Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Assertive Submission: How to Balance Meekness and Boldness

Being a leader there are many philosophical concerns that I wrestle with: Where does my emphasis belong? How do I balance all my responsibilities? How do I balance evangelism and discipleship?

But recently, here is the question on my mind: What is the appropriate balance between speaking out and staying silent? What is the balance between submitting to leaders and taking a stand for truth?

There are two approaches that I find to be the most common, one is the career climber, second is the outspoken partisan. In my particular corner of leadership, I find the career climber much more common than the outspoken partisan, but they do both exist. 

Often I ask myself, which direction ought I to tend toward? I've found myself about 7 years back, more so along the lines of the outspoken partisan. 

I share my perspectives openly. I advocate for the viewpoints I hold. I don't hide much of what I believe, because I believe strongly in it. And at times I've taken it too far. Many know of the outspoken partisan, and it's a precarious position, it can lead toward outright rebelliousness, or self-expulsion.

There is also the climber. The climber is not as much of a believer. They say the right things to move up. They develop relationships for the purpose of using others toward gain. Their primary goal is, how can I fulfill my ambition to power? How can I prove my importance? They will take positions that are popular, refuse to make waves even when they ought to, and generally do whatever it takes to gain more authority. They are the ultimate every-person.

This same sort of dichotomy appears in politics, in both parties, you have politicians who are true believers, they really believe in the principles and policies of the platform, think of someone like Ted Cruz, or Bernie Sanders.  Similarly, you have politicians who are climbers, they are not as much believers as they are climbers, they will repeat whatever the public desires at the moment, think of someone like Nancy Pelosi or Mitt Romney. 

Which are you? A believer? Or a climber? There are also extremes, in both directions that I see. You've got the outright rebel, on the one end of the spectrum, we've all met this person, they are so opinionated, and so rebellious, they don't last long in any organization, they can't even survive in most small groups, their opinions and rebelliousness drive them out. They stand alone, in refusing everything because eventually they find someone or something that disagrees with them, so they rebel and flee out of whatever it was they were a part of. 

There is also the coward. The coward is the extreme climber, the do anything, and say anything, to get what they want. They won't speak up on any issue. They will agree with whatever their superiors say or do, no matter how wrong it is. They will even attack and attempt to destroy those who speak truth to power. They are zealots, not of the organization or the belief system, they are zealots to get what they want, and anything goes. They will destroy people, climb over people, step on people, and ruin people's careers to get what they want. Often times, this blows up in their faces as they fumble about trying for power, that they end up canned, or sent out somewhere remote to be left. They often end up just as alone as the rebel. 

So, thinking to myself, and my own beliefs, and my own adherence to leadership, and the principles of the organization, what does the perfect middle point look like?

What does a biblical Christian do to hit that perfect spot, between rebellion and cowardice? I don't want to be a climber, I don't want to be a partisan, what is the right balance here?

After much consideration, I believe the correct position of the mind is assertive submission. 

Contradiction? I don't think so.

The scriptures are littered with extremes that balance each other perfectly in the word: Grace and truth, Love and Justice, Assurance and Watchfulness, Mercy and Judgment, and so on and on it goes.

So, therefore, I must be assertive to speak up for the truth, but also submissive to my leaders and the organizational structure. I must be bold as a lion, and submissive as a soldier to his officer. This is the sacred balance to maintain. 

Consider the example of Christ in the garden. In Luke 22:42 Jesus said, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”

Jesus submitted to the order of authority, even when it meant something that seemed completely unjust, that he would die for the sins of the world, sins he did not himself commit. But Jesus submitted to the Father's will, and so he won the victory. 

The chain of authority is very important to God, apparently. We see again in Hebrews 13:17  "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you."

Not only that, we see we are to be in submission to human authorities as well, not just Christian authorities. It says in,  1 Peter 2:13-14: "Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good."

This is radical submission, much more radical than we would expect. But there it is.  

On the other end, we see radical outspokenness. We see John and Peter before the Sanhedrin, Acts 4:18-20: "Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”"

These were their spiritual leaders. And they were respectful when spoke to them, but they politely refused to stop speaking about Jesus. 

We see a dispute between two leaders in Galatians, and Paul speaks up boldly, to the man Jesus called the rock on which he would build his church, and the man he asked to "feed my sheep."  

From Galatians 2:11-14, "But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Paul was outspoken. He challenged a leader, in public. We are called to do the same, boldly, also with submission. 

That is the sacred balance, assertiveness and submission. 

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Hebrew Word Study: Mitspah, God our Watchtower

Do you know how many times the nation of Israel was attacked by Palestinian forces in 2021?

In the month of April 2021 alone, the following attacks occurred: "On 15 April, one rocket was fired from the Gaza Strip.[1]

On 23 April, 36 rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip, of which six were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome defense system. Although there were no injuries, property was damaged in several communities in Israel. The Israeli military responded with military strikes.[2]

On 24 April, two rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip, of which one was intercepted by the Iron Dome, and the other fell in an open area near the border fence.[1]

On 25 April, five rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip, of which two was intercepted by the Iron Dome and the others fell either in uninhabited areas or inside the Gaza Strip.[1]"

Israel is under constant threat from surrounding nations in the middle east, but they have a defense system called the iron dome. The iron dome system protects the entire nation of Israel from rocket and artillery shell attacks by launching missiles called Tamir interceptor missiles that are able to lock onto fast moving targets and destroy them in mid-air. The system functions through a radar system able to detect targets within 70 kilometers of each iron dome battery.

Just as Israel is protected by this iron dome defense system, so we as Christians find ourselves protected by our own defense system, God almighty, who the Bible describes as our “watchtower” or our “strong tower.”

This brings us to our Hebrew word for today which is mitspah (mits-paw').

Mitspah means “watchtower” in Hebrew. It comes from the book of Genesis chapter 31 verse 49 which says, “It was also called Mizpah, because he said, “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.”

So Mitspah is meant to indicate the concept that God will watch over us and protect us if we are indeed His people. Of course, if we are not his people, he does not promise to watch over us. But from the Hebrew word we see that this concept is really meant to be seen in the context of relationship.

Really, what you see here is even more deeply, a covenant agreement. The Israeli iron dome system was set up with certain costs and agreements and contracts and it was installed and is functional and active right now. In the arrangement the system protects Israel from danger.

We as Christians are in covenant relationship with God. It’s a sort of written contract, in which we’ve signed on the dotted line saying, yes I’m a follower of Jesus. I accept and receive Christ as my savior. And I agree to live by the commandments indicated in the New Testament for believers in that covenant.

We are part of it. And we’ve agreed to.

It’s somewhat like a marriage. You marry your wife, or your husband, and you’re making a binding agreement to love them, to share your finances with them, to not cheat on them, to discuss decisions you make with them, and so on and so forth. And marriages can fall apart, even leading to a contract cancellation, in which divorce takes place.

