A Bridge to Nowhere

What do you do with a bridge when the river moves and it is no longer effective?

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a photo of a bridge in Honduras. The bridge spanned the Choluteca River. The new Choluteca Bridge, also known as the Bridge of Rising Sun, was built by Hazama Ando Corporation between 1996 to 1998 and became the largest bridge constructed by a Japanese company in Latin America. This bridge, which was a gift from Japan to the people of Honduras, was constructed of concrete and steel using modern engineering and construction. It was built to last, and a lot of money was invested in the project.

In late October 1998, the same year the bridge was completed and commissioned for use, Hurricane Mitch struck Central America leaving more than 11,000 people dead, destroying hundreds of thousands of homes and causing more than $5 billion in damages. It was the deadliest hurricane to hit the Western Hemisphere in more than 200 years.

Hurricane Mitch began as a tropical depression on October 22, and by October 26 had intensified into a Category 5 hurricane. Sustained winds reached 180 mph, while gusts were more than 200 mph. After making landfall in Honduras on October 29, Hurricane Mitch moved through Central America before reaching Florida as a tropical storm on November 4th, 1998.

Mitch was an especially destructive storm; it slammed into the country of Honduras and ended up dumping over six feet of rain in less than four days. Honduras and Nicaragua were especially hard hit by the hurricane. In Honduras, floods and mudslides brought on by heavy rainfall washed away entire villages, and the majority of the country’s crops and infrastructure were destroyed. The other Central American nations were also affected by Hurricane Mitch, although the death tolls in these locations were significantly lower than Honduras and Nicaragua.

In total, more than 11,000 people (some estimates put the figure as high as 18,000) died because of the hurricane, making Mitch the most deadly storm in the Western Hemisphere since the Great Hurricane of 1780 in the Eastern Caribbean. Additionally, several million people were made homeless or severely impacted by Hurricane Mitch, which is estimated to have caused more than $5 billion in damages.

The Bridge of the Rising Sun spanning the Choluteca managed to survive the devastating destruction of Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and the more than six feet of water that it dumped on Honduras as it camped out and intensified over them for several days.

However, the tragic results lie not in the construction of the bridge but in the nature of rivers. Rivers move. Alas, after a deluge of rain and flooding, the river jumped its banks and carved a new channel in which to flow through.

Rivers move… bridges do not.

 

choluteca-bridge.jpg

 

This is especially true of ones built with steel and concrete. In the process, the flood washed away the roads and ramps that connected to the bridge making the once functional bridge into a bridge to nowhere. This edifice of sound engineering found itself no longer over the river. It could no longer serve its original purpose.

What do you do when the river moves?

This story can be used as an illustration for the church today. It is almost like a modern day parable with relevance to our current situation. For many of us… christians, pastors, and churches the river has moved.

As is the case with any successful institution, the church was built with the best social and religious engineering available at the time: as a robust and hardy structure designed to be effective and to last. A lot of time, energy, sweat, and money has been previously invested. In fact, there has been generations of investment, and it has served as a bridge for many to move from death to life. Our design, methods, and ideas have spanned the river… when the river was in the right place.

But… unfortunately society has changed. The result is that what used to be true has jumped the old banks where the church had constructed itself. And now, the church is left with a well-built bridge: a bridge of pews, brick and stone and stained glass; a bridge of doctrine, dress code, residential schools, prayer books, organ music, etc.

And the river is no longer where it should be.

None of our previous methods, techniques, and bridges of the past are bad… they just are no longer spanning the river. Our bridges are ineffective structures. They may be nice to look at, we might have fond memories of how they used to work, but ultimately they are no longer serving the purpose of which they were once intended. This brings up options for how to respond to this new situation.

Can we dredge the river back in place? Can we find enough excavators to dig the river back into its rightful channel? How do we move a river? Maybe it will find its way back under our bridge if we are patient? Or do we find another way?

Might we accept the reality and power of the river? It has moved and it isn’t coming back.

Do we begin to reconsider a new bridge? Can we creatively consider spanning the river with lighter and flexible materials: materials able to be adjusted to moving rivers and changing circumstances?

What do we do when the river starts to move?

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The “Ides of March”

March is a month full of madness. We have Pi day, Daylight Savings Time, St. Patrick’s Day, spring breaks, and of course my favorite thing about March… March Madness! Although my beloved Kentucky Wildcats just fell short in the elite 8 I still have one thing to proclaim… Go CATS!

I’ve heard it said that the safest bet you can make in the month of March is that people will be distracted. I know I definitely am! I look at my phone checking the scores of teams I couldn’t have cared less about a little more than a week prior. It’s actually reported that American companies will lose $1.9 billion in wages paid to unproductive workers in the month of March. Do I have your attention, or have I lost you to your bracket?

In spite of all the distractions in March, and might I add any other month, we should never lose sight that our own “Ides of March” moment is coming.

If you’ve heard of the “Ides of March” you might know you’re supposed to beware them from the old saying. Why? In ancient Rome, the “Ides of March” were equivalent to our March 15. In the Roman calendar, this date corresponded to several religious observances. The Romans considered the “Ides of March” as a deadline for settling debts. But for our modern world if you’ve heard of the “Ides of March” it’s probably thanks to William Shakespeare. Tradition has it that a “dreamer” warned Caesar that harm would come his way no later than the “Ides of March.” On his way to the Theater of Pompey, the place of his assassination, Caesar passed the man and joked, “The Ides of March have come,” to which he replied, “Aye, Caesar; but not gone.” In his play, Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare immortalized this event when Caesar was warned by the soothsayer to “beware the Ides of March.” Two acts later, Caesar is assassinated on the steps of the Senate. In the play, and in reality, Julius Caesar was indeed assassinated on the ides of March in the year 44 B.C.

Beware the “Ides of March.” 

Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if someone told you the exact day on which you would die? I can’t help but relate this thinking to the upsets in the NCAA tournament this past weekend. Would the losing teams have played differently if they’d known they were going to lose? Would they have beaten themselves mentally even before the game had started?

