Wrestling with God


As we’ve learned the last few weeks, God has a plan for Jacob. Jacob knows this, too, but he’s still trying to do things his own way and for personal reasons. Jacob was the second son born of Isaac and Rebekah, and God had told Rebekah that the elder would serve the younger. Esau was born first and became Isaac’s favorite. Jacob was Rebekah’s favorite, but he was a deceiver and an opportunist. When Esau came home from hunting and was hungry, Jacob took advantage of Esau’s bad judgment and sold Esau a bowl of stew in exchange for a bowl of stew. If these two brothers weren’t fighting already, they’re fighting now.

When Isaac approached death, Isaac wanted to lay his blessing on Esau, but his eyesight was so poor, Rebekah and Jacob believed they could trick Isaac. They concocted a plan to give that blessing to Jacob by dressing him up in Esau’s clothes. They lied to Isaac. And when Esau found out, he vowed to kill Jacob.

Their family is now in complete chaos. Rebekah sends her favorite son to live with her father to save his life, and there’s no indication she ever saw her son again. When Jacob arrives at Laban’s house, he gets a taste of his own medicine. Jacob falls in love with Rachel and gives 7 years of work to Laban for her hand, but Laban tricks him, and Jacob marries Leah instead. Laban gives Rachel to Jacob also, but only in exchange for another 7 years of labor. The deceiver had been deceived.

After 20 years of mutually destructive behavior, Laban and Jacob are no longer getting along, and Jacob flees. Again. God tells Jacob to go back home. Jacob’s caught in a tough spot; Laban and his children hate him, but if he goes home, Esau wants to kill him. Jacob may have gained wealth from working his whole life, but his life is in shambles.

I think we gain some insight into Jacob’s character development at the end of Genesis 31; this is where Laban confront Jacob and Laban essentially agrees not to kill Jacob. Jacob defends his actions with these words in Genesis 31:42,

If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands, and last night he rebuked you.

Jacob acknowledges God is Abraham’s God and Isaac’s God, but I don’t see that he has acknowledged God is his own God. Jacob’s progression of faith is such that he knows who God is and even recognized God’s sovereignty, but he has not truly placed his trust in the Lord.

Well, maybe Esau’s no longer mad at him; it’s time to return home. Do you think 20 years away from home has eased the old wounds? Or do you think 20 years away from home has hardened Esau’s heart and made him more bitter? Do you think putting off his conflict for 20 years has fulfilled or delayed God’s promises to Jacob?

We pick up our story in Genesis 32 as Jacob begins his journey home. The angels of the Lord meet him. This must have been comforting to Jacob and it reminds him that the Lord had promised him back in Genesis 28 that the Lord was with him and would never leave him. Jacob was stressed out, not know what his reception would be like when he returned. In the Old Testament, the appearance of angels offered great comfort but often appeared just before times of great trial, like the appearance to Lot just before Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. Jacob is about to undergo an ordeal where he has to face up to his own deceitful character. Jacob had put himself in this predicament because he had stolen the blessing from Esau instead of relying on God, and now he’s going to have to face Esau and do things God’s way.

Jacob sends messengers ahead of him to Esau in verse 3.

Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. He instructed them: “This is what you are to say to my master Esau: ‘Your servant Jacob says, I have been staying with Laban and have remained there till now. I have cattle and donkeys, sheep and goats, menservants and maidservants. Now I am sending this message to my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes.’ “

Jacob wants to tell Esau, oh hey, I’ve been gone 20 years, you probably wondered where I went. I went to see our uncle Laban he says Hi. I’m coming back now, and I’m bringing goats! P.S. Please don’t kill me. Verse 6,

When the messengers returned to Jacob, they said, “We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.”

Oh, this isn’t going to be good. Jacob’s coming with cattle and donkeys and sheep and goats and servants. Esau’s coming to meet him with 400 warriors. Verse 7-8,

In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well. He thought, “If Esau comes and attacks one group, the group that is left may escape.”

I think I’d be afraid, too. Jacob is completely outmatched; Esau will have the anger and the manpower to crush Jacob’s little donkey and goat army. Jacob starts laying out his plans; he’s expecting Esau to attack, and Jacob makes plans for half of his party to escape should the other half be destroyed.

Jacob has a decision to make. Doing the right thing means reconciliation with Esau. We all want to do the right thing, don’t we? But doing the right thing is not easy. This is a crossroads that every believer must eventually face. What do I do, and how will I do it? When God calls me to do a most difficult thing, will I do what God wants? Or will I take the easy way, and do what I want?

Unfortunately, sometimes we take the easy and selfish way. In this class, we are closer to our spouse than any other human being on the planet. We should examine ourselves daily to see how God wants us to treat our spouse, but we’ve all discovered (and are still discovering) that being married comes with a few challenges. Will we do what God wants us to do? Or will we find some excuse? It’s too easy to say that we don’t have to do the right thing because our spouse does this or our spouse doesn’t do that. But God calls us to trust in Him. We face the same sort of decision Jacob faces. Will we do it God’s way, or will we do it our way?

God has promised Jacob that the land of Canaan will be his. In order to claim this promise, Jacob is going to have to face Esau in an honorable way, in a way that is obedient to the Lord’s will. But the last time Jacob saw Esau, Esau wanted to kill him. Loving God will require Jacob to love God more than he fears Esau. Doing the thing we resist most will gain peace with God. We must show God that we fear Him most in order to prove we love Him most.

What holds us back from experience the completeness of God’s love for us? Is it fear, like Jacob experiences? We’re afraid to do something that God wants us to do? Is it anger that holds us back when God wants us to forgive? Is it something worldly God wants us to surrender but we want to keep it selfishly? In Jacob’s case, he had selfishly destroyed his relationship with His brother, and God is calling him to repair it. Jacob had spent 20 years of his life, not wanting to face this moment. If Jacob was going to receive God’s promise, he was going to have to face the repercussions of his own actions.

And finally we see Jacob start to break, to finally start to realize that the God he knows, the God of Abraham and Isaac, is his God. Jacob has worked himself into a bind that he cannot fix with his usual deviousness and deceit, and now he needs help that no man can provide. And we see Jacob go to his knees in prayer, the first recorded time that Jacob prays . Genesis 32:9-12,

Then Jacob prayed,

“O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O LORD, who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’ “

Effective prayer:
• Personal
• Humility
• Obedience
• God’s will

The prayer has many important elements of a prayer that God hears and responds to. He addresses God as God of his father and grandfather again, but he’s added “O LORD,” Jehovah God, the proper name of the one true God. Jacob’s God, Jacob’s Lord. No longer is God merely the God of his fathers, but it’s the “Lord who said to me.” It’s Jacob’s God.

He’s approaching the Lord with humility; Jacob praises God for His kindness and faithfulness, and he knows he is unworthy of this favor. When we pray with a sense of pride or a sense that we deserve this favor, our prayers are ineffective. When we know that we cannot achieve anything on our own, that whatever ability we have in itself comes from God, then we realize how much we need God in our lives. God is so much bigger than us, but our own egos tend to inflate our sense of worth. We are important to God, we are very important – but we’re not worthy of the love and grace He gives to us.

And Jacob is approaching God as an obedient servant; God told Jacob to return to Canaan, and as Jacob approaches God in prayer, Jacob tells God he trying to be obedient to Jehovah God. One of the keys to effective prayers is to come to the Lord with a sense of obedience. Jacob has a lot of guilt in his life, being deceitful with his father and brother. As Jacob prays, he’s acknowledging that obedience to the Lord is important.

And Jacob for the first time is his life seems to be praying for God’s will instead of his own. His prayer to God tells God that Jacob believes God’s promise that the children of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob will be fruitful and multiply, but Esau is coming to slaughter the mothers and the children. When we pray with God’s long-term plans as our primary motive, we are far more likely to pray for the right thing and to do the right thing.

Now it is time for Jacob to fulfill his promise to the Lord that he made years earlier, back in Genesis 28:22 that Jacob will do the Lord’s will and return to Canaan. But there is an obstacle. It’s Esau. The anger in Esau is a direct result of Jacob’s bad behavior, of which Jacob must now repent. In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus tells us that if we have a gift for the Lord our brother has something against us, we are to do 3 things in order – 1) leave the gift at the alter, 2) go and be reconciled with your brother, 3, come back and offer the gift. Often times our path to the Lord requires us to travel right through the family member we have the most difficult relationship with. Jacob is learning the Lord’s lesson that in his new spiritual growth and being obedient to the Lord, he is going to have to face Esau and his 400 warriors and reconcile with his brother.

Even after praying to the Lord, I think Jacob is still scared. In verses 13-21, Jacob arranges for a series of gifts to be sent ahead of him. Hundreds of goats, hundreds of sheep, camels, cows (my cow), bulls, and donkeys. Each herd is sent separately in waves, and each servant is to tell Esau that they are gifts from Jacob. And Jacob spends the night in the camp before meeting Esau the next day.

This is an interesting paradox. Because Jacob stole Esau’s blessing, this blessing was now a curse. The blessing that was promised by God was now the very thing that might get Jacob killed. The only thing that Jacob has to offer Esau is the very thing he stole from Esau in the first place.

No doubt praying to the Lord has given Jacob some wisdom on how to resolve the conflict with his brother. God gives us a brain and expects us to use it; just because we trust in the Lord doesn’t mean we give up and wait for the Lord to fix things for us. We pray and we act together.

In Genesis 32:22-23, Jacob send his two wives, Leah and Rachel, and all his sons and servant across the river, and he spends some time alone with God. Verse 24-31,

So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

The man asked him, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”

Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.

