VBS and the Armor of God

Today kicks off our church’s Vacation Bible School week. I am doing the mission lessons for the elementary school students – trying to plant some seeds of sharing the gospel into the minds of wiggly, giggly bodies will be a fun challenge. I am sure I will need therapy by the end of the week. I loved VBS as a kid. The churches in our community scheduled VBS on alternate weeks throughout the summer to give exhausted moms a break. My brothers and I went to all of them.

I am reminded of one summer when a friend and I created a VBS program based on the Armor of God from Ephesians 6:10-18.  We learned about the heroes of the Bible and their great exploits for the kingdom of God. We studied each piece of the armor, created them as craft projects (man, that was a lot of aluminum foil!), and taught the children to “put on” the armor every day by touching their heads to remind them of the helmet of salvation, touching their waist to remind them of the belt of truth, crossing their arms over their chest to remind them of the breastplate of righteousness and so forth. 

The day we studied the shield and the sword we spent hours blowing up hundreds of balloons and writing words like sin, anger, jealousy, disobedience, cursing, unkindness, etc. First, we took away their shields and swords and tossed them to the kids who had no way to protect themselves. Then we handed them back their armor pieces and “attacked” them again as they blocked the balloons with their shields and batted them away with their swords. It was a simplistic way of explaining the armor, but I think the kids got it and I knew it was a powerful visual to me.

So much of ‘putting on the armor” is mental – but still very practical. It is intentionally wrapping ourselves in truth, remembering that our heart is protected by the righteousness of Christ, that satan’s words have no power because of God’s salvation.  It’s building up a store of “swords” to fight the enemy and reminding ourselves to stay safely behind our faith in God. It’s leaving footprints of peace wherever we go.

Beloved, are you fully dressed to face the day in this world? The Armor of God is not just good theology, it’s good practice every day. Because we’re not just battling balloons out there.

Hebrews: Pleasing God

Have you ever known someone you just couldn’t please? I have a few of those in my life and they are very hard to live with. The author of Hebrews said: “Without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). One thing I’ve learned in studying the Bible is to take negative statements like this and flip them into positives. Thus we could say, “With faith, it is possible to please God.” When we boil it down to the simplest phrase we see that “Faith pleases God.” That’s what this whole chapter of Hebrews is about – not great exploits, but faith. And not even “great” faith.  Hudson Taylor, a missionary pioneer in China said, “You do not need a great faith, but faith in a great God.”

What does “pleasing faith” look like? Hebrews 11:6 continues: “anyone who comes to him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” Other translations say: “must believe that He is . . .” and I think that is a better rendering. But believe that “He is” what? Everything He says He is. Start at Genesis 1:1 and read to Revelation 22:21 and take everything God says about Himself (and remember – Jesus is God) to heart. That is what this verse is saying. Faith that pleases God is faith that believes God is who He says He is. And that He can and will do everything He promises to do.

What does He promise to do? “reward those who earnestly seek Him.” And what is that reward?  “I am . . . your very great reward” (Genesis15:1). Got that? He is our reward. And He is a very great reward. All the riches on all the earth cannot compare. When God promises to be our reward that means that He will give us access to His power and love and truth and righteousness. What more could you want? What more could you need?  

One more thing before I sign off – Faith isn’t something we grit our teeth and conjure up on our own. Faith that pleases God comes from God. And the more we respond to that faith, the more of Himself He gives us. And that makes our faith grow. And that pleases Him. That’s what I want to do. How about you, Beloved?

Footprints

I came across “The Footprints” poem the other day. You know the one about the person who dreamed of seeing two sets of footprints in the sand – one was their own and the other belonged to Jesus. At certain points, the second set of footprints disappeared and the dreamer was dismayed that Jesus would abandon them at the hardest points in their life. The Lord assured them that He would never leave them, especially during trials and testing. He said, “When you saw only one set of footprints, It was then that I carried you.” That is a beautiful and encouraging image and expresses the heart of our Savior in our times of suffering.

Later, as I was studying 1 John I read this: “Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did” (2:6). A different thought came to mind.  What if, when I questioned Jesus about that single set of footprints in the sand, He said, “That is when you followed me so closely that you stepped right into My footprints.” Oh! What a commendation that would be! That’s the goal of the Christian life, to emulate Christ in every way. To walk as He walked. To speak as He spoke. To give as He gave. To love as He loved. To be holy as He is holy. The first believers were called “Followers of The Way” until were dubbed “Christians” meaning “little Christs.” Not just because they claimed allegiance to Him but because they patterned their lives after Him.

