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Saturday, April 28, 2018

Live by Faith, Not by Sight

Live by Faith, Not by Sight
Hebrews 11
The eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews in the Bible is all about faith - faith in God.  The very first verse in Chapter 11 gives us a definition of what “faith in God” is. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (King James Version) Or in a more modern version of the Bible, it reads: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for in Christ and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1) (New International Version)
 You may be wondering how we can “be sure of something we hope for in Christ or certain of something we do not see” as this first verse in Hebrews is saying? Or how is faith in God’s promises the “substance” of things hoped for or the “evidence of things not seen”? The Greek word translated “substance” literally means “a standing under,” and it was like a “title deed.”  The root idea is that of standing under the claim to a property to support its validity.  This faith in Christ is like the “title deed” of things hoped for.  And the assurance of our faith rests on God’s promises.  We “stand” under or hold on to these promises. Just as you would know that you owned a house because you hold on to the title deed.  Faith in God is our title deed to eternal life according to the Holy Scriptures.  This faith is very precious.
 Jesus speaks of how blessed those who believe in Him are when they have not yet actually seen Him but still believe. Thomas, Jesus’ disciple, said that he would not believe that Jesus rose from the dead unless he could feel the nail holes in His hands and put his hand in the sword wound on Jesus’ side. Jesus came to Thomas and let him touch his wounds and then He said to Thomas: “Because you have seen Me, you have believed: but blessed are those who have not seen Me and still have believed.”  (John 20:29)  We who believe are blessed. 
Our faith is all important to God, so, it should be all important to us.  The Bible says: “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.” (Hebrews 11:6) Since our faith in God is so very precious, we should try to protect it from those who would work to undermine it. And we can also try to strengthen our faith.  Scripture says that “Faith comes by hearing, hearing the Word of God.” (Romans 10:17) We can build up our precious faith by studying the Bible and by fellowshipping with other Christians.  We can live humble lives and ask God to lead us and give us more faith in Him.  When we believe in Christ as our Savior and Lord, Scripture says that we receive the Holy Spirit into our lives.  And that Holy Spirit is proof (or a deposit) of our eternal life in Christ. This Holy Spirit guides us through life and teaches and comforts us. 
And when we look back we can see that the Holy Spirit has been with us.  It becomes easier to believe God’s promises of salvation and answered prayers when we walk through life listening for His guidance and experiencing His help.  Our wonderful faith in Christ is offered to us when we hear the gospel.  It is our gift, but we must have the faith to accept it. Scripture says: “Anyone who comes to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”  (Hebrews 11:6b)
Scripture says: “You also were included in Christ when you heard the Word of Truth, the gospel or the good news of your salvation.  Having believed in Christ, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of His glory.”  (Ephesians 1:13-14) Do you notice that believers have been marked by God with a “seal” which is the Holy Spirit?    
This “faith” chapter in Hebrews goes on to give examples of what people of “faith” did in their lives and how their faith changed them. Hebrews chapter 11 gives us a whole list or “Gallery of Heroes and Heroines of the Faith!” Most of these people of “faith” believed they had heard God’s call on their lives. And with faith they answered God’s call! 
One of the “heroes” of faith mentioned in Hebrews chapter 11 is Abraham.  Scripture says: “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a promised land, obeyed and went even though he did not know where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8) Do we, like Abraham, follow God even when we don’t know where we were going?  God promised Abraham that the land where he was going would be his inheritance.  And that his children would become a nation that God would specially bless.  Abraham believed God even though he never saw all of God’s promises fulfilled during his lifetime. 
Scripture says that when Abraham and Sarah got to the promised land: “he lived, by faith in the land as in a foreign country, living in tents…for he (Abraham) waited for the city (heaven) which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”  (Hebrews 11:9,10) Abraham’s call is our call too – to be strangers and pilgrims on this earth.  (1 Peter 2:11) Our citizenship is in heaven, as was Abraham’s. 
God promised children to Abraham and his wife, Sarah, but they had to wait many long years for that promise to be fulfilled.  Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah 90 before their son Isaac was born. 
In our faith chapter, Hebrews 11, Sarah is also given honorable mention.  “By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age for bearing children, because she judged Him faithful who had promised.” (Hebrews 11:11)
As Sarah grew into old age she began questioning God’s promise of a child and had laughed at the angel who had said that she would give birth.  Her unbelief is pardoned and forgotten, because her faith in God’s promise won out and is recorded!
 This is encouraging to us who sometimes have difficulties with our own faith!  Encouraging when we doubt if we can receive answers to prayers which seem physically impossible to answer, even when we know our requests are in God’s will.  Our God can make possible the impossible. If Sarah’s unbelief can be pardoned, ours can too.  Also, God can make our barrenness fruitful just as He did Sarah’s.  Jesus promises us: “Whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” (Matthew 21:22) His promises are for us if we only believe.
We have only mentioned the faith of Abraham and Sarah today, but next time we will cover some of the other champions of faith written about in Hebrews 11.  Our “faith” chapter continues with: “these persons of faith all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off they were assured of them, embraced them and confessing that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” (Hebrews 11:13) It seem that the persons of faith in Scripture embraced God’s promises or counted on them. Confessed them and continued praying for them. And their faith looked out far beyond their present earthly scene to the Day when they would be in their eternal home and all their prayers would be answered.







