Thank the Lord for His perfect, written word. This literary work we know as the Bible not only gives comfort and hope in time of need, it is the document which lays out the foundation upon which the church of Christ is built. The written word of God, for millennium, has been used to explain God’s will for the salvation of man, gives examples of how to walk in a “manner worthy of the calling...”, and reveals the power of the Holy Spirit in us, “which is Christ in you, the hope of Glory”. I could not imagine the emptiness I would feel without having the written word of God to read every day. News Alert! This just in from Africa. “Great news from Tanzania: Our team has completed New Testament translations in three more languages! The Makonde, Mwera, and Zaramo translations are in the final stages of typesetting now.” (Chris Vickio) This work, completed by the servants at Pioneer Bible Translators, is in need of funding for printing and dissemination of 15,000 copies @ $4.00 per copy. “This is the culmination of many years of work and dedication for these projects and is an exciting step as we look forward to many people hearing and reading the gospel in their own language for the first time. Around 2.5 million people speak one of these languages here in Tanzania, most of whom are not yet Christians, so the potential is huge!” If you value your Bible like I do, let’s commit to sending funds to help this project put the written word of God into peoples hands. Consider it another small way we can help in making disciples of the nations. God’s written word was meant to be translated, studied, relied upon and preached. Again, I thank the Lord for preserving His word in written form. Imagine our government without the Constitution? Any corporation without its bylaws? Beethoven’s 5th without the sheet music? Without the original intentions of the designer to rely on, the work becomes transfigured beyond recognition. The word of God, of course, is of supreme importance. It alone is the source of divine power and truth. Psalm 119:160 “The sum of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting.” John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” 1Cor1:18 “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Without the written word of God we are like sheep without a shepherd, a ship without a compass or a building project without blueprints. Devote yourself the study of the Bible. Attend classes. Meditate upon His scriptures. Oral traditions come and go, the spoken word someday will be forgotten, however, the “written word remains”.
It’s the middle of the summer. The beaches are packed. Big RV’s clog the roadways. People spend their days out on the water. Many have homes near it. Ah yes, this is the life! Well at least for the moment. You see, if the beach, the water, vacations, having fun in the sun, if that’s what “the life” is, that life is pretty shallow. The life we live in our physical bodies is in reality, temporary. It may seem like we are on the top of the world. Like we have it all, like we are invincible, like these “happy days” will go on forever! Don’t believe that lie. Go talk with a resident at a nursing home. Life will let you down, you will get old, happy days will end. Then what? Don’t let this bleak reality summarize the totality of your life. The Gospel is Good News! It gives hope for the future and the promise of life, real life, eternal life! God is life. Anything opposed to God and His word ends in total separation from real life, death. John the Baptist said in John3:36, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life. But he who does not obey (see the connection between belief and obedience) the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” Real Life, “The Life” is all about doing life with Jesus, or Life IN Christ. Having faith in Jesus and obeying His word is how we live eternal life right now! The born again believer, the faithful follower of Christ is “raised” up in baptism to “walk in a new life”. (Romans 6:4) This new life is eternal in so far as at the instant a saint dies in the body, his soul and spirit are in the presence of the Lord. While he is still alive in the body, and working for the Lord, the Lord is always with him. Death no longer has any sting. Thanks be to Jesus the Christ who gives us victory over death! (1Corinthians15:57) That includes victory over eternal separation from God. Therefore, our view of death is now completely different. We no longer fear death, wether natural of otherwise, because we are living an eternal life right now. In 1Corinthians 15:58 , the apostle encourages us how to live this new and eternal life. “... steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” Live your life convicted on the foundation that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Never waver from that fact and never move away from that position. Satan is pushing on you every day to defect from the rock. Stand firm! At the same time, “abound in the work of the Lord”. Those who are serving, working and ministering to others in the will of God for the promotion of His kingdom and His glory will always reap heavenly rewards. The energy and time spent working for the sake of His name is never wasted. “Your labor is not in vain.” So ask yourself, “What work am I doing for the glory of God?”, “How am I helping His kingdom and what am I doing to aid in delivering the Gospel of Christ?” Those engaged in this work are truly “living the life”.
