Our Little Bebop

We carefully backed our camper van in among the trees of our new campsite, which was elevated on a ridge about four feet beside a lake. The local ducks and geese soon found us. After welcoming us to ‘their’ lake, they told us they were ‘starving.’ Squirrels quickly descended from the live oaks draped with Spanish moss shading our lot.

One seemed to live in the tree beside our van, because he came several times every day to request a handout. We handed out saltine crackers, having nothing else a squirrel might desire.

He’d hold them in his front paws like a pizza box, and then spin them around from corner to corner, nibbling as he turned. We named him Chester.

The ducks and geese received carrot and potato peels. They gladly gobbled them up, being the freeloaders that they are, and immediately asked for more. After receiving the same thing morning after morning, they soon tired of the peels and demanded ‘real’ food. Chester continued coming down and asking for another saltine. Then he’d run back up the tree, returning two seconds later to ask for one more. How could he eat a cracker in less than two seconds? One day we spotted him stashing the latest cracker on a high limb before he ran back down. We also noticed that he was gaining quite a bit of weight. His name was soon changed to Chesterina, because ‘she’ was heavy with child(ren)!

We put our slow cooker right outside our van at night, so our food would be done cooking when we got up the next day (and to keep it from heating up our van as we slept!)

Another ‘woodland creature’ appeared not long after we started using it—a little calico cat with no tail. She was smaller than the average cat and did not have enough to eat or a home.

She was afraid of people, and would very cautiously approach our campsite hoping for a handout. But she’d run off out of sight if we approached her to offer something. We began leaving a bit of food for her on a picnic table at another site. Then we’d leave and watch and wait. She came around when the coast was clear to claim her handout. But the irresistible smell of cooked meat in our slow cooker every morning began drawing her a little closer to our van every day. One morning we found her hiding under our van, hoping something might fall out of the slow cooker and become hers!

The weeks went by, and she played in the leaves and caught lizards to eat because she couldn’t find anything else. Her generic name around the park was “Bobtail.” A large male calico cat, who was more adept at getting handouts, started coming around our site—drawn by the odor coming from the slow cooker. He would intimidate Bobtail and push her aside to claim whatever we might be offering that day for himself. She was too small and timid to fight back. So she would back off and let him have whatever he wanted. Hence, her lizard diet.

My husband noticed her dilemma. He would yell at the male calico to leave when he saw him coming around and would chase him away if he wouldn’t go. After a few days, Bobtail caught on that she now had a knight in shining armor who would defend her! She was really warming up to us and becoming less timid all the time.

One day she stood between my husband’s legs as he was threatening the male cat, and did the cat version of sticking her tongue out at him, saying, “So there! You heard him! Now don’t come back!” Then he ran off.

After a month or two, we moved from the tiny lot beside the lake to a larger site within the park. Before long, a little calico bobtailed cat came timidly creeping up to our patio! We introduced her to the novelty of dry cat food and put some out for her regularly. She decided that she didn’t need to be afraid of us anymore. We wanted to give her a name that was not so generic, but similar to the one she already knew, so we settled on “Bebop.” Since she had never lived with people, everything we did for her was a new treat. Sometimes we’d pour some liquid from a can of tuna into her water. She’d gingerly walk over and try it, then say, “Wow! They even have flavored water here!” What a delight she was!

Once Bebop began to know and trust my husband, she relied on him to protect her. When she stood between my husband’s legs, she had faith in him that he would look out for her.

She only weighed nine pounds, but the bigger cat would turn and run off. He was not afraid of her—he was afraid of what my husband might do to him if he hurt or mistreated her! She was no longer timid and afraid around that cat, because she knew that her ‘knight’ would take up her cause and defend her! She stood up to her bully (as long as he was there over her), although there was no way she could protect her little self on her own if the bigger cat came after her.

cross at sunset

Paul writes that we are to “…be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil (Ephesians 6:10-11).” (Notice that we are to put on God’s armor, not our own.)

