Joe D. Ballard

Kill the Lion

Growing up, the word “bad” was a slang word used to describe something really great. I’m not sure who started twisting that word around, but I said it all the time.  I would say, “That’s a bad car” or “That’s a bad play”or “That man is bad.” In the Bible there’s a bad man who doesn’t get much attention.  His name was Benaiah.  One of the things he did is found in 

2 Samuel 23:20 (NKJV) Benaiah…He also had gone down and killed a lion in the midst of a pit on a snowy day.

Who in their right mind would go down into a pit with a lion—much less on a snowy day?  Benaiah was not a crazy man, he was a bad man.  We can only speculate on why he took such a risk, but we might get close.  Think about it, what would cause you to go down into a pit with a lion on a snowy day?  How about if that lion had just killed someone in your family or your livestock, you might go down into a pit with a lion on a snowy day.  If that lion was a repeat offender and kept coming regularly attempting to devour you, you might get in the pit with a lion on a snowy day.  If you knew the lion was never going to stop attacking, you might go down in the pit with a lion even on a snowy day.  And it’s possible that pit was the ingenious strategy of Benaiah.

It was a snowy day and a pit, meaning that the time and place were not ideal.  One thing was certain, someone was going to die, Benaiah or the lion. 

Most likely there is a lion somewhere around your life seeking to destroy the things you love and hold dear.  Is your family being devoured?  Is your marriage being devoured?  Is your ministry being devoured?  Is your life being devoured?  At some point, you have to say, “That’s enough! No more!” God’s word says, 1 Peter 5:8 (NKJV) Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.

When are you going to put an end to this lion?  Likely, when the lion attacks and you strike back, it’s not going to be a good time or place suitable for a fight. In fact, you may not be the one who appoints the time and place, but you can be like Benaiah.  

Be strong and courageous in the Lord.  Be humble and pray and be the bad (great) man/woman God made you to be.  

A Sad Story

Here’s a sad story.  After surrendering to the gospel ministry, I had no desire at all to return to school to get a degree, but God amazingly changed that desire.  In the process of getting my associate degree, I applied to attend Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.  My wife and I attended a day tour of the seminary with several other prospective students.  During this time, my desire to get my education didn’t just change, it went from one extreme to the other.  After starting school and actually enjoying it, I thought to myself, “I’m going to go for it all and get a Doctorate degree.  So while we toured the Seminary campus, I distinctly remember this thought being entertained in my mind.  I even remember when and where the thought came.  We had just looked at the student apartments and were crossing the street to go back to the main campus.  The thought was, “If I can get my name on a piece of paper with this seminary’s name on it, I will have it made in ministry.”  Even in writing this, I’m reminded that God records the very thoughts we think.  With this thought, I was building myself up in self-confidence in what “I” could attain and on a piece of paper, rather than placing my confidence in the Living God for my future.  The apostle Paul was against self-confidence, but he was not against having a God-confidence.  Here’s part of what he said in his letter, 

Philippians 3:3-4  “For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so”

In our self-centered society, so much confidence is placed on a piece of paper or in our religious efforts.  What a mistake this is and an insult to the power and place of God in our lives.  Jesus said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”  What are you trusting in today?  What is giving you confidence?  Is it your church attendance, or your serving, or your giving of of tithes and offerings?  God in heaven wants us to depend on Him.  There’s nothing wrong with getting a degree—get your degree—but don’t let that degree take God’s place in your life.

A few months after that visit, God spoke to me and said, “You are not going to that seminary.”  That broke my heart, but the Lord very gently reminded me of the thought I had when crossing that street.  Paul said, “have no confidence in the flesh.”  Today and for the rest of your life, trust in God’s ability and not your abilities.  Blessings in Jesus Christ!

Can you Hear?

Can you hear?  When you’re trying to talk to your children sometimes they act like they don’t hear a word you’ve said.  “Pick up the toys and take them to your room” is not heard.  It’s like the message didn’t get through and the toys don’t move.  There are children with ears, but they can’t hear.  It’s the same way with teenagers, you tell them a truth or try to explain something, but the message doesn’t get through.  Now a complete stranger can come along and tell your teenager the same thing you did, and they are amazed at this stranger’s wisdom and understanding. This is a mystery, isn’t it?  Many adults are the same way.  You try to explain reality or reason with them about a matter, but it’s like they can’t hear and the message doesn’t get through.  Many times they understand, but have already made up their minds.  