So when we enter the grace of Jesus Christ, God agrees to wipe away our past sins, and he becomes our Lord, and we become his servants. And God agrees to be our protectors, in which he watches over us, he becomes our Mitspah, our watchtower.

A watchtower in ancient times was a powerful defensive structure that was usually constructed from stone or blocks, and a soldier or several soldiers would be stationed inside of it, at the top, to watch for enemy troops or dangers. They could then fire their weapons from the tower, to protect their lands from the enemy.

Similarly, the Creator is our protector as Christians. He is our watch tower, watching our lives from above, protecting us, and watching our fields grow into beautiful harvests for Him.

How many times in your life have things worked out just as they should, even when it seemed unlikely that it could work out? How many times have you been in the right place at the right time to get just what you needed? That is God orchestrating our lives, by being a watch tower over our lives.

But it’s not just a weapons platform, or an iron dome protecting us from death or destruction, God instead is in covenanted relationship with us, covenant, agreement, written agreement with us, and it’s built on deep, love-rich relationship, like marriage, or family. But it’s also a contract, with stipulations and mutual agreements. God agrees to do this, we as his people agree to do this. That’s how it works. And in the context of Genesis 31 we see this playing out.

Here we see Jacob and Laban. Jacob works for Laban. Jacob married Leah his daughter. But the problem is Laban keeps cheating Jacob, over and over. So one day God says to Jacob, leave this place, and I’ll protect you.

But Jacob leaves without telling Laban he’s going. And his wife steals some of his stuff as they leave. So Laban finds out and he’s mad, and he chases after Jacob. But God spoke to Laban in a dream, telling him to deal fairly with Jacob.

So Laban and Jacob argued back and forth. But eventually they worked it out. And they decided to make an agreement between each other. They built a pillar of stones, as a written agreement to say that they were at peace, and that though they would be separate from each other, in different directions, they were swearing before God that they would stay true to each other in the agreement.

Much the same occurs when two businesses work together, they sign a contract, and agree to help each other. When I served in an internship with the salvation army St Louis treatment center, we had entered into a written agreement with local radio station K-love, to do a Christian rock concert together. It was great, it went really well. And the written agreement kept us both honest in our dealings with each other.

We Mitspah each other, we watched over each other. In a similar way, God watches over us, as a lover, guarding our hearts, to help keep our hearts true to Him. And God agrees to love us and guide us and be with us in the struggles of life.

Often we will see friends who have a heart necklace and one friend each takes half the heart on separate necklaces. And it’s a reminder of their friendship toward each other.

We are in relationship with God, and our faith in Jesus Christ makes us part of the written covenant, that if we follow Jesus by faith, God agrees to wash away our sins and give us eternal life with Him in paradise.

Then again, if we renounce Christ, and or are unfaithful to our commitments, and get drunk or commit sins and commit adultery, we violate the covenant, and it can also be cancelled by God, if we do not repent and return to Him.

So, in conclusion today, God is our Mitspah, our watch tower. He watches over us, if we obey Him. He agrees to lead us, guide us, love us, and grow us through our lives, all the way to eternal life with Christ in paradise, forever. Amen.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

After Easter Encouragement: The Emmaus Road


We’ve all recently celebrated the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is in fact the savior who is alive, and present in our lives. As we reflected on the empty tomb, let us now reflect on some very mysterious moments that occurred afterward.

The disciples went into hiding during the crucifixion. All but John, who stayed with Jesus during the entire crucifixion. But now amid rumors that Christ was alive and had even appeared to Peter, two of the disciples were out walking on the Emmaus road, seven miles from Jerusalem.

They’re talking about everything that happened in amazement. And a 3rd person, a mysterious figure appeared and joined them on the road.

For the two disciples, Cleopas and his friend, this is a dark road. This is a rocky, miserable road, the word says their faces were downcast, they were sorrowful.

And they were reflecting on everything that had happened. It had been the craziest three years of their lives. They had walked day and night with Jesus, God in human form. What would it have been like? To even spend a few minutes with Jesus would be a dream beyond anything I could imagine. But they spent three years with him.

Have you ever had a time in your life where you felt like you were swept up into something bigger than yourself, something special? That is an incredible feeling, to know you were and are part of something special, important, bigger than yourself. And yet, at the same time, for the disciples it had been a hard time, it had been a time of constant controversy, as some accepted and some rejected the teachings of Jesus. 

I think many of us can relate to this situation on the Emmaus road. We’ve been through the COVID-19 pandemic, and so much more in the past few years. And we were not passive participants, no, we were engaged in the battle, day and night, serving as part of God’s army, the Salvation Army.

In the wake of all that, we’ve been left with wounds and battle scars, we’ve been left with unresolved traumatic stress, and I bet some of you can relate to how I’ve felt at times; just a bit downcast, a bit melancholy, a bit reflective, sitting back, wondering at everything that happened.

Can you relate to this mindset? Do you now find yourself in ponderous self reflection? After everything, we often drift off in quiet moments and think about what it all meant.

So one might say, we are all together, walking on this road, the Emmaus road, through the cool air, the trees and branches, the rocks, and shoals, wondering to ourselves, what just happened? 

Very often we are left wondering as Christians. When a question pops into our heads, Jesus doesn’t suddenly pop up and answer the question does he? No, we’re often left wondering. What was all this about? What did it mean? Why did it happen like this?

The disciples are walking along, and a third person joins them. They don’t know who it is. But this person speaks to them about Jesus. And points to all these different scriptures from the Torah, from the prophets, which reminds the disciples of what it’s really all about.

Sometimes we forget. Sometimes we don’t understand. Sometimes we get a bit fuzzy, and we lose touch with what really matters.

This man tells the two disciples: “Remember, this is what was supposed to happen.” God planned it out this way. It had to happen this way. If Jesus hadn’t died, there would be no forgiveness for sin. And death wasn’t the end. 

“This isn’t the end guys,” is what this mysterious figure seems to say, as they walked that dry craggy road.

It says their hearts were burning within them. Their hearts began to blaze with the truth. This 3rd figure is igniting something inside them. From the cold ashes of a once blazing fire, fresh logs fall, leaves and dust cover, and sparks turn to open flame.

No matter how close we are to God, no matter how effective our prayer life, how deep our study of scripture, we often forget, and drift, and lose heart. We end up a little depressed, a little cynical, walking that long road, thinking to ourselves: Well, I guess it’s just too late. Well, it didn’t go my way. Well, the Lord is missing, where is He?

Jesus might say to us today: “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”

So they listen to him, on the road, and at the end of the road, they invite this stranger to eat dinner with them. The man breaks bread for them and they eat, their eyes are opened and they realize, it’s Jesus.

He is with us in the battles we face. As we patiently follow the savior, he inevitably comes to us on the road and encourages us, and gives us new hope. Our sorrow is turned to joy and excitement. Our timidity turns to boldness.