Jacob is wrestling with “the man” and because of the word play in the original Hebew, it’s unclear exactly who Jacob wrestled with. Was it really a man? Perhaps it was an angel, or perhaps Jacob wrestled with his own conscience. The phrasing is probably intentionally ambiguous so that we focus on the wrestling and not the person. Ultimately it is the Lord that Jacob wrestles with, and Jacob realizes this. Up until this night, Jacob thought his struggle his whole life was with Esau or Laban, but it’s not. He realizes that his whole life, he’s been wrestling with God.

Jacob has made a spiritual journey that we all must travel. Often Christians will talk about “wrestling with God.” The struggle between our own will and God’s will is a daily battle. We want to do one thing; often God wants us to do something else. Some people struggle with addictions; others struggle with trying to keep their words and actions in harmony with what Christ wants from them. Sometimes God wants us to do something, but we don’t. And we wrestle with God. Or another time God wants us to stop doing something. And we wrestle with God.

Something that impressed me about Jacob’s struggle is that God will let us win. If we are so set in being disobedient to God, God does not force us to be obedient. C.S. Lewis once said, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.'” If we are so determined to have our own way, God will let us have it. Non-christians who want nothing to do with God, who want to have no relationship, nothing, zero. God will let him have his way, to spend eternity without God in his life.

God will also let Christians have their way. Christians that want to believe that their own special disobedience is ok can, indeed, continue their disobedience. One can be a Christian and continue to find they still have within them the evils of the heart listed in Matthew 15:19; evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, lying, slander. We are all unclean, and like it or not, we are probably guilty of one or more of the things on that list. We continually practice deceit like Jacob, and we continue to be disobedient. In fact, we have been disobedient so long, we no longer hear God calling to us in that area of our lives. We continue and continue to sin until we can no longer hear God, and then we wonder why God doesn’t hear our prayers. But we know that an effective prayer begins with obedience and humility; that is why David prayed in Psalm 139:23,

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

David knew that praying to God to show him his own sin leads God to reveal his own offensive character to him, and that it would be painful and uncomfortable but would eventually lead to a closer relationship with God.

So Jacob wrestles with God, and God does not overpower Jacob. God is so much more powerful, but yet God is gentle with us as we wrestle with Him. God with a mere touch cripples Jacob. We think we can wrestle with God and win, but we really can’t. A mere touch from God is all it takes for God to win. God has control of the situation all along.

When Jacob wrestled with God, what was he wrestling over? What choices did he have?

Jacob is wrestling with the sin in his life by seeking to reconcile with his brother who he had defrauded when they were 20 years younger. This reconciliation is the right thing to do and Jacob knows it, but it places his life at risk. Esau wants to kill him. Will Jacob trust in himself and save his own life? Or will he risk his life doing God’s will? Jacob and God are wrestling over who gets to control Jacob’s life.

Once it’s clear to Jacob that God is in control, Jacob finally submits to God. His life of disobedience has come to an end. This is what God longs for, for each and every one of us, for us to give up selfish control of our own lives and seek God’s will in our lives. Jacob finally submits and does not ever want to lose the presence of God in his life. Jacob says, “I will not let you go.” Jacob thought by fighting with God and doing it his own way would yield the best possible outcome, and instead ended up fleeing from his father-in-law and afraid of his brother’s wrath. Perhaps he thought if he could fight God and win, he could fight anybody and win. But only by submission to God does Jacob finally begin to see that true strength lies in submission.

Jacob’s plea to God to never leave him is rewarded two ways. One is by God’s changing his name from Jacob to Israel. Jacob means “he grasps the heel;” Jacob was a heel, a deceiver. But now his name is Israel which means “struggles with God.” Jacob will continue to have days where he struggles to do God’s will, but gone are the days Jacob takes pride in his deception. The second sign is his limp, a sign of Jacob’s humility. He’s no longer the arrogant and prideful man, but a humble man whose strength comes not from himself but from his faith in God. Physically, he was weaker, but spiritually he was stronger.

One of the most important blessings one can receive from God is the promise He will never forsake us, that he will never leave us. When we are resisting God, we are walking in darkness. When Jacob’s life was darkest, family members trying to kill him and all alone in the camp along the river at night, he needed God to show him the way. Once Jacob wrestles with God and submits, daylight comes. Psalm 119:105 says,

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

When we submit to God and seek Him, we walk out of darkness and into the light, just like Jacob.

God says to Jacob, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” This is an important event in the Old Testament, because in Exodus 33:20 God will tell Moses that no one may see God’s face and live. God protects Jacob by withdrawing from him before daybreak and not showing his full glory to Jacob, but even so, Jacob does not come away unscathed. His limp will forever remind him of his struggle with God and remind him where his strength comes from. Paul had a similar struggle with the Lord when he pleaded for the Lord to take away his thorn in his flesh, but God tells Paul that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. It’s only by submission and asking for God’s will that we get out of His way and let Him accomplish what He was going to do, with or without us.

When Jacob was in darkness, afraid and alone, he probably felt like God was very far away. How far away was God? When we wrestle with God, God is closer to us then than at any other times in our life. It feels like we’re alone in the dark, but God is there with us. It feels like a great struggle we face all alone in the dark, but it’s because we are not in submission to God that we feel we are alone. God is with us in our struggle. Once we turn from our rebellion and to Him for our strength, we walk out of the darkness and into the light and begin to see God’s blessings in our life. We, too, wrestle with God, and when we are submissive to his will, we see the day break.

Jacob finally begins to receive God’s blessings in Genesis 33. Jacob must have confidence that the Lord was with him the next day, but still fearful that Esau wanted to kill him. But the Lord was at work on Esau; Genesis 33:4 says Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him, threw his arms around his neck and kissed him, and they wept together. God can do great miracles if we only submit to His will and let Him.

Effective prayer depends on our obedience and humility and a focus on God’s greater plans. When we wrestle with God, we often feel alone and in the dark, but God is closer to us when we wrestle with him and submit than at any other time of our lives. And when we submit with humility, we walk out of that darkness and into the light.

Advertisements

Bloom Where You Are Planted

On a Christian forum website I regularly read, one of the Christians had posted some sad news. He had participated regularly with a Christian Missionary organization called Honduras Outreach. This week in a remote mountain village in Honduras, their vehicle was in an accident in rugged terrain. There were 28 adults from four church groups from Georgia. Ten people suffered various injuries from head injuries to a broken femur; three people died. They were in Mal Pais, Honduras to bring fresh water to villages, build chimneys in homes to reduce lung inflammations, lay concrete floors, and build latrines. I found the press release and made copies for everyone; it includes the names of these heroes and links to their individual churches. Pray for their families this week and this organization that is doing so much to help people and spread the love of Christ.

The Christians that participate in this forum I read were supportive and offered prayers and condolences; the original poster was concerned that people might be afraid to serve with Honduras Outreach that does so much good for some of the poorest people on the planet. That if people realized how dangerous this missionary work is, people would not sign up for it. There are a lot of non-Christians and even atheists that participate on that forum – God bless them, I’m learning a lot about what the world teaches people and it’s often not pretty. One post from an atheist begins, “Do you really believe any of this stuff yourself? Or is Christianity just one big social club?” The atheist asked, “”God works in mysterious ways” is usually a good one for you — but it solves nothing. For example, why didn’t God just keep his eye on his good missionaries in South America and save them from being killed in the first place? Do you suppose he wasn’t pleased with their ‘work’? Do you suppose he just wanted to ‘call them home’?”

Yes, God works in mysterious ways, but the more one studies God and learns these mysterious ways, the clearer answers to questions like these becomes. Many Christians – and non-Christians – believe that God’s primary function is to protect us, preserve us, prosper us. An omnipotent Santa Clause where we line up, confess Jesus as our Lord, and then hold a big bag open for God to pour in His blessings. A belief in a God like this cannot understand why God would lead people someplace where they would be uncomfortable or be in some sort of danger. Why God would send missionaries to Honduras and then not use His big supernatural hand to keep their bus from tipping over. Scripture confirms and comforts us that God loves us and He cares for His children. We can take great comfort in knowing the almighty Lord is in control. But God’s primary purpose is not to pamper us. God’s will is not what we will it to be, and rather than trying to find out why God isn’t doing our will, we can study our entire lives to find out what God’s will is. It took Moses 40 years of study before he was able to know the will of God. We only have about 30 minutes today, not nearly enough time to learn all about God. We’re going to see today that God’s primary purpose is accomplishing His will through His people. Those purposes are not always comfortable, not always safe. Sometimes it will require sacrifice; sometimes it will require great personal risk. The Lord expects His people to exercise faith in obedience to His will in whatever situation the Lord leads.

We’re continuing the book of Esther this week, chapter 3 and 4. Last week, Fred introduced us to Esther who was a poor Jewish orphan girl. Through a series of “coincidences,” she was elevated to a very high status, the Queen of Persia. How did she arrive there? Through submission to her faith, submission to her cousin who was her acting father, her inner and external beauty. This beauty is a gift from God, and like all gifts, we are entrusted by God to use it wisely, for His glory alone, in obedience to Him. The old Queen Anna Nicole Smith, er, I mean Queen Vashti, we’re told, was very beautiful on the outside. But she was not going to use her God-given beauty to further God’s purposes, so she was removed, and Esther became queen. Esther also had external beauty, but also internal beauty.

