Sunday, August 29, 2010

300 Unlikely Spartans

300 Unlikely Spartans
August 30, 2010
Judges 7:7 "The LORD said to Gideon, "With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the other men go, each to his own place."

In the famous battle of Thermopylae, 300 Spartans are depicted as heroes. But the funny thing is, they lost and they all died. The King of Persia, Xerxes, marched against the Greeks roughly 480 years before Jesus walked the earth. Xerxes allegedly had "millions" of men in his army; for arguments sake, we'll say a lot of men, too many to count. The Greeks had about 7,000 men; clearly they were outnumbered. They were outnumbered by over 275:1. When it came time to concede defeat, 300 Spartans decided to stay behind and hold Xerxes off as long as possible (with the aid of 700 Thespians and 400 Thebans). Despite losing the battle, the 300 Spartans were touted as heroes because they were truly fighting men among men, career warriors who lasted longer than anyone else.

There was different battle though, also with an army of 300, that had a better outcome. They were not career warriors or fighting men, they were Israelites. The Midianites were oppressing the Israelites for far too long so God chose Gideon to lead the battle against them. Thirty two thousand men showed up to fight with Gideon. But listen to what God said about those 32,000 men, "You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into [your] hands." God did not want the army to be the victors; He was clear that He wanted to be the cause of the mighty win. So, God chose unlikely methods to whittle down the army to 300 unlikely men, men who were too afraid to get on their hands and knees to get dirty.

The Israelites faced a vast army; scripture says the battle was about 135,000 to 300. They were outnumbered 450:1; clearly the odds were not in Israel's favor (worse than the Greeks at Thermopylae). Remember, they did have these 300 special men with their "amazing" weapons. They were armed with trumpets, jars of clay, and torches. Yep, that's right, not even a shovel or pickax among them. These men were inadequate, otherwise God would not have distinguished the men as "men that lapped." If they were truly akin to 300 Spartans, God would have called them "men of valor" or "fighting men," but instead they were the "men that lapped." Read it in Judges 7.

God said He did not want Israel to boast in the victory. He wanted it to be clear to everyone that God was in charge and God caused the win. God still works this way; He does not want you to think you did it on your own. You may feel inadequate, maybe even a failure, but that's when God likes to step in and help. He doesn't want to help you win the battle, He wants to win it for you. You may have tried on your own and failed, you may have messed things up so the victory seems rather impossible, but that's okay. God delights in a challenge; He likes showing you His mighty strength over the situation that seems impossible. You may be facing an impossible battle, but despite how ill-equipped you are, it is the Lord who is able to win the victory. Basically, if you can breathe, you can still be victorious with God.

God caused the 300 unlikely men to win the battle that day, because He fought for them. The 300 Spartans should not be touted as heroes, the real heroes are the 300 unlikely men who trusted in the Lord to win the battle for them. Any man who can trust in the Lord to fight for him, THAT is a mighty man. I'd rather face the entire world with God on my side than stand against even one person on my own. God is able to give you victory over your situation right now, but you've got to stop fighting it on your own and let Him fight for you. And when you win, make sure you do not boast in your own efforts. Give all the praise and honor of the victory to God. He deserves the credit; He's the real victor.

God wants to win your battle, but He may ask you to lessen your arsenal so the odds are clearly against you. Then He can make that mighty win, the one where it is obvious you didn't really do anything on your own or even had a chance.

1. In what areas of your life are you still trying to gain the victory on your own?
2. How can you step back and let God win the battle for you while you give Him the praise?
3. What unlikely areas are you still willing to let God have the victory over?

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Deut 1:30, Judges 7, Judges 8:10-11, Malachi 3:6, Matt 24:35, 2 Cor 10:4

Sunday, August 22, 2010

God is Ignoring You

God is Ignoring You
Aug 23, 2010
Judges 6:13 ". . . "if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, 'Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?' But now the LORD has abandoned us. . ."

Gideon and the children of Israel were feeling ignored by God, even abandoned. The Midianites were oppressing them and there was nothing the Israelites could do about it. The Israelites had to go so far as to hide from those who were taking advantage of them and destroying their hard work. Gideon was hiding in a wine press, one particular day, when an angel appeared to him and said, "The Lord is with you." It is interesting to note Gideon's response. He said, "If the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about." Gideon spoke his true feelings about God's hand in everything; he felt ignored and abandoned by God when it truly mattered. If God was with him, then why were the Israelites being persecuted by the Midianites? Gideon had the same perspective you and I would have had. We would wonder, "Where is God in all of this?"

