This for That

Life is hard, isn’t it? There are struggles, disappointments, seemingly no end to trials and tribulations. Life is difficult. Sometimes we can be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of bad news that we hear each and every day. Becoming numb to that news is easy too.

Now is not the time to cower in a corner, hoping to be left alone. Now is the time to run with purposed abandon into the battle.

Ethnic cleansing, wars, rumors of more wars abound. Natural disasters, human-made disasters, anger, strife are all around us. The Church appears on the decline while secularism appears on the rise. God is neglected – not only in our society but also in some churches. The Bible is dusted off once a week to be carried to hear someone drone on about something that no one appears to care about anymore.

Even for the so-called committed Christians it isn’t much better. Google and the internet have made everyone an expert, everyone a scholar. It doesn’t matter if one has actually spent time being taught the deep things of God. Just enter a search term, copy and paste a response that seems right. Pop theology and armchair theologians are a dime a dozen. And it doesn’t seem that many care. Everyone’s opinion is equally valid.

So too is everyone’s relationships. No longer do we as a country value the millennia-old definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman. Now a man may marry a man, a woman may marry a woman. What’s next? Men with multiple women? Women with multiple men? Women? Is there any limit to the depravity our nation will condone? Well, the answer is “No.” It is a free-for-all now. There are nearly no limits on so-called human freedom. “Do as you please, your dignity is all that matters” we are told.

As Bible-believing Christians – commonly referred to as Bible thumpers, knuckle dragging morons, and other terms – we recoil at this turn of events. Our society has unraveled before our very eyes. It has been unraveling for some time, we just started to notice. In some countries it is illegal to call homosexuality a sin – even from the pulpit. Pastors have been jailed for that.

Our sonship in Christ will cause us to suffer at the hands of the unrighteous.

In some countries Christians are routinely targeted and murdered because they are Christians. ISIS, or ISIL (or whatever four letters we use to describe them these days), is hell-bent on cleansing Christians from the face of the earth. Of course women are slated for special treatment.

Persecution of this kind is coming. In some ways it is already here. We can rant “Make America Great Again!” We can build a wall, kick out all illegal aliens, outlaw practices we don’t agree with. It won’t matter. The only thing left to happen is the total collapse of our society, economy, and the last vestiges of morality. Don’t kid yourself, this is happening right now.

Church, the time is past where we need to be politically engaged. We need to be Savior engaged now. Not to save America or the world – they both are in God’s hand. But to bear witness, to tell THE story of our Savior.

Jesus told us things would get rough. He said that the world – the non-Christians and the system they love – would hate us because they first hated Jesus (John 15:18). So don’t be surprised by all this stuff. Don’t be discouraged. Why?

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. – Romans 8:18 NASB

Paul knew about suffering. He had been imprisoned, beaten, shipwrecked and would eventually be martyred because of his faith in Christ. All the apostles would die a martyrs death except John the beloved. John would be exiled to a rock as a punishment by Rome.

The word Paul uses in Romans 8 translated sufferings is the Greek word pathemata It carries the meaning of suffering for any reason and in any form because we are His sonsSo great suffering and small suffering is in view here. And that is important to know. Our sonship in Christ will cause us to suffer at the hands of the unrighteous. And that is OK. I will gladly exchange some present sufferings for the future glory that has been promised. In fact, when I weigh the suffering that I have endured or could possibly endure, they come up short – way short – of the glory that awaits. The glory that is the final step in my sanctification. The glory that is reveled both to me and in me.The word translated to (eis) can mean either to or in. Here it probably means both.

That fine day when I will no longer be hampered by this body of death, when I see my Savior face-to-face, my sanctification shall be completed. Oh man, I can hardly wait.

Church, the time is past where we need to be politically engaged. We need to be Savior engaged now. Not to save America or the world – they both are in God’s hand. But to bear witness, to tell THE story of our Savior. Now is not the time to cower in a corner, hoping to be left alone. Now is the time to run with purposed abandon into the battle. Yeah, that’ll mean we get hurt. It means we’ll get ridiculed. That is part and parcel of being related to Christ.

So if I have to endure another year of trouble, so be it. If I have to listen to meaningless drivel about how to be tolerant, so be it. If I lose everything because I am a Christian, so be it. If I am imprisoned because I am a Christian, so be it. If I am killed because I am a Christian, so be it.I will gladly endure all this for that promise of finally being with my Savior.

I will enthusiastically trade this life with all it’s troubles for that promise of perfection with God. This for that…not matter the cost, I (and you) come out ahead.

Comfort for the Afflicted

‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure;

Lately I have been reading quite a few messages, emails, and stories about the trials and tribulations of life. Some are quite sad. Some make me want to run out and fix something or someone. Mix in with this the silly season of politics and we have plenty of reasons to fret. We hear accusations and counter accusations from the candidates. We see bullying that I thought was left on the playground in 5th grade. And the language. Oh, the language. All this can lead to despair. Life these days can be trying.

The issues in life today can seem out of control. We feel helpless. We feel afflicted. We despair.

Are you afflicted with physical pain?

There are times – almost all the time – that my back hurts.  My knees ache, I have bone chips in my left ankle. I hurt continually somewhere. But hey, I’m 52 years old and did stupid stuff when I was younger. I should feel some pain now. But sometimes the pain gets the best of me. The pain make me want to have a pity party and say to myself (and others) “woe is me! I’m in such pain.” But you know what? I shouldn’t do that. I have good reason not to focus on my physical pain.

I have good reason not to despair. And so do you.

Are you afflicted with chronic illness?

I have diabetes. I also have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. I have high blood pressure, high bad cholesterol, low good cholesterol, an arrhythmic heartbeat, and an immune dysfunction that cause my immune system to attack my own body from time-to-time. I’m a wreck! If I was a car, I’d be recalled for being a lemon.  I have these chronic illnesses. I won’t get rid in this life of them unless God intervenes and performs a miracle. I take nine pills each day. Nine pills just so I have a chance at a slightly less abnormal life. In looking at these many chronic problems I have, I could despair. I could give up knowing that I have no realistic hope that I’ll ever be rid of them, the pills or the pain they cause me on a daily basis.

But I have good reason not to despair, not to focus on my chronic illnesses. And so do you.

Are you afflicted with depression?

Do you have clinical depression? I do. Having it is a beast. Feelings of worthlessness, overwhelming powerlessness come up over and over. I have even contemplated suicide. My past won’t leave me alone and at times my future – at least the one I thought I was going to have – eludes me. I get bummed. I start to focus on the issues that surround me and not where I should focus. Then I think I’ll never climb out of this pit. I’ll never have a day where I genuinely feel good.

But I have good reason not to despair, not to focus on my depression. And so do you.

