Don’t Despair! God Will Deliver!

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“So Moses told the people what God had said, but they wouldn’t listen anymore because they were too dispirited after the tragic consequences of what he had said before.”

Exodus 6:9 (The Living Bible)

It’s easy to understand why the Hebrews were dispirited. Moses had come to the elders to proclaim the message that God had heard their cries and was going to deliver them from slavery. Not only that, He was going to lead them to the land He had promised to give them – a land flowing with milk and honey.

The next thing they know, they’re forced to gather their own straw to make the same number of bricks (because Pharaoh is so angry with them).

Is it any wonder that when Moses again came and tried to encourage them with God’s promises of deliverance that their response was essentially, “Whatever.”

Either Moses had failed to give them God’s whole message of His plan for Egypt, or the elders of Israel had simply failed to hear the portion they didn’t want to hear. God had not promised an “instant” deliverance from Egypt. He had said to Moses:

“But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go except under heavy pressure. So I will give him all the pressure he needs! I will destroy Egypt with my miracles and then at last he will let you go.

Exodus 3:19-20

Some Christians (even pastors and evangelists who should know better), in their zeal to see people put their trust in Jesus, have painted a false portrait of the Christian life. They’ve given the impression that if a person places their trust in Jesus and follows Him that the rest of their life will be perfect. God will give them health, wealth, a happy marriage, obedient children, etc., etc., etc.

That’s not what Jesus promised. He didn’t promise an “instant” deliverance from this world and all of its problems and trials. In fact, He warned the disciples that in this world they would experience trials. He said that anyone who wanted to follow Him should first measure the cost of doing so. God’s grace and forgiveness are free and unearned, but following Jesus often comes at a steep cost. It may cost you the very things the false teachers of the “prosperity gospel” promise; your health, wealth, marriage, children, relationships, and even your very life!

So why do we choose to follow Jesus? Because He is the only one who can rescue us! He has promised that even with all the trials and persecution we encounter in this world…

  • He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5-6)
  • He has overcome the world (John 16:33)
  • He is preparing a place for us in His eternal kingdom (John 14:2)
  • He will return for us (John 14:3)
  • We will live with Him forever in a creation restored to it’s original perfect state. (Revelation 22:1-5)

That is why, even though our lives as Christians may be filled with trials, that we can rejoice – even in the midst of those trials. We, like the apostle Paul, “count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus [our] Lord, for whom [we] have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that [we] may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8)

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Rejoicing In The Lord

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I cry to the Lord; I call and call to Him. Oh, that He would listen. I am in deep trouble and I need His help so much. All night long I pray, lifting my hands to heaven, pleading. There can be no joy for me until He acts. I think of God and moan, overwhelmed with longing for His help. I cannot sleep until You act. I am too distressed even to pray!

Psalm 77:1-3 (The Living Bible)

Have you ever felt like this? Too often Christians feel condemned when they find themselves hurting and confused. Maybe it’s because we’ve believed the unbiblical teaching that once we place our faith in Jesus the rest of our life is just one big party. Nothing could be further from the truth! We live in a world that has been horribly damaged by sin and we live with those consequences every day.

But what about Paul’s admonition to, “Rejoice in The Lord always,” in Philippians 4:4?  How do we reconcile the fact that we’re often confronted with trials that leave us bewildered and grieving with the biblical command to rejoice in the Lord always?

It’s by understanding what it means to “Rejoice in the Lord.”

Rejoicing in the Lord does not mean denying the reality of the emotions that we feel when we’re besieged by trials and hurting. It doesn’t mean that we confront our grief and pain with a false stoicism or fake giddiness. We’re not commanded to rejoice in the pain!  We must rejoice in the Lord, not in the trial!

We rejoice in The Lord when we acknowledge that even in the midst of our suffering He is still in control. Our Father cares for us and has always been faithful in comforting us and rescuing us. We rejoice in Him when we remind ourselves of His mercy and grace towards us in the past. That’s exactly what the Psalmist does in verses 11-12 when he says:

“I recall the many miracles He did for me so long ago. Those wonderful deeds are constantly in my thoughts. I cannot stop thinking about them.”