If someone told you, “Beware of May 23, for that is the day of your demise,” would that make you live a better life today? Or would you walk around in despair knowing the date of your death sentence?

Well, let me give you some bad news followed up with some good news. First, the bad news: Your “Ides of March” is coming. At some point, you and I are going to die. We don’t know the day or hour, but that particular day and hour are coming.

What’s important is that we don’t live our lives foreboding, or distracted. We should live our lives forgiving, forgetting, and forgoing.


Forgive

Matthew 6:12-15 says,

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Forgive those who have wronged you. It takes way too much energy to hold on to the wrongs and injustices against you. Free yourself from the control of that anger, bitterness, and revenge. Whether the offender deserves forgiveness or not, when you forgive, you are releasing what is inside of you that holds you back from freedom and new life.


Forget

Philippians 3:13 says,

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.

Forget what lies behind! Let go of the past, so that the past will let go of you. You can’t progress when your memories of the past exceed your dreams for the future. It’s hard to move forward if you’re always looking back. God told the children of Israel in Isaiah 43:19,

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.


Forgo

Luke 14:33 says,

So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

To forgo means to surrender, relinquish, and renounce your way and accept God’s way as the key to living a fulfilled life. We must give up in order to grow up! Spiritual toddlers keep demanding their way. Spiritually mature Christians are willing to “go without” in order to “go with” God and His plan for your life.


Yes, the bad news is bad: For each of us, our “Ides of March” is coming. But that makes the good news all the better: in Christ, we are going to live! Romans 5:21 says,

So that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Rejoice that through death comes resurrection. Romans 6:5 says,

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

Death is a moment in time that gives way to a place that has no time. We must be willing to let go of earth in order to embrace heaven. If you are “in Christ,” He will lead you through that moment in time when you face your “Ides of March.” The reason we fear no evil (or death) is because God is with us.

Psalm 23:4 reassures us of this. It says,

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.

The One who abides with us will bring us past the “Ides of March” to the place where there will be “no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” Revelation 21:4 says,

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

As one of my favorite hymns says:

There is coming a day,
When no heart aches shall come,
No more clouds in the sky,
No more tears to dim the eye,
All is peace forever more,
On that happy golden shore,
What a day, glorious day that will be.

What a day that will be,
When my Jesus I shall see,
And I look upon His face,
The One who saved me by His grace;
When He takes me by the hand,
And leads me through the Promised Land,
What a day, glorious day that will be.

There’ll be no sorrow there,
No more burdens to bear,
No more sickness, no pain,
No more parting over there;
And forever I will be,
With the One who died for me,
What a day, glorious day that will be.

What a day that will be,
When my Jesus I shall see,
And I look upon His face,
The One who saved me by His grace;
When He takes me by the hand,
And leads me through the Promised Land,
What a day, glorious day that will be.

Just Don’t Stay Down

For those who are involved in my personal life you certainly know that I shoot competitively. This past weekend was my first competition back from my off-season and my first of many to be shot in 2019. This particular match was called “Hard Rock” and is the first of a trio of matches called “Hard as Hell.” My expectations were that it would be hard… but I truly couldn’t have expected what myself and my gear would be pitted against just in order to finish each individual stage.

There were moments in the middle of the snow and sleet trying to manipulate a firearm that was determined to not function correctly that frustration set in and it was all I could do to continue to fight through in an attempt to finish.

At one point while walking back to my vehicle after a slippery run through the woods shooting steel targets an Army Ranger who was there shooting asked me how I did. My response was something along the lines of, “I fell down 3 times on the course of fire. The run was decent, but I know I could’ve done better.” His response was short but sweet. He said, “Well… it would’ve been worse if you had stayed down!”

I am no stranger to the feeling of disappointment when you fail and fall. This past weekend is probably the poorest I have ever done at a shooting competition. But… if you allow yourself to learn from failure and you get back up and go right back at it your character will reflect your resound.

Failure doesn’t have to be the final chapter. Your slips and falls don’t have to determine the outcome.

In August of 1521 Martin Luther wrote a letter to his friend, Philip Melanchthon, and near the end of the letter he wrote these now famous words,

Pecca Fortiter, sed forties fide et gaude in Christ

Our translation of this is,

Sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly!

Luther’s words have often been misunderstood as granting permission to sin or encouraging people to sin, but I’d like to suggest another view which perhaps can help all of us deal with our daily struggles with temptation, failure, disappointment, or despair.

Who hasn’t experienced the disappointment of trying to move forward only to fall back? Of trying to keep a promise only to forget? Of trying to overcome only to give in? Of trying to do what’s right, think what’s right, and follow what’s right only to fail? We all have! When we experience these disappointments, set backs and failures, we tend to slip into one of two patterns.

First, we enter into what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called a “cheap grace,” where we dismiss our sin in light of God’s grace without any inner transformation or true repentance. This is a “boys-will-be-boys” mentality of accepting and writing off our sins and failures as a natural and almost unavoidable outflow of our human nature. The Apostle Paul described this tolerance of sin in Romans 6:1-4 like this,

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

This first pattern is one of flippancy toward sin where we dismiss it and continue to repeat the cycle of sin, brief regret, quick prayer, moving on, back to sin, brief regret, etc. The problem is the cycle goes unbroken, and we do not experience the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The second pattern is where our sin and failure is followed by us being overwhelmed with guilt and shame and causing us to withdraw to a defeatist mentality. We either become a legalist where we hide behind a mask of “all-is-good spirituality” while struggling with guilt underneath, or like that Army Ranger pointed out we can alternately develop spiritual stage fright, where because of our fear of falling we hide behind our anxieties of the “what-ifs” and we fail to step out with bold obedience.

Both of these patterns consist of an attempt to overcome our sin patterns by some external means rather than the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I believe the words of Martin Luther are helpful to us in whichever pattern we find ourselves. Following Jesus is a call for us to die to self and be reborn with the power of His indwelling Spirit like Jesus says in Mark 8:34,

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

In fact 2 Corinthians 5:17-18a says,

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God.

