Saturday, January 31, 2015

Stand Your Ground!

Why am I so overwrought?
Why am I so disturbed?
Why can’t I just hope in God?

These are not my words, although there are so many days they could be. They were written thousands of years ago by the sons of Korah, as recorded in Psalm 42:5, 11 (VOI). Have you ever experienced such an intense struggle with discouragement? The psalmist knows God is real, and that He is with him day and night, but still he still cries out to God:

“‘Why have You forgotten me? 
Why must I live my life so depressed, crying endlessly while my enemies have the upper hand?’
My enemies taunt me. They shatter my soul the way a sword shatters a man’s bones. They keep taunting all the day long,
‘Where is He, your True God?’” (Psalm 42: 9-10 VOI).

I can relate to so much of this psalm, but when I read this last part, I thought, “I don’t really have any enemies. No one says that to me.” And then, I think the Holy Spirit spoke to me and reminded me of the truth, as Jesus said He would do (John 14:26; 16:13). Yes, I do have enemies who say these things.

I was reminded of Paul’s words to the Ephesians: “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12 NLT). Yes, I do have enemies that taunt me and “shatter my soul,” and so do you. Their attacks can seemingly come out of the blue, and if we’re not prepared, they can assault us and knock us down just like a massive tidal wave. How can we prepare for and protect ourselves from these kinds of attacks?

1. Always keep in mind that the enemy is real and that he is going to attack. The apostle Peter warns us to “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith” (1 Peter 5: 8-9a NLT). Be aware and don’t become complacent.

2. Be committed to standing your ground. Because of the nature of the enemy we are fighting against, Paul says, “you need to be head-to-toe in the full armor of God: so you can resist during these evil days and be fully prepared to hold your ground” (Eph 6:13 VOI). This reminds me of the scene in Princess Bride when a large squadron of men is stationed to guard the castle. As a giant, engulfed in flames, is approaching, uttering menacing threats, the head of the castle guard keeps shouting at his frightened men, “Stand your ground! Stand your ground!” Don’t believe the enemy’s lies and empty threats, and don’t run away. Stand your ground.   

3. The verse quoted above also says we are to wear protective armor. We are to stand our ground protected by truth, righteousness, and peace, but the most important piece is the shield of faith. Paul says, “Don’t forget to raise the shield of faith above all else, so you will be able to extinguish flaming spears hurled at you from the wicked one” (Eph 6:16 VOI). In her e-book on Ephesians 6, The 7-Day Prayer Warrior Experience, Stormy Omartian says these flaming spears that are hurled at us “are designed to pierce our heart with discouragement and make us fearful, anxious, uncertain, or incapacitated.” To prevent us from being such an easy target, we must remain under the cover of our shield of faith. The apostle Peter says that through faith, we are “shielded by God’s power” (1 Pet 1:5 NIV). It is God’s power, extended to us through our faith, that protects us from the enemy’s words, taunts, barrages, jabs, and flaming arrows. Reflect on some of these passages describing God as our shield, our source of protection.

  •       “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety” (Ps 18:2 NLT).
  •       “Like a bird protecting its young, God will cover you with His feathers, will protect you under His great wings; His faithfulness will form a shield around you, a rock-solid wall to protect you” (Ps 91:4 VOI).
  •       “He is my tower of strength and my deliverer. He is my shield of protection and my shelter” (Ps 144:2 VOI).
  •       “Sovereign Lord, my strong deliverer, you shield my head in the day of battle” (Ps 140:7 NIV).
  •      “But you, O Lord, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high” (Ps 3:3 NLT).

4. Finally, we need to stand our ground together. We don’t have to fight this enemy alone. Paul says that we are to “Carry each other’s burdens…” (Gal 6:2a NIV). I am reminded of when the Israelites were fighting a battle, and Moses was atop a hill holding up the staff of God. “As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning” (Ex 17:11 NIV). When he grew tired and unable to hold up his hands on his own, “Aaron and Hur held his hands up –one on one side, one on the other –so that his hands remained steady till sunset” (Ex 17:12 NIV).

I am so very thankful for the Aarons and Hurs that God has placed in my life that help hold up my hands and reinforce my shield of faith. Just as with Moses, it makes a difference in the battle.

If you see a brother or sister who is under attack who is struggling to hold up their shield of faith, encourage them. Pray for them. Hold up their hands and help support their shield. Likewise, if your shield of faith is sagging and you feel targeted by the enemy, reach out to a fellow soldier and allow them to help you, to encourage you, to pray for you, and to help bolster up that shield to protect you from those arrows of discouragement. Let’s stand our ground together.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Master and Commander

While reading in the Psalms, I came across a passage that reminded me of a particular New Testament narrative. See if you see the same thing. Psalm 107:28-30 says, “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven” (NIV). Does that Old Testament passage not remind you of when Jesus calmed the storm?  

