Yesterday I mentioned a story in 2 Kings 6 about the prophet Elisha and the attempt by the king of Aram to capture him. The servant saw the army and wondered what they were going to do to stay alive. Elisha encouraged his servant to not be afraid, but he also prayed for him. He helped to connect the dots between what God was doing and his life. “God help him see it” God answered the prayer and he saw.
Isolation is no friend to someone walking in faith because we are easily shaken on our own. A life of faith is not something we just do on our own, nor should it be. We live it out with each other. We grow together. What a privilege to be able to help someone see what God is doing in the midst of crisis and to receive the same ourselves! It is awesome to be able to look at our brother and sister in Christ and say – “Keep your eyes on Jesus. Let’s do this together.”
How can you encourage someone to keep their eyes on Jesus, not in some cliché way like — “it will be okay”, but in a real way? How can you help someone in a way that doesn’t diminish the junk they find themselves swimming in, but instead helps them look up out of it to the Lord who walks with them through it. We need to pray with each other that God would open our eyes to whatever He has for us in any circumstance and to give us the faith needed for anything that might happen.
It is at this point that we are no longer paralyzed by the fear of the unknown, but are empowered by faith in the risen Savior. This changes how we live! Elisha acts on what his eyes of faith tell him and he prays that God would strike them with blindness in verse 18 and God does it.
It would appear that the servant takes a deep breath and calms down also. He has now seen that God is up to something big and he rests in it. Do you rest in Him? Do you find ways to stop, in the confidence of God’s Word and the ministry of His Spirit to rest in Him? Do you apply that which we confess with our mouth about Jesus being the Lord? That means giving up the desire to have it all perfectly arranged before stepping out in faith. That means coming before the throne of God with open hands and knowing that the assurance we have for each day does not come from a paycheck or a career, but a relationship with Jesus Christ.
We need to be connected with each other. We do know is that we will accomplish more walking in faith together than we will when we try to do it alone.
In 2 Kings 6 there is a story about the prophet Elisha and the attempt by the king of Aram to capture him. Early in the morning Elisha’s servant wakes up and looks out to find that a superior military force surrounded them while they slept. This terrified him as he could see the dangers, but he had no concept that there could be deliverance from it He wondered to Elisha, “What should we do?”
Truthfully, we relate pretty well to this servant. We worship together on Sundays and declare great truths about God together only to be discouraged by the chaos we find ourselves in on Monday. How do we apply faith to daily life?
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:2
I remember when I would take my children swimming when they were babies. They would be absolutely calm and happy if I held them so that they could see me. They would laugh, splash in the water, and even let me toss them in the air. But the minute I spun them around in the water, and they could not see me any longer, they got tense and started to cry. My hands never left their bodies and I never came close to letting them drown, but they lost sight of me and panicked at the sight of the mass of water around them. While this seems funny to us, we just as easily do that when the circumstances of life overwhelm and we take our eyes off our Jesus.
Life through eyes of faith is life fixed on Jesus Christ; we are called to look to Him in all things. In Christ we receive the ability to stand firm no matter what circumstances come our way and gain confidence to take faith-filled risks. There is a calm that comes upon us as we decide to keep looking to Jesus Christ and not to the circumstances around us.
Elisha tells his servant, “Do not fear! Those who are for us are greater than those who are against us.” It took eyes of faith to see that. It took assurance that there was greater power and purpose than what could be physically understood.
Everyday brings new opportunities to fix our gaze on Jesus Christ; He offers Himself to us. It means to follow Him, even when the odds seem against us and the challenges are overwhelming. We do well when we remember that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God. We gain confidence when we let God’s Word remind us that if God is for us who can be against us. Our job is to glorify God by walking in obedience to Him, no matter what happens in life, because our life of faith is not built on life circumstance, but on Jesus Christ.