Saturday, April 21, 2018

God Miraculously Protects Jerusalem from the Mighty Assyrian Army

God Miraculously Protects Jerusalem from the Mighty Assyrian Army
There are so many stories in the Bible telling of the times when God intervened with super natural power to save His people.  And so many accounts in Scripture of special gifts and miracles God gave His people when they were in need.  Our story today is one more account in the Bible (Isaiah 36 & 37) of one of those times when God miraculously saved His people.
The year was 701 B.C. and Assyria had become a proud and powerful nation, dominating the middle east. For two-hundred years the mighty Assyrian army had marched across the land making war with all their neighbors and conquering nearly all the cities in the area.  Stealing their farmland and livestock, sacking and burning the homes, and making slaves of the people.
King Sennacherib of Assyria was rich and famous because of his bloody conquests and he was greedy for more.  So, he sent his massive armies out to invade the little nation of Judah, and the Assyrian armies captured 46 fortified Jewish cities and carried 200,000 people away into slavery.  The only city left unharmed in Judah now is Jerusalem, and our story begins as King Sennacherib’s massive armies are on their way to fight and conquer Jerusalem.
As the massive Assyrian armies are on their way, King Sennacherib sends his Chief of Staff, Rabshakeh, ahead of his armies to try to frighten King Hezekiah, the king of Jerusalem. Rabshakeh plans to convince King Hezekiah that he has no hope in trying to fight the Assyrian armies when he is so badly outnumbered.  That he might as well surrender without a fight. Things would be easier that way. Rabshakeh knows that King Hezekiah believes in his God and believes that his God will protect Jerusalem. Rabshakeh wants to get King Hezekiah to see how naïve and foolish he is to think that God can save little Jerusalem from might Assyria.     
Rabshakeh arrives outside the walls of Jerusalem and three of King Hezekiah’s men go out to meet him.  Rabshakeh begins to loudly boast of all the cities that the Assyrian armies had already conquered.  A crowd gathers around, and Rabshakeh brags louder to try to turn the crowd against their king, King Hezekiah, for being so simple as to trust in God to protect them when any intelligent person would be smart enough to know that a few fighting Jewish farmers cannot stand up against several hundred thousand trained Assyrian soldiers with their chariots and horses and armaments.
 Nothing is new, God’s people have always been mocked and ridiculed. Aren’t there mockers today like Rabshakeh, who laugh at Christians and consider them to be ignorant, naïve and out dated for believing in the God of the Bible?  And believing that He would hear their prayers?     
A crowd in Jerusalem gathers around Rabshakeh and he began shouting “Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, he will not be able to deliver you.  Nor let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord God, saying: ‘The Lord God will surely deliver us: this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria…” (Isaiah 36:14-15) 
Rabshakeh also tries to scare the people in Jerusalem into not trusting their God to save them. He reminds them that hundreds of thousands of other people before them have also tried praying and sacrificing to their idol gods, but the Assyrian armies came and burned their cities down to the ground anyway. Their gods didn’t work for them.  So why should the God of Israel be any different?  Do the Jewish people think their God is better than their neighbor’s hand-made gods?