Psalm 77:11-12

He goes on to list examples, the better to remind himself of God’s faithfulness in the past:

“When the Red Sea saw you, how it feared! It trembled in its depths… Your road led by a pathway through the sea – a pathway no one knew was there. You led your people along that road, like a flock of sheep, with Moses and Aaron as their shepherds.”

Psalm 77:15, 19-20

If you are in pain or distress today, rejoice in the Lord by reminding yourself of His promises. Remember the mighty deeds He has performed for His people in the past. Be comforted in the knowledge that He is the same God today as He was then and will certainly pour out His grace and mercy on you.

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Not Worth A Nickel…

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“Heaven and earth shall disappear, but My words stand sure forever.”

Mark 13:31 (The Living Bible)

A few days ago I wrote about the importance of having an “eternal perspective.” One way we cultivate that perspective is by recognizing that everything around us, even our most prized possessions, is temporary.

My wife and I enjoying going to estate sales. I’m a believer in the adage, “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” To be fair, though, Carol still thinks that many of my “treasures” are still junk!  Even so, we enjoy visiting estate sales, especially on Saturday mornings when all of the items are half off the marked price.

Estate sales are very different from “garage” or “yard” sales. Instead of gathering all of the sale items into one area, everything in the house, garage, etc. is left in its original location. Furniture is arranged in each room. Books are on bookshelves. Clothing is hanging in closets. Kitchen items are in drawers, cabinets, and spread out on countertops. It’s very much like walking into someone’s home for a visit, except everything you see is for sale.

A few years ago, Carol noticed that I was very quiet after visiting a particular estate sale. As we drove home I explained how depressed I’d been at the sale. I was in the basement where several boxes filled with miscellaneous “treasures” were arranged on tables. Each box was marked, “all items 5 cents each.” I vividly remember looking through those boxes and thinking, “There’s nothing in here that I’d pay a nickel for.”

That’s when it hit me…

I suddenly realized that I was wandering through someone’s home, examining what had once been their most prized and treasured possessions, and I couldn’t find anything worth buying, even for a nickel. Then I thought that someday people would be wandering through my house, pawing through boxes of my “treasures” and thinking the same thing – there’s nothing here worth even a nickel.

I left that estate sale with a renewed sense of how foolish we are to invest our time and treasure in acquiring more “things” when the ultimate destiny of those “things” is to crumble into dust. Our concern needs to be for things that are eternal and will persist beyond this life. Jesus challenges us,

“Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. ”

Luke 12:33 (NKJV)

I’m thankful that of all the things I have, the one “thing” that I will carry with me into eternity is God’s Word. Everything else will disappear, but His words will stand sure forever!

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Developing an Eternal Perspective

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It is a wonderful thing to be alive! If a person lives to be very old, let him rejoice in every day of life, but let him also remember that eternity is far longer and that everything down here is futile in comparison. Young man, it’s wonderful to be young! Enjoy every minute of it! Do all you want to; take in everything, but realize you must account to God for everything you do.

Ecclesiastes 11:7-9 (The Living Bible)

I’m convinced that the main reason for most of man’s misery is our lack of an eternal perspective. Throughout the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon (the Preacher) laments the utter futility of everything he has observed in his life.

  • The wicked are often rewarded in life with riches and abundance, and then lauded by men after their deaths in the very cities where they committed their crimes!.
  • The poor are oppressed and forced to struggle for every mouthful.
  • The fastest do not always win the race.
  • The strongest do not always win the battle.
  • The most skillful are not always famous.
  • The wise are often poor and fools are often rich.
  • The wise and the fool, the rich and the poor, the wicked and the righteous all face the same destiny – death!

In fact, on the surface, Ecclesiastes can be a confusing and depressing book to read. Solomon spent his life searching for happiness and satisfaction by pursing wisdom, folly, riches, sex, gourmet food, and strong drink, only to declare that everything is “vanity” or futility. So much of life seems to be unfair!

We often come to the same conclusion. What is point of striving? Why bother to do what is right? Death comes to the righteous and the unrighteous alike. Shouldn’t we just, “eat, drink, and be merry?”

