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July 25, 2016, 7:44 PM

The Battle is the Lord’s

So often we may tend to ignore the Old Testament.  After all, we are a New Testament church, are we not?  Yet we do so at our own peril, for we forget that the entire Bible is the record of God working and moving throughout the whole of human history.  Some of the greatest lessons are to be found in the Old Testament historical books that record how God led Israel in times of deep struggle.  Very often, the struggles took the form of military battles with national enemies that came against God’s people.  Yet it has always been fascinating to me to see how God chose to lead His people against such foes.  The Lord’s battle tactics certainly won’t be adopted by modern military training academies such as West Point as examples of proper battlefield procedure!  Consider the conquest of the city of Jericho in the book of Joshua.  The people were commanded to march around the city once a day for six days, led by seven priests each carrying a ram’s horn trumpet ahead of the Ark of the Covenant.  Then on the seventh day, they were to circle the city seven times, and when the priests sounded a long blast on the trumpets, the people were to shout and the wall of the city would collapse.

In the book of Judges, we read where God called Gideon to lead the people against the oppressing Midianites.  But first God reduced Gideon’s army from 32,000 men to a mere 300 just to prove it was God and not their military might that secured the victory.  The Midianites had listed the aid of another nation, the Amalekites to help them, and Judges 7:12 reports the enemy forces in this way:  “Now the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the sons of the east were lying in the valley as numerous as locusts; and their camels were without numbers, as numerous as the sand on the seashore.”  Yet God instructed Gideon to divide his force of 300 into three groups, armed not with swords and weapons, but with trumpets and lit torches concealed in pottery jars.  Then at the same time, the men were to blow the trumpets, smash the jars revealing the lights in the night and to shout, “For the Lord and for Gideon.”  When this happened, startled foes were thus aroused from sleep amid tremendous clamor.  In their confusion they attacked one another, fighting desperately.  Gideon’s forces and other Israelites then pursued the enemy and soundly defeated them. 

Centuries later, the Southern kingdom of Judah was being threatened by another combined invading army of Moabites and Ammonites and others.  King Jehoshaphat went to the temple and poured out his heart to the Lord in prayer, and God sent an answer through a prophet.  They army was to go out, but in 2 Chronicles 20:15 we read God’s instructions to Jehoshaphat.  It says, “Listen, all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: thus says the Lord to you, ‘Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s.’”  And in verse 17 God told the king through the prophet, “You need not fight in this battle; station yourselves, stand and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.  Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out to face them, for the Lord is with you” (2 Chronicles 20:17).  As they marched out, King Jehoshaphat actually put singers at the head of the army, who praised God and said “Give thanks to the Lord, for His lovingkindness is everlasting” (2 Chronicles 20:21-22).  Once again, God moved miraculously to cause the enemy armies to be routed and fall upon one another and kill everyone!

What can we learn from these instances?  First, we are not the nation of Israel, and God is not going to move in the same way now as He did then.  But in each instance, and so many others, the people had to trust God to provide their deliverance.  And God moved in unexpected and miraculous ways.  Today we are facing hurdles both on an individual basis and as a church.  Very often, our greatest challenges are financial and health related.  But like the people of God who were faced with military threats, we also need to seek God, listen carefully to His direction and follow obediently, even if it makes no sense whatsoever. 

To many of us, when money is so tight, it doesn’t make sense to give generously to God through the local church.  But God has also promised us that when we give with a generous heart, He will bless us and supply all our material needs from His riches in Jesus (Philippians 4:19).  When faced with health issues that are debilitating and we don’t feel we can go on, God calls us to trust Him and rely on His strength, as Paul did in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.  We may not be healed physically, but our suffering will be forgotten when we are in His presence for eternity.  Romans 8:18 states, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”  Let us not fall back into a protection mode as dictated by our human logic, but push forward to see what great things God will do as we trust Him. 

We need to remember the glorious benediction Paul gave us in Ephesians 3:14-21 as he called upon his readers to trust God, be strengthened with power through the Holy Spirit and “to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19).  Let’s be willing to work faithfully as God leads us, remembering that He is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us (Ephesians 3:20).

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June 21, 2016, 12:00 AM

Lift My Eyes

So often in life, even when we are not particularly struggling with things, it becomes easy to just become sidetracked by the negatives around us.  We don’t have to look for them.  They just appear without being called.  What is one to do?