Are you afflicted with unfulfilled dreams?

I love to preach. I love sharing God’s word and encouraging those listening to do something with what they learn. The greatest compliment i ever received was when someone told me they acted on an issue because of what I said from the pulpit. But, sadly for me, I feel my preaching days are over. I’ve taken some hits – some stinging criticisms.  The person(s) who feel this way haven’t talked to me about their perception of me, but they have talked to others.  I have become a stumbling block to that person (or persons) learning when I preach. So I would rather not preach than to cause someone to stumble. And that fact – that I am a stumbling block – saddens me. My love for preaching goes unfulfilled now.  Perhaps you have yet to find your place in the Body of Christ. Maybe you’re looking for a job – any job – and can’ seem to find one. Maybe you’ve been laid off or fired and your heart aches. Maybe, like me, you focus on your loss and you begin to despair.

But I have reason not to despair. And so do you.

Are you afflicted with financial struggle?

I have a wonderful wife and seven – soon to be eight – children living under one roof. My house can be loud, messy, and dirty. It can also be a madhouse. But it is my house – the house God has given to me.

My wife is the most wonderful woman in the world. She manages everything so well, home schools our children and gets more beautiful by the day. She is wonderful. More than wonderful. I don’t have a word for her she is so wonderful. She is my heartbeat, she is my life.   My children are great as well. They are growing so fast. My oldest is nearly 13(!) and my youngest is about to be born in May or June. They are generally loud, running, jumping, active kids. And I love each one of them more and more each day.

But we struggle financially. We are a single income family. That is a choice my wife and I made before we got married. You may have made a different choice and that is OK. Maybe you struggle too. There are some months we don’t have two nickles to rub together. Other months we are better. But whether we have plenty or not, we have each other. Sometimes though I wonder. I wonder about the future, our paltry savings. I see the economy in the US faltering and wonder when I’ll be out of a job. I worry. I start to despair. You probably do too.

But I have good reason not to despair, not to worry about our finances or future. And so do you.

The Reason?

My Good Reason is simple: God is sovereign. Period.

 But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.       Psalm 115:3 NASB

God does what God pleases to do. Since God is holy and makes no mistakes, I should take comfort in that fact. And so should you.

In Isaiah 46:10 God says

Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’;

You see God will accomplish all He plans to accomplish. I take comfort in that. And so should you.

I mess up every day. I sin. I fight against God. I struggle through His grace. Then I get frustrated that I’m not as holy as I’d like to be and should be. I wonder sometimes if I have crossed some line in the sand that causes God to have had enough of me. Then I read John 10, Jesus says

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” John 10:27-20 NASB

Jesus claims to be God here. He claims sovereignty over my life. If you are a Christian he claims sovereignty over your life too. You can’t be lost once you are found. And neither can I. I take comfort in that. And so should you.

Finally, in Romans, Paul writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. Romans 8:28-30 NASB

There is plenty in these few verses but I want you to focus in the first one. Everything in life is worked together for good by God for those that love Him and are called according to His purpose. That means you Christian. Whether you are afflicted by physical pain, emotional strain or financial stress,

God is working it out for good in your life.   And we – WE – should take comfort in that.   No, we MUST take comfort in that.

Since God is sovereign in my life and in your life, we need not fret about those things that so easily distract us and stress us. Whether those things are temporary or chronic; whether they are physical or emotional; whether they are tangible or intangible; we should – we MUST – reject the control they desire over us and rely on on God.

 

We must find comfort in the absolute sovereignty of God for it cannot be found anywhere else.

Built on Committment!

The Path Less Traveled Final

 

How do we do with knowing our commitment to God? I know we talk a good game about being committed, but are we really committed?

This  week we will consider only two verses in  Genesis 22. I chose only two verses because of the many important things that occur in these two verses. To appreciate the importance of Genesis 22 as a whole, we must understand the importance of these two small verses. So off we go into the adventure of Genesis 22:11-12.

But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me. Genesis 22:11-12 NASB

The strong adversative But begins this section. This means there is a contrast to be illustrated in the words following the But. To fully understand the importance of this we must look at what immediately preceded the But here. Remember just prior to this Abraham had journeyed with Isaac, walked up s  mountain, built an altar, and assembled the wood for the sacrifice. He had just bound Isaac and placed him on the wood. And then he took the knife he had and probably placed it to Isaac’s neck. Now think about this for a  moment.

Abraham had not only followed God to the mountain of sacrifice. Not only did Abraham demonstrate his faith by walking with Isaac up the mountain to the place of sacrifice, but so did Isaac when they came to the altar. Isaac, remember, is probably a late teen by this time. He could have resisted at any point and Abraham would have been powerless to stop him.

But Isaac followed his dad and God to the point of death.

That brings us to the But in this week’s passage. And boy it is a big But. Imagine this scene: Isaac is bound and on the altar. Abraham has his knife in hand. Abraham takes the knife, stretches his hand out to place the knife on Isaac’s throat. He is ready to slice Isaac’s throat and burn his body as a sacrifice to the Lord.

Enter God’s But.

But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me. Genesis 22:11-12 NASB

Before Abraham could do harm to Isaac, the angel of the Lord interrupted him. Whether this angel was the pre-incarnate Christ or not is not important. Because the angel most definitely had the authority of the Lord in order to speak the way he did. If this was merely an angel sent to speak to Abraham and not the Lord Himself, that angel carries the full authority of the Lord. So the words here carry the same weight. So what did this angel say?

Do not…

The angel said not to stretch out his (Abraham’s) hand against Isaac. The angel was calling off the sacrifice. He said “don’t cut the boy’s throat.” That is quite a statement for the angel to make. This angel had to come with the Lord’s authority for only the Lord could say stop. Abraham was now not to do anything to Isaac. Why?

For now I know….

The angel of the Lord said that he knew that Abraham would not withhold the son of promise from God in any way, shape, matter or form. So what about this: did the Lord learn something about Abraham here? Oh boy, this opens a can of theological worms!

Without spending the next few months wading through that subject, let me say that God did not learn anything about Abraham. It was Abraham who learned something about himself. The context of this passage indicates this. It was in v. 1 that God tested Abraham. God decided to test Abraham’s faith. It seems to me that if God was testing Abraham, then God already had the answer but Abraham had not yet discovered this about himself.

So through the test, God was testing Abraham so that Abraham would learn the extent of his faith in God.

Parents do this to their children all the time. We ask our children questions, place them in situations, so they will react. We already know how they’ll react but they have yet to discover this reaction. When they react the way we knew they would react, have we learned anything? Nope. But we may say something like what the angel said to Abraham.

Abraham learned the extent of his faith in God. Abraham learned that he trusted God to the uttermost. He learned that nothing would ever replace his commitment to God, not even family. Abraham learned that he really did belong to God and would follow Him at whatever the cost. that is a good thing to know.