In other words, we cannot do it on our own! We cannot overcome our sins in our own strength and power. Therefore, we live our lives boldly in the transforming power of God’s grace. We don’t have to walk in fear of failure, but instead we walk in the love of Jesus Christ.

Martin Luther’s words are not given as a license to sin but to stop living in the fear of falling, failing, and sinning!

I’ve never walked a tightrope strung across two high rises, but I imagine that the person doing so must focus on the destination rather than on what lies below. Like a tightrope walker if we live our lives thinking most about not falling, we most likely find ourselves in the disappointing posture of having fallen. It’s when we live our lives thinking most about the love of Jesus Christ that we find ourselves standing on His path of righteousness.

And when you do fall, because you will fall, get up, turn from sin and shame, live in the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and refocus your life on Him. Failure can be eye-opening if you allow it to be! An old proverb says, “Fall seven times, stand up eight.” As long as you keep getting up, you’re not failing. Don’t be anxious about sinning, but rejoice in Christ!

You will fall… just don’t stay down!

Indebted

Have you ever borrowed something from someone? Maybe cash when you came up short on a fast food run, maybe you borrow your neighbors tools for tasks around your home?

What kind of borrower are you? Are you appreciative and responsible with the trust you have been lent? Do you respect the lender and seek to repay the favor?

Most of us have borrowed something from someone… but even if you can’t think of anything you have ever been lent or given I can confidently call both you and I debtors.

Romans 8:12 affirms my statement! It says,

Therefore, brethren, we are debtors.

You might be saying… “Wait… what do I owe and why do I owe it?” Both of which are normal questions. To that I would respond with a simple verse we all know. John 3:16 says,

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Charles Spurgeon once said,

As God’s creatures, we are all debtors to him: to obey him with all our body, and soul, and strength. Having broken his commandments, as we all have, we are debtors to his justice, and we owe to him a vast amount which we are not able to pay.

That debt we cannot repay is a debt of grace to be paid back to God. When we receive the grace of God it both clears all our debts toward God and makes us debtors to God and to everyone else. Because we have been given so much grace in Christ, we are obligated to share those resources. In Christ, we have been given inestimable riches, not silver and gold, but eternal life in the name of Jesus Christ. As Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 8:9,

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

To some this command might seem burdensome, but that’s only if you forget why God lavished his love on us. Christ loved us and gave himself for us, so that we might freely love him and others. With the gift of his love, the command to love one another, expressed in terms of a financial debt, is not a wearisome burden. It is a commission of joy, for we cannot feast on the riches of God’s grace without opening up the table sharing it with those around us. The extremity of God’s kindness compels us to share our wealth.

Romans 13:8 says,

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

We owe others a debt of love, not because we are indebted to them by their works or by our crimes. We are indebted to them, because we have received such a large inheritance that we are commanded to share it with others.

Just like the son of a successful business man who has been given a large inheritance and a position at the fathers company makes no complaint going around the company handing out bonuses. We as Christians should joyfully share what we have freely received. We are to be free from all debts and obligations to others, save the debt of love. A debt created by the super-abundant grace God has given us in Christ.

To refuse to love and serve and do good to others is to deny the grace that we have received. It is like the beneficiary of the company spending all their money on themselves.

Matthew 18:32-35 says,

Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.  And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Just as Christ threatens judgment to those forgiven but who won’t forgive in the story above, so those who have been loved without loving others invites discipline or worse.

Again Romans 13:8 says,

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Paul’s command rebukes in us this deep-seated lethargy to love. Instead of looking at others as our servants who owe us; we are to do good to others with the resources God has given us.

In truth, Paul’s command in Romans 13:8 is not burdensome. It is brimming with possibilities. The one who has been given the love of God needs only a direction to extend the love of God, which has been poured in his heart.

So… you are indebted. How are you going to work on repaying that debt today? Who are you going to share the riches of God’s love with?

Jesus in the Preparation

My wife is currently in Medical school. For those who don’t know, it can take more than nine years of study to become a doctor. That’s 9 years after your undergraduate four-year degree is complete! She sure is braver than I am!

But… even after so many years of study, practice, learning, and shadowing other doctors they still don’t become experts on everything. They have particular areas of emphasis where they are experts, and other areas where they only know enough to scratch the surface and refer to the expert in that field of medicine. Yet, every single drawn out moment of preparation for that role in saving lives and curing diseases counts.

It’s the same with ministry. When we hear the call of God to go into ministry, we can often burst out of the gate wanting to get through the training process as fast as possible. Let’s get these training wheels off and get on with the race! But, good preparation is essential for lifelong impact in the call of God.

It’s easy to read the Gospel stories and think that Jesus suddenly appeared on the scene and started doing his thing. It is likely, however, that Jesus didn’t begin his ministry until he was in his late 20s early 30s.

What did he do for those thirty years? He prepared.

Going to the synagogue, studying the Torah, reading the scriptures, praying, working at his carpentry trade. During that time, he probably gathered stories about mustard seeds, lost sons, and wicked tenants. He probably watched and studied the way the Roman Empire exerted its power on the local Jewish communities, regulating their lives through taxes and military force.

Above all, he waited for the appointed time, the right time. Even though he was waiting, he didn’t stop preparing. He was preparing for the moment when his waiting would end.

Just as Jesus is in the waiting, so also Jesus is in the preparation.

What is your mission? How have you prepared? Is now the appointed time?

Don’t Forsake Corporate Worship

“Good night, Momma.”

“Good night, Daddy.”

“Good night, Grandpa.”

“Good night, Grandma.”

“Good night, John-Boy.”

For many, those words evoke memories of the 1970s CBS TV classic “The Waltons.” For those unfamiliar with the show, it was about a Great Depression and World War II­-era family with three generations living under one roof in rural Virginia. The series aired for 9 years, and its theme of a multi-generational family living situation was a look back at the way things were prior to WWII and ran contrary to the time in which the show ran.

