The Father and the Son

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:9-15)

The Father was well pleased with His Son. The next verse says the “Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” He was there for 40 days. No food. Wild animals. Oh, and He went face to face with Satan. It was certainly a hard 40 days. Don’t minimize that. God drove His son into the wilderness to face the worst Satan could throw at Him. God was well pleased with Son, and He led Jesus down a very hard road. His love includes training and adversity.

The Father sent angels to minister to His Son. While Jesus was in the wilderness with wild beasts and Satan, He was not alone, was He? The angels ministered to Him. That same thing is said of all Christians – Angels are ministering spirits sent to help us (Hebrews 1:14). During our times in the wilderness facing wild beasts and the Devil, we are not alone. We are never alone when we walk with God. He sends us help, sometimes visible, sometimes invisible, but He is helping us.

The Father’s message was proclaimed by the Son. At the end of this passage, we see Jesus proclaiming the gospel of God. There is a reason God allows us to be refined through trials and temptations – through that process He is glorified and His message is preached.

Moments

My daughter Jessica wrote this today. One year ago today we had a barn fire that killed our animals, 2 of those animals were Jessica’s horses, Kale and Dublin. I wanted to share with you her thoughts.

Moments… Our lives are made up of millions of little moments. Many of these moments might seem insignificant at the time, but what if they just disappeared? What if in the matter of seconds your whole life was turned upside down; and everything was spun into a downward spiral. How do you prepare for that? When the barn fire took my horses and all of my family’s animals, there was no way to prepare for the devastation that caused. There was no way to be prepared for all of the various after effects of it either. Looking back I cannot even remember summer, it is all just a blur. For those who know me, they know that horses are like breathing to me. I love them, they are a part of me. To work so long and hard for something, and then to have it all gone in the matter of seconds is… there is no word for it. The point I have come to now is that I won’t give up. Even though I have been, and keep getting tested every day, with God all things are possible. Through all of this I have come to lean on Him more, and realize that no matter what happens, I will always have God with me in the storm. God pulls us out of the fire and tells us that He will carry us when we can’t walk, He will give us peace when all around us is chaos, He will give us strength when we want to give up. In Him I have a new hope, a hope for the future. So even though there is all of this pain, God is holding my hand, and I never want to let go of Him again.

Yet You have brought us out

I want to share Psalm 66 with you today. Here the Psalmist talks about hardships and what God allows to happen, but what God does through those trials and after those trials.

The one phrase I really like here is, “Yet you brought us out into a place of abundance.” Regardless of the “abundance” part, He brought us out. We go through the trials, we pass through the fire and water, but God brings us out. That means He was with us all along in the trial walking with us and leading us through it.

Keep that in mind today, men.

Psalm 66:8-20

8  Bless our God, O peoples;
let the sound of his praise be heard,
9 who has kept our soul among the living
and has not let our feet slip.
10 For you, O God, have tested us;
you have tried us as silver is tried.
11 You brought us into the net;
you laid a crushing burden on our backs;
12 you let men ride over our heads;
we went through fire and through water;
yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.

13 I will come into your house with burnt offerings;
I will perform my vows to you,
14 that which my lips uttered
and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.
15 I will offer to you burnt offerings of fattened animals,
with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams;
I will make an offering of bulls and goats. Selah

16 Come and hear, all you who fear God,
and I will tell what he has done for my soul.
17 I cried to him with my mouth,
and high praise was on my tongue.
18 If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.
19 But truly God has listened;
he has attended to the voice of my prayer.

20 Blessed be God,
because he has not rejected my prayer
or removed his steadfast love from me!

Lord, Increase Our Faith

This year at our congregation we are focusing on the theme, “Lord, Increase Our Faith,” which comes from Luke 17:5.

And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
(Luke 17:1-6)

Yesterday, I shared 3 simple points during the sermon about increasing our faith. There are several passages in Scripture about our faith growing. It’s not like God gave you a 10-pound bag of faith when you became a Christian and said, “This is your lifetime allotment.”

#1. Our faith is constantly challenged.

I’m not trying to be negative and pessimistic, but it just the reality we are going to face some really tough things in life. Whether we are pagans or believers we will go through dark valleys. Even more so for the Christian, though, because the devil is coming at us with great wrath (Revelation 12:12; 2 Timothy 3:12).

Our faith, in order to grow, will do so through adversity. Look at the above passage in Luke 17. Jesus was talking about relationships, pain, and forgiveness. The disciples realized how difficult His instructions were to follow, and they knew that their faith needed to grow to meet the challenge.

