What Are You Gonna Do Now?

He Doesn’t Just Come To Visit Us—He Doesn’t Come TO Us—Mystery Of All Mysteries—He Comes, Now Listen: He Comes FOR US!

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(My message this week….)

Isaiah 9:6-7  (NLT)

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us.  The government will rest on his shoulders.  And he will be called:  Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  His government and its peace will never end.  He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.  The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!

One of the things I enjoy doing is riding my bike.  And while planned routes and organized rides are fun, sometimes I simply enjoy heading out one direction then making several turns before coming home on a different route.  I will head north for a while, then east for a while before turning south and then to the west.  I know that somewhere along the way I will find a familiar road that will take me home.  Several years ago my wife Debbie joined me on such an adventure.  We headed north on Highway 43 past Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, then I turned east, and then north again, and then east again.  We came to a 4 way stop and I asked her, “Do you know where we are?”  She said, “No, where are we?”  And I said, “I haven’t a clue.”  She replied, “No, really, where are we?”  And I said, “Really, I don’t know.  But if we go in that direction, we should find our way back home.”  I don’t think she was real happy with me, or even believed me. I didn’t know where we were, but I knew a different way would get us home.

Driving to work or going shopping—we tend to always travel the same way, seldom if ever, considering a different route.  Now that Christmas Day has passed and all the refunds and exchanges are complete, and all the After-Christmas Sales have been seen, many people think it is time to go back to the dull routines of everyday life.  We have come face to face with the truth of Messiah—that God is with us. 

But now many think it’s time to get back into our normal routines—Routines That Often Leave Us Feeling Tired, Frustrated, Unhappy, Unsatisfied; And If We Will Be Honest With Ourselves, It Leaves Us Feeling Empty.  More often than not, the word we hear after Christmas is, “I’m glad it’s over!”  And in January, the depression sets in with all those credit card bills.

In the season of Christmas we are brought face to face with God—we have had multiple encounters with the wonder of His grace—a variety of signs and symbols with one single message:  The God of All Eternity has completely revealed Himself by becoming one of us.  Every bit of God’s being and heart has been revealed in the most extraordinary act ever best described by Isaiah:  For a Child is born to us, a Son is given to us.  These words are the words of the Mystery Of Incarnation.  In a precise moment of time The Child Is Born—This Is The Humanity Of Jesus.  Rather than assuming we know that He understands us, God shows us He understands us by becoming us! 

And at the same moment The Son Is Given To Us—Jesus Is Also Divine.  The two natures, human & Divine, are forged together in the womb of Mary and breaks into our world that night in a stable near Bethlehem.  The Child—He’s human; The Son—He’s Divine.  The Child speaks about the life of Jesus and The Son speaks about the death of Jesus. 

And this is the mystery that we are called to accept and embrace—God fully reveals His Awesome Love for in a single moment of time by becoming both The Child and The Son!  The Mystery is that God loves us so much that He enters the stench and the filth not just of that stable, but into the stench and filth of our broken, sinful, dirty lives.

If you can remember only 1 thing today, this is it:  He Doesn’t Just Come To Visit Us—He Doesn’t Come TO Us—Mystery Of All Mysteries—He Comes, Now Listen:  He Comes FOR US!  God doesn’t just wave to us as He passes by like Miss America or the Pope or all those New Year’s Day Parade Queens.  God doesn’t just glance over at us, nod His head at us and then goes on.  He doesn’t come to us as He did when Moses saw only the backside of God’s glory.  God comes to us face to face and heart to heart.

And the government will rest on His shoulders.  Our sin excludes us from the Kingdom of God—so to bring us into the Kingdom, it all depends on Jesus.  There was more than the weight of the Cross on Jesus’ shoulders—it was the weight of God’s predetermined plan to bring to us rebels into His Rule by putting to rest once and for all time the sins of all peoples in all ages. 

Ever felt like the weight of the family was on your shoulders?  Ever felt like the weight of a project at work was on your shoulders?  But try to imagine that the plan, rule and dominion of God’s eternal Kingdom resting on your shoulders.  God’s eternal purpose is carried on the shoulders of Jesus.  God has no plan “B”!

And in the filth and stench of that stable, in the filth and stench of our lives, we encounter the mystery of grace.  Isaiah says, “He will be called” and the Hebrew word comes from another word that means To Encounter. 

  • We Have This Indescribable Encounter With The One Who IS Wonderful!  It really is an incredible moment to come face to face with Grace! 
  • We Encounter The Counselor!  The timeless wisdom and knowledge of God is placed right smack dab in the middle of our broken world. 
  • We Encounter The Mighty God!  We come face to face with Him who holds all power in His hand and unleashes that power in the form of Love! 
  • We Encounter The Everlasting Father!  We encounter the only one who will never ever give up on us!  Love, grace and mercy that is Never Ending! 
  • We Encounter The Prince Of Peace!  He gives us peace not because of what we have done, but because of everything that He has done for us.

There are other ways He has made Himself known to us. He’s been making Himself known through all our activities this Season.

  • In the exchanging of gifts God has been offering to exchange our guilt and powerlessness for the gift of forgiveness and new life. 
  • God has made himself known to us through the poor and hungry with the reminder that when we do it unto the least of these we do it unto Him. 
  • In the bright Christmas lights He has made Himself known as the Light that Shines in the Darkness. 
  • In the parties and family dinners God as made Himself known as the One who will one day bring us to the Great Banquet Feast. 
  • In the beautiful decorations that adorn homes God has made Himself known as the only One who is able to adorn our lives with the beauty of holiness.  
  • Even in cleaning up the torn paper and boxes, God has made Himself known as the One who takes out the trash of our lives to make room for what really matters.

This is our encounter with God—God who has come FOR us.  Now, you have a choice.  You can go back the way you came into this encounter, back to your ordinary life—back to the deadlines and pressures—back to all that stuff that really never completely satisfies us.  Or, you can go back into the real world, a different way. 

Think about those Wise Men.  In Matthew 2:11-12 (NLT)They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

The only way we can go back a different way is to become a different person.  When the Wise Men arrived back home, what do you suppose they talked about?  The sand storms they faced?  The beautiful oases that would surprise them in their journey?  The beautiful palace of Herod?  That spectacular Temple in Jerusalem?  The wonderful eating places they found?  Or the eating places you don’t want to stop at?

We don’t know exactly what they talked about, but I can’t help but think and believe that they talked about their encounter with God through The Child that was given, and The Son that they saw in person.  And it should be the same for us.  This morning you are faced with a choice.  Go back to the old life, the usual things, the ordinary things. 

Or you can go back to your daily life a different way by choosing to become a different person.  Come to the manger, then walk with Jesus and listen as He teaches and watch Him as He works.  Then spend some time at the Cross. 

Focus on the wounds and bruises of Jesus.  Focus on the nails.  Focus on the crown of thorns that pierced His head.  Then focus—focus on that face—watch His lips move and listen as He says “Father, forgive them.”  Now, how can you be the same person who walked in that door this morning?

This Child, This Son who is Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince Of Peace—this is the one that the Wise Men came to see—and this is the One they encountered.  And when they encountered Him they went home a different way.  It was more than just the threats of Herod; it was that They Were Now Different People

Different people can’t travel the same road home—they go a different way.  The mystery of Incarnation, God in the flesh, changed Mary, changed Joseph, changed the Shepherds, changed the Wise Men, changed the whole world!  And It Ought To Change Us!  Throughout this Advent and Christmas season, God has made Himself known to us.   