This is the mystery of divine personality, the mystery of how God communicates with us. The mystery of who He is. He is the God who turns sorrow to joy.

In this life we will face trouble, battles, dark times, difficulties, but we must continue to believe that God will come to us, in the most unexpected ways, to help us, heal us, encourage us, and bring us through. He has not abandoned us. He is still with us. Even when it seems like everything is out of control, God is in control.

After this encounter on the Emmaus road, the two disciples gathered with the others and told them about meeting Jesus, and suddenly Jesus appeared in their midst, and he encouraged them to believe that He was really alive.

Then it says at the conclusion of Luke’s gospel: “When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.” -Luke 24:51-53

Reflect right now on the fact that you can trust God with your life. You can trust God to come to you. You can trust God to be with you always on the rough road. He has not left you alone. And you will find new hope, new encouragement, and strength to carry on through the ups and downs of life.

He will turn your confusion and even your sorrow, into rejoicing. Great joy. The fire within that burns with passion for the risen Christ may have dwindled down, but seek the Lord, and He will stoke your fire with fresh kindling and your heart will burn brightly within once again. 

Pray now. Talk to God right now. Reaffirm complete trust in His will and plan, even when it’s hard. Invite him to heal you right now. Talk to God, and let Him speak to you.  

Sunday, April 17, 2022

The Parable of the Prodigal Son: The Resurrected Son

“Well over three hundred verses are concerned with the subject of Jesus' resurrection in the New Testament. We are told that this event is a sign for unbelievers (Matthew 12:38-40); cf. John 20:24-29) as well as the answer for the believer's doubt (Luke 24:38-43). It serves as the guarantee that Jesus' teachings are true (Acts 2:22-24; 1 Corinthians 15:12-20) and is the center of the gospel itself (Romans 4:24-25, 10:9; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Further, the resurrection is the impetus for evangelism (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 10:39-43), the key indication of the believer's daily power to live the Christian life (Rom. 6:4-14, 8:9-11; Phil. 3:10) and the reason for the total commitment of our lives (Rom. 7:4; 1 Cor. 15:57-58). The resurrection even addresses the fear of death (John 11:25; 1 Cor. 15:54-58; cf. Hebrews 2:14-15) and is related to the second coming of Jesus (Acts 1:11; Revelation 1:7). Lastly, this event is a model of the Christian's resurrection from the dead (Acts 4:2; 1 Cor. 6:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) and provides a foretaste of heaven for the believer (Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Peter 1:3-5).” -Gary R. Habermas & J.P. Moreland, Immortality - The Other Side of Death, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992, p. 245.

Happy Resurrection Sunday brothers and sisters, He Is Risen! Jesus Christ is alive right now. He is present in this room. He is alive in our hearts. He is alive in heaven right now. He is currently present at hundreds of thousands of church services around the world right now. He is our Living Lord and King.

The Resurrection is central to everything we believe as followers of the Messiah. It is the truth about God, ourselves, and the world around us. Christ is resurrected, and in a similar way, each of us has been resurrected from sin and the flesh, and are now burning brightly with an inner light of the Spirit that is leading us ever closer each day toward the kingdom of God eternal.

Today we are resurrection people. And so I think it’s fitting that today we study a parable about death and new life, the parable of the prodigal son.

This is probably the most famous and most well known of all the parables. I’ve listened to many sermons about it. I’ve viewed paintings depicting the moments within it. I even once saw a play called “A Long Way Off” and the entire story was of the parable of the prodigal son.

One might call it the resurrected son. Since today is a day in which we celebrate the most important of Christian holidays, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, we ought to consider two truths today: 1, the resurrection of the prodigal son. And 2, the resurrection of Christ.

We were once all fleeing, prodigal, but, Christ resurrected, and this made a way for our own resurrection. That is wonderful beyond words.

One more thing, last week we talked about the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin, and it’s important to note that in scripture, in Luke’s gospel, we see the prodigal son parable immediately after these two. They are definitely all linked together with a common thread of truth. But it’s also interesting to note that the prodigal son parable is only listed in Luke, it doesn’t appear in any of the other gospels.

The Parable begins like this, from Luke 15:11-13: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.”

He’s headed out. He’s taking his inheritance early, and off he goes. It’s a fairly common theme in our society. One gains great wealth, and that person squanders it with bad decisions. Did you know that most people who win the lottery end up losing everything? That’s right, about 70% of lottery winners, according to readers digest, will spend it all within 5 years. Many will end up in debt, lose everything, with broken marriages, and become addicted to drugs.

God often does us a great service by not giving us everything we want.

Wealth goes beyond paper money though. Our wealth is our health, our relationships, our friendships, our job, our skills, and abilities. These are all gifts from God. And how many of us, squandered those gifts, that wealth, before we knew Christ. We spent it on foolish things. We used our gifts to build our own stuff, instead of what God wanted us to use it for. Let’s continue.

It says, “14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.”

Similar to the younger son, each of us came to a point of desperation in our lives. The self-way of life did not work. It did not function properly. It was a failure. And we ended up in a dark spot, a dark spot mentally, a dark spot spiritually, a dark spot emotionally, and we needed something different.

Pause for a minute. What if the father had been sending him checks in the mail this whole time? What if he had been bailing him out of jail over and over again? What if he had been sending him money so he could buy more prostitutes and booze? How could he ever reach a point of desperation? We can’t always try to rescue our prodigals. There’s a balance there, I think.

It says in verses 17-20: “17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.”

He came to his senses. God helps us to come to our senses as well, that we need Him. We tried life with ourselves as god and master, and it didn’t work. We ended up alone and desperate and miserable. So we have a spiritual awakening, we realize we can still go home. We realize there is a better way, the way of Jesus.

We figure, we’ll go back and God will let us work in a field somewhere for him, do hard labor. But instead we see something very special happen. It says in verses 20b-24: “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”

The same is true for those of us who came humbly back to God seeking His mercy, admitting were a sinner, and asking for His mercy. We receive His mercy certainly. But we receive much more than that, we receive new life, we receive adoption to sonship. We receive the promises of God, which are all yes in Christ. We receive resurrection from the dead.

Interesting how the Father says it in the parable, “This son of mine was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found.” Resurrection from the dead. That is what we receive in Christ.

But the parable doesn’t end there. It includes an additional warning, in regard to the older son, it says, verses 25-32:

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

We see at the end of the parable that the older brother is refusing to go in. He’s angry because he’s been faithful all these years and now he’s jealous of his brother getting a big party. It’s a good reminder that when a terrible sinner comes into the church and receives God’s mercy we shouldn’t be jealous or angry. We should celebrate. Because it’s open to anyone, and it doesn’t matter if it’s moments before their death in old age or when they’re young. It’s a huge blessing.