I’m sure you know Romans 8:28: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Have you ever wondered what His purpose is? It’s right in the next verse, “to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (v. 29). To be “little Christs” in our generation, walking in His very footsteps so that there’s nothing of us left behind –  only Jesus. That’s my desire, especially as I see my granddaughter following me everywhere I go.

How do we do that? How do we “walk as Jesus did?” By keeping our eyes fixed on Him. By knowing Him through His Word. By living according to His Spirit (Rom 8:5-16). One footfall at a time. Beloved, what do your footprints say about your life?

The Journey

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The Spirit brought a verse to my attention this morning. “Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord” (Micah 6:5b). He asked, “What’s so important about Shittim and Gilgal?” And the dig was on.

Shittim is where the Israelite men fell into sexual immorality and idolatry with the Moabite women who worshipped Baal, even bringing one of the women into the camp. This was a slap in God’s face and because of their sin, 24,000 Israelites died at Shittim (see Numbers 25).

Gilgal was the first city the Israelites came to after crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land. It was here that the entire nation took a (painful) step of obedience to the Lord by circumcising all the males in the camp. This is where the Lord declared, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you” (Joshua 5:9). This was the place of a new life for Israel. Gilgal was also where the Israelites celebrated their first Passover in the Promised Land and where the manna they had eaten for forty days finally stopped.

Shittim represents the lowest point in Israel’s history when they were captivated by sin and idolatry. Gilgal represents the redemption of God when the Israelites finally submitted to the Lord and received His blessings. This verse is your story and mine. We all have a Shittim, a place in our lives where we were held in the grip of sin. But God’s grace is the way to Gilgal, the place of surrender and obedience and blessing. The place where we find the righteousness of God.

One other word jumps out at me: “journey.” It’s 276 kilometers (170 miles) from Shittim to Gilgal. It took the Israelites 40 years to make that trek. It is a journey from the place of sin to the place of righteousness. We’ve all walked it.  But we don’t walk it alone. From the day they walked out of Egypt to the day they walked on the dry ground of the Jordan, God was with them step-by-step. And He is with you and me.

Where are you on the journey from Shittim to Gilgal, Beloved? Take one more step. And another, and another. God is with you. The saints are cheering you on. You’re going to make it. You have God’s Word on it.

In the Shadow of the Cross

Time and eternity intersect at the Cross

My granddaughter loves crosses. She knows the cross has something to do with God and Jesus, and at almost three, that’s a good foundation. But in the first century, the cross was a symbol of shame. So why would the church adopt it as our standard? We get a clue from Peter who said, “[Jesus] bore our sins in His body on the tree [cross], so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24, emphasis added). Pete packed a lot into that short sentence.

First, the cross is for sinners. It is for people who make mistakes, for the ones who are weak, for those of us who do foolish things, who fall into a pit of sin and walk in the wilderness of the consequences. The cross is the place where Jesus took on all our sin and shame, our profane mouths and promiscuous acts, our greed, and selfishness, our lies, our addictions, our lustful thoughts, our rebellion, and disobedience.  Jesus didn’t die for those who have it all together. He died for those of us who are falling apart in our own human sinfulness. The cross is for me.

Second, the cross helps us in our weaknesses. By holding fast to the cross of Jesus, we draw strength to enable us to overcome our un-Christ-like habits and attractions. When I look to the cross, I am reminded again of what Jesus did for me, and I find the strength to fight against the enemy and flee from temptation.   I’m not implying that the cross is some magic talisman; but it is a symbol of the transforming power of Christ – a power we are encouraged to call on every day and every moment. You and I can’t control the sinful desires of our flesh, but Christ can help us stand strong in godliness. Through the cross, Christ empowers us to live for righteousness.

Many criminals before and after Him died on a cross, but the cross of Jesus is the hope for all mankind. It is the place from which love dripped down Christ’s body and bought us our freedom. Paul said, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Beloved, have you come to the cross of Jesus?

