The Return Of The Exiles

-The Life Of A Refugee!

We see the pictures on the nightly news or our online news sources; and, though pictures may be worth a thousand words, they can never adequately portray what it’s like to be exiled from your native land & to flee as a refugee to a foreign nation! The stories are horrific! The greatest fear, as a parent, is to be separated from your children in such a setting; although, in some cases, where the conditions are brutal enough, parents willingly hand off their children to someone else with the hope that they might survive & have a better life! Most of us, living in this country, simply have no point of reference or experience to draw on when it comes to living like an exile or a refugee!

-Israel’s Refugees From Babylon!

And, while some of the world’s current refugee crisis has similarities to the time of Israel’s exile— as recorded at the end of 2 Chronicles— there are many differences! The majority of exiles today are leaving war-torn nations by their own will, seeking refuge in a safe, neighboring country. Israel’s exile occurred against their own will when, the foreign nations of Assyria; and, then Babylon, swept in like a flood & plundered their homeland; and, then exiled them off to serve as slaves! For Israel, their exile was the more bitter because they had no one to blame but themselves.

-Israel Broke Covenant!

God had covenanted with them to bless them in the land—that He gave them—if they would obey Him & keep His commandments! But, He had also promised a curse if they broke covenant with Him; and, that’s exactly what they did! They abandoned Yahweh & chased after other gods; until, finally, Yahweh abandoned them! The 137th Psalm was written as a lament by those who endured the exile, the slavery & the human trafficking in that day:  “By the rivers of Babylon,” they cried, “there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. There we hung up our lyres on the poplar trees, for our captors there asked us for songs, and our tormentors, for rejoicing:  ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’ they mocked.  “How can we sing the Lord’s song on foreign soil?” That’s how the book of 2 Chronicles ends!

-Exiled To Babylon!

It reads that King Nebuchadnezzar, of Babylon, “…deported those who escaped from the sword to Babylon, and they became servants to him and his sons until the rise of the Persian kingdom. This fulfilled the word of the Lord through Jeremiah and the land enjoyed its Sabbath rest all the days of the desolation until 70 years were fulfilled” 2 Chronicles 36:20-21.  So, Israel was exiled to Babylon for 70 years; and, God’s prophecy, through Jeremiah, was fulfilled. It was during those 70 years that the Medo-Persian empire overpowered Babylon!

-The Lord Put It In His Mind!

From there, the book of Ezra picks up the story of the exiles:  “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, the word of the Lord spoken through Jeremiah was fulfilled. The Lord put it into the mind of King Cyrus to issue a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom and to put it in writing” Ezra 1:1. That verse includes 2 significant details! First, that Jeremiah’s prophecy, of a 70-year exile, was completed in the first year of King Cyrus’ reign in Persia! And, second, that it was God who “…put it into the mind…” of Cyrus to issue a proclamation! I would encourage you to make a note in your Bible, right there, that says, “Here is an example of God’s Sovereignty over the world.”  Cyrus wasn’t in control! Persia wasn’t in control either! God was directing traffic here! He put it in Cyrus’ mind to issue the proclamation we’ll look at next week!

When Someone Curses You!

-Discerning God’s Work In Our Lives!

Over the last few posts, I’ve commented on the difficulty we have of identifying; or, discerning when & where God is at work in our lives! We struggle to see Him behind the difficult & painful experiences of life! But, God does, in fact, use those experiences to grow us and sanctify us! In fact, God may use someone’s cruel words to humble us! That’s the main point of this post! Perhaps you recall that when King David’s son, Absalom, betrayed him, David was forced to run for his life. As David; and, all of those who remained loyal to him, were fleeing the city, they came to this place where there was a hill above them! And, up on that hill, a man named Shimei began to curse David!

-David’s Response To Being Cursed!

Shimei was from the family of Saul & he must have believed some conspiracy theory that David was responsible for King Saul’s death; because, he throws stones at him! I love the loyalty of Abishai, one of King David’s men, when he asked David permission:  “My lord, the king, let me go cut off his head” (1 Samuel 16:9). And, clearly, David would have been within his rights, as king, to have Shimei executed because it was a capital offense to curse the king! But, David shows restraint! He shows great humility:  “The king said, ‘If he is cursing because the LORD has said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?” (v.10). 