In Chapter 3 of Esther, the plot thickens, mwahaha. Enter the villain of our lesson, Haman. In Esther 3:1-2,

After these events, King Xerxes honored Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles. All the royal officials at the king’s gate knelt down and paid honor to Haman, for the king had commanded this concerning him. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor.

This is ominous. Haman’s father was Hammedatha the Agagite, which means he was a descendant of Agag the king of the Amalekites. The Amalekites were a tribe from Canaan who had constantly opposed the Israelites throughout history, from the Exodus out of Egypt throughout the reign of David. In Exodus 17:8-16, around 1440 B.C, just after Moses struck the rock and the water flowed, the Amalekites attacked the Israelites. Joshua led the battle against the Amalekites, and Moses stood on top of a hill with his arms raised in glory to the Lord while Aaron and Hur held his arms up. When the Amalekite army fled, Exodus 17:14-16 says,

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner. He said, “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”

Then, 400 years later around 1040 B.C, the book of 1 Samuel chapter 15, Saul is commanded by the Lord. 1 Samuel 15:1-3, it says,

Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD. This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ “

And of course the Israelites were obedient, right? But nooooo… Saul gets this idea to spare King Agag of the Amalekites and keep the sheep and cattle and fat calves and lambs. The next morning, Saul tells Samuel, “I did it, I followed the Lord’s instructions!” And Samuel is like, “Do I hear sheep?” And Saul says, “Ah, the sheep. Well, um, well we saved Agag and the sheep and cattle, but, um, other than that we followed the Lord’s instructions.” The Lord kept trying to protect Israel by ordering Israel to destroy the Amalekites, and the Amalekites kept coming back and attacking Israel.

Now, another 500 years later, around 500 B.C., we find Haman, an Amalekite and descendent of Agag, has been elevated to a position of power in the kingdom or Persia where the Israelites live as subject to the king of Persia. This is really bad news for the Jews like Mordecai and Esther living there.

King Xerxes (or Ahasuerus) of Persia does orders all the royal officials to bow down and pay honor to Haman. It’s not clear what Haman did to deserve this promotion, or exactly what his new position is. From some of the other verses in Esther, it seems that King Xerxes and Haman were drinking buddies. But Haman gets a new lofty title, like… Darth Vader, and everybody is supposed to bow down and give homage to him.

Mordecai refuses to bow down. Now, it’s not against Jewish law to bow down and give respect. The Jews bowed down before their own kings in other books of the bible, like 1st and 2nd Samuel and in 1st Kings. And Mordecai also almost certainly bowed down to King Xerxes or he wouldn’t be alive.

Some scholars believe that one reason Mordecai would not bow may be that as a descendent of Agag, Haman would believe he was devine or semi-devine, a god. Mordecai would certainly not bow down before another god. Other scholars believe it was simply because Mordecai would not bow down before an enemy of God, an Amalekite who hated Jews.

Whichever one it was, Haman certainly noticed the one man standing while everybody else at the king’s gate bowed down to him. The other royal officials tried to pressure Mordecai to comply, but Mordecai refused, obeying his faith.

Haman was enraged that this one man would not pay homage to him, and when Haman found out Mordecai was a Jew, he wasn’t satisfied with just killing Mordecai. No, Haman decided this would be his chance to destroy all the Jews. A religious, ethnic cleansing.

Esther 3:8-9,

Then Haman said to King Xerxes, “There is a certain people dispersed and scattered among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom whose customs are different from those of all other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will put ten thousand talents of silver into the royal treasury for the men who carry out this business.”

Haman could not come right out and tell King Xerxes he wanted to kill all the Jews. Xerxes would know that the Jews were loyal subjects; Mordecai had himself saved King Xerxes life in the second book of Esther. So Haman mixes in half-truths… a “certain” people. They’re… “different.” They don’t… “obey.” You shouldn’t have to “tolerate” them. By laying out an incomplete picture with half-truths, Haman was able to convince the King that these “certain people” should be killed.

As Christians, we’re still at war with the Amalekites. Dagnabbit Saul, why didn’t you do as you were told? The Amalekites in positions of power today still sit at the king’s gate, and we’re still not bowing down. The Amalekites sit at the gate of information. They taint Christians with half-truths:

– Control freaks. Instead of focusing on attempts to save the lives of unborn children, they paint us as trying to control what women do with their own bodies.
– Hate-mongerers because we encourage people to turn from sinful ways.
– Uptight people that do not want to have fun, or let anybody else have fun.

The Amalekites sit at the gate of entertainment:
– Movies and television that portray Christians as uptight people, like Ned Flanders of the Simpsons
– The NBC show “The Book of Daniel” that portrayed Christians as hallucinogenic, influenced by drugs and dysfunctional.

The Amalekites sit at the gate of Academia:
– No recognition of God in our schools. No Christmas, no Easter.
– We control our own destiny, evolution happens all by itself without any influence by our grand designer.
– That case in California, near Oakland, where schools used role-playing to teach seventh graders about Islamic history by making them wear nametags with Islamic imagery, memorize Islamic religious teachings as “fact”, wear Islamic clothing, recite phrases from the Koran and mimic the fasting of Ramadan. This was in 2002, after 9/11.

The Amalekites sit at the gate of the political establishment:
– The Oakland case on teaching Islam was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals
– People believe the U.S. Constitution mandates a “separation of church and state.”
– “Under God” removed from Pledge of Allegiance (which is still being fought in the courts).

So with half-truths and innuendos, Haman convinced Xerxes to sign the death warrant for the Jews.

Persia was a big empire, and this ethnic cleansing could not happen immediately. Haman cast lots (v7) and decided the annihilation would occur in the twelfth month of Adar, about a year away. All the royal secretaries were summoned (v12), and the decree was written in every language of Persia and then distributed to all the satraps, governors, in all the provinces. This took a lot of time since they didn’t have email or FoxNews. In Esther 3:13-14,

Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews — young and old, women and little children—on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods. A copy of the text of the edict was to be issued as law in every province and made known to the people of every nationality so they would be ready for that day.

The Jews would have an entire year to fear their fate. Apparently this was met with a lot of confusion in the city of Susa. In verse 15, King Xerxes and Haman sit down to drink a toast to the destruction of the Jews, but the city itself was bewildered. The Jews had been loyal subjects. Why had the king ordered them destroyed?

Mordecai is a little troubled by all of this, if you can understand this. By refusing to bow down before Haman, he had set in motion the destruction of all of his people within the year. Esther 4:1 –

When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly.

Part of this was a public display against the orders of the king, but most of it was probably genuine grief. He’s going to die. All of his loved ones are going to die. All of the people of his faith are going to die. Esther 4:2,

But he went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it.

Apparently they had some sort of dress code and Mordecai was not allowed inside. Esther 4:3,

In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.

All of the Jewish people are scared, mourning, praying, crying. Esther apparently is oblivious, though, because she sends the king’s eunuch that was assigned to attend her to go find out what’s up with the sackcloth.

The eunuch, Hathach, went out to Mordecai to get the scoop, and Mordecai is very prepared. Mordecai tell Hattach everything that has happened, how Haman has ordered the destruction of the Jews, and also gives him proof – look, here’s a copy of the edict. Mordecai tells Hathach to explain all this to Esther and tell Esther to beg the king for mercy for the Jews.

In verse 9, Hathach reports back to Esther and tells her everything Mordecai has said, including Mordecai’s request for Esther to go before the king. Esther’s like, uh, no, that’s a bad idea. As queen, Esther did not have a husband/wife relationship like we understand it today. Esther was still a servant of the king, and she could only appear to him when summoned. The law was strict – if you crash the king’s party, you die. There was a possibility that the king could hold out his golden scepter and your life would be spared. But whatever relationship Esther and the king had, it was not currently in the best of conditions. Esther had not been summoned by the king for 30 days. She was certain that to appear before the king would mean her death.

How do we understand God, who created us and everything we see? Do we decide who He is, and then assume God will do what we want? Or do we decide to be obedient and try to understand what God wants? Do we stay safe, keep silent, avoid taking risks? Or do we try to be obedient?

God’s will will be done, whether we obey or not. We can choose to participate, be a spectator, or deny Him altogether, but we cannot thwart God’s will. God sees history all at once, past, present and future. God creates us for a purpose and plants us right where we are. Your job, your family, your pretty face, your intelligent brain, your feelings, your money, your talents have all come together for this one instant, this one instant that will never occur again. In another minute, in another hour, this moment will have passed.

In 1 Corinthians 7:17-24, Paul explains this concept to new Christians. It says,

Nevertheless, each of you should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to you, just as God has called you. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. Each of you should remain in the situation you were in when God called you. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For those who were slaves when called to faith in the Lord are the Lord’s freed people; similarly, those who were free when called are Christ’s slaves. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings. Brothers and sisters, all of you, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation in which God called you.

In other words, Paul tells us as Christians we are to bloom where we are planted. How? It says, right in the middle of those verses, “keeping God’s commands is what counts.” Not the legalistic old testament stuff, but the attitude and love of Christ Jesus, with all your words and all your actions.

Sometimes we feel stuck in a rut and can’t bloom. I read a story about a woman who was complaining about working with heathens. The boss was mean, her coworkers poked fun at her faith, and out of a hundred employees, she was the only Christian. Her pastor complimented her and told her God must think a lot of her to trust her with 100 people. If she quit, the only light these people have would be gone. Maybe she wasn’t stuck. Maybe she was just planted.

And don’t fall for that “grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” philosophy. The only reason grass is green is because it’s watered and cared for. If you want your grass to be green, bloom where you are planted.

