Perspectives on Spiritual, Intellectual and Pastoral Issues: Host – Lowell Qualls

The week leading up to the first Easter, Jesus knew He was headed for a week of war.  His war would be physical, emotional, and spiritual.  He knew that the battleground for this fight would be His mind.  Jesus knew what was ahead.  And phase one of the battle for His mind began on “Palm Sunday,” the day Jesus was celebrated by the crowd.

Matthew 20:17-19

17 As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, He took the twelve disciples aside privately and told them what was going to happen to Him. 18 “Listen,” He said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law.  They will sentence Him to die. 19 Then they will hand Him over to the Romans to be mocked, flogged with a whip, and crucified.  But on the third day He will be raised from the dead.”

I’m going to put the goal of my blog treatise out front, in plain view.  It is this:  I hope to convince you that if the Holy Spirit of God has our mind, our will and emotions will follow God’s leading.  If God has our minds we will live our lives God’s way, with all the perks!

Satan knows that if he has our minds he can ruin us!  Confuse us.  Cause us to doubt God.  If the enemy gets your mind then every part of your being is open to his control … your mind and your will and your emotions!   You’ll say “yes” to every dark and sinful idea that he brings to your mind.  And as he gets you say yes over and over again, you are taking steps toward addiction and spiritual slavery and ultimately spiritual death.

The bottom line is … OUR mind is the prize.

On that first Palm Sunday Jesus was  popular!  His reputation had preceded Him.   People in the crowds that day were testifying, “This prophet JESUS raised a man from the dead, a man that lives just over the Mount of Olives, in Bethany!!”

Some others were saying, “Oh, well, you think that’s impressive?  This Man fed two huge crowds of people… thousands of people each time … the first time with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish, and the other time with 7 loaves of bread and a few small fish!  What do you think of that!”

Matthew 21:8-11 tells us, 

Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of Him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around Him were shouting, 

“Praise God for the Son of David!
Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Praise God in highest heaven!”

 10 The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as He entered. “Who is this?” they asked.  11 And the crowds replied, “It’s Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

While during that first Palm Sunday Jesus had the approval of multitudes of people, just 5 days later these same people that were singing “Hosanna” would be shouting, “Crucify Him!  Give us Barabbas!  But crucify Jesus!”

Do you see the battle taking shape?  What Jesus was receiving from the crowds on Sunday was “the approval of man.”   Is that something you long for?  Ache for?  Would die for?

It is important we understand that our desire for approval and fear of disapproval, and why both is so strong.  We all long for approval and significance.  That’s why the fear man is so strong.

When God created Man He designed Adam to be motivated by these emotionally powerful forces – approval & disapproval – because they uniquely reveal what we love.

Because we are created beings our identity, our value, our meaning comes from the One who created us – God.  He has the rightful authority to define who we are, what we are worth, what we should do, and how we should do it.  He is called “the Lord,” not “a lord.”

That is why Jesus said the greatest commandment is to LOVE the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, all our strength and ALL OUR MIND.  All the other commandments will be obeyed if we love God totally.

God designed us to obey the one we love … or the one we fear.

So if we elevate Man to the highest place in our life, we will obey what we believe Man wants us to do, and how Man wants us to think.  Fear of Man is giving God’s rightful position in our lives to people, and that, my friends, is called idolatry.

The Bible says, in Proverbs 29:25, 25 Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the Lord means safety.

How do we battle and win over the fear of Man?   I wish it was simple, but it is not.  We must love God more, and place Him at the highest place in our hearts.   We must long for His approval!   His “thumbs up” should mean the world to us.

And while your battling the Fear of Man get ready to experience betrayal.  Betrayal will mess with your mind!

Just days after the crowds were praising Jesus, Judas would betray Him.  Judas, one of The Twelve Disciples, had his feet washed by Jesus.  Judas had seen the miracles.  He was there when the blind saw and the lame walked.  He watched as the demons came out of people.  He even saw the dead raised on THREE occasions.

And still he betrayed Jesus.

We won’t go into the whys and wherefores of Judas’ betrayal.  We just need to remember,  all of Christ’s DISCIPLES except John ran and hid for the three days of Jesus’ torture and death.  John and many of the woman, including Christ’s mother, went with Jesus to The Cross.

I don’t think the Holy Spirit is saying, “Prepare to be betrayed.  Don’t  trust anyone … even your inner circle!”  NO.

I believe the Holy Spirit is saying to us, “Prepare for YOUR OWN betrayal of Jesus.”

Part of spiritual warfare is understanding the nature of human beings.  Jesus knew He would be betrayed … but His betrayers were shocked by their own weakness!   Peter almost didn’t recover.  He was so surprised and embarrassed by his actions!  His betrayal of Jesus almost broke him.

I digress, but think about this:  Judas betrayed the Lord and felt he was UNFORGIVABLE.  My friend, if you fail the Lord don’t ever believe He won’t forgive you.  He knows that you aren’t perfect, and still He loves you so much. Unconditionally!  Ask the other disciples of Jesus.