They went home a different way because they were different people.  The different way is for people who are now different, changed by embracing the Mystery:  He is The Child and The Son who comes FOR us.  This Different Way changes everything.  3 things should change in our lives:

1.  It Changes How We Think About Life!

Life is now more than calendars, appointments and time clocks.  Life is meant to be about relationship—with God first and then in relationships with others.  Because of The Child, because of The Son, life isn’t about us and what we want.  It’s all about Him and what He desires for us and the world.

2.  It Changes How We See Life!

See your life in light of what God can do, not what you can accomplish.  Start looking at situations and problems the way God sees them—as opportunities for growth.  Start seeing people the way God sees them—people in need of His Mercy, Grace and Love.  Stop Seeing Life As A Sentence To Be Endured But Rather An Adventure To Be Discovered.

3.  It Changes How We Live Life!

Make your life an offering to God.  Make every thought, form every word, make every choice as an offering to God.  Listen to how The Message puts it in Rom. 12:1-2: 

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. (emphasis mine)

Robert Frost wrote a poem entitled:  The Road Not Taken.  He talks about walking along a path in the woods when he encounters a fork in the path.  Two paths are in front of him—one obviously traveled frequently and the other was less traveled.  In the last verse he writes these famous words:  “I shall be telling this with a sigh.  Somewhere ages and ages hence:  Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”  You are about to go home, back into the world, your world.  Which way will you go?

Your Next Step

Decide if you will go back to life the same way, or a different way because seeing God with you has made you a different person.

The With Us God: The God Of Peace!

God Is Much Bigger Than Your Circumstances.

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(This is the final installment of my current message series, The With Us God)

Here are the names we have looked at thus far.  Yahweh Yireh—The God Who Provides.Yahweh-Nissi—The Lord Who Fights For Us.Yahweh-Shammah—The God Who Is There!  William Shakespeare wrote in his tragedy “Romeo and Juliet” a famous line:  “What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose by any other name would be as sweet.”  His point was that a name did not change the essence of a thing or a person.  There is nothing significant about a name.  And to a degree he is right, but not always.  Change the name of the skunk to honeysuckle and he will still stink.  It doesn’t change its nature.

However, when it comes to Immanuel, the With Us God, the name is uniquely special in both meaning and power.  These names of God from the Old Testament say something about God.  And even more important, these names say something about relationship—our relationship with God.  “What’s in a name?”  Relationship is in these names!  And on this Sunday before Christmas, we see this name:  Yahweh-Shalom—God Is Peace!  It comes from the story of Gideon in Judges 6:11-24 (NLT).

11] Then the angel of the Lord came and sat beneath the great tree at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash of the clan of Abiezer. Gideon son of Joash was threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites. 12] The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!”  

13] “Sir,” Gideon replied, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?  And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about?  Didn’t they say, ‘The Lord brought us up out of Egypt’? But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.”  14] Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites.  I am sending you!”

15] “But Lord,” Gideon replied, “how can I rescue Israel?  My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!”  16The Lord said to him, “I will be with you.  And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against one man.”

17] Gideon replied, “If you are truly going to help me, show me a sign to prove that it is really the Lord speaking to me. 18] Don’t go away until I come back and bring my offering to you.”  He answered, “I will stay here until you return.”

19] Gideon hurried home.  He cooked a young goat, and with a basket of flour he baked some bread without yeast.  Then, carrying the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot, he brought them out and presented them to the angel, who was under the great tree. 20] The angel of God said to him, “Place the meat and the unleavened bread on this rock, and pour the broth over it.” And Gideon did as he was told. 21] Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and bread with the tip of the staff in his hand, and fire flamed up from the rock and consumed all he had brought.  And the angel of the Lord disappeared.

22] When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he cried out, “Oh, Sovereign Lord, I’m doomed!  I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!” 23] “It is all right,” the Lord replied.  “Do not be afraid.  You will not die.” 24] And Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and named it Yahweh-Shalom (which means “the Lord is peace”). The altar remains in Ophrah in the land of the clan of Abiezer to this day.

Let’s get the 1 thing you need to remember this morning:  God Is Much Bigger Than Your Circumstances.  The story of Gideon is the story of the oppression of the Israelites by the Midianites.  And, It is the story of countless lives that live under emotional and spiritual oppression.  Gideon is living a life of fear.  Hiding from the Midianites, smallest member of the smallest clan, Gideon is found fearful, feeling weak and convinced he’s useless. 

Then out of nowhere, this angel appears and says, “Mighty hero!”  Not exactly what we would call a Mighty Hero.  No skin-tight costume with a cape; no special clothes loaded with weapons and devices, and no unique ability that sets him apart from the rest of his world.  Nope, not exactly our image of a hero.  For heaven’s sake, he’s hiding from the enemies.

Now, if this is not bad enough, the angel says “The Lord is with you.”  And listen to his response in verse 13: “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about?”  Maybe you know someone like Gideon, or maybe you understand Gideon because YOU are fearful, weak and convinced you’re useless.

And maybe, just maybe, some of you this morning are wondering the very same thing Gideon wondered.  These words of Gideon are still being said today.  If you aren’t hearing these cries, then you’re spiritually deaf.  If the Lord is with me why does my spouse have Alzheimer’s?  If the Lord is with me why did my child die?  If the Lord is with me why did I lose my job?  If the Lord is with me why is my teenager so rebellious?  If the Lord is with me why do I have cancer?  If the Lord is with me why does all this stuff keep happening to me?  

When you find that life is just too much to bear, you wonder:  If the Lord is with me, why?  It’s a legitimate question and one that must be asked, otherwise we keep it inside us and it festers and we become cynical at best, or disillusioned at worst.  The answer God gave Gideon is the answer he gave us 2000 years ago in the city of Bethlehem.  Immanuel!  With Us God!

When we are in pain, when we are afraid, when we are confused, Life forces the question:  “If the Lord is with me, why has all this happened to me? And where are all the miracles I’ve heard others talk about?”  There are 3 possible answers to this tough question: 

1.  He’s Not Here Because Doesn’t Care About Me.

The oppression of the Midianites made Gideon think God didn’t care.  We think this, and much too often we believe this because we see God as Santa Claus—if we just believe hard enough then all of this stuff will just go away.  And when it doesn’t, we either blame ourselves for NOT having enough faith, or we blame God for not caring for us.

When the weight of fear and worry crushes us, the Enemy whispers, “See, He doesn’t care about you.”  Given enough heartache, given enough pain, any of us is subject to hearing that sinister whisper—more than hearing that whisper, we will entertain that thought—“He Really doesn’t care about me.”  And given enough time, not only do we hear it, we believe it!

This just isn’t true.  In the Garden of Gethsemane God was with Jesus.  When He was beaten and whipped, God was with Him.  When the spikes were driven into his hands, God was with Him.  When the soldiers raised that cross up and the weight of His body rested on those nails and that pain wracked His body, God was there.  Jesus never doubted this truth until…until the penalty of every sin was paid.  Only at that point does Jesus say, “My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?”