I think this also references Jews and Gentiles, the Gentiles being awful sinners are going in after wicked living and the Jews who practiced rigorous adherence to the 10 commandments and the OT law are refusing to go in and provoked to jealousy. It’s interesting the parable ends without telling us if the older brother goes in or not.

All this should inevitably point us to Jesus Christ. Jesus never sinned, yet he was put to death, and was crucified. But Jesus didn’t stay dead. Jesus resurrected from the dead. And that’s what we celebrate today.

We understand and know that Jesus is alive today. But what if Jesus isn’t really alive? What would that mean? Well, we would be fools for being here.

Thankfully… Jesus Christ is alive. And we have good evidence to believe. Along those lines, to close today, I’d like to share a powerful quotation from Kurt E. DeHaan: “Why We Believe Jesus Rose from the Dead: If Jesus did not rise from the dead, the Christian faith is a foolish fantasy. However, if the resurrection of Christ did occur, it confirms His life, message, and atoning work. It is the basis of our hope of life beyond the grave. Christ is alive, and the evidence is overwhelming. Here are some of the reasons we can be so sure.

1. Jesus predicted His resurrection (Matt 16:21; Mark 9:9-10; John 2:18-22).

2. The Old Testament prophesied it (Psalm 16:10; compare Acts 2:25-31; 13:33-37).

3. The tomb was empty and the grave clothes vacant. if those who opposed Christ wished to silence His disciples, all they had to do was produce a body, but they could not (John 20:3-9).

4. Many people saw the resurrected Christ. They looked on His face, touched Him, heard His voice, and saw Him eat (Matt. 28:16-20; Luke 24:13-39; John 20:11-29; John 21:1-9; Acts 1:6-11; 1 Cor. 15:3-8).

5. The lives of the disciples were revolutionized. Though they fled and even denied Christ at the time of His arrest, they later feared no one in their proclamation of the risen Christ (Matt 26:56, 69-75).6. The resurrection was the central message of the early church. The church grew with an unwavering conviction that Christ had risen and was the Lord of the church (Acts 4:33; 5:30-32; Rom. 5:24).

6. Men and women today testify that the power of the risen Christ has transformed their lives. We know that Jesus is alive not only because of the historical and biblical evidence but also because He has miraculously touched our lives.”

We only have the option of the path of the prodigal son, because Jesus our messiah was crucified and resurrected from the dead. He is alive. And He is our only hope for salvation. We can all be prodigals who were dead, and now live again, because of Jesus resurrection.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Hebrew Word Study: āḇaq Jacob Wrestles with God

Are you a fan of wrestling? I remember watching wrestling growing up. And I remember seeing a few fights during junior high and high school where people were wrestling. What happens when people wrestle? They start fighting, and they inevitably end up on the ground, tossing up dust, spinning around, turning red, trying to do harm until one of them gives up. I remember my cousin Travis and I used to wrestle when we were kids, he was always much bigger than me, so I didn’t do too well. But I held my own.

Wrestling is a struggle of strength, but also a struggle of wits. It’s just as much physical as psychological. Which brings us to our Hebrew word for today, 'āḇaq (aw-vak) which means: “to wrestle, grapple (get dusty), bedust.”

Today we’re talking about a man who “wrestled with God” his name was Jacob. The name Jacob means “deceiver.” But we will see that one day, Jacob would receive a new name.

Jacob had manipulated and cheated his brother Esau. And he had been on the run from his brother. During his wonderings, though, God was with him, and seeking after Him.

In fact, something very special happened to Jacob one night as he traveled through the wilderness.

It says in Genesis 28:10-17 Meanwhile, Jacob left Beersheba and traveled toward Haran. 11 At sundown he arrived at a good place to set up camp and stopped there for the night. Jacob found a stone to rest his head against and lay down to sleep. 12 As he slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from the earth up to heaven. And he saw the angels of God going up and down the stairway.

13 At the top of the stairway stood the Lord, and he said, “I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. 14 Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. 15 What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.”

16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!” 17 But he was also afraid and said, “What an awesome place this is! It is none other than the house of God, the very gateway to heaven!”

I was reading today from 2nd Chronicles about after David had upset the Lord by calling a census, the angel of the Lord relented from destroying Jerusalem, and David was instructed to begin plans to build the first temple, at the base of a threshing floor. I wondered to myself, if this might’ve been the same place that Jacob laid down and had the dream of the staircase to heaven.

I’ve heard it said also, that though the ark of the covenant had been lost during Israel’s wanderings, some have suggested that perhaps on the hill of Calvary where Jesus bled and died for us, his blood trickled into the ground, and deep under the Earth, and dripped onto the ark of the covenant, buried and lost hundreds of years earlier. No way to prove that, but I was mystified by the suggestion.

In any case, a few chapter later we see Jacob has changed directions and he is on his way back to meet with his brother, to make amends, and to make things right. And I can only imagine how afraid he must be. The last time he saw Esau his brother Esau had desired to kill him.

Have you ever had a difficult moment in the future? An appointment that made you terribly nervous, or a disciplinary meeting with a supervisor at work, I remember I used to dread basketball camps my dad had me go to growing up, I would worry for weeks about these camps. Tossing and turning in bed, filled with fear.

So Jacob must’ve been tossing and turning, worried about this meeting with his brother. I bet he didn’t want to go.

So it says in Genesis 32:23-32 “23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

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

“Jacob,” he answered.

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

29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

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

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

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel,[c] and he was limping because of his hip.”

Jacob wrestled with God. He did 'āḇaq with God. This is one of the most mysterious portions of the book of Genesis. What did it mean? Did God appear in human form and physically wrestle with Jacob? We don’t know. It may have been an angel that he wrestled with, but what was really happening here? The idea of 'āḇaq is interesting here. First it says emphatically in the Hebrew in verse 24 Jacob was alone and the Hebrew word here is in it’s piel intensive form, so it was saying he was “entirely” alone. Completely alone. 'āḇaq means to wrestle, but it also means “to get dusty.” Or even to be dust. Some Hebrew scholars believe that this phrase Jacob wrestled with a man is better rendered to say “Jacob wrestled with himself before a presence that was with him.”

Now I believe there was some sort of physical match going on here. But I believe it was also a spiritual wrestling, as Jacob battled with God and with himself, to embrace God’s will. Many times in my life I’ve had experiences where I did not want to go. And I would wrestle with God about the matter. I didn’t want to go to upper Michigan for my internship. I wrestled with God about it. And God showed me the truth, that it was His perfect will, His perfect truth, and so I submitted to him, in the dust, on my knees, after I had wrestled, on my knees, in the dust, and I yielded to Him.

Jacob wrestled, in the dust, back and forth, all night, with the angel, with a man, with himself, about God’s will for Him to go back to his brother and make things right. He probably feared his life was at stake. But he wrestled, and won the battle. But something interesting happened. The angel touched his thigh and knocked it out of joint. Very interesting. During ancient times one would touch the inner thigh of someone to swear an oath or give a blessing. It was knocked out of place. Something was out of place, in that Jacob had stolen his brothers blessing from their father.