Peter and the other brothers and sisters of Jesus stayed close enough to experience His resurrection, and the JOY of having a second chance!!

Give yourself some grace as God pours out His forgiveness on your heart when you blow it.  But also, let’s give some GRACE TO OUR FRIENDS!  No pointing fingers!  No “holier than thou!”  None of that stuff should ever surface.  We must understand, followers of Jesus (and that includes you and me) are just one mind-game away from breaking faith with our Lord.  If you want God’s grace, share in God’s grace!  We are not to judge our brothers and sisters.  We are to love and encourage anyone who sins.

Another powerful truth about spiritual warfare is THE IMPORTANCE OF PRAYER!

EVEN JESUS needed His Garden of Gethsemane!  His best preparation for what He was facing and would be facing would take place on His knees.

Your time of prayer … your Garden of Gethsemane … is your opportunity to address GOD!  Commune with Him.  Drink in His living water.  Feast on His Word.  Bend the knee in worship.  We must take advantage of our opportunities to speak to Him and to hear from Him if we ever hope to be victorious in the battle for our mind.

I believe if we take some time on our knees we will, like Jesus, come away from our prayer time saying, “NOT MY WILL BUT YOURS!”

Here’s a good question.  Are you walking in self-confidence or God-confidence?  (Are you living a successful and God-honoring life in your own strength or His?)

I’ll tell you what also comes out of our times of spiritual warfare prayer.  Look back at the Garden of Gethsamane.   Observe:  while others are cutting the ears off of the people around them you will be prepared to heal even your enemies.

After we pray and clear our minds our goals will change. After we spend time in God’s presence we won’t judge sinners but we will do everything we can to help them become His friends.  We’ll lay down our swords and pick up the servant’s bowl and towel.  We’ll wash feet instead of having to clean things up after a blood-bath.

The last thing I’ll share about spiritual warfare and the battle for our minds is this:  YOUR CROSS WILL REVEAL YOUR TRUE HEART.

Not too many days ago I celebrated “Good Friday.”   Does it ever strike you as ODD that Christians celebrate the death of our Savior?  It does me.  We Christ followers glory in the Cross of Jesus.  We sing about the Cross of Jesus.  We love the Cross of Jesus.  We wear reminders around our necks and get tattoos of a gross instrument of capital punishment.

We love the Cross because there is a strange beauty that is revealed while Jesus is dying.  If it is true, that whatever is in our hearts comes out through our mouths, and I do, then listen to what Jesus said from His heart.  What He said while He was dying proves my last point.

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”  (Luke 23:34)

No anger!  No cursing!  He preached forgiveness, and then He demonstrated forgiveness.

If you have anything against anyone, from your cross, forgive. Is it in your heart to do so?

“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

Again, this is about forgiveness.  This time directed to one who asked for mercy.  Our challenge many times is to not hold forgiveness as a weapon.  Don’t withhold forgiveness to teach someone a lesson, or to punish someone.  Release forgiveness.  Is it in your heart to do so?

“Jesus said to His mother: “Woman, this is your son.” Then He said to the disciple: “This is your mother.”  (John 19:26-27)

There are at least four people at the foot of the Cross.  There are three Marys mentioned, and John.  There is (1) Mary, the mother of Jesus, (2) Mary, His mother’s sister, and (3) Mary Magdalene.  And there is John, the one disciple that didn’t fade into the crowd and go into hiding.

While you may be suffering your cross there are others around you that are suffering, too.  Is it in your heart to love others even when you are longing for love?   Is it in your heart to care for others in spite of your personal pain?  Or is it always about you?

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34)

After three hours of suffering Jesus cried out in anguish!   Friends, we have this record of Christ crying out to God, “Have YOU deserted Me, too?”

One of the beautiful things about our loving God is that He never leaves us, but sometimes it feels like He does, doesn’t it?   Don’t be surprised if, while you are struggling on your cross, you get discouraged and you feel alone.  Is it still in your heart to cry out to God?   Is it in your heart to be honest with yourself and with God?

BE HONEST WITH GOD!  It’s important.  Don’t hide behind what you think is faith.  And don’t have faith in your faith.  Sometimes … many times … faith is crying out to the God you can’t see or touch, and believing that He is still listening … because He is!

This is truly spiritual warfare!

“I thirst.”  (John 19:28)

I don’t want to be whimsical and try to make a point by stretching what happened on the Cross of Christ when He said, “I thirst.”  But I can’t help thinking about an incident that happened earlier in the ministry of Jesus.  He had an encounter with a woman at a well, and He said to her, “Can I have a drink?”  (“I thirst.”)  They ended up having a conversation about well water and something else.  Jesus said, “Whoever drinks this well water will thirst again.  But whoever drinks the water I give will have eternal life!”

Was this moment on the Cross our Lord’s cry for eternal life?  Is it in your heart to thirst for the love of God?

