Monthly Archives: February 2015

The Need for Strength and Courage

“Be strong and of good courage; for thou shalt cause this people to inherit the land which I sware unto their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, to observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest have good success whithersoever thou goest. This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate thereon day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of good courage; be not affrighted, neither be thou dismayed: for Jehovah thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” (Joshua 1:6-9, ASV)

As Joshua takes over Moses’ position as leader of the Israelite people, the Lord speaks to him with an introduction of what will be expected of him. As he speaks, he tells Joshua two things that are absolutely necessary for him to succeed as the leader of Israel: strength and courage.

Yet, God is not talking about strength and courage in battle, he is talking about something far more fundamental. God says he needs these attributes when it comes to keeping the Law. There will constantly be temptations to turn to the right or left hand, away from the laws of God, it will take both elements, and a meditation on the laws of God, for Joshua to overcome.

It does not matter in what age of time a man resides, it is never easy to keep the Law of God. Keeping God’s Word is never popular and there are always people and emotions pulling us in other directions, tempting us to make decisions contrary to the will of God. Only with strength, courage, and a reliance upon God can we fulfill all God desires in leading us.

Be strong, and very courageous.

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Are we Selling our Birthright?

“Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.
Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.” (Hebrews 12:12-17, NKJV)

The Jewish Christians, to whom this letter is written, have been chastised a great deal over the last few chapters. While facing turmoil, they have struggled with whether or not to stay the course with God or to quit for something “easier.”

As they are being told to buck up and see it through to the end, they are given a reminder of a man from the Old Testament: Esau. It is found in Genesis 25. Esau was hungry and because of his shortsightedness he sold his birthright (that by which he claimed his inheritance) to his brother Jacob for a meal.

We have to be careful that we don’t allow the same shortsightedness to engulf our lives. Many people have sold their birthright to Heaven in order to get things of immediate fulfillment. Sometimes it has been sold for one’s job, or family, or money, or pleasure, or any number of other things. When it is sold, those who do so, like Esau, often don’t realize what they have lost until it is too late.

Are you selling your spiritual birthright for physical things?

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The Beautiful Lesson of Psalm 130

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.
I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” (Psalm 130, ESV)

This beautiful psalm of 8 verses is actually a song in four parts (stanzas). Each builds upon the other and brings a specific focus when considered step-by-step, then culminating in one beautiful picture. Notice the 4 sections of this psalm.

Part 1: The cry of man (Vs. 1-2). This is the cry of someone who is in depths of darkness and knows the need of forgiveness and help.
Part 2: The forgiveness of the Lord (Vs. 3-4). If there was no forgiveness in God, none could stand before him; instead we can fear (have reverential respect for) him.
Part 3: Waiting for the Lord (Vs. 5-6). The call has gone out and the forgiveness is there, but now the soul waits upon the word of the Lord. The focus hear is on the desire to find what God wants and requires.
Part 4: The need for all Israel to have hope (Vs. 7-8). This process is available to all of God’s people, not just a few.

As a child of God if I will call, he will forgive; and if I will wait (seek his will), I have hope.

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The Lord said, “Come”

“And the LORD said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation. Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female. Of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth. For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth. And Noah did according unto all that the LORD commanded him.” (Genesis 7:1-5, KJV)

The ark has been completed, the time of the flood is at hand, and God beckons Noah into the ark. Have you ever noticed the words he used? He does not tell Noah to go into the ark, nor does he tell him in a cranky way to stop wasting time and get inside. God invites him to “come” into the ark.

This statement denotes that God was beckoning him from inside the ark. The sentiment reinforces the idea that the ark was the place of safety, it was the place where the righteous were. God asked Noah and his family, as the righteous upon the Earth, to come under his wings of protection.

God still does the same thing for the righteous today in a world that is flooded with sin. “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28), is the call of Jesus. Will we come, being obedient in righteousness, according to God’s commandments like Noah did? Or will we perish in our sins because we refused to hear the word of the Lord?