 

How do we do with knowing our commitment to God? I know we talk a good game about being committed, but are we really committed? If God called me – or you – to a place of sacrifice, would we go? You know, we should know that answer already.

God has called us to be living sacrifices. He has called us to take up our cross and follow Him. He has called us to leave all we know to follow Him on the narrow way into heaven.

We are at the place of sacrifice. Have we – you and me – discovered the extent of our faith? Just like Abraham, have we come to lay all on the altar in worship of Him?

 

 

The Plot Thickens

nehemiah wall_final

Our response to the threats of the opposition says everything about our commitment to God and the work He has called us to do.

We begin chapter six as the wall is being built.  In spite of previous problems from within to the workers as well as opposition from those around Jerusalem, we now see this opposition intensify. Let’s see what Nehemiah does in response to the threats and learn what we should do when those who oppose the work of God try to lure us to places we shouldn’t be.

The Plan

Now when it was reported to Sanballat, Tobiah, to Geshem the Arab and to the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall, and that no breach remained in it, although at that time I had not set up the doors in the gates, then Sanballat and Geshem sent a message to me, saying, “Come, let us meet together at Chephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they were planning to harm me. So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” They sent messages to me four times in this manner, and I answered them in the same way. Then Sanballat sent his servant to me in the same manner a fifth time with an open letter in his hand. Nehemiah 6:1-5 NASB

We’ve seen previously that Sanballat and Tobiah have thrown verbal stones at the workers and Nehemiah when they began to make some progress in reestablishing the walls around Jerusalem. When that didn’t work Sanballat and Tobiah changed tactics. Their plot unfolds here in chapter six.

They, with their various allies, began to entice Nehemiah to a meeting in a place that is pretty far from Jerusalem. Chepherim in the plain of Ono is located west and slightly north of Jerusalem. It is approximately 30 miles or so from Jerusalem. If Nehemiah met these men there, he would have been away from Jerusalem for at least three days; and that is a very short estimate.

Nehemiah was truthful in his response but that did not deter them as they sent four more letters in the same manner. They were begging Nehemiah to come 30 or so miles away from the other workers to meet them for what Sanballat and Tobiah portrayed as a friendly meeting. Evidently Nehemiah knew their plan was more than a friendly meeting. Was it in the letter? Was it in their tone? Maybe the place? Perhaps it was something else that tipped Nehemiah off to the danger here. Maybe, just maybe, Nehemiah was tipped off by history.

Remember earlier how both Sanballat and Tobiah reacted to the rebuilding project? They were critical of the efforts to make the wall stand again. They hurled insults and threats at the workers. They massed armies and tried to intimidate Nehemiah. And then they send a letter saying “Hey, let’s get together and have a cup of coffee together!” and expected Nehemiah to meet with them.

When the enemy of God’s work suddenly become friendly we should take note and remember history.

 

The Letter and Lie

In it was written, “It is reported among the nations, and Gashmu says, that you and the Jews are planning to rebel; therefore you are rebuilding the wall. And you are to be their king, according to these reports. You have also appointed prophets to proclaim in Jerusalem concerning you, ‘A king is in Judah!’ And now it will be reported to the king according to these reports. So come now, let us take counsel together.” Nehemiah 6:6-7 NASB

We now begin to see what the enemies of God’s work believe. They say to Nehemiah that they have read that the Jews are planning to rebel against the king. This is the very king who allowed Nehemiah to rebuild the walls. These lies no doubt were told to subtly suggest that the king would be notified of the rumor. I’m sure these enemies wanted Nehemiah to think of the ways that the king would react.

Imagine for a moment you are the most powerful person on the planet. You can do whatever you want without fear of being opposed. I guess you can be opposed, but you know you have the means and attitude necessary to annihilate the opposition. How would you feel is someone whom you granted a major favor decided to rebel? Wouldn’t you feel betrayed? Wouldn’t you want to slam that person? If left to myself in that type of situation, I know I would. It is the way of the world – might makes right.

The motives of Sanballat and his allies are becoming clearer. They sent these threats through an open letter. That type of letter could be read by anyone. They were trying their best to discredit Nehemiah and the workers to the very person who granted them leave to do the work they were doing. The king even gave letters to protect the workers as they worked and supplies to get the work started. They were also trying to scare the workers. Yikes, these guys play dirty and play for keeps.

“Come on, Nehemiah” they said. “Let’s get together and talk about this.” The not so subtle threat is clear: meet with us or else. Nehemiah didn’t take the bait. Wow, that takes some serious guts to dent their request. Why do you think Nehemiah refused to meet? I can think of a few.

 

The Response

Then I sent a message to him saying, “Such things as you are saying have not been done, but you are inventing them in your own mind.” For all of them were trying to frighten us, thinking, “They will become discouraged with the work and it will not be done.” But now, O God, strengthen my hands. Nehemiah 6:8-9 NASB

Nehemiah expressly denies the lies in the letter. This is important. When those who oppose the work we do for the Kingdom of God threaten us with lies designed to discredit us, we need to stand firm in the knowledge of the truth. Nehemiah saw through their threats. He knew that his opposition wanted the work to stop. The opposition wanted desperately to keep things as they were before Nehemiah showed up. Perhaps the presence of Nehemiah, rebuilt walls, another temple and a restored people to Jerusalem reminded the opposition that there is a God who will judge. I’m sure that wasn’t too comfortable for the opposition.

 

Isn’t this true of those who oppose the work of God today? They lie about us. They try to intimidate us. The opposition – who is really Satan and not those he sues – have not changes tactics in many thousands of years.And why should they? Sometimes they achieve their goal of getting us to stop doing what is right so that we will be safe.

But that is not our call. We are not called to live a safe life. We are called to live a faithful life. We must remain faithful to God and His word in spite of the difficulties and opposition. Hard times are coming, persecution of Christians will only increase with the passage of time. How will we respond?

Our response to the threats of the opposition says everything about our commitment to God and the work He has called us to do.

Discouragement in the Ranks

nehemiah wall_final

 

Our Savior, when confronted with difficult tasks never gave up. He did not give in to fear. He never once stopped because of opposition. The Apostles never did either. Neither did the early martyrs of the church. And neither should we.

But we prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night.

Thus in Judah it was said,

“The strength of the burden bearers is failing,
Yet there is much rubbish;
And we ourselves are unable
To rebuild the wall.”

Our enemies said, “They will not know or see until we come among them, kill them and put a stop to the work.” When the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times, “They will come up against us from every place where you may turn,” then I stationed men in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, the exposed places, and I stationed the people in families with their swords, spears and bows. When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people: “Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses.” Nehemiah 4:9-14 NASB

 

So the opponents of God’s work in Jerusalem are angry. They were so mad that they conspired together to come and fight the Jews. These guys were ticked off and were willing to kill. Wow. What was their response to all this? They prayed.