Surely, there are times when you feel like God is not with you: those times when others hurt you, those times when you lose a job or a secure family structure, those times when others steal from you. IF God was truly with you, then those terrible, rotten, horrible, no good situations clearly would not have happened. Maybe you've served God and cried out to Him when it mattered the most, but it seemed He ignored you. It seemed as if He did not show His awesome wonders, like He did way back when, for the Israelites out of Egypt. We have all felt that way, and we are in good company with Gideon. Gideon knew what it felt like, to feel like God had left and was ignoring the opportunity to display His wonders.

God is not ignoring you and He has not abandoned you. If you are a child of God and you have called out to Him for help to no avail, it is not right to assume God is ignoring you or has abandoned you. Just because God does not do what you want, when you want it, does not mean He has decided to ignore you or abandon you. For Gideon, God's seeming abandonment was a timing and power issue, based on their sin. It wasn't God's time yet to display His power.

I've had a specific prayer request for seven years now, praying everyday for God to intervene. On two separate occasions I have fasted for three days. On one occasion, I have fasted for seven days, taking no food or drink, other than water. During those times, I PRAYED. But God has still not answered me. God is not ignoring me and God has not abandoned me. On the contrary, God is with me. Christian, God is with you. Even though you don't see God act the way you think He should, it does not mean God has left.

When we complain that God is ignoring us, we are suggesting that God is errantly executing His perfect plan for us and mankind. Check for sin in your life and then wait for God. It is more likely that God has decided an alternative to what you would like to see happen. It is more likely that it ISN'T GOD'S TIME YET! It is more likely that God's perfect plan is different than yours. Go back to Gideon's conversation with the angel. The angel declared the Lord was with Gideon, before Gideon's situation was resolved. The angel didn't say, "The Lord WILL be with you and then your situation will resolve." The angel of the Lord said, "The Lord IS with you." The Lord was with Gideon at that moment and long before Gideon's situation was ever righted. The Lord never abandoned him and God was certainly not ignoring him.

Christian, God IS with you even though your situation is not righted yet. He is not ignoring you and you have not been abandoned. The Lord is with you.

1. What areas in your life seem ignored by God, that need righted?
2. How can you gain perspective on God's perfect plan and timing, even if your situations are never righted?
3. How can you trust that God IS with you, even when you don't FEEL like He is with you?

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Deut 31:8, Judges 6, Ps 9:10, Ps 37:28, Ps 94:14, Is, 55:9, Jer 2:19, Rom 8:28, Heb 13:5

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Greater Than Great

Greater Than Great
August 16, 2010
Col 3:23-24 "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving."

God wants you to be great. Well, sort of. He wants you to do great things, but He is not interested in your status or your standing with others. His greatness is intended for you in Heaven, not here on earth. If you've been a Christian for any length of time, you've undoubtedly heard that God has great things in store for you. This is true, but it is easy to misunderstand what those "great" things are. When you become a Christian and decide to serve Him, He unfolds His plans for you and your life, what He needs and wants you to do for Him. These plans and works that He has for you are the "great" things, that is, whatever He asks you to do. Funny thing is, you're unlikely to see the greatness in the things that He asks of you.

There was a great woman in the Bible, who lived in Israel at the time of Jesus' birth; her name was Anna. Anna was a prophetess (a woman of God who had a direct line of communication with the Heavenly Father). She was married when she was young and then widowed shortly thereafter. After becoming a widow, she dedicated her life to serving the Lord. All she did was pray and fast, fast and pray. She never left the temple, it says; she lived there for roughly sixty years. She interceded for us, for the children of God. She prayed to God for the benefit of us, for the deliverance of God's people through a Savior, Jesus the Christ. When Jesus was born, she spoke over His life and confirmed to those listening that He indeed was the Christ child. That was all she did. Really, it was rather uneventful, her accomplishments. She lived a boring life, and aside from seeing Jesus as a baby, she didn't get to see anything she worked for. But Anna was great. She did great things for God, because it was what God asked of her, nothing more, nothing less. She lived a lonely life, poor, and without great accomplishments in the eyes of man, but she was greater than great.

