Wednesday, June 13, 2018

“Battle Strategy Training” 3 – 1 Samuel 17

Maybe it’s just because I’m a guy. Maybe it’s because I was raised watching boxing with my dad. Or maybe it’s entertaining to everybody. I don’t know. But I love to watch a good fight. I’m not talking about street-fighting or when some loser punches his wife. I just mean I like to watch 2 athletes box or wrestle or kick box or Karate or that MMA stuff in a ring. And the best fights are always when the underdog wins.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a whole Rocky movie but isn’t that the premise behind most of them? Rocky is too young or too old or too something and he surely can’t win the big fight…but he does. I think everybody likes a story like that even if you don’t like to watch boxing. Maybe that’s why they made 6 of them and I think they made just about as many Rambo movies but that’s another sermon.

I did a little research, and you know what that means. I googled it and found out that everybody likes an underdog and it is true in every sport from boxing to tiddlywinks but it is also true in every other aspect of life.  When we have a political season coming up you will hear certain politicians being referred to as the underdog. 

Don’t be fooled.  That is not an accident.  If somebody calls them an underdog they are most likely being paid by that politician to say it because politicians know that being an underdog works heavily in your favor.  Studies have shown that being labeled an underdog can make your actions seem more virtuous and your face appear more beautiful. (The Underdog Effect -Why do we love a loser? By Daniel Engber)

Being labeled an underdog gives the impression that you try harder, have more heart, more courage and more gumption.  And that may or may not be true but that is how we look at underdogs.  What it boils down to is that everybody likes an underdog because everybody sees themselves as an underdog.

We can all relate to being the underdog and for most of us we never seem to win anything and so we root for the underdog because we long for some kind of justice in this world.  How much more so when we see the underdog as being young and pure and on the “right” team and his opponent is just a big ol’ meanie-headed jerk!  Which is what makes the story of David and Goliath such a timeless classic and the perfect underdog story.

If you would like to read along with that story, turn to 1 Samuel 17.  And since most of you may not have read this story in a good while, and probably haven’t turned to the book of 1 Samuel in a while, I will set the story up for you as you find your place in 1 Samuel chapter 17.  The Samuels are in between the books of Ruth and 1 Kings.

I have been looking forward to preaching from this passage for a long time.  It is one of my all-time favorite stories in the whole Bible.  I have said many times that I grew up reading about David growing up and now it seems like we are old friends.  And this story has fascinated me since before I could read it for myself.  And it has continued to fascinate me as I have been studying it lately.

I called my mom just this week and said, “Mama!  Did you know that Goliath was 9’6” tall???  His armor weighed 150 pounds!  The head of his spear alone weighed like 16 pounds!  That’s incredible!”  I felt like a little kid again saying, “Mama, look at this!”  I love this story!  It has action, drama, suspense, an underdog and a big ol’ meanie-headed jerk.  And the big ol’ meanie-headed jerk gets his big ol’ meanie head cut smooth off.  How great is this?

But I’ll tell you what else it has.  It has a twist in the story.  Because it looks like as you read it the first time that the story is all about David and Goliath.  But while this story does star those guys, the Author, the Producer, the Director and the One who made it all happen is God.  This story is more about God than it is about David or Goliath.  Let’s read the story and we will see on the other side why I say that.

1 Samuel starting in chapter 17.  I’m not going to read the whole chapter but I will read most of it.  And it’s ok.  I promise it won’t take any longer than usual so just sit back, relax and enjoy “Story Time” this week.

Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah. They pitched camp at Ephes Dammim, between Sokoh and Azekah. 2 Saul and the Israelites assembled and camped in the Valley of Elah and drew up their battle line to meet the Philistines. 3 The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them. 4 A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span. 5 He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels 6 on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. 7 His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels. His shield bearer went ahead of him. 8 Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. 9 If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” 10 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” 11 On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified. 12 Now David was the son of an Ephrathite named Jesse, who was from Bethlehem in Judah. Jesse had eight sons, and in Saul’s time he was very old. 13 Jesse’s three oldest sons had followed Saul to the war: The firstborn was Eliab; the second, Abinadab; and the third, Shammah. 14 David was the youngest. The three oldest followed Saul, 15 but David went back and forth from Saul to tend his father’s sheep at Bethlehem. 16 For forty days the Philistine came forward every morning and evening and took his stand. 17 Now Jesse said to his son David, “Take this ephah[d] of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp. 18 Take along these ten cheeses to the commander of their unit. See how your brothers are and bring back some assurance[e] from them. 19 They are with Saul and all the men of Israel in the Valley of Elah, fighting against the Philistines.” 20 Early in the morning David left the flock in the care of a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry. 21 Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other. 22 David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were. 23 As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. 24 Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear.
Now skip over to verse 32.  32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.” 33 Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” 34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The LORD who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you.” 38 Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. 39 David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them. “I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So, he took them off. 40 Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine. 41 Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. 42 He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. 43 He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!” 45 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the LORD will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.” 48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground. 50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him. 51 David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword. When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran. 52 Then the men of Israel and Judah surged forward with a shout and pursued the Philistines to the entrance of Gath and to the gates of Ekron. Their dead were strewn along the Shaaraim road to Gath and Ekron. 53 When the Israelites returned from chasing the Philistines, they plundered their camp. 54 David took the Philistine’s head and brought it to Jerusalem; he put the Philistine’s weapons in his own tent.