Mordecai knows all this. Esther is exactly where God put her. God removed Vashti and placed Esther as queen. She had every resource she needed to do God’s will. But will she do it? Will she risk everything given to her to do what God wants her to do? God had given Esther so much. God gave her external beauty, and it was her beauty that gave her and her alone access to the king. Would she put her beauty on the line and risk death? God gave her position – she was queen and had access like nobody else. Would she put her position as queen on the line and risk death? Esther also had her inner beauty and love for her people. Most important, Esther had the entire kingdom of heaven behind her. She had everything she needed, but would she risk it, or would fear hold her back?

Mordecai delivers at this point one of the most memorable lines of the bible. He tells Esther that God will accomplish His purpose, nothing she does or does not do will change that fact. If Esther will not do it, the God will save His chosen people another way. Esther’s choice is whether she is going to participate in God’s plan and realize that her entire being, her beauty and position, was orchestrated by God, and God will accomplish His will through His obedient people. Mordecai also tells her that if she’s trying to save her own skin, she’s probably going to lose that, too. She’s a Jew – if the Jews are eliminated, that includes her. She cannot save her own life. All she can do is choose to be obedient, or not.

Mordecai says in Esther 4:13-14,

“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”

The entire purpose of Esther’s life had come to a point of decision. Her entire existence had a purpose. What was more important, being queen, or being the liberator of the Jews? God will not fail to keep His promises or fall short of His purposes, therefore, the deliverance of the Jews was certain. God had made Esther queen so that she could deliver His people. God places people exactly where they can serve Him.

Our beautiful Esther, spurred by her cousin of faith, chose to do God’s will, and fully aware of the consequences. Esther 4:15-16,

Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

And if I perish, I perish. God’s will be done. Esther did the right thing, obeying God, even though it was against the law and at risk to her life. This is a key to understanding all you are. You are God’s child and entrusted with your life to serve him. If I perish, I perish.

While Christians in other nations like Sudan are risking their lives, in America the risk to life is pretty small. In fact, we mostly just risk our own comfort. Afraid to defend the words of Jesus because we don’t want to look silly. Afraid to tithe because if we just had a few more dollars we could afford that Lexus. Afraid to serve because we might miss out on an episode of American Idol.

What are you doing with the resources God has given you? Are you using your talents, your money, your looks, your heart, in a way that is pleasing to God? Are you taking risks in service to Him who created you? Or are you afraid?

Dr. Young and Wallace Henley of the West Campus sent the following that I thought wrapped up today’s lesson well. It says,

79 years ago God brought us together as the family that would be known as Second Baptist Church. On that founding Sunday, the first pastor preached the first sermon in the life of this church. His text was Esther 4, the very passage we study today.

That pastor said to the congregation assembled in 1927—“Who knows but what God has brought us as a body of Christ to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

History has proven him right. The generations who followed caught the vision, and because of that tens of thousands of people have been transformed by Jesus Christ. They’ve impacted families, educational institutions, politics and government, businesses and the marketplace with the vision, values and worldview of God’s Kingdom.

They sacrificed, many giving sacrificially so the great ministry of this church could be carried out. They did so because they understood God’s providence and that He had a plan for them individually, and their resources.

Now the question is before us—Will there be a generation a century from now who will still be standing like Mordecai, still be using the best of the themselves and their resources, like Esther, for God’s Kingdom?

That answer is in our willingness to say of our personal lives and resources, “If I perish, I perish…”

Examine yourself and where you are in this world. God placed you right here for a reason. Our talents, our money, our selves should be used for God’s purposes, every minute of the day. Take a risk at being uncomfortable for God. Bloom where you are planted.

Be Obedient

This is our 4th week in the book of Hebrews.

The first week we learned how awesome angels are, learned about our own guardian angel, and that no matter how awesome angels are, Jesus is better than angels. If I recall, Jesus was also better than a Polish hotel, though I might have some wires crossed there.

The second week, Fred taught us how perfect Jesus is and that he was a perfect sacrifice for us, and reminded us that if we want to be part of God’s family, we ought to participate in the family business. And also that Jesus is better than Ann Murray.

Last week, Meredith took us into the third chapter to remind us that Jesus is better, perfect, and eternal and that Jesus is also better than house siding. See, you need to come every week if you want the nitty gritty details about Jesus, we’ve covered it all. Between the hotel, Ann Murray, and house siding, we’ve covered how Jesus is better than any place, person, or thing.

So now we know how awesome Jesus is. Today’s question is – so what? So what if Jesus is so awesome? What does that mean to me? Now that I know how perfect and awesome Jesus is, how does that impact me? What do I do with this information?

I’ll tell you what, God went through an awful amount of trouble to sacrifice His son for it not to mean anything. Jesus’ death isn’t just some sort of historical interesting fact, it has personal implications for you in your life today. Let’s get some historical background first though and turn to the book of Hebrews, Chapter 3.

Hebrews 3:16-19
Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.

I like this “answer a question with a question” paragraph. First, we’re asked, “Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? “ Of course, the writer is reminding us of the stubbornness of God’s chosen people – God performed miracle after miracle, magnificent miracles like the part of the Red Sea. How did God’s people react? They rebelled. They build golden idols. Even though they had seen and heard God’s word.

Vs 17, “And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness?” Angry, provoked. God was angry with those that had heard and seen His miracles, yet who now were rebellious, disobeying God.

When we think of “God is love,” what do we think this love is? That no matter what we do, no matter where we go and no matter how we do it, we expect God to be right there with us. As Dr. Young has been teaching, there are many promises in the bible, and often the promises are conditional. God will do something *if* we do something. The Old Testament is full of what God expects out of His people – faith and obedience. And the Old Testament is full of God providing instruction to His people in order to save them from His own wrath. When you were growing up, did you do things your parents disapproved of? You did it secretly? And you were afraid that if you were caught, your parents would be mad? Why would your parents discipline you? Because your parents believed they knew what was best for you, and punishment helped you see things their way.

God acts much the same way – He knows what is best for you spiritually, and when you do not pay attention, he disciplines us lovingly, and when we don’t listen, his discipline turns to anger because we have provoked him like the Israelites did. Eventually, as we know from the Book of Revelation, God’s patience and discipline finally come to an end, and only wrath remains.

Let’s look at verse 18-19.

Hebrews 3:18-19
And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.

And now we see why God becomes angry. He’s angry for us, He wants us to come to Him and on His terms, putting aside our selves and our selfish wants and desires. He wants us to enter His rest, but God’s peaceful rest is not possible if we are in rebellion. The Israelites were promised the good news of rest in the land of Canaan, but they did not trust God would actually give it to them.

Hebrews 4:1
Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.

We see here that the promise of entering God’s rest still stands, but we are cautioned not to fall short of the promised land. The Israelites fell short of the promised land because of their unbelief and lack of faith, and we, too, can fall short of what God has promised for us if we do not trust God will actually provide for us.

What rest are we talking about? I believe the writer of Hebrews is talking about two kinds of rest at the same time. The rest of the Israelites was the promised land of Canaan, and for us the promised land is the salvation and rest we find in Jesus Christ. We are not so stressed out about this life when we know it’s temporal and we have eternal life. But the writer also mentions a Sabbath rest, implying that not only will we have eternal rest, we should also have rest in this life. Let’s look at verse 4:6-10:

Hebrews 4:6-10
It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience. Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before:
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.

I think it’s clear that the writer is talking not only about our eternal rest, but also worldly rest. Rest from your own work on the Sabbath. Rest from the weekly stress, household chores, preparing for work, just rest. God rested on the 7th day, and so should we. Don’t put it off; verse 7 says do it today. We can rest by spending quality time with our spouse, taking a nice walk in the park. We can rest by visiting with family. We can rest by fellowshipping with our Christian brothers and sisters that are right here in this room – by the way, lunch today is at Los Cucos.

Hebrews 4:11
Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.

If we fall by disobedience, how do we become obedient? Before you can become obedient, you must do something first. What is it?

That’s right, you must know what the rules are. You can’t be obedient if you don’t know what you’re supposed to do. When Diane & I were in Europe in July, we rented a car. That was pretty exciting. The French didn’t have the courtesy to put up road signs in English. So we’re driving around and doing our best to obey the traffic laws. Some of the signs are easy to figure out. Some are not.

French Traffic SignThis one is pretty straightforward, easy to understand.

French Traffic SignThis one is a bit more difficult. The top line is the speed limit in town, the second line is the speed limit when leaving town, and the bottom line is the speed limit when you are back on the highway.

French Traffic SignNo airplanes? No spaceships? No, it indicates you have the right of way and there is a cross street coming up.
French Traffic SignTrucks are not allowed to pass on the left.
French Traffic SignPlease do not explode. Exploding vehicles are not permitted. No, it’s hazardous chemicals are not permitted.
French Traffic SignSpaceships please use water landing area. No, it’s an indication that you should drive this way if you’re carrying pollutants over water.

Let’s put these two together. If you want to avoid the wrath of the French Police, you must obey the traffic signs. If you want to avoid the wrath of God, you must obey His word. And where do we find His word? Right here, between Genesis and Revelation.

Let’s see what the Word says about the Word.

2 Timothy 3:16
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

The Word of God is the very breath of God. To be the man that God wants you to be, equip yourself properly. To teach others, to rebuke them when they know they are wrong, to correct them when they don’t know, to train yourself in righteousness., equip yourself with the Word.

2 Peter 1:20-21
Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

It is God’s will, not man’s will, that writes Scripture. The Holy Spirit directed prophets to write what God wanted us to know.