What do you give someone who has everything, literally? Now before you think of that difficult person in your life to shop for, let me redirect your thoughts for a moment. We celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas and yet we get the gifts. This has been a consistent issue that my 4-year-old son has had this year. Just the other day he said, “I want to give Jesus something for His birthday, but nothing I give Him he will want.” That got me thinking. What would be on a wish list for Jesus.
For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together – Colossians 1:16-17
Obviously, Jesus is not going to want some material gift. As the creator of everything, getting a new electronic toy is not going to be meaningful to Him. So, maybe our focus needs to be on things we do for other people. After all, that is what Jesus modeled, right. What would his list look like?
There are some deeply troubling needs in the world. Would the top of his list have things like a cure for cancer, food for the hungry, the end of human trafficking? Would that special gift be that all would have access to medicine or clean water? Maybe those are too large to try to wrap our mind around.
Well, then how about family needs? Could there be marriages reconciled? Maybe some parents and children need to find a way to love each other. How about the financial strain that plague so many families? Could that be remedied with self-control?
Perhaps instead of something like that, you would look at your own life. What am I doing for Jesus, is it enough? Are you showing His love to other people? Are you avoiding sin or are you embracing it, rationalizing it as ‘not too bad’? Do you prioritize worship, prayer and the reading of the Bible? Is that what Jesus wants?
While all these things seem nice, I believe that the answer to this question comes in a statement Jesus made.
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ – Matthew 22:47-49
If we limit what we do for Jesus to a simple material item, or something that is done for Jesus out of duty, we are missing the point.
Jesus was not concerned with material things or having people do something for him out of obligation. All he wants is for you to love God with all your heart as you follow Him and then love other people. If we are loving God and people, the needs that are out there would be addressed. If God has your heart, it gives perspective to life’s struggles and hope for a future. When we love God we desire to be with Him, we cast off sin and turn to His ways.
Remember the story of the rich young ruler in Luke 18? He came to Jesus and described how much he had done for God in his life and still he felt like something was missing. He had kept the commands, or so he said, but realized that without eternal life he had nothing. Jesus said, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” -Luke 18:22
Jesus was not after this man’s wealth, but He realized that the one thing holding Him back from loving God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength was his wealth. As it turned out, it was the one thing this man was not willing to part with and even the promise of treasure in heaven didn’t entice him to follow Jesus.
There lies the answer to what Jesus wants from us– our life. He wants us to choose to love and follow Him.
So, while we don’t have a present under the tree wrapped for Jesus, we do have a life that can be given to Him. Each of us will make a big difference in the world when we love God with passion and love other people.
We told our 4-year-old son that it was not about something we could give to Jesus that he could open, like Legos, but it was living God’s ways. It is by not doing things our own way, but rather follow God’s ways. It is by helping other people and showing His love to the world. For him, we made it personal with things like being kind to his brother, sharing and helping his friends. They are all ways he can practice his love for God and people.
This Christmas Season give to Jesus what he has wanted all along, your heart.
You may have noticed by the amount of crazy, frivolous spending, that Christmas is coming. Materialism has run crazy and taken lives in its wake again. Getting deals does not make people evil. The sinful heart does a great job of bringing it out of people. But why? How is it that rational people can get so short-sighted over an electronic device that will be obsolete in a matter of months? It is a lot like getting caught in the undercurrent. If you don’t prepare for how you might guard yourself from it, you will end up underwater.
It is no different for any other area of our life. I know my family is currently in the midst of a transition from one ministry to the next. That lends itself to a lot of opportunities for unguarded emotions. What helps is to back up and look at the big picture – eternity. We are serving the God of all the Universe. We are obeying Him and not getting taken in by the comfort of settling somewhere where God is telling us to leave from. That is a hard place to be at times because our ability to try to control everything gets in the way. But there is such joy in the trust that comes from a relationship with God. It means we need to keep our eyes on Him and not on other things.