Not in the Garden, not at the trial, not during the scourging, not when the cross was placed on His shoulders, not when the nails were driven, not when He was raised on the Cross—but when the Penalty was paid—for the only moment in all eternity, God turned away from His Son.  And Jesus cried out:  “My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?”  Don’t you think it broke the heart of The Father and The Holy Spirit to turn away from that part of them that had always been there? Of course it it–but they suffered that in order that we would not have to face that moment–IF we put our trust in Him and walk with Him for the rest of our lives.

But God came back to Him because He accepted the only sacrifice that once and for all times atones, covers over, and wipes away ever sin.  Another answer to why all this stuff happens is this:

2.  He’s Not Here Because He Isn’t With Me

Because they were beaten back and beaten down, Gideon thought it was because God wasn’t there.  Maybe he realized that they had sinned against God, so God turned away from them.  Maybe he thought that God simply forgot about His promises.  I mean, it’s got to be a tough and time consuming job being God.  Maybe He was so busy, He simply forgot about them and left them alone.

When We Place The Reality Of Circumstances Over The Truth Of The Kingdom, We Can Believe That, Too.  The emphasis is on the Circumstances.  When circumstances are good then it’s because God is with us.  When circumstances are bad, God isn’t with us.

For decades, the “Name It And Claim It” group has been around.  They believe and teach that with enough faith, your circumstances will always be good.  And that simply isn’t true.  Look at the story of Job.  This is what God said about Job (Burbank Paraphrase)—“Have you seen my good buddy, Job?  Man, there’s no one like Him.  He’s always walking with me.”  But Satan said, “Well, change his circumstances and he will change.”  At first it didn’t work.  Job maintained his integrity.  But when his 3 Name It And Claim It friends showed up, it was then that Job got angry. Job isn’t patient, but He is faithful–He still longs to see God.

If your confidence that God is with you only when the circumstances are good, then your faith is shallow and insincere.  Our Confidence In God Must Be Rooted In The Character Of God, not in what God will do for you.  This is seeing God as the Cosmic Vending Machine and all you need is the right amount of coins.

A contemporary song done by Natalie Grant, More Than Anything has this chorus:  “Help me want the Healer more than the healing.  Help me want the Savior more than the saving.  Help me want the Giver more than the giving.  Oh Help me want you Jesus more than anything.”  The message is clear—it’s about wanting God over anything that God can do.  There is one more answer to these tough questions. It comes from the name:  Yahweh Shalom.

3.  He Is With Us Because This Is Where We Learn To Trust And Rest

In All This Painful Stuff, God Has A Plan And A Purpose That We Can Trust.  This means we do not focus on the pain, but on the Presence.  Jesus told His disciples in John 14:27—I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. 

Peace in the worldly sense is the elimination of all the threats, and the absence of conflict.  The worldly view of peace is that it happens when we get all we want, and then some more.  Having more than enough treasures, more than enough food, more than enough shelter, more than enough stuff.  The problem is, there is never enough.  So God gives us something better: peace of mind and peace of heart.

1.  Peace Because He Has A Plan—that plan is always about bring out your best—to reveal His Image in you.

2.  Peace Because He Has A Purpose—to bring honor and glory to Him, not you.

3.  Peace Because He Has Youalways has you in His heart.

It is the inner peace that can only be found in a relationship with God, and on God’s terms.  God’s terms are simple:  Surrender.  Surrender your pride, your will, and your desires.  Surrender your inadequacies.  Surrender your guilt and condemnation.  Surrender you time, energy, abilities and resources.  Surrender to grace.

When Gideon realized he had seen face to face an angel of God, he thought he was doomed.  But when Gideon came face to face with God’s grace—and under that enormous tree, he named that place, Yahweh-Shalom—The Lord Is Peace.  He named the place BEFORE the Midianites were defeated.  Have you accepted the gift of God’s peace?  We do not earn it and we can never deserve it.  So it comes to us as a gift—bought and paid for on the Cross. 

Next Steps

  • Do you have a relationship, or do you just know about Him?  It’s not about how much knowledge you have about the Bible.  You can know all the Books of the Bible in order.  Heck, I don’t know that.  But I do know the person of Jesus.  Do you?
  •   Renew You Commitment To The Relationship As Being More Important Than Anything Else. Jesus longs to be closer to us.  It’s easy to drift, easy to take for granted, to assume.  It’s not about us doing our best for Him, but allowing Him to do His best work IN us.

The Gethsemane Life

The is NO Glory without THE SUFFERING. This was true for Jesus, and it is true for US!

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Welcome to my next edition on the Book of Acts. If you haven’t read my first one on Acts, then you need to read it here. I’m looking for those nuances and truths that I may have missed. And here’s my second observation. It is in Acts 1, verses 11 and 12

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, a distance of half a mile. 

Did you see it? I confess I’ve seen it before, but I never really paid attention to it. I suddenly realized the importance of verse 12 and I’m putting myself in time-out for not understanding the importance of THE PLACE! I would like to think that I am like so many that simply focus on the BIG event–The Ascension–and think the rest of the story isn’t important. I was wrong, and so are you if you think that way.

Why is the place, the Mount of Olives so important? I’m so glad you asked that question. Go back 55 days from the Ascension. It’s nighttime. Jesus has just celebrated Passover with the Disciples. But this time there were new words and new meaning. They left the supper table and went, where? The Mount of Olives. Good class, I’m glad you remembered. And where did Jesus go when they arrived at the Mount of Olives? It said He went to the Garden of Gethsemane. Great, class! You really know your stuff.

Now, before I ask you what did Jesus do in the Garden of Gethsemane, do you know the meaning of that word “Gethsemane”? It means “oil press”. If you got the correct answer, consider it a bonus point on the test. Most folks I’ve found do not know this. Every, I mean EVERY olive grove had a gethsemane. It’s where the olives would be squeezed and pressed for its true purpose–to produce olive oil.

Now, the next question, and this counts on the test. What did Jesus begin doing? Did you answer “Pray”? If that’s your answer, you missed the question. It was at the Oil Press that Jesus began His suffering. In the magical world of theological terminology, the word is “The Passion” begins. His suffering didn’t begin on the Cross, in the court of Pilate, or in that Roman Garrison courtyard, or at the place of the Mock Trial of the Sanhedrin. It started BEFORE He was arrested.

Only 3 people were privy to those moments: James, John and Peter. Read the account from the historian Luke in Luke chapter 22 verses 39-46. His suffering there was for each and every one of us. Without His suffering we would be without any hope. And here’s my Epiphany Moment: At the place His Suffering began for our redemption and transformation, the Mount of Olives, is where those disciples saw the Glory of Jesus.

Now, here’s the lesson: The is NO Glory without THE SUFFERING. This was true for Jesus, and it is true for US! But, alas, (insert very heavy sigh, here) we want the Glory but sans the suffering. If Jesus teaches us ANYTHING, it’s that without the Suffering there is no Glory.

We don’t suffer the way Jesus suffered. Jesus’ suffering was unique–to pay the penalty of our sins. But suffering is inevitably a part of following Jesus. In the desire to miss our suffering, we opt-in for Comfort and Convenience. When you opt-in for Comfort and Convenience, you opt-out of the Glory. Suffering means the same thing it meant for Jesus–Giving up Comfort And Convenience for something much bigger.

