God keeps His promises

Over the past few weeks, my heart has been breaking over the tragedies across our country and around the world. Closer to home, I have talked with friends whose lives and families are crumbling. I’ve got some fears and some doubts about things swirling around me, as well. We know that God is sovereign, but things, people, and life itself feels out of control.

Langford tornadoIf God is real, where is He? Why doesn’t He act? Why doesn’t He show up and make things right? Why doesn’t He change the hearts of people – including me? Right now!

 

As I was reading through the Bible (Joshua 21:1-22:9), I was reminded of the battles, both physical and spiritual, that the LORD required His people, Israel, as they entered the Promised Land.

While the Hebrews were still in Egypt, the LORD God led them out of slavery’s bondage and promised to give them possession of a land “flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8, 17). After wandering in the wilderness  for 40 years because of their lack of faith and obedience, they finally crossed the Jordan river. But, even then, they had to take the physical land of Canaan and fight the people of Canaan by faith in God’s promises.

Storms of life
All photos by http://www.langfordphotography.com

In Joshua 21 we are told, “the LORD gave Israel all the land He had sworn to give their fathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. The LORD gave them rest on every side according to all He had sworn to their fathers. None of their enemies were able to stand against them, for the LORD handed over all their enemies to them.” (Joshua 21:43-44)

The complete fulfillment of God’s promise was inseparably connected with the faithfulness of His people.

None of the good promises the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed. Everything was fulfilled. (Joshua 21:45)

God keeps His Promises. All of them. Every one of them.

The battles that Israel fought were real. The doubts they faced were great. The complaining was pandemic. But Joshua was faithful.

Joshua’s challenge to God’s people in view of His fulfilled promises remains the same: “love the Lord your God, walk in all His ways, keep His commands, remain faithful to Him, and serve Him with all your heart and all your soul” (Joshua 22:5).

Langford RainbowThis morning, nothing of significance has changed around me. The storms are still raging. Terrorism is still rising. Political arguments are continuing. People are still suffering. The world is the same — maybe even worse. The deep, lonely hurts of my friends, my family, and my heart are still there.

But, I am reminded: God keeps His promises. Trust in Him. Rest in them.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Trials

Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem ICould there have been anything more tedious, anything more ill-timed for Mary and Joseph than following political orders to travel for a census when she was 9 months pregnant?  I imagine the tiresome commute to Bethlehem and their disappointing search for lodging was not immediately recognized by Mary and Joseph as something “good” from the Lord.

The journey south from Nazareth was not an easy one through the rugged, Judean hill country, especially for a an expectant, first-time mom. Nor was the occasion a happy one since the census decreed by Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1) was undoubtedly a prelude to a burdensome financial tax liability for their growing family. Furthermore, Mary and her husband would be far removed from the comforts and conveniences of home. And when they finally arrived in Bethlehem, there was no room for them there (Luke 2:7). No one had reserved a Bed & Breakfast. No one was looking out for them. No one seemed to care. They were alone.

Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem IIThe tedious trials of life are often tools in the hand of God which only time or eternity will make clear to us. For Mary and Joseph, the decree of Caesar Augustus was divinely intended to cause Jesus’ parents to make a long difficult journey from their home town of Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea because Joseph was in the royal bloodline of King David (Isaiah 9:6-7). The political orders of a pagan ruler were used to fulfill God’s prophecy that the Messiah would be born in rural Bethlehem rather than royal Jerusalem (Micah 5:2-5). The humble manger would be the perfect place for humble shepherds to find the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-15) so that they might worship Him.

Mary and Joseph in BethlehemThe birth account of Jesus in Luke 2:7 ends with almost a note of human tragedy: “there was no room for them…” Think about that for a moment — the Son of God, covered with rags and placed in a cattle feeding trough! How could that be? How tragic! And yet, for Jesus, a feeding trough became His first throne on earth (Philippians 2:9-11).

God’s purposes are often achieved through difficulties, even when they are not immediately apparent to us (James 1:2-4). Whether it’s simply too much rain or heart-wrenching, unbearable pain, the trials of life are often tools in the hand of God. Wait on Him. Believe His Word. Trust Him.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Defining Value

beautiful peopleWe live in a world that greatly values power and performance while richly rewarding physical athleticism and external beauty.

