Defeating the Hittites

The Hittites have come and surrounded our home. They have been threatening for quite some time now – ever since I quit paying homage to their gods. They have allied with the Amalekites and Midianites to bring down this little corner of the Kingdom of God. They want to return me to the slavery of yesterday's life.
Who are these Hittites, Amalekites and Midianites? Well just as those same named kingdoms of Biblical history were enemies of God's chosen people, so too we face enemies today.
While our enemies aren't human armies with battering rams and siege machines, they do test our resolve to stay faithful to the Lord. They seek to break down the walls we – with the help of the Holy Spirit – have built to withstand their challenges. So I garb myself with the whole armor of God and meet their challenges. And we win – the Holy Spirit and I, we win.
How do I recognize these Hittites when they come knocking? They are minions of Satan himself and are often very well disguised. They can spring upon you in a flash and before you know it you are a victim.
The Hittites in my life is my pride, the Amalekites, my intolerance, the Midianites, my impatience. I also am sometime challenged by the Canaanites – an old and evil enemy, the bottle. He is oh so weak now, but he hasn't gone home in defeat and so I must be ever on guard. It was from Canaan that the god Baal found its way into Jewish lives. Surely our addictions, whatever their source, become our Baal.
I know of other enemies too; the Edomites, the Moabites, the Ammonites, the Jebusites, etc., etc. Some of these "ites" manifest themselves today as greed, lust, judging, and unforgiveness. But just as God Himself defeated or equipped the Israelites to defeat the "ites" of the Old Testament, He, through His Holy Spirit, equips you and me to be victorious over our enemy, however he may present his evil self.

The greatest enemy we face is what I will label as the Philistines. The Philistines were the perpetual enemies of Israel and the fiercest – they were big, and bad, and mean, and they just never went away.  God warned, even commanded, the Israelites not to have anything to do with these pagans.

The Philistines that we face is our own sinful nature. None of the "ites" armies of Satan are as relentless and persistent as is our own internal Philistia. The army that would lay siege to my home, my personal temple of the Lord's, is never so menacing and sinister as that sinful nature.

Perhaps this has been a somewhat frivolous rendering of our war with sin. But I am inspired to see how so many "ites" came against Israel from near and far, and from all sides. Some of them were powerful, some less so. Ephesians 6 tells us that "…our battle is not against flesh and blood, …but against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil…" (Eph. 6:12)  Some of our enemies are powerful – some less so. But our Lord knows what we need for each battle and thus equips us so. (See "My Grace is Sufficient")

Read the chronicles of Israel's centuries old war with the Philistines – Israel falls away from God, she is defeated (1 Samuel 4:1-11), she repents and is victorious (1 Sam. 7:7-14; 13:3-4; 13:23-14:23; 17:1-58; 18:17-30), she rebels again and is defeated (1 Sam. 29:1, 31:1-13), she repents and is again victorious (2 Sam. 5:17-25; 8:1; 21:18-22).

Isn't the scenario similar in our own lives? We fall away from God and we find ourselves outside that shower of blessings – we are defeated. We repent and find comfort, peace, joy, and abundant blessings – we are victorious.

Greater enemies came and defeated Israel – Egypt, Assyria and Babylon – and we understand these defeats were ordained by God due to Israel's rebellion and worship of other gods. But God never abandons His own. He allowed nations to punish Israel by their defeat and slavery, but He always left a remnant present and He always redeemed them. As promised to Joshua – "I will never leave you nor forsake you." (Joshua 1:5b)

As we read about the Israeli exiles being redeemed from Babylon in Ezra and Nehemiah, having been forgiven their trespasses, and restored to Jerusalem, to His Kingdom – to His good grace and mercy, we must  parallel our own redemption and restoration to God's good grace and mercy. We are redeemed and restored by Christ's death at Calvary and His glorious resurrection which we will shortly celebrate on Easter Sunday.

Be blessed. . .