Can you hear, or do you have your mind already made up?  The Pharisees couldn’t hear and couldn’t see, they were doubly disabled. Jesus said, Matthew 11:15 (NKJV) “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!  Let me ask you, do you have your mind made up about something?  Is someone trying to convince or reason with you about something you already have your mind made up on?  Can you hear them and see their point of view?  God has given you ears to hear, but none of us can hear if our hearts and minds are closed.  The fear of not hearing because your heart and mind is closed, is that if you might not be able to hear God either.  Do you have ears to hear?  Hear the truth about how much God love you.  Hear the message of the gospel.  Hear that teenager and that co-worker.  Hear your spouse and hear your parents.  Hear the Holy Spirit.  Ask God to give you ears to hear.

Stir it Up

You do know that the good stuff always goes to the bottom, right?  It’s kind of like the pulp in the orange juice.  Before you pour a glass full of vitamin C, you need to take a moment and shake the carton.  Over time the heavy pulp particles in the juice naturally settle. What happens with our orange juice happens in the Christian’s life.  God has put good stuff inside of you like love, grace and mercy, all of which are heavy spiritual gifts from the Lord that tend to settle over time.  Not only do those things settle, but oftentimes our prayer life and desire for God’s Word. Even our desire to be used by God can settle, and before you know it, we settle down with an attitude of apathy. I can only wonder how much spiritual pulp is sitting in the pews every week somehow believing this is the abundant life.  The truth is, we need a shaking and a stirring in our spiritual lives so that all that has settled can spring back up like a fountain of everlasting life.  

Hebrews 10:24-25 tells us that we have a responsibility towards each other to stir each other up.  It says, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as [is] the manner of some, but exhorting [one another,] and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”  

Let me ask you, are you considering someone right now?  Do you have a ministry of stirring others? It says, “consider one another” and that means to live with the knowledge that your very life will cause a stirring or a settling in the life of others. Some people are always stirring things up, but it’s not love and good works.  So, would the way you live for God right now stir someone up to love and good works?  Do other people want to join you in what you’re doing, or do they just watch and turn into settlers?  I don’t know about you, but I need a revival to stir up the spiritual pulp in my life. What about you?

SQUEEZED!

Most likely in countless bathrooms across this country, there are tubes of tooth paste mangled and distorted lying next to the sink.  Even when the tube has been completely flattened out, we still count on there being enough for one last brush, so we squeeze, fold and crimp for that little dab to come out.  You paid good money for it, so get as much out as you can.  We do that with other things as well, like those squeezable sour cream containers.  It says on the back, “Now you can squeeze a dollop of Daisy,” and we might as well because we paid for it. 

Many times in life, God does to us what we do to the tubes of tooth paste and sour cream, He squeezes us!  When those unexpected trials come and we experience affliction and deep pain, sometimes that’s God squeezing us to get more out of us.  And the truth is, we need that spiritual squeeze from time to time.  I’m certain that God has put more in you than what He is getting out of you.  Think about it, Job got squeezed.  Naomi got squeezed.  Paul got squeezed.  Jesus got squeezed on the cross by the weight of humanity’s sins.  

Some squeezable containers get clogged in the narrow openings, so they require being squeezed with a little more pressure.  And then there are some that stay free flowing all the time.  God wants you to be free flowing requiring only a touch, and the life of Jesus comes out.  That only happens by continual surrender and faithful obedience to His will.  Some wonder at what God is doing in their lives in times of hardship, and the answer is, He is trying to squeeze some Jesus love and Jesus mercy and Jesus goodness out of you.

Philippians 2:12-13 says, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for [His] good pleasure.”  

You have the opportunity to work out what God has already put in you so He doesn’t have to squeeze it out.  Are you tender to His touch, or have you become hard and clogged up?  If you are a child of God, then He paid for you, so He feels free to get as much out of you as possible.  

