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.

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Gathering Sticks

Throughout history few leaders have accomplished as much as the apostle Paul, yet he endured an astonishing number of traumatic events: imprisonment, beatings, sleeplessness, hunger, thirst, and many other forms of suffering. 2 Corinthians 11:25 is a small example of the things Paul himself went through. It says,

Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea.

In Acts chapter 27, Luke tells about one of those shipwrecks and includes dramatic details about a terrifying storm at sea that ultimately broke the ship Paul was sailing upon apart. In the aftermath of the shipwreck, Paul and his fellow passengers scrambled for safety onto the shore of an island called Malta. In Acts 28:2 Luke recalls,

The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold.

Remember what happened next? Verses 3-7 continue by saying,

When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.

It’s a minor point, but notice: Paul was a leader who was willing to pick up sticks!

Paul didn’t sit on the sidelines and say, “Someone needs to build a fire. I’m an apostle, a man of God, not a stick-gatherer. You guys go gather sticks while I sit and watch.” Paul didn’t consider the menial task of gathering firewood beneath his dignity. He didn’t excuse his own inaction by saying, “Look, I’ve got more important things to do! I have sermons to prepare and letters to write.” He simply saw a need and pitched in to help build the fire. Paul saw himself as an example, not an exception. He saw himself as a coworker, not a superstar or privileged individual demanding special treatment.

Paul also didn’t use his past and the circumstances he had endured to limit his actions. Paul didn’t view himself as too educated, too undereducated, too important, or too busy to handle the task at hand.

Paul went beyond his “job description” to see that the task got done.

In Scripture Jesus unleashed some of his harshest criticism on leaders who did “not practice what they preach.” We see this in Matthew 23:2-4,

The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.

These hypocritical leaders were professors, but they were not practitioners.

Ask yourself: Are you a professor or a practitioner?

We call teachers who serve on a college faculty “professors” because of their ability to pass along knowledge and expertise to others. More broadly, “professor” refers to anyone who professes opinions and beliefs in a way that instructs others. In this sense, all Christians are professors, for we all have God’s good news message to share and teach. But… it’s not enough to profess faith without practicing it! This is true for all Believers, but this is especially true for those who accept the responsibilities of church leadership.

Jesus calls leaders to service, not self-glorification. Godly leaders shouldn’t aspire for impressive titles, positions, or the honor of man. Jesus insists, in Matthew 23:11

The greatest among you shall be your servant.

Hear this: if someone can’t be trusted with little things (like gathering firewood), why should anyone trust him with big things (like leading a congregation)?

Now each of us should ask ourselves… are our hands dirty? Can people trust us to see through even the menial tasks?

Of course, church leaders must use their time and abilities wisely, and sometimes they must let others wait on tables while they devote themselves to “prayer and the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:3-4 says,

Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

But the point is, faithful leaders don’t shy away from hard work. They put their hands and efforts to the task along with the rest of God’s people. Effective leaders are willing to get their hands dirty, and when the need arises, they venture out into the woods and pick up sticks.

 

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!

O’ Comfort Where Art Thou?

In one of my favorite books Mere Christianity C. S. Lewis wrote,

In religion, as in war and everything else, comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth—only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.

In our society and culture, it’s far more inviting to talk with people about the positive benefits of following Jesus rather than the negative consequences of rejecting Him. We much prefer the good news to the bad, the comfort over the discomfort, and mercy instead of judgment.

But… the Christian message does not begin in comfort; it begins in dismay, and we won’t be able to receive God’s comfort until we face our dismay.

While completing my undergraduate degree at Campbellsville University I got to witness a group show up every semester to stand on the sidewalks on campus with signs and bullhorns “informing” the students there of the condemnation that was going to be heaped down upon them if they didn’t turn from their ways. Most of the statements they rallied around were very legalistic and their approach was all but gracious.

Standing on a street corner with a bullhorn shouting to people that they are going to Hell unless they turn to Christ tends not to bode well. It seems as if we, as the church, have no concept of the middle ground. We can’t share only the positives, but we can’t ignore the outcome of no decision made. Somewhere along the line, some Christians have missed the part about how our speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt.