But we prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night.

They prayed and they took action. These guys took positive actions after they prayed. How often, when we are threatened by God’s opponents, do we pray first and then take action? We need to work on that, don’t we.

There are at least three things that cause discouragement in the ranks. These three are Fatigue, Frustration and Fear. When these three happen together the effect they have on discouraging God’s work is amplified. Lets take a look at what happened in Nehemiah’s situation and how we can apply that to ours.

How do you feel after a really difficult task? Are you fulfilled? Excited? Tired? Yeah, tired. Me too. Now think of being in the middle of a difficult task and feeling the same way. You look around and realize that there is still much work to be done. Do you suddenly feel more tired than before? Me too. Let’s take a look at the fatigue that had set in and how it affected the workers on the wall.

Fatigue

Verse 10 reads,  “Thus in Judah it was said, ‘The strength of the burden bearers is failing…'” Simply put, the workers were tired. They were hitting it hard and needed some rest. The phrase “giving out” carries with it the idea of “staggering, tottering, and stumbling.” These guys were tired with a capital “T”. And this is a major issue.

Whenever you or someone else is physically tired and drained, discouragement at the slightest problem comes quite easily. Why were they fatigued? Take a look back at verse 6:

So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height

That is quite a bit of lifting and placing heavy stones on a wall. We’d be fatigues and drained as well. Imagine the amount of work and energy required to achieve this goal. They had every reason to be tired.

Perhaps a contribution to their discouragement was that they were just halfway done. Their job remained unfinished and they were receiving threats and persecution on every side. They were pretty much done. They wanted to quit.

Have you ever felt this way? Have you ever been so tired of doing what God has called you to do that you’re ready to just stop? I have. In the midst of trying and discouraging times, losing the focus of our labor is easy to do. When we forget that we work for God’s glory and not ours discouragement is not far behind. Take time to take a break from your work. Take time to recharge.

 

Frustration

Another contributor to discouragement is frustration. Verse ten continues by stating

…Yet there is much rubbish…

So not only do they see the half finished wall, but they also see the enormous amount of rubble lying around. There were broken rocks, dirt and other assorted debris. I can imagine it looks as messy as one of my children’s rooms!

When things are so messy we can sometimes lose sight of the job before us. What we can forget amid the frustration of the moment that, like these folks, in the process of working toward our goal the mess will as a result get tidied up. In Hebrews the author challenges us to strip off anything that would hinder us from running this race of life well. Our goal, like the goal of building the wall, must remain in the forefront. We need not be frustrated by the debris all around us. We also don’t need to keep the unnecessary impediments that we carry with us.

Whatever is entangling you – be it television, the internet or something else – and tripping you up, discard it and refocus your effort on doing the task that God has called you to do.

Fear

The enemies of the Lord’s work had struck fear in the hearts of God’s people and they felt like giving up.

Our enemies said, “They will not know or see until we come among them, kill them and put a stop to the work.” When the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times, “They will come up against us from every place where you may turn,” then I stationed men in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, the exposed places, and I stationed the people in families with their swords, spears and bows.

The workers had set their minds on what the enemies had said. And the enemies did not just say they would do harm – they marshaled an army against them. These workers were intimidated. They were fearful. And the fear they felt led to their discouragement.

Notice who grew fearful first:

When the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times, “They will come up against us from every place where you may turn,”

The Jews who lived nearest to the threat from the opposition grew fearful first. Being on the front line of any conflict has its costs. Fear is one of those costs. While it is normal to fear aggression, being disabled by that fear is not an option for us.

Are you on the front lines? Are you fearful of what the enemy has pledged to do to you? There are plenty of threats to biblical Christianity. We are routinely tarred with the charge of being ignorant, stupid, intolerant or some other insult. Stopping our work for the Lord is easy. We stop and the insults and intimidation stops. But, in the words of Buzz Lightyear, we should “Never give up. Never surrender!”

Our Savior, when confronted with difficult tasks never gave up. He did not give in to fear. He never once stopped because of opposition. The Apostles never did either. Neither did the early martyrs of the church. And neither should we.

Our task in life is to glorify God, not win a popularity contest with those who hate God. We glorify God by living out His word and completing the task placed before us. Our society is a mess. The rubble is all around us. We look around and the enemies seem to be winning. Their words try to discourage us and humiliate our actions. They threaten. They demean. The work of standing for Christ looks like it can not be accomplished. It looks too hard. We seem too tired. The enemies appear too numerous. Rebuilding seems just too hard…

Can someone hand me another rock?

 

Standing on Faith

nehemiah wall_final

 

Someone once said that the real test of a leader is how that person faces crisis and reacts to opposition. 

What was your reaction when you were leading a work that God had led you to do and you were opposed? I’m not talking about being passively opposed but actively opposed. How did you react? Could you have done better? I know I could have done better any number of times.  We’ll discover in today’s section how Nehemiah reacted to the opposition he faced and how we can apply that to our lives.

 

Hear, O our God, how we are despised! Return their reproach on their own heads and give them up for plunder in a land of captivity. Do not forgive their iniquity and let not their sin be blotted out before You, for they have demoralized the builders. So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work. Now when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repair of the walls of Jerusalem went on, and that the breaches began to be closed, they were very angry. All of them conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it. Nehemiah 4:4-8 NASB

 

The opposition to what Nehemiah was doing was coming fast and furiously. Tobiah and Sanballat were trying to discourage, insult, and intimidate the workers by any means necessary. These folks used used ridicule (vv. 1-6) as well as armed resistance (v.8) to oppose the work. Another translation of the Hebrew word rendered “wealthy” (v. 2) is “army.” I like that better considering the context. It is in this context we need to consider the intent and content of Nehemiah’s prayer.

Nehemiah’sprayer is considered an imprecatory prayer. By imprecatory it is meant that Nehemiah is asking God to intervene and do something about the situation as only He can do. Have you ever prayed this way? Nehemiah’s imprecatory prayer was more than likely based on God’s promise in Genesis 12:1-3 (emphasis added):

Now the Lord said to Abram,“Go forth from your country,and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” Genesis 12:1-3 NASB

 

Nehemiah’s first action after the opposition reared it’s ugly head was to pray.

This should be our first response to opposition to God’s work. The Church should always look to prayer as a first response rather than a last resort. But what about the content of Nehemiah’s prayer. Lets take a look at his prayer and learn from him.  Nehemiah prays that God would return their reproach on them and would not forgive their sins. Sounds pretty harsh, huh! The next phrase gives insight to what Nehemiah was referring: for they demoralized the builders. Nehemiah was requesting that their particular sin of opposing God’s work not be forgiven. Their sin was opposing God’s ordained work in Jerusalem.