Have you given up your comfort? Your conveniences? The easy way? If not, you will miss out on the glory. Jesus gave up the Comfort of Heaven for the womb of Mary. Jesus gave up the conveniences of His Eternal Nature being adored and worshipped, for a dirty diaper. The One who spoke creation into existence had to learn how to talk. The One who walks across the expanse of Heaven, had to learn how to walk. Need I say more? OK, just one more:

He who lives in eternity stepped into time in order to die!

We would rather be on the Mount of Transfiguration and on the Mount of The Ascension. It is, after all, a much better and easier place to live. But to get to those moments, we have to go by way of The Gethsemane. It’s the Gethsemane Life, and only the Gethsemane Life, that gets to the Glory. Jesus was squeezed and pressed for His True Purpose. And so must we be squeezed and pressed for our true purpose. Here’s your homework:

In what ways are you suffering for Jesus?

Love God with all your heart. Love others the way HE loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

More About The Kingdom Than The Church

Well, here we are, my first entry from my journal as I read the Book of Acts. As a little more background to this adventure, I’m reading with critical eyes. Hold on now! I didn’t say “criticizing” eyes–I said “critical eyes”. I’m looking for things I may not have noticed before, those “nuances” that are not often pondered. Here in Chapter 1, I’ve found a few of them.

Acts 1 is primarily taught with the emphasis on the Ascension and the waiting in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came. And as I was reading, I was captured and convicted by Verse 3 (emphasis mine):

During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.

Here is why this verse captured and convicted me. I was taught, trained, and expected to grow “the church”. The problem today is that “church” doesn’t mean what it meant by then. Besides, the Greek word used wasn’t “church”. (Sniff, sniff…I smell smoke and the heating of tar….as in being tarred and feathered). Hey, I’m just sharing what The Book says.

One would think that since Jesus knows He is shortly to be ascending back to Heaven, that He would teach and train them about the “church” and His expectation that they were to grow the church. Now, if this Book of Acts is truly more about the Apostles than the Holy Spirit, that’s what we would read.

But if Jesus is anything, He is CONSISTENT! Jesus taught about The Kingdom, not the church. OK, OK, He did mention “the church” in Peter’s declaration of His true identity. But Jesus didn’t speak English. I know, shock, shock. (Or for some, “Blasphemer! Blasphemer!”) The Greek word used was ekklēsia, and it means a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place.

Jesus focused on the instrument of God’s Power and Authority–and that’s the Kingdom of God. And I’m wondering, “What if we stopped teaching and training people for the church and followed Jesus’ own example and taught and trained people in The Kingdom?” The Kingdom is important to Jesus, because it’s important to God. And it should be important to us.

But us “Americanized” Christians would rather have the church than the Kingdom for only 1 reason. It gives us the illusion of control. But Kingdom, on the other hand, presents us with the hard truth that there is an Absolute Ruler, and it ain’t us!

There must be a new language spoken in the ekklēsia. It’s the language of The Kingdom of God. Our terminology, mindset and focus must go back to what Jesus thought was most important. That was, and continues to be the focus of Jesus. If last words are important, and they are, then let’s listen to Jesus as He teaches about The Kingdom of God. If our emphasis was on the Rule and Authority of God, rather than our own, I strongly suspect we would see the same results found in the Book of Acts.

Let me leave you with this final thought, and it’s not an original one from me:

Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

Acts Of WHO???

Well, here I go again on another Journey. It seems I’ve become a bit slack in my spiritual discipline of reading the Word. I was looking at my Bible on the desk and it was like I heard, “You know, it’s been a while since we talked. Don’t you think it’s time to catch up?” So I reached over and took it; then I found me a journal to write in, and an ink pen. That’s all: the Bible, a clean sheet of paper and a pen. No commentaries and not even Google to help me look up words and thoughts. Just me, The Book, and of course, the Holy Spirit.

Speaking of which (the Holy Spirit, that is), I’m wondering right now why did I have to have all those commentaries (because I started this journey with Jesus before the internet was so readily accessible)? And why do so many today have this book, that website, that author along side THAT Book? Over the past several years, I discovered to my amazement, that the Holy Spirit actually helps me understand what I’m reading! Who could have ever imagined such a thing? Well, God could.

Back to The Book. Where would I ever begin such a journey? There are so many books to choose from. One would think I would have to spend a lot of time deciding which book to begin with. This time, I had no trouble. He, the Holy Spirit, whispered, “The Book of Acts.” So that’s what I’m doing. I’m not reading a chapter a day–nothing against people who read the Book that way–just reading until I sense Him saying, “Let that sink in for a while.”

And this morning my Companion and Comforter said, “You know, you’ve been talking, I mean talking a lot, about starting back to regular blogging. Why not share what you’re discovering? After all, I did give you that gift of writing.” So who am I to argue with the Wisdom of The Ages.

Today’s entry is simply about the title applied to The Book Of Acts. It’s been titled “The Book Of The Acts Of The Apostles.” For many, many years I’ve insisted that those earliest editors misnamed this Book. I wish right now I could borrow Doc Brown’s time-traveling DeLorean and go back to that first group of editors when they came up with this title and ask: “What are you thinking? It’s NOT the acts of the Apostles. It’s the Acts of the Holy Spirit in surrendered people!” Gee whiz, guys. You’re better than that! Think, man, then listen to that title. A bit short-sighted, don’t you think?”

Why do I think that it’s an inaccurate title? I’m so glad you asked me that question. To read Dr. Luke’s stories with the title “Acts of the Apostles” taints your thought processes, and it’s easy to conclude that what happened then, was “limited to a handful of select special people and not really for me or my time.” Calling it the Acts Of The Apostles limits what this Book can do in you and I.

First, it relegates it just another History Book. Now, I love History more than most. I blame it on my High School History teacher Ronald Pettus. He is a collector of artifacts, many of which he brought into the classroom. He filled my little mind with more than memorizing dates–but left me hungering to know more about the people and the times. This is a priceless tool in understand THE BOOK! If we see Acts are only a history book of a select few people, we’ve missed the point of Dr. Luke’s work.

Second, we slam the door shut to the potential of the Holy Spirit using folks like us. There’s more going on here than dates and geography. If we agree that the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are all about Jesus (and they are), then Acts MUST be all about The Holy Spirit, and it is. Each Amen on that? The Book of Acts opens up with Jesus telling those first disciples about, guess who? The Holy Spirit! And in Chapter 2, all Heaven breaks loose on earth. And it all happens because of and through the power of The Holy Spirit!

Now, I want to add a little side bar comment about the current state of the church culture. For the last century, more emphasis is put on human understanding and abilities rather than The Holy Spirit. I see it in my Tribe as Progressives try to tell me they know more about what God wants and expects than the Bible. Add to this that so many in churches want to hear what someone else says about the Bible rather than read it for themselves.

The result has been that a powerful Stallion has been reduced to a gelding. People are following today, an impotent message about an impotent life. And once again, Jesus weeps. So staring tomorrow, I will share from my personal journal some of the insights and wonder I am discovering as The Teacher, teaches me.

And remember, Love God with all your heart. Love others and way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!

Yahweh-Shammah—The God Who Is There!

