Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Sword vs. Prayer

It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover. So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.
Acts 12:1-5

This is a dangerous time for the church. The last time Rome aligned itself with the Jewish religious leaders against the church it ended with Jesus' crucifixion. That was 11 years ago and around this same time of year. Once again the great superpower is pandering to the desires of its political base in Jerusalem. Herod Agrippa I has already beheaded James. Now Peter sits in prison awaiting a certain execution. It was against Jewish law for anyone to be tried or executed during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. If it wasn't for that, Peter would almost certainly already be dead. And once Herod has dispensed with Peter, what is to stop him from killing off the rest of the apostles too? What can the little community of believers do against the armed might of Rome?

The church finds itself facing a big problem. What will they do? Where will they turn?

First, let's look at what the church didn't do. They didn’t attack Herod. They didn't raise up arms to try to overthrow Rome. They didn’t start a petition or go to Herod and beg. They didn’t take up a collection to start a Peter Defense Fund or to try to bribe Herod with. As far as we know the church took only one action... 

The church prayed.

They prayed! They realized that only God could save. and they turned to Him, and Him alone, for help. This passage pits the power of the world against the power of God. Rome vs. the church, the sword vs. prayer. In verses 6-11 we find out that prayer prevailed and the power of God carried the day as an angel rescued Peter from prison. 

Make no mistake, the same war that was being fought in this passage is being fought in your life day-by-day. You aren’t fighting against Rome or the sword. You are fighting against someone else. The Bible tells us that you have a supernatural enemy, an accuser, a deceiver, named the Devil. According to Peter, this enemy is out to devour you (I Peter 5:8). He prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. He is watching and waiting for you to slip up, to stumble, so he can attack. That means that as long as we live in this world, we will be under attack. 

If you aren’t facing some type of crisis today, then you will be tomorrow or next week or next month. If we call ourselves Christians then we must be certain that we know how to respond to these attacks. Our first response must always be to go to God in prayer. We must be firm in our conviction that God alone controls our fate. He alone can save us. So let me ask you, are you praying? Are you lifting up your situation to the Lord and asking for His help? If really should be. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

I Will Not Be Driven Away

The arrogant mock me unmercifully, but I do not turn from your law.
Psalm 119:51

Do you know that Satan has a strategy to keep you away from God's Word? He wants you to ignore it, to leave it sitting on the shelf. He wants you to reject it, to walk away from it and choose to live your life on your own terms. And if you must persist in reading it, then he wants you to misunderstand the Bible and misapply it to your life. 

Consider the strategies the enemy employs in the Bible. The first time Satan attacked and tempted a human what did he say? Genesis 3:1- "Did God really say?" He starts by casting doubt on God's sure word. And the second thing he said was a direct contradiction of God's word. "You will not certainly die" (Genesis 3:4). First, he cast doubt on God's Word, then he called God Himself a liar. 

Consider one more example. When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness the second of his three temptations was built upon a quote of Scripture. Satan actually quoted Scripture at Jesus trying to trick Him into sinning. He tried to confuse Jesus, to make Him think that God's Word said He should do what Satan was tempting Him to do. Of course, considering that Jesus Himself is the Word and the greatest revelation of who God is, Satan failed.

What strategies is the enemy using to try to keep you away from the Bible right now? For the psalmist it was mocking. Even in our world today, people line up to deride and mock those who openly believe God's Word is without error and to be taken as 100% true. In response to those who verbally abuse him the psalmist says, "...but I do not turn from your law." You can almost hear the psalmist cry out with determination, "I will not be driven away from God's good word!"

He refuses to be driven away because he knows that God's word is 

So join with me in saying "I will not be driven away from God's Word!" Not by my busy schedule, or by force of habit, or by my sinful addictions, and certainly not by the mocking ridicule of naysayers. I believe that God's Word is true and good, so I will persevere in reading it and prayerfully applying it to my life. Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible is dedicated to sing the praises of God's good word. Dedicate your life to studying that Word, living by it, and giving glory to God for it. So what's the best way to start doing that today? Read it! 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Fiberglass Bathtubs and a Forever Rock

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.
Isaiah 26:3-4

There are two kinds of people in this world. Those who hear a tornado warning and quickly go get in the bathtub and those who immediately open the front door to walk outside to see if the tornado is close to their house. I am the latter, and it drives my wife crazy. 

The problem is that I'm just not convinced my fiberglass bathtub can protect me from a tornado. If I had a real storm shelter it might be different, but why huddle in a damp bathtub for an hour if it isn't going to do me any good?

Perhaps this is how too many of us think about God. "Why take my problems to God in prayer? He isn't going to listen to me. I've tried the whole God thing before and it didn't work for me. God didn't take my problems away." It's uncomfortable to humble ourselves before God. People simply won't do it if they aren't convinced it will work. 

These two verses in Isaiah give us some pretty good reasons to believe it will work. God promises to keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast. The word for "keeping" can also mean that God is guarding or watching over us, ensuring that we are kept in perfect peace. Perfect peace is literally "peace peace" in the original language. It is double peace. The Hebrew word for peace goes beyond our understanding of peace in the English language. According to the ESV Study Bible the Hebrew word for peace "shalom" meant more than just the absence of trouble but also included the idea of positive blessing. It was like saying "all is well." This is the kind of peace that God promises to preserve for those whose minds are dependent on Him. These people have God as their support. They lean on Him. He upholds them. They have confidence in God and trust Him for their security.