Isn’t that a great story?  Do you believe it’s true?  I hope so.  I sure do.  And while some scholars disagree about just how tall Goliath was – some say only 6 something while others say he may have been as much as 11 feet tall – it doesn’t matter.  Again, as in all great biblical stories, critics want to pick it apart and say that there is no way this could have happened because of such and such reason.  I won’t even go into the ridiculous things they said about this story.  Either God did a miracle or He didn’t.

Either the story is true or it isn’t.  Either the whole Bible is true or none of it is true!  And when you get distracted by debating if Goliath’s helmet covered his forehead or not or if both of his legs were covered in armor or just one of them, then you miss seeing what this story is all about.  I want us to see that God intervened here.  I want us to see that it was God’s grace and mercy at work, not a slingshot.

I want us to specifically see that God gave David a divine encounter.  God gave David divine talent.  God gave David divine confidence.  And then God gave David divine victory.  Look again at verse 23 to see how God gave David this divine encounter.  As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it.

Do you think it is just coincidence that David showed up when he did?  Do you think it was just good luck, good karma, chance, fate or happenstance that David happened to be at the right place at the right time to hear Goliath defy Israel and God Himself?  Do you think it was coincidence that it was 40 days exactly that he had been doing this when 40 days in the Bible is nearly always symbolic of trials or testing?

So often, God shows up in the Bible and brings relief at 40 days.  And that is exactly what He does here with this little teenaged shepherd boy from the sticks.  God brings about this divine encounter and does it in a way that only God can do.  And what do we call it when God does something only God can do?  That’s called a miracle.  And miracles don’t happen by chance, good luck or certainly not by some made up thing called karma.

Why did God give David this divine encounter with Goliath?  Was it to show how strong David was or how brave he was?  Or to prove he should be king while putting Saul in his place? Was it because nobody else was able to defeat Goliath?  No.  In fact, I am confident that if David had not been obedient to what God told him to do that God could just have easily have used any other man, woman, child or tree on the battlefield to do the job.

God would have found somebody else to do it and David would have had to suffer the consequences of disobedience while the other was blessed for his obedience.  And either way, God gets the ultimate glory, not the person.  And I will tell you why I am so confident in saying that in a minute but we see in our next point that God gave David divine talent.  He gave him the divine encounter with Goliath and now we see in verses 34-37 that God also gave David divine talent.

But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The LORD who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you.”

Now, when I say that God gave David divine talent, I, of course, do not mean that God gave David the talent to be divine or to be god-like but that the talent was a divine gift.  And it was obviously a God-given gift that David had to be able to kill a much more powerful enemy.  This is not Samson who had great strength.  God had given David the talent and the ability to think straight under pressure, to be able to move quickly and to do what was necessary to kill a lion and a bear.
Now, don’t you wish you had that kind of talent?  And if you do…why?  Because what possible good would it ever do you?  When would the ability to kill a lion and a bear be of any use?  What about the ability to use a slingshot?  Wooo, there’s a talent!  Big deal, right?  Don’t you know David must have practiced with that slingshot a thousand times, wondering what good it would ever do in the scheme of things?

I bet he prayed, “God give me some real talent.  Sure, I’m good with this stupid slingshot but I want a real talent that will help me in life.”  Doesn’t that sound ridiculous now?  How God must have smiled to hear a prayer like that from David!  And how He must smile when He hears a prayer like that from you!  Because He knows what you don’t know; that He is going to give you a divine encounter with somebody and He is going to use you to bring about change in their life because He has gifted you with the talent that person needs.

And you can choose to use your so-called “insignificant” divine talent to pray or to read or to use the internet or ride a motorcycle or use a slingshot to God’s glory and be blessed by it or God will find somebody else and bless them while you suffer the consequences of squandering your divine talents.  Phillips Brooks once said, “It is almost as presumptuous to think you can do nothing as to think you can do everything.”

God hasn’t called any of us to do everything.  But He has called all of us to do something and He has provided the talents and abilities to do it for every one of us.  And when that divine encounter comes for you and you have the opportunity to use your divine talent, you can have divine confidence like David did.  Let’s look at verses 45-47 to see that.

David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the LORD will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

That’s big talk for a little boy!  How does a guy like David get that kind of divine confidence?  Because if it were me looking across the field at Goliath the warrior I think I would have remembered the verse that says, “Be still and know that He is God.”  Instead, it says that David ran toward him.  Did you see that in verse 48?  David picked up 5 stones and took off running toward Goliath.  And maybe it’s just because I’m such a big fan of David’s that I think he picked up 5 stones because Goliath had 4 brothers behind him.  But I don’t know that.

How do you know when to “Be still and know that He is God” and when to run toward the warrior?  Because both take divine, God-given confidence; not confidence in yourself, but that God is going to do what He said He would do.  And that is where that confidence comes from.  It comes from knowing what God says and believing it.