In 1940, about one-quarter of the U.S. population lived with three or more generations in one home. After WWII, American families largely became two-generational, with parents and children living under one roof. Returning war veterans built suburbs and a new American family lifestyle emerged through the 1950s. The percentage of households with multiple generations started declining to 21%, reaching a low of 12% by 1980.

Most of us know that unlike the distant past we now live in very singular societies. This is unlike biblical times as well when the significance of people groups, families, and generations was emphasized, valued, and held dear. Our worlds now largely value individualism above all else. As Christians, combating this self-first culture is largely what drives our God-given mandate to serve and love one another.

As a Worship Pastor of a local congregation I can’t help but wonder how much this individualistic worldview affects our approach to corporate worship. We know that the apostle Paul warns us to not give up gathering together. Hebrews 10:24-25 says,

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

But… I believe that Paul not only emphasizes our corporate gathering in his writings throughout the Word, but I think he also has some things to say about what we’re doing once we’ve gathered!

For example, Colossians 3:15-16 says,

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

Ephesians 5:19-20 says,

speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

As a worship leader I’m aware of the need to lead people on a personal journey. I know that everyone comes from different places in life and that every individual’s response to and communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is an intimate and personal thing. But I’m also aware that there’s incredible power when believers gather together with one song, one voice, in unity to worship.

What Paul writes in these verses makes a pretty clear statement that speaks of this power of unity. We see that while the worship of our hearts is directed to God, the psalms, hymns, and songs are actually directed to each other! Make no mistake, they’re all about God, but the recipients of the songs in these particular examples are the fellow believers!

For years I’ve known the following passage in Isaiah to be an incredible picture of heavenly worship, the seraphim endlessly giving praise to God.

Isaiah 6:1-3 says,

…I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy holy, is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

But read it again and see who the seraphim were calling to… each other! They were telling each other about the holiness and glory of God Almighty! What a powerful display of worship!

Time spent in worship individually and corporately are both incredibly powerful things and we can’t do without either. But they’re not the same.


Practically, I’d encourage you as a believer with a couple of key ideas when it comes to corporate worship gatherings.

1. Don’t quit showing up! We are members of one body and the whole isn’t the whole without its individual parts. Your contribution matters. Your faith matters. Your presence matters.

2. Sing like you mean it! Whether the worship team is singing your favorite song or not, your daily decision to sing audible truth of who God is encourages and teaches others. You may not be the best singer, but fortunately for you Paul doesn’t make any distinction about what you sound like. Make noise.

3. Seek to serve. Acts 20:35 says,

It’s more blessed to give than to receive.

Suffice it to say, you’ll find more joy in being more aware of the needs of others in your worship than you are of the needs of yourself.

 


 

I pray that we all have moments regularly in corporate worship gatherings that leave us completely transformed as individuals, moments that we never forget. But I pray that our commitment to gathering and our faith to worship in every season isn’t limited to our own needs and expectations but that it’s grounded in a passionate desire to see Christ exalted and His bride, the Church, be everything that it’s called to be.

Drive Out Fear

We are in a season that celebrates fear. The stores are filled with scary masks and costumes. The TV stations are airing horror movies and thrillers. Our yards and homes are cloaked in the creepy crawly things that haunt people’s dreams.

But in reality… fear isn’t limited to this Halloween season.

Our everyday fear isn’t so much the little things you jump at when they scurry out of the dark corner or slide out from under the bed. The fear I’m talking about isn’t even the panic you feel when a car swerves into your lane and you have to lock up the brakes. That kind of fear is necessary to human survival, because it triggers our fight-or-flight response and causes us to take action! That fear is a natural and good feeling. Without some sense of fear we would make many stupid mistakes, hurting ourselves and others in the process. Without fear, we would not have enough wisdom to flee when true dangers present themselves.

What I’m talking about the fear that paralyzes. The fear of situations, of people and of things over which we have either no control or only limited control. The fear that characterizes itself as worry and anxiety, fruitless and draining… like fear of losing friends or family members, fear of not being able to pay the bills, fear of rejection or fear of losing a job.

And again, there is a difference between trying to avoid these negative things as far as we can, and fearing them… allowing them to overwhelm us, immobilize us, control us or exhaust us.

We live in a society of fearful people. What are some things you are scared of?

We fear what we do not know and what we feel we cannot overcome. Sometimes we don’t even know what we are afraid of.

Yet if we believe that God is ultimately in control, is completely powerful and completely omniscient, and has a perfect plan of salvation for all humanity, then what is there to be afraid of? The Bible shows us that this faith in God as our protector is incompatible with fear. There is nothing physical from which God cannot protect us. And yet we can know this intellectually and still struggle against that deep-seated emotional level of fear.

1 John 4:18 says,

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

As we move from fear and into the love of God, we can replace anxiety with confidence. Fear is dangerous insofar as we let it drive us. We can overcome it by turning to the One who created us and all our emotions… including fear.

Most people associate this Halloween season with fear… fear of death, fear of dying, fear of evil. But when we come to know the true power and trustworthiness of God, many of the fears we have in life melt away.

In 1 John, we are told that perfected love drives out fear. That is to say, when we become certain of God’s love, we don’t have to be afraid anymore. It’s as if God is the parent who comes in at night and tucks us in, turns on the night-light, and tells us that there are no monsters. In God’s great and perfect love, all fear melts away.

We can remove our fears by serving others. When we abandon our lives in service, we often discover that our fears lessen as our friendship and love deepens. As you and I think about our fears now, I hope that we will see that just as God has protected and redeemed those who have come before us, God will protect and redeem us, too!

 

Pray in Confidence

Other than being caught in traffic, or the occasional Doctor’s appointment we spend fewer and fewer hours each day waiting. Waiting is “old fashioned.”

In this day and age everything is so instant. In fact, they are so instant that I think many of us have forgotten the art of waiting. Everyone wants everything instantly, and I think it has changed the way many Christians today view God.

We pray to God and expect immediate results, but most of the time, that’s just not how it works! God has His own timing. We may want something right away, but God needs us to wait until the timing is right. While this often doesn’t make sense in our minds, God sees the bigger picture and knows what we need and when we need it.