Colossians 6 tell us this,

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

We are to respond with gentleness and respect like we are told to do in 1 Peter 3:15,

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.

My natural personality aligns better with the gentle approach, but the older, or more seasoned, I get the more I’m learning that gentleness doesn’t have to mean “soft.” I can gently and respectfully talk with someone about Jesus, but that doesn’t mean I have to shy away from presenting truth. In fact, one of the most respectful things I could possibly do is talk with someone about the consequences of our sin and how we don’t want an eternity void of Christ.

One of the problems we face is that not everybody shares the same concept of truth. If someone is a secular humanist, who doesn’t believe in a universal Moral Law or a personal Power behind that Moral Law, he or she is not losing sleep over whether or not they have broken the law and put themself at odds with that personal Power. It’s hard to convince someone that they need saving when they don’t consider themself needing to be saved.

If you don’t believe you’re sick, you’re not going to listen to the doctor, and if you don’t believe the bad news, you’re not going to search for the Good News.

Herein lies the reason the Good News is called good. It is good, because it gives us a way out of the bad. The bad news is bad, because it takes us away from the good. When we realize that we have wrongly chosen the bad path, which and all of us have…

Romans 3:23 tells us,

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

It’s then, and only then, that we begin to understand the hope of the Gospel and the good news of Jesus and what He has to offer! Jesus met the demands of the Moral Law, for He never strayed off the path that leads to goodness. He is God in the flesh who saves us from the consequences of our own path, which is eternal separation from God. In other words, we cannot be open to receiving the good news and the comfort that accompanies until we understand the bad news that we see in Romans 6:23,

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Once we have a grasp on our despaired and broken state, that bad news that we all have sinned and the price of that sin is death, we will be open to receiving the good news that we see in 1 Peter 3:18,

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.

If you stop to think about it, the claims of Christianity are quite terrifying and comforting all at the same time. When we face the brutal fact that we are sinners and our position is wholly desperate, it is terrifying to think of the eternal consequences for our wrongdoing. But there is also great comfort in knowing we have a loving, personal God who has provided the way out through Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

In John 14:6 Jesus says,

I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

So… again in closing C. S. Lewis once wrote,

In religion, as in war and everything else, comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth—only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.

We are all sick and need the doctor. The bad news is our sickness is terminal… but if we listen to the Doctor we can find the Good News of an eternal cure. The Christian message does not begin in comfort; it begins in dismay, and we won’t be able to receive God’s comfort until we face our dismay.

Be Still and let HIM Fight.

Dr. Susan Koven wrote in the Boston Globe,

In the past few years, I’ve observed an epidemic of sorts: patient after patient suffering from the same condition. The symptoms of this condition include fatigue, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, headaches, heartburn, bowel disturbances, back pain, and weight gain. There are no blood tests or X-rays diagnostic of this condition, and yet it’s easy to recognize. The condition is excessive busyness.

Being busy is such a staple in American culture, that we have placed a premium on it. I think if we are being honest, we have to acknowledge that Dr. Koven is on to something. Insomnia, anxiety, irritability, and headaches are all common symptoms of an addict. Is it possible that we are all addicted to our busyness and it is making us suffer?

Who else is busy? I know it’s not just me!

Think about the types of things that make you busy. Do they consume you? They do me! I have found that I am an anxious person. I deal with anxiety, and am prone to stress over things that keep me busy and things that I have no control over.

Are you busy? Are you anxious? Take a moment to truly evaluate yourself and be honest as you answer.

As a human being in the day and age we currently exist in there are always a slew of worries and overwhelming obstacles being thrown our way. It seems like everyday you enter a battlefield of work, school, stressors, family, friends, childcare, chores, etc…

Our world doesn’t slow down for anyone and it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if you slow down then you are missing out.

Not to mention the fact that the choices and decisions you are currently making will lead to things in your future! It seems like at times you are picking today what tomorrow will hold!

But… thankfully that’s not the case and those decisions you don’t make alone.

