Giants

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David and Goliath. One of the best-known stories of the Bible.  A story of good versus evil in the face of impossible odds.  We learn so much from David here. Faith. Determination. Confidence. Preparation. Fearlessness. All very good lessons. But I saw something in this story that I’d never noticed before and I think it’s a very powerful lesson we need to learn.

When David visited the battle site he discovered that the Israelite army was at a standstill. They were paralyzed with fear and he soon saw why. “Goliath, the Philistine champion stepped out from the lines and shouted his usual defiance” (1 Samuel 17:23). His usual defiance was to belittle them, challenge them, threaten them, and thoroughly intimidate them. He said, “This day I defy the ranks of Israel!” (8-10). They were “dismayed and terrified” (v. 11). I imagine so! Goliath was over nine feet tall, wore 125 pounds of armor, and carried a spear with an iron point that weighed 15 pounds (4-7). “When the Israelites saw the man, they all ran from him in great fear” (v. 24). And this went had gone on for forty days – twice a day (16). The Israelites had given up hope.

David saw the same enemy and heard the same schpiel. But he saw it much differently. David demanded, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (26). He realized that the Israelites 1) forgot whose they were, and 2) they were afraid – of words.

You and I have an enemy who looks like a giant in our eyes and all day long he berates us and accuses us and tells us we are worthless. He tells us we’re going down. And we listen – day-after-day-after-day – until we start to believe it.  Because we forget whose we are – that we are the sons and daughters of God and co-heirs with Christ. Because we are afraid – of words.

Here’s what the Lord impressed on my heart: Giants must be defeated – not feared.

If you are in Christ, satan’s only weapon against you is words. That’s it. But you have the righteousness of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Stand your ground, Beloved. You are more than a conqueror (Romans 8:38).

Victory Over the Enemy

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Sun Tzu was an ancient Chinese general, military strategist, writer, and philosopher in the early 6th Century. He is credited as the writer of the classic, “The Art of War,” in which he said, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”  Paul cautioned with similar words saying that satan will not outwit us if we are aware of his schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11 paraphrased). We need to know our enemy to the degree that we recognize his evil hand in situations we face.

For example, I have a contentious relationship with a family member who has repeatedly been unkind toward me. My human nature wants to lash out and “put them in their place,” but Paul reminds me “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). The person is not my enemy. Satan is using them against me – and they are unaware of it. But because I have the Holy Spirit in me I have discernment and can turn the fight against my true enemy. I pray for and love the person and refuse the let the devil cause division.

There’s another point to spiritual warfare. In ancient Israel, Sennacherib, king of Assyria, marched toward Jerusalem to capture the capital city. He sent a message to King Hezekiah saying, “Have I come to attack and destroy this land without the Lord? The Lord himself told me to march against this country and destroy it” (Isaiah 36:10). But Hezekiah declared that “the living God will rebuke [Sennacherib] for the words the Lord your God has heard” (Isaiah 37:4). Hezekiah knew it was a lie because he knew his God.

Sun Tzu spoke wisely when he said “Know your enemy.” Paul spoke wisdom when said essentially the same thing. But more important than knowing the enemy, you and I need to know our God. If we do not know the Lord God, we will fall to the threats of the enemy every time. Know your enemy. Know yourself. Know your God. Those, Beloved, are the keys to victory.

Hebrews: Do You Need Some Rest?

My sleeping angel, Joy.

I kept my phone close, anticipating a call about a test I had undergone. Cancer took my mom away too soon – and I knew that increased my risk. The call finally came late in the afternoon. “The images were clear. There was no sign of cancer.” Relief filled my heart and that night I got some much-needed rest.  But what if I decided the doctor was wrong? What if I doubted the results? What if I continued to worry and toss and turn at night?

The writer of Hebrews drew from the Psalmist’s recollection of the Israelite’s in the wilderness and God’s declaration that this unbelieving people “Shall never enter my rest” (Psalm 95:11; Hebrews 3:11; 4:3). At the threshold of the Promised Land, Moses sent out twelve spies into Canaan to explore the territory and assess the inhabitants from a military standpoint. They returned with a glowing report of “the land of milk and honey” (Numbers 13:27), and an alarming report of the people they would have to defeat to take the land. They said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are!” (13:31) The people grumbled and wanted to turn back to Egypt – to slavery. Only Joshua and Caleb urged them to trust the Lord and proceed – and only Joshua and Caleb survived God’s judgment.  Because of their unbelief, the whole company would wander for forty years until the last of the unbelieving generation fell in the desert.