Are you thirsty for the salvation of your family?  Your friends?  Your schoolmates? Your workmates?

Going back to the Cross, the Lord’s body is now giving out.  He has a tremendous thirst.  Next the Word of God tells us:

When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished;” and He bowed His head and handed over His spirit.   (John 19:30)

Luke’s Gospel says, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit.”  (Luke 23:46)

I believe a part of spiritual warfare is this simple thought.   When you’ve done all you can do, can you trust Him with the end of the story?

When you are battling against the enemy of your soul, and your strength is giving out, is it in your heart to say, “I can trust You with the outcome!  Let it be what You want, O God.  I confess that You are strong when I am weak.   I want You to do the work.  You are God.”

It takes tremendous faith to let go of whatever you’ve been trying to fix.  It takes a lot of faith to intentionally surrender the outcome of your fight to God.  That kind of surrender is all about trust and hope.

Now, you should never surrender to Satan.   Don’t ever give up by surrendering to the enemy!

Let me be clear:  you should surrender yourself and all of your desires, totally, to the will of God.  Is it in your heart to trust God?  Are you ready to confess, “You are the way, You are the truth, and You are the life, Jesus!”  Paul said it this way:  “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

Think (meditate) on this from Romans 12:2 … “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.  Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

One Man’s Bridge

On February 8, 1999, I was laying on a mat on the floor of Henrico Doctors’ Hospital in Richmond, Virginia. My wife Vicki was in her bed, battling the cancer that would eventually take her life four years later. As the following vision unfolded I shared it with her, and she recorded it – word for word – in her journal.

I was in the Spirit one day when I began to see a path begin unfolding before me … a path that gradually stretched out for miles. The pathway rested between two very steep mountains; these two unnamed mountains formed a “picture frame” for what I saw next.

About 100 feet in front of me a Person suddenly appeared. This Person was walking away from me, but when He glanced back over His shoulder I instantly recognized Him. It was Jesus!

Jesus stopped, turned toward me and smiled a warm, welcoming smile. Then, turning again to continue His walk, Jesus gestured to me to catch up, beckoning with His hand extended over His head. Jesus continued waving until I began to run toward Him.

As soon as I began to pick up some speed the path that had been clear and free from impediments suddenly disappeared! It just melted away, replaced with a 30-foot wide chasm. I skidded to a stop. I knew I couldn’t jump across the gorge. And when I peeked over its side, the chasm appeared to be bottomless. Certain death awaited anyone foolish enough to attempt the leap!

When I looked up I took note that the pathway continued on the other side of the chasm; it still stretched out to Jesus, and The Lord was still gesturing to catch up. What did all this mean?

Then, I noticed to my right, and just off the path, a pile of boards. Each board was sturdy and strong, and each was longer than the chasm was wide. Here was the answer to my dilemma! Instinctively I grabbed the board that rested on top of the pile and dropped it across the chasm. Perfect! It had no problem reaching the other side. Problem solved!

But when I attempted to walk across this one board, as sturdy as it appeared to be, it began to sag. With each step toward the middle of the board, the board’s ends would move closer and closer to the edges of the chasm. I froze! I thought, “With the next step I take I will surely fall into this ‘bottomless’ abyss and I will die!” I very cautiously retraced my steps and returned to my side of the chasm.

Then I heard a Voice thundering in my heart: “You, my son, must build a bridge. Your weight is too great from just one board, or even two or three boards. You must use all the boards. You must use ALL of the materials provided for this bridge’s construction. Jesus will wait for you … unless you try to shorten the process. That is, if you disobey this command, Jesus will move on.”

While I was concentrating on listening to the Voice, Jesus had turned around and walked back to the far edge of the chasm. He stood there so majestically for a moment, waiting for the Voice to finish, and then He spoke to me, saying, “My dear friend, you must build the bridge. And this bridge will be built because you have the heart for it.”

The Lord opened up my mind to understand that every person who had walked with Him in intimacy in the past had had to build a similar bridge. Jesus said to me, “Walking with Me is never based on a man’s talent. Walking in intimacy with Me can not be based on a person’s effort, or even sincere or passionate desire alone. You see, my friend, I have work for you to do, and the work I intend for you to do cannot be accomplished in your own strength. Your wisdom and your strength will never be enough, and you need to learn this truth now. Thus, you must build this bridge. Bend to the process. And cheer up! Remember, you have the heart for it.”

In true humility I asked, “Lord, may I know what work You have for me?” And with amazing grace Jesus replied, “God, my Father, created you to do wonderful things. Let us call your work, ‘signs, wonders and evangelism.’ These three elements are interlocked, interdependent, and are meant for ‘the last days.’ And signs, wonders, and evangelism will take place in and through your life, but that’s later, after we walk together for a time. As for today … build the bridge!

After such encouragement I got to work. First I took note of the boards. Each had a name burned onto its surface. The first board I had impulsively dropped across the gorge was in its proper place, and on this board was burned the word “PRAYER.”