And then Rabshakeh compares the God of Israel to the idol gods of the cities that were destroyed, assuring the citizens of Jerusalem that their God is the same as all those other idol gods made by human hands.  And asking them why they should count on their God to save them when all the other idol gods couldn’t save their people or their cities and nations? 
Here is what Rabshakeh says to the people of Jerusalem: “Has any one of the gods of the nations been able to deliver its land from the hand of the king of Assyria?  Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad?  Indeed, have they delivered Samaria from my hand?  Who among all the gods of these lands has delivered their countries from my hand?  So why do you believe that the Lord your God will be able to deliver Jerusalem from my hand?”  (Isaiah 36:18b-21) Rabshakeh is comparing the God of Israel with the hand- made idols often carved out of stone or wood, that were so popular in ancient times.
How many times are believers in Christ threatened with this same lie? The lie that Jesus Christ is not God the Son, but is the same as any other great prophet or ancient teacher?  And that our heavenly Father, our God, is the same as Buddha or Allah?  That all the major world religious traditions are equal to our Christian faith?
 And the lie that believers in the God of the Bible are naïve and ignorant when we believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and Savior – the only Savior.  And Jesus is the only Way to God, the Father, and the Creator of the Universe.  (John 14:6 and Genesis 1:1) Surely modern intelligent people can’t still believe the good news of the gospel!
The people in Jerusalem listening to Rabshakeh refused to answer him or to be frightened by his rantings.  And the king’s men carried a letter from King Sennacherib of Assyria to King Hezekiah informing him that he might as well surrender because the massive Assyrian armies were on their way to Jerusalem to destroy it and enslave his people.  In the letter, King Sennacherib made fun of the ignorant people of Jerusalem and blasphemed their God.
King Hezekiah tore his clothes and sent an urgent message to Isaiah, God’s prophet, telling him that the armies of Assyria would be attacking Jerusalem in a couple of days and begging Isaiah to pray.  Then King Hezekiah hurried to the House of the Lord and fell down before God and “spread King Sennacherib’s threatening letter out before God.” (Isaiah 374b) King Hezekiah begged God to save little Jerusalem from the mighty Assyrian armies as he knew his God was able to do.  He prayed, “O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the Lord, You alone.” (Isaiah 37:20)   
Isaiah, God’s prophet sent King Hezekiah a message to not worry and telling him that the Lord God of Israel had given him a word promising that He would stop the approaching armies of Assyria and protect His people.  (Isaiah 37:33-35) Isaiah and King Hezekiah were both men of faith and firmly believed in the Sovereignty of their God. .
Scripture tells the rest: “Then the angel of the Lord went out and killed in the camp of the Assyrians one hundred and eighty-five thousand soldiers: and when the soldiers arose early in the morning, there were the corpses – all dead.  So, King Sennacherib turned around and went back to Nineveh.”  (Isaiah 37:36-37) Some Bible historians believe that possibly the “angel of the Lord” might have spread cholera or some other deadly disease throughout the camp that night when 185,000 soldiers died so mysteriously and were thus stopped from finishing their mission to destroy Jerusalem. 
Nations may glory in their conquests, as did Assyria, but it is God who uses them as His instruments.  It seems the defeat of the Assyrian armies was the result of the earnest prayer of King Hezekiah.  God uses us and our prayers and faith in His holy work.  If we will only believe. 