Next, notice that Nehemiah doesn’t ask that God uses him for this task.

How often do we do that? How often do we pray instead, “God I know that vengeance is yours. I submit myself to you. I do request O Father, that though vengeance is Yours, that you will use your humble servant as your agent. I am more than willing!”  The earlier harsh language can be best understood if we understand that the work was divinely appointed. The opposition that Nehemiah experienced wasn’t against him and his workers. No, the opposition was against God Himself. This is why Nehemiah reacted the way He did.

My final observation here is that Nehemiah was seeking for God to take action, not for God’s people to take action.

God had already pronounced judgement against their enemies in Joshua 1. Essentially Nehemiah was praying for God to deliver His people from His enemies. There is nothing wrong with that type of prayer. We should never forget that.

Warren Wiersbe once said “God’s people sometimes have difficulty working together, but the people of the world have no problem uniting in opposition to the work of the Lord.”

In verses 7-8 we see the opposition resolved to defeat Nehemiah and his workers. The Ashdodites were added to the opposing army that now surrounded Jerusalem. Please understand this important point: the workers were surrounded on all points of the compass. This had to be intimidating to them. Sanballat and the Samaritans on the north, Ashdod on the west, Tobiah and the Ammonites on the east, and Geshem and the Arabs to the south. The workers were surrounded and lived in constant fear of being ambushed. This, naturally taken, is intimidating. But, in v. 6 we learn that despite the insults and intimidation, the workers joined together and built the wall to half its height.

Their heart was still in the work God had called them to perform.

So what are we to do? When God’s work is opposed by others in our society, our government, our friends, are we justified to pray “God I need a lightening bolt over there now. Go!”? I don’t think so. We know opposition will come. We need to be prudent in our response always relying on God’s promises. The workers had good reasons to fear for their safety and for the works God was doing. But what is interesting is Nehemiah’s response.

We have reason to fear for our safety and the future of our children. However we should not give in to these fears. God’s promises are not negated by the opposition of man.

Faith always trumps fear.

 

Standing Firm

nehemiah wall_final

The wall workers were initially excited. They began the work with great anticipation and joy. In fact, in v. 6 the workers were described as having a “heart” to work (translated “mind” by NASB and others) Everything was going well. The work was going on, the wall was going up. Progress – glorious progress – was being made. Then something happened.

Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews. He spoke in the presence of his brothers and the wealthy men of Samaria and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore it for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish in a day? Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones?” Now Tobiah the Ammonite was near him and he said, “Even what they are building—if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!” Hear, O our God, how we are despised! Return their reproach on their own heads and give them up for plunder in a land of captivity. Do not forgive their iniquity and let not their sin be blotted out before You, for they have demoralized the builders. So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work. Now when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repair of the walls of Jerusalem went on, and that the breaches began to be closed, they were very angry. All of them conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it. Nehemiah 4:1-8 NASB

 

Have you ever led a ministry? Have you ever been in a ministry that received negative attention from others? If you have ever led anyone or any ministry, I’m guessing you have received criticism. Criticism goes with leadership – and especially when that leadership concerns kingdom work. In this section of Nehemiah, we’re going to see what happens when Nehemiah and his workers receive some taunts, verbal jabs and some veiled threats. Lets take a look at this and learn some important things about leadership and handling the discouragement that comes into our lives.

We need to understand a few things about discouragement. First, it is universal. No one is immune to discouragement. Every one of us has been discouraged at one time or another. Second, it can be recurring. Getting this disease of your soul does not impart immunity to it. If anything, when one contracts this, one can expect that it will occur again. Third, it is contagious. If you are discouraged, chances are that you are infecting others.

Here in Nehemiah, there are some verbal stones that are thrown at him and the workers on the wall. These verbal stones can – and usually does – cause discouragement. In fact, the type of these stones indicates to me they were intended to cause discouragement. Lets take a look at these verbal stones and how they affected the workers.

Stones being thrown 

Where God is at work, the enemy is also at work. Rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem was certainly no exception to this. When people take kingdom priorities seriously, Satan stirs up agitators to block the work of God. These enemies used two types of external forces.

verses 1-2: “Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews.”

Rocks of Mocking

This is the third time in the book that we come across Sanballat, who was Nehemiah’s stiffest opposition. Every time we read about him he is standing against the work of God, rejecting and mocking everything that Nehemiah is trying to accomplish. This is nothing new. Satan often mocks those who do the work of God. Remember how the soldiers mocked Jesus when He was on the Cross? How about Goliath mocking David (and all Israel)? What about Satan (as personified by the snake) wryly mocking God in the garden? Satan mocks, that is what he does when he is confronted with folks serving God. Mocking is a powerful weapon too. Often the bravest person in the face of bullets flying past him in battle will fold oh-so-quickly when mocked.

Sanballat calls the workers feeble. The word used means miserable and withered.  Think of a person about to die. Think of a person who has lived long and lived hard. You know what I’m talking abut, right? Someone whose life is spent – one who is empty. That is what Sanballant called the workers. Now the evidence is that they were not feeble. They are building a rock wall with no construction equipment other than their hands, back and feet. This was his attack on their physical appearance. But it doesn’t stop there.

Rocks of Undermining

Sanballat then asks some mocking questions designed to impugn their character and intentions. They were also intended to undermine their confidence. The first question was Will they offer sacrifices? This is to undermine their confidence that what they are doing will be blessed by God and will result in the offering of sacrifices in the Temple. He moves on to ask Can they finish in a day? designed to attack their perseverance. You see, Sanballat knows if he can get them to focus on how long they have to go, they may never finish.

Then Sanballat asks Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones? Sanballat attacks their building materials. It is as if he is saying Geez guys, your building material is old and decrepit. This will never stand. Why even try?

Sanballat’s friend Tobiah joins in v. 3 and says “Even what they are building—if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!” Ouch! So now Tobiah joins and says their wall is so weak and decrepit that a little fox jumping on it would cause it to tumble. Tobiah was working hard to undermine their confidence. The workers were the punchline to these jokes. They were on the receiving end of these stones thrown at them by Sanballat and Tobiah. These stones hit there mark. And they undoubtedly hurt.

Has this ever happened to you? Have you engaged in kingdom work only to be criticized? Ridiculed? Mocked? Steel your resolve Christian, these things are to be expected when we engage in work that is ordained by God.

If the work we do meant nothing, then Satan would have no reason to attack and try to discourage us.

 

Take heart Christian if you have been attacked by those who oppose the work of God. Take heart that God has counted you trustworthy enough to undertake this type of work. Take heart because our labor for the Lord – doing what He has called us to do – is not useless, void, worthless or unrewarding. Stand firm and remember that He has prepared you for this.

