situation to a conventional loan AND we closed exactly one year to the day we had moved in.

I wanted to share this with you to encourage you that God is faithful.  God is faithful to His promises.  I was reminded of Deuteronomy 27:2-3, “When you have crossed the Jordan into the land the Lord your God is giving you, set up some large stones and coat them with plaster. Write on them all the words of this law when you have crossed over to enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.” When it was time to cross over into the Promised Land, God told Joshua each tribe was to get a stone from the middle of the Jordan river and carry it over to the other side and make an alter to remind them of God’s faithfulness.  He told them to do this so that when their children asked what those stones meant, they could tell them of God’s promise.

After we closed on this house, one of our first projects was a water feature. I had always wanted a waterfall of some kind.  Jeff took giant rocks from our property and built a waterfall out of them.  But this waterfall was not just a pretty feature in our yard, it was our memorial of stones reminding us of God’s faithfulness to provide.

As we are stuck in this unending quarantine, that corner of my yard is my haven. It’s my daily reminder of God’s goodness, even when I fail. Especially now as I sit here and write this, the times are challenging financially, BUT if God could do the impossible with our house and dealing with the banks, He is big enough to take care of His people in this uncertain time.

As we celebrate the resurrection of the promise of His son, Jesus conquering death, I was reminded of another memorial stone. The stone that covered the tomb where Jesus’ body was placed was a source of controversy. The Pharisees requested that it be guarded so the disciples couldn’t carry His body away. (Matthew 27:62-66) Then there were the women who were taking the burial spices and they were concerned who would remove the stone so they could get in. (Mark 16:1-3) Then the chief priests and elders paid off the soldiers, who were guarding the tomb. The soldiers were so afraid, they had passed out when the angels showed up to roll the stone away. (Matthew 28:4) The chief priests and elders told the soldiers to tell people that the disciples stole the body. (Matthew 28:11-15) And in the mean time, the disciples were in hiding. (John 20:19)

This stone of remembrance is definitely one to remember.  God was always telling His people to remember where they had come from and to celebrate their victories.  On this Resurrection Sunday, specifically April 12, 2020, when we were unable to gather as the Body of Christ, the Truth is still the same.  Jesus bridged the gap between us our Heavenly Father and even more important he conquered death once and for all.  O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 1 Corinthians 15:55  This is truly The Stone of Remembrance!