John 12:48
There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.

Jesus adds some ominous words; rejecting His word has consequences. Like the Israelites that rebelled against God, rebelling against Jesus will seal your destination with the end of time arrives.

John 8:31-32
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Where do we find Jesus’ teachings? Jesus tells us that if you really are one of his students, you will study and lean what He has to say, holding on to the truth. The truth will set you free from the bondage of sin.

Hebrews 4:12-13
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

“Living and Active”

The word “living” is from the Hebrews word “zon” which can also mean “quick”. The bible is not a series of dead letters; centuries later, the Word is still changing lives. How could it be dead? As the word of the living God, the Word itself is living.

Something I’ve found interesting in the Old Testament is how God progressively reveals himself through the ages. First with Adam and Eve, then Abraham and Moses, God tells us more and more about him as the ages pass. Why progressively? I think it’s because we have to take baby steps before we can run; we must understand the simple concepts of God before we’re ready for some understanding of the depth of God. Jesus, too, alluded to this; in Mark 14:33-34 it says “With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.” The Word itself never changes, but we change based on the Word of God as God progressively reveals Himself to us.

Ever wonder why the book of Revelations predicts the end of the world with God’s wrath and His will victorious, and at the same time we know that the demons know scripture, yet the devil proceeds anyway? Why doesn’t the devil try something different? I think it’s because the devil has no idea what the scripture says, all he can do is quote it. I mean really, if the devil really know Jesus was the Son of God and that Jesus will be victorious in the end times and the devil will be cast into the lake of fire with all the unrepentant evil people, don’t you think the devil would reconsider? I don’t think the devil understands.

Let me give you an example of how living the bible is and how it progressively reveals itself from something that happened to me just last week. I was reading Luke 16, the parable of the shrewd manager. I wasn’t reading it specifically for this lesson, it was just up next on the list of scripture for me to read. See, I have this spreadsheet of scriptures and it’s cross-linked to a calendar of when I’m going to read them… never mind, it’s an engineer sort of thing. Anyway, I read this scripture for the umpteenth time, but this time it clicked, and suddenly I had an example of “living” for this morning’s lesson. God is just amazing that way. Let me show you what I mean, if you want to turn to Luke 16 with me…

Luke 16:1-8
Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’

“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

” ‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.
“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’

“Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’
” ‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.
“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

I’ve read this parable a dozen times, and each time it’s confused me. Maybe it’s made sense to you, but to me I was no comprende. I kept thinking, “this can’t be right. Jesus says it’s ok to be dishonest as long as it’s for your own personal gain? As long as you have a good selfish reason, dishonesty and embezzlement is ok? I mean that can’t be right, but isn’t that what it says?

Let’s look at the next verse that seems unrelated.

Luke 16:9-12
Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

Or is it unrelated? Ding. Light bulb over my head. He brings good things to light. These two verses go together. The first part is a worldy example of a shrewd manager and how worldly people think and how worldly people are rewarded. But no where does Jesus say we should be like this, only that we learn from it and apply it to spiritual matters. The next verse that I thought was unrelated says we should waive spiritual debts from one another – if we’re holding something against a brother or a sister, if we’re angry with somebody and if we haven’t actively forgiven them, do so while we are “employed” – I mean “living”. Why? Because our spiritual master – God – will reward that kind of behavior in heaven. In other words, our material possessions are worthless in the long run, but use them in such a way that pleases God. Suddenly this word wasn’t as confusing to me anymore, it’s now an admonishment to remember to store up my treasures in heaven.

The word is not only living, but it is active. The word “active” is the Hebrew word “energes” which also can be translates “powerful.” We get the word “energy” from it. It literally means “at work”. One of the things I’ve learned to rest at is spreading the Word of God – sharing my faith doesn’t mean I have to convert people to faith in Jesus. It’s my job to share, not convert. That’s the job of the Holy Spirit, and if I try to do His work I just get in the way. All I have to do is say what I believe and why I believe it. Scripture will do it’s own work. Isaiah 55:11, the Lord says

so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

It’s powerful. It’s not that “the Word plus me” is powerful. The Word is powerful. Period. Jeremiah 23:29,

“Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?”

The Word is penetrating, sharper than any two edged sword. The word *is* the sword, part of the armor of God, according to Ephesians 6:17 which tells us to take the sword of the spirit which is the word of God. The Roman short sword was lightweight and deadly because it was sharp on both sides and cut both ways. The Word of God is like a sword that can cut you all the way to the joints and the marrow of your bones, dividing your soul and spirit. It is not possible to read the bible with an open heart and not be convicted. No heart is too hard, no soul is too dark.

Reverend Spurgeon said. “When God wills it, his word can pierce anyone as a certain Mr. Thorpe in the 18th century Bristol found out. Thorpe was a part of a band of men who called themselves, the ‘Hell Fire Club.’ Their reason for existence was to mock and ridicule the work of the famed evangelist, George Whitefield. On one occasion, the ‘Hell-Fire Club’ gathered at a pub for such mockery. Mr. Thorpe offered his brilliant imitation of Whitefield, whom he and his friends called, ‘Mr Squintum’ because of Whitefield eyes. He delivered his sermon with brilliant accuracy, perfectly imitating his tone and facial expressions as he quoted Scripture and Whitefield’s exposition. Suddenly amidst the laughter he had to sit down for he was pierced through and was converted on the spot. Mr. Thorpe was a thoroughly nasty man, engaged in a nasty action yet the Word of God pierced his heart and changed him in an instant. Mr. Thorpe went on to be a prominent Christian leader in the city of Bristol.”

It’s a living word. It’s an active word. It’s a discerning word, it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. God sees everything, and when you expose yourself to the word, God lays your soul open.

Hold on to this truth, there are secular “scholars” rewriting history, trying to obscure the history of Jesus, minimize the impact and importance of the bible. People like Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code putting forth some preposterous idea that the bible is a man-made manufactured story book for the sole purpose of subjugating women to a patriarchal society, that it wasn’t Jesus who was holy but Mary Magdelene – don’t you believe a word of it. Why? Because an open heart exposed to the living word of God changes lives. We know that, we can see it with our own eyes, it is a miracle we witness each and every time we see someone give themselves to Christ. We know the truth and the power of the Holy Word because we are witnesses to the work of the Holy Spirit in ourselves and in others. No amount of obfuscation and confusion can ever convince us of a lie when we experience this living, active truth personally. So far I’ve only been able to get close to a few of you, but those who have shared their testimony with me are also proof to me that the book of truth has divided their souls and carved their hearts like a two edged sword. I know who they were before and who they are after and all the worldly lies in books, TV documentaries, and the news can’t convince me that the bible is anything other than what it says it is, the very breath of God written by the Holy Spirit through the hands of holy inspired men.

Gipsy Smith, an English evangelist from early this century, told a story of a man who complained that he had received no inspiration from the bible although he had gone through it several times. Smith replied, “Let it go through you once and then you’ll tell a different story”.

Taking Comfort in God’s Strength

I taught a lesson on “Taking Comfort in God’s Strength” and never got around to posting my notes. I have found that I tend to get lost in my notes and I tried to switch to an outline format. It actually worked out better for teaching, but it looks like a lousy format for a blog. So without further ado, here are my notes.

I. Introduction

A. Why is it that some Christians find living by faith to be a powerful positive experience and others don”t? The bible talks often about the joy of salvation, yet some Christians walk around in a funk with their own little black cloud following them every where they go.

B. The difference between Christian living in victory and a defeated Christian is refusing to let go of the world and cling to God, who offers an endless supply of strength.

II. First, let’s do the history lesson.

A. Isaiah, as a prophet of God, had a job to tell the people what God said. During this time the Israelites were sinning against God and refusing to turn from their sins, so God was in the process of punishing them. In 722 B.C, during Isaiah’s life time, the Northern Kingdom of Israel was overrun by the Assyrians and the people were either killed or taken into captivity. In 586 B.C, more than 100 years after Isaiah lived, the Southern Kingdom was overrun and its peoples carted off to Babylon.

B. Isaiah prophesied the Babylonian captivity of 586 B.C. He repeatedly warned the people that this was going to happen to them because of their sins and their refusal to get right with God. In addition to warning them of God’s impending judgment, Isaiah also spoke to the Israelites words of grace and comfort from God, telling them that their punishment and captivity would not last forever. This passage in Isaiah is all about the hope and comfort of God.

C. The Jews found these words comforting because it assured them that God was still their God, even thought they sinned, and that God would be true to His promises to them as a people. The Israelites knew that one day God would take them back to their homeland and bless them.

D. So in chapter 40 of Isaiah, Israel is complaining about their captivity and oppression by King Cyrus. They’re tired and weary and as a result, they’ve taken their focus off of God. Now they are focused on their own “woe-is-me” state of mind, and with their mind off of God they’re now relying on their own strength to see them through the tough times.

E. But Isaiah points out that just because we have lost sight of God, that’s not the same as losing God. God is still there for us, but often we are too focused on ourselves to notice.