And for David, we know he was taught the scriptures and I believe it was a scripture like is found in Deuteronomy 20:1-4 that gave him his divine confidence.  Let me read that to you.  This is a passage that David would have been familiar with, I’m sure.  It says, “When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you. 2 When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army. 3 He shall say: “Hear, Israel: Today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not panic or be terrified by them. 4 For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.”
Now, as much as I would love to claim that verse, I can’t.  It is not a promise to everyone in the world.  It was given to the children of Israel and as a child of Israel, David could claim that verse and I believe he did, (or one similar to it) knowing that God was the One going with them to fight and that it was God that was going to bring about the victory.
David shows up on the battlefield, hears Goliath and thinks, “It’s not that he is so big that I can’t win.  He is so big I can’t miss because God is going to do the fighting.”  And while we can’t claim that particular verse and say that every enemy we are going to come across is going to be defeated, we do have thousands of other promises from God in His Word that we can hang on to because we know what it says and we believe it!

When God says He will never leave us; that He is our shield, our rock, our fortress, that His name is a mighty tower; when He says He will give us rest, He will give us a full and abundant life, He will give wisdom, forgive sins and not forsake His people for His great name's sake then we can have confidence in that to the point that we know without a doubt that He will use our divine encounters with our divine talents to give us that divine confidence which will ultimately result in divine victory.

Let’s look how that worked out for David in verses 50-51.  He has divine victory. So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him. 51 David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword. When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran.

All the “Rocky’s” 1-6 can’t compare with that!  Some people might think this is not as big of a miracle as parting the Red Sea was but have you ever tried to use a slingshot?  Especially one like David had?  This was no small miracle.  In fact, because of that one kill, the ladies back home made up a song that went, “Saul has killed his thousands but David his tens of thousands!”

David had only killed one guy but the ramifications of that were bigger than just Goliath.  It changed everything for David and for all of the people around him as well.  God loved them so much He wanted to give them victory.  And God could have just done it.  God could have struck Goliath down with a heart attack.  But as we saw last week and we see again here, God allows us to be a part of His plan.

When we take advantage of our divine encounters and use our divine talents, He gives us divine confidence based on His promises.  And He does it to bring us to divine victory through Him and for Him when we are followers of Him.

Monday, June 4, 2018

“Battle Strategy” 2 – Exodus 14

Have you ever been watching a movie that seems real enough and all the sudden they do something impossible? My favorite is the classic scene where the guy breaks the car window, opens the door, pulls down a couple of wires under the dash and in two seconds, hot wires the car by sparking two wires together. Drives me crazy. Do you know how impossible that is?

Number one, that window doesn’t break like that. I know. I locked my keys in my car once so I wrapped my hand in my t-shirt and punched the window as hard as I could. Do you know what happened? The window didn’t even crack but my hand did. I couldn’t use my arm for three days. Also, I have worked on cars and trucks enough to know that there are hundreds of wires under the dash and they are all different colors and all do different things and you can’t just pull them down like that.

I hate it when Hollywood thinks I’m stupid. Like when the cowboy shoots 25 times without reloading his six-shooter or the bus jumps over the gap in the highway. Don’t get me started on the laugh track they use on these so-called comedies. Those jokes aren’t near that funny. You know what I mean, right?

So, it’s always amazing to me that the people that put out these ridiculous movies or just watch them and have no trouble with them then want to explain away the real miracles of God. Our text this morning is from Exodus 14 where we read about the Israelites crossing the Red Sea on dry land. You know the story. The Israelites finally left Egypt but Pharaoh changed his mind and went after them and found them trapped next to the massive Red Sea so he attacked and God caused the sea to divide and the Israelites walked over but when the Egyptians followed, God closed the gap in the water and they all drowned.

It’s a story most of us have heard since we were little kids and we just believe it. The Bible says it. It’s true. That’s enough. I was watching a documentary a while back and several scientists have finally “figured out” how it happened. See, if they went at just the right spot across the Red Sea at just the right time of year and the right time of day, and if there was an earthquake and the wind was really blowing at just the right speed and if they hurried, then there is a chance this really happened.

That is what they believe. But here is another option. Now, keep in mind I am not a scientist nor do I play one on TV but here is my theory. God performed a miracle. You know what? If they did go at just the right time and place and there was an earthquake and the wind blew, that is still a miracle. But I believe it happened just like the Bible says. God led the people to this spot, allowed them to be part of it and caused several incredible things to happen so that all the people had to do was be obedient and God would get the glory. That is called a miracle any way you slice it.

We have come to our second installment of Battle Strategy Training in our preparation for battle. I told you when we began this even before Boot Camp that the reason we started this is because I got tired of seeing people get attacked by Satan and just giving up. Maybe it was in temptation or maybe he attacked by causing something bad to happen but I was seeing too many people just freaking out, dropping out and rolling over when we have at our disposal the same power that brought Jesus out of the grave.

Now, if that was you freaking out and rolling over, don’t feel like you are the only one that has ever done that. In Exodus 6:5, God said He had heard the groaning of the Israelites and so He was going to work for them. They groaned in Israel. They groaned in Egypt. They groaned in the desert. They groaned when they were free and they groaned in bondage…just…like…we…do.

