February 29, 2008

God with us - in Power and in Promise

The last three Wednesday evenings of February, we studied through the life of Gideon, the deliverer of Israel (Judges 6-8). Here is a man who teaches us a great deal. He is the poster child for that famous New Testament affirmation: “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12.10). He was a no-name farmer, born into unimportant family, living in a conquered nation. He was exactly the kind of person no one would pick to save the nation – and therefore his life has all sorts of gospel parallels (see 1 Corinthians 1.18-25). He was so weak that he had no other recourse but to cling to God. “When I am weak, then I am strong.”

But even when God called him, he was unsure of himself. One of the reasons Gideon’s name is familiar to us is because of his fleeces – his requests for a sign from the Lord. He was frightened. And well might he have been. For among the tasks that he was called to were tearing down his own father’s Baal statue (imagine burning down your dad’s work-shop or church!) and taking tiny, disorganized, leaderless, demilitarized Israel into battle against 135,000 Midianites. Good reasons to be afraid! But, in spite of his fears, he went forward with the Lord.

How did he do it? How did he get his knocking knees to march? How did he get his trembling fingers to tie those ropes around his dad’s idol? And how did he have the courage to pull it down? Well, the answer doesn’t lie in Gideon, but in his God. Specifically, Gideon’s courage arose from the fact that God twice promised him: “I will be with you” (see 6.12 and 16). God had promised to be with Gideon as he did the work of the Lord. And He has promised to be with us, too, if we will join Gideon and Jesus in God’s great work (Matthew 28.19-20).

Now this promise (“I will be with you”) can be very encouraging – especially when God is with us as He was with Gideon in battle (Judges 6.34): “The Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon; and he blew the trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called together to follow him.” God fulfilled His promise. He was with Gideon in power! The Spirit came upon him; his courage rose even beyond the height of adrenaline; the people gathered to him; everything seemed to be falling into place! God was with Gideon – and it was obvious. It must have been easy to follow God that day, with the band playing and the troops marching to victory.

But what about the days when it isn’t like that? What about the days when you blow the trumpet and nothing happens? What about the days when the Spirit of the LORD doesn’t seem to come upon us in power? Can we serve God then? Can we be brave then? Can we do the LORD’s work then? And, most importantly, can we be sure that God is with us then?

Answer: Of course we can! God’s presence doesn’t depend on whether or not we can sense His power, but on the fact that He has given His promise! Gideon understood this. For, in obeying the Lord’s calling, it wasn’t all trumpets and gathered armies. There was also the night when he went with a mere ten men into the town square to tear down that idol (6.25-27). There was no obvious filling of the Spirit that night. In fact, Gideon went in to the town square afraid, and left terrified! Did he sense the power of God with him as he played tug-of-war with Baal? It doesn’t seem so. But he did have the promise of God – “I will be with you” – and in the strength of that promise, he obeyed!

And that is what I want to say to you today: If you are Christ’s own; if you are carrying out His work, God is with you – sometimes in power, but often times only (at least as far as you can tell) in promise. And that is enough. So on the days when the band isn’t playing and the energy isn’t flowing, remember, whether you feel it or not, God is with you!

February 25, 2008

The Early Bird Gets the Word

A little over a year ago, I wrote this for our church. Simply some reminders of the spiritual benefits of arriving on time, or even early, for worship and prayer meeting. I thought it might be worth reposting (hint, hint PRBCers). Maybe it will help the rest of you, too. Fill in appropriate time and place references with your local particulars...and be early.

Periodically I write one of these little articles, or give a mini-speech, encouraging everyone to redouble their efforts to arrive on time for church services. It always seems to work for a little while—like when the teacher used to get the paddle out and whack it on the desk (for those of you born before 1980, that is). But after a while the initial smart of being reprimanded wears off and the classroom goes back to being a frenzy. Same with the church. So, it is time again to get out the old wooden spoon and smack the desk.

Here is my plea—please, please, please make every effort, not only to show up on time, but to get here a few minutes early. It will pay big dividends—for you, for your family, and for the church. Let me give you a few good reasons to show up 10 minutes early. Show up early so that…

1. You will avoid being a distraction to others. There are few things more distracting than sitting in church, trying to focus, and having someone behind you, coming in late, jangling keys, bumping into the back of the pew, rumpling paper, and generally causing a right hullabaloo. So be considerate. Get here early and avoid being a distraction.

2. You will not miss any content. Coming in late means that you miss announcements; or you miss prayer requests in Sunday School; or you miss some of the songs; or you miss the first part of the lesson. You wouldn’t want to miss the first ten minutes of your favorite television program would you? So why do that to God?