F. Isaiah 40:1-5. The first 39 chapters of Isaiah focused on the judgment of Israel because of Judah’s sin. By the time we get to Chapter 40, God emphasizes comfort and hope.

i. v1. The word “comfort” here is not just a pat on the head or casual encouragement. It’s the type of compassion you offer someone over the loss of a loved one.
ii. v2. Israel has seen some tough times because of disobedience, but now comes a time of comfort. Her iniquity, her sin, has been pardoned. In Exodus 22:4-9, God’s law says a thief should repay twice what he stole. God is saying that Israel has stolen from God and has now received twice the punishment required.
iii. v3. This is a messianic prophecy, a declaration that Christ will come. John the Baptist cried the same thing 700 years later. Roads at the time were usually well worn paths that meandered to and fro, but when royalty announced their intention to travel, a roads would be straightened to make travel easily. And the desert implies that God will travel through an inhospitable place.
iv. v4. Talk about making straight paths. Valley will be lifted up and mountains leveled to make a smooth road for the Lord.
v. v5. And when the glory of the Lord appears, not only Israel will see Christ, but all humanity will.
vi. v6-8. The Assyrians that conquered the Israelites must have seemed overwhelming, but God is pointing out that, despite appearances, anything humanity does will fade. God’s breath is like a hot dry wind in the desert that dries up anything humans can accomplish, including the Assyrians. And after the grass is dried and the flowers gone, the Word of God still remains.
vii. v10-11. God assures us that his rule is not like human rulers that can rule by fear and intimidation. God’s rule is more like a shepherd watching over his flock because He loves us.
viii. v27-29. Israel has been saying that God isn’t listening. Israel’s way is hidden from the Lord. God’s response is that He has been there for centuries, through the Exodus, bringing Israel into Canaan, but Israel kept turning away from God to idols. People today often ask the same question – where is God – while the same people are disobedient. God hates sin and will not look upon it, so one can’t go on sinning and asking where God is.
ix. God reminds us in v. 28 that God is different from people – God is everlasting, humans are temporary. God is the Creator, people are the created. God’s strength knows no limits while people grow weary. And that’s the part that’s most interesting to me.

III. Isaiah 40:30-31:
“Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength: They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.”

A. Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired? Does work get you down? Do you have family that stresses you out? Neighbors? Housework? What sort of things make you weary?

B. We can have hope through this scripture that we can tap into God’s strength.
a. How strong is God? God is infinitely strong. He created Heaven and Earth. Genesis tells us that God clapped twice and said, “Let there be light.” He created the sun, the moon, and the stars. When did He do this? Hard to tell, because He created time, too. God is everything.

C. Isaiah 40 above tells us two things –
a. We all grow weary, and
b. As a people of faith, expectantly waiting on the Lord, we will find new strength.

IV. Growing Weary

v. 30, “Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly. . .”

A. All of us are going to grow old and weary, but sometimes young people don’t realize this. This verse is specifically for younger people like Ken, a warning that their strong energy level will fade. They think they’ll be 18 till they die, that they’ll always look vigorous and handsome, that their energy level will always be high. But those of us with a few miles behind us realize this doesn’t last forever. As the younger grow older, they’ll get weary and tired, too.

B. When we get older, we realize we’ll get even older yet. A mark of maturity is recognizing life for what it is and accepting it, but sometimes we grow weary. This past Easter Sunday we visited my mom and stepdad, joined them for their church service and then went out to brunch. We had planned on going to Minute Maid, but we got worried about his health since he spent several months in ICU last year. So we’re driving around when all of a sudden his leg cramps up. He has to pull over and I offer to drive, so I get out of the back seat at swap places with him. As he’s getting in the back seat there’s a lot of groaning going on as he tries to wedge himself back there, then he warns me not to laugh because one day I’ll be older too. I told him I wasn’t about to laugh – when we’re 20, we might think old people are funny, but by the time we’re in our 40’s we’re recognizing that someday we’re going to be that old, too. It’s not as funny anymore.

C. And as we get older, we get weary and worn out, and as we get weary, we start developing problems. For instance, when we’re weary, we drop our defenses. We’re too tired. Like a wolf picking off the weakest sheep from the flock, the enemy waits for us to become weary. Then he pounces. When we are weary, we are defenseless against the enemy.
i. Deuteronomy 25:17-18, “Remember what Amalek did to you along the way when you came out from Egypt, how he met you along the way and attacked among you all the stragglers at your rear when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God.” Very powerful example the devil’s attack on weary Christians.
ii. 2 Samuel 17:1-2, “Furthermore, Ahithophel said to Absalom, ‘Please let me choose 12,000 men that I may arise and pursue David tonight. And I will come upon him while he is weary and exhausted and will terrify him so that all the people who are with him will flee. Then I will strike down the king alone.” When we become weary, we are defenseless.

D. When we are weary, we also lose our perspective. We do stupid things. Remember Esau in Genesis 25? Esau came in from the field, famished and tired, and sold his birthright for a bowl of stew. What was he thinking? He was weary, forgot what was important, and missed out on God’s blessing.

E. When we’re tired, we get sleepy. We get inactive. We can actually become a hindrance to other Christians because we become baggage that gets dragged around. They’re trying to vacuum the living room, we’re snoozing on the sofa. Every once in a while we crack open one eye and say, “Hey, not so loud.” We’re in the way.

F. When we are weary, it’s easy to get depressed. When we are weary, we want to throw our hands up and quit. We get negative, critical, and we feel like everyone is against us. Let me read this Psalm that shows our attitude when we are depressed.
Gloom, despair, and agony on me.
Deep dark depression, excessive misery.
If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.
Gloom, despair, and agony on me.
What’s the answer to this kind of darkness? Take it from me, Hee Haw reruns aren’t the answer.

V. Vitality in Waiting on the Lord

A. v. 31, “Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength: They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.”

B. Wow. Run and not get tired. What does it mean to wait for the Lord? I looked up the word “wait”, and the original Hebrew word is “qavah.” The word “qavah” does not imply sitting around, doing nothing, waiting for something to happen. It’s more than an expectation, too, it implies you are bound together with God like the braids of a rope. Inseparable, stronger together than if you were apart.

C. Qavah is a fairly common word in the bible, used 49 times in 45 verses. I’m not going to read them all unless you have time, of course, but I wanted to highlight one of them that implied something besides “wait.”
i. Genesis 1:9. “And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together (qavah) unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.” Waters gathered together. Ropes bound together. We are to be inseparable if we want to run and not get tired.

D. Can we do this without God? Do we have inexhaustible strength? The truth is that if we rely on ourselves, our own strength runs out. What we need is new strength, a renewing strength. When we wait upon the Lord and bind ourselves to Him, we exchange our weakness for His strength.

E. Then look at the impact this exchange has on our lives – we will “mount up with wings like eagles.” When we exchange our weakness for His strength, we grow spiritual wings, we learn to soar above our earthly problems, our light and momentary afflictions. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:16, “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.” As we exercise our faith in Jesus Christ, our inner man is renewed day by day. When we are bound with God, we soar with wings like eagles. Sometimes instead of soaring like eagles, or we’re flapping like wounded ducks.

F. But that’s not the whole promise. It also says, “They will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.” Sometimes we are called to run, to do something immediately for the Lord. If Jesus is setting a fast pace, He will provide the strength we need. There are times when He calls us to run. And in those times, we “will run and not get tired.” But there are other times when we just walk. In those times, we “will walk and not become weary.”

G. I just noticed it makes us no promises if we just sit there. Our daily walk with Christ is a movement, a doing something for Christ. Get up and walk, and sometimes run.

H. So if this promise of strength is for us, why don’t we always get strength?
i. Sometimes it’s because we don’t stay bound with God’s Word. Instead of being wrapped up in His Word, devoting time to prayer and meditation and study so that His Word is in our head, we treat it as a part-time hobby. I heard a story a couple of weeks ago from a man who said his family teases him about an incident years ago when he hit his thumb with a hammer. Apparently when he hit his thumb, a lot of very interesting words came out of his mouth. When he was asked, “what exactly did you say?” He responded, “I don’t remember. But I can tell you this – whatever came out of my mouth, I had been practicing to say it. It was what was in my heart and it flew out of my mouth.” So instead of staying bound with God to rely on His strength, we often abandon Him when we need Him most.
ii. Instead of being bound with God, we’re bound to our past thoughts and habits. Imagine for a moment, a young boy whose father is an alcoholic. When his father comes home drunk and mean, the boy is scared, runs and hides. The pattern is repeated over and over, the boy hiding from his father every night. When the boy grows up and somebody confronts him in an angry way, how does he respond? He runs away. It’s a habit, a stronghold in his mind to respond that way.
iii. We all have these strongholds in our minds, and they’ve come from years of practicing them. Instead of trusting in God’s strength, we learn to cope with Plan B, our own strength. These strongholds can be a sin, a missing the mark for what God has planned for us. Once you decide to follow your plan instead of God’s plan, the next time a similar situation comes up, you’ll probably choose your own plan again. Why? Because that’s what you practiced, it’s becoming a habit. If you repeat an act over and over, it becomes a habit. And once this stronghold is in your mind and actions, it becomes very difficult to change. Here’s some examples –
1. Hostility. When you are threatened, how to you respond? If you’re driving down 610 among the construction of the week and some pickup truck nearly takes off your front bumpers cutting across 3 lanes of traffic, do you get road rage? If you’re trying to convince your boss of some idea you’ve had, and he responds, “That’s stupid, it’ll never work,” do you get mad and wish you could quit? When a family member irritates you, do you sharpen the tongue and go at them? It’s a stronghold, a habit to respond that way because you’ve practiced it. God is stronger than this. If you’re bound with God, though, you know that you should love your enemy, pray for your enemy, turn the other cheek. God is stronger than hostility, but you have to be bound with Him.
2. Inferiority. I’m not good enough to do that, I can’t do that, nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I’m going to the garden and eat worms. That’s a stronghold, shrinking away from people and not wanting to get involved. You attend bible class but you don’t join the church because somehow you don’t feel like you belong, that those other people are somehow better than you. You don’t feel you pray enough or read your bible enough or share your faith enough. Pretty soon you start thinking about your failures and agreeing that you’re probably not very lovable to God. You’ve grown weary and Satan is picking the weak sheep off. God says you are a child of God, a saint who is inferior to no mortal. Bind yourself in God’s word and know that He values you above all creation.
3. Manipulation. Control freak. You feel that if it’s happening in your life that you must control the people and circumstances. You’ve developed a stronghold by practicing a pattern of control, and now it controls you. Bound yourself with God, what does He say? He says to give control of everything to Him. Give your problems to God.
4. Sexual immorality. Anorexia, bulimia. Negative thought processes that you trust more than God’s strength, and in so you become a weak sheep that the evil one wants to pick off and devour. But bind yourself with God, walk with God and you won’t become weary and disillusioned. Getting rid of the old sinful self was God’s grace, a gift through the Holy Spirit. God changed our nature, but it our responsibility to change our behavior, putting to death our fleshly desired. In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul rebukes immature Christians for their expression of jealousy, strife, and division. Why? They had old habits and were choosing self over God.