This expectation for instant gratification has left many Christians frustrated and doubting the goodness of God, or whether or not God hears their prayers and can do anything “for” them. I think that instead of becoming disgruntled when God doesn’t provide right away, we need to have a mindset that allows us to be patient and trust in the perfect plans of God. I must admit that for me personally this is hard to do.

Maybe you’re praying for companionship, healing, or help and see no results headed down the pipeline. I have felt this way! In fact, I feel this way a lot! I pray and pray, asking God for something I want so desperately and nothing seems to happen. This is incredibly frustrating. Despite this, I encourage all of us not to lose hope or give up on God. He has a plan. It may not be your plan, but it’s a perfect plan.

Psalm 27:14 says,

Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

How do you trust in times of waiting? How do you pray in times of waiting?

Let me ask you… when you pray, petitioning God for something, do you really expect results? Do you pray as one who is already defeated just because you feel as if the timing is off, expecting before you even pray that God will not answer your prayer? Or do you pray with confidence that God hears and answers prayer, and that His timing is perfect?

Acts 12 contains a wonderful story that shows how even the giants of the faith and the pillars of the church had trouble putting their confidence in God through prayer. In that chapter we read about Peter’s arrest and imprisonment by King Herod. Having just had James the brother of John put to death, and seeing that this pleased the Jews, Herod sent his soldiers to arrest Peter and put him in prison, intending on having him killed after the Passover. We read in verse five “earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.” The churches prayers for Peter were constant!

The point is clear in this passage that God’s people were praying with great zeal, great emotion, and great sincerity, asking God to save the life of their beloved brother.

While the people were on the other side of town praying for Peter, God saw fit to rescue him. He sent an angel to Peter who led him from the prison and to the gate of the city. Peter seems to have believed this was a dream, for verse 11 says,

When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”

He immediately went to the house of Mary, the mother of John, knowing that the church at Jerusalem would be gathered there. He no doubt realized that they would be gathered together to pray for him.

But what happens next is interesting… as Peter knocked at the door of the gate of the house of Mary, a girl named Rhoda came to answer. When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate. But all those that had gathered together to pray didn’t believe her.

Acts 12:12-17 says,

When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, “It is his angel!” But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed. But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Tell these things to James and to the brothers.” Then he departed and went to another place.

Do you see what happened there? Believers who had been with Jesus and had learned from His disciples were gathered together to pray for Peter. These were people who should have had great faith, in fact many of them had seen great miracles, yet when they heard that their prayers had been answered they did not believe it! You can almost imagine them snarling to the poor servant girl “You’re crazy! It can’t be Peter! He’s in prison and we’re busy praying that God will save him!” The situation is almost comical, isn’t it?

You have to ask yourself, is there any purpose in praying if you do not really believe God is capable of answering prayer? Why pray if you do not believe that God is willing to hear your prayer? God is not only capable of answering prayer, but He is also willing to answer prayer!

Pray to God with your expectations set high. Exercise faith through prayer, trusting that God hears your petition. God may not answer your request at the time you expect or in the way you expect, but trust that He will answer.

Sometimes it seems that our answers can’t come fast enough.

It is easy to lose hope while waiting on God, but we have to hold on to the hope that God will give us what we need in His perfect timing. It is this God-given hope that will get us through the days of unanswered prayers. So while it would be easy to lose hope and give up on God, don’t! God has a plan.

He has always had a plan. 

Take a deep breath and keep praying in confidence. Pray for peace, and hope, and above all, patience to deal with the sorrows of this life and the things we want to be fixed right away. Some things take time. So take heart and wait on Him.

 

 

 

The Importance of Community

Have you ever felt alone?

Now think about when God first formed Adam from the dust, he was the only human on the planet! Like literally the only one! Can you imagine having the Earth all to yourself? Can you imagine how lonely he must have felt?

But it didn’t last long. God said it wasn’t good for man to be alone!

Genesis 2:18-20 says,

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.

God decided to give Adam some company so He created Eve, and that was the first little community the world ever saw!

Fast-forward to now… 7.4 billion people later, it sure doesn’t look lonely. But, how does it feel? Do you always feel connected or at times do you still feel alone?

People are everywhere! Even so, it’s easy to get so wrapped up in our own lives that we don’t take the time to really get to know others. We might mingle between worship songs or catch up in the break room at work, but that probably isn’t real, authentic community.

Here’s the deal: It’s important to spend time alone with God, soaking up His Word. But He didn’t intend for us to live in isolation. He specifically designed us to crave and thrive in relationship with others. We’re our best selves when we’re experiencing life’s highs and lows with other believers. That means everyone, whether you’re single or married, needs community.

Don’t take it from me though! The Bible has a lot to say about this topic! Here are three quick reasons the Bible says community is necessary.


1) Community is Encouraging.

Galatians 6:2 says,

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Being in community gives you the chance to be around people at different stages of their faith journey, and to literally bear their burdens alongside of them and fulfill the challenge issued in the verse above out of Galatians.

What I find awesome about community is it really reveals that everyone has something to teach, and also everyone has something to learn. In fact, close-knit church community creates the ideal environment to be a Barnabas (friend), pursue a Paul (teacher), or train a Timothy (student).

If this idea is foreign to you then check out a different post of mine here: https://tannerroyalty.com/2016/02/03/essential-relationships-to-cultivate-as-a-believer/

What it comes down to is lifting each other up, learning from one another, and being the friend each of us needs.

That is exactly how Hebrews describes community in chapter 10 verses 24-25,

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Psalm 133:1 says,

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!


2) Community attracts the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 18:20 promises,

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.

The Bible says the Holy Spirit is present whenever believers gather together! A great example of this was the early church of Acts, which made a habit of meeting together, eating together, and worshiping together. As a result they impacted those around them!

Acts 2:46-47 says,

And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Being in church on Sundays is definitely important. But if you want to be a Christ follower, be one every day in the context of all your communities. That’s where you’ll see ministry happen.


3) Community fosters love.