Being “strong in the Lord” means that we believe that God is our source of strength, and then rely on Him and the promises He has made to us so we can stand against the devil’s attacks.

It does not mean being strong in our own self, but only through the One in whom our real strength lies (literally, “Be strengthened with power.”) Apart from Him we can do nothing. By having faith in Him, we can “…do all things through Christ which strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

“…in the power of His might” refers to …the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power” (Ephesians 1:19). Your own strength is really weakness when battling the devil, but the strength of Jesus Christ’s power is almighty.

To the devil, we are timid little nine pound nothings. He is not afraid of us in the least.

But when we put on the armor of God and stand up to him relying on God’s strength, he runs off! He knows he cannot take on God and win! Bebop would say, “I can do all things through my hero who looks out for me!” And I say to you, “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might!

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A Strong Tower

scrabo tower

You are in a bad predicament. Your enemy has you surrounded and is closing in quickly. What should you do? Run!

Me, run?

Yes, you! Run. Run to the nearest fortified protection.

But that’s retreating. I don’t retreat, I fight!

So you are going to fight an enemy that is always more powerful than you are? An enemy you can’t always see?

Well, if I try and apply myself hard enough, I’ll surely make some kind of headway and then I’ll round up some reinforcements.

But you will not be retreating in defeat and you won’t need any reinforcements if you’ll do what I just said!

But where do I run? I don’t see anything but some tower nearby.

That’s it, exactly!

It looks so isolated and I’m sure I’m going to be trapped when I get inside! Oh, now I see—a trap! Some help you are, sending me into a stuffy old tower in the middle of nowhere with an impossible enemy bearing down on me!

It’s not a trap. Are your plans any better? How are you going to fight with nothing but your bare hands?

I’ll make some kind of weapon with whatever is around me. I’m really a very resourceful person, you know. Look, rocks and pebbles! Yes! That’s what I’ll do. I’ll gather up lots of these and pelt the enemy in the eye, the face, or wherever I can do some harm. That’s it! I’ll be like David in the Bible, where he took some stones and knocked the life out of a giant! You know, I do have a rag in my pocket that would make a perfect sling.

Well, you could do that if you were relying solely on God first.

Oh! that is so difficult and complicated, and, besides, I’m pretty sure my aim is sharp, and I can throw really fast and… and…just how strong and secure is that tower up ahead?

Stronger than anything any enemy could use to come against it. In fact, no enemy will ever be able to overcome it. Period.

It doesn’t look that secure. Who designed and constructed it?

Jesus.

Jesus? You mean the One who died on some beams shaped like a cross thousands of years ago and miraculously rose from the grave a little while later? The One I accepted into my heart and surrendered my life over to sometime ago?

He’s the one! He not only is alive, He now sits at the right hand of God His Father in Heaven victoriously! You see, when Jesus died on the cross, He not only made it possible for anyone who believes on Him to have eternal life, He also took away the legal right for the devil to have control over them as well.

OK, so now how do this tower and I fit in with all of this?

stone tower

Well, when you put your faith and trust in the victory that Jesus won over the enemy (the Devil) through His sacrifice on the cross, then that victory becomes your victory. He is that strong tower that keeps you safe. The Bible says in Psalms 61:3, “For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy.” And in Proverbs 18:10, “The name of the LORD is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe.”

Wow, you mean that all I have to do is just put my trust in Jesus to shield, protect and care for me?

That’s right. When you try to fight the enemy in your own strength and effort, defeat and failure result. There is nothing about you that will overcome the enemy. It is only in Jesus Christ that you can have victory.

But aren’t there some procedures, some rules or requirements that I have to follow first?

Just one. Believe (have faith) in Jesus, that He will take care of your enemy or problem. If you worry about the problem at hand, you doubt God. When Jesus was on this earth, He could have touched many more lives than He did if there had not been so much unbelief among the people. Even His own family and the people in His hometown refused to believe in Him.

Um, could we finish this conversation inside that tower? The enemy seems to be getting awfully close now, and an intense storm is brewing overhead too!