This Advent season we are taking a journey deep into this name, Immanuel—God is with us.  To look at this word literally, we could say it means:  The With Us God.  He moves from the realm of eternity and infinity and steps across into the limitations of time and place.  In the O.T. names of God we find insights into what it means to have God with us.  Week 1 we looked at the name Yahweh Yireh—The God Who Provides. Last week we looked at another name for God:  Yahweh-Nissi—The Lord Who Fights For Us.  Let’s review for a moment what these names mean:

  1. Yahweh Yireh—The God Who Provides.
    1. Release from guilt and condemnation.
    1. Relief when life becomes too difficult to handle on our own.
    1. The Reason for your life—something that you can do only with His strength.
  2. Yahweh-Nissi—The God Who Fights For Us.
    1. Even When You Are Unaware Of His Presence.
    1. Equipping You With The Weapons To Win Those Battles.
    1. Staying In The Battle With You Until The Final Victory

This is the kind of With Us God who wants us to surrender to Him in Relationship.  And today we look at another Old Testament Name:  Yahweh-Shammah—The God Who Is There!  This comes from Ezekiel 48:30-45  (The Message)

“These are the gates of the city. On the north side, which is 2,250 yards long (the gates of the city are named after the tribes of Israel), three gates: the gate of Reuben, the gate of Judah, the gate of Levi.“On the east side, measuring 2,250 yards, three gates: the gate of Joseph, the gate of Benjamin, the gate of Dan.

 “On the south side, measuring 2,250 yards, three gates: the gate of Simeon, the gate of Issachar, the gate of Zebulun.

 “On the west side, measuring 2,250 yards, three gates: the gate of Gad, the gate of Asher, the gate of Naphtali.

 “The four sides of the city measure to a total of nearly six miles.  “From now on the name of the city will be Yahweh-Shammah:  “God-Is-There.”

This passage is about the power of hope.  When you know the background of this passage you can literally see the power of hope drenched in these words.  The people of Israel had been led into exile to Babylon.  The city of Jerusalem had been destroyed and that magnificent Temple erected by Solomon now lay in ruins. 

God sends Ezekiel to them with the word they needed most:  Hope!  God promises them that they will go home and that God will restore them.  And beginning in chapter 40, Ezekiel shares with them the hope that only God can give when one is living their life in exile.  Many of them left Jerusalem with this image permanently etched on their memories:  the walls were destroyed, homes and businesses burned, and the Temple looted and broken in pieces.  That image was burned into their memories.  Try as they might, they could never get rid of that mental picture. 

That mental picture of Jerusalem became their conviction that their life would never be more than broken, burned, looted, destroyed.  Hope was lost and they could not see how things would ever be better.  And in that moment, God delivers the message of His hope. 

And nearly 600 years later, that message of hope, Yahweh-Shemmah–The God Who Is There—came in the form of a child.

Let me ask you, have you ever felt like these Israelites, that your life is broken, burned, looted and in ruins?  Have you ever faced a moment when it seems to be a struggle to hope?  The loss of hope for restoration, renewal, a better day, or just the loss of hope in general, just to survive another day, is debilitating and God understands this. And the message of Ezekiel to those exiles is the same message to those of us who are living in exile.

One Thanksgiving evening we baby sat 2 of our grandchildren, Ethan and Caroline, so that my daughter Leslie and her husband Michael could go see the movie “The Blind Side.”  When they came in, Debbie and I knew we had to go see it, too.  So we did.  It’s the story of Michael Oher.  Michael came from the poorest side of Memphis.  He had little education, and even less encouragement, until the Sean and Leigh Ann Touhy took him in literally off the street one evening and brought him into their home. And an adventure into hope began to take place.  In one scene, Leigh Ann Touhy took him back to the projects.  Picture this white upper class woman driving a BMW in the projects.  But Michael told her, “Don’t worry, I’ve got your back.”  With help and encouragement, Michael graduates from a private Christian school, and is given a scholarship to play football at Ole Miss.  Instead of a criminal record, he achieved a long list of honors.  He had a very lucrative 7 year career in the NFL until injuries took their toll. 

And it is all because one family decided not to turn their back on a kid literally living on the streets and gave him the one thing he never, ever had before:  more than a room of his own and more than his very first bed to sleep in—they gave him hope.  It began to change how Michael saw life.

If you can remember only 1 thing today, this is it:  Hope Changes How We See Life.  And When We Change How We See Life, It Changes How We Live Life.  If all we see is what we don’t have as individuals and a church, then that dictates how we will live as individuals and as a church.  All we will see is what’s wrong, what’s missing, and there’s no hope for the future. 

Advent comes to us every year with not just the promise of hope, but the reality and truth of hope because God doesn’t send us an idea or a principle or nice warm fuzzy feelings.  God has sent us His One and only Son.  The Message of Christmas is more than, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”  The message of Christmas is Yahweh-Shemmah–The God Who Is There!

As Michael promised Leigh Ann Touhy that he had her back covered, and as Michael Oher protected the blind side of quarterbacks, God has us covered.  He protects us by giving us a never ending provision of hope.  Hope is what keeps us going when we would rather give in and give up. 

Are you living in a spiritual exile?  What kind of image has been burned into your mind about your life?  Is it that image of failure?  You try and try to honor God but there is this sin, maybe 2 or 3, that keeps tripping you up and you just can get a handle on it.  Is it relationships that never seem to work out?  So, Failure is the image that is burned into your mind, and hope fades quickly. 

Is it that image of Fear?  When facing situations, you always manage to see the worst possible outcome, and you allow that focus to rob you of joy and you honestly believe there is nothing is going to change and you can do about it.  Coward is the image that is burned into you mind and you resign any hope that life could be different. 

Or is it that image of Despair?  You look around and honesty see very little that is good.  You cannot see how things can change and so you surrender that there is no future for you, your family or your church.  So, Defeat is the image that is burned into you mind and you give up hope that anything will change.  3 things about the Hope that God provides us. 

1.  You Have God Living In You. 

Gal. 2:20—Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

This is why the Christian calendar begins with Advent—The With Us God!  It doesn’t help if we journey through Lent, remember Good Friday, celebrate Easter, commemorate the arrival of the Holy Spirit, or talk about the Kingdom of God if we are not living with the overwhelming assurance and conviction that God is more than with us, but actually living in us. 

God Came To Be With Us Because He Wants To Live IN Us.  Nurture this thought, embrace this thought, cling tightly to this thought, and say this thought out loud every day and all day:  Christ Lives In Me!  Life is not always easy and there will be times when life is too much for us to handle.  That’s why we need more than God with us; we need God In Us

Hope does not come from what WE can imagine or do.  Hope Comes From Knowing That God Is IN You and that He will always give us the strength and courage to face every obstacle in our life.

2.  You Have A World Needing You. 

James 1:27—Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.

It is easy to be overwhelmed by the needs of our world.  It is easier to believe that since we don’t have enough to help everyone, we can’t help anyone.  If all you do as disciples of Jesus is sit here on Sun. morning then it’s no wonder that your reserve of hope is gone. 

The unique and wonderful characteristic about Hope is that it grows in us when we share it with others.  Just like love, when we selfishly cling on to it and refuse to release it, hope dies.  Hope Builds And Grows In Us As We Bring Hope To Others.  Did you see how James formed his words?  It’s not about the homeless and loveless coming to you.  It’s about YOU reaching out to those whose well of hope has gone dry.  Pour the water from your well into theirs. 