Seeing beyond the Rubble

nnehemiah wall_final

 

In the mid 1970’s my parents bought a house in my hometown. We had lived on our street for a number of years and in two different houses. The house we were renting at the time was a two-story house with a bit of land. The house my dad was interested in buying was also a two-story house with a bit more land than what we currently had. Sounds good, right? Well what I have yet to tell you is that the condition of the house and land. It was…well, it was in bad shape. And by bad shape I mean really not good shape. It was really old, the grounds had been overgrown with weeds, briars, and other such things. I thought my dad had lost his mind. But the problem was that I was seeing the present condition and my dad was seeing the finished product. My dad saw beyond the rubble. So did Nehemiah. So does God.

We see the present situation while God sees the finished product.

We see spiritual things much like I saw that old house. We see the present situation while God sees the finished product. We need more than ever to see the finished product in spite of the present condition. Nehemiah did this when he saw the walls. He was able to communicate his vision of the finished product to those around him. Lets take a look at Nehemiah, the wall, and the people.

Then I said to them, “You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that we will no longer be a reproach.” I told them how the hand of my God had been favorable to me and also about the king’s words which he had spoken to me. Then they said, “Let us arise and build.” So they put their hands to the good work. But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard it, they mocked us and despised us and said, “What is this thing you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” So I answered them and said to them, “The God of heaven will give us success; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no portion, right or memorial in Jerusalem.”         – Nehemiah 2:17-20 NASB

 

Nehemiah was faced with a massive undertaking. The walls of Jerusalem had been toppled. The gates were burned. Complicating things was that Jerusalem was surrounded by folks who hated them. Nehemiah had to perform many tasks just to get to the point of beginning the rebuilding effort.

Recruiting

After replenishing his resources and assessing the need, Nehemiah now recruited workers in verse 17. In some way not mentioned in the narrative, Nehemiah gathered together a large group of prospective partners. Let’s look and see how he put his work force together:

First, he identifies with the workers: “Then I said to them, ‘You see the trouble we are in.” Nehemiah is passionately involved in the city’s welfare and feels its need as acutely as though he had been living in the desolate city all his life.

Next, he presents spiritual perspectives. They are in trouble – and its not just because Jerusalem is in ruins. He sees their spiritual disgrace. The sight of those collapsed walls for well over a century has created the impression in the pagan mind that the God of Israel has abandoned his people. He recognizes that there are always spiritual issues involved – a building project is more than just brick and mortar. As His people, we have to be aware of the spiritual opportunities and challenges as they present themselves to us.

Then, he invites immediate action. Everybody knows exactly what is required, “Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace,” and everyone realizes that the task must begin without further delay. Nehemiah is asking a lot of the people. He’s not afraid to ask them to step up to the plate. The sacrifices will be huge. They will have to take time off from work in order to rebuild the walls. Who will protect their families? Before people can respond they need to know that there is someone greater than Nehemiah behind this project.

 

Inspiring

That leads to the next task – Nehemiah inspired confidence in the people in verse 18. While rebuilding the walls is an important job, the central theme in the book is the sufficiency of God. His mind dwells on the greatness of God and he wants his workers to do the same.

Our growth is important, but the central thrust must be the sufficiency of God.

Listen to Nehemiah’s testimony: “I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me.” He didn’t reach Jerusalem because he was a skillful persuader, or because the queen was possibly a compliant helper, or because the king was a generous benefactor, but only because God was a sovereign provider. Since God had done all that, He would certainly help them to complete the task of rebuilding the walls.
By telling the people what God had already done, he was firing them up for what He was about to do. His appeal was positive as He focused on the glory and greatness of God. When you think about it, it’s amazing that the people said, “Let us start rebuilding.” Think about what they could have said. They could have been apathetic – they had been living in the rubble for a long time and could have just stayed there. They could have reminded Nehemiah that the Jews had “already tried that” before in Ezra 4 and were stopped by the authorities.
We often face those same two obstacles within the church. Either “we’re content with the way things are” or, “we tried that before and it didn’t work!”

  Someone has defined leadership as “the art of getting people to do what they ought to do because they want to do it.”   I want to do all I can to help us do the things we ought to do because we want to do them – because the gracious hand of our God is upon us.

 

Protecting

The fifth task comes almost immediately after the decision to make an impact takes place: He Handled opposition. Whenever we get serious about kingdom work, Satan will oppose us. The first two enemies have already been identified in verse 10. Now Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite are joined by Geshem the Arab. In verse 10, the opponents are “very much disturbed,” now this troublesome trio becomes highly vocal in their attacks on Nehemiah and his work crew.

Let’s look at their tactics:

First, they derided the efforts of the workers. Verse 19 says that they “mocked and ridiculed” them. Verbal onslaughts have always been part of the enemy’s demoralizing tactics. They laughed at the workers and belittled both their resources and their plans.

Next, they suggested that they were rebelling against the king – that weapon had worked once before in Ezra 4: “What is this you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” This was a cutting allegation to the timid workers.
I love how Nehemiah deals with these bad guys. He doesn’t answer their lies or engage in a conversation with them. Nor does he just ignore them. He first exalts the God who called him to do the work in verse 20: “The God of heaven will give us success.” He wasn’t concerned about their fictitious insinuations – he was concerned that God would get the glory in the project.

Whenever we get serious about kingdom work, Satan will oppose us.

 
Nehemiah wanted his people to know that God had everything in control. Even though Geshem controlled the southern approach to the city, and the other two thugs patrolled the north and east, Nehemiah was not ruffled. In his reply, he made three things clear:

· Rebuilding the wall was God’s work
· The Jews were God’s servants
· Their opponents had no part in the matter.

 

Involvement

The last part of verse 20 says it rather strongly: “We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.” Their opponents had no past right, not present prerogative to be there, and no future role in the city.
Let me just say that as believers we should expect spiritual opposition and even be thankful for it. It’s a sign that we’ve angered the enemy and encroached on some territory that He thinks is his. If there’s no conflict or opposition, then we’re probably not disturbing the enemy enough. Remember, Satan only shoots at moving targets!

Have you ever looked on a situation as hopeless? Have you ever been intimidated by the task ahead. Sometimes – perhaps oftentimes – we do this because we use only our eyes when looking at problems or issues. When we are faced with obstacles that look insurmountable, we need to see with God’s eyes as much as possible. We need to see beyond the struggle – beyond the problems – and see the goal, the finished product that God sees.

Wet Feet, Deep Faith

While our life’s journeys take us to different places with varying degrees of difficulty, we need to always remember that God is always in control.