Then God asks Jacob, what is your name? Jacob finally admits, yet, I was out of place, I stole the blessing, I’m a thief, I’m a deceiver.

God gives him a new name, Israel. Israel means He who wrestles with God. He who spins in the dust with God. Back and forth. Back and forth. And eventually learns to submit to God, and His perfect will.

In conclusion today, in what areas in your life are you wrestling with God? Don’t misunderstand here now. It is not wrong to wrestle with God. It is wise to wrestle with God. But, eventually the wrestling must end. And it can only end in one of two ways, either we wrestle and overcome, and submit to God. Or we wrestle and flee, and reject God’s way.

In what ways are you wrestling with God? What is God saying to you? You must embrace God’s way. It may feel like fire, it may feel as sharp as a razor wire, or a sword, but, you can embrace God’s way, His truth, and you will be better off for it, because you’ve wrestled with God, and learned to follow Him, even if it’s left you with a limp.

The Parables of Jesus: The Lost Sheep & The Lost Coin

“Dr. Andrew Bonar told me how, in the Highlands of Scotland, a sheep would often wander off into the rocks and get into places that they couldn't get out of. The grass on these mountains is very sweet and the sheep like it, and they will jump down ten or twelve feet, and then they can't jump back again, and the shepherd hears them bleating in distress. They may be there for days, until they have eaten all the grass. The shepherd will wait until they are so faint they cannot stand, and then they will put a rope around him, and he will go over and pull that sheep up out of the jaws of death. "Why don't they go down there when the sheep first gets there?" I asked. "Ah!" He said, "they are so very foolish they would dash right over the precipice and be killed if they did!" And that is the way with men; they won't go back to God till they have no friends and have lost everything. If you are a wanderer I tell you that the Good Shepherd will bring you back the moment you have given up trying to save yourself and are willing to let Him save you His own way.” -D.L. Moody, Moody's Anecdotes, pp. 70-71.

Time and again in the New Testament we see Jesus sharing parables and stories related to shepherds and sheep. It’s very very common. From psalm 23, talking about the rod and staff of the shepherd, to Jesus calling himself “the gate for the sheep” it’s throughout the scriptures.

And why is that? Because being a shepherd was a very common profession in biblical times, in Israel. In 2022 in modern times it’s not as common as it used to be. There are still many farms in our area, in Shiawassee county, but mainly the farms here produce corn, there are some beef farms, but not a lot of sheep farms in the area.

So I wondered to myself, what would Jesus say to us today, what profession might he make reference to? So I did a little research, and found a list of the top 10 most common professions in the United States, as of 2020, which includes:

1 Retail Salespersons 3,835,000
2 Home Health and Personal Care Aides 3,470,700
3 Fast Food and Counter Workers 3,455,500
4 Cashiers 3,379,100
5 Registered Nurses 3,080,100
6 Office Clerks, General 2,933,900
7 Customer Service Representatives 2,923,400
8 Laborers and Freight, Stock, and Material Movers, Hand 2,821,700
9 General and Operations Managers 2,411,900
10 Stockers and Order Fillers 2,223,000

Very interesting, don’t you think? Not a lot of that really surprised me aside from home health and personal care aides, I figured that would be in the top ten, but it’s second place. A lot of people are retiring and growing old right now. It’s an important demographic to target.

Then I looked at Michigan in particular, and the top three were retail salesperson, food preparation & fast food, and third was assemblers and fabricators, so factory workers.

But despite all this research that I did, I realized most of us here can still relate to the simple depiction of a sheep farmer and the shepherd watching over the sheep. It’s right there, why not use it? It says in Luke’s gospel…

Recorded in Luke 15:1-10 “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

Jesus is targeting the Pharisees with this parable but he also definitely speaking to the common people just as much as to the Pharisees.

Most of us think we understand this concept, but do we really understand this concept? That is the question I want you to keep in your mind today, do I really get this? Am I really living this out?

Jesus is sitting there teaching a group of what Luke calls “tax collectors” and “sinners.” Very interesting. Tax collectors were hated in ancient Israel, because during this time they were collecting taxes for the Roman government which had conquered Israel. And many people would lose everything because they couldn’t pay the taxes to these invaders. Tax collectors were Jews who worked for the romans. Now if that wasn’t bad enough, many if not most of the tax collectors would use their position to extort extra money from the tax payers to enrich themselves.

The Pharisees were thought of the holy ones during these times. People like tax collectors, prostitutes, alcoholics, sexually immoral, and of course dirty filthy shepherds were thought of sort of second class citizens.

But Jesus the son of God on Earth spent his time ministering to these lost people. And his message to the Pharisees was that the kingdom of God, was for people who had been brought low by life, by themselves, and by evil people.

He tells them that he, Jesus, the shepherd will leave the safety of the flock of 99, to go searching for the one lost sheep, the black sheep, who is kind of weird, and awkward, and smells kind of funny, and has made some mistakes, and has sinned, and done evil things, and people talk poorly about that person because of what they’ve done, that sheep, who gets lost, he goes and finds it, and puts it over his neck and carries it victoriously home.

Here we find a secret of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God program, how it works, is that people who have been caught in sin, people who have been oppressed by others, people who have endured horrible sickness, indeed in general, people who are knee deep in suffering are the target of the kingdom of God program.

That’s why I think we see in life today, such a massive surge of average ordinary people, middle class people, wealthy people, just surging into hell, completely uninterested in God, when society has plenty, people turn away from God, they become self-reliant, they see themselves as the provider. And so they have no need of God.

But something within the kingdom of God program specifically targets people who have lost a lot and been broken to the point of being totally humbled and destroyed, and finally at last, willing to obey God, on God’s own terms. They’ve lost everything, and at last, they are able to receive humbly what God so beautifully provides, forgiveness, salvation through the blood of Jesus. It’s so simple we can’t quite face it until we’ve lost everything.

Like the sermon illustration that Dwight L Moody shared, the shepherd finds the lost sheep stuck on a ledge, and he waits for that sheep to be exhausted, and unable to stand, only then does he climb down and rescue the sheep.

It was the same for me, when I was lost in sin. Jesus did not come down and rescue me at the beginning, no, because I would’ve just run from him further into addiction and died. Jesus waited until I was at the bottom, no longer able to even move, then he came in and rescued me.

So then we see in the parable a 2nd clue about the kingdom of God program, we see the shepherd carries the lamb around his neck. Isn’t that interesting? Why would the shepherd carry the lamb around his neck? One possibility like in Moody’s illustration is because the lamb is so tired it can’t walk, after struggling on a ledge. The other and just as often true reality is that with an unruly sheep, the shepherd would break the lamb’s leg intentionally, to discipline it. They would then bind up the wound, and carry that lamb around his or her neck until the wound healed.