“Holy Father, I lift up that person right now who is feeling the pressure of your squeeze.  God I know that deep pain and heartache, so I plead with you to speak to that person and give spiritual understanding to recognize you and give them power to surrender.  Father I pray that they will even recognize how they may be resisting you.  I pray that You will move on that person this moment and reveal Yourself to them.  Thank you, Father, for Your everlasting mercy and the sufficiency of Your grace.  Lord, we give ourselves to You and to the work of reflecting Christ to the world. This we ask in the name of Jesus, Amen.”  

BROKENNESS

For about a year, we lived with a broken ice maker in our refrigerator.  The ice maker worked, but it wouldn’t dispense the ice as it should.  Most things that are broken we just throw away without a second thought, and then there are some things that are broken that we just live with.  We throw broken things away because they lose their usefulness when they are broken.  God, on the other hand, is not that way.  Oftentimes He waits until we are broken before we become useful to Him.  You can be broken over sin or you can be broken over an act of denying the Lord around others.  You can be broken over the sin of others.  You can be broken over the lost condition of the world.  The brokenness that makes us useful and is actually a blessing comes from an attitude of heart that expresses complete lostness without Christ.  It’s an attitude that recognizes our total dependence on Him.  It’s the attitude Jesus promoted when He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  —Matthew 5:3  There is a blessing in our brokenness.  It may sound strange, but brokenness produces a greater longing for God like nothing else.  When you long for someone, you desperately want to be with them.  Mary Magdalene was broken standing and weeping outside of the empty tomb.  Jesus had delivered her from seven demons, and from that point on, her life was wrapped up in His life, but in that moment, He was gone.  Can you imagine how messed up her life was until Jesus delivered her?  Now she was hopelessly stuck without Christ.  This is a picture of what it looks like to be broken before God, desperately longing for Him.  Praise God that He is not unresponsive to our longings for Him.  The very moment you begin to move towards God, He begins to move towards you.  “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you” —James 4:8.  Nothing else will draw God towards you like a broken heart longing for His presence.  Brokenness produces a desperate longing God responds to by drawing near.  Jesus didn’t just draw near to Mary, but He revealed Himself to Mary at the empty tomb.  The longing of your heart will draw God near, and He delights in revealing Himself to you.  This is what He wants for us.  He wants us to recognize Him even though we might not initially.  Mary thought He was the gardener at first.  But when He called her name, “Mary,” she knew it was Him.  Don’t you know God wants to reveal Himself to those who are longing for Him?  Is that you?  The blessing of being broken is seeing God!  Mary went and told the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”  This should be the words of believers today, “I have seen the Lord.”  But that declaration only comes from those who are broken.  You may see God in general like in nature or in the way other people act, but when you have an encounter with Him like Mary did, you will become a witness for Him who says, “I have seen the Lord!”  When was the last time you said that to someone?  When was the last time your encounter with God was so personal that you began to tell others like Mary did?  Oh, how we need a revival of brokenness that produces a longing for our God.  The next time you see something broken, be reminded of the heart God blesses.

DISTINGUISHED

Distinguished! That word is usually used to describe someone whose clothing fashion sets them apart from everyone else. Their fashion may not be flashy, but it is classy and catches the eye of the lookers. Distinguished also describes someone who has excelled in a specific field of study and research. There’s nothing wrong with being distinguished. In fact, being distinguished is God’s desire for you and me. We should be distinguished spiritually, not in some way that draws attention to us, but in a way that draws people to Christ. What is it that sets you apart from others? What sets you apart from those you attend church with? In all reality, your strong faith expressed in surrendered obedience to Him is the only thing that will distinguish you spiritually. It’s not your voice or ability to speak or even your faithful attendance to the Lord’s house that sets you apart. Others can teach, preach, sing and serve, but a strong faith and surrendered obedience distinguishes you. Hebrews 11 is filled with spiritually distinguished people. God is faithfully calling you to a life of faith and obedience, and not just to set you apart, but this is God’s way of providing the abundant life He promised. Without faith followed by obedience, the abundant life will be a spiritual mirage and being distinguished will only be a dream. Look at what it says about Joshua’s counterpart in Numbers 14:24 “But My servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit in him and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land where he went, and his descendants shall inherit it.” Caleb was distinguished because he trusted God when other men didn’t. Anyone can be different, but only a few will be spiritually distinguished. God is calling you to be among the few.