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More Leaders Like Nehemiah

“Then I went up in the night by the valley and inspected the wall, and I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned. And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, and I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, and the rest who were to do the work. Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work.” (Nehemiah 2:15-18, ESV)

This passage serves to illustrate a very important point about leadership. When Nehemiah examined the city of Jerusalem, he did not see anything different than the rest of the people. The elders, priests, nobles, and officials of the people knew all the details of the wall being down that Nehemiah did. There was only one difference: none of the others were willing to do anything about it.

The same holds true in our congregations today. The problem is not in our ability to see what needs to be done. People have spent years conversing about how this or that needs to be fixed or this group or area of the community needs more effort and consideration. Unfortunately, that is generally where we stop: with talk.

We need more leaders. Men who do not just see what needs to be done but are willing to step in take care of it. Men who are willing to encourage and bring others along to fulfill the task, not think they have to do it all themselves. Many of the tasks we need to undertake are too much for one man alone, just as the wall was too much for Nehemiah by himself.

Talk is cheap, and generally does not get anything accomplished. The church needs more godly leaders.

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To Devote or to Avoid

“The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.” (Titus 3:8-9, ESV)

While we understand the need to stand for truth and obey the commands of God, there are many things that can distract us from fulfilling those goals, especially through modern social media. If you want to spend your days arguing the nuances of unimportant Biblical details, there are many places to do that. If you want to spend your time informing the public about the week’s raging argument over government policy and social acceptance, there are many voices willing to take up the debate.

However, we need to remember the words of Paul to Titus: as believers in God our time needs to be spent devoted to truth and good works. It is easy to get distracted with the physical things of this world, and in doing so to fail to be the influence for Christ we need to be.

Let us make sure we are putting what is truly important first. There are many details about life in this physical world on which we may disagree, but if we waste our days arguing and wrangling over them the only one who wins is Satan, for those days are no longer being used to win others to Christ.

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

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Seeing Psalm 1 through the Right Lens

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” (Psalm 1, ESV)

The contrast made in this short psalm is quite distinct. Sadly, the world often cannot see the points that are being made. They see an unrighteous man who becomes rich, a scoffer who has no worries, a lazy man who is able to live comfortably off of the generosity of others and they perceive that the psalmist was wrong.

The problem is that they are looking at this psalm through the wrong lens. Instead of looking at it through the lens of present day-to-day life, it must be seen through the lens of final judgment and eternity. In eternity, the righteous man of verses 1-3 will truly prosper. While that prosperity will be seen in many ways in physical life (physical possessions being the least of those ways), it will ultimately be seen in eternity. Equally, while the unrighteous may seem to get everything they want on this Earth, in eternity they will lose it all.

Remember the importance of seeing things through the right lens, for it is the only way we can keep our focus on Christ as we should. The final phrase of the psalm is the most important: “the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”

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A Spiritual Application from “National Signing Day”

Today is “national signing day” for college football. If you follow the sport, you know what that means; if you don’t, you probably don’t care, but please stick with me for just a minute because there is an important point to be made. On national signing day, high school seniors from around the country declare which schools they are going to choose to attend to play college football. In preparation for that day, many recruiting guru’s set forth “star systems” to rank how good a prospect these players are perceived to be. 5-stars is a premiere prospect (there are only a handful of these guys each year), while 1 and 2-star guys are considered to be mediocre prospects at best. However, the number of stars by each player’s name is only a projection of how good somebody thinks he is/can be. The player hasn’t played a down of college football yet, nor is he ever guaranteed to take the field. While these projections are important to people in evaluating the talent a team is bringing in, they are not the final determining factor of how good a player or team is going to be.