If you are like me then you find yourself constantly forgetting amidst the hectic nature of life that God has made promises to you in Scripture. In fact, the word promise itself occurs over 50 times in the King James Version of the Bible. As you know, the Bible is full of God’s promises to help us in every time of need.

Let’s think about some of my favorite promises for a moment.

Isaiah 41:10,

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 54:10,

For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.

Isaiah 54:17,

No weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD and their vindication from me, declares the LORD.

James 1:5,

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

1 John 1:9,

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

The next two promises are promises that I carry with me each and every day as I depart into a world filled with stressors and hectic schedules.

Deuteronomy 31:8 says,

It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.

Jeremiah 29:11 says,

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Now obviously I could go on and on with several thousand verses containing promises God has made throughout Scripture to His people, but amidst all those promises we see over and over again that we are not alone! God promises to protect us, lead us, and guide us through each breath and moment in our day.

You know what that means for all of us who might say we are busy or overwhelmed? There is no schedule that God can’t handle!

Ephesians 3:20-21 says this,

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:20-21 states that God is able to do abundantly more than we could ever ask or think. So today, I challenge you to remind yourself to remember (and have faith in) that power and those promises.

Even if you are searching to try to find your place in the world, to meet a close group of friends to support you, having difficulty at work or at home, wondering where the money to pay the bills is going to come from, struggling to decide on a major life altering decision, or battling to overcome a particularly difficult trial you’re facing, just know that God does not ask (or desire) for you to be perfect, flawless, or even strong, for He can (and wants to be) all of those things for you. You need only be still as it says in my favorite verse as of late.

Exodus 14:14 says,

The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.

Our submission is all He needs. We only have to submit and turn God loose! If you’re feeling stressed out about something, in particular, today, I hope you take away one of my all-time favorite verses in times of fear or worry. It’s found toward the end of Chapter 6 in Matthew.

Matthew 6:26-34 paints this picture,

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Each of us are just as loved as each of those birds that Jesus feeds. We are His children, crafted in His image, and worrying will not extend our time on this earth nor change His unique plan in store for us! So instead we need to take our fears to God instead, for He knows our hearts better than anyone else. And He promises to use our brokenness, our messiness, our fears, and our every inadequacy for the better. Even though it can be so easy to forget, He made each of us for a purpose, and He will protect us, love us, and He craves to have a relationship with us forever.

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?

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!

 

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!

Facing the Giant

What problema re you facing today? Diminishing health, loss of a job or income, broken relationships, an incorporative child or family member, stress, etc? Sometimes our problems, situations, and circumstances can seem like giants looming ahead of us. An enemy that just can’t be defeated…

Whatever problem you’re facing today I can guarantee you that it is not bigger than what David faced. He had to deal with a real, live giant. And the qualities God instilled in David that enabled him to succeed will work for you too. You’ve probably heard the story of David defeating Goliath, but have you applied these same principles to your giant?

One of the foundational truths that enabled David to face this giant was that he viewed the whole situation through God’s covenant. We can see that in 1 Samuel 17:26,

And David said to the men who stood by him, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

David’s reference to Goliath being uncircumcised was pointing out that Goliath didn’t have any covenant rights like he did. In fact, every Israelite soldier was one of God’s covenant people, but they didn’t act like it. Likewise, all true believers have covenant rights to health, prosperity, joy, peace, etc., but not all look at their circumstances through the covenant.

These Israelite soldiers were looking at Goliath and not at God’s promises. The Lord had previously promised them that no man would be able to stand before them. Deuteronomy 11:25 says,

No one shall be able to stand against you. The Lord your God will lay the fear of you and the dread of you on all the land that you shall tread, as he promised you.

Goliath was a man. He was a GIANT man… but a man nonetheless. While others only saw the giant, David kept his attention and focus on the promises of God.

But… when David voiced his faith in the covenant of God despite the circumstances ahead of him, he began to be criticized by his brother and others. Sound familiar? How many times do we criticize others faith instead of encouraging them to press on and maybe taking initiative to step out on faith more ourselves? We see this criticism of David’s faith in 1 Samuel 17:28-30,

Now Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spoke to the men. And Eliab’s anger was kindled against David, and he said, “Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.” And David said, “What have I done now? Was it not but a word?” And he turned away from him toward another, and spoke in the same way, and the people answered him again as before.

