Tuesday, November 18, 2014

STEPPING OUT IN FAITH

                Eli knew that he had been selected for a great honor, but he was still apprehensive. He was one of the priests who would carry Ark of the Covenant, across the Jordan River, before the people of Israel. It was just getting dark, as he stood by the banks of the swollen river. The water rushed by him; it seemed to overwhelm him. As darkness fell, he lifted his eyes to heaven. God of my fathers, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I know that this is what you have commanded, but my heart is wrapped in fear. Give me the courage to do what you have called me to do.

                As the first light of dawn appeared on the horizon, the priests took their places in front and behind the Ark. All the people were assembled. There was an air of anticipation, excitement and apprehension. Joshua addressed the people with words of challenge and encouragement. “Today the Lord will do an amazing thing in your sight.” The command was given, the priests grasped the long poles and shouldered the Ark.

                Eli was the first priest on the right front. His eyes were firmly fixed on the rushing water before him. Joshua gave the command, and the priest began to slowly walk forward. They descended a gentle slope, which lead into the shallows of the river. Eli could feel the cold water engulfing his feet. With the weight of the priests and the Ark behind him, he kept moving forward. The water began rising on his calves. He could feel the first signs of the strong current pulling on his legs. Involuntarily he closed his eyes and steadily moved forward.

                Wait, something is wrong! He could no longer feel the tug of the river. Eli quickly opened his eyes. He was walking on dry ground. For a great distance to his right and his left, there was no water, just dry ground. As the priests reached the center of the river, they stopped. The command was given and the people streamed across the now dry river bed. Eli was overwhelmed. He no longer felt the weight of the Ark on his shoulder. He began to quietly speak words of praise to Jehovah, as the tribes of Israel passed by him in perfect order.

                As the last of the people climbed the far bank, twelve strong men came to the place where the priests stood. Each man selected a large, smooth rock and hefted it onto his broad shoulder. Finally, Joshua gave the command, and the priests resumed their march across the dry river bed. As the last of the priests stepped onto the far bank, Eli heard the sound of rushing water. He glanced back to see the river quickly refill. It again rushed by at flood stage. A collective cheer went up from the people.

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Joshua 3:14-17
    So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water's edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (the Salt Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.
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Hebrews 11:1
    Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.



Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A SUBTLE ENEMY

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Ephesians 6:12

                Yesterday was Veterans’ Day in America and Remembrance Day in Europe. It was originally created to remember and honor those who served and died in WWI. November 11 marks the day that the armistice was signed, ending that world conflict. Over the years Veterans’ Day has been expanded to include all veterans up to today.

                As I reflected upon how conflict and war has changed since WWI, I thought of the parallels with the spiritual battle in which we are engaged. In WWI and WWII, the battles lines were clearly marked. It was obvious who the enemy was and who your allies were. Those distinctions started to blur in the Korean War and almost disappeared in Vietnam. Today, in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are no clear defining lines for who is friend or foe.

                In the spiritual battle that we face, the defining lines have definitely been blurred, especially in America. In many parts of the world, there are still very clear distinctions between Christians and non-Christians, believers and non-believers. In certain places, there is open conflict, with the church being actively persecuted and oppressed. In some places, there is an uneasy truce, similar to North and South Korea. There is still antagonism, but there is some room for Christians to practice their faith opening. In America the defining lines have all but disappeared. With a fa├žade of cultural Christianity, Satan is waging a spiritual guerilla war. Officially we have complete freedom of religion, but in practical terms that freedom is constantly under attack and being confined and restricted.

                Both open conflict and subversive action are dangerous, painful and costly to the Church. Open conflict tends to unify the Church and draw it together. Subversive conflict tends to divide the Church and push us apart. Open conflict often results in the loss of property, social status and even life. Subversive conflict results in a watered down gospel, a degrading of morals and a general loss of faith. Both forms of satanic attack are real, powerful and dangerous. One form is easy to see, while the other is harder to detect. The Bible warns us to be on our guard against both forms of attack.

                Paul warned the church in Corinth to be discerning about what influences they allowed to shape the church. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve. 2 Corinthians 11:13-15

                Peter challenges us to stand firm in the face of Satan’s attacks. He is looking for any vulnerable place where he might gain an advantage. Peter calls us to stand firm along side of our brothers and sisters throughout the world. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 1 Peter 5:8-9

                The biggest difference between those who face open conflict and those who face subversive conflict is perception. Those in the openly persecuted church know they are in a battle. They live with the reality daily. Those of us who live in the comfortable West often forget. We let our guard down. We compromise. We become complacent. All of these play right into the hands of the enemy.

                The hardest battle to fight is the one that you don’t know you are in. We in America need to open our eyes and our hearts. We need to pray for and support our brothers and sisters in the persecuted church. We also need to embrace the reality that we are under siege as well.

Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Ephesians 6:11-13


    

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

FAITH vs. WISHFUL THINKING

Hebrews 11:1
    Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

                I really hope things work out. I hope things get better after the elections. I hope the Christmas season goes well. I hope my health holds out. I hope my money lasts. I hope we don’t have a bad winter like last winter. I hope, I hope, I hope.

                Life is full of wishful thinking. We all do it, almost unconsciously. We have been programmed to believe that the future will be better than the present, and that everything will work out for the good in the end. But is that realistic? Is that even honest?

                Some people want to link faith and wishful thinking together. They contend that, what we call faith, is just another name for wishful thinking. Is it? I don’t think so. There are some very significant differences between genuine faith and wishful thinking.

                Wishful thinking is not based on anything solid. It is a desire for something better, with no real assurance that something better can or will happen. Faith, on the other hand, is solidly based on God and His promises. The everlasting God is the foundation of our faith. As the writer to the Hebrews states it, it all begins with recognizing that God exists and that He is faithful.  And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

                Faith is based on the solid promises of the Living God. What God promises, He fulfills. God’s track record is more than excellent; it is perfect. As we look back, we can see how God came through for those who trusted Him. Unlike financial planning, God’s past successes do guarantee God’s future faithfulness. Ultimately, all of God’s promises come together and are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God. (2 Cor. 1:20) Our confidence in God’s promises is on solid ground.

                Wishful thinking tends to be passive. It takes a wait and see attitude toward life. Instead of actively working toward a preferred future, wishful thinking lulls people into inactivity. Genuine faith is the exact opposite of this.

                Genuine faith motivates us to work toward the fulfillment of God’s promises. It allows us to take risks, knowing that God will use our efforts to accomplish His purposes. In fact, faith demands action. James makes that very clear in James 2:14-17. What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

                Genuine faith energizes us and gives us the courage to keep going, even when things are difficult. Because we have confidence in Christ, we can see beyond our immediate circumstances to a better outcome. Paul assures us that our faith is not misplaced. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Cor. 15:58)

                Faith and wishful thinking are miles apart. Wishful thinking creates an artificial sense of hope and well-being that evaporates in the face of reality. Genuine faith creates a solid foundation upon which to build, so that we can face the storms of life and prevail.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

Hebrews 10:23