-Does God Use The Cursing Of Others?

It seems that David is thinking more about the wrong he had done to others (his sexual sin with Bathsheba & his murder of her husband) than the wrong that Shimei was doing to him.  “Don’t touch him,” David says to Abishai, “Don’t cut off his head! It may be that God has sent him to remind me of my sin.” So, how do you respond when someone curses you or speaks cruel words to you? Do you return evil for evil? Or, do you recognize it as God’s work in your life? Will you humble yourself & ask God to show you if there’s any truth to your opponents words?

-The Mysterious Way God Works!

If there is anything to be learned from this whole story— of Absalom’s & of David’s running for his life— it’s that God often works in mysterious ways! Not just in our lives; but, through the “events” that become part of the story of our lives! There’s another gem, to uncover, in this miniseries! What we see is that God sometimes uses someone’s wise counsel against them! But, how can that happen? It can happen only by the providential hand of God! Ahithophel had been one of David’s trusted counselors!

-Confidence In God’s Sovereignty!

But, he had swung his allegiance to Absalom against David. In an interesting side story, his betrayal came most likely because he was Bathsheba’s grandfather; so, he had observed David’s sin. He had reason to be bitter! He had observed David’s abuse of power & when he had the occasion to turn against him, that’s exactly what he did! And, when Ahithophel spoke, it was as though God was speaking (v.23). In ch.17, he gave Absalom a sound military strategy to defeat David. But, in God’s Sovereignty, Absalom rejected it & accepted the counsel of another! “Since the Lord had decreed that Ahithophel’s good advice be undermined in order to bring about Absalom’s ruin, Absalom and all the men of Israel said, ‘The advice of Hushai the Archite is better than Ahithophel’s advice.’” (v.14) God is Sovereign! He is in control of the affairs of your life; so, if you find yourself on the run, like David, trust God’s plan even if it seems unorthodox.

Don’t Be Deceived!

-How To Approach Your Faith!

To beware of something is to be wary; to be cautious; to be careful! It means you can’t assume anything! You take all the necessary precautions. And, that’s how Scripture tells us to approach our faith! Beware that you’re not deceived! Be aware of the genuineness of your faith. Be sure it’s not counterfeit.  “Test yourselves,” the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians,  “to see if you are in the faith. Examine yourselves. Or do you yourselves not recognize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless you fail the test” 2 Cor. 13:5. Put your faith to the test, Paul says! Examine it! Compare it with Scripture! Does it match up? Is it authentic?

-The Holy Spirit’s Work In You!

The Apostle Paul also wrote the Church of Rome and told them, that, “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” Romans 8:16. God’s Holy Spirit indwells every believer! I know when He’s there! You know it too! And, He Himself will convince you that you belong to God because you’ve denounced your own worthiness & you’re clinging to the righteousness of Christ to save you! Numbers 16 unpacks the story of Korah; how he incited rebellion against Moses because of his desire to hold a more prominent position of leadership in the Jewish nation. This raises a red flag in regard to the genuineness of his faith.

-Desiring To Lead!

A desire to lead is, in itself, not evil! It’s not necessarily evil to be a leader! In fact, one of the qualifications, of an Elder in the church, is that they hold a “desire” to actually be a leader. It’s really the rest of the Biblical qualifications that either confirm or deny that the person is fit to be a leader in the church.  What is the motive behind that desire to obtain a position of leadership? That was Korah’s issue!

-Rebellion Against Leadership!

The Scripture gives us a peek into his motives in the first 3 verses of Numbers 16:  “Now Korah son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took 250 prominent Israelite men who were leaders of the community and representatives in the assembly, and they rebelled against Moses. They came together against Moses and Aaron and told them, ‘You have gone too far! Everyone in the entire community is holy, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?’” Korah sought a higher level of leadership by rebelling against the legitimate leader; who was God’s choice to lead— Moses! His desire, for Moses’ position of leadership, was illegitimate! It was motivated by a lust for power & a desire to be recognized! His evil motive was exposed by his methods!

-Undermining Legitimate Leadership!