Another example is of the man whose son was demon-possessed in Mark 9. The disciples could not cast it out because of a lack of faith and a lack of prayer (Mark 9:19,29). When Jesus came to the father, he told the father that all things were possible if he believed. Here is the father’s response:

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
(Mark 9:24)

I think we can relate with that. In the midst of the trial our faith is revealed and tested, and we see our need for growth and our great desire to draw closer to Jesus.

#2. Our faith, with God’s help will rise to meet the challenge/trial.

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.
(2 Thessalonians 1:3-4)

The brethren at Thessalonica were bragged about by Paul everywhere he went, but why? Because of their faith! But notice the faith they had was in the midst of “persecutions and…afflictions” they were enduring. We also see in this passage that during those hardships their faith was “growing abundantly.” Their faith was growing to meet the trials at hand.

#3. Jesus, His word, and His people help to increase that faith.

The Word

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
(Romans 10:17)

Jesus

looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith...
(Hebrews 12:2)

Our brothers and sisters

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
(Hebrews 3:12-13)

Do you see that in order to grow our faith we need all the above? It’s the stuff preachers and grandmas have been telling us our whole lives, and when we find ourselves falling and stumbling it is because we are forgetting these three things. The Word creates and builds faith, the brethren encourage us and strengthen our faith, and Jesus perfects it.

“Lord, increase our faith.”

 

How do we respond to overwhelming situations?

How do we respond to overwhelming situations; situations beyond our control? From the Job study, Job encountered God in the whirlwind proclaiming truths Job had no answer for (Job 42:3), “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ “Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” Job understood the depth of knowledge and power found in God was certainly beyond a mortal man. Individuals, even great people of faith, find themselves at times in situations that go beyond their comprehension.

Mark 9:2-13: And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. 5 And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” 8 And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.

9 And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean. 11 And they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 12 And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt?13 But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.”

Peter, James and John find themselves in an overwhelming encounter. Their Lord finds Himself  changed (transfigured) and standing next to two of the greatest men in the Hebrew faith: Elijah and Moses. Jesus not only stands among them, but carries on a conversation with them.

The disciples seek to understand this and Peter, ever an individual of action makes his decree, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Before considering the understanding of what Peter is asking to do, recognize Peter is caught up in a very familiar failing found in many of us, acting without understanding.

The Bible tells us, “Every prudent man acts with knowledge, But a fool displays folly (Prov. 13:16).” The Bible tells us in regards to Peter and his fellow disciples, “6 For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified.” Peter said something, because … terror, bewilderment, and ignorance provided his foundation. There are times, even when the compulsion to respond is present Proverbs 17:28 should guide a Believer’s thoughts “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent (think about Job placing his hand over his mouth to not speak Job 40:4).” The call to be quick to hear, slow to speak , and slow to wrath should provide additional direction. Peter knew SOMETHING must be done, but did not know what.

God assisted Peter with understanding 7 And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” Simple and clear direction for all of us, Listen to Jesus, Keep our mouths closed, and do what Jesus says.

God of the valleys

Then a man of God came and spoke to the king of Israel, and said, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The LORD is God of the hills, but He is not God of the valleys,” therefore I will deliver all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the LORD'” (1 Kings 20:28).

We are currently studying the Kings and Prophets in our adult Bible class, and we are about to discuss 1 Kings 20 on Sunday. God used the wicked king of Israel, Ahab, to defeat the Syrians in order to show King Ahab that God is truly God. “And you shall know that I am the Lord…” (see 1 Kings 20:13,28).

The first battle took place in the city of Samaria, and the men of Israel were outnumbered (1 Kings 20:15). Nonetheless, they were victorious and “killed the Syrians with a great slaughter” (1 Kings 20:21). After this battle, a prophet came to King Ahab and warned him that the Syrians would be back in the Spring (1 Kings 20:22).

So, now read verse 21, and think about the conclusion the men of Syria made about God and why they were defeated in battle.

Then the servants of the king of Syria said to him, “Their gods are gods of the hills. Therefore they were stronger than we; but if we fight against them in the plain, surely we will be stronger than they (1 Kings 20:23).

They had a regional view of God, and that makes sense when you are in a polytheistic culture. But their poor theology led to really bad conclusions about why they were defeated, which in turn led to a second catastrophic military loss. They thought they could beat Israel if they fought in a different location, and God showed them in a mighty and devastating way that He is God of the hills and the valleys. Once again Israel was outnumbered, but Syria was no match for God’s power (1 Kings 20:27). In the second battle 100,000 Syrian soldiers were killed and another 27,000 died because of a city wall that fell in on them (1 Kings 20:29-30).

There are so many ways we can apply this concept of God being the God of the hills and valleys.