The psalms in the Bible express the honest and genuine feelings of the authors.  Sometimes we are shocked by just how depressed and emotionally weary a writer was as we read the expressions presented.  But often, even the most negative tone of a psalm includes a focus of hope and potential victory.  It is this sentiment that we need to allow in our own lives.

Psalm 121 eludes to the fact that trouble exists and the need for help is desperate.  Yet the entire psalm speaks of the solution to that need rather than the cause for the need.  The psalmist begins by writing:

 

I lift up my eyes to the hills.

From where does my help come?

My help comes from the Lord,

who made heaven and earth.

 

He will not let your foot be moved;

he who keeps you will not slumber.

Behold, he who keeps Israel

will neither slumber nor sleep.

 

Psalm 121:1–4 ESV

 

Our Heavenly Father is our help.  It is He who is the security we long for and seek in every situation.  And as the psalmist emphasizes in verse 4, God never sleeps.  He is always aware of our need and is there to help. 

What are you facing today?  What are we as a church experiencing that is dragging us down and keeping us from moving forward in our faithfulness to our Lord?  We need to remember the One we rely on and the Lord we serve.  It is He who has done everything for us, and He will never leave us or forsake us.  Consider the powerful assurance with which the psalmist concludes his song:

The Lord is your keeper;

the Lord is your shade on your right hand.

The sun shall not strike you by day,

nor the moon by night.

 

The Lord will keep you from all evil;

he will keep your life.

The Lord will keep

your going out and your coming in

from this time forth and forevermore.

Psalm 121:5–8 ESV

 

Like the psalmist we need to continue living and serving God, knowing that He is there to protect, guide and equip us for everything that life brings.  The enemies of doubt, fear and instability may seem overwhelming at times, but our God is consistent and sure.  So what we need is to not give in to depressing fears, but instead to solidify our resolve to trust God and to serve with our whole heart.  We must exercise trust, and we will not be disappointed.  Let’s walk together in the service of our Lord, and lift our eyes to heaven where our strength comes from!

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May 31, 2016, 9:51 AM

What's it all About?

Have you ever been in the middle of doing something, when all of a sudden you heard someone call to you and say, “Hey!  What’s the big idea?”  Perhaps you are thinking about a time when you were a young child, and a parent caught you doing something you knew you weren’t supposed to be into; or as a teen, when you and some friends were caught in the middle of a prank.  In such settings, you know the question isn’t because the questioner is looking for deep insight!

In our services in May we were talking about the name “Christian.”  Because of the many uses in our society today, the name is certainly not as clear and distinct it perhaps once was in our nation.  Now it can mean just about anything a person desires.  So exactly what does it mean to be a Christian?  What is the point, the ultimate goal of Christianity?  Is it simply to be able to obtain heaven after life on earth id over?  For many, even among those with faith in Jesus, that is the only goal that seems reasonable. 

I recently came across a Latin phrase (thanks to R. C. Sproul and Ligonier Ministries) that sums up the ultimate goal of life with Jesus very well.  It is the phrase coram Deo.  The goal of Christianity is coram Deo.  So what exactly does that mean?  This phrase literally refers to something that takes place in the presence of, or before the face of, God.  To live coram Deo is to live one’s entire life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the glory of God.

A couple of key Scriptures comes to my mind as I think about this powerful statement of living life in the presence of God, under the authority of God and to the glory of God.  The first is the description of the relationship Moses had with God.  All throughout his time of leading Israel in the desert wilderness, Moses would meet with God at the tent of meeting where the Bible says that God spoke with Moses face to face, as one friend speaks with another (Exodus 33:11).  Second Corinthians chapter three speaks about how Moses had to cover his face with a veil because of the reflected glory of God after such encounters. 

Do we ever have such powerful encounters with God that some aspect of our lives, even for a time, reflect some aspect of God’s glory?  Do we ever think about our need to live and conduct ourselves in such a way as to bring glory to God?  This is something we need to be extremely conscious about, for it will dramatically impact how we approach the various things we do:  our personal goals and desires and dreams. 

We must intentionally seek to live in the presence of God, not just meet Him briefly in a Sunday service.  We must live under the authority of God, recognizing His right to direct us and involve us in His plans and ministries.  It is in this way that we are truly able to bring glory to God. 

And this brings me to the second passage of Scripture that came to mind as I thought about living coram Deo.  At first glance, it may not seem to apply, for Paul is writing instructions on how slaves are to relate to their owners.  Today we would apply it to how a follower of Jesus should respond to the demands of his or her job or employer. 