God's terms are not the same as ours. When we think greatness, we think big, magnanimous, enormous---even famous. But not so with God. His greatness for you will never be big, magnanimous, enormous, or even famous until you are in Heaven. Until that day, He wants you to be the least on this earth but working for Him. In fact, the less famous you are, the more you are probably accomplishing for God, since people will notice God and not you in all your efforts. The things you are doing for God are great, if it is what He has asked of you. That greatness will be revealed to you in Heaven, not on this earth. If you don't see the fruit in your efforts for Him, don't be discouraged. Just keep doing what God asks of you and it will be great.

You will never know the ripple effect that your work has on this earth. You might bump into a random person at the grocery store, have a three minute conversation about Christ, and never see that person again. But you might have planted a seed, a seed that leads to that person's salvation and possibly the salvation of that person's entire family. Maybe that person has a family member who gets saved and then goes on to become the pastor of the worlds largest church, seeing millions of people saved. All that because you simply did something so "great" as to have a three minute conversation with someone during your busy day.

The Prophetess Anna's prayers were heard by God, she interceded for many people and her work impacts your life to this day. It is quite probable that she prayed for the safety of Jesus' life when He was a young boy, during the time Herod was trying to kill Him. She would have been aware of the scriptures that foretold the threat on Jesus' life. Her prayers helped keep Jesus safe from Satan's grip all His days on this earth. Partly because of Anna's prayers, Jesus went on to give His life for you and me. Anna worked hard and did great things for God; she can look down from Heaven and see the impact her life has on yours right now (you're even still reading about her two thousand years later).

Do what God asks and it will be great; I promise. Don't be discouraged, though, if you don't see the greatness in what you're doing, especially if your work seems pointless. God will reveal your greatness someday, just not now.

1. What are you doing for the Lord?
2. Considering the things you've done for the Lord, how great do they seem?
3. How can you put fame aside in doing things for the Lord?

Don't take my word for it; study it for yourself: Psalm 131:1, Matt 2:13, Matt 11:11, Matt 18:4, Mark 9:33-35, Luke 2:36-38, Luke 9:48, Luke 22:23-26, 1 Cor 2:9, 2 Cor 4:18, Eph 2:10, Philippians 2:13

Sunday, August 8, 2010

You Offended Someone

You Offended Someone
August 9, 2010
Matthew 5:23-24 "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift."

If you have ever had an interaction with another human being in your lifetime, chances are you have offended someone. Whether you intended to or not, you've made someone angry. You've spoken carelessly, you've made thoughtless actions, or maybe even purposefully sinned against another. It happens to everyone. No matter how genuine and purposeful you are in life toward others, someone was still offended by you at one time. This offense, whether intended or not, is now your responsibility. The offended person might be completely wrong in their interpretation of your words or actions; nonetheless, you now have an obligation toward him or her. You are obligated by Christ to make it right, as right as you can, even at the expense of your pride.

In Matthew chapter five, Christ was teaching a large crowd of people, giving them words to live by. As part of His instructions, He told them (and us today) if they offended another person, they needed to ensure things were made right between themselves and the offended party. Read His words slowly, "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift." We've all probably heard this scripture before, but there is more to understanding it fully, not simply apologizing for your wrongs. Jesus was saying that reconciliation with an offended person was just as important as bringing a gift or offering to the Lord. You should be reconciled to him or her, which means being in harmony with the other person, before He would even accept a gift from you.

The Scripture says the thought of reconciliation occurs while you might be making a gift to God. This original offering or gift is an act of praise and worship to God, but God does not want your praise if you are not at peace with others, especially if you are aware that your brother, sister, friend, neighbor has been offended by you. Jesus didn't say go to your brother to ask forgiveness for your sins. You might not have actually sinned or done anything wrong. It says, "your brother has something against you." The offense your brother has against you might not even be valid. You may have done nothing wrong; maybe the only thing you did was wake up this morning, but it frustrated someone. It is your job, if you are aware, to go to that person and figure out how you can be at harmony with him. While you might feel this is being an emotional slave to another human being, it is still your responsibility to see if there is anything you can do to make it right. Maybe your actions were pure, but someone took them the wrong way. This is still an offense the other person has against you. It requires reconciliation.

When you go to be reconciled to the offended person, you must take responsibility for the fact that your actions, whether intended or not, had an adverse affect on someone else. Make every effort to be at peace with the other. To be reconciled, you might have to give a little, something that you don't necessarily feel you need to give. There is a point to this. Jesus said to be reconciled before giving your gift to God. You must be willing to give to another human being before you can give to God; this, in itself, is an act of worship to the Father, especially if it means laying down your pride. In doing this, He will now accept your personal gift or praise unto Himself as true worship.

