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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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!

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.

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?

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

“Consider Your Ways”

As a young person I have sat in numerous churches and looked around wondering, “where are all my peers?” Sometimes going to church and spotting another person my age is like a real life game of “Where’s Waldo.”

There is a plethora of articles online about how the millennial generation has turned their backs on church and are “unreachable” or rebellious. This is not another one of those articles.

But… according to a Barna study on church growth and church attendance amongst millennials (22-35 year olds) given in in 2016 church attendance and impressions of the church are the lowest in recent history.

  • Only 2 in 10 Americans under 30 believe attending a church is important or worthwhile (an all-time low).
  • 59 percent of millennials raised in a church have dropped out.
  • 35 percent of millennials have an anti-church stance, believing the church does more harm than good.
  • Millennials are the least likely age group of anyone to attend church (by far).

These numbers are staggering! What is going on! Where have we as a church fallen short and failed to reach, disciple, and keep young people in our congregations?

Haggai 1:1-11 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. “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord. You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.”

What do we know about the Jewish people discussed in Haggai?

  • Years earlier they had been conquered and exiled from their land and homes.
  • They had been taken to a foreign land to serve under a foreign king.
  • They were brought out of exile and returned to their ruined land and homes.

The prophet Haggai recorded his messages to the Jewish people of Jerusalem in 520 BC, eighteen years after their return from exile in Babylon (538 BC). Haggai’s prophecy came at a time when the people of Judah were extremely vulnerable. They had been humbled by their exile to Babylon, given hope in their return to their Promised Land, and then discouraged by the reality of what they found.

You might be asking… what does this have to do with college students and young adults? And to that I would respond with, “everything.” Who else is at a more vulnerable time of their life than a teenager transitioning out into adulthood? Who else struggles with schedules, priorities, and agendas more than someone who has just spent the last 18 years of their life being told what to do and when to do it? Who steps out into the world “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed” only to be crushed by the reality of life that is ahead of them?

In a lot of ways our young generations are like those Jews returning from their exile in Babylon.

The book of Haggai records the prophet expressing God’s opinion of the people’s negligence in building his house. In verse 5 he calls them to,

“Consider your ways!”

Don’t get me wrong they were working hard, busy with life and commerce, but they were lacking something… neglecting something… missing the point. They were earning money and resources for themselves and their own agendas and houses and neglecting the house of the Lord and the Kingdom of God as a whole. Think about the relation to our younger generations… these Jews were trying to create “something” from “nothing!” They had been in exile for years and were starting over… the same way our younger generations have to “jumpstart” their lives when entering into adulthood.

But… why were they lacking? Well quite simply they had neglected the divine agenda of “building up” the Lord’s house. The people of Judah had simply neglected what was of first importance and God frustrated their labors. Verse 9 says,

You look for much, but behold it comes to little; when you bring it home, I blow it away. Why?’ Declares the LORD of hosts, ‘because of my house which lies desolate, while each of you runs to his own house.

We have in the days of Haggai a very similar scenario to what we face today. People are busy. Through the day-to-day life filled with the day-to-day tasks and agendas often the pursuit of personal advancement is promoted to a position of preeminence. And as a result the agenda of God and His will for his people gets sacrificed on the altar of personal pursuits.

This is where we the people of God come in… the church.

After thousands of years, the book of Haggai remains unique among the books of Old Testament prophets for one key reason: the people of Judah actually listened! Haggai’s message to rebuild the temple was passionate, simple, and straightforward. No one could mistake whether or not his direction had been followed because the results would be evident for all the people to see. Through the physical act of rebuilding the temple, the people began to indicate a shift in their spiritual lives: from devotion to self toward devotion to God.

Haggai had an important message for the Jews who had recently returned from exile. They had forgotten their God, choosing instead to focus on their own interests, so it was time for them to “consider their ways.” Nothing was more important for the Jews than to show that the Lord was at the center of their thoughts and actions, so Haggai directed them to finish rebuilding God’s temple.

However, rather than leaving them alone with the task of rebuilding, Haggai continued to preach to the Jews, encouraging them with the hope of future glory in the temple and a victory to come over the enemies of God’s people (seen in Haggai 2:7–9, 21–22). According to Haggai’s message, if the people would place God at the center of their lives, they would realize the future blessings that God had in store for His people.

How can we as the church draw our youth back? How can we be like the Prophet Haggai?

So many times we say that we are too busy…too busy for people, too busy for ministry, too busy for personal Bible reading/devotion, too busy to pray, too busy to meditate, too busy to whatever…to this God says, “Consider your ways!”

 

God is for Me

Have you ever had a buddy lead you into a fight with the confidence that they were going to be there to back you up if things went south? How did that turn out? Unless you flipped the switch into “Macho Man” Randy Savage mode you probably got roughed up pretty good.

Too many times someone has tried to encourage me by saying, “Don’t worry! I am here for you.” Likewise, too many times that very same person is nowhere to be found when things actually go down.

I do not put too much confidence in such a statement coming from a mortal man. Why? Because every mortal man is fully capable and gifted in the art of not “coming through.” Most men don’t make that statement with the intentions of letting the other person down… but men can change along with circumstances and situation.

However, I trust that very same statement from God.

Romans 8:31 says,

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

So… if I don’t trust that statement from man then what makes it any different coming from God? God alone is unchangeable; therefore, I want to make certain that God is for me. We have great reason for confidence in God for our salvation. What is that reason? God is for us!

But I do think that too often, we can apply that verse a little too quickly, without digging deep into what it really means. We correctly use it as a spiritual weapon, but without understanding how to properly deploy it, kind of like using a rifle as a club. We associate the verse with the blessing hiding right around the corner, instead of the victory on the other side of the battle.