And, then it says he set off to undermine Moses by gathering 250 prominent men, who were also leaders in the camp. Rebels always seek to gather a crowd when they oppose leadership because that gives the appearance that they’re right & the legitimate leader is wrong! No doubt he did so by whispering, spreading rumors & back-biting the current leadership. But, the one true God is more than capable of righting the wrong; and, He will right all wrongs Romans 12:19 tells us! Moses doesn’t defend himself! He puts the situation in God’s court (vs.6,7); and, God judges Korah severely! The earth opens up and swallows up Korah and all 250 rebels with him! That’s intense! The application? It tells us to submit to God’s sovereign plan & to submit to those leaders He has placed in our lives!

 

Is God Really Good?

-Doubting His Wisdom & Plan!

The Old Testament book of Numbers provides a picture of how God disciplines His own children when they fail to trust Him! When they doubt Him & His word! It pictures a people who’ve been freed from the bondage and slavery of Egypt; but, haven’t reached Canaan land yet! That is a lesson we need to learn from the book of Numbers— like Israel if you had the faith to follow God out of the bondage of your slavery to sin; but, you’re still whining & complaining it’s because you’re doubting His wisdom & plan for you! You’re not resting in God’s Spirit!

-Rest In His Sovereignty!

Canaan land is a picture of the Spirit-filled life that God intends for you to enjoy! To rest in His Sovereign control & to quit complaining when things, in life, don’t work out the way you planned them to go! Beginning with chapter 11, it says, “Now the people began complaining openly before the Lord about hardship” (v.1).  Now let’s just pause and consider that for a little while! We might understand, humanly speaking, a little bit of their hardship! Every day packing up their tents & belongings; and, heading out to the next campsite! Every day hunting for food and water! And, they were traveling in a blazing hot desert! We might understand their hardship to a degree! I mean, they were on a perpetual camping trip! But, let’s put this in perspective!

-It Had Only Been 3 Days!

Flip back a chapter to Numbers 10, v.33, “They set out from the mountain of the Lord on a three-day journey with the ark of the Lord’s covenant traveling ahead of them for those three days to seek a resting place for them.” How long had it been? 3 DAYS! Say, what? It had ONLY been 3 DAYS! And, here they were complaining! I’ve found that it doesn’t take very much time or very much trouble for some people to begin grumbling! But, let’s see God’s response! Back to chapter 11, the end of v.1, “…When the Lord heard, His anger burned, and fire from the Lord blazed among them and consumed the outskirts of the camp.” God was angry with their whining & complaining because it revealed their failure to trust Him! We need to take a personal application from this incident! When we complain & grumble God is angry because it reveals that we have doubts about His character! It reveals that we doubt His love, His mercy & His grace! We’re ultimately expressing doubt that He’s really a GOOD God! Have you ever considered that? It’s true! We doubt the wisdom, of His plan for our life, when we complain!

-Where Complaints Come From!

So, let me warn you! When you murmur & complain it reveals something about you & your faith in God! Like Israel, it means you’re doubting God’s character & His benevolence toward you! When we doubt, we begin to complain! Read the rest of Numbers! Many of the Israelites spoke as though they thought God was out to get them! He was bringing them out of Egypt to kill them in the desert, they said! When we doubt God’s goodness, it offends His Name & His reputation! And, our doubt doesn’t generally end with our ingratitude! Doubt & a lack of trust, in God, will fuel a spirit of rebellion in us! When we doubt God, we open ourselves up to a spirit of rebellion! There’s a progression to Israel’s sin! Their doubt turned them into complainers; and, rebellion against leadership followed closely behind!

 

Where Does God Live?

-Here’s The Sunday School Answer!

So, where does God live? If you go with the Sunday School answer, it’s “heaven” right? But, it’s actually a bit more complicated than you might think! We sometimes speak about the “tension” in Scripture, where it seems like there might be a contradiction! Or, it seems like it communicates that two opposites can both be true! The Psalmist puts it like this:  “The LORD is in His holy temple; the LORD’S throne is in heaven” Psalm 11:4.  The Prophet Isaiah prayed:  “Look down from heaven and see from Your holy and glorious habitation” Isaiah 63:15.  And, Psalm 103:19 says, “The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His Sovereignty rules over all.”  So, YES, the Scripture teaches that God lives in heaven, doesn’t it?

-Heaven Cannot Contain Him!

But, at the same time, what do we do with King Solomon’s inspired words in 1 Kings 8:27?  “But will God indeed live on earth? Even heaven, the highest heaven, cannot contain You, much less this temple I have built.” The wisest man, who ever lived, said that heaven cannot contain God! So, heaven isn’t big enough for God to live! He’s BIGGER than heaven! And, he says that the temple he built was also too SMALL for Him; and, yet God is said to dwell in something much smaller than the temple! He dwells inside us:  “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” 1 Cor. 3:16  The Apostle Paul wrote the Church of Ephesus; and, told them that they were, as a local church, “…being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” Ephesians 2:22. It almost seems like a contradiction, doesn’t it? So, what’s the answer?

-God Is Omnipresent!

The answer is that God is OMNIPRESENT! That means He is “All Present”; or, present everywhere at once! King David asked, “Where can I go to escape Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, You are there.  If I live at the eastern horizon or settle at the western limits, even there Your hand will lead me; Your right hand will hold on to me.  If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me, and the light around me will be night”— even the darkness is not dark to You. The night shines like the day; darkness and light are alike to You” Psalm 139: 7-12.  Where can I go, where you’re not present, he asks? If I go to heaven…you’re THERE! If I go to hell…you’re THERE! If I move out east; or, out west, you’re THERE! Even if I hide, in the dark, you’re THERE! And, it’s not dark to You, God! Even more amazing? His Omnipresence is more than spatial! He created space & TIME!

-That Hurts My Brain!

That means God is Omnipresent in TIME also; because He’s outside of it! So, from our viewpoint, He is PRESENT in the PAST, PRESENT & the FUTURE all at the same time! Ouch! That hurts my brain to think about it! That’s certainly better & more interesting than any SciFi movie! Now, here’s the significance, of that, in regard to our salvation. For all eternity, God has determined to assemble a people with whom to dwell! From the beginning of Genesis, God has revealed to us the truth of His Gospel; that, He wants us to know the “good news” that He Himself is making a way to restore our relationship, with Him, that our sin had destroyed! Jesus’ atoning work on the cross was God’s final answer! So, one day, in eternity, “God’s dwelling will be with humanity, and He will live with them” Rev 21:3.  He will be Omnipresent with us! Amen!

 

God’s Plan Is Good!

-He Uses Evil Men!

When evil men set their will against God, He will use them & their evil plans for His Sovereign purposes! We’ve been talking about God’s Sovereignty the last couple weeks; and, Scripture tells us that God actually raised up Egypt’s Pharaoh to accomplish His Sovereign purpose:  “The Scripture tells Pharaoh: I raised you up for this reason so that I may display My power in you and that My name may be proclaimed in all the earth” Romans 9:17.  God, in His Sovereignty, turns Pharaoh’s evil plans, for Israel, against him & sets Israel free, from their slavery to Pharaoh, to the praise of His Glory!

-God’s Eternal Plans!

In addition, to His Sovereignty, there is another thread that weaves its way through Scripture; and, it’s closely related to His Sovereignty. I’m referring to God’s eternal plans for His creation! He has a divine plan for all of His Sovereign work in the world & in our lives. One of my most favorite Scriptures, in all the bible, is an acknowledgment that Joseph makes in Genesis chapter 50. After their father Jacob’s death, Joseph’s brothers fear that he will take revenge on them for selling him into slavery many years earlier. But, look at Joseph’s response:  “You planned evil against me; but, God PLANNED it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people” Genesis 50:20.

-Confidence In God’s Plans!

Joseph had become so confident, in God’s Sovereignty & His plan for Joseph’s life, that he even trusted God with the evil plans others had against him.  He didn’t separate his “church life” from the “rest of life.” There was no secular for Joseph! Everything, in life, was part of God’s sacred plan! God used Joseph’s negative life incidents to grow him! To sanctify & mature him! To set him free from the bondage & slavery of sin! We also see that God’s plan was to use famine to bring Jacob’s family to Egypt; where, He promised that, in 400 years, He would lead them out of Egypt to a “promised land” that flowed with milk & honey.

-There Are No Coincidences!

In this way, God orchestrated all those “circumstances” to raise up Moses to lead Israel, in their Exodus, out of Egypt.  The world would say it was just a set of “coincidences”! But, we know better! It just “so happened” that Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses, in a basket, among the bulrushes. And, because she “Just happened” to be Pharaoh’s daughter, she had the power to save his life, though Pharaoh had determined to kill all Israelite males! It just “so happened” that Moses’ own birth mother was selected, by Pharaoh’s daughter, to wean him & train him; so, he could grow in the things of Yahweh!

-God’s Never Surprised!

In fact, Moses’ mother was actually paid, by Pharaoh’s daughter, to raise him (Exodus 2:9). Later, God informed Moses that it was “His plan” to send him to Pharaoh & demand, of him, that Egypt would let Israel, God’s people, go! God always has a plan! The Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, says that Jesus was, “…the LAMB slain from the foundation of the world…” Rev. 13:8.  From before creation, God had already planned that Jesus, His Son, would come to earth as a man; and, die on the cross to deliver us from sin! What a great God! He’s never taken by surprise! So, even when the world is surprised by a world-wide virus like COVID-19, God had planned, from eternity past, to use it to bring Glory to Himself!

 

God Is Sovereign Over Viruses!

-This Should Comfort Us!

The doctrine of God’s Sovereignty is one of the most important principles to be found in all of Scripture! When we speak of His Sovereignty, we mean that nothing, in the universe, happens without God’s permission. That includes viruses like the COVID-19 that is currently wreaking havoc on our world! He has the power, the knowledge & the presence to prevent anything He chooses to prevent! So, at the very least, everything that happens in the world & in our lives is “allowed” by Him.

-God Is Never Surprised!

It’s because of God’s Sovereign control, that I like to say that He’s never surprised by anything! We’ll never find God wringing His hands over something that happens to us; or, anxious about how He’s going to be able to fix it! This Bible doctrine will absolutely change your life once it gets past your head & infiltrates your heart! You’ll learn to trust God with everything! That’s really the test! If you don’t trust God, with everything— including the “coronavirus”— then you don’t “get” His Sovereignty! Or, you don’t TRUST Him!

-Confidence In God’s Sovereignty!

Bible characters, like Joseph & Moses, got it! And, they proved it by living their lives, by faith, in God’s Sovereign control, regardless of the circumstances of their lives.  If you’re struggling, with anxiety & fear, over this coronavirus crisis, you may need to turn to some of these Bible passages & highlight them! For Joseph, who found himself in prison through no fault of his own, he expresses confidence, in God’s Sovereign control, over his dreams:  “Don’t interpretations (of dreams) belong to God?” he asked (Genesis 40:8).  When Pharaoh pulls him, out of prison, because he had heard that Joseph could interpret dreams,  he answered Pharaoh,  “I am not able to interpret dreams. It is God who will give Pharaoh an answer” Genesis 41:16.  Later, in verse 25, he tells Pharaoh, “…God has revealed to Pharaoh what He is about to do.” He was about to bring a world-wide famine!

-Sovereign Over Affliction & Trouble!

So, God is Sovereign over weather patterns! And, no one can stop “…what He is about to do…” because He is Sovereign! And, I love what Joseph named his 2nd son:  “…he named him Ephraim, meaning, ‘God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction…” Genesis 41:52.  We could preach an entire series on that verse! He trusted God’s Sovereign control over all the “affliction” & trouble in his life! And, God made Him fruitful in spite of it! It wasn’t his circumstances that defined him; but, his faith! Go back over Joseph’s life & re-read it, looking for his submission to God’s Sovereign control!

-Moses & Sovereign God!

God also reveals His Sovereignty to Moses. In Exodus 3:19, God tells Moses, “I know that Pharaoh will not allow you to go unless he is forced by a strong hand.” In His Sovereignty, God knows all things; even, the future! God also tells Moses that He is even Sovereign over all human, physical disabilities: “Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Who made the human mouth? Who makes him mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, Yahweh?” Exodus 4:11. Later, in v.21, after Pharaoh initially hardened his heart against God, God tells Moses, “I WILL HARDEN his heart so that he won’t let the people go.” When evil men set their will against God, He will use them to accomplish His Sovereign purposes! God does it for His glory (Romans 9:17).

Set Free From Sin!

-God’s “Rest”!

God is relentless in His determination to deliver His children from the slavery of sin! That’s really the backdrop to the story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. In Scripture, Egypt pictures slavery to sin.  And, the “promised land”, for Israel, was deliverance from Egypt’s bondage. To enter the “promised land” was to enter God’s “rest.” No one can block God’s plan to deliver His people from slavery! And, I’m not just referring to Israel & the Exodus.

-Sin Enslaves!

We’re all slaves, to sin, from birth! Satan’s goal, for your lives & your fleshly desires, is to remain enslaved to the short-lived pleasures of this world. And, if you remain enslaved, to this world, you’ll also die with this world. The Apostle John wrote:  “And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever” 1 John 2:17. Jesus said,  of those who came to faith in Him, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are NOT of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you” John 15:19.  God was relentless in His deliverance, of Israel, from the slavery of Egypt; and, that serves as a metaphor for His relentless delivery of every believer from the slavery of sin.

-Sin Harms Others!

In Genesis, chapter 40,  Joseph was sold into slavery, by his brothers, who hated him, you may remember; because, Jacob, their father, played favorites & loved Joseph more than the other brothers. Eventually, Joseph ends up in a prison, in Egypt, as he’s falsely accused of sexual assault. But, God blesses him with a supernatural gift of interpreting dreams. Eventually, God uses that ability to get Joseph out of slavery & prison because Pharoah had some troubling dreams that needed interpreting; and, Joseph was able to interpret them for him. The Pharoah elevates Joseph to the leader, in Egypt, 2nd only to Pharoah himself.  A 7-year famine sends Joseph’s brothers to Egypt, looking for food; where, they unknowingly come into contact with Joseph, whom they fail to recognize as their brother.

-Sin Repented Of!

By now, his brothers are repentant. They think that God is punishing them for the sin they committed against Joseph; and, eventually, Joseph reveals himself to them; and, there’s a great family reunion as the brothers go home, to Canaan, and bring their father, Jacob, and the rest of the family to live out their lives in Egypt under Joseph’s care.  The book, of Genesis, ends with Joseph’s prophetic words that God will keep His promise to Abraham, Isaac & Jacob; and, deliver Israel. After Joseph passes away, a new Pharoah enslaves Israel.

-God Hears Their Cries!

God hears their tortured pleas for relief; and, raises up Moses to lead them out of Egypt, to the promised land, by many great signs & wonders to demonstrate His power. No one could block God’s plan to deliver His people from their slavery. While these are great action adventures, we totally miss God’s purpose, for including them in Scripture, if we see nothing but action adventures. There are principles that thread their way through these stories. One such principle is that of God’s Sovereignty. The doctrine, of God’s Sovereign control over the affairs of man, is one of the most important principles in all of Scripture. When we speak of God’s Sovereignty we mean that nothing happens anywhere without God’s permission!

 

Can God Trust You With Pain?

-What An Odd Question!

That probably seems like an odd question because it makes it sound like “pain” is a good thing, doesn’t it? A good thing that you could be “trusted” with? We might ask if you could be trusted with your best friend’s car; but, not “pain”! The question may also seem confusing because it suggests that pain is something that comes from God & everything inside us wants to rebel at the notion that pain & suffering might be choreographed into our lives by God! That can’t be true, can it?

-We Are So “Coddled”!

Most Christians, here in the west, have been coddled! I have & so have most of you! We suffer very little for our beliefs. Several months ago, I went, with a couple of our men, to visit a faith-based community center in another city. It was a Friday; and, Friday is typically my day off. But, I had had a number of interruptions, that week; and, I didn’t get my work done. So, I was whining that I’d have to go into the office for 2-3 more hours, when I got back, to finish up my work! And, the Lord convicted me! As we pulled into the church parking lot, I apologized for complaining about my “suffering.”

-Real Suffering Looks Like This!

The Holy Spirit had pressed in on me & planted the thought that there were probably brothers & sisters, in Christ, in other parts of the world, who had died for their faith that day. Still, others had endured harsh treatment, for their faith; and, I was whining about working an extra 2-3 hours.  We’ve bought into the lie that coming to Jesus is like playing a Country Western song backward— we get our dog back, our truck back; and, our girlfriend back! Funny! But, that’s not what Jesus said. He said that if the world hated Him, it would hate us! That if they persecuted Him, they would persecute us! That if we followed him, we’d have to give up our life! We have to deny ourselves & count the cost!

-More Like Jesus!

You see, the Father intends to use all the “junk”, in this sin-cursed world, to make us more like Jesus— who was, in fact, a SUFFERING Savior, right? Someone said, that, we tend to “…read the Bible, not with a desperate hunger for evidence of God’s triumph in pain; but, with a view to improving our private pleasure.” Clearly, Bible characters, like Moses & Joseph, were not overly concerned with improving their private pleasure! On the contrary, they endured great difficulty on their way to spiritual success; and, it was because of the great difficulties, in part, that they experienced spiritual success. For Moses, Scripture says “…he CHOSE to SUFFER…” rather than enjoy sin’s pleasures (Heb 11:25).

-He Chose To Suffer!

It says he CHOSE to suffer! As the adopted son, of Pharoah’s daughter, he had a choice— short-lived pleasures; or, suffering! Which would you choose? Be honest! Most of us would choose short-lived pleasures, wouldn’t we? Long-lived pleasures, even better! But, Moses CHOSE to suffer! I never choose to suffer! But, I will tell you that when suffering has been my lot, that I grew more deeply, in my faith & my walk with God & others, than I ever did enjoying the short-lived pleasures of this life! I’m not suggesting that we live our lives with a death wish! Rather, we learn to submit to whatever course God directs our lives; and, by faith believe His intentions are good! We need to learn that during this difficult time in human history! Amen?

 

Free To Serve Others!

-A Dog Eat Dog World!

In the world, it’s “dog eat dog.” If you wanna climb up the corporate ladder you have to be a relational piranha— taking advantage of the brokenness & inconsistencies of your co-workers to gain a personal advantage! That’s not Jesus’ way! He was known as the “friend of sinners.” He healed the wounded! He forgave even those who nailed Him to the cross! The Gospel frees us to serve— even those with whom we may be in competition for that promotion! And, it’s all because we can trust a Sovereign God’s plan!

-Our Freedom & Our Calling!

In the Apostle Paul’s letter, to the Galatian church,  he says that our call to freedom & our call to serve are synonymous! In other words, we actually lose our freedom when we fail to serve! We were saved FROM slavery to sin & self; so, when we fail to serve— and, even expect to BE served— we fall back into the old slavery to the flesh! He says we, “…submit again to a yoke of slavery…” Galatians 5:1.  Don’t surrender the freedom you have in Christ— who satisfies your every need— for the fleshly desires of the world to be served or to be promoted! When we serve others instead of using them, we testify, to the world, that Jesus truly is enough! He is all we need!

-Jesus Served Us!

We don’t need to fill any emptiness inside us with the need to be served! Jesus served us and that’s enough! It’s the Gospel of Christ that frees us to love others… even strangers! More than service, the Gospel actually gives us a heart of love for those we serve— “For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself” Galatians 5:14. Paul is quoting Jesus answer when He was asked, “What is the greatest commandment”; and, Jesus said: “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all you soul, with all your mind & with all your might! And, the 2nd is like unto it (OR, 2nd only in importance!) love your neighbor in the same way you love yourself” Matthew 22:34-40. And, then, Jesus illustrated that with His parable about the Good Samaritan who acted as a neighbor to someone he didn’t even know! That’s why a “neighbor” can actually be anyone we have opportunity to serve, even someone who’s a stranger! “And, love them,” He said, “in the same way that you love yourself.”

-Gospel Freedom!

Only the Gospel sets me free to WANT to feed someone that’s hungry just as much as I want to feed myself when I get hungry! Only the Gospel sets me free to WANT to help my neighbor find a job just as much as I want to find a job; or, to WANT a raise or a promotion for my co-worker just as much as I want that raise or promotion for myself! And, to care about what happens to that guy down the street— that you don’t even know— just as much as you care about what happens to you! That’s powerful! And, only Jesus’ Gospel empowers us to love that way! And, when we grow in our love for others like that, it’s an incredible endorsement to the validity of the words we share, with others, about our faith! It makes us real! Genuine!