I. So now you’re saying, but what about meeeeee? What does this have to do with meeeeee?
i. First of all, no more pity parties. Don’t be like the chocolate Easter bunny that went to see a psychiatrist. The chocolate Easter bunny lies down on a psychiatrist’s couch with the psychiatrist sitting beside him taking notes. The chocolate Easter bunny was explaining his problem to the psychiatrist: “Naturally, I would like people to love for me for what’s inside. But Doc, that’s the problem. I’m hollow on the inside.” Ps 103:2-5, “Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits– who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” What are some of God’s benefits?
1. Fellowship with God, they almighty God, maker of Heaven and Earth. He’s not a spectator and watching our game of life, he wants a relationship, one on one with us. In Exodus 33:7, 9, 11a, it says, “Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it “the tent of meeting.” Anyone inquiring of the Lord would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp … As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance while the Lord spoke with Moses … the Lord would speak to Moses face to face as a man speaks with his friend.” As a man speaks with his friend. That’s the kind of relationship God wants with us. Who was here for Savior last Friday night? Fabulous musical and the opening song was a love song, a duet, between Wintley Phipps with the voice of God singing “who will appreciate this beautiful world I’ve created? Who will enjoy the waters that that are deep and clear, who will enjoy the music the birds sing? And it turned into a duet with Eddie singing as Adam. Just beautiful.
2. Fellowship with one another. Jesus said second only to loving God with all your heart, we should love one another. Every relationship with another that you have is a gift from God. Your parents, your older brother or younger sister, your next door neighbor, are all gifts. That’s a benefit. Treat them all as the gifts that they are.
3. Gift of eternal salvation. An eternity of Heaven. Hard to beat that benefit. He doesn’t owe it to us, but he gives it freely. So no more pity parties!
ii. Take command of your attitude. Ephesians 4:22-24, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” And Philippians 2:5-8, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” If you think you’re something special, more special than everyone else, or if everyone else owes you something, then you need an attitude check. If you’re always fighting for your rights, then you will always be fighting. A good attitude comes from laying down his rights for the good of others. What rights did Jesus fight for? Did He claim we owed him something? Remember, many things on earth are backwards from the way they are in heaven. If you want to be exalted, humble yourself, and let God lift you up. If you want to receive strength, you must learn to give strength to others. You have to empty yourselves so that God can fill you up.
iii. Walk with Christ. Colossians 2:6, As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him. When you’re just walking or driving or sitting, think about these words. If you’ve professed your faith in Christ, are you now walking with Him? Think about when you are relying on your own strength, and realize that someday you will be weak there, like the grasses dried by God’s breath. Think about when you are weakest, and how God’s strength is yours if you will just learn to rely on God instead of yourself. Compare each of them to what you know God wants from you. How will you do today?

Accountability

Yesterday I taught my second bible study to adults. Last time I taught, I rewrote the whole thing as an essay here on Chasing the Wind but that was a lot of work. I think this time I’ll stick to posting the outline, notes, and scripture. Especially since halfway through I deviated from my notes in a big way, so it’s possible a lot of the notes have nothing to do with what I said. 😛

I. Introduction to Isaiah 18

Today’s lesson is very specific and addressed to only certain people. Let’s turn to Isaiah 18:3-5:

All you people of the world,
you who live on the earth,

Who in here falls in this group, raise your hand? Everybody but Ken, good.

when a banner is raised on the mountains, you will see it,
and when a trumpet sounds, you will hear it.

God is saying here that his message is unmistakable. Armies at the time would raise a banner and sound a trumpet to get the attention of the troops. God is speaking to his people, those that belong to Him.

This is what the LORD says to me:
“I will remain quiet and will look on from my dwelling place, like shimmering heat in the sunshine,
like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.”

God will remain quiet and watch and observe, but he is everywhere, watching and observing. When you’re driving down the highway and the heat is shimmering in the distance, God is there, waiting. And a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest like a sudden rainstorm is hurtful and can destroy a crop. When God is through watching disobedience, his punishment will be severe.

For, before the harvest, when the blossom is gone
and the flower becomes a ripening grape,
he will cut off the shoots with pruning knives,
and cut down and take away the spreading branches.

When God’s punishment comes, He will prune unproductive vines. Vines that produce no fruit but absorb water and nutrients are harmful to the rest of the crop, and God will prune those that are not productive.

So in Isaiah we see that God is waiting and watching and ready to prune those branches that are not producing fruit, ready to render His perfect judgment. God hates sin. I hope that’s not a surprise to anybody here, but God hates sin.

II. Overcoming Sinfulness

So, is there sin in your life? And is God watching you? Just asking that question makes me feel uncomfortable. Of course there is, there is in my life, too.

Romans 3:23, For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Each and every one of us. And if God hates sin, and we are the sinners He’s watching like a simmering heat, what do we do? After receiving the Holy Spirit and confessing the Christ is Lord, the Christian begins a process of sanctification.

Sanctification is the process by which the Holy Spirit makes us more like Christ in all that we do, think, and desire.

In other words, we become better at overcoming sinfulness. But how does this happen? Is there something like a sanctification tanning salon where sanctification rays beam down on us?

The Bible tells us about 4 main ways of overcoming sinfulness.

1. The Holy Spirit

Galatians 5:16-25Holy Spirit
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

How is one filled with the Holy Spirit? First of all, it is of God’s choosing. In the Old Testament, He selected individuals and specific incidents to fill individuals He chose to accomplish a work that He wanted done.

  • Genesis 41:38 says that when Pharaoh chose Joseph, he said, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?”
  • In Exodus 31:3, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts.’
  • Numbers 24:2, “When Balaam looked out and saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe, the Spirit of God came upon him and he uttered his oracle.”
  • 1 Samuel 10:10, “the Spirit of God came upon [Saul] in power, and he joined in their prophesying.”

Let’s look in the New Testament:

  • Ephesians 5:17-18, Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.
  • Colossians 3:16, Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

I believe that if you fill yourselves with the Word of God, then God will you with the Holy Spirit. That brings us to the next method of overcoming sin.

2. The Word of God, the Bible

The Word
2 Timothy 3:16-17 says that God has given us His Word to equip us for every good work. It teaches us how to live and what to believe, when we have chosen wrong paths, and helps us get back on the right path.
And as Hebrews 4:12 shares, the Word of God is living and powerful and is able to penetrate to our hearts to root out the deepest hypocrasies.
The bible is a resource that we often treat carelessly. We carry our Bibles to church, read a chapter during bible study, but the Word of God is so much more powerful than just a tool. The Word of God becomes active in our lives when we memorize it and when we meditate on it.
We have some sort of eating disorder when it comes to reading the Word. We either snack on it but never filling ourselves, or we gorge on it for a day and starve ourselves for the rest of the week.
Do you memorize scipture when you come across passages the Holy Spirit impresses upon you? The Bible is the tool that the Spirit uses in our lives and the lives of thers.. In Ephesians 6:17, we are to take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, the word of God.

3. Prayer

Prayer
Like carrying our bibles around, we don’t use prayer to the fullest extent. In times of trouble or in stress, do we always go to the Lord in prayer first before we attempt to solve things on our own?
God has given us wonderful promises if we pray. Matthew 7:7-11, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; those who seek find; and to those who knock, the door will be opened.”
In the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-8, Jesus says that if at first you don’t get the response from God, just keep praying. And if you still don’t get the response you want, just keep praying.
And in 1 John 5:14-15, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”

4. Others

Our 4th method of overcoming sin is the Church, and specifically small groups, 1 on 1, personal relationships. God wants us to depend on others and for others to depend on us.

Worries kill
Oops.
Church
In Matthew 10:1, when Jesus sent His disciples out to spread the Good News among the lost sheep of Israel, He sent them out two by two. In the missionary journeys in Acts, they did not go out one at a time, but in groups of two or more. In Matthew 18:20, Jesus said that where two or three are gathered in His name, He is there in their midst. In Hebrews 10:24-25, we are to spur one another on, to encourage one another in love and good works. This doesn’t always mean a gentle encouragement. Have you ever ridden a horse? When you want to spur the horse on, would you consider that a “gentle encouragement?”
We are also told to confess our faults to one another. James 5:16, Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. We are not expected to walk through this world all alone. Confess to each other, we are told.
In Proverbs 27:17, we are told that as iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend. We become better Christians when we learn to lean on each other.

