Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Shepherd King

When I get to heaven , David – the Shepherd King- is someone I want to meet.
I want to see his boyish smile light up his face.
I want to look into his eyes and see the soul of a man who knew God in a time when so few others did.

What was his secret ? What taught him to love God , and cling to Him with such deep emotion?
Was it the long lonely days he spent in the hills and meadows watching his sheep , where his thoughts centered on God and his heart learned to commune with Him ? Was he so struck by the similarities of the relationship he had with his sheep and the relationship he had with God that Psalm 23 wrote itself?
His shepherd Psalm is even today the most loved passage of all scripture. Did he know how inspired the words were - that Jesus would confirm them by identifying Himself as the Good Shepherd?

Who could have guessed that the gentle shepherd boy would be thrust into the public and political arena to be remembered down through the corridors of time as Israel’s most beloved King. Doesn’t God love to take the most unlikely, the weakest, the smallest to demonstrate His power through a life submitted to Him?

The greatest epitaph on the life of David are God’s own words about him, “I have found a man after my own heart, who will do all my will !” (Acts 13:22)
How the highest accolades of men pale before this high praise from God !
When we look at this man who so pleased God , what is it about him that set him apart from other men?
We are told he walked " in integrity of heart and in uprightness "
(I Kings 9:4) and he kept God's commandments and followed God with all his heart, "to do only what was right" in God's eyes. (I Kings 14:8)
We know that David sinned , but what sets him apart is his attitude toward God, his heart of repentance, and his humble ability to admit he was wrong and turn away from the things that displeased his Lord. Only in the matter of Uriah does God say that David calculated to sin
(I Kings 15:5) …and even there he found a place of forgiveness before God.
Could God say about you or me that we only purposed to sin ‘once’ in our lifetime? I think not.

But more than looking at David as a man who lived a God-fearing exemplary life, David was a prophet who ‘shadowed’ the One who was called the Messiah, the awaited redeemer of Israel.
Peter in a sermon recorded in Acts 2:30 tells us that God promised with an oath that one of David’s descendents would be the Christ who would rule forever from the city of David, Jerusalem. We know that the church is revealed as the spiritual Jerusalem in Hebrews 12:22,23 and Jesus as the head of the church rules forever and ever.
David not only shadowed Jesus as a shepherd , and as a King, but also in another very distinctive way.
David in providing everything that was needed to build the temple, or dwelling place , for God, shadowed that Jesus would provide everything that is needed to build ‘the church’ or temple where God dwells. Just like Solomon, the church was young and inexperienced and the work was big (I Chron.29)… Jesus provided all that the church needed through His death , His resurrection, and sending the Holy Spirit as the ever present ‘Helper’.

Can you imagine the bible without David’s psalms? Through his psalms, he has taught us so much about how to find that intimate place close to God’s heart.
How often do his words comfort you, inspire you or bring you back into the presence of God?
David knew how to commune with God. More of his prayers are recorded that any other person in the bible.

The Lord’s prayer has been prayed more often in the last 2,000 years than any other prayer… and we always think of it as the prayer Jesus taught his disciples , but it was not totally new to them. The words were familiar, they had heard them before. We have a recorded prayer of David’s that expresses the same essence as Jesus' prayer… did David know God so well, that even his prayers were prophetic? Is David’s prayer an example of what Romans 8:26 is talking about that when we don’t know how to pray the Spirit prays for us?

The Lord’s prayer is found in Matt. 6 and David’s prayer is found in I Chron. 29 ….
I have paralleled the two prayers here, The Lord’s prayer is in bold italics and the selected words of David’s prayer in regular font with indicated verse reference.

Our Father which art in heaven
Blessed are you….. our Father (vs 10)
Hallowed be thy name
And praise your glorious name (vs13)
Thy kingdom come
And you reign over all (12)
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven
for all that is in heaven and in earth is yours (vs 11) In your hand is power and might (vs 12)
Give us this day our daily bread
Now therefore our God, we thank you for all things come from you (vs 13,14)
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
For we are aliens and pilgrims before you ….Our days on earth are as a shadow and without hope (vs 15)
And forgive us our debts as we forgive those who trespass against us
You test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness (vs17)
For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever and ever !!
Yours is the kingdom , to you O Lord is the greatness and the power and the glory , the victory and the majesty , for ever and ever (vs 11, 10)

The focus of all His-story is Jesus, He is the One before whom every knee will bow.
My heart breaks every time I hear His wonderful name taken in vain.
Those who call on His name to save them will not use His name in vain - He “will in no wise cast (them) out”. (John 6:37)
When I meet David one day, I want to thank him for pointing to Jesus, and for encouraging me to do the same.

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Best Gift We Can Give

For my aunt’s 65th birthday her family gave her a huge surprise party !
My aunt is one of those rare people who has an endless supply of energy for doing good for others. Her gifts or gestures of thoughtfulness and practical caring ways were praised throughout the evening, and everyone had nothing but gratitude for the privilege of knowing her.
At one point during the celebration her daughter gave her a tribute. She went through a list of talents and gifts her mother had, and after each one she said regretfully, “I don’t have that talent!” We were all beginning to feel a little uncomfortable with her putting herself down, even though it was obviously not intended as self-pity, and we wanted to encourage her to look at her own strong points even if they weren’t the same as her mother’s..
When her well written speech was finished she was making her way back to her seat, when her father, a very humble man known for not being gifted in practical areas, went up to the mike and said, “Joanne, you know all those talents you didn’t get from your Mother? Well, you got them all from me!” His comment brought down the house !!

My uncle is a very successful business man but in practical matters he defers to others. He enjoys playing sports but does not excel. What I have always found so admirable in my uncle is his incredible attitude. Nothing delights him more than to see someone display a skill or talent or excel in some area of their life. He is the kind of cheer leader everyone would love to have in their corner. I have never heard him speak one word of envy , he is so busy admiring what someone else can do that it fails to occur to him to be envious. Even writing this I can hear his spontaneous laugh when someone says or does something clever. His face lights up and his sincere words of admiration are always heartwarming. He is appreciated , respected and loved by those who know him.

Is his attitude not one to emulate?

We live in such a competitive world . The rungs in the ladders of success are the backs of people who are used or passed over for personal gain or recognition.
We compare ourselves one against another and feel the other has the greater advantage. We are stagnated in our own little corners because we feel we cannot compete with someone else who does things so much better. We venture out only in areas where we feel we have some degree of competence. We play games , keep score and try to ‘win’ over someone else.

While competition can be good in that it spurs us on to try harder…. it can be discouraging when we feel we never ‘measure up’- if we constantly feel we are second rate or inferior to what we see as the established or expected norm.
I have yet to meet someone who did not have own talents or gifts or storehouse from which to bless or serve others, but even if you have not yet defined your area of expertise or believe that you are truly talent-free -- the very best gift is still yours to give. The gift of encouraging and praising others.
A little boy once came home from kindergarten very excited that he had been given a part to play in the school’s Christmas production. “And what is your part?” asked his mother. “I get to clap and cheer!” he answered proudly.
And truly is that not the best gift? To clap and cheer someone else’s accomplishments or efforts?
We all know how much we appreciate words of encouragement or a sincere pat on the back. Even in this, is it not ‘more blessed to give than to receive’? (Acts 20:35)
One thing I have learned – when I was young I believed that having ‘things’, achieving goals or accomplishments was what was important to my status in life, but now I know that it is not the ‘things’ you posses that determine the quality of your life but your relationships.

Scripture refers to the ‘church’ as the body of Christ – all believers together making up the whole. Can you imagine your hand being jealous of your foot ? Or your ear being jealous of your tongue?? It is an inconceivable concept, is it not?
How beautiful it would be if we could be that unconscious of comparison between one and another - that someone else’s accomplishments would cause us as much delight as though it were our own - because they truly are! …just as in your physical body, your hand rejoices in what your foot does and your eye over what your ear does.
II Cor. 10:12 says “For we dare not…. compare ourselves with some that…. measuring themselves by themselves and comparing themselves among themselves are not wise.” And Paul goes on to say “For not he that commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends!!” Is that not the highest praise we could ever hope for? To have the praise of God?

I once knew an elderly lady, Mrs. Marshall, who started coming to our bible study group. None of us knew why she came. Her communication skills were either lacking or she did not have knowledge on many subjects. She would come to the evening meeting , find a comfortable chair and promptly fall asleep to awaken in time to have a cup of coffee before going home. She wanted to host the bible study in her home and eagerly invited us, but her home was sadly lacking in every way. It was dirty beyond what you would care to imagine , the cups she set out for coffee did not even look washed and some of us being served the worst ones would discretely slide our way over to the sink and on pretence of looking out the window hide the quick motion of pouring our coffee down the sink. Yet she came and we tried to find a way for her to fit in, but we were really at a loss to find it.
Then one evening our group leader suggested that it would be nice to remember the birthdays of the people in our group and would someone in the group want to take the responsibility of making sure that everyone was acknowledged on their special day. Mrs. Marshall immediately volunteered. All of us thought, "well, there goes that idea."
But to our surprise and delight, this woman had found something she could do and on our respective birthday , in the mail, came a beautiful birthday card obviously carefully chosen. She never forgot a single birthday even though we were a large group of about 18-24. Even years after the group disbanded we would still get our birthday card from Mrs. Marshall. She has since ended her earthly life but I'm sure she had no idea how much she blessed us with her faithfulness. I have rarely felt so loved and the others in the group shared my sentiment!