We’ve probably all been to a wedding where the officiant recited the familiar words of 1 Corinthians 13, which ends with, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Paul held love above all else in his letter to the Corinthians. And he did the same with his letter to the Colossians in chapter 3 verses 13-14,

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Community is life-giving and essential to following Christ. Scripture says that’s because we’re better together than we are alone.

Romans 12:4–5 says,

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.


It can be hard for some of us to commit to community, especially if we’re guarded or prefer solitude. But community is God’s desire for us, and a sign of a mature faith. Because at the end of the day, when we grow in our relationships with others, we’re growing in relationship with Him!

God still Speaks… are you Listening?

How many of you, if you were sitting at breakfast tomorrow morning, laying in bed, or sitting in your cubicle and all of a sudden there was a lot of shaking, the wind started blowing, a bright light like fire appeared before your eyes and you could literally see the clouds and they started rolling up like a scroll and during all of that a voice told you to go do something would do what that voice said?

I would!

I can imagine it now… buy that stock! Drive to California and await further instruction! Call your mom… ehhh for some of us that might cause some hesitation.

How many of you would hesitate during all of that to decide whether or not you should listen to and do what that voice said to do? Wouldn’t you all immediately be in? If you literally heard God tell you to do something, you would do it pretty much no questions asked. So, I gotta ask: Do you believe God still speaks?

Well… if He is speaking why is there so little doing? So I guess the question is… Are you listening?

Check out this passage and I want you to look for what God says and how his people respond to hearing from God.

Haggai 1:1-6 (ESV) says,

In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of    the Lord.” Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.

Haggai 1:12-14 (ESV) says,

Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord. Then Haggai, the messenger of the Lord, spoke to the people with the Lord’s message, “I am with you, declares the Lord.” And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God.

What did the people do regarding the voice of the Lord in this story?

They heard from God and they obeyed!

But wait… let me provide some context for this story for a minute. It’s not so simple… it wasn’t always like that!

The context for this story is that God’s people had been exiled for decades. They had been deprived of the temple and it was killing some of them. So much so that when Emperor Cyrus said they can go back to their homes, they start the trek home and begin building walls and the temple. But then guess what… life.

Life got in the way!

Sure, some of it was hostile neighbors, but it was more just everyday busy-ness.

You know what I’m talking about! There were kids to take to ballet, tee ball, booster club, grocery shopping, grass to mow! Think about it! There are always doctors appointments to schedule, that concert you really want to see, vacation, and … well, life.

So let me ask again… Do you believe God still speaks? Are you listening? Or is there too much other stuff competing for your attention, dedication, and time?

In his book Directions, author James Hamilton shares this insight about listening to God:

Before refrigerators, people used icehouses to preserve their food. Icehouses had thick walls, no windows and a tightly fitted door. In winter, when streams and lakes were frozen, large blocks of ice were cut, hauled to the icehouses and covered with sawdust. Often the ice would last well into the summer.

One man lost a valuable watch while working in an icehouse. He searched diligently for it, carefully raking through the sawdust, but didn’t find it. His fellow workers also looked, but their efforts, too, proved futile. A small boy who heard about the fruitless search slipped into the icehouse during the noon hour and soon emerged with the watch. Amazed, the men asked him how he found it.

I closed the door,” the boy replied, “lay down in the sawdust, and kept very still. Soon I heard the watch ticking.”

Often the question is not whether God is speaking, but whether we are being still enough and quiet enough to hear. Yes, Jesus assures us that our heavenly Father always listens to us, but do we really listen to God? Do we follow the instructions of Psalm 46 where it says, “Be still, and know that I am God”?

Are you listening? Or is the pattern of life not allowing you the opportunity to hear?

My first point is:


WE MUST HEAR THE VOICE OF THE LORD

Luke 15:11-24 is a story we’ve all heard. It was a parable of Jesus that I think many of us can relate to. It goes like this,

And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

Let’s take look at this story for a moment. In these times the younger son was ritually entitled to 1/3 of the inheritance of his father after his father’s death. This son wanted it before. He was inpatient. He “knew” better than his father about what to do with the inheritance he was promised. Despite the breathtaking audacity of the younger son’s request, the father grants it!

Is that not amazing!

This reflects the amazing indulgence that God shows toward us. Even when we are acting as selfishly as the prodigal son, God indulges us. He yields what is His and allows us to misuse it out of respect for the freedom that He has given us.

After the son gets 1/3rd of his father’s estate, he takes everything he has and goes “into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living” (v. 13).

In context, this means that he abandoned the Holy Land to go, voluntarily, into exile and into a pagan country where he could live recklessly without being under his father’s hand. He wanted to get out of God’s land so that he could live in sin and fund his sinful lifestyle by what he took from his father.

Do we do that? Do we misuse what God has blessed us with? I did! I do! Think about what God has given you… and think about how you are using it.

But what happens in this story? The money runs out. The good times ended. The consequences of a reckless lifestyle caught up to him. The resources he had were exhausted. In this hard time the son recalled how his father treated even his hired servants better than his current reality. Verse 17 says,

How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!

The son plans to return to his father and say three things:

1) “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you” (v. 18),

2) “I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (v. 19a),

3) “treat me as one of your hired servants” (v. 19b).

Even being treated as one of his father’s hired servants would be better than the treatment he was receiving in the world. The son had ventured from where he belonged. He ventured out from under the care of his loving Dad.

The father wanted the best for his son. Sound familiar? He had laid up an inheritance for him. He had indulged his ridiculous request for 1/3 of what was rightfully his. While the son was away what do you think the father did?

I’m not a parent yet… but I can imagine what it must be like to sit up and wait for a kid who is running late for curfew. Sitting up with a single light on going from window to window waiting for that car to come down the driveway, the knob to turn, and the child to slide in hoping not to get noticed.

I believe the father in this story did exactly that. I believe he looked down the road for his son! Surely he called out his son’s name… but the son just wasn’t listening. The son had wandered off to a far away place. There are some of us, at this very moment, that are in far away places. How many of us have wandered at times? We all do it! We pursue life. We pursue dreams. We pursue success, happiness, education, financial security and stability, self-satisfaction, acceptance from our peers, family, and co-workers.