You may remember from the book of Genesis that there had been a famine in Israel, which was part of God’s whole plan, and Joseph, an Israelite had become second in command of Egypt where there was plenty of food. His family finally came over to Egypt to live and pretty soon the whole country of Israel had pretty much done the same and the Egyptians made them slaves for 430 years. But, again, God heard their groaning and called Moses to bring them out of slavery. There are about twenty other major miracles in all that story (all part of God’s plan) but moving right along, we see the Israelites finally getting to leave Egypt. They are gone just a little while and Pharaoh has a change of heart when he hears they are wandering lost in the desert. Our main passage is in Exodus 14 but I want to start with a couple of verses at the end of 13.

We will read Exodus 13:17-18 and 20-22 and then all of chapter 14. It sounds long but it’s a great story and fun to read.

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” 18 So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle. 20 After leaving Sukkoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. 21 By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. 22 Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people. 14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea. They are to encamp by the sea, directly opposite Baal Zephon. Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’ And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” So the Israelites did this. When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, “What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!” So he had his chariot made ready and took his army with him. He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out boldly. The Egyptians—all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, horsemen and troops—pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea near Pi Hahiroth, opposite Baal Zephon. 10 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” 13 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” 15 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. 16 Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. 17 I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. 18 The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.” 19 Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, 20 coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long. 21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. 23 The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. 24 During the last watch of the night the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. 25 He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.” 26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.” 27 Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the Lord swept them into the sea. 28 The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived. 29 But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. 30 That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. 31 And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.

When I was a little kid, I had an illustrated story book of the Bible and I remember it had an illustration of this story that showed the people walking through the Red Sea with a wall of water on both sides and on one side the people were looking up at a whale swimming right beside them like they were looking at a huge aquarium. We don’t know that anything like that happened but I like that way of thinking. If God can do a small miracle then He can do a big miracle!

I think everybody here would say they believe that. But I think the problem most of us have is believing that God can do the small miracles in our lives, at least we don’t live like it. Oh, sure you believe God can part the sea or make a donkey talk or even speak the universe into existence but when the doctor gives bad news, it’s time to worry. When that temptation comes at you from what used to be an addiction, that’s too much for God. When the bills start piling up, you know what the Bible says but you still quit tithing and start working on Sunday so you can fix the problem.

When an alcoholic became a believer, he was asked how he could possibly believe all the nonsense in the Bible about miracles. "You don't believe that Jesus changed the water into wine do you?" "I sure do, because in our house Jesus changed the whiskey into furniture."  R. Stedman, Authentic Christianity, p. 36.

I look around here this morning and I see a lot of miracles. I see the prisoner who was set free and now goes back to the prison to share Jesus. I see the spiritually blind, the physically sick and the emotionally abused who are healed. I see the drunk who hasn’t had a drop in 30-something years. I see the immoral and the ugly, the wasteful and mean man who now stands up here to preach. But the question is, can God handle the attack you are going through right now? When Satan attacks, is God really going to fight for you?

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. “If I saw God do a huge miracle like parting the Red Sea, then I would believe.” No, you wouldn’t. Do you know why I say that? In the very next chapter, right after the big celebration and the long, wonderful prayer of thanksgiving, it says the people started groaning when they didn’t have enough water. The last person to cross over is just barely on the other side good and it’s already, “Oh, no! What are we going to do now? I mean, what has God done for us lately?”

There are several things I want us to see in this wonderful passage that will help us when Satan attacks. First we need to look at it from an overview. Was it God’s will that Joseph went to Egypt back in Genesis? Yes, it was. Was it God’s will that the people would follow Joseph and even be enslaved? Yes, it was. Was it God’s will that Moses deliver them? Absolutely. But look closer. In chapter 13, verse 17, God led them out of Egypt and into the desert right up to the Red Sea. God did that on purpose.

He didn’t take them the quickest way but led them in a way that would go around the crazy–mean Philistines and make it look like they were lost so that Pharaoh would chase them. God set all of this up. Why? For His glory. Why does God do anything? For His glory. Why does God allow or even cause what we think are bad things to happen to us? For His glory.

Read verses 2, 3 and 4 again.  “Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea. They are to encamp by the sea, directly opposite Baal Zephon. Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’ And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.”

I bet they were groaning then, too. “That Moses! He is getting us lost. Where’s the GPS?” But God was telling Moses, in fact, He was showing Moses which way to go. It wasn’t Moses’s fault. God was in control of where they went the whole time just like He is today with your problem. So, that leads us to this question, how do we know where God is leading us? Look at chapter 13, verses 21-22. 21 By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. 22 Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.

Don’t you wish you had something like that? Don’t you wish you had something to guide you and to help you make wise choices? You do! In Isaiah 30:21 it says, Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it." Do you know what that voice is? For us as believers, that voice is the Holy Spirit.

In John 16:7, Jesus said, But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” He calls Him the Advocate here or the Comforter. The Holy Spirit is our Guide and He wants us to know which way to go. He wants what is best for us and wherever He guides, it will be for our best and for God to get the glory through it.