What is the fascination I have with water? I love listening to water running. I love to listen to water flow in a stream or river. I love waterfalls. I love the sound of water. I love the feel of water. I love being near water. And don’t get me started about the beach! The salt air, the waves beating against the beach, the salt air…ah, the beach! Flowing water has a calming effect on me.

But I’ve noticed something about water in all my time studying it. It can’t support my body. If I step into it, I sink. If I try to float on it, I sink. When I try to swim, you guessed it, I sink. I sink like a rock. I’m sure there is a mathematical equation that explains why I sink. I don’t really care about the scientific explanation; all I know is that I sink when I get in water. Oh, and by the way, I don’t have gills, I have lungs. I need gills to breathe under water…lungs don’t work well when filled with water. But I do like to get my feet wet. I do like to play in water. I just don’t like to sink.

Life can sometimes seem like the place we are and the place we need to be are separated by a wide gulf of deep water. Other times it seems like we are a little boat getting tossed around on an angry sea. Sometimes I wonder if I’m gonna sink…you see I can’t swim well and if I enter deep water, there is about a 100% chance I’ll sink. It seems though that God often calls me to get into water. Deep water. Have you ever felt this way?

How do we act when God calls us to believe Him to provide a way for us when there seems to be no way? Do we act on His call or look at our circumstances? Sometimes, I’m ashamed to say, I’ve focused on the raging waters around me instead of God’s voice calling me to the opposite shore. For all my bluster, I can be such a coward sometimes. But God works with this coward and glorifies Himself in and through my weakness.

Do you remember when God called Israel out of Egypt? He led them through the desert. He fed them, He protected them, He went before them and was an ever present God.As they were fleeing, the Red Sea was between them and their destination. God said you belong “over there”. Behind Israel was Pharaoh with his army of chariots pursuing them. In front of them, blocking their path forward was the Red Sea. Oh boy! There’s nowhere to go, nothing to do but die.

God decided that He would call Moses to do something that seemed odd.

“Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward. As for you, lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, and the sons of Israel shall go through the midst of the sea on dry land.” Exodus 14:15-16 NASB

So God says to Moses, stretch out your staff over the deep water of the Red Sea and I’ll take of the rest. All of Israel will pass through on dry land. Now the text isn’t clear where Moses is standing but I think Moses was in the water a little bit because he needed to stretch out his staff “over the sea” not toward the sea. So, if I’m right, Moses got his feet wet while God parted the water.

Pharaoh was pursuing Israel and was pretty close to overtaking them. But God took care of that too.

“The angel of God, who had been going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them. So it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel; and there was the cloud along with the darkness, yet it gave light at night. Thus the one did not come near the other all night.” Exodus 14:19-20

Right after this, Moses did as he was commanded, the waters parted, Israel passed through and Pharaoh pursued. But the waters didn’t stay open for the Egyptians. God closed them, drowned them and blessed Israel. God continued to lead Israel to the Promised Land. He continued to lead them where He had called them.

This journey, as you know, took a lot longer than previously expected. But after 40 years wandering in the desert, Israel came back to the Promised Land. Moses has died, Israel sent spies into the land to take a look, found Jericho, met Rahab and returned. The nation was at the Jordan River. At this time the Jordan was overflowing its banks. So here we go again. A deep, wide body of water separated Israel from the place where God called them. If I had been there the coward in me would be looking at the water, not my destination. I would hope that my faith would defeat the coward in me.

So what happened?

“Now the LORD said to Joshua, ‘This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you. You shall, moreover, command the priests who are carrying the Ark of the Covenant, saying, ‘When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’” Joshua 3:7-8 NASB

So God tells Joshua He will demonstrate He is with Joshua the same as He was with Moses. He tells the priests to get their feet wet while carrying the Ark of the Covenant. Do you notice something? God said “get in the stinkin’ water!” Well, maybe I’m paraphrasing and interpreting things a bit. But I imagine God was pretty emphatic with His command to proceed, placing their faith in Him and Him alone.

“So when the people set out from their tents to cross the Jordan with the priests carrying the ark of the covenant before the people, and when those who carried the ark came into the Jordan, and the feet of the priests carrying the ark were dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks all the days of harvest), the waters which were flowing down from above stood and rose up in one heap, a great distance away at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan; and those which were flowing down toward the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. So the people crossed opposite Jericho. And the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel crossed on dry ground, until all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan.” Joshua 3:14-17 NASB

So the priests dip their feet into the water. They begin to walk in, believing God would take care of things. God parted the waters, just like He did at the Red Sea. Israel went through on dry land. The overflowing river dried up. God did it. But the Priests and Israel placed their faith—and exercised their faith—in God. They got their feet wet.

But what about us? We can see how God acted towards Israel, but what about us? We are not Israel, we are the church. What about us?

“Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away. After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone. But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ And He said, ‘Come!’ And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind stopped. And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, ‘You are certainly God’s Son!’” Matthew 14:22-32 NASB

Do you see what happened here? The disciples are in the boat, a sea is buffeting them, and they see a ghost on the water. Jesus tells them not to worry it is He that they see. Peter calls out. He says “If you’re really Jesus, tell me to come to you.” Jesus says “Come on out, Peter.” So what does Peter do? He got out of the boat, and walked toward Jesus.

Don’t miss this: the wind is “contrary” and the boat is being “battered” by the sea. It wasn’t a glassy smooth surface. It wasn’t a nice, calm boat trip. Imagine a stormy sea. And yet Peter got out of the boat. He walked toward Jesus. When Peter began to focus on the effects of the storm, he began to sink. Immediately Peter called out to the only One who could save him. Jesus saved him and asked Peter what he doubted. They got into the boat, the wind and sea calmed down.

Peter got his feet wet. He acted on Jesus words, just as Israel acted on God’s words at the Red Sea and the Jordan River. In these three incidents both Israel and Peter were faced with some difficult if not impossible circumstances. God had called them to these circumstances. God had called them to these places. And God determined to glorify Himself through His people Israel and through Peter. You know what? God wants to glorify Himself through you.

We can have seemingly impossible circumstances confront us. Sometimes when God calls us to a new place of ministry, there is a wide gulf of water between us and our destination. When we stand on the shore facing our “promised land”, what are we to do? When we are in our boat getting blown about by the vicissitudes of life, and our boat is getting swamped by the waves of difficulty and the unknown, we must act on our belief in God. We see our Savior and He calls us to get out of our boat—our security “blanket”. What will we do?

Faith isn’t some theoretical thing. It isn’t something that is impractical. Faith is the verb of our belief. What we believe will show itself in the action of our faith. We must act on our beliefs or those beliefs really are not our beliefs.

Do we believe that God calls us to a destination to serve Him? Do we believe God will provide for us when circumstances oppose us? Are we pursued by the enemy of faith while facing deep waters ahead? Do we sometimes get afraid when we are faced with stormy seas?

