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Shadow Walking: Always Better Together

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,  complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. Philippians 2:2-5

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We have been studying ancient history this year in our homeschool using a curriculum called “Biblioplan“. In the section on Ancient Greece, we learned a fascinating fact about the Greek infantry. Here is an excerpt from the companion guide.

Hoplites were the heavily armed infantry citizen-soldiers of the Ancient Greek city-states. Hoplites were trained to fight in lines standing shoulder to shoulder in what was called a “hoplite phalanx”. Each man was protected by the shield of the man standing next to him. When the phalanx marched forward as a unit, enemy spears and arrows could not penetrate the shields. The phalanx was only effective if the entire unit moved together in step. If even one hoplite broke formation, the whole line could fall apart.

As I pondered this war strategy, I was struck by how similar this is to the body of Christ. We are meant to link arms with one another, to move forward together against the attack of the enemy. What a beautiful picture it is to consider  a group of believers holding their shields in front one another, supporting, protecting, loving each other.

All too often, followers of Christ break formation. We consider that perhaps we will be stronger on our own. It will be less painful if we set our own course. Walking together is too vulnerable- it opens us up to hurts and pain, leaving wounds that threaten to destroy us.

But all too soon, we discover the heartbreak of not walking with other believers. Our shields of faith become flimsy and we begin to question everything that we believe in. We fall down and there is no one there to catch us. We grow tired and lack purpose and it is easier to just give up.

It says in 1 Peter 5:8 that “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” When we go it alone, we are easy targets. The Ancient Greeks understood this. There is strength in numbers.

In order to be effective as a body of believers, we need to have humility that allows us to consider others as better than ourselves. We need to look to the interests of others and seek to support and love one another, understanding the beauty of God’s purpose in this type of relationship. When we are genuinely looking to the interests of others, linking arms, holding our shields in front of our neighbor, we will find that others will link arms with us and their shields will firmly protect us.

The opposite is true. When we are only concerned for ourselves and our own protection and security (pride!), we will find that we are weak and inadequate against the attacks of the enemy.

As hard and as painful as it can be at times, I want to be united with other believers. I want to link arms and hold my shield securely in front of my neighbor. It’s always better when we’re together!

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Shadow Walking: Follow Me

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen.  And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. ~Matthew 4:18-22

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There is an ancient Jewish tradition that encourages disciples to walk so closely behind their Rabbis (or teachers) that they will be covered in their Rabbi’s dust. I first heard of this concept through a video series called “In the Dust of the Rabbi” taught by Ray Vander Laan.

I believe this is what Jesus meant when he called his disciples simply by saying, “Follow me”. Follow me to the countryside where I will perform miracles, feed the crowds with one small lunch, teach truths with wisdom and grace and heal the sick and demon possessed. Follow me out onto the lake where you will see the wind and the waves listen to my command. Follow me into the temple where I will turn over the tables in response to the mercenaries who have made a mockery of God’s holy place. Follow me down the streets strewn with palm branches with people shouting in praise and watch those same streets lead to the cross where my life will be sacrificed. Follow me when all stand in amazement and when abuses are hurled. Take up your cross and follow me (Matthew 16:24).

We like the thought of following Jesus, but taking up our cross? Denying ourselves? Well, that doesn’t sound like fun! And getting dusty? That doesn’t sound so great either.

The truth about following Jesus and walking with him is that it is not always easy. In fact, it is often excruciating and heartbreakingly difficult. We will have friends turn their backs on us. We will be misunderstood, criticized and mistreated. We might be persecuted for our faith or even called to give our lives.

But the other truth about following Jesus is that it brings the deepest satisfaction. It gives a hope and a purpose in this life. It provides peace that cannot be explained.

Following Jesus is worth every step. While there might be painful parts to the journey that we are on, the prize at the end makes the difficulty pale in comparison.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus

Look full in his wonderful face,

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of his glory and grace.

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Today we are celebrating the sacrifice that Jesus became for us in giving his life to save his people from their sins. Have you accepted this gift that has been so freely offered on your behalf? Have you decided to follow Jesus?

Walk in All His Ways

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? ~ Deuteronomy 10:12,13

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In my childhood home, scripture was central. I grew up hearing it read, seeing it lived out, knowing that the Word of God was meant to impact all aspects of life and developing a passion for it myself. I studied it and memorized it and participated in Bible quizzing for years. I even went to Bible school and fell in love with a Bible theology major.

I don’t know what it’s like to NOT have scripture impact my life. And still, I struggle with sinful thoughts, attitudes and behaviors. I understand the hymn writers sentiment when he wrote, “prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” Even with a deep love of scripture, I will forget to read it. I get caught up in the daily responsibilities of life and neglect my first love.

This is why passages like the one written in Deuteronomy are so important. They are a reminder to keep going, to keep learning, to keep walking. We don’t expect to go on one walk with someone and then know them completely. We understand that to know someone requires a continual knowing of them. We are (or should be!) constantly changing and growing so that who we were yesterday is not the same as who we will be tomorrow. Our relationship with God must be ongoing. There is no end to knowing him.