The author used them as an example of people who “had the gospel . . . but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith” (Hebrews 4:2).  Faith, as the Bible uses it means belief and trust – with the implication that actions based on that trust will follow. Faith is not just ethereal thoughts – it is acting with confidence in what God has said. The Israelites heard about the Promised Land, but they doubted they could get the victory so they gave up on God’s rest. When the gospel is declared some will have faith and some will not. Some will rest in the promise of salvation and eternal life and some will live in hopelessness and anxiety.  The author adds, “Now we who have believed enter that rest . . .” (4:3a).

Beloved, are you weary? There is rest for those who trust in Jesus. Today and eternally.

Hebrews: Do You Believe God?

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Buckle your seatbelts, because today we’re going to cover five verses: Hebrews 3:15-19 (woohoo!). But we’re going to focus on just one word. Verses 15-19 serve as a commentary 7-11, which recalled Israel’s rebellion and subsequent forty years of desert wandering. The writer of Hebrews, in describing this band of wanderers said that they “rebelled” (v. 16), they “sinned” (v. 17), and they “disobeyed” (v. 18). All of these verbs culminate in one word, see if you can figure it out: “So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief” (v. 19). Rebellion, sin, and disobedience are all symptoms – the deadly disease that killed an entire generation of Israelites was unbelief. Here’s the key: those who believed and those who did not believe heard the same promise from God: “See, I have given you this land” (Deuteronomy 1:8). An entire generation of “bodies fell in the desert” (v. 17).

But they weren’t the first to doubt God. A long, long time ago God told a couple in a garden, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Then along came the serpent who asked, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (3:1). The serpent wasn’t trying to clarify what God had told them. His question went to Adam and Eve’s heart: “Did God really mean what He said?” We see that in verse 8 when he completely and exactly contradicts what they had heard: “You will not surely die.” They took the bait because, in their hearts, they didn’t believe His word was true.

The essence of unbelief is not rejecting God but rather doubting if God is trustworthy. Like Adam and Eve and the Israelites, we act on our unbelief with rebellion, sin, and disobedience. To believe God is to take Him at His Word – that He is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do* – and then act on what we heard. That’s what we’ll find in the “Hall of Faith” a few chapters ahead. So the question then is, Beloved, do you believe God?

*From Beth Moore’s study: “Believing God.”

Muddy Child of God

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Do you remember the old saying: “You made your bed, now you have to lay down in it.”? In essence, I have to live with the consequences of my own foolish choices. Sometimes the consequences cost us money like my son having to replace a window he broke, or rest – like losing sleep finishing an assignment I put off too long. But some consequences are painful. Ask any prisoner in a cell or my cousin who cut his foot off playing around with a chain saw. Sorrow and suffering are magnified when the offense against us is our own.

The people of Israel found themselves in just such a situation. Against God’s direct command, Israel allowed the pagan Canaanites to remain in the Promised Land. The Canaanites worshiped Baal and Ashtoreth, and their worship was largely sexual and perverse. Their evil practices spread throughout Israel. In their lust, they forgot the Lord who rescued them and broke their covenant agreement to worship only Yahweh. Judges 2:14 says “In His anger against Israel the Lord handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around.” They had danced to the devil’s tune, and now it was time to pay the piper.

What misery is greater than witnessing our own fingerprints in our suffering? I’ve been there several times. I expect you have too. Perhaps you’re sitting right now in a mud pit of your own making, wondering how you could have been so foolish and how will you ever get out of it. I used to believe that God was unwilling to help me when I got myself into trouble. “Sorry child, this is your problem, I’m stepping out on this one.” But that is not Him at all.

Even after the Israelites rebellion, “The Lord was moved to pity by their groaning” (Judges 2:18) When His children are suffering, God hears, He sees and He rescues. His compassion is boundless. “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail, they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lam 3:22). That’s good news if you’re struggling with the consequences of your own decisions and actions. Beloved, God has not and will not abandon you – even in your self-made misery. He hears your cries. He sees your tears. His heart is moved on your behalf. He rescued His people, He rescued me, and He will rescue you.

