Monday, October 18, 2021

Whiners

 


We can be whiners.  Really, sometimes we just sound like little kids, “You don’t love me.  Nobody cares about me!”  Things aren’t happening on our timetable, in our way and we just poke out our lip out and mope.  We’re part of a long line of complainers.  Way back 2,800 years ago, the people of Jerusalem were moaning about their plight. God had a gentle but direct response then, and it applies as much to us today as it did to them.

 

Isaiah 40:28 - Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.

 

Things to think about:

·       For some reason, we as humans tend to focus on what we don’t have or what’s not going right instead of the other way around.

·       Is. 40:27 – “Why do you complain, Jacob?
    Why do you say, Israel,
‘My way is hidden from the Lord;
    my cause is disregarded by my God’?”

·       Think about a time when God felt distant from you.  Can you empathize with Israelites? Are there areas in your life where God seems more plugged in and others where He might feel more distant?

o   Family

o   Finances

o   Physical

o   Something else

·       Does God ever “disregard our cause”?

o   Psalm 139:7-10 - Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.

o   Romans 8:34 – “Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”

o   Not only is Jesus interceding for us, He told us in John 14:16, “and I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever…”

·       “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.”

o   Well, that’s good that He doesn’t get tired, but what about us???

·       This passage you can probably quote –

o   Is. 40: 29-31 – “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint.”

o   In typical God fashion, He does the work for us. 

§  Are you weary? Are you tired?

§  Do you think maybe God has looked the other way from your challenges?

§  The Lord doesn’t diminish what you’re trying to deal with, rather He does what you can’t do for yourself.

·       God hasn’t forgotten you.  He sees and cares about what’s going on in your life.

·       He just asks that you put your hope in Him and He will give you the strength to stumble through.

o   No, not stumble through, but to SOAR.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Bullies




We have an enemy who is full of loud, obnoxious threats designed to make us lose heart.  He tells us that what and Who we are relying on is of no use. He mixes half-truths with lies to provide evidence that all is hopeless. If you are in a battle right now, there is great biblical instruction here for you. Let’s look at a scene from the Book of Isaiah to get a glimpse into his playbook and what our response should be.

 

Isaiah 35: 3-4

Strengthen the feeble hands,
    steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
    He will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
    He will come to save you.”

 

Things to think about:

·       In Isaiah 36 and 37 we have a drama unfolding.  Sennacherib, the King of Assyria, has sent his commander to go to Jerusalem to persuade them to not put up a fight and agree to be conquered by Assyria. He is speaking to three men on King Hezekiah’s staff.

·       His playbook consisted of telling them that their alliance with Egypt was no good and that their trust in God was pointless

o   Is. 36:6-7 - Look, I know you are depending on Egypt, that splintered reed of a staff, which pierces the hand of anyone who leans on it! Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who depend on him. But if you say to me, “We are depending on the Lord our God”—isn’t he the one whose high places and altars Hezekiah removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, “You must worship before this altar”?

o   First, the half-truth – I’m not a historian as to the exact power Pharaoh and Egypt could have offered, but Jerusalem’s help was never going to come from a godless country

o   And the lie – Hezekiah didn’t destroy anything erected to God, he destroyed the Asherah poles and other symbols of idolatry

·       Then the commander moves in to make a deal with them

o   Is. 36:8-10 - “‘Come now, make a bargain with my master, the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses—if you can put riders on them! How then can you repulse one officer of the least of my master’s officials, even though you are depending on Egypt for chariots and horsemen? Furthermore, have I come to attack and destroy this land without the Lord? The Lord himself told me to march against this country and destroy it.’”

o   Compromising with our enemy is never a valid strategy

o   With a bit of sarcasm, he is offering a shortcut (2,000 horses)

§  He layers in another lie, claiming authority from God  

·       He then steps up the rhetoric and tells them if they don’t comply, they “will have to eat their own excrement and drink their own urine”

o   Can’t make this up!

o   The devil is rude, vulgar, and has no scruples

·       Previously, Hezekiah wisely instructed them in verse 21, “Do not answer him.” 

o   In Proverbs 26:5  it says to not answer a fool according to his folly or you will be like him.

o   Absent the Sword of the Word, we are poorly equipped to out-debate our enemy

·       Hezekiah sent the men to the prophet Isaiah for godly counsel, which is exactly what they got

o   Is. 37:6 - This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid of what you have heard—those words with which the underlings of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. 

o   Now, the enemy is not going to give in so easily

§   “Say to Hezekiah king of Judah: Do not let the god you depend on deceive you when he says, ‘Jerusalem will not be given into the hands of the king of Assyria.’ Surely you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the countries, destroying them completely. And will you be delivered? 

§  There is plenty of evidence that our world is still in the enemy’s hands.  Therefore, it should come as no surprise when we see on the news all of the bad things that are happening, which can lead us to think that there is no hope.

·       When Hezekiah received back the message from the King of Assyria, he prayed:

o    “Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.

 “It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God.”

§  Here’s the playbook!

·       He exalted God, he acknowledged the reality of what was happening, he put his trust in the Lord to His glory.

·       And how did God answer Hezekiah?

o   He assured him regarding his enemy

§  “But I know where you are
    and when you come and go
    and how you rage against me.
Because you rage against me
    and because your insolence has reached my ears,
I will put my hook in your nose
    and my bit in your mouth,
and I will make you return
    by the way you came.

§  Is. 37:36 - Then the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies!  So, Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there.”

·       Our verse from this study actually comes from the preceding chapter because it foreshadows this vivid illustration:

·       (He will) Strengthen the feeble hands,
    steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
    He will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
    He will come to save you.”