We celebrate the victory before fighting the battle.

Yes, there will still be battles! Yes, you will still have to fight! But we fight alongside the Almighty God! It’s true that if God is for us, nothing can stand against us. But it’s also true that if God is for us, a whole lot of things can, and will, be against us. The enemy is directly opposed to the power of God displayed in and through us.

In Ephesians 6:10-18 Paul writes,

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

If there were no fight ahead then why do we need armor and weapons of war?

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” Therefore, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the whole armor of God and take your stand against the devil’s scheme. Fight the good fight against all defeated enemies and spiritual forces of evil. Pray in the Spirit and stand firm. Fight, and stand in victory.

So… what will stand against us? Everything.

Throughout our lives, many things will stand against us. Right now, I’ve got a lengthy list of things causing distress in my life, including but not limited to:

  • Lingering sickness and health issues
  • My wife’s Medical School loans
  • A work list that never gets smaller

I pray about these things a lot. Pretty much every day… and they don’t seem to be going anywhere. They are still here and I am still fighting the fight.

So what gives? I thought God was for me. What about all those angel armies that Chris Tomlin sings about?

It’s not like I’m the only one. Every Christian I know finds themselves in the same place, beset by trials, enemies, weird health problems, financial hardship, and a lot more. This also seems to be the story throughout Scripture. If Jesus had things stand against Him to the point of execution on a cross, then maybe this verse is a little deeper than it seems on the surface.

We have many enemies, but they are all finite creatures. No power can prevail against the infinite God, who has purposed to save us. Who can resist him? What about the devil and demons? God in Christ has defeated the devil on the cross and liberated us from his clutches. The stronger one, Jesus Christ, defeated the strong one, the devil, and has set us free.

What about the world? In John 16:33 Jesus said,

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

Rejoice! The world of Pharaohs and Caesars and dictators and presidents cannot harm us. Jesus Christ has defeated them all.

What about the apostate church? Again, the answer is, no. It cannot harm us. Why is that? In Colossians 2:14-15 Paul writes,

Having canceled the debt ascribed to us in the decrees that stood against us. He took it away, nailing it to the cross! And having disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

What about the flesh, that sin still dwells in us? Yes, it is against us, but it is not the only thing in us. God’s Holy Spirit is also in us! Too often we forget that! We have the Sprit of the living God dwelling inside us! He is the Spirit of holiness who gives us victory over sin! Therefore, sin cannot have dominion over us. We are not under sin, law, or death.

Is there any power equal or above God’s power? No! Therefore, if God is for us, who can be against us? The Scriptures emphasize this point throughout.

Jesus Christ by his death has defeated all our enemies and his enemies.

Jesus is still waging war against all our defeated enemies, and it is His business to fight such a war. In Psalm 110:1 the psalmist declares,

The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’

In 1 Corinthians 15:25-27 Paul writes,

Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

The battles may come and the enemies may rise up, but I don’t need to solve the problem alone. The Holy Spirit himself intercedes on my behalf. What a beautiful thing. The Spirit comes to the Father on my behalf, but unlike me, the Spirit knows exactly what I need. He’ll never pray the wrong thing. The Spirit will ask God to give me what I need and God will always give it to me. Romans 8:26 says,

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

The whole world may stand against me, but it can’t destroy me because the Holy Spirit is interceding for me.

Though I may be buffeted by a hurricane of pain, strife, sorrow, temptation, and spiritual attack, God calmly controls every gust of that hurricane. He is orchestrating all things for my good and his purpose, strategically using this trial to build my trust in him, this relationship to increase my joy, and this hurdle to hurdle to give me a deep experience of his love for me.

No matter what stands against me, it can’t thwart God’s purpose. From start to finish, first breath to last, cradle to grave, I’m his. Come hell, high water, or the apocalypse, nothing can stand against me.

I enjoy singing songs that reflect on God’s faithfulness and promises to remind me in times of battle that God is for me and with me. If you are like me there are times you need a reminder that he is God and you aren’t and His timing is much more deliberate than yours. One of those songs goes:

Walking around these walls
I thought by now they’d fall
But You have never failed me yet
Waiting for change to come
Knowing the battle’s won
For You have never failed me yet

Your promise still stands
Great is Your faithfulness, faithfulness
I’m still in Your hands
This is my confidence, You’ve never failed me yet

I know the night won’t last
Your Word will come to pass
My heart will sing Your praise again
Jesus, You’re still enough
Keep me within Your love
My heart will sing Your praise again

I’ve seen You move, come move the mountains
And I believe, I’ll see You do it again
You made a way, where there was no way
And I believe, I’ll see You do it again

Romans 8:18–19 says,

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

The suffering I experience right now is going to pale in comparison to the astounding glory that will be soon revealed to me. In fact, the glory that’s coming will be so breathtaking, so glorious, so overwhelmingly valuable, that I’ll look back at what I suffered and say, “That was nothing! It was all worth it! Following Christ through the valley of pain and suffering was nothing compared to this!”

Nothing can stand against the Holy Spirit helping me.

Romans 8:28 promises,

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Nothing can stand against God’s purpose for me. 

Given all these things, Paul then says in Romans 8:35-39:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

If God is for us, there truly is nothing that can stand against us… and many things WILL stand against us. That’s guaranteed. But, we are more than conquerors and nothing can separate us from the love of God!

But our end is sure. We WILL arrive in glory, and when that time comes, we’ll chuckle at how insignificant our sufferings really were. Christ will be all in all, and we’ll be experiencing joy we didn’t know was possible.

Fight the good fight. God is for you.