Many sheep like us today, became Christians at a young age, gave their lives to Christ, and now follow the shepherd obediently. That is the way it should be. But some of us, destined to become sheep, were rebellious, and ran from the shepherd. So the truth of the kingdom of God system is this: God’s way of breaking your leg was to allow you to run off into addiction and suffering, or pride and ego, or whatever it was, sexual immorality, or selfishness, and he allowed you to break your leg, and then brought you back after you’d given up all hope and were left doomed on a ledge somewhere. Then again, maybe you were rebellious, so he broke your leg himself, then bound up the wound and carried you on his shoulders until you calmed down and repented.

Here I think we see a picture of Christians like ourselves today. Even after we come to know Christ. Because we know as Christians that we face a difficult journey of many days and nights in the refiner’s furnace.

Like it says in 1st Peter 1:3b-7 “…He (The Father) has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

It looks like this, we, in this church, along with Christians around the world, are like sheep following Jesus the shepherd as he leads us closer and closer to the sunset of bright eternity in paradise.

But sometimes as Christians we get off course. We start to stray from the shepherd. We may not even realize we’re doing it. But we start to develop an ego. We persist in selfish pursuits. We resist his leading. We over-work. We live a lazy life. We don’t serve others like we should. And then Jesus comes along over to us, with his shepherd hook and baton, and pushes us toward the right direction. And we obey. But sometimes we don’t obey. We stray further. Then, sometimes, I think God will take us, break our leg, bind up the wound, and begin carrying us around his neck.

I’ll use myself as an example. I have a tendency to get prideful and self-reliant when things are going well. I think God allows me to have these fatigue and sleep issues to keep me humble. So I don’t stray from him. He carries me around his neck through these fatigue issues though. He gives me all I need. What issue in your life, that you despise might be a broken leg from God to keep you from straying from the shepherd?

Thirdly, we see the shepherd is rejoicing as he brings back the sheep. And Jesus actually explains this part of the parable straight up, he says this is what it’s like when one sinner on the Earth repents, the angels in heaven cry out with joyous celebration when that one sinner repents. That’s a secret of the kingdom of God.

The soldiers and armies of heaven celebrate over the redeemed. They celebrate as God leads them home. Indeed, they gather around and protect us, angels do, as Jesus leads us home to paradise.

So finally, how might Jesus explain the kingdom of God to us today. Well, I think he might explain it a lot like he explains the parable of the lost coin. As Jesus shares this parable of the lost shepherd, immediately after he says, or, it’s also like this, the parable of the lost coin. So this parable explains the same concept, which is why we include it today, it says this:

8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

One silver coin was generally worth about a days wages, so toward, would probably equal about $100.00 maybe a little less.

But have you ever lost something around the house? Maybe something important like your wallet or your cell phone, or a large amount of money?

We drop everything and we start looking for it right. We move things around, we think long and hard, we’re all over the place trying to make sure we find it.

We get frantic. We get upset. And if it’s a large amount of money, we’re going to call somebody or tell our friends or coworkers, wow, I was so scared, but I found it. And Jesus is saying that is similar to the feeling of what it’s like, a sense of severe relief, and supreme joy when one sinner repents and turn to Jesus, and finds forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life. Amen.

Friday, April 8, 2022

10 Prayers for The Salvation Army: Please Pray

Prayer is powerful. Prayer changes the world. God delights in answering the prayers of His saints. We have the authority of Jesus Christ, to pray in His name, and everything in this world changes as a result. Thank you Jesus.

To that end, here are ten prayers to pray for The Salvation Army. Please be in daily prayer for God's army. Please fast and pray. Gather together in groups and pray. Pray day and night. 

The Battle Begins 

Heavenly Father, in these last days in which we live, we see the declines in attendance, the sickness and lostness, the closing corps, the secular culture invading the church, the emphasis on humanism in our society, the loss of truth in a lost decadent culture, never-the-less Heavenly Father we still believe completely in the God of the impossible. We believe Lord that you are not done with your Salvation Army yet! God guide us now, in these critical moments, to move in perfect lock step with you, guided by your will, always obeying quickly, fighting day and night against the forces of hell for the salvation of the world, by the power of Jesus Christ. Our eyes are on you Lord. In Christ name, amen.  

Uphold us in biblical Truth

Lord God Almighty, We cry out to heaven for The Salvation Army, that you would uphold your Salvation Army in biblical truth. There are many within our ranks who would destroy all that we hold dear. Uphold your army God. Deliver us from evil. Save us from false doctrine and wicked theological decay. Save us from the redefinition of truth. Keep us bold. Place in the hearts of our officers and soldiers great discernment, to see the truth as you see it God, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Revival in the Army

Heavenly Father, We cry out for revival in The Salvation Army. Too many corps are crumbling and empty. Too many corps are spiritually dead and too many congregations are weak and dysfunctional, Lord, you can do anything! Bring up a great revival and may it start in our hearts, and spread to others through the truth of Jesus Christ! May holiness, purity of heart burn within us brightly. May the Holy Spirit stir in us awakening, revival, and new hope for the future in Jesus Christ, In His name we pray, amen.

Hiding the Name of Jesus

Lord, Forgive us for the times that we've failed to stand for you Jesus. Forgive us for the times when we've made it more about programs, more about social services, more about people, and when we've lifted the name of "The Salvation Army" instead of the name of Jesus Christ. Forgive us Lord. Forgive us for the times we've hidden the name of Jesus to not upset donors, to try to keep the money flowing. We repent of this in Jesus name, we lift your name on high, it's you Jesus, it's you Jesus, it's you Jesus, only you! We are nothing without you. In Jesus Christ name, amen.

Idolatry and Career Climbing

God Almighty,  We repent of idolatry. Forgive us for the times that we've made it about ourselves, about our own career advancement, instead of you. Forgive us for times when we've failed to speak up because we didn't want to hurt our future prospects. Forgive us for times when we've spoken sugar coated words to please others. We turn away from the idolatry of self Lord, and we submit afresh to you Lord Jesus Christ. You are Lord, and King. We are your humble servants. You are the King of Kings. We are slaves and servants. It's not about us Lord, it's about you. Make us bold, brave, heroic, humble, and keep our focus always on you Lord, and off self. In Jesus name, amen. 

New Movement of Officers and Soldiers

Father, the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. God we cry out for a new generation of leaders, biblical Spirit filled leaders to be raised up by you throughout the territory in the name of Jesus. We also pray God for waves and waves of new soldiers, who will stand in the gap, fight the good fight of the faith, and serve faithfully in the trenches, as we make war on the forces of darkness, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Making War on Hell

Heavenly Lord of Creation, we see that the war we failed to bring to the gates of hell is being brought to our church doorsteps in so many present day attacks on religious liberty and free speech. Save us God, preserve our liberty to share the gospel. Help us boldly speak truth, in love. Save us from censorship and tyranny. Forgive us Lord, help us to launch out from our corps into the communities we serve, bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ, discipleship, evangelism, and faithfully meeting needs in Jesus name. We take the war to enemy territory, stir in us strategies to see this unfold in our ranks, in the name of Jesus, amen.