We are EVERY ONE equipped to please God - to love Him and to love others.
The Lord has made each of us unique and specially gifted to excel where we stand in relationship to others and the best gift - and the most appreciated - is to encourage and bless others.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Are We forgetting about Hell ?

No good Samaritan passed by in a modern day real life version of Jesus’ parable.
On May 24,2006 more than 40 climbers passed by 34 year old David Sharp as he lay dying . He had collapsed apparently from oxygen deficiency while descending from the summit of Mount Everest. Mount Everest pioneer Sir Edmund Hillary expressed shock that climbers would look the other way , so unwilling to give up their personal goal to summit the mountain, that they would not stop to save a man’s life.
“Human life is far more important than just getting to the top of a mountain,” Hillary was quoted as saying in an interview.

We may all be quick to agree with Hillary, and quicker still to indignantly declare that we would not have been able to live with ourselves if we had not stopped to help the dying man.

But before we speak too quickly, let us consider ……

Last night my husband and I watched ‘In Sight’ with host Paul Arthur. Paul was interviewing Bill Wiese who in 1998 had an out of body experience of hell. Bill was soft spoken and sincere…making his story very believable. He has written a book called “23 Minutes in Hell”.
If you are interested you may read a transcript of his testimony given at a conference in Kansas in 2001.

I realize that people’s experiences must be judged against scripture and scripture is the final authority …but hearing someone’s experience can have a powerful effect. In fact, hearing one such testimony - Dr. Eby’s experience of hell - was what broke through my unbelief in God in 1979. He was so convincingly sincere I could not believe that he had made it up and I knew that if hell was real, Satan was real and therefore God must also be real.

Hell is not a popular subject anymore. Not even from the pulpit; I don’t remember when I last heard a sermon on the topic of hell! Recent poles indicate that there is a major shift in accepted Christian doctrine toward believing that hell is not a ‘real’ place after all. But in the end it does not matter what we would prefer to believe, if God says it is real it is real – and He has the last word.

The fact that hell is the default destination of every man/woman who refuses to recognize that only in Jesus can anyone find salvation , has always been a powerful witness tool to reach the lost. No matter how atheistic the talk , there was a fear of hell in the soul of every sinner. Today more and more the shift is toward a universal redemption of all men, regardless of creed or religion. I have been to several funerals in recent years where the deceased person was not a believer and yet it was freely expressed that they were ‘in a better place.’

Even though you and I may still believe in a literal hell, we are -whether we recognize it or not - affected by the perceived majority thinking around us.
We tend to ‘go with the flow’, accept the popular teaching of the day and talk about the positive and not the negative. And as a result we are in danger or being just like the Everest climbers.
We encounter people every day who are on their way to an eternity in hell and we walk by without so much as a side ways glance . If we really, really believed people are going to be in eternal torment unless they turn to Jesus would we not be more diligent in warning them, more eager to find a way to bring them to salvation? Not all of us are evangelists… I definitely do not have that gifting….. but we can all from the life-spot where God has put us do more to win the lost . Sometimes someone I meet along my day catches my attention and I give what I can - a smile, a word or a silent prayer that God reach into their heart to save them. We never know how small a thing turns the soil of someone’s heart making it more receptive to the next ‘evangelist’ who crosses their path.
One person sows, another waters and yet another brings in the harvest… all are necessary .

We are nearing Easter - when we remember the sacrifice in death and the glorious resurrection of our Lord and saviour. If he had not come we would not have a choice - hell would be our eternal destiny !! I don’t think any of us really recognize how horrible hell really is.
We cannot fathom a place that is totally void of God. The air we breathe - food- sleep - rest - light - water - are all good things from God that we take for granted. None of them will be available in hell. Any thought of comfort , be it ever so small will be denied . Pain will not be localized in one part of the body, it will consume the whole. Fear, panic, horror, hate, rage, disgust – only the most painful and ugly emotions will be experienced. Stench, darkness, grotesque sights, the most vile-tasting flavors will assault the senses. Depression , hopelessness without relief will be unbearable -.except that they is no option but to bear it. Every memory of every moment on earth will never fade but continually add to the torment of regret.
Imagine your worst nightmare and magnify that to the extreme and perhaps you have the beginning of hell.

I don’t think I hate anyone, evil though they may be, enough to wish them to an eternal hell ! Yet how blasé am I toward the people I meet and even the ones I love who are not believers?

I would much rather talk about heaven than hell… but Jesus talked about hell – and reminding ourselves of the consequences of sin and the destination of evil is a motivating exercise , not only to inspire us to have a greater burden for the lost, to be more diligent in living a personal godly life, but also to explode with gratitude to a merciful God who at great personal price saved us from an eternal place of torment.

This Easter season when you think of the pain and suffering that Jesus was willing to endure for you, so that you could be saved, ask yourself also “What price am I willing to pay to save a lost soul?”

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Spring Cleaning ?

We here in southern B.C. have had a long stretch of wet and dreary weather.
Then, to everyone’s great delight, on Sunday the sun cheerfully shone down from a startlingly blue sky !
How uplifting the change in weather was!

Until…. I took a look at my kitchen!!
I thought my housework was fairly up to date. In fact a neighbour dropping by last week, looked around my kitchen and commented how clean it was and said it inspired her to go home and clean hers!
But Sunday with the sun blazing through my big kitchen windows I saw otherwise!!
The sun light showed up all the streaks on the inside of my windows from previous cleaning and the dust from the rain and the wind on the outside. Every mar and mark on my counters or furniture was magnified, my floor had spots I had not seen before, dust glittered from every nook and cranny.
My heart sank and I thought, ”Where do I start?” I almost wished the sun would disappear and let my house return to its former ‘deceptively’ clean state!
But then every inherited (though winter latent) gene in me responded to the universal trigger and shouted , “SPRING CLEANING!”

I couldn’t wait to get out my cleaning supplies and get at it.
As I thought about my revenge strategy to conquer the winter residue of dust and dirt, I wondered- where did the concept or practice of spring cleaning originate ?

I did a quick Goggle search to see if I could find any information.
To my surprise the on-line Wikipedia referred to an ancient Jewish practice as a possible origin! As the spring-time, seven-day Feast of Passover drew near, every Jewish household undertook to thoroughly cleanse their home from top to bottom to make sure not even the smallest remnant of leaven remained.
Ex. 12:19“Seven days there shall be no leaven found in your house.”
Following the ‘spring cleaning’ of the entire house, they would hunt for any missed crumbs by candlelight on the evening before the holiday began. The motivation to clean every corner of their home was very strong because the penalty was severe, ”for whosoever eateth that which is leavened.. that soul shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel”.

So perhaps ‘spring cleaning’ is more scriptural that we would have thought!!

The familiar saying, 'A picture is worth a thousand words', is so true and the common things of our life sometimes preach the best sermons.

As I stood looking aghast at how revealing the sunlight was , how no speck of dust could remain hidden … I thought about the things scripture teaches about light and darkness.

It is in the darkness that sin is committed, ”men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.” ( John 3:19)
I thought about how the sunlight revealed dirt I did not see on cloudy days….and how I almost wished the sun could not shine into my kitchen. Those who are evil wish the same thing…they do not want the light of God to reveal their sin….”For everyone that doeth evil hateth the light , neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved”.
(John 3:20)
When I had cleaned my windows and the sun revealed nothing but sparkling clean glass… how good it felt !! I called my husband to come see how nice my windows looked. Now instead of wanting to hide them, I delighted in them being seen!!
So also a pure heart desires the light!! “but he that doeth truth cometh to the light ,that his deeds may be made manifest.. that they are wrought in God.” (John 3: 21)

I thought about God being so bright a light that “in Him is no darkness at all.” ( I John 1:5) No sin, not even a particle of sin dust can be hidden in the presence of God’s holy light.
Dare I , dare you , place ourselves before God’s light to reveal the need for ‘spring cleaning’ in our hearts?
Jesus says in Luke 12:2,3 that “there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed, neither hid that shall not be known. therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light …” Should that not motivate us to make sure our ‘spring cleaning’ is done before ‘inspection time’?