• The second board was named “WONDER & AWE.”
• The third board was “HUMILITY.”
• The fourth was “DISCIPLINE.”
• The fifth, “FASTING.”
• The sixth, “SUBMISSION.”
• The seventh, “TIME.”
• The eighth, “INTIMACY.”
• The ninth, “CHARACTER – INTEGRITY.”
• And the tenth and last board was named, “LOVE.”

And so the work began. Each board was dropped into place, each next to another, and each placed “in its proper time.”

After the ten boards were in place I noticed that hidden under the larger, long boards were shorter boards, and each shorter board had the same word written on it: “WORSHIP.” I laid the first “Worship” board across the width of my bridge, and the fit was perfect! Starting at my end and progressing toward the side where Jesus stood watching, I worked my way across the cavernous void, all the while on both knees and weeping. And as my tears fell they became silver nails that I pounded into my Worship boards. Beginning with the first board, silver tears for nails and on bended knees, I sang to my Lord.

As I finished my last Worship board, I stood and faced Jesus. I was within 10 feet of The Master, and within seconds I could have been at His side. But I noticed that Jesus was looking past me, toward what was now the far side of the bridge. So I turned and looked back over my work. My bridge was in place and solid. But something else caught my eye. On the far side another pile of “building materials” appeared out of nowhere … and I KNEW, these, too, must be added to the structure of the bridge … and my Lord would wait for me.

This is when my vision became very mysterious. Up to this moment I felt I understood the need and purpose of the bridge. I felt I had grasped the importance of building into my life each aforementioned element of the bridge as it appeared. But as I approached this newest pile of revelation I was truly puzzled. There was a canvas cloth, heavy and dense, long and wide enough to perfectly cover over the bridge. And then there was a smaller board with no name burned on it, sitting next to the canvas. I turned and faced Jesus … and I knew. Stretch the canvas cloth over the bridge. Cover the structure. Make the ten long boards and numerous Worship boards disappear so that only you and Jesus would know what it had taken to cross the deep chasm that would finally lead to intimacy.

As I went to work the name of the canvas cloth slowly revealed. “Brokenness, Sorrow and Loss.” Three haunting words. But I knew, this canvas is the reason the ‘Humility’ board was the hardest board to lay across the chasm. Fearfully but courageously I completed the task of stretching the canvas across my bridge.

When I returned once more to the beginning side of my bridge to retrieve the “final board” of the project, as I bent over to pick it up its name appeared. A stake that would serve to hold this little board appeared as well. The stake and small board would make a sign in the form of a cross. I pounded my cross-sign into the hard soil at the end of the bridge farthest from The Lord. “COST,” the sign read.

As soon as the “Cost” sign was erected I ran across my bridge and into the arms of My Friend, Jesus … the One who had witnessed and supervised the building of a bridge that would make intimacy with God a reality. My bridge had crossed a Chasm of Despair and led to a pathway of Joy.

Today I walk in step with the One who created me and Who had mapped out my destiny long before the path and the chasm had appeared in my mind … and in my life.
Every discerning follower of Jesus who longs for intimacy with God knows that they, too, will have to build a bridge and cross their own chasm of despair.  St. John of the Cross called his chasm “the dark night of the soul.”   But true believers will build their bridge for the sake of walking with Christ, for He said, “If any man would come after Me …”

Hope Reprised

It’s been three years … 3 YEARS!! … since I took to the keyboard.   My hope is that you missed me, and that you’ll connect with me at a new, and deeper level.

A friend gave me a small, laminated post-it with the following circular outline:

  1.  Healthy things grow
  2. Growing things change
  3. Changing things challenge us
  4. Challenge forces us to trust God
  5. Trust leads to obedience
  6. Obedience makes us healthy
  7. Healthy things grow

At some point in time I stopped being healthy.  I am having to discover the truth of point number 4 – “Challenge forces us to trust God” – and I am in pain.   Self-inflicted wounds are the worst for they usually are not fatal, but they leave terrible scars.  And I am sad because my self-inflicted wounds don’t just pain me, but those around me suffer, too.

I know I’m being FORCED to trust God now, today.  (I thought I knew what it meant to trust Him.  I presumed to be an expert in trusting Him … but if trust was meant to walk and live in obedience, my true state of heart was revealed.  I heard His voice but ignored His commands and went my own way.)

In my case, my hope in God is a confident assurance that God will, in time, bring me back to spiritual health, that “all things” will work together for the good, and that my destiny, while delayed, is not “dead.”

Pray for me.

 

HOPE for 2013

[This article is from a sermon I preached on 12/30/12.  Many thanks to A. Todd Coget, whose sermon “What If? and Why Not?” (December 29, 2002) inspired me to go deeper into the subject of HOPE.]

hopeHere’s my personal list of what I believe are the Top Ten news events of 2012.  See if these prompt your memory banks, and if you agree with me about their importance or their impact.

