Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Battle Is the Lord's

So the Philistine said to David, "[Am] I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?" And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. And the Philistine said to David, "Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!" Then David said to the Philistine, "You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. "This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you. And this day I will give the carcasses of the camp of the Philistines to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. "Then all this assembly shall know that the LORD does not save with sword and spear; for the battle [is] the LORD's, and He will give you into our hands."
1 Samuel 17:43-47 NKJV

I listened this week, as is my habit, to some teaching from a well known pastor speaking on the subject of evangelism. As he spoke of ways to share the gospel with others, my thoughts went another direction and I began to consider the reasons some might be hesitant to share their faith. As I thought about that, the Holy Spirit led me to the story of David and Goliath, and especially the fact that he never hesitated to act even though Goliath had effectively terrified the entire army of Israel into inaction. I want to share with you today just a few of the things that impressed me when I read this story that may help us all to be more bold in witnessing to others.

David's age didn't matter.

And Saul said to David, "You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you [are] a youth, and he a man of war from his youth."
1 Samuel 17:33 NKJV

Anyone can share their faith. Age and maturity are not requirements for sharing the gospel with anyone. Even new Christians can share with others the joy of their salvation as a result of Jesus' sacrifice for our sin. All too often we talk ourselves out of sharing our faith because we think we may not be able to fully explain or answer all of the questions that may be posed to us. It is not our responsibility to convince others to make a decision to follow Christ, but to simply introduce them to Him by sharing our own love for what He has done. The Holy Spirit will do the rest.

David had seen God's power.

But David said to Saul, "Your servant used to keep his father's sheep, and when a lion or a bear came and took a lamb out of the flock, "I went out after it and struck it, and delivered [the lamb] from its mouth; and when it arose against me, I caught [it] by its beard, and struck and killed it. "Your servant has killed both lion and bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God."
1 Samuel 17:34-36 NKJV

In the Bible we are shown many occasions where God is put to the test, and He always is faithful to deliver. In fact, in the book of Malachi we are told specifically to put Him to the test. God wants to show us He is faithful to do great things, but how can He do that if we are not willing to put ourselves in a position where He can demonstrate for us what He is capable of doing? Jesus fed the multitudes when a little boy simply gave up his lunch. Simply bowing your head in public and thanking God for your cheeseburger allows Him to do great things.

David had faith.

Moreover David said, "The LORD, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine." And Saul said to David, "Go, and the LORD be with you!"
1 Samuel 17:37 NKJV

Faith is a result of seeing God work. David had tested God before and knew that He would deliver as promised. Because of that David had no hesitation to step out in faith knowing that God was more than capable of winning this fight. As we begin to act on our faith and see God work, that experience leads us to boldness in order to do more. It becomes easier to act boldly and confidently as we see more and more examples of God's power demonstrated as a result of our stepping out. Faith is the confidence we have as a result of seeing God work.

David knew the fight was the Lord's.

"Then all this assembly shall know that the LORD does not save with sword and spear; for the battle [is] the LORD's, and He will give you into our hands."
1 Samuel 17:47 NKJV

The most interesting thought I had about this story is that I would bet not one soldier in Israel's army watched David walk out to confront Goliath and thought he had even the remotest chance to win. I would not be surprised to find many were taking bets as to how quickly Goliath would kill him. Just looking at the reality of how big Goliath was and how small David was in comparison would lead any rational person to come to the same conclusion. Yet somehow I think that was the point of all this. God wanted to make a point to Israel because they had lost their faith in His power to deliver them. In spite of their history with God as their King, they had sunk into disbelief. This situation was an opportunity for God to once again show His power to His people.

The glory is God's.

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him [be] glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Ephesians 3:20-21 NKJV

It's not us. In fact, it never has been or will be. By our own power we can do nothing and this reality might well be what stops us from sharing our faith. It is this lack of confidence in our own abilities that makes us afraid to witness. Yet this may be the whole point of the story of David and Goliath. Our confidence should not be in our own abilities but rather in the power of God to do His own work if we but take a small step of faith and open the door for Him to demonstrate what He is capable of doing. God does the heavy lifting, and because of that all the glory goes to Him.

Test God this week and see what He will do.