Just as the Jews searched by candlelight to find any hidden crumbs of leaven…( leaven in the bible is symbolic of sin) so “the spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly.” ( Prov. 20:27)
I wondered if I looked at my heart under the bright light of the ‘Son’ of God would I see sin, short comings, compromise , self-centered attitudes, sins of omission, neglect where I know to do good, and willful disobedience ? Would my self-defined righteousness suddenly look embarrassingly unrighteous?

What would the searching light of God reveal in your heart ? Do you need spring cleaning ?
Will you pray with me the prayer of David?
“Search me , O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”.
( Psalms 139:22,23)

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Nehemiah and A Secret Enemy

(note from author – Since this post is twice as long as my self-imposed limit, I will declare it to be a two-day post leaving you with the choice of reading it all today or coming back to read the second half tomorrow… I will not be adding another post tomorrow.)

My name is Nehemiah. While we have not yet met, I know that you have heard of me. My story is included in the book of Books, just before Esther’s story.
I am pleased that you are interested in hearing about my life experiences , and I am humbled to realize that my message is still relevant to you even though you live thousands of years after my time which was some 450-400 years before Christ.

The first years of my life were relatively uneventful so I will begin my story from the time that I was taken into captivity by the Babylonians. That was, as I am sure you can imagine, a difficult and fearfully stressful time . But I trusted in my God and He was gracious and merciful toward me – so much so, that I found favor in the eyes of my captors . To make a long story short, I became the trusted cupbearer of the King. I took my position seriously and did my very best to be the most excellent cupbearer he had ever had.
Even though my heart yearned for my own people and my homeland I kept my feelings to myself and whenever I was in the King’s presence I was careful to keep a cheerful countenance.
Then one day, an old acquaintance of mine, Hanani, came to me with the news that the remnant of my people who were still in Jerusalem were in great distress and the walls of the city were broken down and the gates burned . Oh, how great was the anguish that filled my soul to think that the city of God should be so neglected ! I could hardly bear the thought. In fact, I was so upset that I could not hide my grief and for the first time, I came into the King’s presence with a sad expression. I could have been killed for my indiscretion , and when I realized my mistake fear gripped my heart , but the King was very gracious and kindly asked me why I was so sorrowful.
With trepidation, I told him that I desired to go and restore the city of my God. I was amazed at his response; obviously God had already prepared my way before me. The King was more than willing for me to go as long as I would promise to come back. Not only did he give me permission to take a leave of absence from my palace duties, he also wrote letters to people in high places to make sure I would have the supplies and resources I would need to accomplish my purpose.
And so I went to build the city of God.

You, my readers, are also building in the city of God , are you not?? But your city is much more important than mine. Mine was just the shadow, yours is the real thing mine only pointed to -- the eternal city that will endure forever!! The city that Abraham looked for (Heb.11:10) and the city spoken of in Heb12:22, “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem!”

But back to my story. When, after a tiring journey , I arrived back at Jerusalem it was heart wrenching to see the state the city was in, but I was anxious to begin my work to restore it.
At first I told no one why I was there and went out under cover of night to ride around the city without being observed, to evaluate the work needing to be done.
When I had a plan of action, I told the Jews, the priests, the nobles ,the officials and the workers, why I was there and assured them that God’s hand had orchestrated my coming to help them rebuild the ruins. They were encouraged and eagerly willing to join me in the rebuilding of the city’s walls.

Though the walls of the city of God were destroyed and the few remaining people distressed, there was a man who was watching, waiting to hinder anyone who should appear with the express purpose of attempting to rebuild the ruins.
His name was Sanballat.

Let me interrupt myself here to explain something… I don’t think you who are reading my message today put as much importance on the meaning of names as we did in my day. My name , Nehemiah, for instance, means “The Lord’s Comfort”. All my life I knew that my name held an important message regarding my life’s work, and when He called me to rebuild His city , I knew that I knew that for this I had been born.
Speaking of Sanballat, here again the meaning of his name is significant…. it means ‘enemy in secret’. You in the New Covenant also have an enemy who tries to work in secret -- you call him Satan. And he also is watching hoping to hinder anyone who might undertake to work on building the kingdom of God, the heavenly Jerusalem , the body of Christ, the church. If you care about winning souls or strengthening the believers or living a godly life, being diligent in displaying the fruit of the Spirit, he is against you and is watching for opportunities to hinder you.

The man , Sanballat, who was against me, together with his ‘helpers’ Tobiah and Geshem, tried to discourage us from even attempting the work God had called me to. They stood from afar and laughed us to scorn, mocking us, asking …”What do you think you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?”
I calmly answered , “God of heaven Himself will prosper us and we will build His city …. You have no part in this city at all, past or future and you have no rights here !”

You , my fellow saints, need to understand this about your enemy.. he has no part in God’s kingdom at all nor any rights in the life of a believer. Isn’t that what my Messiah and yours said? “Here comes the prince of this world and he has NOTHING in me.” (John 14:30)

So we began to work… every man was positioned in his place along the wall and each man had his job to do and so we worked shoulder to shoulder. We worked with a sword fastened at our waist.

I love to watch you New Testament believers working and building in the eternal city of God. ( I am, incidentally, one of the ‘cloud of witnesses’ spoken about in Hebrews 12:1.) Each of you has his or her own job to do…each of you is responsible for one small part of the kingdom wall.. If you do not do your part there will be a section of the wall left open and vulnerable to attack. If you are diligent, each doing the work assigned to him and working shoulder to shoulder you will accomplish God’s purposes. And never forgot how important God’s word, your sword, is as your protection!

The work was progressing and we rejoiced to see it , but Sanballat became more and
more incensed. He and all his cohorts conspired together to come and create confusion among us workers in Jerusalem.
We were fully aware of his intent and we continually lifted our voices to God and set a watch around us. At this time the workers were beginning to be discouraged because there was so much rubbish hindering the building of the walls, and Sanballat thought this would be a perfect time to come in when we were weak , catch us ill prepared, kill us and cause the work to cease!! But I encouraged my people and positioned them to be on guard and I told them to remember how awesome their God was!!

Well, when Sanballat received word that we were aware of his plans against us, he had to retreat unable to change the fact that God had foiled all his plans and so we were able to return to our work.

Have you not experienced that , dear reader? That your enemy waited for a time when you were discouraged by the rubbish in your life and you were distracted and discouraged in your working for the kingdom? Do not give him a foothold in your life!! Walk in obedience and self-discipline and keep your focus on the things of God, and he will have to flee! (James4:7).

(break - if you wish to come back tomorrow)

After seeing our vulnerability we recognized that we needed to be better armed and took even greater care than before – working with one hand and carrying our swords in the other. And none of us took off our clothes, except to wash them.

I cannot stress this enough ! You who are are building the spiritual kingdom, hear me ! it is not sufficient just to know about God’s word, you must know it so well that is ready ‘in your hand’, a sword ever ready to be used! I must also remind you to always wear your spiritual clothes, your garment of righteousness - it will keep you safe from your enemy. When you do slip and sin… then cleanse your garment immediately , to keep it without spot or wrinkle (Rev. 3:4, Eph. 5:27) You must keep your spiritual garment clean to be effective in your work.

And the one who sounded the sword stood beside me.
I spoke to my fellow workers about the fact that since the work was getting so extensive, we were often far apart from each other and therefore more easily singled out for attack. I made the rule that when they heard the trumpet blow , that was the signal to come together for strength and safety. I assured them that “Our God will fight for us !”

Dear ones, is that not also your strength? Does God not tell you ‘not to forsake the assembling of yourselves together, and the more so when you see the day approaching?’ (Heb. 10:25) You need each other, together you are the body of Christ, undefeatable and strong!

I also had to deal with quarrels and complaining that broke out among my people. When I heard how the leaders had used their positions of authority to line their own pockets … I became very angry and rebuked them sharply saying they were worse than the heathen nations who took our people captive. Hearing my outburst against them , they were ashamed and promised to change their ways.

I am saddened when I look down the corridors of time to where you live today and I see that there are still leaders over God’s people who do not walk in humility but rather use the gospel and their positions for financial or personal gain. Oh, that they would hear my rebuke and let God change their hearts.

The work on the walls was almost completed when I got a message from Sanballat . He invited me to come meet with him and Geshem in one of his villages. But I was wise to his devises and knew he wished me only harm.
So I just told him I was too busy to come.
He did not give up easily and repeated his invitation four times!! I did not change my answer.
Then , the fifth time, instead of sending me secret invitations, he sent his servant to me with an open letter. In this letter he accused me of planning to lead a rebellion against the King . He also said, I had appointed prophets ready to make proclamations – announcing that I was setting myself up as king!
Sanballat said that my intentions were already common knowledge among the heathen nations and if I did not agree to come meet with him to take counsel together he would make this letter public and give it to the king and I would be in big trouble !!!
Of course these were all lies !! I laughed to myself and thought, he is just trying to frighten us… He thinks if he can make us afraid our hands will be weakened and we will not be able to work!! Huh!
I sent back a reply saying as much and went to God in prayer , giving the situation to Him.