  1. The reelection of President Obama was, by far, the biggest news event of the year for the United States.
  2. The internet continues to be one of the “drivers” of our culture.  From FaceBook going public to the death of Whitney Houston (the number 1 story “googled” this year), the internet continues to exercise its muscle and influence.
  3. Hurricane Sandy’s devastation, and the storm’s aftermath, is a reminder that we don’t have control over nature … and that sometimes the storms of life are literally storms!
  4. The uncertainty of gas prices, and the rise and fall of prices at the pump, continues to get our attention daily.
  5. The mass murders … what some now are calling “Spree Killings” … in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, Oikos University in Oakland, CA, the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and the horrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut!  The thing is, guns are being blamed, but Hollywood and the computer game industry continues to outspend the NRA.
  6. The Middle East continues to capture our attention every day – with the ongoing tensions associated with Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Israel, the phony elections in Egypt, and the murder of the US Ambassador in Libya.
  7. The “Fiscal Cliff,” and the inability of our government to get a handle on spending; the national debt, and the world’s economy.
  8. The London Olympics was the biggest distraction and emotional lift for our country this past summer.
  9. President Obama’s Supreme Court health care ruling (in his favor) was huge news with huge implications for our nation.
  10. The new tensions arising in the world because of Iran and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

These stories, circumstances, and influences have, and will continue to have, an impact on our times and our individual lives.  What happens in the Middle East and North Korea will impact your life, as will decisions that follow Sandy Hook, Hurricane Sandy, and our government’s spending.

We are standing on the threshold of a New Year … 2013.  The world didn’t end on 12/21/12!  We have a future!  But do you have HOPE!

There is a reason the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to include HOPE as one of the “big 3” … one of the THREE THINGS THAT WILL LAST FOREVER!  

Screen Shot 2013-01-02 at 4.19.45 PM

Paul wrote, “And now these three remain: faith, HOPE and love.  But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV)  Or, as the New Living Translation reads, “Three things will last forever — faith, HOPE, and love …”

Let me tell you something:  If you feel HOPEless, you won’t love or exercise faith.  HOPE is critically important to life, and life in God!

HOPE is “confident assurance.”

Look with me at Hebrews 11:1 and 6 –

“Now faith is confidence in what we HOPE for and assurance about what we do not see …And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” (NIV)

“Faith is the confidence that what we HOPE for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see … And

it is impossible to please God without faith.  Anyone who wants to come to Him must believe that God exists and that He rewards those who sincerely seek Him.”  (NLT)

  • We talk much about love, and we should, because it’s the greatest of the Big 3.
  • And we talk a lot about faith, and we should, because without faith it’s impossible to please God.
  • BUT what about HOPE?!  Do you have HOPE?

But not just ANY HOPE?  Do you have HEAVENLY HOPE??

LUKE 24

13 That same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem.  14 As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened.  15 As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus Himself suddenly came and began walking with them.  16 But God kept them from recognizing Him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”

They stopped short, sadness written across their faces.  18 Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.”

19 “What things?” Jesus asked.

“The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth,” they said.  “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and He was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people.  20 But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed Him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified Him.  21 We had HOPED He was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel.  This all happened three days ago.

There is nothing so devastating as having lost HOPE.  For these men, their HOPE was gone.  The one they had HOPED to be the redeemer of Israel, was, in their mind, dead.  Along with the death of Jesus, came the death of their HOPE.

If you’ve lived beyond childhood, you have lost HOPE in some sense, at some point in your life.  When we lose HOPE we are overcome with feelings of senselessness, purposelessness, and despair, discouragement, depression.  The energy is just sucked right out of our lives.  Lack of HOPE can actually destroy our very lives.

  • Maybe you have a memory of driving away from the only friends you’ve ever had to move to a new town, a new school, and a totally new life … one NOT of your choosing.
  • Maybe it was when your favorite sports team got so far behind in points that there was no HOPE of them winning.
  • Maybe it was a little more serious …. Maybe there was time when you were without a job, and you had no money.
  • Maybe it was a health issue … where you thought there was no HOPE for you or your loved one.

During those times perhaps you were tempted to take the advice of Job’s wife, who told Job to “Curse God and die.”

But let me interrupt that thought process with this truth:  for the Christian, life is essentially a life of HOPE.  And that is what I want to talk about today.  The HOPE we have as children of God.

Ephesians 2:12 and 13 says, “Once you lived in this world without God and without HOPE.  But now you have been united with Christ.  Once you were far away from God, but NOW you have been brought near to Him through the blood of Christ.”

1 Thessalonians 4:13 – “And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no HOPE.”

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 – “That is why we never give up.  Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.  For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long.  Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!  So we don’t look at the troubles we see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen.  For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we 

cannot see will last forever.”

HOPE is to the human spirit what oxygen is to the physical body.  

The word HOPE occurs some 52 times in the New Testament alone. And if you take the time to look up those 52 passages you will find that it ALWAYS is connected in some way to God.