“Suddenly, a fierce storm struck the lake, with waves breaking into the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him up, shouting, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’ Jesus responded, ‘Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!’ Then he got up and rebuked the wind and waves, and suddenly there was a great calm. The disciples were amazed. ‘Who is this man?’ they asked. ‘Even the winds and waves obey him!’” (Matt 8:24-27 NLT)

Jesus’ ability to use merely words, just to speak to the wind and waves, and they immediately obeyed obviously greatly affected those who witnessed this event. Not just anyone can speak and expect the ocean to obey them. Not just anyone is the Master and the Commander of creation. The disciples who witnessed this asked themselves, “Who is this?” They lived Psalm 107:28-30, a passage that says “they cried out to the Lord” –they cried out to Yahweh –and Yahweh stilled and hushed the wind and waves.

Do you think it’s possible that the disciples may have recalled Psalm 107 (part of the Hebrew Scriptures) and its similarities to what they witnessed, and come to the realization that Jesus is God? Maybe they didn’t come to this realization in the midst of this overwhelming event, but maybe they did later while reflecting on what happened. Maybe they thought about it sometime between this event in Matthew chapter 8 and a similar event in Matthew chapter 14.  

The disciples were in the midst of another storm. This time, Jesus was not sleeping, but came to them walking on the water. This time, when the storm died down, instead of just asking themselves “who is this," Matthew records that “those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’” (Matt 14:33 NLT). When they saw Him calm the storm for the second time, they acknowledged that He is God and they worshipped Him.

Their faith and their understanding obviously grew between chapter 8 and chapter 14, but on both occasions, Jesus asks why they have so little faith, why they doubt. Just how many storms do we need to see Jesus calm before our faith is strong enough not to doubt Him as the Master and Commander over all things? Oh, if we could cast out all fear when storms rise and immediately cry out to the Lord, to our Master and Commander, to the One who can still the storm with a whisper and hush the waves of the sea –the One who makes our hearts glad when He brings the calm and guides us to our destination. May we “praise the Lord for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for [us]. Let [us] exalt him publicly before the congregation and before the leaders of the nation” (Ps 107:31-32 NLT).

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Out of the Slimy Pit

Have you ever had a word picture in Scripture just jump off the page at you and communicate more than it ever has before? I love it when that happens, and I love seeing pictures of Jesus in the Old Testament. I was reading a beautiful, familiar passage in the book of Micah about God’s loving and forgiving nature:

“Where is another God like you, who pardons the guilt of the remnant, overlooking the sins of his special people? You will not stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing unfailing love. Once again You will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean!” (Micah 7:18-19 NLT). 

I have heard lessons and songs (like Audio Adrenaline’s “Ocean Floor”) that focus on God throwing our sins into the depths of the ocean, but I have not thought much about the previous phrase until this morning. It says God will “trample our sins under [His] feet.” Think about that picture --- of something being trampled underfoot. It has been stomped on, run over, covered with dirt, footprints, garbage, and slime; it is ripped, wadded, torn, and crushed; it is completely worthless, only good for the trash bin, which is where our sin belongs. This is how God treats our sin.

But this is also how God treated Jesus when He was on the cross. Paul writes that “God made him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us…” (2Cor 5:21 NIV). If God tramples our sin underfoot and Jesus became our sin, then Jesus was trampled underfoot for us. This brings new light and appreciation to me for the line in Lenny LeBlanc and Paul Baloche’s song “Above All” that describes Jesus as being treated “like a rose trampled on the ground.” Jesus --God in flesh, the name above all names, the One who lived a perfect life, completely sinless and blameless ---was trampled on the ground because He became sin for us.

In the Psalms, David wrote that God “lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him” (Ps 40:2-3 NIV). We are the ones who should have been in the trash heap because of our sin. We were in the slimy pit, the mud, and the mire that David describes. We should have been trampled, mistreated, torn, and crushed, but instead, God lifted us out of that mess and Jesus received that treatment instead of us.

God trampled our sins under His feet. That’s a fairly easy picture to grasp. That Jesus was trampled as our sin –not so easy to grasp. He loves us that much and sees such great value in us –not because of anything we’ve done, but just because He made us and we belong to Him. Know today that Jesus loves you so much that He was willing to become trampled like garbage in the street, like a rose thrown on the ground so that you could be lifted out of the slimy pit. We need to help each other stay out of that slimy pit because of what it cost to get us out of it. And like David, let us keep a hymn of praise to God on our lips for all He has done for us, and may many others come to trust Him when they hear our stories of being delivered from that slimy pit!