Jethro, Moses’ father in law, came to the camp of the Israelites after they had been delivered from Egypt by “the strong arm of the Lord”. Moses greeted Jethro and told him all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and Egypt for Israel’s sake. Jethro rejoiced over the Lord’s goodness and said, “Blessed be the Lord.....the Lord is greater than all (other) gods....” Jethro learned something that the world will someday realize. There is only one God. His name is Yahweh. He is the maker of all things. He is Lord of all and He sent His Son to live among men as a human, to reveal Himself to all people. Jethro had believed in many gods, as do many in the world today. Anything that receives adoration and longing for becomes a god in our minds. All other gods, being man made, are false and are an abomination. Yahweh, the Lord God said to Moses, “Thou shall have no other gods before me.” Moses told the Israelites , “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God (Yahweh) is one...Love the Lord your God with all your heart....”. Satan has filled this world with a multitude of false gods for the ignorant and rebellious to worship. As the church we must reveal Yahweh and stand firm against false gods. Yahweh has given us a way to victory over false gods. Only He can save. As the armies of Egypt ran down upon Israel God parted the sea and His people crossed over in safety and the Egyptian army was destroyed. Only Yahweh has the power and the authority to save. Whether it be in battle, or in sickness or in the day of judgement, Yahweh is the one who rescues. All other false gods and prophets are impotent. This deliverance is also conditional. He has set the terms of salvation in His word, the Bible. His saving grace is reserved for those who love Him and long to be with Him. The way we show our love for Him is through worship. After receiving the commandments of the Lord, Moses had the people build the Tabernacle, the place where Yahweh would present Himself. The people came to this tent of meeting and worshipped God through song, praise, prayer and service. We worship the Lord today in similar fashion, however, Jesus told us that we will worship the Father “in spirit and in truth”. We no longer need to go to a specific place or a specific building. Those who love God worship at all times and in all places, and through the name of Jesus. Jesus is our life! The armies of Satan have been defeated by the power of the resurrection. As the church worships the only true God, loves others and spreads this good news, we will see Him face to face.
Know who the Lord is. Know what He has done. Know who you worship.
Following Jesus’ example of discipleship reveals He not only imparted information that makes up the gospel, the word of God, but He also developed His closest followers to become effective leaders. The ultimate is reproduction, leaders developing other effective leaders. And so the church grows into the kingdom which cannot be shaken. Nehemiah found himself thrust into the midst of leading the people of God as well as training a select group to lead. This practice of training leaders is, of course, as old as mankind. Leadership seminars are numerous and thousands of books have been written on the subject. However, Nehemiah offers a reason, a motivation for stepping out of his comfortable situation and diving into unfamiliar waters. Nehemiah 1:11says “now, I was the cupbearer to the king.” What motivated such a drastic change of life? A cup bearer is a slave, a servant who lives close to the king, but still a servant. So what would motivate a slave, one who has direct dealings with the king, to leave an easy job (compared to making bricks) and head for the wilderness? Answer- Love for God and His people. Upon learning of the shameful and wretched condition of the “holy nation” of God, Nehemiah “wept and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” (Neh1:3-4) Love for the brethren and love for the Lord God motivated even the simplest of men to focus on and complete an extraordinary task. The people of Israel were in “great distress and (great) reproach” and defenseless. The need was great and his love was great. This is exactly the kind of man God wants to use to lead His people to victory. Church, are you weeping and mourning right now over God’s kingdom? Are you praying and fasting, looking for direction and guidance toward future ministries? Is your heart filled with love for the people of God, the body of Christ, the Lord’s church, to the point where you are thinking about leaving the comfort and ease of your current situation?Do you want to give more, serve more, engage in the battle more? The need for Godly leaders is great. The ministry opportunities at OPCC are growing. This is exactly the time the adversary would plan an attack in order to stop the momentum and destroy our efforts. Let us therefore, sure up our defenses and develop strong leaders who serve out of love for God and love for His people. No haphazard operations!! Every deed must be driven by a focus on the great commission, “ go make disciples.” To accomplish this good work, we need motivated leaders who will serve, train and inspire all for the glory of God. In conclusion, let me introduce the theme for 2020,
“Let us arise and build.”
Hundreds of memorials in Washington,DC exist to remind following generations of the struggle between evil and good. I maintain that righteousness always prevails, especially when we remember God?s will is always accomplished and He is always ultimately in control. Every age has its own conflicts, its own contenders and its own heroes. The spectacular World War 2 memorial, with its powerful fountain and granite walls, invokes the Unity, the Service, the Sacrifice and the Victory Americans felt during those difficult years. It also reminds us of the constant conflict the church has been in since the days of its inception.