Well, do you believe that Jesus has the power to protect and shield you by that tower? Do you believe that His sacrifice on the cross has not only saved you from eternal punishment in hell, but has also set you free from the control of sin as well?

OK. OK. Yes, I do believe that, and I even believe that I can overcome the enemy only through Jesus and His victory at the cross. Now, can we go?

Don’t panic—we are already there!

Wow! This tower isn’t bad at all. I can feel peace, even though the storm is raging above and the enemy is charging all around us!

Let’s take a look outside.

Are you nuts? With all of the fury going on out there? Stop! Don’t push—I’m moving! Let me just look out this window here. Wait! Where is the enemy? What happened to the storm?

Jesus handled everything. Remember that He already fought the enemy and won the victory once and for all at the cross. We are to just rest in Him. Our victory over the enemy is only as good as the faith we put in Jesus Christ to take care of the problem for us.

This is amazing! So, by putting my trust in Jesus and the victory He won at the cross, He will be as a strong tower, a place of refuge? Yet, if I try to fight the enemy or solve the problem at hand on my own, then I will be like a deer in the midst of an open field with predators lurking all around?

That’s about the size of it!

Well, watch out world, because I’m looking now in faith for that strong tower whenever I find the enemy trying to overtake me!

————–

How about you, reading this right now? Have you put your faith in Jesus and the victory He won at the cross? Are you anxious over the problems overtaking you, or overwhelmed by the size of the enemy approaching? Is your worrying and lack of faith in Jesus Christ limiting God? The Bible says in Philippians 4:6, 7 “Be careful [full of cares, anxious] for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication [petition, asking in earnest] with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” This is not a nice suggestion, but rather a command by God.

When the enemy comes at you, do you seek refuge in the strong tower of Jesus in faith, or do you try to fight the enemy, or take care of your problems in your own strength? Are you putting yourself first or God first? Jesus wants to be your strong tower from the enemy and your mounting problems, if only you will commit them to Him and let Him do the work.

The Devil is my Taskmaster?

ancient slave driver

“The devil is my taskmaster; I will always be in lack. I aimlessly wander in dry, barren meadows; he drives me through raging rivers of unrest, he wearies my life. In accordance with his nature, he deceptively sends me down the wrong way deeper into sin. Though I travel on the sides of the mountains of life, peace, and happiness, I am filled with anxiety and dread from the evil that still lies all around me: for the devil is always near me; his club and his dagger they distress me. God has abandoned me with no sustenance or help in the presence of my enemies; He cares nothing about my health and well-being; my cup is empty. Surely iniquity and ruthlessness shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will never be able to live in the house of the Lord for even a day, much less forever.”

If an anti-Bible was ever written, it would probably render Psalm 23 like this. Sounds depressing and rather dreadful, doesn’t it? Yet, for millions around the world, this is close to being the narrative of what their life seems like to them every day and night. They hope for a better tomorrow and it never seems to come. Or it does come, but with a hefty price—leading to more regret and disappointment.

The devil plays for keeps. Jesus said, “The thief [the devil] cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). One of the devil’s greatest attributes is deception. He never acts fairly. Once he has a person deceived, his efforts to keep him from having eternal life with God become easier. In fact, the devil is so enamored with deception that he has deceived himself into believing that he can overthrow the Lord God! Throughout the Bible, his attempts to destroy, oppose, or corrupt the works of God are recorded. Yet he thinks God is not aware of how he operates, as if He is powerless to stop his nefarious efforts—the very Lord God who is the Creator of the universe!

The devil believes that, by corrupting as many of God’s creation (the human race) as he can, he will be able to coerce God into compromising and allowing sin to continue to exist.

If this could be, it would nullify God’s very existence and open the door for the devil to take the place of God in return. The devil does not care about anyone or anything on this earth. He loves to exploit the human race for his own gain. He likes to keep people content and distracted with both the cares and the pleasures of this physical life. Entertainment is one easy means of diversion, which keeps us from knowing the devil’s ultimate motives. At the same time, sin, which the devil heavily encourages, also takes its toll in the form of pain, disease, corruption, and ultimately, destruction. So, by living in his fold (or world), we are both satisfied and dissatisfied, happy and miserable, strong and weak, and so on, until we die. We are never complete, and there is always emptiness in our hearts.