God is the author of HOPE, Romans 15:13 tells us, “I pray that God, the source of HOPE, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in Him.  Then you will overflow with confident HOPE through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

FOUR things to observe:

  1. God is the source of HOPE
  2. When you have God’s HOPE, you will be filled with joy and peace
  3. That joy and peace will be a result of TRUSTING in Him.
  4. If you learn to trust Him, confident HOPE will overflow in your life through the power of the Holy Spirit.

HOPE connects us with the future just as memories connect us with the past.

We reflect on our past through our memories … we think back on what happened.  Through our memories we en-vision our past.

HOPE helps us envision our future.   How do we know what will happen in the future?  We have HOPE, which is placed in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sure there might be valleys in our future, just as there were valleys in our past.  But the HOPE we have in Christ Jesus should make us realize that some day we will stand on the Holy Mountain of God, reigning with Christ, beautifully adorned as bride for the bridegroom.  Worshiping God, praising God, dwelling with God.  That is what HOPE does for us.

One of the definitions I read for HOPE stated, “HOPE is desire, with the expectation of getting what is desired.  One cannot HOPE for that which he neither desires or expects to receive.”

Sometimes HOPE can be misplaced.  David wrote:  “Some nations boast in their chariots and horses, but we boast in the name of the LORD our God.  Those nations will fall down and collapse, but we will rise up and stand firm.”  (Psalm 20:7-8)

  • There are those who HOPE to receive eternal life in heaven without acknowledging Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.
  • There are those who HOPE to grow in Christ without reading His word or going to God in prayer on a regular basis.
  • There are those who HOPE to live happy lives even though they are in rebellion to God.
  • All these are misplaced HOPEs, false HOPEs, HOPEs that our not founded and based in God.
  • Life can be difficult and harsh, and there are times we may think that it will not get better.  But there is HOPE, true HOPE in Christ, and there is true HOPE no where else.

Screen Shot 2013-01-02 at 4.16.05 PMNo matter what our situation, HOPE is there, that HOPE that is Jesus Christ.  The angel Gabriel gave this HOPEful assurance to Mary in Luke 1:37:

  • “For no word from God will ever fail.”  (NIV)
  • “For with God nothing shall be impossible.”  (KJV)
  • “For God can do all things.”  (New Life Version)
  • “For nothing is impossible with God.”  (NLT)
  • “ … every word shall not be impossible with God.”  (Wycliffe)
  • “But God can do anything.”  (Worldwide English NT)
  • “For no promise of God can fail to be fulfilled.” (Phillips Translation)
  • “God can do anything!”  (Easy-To-Read Bible)
  • “For with God nothing is ever impossible and no word from God shall be without power or impossible of fulfillment.” (Amplified Version)

Warfare and Building

Spiritual building and spiritual warfare go hand-in-hand.  Jesus is the Master Builder.  He is building a spiritual Kingdom … the Church, and we are “co-laborors” with Him in the building process.

Simultaneously, we are under attack.  While we are working with Jesus we are being constantly attacked by His enemy and ours.

The juggling act – of building and warring – are beautifully described in the Old Testament book written by Nehemiah.  Take a look at the first three chapters of his book to get some context and then dive into this:

You must understand that you have an enemy!   You didn’t pick the fight.  You don’t deserve to be attacked.  BUT YOU HAVE AN ENEMY, NONETHELESS!  His name … or names … are many!    (Abaddon [Hebrew name for Satan meaning “Destruction”], the Accuser of the brothers, the Adversary, an Angel of light, the Antichrist, the Beast, Beelzebub, the Deceiver, the Devil, the Dragon, the Enemy, the Evil one, the Father of lies, the God of this age [or this world], the Lawless one, Liar, Lucifer, the Man of sin, Murderer, the Prince of the power of the air, a Roaring lion. Satan, the Serpent of old, the Tempter, the Thief, and the Wicked one.)

Jesus told His disciples in Luke 10:18 that He saw Satan “… fall from heaven like lightening” when God banished him from the throne room.

Your enemy, Satan, hates you because God loves you.  Satan’s a liar and a killer.  He loves to murder the innocent, slaughter the weak, poison the hungry, sicken the healthy, and lay waste to children and ruin futures.  He inspires all evil and all wickedness, and he’s so deceptive … he will make everything he does appear to be the work of God.  Peter said of him:  (1 Peter 5:8) Stay alert!  Watch out for your great enemy, the devil.  He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.

AND don’t let anyone tell you he is a toothless lion.  He is not!  Peter called him a “great enemy.”   And making fun of him is not going to weaken him in the least.  If you want some biblical advice about how to think of Satan, the devil, look at Jude.  8 In the same way, these people — who claim authority from their dreams — live immoral lives, defy authority, and scoff at supernatural beings.  9 But even Michael, one of the mightiest of the angels, did not dare accuse the devil of blasphemy, but simply said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (This took place when Michael was arguing with the devil about Moses’ body.)  10 But these people scoff at things they do not understand.  Like unthinking animals, they do whatever their instincts tell them, and so they bring about their own destruction.  11 What sorrow awaits them!