Pointing Fingers

I’m studying Job in two groups right now – I am sure by God’s provident timing. In the first two chapters of Job, satan comes before the Lord twice to give an account of what he’s been up to. I have a note jotted beside satan’s second appearance before God: “last mention of satan.” This is the last time that ugly face is seen in this book. But it’s not the last time satan himself shows up. You can bet he is the impetus behind what comes next in Job’s story.

You know the story. God gives satan permission to take all that Job has – his wealth, his children, and his health – to prove that Job will never curse the Lord. Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar come to “sympathize with him and comfort him” (v. 11). When they see him sitting on the trash heap, covered in sores and misery, “they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights” and “No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was” (v. 13). If only they had kept their mouths shut.

I said that satan’s last mention was in chapter two, but he shows up in Job’s “friends” every time they speak. They all condemn Job for what must be grievous sin in his life. Why else would God bring such harsh punishment on him? But they don’t know what God has said about Job: “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (1:8; 2:3). Satan didn’t have to show his face, he just let E, B, and Z do his dirty work. If Job’s friends truly wanted to comfort him, they should have reminded him of God’s faithfulness and love. They should have sang songs of hope, not blasted him with condemnation. Rather than comforting their friend, they added to his suffering.

Here’s my takeaway: Never assume you know a person’s heart before God and God’s reason for their situation. We are called to a ministry of “encouraging, comforting, and urging [one another] to live lives worthy of God” (1 Thess 2:12). We are not called to “straighten one another out.” I don’t want to ever be satan’s tool of misery in someone’s life, no matter how “righteous” my reasoning. Beloved, make sure you are God’s messenger of grace, not satan’s sledgehammer.

Hebrews: Who’s the Greatest?

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In our last devotional on Hebrews 7, we looked at Melchizedek, a mysterious figure from the days of Abraham, who was held in high esteem by the Jewish people. Go back and read verses 1-10. There are several similarities between Melchezidek and Jesus. Melchezidek was both a priest and a king, an unheard of combination in the Jewish nation. Nations outside of Israel often combined the offices, but for God’s people, kings were descendants of Judah, specifically David, and priests descended from Levi, specifically Aaron. Jesus was the only other person in Scripture who could fill both roles perfectly. He was a descendant of David through his adoptive father and was appointed to the priesthood by God (Psalm 110:4). We’re going to come back to this thought.

Melchizedek, the author said, was “Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever” (v. 3). Bear in mind that he does not claim that Melchizedek was more than a mortal human being.  And we do know Jesus’s human mother, Mary, and Matthew and Luke record the genealogical record of Jesus (through Joseph). But the Scripture did not mention the birth or death of Melchizedek, which the author used to point to Jesus’ eternal nature, “without beginning of days or end of life.” That is because Jesus is the Son of God and has always existed. “He was with God in the beginning” (John 1:2), and “His years will never end” (Heb. 1:12). Melchizedek was a figure of Christ, but Christ was the reality and the standard.

Finally, Melchizedek’s name and title are the identity of Jesus. His name meant “the king of righteousness” and his domain meant “the king of peace” (Salem=Shalom). Jesus is the one who brings us righteousness before God and peace with God. No human priest or king could ever do that. It is Christ’s work alone.

The author’s point is not to set our focus on Melchizedek, but to turn all eyes to Jesus who exceeds the great priest-king. He continued to press the point that Jesus is – not just the better way to God and eternal life – but the only way. To those who were on the fence about staying with Christ or returning to the Law, the choice is clear. There is no other way but Jesus. The same is true for you and me, there is no other way to eternal life. Stick with Jesus, Beloved, all the way home.

Hebrews: Melchizedek

I had a friend in Jr. High school who followed the most obscure, unheard-of bands. Every time we got together to play records (yes records!) she brought her favorites with her. Some of them, as it turned out were quite good (like Highway Robbery), but they weren’t as popular and well-known as The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, and The Who. Likewise, most of us who grew up in the church know Adam and Eve, David, Moses, and Abraham, but few are familiar with one character the writer of Hebrews calls on as a witness to Christ – Melchizedek.