It takes humility to go to another and admit that your actions hurt them or their feelings. It takes a big person to make every effort to make things right, even if you did nothing wrong. This is the bigger gift to God, far bigger than the one you were bringing to Him in the first place.

1. Who is holding a grudge against you?
2. Who have you offended someone, though you didn't actually do anything wrong?
3. How can you be at peace with others before you worship God?

Don't take my word for it; study it for yourself: Matt 5:9, Rom 14:19, Eph 4:3, Heb 12:14, James 3:18

Sunday, August 1, 2010

God Tempted Me

God Tempted Me
August 2, 2010
James 1:13 "When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;"

The most famous miracle Jesus ever performed was his very first one. Jesus was attending a wedding reception with His disciples when the host ran out of drink for his guests. The host had plenty of water, but had run out of wine to serve. Jesus was asked by his mother, Mary, to do something. Soon, Jesus had performed His first documented miracle and turned 120 gallons of water into 120 gallons of fermented alcoholic grape beverage (wine). This is the modern day equivalent of over 600 bottles of wine. While you may debate whether it was alcoholic drink, if it were not, why then would one of the wedding guests say, "Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now," if it was simply grape juice? No, it was alcoholic drink.

This miracle sets up a great opportunity for sin. While most every Christian would not debate that being an alcoholic is a sin, many argue that sipping one glass of wine is worthy of judgment. Why would God set the wedding guests up to sin through Jesus' first miracle? Why would God provide the vehicle to sin if it actually was a sin to drink one glass of alcohol? God didn't. God does not tempt man to sin; therefore Jesus did not provide that temptation to sin by giving the guests alcoholic beverages. Jesus knew what people would do with the wine. He knew they would drink it. Jesus intended for the wine to be consumed. If it was a sin to drink one glass of wine, then Jesus would not have turned the water into wine. While this opens up a debate for many Christians who vow not to drink alcoholic beverages, it is not a sin. The sin associated with alcohol is the uncontrolled use of the alcohol, drunkenness. Being drunk is a sin, but drinking a glass of wine is not.

Drunkenness is an issue of self-control. Another example of a self-control sin is gluttony, spoken harshly about in the Bible. No one would suggest eating food is a sin, but we've all indulged too much on more than one occasion. This is the same sin associated with alcohol, only alcohol is a substance that causes one to lose ALL self control after more than a few sips. Much is the same with heroin. We would all argue that using heroin is sinful, but morphine is an important by-product of heroin, used in many critical medications. All has been created by God; it is man that uses it poorly.

This still does not mean you should consume alcohol every day and in any way. Since alcohol, in many cultures, presents a negative stigma of sin, it is wise to avoid it in many situations and circumstances. Some people's faith suggests that alcohol is still a sin because of what mankind has done with it. Therefore, in their presence, you should not drink wine, as it could cause them to stumble. "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved." This was a directive written by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians.

You do have the freedom to consume alcohol. Paul tells you this before he warns you to stay away from it in many situations. He said, "Everything is permissible—but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others." Your job, then, in consuming alcohol is to drink responsibly. Drinking responsibly in the Christian sense is void of the argument of drunkenness (since that IS a sin). Drinking responsibly means ensuring you are not drinking in an act of rebellion, not breaking any laws, not losing self control, and not consuming in front of others who would be offended by it. For this reason, many have chosen to avoid it altogether. It is far easier to not sin if you don't engage in any activities that could lead you to sin. I will not tell you it is a sin to drink one glass of wine. I will tell you that it can lead to a great amount of sinning if you aren't one who has a large amount of self-control. If you've never overeaten in your life, then you probably aren't at much risk for sinning while drinking a glass of wine. But for the rest of us (basically EVERYONE), who lose self control at large meals, we should tread very cautiously.

1. How can you view alcohol as a creation of God?
2. How can you ensure you maintain self-control no matter what you are doing?
3. How can you ensure you aren't offending other Christians by your actions?

Don't take my word for it; study it for yourself: Pr 23:2, Pr 25:28, John 2:1-22, Rom 13:13, Gal 5:22-24, 1 Cor 10:18-33, 1 Tim 3:2, 2 Tim 3:3, Titus 2:2