The ultimate reality is that death is not the end of our lives. We need to live with an eternal perspective. No matter how unfair things appear during our earthly lives, we can be confident that God is a righteous judge. He is the ultimate defender and comforter. We can be confident that He will ultimately set everything right.

No matter what happens to you today, live with an eternal perspective. Remember that this life is just a fleeting moment in the vast stretch of eternity. We must live with eternity in view and strive to please our Heavenly Father above everything else. That’s why Solomon concludes Ecclesiastes with these words:

“Here is my final conclusion: fear God and obey His commandments, for this is the entire duty of man. For God will judge us for everything we do, including every hidden thing, good or bad.”

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

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It’s Not About You! (or me either)

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Then Moses went back to The Lord. “Lord,” he protested, “How can you mistreat your own people like this? Why did you ever send me if you were going to do this to them? Ever since I gave Pharaoh your message, he has only been more and more brutal to them, and you have not delivered them at all!”

Exodus 5:22-23

God had promised Moses that he would be used to deliver Israel from their bondage to the Egyptians. I’m sure he thought it would only take one meeting with Pharaoh, maybe with a brief “staff turns into snake” demonstration, and the next day the people would be leaving Egypt for their new home.

But that’s not the way it turned out.

Pharaoh’s response was to become increasingly cruel to the Israelites, forcing them to produce the same number of bricks but without providing them with straw. As a result, they accusing Moses of making them “a stench” in Pharaoh’s nostrils. Moses, in turn, goes to God and essentially asks, “Why?”  Why isn’t God keeping His promise the way Moses thought He would? Why are things worse for God’s people now than they were before?  Why is all of this happening???

If we’re honest, we’re also pretty quick to ask these questions when God doesn’t act when and how we expect Him to act.  Right?  I know I have.

God responds to Moses:

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh. For with a strong hand he will let them go, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.”

“Therefore say to the children of Israel: ‘I am the LORD; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. ‘I will take you as My people, and I will be your God. Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.

Exodus 6:1,6-7

Moses and the Israelites were angry and confused because their perspective was wrong. They were viewing their situation only in terms of how if affected them. They forgot that fundamentally it wasn’t about them, it was about God’s glory. God was orchestrating events so that He could demonstrate His power to both the Egyptians and the Israelites; so that He would be glorified and everyone would know that it was Him who had delivered Israel.

When we’re in the midst of a trial we’re often guilty of having the wrong perspective. We focus on how we’re being affected, on our own pain and suffering. We need to shift our focus and look for how God can be glorified in the situation, either by sustaining us through it or delivering us from it. In any case, fundamentally it’s not about us. It’s about God and His glory being demonstrated in the situation..

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Letting Him Be My Defense

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The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.

(Psalm 18:2-3)

What is your reaction when you’re falsely accused?  How do you respond when someone has treated you unfairly?

I hope it’s not like me.

I’ve spent many sleepless hours, tossing and turning in the wake of false accusation. When I’m treated unfairly my first response is to defend myself. My mind races with “what-if” and “worst-case” scenarios of what might happen in the days to come. I’ve even been known to mutter curses under my breath and wish the worst on my accusers, fantasizing about how I might confront them and tell them what I think of their baseless claims. It’s amazing what vile poison can rise up in us when our pride is affronted by unjust treatment.

Not exactly the picture of a godly man, is it?

I’m not asking for sympathy. I realize that when I respond this way I am allowing my human nature (my “flesh”) to take control. When I find myself wallowing in self-pity over unfair treatment I should be comforted in the knowledge that my Master, Jesus, was also treated unfairly. Instead of allowing my mind to paint pictures of vengeance on the canvas of my thoughts, I need to practice what the scriptures teach and, “[bring] every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5b) It was He who, “…as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so He opened not His mouth.” (Acts 8:32) He promised us that, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

To be more like Jesus; do I dare to reach so high? Perhaps I’ll reach a bit lower and cry out, “Oh, to be more like David.” Except for Jesus, who was more unjustly persecuted than him? He had only done good for Israel, and yet King Saul sought his life. When David played his harp to comfort the tormented king, Saul arose and cast a javelin at David – trying to kill the one who only wanted to serve him. Later, when Saul and his troops hunted David in the wilderness, David refused to lift his hand against the king – even when Saul was helpless before him.