I don’t know what that means for anyone reading this, but I do want to share how I have been praying in order to keep focused on where I need to be now. And when I say that I don’t just mean as a pastor, but as a parent, husband and member of a community.
“He is always wrestling in prayer for you that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.” – Colossians 4:12 (part of it)
I have been taking time to wrestle in prayer for my family. We want to not just sort of settle in God’s will but we want to stand firm in it. We want to have our feet firmly planted on the Rock of our Salvation, Jesus Christ. So, I pray that my children, my wife and those I serve in ministry with will know the will of God and stand on it with confidence. I also have been praying for progress and growth in our relationship with God. (maturity) As we get closer, we become more like Him. And lastly I have been praying that we are fully assured of that will. As we walk each day in step with the Spirit of God, we want to know that we are right where we need to be!
This type of prayer involves taking a longer range view. It means understanding that sometimes what is right in front of you is not what you might have chosen, but you know the God who has chosen it can be trusted.
The beginning of the first proclamation of a national day of Thanksgiving from 1789. – by George Washington. (before it became a yearly thing)
‘Whereas, it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the Providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, humbly implore his protection and favor…”
The goal was always to thank God for his provisions. That is what Thanksgiving is about!
Why is God where our Thanksgiving beings, as it says in verse 2 “come before him with Thanksgiving.”
He gives Salvation to us
The Psalm reminds us that God is the Rock of our salvation. Right now there is turmoil in families all over the world. If we were left to our own devices to somehow obtain salvation and make sense of it all, it would be like trying to build a mansion on the beach with no foundation. Sure, you might get by for a while, but the wind and waves will come at some point and the house will be destroyed.
We can be thankful today that despite all the changes in our culture, positive or negative, that God does not change. We can be thankful that He still saves sinful people from the mess of sin we are in. He takes us and places us on the Rock, Christ Jesus.
He Made it All & is Over It All
In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land – Psalm 95:4-5
There is purpose and order in the creation. No matter what is going on at any given moment, God is still the real King. Why? Because He made it all. I mean try to imagine this scene. The depths of the earth in his hand. The mountain peaks, some of which people have never climbed, and never will climb, are his. The sea in all its splendor is God’s. He owns it because He made it. I mean I have made some amazing things with Lincoln Logs and Legos, but never anything as amazing as the universe, the depths of which we can never fully grasp.
This makes my heart burst with thanksgiving because it tells me that God is always on the throne. God is never surprised by anything that happens. There is no molecule in the universe that he is not aware of. He made it all. He knows it all. It reassures me that no matter what I am going through, no matter how alone I might feel, I can find comfort in knowing that God knows exactly what is going on.
He Knows and is Involved With us Personally
This is where it gets crazy. God over everything, but He knows everyone personally, individually. It is one thing to recognize that there is a God who is over everything, who is larger than anything. Many people believe in a “higher power.” But, the difference here is that God is personal and involved in our lives.
Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; – Psalm 95:6
He is our maker. That means we are not a mistake and not junk. Ephesians 2:10 says that we are God’s handiwork, His masterpiece. He has molded each person individually like an artist does with clay.
So, as we gather today we give start by giving thanks to God because in Him is where our Thanksgiving begins.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving!
One of the greatest stories to bring up with high school students is the story of Elisha’s way of dealing with a bunch of youth. They called him bald and he prayed and God sent bears to maul them. Sounds like teens should be nice to their bald youth pastors. But, why was this the reaction? At face value, this looks rather harsh. I mean, couldn’t they have just said, “hey, be nice to the man.”
First, here is the story, if you are not familiar.
From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. “Go on up, you baldhead!” they said. “Go on up, you baldhead!” He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths. And he went on to Mount Carmel and from there returned to Samaria. – 2 Kings 2:23-25
The explanation lies in both who the youth were and who Elisha was. First of all, I asked an Old Testament professor about this and one thing he brought up was that this wasn’t the average youth group. This was a group of trouble makers, or muggers. They were comparable to a street gang. So, sorry youth pastors, I guess if you are balding you can’t use this as a threat.