As our nation prepares for the 2016 presidential election, candidates are raising millions of dollars and a few are spending their self-amassed fortunes to become one of the most powerful leaders of the world. CEO’s of fortune 500 companies are financially rewarded with cash, stock, and other options (or replaced) based on their job performance.

Power of LeBronProfessional athletes demand million dollar contracts for throwing a ball, dunking a ball, dribbling a ball, catching a ball, hitting a ball, putting a ball, and kicking a ball. The best of our athletes make more money in product endorsements off the field because people want to buy the products they push. We want to be like Mike. Or LeBron. And for some, Tom.

Meanwhile actors, models, and musicians not only get rich, but they also wield tremendous societal and political influence. They influence what we wear. They shape how we talk. They impact how we think. They determine what we desire.

Still other people are defining their worth, or others lack thereof, based on race. “Black Lives Matter.” While that’s a true statement and addressed real hurts and genuine fears when the movement began, the movement seems to have created an even greater divide in our country. All lives should matter — unless, that is, you’re powerless inside a woman’s womb.

Sheriff Ron Hickman of Harris County, Texas, addressed this issue about whose lives matter after one of the officers under his command, Darren Goforth, was shot and killed at a gas station last week, “We’ve heard ‘Black Lives Matter,’ ‘All Lives Matter.’ Well, ‘Cops’ Lives Matter,’ too, so why don’t we just drop the qualifiers and just say, ‘Lives Matter.'”

There are still others who determine their worth based on sexual orientation or identity. We’re pressured (by the powerful, by politicians, by athletes, by musicians, or by actors) to think that individuals should pursue and do whatever they think will make them happy and feel good about themselves.

defining valueThroughout our culture we have been conditioned to believe that appearance, race, sex, money, talent, and defining achievements determine how we evaluate people.

And ourselves.

Where do you usually go to find self-worth? Whose opinion influences how you view yourself?

The Bible tells us that God greatly values us, but not in the way that we might think. He doesn’t take pleasure in the symbols of strength and beauty or the temporary things that amuse people. The LORD sees and delights in what demonstrates real strength and eternal worth: knowing and trusting Him.

The Psalmist explains,

The LORD is not impressed by the strength of a horse;
He does not value the power of a man.
He values those who fear Him,
those who put their hope in His faithful love.
— Psalm 147:10-11

In the NT, Paul gives further insight into our self-worth:

5 Therefore, put to death what belongs to your worldly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, God’s wrath comes on the disobedient, 7 and you once walked in these things when you were living in them. 8 But now you must also put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old self with its practices. Colossians 3:5–9

Those are the things that the world values. That’s the old self.

But in Christ,

10 [You] have put on the new self. You are being renewed in knowledge according to the image of your Creator. 11 In Christ there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all. Colossians 3:10–11 (HCSB)

The new person in Christ has a new perspective of life where all material, physical, racial, national, religious, cultural, sexual, and social distinctions are determined to be worthless. Instead, Christ is now all that matters for all those who believe in who He is as God’s Son and what He has done through His death, burial, and resurrection.

lightstock_4161_xsmall_larry_murrayChrist is everything in salvation - no more performing on our own for a relationship with God.
Christ is everything in sanctification - no more achieving to determine our value.
Christ is everything necessary for satisfaction - no more searching for happiness on our own.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come. 2 Corinthians 5:17

In Christ, our personal value before God in Heaven is based upon the (sinless) performance of Jesus. In Christ, our eternal relationship with God is because of Christ’s power on the cross and through His resurrection. In Christ, our old way of thinking about ourselves and others has died. In Christ, our perspectives, prejudices, misconceptions, enslavements have all changed.  Jesus Christ is our all in all. He defines our value and He alone gives us eternal worth. Our identity is in Him. He makes life worth living. 

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Living by Faith

Foggy RoadIn our social media driven world today, life is viewed by what’s popular, progressive, or posted. Followers of Jesus, however, live by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Similarly, Christ followers walk by faith in what God has said and done, not by what we may feel or fear. God says “the righteous will live by faith” (Genesis 15:6; Habakkuk 2:5; Romans 1:174:3922-255:1Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38; James 2:23).