Hebrews: Hold On

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“Do you want goldfish?” Joy’s mommy asked her. “Yeah!” she answered enthusiastically. “I’ll give you some if you take two more bites of spaghetti.” She quickly shoveled in two forkfuls and beamed at her mother with noodles hanging out of her mouth. Some might consider that bribery, but in our house, we call that toddler negotiation. If you do this, I’ll do that.

When the author of Hebrews used the word “if” it’s wasn’t arbitration as if God is negotiating with us. ”If” as it’s used here is a statement of fact. “We are His house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast” (Hebrews 3:6b). That doesn’t mean if we hold on to our faith, then God will save us. It means we prove the genuineness of our profession of faith if we hold fast to the courage and hope we claim to possess.

I just rewrote that last statement because I originally said, “if we hold fast to Jesus with courage and hope.” The Holy Spirit stopped me. “Look at that verse again. What do those words mean?” Courage in this verse means boldness, confidence, and public openness of speech. With that in mind, look back at the end of this verse, “. . . courage and the hope of which we boast.”  A “profession of faith” is a public statement – not that we “chose Jesus,” but that we are confident that He will do what He promised – to save us now and eternally.

As an example, he referenced the Israelites who rebelled against Him by questioning His faithfulness. Quoting from Psalm 95, he said that they “hardened their hearts . . . during the time of testing in the desert.” They whined and complained and doubted God every time they come up against a challenge. They asked, “Is the Lord with us or not?” (Exodus 17:7). Why? Because “they have not known my ways.” They doubted God because they didn’t know Him.

As believers, we should grow in our faith. Our confidence in Jesus should become deeper, not more shallow. If we begin to doubt Him and question His faithfulness we should reconsider the genuineness of our profession and whether or not we really know Him.

Because “if” you know Him, Beloved, you will love and trust Him. All the way to the end.

You’re Not too Heavy for Jesus

Joy and Nana at her 2nd birthday party

When we go somewhere that requires a lot of walking, Joy’s little legs tire very quickly.  She starts to slow down and stumble and cry.  That’s when Nana picks her up and carries her.  The burden of her weight rests on me.  I love to hold her, but at almost thirty pounds, she can become a heavy load pretty quickly. I know every parent and grandparent is nodding. Those babies get heavy, and as they age, the burdens they bring shift the weight from our arms to our knees. The idea of carrying others’ burdens has its roots in Israel’s ancient worship traditions.

When God gave Moses instructions for the priests, He said, “Take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel . . . Aaron is to bear the names on his shoulders before the Lord” (Exodus 28:9,12).  Aaron, the high priest, would enter the holy of holies at the appointed time to make atonement for the sins of the children of Israel.  He would come before God with the names of each of the twelve sons of Jacob, the family tribes of the nation, engraved on the stones that made up part of his ritual garb.  He would literally bear the weight of the names of the sons of Israel while symbolically bearing the weight of their sin on his shoulders. 

At Calvary, Jesus bore the weight of every sin you and I have ever committed.  But it wasn’t a symbolic act like the priest bearing the names of the sons of Israel, and it was far more than thirty pounds.  The weight of all the sins of humanity – including your sin and mine – was a real, crushing burden heaped on the Son of God.

I bear the weight of Joy because I love her.  Jesus bore the weight of your sin because he loves you.  I’m nearing the time, though, when my granddaughter will be too big of a physical burden for me to carry.  Here’s the good news: you will never be too big of a burden for Jesus.  Your sins will never outweigh His love for you.  You can rest on this promise Beloved – Jesus will carry you – all the way home.

I Did It My Way

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Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and Michael Bublé sang it and is one of the most often requested songs for funerals. Paul Anka wrote lyrics in English to a French tune and pitched “My Way” to Old Blue Eyes. We applaud people who do it their way. But should we? While the rugged individualist charts his own course, he seldom does it God’s way. 