So, when Satan attacks you, either by temptation or causing something bad in your life, we see in this passage what God’s part is in it. He allows it. He may even cause it. In John chapter 9, Jesus and His disciples come to a man born blind and His disciples ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God would be displayed in him. Sometimes God allows or causes what we consider to be bad things to come into our lives but God is still in control. He is sovereign but He also loves us and wants us to do the right thing, to be obedient even in the midst of the trial.

It is fascinating to me to read verse 13 of chapter 14 that says, “13 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm (does that sound familiar? Stand firm? Stand. Put on the armor of God and stand? Ephesians 6) and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

God will fight for you. Just be still. But then in just the very next verse, God tells Moses to tell the people to move on. Do you see that in verse 15? Well, which is it? Be still or move on? The answer is “yes.” Psalm 46:10 uses the same words. “Be still and know He is God.” I love that verse and I know we have talked about it before. It literally means to let your hands hang down. Quit trying to solve the problem and to fix everything. Relax. God’s got this.

When you do that, you just keep moving on. Keep living life. The battle’s not over. Don’t give up and freak out and fall over. It’s gonna be ok. God’s in control and He loves you. His job is to fight the battle in a way that is best for you and brings Him glory. You just be obedient, keep going, be still in your heart and mind. Make Him look good in every season of your life, good or bad and watch Him work. Then watch the miracles.

I believe the greatest miracle God ever performed was making us justified and righteous and holy and His friends and He did that through the shed blood of Jesus on the cross. On that cross He died for your sins to pay the price we could never pay and all we have to do is believe. If you have never done that today, then let Him work that miracle in you right now. Ask Him for forgiveness of your sins and then repent or turn away from those sins. Let God change your life for your good and His glory today. Do it right now as the music plays.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

“Battle Strategy” 1 – Joshua 7

The people are obedient. God blesses. Then what? Satan attacks, right? The people are obedient. God blesses. Satan attacks. It’s a cycle all through the Old Testament and into the New Testament and into our lives as individuals and as a church. We have seen it in the life of our church from day one and we have definitely seen it since we have started preparing for battle like we have the past few months. God wants us to be prepared for the battle we all have against Satan and his spiritual forces and since we as a church have made a conscious effort to do that, he has attacked and attacked in some ways none of us saw coming. He is very clever and very powerful. He has been doing this for thousands of years. He is more powerful than we are. He is smarter and stronger and will stop at nothing to kill us or at least tempt us to sin and there is nothing you can do to stop him…on your own.

Now, that is a bummer of a way to start a message, isn’t it? The good news, though, is that we can do all things through Christ Who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13). Greater is He that is in the us than He who is in the world (1 John 4:4). I’ve read the back of the book and we win. The war is won…but we still have to fight this battle.

While practicing auto-rotations during a military night training exercise, a Huey Cobra messes up and lands on its tail rotor. The landing is so hard it breaks off the tail boom. However, the chopper fortunately remains upright on its skids, sliding down the runway, doing 360s. As the Cobra slides past the tower, trailing a brilliant shower of sparks, this radio exchange takes place: Tower: "Sir, what assistance do you need?" Cobra: "I don't know, Tower, we ain't done crashin' yet."

My dear family and fellow warriors, our battle is not over and in fact, it is probably going to get worse before it gets better. We ain't done crashin' yet. We have had successes and we have had failures but the hard part is yet to come in this life unless the Father sends the Son to rapture us all and that could very well happen at any moment. But until it does, we need to be ready to do battle against a slippery, scheming serpent who wants nothing more than to kill you and this church dead. We have come a long way in preparing for this battle, haven’t we? We went through Boot Camp, Combat Training and Specialty School and in our last part of preparation, we are going to Battle Strategy Training. Here we will see some of the ways our enemy has attacked in the past so we can be prepared for similar attacks in the future. In the great military strategy book by Sun Tzu entitled “The Art of War” he says the first thing to do is to know your enemy. It’s why football teams study films of their opponents and why countries spy on other countries. Battle Strategy Training will help us to know our enemy, Satan, and how he works.

We are doing all that we can do and should do to prepare for this battle but if our great General, Jesus, was to bodily come to our church and inspect the troops as generals sometimes do, I think He would have just a few words of encouragement for us before we go out. I believe Jesus would encourage us with just three words. He would simply say, “I got this.” Do you know why I say that? Because God tells us all through scripture that very thing (although in better grammar). In 2 Chronicles 20 it says, “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the Lord to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God's.” No that is not written to us specifically, but we can see a pattern if we keep reading. Zechariah 4 says, “Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” In 1 Samuel 17, a young punk kid looks up at a giant warrior from Gath and says, “And that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord's, and he will give you into our hand.” Again in 2 Chronicles, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him, for there are more with us than with him.”

On a pretty big day in the history of the Hebrews, we read this: “And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” I don’t want to stop. I could read these all day long: “The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is his name.” That’s Exodus 15:3. How about a New Testament verse? 2 Corinthians 10:4 says, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” (That’s a good one for Freedom Force, Debi.) Alright, and the big kahuna of all scripture showing what we have to do in this battle is John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Whoever believes. That’s all you have to do. Be still and know that He is God. He is fighting this battle for you from the position of a King who has already won the war.