The Bible tells us that faith is confidence in God’s promises and the proof of what is not seen (Hebrews 11:1). Furthermore, without faith it is impossible to please God, for anyone who seeks Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who trust Him and His Word (John 1:1-510-1418; Hebrews 11:6).

We have many examples (biblically, historically, and personally) of imperfect, yet faithful men and women through the ages who have trusted God’s promises through the dense fog of pop culture (2 Timothy 3:1-5), believed them regardless of ridicule (Matthew 5:11-12; John 15:18-20, 2 Timothy 3:12-13), and viewed themselves as foreigners and temporary residents on this Earth (Hebrews 11:13). Following their examples, let’s walk with God by faith in His Son, Jesus (John 17:3; Ephesians 2:8-10Colossians 3:1-4), and love others as He loves (Exodus 34:6-7; Numbers 14:18;  Psalm 86:15; 103:8; Jonah 4:2 ; Joel 2:13; Nehemiah 9:17-25John 15:12-13; Romans 5:6-8Colossians 3:12-14) as citizens of Heaven (Philippians 3:20) and ambassadors here on Earth (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Run the raceSince we have so many great examples of those who have walked with God by faith, let’s lay aside defensiveness, selfishness, and sinfulness that so easily trips us up. Let’s run with perseverance, patience, and purity the race of life that lies before us, looking up to Jesus, the creator and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy of Heaven endured the cross on Earth where He was ridiculed Himself (Hebrews 12:1-3). Let’s follow Jesus who is preparing an eternal home for us while praying for us at the right hand of God’s throne in Heaven (John 14:1-4; Philippians 2:8-11; Hebrews 7:25; Revelation 21:3-4).

Many people today may view those of us who choose to live by faith in God and His Word as narrow-minded (Matthew 7:13-14), old fashioned (Deuteronomy 32:7Psalm 78:1-7; 143:5; 2 Timothy 3:14-17), foolish (1 Corinthians 1:18), and intolerant (2 Timothy 4:2-4). Yet, those who see themselves as open-minded and progressive are making lifestyle choices that have been made before (Judges 17:6, 21:25, Romans 1:21-25). There really isn’t anything new on this Earth (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

Christ followers, also, live by faith in what God has said and done, not by what we feel. So, let’s refuse to react in fear to the recent changes and outrages in our world (2 Timothy 1:8). Instead, let’s recognize that our battle is not against people, police, politicians, or protestors, but against the invisible, spiritual forces of evil that are real (Ephesians 6:12). That’s why we must reject our natural reaction to use the same weapons that are used against us, but rather, put on the spiritual armor of truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the Spirit, which is God’s Word (Ephesians 6:14-17). And above all, we put on love so that the peace of Christ will control our hearts (Colossians 3:14).

By faith in God’s Word, we believe there is an enemy who is called the Devil and Satan; the one who deceives the whole world (Revelation 12:8; Revelation 20:10). According to Jesus, deception is an essential element of Satan’s nature “for he is a liar, and the father of lies” (John 8:44). The Devil disguises himself as angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), but the Bible reveals his true intention to exalt himself above God’s rule and his desire to take God’s glory (Isaiah 14:12–17). As the god of this age, Satan has blinded the minds of people so they cannot see the true light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4). Satan’s latest deceptions involve a repeat attack on the image of God in mankind (Genesis 1:26–28; Genesis 3:1-15) and assault Christ’s love for His church reflected in biblical marriage between a man and a woman (Ephesians 5:22-32). Our cultural and moral battles are not with the ones who have been blinded, but with the ancient deceiver who has blinded them.

So rather than give in to fear or try to defend our faith with the weapons of this world, we resist the Devil and stand firm in our faith in God and His Word, knowing that the grief and sorrows we are experiencing today are not new, but are the experience of fellow believers throughout the world (1 Peter 5:9).

Shine like stars on the roadLet’s live our lives by faith so that our words and actions of Christ-like love go viral (Philippians 2:13-15). Let’s live and love in such a way that God gets the credit for the good others may see in us (Matthew 5:16). As for me and my family, we’re choosing to live by faith in God who has given us life in His Son and trust the goodness of His boundaries for living (Joshua 24:15; Micah 6:8Romans 12:1-3).

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.