When Jesus commended Peter for rightly confessing who He was, ?the Christ, the Son of the living God?, Jesus then said, ?? and upon this rock (confession) I will build My church; and the gates of Hell shall not overpower it.?Since then, satan has been attacking, each generation, each individual, with his schemes and his minions, attempting to destroy and ruin the lives of God?s children. The church, His church will always be involved in this conflict, and we must proclaim together, as our fathers did, ?Defend Freedom and Defeat Tyranny?. As our nation was unified against one great enemy and focused on one great purpose, so too must we be united and focused as we engage in the battle for our salvation. The body of Christ, His church, is unified upon the word of God, the living and active word of truth. Jesus is the embodiment of that truth. Devotion to the truth of His word is what unites each individual and each local congregation; autonomous yet united, as one.
We serve our Lord and King in a variety of ways, yet with one heart. Serving Him is an expression of worship, adoration and honoring who He is and what He has done for us. Some serve on the home front, taking care of the local needs and giving to others in support of the greater goal. Others serve on the front lines, preaching and teaching the gospel with efforts of establishing a foothold in enemy territory. All who love Jesus and long for the salvation that only comes through Him will serve according to their own talents and abilities. A characteristic of this service is sacrifice. Whether of time, money, or physical, His cause is worth every ounce of sacrifice. When the body works together, as did our nation in the great war, when we stay focused on our objective and serve with selflessness, through God Almighty, we will, with absolute certainty, celebrate great victory! His victory will be ?overwhelming?and the enemy will be cast down and crushed. The saints will rejoice and the Lord will be exalted. He may have died for our freedom, but He lives forevermore!
Recently I had the privilege of accompanying a group of school children on a field trip to a local education outreach program. The instructor had a great lesson on “The Forces of Bridges”. She began with a slide presentation showing diagrams of the different parts of bridges focusing on the types of “stress” each one endures. Many pictures of actual bridges from around the world and local were then compared. The children asked questions and were very respectful. (The youngest ones especially liked the little carpet squares they sat on) The students then followed directions and built a small bridge using the plastic pieces given in a ziplock bag. The teacher made certain that all the pieces were properly inventoried and put back. Moving into a larger room the students then used their creativity based on the lessons learned, and built their own bridges out of paper, popsicle sticks and straws. These bridges were then tested to determine the weight it could hold on the road bed. All the bridges passed with flying colors! Well done children!!!
This engaging activity, while revealing the forces that act upon bridges, also reminds us of the stresses wearing down upon each human life. Physics identifies tension, torsion, compression and shearing as four major stresses. Torsion is the twisting force similar to wringing out a towel or the feeling of ones stomach “in knots”. The word of God can also be twisted, or changed even slightly, to mean something other than the truth. Shearing is the force that cuts, like pruning a branch from a tree, Goliaths head from his neck, or the wicked being cut off from the love of God. Tension is the force that pulls things apart, like a new cloth from an old cloth after being sewn together, or the force that pulls family bonds apart. Compression crushes things. The heavy weight of a steel bridge pushing down on the abutments require deep foundations to support this tremendous force. People deal with the heaviness of sin, frustration, guilt and disappointment constantly crushing down upon their spirits. Without the strong foundation of Jesus in our lives we would crumble and our lives reduced to rubble. Praise God our Father, that we have been counted worthy of His love and His help. He desires for His children to be at peace and to stand firm performing the work we were built up for. When we fully rely on Him through His word and by faith in His Son, Jesus, we learn to use the stress life puts on us for good, because we love the Father. God provides us the instructions to follow, and the help we need to build holy lives, Godly families and His glorious church. This process began with the cross of Christ which bridged the chasm, the great divide, that separated man from God. Only those who believe and obey His word can cross over from sin to glory and righteousness. This bridge, however, is temporary and will be destroyed along with the forces of darkness. On that “day of the Lord” His children will dwell with Him forever on the other side.
With spring only a few weeks away, we can’t help but think of getting back to outdoor activities. Working in the garden, spring cleaning the yard, swinging the old golf clubs, playing catch with the children, kicking the soccer ball, running the bases, how we long for those warm sunny days! I have spent many cold winter nights planning and preparing for getting out on the water with my fly rod, chasing that hungry and elusive large mouth bass. I wish I had more time to fish being that it is a great American pastime. Some find it to be therapeutic, and can even be meditative. I love to praise the Lord while out on a calm stretch of water surrounded by majestic trees, graceful birds in flight, and the radiance of the sun shimmering on the water. “Let all creation praise His name” This lovely scene holds a great Biblical illustration. “I will make you fishers of men”, said Jesus to Peter, a seasoned veteran in the industry. While Jesus was referring to the greater calling of making disciples, the similarities between fishing and discipling are striking. We could easily think of words such as patience, persuasion, equipment, experience, timing and trust to describe both. Fishing in Jesus’ day was mostly done with nets, as evidenced by His disciples multiple times “dropping their nets”.