Some time later, I had occasion to go visit a friend, Shemaiah, at his house. He took me aside to whisper to me confidentially that he had inside information . Sanballat and his supporters had plans to come kill me. Shemaiah was offering to help me… he suggested we meet together in the house of God, inside the temple and close the doors securely behind us … and we would be safely hidden from Sanballat’s attack.
I was puzzled at first and responded, “Why would I want to flee? Do you think I am
someone who would go to the temple to save my own life and leave my fellow workers outside?”
Then God gave me insight and I perceived that Shemaiah was not a friend at all!
He was an informer hired by Sanballat to try to trick me into following his advice and subsequently sinning before God , giving Sanballat occasion to accuse me before the people.
But I did not fall into his trap . I escaped and called on God to deal with Sanballat and his friends according to their works against us, trying to confuse us or make us afraid!!

I know my dear friends that you can relate easily to the events I just told you about. Is that not like your enemy, Satan? He can do nothing but try to confuse or frighten you into making a ‘deal’ with him, compromising your faith or your work for God. Learn from me and follow my example. Just as Sanballat could not touch me so also Satan cannot touch you ! My God fought for me and my God is also your God – He has not changed, and He will also fight for you. Do not listen to your enemy ! What he hates most is to be ignored or not taken seriously !! But be on guard not to be tricked by him. He will use innocent things or even good things to try to pull you into sin, sometimes he will even speak through your friends or people that you trust. You must be strong and test all the voices you hear and listen only to the voice of your God.

And so God helped us mightily and we finished the work . When it was finished we planned a great celebration at which Ezra read the book of the law to all the people who stood and listened and were overcome with sorrow and conviction. But I told them that this was not a day to be sorrowful but they should recognize that the JOY of the Lord was their strength . And the people dried their tears and rejoiced greatly that they understood the words that had been read to them.

I have seen the day coming that you , my readers today , have not yet seen. There is coming a wonderful day of celebration when all tears will be wiped away and you will know joy unspeakable… and you will understand all the things you do not understand today – you will know even as you are known.
How I am looking forward to that day when you and I and all the saints of the ages will all be together rejoicing before the throne of our great God crying “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.”

Thank-you for sharing your time with me...and I pray that you are encouraged by my experiences and will continue to work and to build together with those who have gone before , for you too are "my fellow workers for the kingdom of God..." (Col.4:11 , I Cor. 3:9)
signed, Nehemiah

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Cities of Inheritance (5)

(continued from last post)
Today we will look at the last enemy type the Israelites had to conquer, the people who occupied the promised land – the inheritance cities.
So the cities-of-inheritance is the shadow (or type) that is pointing to the ‘flesh’( the real thing or antitype) that we are battle against as believers.

God gives instructions for these battles in Duet. 20:16-20.
He says that when they come against a city-of-inheritance to conquer it they are to completely destroy the whole city – all the inhabitants are to be killed, nothing that breathes is allowed to survive. The reason God gives for this annihilation is that if they allow anyone to stay alive they will be a snare to them (Ex.23:33)– they will teach them to worship false gods and cause the Israelites to sin against God.
When they lay siege to a city they may cut down trees to use as weapons , but God forbids them to cut down any trees that provide food.

God brought His people Israel to the promised land , where milk and honey flowed and where they could live secure in their own land , free to serve and worship their God. While we all look forward to that ultimate perfect promised land – heaven- there will be no battle to be fought to take possession , so that cannot be the antitype of the cities of inheritance .
When we come to the Lord we are lost without a ‘city’, or a place to call home. We are lost in our trespasses and sin and are wandering without control or direction. Then we come to Christ and we are translated from the kingdom of the enemy to the kingdom of God. Immediately , as we reach out to inherit our new life, a battle begins.
Galatians 4:29 talks about it. We were born according to the flesh, but the new birth is according to the Spirit and there is enmity between the two. The flesh warring against the spirit. “The spirit is willing , but the flesh is weak” were Jesus’ words to the disciples in Matt. 26:41. And what is the flesh but all the characteristics and habits and sinful tendencies of our ‘old man’ and we must drive him out and destroy him before we can put on the new – the fruit of the Spirit. (Gal.5:16-26)
It is perhaps a puzzling directive God gave the Israelites regarding the trees. It is easy to understand that to leave the fruit trees standing was of benefit to the Israelites but the only thing I can think of as far as making a spiritual application is that masochists who attempt to subdue the flesh by self-inflicted pain or self-denial of the necessities of life, do not honor God . Col. 2:23 says, “..these things indeed have an appearance of wisdom, in self-imposed religion, false humility and neglect of the body but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.”
God’s directive for battle against the cities of inheritance was that they were not to let anything that breaths to remain alive, but were to destroy everything that lived in the city. (Deut. 20:16-20) They were to be utterly brutal in their destruction of the inheritance cities before they inhabited them. What a neat picture of our battle against the flesh. Are we so brutal ? Are we so determined to completely destroy anything left of the flesh ? To allow nothing to remain that may become a snare to us? (Ex. 24:33) To crucify the flesh daily until nothing remains but the new creation in Christ? ( Luke 9:23, II Tim. 2:4)
An interesting and encouraging fact is that God promised that He would do what the people could not do. While He did not fight these battles for them He prepared the way and strengthened them to be victorious. He was on their side, watching – and ready to help them take possession of the land. He would drive out the former inhabitants little by little to give the people a chance to inherit the land. He would not do it all at once because if He did the people would not be strong enough to keep control the land. (Ex. 23:28-30)
It is easy to see the application here , is it not? Though we have to daily crucify the flesh and fight against temptation and sinful desires in our life, God has promised to help us ‘possess the land’. In the sanctification process God has given us His Spirit to empower us to live the Christian life – it is His grace that enables us to put off the things of the flesh and to inherit the new. He has given us everything we need to live this life in the Spirit. II Peter 1:2,3,4says ‘Jesus our Lord , as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.’

There were promises God made to His people (Ex. 23:20-33) if they conquered the inheritance-cities and walked in obedience before Him.
1.He would be the enemy of their enemies.
2.He would bless their children.
3. They would be overcomers, victorious
4. They would walk in health and prosperity.

God also warned them that there were conditions to these promises. To live under the blessings of God the God’s people needed to remember that…..
1.. The fear of God was to provoke them to obedience.
2. They were to worship God alone.
3. They were not to allow anything in their life that would hinder or offend them to draw them away from God.

God did not fight the battles for the cities of inheritance but He always enabled His people to be victorious, as long as they walked in obedience. So it is also in the New Covenant . The battle of overcoming the flesh is our battle to fight but God will not allow anything to be beyond our ability to overcome.(Phil. 4:13 , I Cor. 10:13) – as long as we trust and obey Him.

An example of a city-of-inheritance battle is found in Joshua 6,7
The city of Jericho was the very first city the Israelites conquered. It was God who gave the plan of attack, it was God who toppled the walls God offered His strength where the Israelites had none, but it was the Israelites who had to fight the battle.
They had to march into the city and take it by force. God had commanded them to take the silver and gold and valuable vessels are consecrate them to His for use in the temple but they were not to take anything for themselves.
Though we as believers are commanded to crucify the flesh with all it’s selfish desires and self-worship, God can use anything that we give to Him. How often have we seen a wasted life turned over God and then watched God take that life and use it in His kingdom.
But one man Achan did not obey the Lord. He was tempted to take something for himself, he gave in to temptation , stole the items, hid them in his tent and he was destroyed because of his sin.
How often are we like Achan ? We desire something for ourselves, a little profit or personal benefit. If no one sees us, what is the harm?
How easy it is for us to justify a fleshly weakness, or temptation and we think – one little sin, one little giving in to temptation won’t matter – after all no-one is perfect. The picture is that if we willingly allow and nurture a weakness in our flesh it will destroy us.
Although Jericho, the first city encountered in claiming the promised land) fits the principles of inheritance city warfare there is something that sets it apart. This city was burned and Joshua cursed anyone who would ever inhabit it.
It is interesting that the parallel still fits if we consider that the sin nature is dealt with once and for all when we accept Christ and is put out of the way. We are given a new heart and a new spirit, and citizenship in a new ‘inherited’ kingdom within us.
Once the sin nature is dealt with and its controlling power destroyed, then we begin the inheritance ( or sanctification) work of crucifying the deeds and weakness of the flesh so the nature of Christ can shine in us and through us.

How victorious are you over the ‘inheritance cities’ of your life? Have you successfully driven out the ‘old man’ so that the ‘new man’ can possess the promised land?

Col. 3:9,10 “ have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.”