As the “king of Salem” (which means Peace) “and a priest of God Most High,” Melchizedek (whose name meant “king of righteousness”) had a small but important part in the Old Testament account of Abraham (Abram at this point). Genesis 14 tells the story of Abram rescuing his nephew Lot from a trio of enemy kings.  Two friendly kings came out to meet Abram – the unnamed king of Sodom, where Lot had settled, and Melchizedek. Melchizedek presented bread and wine and a blessing: “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand” (v. 19). In response, Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of all the plunder he had gained from the rescue operation.

Melchizedek is significant for several reasons found in Hebrews 7. He appears mysteriously on the scene and the Scriptures tell us nothing about his genealogy or his life before this encounter, and we hear nothing from him after (v. 3).  The tithe which Abram gave him indicated that he was a great king, for Abram was a great man in the Ancient-Near-East and he humbled himself before Melchizedek (vs. 4, 8).  His dual role as king and priest was also uncommon. The two positions would always be separate in the Jewish nation – kings would be descendants of Judah and priests descendants of Levi (v. 1). The sons of Levi would collect the tithe from the rest of Abram’s descendants, but through Abram, the writer said, Levi  “paid the tithe” to the greater priest (6, 9-10). And most significantly, Melchizedek was, “like the Son of God, a priest forever” (v. 3).

I know, this all sounds very strange and probably confusing, but the story of Melchizedek foretold the greater King and Priest, Jesus Christ. It’s important that you and I study and understand everything the Scriptures say about Him. Stay with me – we will make those parallels in the next Hebrews devotional.

Pointing Fingers

“I know that nothing good lives in me, that is in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do good, but I cannot carry it out” Romans 7:18
One of the biggest challenges of being a Bible teacher is the tension between expressing what the Bible says about sin and recognizing my own sinful nature. How can I stand before a class or post something I’ve written that tells others “how to live” when I fail so often in my own walk? Who do I think I am?
That’s why I find great comfort in Paul’s letters. Paul addresses every kind of sin we can imagine – sexual sin, lying, stealing, hate, laziness, idolatry, marital unfaithfulness, abuse, self-centeredness, drunkenness, and yes even gluttony (Ouch!). He is very outspoken about sin and points a finger wherever he sees it. But he also points a finger back at himself. Paul frequently admits his own human failure to walk the walk of which he talks. In Romans 7, he laments this all too common push-and-pull of righteousness vs. sin. “What I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (v. 15). “The evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (v. 19). From Paul’s words, we realize that the sinful nature we inherited from Adam constantly “wages war” against our new nature in Christ (v. 23).
So what do we – as those called to share the gospel and the truth of righteousness – do with that conflict? First, we stop focusing on ourselves. That’s a guarantee to keep failing. Instead, we follow Paul’s example and shift our focus upward. He wrapped up his lament, by recognizing his failure: “What a wretched man I am!” He admitted his need for a savior: “Who will rescue me from the body of death?” Then he rejoiced in the goodness and faithfulness of God: “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (vv. 24-25).
You and I are part of the fallen human race, and even though we have trusted in Christ as our Savior, we still fall to our sinful nature. Satan would have us languish there in self-hatred. But we are no longer under the sentence of condemnation (Romans 8:1). We have been rescued and redeemed. When we focus on Jesus we live more in the freedom of our new nature and less in the bondage of our sin. Yes, Beloved, you will still fail – but thanks be to God through Christ Jesus our Lord – you don’t have to stay there!

Road Trip

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We’ve made quite a few trips in my husband’s trusty truck. Every mile was powered by the combustion engine under the hood. That engine had two jobs: to take in fuel and to put out power. My husband provided the fuel and the engine produced power which in turn powered all the other parts of the truck that enabled us to make our trip.
Paul had never seen a combustion engine at work, but he understood the principle. He told the believers in Philippi: “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13). Do you see the principle? What God works in – you work out. God is at work in you through His Word and His Spirit – providing power, wisdom, strength, and righteousness – your job is to take what He provides and work it out in your life. He gives you His power to overcome the devil. He gives you His wisdom to make godly decisions. He gives you His strength to endure the trials. He gives you His righteousness so you can live a holy life.
You would think we were crazy if we jumped in the truck and expected to make our trip without any fuel to power the engine. How crazy is it to try to live godly lives without the truth of the Word and the power of God’s Spirit? Beloved, God is providing the fuel of holy living – all you have to do is work out what He is pouring in. Get your motor running Beloved, it’s time to hit the road!