I personally know people who once made light of Satan, called him things like “old slewfoot,” and shrugged him off.  They are now broken people, still healing from wounds brought about because they didn’t understand just who they were dealing with!

You are Satan’s prize … or rather, the prize is your eternal soul.  God wants to save it.  Satan wants to destroy it.  It’s as simple and as complex as that!  And he will never fight fair.  In case you were wondering, that’s why life is unfair.  He’s prideful and arrogant.  He steals and destroys.  He’s angry at God and takes it out on you!  You are in a war, and in this war – with the biggest stakes imaginable, there will be casualties!  DON’T BE ONE!

Matthew 24:9-12 –  9“Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers.  10 And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other11 And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people.  12 Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold.

Those of the words of Jesus!

I want to take you to the book of Nehemiah, because it’s a story of God’s people at war while at the same time, building.  Isn’t that a good and appropriate picture of the Church of Jesus Christ around the world?  We are all warring and building, building and warring.  We’ll take a look at Nehemiah 4:11-23.

First, you need to KNOW YOUR ENEMY!  In Nehemiah 4:11-12 – 11 Meanwhile, our enemies were saying, “Before they know what’s happening, we will swoop down on them and kill them and end their work.”  12 The Jews who lived near the enemy came and told us again and again, “They will come from all directions and attack us!”  

Our enemy, Satan and his minions, are described this way in Ephesians 6.   Ephesians 6:1212 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

And in 2 Corinthians 7:5-65 When we arrived in Macedonia, there was no rest for us.  We faced conflict from every direction, with battles on the outside and fear on the inside.  6 But God, who encourages those who are discouraged, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus.

Second, look at how Nehemiah defends the work of God and the people of God!  The principle is that YOU MUST BE EQUIPPED FOR BATTLE!

 Nehemiah 4:13 – 13 So I placed armed guards behind the lowest parts of the wall in the exposed areas.  I stationed the people to stand guard by families, armed with swords, spears, and bows.

Ephesians 6:10-1311 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.  12 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.   13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil.  Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 

Next, (Third) you should UNDERSTAND … THE BATTLE IS THE LORD’S!   Nehemiah 4:14 – 14 Then as I looked over the situation, I called together the nobles and the rest of the people and said to them, “Don’t be afraid of the enemy!  Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes!”

Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:10 – 10 Be strong in the Lord and in HIS mighty power.   The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 24:8 – Who is the King of glory?  The LORD, strong and mighty; the LORD, invincible in battle.

Fourth, DON’T BE CAUGHT OFF GUARD!    Don’t go into battle unequipped!  And don’t be caught unaware by the enemy!  In Nehemiah 4:17b – 18a it reads:  17B   The laborers carried on their work with one hand supporting their load and one hand holding a weapon.  18A All the builders had a sword belted to their side … 23B …We carried our weapons with us at all times, even when we went for water.

Paul give a warning and then informs us in 2 Corinthians 2:11 – 11 so that Satan will not outsmart us.   For we are familiar with his evil schemes.

If and when you become familiar with the way Satan attacks, you’ll understand how important it is to be “armored” (7 components) in the battles.  Paul describes God’s means of protecting us and arming us in Ephesians 6:14-17 – 14 Stand your ground, putting on (1) the belt of truth and (2) the body armor of God’s righteousness.  15 For (3) shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.  16 In addition to all of these, (4) hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.  17 (5) Put on salvation as your helmet, and take (6) the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Here’s a key verse … one to memorize for the days you find yourself under attack:  Psalm 144:1 – Praise the LORD, who is my Rock.  He trains my hands for war and gives my fingers skill for battle.

And remember this:  VIGILANCE IS THE KEY TO VICTORY!  Look at Nehemiah 4:23 – 23 During this time, none of us — not I, nor my relatives, nor my servants, nor the guards who were with me — ever took off our clothes.  We carried our weapons with us at all times, even when we went for water.

You see this principle of vigilance described in Ephesians 6:18 – 18 (6) Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion.   (7)Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.

Think about this.  There are two major factors involved in living the life of a follower of Jesus:

  • Building – Your primary purpose is to advance the Kingdom of God.  Your enemy wants to stop the building!  Jesus said He would build His Church, and you are (1) part of that building, you are (2) a co-builder with Christ.  Nothing is built unless someone is willing to count the cost of the building and for the building.  If we build wisely, things last and are very fulfilling.
  • Battling – No battles are won unless you armor up, organize your troops, and make sure you’re ready for battle.  There is no neutrality in spiritual warfare.

We are MORE than conquerors in Christ because He give us the means to victory!

I was studying the book of John, and came across this in chapter 11, verse 33:  33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within Him, and He was deeply troubled.