The devil would have us believe that we are living in the gray area between good and evil, and that we decide which side we will ultimately end up living on. But the truth is that we are already living on the evil or dark side by default. We are living on his pasture and the lush green grass that we see is only a facade; underneath all of this is dry and barren ground, full of unsatisfying weeds. We are subject to his terms and demands. His burdens are hard and his yoke is heavy. We are slaves to his system.

shepherd-biegun-wschodni-8636(https-:unsplash.com:@biegunwschodni)-compressed

Yet God never intended for us to be under the devil’s care. Let’s look at the real Psalm 23 as God inspired David to write it:

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

God wants to be our Shepherd and, in return for our obedience and submission to Him, we will not lack, because He will provide. He won’t let His sheep (those who have surrendered to Him) become sickly and starve. He will bring them to the land of plenty and lead them to the still waters of rest. He will restore them and keep them in a path of wholesomeness because that is His nature. He is their defense, and evil will not be a concern as long as they love Him with all of their heart. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). He will bring them to a plateau and shelter them from those who are against them. He will cleanse them of pestilence and protect them from irritation. As a result, truth and compassion will spring forth from them and be with them continually. God will not turn them away from abiding in His presence forever. “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1).

The devil wants us to think that his way is best. He doesn’t care whether or not man trusts him, or loves him, or hates his very existence, since man is already stuck on his side.

The only way out is to stop trying to make it on our own, and to give our heart and life to Jesus instead. When we surrender our ‘self’ to Him and repent (give up completely and turn the other way) of our sinful ways, then Jesus will reach down and pull us out of the devil’s pasture and place us into His own. He will care for us as a true shepherd cares for his sheep. Of course, the devil will still come like a wolf to try to steal us away and destroy us, but now we can call out to The Shepherd, who will come to our rescue (unlike the devil). Jesus said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (John 11:28-30). Do you want to follow a cruel, selfish, and heartless taskmaster, or a loving and compassionate Shepherd, who has even given His life for all of His sheep?

For more about making Jesus as your Shepherd, click here.

On the Ledge


flickr photo shared by TrailVoice under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

I can still remember a particularly beautiful Spring day when I was eight years old. The flowers had just begun to bloom around Sugarloaf Mountain, not far from Frederick, Maryland, near the Virginia state line. I remember sitting there high up on a mountain ledge. It reminded me of granite shepherds silently watching over the lowlands and local communities in the valley way below me.

I can also remember sensing the divine presence of the Lord God there. While I sat high on the ledge, observing the scene below in all its beauty from the height of the mountain, His sweet, still voice spoke to my heart, saying, “My son, what do you see?”

I responded to Him through my thoughts as I prayed. When I opened my eyes I said, “My heavenly Father, I can see that in the distance the area around Sugarloaf Mountain is still just as beautiful as it ever was.

I loved looking out at all the vast farmland below, divided only by jagged rows of wooden fences. I can still remember small clover blossoms of purple growing throughout all the green grassland where the farm animals grazed. The still waters of many small grassland ponds glistened. Little babbling brooks also branched off in many directions as they flowed through the farmland, restoring life wherever they went.

Then, once again, I sensed that same sweet voice from God saying to me, “My son, what do you really see around you?”

I responded, “My heavenly Father, I see my own fears: how rough and dangerous the jagged rocks seem to be, and how sheer the cliffs appear. The precipitous trails that lead down this mountain seem unstable. I can also see the fresh, trickling spring water flowing between the uneven ridges to the base of the mountain.”

Again the same sweet, still voice spoke to me and said, “My son, you observed well.”

Then I realized what He wanted me to recall to my mind while I sat on the mountain ledge:

 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23).

[This was my mother’s favorite psalm.]