Restoring Holiness Teaching

Father, we thank you for our theology which is wonderfully biblical and true. But so few officers today even preach true Wesleyan holiness theology, in accordance with our doctrines. Lord fan the flames of holiness teaching in The Salvation Army world. May we remember again our roots and teach biblical holiness expressed in perfect love. Let us teach entire sanctification. You've given us your word Lord, guide our leaders to teach it faithfully in all it's majestic wholeness, in Jesus name, amen.

Strategy and Wisdom in the Last Days

Heavenly God, as we move into new times and difficult times, God grant us as a movement, as a body of believers, a new strategy, a powerful deep innovative game plan for these last days in which we live. Build it God in a way that we know it is from you and of no man. Place this unique and powerful strategy into the hearts and minds of our leaders. Guide this grand strategy to bring in the end times harvest of souls. May it be implemented successfully across the army world, and yield a harvest of righteousness, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Social Justice and Pro-Life Advocacy

Lord God Almighty, please grant us wisdom as we deal with so many new ideologies and opinions in the secular world, which has become increasingly militant in their demands. Lord grant us discernment to see the truth about these ideologies. Lord help us to reject evil ideologies, and instead teach biblical justice. Lord, forgive us for our failure to speak out effectively for the unborn, who are murdered by the millions in our world today. We are ashamed of our silence. We repent. Lord, help us to speak up bravely, for these little ones, who you love so dearly, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen. 

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Hebrew Word Study: Ki Le’olem Chasedo His Mercy Endures Forever

Today, in our Hebrew Word Study series, we consider events surrounding the life of King Jehoshaphat. He was king of Judah, during the time when Israel was split between Judah and the northern kingdom.

There was a great army marching on Judah, from the other side of the dead sea. The historical account is listed in 2nd Chronicles chapter 2:2-4, “2 Some people came and told Jehoshaphat, “A vast army is coming against you from Edom,[b] from the other side of the Dead Sea. It is already in Hazezon Tamar” (that is, En Gedi). 3 Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. 4 The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him.”

King Jehoshaphat began his reign as king at the age of 35. We don’t know exactly how old he was here. But we see him responding to a crippling crisis just the way he ought to. He gathers the people together, to seek God’s help.

That is always what we should do in our own lives when we face challenges of many kinds. Be careful how you respond to a crisis in your life. As much as we’d like to think that we would seek God, sometimes we end up angry, upset, miserable, fretting and complaining, and we forget to pray, or even ask for God’s help to deal with the situation. We try to face it in our own strength, and this fails, or it doesn’t bring the result that was meant to be, by God’s will.

So Jehoshaphat gathers the people together in front of the temple that Solomon built, where they always meet with God.

It says in verse 5 through 9: “Then Jehoshaphat stood up in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem at the temple of the Lord in the front of the new courtyard 6 and said: “Lord, the God of our ancestors, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you. 7 Our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? 8 They have lived in it and have built in it a sanctuary for your Name, saying, 9 ‘If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.’

Then it verse 12 he says, “Our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

I imagine there was a long silence as all the people of Judah simply focused their attention on God, their hope on God, their everything on God.

I don’t know what to do, but my eyes are on you Lord. Have you been there in your life? Many, many times in my ministry I’m confounded, perplexed, confused, and I honestly don’t know what to do. This happens for all of us, not just pastors. The wise response is to take it to God, and wait on Him, with our eyes on Him.

I truly don’t understand many things that God does. I don’t understand His ways. It is terribly frustrating. So I wrestle with God, and try to understand His ways. But I can’t understand his ways, not fully. So it is wise to wrestle with God, which is what Israel means, they who wrestle with God. So I stop. And I wait, and I say God I don’t understand, I don’t know what to do, but my eyes are on you. And in the future again I will wrestle with God on ideas, theology, emotions, world events, the events of my life, the waiting, as we should wrestle with God, which is wise to do as we seek Him, yet then again at the right time I again will be still, and wait on Him.

It says in verse 13, “All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the Lord.” They waited, standing in God’s presence.

14 Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Jahaziel, a prophet of the Lord, 15 He said: “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. 16 Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. 17 You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.’”

Then.. God answers. He certainly does. He gives us his instruction. He tells us what to do next. Sometimes, he tells us to be still and wait. Sometimes he tells us to go march out and wait, and he will fight. Sometimes he sends us out to fight and grants us victory. It all depends on God’s will in that situation.

So they march out to meet this army.

“As they set out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Listen to me, Judah and people of Jerusalem! Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful.” 21 After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his[c] holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying:

“Praise the Lord,

for his mercy endures forever.”

And here at last in verse 21 we see our Hebrew phrase for this Sunday.

Ki Le’olem Chasedo (Key-Lee-Olawm Chase-Dough)

His Mercy Endures Forever.

Jehoshaphat’s response to the crisis he was in, was to declare praise and worship before God. This is a powerful key to victory in times of struggle. We ought to praise and worship God in our struggles.

His Mercy Endures Forever. This phrase in the original Hebrew is a picture to us of God’s presence, his beauty, his brilliance. The phrase seems to indicate a sort of opening of a portal, between heaven and Earth, where God is suddenly present, similar to a bright light. In particular the Hebrew word for mercy, Chasedo in it’s spelling seems to indicate a gateway, a bridge forming, made of God’s loving kindness to us, that leads us into God’s heart. And then our heart is joined to his. We become joined with God, truly, as we declare praise and worship to Him.

As we declare His Mercy Endures Forever, the act of praise creates a portal, a gateway between us and God, and we delight in His presence and join with his beauty and glory.

It’s like we come into lockstep with the truth of the universe, that God is perfect love and mercy, and it’s expressed as enduring forever, it’s infinite, as infinite as God himself.

At the moment that Jehoshaphat led the army in worship, declaring, His mercy endures forever, it says in verses 22-24, “As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated. 23 The Ammonites and Moabites rose up against the men from Mount Seir to destroy and annihilate them. After they finished slaughtering the men from Seir, they helped to destroy one another.

24 When the men of Judah came to the place that overlooks the desert and looked toward the vast army, they saw only dead bodies lying on the ground; no one had escaped.”

At the moment that they praised God, uniting with His heart, and worshipping Him, he acted, and defeated the enemy army coming against them.