Then, in verses 35-37, the Lord’s humanity is beautifully depicted.  The words are important.  He was more than sympathetic.  He was deeply moved.  He felt their pain and grief even though He would soon relieve it.  Look at this:

35 Then Jesus wept.  36 The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much He loved him!”  37 But some said, “This Man healed a blind man.  Couldn’t He have kept Lazarus from dying?”

The question has been asked since time began.  “Why didn’t God …?”  You can fill in the blank.  Or, “Where was God when ….?”

God hates death.  Death was and is the wage of sin, and it terrorizes the human family.  Sin wasn’t God’s idea, and the impact sin has on our world and our individual lives wasn’t God’s desire.  His desire has and will always be a loving relationship with each one of us.  But sin did come into the world, in spite of God’s warnings.  (We won’t go there now, but have you ever thought why the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was put in the Garden.  In a phrase, “No tree, no choice, no freedom to choose, no life [only existence as a puppet or robot], and no real love.”  Think about it, and we’ll talk about it some other day.)

Paul wrote in Romans 3:2323 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.”  Then he wrote in Romans 6:2323 For the wages of sin is death …”

Eventually Lazarus is raised from the dead by Jesus.  But even after being miraculously raised from the grave, Lazarus would still be held in death’s power.  He would die again.  We know that.  Has anyone seen Lazarus lately?  Where’s Lazarus?

Jesus is not a passive bystander in this Death narrative of Lazarus … or of the human race.  He came to destroy the works of the devil.  The worst result of Saran’s work is Death.  This enemy (Death) and Jesus are standing face-to-face in this chapter.   And see it!!  He is deeply moved.  And He’s angry.  But He’s not at Lazarus, or his sisters, or the mourners.  His strong feelings are reserved for Death, and behind Death, Satan.

Take a look at the original language version of John 11:33.  Iησους ουν ως ειδεν αυτην κλαιουσαν και τους συνελθοντας αυτη ιουδαιους κλαιοντας ενεβριμησατο τω πνευματι και εταραξενεαυτον

Enebrimesato (ενεβριμησατο) is from the classical Greek, and it is a word used to describe the snort of a horse in war or in a race.  When it was used for humans it was usually translated as outrage, fury, or anger!  It’s a word that’s typically used to indicate an outburst of anger.  When you add the word etaraxen (εταραξεν), Jesus was not only outraged but “troubled!”

And He was troubled heauton (‘eαυτον) in Himself!  No outside force is acting on Him.  He was stirring Himself, from way down deep inside … down in His spirit.  He was stirring Himself to battle Lazarus’ enemy, Death.

In John 11, the long struggle between good and evil comes into focus.   The many years of Satan’s assault on the human race troubled Jesus in His spirit and He desired to put an end to the horrors of Death which plagued and plague the Human Family.

The war … the conflict began in the Garden of Eden!   The struggle involves every man, woman and child from Adam on.   No wonder the Lord groaned and snorted and was troubled!   He feels the sorrows and pains of His children … His friends … His followers … and the whole human race.  In effect, Mary and Martha’s trouble became His own.

Friends feel each other’s pain, but Jesus is more than a friend!  He took and still takes upon Himself the sorrows of all of us!   Take a good look at Isaiah 53:3 – 6: 

He was despised and rejected — a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.  We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
    He was despised, and we did not care.  4 Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;  it was our sorrows that weighed him down.  And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins!  5 But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins.  He was beaten so we could be whole.  He was whipped so we could be healed.  6 All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.  We have left God’s paths to follow our own.  Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.

Lazarus’ enemy, Death, was also Jesus’ enemy!   But Lazarus, Martha and Mary could not stand on their own before Satan and Death.   They had no power to stand against the power of such an enemy.  Satan’s opposition to Lazarus was another of his efforts to destroy God’s creative purposes.   The enemy of man is in reality the opponent of God!

Satan uses darkness, deception and death.   Jesus combats him by the power of the Resurrection.

The next time you wonder, “Where was God when this innocent child was abused?” or “Where is God while all these people in Somalia are ruthlessly starved by warlords?” or “Where is God in my battle with cancer?” and a thousand other questions … read John 11.  God is there!  Present.  And His solution to Death and evil and disease is always the same:  Life!  Resurrection!  But resurrection and life may not come in the way you thought, or even hoped.  But it will come!

Just a short update. I’ve acquired a two-burner and a single burner stove and some utensils. We’re starting small … out of the back end of my pickup. Several opportunities have arisen to provide a supper meal to kids that receive school breakfasts and lunches, and we’re inviting their siblings and parents to join in. We’re serving something warm, nutritious and tasty (stew, chili, soup and bread), and we’ll be doing so between 5 and 6:30 PM (hopefully, before dark). Pray for us at The Bridge (www.thebridge2hope.org), and especially the Youth Group. Our kids are going to be the preparers and servers going forward; we’re teaching our young people that the Church has no walls, and no age limitations when it comes to ministering the love and grace of Jesus! We’ll keep you posted here.