The passage continues to tell us that we should trust in God (a concept that includes boldness and confidence) because He is the rock eternal. Some translations render this as everlasting strength, but I like the picture of God as a forever rock. He is immovable and unchanging. Just the kind of shelter you want to run to in a storm. Just the kind of protection you seek out when under attack. God is our refuge!

Here is the takeaway. An immovable, lasting, perfect peace in life has to be built on an immovable, lasting, perfect God. This is the only way to double peace, peace that isn't dependent on your situation. The storm may rage, but your peace is unmoved because you have confidence in your refuge. You may fall, but your confidence is unshaken because your mind is stayed on God's faithfulness instead of your sinfulness. You are quiet even when you are under attack because you know that the ultimate victory has already been declared on your behalf in Christ.

Far too many of us lack this kind of peace, because far too many of us lack this type of confidence in our God. Will you place your trust in God today? Will you rest your mind steadfastly on His nature and His promises? Let God be your support, then you can move forward in confidence knowing that God is your forever Rock, a sturdy constant in a sea of change. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

It's Time to Dust Off an Old Spiritual Discipline (W.o.W. Rewind)

With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes!
Psalm 119:10-12 (ESV)

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Colossians 3:16 (ESV)

Today I want to challenge you (and myself) to practice a long lost form of spiritual discipline that Christians rarely do anymore. (I am ashamed to say it has been a while since I have done it.) Let's memorize some Scripture! Before we start though, allow me just a few words in the two beautiful passages above.

There are many benefits to Scripture memorization. The psalmist highlights it as a means of avoiding sin. If we memorize God's commands, then we can avoid unknowingly transgressing against them. Storing up Scripture in his heart is a way for the psalmist to show his whole-hearted devotion to seeking the Lord. It's fitting that Psalm 119:11 should be considered the well spring of the spiritual discipline of Scripture memory because this chapter is not only the Bible's longest at 176 verses but is also one long acrostic poem dedicated to the goodness of God's Word. Colossians draws out a different benefit of committing the Word to memory. The believer should let the word or message of Christ dwell in her richly so that she can teach and admonish other believers, even by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs containing the same truths. I contend that there's no better way of letting Jesus' message dwell in us richly than for us to roll it around in our minds day after day until it is committed to memory. So what are we waiting for!

I suggest that you memorize any or all of following passages of Scripture:
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment."
Matthew 22:37 (NIV)
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it."
Luke 9:23-24 (NIV)
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”
Lamentations 3:21-24 (NIV)
Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves.
Psalm 127:1-2 (NIV)
The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.
Psalm 145:8-9 (NIV)

For further help consider the following:

  • Write a verse that is meaningful to you on your mirror so you'll see it automatically every day.
  • Write the passage out on a note card and carry it with you. Then you can work on memorization wherever you may be. Waiting in line at the store or waiting for a meeting to start at work.
  •  Say the verse out loud repeatedly. Hearing it will help you memorize it.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Ultimate Imitation of Christ

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Galatians 6:2

At any given moment most of us have a burden, some heaviness or trouble in our lives. If you are anything like me, then you are acutely aware of your own burdens and almost completely oblivious to those of anyone else around you. It's true. Serving others, thinking of others, being considerate- these aren't my natural strong suits. So when I came across this verse, I was prompted by the Spirit to ask myself this question. "Do I help bear the burdens of other believers?"

The second half of the verse reveals just how important this question really is. It tells us that if we are helping to bear burdens then we are fulfilling the law of Christ. So if we aren't, then we must be failing to fulfill Christ's law. 

Why is this so important? The ESV study Bible adds a helpful footnote here. "To bear one another's burdens is the supreme imitation of Jesus, the ultimate burden bearer" (p.2255). Think for a moment about Jesus as the ultimate burden bearer. 1 Peter 2:24 says, "'He himself bore our sins' in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness." Galatians 3:13 reveals that "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us." But perhaps Isaiah 53:4-5 puts it best of all: 
Surely he took up (bore) our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

In Christ we have been set free from the Old Testament law; we are no longer obligated to observe times and seasons. So what is this law of Christ? We are obligated by the grace and freedom we have received through Jesus to live for God as His servants, obeying His commands. Jesus taught us that the second greatest command of God is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). If we are to fulfill Jesus' teaching, if we are to obey His commands, then we must bear one another's burdens.

All of us know a believer with a burden. Stop right now and think of at least one.

Now, prayerfully and considerately, do something about it. Help bear that burden. Encourage them. Pray for them. Serve them. Come alongside and mourn with them. Volunteer to help them get some work done. Give generously to them. Remember that we are called to love one another as a family- a new family, created through Jesus, as we are adopted as God's children. So do something to lighten the load of a brother or sister in Christ today. 

For further reading
  • John 13:1-17 & 34- Consider Christ's service through the lens of a powerfully symbolic act.
  • 2 Corinthians 8:9- The prince of heaven becomes a poor carpenter with no place to lay his head so that we might be saved.