Growling to be Growling

Our little dog Raschal is a growling dog. He growls more than any dog I’ve been around, but he doesn’t bite. That probably describes some people you know. I can pet Raschal and he growls almost to say, “Don’t touch me.” I was letting him out at around 4 a.m. recently and right when he walks out he starts growling. There should be something to growl out rather than to start growling to be growling, but he does. I’ve seen him go into the yard and pick up a scent and he starts growling. It is obviously in his nature to growl and that’s what some people do. They growl because it’s in their nature and they don’t need much of a cause to growl and express their disapproval. What’s really crazy is that Raschal growls at me and I’m the one who helps take care of him and provides for him. All his growling tells me it doesn’t register with him that I am the one who provides for him.
It’s no difference between us and our God. Our growling is our grumbling and complaining and often times we don’t need a lot to get it going. For some complaining is their song and they sing it like a song that gets stuck in your heard and can’t get it out. What happens for most of us is that we can’t even hear ourselves complaining, and on top of that, we get those around us to join in part harmony with our Blues. So let me ask you, do you know how God feels about our complaining? He takes it personal like parents do the whining of their children. The good news is you can sing another song. Paul said, “Do all things without complaining and disputing,.. Philippians 2:14-15 (NKJV). You can stop complaining cold turkey. How? Who doesn’t complain? People who are filled with the Holy Spirit. Their song is one of thanksgiving so ask God to fill you to the point you change songs.

God is Good!

God is Good! Everything God does or allows is good because there is eternal and redeeming purpose behind every action. Because of the trials we experience in life we can wonder and doubt this truth. Not everything feels good or appears good but by faith we can trust that somewhere and somehow there is good in it and behind it and will come from it. If you only look at the surface of a trial this truth is only confusing, but when we look below the surface, God is moving. The devil wants you to be a surface Christian but our faith takes us below. Joseph told his brothers “What you meant for evil, God meant for good.” Joseph didn’t know that immediately, but he came to know it in time and watching God work in his life. How has God been working in your life? Is there adversity or tragedy? Is there struggle and hardship? Have you asked God to show you what is below the surface?When things look like they’re falling apart that is God’s way of putting them together and at the same time using that trial to pull you closer to Him. How sad is it when the trial comes, but the child of God doesn’t. Every trial is Gods bullhorn for us to draw near. God is good! Psalms 107:1-2 Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for [He is] good! For His mercy [endures] forever. Let the redeemed of the LORD say [so,] Whom He has redeemed from the hand of the enemy,…

No Exemptions

Because there are no exemptions, you will need to learn to use the exceptions. Look at this: [“We are] hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; [we are] perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed–2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (NKJV). If you can find these two very special words the apostle Paul used to keep his head up and eyes focused on his mission, you’ll do ok in life. The words are, “yet” and “but.” You may be exempt from some things in life and may have an exempt licenses plate, but you are not exempt from the harsh realities of life. You are going to get hit with what everyone else gets hit with. It doesn’t matter what your social or economic status is or how spiritual you are, or how many Bible verses you’ve memorized, you will be tempted to lose heart and give up. “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart.” 2 Corinthians 4:1.

Paul had a unique ability to find a positive in every negative. This is our challenge today, to find a positive in the negative circumstances of life. You also have that ability if you will at least try. You may be facing a negative circumstance right now, so what is one possible positive? You may have lost your job, but you still have the ability to work. You may be abandoned, but God is still with you. You may be crippled physically, but you can still reach the Father. You may be abused, but healing is available from the Lord. The whole point is to do whatever you need to do so you don’t lose heart. Everyone may be against you, but God is still for you. You may have hit rock bottom, but you can still look up. There is an exception for whatever you are dealing with today. This is not making light of the horrendous situations people find themselves in, but hopefully you can find some kind of encouragement in this truth. Find your “yet” and your “but” and you’ll be able to keep moving with your purpose in life. You’ve been given something amazing, don’t let negative circumstances kill your God-given mission with the gospel.

%d bloggers like this: