Prayer2Care

This week’s blog is from the notes of a prayer service we held at our church during a day in which we focused the full day on prayer. It was not a sermon; rather it was a series of thoughts, readings, songs, and especially time for prayer. I am leaving my notes mostly intact, with the removing of the times during the service we sang. The areas separated by < > are congregational moments.

Our world has problems. Our nation has problems. Our state has problems. Our town has problems. Our church has problems. You have problems. I have problems.

But a solution exists. And that solution is Jesus.

Today, as a church, we will focus on prayer. Some have already taken a time of prayer early this day. Some will be praying throughout the afternoon and evening and into the night. The goal was to make this day – July 14th, a day for our church to pray. 24 hours, 30 minutes at a time.

Today was chosen as the day because the date (7/14) corresponds with a great verse about prayer – 2 Chronicles 7.14. The verse is God speaking to Solomon, and in it God says:

“if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

As such, the service today is about prayer. We will spend this time together praying. We will also sing songs that acknowledge the importance of prayer and, more importantly, who God is. You may say that you do not have the discipline to pray for the better part of an hour or more. That’s ok. I don’t either. But a statement I read this week gets to the heart of that issue:

“We don’t need self-discipline to pray continuously; we just need to be poor in spirit.” – Paul Miller, A Praying Life

Today might be uncomfortable in some ways, but if we cannot find comfort and peace in talking to God, then I do not believe we can ever find comfort. To do that, we will read some Scripture, have time for prayer, and sing some songs. But first, I want to teach you a technique I recently learned about helping to focus our attention as we begin to pray.

The idea is to “breathe Jesus.” This idea was introduced to me in the book I just referenced above (A Praying Life). All we need to do is mentally say “Je” as we breathe in and “sus” as we breathe out. This can be done as slowly or as quickly (short of hyperventilating) as you wish. Do it for a few seconds, then a minute, and over time, work your way up to 10 minutes. It is very peaceful and helps clear your mind, and prepares you to pray more effectively.

< Breathe Jesus – 1 minute >

As we quiet our lives for a few moments this morning, let us reflect on our need for God to become quiet and allow Him to enter us.

 READ Psalm 63.1-4

To truly be a sanctuary, we need to be still. We need to know God.

Let’s take this time to be still and not only know that God is God, but to know Him.

READ Psalm 46.10

< Pray in silence >

Are you longing for God? Do you want to? The quote I mentioned earlier talked about our need to be poor in spirit in order to truly acknowledge our need for God. Too often our self-sustaining attitude (that is, our pride) gets in the way. Let’s cry out to Him that He might heal us and heal our land.

READ Psalm 42.1-5

The reality is that we often think we are doing ok and are in control, but Jesus reminds us that we are nothing and can do nothing apart from Him.

READ John 15.5-7

As I read earlier, 2 Chronicles 7.14 talks about our need to humble ourselves. That is what Jesus is saying in the verses I just read. It takes humility to ask for forgiveness. We often think we are right in so many situations, but we often justify ourselves which separate us from God.

When we pray for forgiveness, we are seeking the mercy of God. Mercy is one of the great characteristics of God as shown throughout the Bible. King David knew of God’s mercy and cried out earnestly for forgiveness.

READ Psalm 51.1-4; 9-10

So, with the example of David’s humility fresh in our minds, let us take a moment to humble ourselves before the King and ask forgiveness of our pride.

< Pray in silence >

As we progress through the service, perhaps you do not know what to pray. Perhaps you do not know how to pray. Perhaps you hear some people pray and say, “I wish I could pray like that.” Well, let me simply say that God doesn’t care how we pray. It isn’t about of how, it is a matter of simply doing it. In Luke 18, Jesus talks of two men who are praying – one is praying mightily and is visibly noticed. The other is praying a simple prayer, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18.13). Jesus said it was the second man who was justified before God…because of his humility.

And when we do not know what to pray, we can be thankful that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us.

READ Romans 8.26-27

So, if you do not know that to pray, simply take a few moments to call out to the Spirit of God. “Come, Spirit. Come. Hear my heart and make it known to God.”

< Pray in silence >

< Breathe Jesus >

In 2 Chronicles 7.14, God said, “If my people who are called by my name…” Today those people are followers of Christ.

Then God said, “…will humble themselves and pray and seek my face…” We have humbled ourselves. We have sought God.

Then God said, “…and turn from their wicked ways…” We have asked for forgiveness. Now the choice is up to us to turn away from our sins.

Then God said, “I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

We have now prepared our hearts and our minds to center our prayers toward God. We have removed the distractions in our lives as best we can for a short period of time. Now, we focus our prayers beyond ourselves. We have asked for personal healing, now we can seek healing at a greater level.

We now take time to pray for the personal needs of those on our prayer list or in our minds. Whether the needs are physical, emotional, spiritual, or unknown, we take time to pray for those on our hearts this morning.

< Pray in silence >

Now, we will take time to pray for this church. That we might be healed. That relationships will be restored. That fellowship will be sweet and worship will be passionate. We pray that we will follow Jesus and help others to do the same, and that God will find our service glorifying to Him.

< Pray in silence >

We pray for the other churches in Fairfax and throughout Northwest Missouri. We pray that God will move among His people throughout this town and through this region.

< Pray in silence >

We pray for our government leaders in this state and country. We pray that the churches in the capitol cities of each state will have the impact that only the Kingdom of God can have. We pray that people will see churches come alive and show others that Jesus is the answer, not the politicians or government programs.

< Pray in silence >

We pray for our world. We know that peace will not come to the world through policies and treaties. But we know that the people of the world can experience true peace – a peace that passes all understanding, a peace that comes from knowing Jesus.

< Pray in silence >

We now prepare to close this service with one final prayer and one final song. But before we do, we are going to transition to a time of offering. We have offered ourselves. We have asked God for mercy, for healing, for Himself. And now we have a chance to offer something back to Him.

< Ask ushers to come forward. AB will pray for the offering. >

We offer one final prayer now. We will recite the prayer the Lord taught to His disciples. We will recite it, but in a slightly different form and pause for reflection after every line. Why pause? Because in the verses which precede the prayer, Jesus tells His disciples that God doesn’t hear prayers which are mindless.

< Pray with Congregation >

Father, in heaven –

Your name is holy.

Let Your kingdom reign.

Let Your will be done in my life.

Let Your will be done in the life of this church.

Let Your will be done on this earth.

Let Your will be known here just as it is in heaven.

Give us the meals we need for nourishment today.

Forgive us God for our sinfulness.

Remind us of our need to forgive those who sin against us. Then let us be willing to forgive!

Father, deliver us from our selfish desires.

Father, deliver us from Satan.

All glory belongs to You and Your Kingdom.

All power is Yours from the beginning and forevermore.

Amen.

< End Prayer >

And we close with a song that embraces the true greatness of God, which is just one of the reasons we pray.

“Seeking the Courage to Respond”

The month of July will focus on the nervous system. The nervous system is the collection of the nerves in our body – a system that allows the body to experience life – both good and bad. For instance, most mornings, my nerves send a signal to my brain that gets interpreted as my back is sore. Many of you can relate. Other times, my nerves send an impulse to my brain which says my wife grabbing my hand is pleasurable. Or perhaps, you eat something new that is interpreted as delicious. Or you smell something that your brain finds repulsive. So, the nervous system allows us to experience life as we react to our various senses.

The sense of sight may not be the most powerful (some experts say smell is the strongest of our five senses), but sight triggers more than our senses. While any sense is able to trigger an emotional response, modern technology allows sight to do so through various mediums like TV. For years advertisers have used this idea against us. For instance, have you ever noticed how much better a pizza looks on TV than it does on the pizza tray on your table? Or think about all of the starving children you have seen on TV, or the computer. You do not need to have the sound on for the emotions to be activated. You do not smell anything different, nor are you touching or tasting anything different, it is simply your sight that sends a signal from the optic nerve to the brain which then triggers some sort of emotion – and the advertiser hopes it is one of mercy (or perhaps pity).

Sight also allows us to discern how others are responding to our teaching, our feedback, etc. Certainly, Jesus could see the looks on His disciples faces as He taught them. Facial responses help us to know if someone is angry, confused, or perhaps has an “Aha!” moment. All of this comes from the sense of sight. But more importantly than seeing something needs to be done is to determine what should be done because of what we see.

The nervous system cannot instruct us on what to do; it only alerts us to the fact that something needs to be done. The focus for the church then is that our nervous system as a church should cause some sort of response. That response first is a recognition that something needs to be done, then knowing what to do, and finally, doing what needs to be done.

As we review John 13 this week, we will see that it was a sensitivity to others that caused Jesus to serve others, and that should prompt us to do the same.

Background

Jesus’ ministry was coming to an end. In fact, he really only had one major act of ministry left before He would fulfill His ultimate ministry purpose – defeating death for those who believe. In fact, as part of Jesus’ final words prior to the story we will review today, that is what Jesus said, “I have come to save the world” (John 12.47). But in this final night with His closest followers, Jesus has a couple of important lessons for them – they are to serve and they are to love (which echoes what Paul wrote to the Galatians as we saw last week, Galatians 5.14).

Jesus Shows His Disciples What It Means to Serve (John 13.1-20)

A review of the other accounts of the Gospel show that Jesus had made intentional preparations to spend this last night with His disciples (see Matthew 26.17-19; Mark 14.12-16; Luke 22.7-13). He knew what was coming; they did not. Verse 1 says that Jesus knew the hour had come. During the dinner, Jesus first provides a lesson of service. Why? Because He could see that the disciples had not yet fully grasped what Jesus wanted them to do.

Then Jesus washed the disciples’ feet.

After washing, Jesus returns to His place and shares the reason for this lesson of service (John 13.12-20). Most importantly, Jesus teaches that even though He is the teacher, He has served them. And then He instructs them that they must be willing to do the same. Jesus has seen that something needs to be done – an example must be set. Jesus knows how shocking the example will be in the culture, but He knows what must be done – and He does it. Finally, Jesus does more than simply think about what must be done, or talk about what must be done, Jesus does it.

Then Jesus tells His disciples that this is an example of what they must do.

Much can, and should, be said about other significant components of this passage (e.g. the cleansing Jesus offers, or that our Teacher would serve us by dying for us, etc.), but for today, the focus is simply upon the act of service. But the rest of this text reminds us that the service is to be done in love.

Jesus Commands His Disciples to Love (John 13.31-35)

Jesus speaks of His betrayal by Judas in the verses following what we just reviewed before giving the disciples a new commandment.  Before we get to this new commandment, notice that Judas was still with Him at the table (vv. 22-31, particularly 26-27). This fact is significant because it means that Judas was among those who had his feet washed by Jesus.  We should not infer from this that Judas was born again, but we can conclude that our service is not meant only for those whom we like, or more directly here, who have our best interest in mind. That is, we are to serve others – beginning with those in the church, but that does not mean we neglect those apart from the church. Why?

Because of love.

Our love and care for one another is proof that we are disciples of Jesus. Again, Jesus saw a need. Something needed to be done. We do not have to look hard for evidence that the disciples were often arguing with one another. At times, that argument was about which of them was the greatest (e.g. Mark 9.33-34; 10.35-45). Jesus was obviously the greatest, and yet He humbled Himself. Now, He was clearly stating that He was about to leave, and thus, for them to continue what He had started. To continue required just two characteristics – service and love. And not just a token expression of love; rather they were to exhibit the same kind of love for one another that He had shown to them.

Ladies and gentlemen, that is true for us today. We also prove that we are followers of Jesus by our love for one another. Again, that love must go beyond the walls of this church body, but it begins with a love for those who are a part of this church body. If we can’t do that, then we must question our dedication to Jesus because it was He who said that love would be our proof.

CONCLUSION

I began this message speaking about the importance of the nervous system. But we must remind ourselves that the nerves themselves are only informative. Once the brain receives the signals, then the information is considered and a decision is made. The decision could be to do nothing, or it could involve doing something different. Those decisions could be relatively minor such as shifting our head to see something better or more major like deciding to put on a coat and gloves because it is cold outside (wishful thinking in July!). Regardless, our senses reveal the current information, and then we must decide what comes next.

The truth is that oftentimes our senses reveal that something must be done. Then we must decide what that something is. What should be done? Do we know how to do it? Could someone else help us? Etc. But then, once we have asked those questions, action should be taken. I understand that sometimes inaction is the appropriate action. But often times not acting is from laziness or worse apathy. However, intentionally choosing not to act is still an action. The key is having the wisdom and the courage to know what to do and to do it.

In 2 Chronicles 1, the Bible records the story of a young Solomon praying for wisdom. The result is that God grants Solomon the wisdom he desired, and Solomon is considered the wisest man to have ever lived. (I would clarify the wisest besides Jesus.) But wisdom is both knowing and doing. Solomon knew a great deal, and did many things too, but evidently his wisdom did not fulfill him. Remember, the writer of Ecclesiastes, often presumed to be Solomon, wrote that everything is meaningless.

Jesus, on the other hand shows the purpose of wisdom. That is, the purpose of both loving and service is to bring glory to God (see John 13.31). If we desire to be wise, we must be willing to seek to understand, to learn what must be done, and then to do it – not for our purposes, but for God’s. As we live our lives in obedience to Christ, we will then find our senses heightened so that we will have more opportunities to serve and to love and thus to bring God glory.

Our JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

More than knowing He had to set an example of service, Jesus knew His true purpose was to die for our sins and raise again so that we might live. Again, He knew something had to be done. He knew what to do, and actually let what needed to be done happen to Him, having the courage to do it. And that courage brought a glory to God that would not otherwise be possible.

PRINCIPLE:  A follower of Christ is to serve and to love in order to bring glory to God.

QUESTION:  Whom can you love by serving them unexpectedly this week?

OPPORTUNITY:  We often know something must be done, and sometimes know what is needed, but we do not act. Act on what needs to be done this week.

NEXT STEP(S)LOVE:   Partaking of the Lord’s Supper

“Breaking Free”

Susan and I did away with regular television over four years ago. We did it to save money in order to go to Israel and never added it back. Now, that doesn’t mean that we do not watch shows because we have Amazon Prime and temporarily subscribe to CBS All-Access to watch a few shows during the winter and early spring. And I subscribe to Sling for four months while I host guys for the Football Fellowship during the fall. But otherwise, we do not have regular TV.

However, that does not mean that we are not inundated with commercials for certain types of pharmaceuticals. And nothing has changed related to these commercials. A new drug is promoted on a commercial, and the benefits are mostly clear, but the potential risks seem to be the bulk of the advertisement. Why? Because the medicines we take are foreign substances and our bodies do not always react well to them. These medicines are manufactured to help our bodies, but our bodies’ natural reaction to the foreign substance causes other problems. And these reactions can cause bigger problems – largely because of the response of the immune and the lymphatic systems – systems designed to prevent foreign substances from causing us harm.

Those two systems have been the emphasis for the month of June. We have reviewed these reactions with a comparison to an invasion by the enemy during a time of war, a deception by the enemy to prevent war, and an eroding of a nation’s health over time which caused the need for a drastic treatment. Today, we will look at the idea of being free from the trappings of religion to focus on the purity of the relationship with God as we emphasize the idea of being a hub of ministry.

The text this week is one we have reviewed a couple of years ago, but it is a great passage about freedom. The passage is Galatians 5 where Paul tries to stir the churches in the region of Galatia to embrace the truth of the freedom all believers have in Christ, to accept the responsibility that comes from the freedom, and to live according to the Spirit which brings that freedom.

Background

The churches in Galatia had received the truth of the gospel. That truth was shared by Paul, but others came to refute that truth and were claiming that the people needed to do certain things to truly be saved. A major part of that claim involved circumcision, but regardless a false gospel was being proclaimed (Gal 1.6-9). And that false message was causing people to question their faith. With that brief introduction, let us turn to Galatians 5.

Read Galatians 5.1

We Are Free in Christ (Galatians 5.1-12)

Galatians 5.1 could be the focus of sermons for an entire quarter. But let me get to the idea Paul is sharing here. I mentioned above that Paul was trying to refute a false gospel – and that message included the need for these Galatians (as mostly Gentiles) to be circumcised. After all, that was the “mark” of God’s people in the Old Testament. But the mark of a New Testament believer is a heart that is circumcised. And we cannot see the heart; rather, it is evidenced by the change in a person’s life. But that change brings true freedom when the change is due to Christ. That is Paul’s point in these first several verses of Galatians 5.

Paul uses metaphors to make his point. These metaphors relate to the rules and regulations that others were requiring of the churches in Galatia. Two such metaphors are being “hindered” (v. 7, in Greek, being “cut in on”) and emasculation (v. 14), both of which apply to the  idea of circumcision. Paul explicitly says that to view the religious rituals as necessary is to be bound by works and when that happens, we fall from the grace of God, content to earn salvation for ourselves. But we cannot earn salvation as Paul stated here and elsewhere. Our salvation comes from Jesus – nothing more, nothing less.

Now, as we will see below, we do have responsibilities because of our faith, but not to gain faith. We are free because of Christ and thus we should live like it. But that leads to one final thought before we move beyond this point. Galatians 5.1 means that we are free in Christ; we are not simply free. The freedom we have is from Christ, and therefore the freedom we have is in Christ. As we will see in our third point, that freedom does not mean extreme liberty. As Paul wrote in Romans 6.1, our freedom does not provide a right to sin; rather, that we have forgiveness when we do.

We Are Called to Serve (Galatians 5.13-15)

In the middle paragraph of this passage, Paul provides our true responsibilities. Again, he has just refuted the need to do anything to EARN salvation (it cannot be earned, Ephesians 2.8-9), but we should respond TO the salvation we have received. How? Verse 13 says we are to serve. Furthermore, that service is to be through love.

The whole purpose of our Hub Sunday focus each month is to share the idea of our need to serve others. Today marks the 12th Hub Sunday and we have settled into a routine with this idea. Much of the service is the same, and when I preach I often tie the message to the monthly theme, but this focus at the end of each month is more about what God has called us to do in serving others. Thus, next month, we will begin to hear testimonies from how others are serving. Some of that may be shared from time to time in the newsletter or in comments made from the pulpit or in a teaching/classroom environment, but people in the church are serving and that should be celebrated. So, beginning next month, we will bring more focus to that on Hub Sunday.

Additionally, you will hear from other people. Many of the Hub Sundays have seen others preach, but oftentimes, you are still hearing from me. As I mentioned last month, that is about to change. For instance, I already have individuals who have agreed to preach on Hub Sunday for each of the next six months.

The key for Paul and thus, the key for us, is that as we find ourselves free in Christ, we are free to serve as He calls us to do. Again, that service is to be done in love, and, hopefully in the coming months, we will learn of ways our congregation is involved in loving and serving which should inspire us to do more as a church as well as allowing us to celebrate what God is doing through this church.

We Are to Live by the Spirit (Galatians 5.16-25)

The last part of this chapter is rather well known. It contains a list of activities that are not reflective of Christian behavior and, even more well-known, a list of the various parts of the Spirit’s fruit. These nine parts of the fruit of the Spirit are to govern how a believer lives. That is, if we are free in Christ, then we have the Spirit of God within us, and we should find ourselves maturing in each of these areas. The areas are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

As we begin to excel in these areas, we will find ourselves truly experiencing the freedom we have in Christ, and desiring to serve God by serving others in love. That is, as we become more like the Christ (which is God’s goal for us), our selfish desires will change (see verses 17-21) and we will desire what God desires which was evidenced by the life of Jesus.

CONCLUSION

I began this message by discussing that all of the medicine we use has side effects. What I didn’t mention then is that the same is true with most vitamins, mostly because of how we take them – for instance, many are in capsule form. When I began taking more vitamins a few years ago, one that Susan offered to me was called Milk Thistle. I had never heard of this vitamin, so I asked what the purpose was. Her reply, “to help the liver because of all of other vitamins.” Now, in reality, milk thistle may help in many other ways, but many studies have been inconclusive. However, I had extreme jaundice as a baby, and my liver has always been suspect when tested, so if milk thistle helps the liver, then I am all for it.

But again, I am taking another pill to help offset the other pills. The same is true with another pair of medications I take. Thus, we try to become healthy, but can find ourselves becoming more ill. That Galatians knew this well. They wanted freedom in Christ, but were being bound by traditional religious customs. Please do not misunderstand me. Observing some religious practices are important/ The Bible is clear that are to be in fellowship with one another (Hebrews 10.24-25), worship in song and practice (1 Corinthians 10.31; Ephesians 5.19-20, Colossians 3.17, 23), etc., but much of what we claim to be necessary is not biblical (like circumcision in the case of Galatians 5). Alternatively, some of what we do not think is important (i.e. attending church) is actually important based upon the verses I just mentioned above (and many others).

Thus, we need to keep Jesus as our focus. It is Jesus who purchased our freedom. It is Jesus who deserve our allegiance. Therefore, our…

JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

Jesus has made the way. And the Spirit is now our guide to that way. And the way we are to live is about serving others through love – a love that begins with God and is given to others.

PRINCIPLE: Our freedom in Christ will lead us to serve Him and others.

QUESTION:  Will you live in the freedom of Christ or in the fear of religion?

OPPORTUNITY:  Focus on the Spirit of God.

NEXT STEP(S)LIVE:   Live by asking yourself how the Spirit would have you live according to His fruit. Too many Christians focus on what they do (or might do) wrong. Yes, we should ask for forgiveness when we sin, but when we focus on what the Spirit would have us do right, rather than what we might do that is wrong, we will live our lives in freedom instead of fear. And that is a part of the victory that come with knowing Jesus!

“Radical Treatment”

Last week, I mentioned the importance of the immune system. I mentioned that another system, the lymphatic system, was related. The lymphatic system is responsible for sending lymph throughout the body through a network of vessels to fight infections and to remove unwanted waste from the body (waste, as in, carbon dioxide, and or infections). The lymph nodes are the areas where much of this waste is filtered to it can be properly removed. But sometimes when serving as a filter, the lymph nodes become cancerous. This can happen for a couple of reasons, but one is when cells from a cancerous tumor travel through the lymph vessels and attach themselves to the node. When this happens, we say that the cancer is in the lymph nodes.

The reason this issue is so troubling is that the lymph nodes are where the white blood cells do their work best. If the lymph node is affected, then our natural healing agents, are compromised which often leads to bigger problems. The lymph nodes can be removed but then certain fluids have no outlet and the fluid builds up which is called lymph edema. So, removing the lymph nodes is an extreme measure, but sometimes to heal the body, extreme measures must be taken.

What is true for the human body, is true for the church – the Body of Christ. Those who are born again are the Body of Christ, but a similar expression could be the people of God. Now that term can have a couple of meanings, but in the Old Testament, the people of God were the Israelites. And due to decades of evil, the healing that they needed had to be substantial. They needed a radical treatment because they were about to face the wrath of God. That wrath came just a few decades later, but a generation (or two) was spared because of the radical steps taken by a young king named Josiah.

Background

Josiah became king of Judah when he was eight years old. The most important statement about Josiah in the Bible is “he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Kings 22.2). Throughout the listing of kings, one of two statements are made – the king either did right or evil in the sight of the Lord. Josiah did what was right. And given that his grandfather was Manasseh, who not only did evil (2 Kings 21.2), but led others to be evil as well (2 Kings 21.9, 16), for Josiah to do right was not to be assumed when he became king. His father, Amon, also did evil, but only reigned two years; Manasseh reigned 55 years.

Besides being known as the king who was the youngest king in Israel to begin his reign (at age eight), Josiah is best known for instituting a series of changes to heal the nation after it had been led astray by the two previous kings – again, his father and grandfather. Josiah led Judah in four distinct ways that prevented Judah from being overrun by the enemy. As a NT church, we can learn from his actions and allow us to fight off the corruption that might otherwise come.

Restoring the Temple (2 Kings 22.1-7)

2 Kings 22 shares the account of the repairs that Josiah ordered for the temple. Your Bible might title this portion, Josiah Repairs the Temple, or something similar. Verse 3 says it happened in his 18th year, so he was 26 years old. But if you notice, the outline uses the idea of restoring the temple, not repairing it. Why the difference?

Well, in 2 Chronicles 34-35, we have the account of Josiah from the priestly perspective. The books called Kings were written by people who had access to the kings or the kings’ information. The books called Chronicles provide the same timeline, but they do so from the perspective of the priests who served the nation. Thus, the stories have a lot of overlap, but some important details emerge in their differences.

One such difference is recorded in 2 Chronicles 34.3 which says that in Josiah’s eighth year, when he would have been 16, Josiah began a process of removing the altars and Asherah poles which had been set up around Judah. The other altars were erected to make it easy for the people to worship without having to go to Jerusalem – which God had commanded them to do. The Asherah poles were made for the goddess Asherah who was one of the goddesses of the Hittites, a group that the Israelites were supposed to drive out from the Promised Land. Thus, Josiah was intent on restoring the importance of the temple of God, which began with the removal of idols and unlawful places of worship, and then culminated in the repairs of the temple itself.

How does this apply to you and me? Well, we can dress things up as fancy as we want, but if we are still chasing false gods, then nothing we do at the church will bring the healing we need. We can have new pews, new carpet, a nice sound system, etc., but if our hearts are not right, then nothing else matters. Josiah new that Israel needed to be purified before she was ready to truly worship in the temple. The same is true for the church – that is, the people – today.

Responding to the Law (2 Kings 22.8-20)

In 2 Kings 22, we are told that during the repairs of the temple, the Book of the Law is found. In other words, they found the writings of Moses which are called the Pentateuch, or as we know them, the first five books of the Bible – Genesis through Deuteronomy. When this book was found, the priest had it sent to the king where it was read and the king responded by tearing his clothes – a sign that he realized the importance of the Book, the words, and what needed to be done.

So, how did Josiah respond? He wanted to know if it was too late for Judah. Indeed, it almost was. Josiah has a prophetess consulted. Yes, the king and priests (who were males) consulted a woman (named Huldah, see 2 Kings 22.14) for counsel from the Lord. Her words revealed that God was about to destroy the people of Judah for being unfaithful, but God would spare them for a time because of the humility showed by the king – Josiah. Read vv. 18-20. History estimates that Josiah’s reign ended about 610 BC, and by 597 BC, the Babylonians were already beginning to conquer the region and by 587 BC, Jerusalem was captured and the temple was destroyed.

Why did this happen? Because the people had forsaken God for their own purposes (v. 17). How did this happen? In part, it was because the Book of the Law was not considered important. In fact, the book was lost for as many as 75 years. Again, Manasseh was evil and reigned for 55 years (although he did repent at one point) and then Josiah’s father reigned for two years. That makes 57 years. And the work in the temple began during Josiah’s eighteenth year on the throne, so that makes 75 years that is could have been missing, making it likely that it was not read for over 50, at least.

Imagine going to the place where God is worshipped and not knowing where a Bible was. Of course, only the priests read God’s Law at that time. And worship was different then, but Josiah’s reaction is indicative of a person who loves God and desires to please Him. Unfortunately, too many people, even Christians, in the 21st Century take the Bible for granted. If that is the case, what will happen in the future. That is, what will future generations reap because of us if we are not diligent to read, study, and follow the Word of God?

Reforming the Nation (2 Kings 23.1-20)

In the previous sentence, I listed three actions related to the Word of God. We are to read. We are to study. And we are to follow. Josiah did more than hear the words, he asked what they meant. And then he acted. Much of 2 Kings 23 shares the reforms that Josiah instituted after he heard the God’s laws. Now, as the king he had the authority to enact these changes, but the people still had to choose to follow.

First, Josiah gathered all of the people together so they could hear the reading from the Book of the Law. After this was completed, Josiah made a covenant with God to keep the commands, and after Josiah made the covenant, the people joined with him in making one as well (v. 3).

Next, any remaining idols were removed and destroyed. Then he removed priests who had been appointed by kings to make sacrifices (v. 5). He removed the male prostitutes from the temple, and then destroyed all of the remaining places where idol sacrifices were made throughout the land. All of these actions were done because he heard the words of God in the Book of the Law and wanted to turn the people back to following God.

A key for us is what the leader did, the people followed. As the pastor of this church, that is really humbling. It is a reminder of Paul’s words to the church at Corinth when he wrote, “Follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Corinthians 11.1). I have recently told the deacons that God has me evaluating everything in my life right now. I know he is asking me to change some things. Perhaps he will ask you to make changes too. What I do know if that if we want the nation to change, it will begin with the church. And if the church is to change, it must begin with each of us. And we may not like the word change, but the reality is that we are all changing every day. The question is: Are we changing for the better – that is, are we becoming more like Christ?

Restoring the Passover (2 Kings 23.21-27)

The Bible mentions one final change that Josiah made. He restored the observance of Passover. I mentioned earlier that the Book of the Law might have been “missing” for as many as 75 years. So, you might ask, how long had it been since the Israelites had kept the Passover? Well, it was more than 75 years – a lot more.

Before I share an approximate time, let me point out two important points. First, when God instituted the Passover, He said it was a feast they were to keep forever (Exodus 12.14). The feast was to be a memorial for the night of the final plague in Egypt, when all of the firstborn in the land died if lamb’s blood was not spread on the door of their house. The feast was so named because if God saw the blood on the doorposts and the lintel of the house, he would pass over the house. The Israelites did this and had their sons spared. The Egyptians did not and the result was Pharaoh finally allowing the Israelites to go free. Thus, before the very first Passover, God instructed the people to hold the feast every year.

So, as a reminder the first important point was that God instituted the Passover and told the people they were to celebrate it generation after generation forever. The second important point is that the Book of the Law was read to Josiah. Somewhere along the way, the people stopped observing Passover, and they might not have started again if the Book of the Law had not been found, read, and observed.

Just how long had it been since Passover had been observed? Well, it depends on how long you consider the time of the judges to have lasted (and scholars debate on this), but history tells us that David was king about 1050 BC and Saul was king before that, and 2 Kings 23.22 says that the Passover had not been kept since before the times of the kings, nor during some of the time of the judges. History tells us that Josiah’s reign ended in about 610 BC, so the most recently Passover had been observed was 500 years prior, and maybe as many as 800 years. To put that in perspective, the Mayflower arrived in America just less than 400 years ago. The printing press is less than 600 years old. In other words, the people in Josiah’s day likely had very little idea of what the Passover was, and certainly the feast had not been properly celebrated by any of them.

But because of one man’s faithfulness, a country was not only spared the wrath of God for a few decades, but many people rediscovered the origins of a faith that had otherwise been lost.

CONCLUSION

Josiah had to take drastic action. The country had not only fallen away from God, but it appears that few, if any, knew God. You and I might read this story with little appreciation for the difficulty Josiah faced, but do not overlook the challenges that existed. The people of Judah were still worshipping and making sacrifices, but their sacrifices were being made to false gods and under false pretenses. Josiah had to respond and quickly. The traditions of the people had to die so they could make God’s Word became prominent again. In other words, to heal the land, some radical decisions and actions had to happen – and fast.

Likewise, when someone is diagnosed with a deadly disease, action must be taken. As we think about the removal of a lymph node which is infected with cancer, the best treatment may be to remove the node, but such a move is radical. Why? Because these nodes are where much of the healing of the body originate. But once infected, they can cause more damage than good.

The reality is that many people hear what might or should be done, but they do not act. Josiah heard and he acted. Such action should remind us of James 1.22, where we are informed that we are not be hearers of God’s Word only, deceiving ourselves. We are to do what the Word of God instructs us to do.

What are we, as Fairfax Baptist, to do? The answer to that question is forthcoming. A series of conversations will be had over the next several months to evaluate our true health and determine what needs to be done to be healthy for the future. Will a radical treatment be necessary? That is we must know what is for us to do with the help of the Lord. But, whatever is decided, we must not forsake God’s Word like the people of Judah did. Too much is at stake!

Our JOURNEY letter for today is the full word:  JOURNEY.

Life is a journey, and we do not arrive at our destination until after we have died. But we have a choice in that destination, which is determined by our response to the gift of God’s love through Jesus. Once we have decided, the question then is will be live our lives in proof of our love to Him? For as Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14.15).

PRINCIPLE:  Hearing God’s Word should always lead us to evaluate our lives – and change!

QUESTION:  Which teaching of the Bible have you heard, but have not begun to act?

OPPORTUNITY:  We may each have many areas in our lives that we need healed, but we can start by focusing on healing one area at a time.

NEXT STEP(S):

LOVE:   Focus on Jesus’ words that those who love Him will keep His commandments. Show your love for Him by not just hearing His Word; instead be like Josiah and do what it says (James 1.22).

“Deception”

Our system for June is actually two systems. The lymphatic and the immune systems work together to protect the body from the effects of harmful substances. The lymphatic system is a series of vessels that carry a fluid called lymph throughout the body (like blood vessels carry blood.) The lymph takes nutrients to the cells of the body while also removing waste from the cells (like carbon dioxide). But the lymph also contains white blood cells which are critical to fight infections within the body.

I will talk more specifically about the lymphatic system next week, but for today, I want to focus on the immune system. The immune system is tasked with keeping out harmful substances. “Harmful” is determined by the body, however, and not by our intent. For instance, we can agree that certain viruses are harmful (like the flu virus), but receiving a new organ is thought to be helpful (such as a kidney or even a heart). But the body may choose to reject the organ because it is a foreign substance that it deems harmful.

Unfortunately, sometimes the body finds its own system to be harmful. Autoimmune disease is defined as the body fighting against itself. Essentially, the immune system automatically begins to attack itself because of a perceived issue. That is, the immune system falsely attacks otherwise healthy cells. Certain diseases like celiac, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus are just three types of an autoimmune disease. When the body begins to falsely attack healthy cells, it oftentimes spreads throughout the rest of the body. Why? The body forgets what healthy tissue is because it has been falsely attacking healthy tissue. Thus, what might begin as a minor problem can lead to major health issues over time.

How does this relate to the church body? Well, church’s often focus on internal criticism – attacking brothers and sisters. Most people do not know, or otherwise do not remember, the difference between critique and criticism. Criticism is almost always opinion-based and is negative. Critique is an evaluation and is meant to be helpful. Critique is mostly based in fact with some detail provided. Thus, when people offer constructive criticism, hopefully, what they are doing is offering a critique.

But when the church is full of criticism, it is distracted from mission. And when it loses focus or clarity of mission, further problems can arise. The real issue is deception. The church is deceived about what is important, and thus becomes more and more defeated over time, whether that is years or decades.

We saw last week how a leader can intentionally deceive a church and why we must remain diligent to prevent such an effort. In fact, in 2 Corinthians 10, Paul used war terms to describe how to combat (a war term in itself) the problem. This week, we will review Joshua 9 and see how a bit of deception was part of the downfall of Israel.

The Setting

The Israelites have entered the Promised Land and have destroyed Jericho. During that victory, one man, Achan, took part of the loot for himself which was against what God had commanded. The result was a loss of lives in a subsequent battle, and eventually Achan was killed for his transgression. Then Israel was able to defeat Ai, and Joshua led Israel to renew the covenant that Moses led them through earlier (see Deuteronomy 27). Because of the success that the Israelites were having in battle, the neighboring countries and peoples began to be frightened. Most of these countries decided to align their forces to fight against Israel. But one group, the Gibeonites, had a different thought, and that leads to the story of the deception we see today in Joshua, chapter 9.

The Enemy Is Devious (Joshua 9.3-6)

The Bible uses the word cunning, but the intent is the same. The Gibeonites heard about the victories at Jericho and Ai and calculated their own defeat. Thus, they devised a scheme with the intent to gain protection. READ Josh 9.4-6.

Verse 4 gives us all we need to know. They “acted with cunning.” They were preparing for a journey, so like anyone they packed provisions. We have to remember that a journey in their day was quite different. The Israelites were at Gilgal (9.6), but the Bible references this name a few times in seemingly different places. Thus, I was unable to discern exactly how far Gibeon was from Gilgal. But, Joshua 10.9 says that Joshua marched the army all night from Gilgal to Gibeon so it could not have been that far. The Gibeonites would not have needed many provisions. But to fool the Israelites, the Gibeonites needed to appear to have needed many provisions – and that the provisions were well used. Therefore, their plan included using worn out donkey sacks, sandals, and clothes, and the crumbled food. They had to make it appear that they had travelled quite a distance otherwise they would fall within the territory Israel was supposed to destroy.

The fact is, you and I can see this story unfolding. The author writes that the Gibeonites acted with cunning. The Gibeonites knew what they were doing; the people of Israel did not. It is clear to us what is about to happen; it was not clear to Joshua and the Israelites. So it is difficult to blame them because they did not know what we know. If our story were written a year from now, or a decade from now, details will be known that we simply cannot know – yet. And thus, we must be on our guard against deception. Again, as we saw last week, a war is raging. And the enemy will devise plans to trick us into thinking he is our ally. But he is not. We must remain on guard so as not to fall prey to his schemes.

The Enemy Is Deceptive (Joshua 9.7-13)

Not only did the Gibeonites devise a plan, they carried it out well. In fact, they admit part of their scheme, but only so much as will benefit them. The Israelites knew their God-given goal was to eradicate the other nations in the land of Canaan. Therefore, the Israelites were rightly skeptical, and even asked about their origins (v. 8). Notice the response the Gibeonites gave. (Read Joshua 9.9-12). The Gibeonites acknowledge that they are seeking protection. But they pull some heart strings – they invoked God and the miracles that happened in Egypt.

Let’s pause here for a moment. Did you catch what I just said? Look at verse 9 and 10 again. They realize all that has happened is God’s doing? They are seeking a covenant with man to avoid the punishment of God. That is true…but what God did was known. Make no mistake, the work of God is evident in creation (Romans 1), and the works of God will spread. More importantly, the Word of God will also spread by messengers whether people want it to or not. People may not like God, they may not want God, but they will acknowledge God. The question for us is: When they come seeking answers, will we be ready to respond?

The Gibeonites then show their provisions with the intent of making their words acceptable because of the physical condition of those provisions. Make no mistake, the sacks and food must have been in horrible condition because the Israelites did not balk after seeing the items. And that leads to the next point in the progression of this story.

God’s People Are Duped (Joshua 9.14-21)

We cannot overlook the last part of the next sentence – the Israelites “did not ask counsel from the Lord” (v. 14). Instead Joshua, the leader, made peace – a covenant – with these strangers.

Covenants are far more than a simple promise. Covenants are meant to be binding – like the covenant God has made with His people. In fact, we must not overlook that this covenant is made with the Gibeonites immediately following the renewing of the covenant between Israel and the Lord. This understanding is critical because it shows that we can be fully engaged and doing what is right one moment, and then act in a way that is contrary to everything we hold dear the next moment. A verse I mentioned last week, 1 Corinthians 10.12, ring true here: “Therefore if anyone thinks that he stands, let him take heed, lest he fall.” We are all prone to falling, and particularly when we have been duped.

Now, another part of this story that is important is that even though they were duped, the Israelites honored the covenant. When the people learned they had been deceived, they did not attack the cities despite being in the territory that they were supposed to destroy. Some may say that they should have broken the covenant to follow the laws of God. But God also commanded, “Do not lie.” And two wrongs do not make a right. If they had lied, then no other treaty would have been considered worthy. Furthermore, God’s name would have been shamed. The God that the Gibeonites feared because of what was done in Egypt, Jericho, and Ai, would have been disgraced. So, the people honored the covenant. But the whole problem could have been avoided if they had asked “counsel from the Lord” in the first place. (cf. v 14)

Are we seeking counsel from the Lord? Are we honoring our covenants? Even when it seems to not be in our favor? Our society today says “personal happiness” is all that matters. If you are happy, nothing else matters. Such thoughts are extraordinarily selfish and have led to the many ills in society today. And the only way to avoid this extreme selfishness is to take up the cross – daily. Like Paul said to the church in Galatia, he had already been crucified with Christ, meaning he was a part of Jesus’ body now. Likewise, when we embrace Jesus, we give up our rights to take on the responsibilities of being part of His body. Otherwise, if we don’t, we fall prey to the last part of this story.

God’s People Disregard God (Joshua 9.22; 2 Chronicles 36.21)

When we choose to follow anyone other than God, including ourselves, we will soon find ourselves on a slippery slope. Again, the leaders did not ask counsel of God, and a covenant with a group who was supposed to be destroyed was made. The people (or congregation, vv. 15, 18) honored the covenant as well, but the result was that a covenant made with man led them to break their covenant with God.

Why did God want all of the people in land of Canaan destroyed? Because He did not want His people led astray. What happened? Well, the people were led astray. In the book of Judges, we repeatedly see a people who turn from God for a number of years, until God sends a judge to deliver them, and then the cycle is repeated. And the book of Judges ends with the statement that “everyone did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21.25). Samuel comes to restore order as a prophet, but the people want a king (as God foretold in Deuteronomy). And the kings make alliances with foreign leaders which lead to corruption of the people. Occasionally, a king would turn the people back to God for a time (e.g. Josiah), but most did what was “evil in the sight of the Lord.”

Over a period of several hundred years the people worshipped false idols, set up altars for the sake of convenience, and generally turned their back from God. Of course, it started small, just a little deception by a group who was supposed to be an enemy. But if we examine one more verse, we can see why Israel would be challenged by this new alliance.

Notice what is said about Gibeon in Joshua 10.2. The city was great. It was greater than Ai. All of its men were warriors. This city is the one that sought a treaty with Israel because of what God was doing to the other cities. Yet, we can easily see that this city was one of great influence – it was like a royal city – but knew it could not be victorious over a people who were committed to following God.

So, they joined the people of God, which compromised the people of God. That is, instead of trying to be victorious in battle, they became victorious as friends. Now, this might not have been the stated goal of the Gibeonites, but it was undoubtedly the effect. And God knew this would happen, which is why He commanded that all of the cities be destroyed. The only way to protect His people from themselves was to ensure they were focused on Him and not on others. Because when our mind is not focused on the enemy, or is focused on the wrong enemy, we will certainly lose not only the battle, but the war (similar to Hitler’s mistake in France which, in part, led to the the Allied Forces success on D-Day, which was mentioned last week).

CONCLUSION

The progression of this passage fits the progression of the immune system attacking the human body, although the enemy and the body are one. The body deceives itself by thinking that something has entered into it that should not be there. In the case of the human body, the affected tissue was not devious, but the body thought it was. The affected tissue was not deceptive on its own, but when the body tried to fight against the immune system, the immune system thought it was being deceived. And thus, the immune system was duped. At that point the immune system disregarded what was truly good and continued to attack the rest of what was a healthy body because it could no longer distinguish healthy tissue from unhealthy tissue.

But again, the human body is not the ultimate object we must keep in view during this series. The human body is our metaphor for the Body of Christ. And just as the human body can be misled into attacking itself, so too can the Body of Christ. As members of the Body of Christ, we are not our own. Indeed, as Paul wrote, we were bought at a price (1 Corinthians 6.20). If we have been bought, we belong to whoever purchased us, and that negates our rights to ourselves, which should bring us together in harmony with others who have been similarly bought. And thus…

…our JOURNEY letter for today is:  UUNITE.

As God’s people, we are to be united in purpose. We are to unite in function. That does not mean that we will agree on everything at all times, but it does mean that when our disagreements are expressed, we align beyond a common point, and then move forward. Of course, this can only be done if we are each asking counsel of the Lord. As we seek to know our marching orders from the head, which is Christ, then the rest of the body falls in line. Unfortunately, our churches today have too many who want to be like an immune system that has gone haywire against its own body rather than yielding to what Christ wants them to do.

PRINCIPLE:  The body of Christ is to remain focused on Him and ask for His counsel to know what He would have us to do.

QUESTION:  On what matters should we “ask counsel of the Lord?”

OPPORTUNITY:  Start simply by seeking God’s counsel on one new matter every day.

NEXT STEP(S):

LIVE:   Related to last week’s LEARN step, putting on the helmet of salvation (Ephesians 6.17) will help us keep our minds fixed on the Savior and allow us to “ask counsel from the Lord.”

“A War Zone”

July 4, 1776. December 7, 1941. June 6, 1944. September 11, 2001. These dates are all dates which will live in infamy. Why? Because each date represents a major declaration of intent with regards to war. The colonies were already engaged in battle before we declared our independence from Britain, but July 4 made war inevitable – and war continued for seven more years. Parts of the world was already engaged in war in the late 1930s, but one fateful morning at Pearl Harbor energized a nation to engage in what was truly a world war. June 6 has been called by some historians the most important day in history. As a follower of Christ, I must consider a certain day when Jesus died and another when he arose as greater, and we might consider a few other days important as well, but without a doubt, the day we call D-Day changed the war, and likely the course of the 20th Century. And, of course, most recently, September 11th, 2001, moved the needle on terrorism from something that happened over there – wherever “there” was – to our homeland. The dynamics of war had changed as for the first time in 70 years, the certainty of war was declared not only on our country, but on our land. Thus, September 11th like the other dates I just mentioned (July 4th, December 7th, and June 6th for most people) are dates that do not require a year to be mentioned for most Americans. We simply know the significance of the date.

But that is changing. Many, including myself, do not know the hardship of war. I do not mean the fear of battles, I mean the true sacrifice of war! The sacrifice not just of death, but of families being gripped with fear, of a country banding together, etc. Some of this happened in 2001, but it was short-lived. In prior generations, the country had to band together – had to sacrifice to survive. Food was rationed, people overcame differences, and a country was united for a common purpose – preservation, which meant the need for victory.

But for many that memory is too distant. 57 years passed between D-Day and Sept 11. Another 18 years have passed between Sept 11 and today. As fresh as that day is to many of us, some who were not alive on that day have now graduated high school. Indeed, other important dates have come and gone throughout our nation’s history, but only a few reverberate like the four mentioned above. And the further we get from those dates, the less concern people show. Please do not think I overlook the importance of our military today, because they have been fighting a war for nearly two decades, and in some ways, we have had very little peace since the beginning of the Korean conflict. But even that phrase proves part of my point – was Korea a conflict or a war? Perhaps the lack of concern about the significance of warfare, and in particular the dates mentioned above is from neglect, but more likely it is simply because time has passed.

What is true of wars between nations is true in a different way for the body. Our theme this year is not about war, it is about systems in the body. And our body is constantly at war. Each day our body takes in foreign substances. Some of these substances are good for us – like food. But some are not, including certain types of food. And thus, God has designed our body to fight harmful substances – whether food, virus, germs, or whatever, in order to maintain our health. Specifically, two systems are given this task – the lymphatic and the immune systems. I will say more about these systems in the next couple of weeks, but without these systems working properly, our body’s health is compromised – sometimes for a short time, and other times indefinitely. Unfortunately, most of us ignore these systems until that compromise has occurred. And, if those systems are not able to wage war properly, our body will be defeated. Without truly considering the nature of this war, the terminology used commonly reflects the fight as you have likely heard, “He is a fighter” or “She faces an uphill battle.”

But our focus is not a war of nations. Nor is it a war of systems against the foreign substances in our bodies. Our focus is on the health of the church. Parallels do exist because the war is against differing ideologies. And like a nation that is asleep, or a body that is not receiving the proper nutrition and care, the church can quickly find herself in a battle that can easily be lost if we are not on our guard. Yes, the Church will be victorious in the end, because our Lord, who instituted the Church, was victorious. But that does not mean that battles and skirmishes will not claim individual churches along the way. Even Jesus spoke about such matters in the letters to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3. For today, however, we will review Paul’s words to the church in Corinth.

Take a moment to read the first six verses of 2 Corinthians 10. Just a few weeks ago, I preached on 2 Corinthians 12, and I have preached on this particular passage before as well – specifically, a couple of years ago. However, in light of the idea of warfare, let me briefly share the background and then we will closely examine Paul’s words.

Background

The church in Corinth was a church that had many problems, just like most churches. In this letter, Paul is particularly concerned with the response of the Corinthians to a leader (or leaders) who has (have) come to move the church away from the core of the gospel. We see evidence of this throughout 1 Corinthians when Paul reminded them of the truth and simplicity of the gospel (e.g. 1 Corinthians 15) and how they should respond to one another because of that truth (e.g. 1 Corinthians 11-14).

In this letter, Paul writes about the pain the church has been caused. He says it is not from him, providing a few comments that lead us to believe this false leader tried to coerce giving (2 Corinthians 9.7) and challenged Paul’s authority by claiming to be greater than Paul (notice the term super-apostles in 2 Corinthians 11.5). Furthermore, Paul compares the deception of this person (these persons) to Satan. Indeed, Paul indicates the actions are being influenced by Satan (cf. 2 Corinthians 11.12-15). And thus, Paul says to wage war – not in human terms, but under the direction and power of the Lord. Let us quickly examine 2 Corinthians 10.

A Reminder About Paul (2 Corinthians 10.1-2)

Paul reminds them of who he really is. This false leader has distorted Paul and his authority claiming that Paul is one person when with this church (he is meek) and another when he is away (bold in letter). More importantly, Paul has been accused of walking in the flesh – that is, of continuously, and deliberately, sinning. And this is where Paul’s language turns to warfare.

 A Declaration from Paul (2 Corinthians 10.3-6)

Paul acknowledges that as a human, he does walk in the flesh, but does not walk according to it. That is, Paul does not allow the flesh to control his life. He realizes that the flesh is at war with the things of God, and therefore the flesh cannot be the source of his power. Notice the words Paul’s uses in this declaration.

        1. 3 – waging war
        2. 4 – weapons
        3. 4 – warfare
        4. 4 – power
        5. 4 – destroy
        6. 4 – strongholds

Paul not only acknowledges the battle, he shows he is actively engaged in one. These words are not used haphazardly. These words are strategic. These words are used by commanders as they prepare a plan for battle. Consider the conversations prior to D-Day for instance. Questions about how to wage the battle, what weapons would be most effective, and how to overcome the strongholds would all have been a part of the planning. The words that Paul used to put the church on guard against false leaders are some of the same terms that General Eisenhower and General Montgomery would have used in coordinating the attack on the beaches in France.

But Paul continues in the next two verses pinpointing the exact tactics of the enemy. Let us look at the words in verses 5 and 6.

        1. 5 – destroy
        2. 5 – arguments (implies fighting)
        3. 5 – raised against (like raising a foreign flag in a country)
        4. 5 – take captive (prisoners)
        5. 6 – punish

11 war terms in three sentences making up four verses in our English bibles. The people of Corinth allowed a determined leader to come in an confuse them. We might call this tactic an infiltration. The leader was speaking against the “knowledge of God” (v. 5) – to the church! And the church allowed it. Furthermore, they questioned the founder of their church (Paul) because of the lies being spread.

A Challenge from Paul (2 Corinthians 10.7-18)

The remainder of this chapter is Paul’s exhortation for the church to remember who they are, and what the prospects of that truth may mean. Remember, in verse four, Paul states that the enemy’s strongholds must be broken. It was not enough to invade enemy territory, the goal was to take control. Why? So the battle could be extended further (see verses 15-16). Paul’s goal was not only to bring the church of Corinth back to her rightful place, he wanted to create a base to deploy troops to extend the message of God to new places. That is, Corinth was not the goal, but a beachhead had to be secured there to then destroy strongholds in new places – extending God’s kingdom and planting new churches so the message of Christ would further influence the region and the world. Let me show you why Corinth was important!

From Corinth, Athens was easily reached by land. Rome was just across the sea. In fact, if you look closely, you will see that Corinth could serve as a hub, from which, Paul and others could go throughout the region – and that is just what they did, leaving Corinth for Ephesus, for instance, during Paul’s 2nd journey.

CONCLUSION (tie to system)

Having just observed the 75th anniversary of D-Day, one of those momentous days mentioned earlier, the day is likely the most freshly impressed on our minds today. It was a day when good had to overcome evil – an evil that was firmly entrenched, an evil that wanted to expand further. The remedy was a bold attack by brave individuals to bring a turning point to the war in Europe and, thus, to history.

Likewise, the human body has systems in place, the lymphatic and immune systems (which will get more focus next week), to boldly attack enemies that enter our body. Like a soldier, they must seek out and destroy the enemies to keep us healthy and allow us to continue to live as God gives us the opportunity.

But again, our focus is the church. Unfortunately, evil has invaded many churches at a level that seems unrecoverable. Perhaps, at some level, this is true of our church. But complacency and carelessness can lead us to fall prey to the same situation that happened in Corinth. We need to be reminded of the dangers. We need to be reminded that a war is being waged for all churches, including this church. Again, the battle has been won, but that does not mean that we will avoid becoming a casualty.

In the movie, Tora! Tora! Tora!, in response to the attack at Pearl Harbor, Japanese Admiral Yamamoto said, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” (No proof exists that he actually said these words.) Ladies and gentlemen, I believe too many Christians have that same fear about awakening Satan. But the reality is, Satan is not sleeping, the church is! Satan is on the attack and most churches are not actively doing all that  can be done to not only thwart the enemy, but to expand the Kingdom!

Yes, our bodies have a constant war going on inside them. But the church must acknowledge that we are a part of a much bigger war. We must band together as brothers and sisters, using the power of God to destroy the strongholds that grip the lives of people in this church, in this town, in this county, state, country, and world.

The commander we serve is greater than Eisenhower, Patton, Roosevelt, Churchill, and certainly greater than Rommell, Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito. And that…

…is why our JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

We must remember that the greatest evil to invade our lives, the greatest infection that pollutes our bodies, is sin. But our Great Commander fought the battle for us – a battle that only He could fight, a battle only He could win.

But the victory claimed by Jesus was not for Him alone. The victory was secured by Jesus alone, but the victory is for all who place their faith in Him. For those who take that step, the next step is to put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6.10-20) and prepare for battle.

PRINCIPLE:  The life of the Christian is one of war; we must remain engaged in the battle at all times.

QUESTION:  How does knowing Jesus has won the war help you prepare for battle?

OPPORTUNITY:  Prepare for battle each day by putting on the full armor of God.

NEXT STEP(S):

LEARN:   Take time to memorize the items in Ephesians 6.10-20 and determine what each item truly represents.

Weekly Nugget:  2 Corinthians does not give us any definitive clue as to the number of leader(s) who attempted to lead the Corinthians astray. 2 Corinthians 2.5 uses the singular pronoun “he” which could indicate it was one individual; however, 2 Corinthians 11.5 uses the plural “super-apostles” which would denote multiple individuals. Either way, Paul was calling the church to stand strong and defend the truth that he had taught them during his trip to Corinth.

“Life Is Wild, God Is Good” (VBS Emphasis)

Our church hosted the community Vacation Bible School (VBS) last week. This year’s theme was “Life Is Wild, God Is Good.” The “adventure” was an African Safari and the children learned about God being good regardless of how life may be treating us in the moment. Each day, a particular animal would give a few details about itself and then share about an issue that relates to the daily VBS theme. The Bible story for the week centered around the Israelites and their exodus from Egypt.

On Sunday, we hosted a service for the children to sing their songs and read the daily Scripture. Pastor Andy provided a small synopsis of each day and a short teaching on each Bible story for that day.

This week’s blog post captures the essence of how the lessons were presented to the children, their parents and guests, and others at the service on Sunday.

 ***

God IS good. That is what the kids learned this week. That is what the adults were reminded of this week. Let’s face it, in our day to day struggles, sometimes we forget how good God is. But whether we remember or not, and even whether we choose to believe it or not – the truth is God is good.

DAY 1

We had a rhino named Mack who taught us that life is not always fair. People hunt rhinos for their horns because they think they have healing powers, but their horns are made of the same material as our fingernails. Thus, many rhinos have been killed for no reason, which is unfair. But even: When life is unfair, God is good.

The memory verse for this day was Nahum 1.7: “The Lord is good a strong refuge when trouble comes.” (READ BY CHILD)

The Bible teaching for the day was about the Israelites being slaves in Egypt. The people felt forgotten and that their situation was unfair. But God did not forget this group of people and had a plan to free them so they could better follow Him.

DAY 2

The second animal was a talking bird named Hooper. He really couldn’t talk, but he was named after the sound he makes. When Hooper becomes afraid, the feathers on the top of his head stand on end. But we were reminded that: When life is scary, God is good.

The memory verse for this day was Psalm 23.4: “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.” (READ BY CHILD)

The Bible teaching for the day was about the plagues that came upon the Egyptians. Even though the Israelites lived in the same area, they were not affected by the plagues like the Egyptians were. God was showing how much He cared for them and how good He was (and IS) so they would learn to trust Him and follow Him.

DAY 3

Because of our four-day week, we had to combine lessons on one of the days. We chose to combine what would have been Day 3 and Day 5 together and do those on Friday our fourth day. However, I am going to break them apart and keep them in order for this service.

Our third animal was a wildebeest named Marge. Marge was an African buffalo. Like other animals, her herd has to move often to find water and grass to eat. Like her horns, sometimes life is up and sometimes it is down, but Marge’s story reminds us that: When life changes, God is good.

The memory verse for this day was Psalm 106.1: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! His faithful love endures forever!” (READ BY CHILD)

The Bible teaching for the day was about the Israelites leaving the place which had been their home for a few centuries. Some debate exists on the actual time frame, but it was somewhere between 200-400 years. Even though they were slaves, it was their home, but now they had to leave, and that meant change. Two facts are true about change. First, most people don’t like it. Second, change is inevitable. It was true for the Israelites, and it is true for us.

DAY 4

The fourth day for most VBS weeks focuses on the sacrificial death and then resurrection of Christ.

The animal for the fourth day was a lion named Zion. As a lion, Zion is strong and powerful, but Zion wanted us to know that there is someone stronger and more powerful than a lion. That someone is Jesus. And Jesus had to die so that we could be forgiven. When Jesus died, many people were sad, but God had a plan that no one understood. So, Zion helped us to know that: When life is sad, God is good!

The memory verse for this day was Psalm 34.18: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.” (READ BY CHILD)

The Bible teaching for the day was from John 16-21 which focuses on the promise that God would send His Spirit to come to guide the people, but for that to happen, Jesus had to leave. The story continues with Jesus praying for unity of those who believe, and then the arrest, trial, beatings, and death of Jesus. But When life is sad, God is good! The death of Jesus was not the end, because He rose from the dead. And then in John 21, we have Jesus talking to some of His disciples, and then particularly to Jesus to help Him overcome his guilt.

DAY 5

Again, we had to combine a couple of days, but the fifth day featured a giraffe named Savanna. As a giraffe, she can see a long way. When we look back on our life, we can often see that some of the hard things have helped us over time. That can help us know that the future can be good even when go through challenges as well. Thus, we can look forward to the good and as Savannah taught us: When life is good, God is good.

The memory verse for this day was Nehemiah 4.14: “Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious.” (READ BY CHILD)

The Bible teaching for the day was from Joshua 3-4. A new generation of Israelites were ready to enter the Promised Land. But before they did, they needed to pass through the water like their parents and grandparents had 40 years earlier. Furthermore, they were instructed to place stones in the river that would serve as a reminder of God’s goodness. Sometimes we are ready to cry out for God’s help when times are tough, but we need to remember to thank Him and praise Him when life is good as well.

JOURNEY

The JOURNEY letter for today is:  JOURNEY.

Like the Israelites we are on a journey. We may not think we see great miracles like they did then, but we do have the opportunity to remember God’s goodness. Just like the Israelites used a group of stones to help remember God’s goodness, we can do the same. Sometimes we cannot see it clearly, but that is because we are often looking through a small hole in time as opposed to a wide-angle lens that we can only see the results over time. So, remember, God is good. No matter what is happening in our life, God is good. And because of that we can ROAR and let His goodness be known.

“Strike the Arrows” (Hub Sunday)

Last July, we began Hub Sunday. Hub Sunday is a monthly focus to specifically remind us that our church is a hub. We are a hub intent on engaging people to be on mission within the community and around the world.

As I mentioned last month, my intent is to provide opportunities to others to share what God has laid on their hearts on Hub Sunday. I can stand and convey my thoughts, and I will from time to time, but you hear from me most every other week. So, hearing from others, gives us all a chance to hear how God is using the church as a Hub, rather than me simply trying to encourage us to be a hub.

Now, I know the response from some may be that, “Well, what are we paying you for if you are not preaching every week?” But the reality is that equipping others to serve, including to preach, should be a key part of my responsibility – particularly, according to the Bible. And God has gifted all of us in some way to serve Him, and a part of my gift, and more specifically right now, my development, is to equip and empower others.

A part of that empowerment is why we must think of ourselves, as Fairfax Baptist Church, as a hub. If we think about the messages this month, as it relates to building our muscles of faith, hope, and love, we can see why being a hub should be paramount.

We have hope – something that most people do not have.

We have faith – in Someone most choose not to believe.

We can love – with a purpose that most people cannot give.

As a true hub, we can show others the love of God, because of our faith in God, and give others a reason to have hope in God as well.

Showing love and sharing our faith is absolutely required according to Jesus’ own words in the Great Commission. It was echoed by the NT writers like Paul when writing to the churches to do this work. Why did Paul need to write then? Because of the same reason we need to review his words now. Because most people, including myself, do not follow the commands of Christ as we ought. And when I say most people, I mean all but just a very select few, at least most of the time. Why do I say this? Because I am convinced that the world is filled with four types of people. We will concentrate on the last of these today, but first let me define the first three.

People Who Do Not Know

This group of people represents most of the world. Estimates are that 7.7 billion people live in the world (more than double the number from 1972!). In 2015, the number of people who call themselves Christian was 2.3 billion, and I believe that number is VERY generous. Still, 2.3 billion is less than one-third of the total population which means approximately 70% of the world does not know Jesus. They need people to leave the hum long enough to tell them what they do not know.

Quote: “The gospel is only good news if it gets there on time.” – Carl F.H. Henry

People Who Do Not Grow

This group of people may know about Jesus, and may be a part of that 2.3 billion who call themselves Christian, but they do not grow in their faith. This group would also include those who may have been a part of a (or this) church for a while, but assume they already know enough and/or get bored with God. Thus, they may or may not be Christian, but they do not care about growing to be who God has created them to be.

Quote: “The church exists for one reason – to draw men unto Christ, to make them little Christ.” – C.S. Lewis

People Who Do Not Go

In one sense, this group includes those who might not go to meet with others who are born-again, such as at a church service like this. In fact, church researches now call those who attend church less than 15 times each year – the nominally churched. This percentage of people is growing. Sadly, they think they go to church, and will tell you they do, if asked, but the math says that 15 times per year is not much more than once per month.

But the other sense of this idea is the people who may go to church, but do not engage with what God is doing within the walls of the church, and are especially unengaged beyond the church walls. In that sense, they literally do not GO. They are tied to the hub and will not release out to be a part of the spoke. Many reasons exist, but fear is the primary reason. And, frankly, even the most dedicated Christian will claim that excuse at times.

Quote: “Untold millions are still untold, you have one business on earth – to save souls.” – John Wesley

But, we still have one more group to cover. And this group is even more true of most Christians most of the time, including myself. And, we find an example of a person in this group in 2 Kings 13 verses 14-19.

People Who Do Not Go Far Enough

In this story, the King, Joash (also Jehoash), seeks the counsel of Elisha. Why? This holy leader is dying and the King wants a blessing from him. The phrase the king cries out may seem strange, but this is the exact phrase that Elisha cried out when he saw Elijah being carried up into the whirlwind (2 Kings 2.12). Thus, Joash was linking the power of Elisha and Elijah – two of the great miracle-working prophets of the Old Testament.

So, Elisha tests him. First, Joash is instructed to take a bow and draw it. Then, with Elisha’s hands on Joash’s, Elisha says to have the window opened and to release the arrow. The king did so and Elisha said that Israel would be victorious over Syria (their enemy).

Then, Elisha instructed Joash to take the arrows and strike the ground with them. Again, the kind did so. But then we get an unexpected surprise. Elisha was angry and said that Joash should have struck them several more times to make the victory complete. What we must realize is that Elisha said to strike the ground. He never said stop.

The issue is that very few people are willing to go as far as God wants them. I will admit, I have had a few times when I have been determined to go that far, but most of the time, I do not. Some will say that I may go further (and/or farther) than others, but that is not what God asks. God asks us to go as far as He leads.

The Example of Jesus

Think about Jesus in Gethsemane. In Mark 14, Jesus leads His disciples to the garden. He tells the main group to stop before leading Peter, James, and John deeper into the garden (v. 33). But then, He tells them to wait and the text says, “And going a little farther…” (v. 35). Jesus went a little farther. The problem for most of us is that we think Jesus will ask too much of us. We may be willing to go, but we are not willing to go too far, lest we find ourselves in trouble. But notice that Jesus did not do that with his disciples, and He will not do that to us. He knew what His disciples were capable of doing, and how far they were capable of going at that moment. He will lead people farther, but prepares us along the way. It was true then; it is still true today.

The Example of Paul

At the end of 1 Corinthians 9, Paul talks about running the race to win the prize. He says that he disciplined his body so he would be ready and not be disqualified. I hear a lot of athletes who say, “I am just grateful to be here.” For Paul that was not enough. Paul wanted to win. And it was not just a race of running with his legs; it was the race of faith which he later says he finished (2 Timothy 4.7).

Both Jesus and Paul did not quit until they were told to quit. But Joash did. We are not told how many arrows he had. Maybe it was three, so he struck once for each arrow. Or maybe he struck three times because three was a ritualistic number in Old Testament times. We simply do not know that answer. But we can know that he stopped short of what was required, and thus, Joash and the nation of Israel would not receive the benefit he, or the nation, desired.

In the words, used earlier, Joash was willing to go, but he was not willing to go far enough.

Quote: “Never pity missionaries; envy them. They are where the real action is, where life and death, sin and grace heaven and hell converge.” – Robert C. Shannon

Our JOURNEY

As we consider the idea of a hub, each one of us has to ask the following question: Which category best describes me? Are you one who does not know, who has not grown, who does not go, or, like me, one who often does not go far enough?

You cannot truly engage the JOURNEY until you honestly answer that question for yourself. But if you want to be on a true JOURNEY with Jesus (which certainly implies going!), then you have to ask yourself the next question: What will I do differently to move to the next type of person? Or said another way: What can I do to move beyond these classifications and truly be who God has created me to be?

Our vision is to be “a large church in a small town” which is based upon Jesus statement that we ARE the light of the world. Are you shining or have you burned out? The more we shine individually, the brighter we are collectively, and the benefit, in Jesus’ words, is that the Father in heaven will be glorified.

Again, Jesus will not push you too far too fast, but He does expect all of us to grow and go further than we are currently going. Like with His first disciples, He took them as far as they could go in that moment, but eventually He sent them into all the world.

What’s Next? The Challenge

You might recall the question I asked so often last year. I have modified it a bit, but for our light to shine and to be the church God wants us to be does not require rocket science. It requires obedience to serve in a way that He has already gifted you to serve. Thus, in going a little further, a practical outlet can begin with the question:

What can I do, if done well, can benefit this church and the Kingdom of God?

I need to engage other people in the process. You need to let others know what God is doing in your life. We all need to simply encourage one another, and to inspire others, and then invite them to join. But unless we all go a little bit further, we will not be as effective as God wants us to be, as Wayne Cordeiro reminds us in the following quote.

“I’m convinced that the influence a church has on its community will be determined in large part not by the personality of the pastor, the size of its building or how long the ministry has worked in the community. It will be determined instead by the percentage in the ministry of each member.” – Wayne Cordeiro

We have everything we need to overcome any problem we are facing. But we must have faith in the One who has given us what we need to use what we need to accomplish what He needs.

God’s work will be done. He is waiting for people who will go a little further to make it happen in our midst. He is waiting for people to be obedient to what He has called them to do. As Gandhi said, “The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problem.” If that is true for the world, then it must be true for this church, and it certainly is at the heart of what Jesus wants from us for His Kingdom.

“God’s work done God’s way will never lack God’s supply.” – Hudson Taylor

Next Step:        LIVE – Go a little further even if that means going a little farther.

“True Strength”

Most people believe that the bigger the muscle, the stronger it is. Therefore, when we think of strong people in the Bible, we might think of Samson. He was able to do some amazing things because of his strength. However, after our trip to Israel a few years ago, I had a new appreciation for how strong Jesus’ legs must have been as a boy. Nazareth is filled with hills. As a carpenter, he likely had strong arms, but I bet his legs were very strong.

But humans are not the only creatures with muscles. And the size of a muscle is not purely indicative of strength because we can measure strength in different ways. Last week, I said that strength could be measured by how much force is used as well as by how long something can be done (endurance). Additionally, strength can be measured by brute force or in a more relative sense. For instance, elephants are likely the strongest land animal when it comes to sheer strength. Their structure and thus their muscles are large and powerful. But some of the smallest muscles in the world are the strongest proportionally. For instance, ants can carry many times their body weight. But the dung beetle is estimated to be the strongest creature in relative strength. A dung beetle can pull an object well over 1000 times their body weight. For comparison purposes, an average person would have to pull six double-decker buses full of people to match that feat. (1)

So, having large muscles may mean being strong. And having purposeful muscles may allow for incredible proportional strength. But recognizing our limitations is one of the greatest strengths a person can have. We all have limitations, whether physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. But recognizing these limitations allows us to minimize their impact on us. Why? Because it forces us to choose another path, and that often means involving others. This idea is true in much of life, but it is a part of God’s particular design for the body of Christ. Some things I do well, and therefore, I should focus on them. Other things, I do not do as well. That does not mean I ignore them, but it might mean empowering someone else who does do that particular thing well. But before we can be effective like that, we must first recognize our strengths, we must acknowledge our weaknesses, and then we must let God provide the solution. And we an allow God to turn our weaknesses into a strength for Him because of one thing – faith.

FAITH+HOPE+LOVE=DIVINE TRILOGY

The last two weeks we have looked at the other parts of the divine trilogy. We began with love two weeks ago, and then hope last week. But today, we will see that it is faith that truly provides our strength, but only if the object of our faith is worthy. So, let us look at what Paul says about the source of his strength because of his faith.

BODY

Faith Leads to Humility  (2 Corinthians 12.1-6)

It is odd to say humility is a key characteristic of this text when the fifth word of the chapter speaks of Paul’s boasting. If we look back to Chapter 11, the chapter is about boasts that are made by others, and by Paul. But notice the topics of Paul’s boasting. He boasts about such things as being imprisoned, beaten, stoned, hungry, tired, etc. But he does so in an effort not to show how great he is, but to show how great God is. In fact, He boasts about such things to show that he, Paul, is an apostle chosen by God to serve, not like the so-called super-apostles (11.5) who use their self-proclaimed “authority” to manipulate the Corinthians for their own personal gain. (This issue is the heart of the latter part of letter. See for instance, 12.11-18, but all of chapters 10-12 relate to the claims of “superior” leaders.)

How does faith lead to humility? Humility is knowing that we are not the center of the universe. All of us are guilty of this phenomenon, some more than others. For instance, every time we think of ourselves over God, we are lacking humility. Or consider the last time you looked down on someone else or talked badly about someone else. Pride is talking about others; humility it talking with those same others.

But we must be careful not to think humility is something other than what it is. C.S. Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.” Thinking less of yourself is a slap in the face of the Creator who made you. But thinking too highly of yourself is to ignore God or that God made others in His image. In fact, Lewis’ statement is particularly challenging because to maximize who were are in Christ is to become all that God intends for us to be. To accomplish that goal means that we must focus on ourselves to an extent so that we can improve our skills and abilities. However, the other side of the coin is that we cannot be all that we are meant to be unless we are with others. We are not made to live in isolation. Thus, we must often put the needs of others over our own. In fact, Paul makes that very appeal in Philippians 2.4.

So, how does the idea of humility relate to faith? It relates very well, but the determinant is the object of our faith. If someone’s focus is on me, myself, and I, then his/her faith will be in what s/he can do. But I will also be forever limited by what I cannot do or what I cannot learn to do on my own. If my focus is on others only, then I will neglect my needs which will ultimately negate me being able to care for myself, which will, in turn, prevent me from focusing on others.

Notice how Paul addresses this in the first verses on Chapter 12. He speaks of himself in the third person, which is a strategic tactic, but he clearly acknowledges that what happened to him is beyond his own understanding. He says, “God knows” but “I do not know.” This is a statement of humility. Paul is saying that he was in heaven, with God, hearing things which were not to be told. Paul was made to realize that the experience was not about Him – it was about Christ. It was about Him learning to place his faith himself and beyond what he could understand. That requires a great deal of humility, particularly in light of what he is describing.

Therefore, faith leads to humility. We must be humble to be the person God wants us to be, not who we want to be, or who others want us to be. But that same humility should help us realize who God is, and that He is so far beyond our comprehension, which should create a desire within us to become more like Him.

Faith Leads to Weakness (2 Corinthians 12.7-9)

Paul continues his thoughts without breaking stride. While I have divided these first verses into humility and weakness, Paul tied the two together because true faith will bring about both in some way. The truth is that Paul is about to share a thought which we have now coined as “No pain, no gain.” The problem is that we do not like pain, and therefore we rarely experience the kind of gains God has for us.

In the western world, we have largely been taught to avoid it. Parents and grandparents now go out of their way to make life easy for their children. This is a big mistake. I am not saying we should not help them, but people often learn best from their mistakes, and children are not allowed to make mistakes any more. Parents naturally want to protect their children, but that protection must be in place when they are outside the home as well. It is the difference between raising children or preparing future adults. I remember one of the strangest reactions I received as a father was at a parent-teacher conference when Nicole was in the 6th or 7th grade. She was taking a class in technology and had just brought a paper home with an F. Now Nicole is bright and graduated from college with high honors, but that assignment was a bust. Why? She didn’t do it right, obviously, but, partly because she didn’t care. The teacher was a woman whom I want to say was about Susan’s size and I was 80+ pounds heavier than I am now, so it was likely that my presence intimidated her – particularly when I said I wanted to talk about her giving Nicole an F. What she soon realized though was that I was thanking her for it. Nicole needed to learn the lesson. And she did. I am not saying that Nicole was a perfect student after that (she wasn’t), or that she didn’t procrastinate later (she did), but she learned a lesson, and made the most of it. Some pain, some gain.

Paul experiences a great deal of pain to receive this great opportunity. I believe Paul likely died in Lystra after he was stoned and was left for dead (Acts 14.19). It was early in 2 Corinthians that Paul said that being in the body is to be apart from the Lord (chapter 5), and he knows from experience. So, Paul had pain, and thus he had gain. But because he had gain, he also had pain. He was afflicted with some ailment for which he prayed for relief. (You can check the Weekly Nugget for my theory on what his affliction was.)

But the affliction was not punishment, it was preventative. Notice that Paul says in verse 7, “to keep me from becoming conceited…” Let’s face it, Paul had seen something grand. He knows it.

And between the Bible and Jewish history, we can know that Paul was special and was especially trained. Thus, he probably fought pride. And that goes back to humility. But a part of learning humility was to live in weakness. This affliction forced him to live with a focus on something or someone other than himself. Certainly, Paul engaged others in helping him with the ministry, but we can make a strong case that Paul needed help. He needed help because he was weak. And one purpose of that weakness was so Paul would realize the Someone he truly needed was God. It was only through the grace of God that Paul could find strength. He desired to be free from the affliction. But after God said to stop, Paul knew that he would be closer to God with the affliction than he would be without it.

Where do you seek your strength? Let me state that another way. Where does your loyalty lie? Or, for our purposes: In what do you place your faith? For some, it is politics – perhaps, loyalty to a particular party or focusing on a particular issue. Others place their faith in a team. Still others a person or their family. All of these may bring a sense of strength for a while, but none will bring the kind of strength we need to overcome the weaknesses we have. And that is why we must focus on the only pure object of faith, and the source of all strength – which is God.

True Strength Is Found in Christ (2 Corinthians 12.10)

The essence of 2 Corinthians is that Paul knows who He is. Others are making false claims about themselves and about Paul which has confused the people of Corinth. So, Paul writes this stern letter to correct their thinking. But he does so not with his own authority, but with the authority of Christ – because that is where Paul gets his authority and his strength. Paul writes in humility as we have seen. Paul writes from weakness which we have seen. But Paul writes in the full authority, and thus strength, of Jesus, for as he wrote, “when I am weak, then I am strong.”

The strength Paul has is not his own, it is the power of Christ within him. Remember, it was Paul who wrote the phrase we saw last week, Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1.27). It is that hope which gave Paul the strength to endure – not only his weaknesses, but the insults, the hardships, the persecutions, and the calamities. These words were not foreign to Paul and are not foreign to many of us. If we truly have our faith in Christ, we can endure like Paul did. We can overcome like Paul has. We can be victorious like Paul is. Why? Because in our humility and our weakness, we find true strength – a strength that is only possible through Christ.

CONCLUSION

Most of mankind has a fixation with strength. In fact, we often equate strength with health. While some truth may exist between strength and truth, without using the strength we have, our muscles are worthless. Furthermore, we often overlook relative strength (like the ant) or wrongly consider the source of strength. For instance, remember, that it was not Samson’s muscles that made him strong, it was his hair.

So, let us not get so focused on what we think should be the source of strength; let us focus on the source of real strength. And that source is Jesus, which…

…is why our JOURNEY letter for today is again:  JJESUS.

Remember, our strength comes as a result of our faith. And our faith will lead us to be humble and realize our overall weakness before God. When God sees us as humble and weak, He is able to best mold us into the individuals that He desires for us to be.

PRINCIPLE:  True strength is the result of faith in Jesus.

QUESTION:  Do you focus on who you are or who He is?

OPPORTUNITY:  God wants more for you than you realize, but the only way to achieve His purpose is to be humble and weak so you can receive His strength.

NEXT STEP(S):

LEARN:   Write down five times this week you put your desires ahead of God’s (putting faith in yourself above faith in God).

LIVE:  For each of the five items, specifically write down how God’s desires are different from yours. For one item, consider how you might respond differently in the future.

LOVE:  Express your love and thanksgiving to God for His love and forgiveness.

LEAD:  Reflect on the single item in the LIVE step. Construct a plan to lead yourself away from that temptation in the future.