Hear me now. It’s not that the Lord, our Father, has not stopped calling or stopped speaking. The real issue is that we have stopped listening.

Like the son in the story, the farther we get from the Father’s loving care, the worse off we will be, and our best course is to return to God and His forgiveness. He’s there waiting. He’s there calling. We just have to listen for Him!

But what happens to the son in the story? He grows tired of his sin… he grows tired of his situation and where he’s at. So what does he do? He heads back! He returns to his father… to his home. He opens his ears and follows the voice of his loving dad all the way home!

The part that astounds me is that when the prodigal son returns to his father, something significant takes place. While he is still at a distance, the father sees him, has compassion upon him, runs to him, hugs him, and kisses him.

How do you think the son felt? He must have been astonished!

The son begins to recite his pre-scripted speech to his father. You know… the script we all have rehearsed over and over again in our heads when we know we are going to get busted. Being the older of two boys I always had a story and a built in excuse. “He did it! He broke it! He ate it!” He manages to get the first two parts of it out. He says:

1) “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you” (v. 21a),

2) “I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (v. 21b).

But before he can say the third part, before he can ask to be treated merely as a servant, the father interrupts things and takes the conversation in a very different direction. Rather than treating his younger son as a mere servant, he turns to the actual servants and orders a celebration.

Hear this point… when we begin to hear and sit under the voice of the Lord we get to take on our identity as a son or daughter of the most high God.

You see as we head to this next point we need to understand that hearing the voice of God is only half of the equation. We have to come back from that far away place and submit ourselves to God. We have to sit under that voice. We have to hear it, And we have to do what it says.


WE MUST OBEY THE VOICE OF THE LORD

God sent the prophet Haggai to preach to the remnant of Israel to urge them to get on with the work of rebuilding God’s temple. The people had been previously unmotivated to build the temple since, for the last 15 years, they experienced great opposition when trying to rebuild it. The people eventually began to prioritize other things above rebuilding the temple. They began to prioritize, in particular, looking after their own homes.

Haggai, like most prophets, did not mince his words. He didn’t tickle the people’s ears. Haggai’s rebuked the people, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” (1:4).

In modern terms, Haggai essentially told the people, “It’s time for you to stop thinking about yourselves. It’s time to get up off your couch and get on with the work of the Lord.” The amazing thing is that the people did what Haggai told them to do.

After hearing Haggai’s message, the text says in (1:12) that,

Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord.

Haggai told the people to do something and they did it. Trust me, this is a preacher’s dream! One of the great discouragements of ministry is when a minister preaches from the Bible with power and conviction only to be greeted with yawns and looks of indifference.

Keep in mind how many people we are talking about here. It says that “all the remnant of the people” obeyed the words of Haggai. ALL. Nobody was too important. Nobody was too young or too old. ALL took part. Haggai preached a message to 50,000 people and 50,000 people did what he asked of them.

These people did not blindly follow Haggai either as if he was simply some charismatic leader or out of fear or respect for man. The text says that the people not only responded to “the words of Haggai”, but they also “obeyed the voice of the Lord” and the NASB says that they “showed reverence for the Lord” (1:12). I love that translation. In short, you could say that when the people heard Haggai’s message, they responded by honoring God.

So the first thing that happens is Haggai preaches the Word of the Lord, and in response to this preaching, the second thing that happens in this text is that the people begin to honor God. And finally, in response to the people’s decision to honor God, the third thing that happens in this text is that God sends a message back to the people: “I am with you” (1:13).

For the people of Israel, assurance of God’s presence was the pinnacle of encouragement. It’s like the five year-old whose parent walks with them to their first day of school. Suddenly, because mom or dad is there, school doesn’t seem so scary. It’s like us, as adults, when we go to an important doctor’s appointment accompanied by our spouse. Suddenly, our fears are eased by the comfort that we are loved. In the same way, when the people in Haggai’s day were assured that the Lord was with them, the obstacles to building the temple became small.

Hear this: Obedience is an action word.

Hearing the voice of the Lord is merely the starting point! Without action we might as well have heard the voice of the God at all.

Imagine a runner by the name of Joe at the starting line of a big race. He has prepared and trained. He is at the peak of his physicality. All the runners stretch and get down in their blocks. The starter yells, “Runners take your marks, get set!” BOOM… he fires the gun. All the runners take off except Joe! What was the point of all the training if he wasn’t planning on running the race when he heard the gun go off!

Haggai 1:14-15 (NASB) says,

So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of Darius the king.

“Heads up!”

When you hear someone call that out what do you do? You watch your head! Something has caused that person enough concern to cry out so that you don’t get your head smacked by something. Now it’s one thing to hear the warning… it’s another thing altogether to take heed of that warning and prevent yourself from experiencing the very thing they were warning you about.

Let me ask you… what kind of warnings is God giving you currently?

“Heads up!” Change your priorities!

“Heads up!” Don’t make that choice!

“Heads up!” Be patient! Wait on me!

The question is not “is God speaking? Is he warning or guiding you?” The question is… what are you going to do with those warnings? What are you going to do with His guidance?

What is clear in this text is that the people of Israel honored God by obeying what He was telling them to do… His command to rebuild the temple. Our question is, “Are we going to honor God by being obedient to His voice?”

Allow me to provide you with some motivation to accept this challenge. When the people of Haggai’s day accepted the challenge to obey God, God promised them three things. If we choose to honor God with our obedience, these are the three things we can expect to receive:

1) God’s presence

2) God’s provision

3) God’s peace

Before the people began the work on the temple God assured them of His presence, “I am with you” He declared. God’s promise of His presence was enough motivation to get the people started on rebuilding the temple.

It seems, through the story however, that at some point, the people began to get discouraged.

Haggai 2:3-9 says,

‘Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes? Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the Lord. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.’”