My Grace is Sufficient

"Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 5:20-21 ESV)

But He [God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you. . ." (2 Cor. 12:9a NIV)

So how much grace is sufficient and how can we know we receive the promised grace that 'washes us white as snow'?

We should understand that the grace to cover your sin is not the same as the grace I need to cover my sin. God does not spray paint His grace.

I cannot compare your pain, nor your pain tolerance with mine. You may say that on a scale of 1-10 your pain level is 3. Were I to experience that same exact pain I might insist it is a 6.

Likewise your trespass and mine, even though we think them alike, are not alike because of the contriteness of our hearts, the sincerity of our sorrow, the understanding of the grief we have caused our Lord, and other considerations.

I cannot know the level or amount of grace, how big a helping of grace is required to cover your trespass, but I can promise you it is not the same as mine, or your child's, or your husband's or wife's. It is not equal to or the same as that needed by anyone you know or anyone you might encounter.

Jeremiah wrote of God's grace in his book, Lamentations. He labeled that grace as 'compassions', and said, "They are new every morning".

Read with me chapter three of that book. Jeremiah is in despair. Though one could assign his woeful laments to all of Zion, or even appropriate them personally, we find in this chapter the outpouring of the author's own sorrows. No person, save Jesus, was treated with more contempt than Jeremiah in all the Bible.

And yet, like a match struck in the dark, there sandwiched by so many travails Jeremiah proclaims the soul saving grace of God:  "Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,  for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning great is your faithfulness." (Lam. 3:22-23 NIV)

Again I tell you, God does not spray paint His grace. Just as He has counted the hairs on your head (Matt. 10:30), just as He has ordained the number of your days before you were born (Ps. 139:16), and just as He has devised a plan for your life (Jer. 29:11), so too has He conceived and formulated the level of grace you need for today.

That is not the same grace you needed yesterday, nor the same you will need tomorrow or next week. It is the grace you need for today, for right now. If tomorrow your trespass is greater than today's, then His grace is greater still than today's.

The English versions of many verses in the Bible loses much in translation, and such is the case as we dissect Romans 5:20.  "…where sin increased, grace abounded all the more…" Several translations use the same English word for 'increased' and 'abounded', i.e.., 'where sin increased, grace increased', or 'where sin abounded, grace abounded'.

It is important to note that in the original Greek the two terms used different words altogether. I think it important that we see and understand the difference. The Greek word in the first instance is "pleonazō" (Plain-Jane increased or abounded), whereas in the second instance the Greek word is "huperperisseuō" meaning super-increased or super abounded, and the difference in meaning is as great as natural and super-natural!

Mankind may "pleonazō" his sin, where, as only He can, God provides "huperperisseuō" grace.

And – "They are new every morning"! Great is His faithfulness!!

Mountain Moving

“He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matt. 17:20; also Luke 17:6)

So what’s all this mountain moving about? Well, of course it’s not really about moving a mountain, is it? Who among us has any desire to move a mountain – unless you’re into highway construction? The most popular studies of this passage teach that Jesus was instructing His disciples about faith and how the measure or degree of our faith empowers us to do kingdom work. That is surely a valid and reasonable teaching, but I would challenge you to look it from a slightly different perspective.

On this occasion (Matt 17:14-20; Mark 9:14-29) Jesus was responding to the disciples query of why their attempts to heal a demon possessed boy had failed. 

Looking at Mark’s Gospel we find more detail, including a lengthy description of the possessed boy’s symptoms as well as the father’s admission of his struggling faith. This is the man who told Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). This plea was in response to Jesus statement to the father in verse 23, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes”. This verse corroborates and further supports the promises of John 14:12 and Phil. 4:13.

But with His disciples Jesus seems to be frustrated with their slow pace of learning. We too are somewhat surprised that the disciples are unable to heal the boy, particularly since they had been given authority to cast out evil spirits earlier (Matt. 10:1)  and had actually done so (Mark 6:13). So why now do they fail?