(1) https://onekindplanet.org/top-10/top-10-list-of-the-worlds-strongest-animals/

Weekly Nugget

What was Paul’s thorn in the flesh? Although it cannot be proved, I believe Paul’s thorn was related to his eyesight. First, remember that Paul was blinded by a flash of light when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9.3,8), and later “something like scales fell from his eyes” (Acts 9.18). Then, he was stoned at Lystra and left for dead (Acts 14.19), which likely involved rocks hitting him in the head, which could damage his eyes. Finally, as Paul closed his letter to the Galatians, he mentioned the “large letters” written with his own hand (Galatians 6.11), which could be an indication of him writing largely so he could see (and Galatians is one of the few letters that does not include Timothy’s name at the beginning as one writing with Paul).

“The Hope of Glory”

Muscles are more than about strength (as I mentioned last week). We may think of strength, but the reality is that muscles allow us to maintain good posture as well as allowing us to move. But that movement does involve strength. But how should we best measure physical strength? Is someone strong because they can do something one time or because they can do something multiple times? The answer is both can be true. Maximum muscle strength is best measured by determining if someone can do some action one time. For instance, a weightlifter will measure their strength by how much they can bench or squat or dead lift one time. But then someone might ask, “How many reps do you do?” And that question tests endurance.

But beyond physical strength, people are said to be emotionally strong. On a day like today, (Mother’s Day) we can think of mom’s or other women in our life that show great emotional strength through certain trials in their lives or the support they show when the trials are challenging their children. I know we do not always recognize this in the moment, and sometimes we may never recognize the fullness of a mother’s strength, but over time most of us appreciate our mothers more as we age.

But another kind of strength is spiritual strength. Perhaps those words make you think of someone whose life is full of faith, hope, and love at levels you might never expect to attain. Perhaps it is someone you know or about whom you have heard or read. Or perhaps it is someone from the Bible – like a Paul or a Peter or Jacob or David. But do you realize that each of those people, and countless others are no different from you and me except they learned to exercise their spiritual muscles over time? Abraham had to leave his homeland to become great. Jacob was an underdog (and a liar), but God chose him as an underdog. Moses was a coward but became a great leader through spiritual exercise. David had several older brothers, but through his spiritual exercises became a great king over them (similar to Joseph who became a great leader). Peter, a mere fisherman. Paul, someone who loved to have others do the grunt work (see Acts 7.58-8.1), but wanted the godly destroyed. All of these people had to develop their spiritual muscles. And that takes time. Again, there is a difference in being strong for a moment or strong for the duration. And in our spiritual lives, both are important. And that is why we must develop our spiritual muscles.

FAITH+HOPE+LOVE=DIVINE TRILOGY

So, today, we are going to talk about developing the muscle of hope. As I mentioned last week, a book I recently read talks about the divine trilogy or faith, hope, and love. You are likely familiar with this trio of words because it is found in 1 Corinthians 13.13. But I had never heard them described as the “divine trilogy” and, more importantly, I had never realized the importance of these three words together (or especially when one is missing) in the NT. (1)

Today, we look at the second of these concepts. We are reviewing them in reverse order because Jesus said the greatest commandment involves love. Furthermore, it is love that will remain. But the three – faith, hope, and love are perfectly interconnected just like the true Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. For you cannot have the Son without the Father, and the Spirit is continuing the work of the Son as He was sent to do by the Father. Likewise, if we love, we must have faith in something or someone which leads to a hope of something better because of that faith. We will look at faith next week, but for today, let us turn our attention to hope.

To Have Hope Requires a Bit of Foolishness (1 Corinthians 1.18-21)

First, I must point out that the text we are reviewing today does not include the word, “hope.” But the principles of the text share the point that those who have the least can have the most – and that is a bit of what hope is.

Consider, why people have hope. They hope for peace – because peace doesn’t exist. They hope for wealth – because money alludes them. They hope for a spouse – because they are single. They hope for a new job – because they do not like they current one (or they do not have one). See we only hope for things that are currently beyond us.

But as I have said dozens of times, that kind of hope is a wish. When the Bible speaks of hope it is something that is certain, just not yet realized in full. For instance, Titus 2 calls the return of Jesus – the Blessed Hope – because it will happen, but it has not happened yet.

But to believe something to be true, even though it has not been realized, does makes us appear foolish. And yet, those who are foolish enough to have this type of HOPE are the ones that God elevates. Verse 18 says it is the power of God to believe in the folly of the cross. Verse 19, says that God will destroy the wisdom of the wise. Verse 20 says the wisdom of the world is what will be foolish.

We see this throughout our culture right now. More than anytime in recent history, the elite believe those who are religious are fools. But this is nothing new. 100 years ago, it was determined by the AAUP (American Association of University Professors) that any school which issued any kind of religious test should not be called a university. This is not a law, but it is why most every Christian institution of higher learning are called colleges. Thus, to many people my having a doctorate does not qualify me to teach in many schools because it was earned in a Christian environment which means it does not really count. The thought process is that Christians cannot be people of reason, only superstition. Thus, in the minds of many any hope we have is indeed superstitious.

As a people we live in an age of reason which began with the Enlightenment in the 18th Century. But reason cannot explain the cross or the resurrection even though they are documented by historians in the 1st Century apart from the Bible. However, this reason, or wisdom, is nothing new. Paul was writing to Corinth which was a city with a strong Greek heritage and the Greeks were notorious for their wisdom. Thus, Paul says God made the wisdom of the world (that is, human reason) foolish while making those who appear to be fools (for following an unseen God) the ones who will be made victorious in the end. And that is why we can have HOPE.

To Have Hope Is to Understand Christ (1 Corinthians 1.22-25)

Again, we often think that our culture is much worse today than it has even been. Now, in all honesty, I cannot tell you how bad the world has been at every era of history, but we can look back at many instances in history and see a world that was as corrupt or more-so than the one we live in currently. Without debate, two accounts from Genesis come to mind, and both ended with calamitous consequences. First, in the story of Noah, we have God saving one man and his family and destroying everyone and nearly everything else because “every intention of [mankind’s] heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6.5). Then just a dozen or so chapters later, we have God sending fire balls from the sky to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah due to the rampant sin in those towns (Genesis 19.24). And yet, Jesus said that on the Day of Judgment it will be better for those two towns than it will be for Capernaum (the town which was the base for His ministry, Matthew 12.23-24).

So, we must not kid ourselves that our culture is the worst ever. But it is bad. And a part of the evil we face today is ill-conceived logic that is cast as wisdom. For instance, I heard a story this week about a father who has a 14-year old female child cannot call her a girl or it will be considered “family violence.” FAMILY VIOLENCE! (2)

This is the type of wisdom that Paul says the world will chase. And it has, and it is, and it will. In his day it was the Greeks (v. 22) while the Jews wanted proof. They wanted signs. Remember it was the Jewish religious leaders asked Jesus to do signs (after all of the signs He had already done – and yet they missed the biggest one, His return from the dead; see Matthew 14.13-16.1).

But what Paul preached was that a man who was crucified was the long-awaited Messiah. The Jews would not believe and the Greeks thought it was folly. But for anyone who would believe – whether Jew or Greek (Gentile), the name Christ is equated with the power of God. Why? Because the world may believe that having belief in God is foolish and perhaps even that God is foolish, but as Paul writes, the foolishness of God is far wiser than any wisdom found in man (v. 25).

To Have Christ Is to Have Hope (1 Corinthians 1.26-31)

In this last portion, Paul ties up any loose ends that the reader might be questioning before expanding on the idea as it relates to his specific message in chapter two. Earlier, I mentioned that we often hope for things we don’t have, and Paul realizing that truth, asks the Corinthians to remember where they were before Christ, and where they are now.

Before Christ, they had a hope (as in a wish) to have a better life according to “worldly standards” (v. 26). Much of his audience was not of noble birth, but “God chose what is foolish in this world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (v. 27). In other words, whatever wisdom or strength the world thinks it has is fake. God is the source of true strength. That was going to be the title for this week’s message, but I am moving it to next week because it fits better there.

What Paul says is that God choices are not what human reason might consider. Again, we see this from the earliest parts of the Bible. Jacob was chosen over Esau. Joseph was chosen over all of his older brothers. Moses was chosen over Aaron. David was seventh in line. And, as we have seen before, Jesus was born through Nathan’s line whom we know nothing about (this is not Nathan the prophet) instead of Solomon’s line.

But being wise and strong in the world’s eyes means nothing when this life is over. If that is the fullness of somebody’s hope (that is, their desires, or wishes), then they may achieve greatness, but it will be gone. Read 1 Corinthians 1.28-29. But for those who seek Christ, we have God’s true wisdom and His true strength, and thus we do not boast in ourselves, we are to boast in what God has done for us. Read 1 Corinthians 1.30-31.

In our reading this morning we heard what Christ can really means to us. Colossians 1.27 says Christ in You, the Hope of Glory. I love how Paul writes sometimes. That idea has no verb, and yet it is completely sensible. Essentially, Paul makes is a mathematical equation.

Christ in You = Hope of Glory

Now, do not misunderstand me, and more importantly do not misinterpret God, being physically strong or mentally astute is not wrong. And we can, and should, develop our strength in all aspects of life until we are able to love the Lord our God will all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength (as we saw last week). But in our quest for strength and knowledge, we must recognize the source of both and that achieving any personal goals does not give us any more HOPE than we already have if we have Christ.

CONCLUSION

And that brings us back to the idea of our needing to develop our muscle of HOPE. For those who are following Christ, we cannot receive any more of Him than we already have. But we can allow Him to have more of us than He currently does. And when we find ourselves thinking of Him and yielding to Him more often, we will find that the troubles of the world do not concern us as much as they otherwise might because of the HOPE that we have. Again, that HOPE is not a wish, it is an unrealized certainty. What God has promised might otherwise be considered foolish by those who do not believe. And most will question – and SHOULD question – what comes out of the mouth of someone teaching God’s Word. That is why I simply try to elaborate on what He says in His Word – because it is His wisdom that bring true HOPE, not anything I might say or do (which is Paul’s exact point in the next chapter of this letter). And again, that HOPE comes from our belief in Jesus,…

…And that is why our JOURNEY letter for today is again:  JJESUS.

Our hope is truly in, and because of Jesus, who is the Christ. And it is Christ in you which is the hope of glory. So, build that HOPE muscle. This muscle is different from faith which we will review next week, but it is certainly related because we cannot have true HOPE if we do not have a legitimate FAITH. That does not mean that we may not waiver, but if Christ is truly within us, how can we not have HOPE within us. Furthermore, if we have that type of HOPE within us, then how can we not share it with others?

How can we build our muscle called hope? First, we must all realize that…

PRINCIPLE:  True HOPE is not a wish, it is a certainty of what is promised but is not yet realized.

QUESTION:  Do you live with HOPE within you, or do you merely wish your life away?

OPPORTUNITY:  Live this week knowing true HOPE is a greater gift than any wish you might want God to grant.

NEXT STEP(S):

LEARN:   Memorize Colossians 1.27.

LIVE:  When you find yourself wishing something to be true, catch yourself, and consider how true HOPE might change your thoughts.

LOVE:  Love God with all of your being knowing He is preparing to share glory with you! (Remember Colossians 1.27)

LEAD:  Share the HOPE you have with others. Paul’s testimony in Colossians 1.28-29 are directly linked with Him knowing that Christ, the hope of glory, was within him too.

 

(1) I discovered this truth in Gene Getz’s book, The Measure of a Healthy Church.

(2) https://thefederalist.com/2019/03/01/canadian-court-rules-parents-cant-stop-14-year-old-taking-trans-hormones/