·       Don’t believe the vicious lies of the enemy.  Whatever battle you are in today:

o   Don’t rely on your own strength or that of others

o   Don’t engage with the enemy on his terms

o   Do take it to the Lord in prayer

o   Do let God take up your cause for His sake

o   Do be strong, He is coming to save you

 

  

Monday, August 2, 2021

Simple, but not Easy

 




Sometimes I think we make our relationship with God more difficult than it needs to be.  In the first chapter of Isaiah, God is basically saying, “You were raised by me and yet you guys are acting like bratty children.  All it’s getting you is a miserable life that you try and cover up with religion. Cut it out!”  He then pivots in a positive direction and provides the solution, “Clean up your act, quit thinking about yourselves, and help the most vulnerable among you.”

Isaiah 1:16-17 - …stop doing wrong.
Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.

 

Things to think about:

·       I like to say sometimes that God gives us children so we know how it feels!  He has done everything for us and yet our tendency is to go in the other direction.

·       His formula for living in harmony with Him is pretty straightforward:

o   Stop doing wrong

o   Learn to do right

o   Seek justice and defend the oppressed

o   Look after the fatherless and the widow

·       Stop doing wrong

o   It is impossible to please God while in active rebellion against His laws

o   Religion is man’s attempt to whitewash our misdeeds

o   Why is God so intolerant of religion?

·       Learn to do right

o   Anyone who is a parent knows you don’t need to teach children how to be selfish or stubborn!

o   Like children, we need to learn to do what is right, it does not come to us innately.

o   God says to learn to do what is right.  “Right” according to who?  Why is absolute truth (as opposed to relative truth) the standard?

·       Seek justice and defend the oppressed.

o   While it is good to clean up our act, it is not the end of God’s expectation for you and me.

o   He is commanding us to actively seek to make things right and fair for everyone.  We are expected to call out injustice and inequality when we see it.

o   What does that look like in our times today?

·       Take up the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow

o   God puts an even finer point on what pleasing Him looks like.  He calls out two very specific groups of vulnerable people – orphans and widows

o   One thing that is very apparent is that there is a “male gap” that needs to be filled

o   How can we as men who seek to love God and be His representatives step up to the plate with this command?

God wants us to be in a right relationship with Him, first with salvation, then with sanctification, and finally with extending His grace and mercy to others.  Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven!

Monday, July 12, 2021

Don't Ever Give Up

 



There is a lot to be said for not quitting.  Jim Valvano is famous for his 1993 speech at the ESPYs for exhorting people to, "Don’t give up . . . don’t ever give up."  Even if you are taking one baby step further towards the goal, that is progress.  It may not be all the way to perfection, but thankfully that isn’t what is being asked of us (at least not of our own merits).  Even the great Apostle Paul knew that he had not attained all there was to be had in the Christian life, but he pressed on.  So can I and so can you.

 

Philippians 3:12-14

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

 

Things to think about:

·       Persistence

o   “but I press on…”

o   “I strain towards what is ahead”

o   2 Timothy 4:7 –  “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

o   Hebrews 12:3 – “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

o   Galatians 6:9 – “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

o   Why is persistence such an important trait?

o   Is there anyone you think of as being persistent?

·       What gets in the way of persistence in the faith?

o   Past mistakes – I’ve messed it up too badly

o   Past efforts – I’ve tried this before, I’ll just fail again

o   The lure of sin

o   Swimming upstream culturally

o   Something else?

·       This is a marathon, not a sprint

o   “Not that I have obtained all this or arrived at my goal…”         

o   1 John 3:2 – “dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

o   We’re not perfect but we know One who is

o   Hebrews 12:2 - Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith

o   1 Peter 2:22 – “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin,
    and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

·       Everyday we have two choices we can make:

o   Our attitude – Paul says he forgets what lies behind.  This is an active choosing of the will.

o   Our actions – Paul says he strains towards the goal, pressing on toward the prize.

o   Hebrews 12:1 – “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us”

o   How do our attitudes and actions affect our ability to persevere in the faith?

·       “To take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold for me”

o   What do you think Paul is referring to? 

§  Redemption

§  Renewal

§  Reward

·       If we persist and do not quit, Paul says we will win the prize that God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus.

o   Let us stay focused on the prize

o   If you are getting tired or discouraged, you can:

§  Pray for renewed strength

§  Read stories of saints who didn’t quit

§  Call a friend to talk it out

 

Monday, July 5, 2021

Fragile - Handle with Care!

 


If you heard someone call out in a loud voice, “Be gentle, be gentle!”, what would you think they were talking about?  Maybe a baby, or a kitten, or a person with an injury?  Maybe an antique or something else of great value.  In our verse below, Paul is telling us to be gentle with everyone we come in contact with.

 

Philippians 4:5 – Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 

 

Things to think about:

·       Two thoughts come to mind when considering gentleness: things of great value and things easily damaged.  Both of these are true with all people.

o   Matthew 6:26 - Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

o   2 Corinthians 4:7 - But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.       

o   What are other ways we know that God values all people?

·       With respect to the fragility of man, there are so many examples:

o   Our physical health

o   Our egos that are so easily bruised

o   Our inclination to sin

o   The scars we bear from previous emotional hurts

·       Given this, it is imperative that we treat others gently.

o   In fact, it is a fruit of the Spirit - But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Gal. 5:22-23)

·       Can you think of a time when someone showed you gentleness when you really needed it (and maybe didn’t deserve it)?

·       When are practical times for us to show gentleness?

o   Resisting the urge to be short-tempered, quick to criticize, rush to judgment

·       You will no doubt encounter a situation today when you can offer gentleness to someone God has put in your path.

o   Remember, God values them so much He sent His Son for them

o   It is the will of God than none perish but all come to repentance (i.e., no lost causes)

o   All of us are but dust and need to be handled with care.

o   The Lord is near.