Our text for the day is in Joshua chapter 7 but if you were to go to Joshua 4, you would see the Hebrews crossing the flooded Jordan River into the Promised Land. God provided a way where there was no way and they walked over on dry ground and all they had to do was walk through and believe. Then in chapter six there is the craziest story about their first real battle at a place called Jericho. Do you remember what happened? God provided a way and all they had to do was walk around and blow some horns, right? Easy peasy! Then in chapter seven we see their next enemy to defeat is a little farming community called Ai. Ai was set high up on a plateau but there were only a couple of thousand people and the Hebrews were in the millions and so the spies who had checked them out advised Joshua to just send a few thousand men and they shouldn’t have any problem. So that’s what they did,

Don’t you know those Israeli soldiers left camp smiling and strutting? They were so confident. They couldn’t lose. They had God on their side. “Honey, I’ll be home in a little while. Just gotta go kill a few pesky Ai’ers. No big deal. NBD. Lol. #GodsGotThis.” Right? Let’s read Joshua 7:4-5 to see what happened. “So about three thousand went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, 5who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted in fear and became like water.”

Now, imagine being in Joshua’s place. He had some big shoes to fill when Moses died and the people didn’t really know if they could trust him to lead their country like they did with Moses. But the trip across the Jordan and the Battle of Jericho had given them the assurance that Joshua was God’s man for the job. Now this. What could have happened? Well, God tells them what happened in verse 11. Again, just three words. God says, “Israel has sinned.” Israel has sinned. Wow! This must be some sin, huh? This must be something really big and bad and nasty.  Probably worshipping another golden calf or something, I bet. Probably has something to do with homosexuality or abortion or corruption in government, don’t you think? Let’s keep reading and find out. Verse 11 again. “Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. 12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.”

If you went back to Joshua 6:18-19 the Lord tells them what to do when they take these cities. “But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it. 19All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the LORD and must go into his treasury." So, here is the story in a nutshell. It’s a lot of verses to read so I’ll give you the Readers Digest version. When they destroyed the city of Jericho, they killed everybody; men, women, kids, sheep, goats, cows, lions and tigers and bears, oh my, except Rahab the prostitute but you know that story. That’s what they were supposed to do. The problem was, one guy by the name of Achan took some of the stuff for himself and buried it in the dirt under his tent. Nobody will ever know, right?

When I was a kid, we lived in Joshua, Texas and the family across the street from us had a swimming pool. We loved to swim in that pool but I was too young to swim there if no adult was around. They had a son about my age that I hung out with a lot and one hot summer day, he said we should go swimming. He knew neither one of us was supposed to swim without an adult but we came up with a plan.  I would wear one of his swimsuits and when we were done we would just dry our hair with a hair dryer and put the suits in the dryer. Nobody will ever know. It was genius. So, we did just that. We swam and had a good time. No problem. Dried the suits and the hair and I went home. I promise this is the truth. I’m not in the door of our house good and my mom asks, “Have you been swimming over at Jon’s house?”

Don’t you hate that feeling when you know you’re busted? I tried to lie about it but not for long. I knew she knew. I found out later that the only way she knew was because it was the only time I had come in from playing and was clean. I was clean on the outside but not the inside. 2 Chronicles 16 says that the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth. Mama’s eyes aren’t far behind either. But the Lord saw what Achan had done and the whole nation of Israel was punished for it. God said, “Israel has sinned.” He didn’t say “Achan has sinned.” Have you ever noticed that, as it says in Numbers 32, your sins will find you out and that when they do, your sins affect not just you, but the people you love the most?

Let’s continue reading a little bit more in Joshua 7, starting with verse 19. Then Joshua said to Achan, "My son, give glory to the LORD, the God of Israel, and honor him. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me." 20Achan replied, "It is true! I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: 21When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath." 22So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent, and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver underneath. 23They took the things from the tent, brought them to Joshua and all the Israelites and spread them out before the LORD. 24Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold bar, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor. 25Joshua said, "Why have you brought this trouble on us? The LORD will bring trouble on you today." Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. 26Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the LORD turned from his fierce anger. Therefore, that place has been called the Valley of Achor ever since.

Anybody else read that and think, “Wow. That’s harsh”? They didn’t just kill Achan. They killed, on authority from God, Achan and his whole family and even his animals and then burned them with all their stuff. Now, one of the commentaries I read on this made a big to-do about coveting being the sin Achan had committed and that God judges coveting very harshly. I think they get that because you know how that commandment reads. In Exodus chapter 20, verse 17 God says, “Thou shalt not covet because I really, really dislike it when you covet.”  Right? Isn’t that how it reads? No. God hates all sin and He’s not going to put up with it. He hated it back then and He still hates it today. Yes, coveting leads to all kinds of other sins. It is the basis of theft, lying, idolatry, hatred and more and sometimes the consequences of coveting are worse than other sins but in regard to both eternal consequences and salvation, all sins are the same. Every sin will lead to eternal condemnation (Romans 6:23). All sin, no matter how “small,” is against an infinite and eternal God, and is therefore worthy of an infinite and eternal penalty. Further, there is no sin too “big” that God cannot forgive it. Jesus died to pay the penalty for sin (1 John 2:2). Jesus died for all of our sins (2 Corinthians 5:21). Are all sins equal to God? Yes and no. In severity? No. In penalty? Yes. In forgivability? Yes. (