Keep watching.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The God of All Comfort

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy [our] brother, To the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in all Achaia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. Now if we are afflicted, [it is] for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, [it is] for your consolation and salvation. And our hope for you [is] steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also [you will partake] of the consolation. For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver [us], you also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the gift [granted] to us through many.
2 Corinthians 1:1-11 NKJV

Have you ever had the thought that life can get pretty tough at times? Of course you have, just like I and everyone else who lives on this earth could say. When I think of this, my thoughts go back to Adam and Eve in the garden and just what life was like before the introduction of sin into this world. Can you even imagine a life with no worry? No concerns or thoughts about providing for yourself or family, knowing your every need was already taken care of by a loving God? Living every day with the knowledge that nothing bad could happen to you because evil doesn't exist?

I'll be honest with you, even though I can paint that picture in my head I simply cannot imagine what it would feel like because I have never experienced the reality of living in a world without sin. I think that might have been the greatest source of regret for Adam and Eve in that they had to spend the rest of their lives after the fall with the memory of what life had been like before. They experienced the life we can only dream about, and look forward to when we get to Heaven.

Yet we are not condemned to live in this sinful world without the help we need. In this passage to the Corinthians, Paul explains that although we will suffer, our loving Father has provided the resources we need to endure. Today I want to look briefly at four phrases in this passage that stood out to me when I read them, and possibly provide you with some comfort in these times we all find ourselves in.

Grace and peace. What exactly is God's grace? In the Greek, the word for grace is charis, which is translated “that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness”. What does that mean to you and me? To me it seems like God's grace is His way of telling us that although we may not be living in the garden like Adam and Eve, that same understanding that they had knowing that God would would take care of them and provide for them is available to us. As a result, we can live in peace, which translated from the Greek means “tranquility”, or simply fearing nothing.

Affliction and comfort. Now who among us really wants to be “afflicted”? Seriously, I think we all yearn to experience a life where absolutely nothing ever goes wrong. Yet because we live in a fallen world where evil exists, bad things are going to happen. Here Paul tells us that although we will be afflicted, our God is a God of “comfort”. One of the interesting things about the word comfort in the Greek is that as well as meaning to “encourage and strengthen”, it also means “to summon to one's side”. Many of us can remember running to one or both of our parents for comfort when we were small and this is what Paul is telling us here. Although we will experience affliction, we can always run to God's side for the comfort we need to endure.

That we should not trust in ourselves. Have you ever thought about how many times in a day you ask yourself the question, “what am I going to do about this”? If you think about it, isn't that the way we have all been taught or learned to think? When a problem comes, figure out the solution yourself. You need to come up with an answer to life's problems. You need to take charge of your life and make the hard decisions. Whatever you gain in this life is a result of your own efforts. Yet Paul makes the point that we are placed in situations for the purpose of allowing God to demonstrate He has the power to deliver us from whatever situation we find ourselves. Our thoughts should never be “what can I do”, but rather “what will God do”.

So that many will give thanks. If you are like me, when I experience situations where problems come and life gets complicated and troubling, sad to say quite often the last thing I think about is how can God use my situation to encourage others. It's almost as if we look at what life throws at us as a personal challenge that we need to work to overcome by our own efforts and probably never give a thought to how it could benefit the body. Yet also like me, I'm sure you can think of an example of how God has worked out a problem in another's life and thanked Him for His provision. Seeing God provide for His children is an encouragement for the body as a whole, not just the recipient of God's grace.

Why am I here? Have you ever considered the possibility that one of the reasons we are here is for the sole purpose of allowing God to demonstrate His love for us? To use those who choose to believe to show the world that He exists and loves His own and will provide for them no matter what? We are His children, and because of that grace and peace, mercy and comfort, are available to us in ways we can hardly understand. No matter what life throws at us, we can rely on our Father to make it right. All we have to do is ask.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8 NKJV

Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.
1 John 5:14-15 NKJV

And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:19 NKJV

Keep watching.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

All In the Family

"Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. "But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.'"And if he refuses to hear them, tell [it] to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.
Matthew 18:15-17 NKJV

I grew up in what many would consider a large family as I have two brothers and two sisters, all of us fairly close in age. I have at times, especially after having three daughters of my own, asked my mother just what was she thinking to decide to have five children? If you have found yourself in a similar situation, I'm sure you could share stories just as I could about the situations we all encountered as we grew up and matured as families.