In Luke and Matthew’s Gospels we read that Jesus tells them, ‘Because you have so little faith”. Mark’s account adds another caveat – “So He said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting. (Mark 9:29 NKJV) (Note – not all translations include “and fasting”)

It seems we have two separate and differing explanations for the disciples’ failure – ‘so little faith’ and ‘by prayer [and fasting]. In fact both solutions are at play. We can understand how they go together when we think about what Jesus is saying in Matthew. When Jesus tells the disciples that they have ‘so little faith,’ it is not a matter of quantity since He explains in the next verse that even faith ‘as small as a mustard seed’ can move mountains. The disciples must have had at least that much faith in some sense or they would not have even tried to do the exorcism.

Instead of referring to an inadequate amount of faith, Jesus is referring to a faith that is deficient. That is, it is not the kind of faith that is effective. This is clear from Jesus earlier words about an ‘unbelieving and perverse generation’(vs.17). An unbelieving generation is a faithless generation, which is what the disciples and the others were being at this time. They have yet to believe and commit themselves to all Jesus has taught them.

So what’s with the mountain moving? There’s no record here of a mountain being actually moved. Or is there? Was not the demonic possession a mountain of a burden to both the boy and his father? And do we not have mountains that burden our lives? Absolutely!

So we ask again, what’s all this about moving mountains? It’s about our unabashed trust in the LORD –  not only that He will provide, bless, and sanctify us but that He will empower us to move our mountains when we completely put our faith in God’s plan for every hour, every facet and phase of our life.

When I think about faith I like to think of it in three part harmony. Scripture teaches us that faith has three elements:

  1. The content of what must be believed
  2. Assent to that content
  3. Trust in or commitment to Jesus Christ as the heart of the teaching. 

That last point (trust or commitment) is what makes faith personal and not just an intellectual or mechanical thing, and it is that personal element that was lacking with the disciples. It is why Mark wrote in his account that Jesus tells the disciples that the reason they had failed to exorcise the demon was that they had not supported their efforts by prayer.

The disciples had the mindset that they were ordained and empowered by Jesus through His teaching and therefore the ‘power’, His power, was theirs to administer; yet their faith was insufficient. It was never about the quantity or measure of their faith, it was the about believing in Him, His mission, and how to convert that belief into living for Him, ministering for Him, testifying about Him – He, Christ Jesus was the power – and without total belief in who He was and Who He represented, their faith wasn’t sufficient to exorcise the demon.

It may seem a fine line and you will get no argument on that from me. But we must agree that there is a measure or level of belief in Christ that does not always coexist with our level of trust or faith in Him.

We all have mountains that must be moved. Jesus teaches us that we can move those mountains! But we cannot do so unless and until we are enabled through the power of the Holy Spirit. First we believe; then He empowers us, through our faith – our trust in what we have chosen to believe.

You must both trust and believe, and then God will empower you to choose to move your mountain.

“Bring it on!”

 

There are only a few verses in the Bible that use the term hero, and the title is not always complimentary. Of the few renderings found in the NIV (none in the KJV, and only two in the NKJV) the Hebrew gibbôr is interpreted "mighty men", and the occasion refers mostly to  pompousness or worldly recognition of self. 

The characters we typically think of as Biblical heroes and heroines are never labeled as such. The great King David, Moses, Gideon, Joshua, Paul, Rahab, John the Baptizer, Esther, Daniel and his young friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – these are just a few of whom we most often envision as heroes and heroines. These are the people who looked death – and most often a cruel and painful death – in the face and said 'bring it on, I'll not deny my God'. We do not find that even Jesus is ever referred to as a 'hero'. Certainly in our vernacular He was a Hero.

What makes someone a hero for the faith? I would say it is that person who knowingly and purposefully put his or her life in harm's way in their dedication to glorifying God. I think the two qualifiers are essential for such an identity. First of all they know their actions and their words will offend someone so grievously that they must be quieted by any means, and then with this knowledge they go forward anyway. "Bring it on!"