To walk in His ways demands that we know what his ways are. Sometimes my children will ask me why they need to read the Bible when they already know the stories. I inwardly scream, “You have no idea how much you still have to learn!!” And then I consider that my Father in heaven is thinking the same of me (Although I don’t believe he ever screams at me. He is endlessly patient with me!).

Deuteronomy 10:13 ends with the words “for your good”. Whenever God requires something of his people, whether it was Israel in the Old Testament or the church today, we can know that it is for our good. We know this by our walks with God. He proves his love for us, his faithfulness, his mercy and his grace over and over again.

Oh, how I want to know God more and more, to live in awe of Him, to walk in His ways!

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Shadow Walking: Walk This Way

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:21

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There have been times in my life when I have struggled to know what decision to make. My heart will desire to go in one direction, but my head will be leading in the opposite and I am stuck in the middle trying to decide- do I go left or do I go right? In retrospect, I can clearly see how God has faithfully directed me to pursue paths He intended for me to walk down. When decisions are difficult, my reliance on God runs deep. I beg for His presence, for His direction and for His guidance.

As I walk forward in the way I sense He is leading me, I feel a confirmation in my spirit- This IS the way! Walk in it! 

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
    therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
    Blessed are all who wait for him!

How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you. Isaiah 30:18 and 19b

In Isaiah 30, we find the prerequisites to determining the way we should be walking. It involves waiting on the Lord and crying for help. Patience and humility. A willingness to wait for God’s timing and a willingness to admit that we are not in control, but God is.

We want to skip this step and get right to determining God’s will. We want God to agree with the way we want to go instead of doing the hard work of walking on His path and not our own. “The Lord longs to be gracious to you” is one of the most beautiful promises in scripture, but it is one that so many of us fail to realize, because we aren’t willing to admit our sinfulness and our need for Jesus.

God longs to be gracious to us. He longs to lead and guide us. He longs for us to walk in the way we should walk. Are we willing to listen for His Still Small Voice?

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Shadow Walking: Even There

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
 You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
 You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
 Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
 You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

 Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast. ~Psalm 139:1-10

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During my teen years, a poster hung on my closet door with Psalm 139:9,10 printed on a beautiful picture of the ocean- “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”  It became imprinted on my memory and when God began to nudge me to step out in faith and go across the world on a missions trip, I knew that no matter where I went, He would be with me.

I followed God’s prompting and in the summer of 1992, I spent 10 weeks away from my family serving God by digging trenches and mixing concrete for a Christian youth camp in Australia. Every day, I read Psalm 139 and the truth of God’s presence washed over me. “You hem me in behind and before…” It became clear to me over the course of the summer that God never asks us to step out in faith without also promising to be with us every step of the way.

“You lay your hand upon me…” Have you ever been in a crushing crowd of people, afraid that you will lose your companions and then you feel a hand on your back or your shoulder and you feel a sense of relief wash over  you? You’re not alone. They are by your side. This image is what I consider when I think of God laying his hand on me. He is close, he is present and he wants me to know this. He is not a distant God. When the worries of life weigh down upon me, threatening to crush me under their load, his hand gently steadies me.

“Such knowledge is too lofty for me to attain…” When I was a 17 year old girl, my heart could barely take it all in. When I looked up at the sky at night, I was seeing different constellations than my family was seeing at home in Pennsylvania, but the same God was watching over all of us and walking by our sides. His unabashed love for me was overwhelming, but even more incomprehensible was that his love was lavished on the whole world. At that time, I was beginning to get a sense of how big the world really was (I had flown 21 hours on 4 different flights to get to that place on the globe!). God was bigger than all of this, yet he was intimately involved in the details of my life and the details of the team member working next to me and in the lives of my friends back home and in my parents and my sisters and my youth group and…!! Twenty five years later and this still blows me away!

Even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast…” When I am walking with my kids in a parking lot, I automatically reach for the hands of my two youngest ones. I know that they need guidance. I am also keenly aware of their tendency to dart away from me. For their protection, I hold them close to my side. I don’t do this to confine them; I do this because I love them. As God’s child, there are times when I want to go my own way and his hand can feel confining. But he holds me fast and as I yield to his leading, I discover the love he is showing to me as he protects me from my heart that is prone to wander.

Over the years, God has answered every question I have with his unwavering presence.

Is God with you in the comfort of your home? Even there.

When you step out in faith is God with you? Even there.

When you feel abandoned by friends whom you trusted is He there? Even there.

Is God with you when you live hundreds of miles away from your family? Even there.

When the image on the ultrasound doesn’t match the growth chart on the wall is He there? Even there.

When you feel completely inadequate will He be there? Even there.

Is He there when you feel like your heart could burst with all of the joy He has brought your way? Even there.

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting. ~Psalm 139:23,24

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