From a spiritual perspective, it is interesting to consider how evaluators would rank the “spiritual prospects” of various people as they were “recruited” for the service of Christ. For instance, Paul would have been considered a 5-star recruit by anyone’s standard. He was highly educated, came from an excellent background, was extremely driven, and showed a zeal and intensity few would match. Put in football terms, he’s the recruit everyone would want. But what about someone like Peter? If one were analyzing him from the outside he would have been a 2-star prospect at best. He did not have an elite education, he was not raised in training for this kind of profession (he was a fisherman), he was young and impetuous at the time of his recruitment, and was inconsistent in performance. Nevertheless, both of these men shone brightly as preachers and great servants of God.

So, what’s the point? We all make projections about people in our minds even if they aren’t ever spoken verbally. I have seen many young preachers be heralded as, “the next great ______,” when it comes to preaching. Sometimes they are, sometimes they fail, lose course, or quit. Other times, individuals that nobody would have projected to be great servants in the kingdom have become exactly that. You see, just as with the stars next to a recruit’s name in football, our projections about someone’s prospects in service to God are based upon what we think they can or will be. The reality is, there is no way to know. A man who has the most clear and easy voice to listen to, whose family has been Christians for generations, and has gone to a great school of preaching may fall off the tracks, quit preaching, or leave the church altogether. Meanwhile, a young man with no background in the church, who has had a troubled youth and struggled through life, can wind up being a man who serves the kingdom with a vigor and love that few others match and bring many to Christ.

Projections do not determine results: the work-ethic, desire, love, and focus of each person does. Let us be careful not to say that someone would not make a good preacher, teacher, personal worker, or servant simply because of our perception of them and their background; nor should we say that someone is going to be the best in those areas for the opposite reasons. Instead, we need to encourage each Christian to reach their full potential in the service of Christ. Sometimes you’ll be surprised at everything someone can and will do in the service of Christ, other times you will be hurt and disappointed when they turn from the truth and fall away. Let us ever be those who “run the race” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27) with the desire to be the best we can be in the service of Christ and help those around us to do the same.

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Are there Few that will be Saved?

“And he went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them,

Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are: Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.” (Luke 13:22-28, KJV)

When Jesus is asked whether there will be few people saved, the key word to his answer is the first word he uses. The word “strive” comes from the Greek term “agonizesthe” and it means – “to engage in an athletic contest, to strive, to strive to do something with great intensity and effort, to make every effort to.” (Rogers and Rogers)

When Jesus talks about who is going to be saved, he says it is going to require intense effort and commitment on the part of those who will be saved. It will not be by accident, nor with a passive interest that one will enter the kingdom of God. In fact, Jesus says that many will seek (from a term meaning – to search, to crave, to demand) to enter and will not be able.

There is no doubt that many people want to go to Heaven, but it is also evident by looking at people’s lives that not many actually want to put forth the effort to be there. We must strive to place ourselves within the kingdom. We must, in sports parlance, “want it more” than the average individual. We must want it to the point that we are willing to do whatever it takes to receive it. Otherwise we will find ourselves on the outside looking in.

Are you striving to enter the gates of the kingdom?

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The Lord is my Shepherd

“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” (Psalm 23:1-6, ESV)

It is unfortunate that this psalm is most often pulled out at funerals, for it is not a psalm of death, but a psalm of life. David’s magnificent words portray the comfort and beauty of life with the Lord as our shepherd (guide). Consider the three areas of life it affects:

1) I want for nothing (I shall not want). With the Lord as my shepherd I will be cared for in every respect. He lists 4 ways in the psalm: he gives rest, he sustains, he restores the soul, he leads in paths of righteousness. So, the Lord takes care of both physical and spiritual needs.

2) I will fear no evil. When the Lord is my shepherd, I have nothing to fear. For I know the power and authority of the Lord is in control of all things, thus I can have comfort. I also know that God will make it possible for my cup to overflow, even in the worst conditions, because I put my trust and confidence in him.

3) I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. When the Lord is my shepherd, there is only one place he will lead me: home. If I follow my shepherd’s lead and hear his commands, there is no doubt where I will find myself at the end.

This is truly one of the most beautiful psalms about life ever written. Is the Lord your shepherd?

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