David was content to allow the Lord to be his Defense, his Rock, his Fortress, and Deliverer. He knew that only the Lord could deliver him from his enemies and silence his accusers.

I pray that God would give me a heart filled with compassion for my accusers, the grace to endure unfair treatment, the strength to silence vengeful thoughts, and the courage to refrain from defending myself and allow Him, the righteous judge, to be my defense.

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Praying For Our Leaders

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O God, help the king to judge as you would, and help his son to walk in godliness. Help him to give justice to your people, even to the poor. May the mountains and hills flourish in prosperity because of his good reign. Help him to defend the poor and needy and to crush their oppressors. May the poor and needy revere You constantly, as long as sun and moon continue in the skies! Yes, forever!

Psalm 72:1-5 (The Living Bible)

This psalm, written by King David, looks far beyond his own son Solomon and anticipates the reign of the Messiah; a time when God’s kingdom will be fully established on the the earth. However, as I read it this morning, I was stuck by how this would be an appropriate prayer to offer for our own leaders, especially our president.

I’ve made no secret that I disagree with most of President Obama’s policies. I believe that his stance on many issues (abortion, same-sex marriage, entitlements, etc.) is unbiblical. I did not vote for him in either the 2008 or 2012 election. If the constitution permitted him to run for a third term, I’m confident that I would still cast my vote for the opposing candidate.

However, I’m disturbed by how many Christians are unashamed to move beyond criticizing President Obama’s policies and insult and mock him as a man. Several years ago I was guilty of this myself and The Lord convicted me with this passage of scripture from Exodus 22.

You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people

(Exodus 22:28)

Jesus did not hesitate to rebuke and expose the hypocrisy of the scribes, pharisees, and the temple priesthood, but He never made insulting remarks about the high priest or the Roman emperor. When Paul was brought before the Sanhedrin he apologized for calling the high priest a “whited wall” because he did not know that Ananias was the current high priest (Acts 23:3-5). I think the scriptures are clear that we have no right to curse or insult a ruler of the people, even when they are corrupt (like Ananias) or openly oppressive (like Caesar).

Beyond that, as Christians we are commanded to “love [our] enemies and pray for those who persecute [us].” (Matthew 5:44). I’m convicted by how often I fail to hold up our regional and national leaders in prayer. I’m quick to criticize them, but less quick to pray for them. I confess that my attitude and actions are unbiblical and demand repentance.

Father, I lift up those You have appointed as leaders over our region, our state, and our nation. I pray that You would draw them to Yourself and fill them with Your wisdom. I pray that You would use them to implement Your will for our country. Help me to faithfully lift them up in prayer and keep me from cursing or insulting them when I disagree with their policies. Thank You that You have permitted me to live in a country where I have the freedom to be engaged in the governing of our nation, but help me to remember that my true citizenship is in Your kingdom, not in any earthly nation.

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Misusing the Scriptures

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And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.

Mark 10:2-5

This seems like a pretty radical thing for Jesus to teach. The Pharisees held Moses and the Law in the highest esteem. Now they ask Jesus a very straightforward question, challenging him to contradict Moses.

Jesus’ answer is very savvy. He doesn’t contradict Moses, but he slams the ball right back into the Pharisees’ court, turning the question back on them. Moses’ teaching about divorce was given because of the hardness of men’s hearts, not because it was God’s desire for marriage. Best of all, His answer is solidly Biblical. He takes them right back to the beginning of time to show them God’s original intent for marriage was one man and one woman united for life.

But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”  (Mark 10:6-9)

Jesus demonstrated that “one greater than Moses has come” and that blind obedience to the minutia of the law was not what God desired. God desires obedience that flows from a righteous heart, not a passionless keeping of His statutes. He grants us an abundance of grace and mercy because of our flesh and hardness of heart, but we shouldn’t confuse his grace with his desire. Jesus is the very image of the eternal Father and He is both asserting His authority over Moses and demonstrating His perfect alignment with the Father’s will here in Mark 10.