I'm also sure that many of us have experienced the difficult times that follow when a member of our immediate family chooses to make bad decisions which can reflect poorly on, and adversely affect the relationship we have with each other. As believers, parents and siblings both struggle with feelings of responsibility with thoughts of “where did I go wrong” or “maybe if I had done something differently” when faced with the situation of a family member ignoring what they have been taught and instead choosing to do the things that God has said we are not to do.

We have been discussing the importance of the choices we make as believers for awhile now, and how important those are as they often reflect positively or negatively on the body of Christ. We have seen how those who claim to be believers can, by choosing to walk the wrong path, begin to change in such a way as to become indistinguishable from the non-believer. Their only thought is for their own happiness, and all of their efforts are directed to pursue that end regardless of the fact that they begin to make choices which ignore God's laws. All of which contradict the instruction we have from God to let our light shine before men in such a way as to bring glory to Him.

Obviously, the question that faces us all in a situation such as this is just what does God expect from us as believers when we see a brother or sister begin to make the choices that reflect negatively on the body of Christ? Although the easy way out is to say that God will deal with them, (after all He is their Father right?), in this passage from Matthew, Jesus makes it clear that we have a responsibility to perform within the family towards those who choose to sin. In these verses Jesus lays out a four step plan to implement when we find ourselves faced with a situation such as this.

Step one; "Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” The first thought I had reading this was the gentleness and sensitivity implied here. There is no idea of publicly shaming the person, or possibly making the situation worse by having a judgmental or condemning attitude. Jesus simply says go to him or her privately and discuss what is going on. I think we can all understand that situations may occur where someone is genuinely unaware that what they are doing is wrong, and can be corrected by simply sharing what has occurred and what God has to say about it in a loving and gentle way. After all, who among us is without sin?

He can have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness.
Hebrews 5:2 NKJV

Step two; "But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.'” Have you ever disagreed with someone? Maybe had a lively discussion thinking you were right and the other person was wrong? In a situation like the one Jesus is telling us about here, it is possible that your brother or sister will disagree that what they are doing is wrong, and possibly think that you are being “judgmental” or have some other reason for confronting them. In such a case as this, Jesus tells us to take “one or two more” with us next so that the possibility of the situation being “personal” is removed. It also stands to reason that by seeking one or two others you are asking them as well about the possibility of you yourself being wrong. Paul used this same principle at the church in Corinth when he had to confront bad behavior there.

This [will be] the third [time] I am coming to you. "By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established."
2 Corinthians 13:1 NKJV

Step three; "And if he refuses to hear them, tell [it] to the church.” When it gets to this point, it is evident that the individual does indeed have a problem submitting to God's will. When several brothers or sisters can show where an individual is making decisions contrary to the Word of God, it would certainly seem that they would have difficulty excusing their behavior unless they have traveled far enough down the wrong road that they are at a point where they deliberately choose to ignore God's laws. By telling it to the entire church body, Jesus seems to be saying that there comes a point where we as a body must draw a line in the sand when it comes to someone claiming to be a believer, and at the same time choosing to sin. I think the obvious concern here is that we are being told that the actions of one could indeed affect the witness of the entire church body.

that there should be no schism in the body, but [that] the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with [it]; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with [it].
1 Corinthians 12:25-26 NKJV

Step four; “But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” This is probably the most misunderstood part of this passage in that many have come to the conclusion Jesus is telling us to “throw the bum out” or something similar like “shunning” or “excommunication”. In fact, Jesus is simply telling us to change our attitude towards the individual in that instead of considering them to be a brother or sister, look at them as an unbeliever who has yet to make the decision to allow Jesus to come into his life and submit to His will for them. Although they may claim to be a Christian, by their actions they declare that they are not. These then are to be treated with love and compassion, not judgment or scorn.

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
John 13:34-35 NKJV

I think we can all agree it is especially difficult to watch a brother or sister make decisions we know to be contrary to the revealed Word of God. Yet Jesus gives us the blueprint to follow when these situations occur, and by obeying His instructions we have the greatest chance for success in helping the light of the body to shine it's brightest.