Don’t worry about your water running out.  For all the hope you pour into the lives of others, God replaces every drop, and then some.  In the movie “The Blind Side”, when the Touhy’s gave Michael hope, the Touhy’s admit that they received much more.  And this is what hope does—it multiplies over and over again.  In one scene, one of Leigh Ann Touhy’s friends remarks, “You are really changing that boy’s life.”  And her reply was, “No, he is changing our life.”  That’s how hope works!

3.  You Have A Home Waiting For You In Heaven. 

Col. 1:28—The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory.

  • When we worship, it’s the practice field for when we get into the real game of Worship in heaven. 
  • When we choose to honor Christ by helping others with food, shelter, clothes, water and most of all friendship, it’s the conditioning work-out when we get to heaven and raise all honor to the Lamb that was slain! 
  • When we reach out with love and compassion to be a friend to the least, the last, and the lost, it’s prepping us for that day when together we will all sit around the heavenly banquet table that God has prepared for us. 

Everything In This Life Is A Dress Rehearsal For What Awaits Us In Heaven.  If you don’t learn it here, you will not have the opportunity to learn it up there.  Paul wrote in Col. 3:23-24—Do your best.  Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance.  Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ.

When hope seems gone, there is a word for you:  Yawheh-Shammah—God is there!  He will be found in that place your heart is thirty for, that place you are created for—to live in that relationship with God, and to live out that relationship in your world.  God does not want you living in exile.  Christmas reminds us that God is here and yearns to be in you, restoring you, reviving you, and encouraging you.  Christmas is the time for hope—for you and for your world.  Hope is not about waiting for the sweet by and by.  Hope is about empowering you for living today to the max!

Here’s Your Next Steps:

  1. If you have been whining about your life, about other people. or the conditions in the world—Stop It!  Know that there is hope for you; the same hope is for others; and the same hope is for our culture.
  2. Find someone this week who needs Hope, and find a way to give it to them.  The only way you can know how to put Hope back into their life is to listen to their Story and get to know them.

Armor of God

Here’s a great read about spiritual warfare, identifying the true enemy (and it’s not other people) and how we fight this war–In a Deep Relationship With Jesus!

TLP

Ephesians 6:10-20

Ah yes, the famous passage on the armor of God, a passage many know by heart, a favorite sermon passage and a favorite devotional passage rich with metaphor and meaning; a wonderful passage. I thought that I’d approach it a little differently this time. Accordingly, I’ll not really comment on the metaphoric aspect, but focus on the underlying strategic circumstances that all of us face every day.

The whole armor metaphor is a way of communicating an important issue that for most of us is not easy to understand, the issue of spiritual warfare. Over the centuries, people have understood this in various ways and many legends and ballads have been the result, both in literature and other art forms. There have been times when people in superstitious cultures have gone to bizarre lengths, burning witches, so called heretics and almost anyone who incurred disfavor in high councils…

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The God Who Fights For Us!

God’s Purpose Is To Bring Sinners Like You And Me Back To Himself.

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The With Us God: The God Who Fights For Us! Exodus 17:8-16 NLT

This Advent season we are taking a journey deep into this name, Immanuel. We know what this name means thanks to Matthew—God is with us.  In the Hebrew, this name is comes from two words:  ‘Immanuw’ which means“with us, or toward us.  The other word is ‘El’ which means “God.”  To look at this word literally, we could say it means:  The With Us God.  He moves from the realm of eternity and infinity and steps across into the limitations of time and place.  He is the With Us God because He became one of us.

Have you ever been talking about an issue or problem and shared with someone what you think ought to be done and their reply was “I’m with you.” It means they understand and more than understand, they are willing to put themselves on the line with you.  This is what Immanuel means.  God puts himself on the line with us.  God has chosen, out of His infinite love and grace, to be with us in the most unique way.  He surrenders His place in heaven and chooses to become wrapped in human flesh.

And why?  Why would God enter our world as one of us?  I mean, He has the ability to step out of eternity and into our world without ever shedding any of His eternal nature.  Yet He emptied himself of that eternal form and exchanged it for a human form. Why did God do that?  The most obvious answer is because He loves us enough to do just that.  But my inner child wants to know more; more than just the “why” of incarnation, but I want to know the what! 

What is God seeking to do in humanity, and what is God seeking to do in me? The“Why” Of Love Is Found In The “What” Love Does For Us.  So this Advent season we are going to be looking at just what God wants to do in us, for us, and through us. 

We are looking at this through some of the names that God revealed Himself through in the Old Testament.  Each of these names reveal something about God and something about WHAT it means to have this “With Us God” as we go through life with all of its ups and downs.

Today we are going to look at another name:  Yahweh-Nissi.  It means:  The Lord Is Our Banner.  This name is found in Exodus 17:8-16 NLT: 

While the people of Israel were still at Rephidim, the warriors of Amalek attacked them. Moses commanded Joshua,“Choose some men to go out and fight the army of Amalek for us.  Tomorrow, I will stand at the top of the hill,holding the staff of God in my hand.”  10 So Joshua did what Moses had commanded and fought the army of Amalek.  Meanwhile, Moses, Aaron, and Hur climbed to the top of a nearby hill. 

11 As long as Moses held up the staff in his hand, the Israelites had the advantage.  But whenever he dropped his hand, the Amalekites gained the advantage. 

12 Moses’ arms soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up.  So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands. So his hands held steady until sunset. 13 As a result, Joshua overwhelmed the army of Amalek in battle.

14 After the victory,the Lord instructed Moses, “Write this down on a scroll as a permanent reminder, and read it aloud to Joshua: I will erase the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” 

15 Moses built an altar there and named it Yahweh-Nissi (which means “the Lord is my banner”).16 He said, “They have raised their fist against the Lord’s throne, so now the Lord will be at war with Amalek generation after generation.”

As you know, the Exodus from Egypt to The Land of Promise had more than its share of problems.  But still they are moving every closer.  Earlier they were running out of food, and God provided them with manna and quails. They were running out of water, and God gave them water out of a rock.  And now they are facing a battle with the Amalekites but these are people who had been slaves, notwarriors.  Moses instructs Joshua to assemble an army to go out to fight. That next day Moses stands on a hill overlooking the battle.

As he raises the Staff, that Staff that Moses held when he encountered God at the burning bush.  That staff represented God’s calling and anointing.  As Moses holds up that anointing and calling, Joshua and the army gets the upper hand.  But when Moses’ arms get tired and he lowers them, the Amalekites get the upper hand. Aaron and Hur support Moses’ arms and finally they win the battle.  Then Moses gives that place a name that reflects the truth that God had fought for them.  He names the place YAHWEH-NISSI!  The idea of “banner”isn’t a sign.  It’s the banner of an Army—the Army of God.  But spiritually it means that God fought the battle for them.

This is more than history.  It’s about the one who is always raising his fist in defiance against the God of Heaven.  No, not the descendants of Amalek.  It’s none other than Satan himself.  Satan is waging war against God and His purposes. 

Here is the One Thing You Need To Remember:  God’s Purpose Is To Bring Sinners Like You And Me Back To Himself.  And Satan is shaking and raising his fist against that purpose. 