Saturday, April 14, 2018

Habakkuk Asks God Tough Questions

Habakkuk Asks God Tough Questions
Habakkuk was a Jewish prophet who lived around 600 B.C during a violent and lawless time in Jewish history.  Habakkuk was upset and burdened by how far his fellow countrymen had turned away from God.  And he describes the situation in his country this way: “Plundering and violence are before me. There is strife, and contention arises. The law is powerless, and justice never goes forth.  The wicked surround the righteous and perverse judgment proceeds…” (Habakkuk 1:3-4)
Habakkuk’s two questions and God’s answers are found in the book of Habakkuk, one of the shorter books of the Bible.  Habakkuk’s questions are questions that Christians down through the ages have asked God, Questions that you and I may ask God when everything seems to be going wrong in our world. But then God’s answers to Habakkuk (and to us) are over the top!
Here is Habakkuk’s first question to God: “O Lord, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear?  Even cry out to You, “Violence” and You will not save? (Habakkuk 1:2) Habakkuk asks where God is when bad things happen?  Why does God allow violence and injustice to continue?  And why doesn’t God hear his cry and rush in and save good people from ruin? 
Habakkuk expects God to do something immediately. He expects God to come down and stop his fellow Jewish citizens from their selfish and violent acts against one another.  Make them be good. Don’t we ask God the same questions when our world is turned upside down?  And don’t we expect God to answer the way we decide that He should answer?  So why doesn’t He?
And God answers: – but not the way Habakkuk had expected!  God replies: “Look among the nations and watch – Be utterly astounded!  For I will work a work in your days which you would not believe, though it were told you.  For indeed I am raising up the Chaldeans, a bitter and hasty nation, who will march through the breadth of the earth to steal lands that are not theirs…”  (Habakkuk 1:5-6) God is telling Habakkuk that He will use the evil Chaldeans to sack and burn Judah and eventually bring the Jewish people back to Himself!
God plans to send the proud and mighty Chaldeans, known for their violence and cruelty, to plunder the Jewish nation of Judah! Habakkuk is shocked beyond words!  God’s plan of using the evil Chaldeans to punish the Israelites doesn’t make any sense to Habakkuk at all! 
Habakkuk is trembling as he asks God a second question.  First Habakkuk goes on and on reminding God of how evil the Chaldeans are.  And then he asks God how He can use wicked men (the Chaldeans) to help fulfill His holy purposes since He is pure and righteous?  (Habakkuk 1:12-17) 
After Habakkuk asks God this second question he tells God that He will stand there and wait for an answer: “I will stand my watch and set myself on the rampart.  And watch to see what God will say to me.  And what I will answer when I am corrected.” (Habakkuk 2:1) Do we, like Habakkuk, stop and listen and wait for God’s answers?
And then God comes back with an answer for Habakkuk’s questions– but more than an answer – God comes back with a “Vision”.  This is God’s answer – or Vision: “Write the Vision and make it plain on tablets.  That he may run who reads it.  For the vision is yet for an appointed time.  But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie.  Though it tarries, wait for it.  Because it will surely come, It will not tarry.” (Habakkuk 2:4a) I believe that God is telling Habakkuk that his prayer for his people will be answered in God’s time. Not our time. But it will happen. Habakkuk can count on it.   
God speaks of the wicked Chaldeans and of all wicked people and of the punishment that they are bringing down upon themselves.  Even inanimate objects will curse their bad deeds! “Even the stones will cry out from the wall.  And the beam from the timbers will answer it.”  (Habakkuk 2:11) God will act to bring down the wicked as only God can.  He has ways that we cannot fathom. But God says that “The just shall live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4) The righteous person in his faithfulness and firmness, consistency, belief, faith and steadfastness, shall live!
And then God gives Habakkuk a peek or a “Vision” of the earth in the future, after evil finally has been overcome.  God tells Habakkuk: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord.  As the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14)   
God has given Habakkuk more than an answer.  God has given him a “Vision”!  A Vision of what God can and will do to answer his prayer for his people. Habakkuk’s prayer for his people will eventually be answered.  God has promised.  “The vision is for an appointed time.  But in the end, it will speak, it will not lie.  Though it tarries, it will surely come.” (Habakkuk 2;4A)   
And God will answer our prayers too if we, like Habakkuk, will ask Him and wait and believe.  God our Father also gives us not just an answer, but a ”Vision,”  A vision that will keep us moving on in faith. And He also sometimes answers our prayers in ways that we never would expect. Our God is all powerful and full of surprises.
Life is full of mystery, danger and uncertainty. The Holy Spirit shows up in the mystery and danger and through the uncertainty and gives us gifts of deepening trust and unexpected love. Our heavenly Father asks us to trust Him through it all, just as He asked Habakkuk. His promise to take care of it all is our “vision”, even though we can’t understand how. 
Habakkuk did not immediately see an answer to his prayer for his people. Things were still very bad in his beloved country.  And he knew that the evil Chaldeans would be coming soon. But Habakkuk had been to the “promised land” and he had been given God’s “Vision.” He knew in the end that the answer would come.  Habakkuk was satisfied and wrote this hymn of faith to God: “Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines:  Though the labor of the olive may fail.  And the fields yield no food.  Though the flock may be cut off from the fold: And there be no herd in the stalls.  Yet I will rejoice in the Lord.  I will joy in the God of my salvation.”  (Habakkuk 3:17-18)  Can we sing Habakkuk’s hymn with him when our world is falling apart?