What I want us to learn from all this is that all we have to do to win our daily battles against Satan is to be obedient to what God tells us to do. He will fight these battles for us. Scripture is clear on that but we just have to stay well clear of sin and we have it made. We can be content in any situation just like Paul said he was in Philippians 4:12– if we are right with God. You’ve heard me say several times through our preparation for battle that sin is the worst thing that can happen to you and I know some of you think that’s a bit extreme, right? “He has to say that. He’s a preacher. Preachers are always a bit dramatic.” Or maybe you think this passage in Joshua is just how Old Testament God worked but He has obviously loosened up lately in His old age.

Well, what about Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5? They lied and God stopped their hearts where they stood. In Ephesians chapter 5 there is a fascinating passage. It says, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Now, aren’t you glad for God’s love. That’s what we like to read in the New Testament, right? But if you keep reading, it says, “3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.

We don’t like to think of God’s wrath but Paul says you can expect it even for foolish talk or coarse joking. Romans 6:23 says the wages of sin IS death, not WAS death. It still is. God still takes sin as seriously as ever. You may not fall over dead the next time you tell a dirty joke but your relationship with God dies until you repent and ask forgiveness. You’re not under His protection and provision like you are when you are right with Him.  So, the first thing we all have to learn in Battle Strategy Training is that if we are going to win the battles against Satan, all we have to do is not sin, stay right with God, putting on all our armor every day and then stand and let God fight the battle. Let Him deal with the consequences. Just expect that you are not going to see how it could possibly work out but just put up your shield of faith over your face and say, “Lord, I can’t see how this is going to work out but I trust you. I’m going to be obedient no matter what happens and I am going to make you look good in the process. Amen.”

Dr. B.J. Miller once said, "It is a great deal easier to do that which God gives us to do, no matter how hard it is, than to face the consequences of not doing it."

How about you? Are you doing what you know God wants you to do? Are you still struggling with that same old sin? What if that sin – your sin – was the one thing hindering the ministry of this church? Achan’s sin cost the lives of thirty-six men and the rout of an entire nation. God still hates sin the same amount as He always has. Let’s pray right now that God will show all of us where we are falling short.

Let’s all pray the prayer that David prayed in Psalm 139.

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Specialty School 3 – Romans 12:3-8

I have a story about when I was in second or third grade and Valentine’s Day was coming up. Our teacher had us to make these little envelope-like things that we taped to the side of our desk to hold Valentine’s Day cards. She encouraged us to decorate these little envelopes with hearts and things and when we were done we could bring cards or make cards for all the other kids in class.

So, everybody did that and everybody started getting cards in their envelopes. The problem was that all the popular kids got lots of cards but the dorky kid…wasn’t getting any cards. I was not the most popular kid in class but I wasn’t the dorkiest either and so I got my share of cards but that poor little boy would come in every day and check his envelope and it was always empty.

You know how little kids are. We were all comparing our cards but this kid didn’t have any and Valentine’s Day was coming right up. I don’t remember the exact situation but the teacher called him away from his desk for a while for something and while he was gone, the little girl next to me saw that that boy’s envelope was empty and she started going around the class asking everybody to make a card for this kid. Not everybody did it but most did and when that boy got back to his desk, he looked in his envelope and you have never seen such a big smile.

He's a new man. He went from being a depressed little dork eating glue to a very happy little dork eating glue. No, seriously, he was changed and he was so grateful. I remember he looked at me later on and with the most grateful and sincere look on his face, said quietly, “Thank you!” I don’t think he ever knew the grace that little girl had shown him but getting those little gifts changed him.

Do you ever feel like that little boy? Maybe you don’t think you have any gifts – spiritual gifts. You look around and you see people who obviously have gifts; great gifts; easy-to-see gifts; powerful and God-honoring gifts but you…not so much. What if I were to tell you that you DO have at least one spiritual gift and probably more than one? What would you say? Your response should be, “Back it up with scripture, big boy.” Right?

Turn first to 1 Corinthians chapter 12 and I want to read a couple of verses. This is not our main text for the day but to make sure we all know that everybody is given a gift, let’s start with verse 4 where Paul says, There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.”

Paul then lists some of the gifts that God gives and goes on to say in verse 11, “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” Also, if you read all the scriptures in context that talk about gifts, Paul never mentions anything about people who don’t have any gifts. He never makes any exceptions. There are no mentions of people that are in the body of Christ, the church, who have no gifts.

He says in several places that every true believer is part of this body and everybody has spiritual gifts. Now, I know and you may have seen in your own life that, as Job said, God gives and God takes away. A gift that you used to have, you may not have any longer. Part of that is growing up. Part of that is growing old. It’s just a part of life that in some seasons of our lives we may have some gifts but oftentimes those gifts change as we get older. It doesn’t mean that God has taken away all your gifts.