The discipleship/net illustration is illustrated in the “Kingdom of Heaven” activities by all disciples. (Matt13:47) It is no surprise then, that God warns us about the pursuits of satan. He always counterfeits God’s good work for his own nefarious doings. Jeremiah 5:26 “For wicked men are found among My people, They watch like fowlers lying in wait; They set a trap, They catch men, ’Like a cage full of birds, So their houses are full of deceit….They also excel in deeds of wickedness”. The devil works in and among men mimicking the work of God. He recruits followers not out of a message of love, forgiveness and blessings. His is one of lies, lust and luxuries. He does not truthfully persuade based upon reason and evidences. The devil does his best work with the "fowlers net", entrapping the unexpected into misery and suffering. These men are so duped, once a part of the Lords family, now they serve wickedness by “lying in wait”, as they have “set the trap” seeking to “catch men” against their will and reasonable mind. Sadly, they remain in the Lord’s church, devouring, disrupting and destroying. This entrapment becomes visible in the lack of compassion toward the lowly. “They do not plead the cause of the orphan (nor) defend the rights of the poor..” Wickedness and sinfulness are tactics of an enemy turning away those who might be searching for truth and longing for justice. God will punish these and avenge Himself.
As we engage in the battle for the souls of men, it is the kind “fisher of men” we lead them to. It is the loving shepherd of our souls who compassionately ministers to all who seek Him. It is the Lamb of God who willingly sacrificed His life for ours, the unrighteous, in order that we might be justified before the Lord. Covered in His atoning blood, we are then set free from the nets of death to fly free in the heights of the heavens.
Let’s imagine the “Wall” at the U.S. Southern border is fully built and functioning as intended. The flow of illegal drugs, illegal aliens, human trafficking, and unwanted criminals has come to a screeching halt. Caravans of innocents making that treacherous trek northward under false assumptions of an easy entrance into the “land flowing with milk and honey” cease. Land owners are no longer threatened by unfriendly folk breaking into their homes, stealing their livestock nor destroying their property, or worse. The government remains fully open and life in the U.S. with a southern border wall becomes the new norm. Walls are in-fact, desirable as evidenced by the Hollywood mansions, former presidential compounds and high security facilities, all being surrounded by walls.
Walls provide protection and security, something we all want, as those in antiquity also desired. Remember the city of Jerusalem, the home of the Temple of the Lord, surrounded by a great wall. This structure helped keep its inhabitants safe and regulated the flow of foreigners while managing many points of entry or gates. In 586BC the Babylonian siege began and within a few years that wall was destroyed allowing the Temple and much of the city to be destroyed. Nehemiah records the feelings of the surviving “remnant”. (Nehemiah 1:3) “..those who survived the captivity are in great trouble and disgrace…”. Why? Because “the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire.”! Nehemiah being deeply moved wept, fasted and prayed God would use him to bring about great restoration. God blessed Nehemiah with all the provisions to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall, “…and the good hand of God was upon him.” (2:8) Nehemiah gathered the residents of the city including the priests and nobles and said, “You see the trouble we are in, Jerusalem lies in ruins….Come let us rebuild the wall !” “So they put their hands to the good work.” (2:17-18)
Well, like any good work that is beneficial to people, there will always be critics. This day was no different. “…when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews.” (4:1) He and his collaborators threatened violence, attempted to stir up riots and “conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and cause a disturbance in it.” (4:8)) Walls provide protection and security. They help provide for the welfare of its residents. Those who seek to disturb that welfare oppose a wall as it removes their ability to corruptly rule. These detractors are so emotional, they invent lies and fake news, attempting to frighten the faithful and discourage the workers. Nehemiah called them out. “Such things as you are saying have not been done, but you are inventing them in your own mind”. (Truly, there is nothing new under the sun.) Nehemiah prayed again,”God, strengthen my hands.” (6:8-9)
Above is an example of how the adversary wars against those who love the Lord. We have been given a good work to complete. We have been given the resources to accomplish this task and we are never alone, the Lord is always with us. However, rivals will arise with their mocking and their treats. They will discourage the efforts and even intimidate. But let us carry on the work of God with a shovel in one hand and our sword in the other, if need be. The Kingdom of God will always prevail.