3. You will have a cushion in case of the unexpected. I realize that sometimes you get stuck at a railroad crossing where the train, 842 cars long, seems to be creeping along at the speed of granny driving her ‘77 Dodge Dart. Things happen. But if you plan on being here ten minutes early, that 8 minute snafu at the railroad track still won’t make you late.

4. You will avoid those frustrating feelings that come with being late. OK, I realize that some folks don’t really mind being late. But I know that, for a lot of you, dashing in at the last second really is frustrating. It spins off arguments between husbands and wives. It makes you flustered. And it affects the way you’re able to worship. Why put yourself through it? Just make a commitment that you will start to plan ahead and arrive early.

5. You will be ready for your responsibilities. Many of you are involved intimately in making our services go each Sunday and Wednesday. You sing, teach, run sound, greet, etc. But if you are not here—or if you’re rushing in at the last moment—the whole church suffers and waits. So, especially if you have a job to perform, be here early.

6. You will have time for meditation. How our services—prayer meeting, Sunday School, and worship—would be transformed if everyone entered the hour with God on their minds and the word of God stirring in their hearts. It ain’t gonna happen screaming down Ridge Road at 48 MPH. But it might happen if you get here plenty early and leave yourself the time to meditate and pray.

7. You will demonstrate what is really important to you. If Jesus is really number one in your life, then Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights ought to be your favorite times of the week. And whatever events are most important, we prepare for. Arriving early at church shows your family, your church family, and–most importantly—the Lord—what is really important to you. Do you anticipate meeting with God and His people? Do you look forward to church? If so, being early will be no problem!

February 18, 2008

OK, so you Blew it, Part 2

Last week I wrote about the God of second chances. So maybe you ought to be into Luke in your daily Bible reading, and you’re still lagging in Matthew. That doesn’t mean God has given up on you for the year 2008. It doesn’t mean your resolve to get into the Scriptures this year is a lost cause. As God came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Arise and go to Nineveh”, so He offers you continuing mercy. Maybe these last two articles are God’s way of coming to you a second time and saying, ‘Arise and go back to your Bible reading plan.’

So maybe you haven’t gotten nearly as far as you should. But did you know that, if you began today, you could still:

1. Read the entire Old Testament this year? Yes, it is still possible. Just read a couple of chapters a day, and maybe throw in an extra one on Sundays, and you should be able to do it.

2. Read the entire New Testament this year? Here you don’t even need make-ups. Just read a chapter a day and you’ll finish well before Dec. 31. And, since it’s just a chapter…read it slowly, drink deeply.

3. Read the entire Bible in a year? Yes, it will require a little extra reading…but isn’t that what Sunday afternoons are for? Keep reading your three chapters a day, and then work through ten on a Sunday afternoon.

Now, let’s say you never got started…you never had a plan to begin with…you aimed at nothing and hit the bull’s eye. Let me suggest a non-intimidating, but very fruitful idea to you:

Meditate in Hebrews with me. I am working my way slowly through the book of Hebrews, a chapter or so a day. This, I hope, is filling my heart more and more as I work through the book in our Sunday sermons. It would do the same for you…making Sunday morning’s even richer and more rewarding. And it would provide a pace that, if you haven’t been in the habit of daily reading, would be manageable…and slow enough to really think about what you’re reading. So, will you join me? Half-a-chapter a day in Hebrews and you will have read it through 4-5 times before we finish the sermon series.

Finally, two words of caution. First, allow yourself enough time to really benefit from what you read. This is not a race. And second, don’t do you’re reading as though it were a service to God. When a hungry man walks into the soup kitchen, he doesn’t act as if he were doing the kitchen volunteers a favor. And neither does a hungry sinner who comes to God’s word looking for bread. We don’t read the Bible because we have to; because we think it will make God happy; because we think that is what real Christians ought to do; because we want to do our religious duty. We read the Bible because we are hungry. And a hungry man takes no pride in receiving a free meal…only thanks.

February 12, 2008

Ok, so you Blew it...

“Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh…’” Jonah 3.1-2

Here we are in mid-February, and some of us need to be encouraged by the story of Jonah. Perhaps as Missions Week came and went, “the word of the LORD” came to you, urging us to do this, or give that, or go there; perhaps the New Year brought about fresh resolves to be and do what the LORD requires; perhaps in recent weeks, “the word of the LORD” has come to you in the book of Hebrews, charging you to have done with lesser things and “pay much closer attention” to the main thing, Jesus…but in all these things, you’ve found yourself, after a few weeks, sailing in the wrong direction.

Isn’t it amazing (and frightening) how quickly we can forget “the word of the LORD” that once came to us powerfully? But isn’t it refreshing to hear Jonah’s story? “The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time”! God’s good plans for Jonah did not ultimately rest on the faithfulness of Jonah…for even “if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim 2.13)! Yet, God does want us to be faithful. He does want us to obey “the word of the LORD”. And very often, when we fail, He gives us a second chance! What good news…that, even though you may have blown it these last few weeks, God is not finished with you!