The people began to wonder how they could build a temple as beautiful as the previous one. You see… some people were around to see the old temple. They remembered how things used to be! Some of us might be in the same boat! We might remember the way our church used to be. We might remember how life used to be. We might remember how this country used to be. We might remember how our culture used to be! Like the remnant of Israel we might look back and impose the way things used to be onto the way things are now and we might get discouraged or give up.

The people wanted immediate results. They had agreed to meet the challenge, but after experiencing initial results that they were less than pleased with, they began to get discouraged.

This is important to note because many churches that strive to honor God will experience initial disappointment. Many Christians who strive to honor God will experience initial disappointment. Think back to the first time you severely messed up after your salvation… did you get mad at yourself or discouraged?

We may experience disappointment if we invest time and money into youth ministry and find ourselves still lacking teenagers. We may experience disappointment if we go to great lengths to evangelize the “unchurched” only to have no one join our church.

But notice how God responds to His people’s discouragement. God doesn’t say to the people of Israel, “Well thanks for trying.” God doesn’t console them by saying, “You did your best.” No, God continues to tell them to press on. He motivates the people to meet the challenge of rebuilding the temple. Haggai 2:4 (NASB) says,

But now take courage, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord, ‘take courage also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you people of the land take courage,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ declares the Lord of hosts.”

Not only does God tell the people to “be strong,” but He also orders them back to work (v.4). Why should these people “take courage” Why should they go back to work? The Lord repeats His promise, “(go back to) work; for I am with You… verse 5 continues with:

According to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.

Like the people of Haggai’s day, we must learn to approach our challenge of obeying the voice of God courageously knowing that the “Spirit” of the Lord is in our “midst.”

You see… obeying the voice of the Lord isn’t always about the short term, sometimes it’s about what needs to take place in the long term and where God wants us to land. Where is God’s voice taking you?

We like to be rational. We like to be in control. We like to evaluate our bearings and adjust according to what makes sense to us. What lines up with our goals, our dreams, and our visions. We are experts at being in agreement with God when we agree with His plan. We are even better at “amending” what He says to line up with what we want!

But here is the thing. We aren’t God. We don’t have the heart of God. We don’t have the vision of God. Sometimes His plans for us aren’t about the short term that we can see and understand. Sometimes they are about the long term that we have no way of seeing and understanding because we aren’t Him!

For those of you that don’t know me… I am a competitive shooter. I shoot guns nonstop! Part of that means that I am constantly changing parts and optics. You know the things you look through to line up your target. Sometimes when you mount a scope and it looks right you line up your shot and end up off about an inch at 25 yards. No big deal right? It’s only an inch. Unless you are shooting a very small target you are still going to hit what you want to hit… at 25 yards. But… being off an inch at 25 yards can push your trajectory off 4 inches at 100 and so on and so forth.

What doesn’t mean a lot in the short term can mean everything in the long term. What can be an indirect hit at close ranges can be way off at distance.

Throughout Scripture, God commands us to do many things. He issues us many challenges. But here in Haggai, as well as elsewhere in Scripture, we learn that when the Lord asks you to do something, He helps you do it. I wonder how many churches have failed in ministry by simply neglecting to call on God for help. As the Psalmist has said in Psalm 127:1,

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.

So the Lord promises us His presence, He promises us His provision, and there is one more thing that He promises us… the Lord promises us His peace. After describing how He would provide for the people of Israel, the Lord concludes His encouragement by stating, “in this place I shall give peace” (v.9 NASB).

I’d like to encourage you by reminding you that while we carry on out of obedience we can count on God’s presence, God’s provision, and God’s peace. Let that motivate you to serve Him more faithfully.


WE MUST HEAD IN GOD’S DIRECTION

I deal with a lot of young adults on a weekly basis. People going to college, people that have recently graduated high school or are preparing to, people heading into the work force for the first time, and people who are making the transition into adulthood.

Often times their main question is, “What is God’s will for my life?”

We all want direction regardless of age. But… some time ago I was told something that revolutionized the way I followed the will of the Lord. Several years ago when I was transitioning between churches I was seeking the will of God and felt like I was coming up dry. Has anyone been there? Anyone there right now? It’s frustrating! During that time a mentor of mine told me that “the will of God for your life isn’t like a tightrope that you have to tiptoe across fearing every step could be the one that throws you off balance and sends you tumbling off the rope. Instead, the will of God for your life more resembles a highway in the direction in which He wants us to go.” Doing the will of the Lord is as simple as this… being submissive to His will each and every day. If you do that He will steer you in the right direction.

Yes the pathway to Jesus is narrow compared to the ways of the world!

Matthew 7:13-14 (ESV) tells us that. It says,

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

In that passage Jesus compares the narrow gate to the “wide gate.” Those pictures stand in contrast to each other! The wide gate, the easy path, leads to destruction and hell, and Jesus says that “many” will be on that path. And by contrast, Jesus says that “small is the gate that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

For a long time I misinterpreted that passage to mean that the will of God for my life was so narrow that it was going to be easy to miss! But what we need to understand is that this passage isn’t about the specific will of God for our lives… it is about His will for your eternity, our salvation! Understand this… Jesus is the Gate! Jesus is the gate through which all must enter eternal life. There is no other way because He alone is “the way, the truth and the life” like we see in John 14:6.

The gate to eternal life is small because it is restricted to just one avenue… Jesus!

Many will attempt to find an alternative route to God. We see it in our culture. They will try to get there through manmade rules and regulations, through false religion, or through self-effort… by being “good” enough. Those who are “many” in this passage will follow the broad road that leads to eternal destruction, while the sheep hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow Him along the narrow way to eternal life

John 10:7-11 (ESV) says,

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Entering the narrow gate is not easy. Jesus made this clear. The instruction for us to enter is a command to repent and go through the gate and not to just stand and look at it, think about it, complain that it’s too small or too difficult or unjustly narrow. We are not to ask why others are not entering; we are not to make excuses or delay. We are not to be concerned with the number who will or will not enter. We are to enter! Then we are to submit to God each and every day.


We are to hear his voice, obey His voice, and head in His direction which is to put His commands into action in our lives.