Monday, April 9, 2018

Letting Go by Forgiving

Letting Go by Forgiving
When the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray, Jesus gives them the “Lord’s Prayer” (Matthew 6:9-13) This prayer Jesus taught us to pray has been prayed by Christians ever since.  Forgiveness is one of the important parts of the Lord’s Prayer. Right in the middle of this short prayer we read: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” (Matthew 6:12) We ask the Father to forgive our sins as we forgive others who have wronged us.   
Jesus doesn’t just suggest, but He commands his followers to forgive.  It’s all important. When Peter asks Jesus if he should forgive a fellow church member who sins against him seven times, Jesus gives him a surprising answer! “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seven times seventy,” Jesus tell Peter. (Matthew 18:21-24) I think Jesus was saying that we should always forgive!
Right after Jesus told Peter to forgive seventy times seven, He told another of His stories or parables about the importance of forgiveness. (Matthew 18:23-35) This story of Jesus’ tells of a servant who owes the king ten thousand talents (millions of dollars).  Because this servant cannot pay back his enormous debt, he is sentenced to prison.  But the servant cries and moans and begs the king for mercy and for more time to pay his debt, and the king is moved by his servant’s cries and forgives his debt and sets the servant free. 
Soon after the servant runs into one of his friends who owes him a hundred denarii (a few dollars).  He grabs his friend by the neck and demands his money.  But when the friend cannot pay, the servant orders that his friend be put in prison.
  Jesus says that when the king hears that his servant has not forgiven his friend for not being able to pay back his small debt immediately, he calls his servant in and asks him why he has not forgiven his friend the small debt when his king has forgiven him his huge debt.  The king sends his servant to jail until he can pay back his huge debt.  And Jesus closes his story by saying: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”  (Matthew 18:35)  
Scripture tells us that if we are followers of Christ, that our heavenly Father has forgiven all of our sins. (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; 1 John 1:9) Because God has forgiven our many sins, we are to be children of our heavenly Father and also forgive the sins of others.
What is forgiveness?  When a wife (or husband) is in a marriage where she/he is being abused (beaten, hit, harmed, etc.), I do not believe that forgiveness means that the abused spouse must continue allowing the abuser to hurt or harm her/him over and over again -  enabling the abuse. Forgiveness does not mean that the one being abused must stay and continue being abused again and again. But forgiveness means that the abused one gets out of harm’s way and then does not carry a heavy load of bitterness around against the abuser, never letting it go.  We humans are not strong enough to carry the weight of unforgiveness and hate around in our lives.    
Many of us don’t take Jesus’ command to forgive as seriously as we should.  I know I don’t.  It is so easy to hold grievances against others.  So difficult to always forgive!  To let it go!  Sometimes we enjoy being angry and not forgiving. How do we as followers of Christ, obey His command to forgive? 
Adam Hamilton in his book, “Forgiveness, Finding Peace through Letting Go”, says that refusing to forgive another person who has wronged us is like putting a stone in our backpack and carrying it around everywhere with us.  We cannot be lighthearted and free when we are burdened down carrying around the heavy stones of unforgiveness.  Our lives as children of God are meant to be characterized by grace and forgiveness, not resentments and bitterness. 
Adam Hamilton suggests one small method of letting go of the offences we are holding against the person who sinned against us.  It is a game we can play when someone has not treated us fairly and we are upset with them.  First remember the letters “R”, “A” and “P” – “RAP”.  Starting with “R” which stands for: “Remember your own shortcomings” The letter “A” stands for: “Assume the best in people who wronged you”, and the letter “P” stands for: “Pray for the one who wronged you.”
 When you are irritated with another person, stand back and “Remember” that you perhaps have wronged others too.  Then, “Assume” the best of the person bothering you.  Remember the good that the person has done. Perhaps he can’t help the way he is acting now, or perhaps he didn’t intend to harm you.  And “Pray” for the offending person.  It is easier to forgive a person when you stop and pray for him/her.  And keep praying for God to help you forgive.  You are big enough, with God’s help, to let your unforgiveness go. 
Adam Hamilton in his book “Finding Peace through Letting Go” writes about how to deal with the really big sins that you may be called upon during your life to forgive.  Murder, betrayal, criminal acts, etc.  He compares the really big sins to really big stones that we may have to keep chipping away at until we can finally stop carrying them around with us.  We may have to pray every day for a long time.  We give God our anger one day and then we take some of it back the next. Back and forth, little by little.  But we must keep chipping away until we have given it all to God. 
We only hurt ourselves when we keep carrying resentment and hate, even when a crime has been committed against us or our loved ones.  Choose not to give the wrongdoer power over you by hauling around a large stone of resentment.   Do not let it define you. Scripture tells us that on purpose God chose to forget our sins.  He chooses to forgive and forget. (Isaiah 43:25) So, on purpose choose to forget to hold onto your heavy stone of unforgiveness.  On purpose forgive and forget.   
We find peace and freedom when we let go of our resentments and give them to God. When we let go of any anger we have over the loss we may have suffered.  Let go of any games we could play against the offender. Let go and trust God to take care of us and our loved ones, if we love Him. (Romans 8:28)    Let go and trust God with our whole problem. Let go and trust in His Sovereignty.  Count on God our Father to carry you through.  He can do it! He has promised that He will.  (Isaiah 43:2) Lay down your heavy burden at His feet and just let it go!