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Cities Far Away (4)

Review - If the shadow (or type) is in the Old and the thing casting the shadow ( or antitype) is in the New then the cross stands in the divide. The physical type or shadow in the Old translates into the spiritual antitype or ‘good thing’.
In other words the physical in the Old is the picture that teaches us about the spiritual in the New.
( if you just stopped by and have not read my last posts you may want to go back three days and pick up from the beginning – you can just click on ‘Shadows and the Real Thing’ listed under Labels)

We have been looking at the subject of our spiritual warfare and how the battles recorded in the OT give us the principles we need to understand in order to be victorious in battling our spiritual enemies today.

Yesterday’s post looked at the oppressing enemy or Satan and how it is God who fights for us in these battles.

The cities far away
Another type of enemy that the Israelites faced in battle were the ‘cities that were far away’.
The shadow ( or type) is the ‘cities-far-away’
the ‘thing’ ( or antitype) is ‘the world’.
Eph 2:17 unlocks the code by referring to us - while we were still in the ‘world’ - as being ‘afar’.

( An example of a OT battle against a city-far-away is in Num. 31:7-11)

These cities-far-away were the peoples that the Israelites encountered along their journey. They unavoidably had to interact with them , either peaceably or otherwise.

The principles or instructions God gave concerning relationship with these cities-far-away are recorded in Deut. 20:10-15 . God instructs the Israelites to have only intentions of peace when they approach these cities.. Does this initial counsel God gives the Israelites to make every effort to interact peaceably with these cities bring to mind a new testament scripture?
How about Rom. 12:18? “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”, which is of course referring to how we are to live in the world.

There was, however, a stipulation that God gave the Israelites concerning the peaceful relationship they may establish with a city. It was not to be an ‘equal’ relationship, the city must submit to the Israelites , serving them and paying them tribute.
I’m sure you see the parallel here immediately. We as believers are in the world but we are not ‘of’ it. (John 17:!4) The world ‘serves’ us – we are not to be slaves to it.
While the world around us is necessary for our temporal life here, we are to remember that the things of this world will pass away - we are just traveling through.
We are not to become entangled with the things of this world that will bring us into bondage.
(II Peter 2:19-21)

If the cities-far-away refused all offers of peace and declared war against the Israelites then God commanded His people to fight.
God did not fight this battle for them.
He ordered THEM to fight and to kill every male in the city, but the women and children and the livestock and all the spoil of the city was theirs to keep and enjoy.
This makes for a very interesting spiritual application. Do you see it?
What does killing all the males signify? Obviously with all the males killed , the city was helpless, unable to exert any power against the Israelites.

So the spiritual application is that if the things of the world threaten to harm our spiritual well-being then we are to ‘kill all the males’ rendering it powerless to control us, or to cause us to compromise the things of God.
I John 2:15 says “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world , the love of the Father is not in him”.
Jesus told the rich young ruler who was controlled by love of money to give his money away, so that his wealth would no longer have the power to cause him to stumble. ( Matt.19:21,22)
If the movie industry seeks to control our minds with its immorality and violence maybe we need ‘to kill’ the power of the entertainment industry and not be a willing participant.
If the internet draws us into unhealthy chat room relationships then maybe we should ‘kill the internet’ in our home.
Sometimes it may be seemingly innocent things of the world that threaten us.
When we came back to the Lord , it was at a time in our lives when Vic and I spent a lot of time and energy playing tennis. We played most every day and twice a day on week-ends. We knew that tennis had too prominent a place in our lives and so we decided to hang up our tennis racquets. We ‘killed’ the power it had over us.

And yet God says ‘take the plunder’. What does this mean? I Cor. 10:26 says that ‘the earth is the Lord’s and all its fullness.”
We are free to enjoy the things this world offers and to participate in the things that are good, but only as long as they do not take our focus off the Lord and as long as they serve us in living godly lives.
Two years after we hung up our racquets we felt that tennis could serve us in opening doors to interact with other people and also as a form of exercise. Even though we picked up the game once more it never again had any power over us. We just enjoyed it’s ‘plunder’.
But I think there is another kind of plunder that we can take from the world!

The very best ‘plunder’ that we take from the world are the lost souls when we win them for Christ !!! (John 3:16, Mark 16:15)

What ‘cities’ ( or things) of the world threaten war against your spiritual well-being?
What would it take to ‘kill’ the power those things have over you ?

I will save for tomorrow - the cities of inheritance ( I love the analogy of this one!)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

OT Enemies and the Spiritual Warfare of the NT Believer (3)

The most common complaint about the Old Testament is that people are offended by the violence and bloodshed depicted in the accounts of the battles fought by the Israelites against their enemies. There are justifiable reasons why God allowed , even commanded, the annihilation of heathen nations but that is really another study.
For this study I want to focus on what the accounts of the physical battles in the OT mean to us in the spiritual New Covenant.

We are all familiar with the concept of the believer’s spiritual struggle being depicted by imagery of war.
In Eph. 6:10-18 we have the familiar passage of ‘putting on the whole armor of God’
In II Cor. 10:3-6 we have the oft quoted scripture “ for the weapons of our warfare”
II Tim. 2:4 , and I Tim. 1:18 also refer to the ‘warfare’ aspect of our Christian life.
Scripture passages use words such as: weapons, warfare, fight, armor, shield, sword, breastplate, helmet, wars, conquering, overcomers, adversary, victorious, enemies, foes, soldiers, battle, wrestle – all terms pertaining to combat.

Where then should we look to understand the teaching of this analogy? To Afghanistan or World War II or the Middle East? Not very reliable sources if we want God’s mind in this.
The only place - if we hold to the rule that scripture must interpret scripture- is to look in the Old Testament. Is the Old Testament not abounding with stories of war and warfare and the battles of God’s ancient people? What if God recorded the stories of these battles in such a way that they teach us how New Testament believers are to fight their spiritual enemies?

The NT scripture teaches us that every believer has three enemies that he must deal with in his spiritual life.
1> Satan and his demons – Rev.12:9, I Peter 5:8
2> the world – John 17:15,16 – I John 5:5
3> our flesh - Gal. 5:17, Romans 8:5,6

The thought came to me that if the Old Testament battles were the shadows of ‘how’ we are to conduct ourselves in battle against these three enemies, then perhaps the Old Testament battles were also divided into three enemy groups. I realized that IF they were I was truly onto something very exciting.
To my delight , I found that indeed they were!!!!

If you look at Deut. 20 God lays out the principles governing warfare and He Himself identifies three different kinds of enemies His people would encounter. He gives instruction governing the rules of battle against each of them.
The three enemy groups were,
1> an oppressing enemy too big for them to conquer (Duet. 20:1, Deut. 1:30, Ex.14:13,14)
2> the cities that were afar off ( Deut.20:10)
3> the cities of their inheritance ( Duet. 20:16-18)

The New Testament enemies are a perfect parallel to the Old Testament enemies.

1> The oppressing enemy – a conquering, powerful enemy that struck fear in the hearts of the bravest soldiers – that came to put God’s people into bondage of course parallels with the believer’s enemy, Satan.

2> The battles against the cities that were afar off were battles the Israelites fought against cities they encountered in their journey. If these cities extended a hand of peace then all was well, and the cities served the Israelites. If they reacted with intention of war, then God had specific instructions on how they were to fight against them.
The cities that were afar off – parallels to the world. Acts 2:39 and Eph. 2:13,17 even use the code words, ‘afar off’ in referring to the world.

3> The battles against the cities of inheritance were fought to conquer and posses the territory, or cities, that God had promised to His people. These battles correspond to the believer’s battle against the flesh. Eph.1:11– 3:11,12 – 4:1, Col. 3:9,10, Gal. 5:17,Rom. 8:5,6
We inherit the spiritual kingdom when we are saved but there is always the flesh that hinders us from victoriously living in the spirit.
(Some might argue that the cities of inheritance would parallel to heaven but that doesn’t fit because we will not have to ‘fight’ for our heavenly city of inheritance.)

Let’s look at each of these OT enemy types and examine the instructions God gave governing how they were to do battle against them, and how those instructions teach us how to fight our spiritual warfare.

The Oppressing Enemy

If you study the battles of the Old Testament involving an oppressing enemy , you will find that this enemy God Himself fought against. In Duet. 20:4 he says ,”For the Lord your God is He who goes with you , to fight for you against your enemies to save you.”
We looked at an example of this kind of enemy in my yesterday’s post. In Gideon’s battle God’s people did not fight… They simply STOOD in obedience and God destroyed the enemy.
If you read the familiar story of the Egyptian’s army threatening the Israelites, there too it was God Himself who drowned them in the sea and sent angels to remove the wheels off the chariots. The Israelites did not have to fight – they stood and watched.
There is another example in Joshua 10:8-11. Five kings joined forces to come against the Gibeonites who had allied themselves with the Israelites through false pretence.
Joshua was bound by his promise to protect them but knew that he had no power to prevail against a formidable foe as powerful as these five kings and their combined army. But God said, “Do not fear… they shall have no power against you ! I have the victory over them”.
And God Himself did the fighting. The bible account tells us that GOD routed them (rout is an old English word that means a disorderly retreat following an overwhelming defeat)
Then God killed them with a great slaughter and chased them along the road continuing to strike them down and then He cast down large hailstones from heaven to kill even more!
All the Israel army had to do was mop up!

Do these Old Testament battles shadow for us our relationship with our enemy Satan?
They do. No where in the New Testament are we told that we must do battle against Satan. We are told that Jesus has already defeated him and has put him under our feet. Luke 10:19, “Behold I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy and NOTHING shall be any means hurt you!”
We also have a passage in Jude 9 where even Michael the archangel dared not accuse Satan but said, “The Lord rebuke you !” If you read through the New Testament you will find no instruction at all on how we are to fight against Satan. Which perfectly fits the shadow – that the oppressing enemy is defeated by God Himself.

If you think about it, we are really not equipped to fight against him… he is invisible and working in a spiritual realm which gives him an incredibe advantage over us. How do we even know where he is – he is a created being and as such is only in one place at one time – Yes, his demons are everywhere doing his bidding but we don’t really know where they are either, or what they are doing , unless we see someone possessed and then we have the power in Jesus name to cast them out - but other than that we are really helpless against them.
Satan’s only power against a believer is to confuse him or bring fear upon him – there is a fascinating shadow of Satan’s tactics against the believer in Nehemiah … but that’s for another post!! As far as battles go… God fights on our behalf against Satan.

We are busy enough with the other two enemies we must do battle with. How well we fight those battles determines how much of a foothold we give Satan in our lives….

Tomorrow - God’s rules for warfare against the cities that are afar off…. and the cities of our inheritance

A Trumpet, a Vessel and a Lamp (2)

I love Gideon because any one of us could fill his shoes. He was a shy, less-than courageous, self-confessed nobody! Until God called him.
Then his 'dis-advantages' became his 'advantages'.

Because he was not courageous, he waited until he was sure of God's voice. I love how God was patient with him and it seems to me that God was even pleased that Gideon did not want to rush ahead in his own confidence. When he asked for confirmation that God had indeed spoken, God answered him, not once but twice and then when Gideon was too shy to ask again....God, knowing the fear still lingered in his heart, said, "Gideon, I know you are still afraid, I will give you another sign." Do you notice how God's sign is much more convincing than the sign Gideon asked for? Gideon asked for the dew to be on his fleece and not on the ground -- God sent him down to the enemy's camp to listen to two men talking in their tent about how one of their dreams meant that God had given Gideon victory over them!

Because Gideon considered himself a nobody, he recognized the fact that except for God's power working through him , he would utterly fail!
Once he was convinced that God had indeed called him to save his people from the tyranny of the enemy, he was ready and willing to follow God's command.

His first task was completed under cover of night, secretly. He destroyed the idolatrous place of worship that the Israelites had set up.
Then he called together the largest army he could, all the available men of Israel. Because God wanted there to be no mistake about whose power it was that won the victory, He pared Gideon's army down to 300 men.
Not only does he strip them of strength in number but he gives them the most unusual weapons. Each man is given a trumpet and a pitcher with a lamp inside.
I think it is surprising that Gideon was able to convince 300 men with a lantern to go face a formidable foe that had kept them oppressed for seven years. But they go and on the command of Gideon, according to the instructions he had been given..... they blow their trumpets, break their vessels and shout, "The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!"
The enemy, startled awake from their sleep, see themselves surrounded by blazing lights! In their terror and confusion they destroy themselves from within.
The victory belongs to the God of Israel and His people are free !!

It is an amazing story... read it again for yourself in Judges 6 and 7.

It is the historical account of a physical people held in physical bondage by a physical foe that is defeated in a physical battle.
But... if we view the story from our side of the CROSS ( if you didn't read my previous post you may want to do that before you continue) it becomes a picture of how we are to do spiritual battle against a spiritual enemy who desires to defeat us spiritually.
Where do we find the code to unlock the spiritual meaning? In the New Testament.

First we need to identify the enemy. Who is our oppressor? Who has the power to hold us in bondage and fear? Satan, of course. I Peter 5:8, "Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour."

Gideon's humble attitude is easy to understand in a Christian context. We are truly nothing in ourselves but only as we are in Christ do we find our worth. "For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works." ( Eph. 2:10) We have nothing to boast of because the gift of salvation is free..."For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.. not of works lest anyone should boast." ( Eph. 2:8,9)
And even his self-image of being the least of the least is an attitude we are encouraged to embrace, "in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself." ( Phil. 2:3)
And truly we see pictured in Gideon's life the truth of James 4:10, "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up!"

Some may think that Gideon's reluctance to believe God's word and testing Him to make sure is a sign of Gideon's lack of faith, but I think it is rather a sign of wisdom. We are admonished in
I John 4:1 to not "believe every spirit, but test the spirits whether they are of
God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. " God is not offended by us making sure that it is really His voice we are hearing. Asking God to confirm to us what we feel He is saying is what we are encouraged to do in James 1:5 "If any of you lacks wisdom let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally..."

Gideon sent messages everywhere throughout the land for men to come help him fight the Midianites, but God stripped his army to the bare minimum.
Do we not also do as Gideon did? If we have a battle to fight we grasp for every help available to us... we look for help in the flesh, in the natural. But God wants the glory for Himself and often waits until we have found the fleshly help futile and only when we are ready to depend upon God alone does He act. "For we ...rejoice in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh." ( Phil 3:4) If we trust in earthly things, we trust in things that at best are temporal and will always in the end fail us.

Our attitude toward God is important to be victorious over the enemy, but we must also destroy the footholds he has in our lives. Just as Gideon went out in the dark of the night to destroy the high places of idolatry, so also we must look into the private darkness of our own hearts and repent of the things that stand between us and God. II Cor. 10:3-6 talks about how important it is to 'pull down' , just as Gideon did, the 'high places' that we have exalted against God. And where is this accomplished? in the secret places of our minds, "arguments, thoughts, disobedience,"

Then we are ready to do battle. What were the weapons given to Gideon's soldier? A trumpet, a pitcher and a lamp. We don't have to guess at their midden meaning, the code words are revealed in the scripture.
A trumpet throughout the bible is always symbolic of God's voice. The apostle John describes God's voice in Rev. 1:10, "I .. heard a loud voice, as a trumpet." As Gideon's army all blew their trumpets and shouted , "The sword of the Lord ! and of Gideon!", the symbolism is clear. Eph. 6:17 tells us the the sword is the 'word of God."
To fight a winning battle against Satan we must make God's Word, the scriptures so familiar that we have it readily in our mouth.

What about the pitchers? The pitcher would have been a clay or earthen vessel. The code is in II Cor. 4:7 "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels." The earthen vessels are your body and mine, created from the dust of the earth!!
And the lamp in the vessels? Jesus is the Light of this world and James 1:17 calls God the "Father of lights". If we have Christ, the light of the world within us, then we "shine as lights in the world." ( Phil.2:15)

Gideon commanded his army to shatter their pitchers. Our body, the earthly self, is also referred to as our flesh, and the New Testament teaches that we need to 'put it off'. ( Col.3:9)
It is only as we put off the flesh ,or the old man, that the light of Christ can shine forth from our lives, "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts." (Rom. 13:14)

One more point, Gideon's army did not actually fight, did you notice? They were only commanded to 'stand'. Read Eph. 6:11-18 and you will see that in resisting the devil all we have to do is STAND. The word is repeated four times in this passage. "Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to STAND against the wiles of the devil." We don't have to fight him... if we 'stand' in our faith, God will Himself defeat the enemy on our behalf. Is that not what He did for Gideon?

I am sorry this post is a bit long, I did try to cut it short - there is so much more to be said... but hopefully I have whetted your appetite enough to encourage you to go and study this wonderful story and lesson for yourself.
Tomorrow? understanding the battles of the Old Testament

Monday, March 19, 2007

The New Hidden in the Old and the Old Revealed in the New (1)

Have you ever considered that the bible is the only book in the history of man that was authored by a god?
There is only one book because there is only One true God, the Creator of our universe and all that is in it.
When you look at His creation and how detailed and intricate everything is - beyond the comprehension of man- would it not naturally follow that His book would also be out of the ordinary ?
Historically, it is totally reliable; all the recorded events really happened , all the characters truly lived , but there is more to God’s book. The historical layer is only the surface , there is much more underneath and we shall never plumb the depths of it - no more than man will ever understand all there is to know about His creation.

If you love a good mystery story with hidden clues and coded messages all leading to a priceless treasure, then the Bible is a book for you !!
The Old Testament has hidden within it’s stories spiritual application of God’s truth. To unlock these messages you need the code that is revealed in the New Testament . We can say that the New Testament is hidden in the Old and the Old is revealed in the New .

Did you ever wonder what Acts 17:11 was talking about when it commends the Bereans because they did not take Paul’s New Testament teaching at face value but searched the scriptures to see if what he was teaching was true? The only scripture they had was the Old Testament and Paul was teaching the gospel message of the New Covenant. So how could they test the New by the Old?? Only if the truths of the New were hidden in the Old, and they knew how to find them.

Have you ever read Heb. 10:1 ? “For the law having a shadow of good things to come and not the very image of the things…” or ( Col. 2:17) , and wondered what it really meant?
I remember , as I’m sure you do, my childhood days of playing outside on a warm sunny day and being intrigued with my shadow.
These verses talk about shadows and things.
Let me ask you , which comes first ? – the shadow or the thing that it shadows? The answer is obvious , of course.. You cannot have a shadow if the ‘thing’ is not there to cast the shadow. So, the tree is first, then on a sunny day we can see it’s shadow.
But that brings up an interesting point. Hebrews 10:1 says that the ‘law’ is the shadow…. but didn’t the Old Testament come first, then the New Testament ?
Maybe not!!
In Hebrew 8:5 we are told that when Moses was meeting with God on the mountain God commanded him to make the tabernacle according to the pattern God showed him.
The pattern he was shown was the 'real thing' and the earthly tabernacle was to be the ‘shadow’ of it.
What was the real thing? The real thing was the everlasting covenant that God planned from the foundation of the earth. Jesus came to reveal that New Covenant but the shadow of it was always there all through the Old Testament, which means that in the mind of God the New Covenant was first !
Also God tells us in Romans 15:4 that the stories in the Old Testament were written down for us who live in the new covenant, for “our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” There is only one way that the old testament stories could ‘teach’ us , that is if they have spiritual meaning. An interesting passage in I Peter !:10-12 tells us that the prophets of old knew that the things they ministered to in the old testament were not for them but for us !!
There is a neat principle…. The ‘physical’ things of the Old Testament on one side of the CROSS are interpreted as ‘spiritual’ things on the other side of the CROSS.

A passage in I Cor. 10 illustrates this. In verse 6 we are told that the life experiences of the Israelites of old were ‘types’ or examples to teach us spiritual things.
Look at the example that is given ….. The story in the Old Testament is this…..

It had been a long day of traveling under a hot sun, and finally the Israelites set up camp in the Wilderness of Sin. But there was no water and they were thirsty. They came to their leader, Moses, and demanded that he give them water. They murmured and complained against him saying, “Why did you take us out of Egypt where we had plenty of water. Are you trying to kill us and our children and our livestock with
thirst? “
Moses , in frustration, cried out to God…”Whatever shall I do with this people? They are ready to stone me!!”
The Lord said to Moses, “Go in front of the people …. take your rod with you and I will come and stand on the rock in Horeh and you shall strike the rock and water will come out that the people may drink.”
Moses did so and when he struck the rock water flowed out of it and the people quenched their thirst.
On one level that story is historic and when viewed from before the Cross , the rock was a physical rock and the people were physically thirsty and physical water quenched their thirst.
But viewed from after the Cross, the story has spiritual meaning and application. . I Cor. 10: 4 tells us that rock was Christ from Whom flows spiritual water to quench our spiritual thirst.
If you remember the Old Testament story, the Israelites again come to a place where there is no water and they again faint from thirst . This time God tells Moses to speak to the Rock. Moses in his anger at the rebellious children of Israel strikes the rock instead of speaking to it. Because of that he is not allowed to enter the Promised Land. Why was God’s punishment so harsh? Because the ‘shadow’ HAD to accurately reflect the ‘real thing’. What was the shadow reflecting? Jesus was ‘struck’ once for our sin, (Heb.10:10) and we cannot ‘crucify’ Him again.(Heb.6:6) God could not let Moses distort the ‘shadow’ without also distorting the ‘real thing’.
Do you see the picture? Jesus was struck for the remission of our sins, once for all, and now we need only SPEAK to Him to drink of His living water.

It was years ago when I discovered this truth to interpret scripture. I was one day reading Gal. 4 and I came to verses 21-31 and a light went on … I became excited because I realized that there was a whole dimension to scripture that I had never seen before. The passage is talking about Sarah and Hagar and the two covenants, Old and New. It doesn’t say that we can make a comparison…it says that they symbolically ARE the two covenants. That told me that God recorded their story in such a way that they played out – unknowingly - spiritual truths for the benefit of the people of the covenant to come.
So the spiritual truths of the New Covenant can be found demonstrated for us in a story from the Old. God knew that we love movies and pictures and stories so He provided them to help us understand His abstract truths through concrete visual stories. Isn’t that neat??

If you have never heard this teaching before you may find it a little confusing at first but if you want to learn more…I will be over the next few posts be using the physical stories of the Old Testament and showing the spiritual meaning they reveal to us.

Tomorrow ? The story of Gideon and the unusual weapons of his army of 300 men.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

16 Guards in Answer to Prayer

Prayer is the privileged ‘line of communication’ that all of God’s children have access to.
We know we can come to God at any time and make our requests known to Him - not that He doesn’t already know what we need . His word tells us He does. (Matt. 6:8) “For your Father knoweth what things you have need of before ye ask Him.”
So then why pray?
The obvious answer is ‘for fellowship’ but we also need to pray because it turns our eyes in the direction of God’s answer. If we didn’t ask, we would not be able to give evidence one to another of answered prayer and in doing so give glory to God.
Asking not only makes us aware of our need, it also makes us aware of the miracle of the answer.

There is power in praying for one another because God delights in us ‘wanting to help’. I remember when my daughter was very little and wanted to help me with whatever I was doing… well! as all mothers know, it was really much easier ( and often less mess and trouble) to do it myself but I delighted in her desire to be involved with what I was doing… and some of my treasured memories are build around things we did together.
I think God feels the same about us.

While God is no respecter of persons and answers the prayers of all His children, no matter how small their request is, I think we find the more dramatic answers to prayer so exciting because the stories grip our imagination and fill us with delight at how great our God is! And we are inspired to pray more!!

One such miracle involving prayer is retold by Dr. Wesley L. Duewel (a missionary for 25 years in India and the president of Oriental Mission Society) , in his book, “Touch the World by Prayer”.

A missionary , home on furlough, was telling the following story that happened during the Mau Mau uprising.
“While serving at a small field hospital in Kenya , every two weeks I traveled by bicycle through the jungle to a nearby city for supplies.
This was a journey of two days and required camping overnight at the halfway point. On one of these journeys, I arrived in the city where I planned to collect money from a bank, purchase medicine and supplies and then begin my two-day journey back to the field hospital. Upon arrival in the city, I observed two men fighting, one of whom had been seriously injured. I treated him for his injuries and at the same times talked to him about the Lord Jesus Christ. I then traveled two days, camping overnight, and arrived home without incident.

Two weeks later, I repeated my journey.
Upon arriving in the city I was approached by the young man I had treated. He told me he knew I carried money and medicines. He said, ‘Some friends and I followed you into the jungle, knowing you would camp overnight. We planned to kill you and take your money and drugs. But just as we were about to move into your camp we saw that you were surrounded by 16 armed guards.’

At this I laughed and said that I was certainly all alone out in that jungle campsite. The young man pressed the point, however, and said, ‘No, sir. I was not the only person to see the guards. My five friends also saw them and we all counted them.' It was because of those guards that we were afraid and left you alone.’”

At this point in the missionary’s sermon, one of the men in the congregation jumped to his feet and interrupted the missionary by asking if he could tell him the exact day this happened. The missionary told the congregation the date and the man who interrupted told him this story:

“On the night of your incident in Africa , it was morning here and I was preparing to go play golf. I was about to putt when I felt the urge to pray for you. In fact the urge of the Lord was so strong, I called men of this church to meet with me here in the sanctuary to pray for you. Would all those men who met with me on that day stand up?” The men who had met together to pray that day stood up. The missionary wasn’t concerned with who they were, he was too busy counting how many men he saw.
There were 16.

“For He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.”
Psalm 91:11

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Is it Raining?

This morning the ringing phone got me out of bed.

It was my friend with whom I walk for an hour every morning from 7:30- 8:30.
We had the following conversation…..
friend - “If you look outside it is raining pretty hard…do you still want to walk?”
me - peering through the blinds onto my kitchen patio, “It’s not raining.”
friend - “Yes, it is!”
me - looking harder through the misty half-light and not seeing any raindrops bouncing off the wet decking boards.. .”No, it’s not raining here. Where are you ?”
friend - retorts, “Just a street up from you!”
me - half in jest… “Well, it’s not raining in the back of my house . Let me go see if it is raining in the front of my house.”
I walk through the house to the living room window and look outside to see raindrops splashing on the car’s windshield …”Hmmmmmm, well, yes… I guess it is raining a little here in the front of my house!”
We laugh and decide to walk in the rain anyway!!