The wall around Jerusalem was completed in 52 days! (6:15) It had its desired effect upon the foreigners who would have seen Jerusalem destroyed. The wall made secure God’s holy nation and became a strong deterrent for the mockers and the spoilers. It humiliated their efforts and caused them to cease their attacks. “…when all our enemies heard of it (completed wall) and the surrounding nations saw it, they lost their confidence (dis-hearted) for they recognized that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.” (6:16) Victory in God was celebrated greatly! “..on that day they offered great sacrifices and rejoiced because God had given them great joy…!” (12:43)
As we look beyond the wall, if we are dedicated to the work of God, even in the midst of the enemy, we too can and will “rejoice” because God will accomplish His purpose through us, which is to build His Kingdom. “Let us arise and build!!!”
The lights are turned down low, the wrapping paper is all stuffed in a trash bag, the guests have all gone and the left overs are put away. A peaceful quietness fills the house. What a day! What a good day! Not because of the amount or cost of the gifts that were given and are now piled up on the floor or countertops. It was a good day because of the love shared by family. Of course a homemade turkey dinner complete with all the trimmings and deserts afterward always helps in making the day a special one. However, the main attraction is still the love shared by family and friends. People laughing, talking, sharing and enjoying, giving and receiving each others company, in love. This is the gift to be most treasured. Giving gifts without love as the motivation, misses the point of the giving. I loosely quote from Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church. “If I use my gift to speak different languages, without love for you, then I am simply a loud annoying noise. If I teach from my gift of prophecy and knowledge without love, I am nothing. If I sacrifice everything, even my body, without love, there is no benefit to anyone.” Isaiah helped prepare the world to receive the greatest gift of love as he prophesied the incarnation of God, in the person Jesus. In Him we have been give the gift of cleansing. Only through the blood of Christ can we be made “whiter than snow”. In Him we have been given the gift of His kingdom, a place we call home, also known as the “mountain of the Lord”, His church. In Him we also have a king, a ruler, a shepherd, one who is greater than all others in power, counsel and charity. He is supreme and He is eternal. Because of this, He has also given us ultimate victory over all rulers, authorities and powers. Nothing can separate us from His love. Though the world be covered in darkness, the faithful disciple of the Christ will bathe in the Glory of the Lord. “Nations will come to (His) light.” He has come to proclaim “good news to the afflicted...and freedom to the captives”. I urge you church, receive Him, over and over. Hold this most cherished gift close to your heart, the gift from God, given in Love.
Unfortunately, “as the shoppers rush home with their treasures”, thinking they have done a noble deed, usually motivated out of love and kindness, the most significant event the world has ever witnessed remains hidden behind the glitzy decorated tree. It continues to amaze me and repulse me how much emphasis is placed on the need to buy the perfect gift for loved ones and sometimes even those who don’t really care about us. Many feel the need to rush out and spend money on trivial things simply because it’s “that time of year”. All the while, the greatest gift is always perfect, available, and free! Why has gift giving become such a major event? Why do so many feel the need to spend dollars they don’t have for stuff that is often not needed, appreciated, nor valued? Jesus taught in Matthew 6:20 “...lay up treasures in heaven.....for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” I can’t help but think that the greedy consumerist mentality is a genius distraction from the true enemy we are engaged in battle against. We have an adversary who is relentless in his pursuit to separate us from the Lord and His truth thereby pulling us down into eternal destruction. I love the Bible and I love this time of year when emphasis is placed on the birth of Jesus, when God becoming man, lived among His creation. This divinely unique event distinguishes Christianity from all other religions. But it does not end there. God in the flesh, Immanuel, Jesus the Messiah, had to be born in the flesh in order that He might bear the cross on our behalf, the payment for the debt our sins, His death. By His own power He resurrected from the dead! As the risen savior He now has supreme authority over all creation, all things and that includes power over satan and his forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Since the garden of Eden, satan has been on the prowl attempting to destroy the “seed” . “The dragon stood before the woman....so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.” Rev12:4 . What a hideous creature. He failed. Jesus reigns! “And she gave birth to a son....who is to rule over all the nations with a rod of iron...” Rev12:5. Jesus forever reigns on His throne victorious and glorious. The devil has been thrown down, to the earth, and is enraged. All he can do now is wage war against the children of God. “And when the dragon saw he was thrown down to the earth he persecuted the woman...” Rev12:13 “And the dragon.... went off to make war with the rest of her offspring who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” Rev12:17. While are people fighting over TV’s and computer games in the checkout lines, our adversary laughs, knowing that they fail to understand the only strategic plan of action that defeats him. That plan begins with living a life by faith in Jesus and obedience to His word. It includes being a disciple of Jesus who is appalled at the wickedness of this world and it’s perversions of the truth. His disciples have access to an armor that never fails, a powerful advocate dwelling inside and the heavenly Father who is always ready to hear our prayers. Our Salvation is from heaven. Our Power is in Jesus. Our Glory is in our God.