And it concludes in this way, verse 27-30 “Then, led by Jehoshaphat, all the men of Judah and Jerusalem returned joyfully to Jerusalem, for the Lord had given them cause to rejoice over their enemies. 28 They entered Jerusalem and went to the temple of the Lord with harps and lyres and trumpets. 29 The fear of God came on all the surrounding kingdoms when they heard how the Lord had fought against the enemies of Israel. 30 And the kingdom of Jehoshaphat was at peace, for his God had given him rest on every side.”

Ki Le’olem Chasedo (Key-Lee-Olawm Chase-Dough)

His Mercy Endures Forever.

In what situation in your life do you need to worship before God? I think of it like this, when we declare this phrase, it’s like waking up from a nightmare at night, as a kid. And we’re scared, we’re confounded, we’re uncertain and afraid, so we run to mom and dads bed, and they take us in their arms and protect us, and drive away the fear, and we can rest at peace. Because God fights for us. Amen.

The Parable of the Wedding Feast: A Marriage Invite for You

Have you ever been to a very beautiful wedding ceremony? I’ve been to several weddings in my day that were just really something special. I think of my sisters wedding or my moms wedding to my step dad. Hard wood floors, flowers everywhere, beautiful smells, beautiful sights, the taste of sweet drinks and delicious food.

In a wedding that truly honors God, there is something special in the air. In particular, I’ve seen how Jewish-Christian weddings are set together, blowing the shofar, the wife symbolically circling the man like the moon circles the Earth. It’s truly beautiful, it’s rich with symbolism.

Think of your own wedding day. Or if you’re single, think of what you’ve always dreamed it might be. Something special, something that lasts. I would want mine to be rich with the presence of God, and meaningful. Not just words, but real commitment, for life.

Similar to this great dream of romantic marriage between man and woman, we see the parable of the wedding banquet which Jesus taught. In it he describes a grand wedding a king prepared, and those who were invited.

It goes like this, from Matthew chapter 22, “Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

4 “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. 6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Alright, so there’s a lot to unpack there. But before we understand how it applies to us today, let’s consider how this spoke to the original audience.

Jesus was speaking to the Jewish people, in particular in Matthew 22 there were many Pharisees in the audience listening to the presentation Jesus was giving. And the Pharisees were the sort of religious leaders of this time. He was also speaking to the people in general.

But the traditional interpretation of this parable is that the king represents God, the son, Jesus Christ, and the kings servants were the old testament prophets. And the people that refused to come to the wedding banquet were the nation of Israel. So then the people who were invited along the streets were the gentiles, that’s us.

Very inflammatory, for the Jews to hear this parable, really saying to them, you refused the son of God, you mistreated the prophets, and now the gentiles, which were considered to be vermin by the Jews, are coming into the feast instead.

And in fact before this parable in Matthew 21 Jesus tells two additional parables that have a very similar theme, of God’s chosen people rejecting and failing to understand the coming of Jesus Christ.

So how does this parable speak to us today? It’s really quite beautiful actually. It pictures a king whose really excited for the wedding of his son. And we understand that our Lord’s son is Jesus Christ, and guess who the bride is? It’s us, we’re the bride. And when Jesus Christ returns to planet Earth and sets up his kingdom, we are going to be “married” to Him, forever. We won’t any longer have a sin nature. We won’t struggle any longer. We will be united with Jesus Christ, and we will be like Him, it says that actually in 1st John 3:2 “2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears,[a] we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

So when Christ returns, we will be united with Him, in something I’m sure quite similar to a wedding feast.

God is calling us to this wedding banquet. Indeed, right now at this very moment he is calling all of humanity, across every country, every nationality, every language, every area of the world, from deserts to jungles to big cities to suburbs to cabins out in the woods, to come to this great wedding banquet.

But, like the Jews, many people are not willing to come, they say, oh, I’m sorry I have a new job I’m starting I can’t come, I have other plans, I don’t believe in the king, I don’t want to, all these excuses, so they don’t come in.

Ironically, just like the parable, we see all these very important people, at least by worldly standards, refusing to come, the rich, the elites, the tech giants, the CEOs, most of them aren’t coming in, and a lot of us, poor average everyday people, just average joes and janes are coming in instead, average, normal people, are coming to the wedding banquet. That’s how Jesus works. It’s open to anybody, richest man or woman in the world, it’s open to them. But, it’s a lot of us, average people. Not too special, just invited, and we decided to come. Good thing we did.

So first of all, we understand the context that this was meant to shame the Jews into realizing, hey we rejected the messiah, the gentiles are going in, so, we should go in as well. It was also a rebuke to the Pharisees.

Second, we see how this speaks to us, that many important people of our world reject the invitation, but we as average people are beautifully invited.

And God loves us. He’s got all the trimmings ready, choice meats, steaks, mashed potatoes gravy, green beans, casserole, fresh baked breads, beautifully set tables, and check this out, it says that if indeed we’re ready, and waiting for the master, in another parable actually, “37Blessed are those servants whom the master finds on watch when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve and will have them recline at the table, and he himself will come and wait on them.” From Luke 12:37.

Picture this, the wedding marriage feast of the lamb of God, we’re marrying Jesus, and Jesus is serving us, his servants, around the tables. Isn’t that beautiful?

Thirdly, we also see a warning at the end of this parable. Very typical for our Lord, he gives us a very encouraging, kind, loving message, but he also warns us about judgment, wrath, and watchfulness. Very common in the parables. God is both love and justice.

It says this in verses 11-14 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

So the king has invited all these people, but, we have to make sure we’re wearing our wedding clothes. What are the wedding clothes exactly? The parable doesn’t explain exactly what it is.

So I went to the word, here are two places where the garments of the wedding are talked about one from Revelation, “Revelation 19:7-8

Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.”

That’s surprising because we would expect it to say “the finen linen is the righteousness of Christ, but instead it says the righteous acts of the saints. Jesus is always messing with out perfect picture of what our theology is. So be it.

But then jump to the old testament, Isaiah 61:10, “I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”

So you’ve got people who were invited, and they came. That must be Christians. All are invited, non Christians refuse to come, Christians have come. But for some reason, this person, and indeed it says many, will not be properly clothed when Christ returns, maybe they fell asleep, like the parable we looked at two weeks ago, the 10 virgins, the 5 who were unwise, didn’t store up oil, and they weren’t able to enter in.

And the same thing happens here, these people without wedding garments, it says will be thrown out into darkness, where it says there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. That is of course talking about, hell, outer darkness.

So in conclusion today, we want to make sure we’re ready, with our proper attire, which is Jesus Christ, and the righteous acts of the saints, which show evidence of who we are in Christ.

So today, we’re having prayer stations at the tables here at the chapel. I invite you to pray, and go from station to station, we’ll have about 20 minutes that we do that, then we’ll close. So take some time, go from location not location, and consider in the back of your mind, the wonderful banquet you’ve been invited to, and how much God loves you, and yet also, consider how you ought to remain alert and ready for the return of Jesus Christ, the master, making sure you have your appropriate garments on and ready, for the great wedding feast of the lamb.