When they tell him to “go on up” they are not just talking trash. They are telling him to move on, to get out of town. Elisha, being a prophet, would not have always received a warm welcome in all places. Clearly this group was not thrilled with the message he brought and wanted him gone.
With that being said, this had everything to do with opposition to God. In this case, God dealt with the opposition in a swift fashion. It is never a good idea to be opposed to God. This is not a new concept, but just an occurrence where it is done with uniqueness.
It is not an overreaction. It is the act of an unholy people trying to live in proximity to a Holy God. This is something that they never did well, which is why Jesus Christ coming was so significant. Now there was a mediator between God and man. Now there was an ability to be forgiven of sin and to be viewed as righteous before God. We could never have done that!
I will say that if you are a teen and have a balding youth pastor, it is still wise to be nice to him. But, when he tries to ask God for bears to maul you, make sure you remind him of what was really going on there.
And of course — be careful who you taunt.
Forgiveness is an important topic because other people so often hurt us. That is the nature of relationships because they deal with people. There are so many lessons in these situations for us! God is not silent about this, but rather He has told us a lot about love and how to live with each other in kindness. We need to love each other!
God desires fellowship with Himself; He offers Himself to us! But so many people choose to live away from Him. Even if you are someone who has received Jesus Christ as your Savior at some point in your life, you still might not be in full fellowship with God. Sin does that. Sin does move us away from walking in daily dependence with God.
Forgiveness is closely tied to this because forgiveness touches all areas of our lives! You cannot walk in fellowship with God if you refuse to forgive people. When you decide to hold grudges, gossip, hurt others it is directly opposed to God and pushes you away from fellowship with him to a place of isolation.
Forgiveness is needed for fellowship with God.
Forgiveness is a lifestyle
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.- Ephesians 4:29
Unwholesome talk literally means “rotten talk” sort of like road kill in the hot sun. No one would go down the road, pick up a rotting animal and serve it for dinner. It is dangerous to eat rotten meat. You will get sick. It says do not let this rotten talk come out of your mouth.
When you go to the zoo they have an important rule: ”Do not let animals out and do not let people in with them.” Remember when the lady jumped in to the Polar Bear exhibit a few years back? That didn’t end well. You see, the goal is to set up boundaries so that people stay out and the bears stay in. Do not let the bears out is really wise advice.
That’s the picture here. Do not let those rotten words to come out of your mouth. Instead you should let words that are helpful for building people up.
This is more than just saying curse words too. This means other things as well that destroy relationships
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. – Ephesians 4:31
It says to get rid of these things. Take them outside, pour gas on them and light them on fire because these things destroy fellowship with God. But the difference is in verse 32 of Ephesians 4.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. – Ephesians 4:32
Be kind, Be compassionate – why? Because Jesus Christ is those things and He lives in you by His Spirit.
In Matthew 6 we have what is referred to as the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus told His disciples that when they prayed, they should include certain things including forgiveness.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors. – Mathews 6:12
Debts are obligations. What are our debts to God? Sin! Because the wages for sin is death. We deserve death because of our sin, but God forgives us because of Jesus Christ.
So then it says, forgive us our debts as, or in the same way, that we forgive our debtors.
We forgive other people because God forgives us. Except we aren’t very good at it. But see forgiveness is not something we normally do, it is a lifestyle that needs to be constantly worked through in prayer so that it is lived out.
What sin must we forgive? Are there limits? No, we are to forgive it all and let God be the judge.
When we practice this we show God’s work in us because God true and good. Forgiveness is freedom and forgiveness is where God blesses. It is what He did for us and what we are to do for others.
People will hurt you. You will hurt other people. At times this will happen intentionally and at other times not. But we must not get hung up on it, but extend love, grace, forgiveness. If we don’t we are running from God.