While our life’s journeys take us to different places with varying degrees of difficulty, we need to always remember that God is always in control. When God calls us to a new place, we need to go without worrying about the circumstances. Yes the circumstances might cause fear to creep in. And that is OK. What we need to do when that happens is to have our faith defeat our fears, not the other way around. He has called us to this place for a reason. He will glorify Himself in our lives. We must be willing to act on our beliefs—to willingly choose to follow His call into the water no matter how scared of water we may be.

After all, waters never part until our feet get wet.

Dancing in the Desert

Finding joy in the desert—in the trials of life—is possible if I focus on the purpose of my trip through the desert of life.

When I was in the Marine Corps we used to have maneuvers in the Mojave Desert once a year or so. I don’t recall how often they were because getting chosen to “play” the war games was a hit-or-miss proposition. Once one could go, another time one could not go. It was uneven selection to say the least. We (the peons) gave these “games” a derisive title to demonstrate our displeasure. We chose that sarcastic term to note our displeasure with being in the desert. If selected for these war games, one could count on living with snakes, scorpions, and other creepy-crawlers as well as 100+ temperatures during the day and really chilly temps at night. The food—well, let’s just say the enemy didn’t always carry a rifle! One year I got to “volunteer” to participate. It was…well I was there.

During the games I had occasion to speak with some real whiners. I mean, these guys whined about everything. At one point I got so annoyed with the whining about everything that I asked them “Why did you enlist in the Marine Corps if you didn’t want to do stuff like this?” Their answer? “We didn’t have anything else to do so we joined. But we didn’t think they (the Marines) were really serious about the war stuff.” And yes, they were serious!

I looked at these guys and shared a bit of wisdom I had gleaned through my intense (but short) Marine Corps career: “Since you’re here and you’re not going anywhere else for the near future, why not make the best of your experience?” That fell on deaf ears since they kept whining. But the neat thing (for me) was that I out ranked them. So I got to tell them to go do the menial tasks that no one else wanted to do. That is what happens to whiners in the desert (or anywhere else). If one whines, one will be sent away again to an even more unpleasant place. This made their journey in the desert more distasteful. Instead of finding something positive in their desert experience—and there were some fun things that happened—they chose to look only at the negative. They chose to learn nothing, enjoy nothing, and really to take steps backwards in their respective careers. Isn’t that sad?

I’ve come to the conclusion that Christians sometimes do the same thing as these two Marines. Sometimes we whine in the desert of testing when we should be dancing in that desert. I know I have done this. Hopefully I’m learning to enjoy the time wandering, knowing that God is still leading me. But it can be tough.

When Israel was led out of Egypt, they wandered for forty years in the desert. Looking at a map one will discover that the Promised Land was not really that far from Egypt. So what happened? They decided not to trust God to give them the land that He had promised them. They were afraid of the inhabitants. So God said “Fine, out to the desert you go!” And they wandered. And wandered. And wandered. But they didn’t just wander. God fed them. He provided for them. Oh yeah, they whined about this too.

Now I know that wandering in the desert isn’t fun or really all that pleasant. But whining about it does not serve any purpose. God had taken them to the desert for a purpose. And He was going to achieve His purpose. So whining and complaining about it wasn’t going to shorten the journey, only lengthen it. So why did they complain and whine? More importantly, when God has taken me through these desert experiences, why have I complained and whined? Ouch! It always stings when things get personal!

The battle is with selfishness

I’ve come to the conclusion that one of my biggest battles—if not my biggest battles—is with selfishness. I want my way when I want it. God, being the heavenly parent that He is, decides when (and if) I should have something or go somewhere. I, on the other hand, am His whiny little brat wanting my way. Will complaining about the desert get me out of there quickly? Or, will learning my lesson and moving forward get me out of there quickly? Well, I think there is third, better option. And I’ve just learned this recently. Perhaps I’ve learned this lesson through just the amount of time I’ve spent in the desert of life. Maybe it just took longer to get through my thick skull. I don’t know why this lesson took so long to sink in, but it has finally sunk in. And it is a good one. At least I think it is a good. What’s the lesson you ask? What have I learned? I’ve learned not to whine in the desert. But that isn’t all there is.

Don’t just endure – EMBRACE! – the desert

I’ve also learned not to simply endure the desert. Sometimes when we don’t want to whine, we hunker down and simply endure what is happening. Simply enduring is a good, but not the best, attitude I should have. So what kind of attitude should I have now?

How about enjoying the desert experience? I mean, hey, I’m in the desert. It is hot, uncomfortable, and unpleasant. It is difficult to walk in sand. Why should I find joy in this?

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,  knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4 NASB

It seems so simple. The purpose of the desert is to perfect me. Why has this simple truth eluded me until now? It is because I’m a selfish person. I want my way when I want it and how I want it to happen. God has been burning that out of me all these years. Now it isn’t all gone and I’m not sure if it will ever be all gone in this life. But I’m less selfish now than I used to be. But I’m more selfish than I should be. But let’s return to finding joy in the middle of the desert.

The desert where I have existed really revolves around where I live and how I minister. I used to think that I needed to live in a “Red State” to be really happy. (a red state is considered more conservative politically) I live in a very “Blue State” (quite liberal politically and socially) But I’ve learned that living in a “Blue State” can be quite fulfilling. There are innumerable opportunities to share Christ and His gospel rather than the gospel of political conservatism. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m still a very conservative person politically, socially, economically, and theologically. But only one of those subjects is really important to me. Only one affects me for eternity. The rest are just temporary.

I also used to think that being a Pastor was the best thing for me. In fact, I felt it was the ONLY thing for me. Boy, was I wrong! Now I still think I fit as a Pastor. I still believe my gifts and abilities fit well with being a Pastor. But I don’t need the title. I’ve learned that the title is nice but not absolutely necessary for me to exercise my gifts. I’ve seen the destructive power of lusting and demanding a title in men I’ve known for years. It isn’t pretty. And I don’t want to be like that.

So finding joy in the desert—in the trials of life—is possible if I focus on the purpose of my trip through the desert of life. There are snakes, scorpions, and other creepy-crawlers in the desert. It is hot, difficult to get traction sometimes, lonely, and desolate. And an absolute joy to visit so that I may be more like my Savior.

Learning to enjoy the desert experience is difficult but oh so rewarding. It takes time to learn tis truth but once learned it is never forgotten.

I look forward to the desert now. I look forward to the difficulties. I look forward to the heat. Yeah, I enjoy the desert now. Not for the experience, but for the result. Instead of whining and complaining about the desert experiences of life, I’ve learned to dance in the desert.

I enjoy the desert now. Not for the experience, but for the result.