David could have tried to justify himself to his oldest brother, or explain that it was at his father’s request that he was there. But even if David had won the argument, he would have lost his opportunity to defeat Goliath. It was only after he turned from his brother and repeated his statements of faith that someone heard what he said and told Saul, Israel’s king.

You might face opposition, even from family members, when you start communicating what God has put in your heart, but you need to take this stance like David did, saying, “Is there not a cause?” Ask yourself, “Is the thing I want victory over worth fighting for?” If it is, then you have a cause greater than what others think.

Even the king tried to talk David out of what was in his heart: He pointed out David’s inexperience and lack of size compared to Goliath. But look at David’s reply in 1 Samuel 17:34-37,

But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!”

He began to rehearse to King Saul the victories the Lord had given him. Had David not been faithful with the few sheep the Lord had given him to keep on the backside of the desert, he never would have been able to stand up to Goliath. Many want to win against the giants when the grandstands are full, but few will be faithful in the little things God gives them when no one is watching.

Many want to win the “war” without ever lifting a hand in “battle.”

David’s faith and confidence in the Lord convinced King Saul to let him represent Israel and go fight Goliath. This was a miracle in itself. If David lost, all the Israelites would become slaves to the Philistines! Saul had to step out in faith with David! You see… sometimes acts of faith are contagious. I think Saul recognized the anointing of God upon David. Saul had once operated under that anointing, and knew how powerful it was. So, he let David go, but he tried to put his armor on him!

1 Samuel 17:38-39 says,

Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, and David strapped his sword over his armor. And he tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.” So David put them off.

This happens all the time. People will tell you your faith in God won’t overcome your giants. But if you persist, then they will try to give you their advice on how to fight the battle. That’s what Saul did. He wanted to give David his armor. But why should David put his faith in Saul’s armor? It hadn’t done anything for Saul. Saul was fearful of Goliath just like all the rest. David was wise to stick with what had already been proven in his life.

Next, David had to endure the mockery of his enemy, Goliath. Listen to what the giant said in 1 Samuel 17:42-44,

And when the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was but a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. And the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.”

Don’t think that just because you’re armed with what God has given you that the giants in your life will be intimidated by you.

But you’ve got to be bold and stand strong in the face of the enemy like David did! 1 Samuel 17:45-47 says,

Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand.”

But David wasn’t all talk! When Goliath approached him David ran toward the army to meet the Philistine.

1 Samuel 17:48 says,

When the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine.

I love the point in the story where David rushed at this giant. You know, your attitude toward your giants will be very telling when it’s time to face them! If you really believe the promises of God, you won’t run from a fight… you will run to it. In that moment the rubber meets the road and what you say has to truly become what you believe. Do you really believe what God said or not? Are you all talk? The giants are going to test what God has put in you.

Of course, you know the story. David used his sling and a stone to bring the giant down.

But David didn’t stop there…

1 Samuel 17:50-51 says,

So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. There was no sword in the hand of David. Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him and cut off his head with it. When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled.

Like David we need to fight and pursue our enemies until they can’t come back! If you read the whole story, the Philistines didn’t flee when Goliath first went down. They were at a far distance and didn’t know exactly what had happened. Goliath could have tripped, or maybe he was just wounded and would get back up and win yet. But when David cut off his head and held it up, all doubt was removed, and the enemy fled.

Sometimes we just fight our enemies until they go over the hill. We fight just to live another day or for relief from the battle… if you’ve ever spent time on a heavy bag you know that fighting is hard work! But the thing is… if we fight this way our enemies are left to fight us another day. But David pursued his enemies until they were destroyed. They could never come back to fight him.

People don’t like to face giants, but David wouldn’t have been a hero if he had slain a midget. The giants in your life are actually great opportunities for God to show Himself strong on your behalf. David’s victory over Goliath catapulted him into his destiny. Likewise, whatever giant you are facing can become the greatest victory in your life as you stand on God’s Word and overcome it.

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.