I’m thinking, particularly this morning, about the resolves many of us made to be more often, more faithfully, and more attentively in the Scriptures this New Year. How have you done? My goal was to meditate slowly (so I could really pay attention) through the book of Hebrews ten times between January and June. And even though I intended to go slowly, I am already behind! So how do I respond? Do I say to myself: ‘Aargh! I blew it again. Might as well just wait and try again next January’? Of course not! Instead, I remember that God is the God of second chances, and I keep plugging along!

You must do the same. OK, maybe you were already supposed to be in Numbers by now, and you’re only half way through Exodus. It’s not the end of the world. Keep pressing forward. Maybe God will allow you to catch up. If not…better to have read some of the Bible in ’08 than to have given up early!

Now, one last word to prevent you from even greater despair: Do not for a moment think that taking advantage of your second chance will somehow make up for a blown first one. That is not how forgiveness works! You can read the Bible through 500 times between now and the end of your life and never make up for previous negligence; and never make up for impure thoughts; and never make up for dishonoring your parents; and never make up for __________. That’s not how forgiveness works! Second chances aren’t an opportunity to redeem yourself. Second chances are evidence that you have been redeemed!

You see, if God were to give us all what we deserve, none of us would ever have a second chance at anything. We’d have all been cast into the lake of fire the moment we first sinned. So the second chance can’t possibly be a do-over to make up for old wrongs. The second chance is evidence that Someone else has already made up for old wrongs so that, having been forgiven them, we might live long enough to get the second chance! And that Someone is Jesus!

So as you take advantage of your second chances, think not of them as opportunities for redemption, but rather of reminders of the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. And let His redemption spur you to deeper faith and obedience:

“So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the Lord.” Jonah 3.3

February 7, 2008

In Case you Missed it...

At Cold Water News, Anthony posted a video of Amber, recorded five weeks ago, sharing her last year's experience with the Lord. Here it is:

Better Late than Never

For all of you who were salivating in anticipation of Hebrews 3.1-6 ... I apologize it was not posted on Monday as promised. The last two sermons, including this one, are now linked in the sidebar.

February 1, 2008

Underlined in Pink

My friend Jordan has been blogging lately about the value of colored Bible-marking pens. Get some (although I prefer Crayola colored pencils!). In my Bible, Hebrews 3.3 is underlined in green: "For He [Jesus] has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house."

As I preach that verse this weekend, I found I needed to underline it in a different color for my people - Pink. Arthur Pink, that is. I think the whole two paragraphs are blogworthy. Read as he underscores the truth of verse 3 (and check back Monday if you want the whole sermon!):

The history of Moses was remarkable from beginning to end. The hand of providence preserved him as a babe, and the hand of God dug his grave at the finish. Between these termi he passed through the strangest and most contrastive vicissitudes which, surely, any mortal has ever experienced. The honours conferred upon him by God were much greater than any bestowed upon any other man, before or since. During the most memorable portion of their history, all of God’s dealings with Israel were transacted through him. His position of nearness to Jehovah was remarkable, awesome, unique. He was in his own person prophet, priest and king. Through him the whole of the Levitical economy was instituted. By him the Tabernacle was built. Thus we can well understand the high esteem in which the Jews held this favoured man of God - cf. John 9.28, 29.

Yet great as Moses was, the Holy Spirit in this third section of Hebrews calls upon us to consider One who so far excelled him as the heavens are above the earth. First, Christ was the immeasurable superior of Moses in His own person: Moses was a man of God, Christ was God Himself. Moses was the fallen descendant of Adam, conceived and shapen in iniquity; Christ was sinless, impeccable, holy. Again; Christ was the immeasurable superior of Moses in His Offices. Moses was a prophet, through whom God spake; Christ was Himself “Truth,” revealing perfectly the whole mind, will, and heart of God. Moses executed priestly functions (Exodus 24.6; 32.11); but Christ is the “great High Priest.” Moses was “king in Jeshurun” (Deuteronomy 33.5); Christ is “King of kings.” To mention only one other comparison, Christ was the immeasurable superior of Moses in His work. Moses delivered Israel from Egypt, Christ delivers His people from the everlasting burnings. Moses built an earthly tabernacle, Christ is now preparing a place for us on High. Moses led Israel across the wilderness but not into Canaan itself; Christ will actually bring many sons “unto glory". May the Holy Spirit impress our hearts more and more with the exalted dignity and unique excellency of our Saviour.

Arthur Pink. An Exposition of Hebrews, 152-153.