I pray that I will always look to Jesus, the “author and finisher of our faith” for clarity regarding God’s will instead of looking for “proof texts” in the scriptures just to support my own position on an issue.

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Eternal Hope From Mans’ Cruelest Deed

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 ”Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”

Hebrews 9:22 (ESV)

Our world cries out, “What sort of a God demands a sacrifice in blood?  What sort of God refuses to accept anything less than the death of an innocent as recompense for sin?  What sort of a God is that?”

The answer: a God who is infinitely holy, utterly righteous, and perfectly just.  A God whose total purity cannot tolerate even the presence of the smallest impurity or slightest sin.

We are so quick to hurl our accusations at the Almighty.  We say, “You are unfair!  How can you demand such perfection?  Isn’t it enough that we try our best?”

The answer: our best will never be good enough.  No matter how hard we try, no matter how many good deeds we accumulate, we can never measure up to His expected standard.  A billion righteous actions can never erase the fact we have all sinned.  All of us have missed the target.  On our own we are utterly and completely without hope.

Such a God would truly be One to be feared, even loathed – unless there was something more to Him.

God is indeed all of these things; infinitely holy, utterly righteous, perfectly just, intolerant of sin, and incapable of accepting our good deeds as recompense for our misdeeds.  He has declared of humanity, “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6)

However, there is so much more to Him.

He is also a God of infinite love, unending grace, and unfailing mercy.  His absolute standard demands that any who do not perfectly keep His laws and commandments must come under the sentence of death and separation from Him for eternity.  That is why He came Himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, to rescue us from this curse.  As Jesus Christ, a perfect and sinless man, He was able to offer Himself as the perfect blood sacrifice so any who will put their trust in Him can have their sins completely removed.  He has promised, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

That is why we call this day “Good” Friday.  On this day we remember our cruelest act as a race, the day when we nailed the Creator of the Universe to a wooden cross for crimes He did not commit.  Even so, we did not take His life from Him, he laid it down willingly so that He could restore us to our rightful state as God’s sons and daughters.

That is the God that I serve this day.  I pray that if you don’t yet know Him that you will cry out to Him for His forgiveness, accepting the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on that cross, and so inherit the eternal life and joy that our Father always intended for us.

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A Beautiful Ruin

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As He was leaving the Temple that day, one of his disciples said, “Teacher, what beautiful buildings these are! Look at the decorated stonework on the walls.”  Jesus replied, “Yes, look! For not one stone will be left upon another, except as ruins.”

Mark 13:1-2 (The Living Bible)

The grandeur and majesty of Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem must have been amazing. We know from first century accounts, as well as from remaining evidence of his other architectural works, about his passion for building. Herod’s expansion and beautification of the Temple in Jerusalem certainly had less to do with any devotion to God than it did with appeasing the people and creating a legacy for himself. However, it’s easy to understand how one of Jesus’ disciples could be overwhelmed with wonder at the magnificence of the Temple.

Jesus was quick to point out that for all its beauty, the Temple was just a building; a building that would in just a few decades would be utterly destroyed. This structure, which had been designed and built as a place where the visible presence of God would shine forth, had become an empty husk. The extraordinary beauty of its exterior couldn’t conceal the deeper reality – the Spirit of the Living God had departed. What Jesus’ disciple failed to perceive was that One far greater than the Temple had come, and was walking right next to him!

It is so easy for us to be distracted by externals! In our desire to “build something beautiful for God,” we can easily lose sight of the very One who has called us to the work. Too often we end up by creating an idol to our own pride. No matter how beautiful it may be, the Lord refuses to supplanted by any work of our hands. All of our best efforts will eventually crumble into dust. The Psalmist reminds us, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” (Psalm 127:1a).

What are you building with your life? Is it a memorial to your own greatness? Are you trying to create something for God which, no matter how beautiful it may be, He has no desire for? Allow yourself to be used by Him, but be careful not to let the works of your hands become an idol in your life.  Only He deserves our worship.

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