A wonderful thing about heroes of the faith – be they Biblical or of a later date – is that they were men and women just like you and me. People with aches and pains, people suffering financial burdens, people with up-side-down relationships, people with addictions, all of them – all of us weak – in many ways.

Look at Jonah – what a loser this guy was. Not only did he disobey God when he was called, he ran away. Then when God finally gets Jonah on the right track he reluctantly goes to Nineveh and by his God given message brings the city to salvation. But the concluding chapter of the book relates that Jonah is angry at God for their salvation. What kind of hero is that?? I have wondered why God would have inspired the author of this book to document such a reluctant servant of the Lord.  

I think it is a message to show all of us who read these words that God is declaring that He can use anyone, regardless of their attitude, their self-assessment, or their own personal agenda, to His glory. Paul wrote to the church at Philippi that God can bring His message of salvation even through a heretic or false prophet. (Phil. 1:15-18)

Outside the Bible we look at Wilberforce who took on all the courts of England in defense of the abolition of slavery, Bonhoeffer who defied the Third Reich with his message of freedom for the church in Nazi Germany, and Luther who stood up to the Vatican with their religion of salvation by works and monetary installment.

My point in this is to say that you and I are as able and desired by God to serve in His kingdom as was David, Esther, or any other of our favorite Biblical heroes. We have all heard the axiom that God will not bring you to it unless He will bring you through it. Paul tells us that those whom God calls to His work He 'justifies' (Romans 8:29-30).

How would we have the fortitude to strike out for the kingdom of God if all the 'heroic' examples were of unfailing and perfect character? How could I relate to Elijah being such a Godly hero if I did not also see his fear of worldly threats and stating that he would prefer to just lay down in the desert and die than face his adversaries? How might I have the courage today to stand against contemporary morality, knowing my sinfulness, without also knowing that God used people with a sinful and rebelliousness character, much as mine, to glorify Himself.

Can we not see that God, in using our weakness to better His kingdom and proclaim His gospel, proves His might and majesty? If Moses was indeed as depicted by Charleston Heston a strong and mighty man, rather than the weak willed, tongue-tied wimp as scripture chronicles, would God have been glorified or would Moses?

Our Father God uses us only as we are weak in our selves. (1 Cor. 1:27-31). Any strengths we claim is worldly in nature – born of self and not of God. 

One of the most often recurring themes of Oswald Chambers' "My Utmost for His Highest" is submission, surrender, and obedience. It is only as we do these things – submit, surrender, and obey – that we become powerful and productive in God's kingdom. Not my will be done, but thine. Even Jesus recognized as He prepared Himself for Calvary that He too must surrender to God's will and in doing so became the HERO of all time and circumstance.

I thank God today for His wonderful examples of Biblical heroism. Rahab, who had to know that if her secret were to be found out would suffer terribly; Stephen who had no illusions of the horror he faced, and Paul who endured so very many rejections, beatings, stonings, whippings – all for the message of Christ – these heroes/heroines of the Bible have left an indelible image for us – but so many, so very many unnamed more went to their death in the most excruciatingly painful manner rather than surrender their life to anything other than Christ. They were eaten alive by bears, lions, wild dogs and who knows what more. They were covered in tar and set ablaze as torches for the Roman Emperor's entertainment.

Today, as you may read this Christians are standing up for Jesus at their sure peril in China, India, Nigeria, Egypt, and dozens of other countries around us. Some of these are heroes with a capital H; some without the capital are heroes and heroines just the same. 

My present hero is my wife who faces a dark valley that neither she nor I anticipated. But she is sure that God is going to see her through this valley and from and through her faith I am inspired to support her walk through the valley.

Our heroes of the faith don't wear a form-fitting Superman or Wonderwoman suit, they don't wear a white hat, and they don't stand out from the crowd. They are often fearful, in doubt, and failing in their walk with Christ. We are human, we are frail, we are trespassers. But we are also called by God as saints, disciples, and heirs to His kingdom. He says we are His friend and for us He has given His precious and perfect Son, and to lead and guide us He has implanted His Holy Spirit within us. We are God's earthly heroes and heroines if we will only allow His work to be done through us. Surrender and be glorified in His kingdom.