And the battle is not a valley in the Sinai desert.  The battle is going on inside every person, and inside each of us.  If Satan is anything, he is persistent, and he does not give up easily.  And you and I know that battle all too well.  Just when we think we are getting the upper hand, we get beaten back again and again and again. 

Maybe someone here this morning is fighting a battle deep inside you. Maybe it’s an attitude that you don’t like but it keeps coming up again and again.  Maybe it’s a habit that you are trying to break, but it has broken you. Maybe it’s the feelings of guilt and condemnation that you just can’t shake off. 

Maybe it’s over some thing that is controlling your life and making you miserable.  You struggle and struggle and struggle, but the result is always the same:  defeat!  And maybe you have reached the point where you wonder, “Why keep on trying?”  Maybe you have even raised the white flag of defeat and the banner that is flying over you is defeat and despair. 

God knows that when it comes to warfare with Satan, we cannot win.  We are like Joshua’s army when Moses’ arms dropped.  Satan gets the upper hand.  Regardless of how hard we try and fight, we always lose the battle with Satan when all we have is our own strength.  God knows how weak we are in this battle. 

So 2,000 years ago, God sent an angel to a carpenter named Joseph with an incredible message: “Your fiancé is pregnant and you, Joe, will be the father on earth to the Son of Heaven.  This Son will be known as Immanuel—The With Us God!”  This With Us God is the Yahweh-Nissi—The God who fights for us! 

As when Moses raised his staff and the battle with the Amalekites changed, so The Battles We Face Change When We Know That With Us In The Battle Is Yahweh-Nissi.  There are three things you can count on when you give your life to Yahweh-Nissi:

1.  He Fights For You Even When You Are Unaware Of His Presence.

Do you doubt this?  Do you feel, “Well, if God is so concerned about me where is He now?  Why can’t I beat this habit?  Why is all this happening to me?”  Listen carefully to Paul in Romans 5:8—But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  The battle Jesus fought in the Garden of Gethsemane wasn’t just about Him. 

It was about humanity and about us.  At stake was whether or not we could be forgiven of our sins, released from our guilt and condemnation, have a real purpose for life, have a relationship with God now and a home in heaven later.  THAT was the battle that Jesus fought in that olive grove.  And if He fought that hard for you then, don’t you think He still fights for you now?  Does a bear like honey?  Does a cow eat grass?  Do gasoline prices go up?  Does Immanuel fight for you even when you are unaware of it?  The answer is the same of all these questions:  unequivocally YES.  He stepped out of eternity and into time to be with you in the battle for your soul.

2.  He Equips You With The Weapons To Win Those Battles.

Because this is a spiritual war, conventional weapons of strength and knowledge will not work.  Spiritual battles require spiritual weapons.  And Paul tells us what we can count on from The With Us God in Eph. 6:12-17… 

12 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil.  Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. 16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. 17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

The Message puts it like this:  Be prepared.  You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own.  The weapons we need come from the arsenal of God himself. Truth, Righteousness, Peace, Faith, Salvation,And The Word Are More Than Words. They are the weapons of God’s design that Satan can never defeat.  He is with us to equip us so that Satan will lose the battle. 

And we know we can trust and rely on these weapons to work because Jesus used these same weapons to conquer Satan.  He is With Us so that we can win the battles that wage inside us by giving the only weapons that are proven successful again and again and again. The proving ground of these weapons was a cemetery outside Jerusalem that failed to hold on to the body of Jesus.

3.  He Will Stay In The Battle With You Until The Final Victory.

Maybe you heard the joke about a time when the Lone Ranger and Tonto were surrounded by the Apaches.  The Lone Ranger looked at Tonto and said, “It looks like they have surrounded us.”  And Tonto replies, “What do you mean, us, pale face?”  Have you ever had been abandoned by someone you thought you could count on?  It hurts, doesn’t it.  The sting is painful and the bruise goes deep.  But God will never do that to you. 

In Deut. 31:6, God reveals something of His heart to Joshua as he is about to lead the Hebrews into the Land of Promise—The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.  This is the nature of God’s heart to you. Skip town on you?  Never!  Run and hide in the thick of battle?  Forget that ever happening!  Slip away during the night?  Ain’t gonna happen!  How do I know this?  How can you know this?  Listen again as Paul opens the door of heaven and gives us a glimpse of the With Us God: Phil. 1:6—And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.  And you can be certain too, that God will continue His good work within you until the day when Jesus returns.

How?  Because one night a long time ago, an angel visited carpenter with a message and a name—Immanuel!  The With Us God.  If you think your god is far off and distantly removed from you, then it’s time you meet the only God who dared to do the unthinkable:  He became the With Us God.  And one reason He came to be the With Us God is so that we might know Yahweh-Nissi:  The God Who Fights For Us.  You can run away from Him this morning—but He won’t ever give up His pursuit of love for you.

Next Step:  Get To Know The Weapons

Truth, Righteousness, Peace, Faith, Salvation, And The WordMake a commitment now to study, then use them.

Did You Know Someone Touched You?

Jesus knew when she touched that hem, and you can know it, too–when you are tuned in to the Holy Spirit!

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Well, God just wouldn’t leave me alone about this, so here I go.  Before I start, please know this isn’t about me.  It is about something I did, but it’s not about me.  Now that this is clear as muddy water, on to what happened to me.

Yesterday I delivered a gift from Mt. Vernon to a young single parent who is living like many single parents–under great pressure.  I went to the home, introduced myself, and presented her with a gift from the Body of Christ at Mt. Vernon.  As with baptisms and weddings, this is the part of my job I absolutely love.  I simply told her, “God loves you and so do we.”  I left and went to Wal Mart to exchange something and pick up a few more things.

I’m waiting in the refund line when my phone rang.  OK, here’s where the story takes a twist.  When I’m in a line I NEVER answer my phone.  I consider it rude and a tarnishing of the image of me as a citizen of the Kingdom of God.  The number that came up was not in my contacts.  My natural response to a number not in my contacts is, “Oh, dear Lord, another telemarketer!”  Usually at that point, I send it to voicemail.

But this time, I didn’t.  Something, well, actually SOMEONE said, “Answer it Randy!”  So, I did.  On the other end of that call was that single Mom crying profusely, telling me how much that gift meant to her.  She needed to express her gratitude.  And God selected me to hear that gratitude.  And I was overwhelmed with gratitude that I had a small part in reminding this single Mom, she was loved by God and that He remembers her every need.

But…WHAT IF….I sent that message to Voicemail?  Maybe in a couple of days I would have listened to it, since it was from someone NOT in my contacts….and I would have missed the joy of her heart….and being humbled to be a part of God’s Kingdom work in even a small way.

And then I remembered….on one of those typical days when Jesus walked this earth.  There was a crowd, pressing against Him.  When…well just read Luke 8:45–“Who touched me?” Jesus asked. Everyone denied it, and Peter said, “Master, this whole crowd is pressing up against you.”  It was that woman who had run out of hope that she could ever be whole.  But she believed if she could just touch the hem of that garment, it would be OK.  And Jesus knew the moment she touched that hem.

And I wonder, how many people today are looking to touch the hem of hope and reach out to us for that hope, but we are unaware of it?  We live in a “Way Too Busy Culture” to notice the people pressing in against us.  And that is sad….too sad.  So be aware of those pressing in against you.  They just may be looking for Hope!  You are the HEM of HIM!  If you’re too busy to help someone find Hope, you’re just too busy.  Jesus knew when she touched that hem, and you can know it, too–when you are tuned in to the Holy Spirit!