  1. God is not a regional God. He is Lord of all your life, not just part of it. Either we choose to let Him reign over all of our life, or none of it at all. We cannot serve God and another master, Jesus said. God is a jealous God, He desires for us to come completely under the shelter of His wings and to make Him Lord of all of our life…of every fiber of our being.
  2. God is Lord of the hills and valleys in our lives. It sure is easy to sing praises to God when we are on the mountaintops, but what about when we are in the valleys? If you read the previous two chapters of 1 Kings, chapters 18-19, you will see that Elijah learned this very truth. Elijah had a mountaintop experience when he with God’s power defeated and executed the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (chapter 18). But in chapter 19, Elijah is scared, depressed and in despair! God showed Elijah that He was God of the valleys, too. We have to remember that. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear, because You are with me” (Psalm 23).
  3. We sometimes forget to connect our previous victories with God to current challenges we face. Consider the faith of David when confronting Goliath (1 Samuel 17). His conclusion by faith was that if God helped him defeat the lion and the bear, then Goliath was no match for God. He knew God wasn’t just a God of lions and bears; He is Lord of everything. Remember that the Lord promised the Christian, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” “The Lord is my helper…” in the hills and the valleys.
  4. There is nowhere that you are stronger than God. You will not find a location where you can out-smart, out-man, or gain an advantage on God. All of us in some way have tried this, if we’re honest! “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 6:23). As a dear older sister (Katie Marcus) used to tell me, “Your arms are too short to box with God!”

Praise the God of the hills and the valleys, the great I AM!

And the Lord Remembered

And the Lord remembered Hannah (1 Samuel 1:19).

The Lord remembered Noah (Genesis 8:1).

God is worthy of praise because He “remembered us in our lowly state, for His mercy endures forever” (Psalms 136:23).

The above verses are so comforting. “And the Lord remembered…” God loves His children. He remembers His promises. God never leaves us nor forsakes us. That is a fact, but in the midst of pain, look at what God’s people sometimes wonder. Watch as they go through the process of despair to hope. These Holy Spirit-given passages are there for us today to help us go through the same process with God (and to help others do the same).

I will say to God my Rock, “Why have You forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” As with a breaking of my bones, my enemies reproach me, while they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God (Psalms 42:9-11).

To the Chief Musician. To Jeduthun. A Psalm of Asaph. I cried out to God with my voice–To God with my voice; and He gave ear to me. In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; my hand was stretched out in the night without ceasing; my soul refused to be comforted. I remembered God, and was troubled; I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. Selah. You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times. I call to remembrance my song in the night; I meditate within my heart, and my spirit makes diligent search. Will the Lord cast off forever? And will He be favorable no more? Has His mercy ceased forever? Has His promise failed forevermore? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies? Selah. And I said, “This is my anguish; but I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.” I will remember the works of the LORD; surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will also meditate on all Your work, and talk of Your deeds. Your way, O God, is in the sanctuary; who is so great a God as our God? You are the God who does wonders; You have declared Your strength among the peoples. You have with Your arm redeemed Your people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph. Selah. The waters saw You, O God; the waters saw You, they were afraid; the depths also trembled. The clouds poured out water; the skies sent out a sound; Your arrows also flashed about. The voice of Your thunder was in the whirlwind; the lightnings lit up the world; the earth trembled and shook. Your way was in the sea, Your path in the great waters, and Your footsteps were not known. You led Your people like a flock By the hand of Moses and Aaron (Psalms 77:1-20).

Here is one final passage from Isaiah. Notice how God’s people feel, and how God helps them (and us) to see the reality. He will never leave us nor forsake us.

Sing, O heavens! Be joyful, O earth! And break out in singing, O mountains! For the LORD has comforted His people, and will have mercy on His afflicted. But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; your walls are continually before Me” (Isaiah 49:13-16).

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted

The righteous cry, and the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all (Psalms 34:17-19).

Is it okay to cry? The righteous cry, this passage says. That is a fact. We cry sometimes. Grief is part of our lives. This passage also says that “many are the afflictions of the righteous.” We all face various trials and adversity; I may not be going through what you are going through, but we all face afflictions and pain in life. I may not be able to understand your pain, but I can understand pain.

Where is God when I am hurting? Psalm 34 says “God is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” God’s promise to the Christian is so comforting, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Do I have to grieve “perfectly” for God to stay with me? Is there a “better” way to grieve? Sometimes we are tempted to say that someone is handling adversity “better” than another? What does that mean? The grieving process can appear plain ugly sometimes. One person may internalize it all, another may pour it all out with great volume, and another may just focus on keeping busy to suppress the pain. Which is “better”?

Remember that Elijah was ready to die. He asked God to kill him. Elijah in his fear, grief and depression made some unrealistic statements. Did God abandon him? Was God standing aloof and distant until Elijah “got a grip”? Read 1 Kings 19 to see how compassionate the Lord was with Elijah.