Colossians 3:23–24 tells us, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.”  Yet isn’t this what living consciously that we are always in God’s presence and under His authority would look like?  There are always the practical things we must do to exist:  we must work, pay bills, care for our health and that of our family, take care of our homes and similar tasks.  But if our steps are directed by God (Proverbs 16:9), even these routine things can be done for God’s glory.

Are you willing to seek to live coram Deo?  

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March 3, 2016, 3:47 PM

A Sense of Belonging

All people deeply desire a sense of connection and worth.  We desperately need to know that we matter to someone else.  You can see this in all the expressions of our society.  Fortune 500 companies send their top executives to retreats that focus on team building experiences.  Social media is filled with groups on websites such as Facebook.  Cast and crew of television programs speak of those associated with a particular program as being considered extended family.  Even protest groups draw on the sense of solidarity.   

This is certainly not new.  In the society of the New Testament era culture, the Jews and Samaritans shared a mutual aversion to each other, and the ruling Romans looked down upon all the conquered nations as being excluded from any equality with citizens of the Empire.  Yet at the same time, Jesus taught that the time was at hand that all who called upon His name would be known and accepted by God.  Jesus said, My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.  I and the Father are one” (John 10:27-30). 

While we relish in the love and closeness of family, friends and those who share like interests and with whom we hold things in common, isn’t it great God, through His Son and our Savior, make the assertion that we are known and protected by Him?  In just four sentences, we are assured that if we follow Jesus, we are held in both His and His Father’s hands, and there is no one who has the ability to wrest us from that security.  Our world today is far from secure, but we have safety and protection that world will never have the ability to threaten. 

Take joy in this truth, and consider how we can demonstrate that great confidence as we relate to others who are vexed and worries.  The love of our Lord is always present.

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February 1, 2016, 12:00 AM

While You Are Waiting

There are always topics that are of special interest among faithful church members.  Especially as one looks at the condition of society and the world, one topic that many Christians are consistently interested in is the return of Jesus.  We want to study the Bible to understand the signs of the times and the things that point to the return of our Lord.  Some become so centered on seeking to know all they can, it consumes them to the exclusion of all else.  Jesus even said, “From the fig tree learn its lesson:  as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out it leaves, you know that summer is near.  So also, when you see these things, you know that he [the Son of Man] is near, at the very gates” (Matthew 24:32-33, ESV). 

We get so excited to see and interpret what is going on in the world to point to the return of Jesus that we tend to sit back and simply wait for the second coming.  We read all the books that have been written concerning end time prophecy, and think that we know Jesus will appear any day.  And Jesus may indeed return at any time.  In that same passage Jesus said, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36).  But are we faithful, or simply fatigued?  Are we anxiously awaiting our Savior, or are we avoiding our service?  We are to be alert for Jesus’ return, but what are we to be involved in as we wait?

As Jesus concluded telling His disciples the signs of the times as recorded in Matthew 24, He stated that our diligence in looking for these signs had to be coupled with service.  In Matthew 24:45-51 Jesus challenged us to be like the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household.  We are not to be lazy and assume the master — Jesus — is delayed and will not be back soon.  And then in chapter 25 we have a series of parables Jesus told about the need to be alert.  And the emphasis of all these stories is the same:  be faithful and diligent in serving when the master — Jesus — returns. 

Jesus concluded this time of teaching with the familiar image of separating the nations at His return like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46).  Jesus wants us to watchful, hopeful and waiting for His return, but He also wants us to be fully engaged in the present, working to prepare His kingdom.  Will we be like the wise servant, caring for God’s household and like the industrious servants multiplying the talents He left us, or are we going to be like the wicked servant using the time flippantly or the lazy servant who buried the talent his Master gave him?

2016 will be a watershed year.  The pundits are looking to see how America’s political landscape may change as we approach the general election season.  We need to be equally astute and involved.  Yes, we need to be praying for our nation and involved under God’s direction in the political process which is our responsibility as citizens.  But even more, we must be discerning and active in cultivating relationships and reaching out to those in desperate need spiritually.  What if 2016 is the year when Jesus returns?  Will He find that we have been busy preparing others for His coming, or will we allow ourselves to be lulled into thinking what we do spiritually doesn’t really matter?  Please join me in faithfully following the Lord in seeking to build His kingdom.

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