IV. Accountability

1. What is Accountability?

Did you notice that our instructions for relationships with other Christians is not just passive? We don’t just hang around each other, we admonish each other, we teach each other, we confess our sins to each other, we encourage each other. These instructions are active.

Coming to church to worship is excellent, of course, but we also should come to church to fellowship in an active way with other Christians and encourage the sanctification process in each other. Some have found brothers or sisters in Christ who get together to share how they are doing in their Christian walk, how they may have struggled, and commit to pray for each other. They hold each other accountable in applying God’s Word to their relationships. Let’s review what the bible says about this.

We already talked about Hebrews 10:24 (to spur one another on), James 5:16 (confess your sins and pray for each other), and Proverbs 27:17 (iron sharpens iron). Are there any other verses that tell us we are accountable to each other?

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:

If they fall down, they can help each other up.
But pity those who fall and have no one to help them up!

Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Have you ever tried to move from one apartment to another by yourself? It’s hard to live half of a dresser. But two people lifting half a dresser each can give “good return for their labor.”

When I was in the Boy Scouts, they told us that if someone was suffering from hypothermia, say, if they fell in a lake of ice, then two people should share a sleeping bag. The heat from one person could save the other.

And have you ever seen a movie where the good guys, against overwhelming odds, stand back to back to defend themselves?

And after a verse like this – two have good return for their labor, two can help each other up, two, two, two – why does it say a cord of three strands? I like to think of that third strand as God binding us all together.

Galatians 6:1-2Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

There are two specific instructions here – if your brother or sister is in sin, bring them back to the attention of God’s Word. If your accountability friend has done something contrary to the Bible, you are called to confront him gently, forgive him, and comfort him. But make sure your primary influence is strong Christians so that you, too, don’t get caught up in the same sin. No one is above temptation.

Philippians 2:3-4
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Value others obove yourself. Not equal; above.

John 13:34-35
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

I’m of the opinion when God tells us something more than once, it’s important. The pages of the Bible are filled with stories of people leaning on others for growth and personal and spiritual development. Deep connections help people overcome their struggles and see what they cannot see on their own. Examples are

  • Moses and Aaron (Exodus)
  • David and Jonathan (1 Sam. 18-20).
  • Paul and Barnabas
  • Paul and Titus, Silas, and Timothy (Acts 11-14; 2 Cor. 2:12).
  • And of course Jesus had His twelve disciples with a special attachment to Peter, James, and John.

We see through these examples of strong biblical people that accountability is not for just for those who are weak or needy. Accountability is for those whose faith is strong and who want to be stronger.

In 1 Corinthians chapter 12, we read that Christians are all part of the same body of Christ. Some of us are a foot – I think I may be a thumb. Separately the parts of the body cannot survive. We all need each other.

2. How do we have good accountability?

What keeps accountability from being effective? We are an abundant source of pride, we want to be the best we can be, even to the point of lying to ourselves and others. As I said earlier, we are all sinners. We want to appear the best that we can be, and we focus on our performance and behavior. Admitting we mess up is hard to do. In order for accountability to be effective, we must be honest.

What happens when a Christian brother or sister stumbles? Do we gently restore them to the church as we are called to do? We tend to shoot the wounded. If we’re afraid of being shot, we don’t show that we are wounded. We must be gentle with each other.

Active listening is essential. James 1:19 says, “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” I think we do the opposite – slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to become angry.

Caring for each other is essential. 1 John 4:21 says, “And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” Our attitude is very important. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and tender to one another. Forgive each other, just as God forgave you because of what Christ has done.” We should “speak the truth in love” as Ephesians 4:15 says.

Small groups are better, it gives everybody a chance to participate. Mixed groups are not better. The dynamics of men and women are complicated, and they struggle with different sets of issues. Men struggle with football. I can’t think of anything else they struggle with. No, actually they struggle with lust, pornography, idolatry to work, or laziness. Women might struggle with eating disorders, intimacy in relationships, gossip, envy, or jealousy.

The Tuesday night group I participate in is invaluable to me. We’ve been studying together for 6 months and we’ve worked ourselves to the state where we can trust each other and share our troubles. For me the best part is being able to share my concerns for the week, what’s most important to me, and have a group of strong Christian men that can offer support and advice.

And also I have a wife of accountability. This morning I ran an errand to the pharmacy, and when I got back, Diane asked me if she could fix me a piece of toast. “Um, no thanks,” I said.

“Did you eat while you were out?,” she asked.

“Mmmhmmm.”

“What? A donut?”

“Um…. no.”

“Then what?”

“Um…. I had…. um… breakfast.”

My accountability partner is helping me eat healthy, which the Egg McMuffin probably wasn’t as healthy as that granola bread stuff. You can try this method, but Diane will be very busy if you do.

A non-judgmental attitude is another essential element. If we have any scripture memorized, it is probably “Judge not lest ye be judged.” Matthew 7:1-3, Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? The concern here is that if we’re having an affair and accuse a brother of lust, we need to remove our own plank first. But why do we look at this judgement as something bad? Why wouldn’t we want our brother to hold us to a higher standard?

3. Discussion Questions

A good friend invites you for a cup of coffee. “Friend, I’ve been struggling with a particular sin over the past couple months. I don’t think I can shake it on my own. Would you hold me accountable in my fight against this sin?“

  • Does this make you feel uncomfortable? Why?
  • Let’s reverse the role. What prevents you from asking another to hold you accountable?

4. Bad Accountability

Remember we are to spur one another, but we are to do it in love. Here’s a fictional news article we do not want to read about in the newspaper (adapted from an article at Larknews.com):

Headline: Houston. Accountability groups classified as gangs.

Noting a rise in accountability-group-related violence, Houston police are keeping a close eye on church-based men’s groups.

Houston police chief Harold Hurtt says, “Gang violence has dropped, but Christian accountability group violence is up sharply.”

Houston is the home of the “radical accountability” movement, where breakfast meetings have been been turned into gang-style networks. Instead of applying peer pressure to prod one another to wholesome lifestyles, these groups have started “hazing and harassing” non-compliant members, police say.

One Second Baptist man, who quit his accountability group and is now in police protective custody, says his former accountability group pounced on him after he broke a promise to his wife. “I told her I’d take her to a bed and breakfast in the Hill Country, but I went to play golf instead,” he says. “On Monday morning, the guys in my group were waiting for me in the parking lot at my workplace with brass knuckles and family-edition Bibles. They worked me over pretty good, and said they’d pray for me.”

Sociologists say accountability groups are following a predictable path into increasingly aggressive behavior, says a sociologist from the University of Texas. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing accountability drive-by shootings in the near future.”

Accountability is not about confrontation. We may at times need to be confronted, but accountability is more about challenging one another to grow in Christ.

Let me leave you with this final thought if you are on the receiving end of a Christian rebuking:

Proverbs 25:12
Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is a wise man’s rebuke to a listening ear.

If your brother or sister cares enough about you to rebuke you in a loving and caring way, then you truly have a treasure.

Nikola.com Added to Blogroll

Via Michelle Malkin, I read that Ambra Nykol has lost her job and that Michelle thinks the Mainstream Media should hire her for her fresh, interesting, and diverse point of view. Off I go to check her out.

I find this very well written post about rapper Kanye West’s song, “Jesus Walks.” Nykol examines the lyrics to see if it’s just another “live like you want and Jesus will still endorse you.” In other words, God protect me, be with me, give me strength while I go about praising sex and drugs and shooting cops, as though a watered-down God is somehow some great genie that serves us.

There is the general belief among many artists that it’s okay to live one way and drop in the name of Jesus al a carte. We’ve all heard the award acceptance speeches over the years:

“Yes I know I just took most of my clothes off and shook my butt on the stage while singing and simulating dry sex on the dance floor, but thank you God, the head of my life for allowing me to make this album and blessing me with my talents.”

Then there’s my personal favorite which goes a little something like this:

“First I want to give honor to God for helping me to make this album which diametrically opposes everything moral or righteous and allowing me to continue to make money in spite of my filthy lifestyle, DUIs, arrests, and complete and utter disregard for human life. I love you Jesus.”

Meanwhile, we sit on the sidelines and applaud these people like they’re doing big things for the name of Jesus. The Stellar Awards nomination committee didn’t think so. They pulled “Jesus Walks” off the list of songs nominated for a gospel music award when they found the rest of West’s album objectionable in content.

And Nykrol knows exactly what’s wrong with this – Jesus never says he’ll walk with us. He asks us to walk with Him. And oh how I know that’s right – most of my errors in my life can basically boil down to, “Jesus, I’m going this way, come along, don’t be so slow, what’s wrong with you?” It took years for me to figure out that Jesus had a plan, and years more before I submitted to Him to follow him. What can I say, I’m a slow learner. Even today, I still forget this lesson and try to lead Jesus somewhere. “Come on, you slowpoke!”

I’m sorry, but this fluffy stuff is not going to be what gets this generation from where we are to where God needs us to be. Does Jesus love the world? Absolutely. He loves pimps, hos, prostitutes, corporate extortionists, murders, liars, thieves, adulterers, and even I. But God’s intention was that we would recognize His love, repent (change our way of thinking), and live our lives in a way that pleases Him. We crucify Jesus every day when we fail to properly acknowledge His sacrifice. This isn’t a game. People are dying and it’s going to take more than some shallow messages of Jesus that stroke us and make us feel better about our sin and lack of obedience.

I’ve added Nykola to the blogroll. And somebody hire her, ok? 🙂