If we read the Psalms we will see people in great pain who just pour out their hearts to God. They ask God why. Their hearts wonder where God is, because they feel abandoned. Did God abandon them? Did God remove Himself from them because they didn’t grieve the right way?

We all grieve differently, not necessarily better. I must not place my expectations and understanding of how to grieve upon others. If God is near to the brokenhearted, then that’s where I need to be when someone is brokenhearted, even if they may get a little scary in their pain.

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle (unruly), encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

They Are New Every Morning

Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him (Lamentations 3:19-25).

Many of you reading this already have heard that last Tuesday night our family suffered a tragedy in that our barn and riding arena burned down, and we lost our horses, sheep, goats and chickens. The family and our house is safe, praise God. But the pain we are experiencing is just hard to put into words. We certainly welcome your continued prayers to God on our behalf as we walk through this trial and seek healing and comfort. The outpouring of love and support from neighbors, the church family and from friends around the country has been overwhelming. God is good, and His love is seen in the people He has made in His image.

They Are New Every Morning

The picture I have attached to this post is of the sun beginning to rise on Friday morning. You know the sun rises every morning? Even when there is devastation and pain, the sun rises every morning. Seeing the sunrise made me think of the above passage in Lamentations written by Jeremiah.

Jeremiah was standing in the midst of Jerusalem after its destruction. An entire city including the temple Solomon built for Israel to worship the Lord their God was destroyed and burned. I can only begin to imagine the devastation he saw. I can only begin to imagine the deep pain Jeremiah experienced as he surveyed the carnage. Fires take a long time to go out. The smells and sights are things you will never remove from your mind. Worse than that for Jeremiah was that he preached for decades warning of this event, yet the people did not listen nor repent. The book of Lamentations is structured such in the Hebrew that Jeremiah is literally weeping from A to Z.

Yet in the midst of all that pain, Jeremiah called to his mind some very important qualities of God. When we are in the depths our pain, we must also call to mind these qualities of God. I will leave you with these hopeful phrases from Lamentations 3.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.

His mercies never come to an end.

They are new every morning.

Great is Your faithfulness.

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul.

Therefore I will hope in Him.

The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.

What about Grief?

A dear friend, who has just gone through a tragic loss, said to me, “I need to be strong but I feel so much grief.”  Deep sorrow and anguish is a natural response to significant loss or suffering but is it a contrast to strength?  As men, we often make the mistake of believing that strength is suppressing our grief and not allowing it to be seen.  When we do this we not only cause ourselves harm but we are also missing an opportunity to positively impact the family of God.  We need to redefine our definition of strength.

Please read the text below from II Corinthians 1:3-11 and consider some observations.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort.

For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; 10 who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, 11 you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.

  • “…just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.” (5): There is a direct correlation between the suffering and grief we experience and the comfort we experience in Christ.  To deny the grief is to deny the comfort of Christ.
  • “…we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength…so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises from the dead” (8-9): There is a lesson to be learned in all suffering and grief.  The pain of grief should be a reminder that we are not adequate, in and of ourselves, to handle the ups and downs of this life.  The grief should be a reminder of our lack of control.  To deny the grief is to deny God’s strength.
  • “…He on whom we have set our hope.” (10): Suffering and grief should remind us of the temporary nature of this life.  Properly embracing the grief will force us to place our hope in God, the only stable foundation we have in this world.  To deny the grief is to misplace our hope.
  • “…who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us…” (10): Allowing grief to turn our eyes towards God will strengthen our faith.  As we leave one storm behind us and head towards the next, we will be secure in the knowledge that He has delivered us and will deliver us again.  To deny our grief is to head towards the future unprepared.
  • “…who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction” (4): Suppressing our pain and grief is ultimately selfish.  We do not live in a vacuum and every tragedy and every hardship is an opportunity to be shaped and molded into a useful instrument for God.  God is preparing you because somewhere out there someone needs comforted.  To deny our grief is to fail our brothers.
  • “…so that thanks may be given my many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.” (11): Worst of all, when we fail to embrace our grief and refuse to allow God to use us we are robbing Him of the thanks that He deserves.  In a way, we are stealing His glory.  Allowing others to see our pain provides them opportunity to be involved in prayer and encouragement and when we have come through the storm God will be glorified.   To deny our grief is to deny God His glory.

Grief is a powerful force in our lives.  We can suppress it and render ourselves useless in His kingdom.  We can succumb to it and allow it to cloud our vision and erode our hope.  Or we can embrace it, be trained by it, and become effective tools in the hands of our Creator.  It is our choice.