Into the Valley

 

1. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.

3. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

4. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

5. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.

6. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.

(Psalm 23 NKJV)

Walking hand in hand with God is such a wonderful experience. You know that you know that you know. . .that His Holy Spirit, who is alive – no, more than just alive – He is living, working, leading in and through you. You are so very aware of His teaching, His rebukes and His gentle push when temptation would steer you off that narrow path. He opens your eyes to the wonders of God's Holy Word – that most precious of possessions. He takes this Word and burns it into your mind and then He tenderly places it on your heart, so that it becomes so much part of you that it is as another vital organ without which you cannot survive.

You are so deeply grieved by your sinful contribution to our Savior's death – death on a cross; I may have just as well driven home the nails myself. Could I, could you, look my murderer in the face and say "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do"? All these things are integral to that wonderful experience of a Christian walk.

I have opened this devotional with the 23rd Psalm, a most beloved passage we learned as a child in Sunday School and repeated often in Vacation Bible School. Of the whole of the psalter the 23rd is probably known by more people than any other. Perhaps initially because it is short and therefore easy to memorize, but I think as the words grow within us, even as we physically and mentally mature, they become a cherished crutch to call upon when days grow dark – when we find ourselves in 'the valley of the shadow of death'. If we back up one Psalm to the 22nd we can hear the anguish and distress David is experiencing and perhaps one song led to the next.

It is curious to me that the 23rd Psalm was the first passage that came to my mind when I found myself tumbling off a mountain top recently. I have known myself to be living a mountain top experience for a number of years now. I have shared that cognizance with most of my friends. I have even prayerfully questioned God why I was so blessed, while I was surrounded by so much suffering by those I love. They say you shouldn't look a gift-horse in the mouth. Maybe they were right.

Over the past few weeks I found my footing on the mountain top slipping just a little and midweek this week I came falling, tumbling, sliding off that mountain top, right into the valley of the shadow of death. A doctor's visit jerked the rug right out from under our feet. You see, the doctor says my bride, my love, my best friend has cancer and it is an ugly cancer. I suppose all cancers are ugly, but for Judy and me this one seemed more ugly than what we were ready to face.

We made a few phone calls and send a couple of emails to ask our friends and family for prayer. I so very distinctly remember how distant God seemed from me. That wonderful, hand in hand experience I described above seemed now so far away. In one email I noted that although I knew the Lord was with us, I just could not at the moment see where He was in our picture.

I stayed up very late that evening, much of the night on my knees. Not only praying for a miracle for Judy, but that I would know His presence – that He would show His face. I so desperately missed knowing His nearness to me.

God answered my prayers – in spades. He showed His face in ways I had not expected. He sent His angels – earth angels. Some of the angels had titles, like Pastor and Doctor; most were those of His faithful – our friends and family. Judy and I were inundated with phone calls, email and text messages, flowers, and knocks at our door. It was in these of our loved ones, as they circled the wagons around us, that I saw the face of God – this was the hand of God telling me that He will indeed lead us beside still waters to lie down in green pastures. This was God assuring me that we should fear no evil for He is with us.

Our walk through the valley of the shadow of death is far from over – it has really only begun. But as wonderful as was the mountain top, so too now is this valley, as I know He is with us on the journey. Surely and indeed my cup runneth over.

Trusting God when all is well is such an easy thing. I think it also can be a time we may take His blessings too much for granted. I don't think I had done so – perhaps He thought differently. But I thank Him for this 'valley', as I am more sure today than yesterday that I know that I know that I know He loves me and He will never leave me nor forsake me.

I would never wish ill for anyone, but I do pray God will take you into some valley, that you may come to know Him in a way you'll never know from the mountain top.

God bless