God, through Samuel, directed King Saul to attack the Amalekites, the enemy of God’s people. God specifically said, “totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them . . .” Not the people and not even their livestock (1 Samuel 15:3). Saul and his men were somewhat obedient. “Saul and the army spared Agag [the king] and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs, everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy” (v. 9). They were unwilling to be obedient. God’s heart was grieved by Saul’s disobedience (v. 11). He sent Samuel to chastise the king.

When the prophet arrived at the camp, Saul greeted him saying, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions” (v. 13). And Samuel said, in today’s language, “Oh, really? Then why do I hear sheep bleating and cattle lowing?” (v. 14). And Saul answered that they saved the best of the animals “to sacrifice to the Lord” (v. 15).  He essentially sang Sinatra’s song – “I obeyed the Lord – my way.” Samuel replied, “To obey is better than sacrifice” (v. 22). And from that point on, God rejected Saul as Israel’s king.

No, this is not one of those warm and fuzzy devotionals. I feel an urgent need in my spirit to tell you to stop trying to do life your way. Do it God’s way. Be fully obedient to the Lord. Partial obedience is disobedience. James gave us two keys to doing life God’s way: “Submit yourself to God” (4:7) and “Humble yourself before the Lord” (4:10).

I’m not pointing fingers at you without pointing them at myself first. This morning I prayed, “Lord please give me a word for your people – and for me.” I know I need to learn the discipline of obedience, submission, and humility before God. This honors and pleases the Lord who – despite what Sinatra and all the rest believe – created man. Self-made men and women are on the road to self-destruction. Beloved, will you do it God’s way?

When You Don’t Know What to Do

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This is going to be short and sweet this morning because every time I’ve started to write, God would say, “That’s you talking, not Me.” I finally stopped and asked, “What do you want to say, Lord?” And this is His message today.

When Jerusalem was surrounded by a vast and powerful enemy, the king of Judah prayed, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You” (2 Chron 20:12).  Can you relate?  I’ve been there too. Recently. I had a situation that was breaking my heart but was also out of my hands.  I didn’t know what to do. The truth is, there was nothing I could do. So I cried out to God. I petitioned others – many of you – to pray with and for us. In the Scriptures, God defeated the enemy of Judah – they didn’t even have to lift a sword. God moved – and continues to move – powerfully for us as well.

Maybe you are at a place in your life where you don’t know what to do. You’ve tried and tried to fix the problem and nothing has worked. Or maybe the problem is so big you’re too overwhelmed to do anything. Go to God in your confusion and uncertainty. Go to Him in the middle of the chaos. Tell Him, “I don’t know what to do, but my eyes are on you.” Then keep them there. Based on the authority of His Word and my own experience, I can promise you He will move. You may not know what to do Beloved, but God does. And He will. Powerfully.

What’s Your Favorite Verse?

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Quick! What’s your favorite Bible verse?  John 3:16? Philippians 4:13? The 23rd Psalm? Jeremiah 29:11? Psalm 37:4? Romans 8:28? I love all of those. Why is it your favorite? What does it mean? Do you understand what is God saying? Have you studied it deeply? Have you considered the surrounding context? What is the verse’s setting? Why did God/Jesus speak as He did? My favorite verse is . . . well, I just can’t narrow it down to one.

Many people claim Jeremiah 29:11 as their favorite – “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” That is a great verse.  It is a staple at graduations, and rightly so. It shows that God has good plans for His people that they will prosper and always have hope for the future.  But do you know the context? Jeremiah was a prophet to the exiles in Babylon. After many, many years of idolatry and rebellion, God allowed Nebuchadnezzar to invade Jerusalem and take many people to Babylon to serve him and the nation. The Lord sent word through Jeremiah to the exiles and Jeremiah put it all down in a letter. This verse is one part of the whole letter which contained instruction, caution, and hope. In this letter, God took responsibility for their exile but reminded them that He was acting against their disobedience. In fact, half of the letter is rebuke and warning. But in chastisement, God offers this wonderful word of hope. To the weary, heartbroken exiles, God said, “I will bring you back . . .” (v. 14).

One of my favorite verses is part of this letter – “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord.” (vv 14-15a) You and I are going to have seasons of pain and suffering and yes, discipline for our actions. Jeremiah 29:11 is God’s promise not to abandon us in our disobedience. It is His assurance of hope for a good future when we turn away from sin and seek Him with our whole hearts. And not just at graduation.