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

The With Us God–The God Who Provides

(This is the first of my Advent Sermon Series:  The With Us God)

The With Us God: The God Who Provides!  Gen. 22:1-14 NLT)

This Advent season we are taking a journey deep into this name, Immanuel.  We know what this name means thanks to Matthew 1:23—“Look! The virgin will conceive a child!  She will give birth to a son,  and they will call him Immanuel,which means ‘God is with us.’”  In the Hebrew, this name comes from two words: ‘Immanuw’ which means “with us, or toward us.  The other word is ‘El’ which means “God.”  To look at this word literally, we could say it means:  The With Us God.  He moves from the realm of eternity and infinity and steps across into the limitations of time and place.  He is the With Us God because He became one of us.   

Each week we are going to look at one of the many names used in Scripture to describe God.  The first name we are going to look at is:  Yahweh Yireh—The God Who Provides.  It comes from today’s scripture in Genesis 22:1-14 (NLT) 

1 Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called.  “Yes,”he replied.  “Here I am.” 2 “Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah.  Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering onone of the mountains, which I will show you.”

3 The next morning Abraham got up early.  He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac.  Then he chopped wood for a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day of their journey, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 “Stay here with the donkey,”Abraham told the servants.  “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.”

6 So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife.  As the two of them walked on together, 

7 Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?”  “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.  “We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”  8 “God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together.

9 When they arrived at the place where God had told him to go, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it.  Then he tied his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. 10 And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. 11 At that moment the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, “Abraham!  Abraham!” “Yes,” Abraham replied. “Here I am!” 12 “Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” the angel said. “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God.  You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.”

13 Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket.  So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son. 14 Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). To this day,people still use that name as a proverb:  “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

This is one of those passages that the more I read it, the more I am amazed at God’s plans and purposes.  And even more amazed that I am a part of those plans and purposes of God. Knowing this, the more overwhelmed I am at God’s love, grace and mercy. 

To fully understand this passage, we need to know all that happened leading up to this pivotal moment in Abraham’s journey of faith.  One day Abraham heard God’s call to leave behind everything he knew and embark on a journey to an unknown, yet to be revealed place.  Abraham had no idea where he would end up,but he followed God’s direction.  God promised him a great nation would come from his descendants when Abraham and Sarah had no children. 

When he finally arrived at that place, he lived there as an immigrant, not a citizen.  As he and Sarah grew older, they still had no children.  So they did the same thing we usually do when God seems to delay His promise. They took matters into their own hands and produced a child through Hagar, Sarah’s servant.

But that was not God’s plan and God waits until it seems that it will be impossible for them to have a child, and God does the impossible.  He tells them they will have a son and they are to name that son Isaac—which means“he laughs.”  That is exactly what Abraham did.  He laughed at the audacity of God. 

But the next year, Sarah gave birth to God’s promise and Abraham named him Isaac—He laughs. And from that day forward, I think every time Abraham looked at Isaac,he remembered the day he laughed at the audacity of God and knew he would never again laugh at God’s boldness.  God had provided him that son. 

Then comes that day he never saw coming.  God tells Abraham that he is to sacrifice Isaac—that Son Of The Promise. Abraham knows not to laugh at or question God’s boldness.  So they set out to the place God is leading them.  When they arrive, listen again to what Abraham says in Verse 5:  We will worship there, and then we will come right back.  These are words of faith—WE will worship—WE will return. 

The sacrifice Abraham was to make meant taking the life of Isaac and then burning his body to ashes.  But Abraham still said—WE will return.  And at that moment of total surrender to God—that moment of total trust in God—God stops Abraham from doing the unthinkable.  And there was provided a substitute for Isaac. 

And not at the place of promise—you will have a son—and not at the place of birth—where Isaac was born—but at the place of sacrifice, Abraham names it Yahweh Yireh—The Lord Will Provide.  End of this story, right?  Wrong! On that same piece of ground Jerusalem will be built and a temple erected.  And in that same area, a new name will emerge:  Golgotha!  And on that same piece of ground, this With Us God provided the only sacrifice that could ever set us free and change our hearts.

At a pivotal moment in his journey of faith, Abraham’s actions and God’s response looks over 2000 years into the future when God provided the ultimate substitute sacrifice in the person of His Son.  What God Would Not Allow Abraham To Do—Sacrifice His Only Son—God Actually Did!  And God continues to provide out of his love,through His indescribable grace, exactly what we need to become who we were created to be:  The Child of God.

I love the Advent Season,and I especially love to receive Communion in this season.  I love it because the single symbol you will find in every church every day of the year is not the manger—but the Cross.  In this holy moment of Communion, we take our place with Abraham to rediscover or make a new discovery, that this God, our God,provides exactly what we need.  These signs, these symbols, above all other signs and symbols, tells us that this With Us God is Yahweh Yireh.  In this holy moment, God provides the 3 things we all need most of all:

1.  He Provides Release

Romans 8:1—So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.  His sacrifice, His death satisfies the penalty of our own sins and releases us from the guilt and condemnation of those sins.  We come and confess—be of the same mind as God about our sins—and because God provided the Substitute, we are unconditionally released. Not only are we released from the penalty of our sins, but we are released from the power those sins hold over us—when this With Us God is the King of our Heart & Desires.

2.  He Provides Relief

John 14:18—I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you.  When life becomes too difficult to handle on our own, He comes to us to help us.  When the ache and pain is beyond words, He shares with us in those pains.  He takes care of birds and creates beautiful flowers and He takes care of you.  The relief Abraham found was in the ram that God provided.  He comes to us to sustain us by giving us His very self.  You are never alone in your struggles because you have the With Us God inside you.  And He is With You in a promise:  I will not abandon you as orphans.  This With Us God provides relief for us as He did for Abraham—at the place of sacrifice!

3.  He Provides The Reason

We see reminders that Jesus truly is the Reason For The Season.  But there is a reason not only FOR the season, but a reason for you.  Abraham and Isaac’s reason was to begin a great nation through which one day, ALL nations would be blessed because of their faithfulness to God’s purpose.  1 Corinthians 11:26— For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again. 

We must follow Abraham’s example and surrender our life to His Reason for our life.  Our Reason is to share what God has done for us and then show others God’s love by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked,caring for the sick, visiting the imprisoned. We are to become that living sacrifice for others—To Continue The Promise God Made To Abraham!

We all face pivotal moment sin our own journey of faith.  This Holy Sacrament is always one of those pivotal moments in our faith journey.  Moments when our journey takes us deeper into God’s breathtaking and astounding grace where we discover in new ways, or for the very first time, the heart God has for our life, and His perfect plan for our life. 

His grace and plans will take us to a place we never thought possible—the place of complete release and a peace that is beyond words.  This is your pivotal moment of faith—The Moment Your Breath Is Taken Away By The With Us God Who Provides The Unlimited Resources Of Grace. 

I call this a pivotal moment because right now you are making the most important decision of your life:  Will you choose to be closer to the With Us God, or will you choose to walk away.  This is YOUR moment to come face to face with Yahweh Yireh.  When you surrender to The With Us God, every place you go and every situation you face, becomes Yahweh Yireh.