Keep watching.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Fan or Follower, What Do Others See?

"No one, when he has lit a lamp, puts [it] in a secret place or under a basket, but on a lampstand, that those who come in may see the light. "The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light. But when [your eye] is bad, your body also [is] full of darkness. "Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness. "If then your whole body [is] full of light, having no part dark, [the] whole [body] will be full of light, as when the bright shining of a lamp gives you light."
Luke 11:33-36 NKJV

I was fortunate enough to be raised by Christian parents and introduced to our Lord at a very early age. Some of my most favorite memories are of sitting in Sunday School singing songs and listening to the stories as we were taught about the Gospel of Christ, and Jesus' love for us. One of my memories is of how much we liked to sing certain songs, which was evident in the volume we sung them. One of those which I am sure many of you remember as well is called “This Little Light of Mine”. Complete with hand motions, we would sing that particular song as loud as five and six year old children possibly could.

I don't remember how old I was when I figured out that the message in this song was taken straight from scripture, but it is one lesson that I have never forgotten, and in light of what we have been discussing lately one which I feel is extremely important to all of us. Many of us remember the saying “WWJD, or what would Jesus do”? If I were to try and come up with something like that which the body could use to improve it's appearance in the world, I would suggest that we try “WDOS”, or “what do others see”?

One doesn't have to read and study scripture very long before coming to the knowledge of the importance God places on the actions of those who profess to believe. I know of, and have heard so many instances where people have found out after the fact that people around them were watching them closely to see if their actions in life lived up to their profession of faith. It happens all the time and yet there are many in the body who seem to be completely unaware of the fact that their light might be burning a little “dim”.

We have been looking the past few weeks at a passage of scripture which explains in great detail the downward progression of some in the body as we approach the end of this age, and I think it important now that we all take a good look at ourselves in light of scripture to see if we are reflecting the light of our salvation, or if in fact we might be reflecting something else entirely.

Something I am sure most of you have already noticed is that at times the Bible certainly could be described as a book of opposites. This is especially true when you contrast what the Bible calls the “works of the flesh” and the “fruits of the Spirit”.

Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness,idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told [you] in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Galatians 5:19-21 NKJV

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.
Galatians 5:22-23 NKJV

So the question for us is simple...what do others see when they look at us? Do they see a light shining in the darkness or a light hidden so well that we look just like the world around us? Many if asked would say that the world is getting darker. Society is changing and the relative morality of the world is spiraling downwards at an ever increasing pace. The struggle for us as believers is to insure that we continue to reflect the light that is in us even as persecution begins to be commonplace as we are attacked for our faith in God and adherence to His principles.

in all things showing yourself [to be] a pattern of good works; in doctrine [showing] integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.
Titus 2:7-8 NKJV

Since today is the Super Bowl it seems appropriate to use football as an illustration in some way so I will try to do that in light of what we are talking about. I'm sure most of us, either in football or something else, could at one time or another be described as a fan. Fans like a certain team and support them (sometimes exuberantly) as the season goes on. They may even wear their teams colors with hats or jerseys or even fly flags which show their support. But what happens when their team begins to lose? Have you seen pictures of stadiums which are only half full because fans either leave early or don't come at all? I think you could make the case that in difficult times, when the going gets rough, the only people who still show support are those who are committed followers of their team.

As believers, maybe that is a question we need to ask ourselves when times get difficult. Are we true followers of God who are committed to follow Him no matter what the cost or the circumstances in which we find ourselves? Or are we simply fair weather fans who are committed only when things are going well and we are happy with our circumstances?

Beloved, I beg [you] as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by [your] good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.
1 Peter 2:11-12 NKJV

More and more we see those who choose to believe be attacked for their faith, but this passage makes it clear that even though others may choose to “speak against us”, the fact that we choose to stay strong and keep the faith will glorify God in the end. Others are watching us, especially as the circumstances around us get more difficult.  Yet it goes without saying that a light shines brighter the darker it gets.  Our responsibility is to make sure our light shines in such a way as for others to see.  My prayer is that we all will have the courage to look at ourselves honestly to see if we are indeed shining brightly to the world around us. Let your light so shine.

Keep watching.