Hanging up the phone, I thought of the disciples when they were asked by Jesus, “Did you catch any fish?”
And when they replied “NO!” He said , “Well, cast your nets on the other side of your boat!”
I’m sure their first reaction was the same as my friend’s, “That’s silly, why would it be different on one side from the other side?” - and then...... they pulled up their nets full of fish!

But then I thought about it some more and I thought, “What a good lesson there is here!”

How often we get up in the morning and the day’s duties and burdens weigh heavy on our shoulders and we look out on our life and see it is raining!! We galumph to the washroom to do our morning ritual , wishing we didn’t have to do the day at all. ( galumph – to move clumsily with a heavy tread)
But…. if we go to the other side of our ‘house’ and look out from there we will see that there are more blessings than we can count.
Isn’t there always more to be thankful for than to complain about - if we just make the effort to take an honest look?
If you feel annoyed with your husband and feel a cutting remark rising up dangerously close to your vocal cords… walk to the other side of the house and remember the last time he made you smile.
If your children are driving you up the wall, walk to the other side of your house and remember how sweet they look when they are asleep.
If your grocery store is out of stock of a particular item you wanted, look on the other side and you will see that you need not go to bed hungry!
If you walk into the bank to do a quick transaction and a long line-up greets you at the door… walk to the other side and be thankful you can walk and that you have a bank to walk into and that you didn’t have an accident on the way !!

I’m being a little light-hearted today but I’m sure you get my point!!
We can choose which side of our ‘house’ we look out from. And if we look out from the side where it isn’t ‘raining’ how much brighter our day looks! And if we keep that perspective, we will reflect the sunny-side of our ‘house’ into the windows of the people we interact with throughout our day!!

"This IS the day the Lord has made… Let us rejoice and be GLAD in it !" (Ps. 118:24)

"In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." (I Thess. 5:18)

Friday, March 16, 2007

Two Sides of the Same Story

There is a verse in Prov. 18:17 that says ”The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him”. In other words ,the first story you hear sounds believable until you hear the other side.
How true !!

Years ago when I had a dressmaking business, I built up my clientele through word of mouth which meant that all my customers were somehow connected to one another. Just as people tend to confide in their hairdresser they also confide in their seamstress and so I would hear many personal stories.
I remember one story in particular that totally won my sympathy and I would have sworn in court for the validity of this woman’s story. Then one day I listened to another woman pour out her heart and again I had no doubt as to her sincerity, until suddenly something she said began to sound familiar and I realized that both these women were telling the same story but OH! how different the perspectives were!!
I resolved that from that day on that I would be careful to withhold my judgment until I had heard both sides of a story.

No lesson is ever learned perfectly, however, as I found out this week-end when I was reminded of how easy it is to misjudge.
We live in a gated community where visitor parking is limited and when we invite people over, parking is a problem – more so for us because our garage was converted into a sewing room and workshop by previous owners and our two vehicles are parked on our driveway. If our visitors park on the side of the street it makes it difficult for our neighbours to get in and out, as our complex streets are a little narrower than the public ones.
On Sunday we had our kids and another couple come over. It was just going to be for a short time so we thought it would be OK to park on the street. When our kids got out of their car, our neighbour “Bob” knocked on the window , gesturing and pointing at their car. Vic parked our car behind theirs and again he knocked on his window, gesturing and pointing, and waving his hand. Not wanting to cause problems Vic moved our car to the top of the complex in a visitor’s space. When he came back into the house, he told me that the neighbours were really upset about the cars. For the rest of the day I had a sick feeling in my stomach, wishing that we hadn’t tried to park the extra cars on the street. Vic and I talked about what we could do to make it up to our neighbours, and decided we would apologize the next day with a peace offering like a bottle of wine or flowers.

The next day I met “Joy”, my neighbour lady at the complex gate. It just so happened the gate wasn’t working and we both were stuck outside. At the first opportunity I said, “I’m so sorry about the cars yesterday…It was just going to be for a few minutes so we parked where we shouldn’t have.”
She started to laugh and told HER side of the story. They had seen our guests arriving and realizing we had a problem, Bob was simply indicating to us that we should use THEIR driveway to park on. Joy had said to Bob, “I don’t think Vic understands what you are trying to say !” He had even run outside to tell Vic but he was already moving our car and didn’t see him.
We had a good laugh about it and decided that next time Joy and I would do the communicating!!

So that situation ended happily but two days later we experienced another situation that left us feeling sick. We were just driving along in the midst of traffic in a busy section of town, when a vehicle pulled up in the lane beside us , honking, gesturing, screaming and swearing- a young man having a road rage tantrum. We have no idea why. We had not changed lanes or cut him off and we were behind other traffic so had no control over our speed. A couple of blocks later he pulled up again on the other side of us and continued raging. We did not react and thankfully, nothing happened … but I wonder.... What would his side of the story be??

I Cor. 13 is the well known love chapter. In verse 5 it says that love “does not behave rudely, does not seek its own is not provoked , thinks no evil.” That is sometimes easier said than done – especially in ‘reactions’.
It is so easy to judge by appearances or by how we are affected emotionally in a given situation. But if we can remember to just take a step back before we jump to conclusions and react; if we consider what the other person’s side of the story might be, we would avoid so much trouble. How many wars – between friends, spouses, family members, neighbours, nations – have been started by a simple misunderstanding?
Even if someone’s actions or words seem to be hurtful, our REACTION does not have to be.
How often we can stop the beginning of a world war by living out the wise advice offered in
Prov. 15:1, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

Thursday, March 15, 2007

An Extinguished Lamp

My brother sent me a link to a Honda two minute commercial that took three months to shoot at a cost of 6 million dollars.
Two hand made Honda cars were taken apart to provide the props.
They set it up 605 times and each time some little thing went wrong in the sequence and they had to start over. Finally on the 606th try, everything went perfectly and they had the footage they wanted .

Watching the film, I was impressed by the ingenuity of it and how carefully everything had to be planned and set up with precise calculations for perfect timing to allow the chain reaction to work…each piece - no matter how small…. was of vital importance .
One little bolt not doing it’s part could thwart the plan and bring the sequencing actions to a halt.

While I was impressed by the creativity and persistence of the engineers of this feat, I thought of how insignificant it was compared to the interwoven sequences of actions and reactions that will ultimately culminate in the finished plan of God. Every person who has ever lived has been figured into God’s purposes and the most insignificant event in any of our lives can make or break the sequence necessary to fulfill God’s plan.

I thought about how , except for an extinguished lantern, I would not be here typing this post.

The year was 1920 in Russia. It was a troubled time of political unrest and fear. Bandits roamed the countryside, plundering, raping and murdering at will. There was no police protection because there were no police. It was every man for himself. No one was safe, and people lived with the terror of knowing that their homes, their livelihood , their own lives and the lives of their loved ones could be stolen from them at any time.

In the village of Neu Schoensee in the Ukraine, lived my great grandfather, with his family. One night in February, 1920 his worse fears came true.
The bandits came to his village. They knocked on the mayor’s door demanding that he come with them. On their way down the street they passed my great grandfather’s yard and decided that he should come with them too. They ordered the mayor to go wake him up and tell him he had no choice but to accompany them.
As soon as my great grandfather opened the door , the bandits pushed their way inside the house and took whatever pleased them. They loaded their loot on my great grandfather’s wagons which the bandits had driven up in front of the house. When they had stolen all they wanted they lined up my great grandfather and his son ( my grand father) and the mayor one in front of the other.
The bandits raised their sawed off shotgun and took aim… intending to use one bullet to kill all three men. The shot rang out!
My great grandfather cried out that he had been hit… and all three men fell.
The blast of the gun blew out the lamp and the yard was plunged into darkness. The bandits, unable to see, could not verity if the bullet had indeed killed all three men. They jumped on the wagons and drove away.
My great grandfather was killed and my grandfather was slightly injured, the mayor was not hurt.
Had the lamp not been hanging in exactly the right position for the blast of the gun to blow out the flame, the bandits would certainly have checked the bodies to make sure they were all dead and finding that they were not, would have finished the job.
A few years later , my grandfather and his family immigrated to Canada. ( his son, my father, was two years old)

We so often think that the events of our day are meaningless but only God knows how important they really are. And only a Divine Mastermind could orchestrate the infinite number of inter-related events so important in the big picture. One day we will see the vital part we played in the ‘big picture’ when we stand and watch the unveiling of God’s perfect plan.

God is so in control of everything that happens that He can say that “till heaven and earth pass away one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” (Matt. 5:12)
If He watches over the tiniest letter in His written word , can we not trust Him to watch over us ? No matter how threatening our world becomes around us, no matter how chaotic our life seems, God , the Master Weaver is working all things according to His purposes . All we need do is trust Him and declare with Job …..
“I know that You can do everything, and that NO purpose of Yours can be withheld from You !” (Job.42:1)