There are also some gifts that nobody has anymore. Paul tells us in I Corinthians 13:8 that some gifts will cease. God gives for a time and then takes away and that’s alright. But what about you? As we continue through our preparation for battle with Satan and all of his forces, we have all been through Boot Camp where we learned the basics. We have learned how to put on our armor in Combat Training and now we have shifted to see what our individual responsibilities are in this battle.

Just like in the military, we all have different jobs. We are all interested in different things, are gifted in different areas but we all have the same goal and are supported by the same base camp, which is the church. So, let’s look one more time at Romans 12, specifically verses 3-8 to see what Paul says about these gifts and these jobs that God gives us for our battle.

Romans 12:3-8 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Have you ever really thought about what parts of the body are involved in walking? Just to simply move from point A to point B requires a lot more than just your legs. First the brain has to give the command and then muscles all over the body go to work, from your shoulders down to your toes. Your arms start to swing. Your heart beats a little faster. Your inner ear gives you the equilibrium you need to not fall over. Your eyes are scanning for obstacles. Your hips, your calves, your elbows and knees all spring into action.

Some of us don’t spring quite like we used to but my point is that just to do the most simple and basic task requires a lot of parts to work and they have to work in harmony with the other parts of the body. Now, what is the most basic thing that our church does? What is the most simplistic thing that we have to do to be considered a church? We have to meet together.

That is the most basic sign of life for a church. That is the brain function and blood flow of the body of Christ. Paul makes the point that none of us should think more highly of ourselves than we ought. We can’t all be the brain or the heart or the pretty face. We talked about that a couple of weeks ago. But we also can’t dismiss our importance to the church either.

Just a few years ago (2008), Orthodox Church officials in Russia discovered that one of their church buildings had disappeared. Poof—gone! The 200-year-old building northeast of Moscow had not been used for a decade. Then the Orthodox Church started growing. So they decided to reopen the old church building, and that's when they discovered it wasn't there.

After an investigation, they determined that villagers from a nearby town had taken the bricks from the building and sold them to a businessman for one ruble (about 4 cents) each. The building didn’t come down in one fell swoop. No. Instead, lots of people, over a period of years, had chiseled out the bricks one-by-one until there was no church building left.

Sad to say, that’s what’s happening to some of our churches right here in the United States of America. They are not being felled in one fatal stroke. Rather, lots of believers, who are the “living stones” of a church, one-by-one, are choosing not to get involved, and each decision means one less living stone. Eventually, the church is chiseled away, and its witness is completely gone from the community. Please, don’t you do the same. Don’t underestimate yourself and so remove yourself. You ARE important to the life and ministry of this church.  (C. Phillip Green 11/29/17)

Paul encourages us in verse 3 to have sober judgment of ourselves. Don’t think more highly than you should but don’t discount your worth either. Remember that the gifts you have are not your own nor do you belong to yourself but, as Paul says in verse 5, each member belongs to all the others.

I have to tell you that my original plan was to go through this list and the other lists and spend time on every gift that is mentioned in the Bible but I just never had any peace about that for some reason. I realized that Paul never made a complete and comprehensive list of gifts, nor did anyone else. He gave us some good samples of gifts and how to use them but Paul was not making the point that he knew all the gifts. His point was that we all have gifts and we should use them for the edification of the church – the church whose mission it is to make disciples.

Last Sunday I made an appeal for folks to come to Freedom Force here at church on Tuesday nights. It’s a Bible study with the goal of helping people overcome addiction but is really for anybody and everybody. Well, Brian and Belinda have the gift of showing up. Do you know why I say that is their gift or one of their gifts? Kristin called me the next day and said she had such a good time the night before and she was really blessed because since the Amermans showed up, it gave her the encouragement she needed to say a few things that she needed to say and to receive some knowledge that she didn’t have before.

Because the Amermans showed up, Kristin and the church were edified. She was built up and was helped on her path of being a disciple. That’s exactly what gifts do. That’s how and why they are used. I can’t believe Paul never mentioned anything about showing up as being a gift. It is so important.

What about the gift of prayer? I hear people all the time say they just can’t do anything. All they can do is pray. Well, that’s like saying, “All I can do is squeeze the trigger on this giant cannon that has the ability to blow the enemy out of the water. That’s all I can do…” Well then do that! That is the most powerful and effective weapon we have in our arsenal to defeat Satan.

“Oh, I just wish there was something I could do or some way I could help my children or my grandchildren. I just feel so helpless over here and all I can do is pray for them.” Yes, all you can do is harness the most powerful and wonderful gift God has ever given and if God has taken away some of your other gifts, I promise He has left you with the most powerful gift of all.

Every morning when you wake up you put on your armor. You get ready to fight the powers of evil in the heavenly realm as it says in Ephesians 6 and then you exercise your gift of prayer. Do you want to build up this church? Pray for our ability to spread the Gospel and make disciples as we minister to the poor, the addicted and the incarcerated.

I’ll tell you what. I’ll give you a thousand dollars if you will pray for me. Okay, I would give you a thousand dollars if I had it but pray for my wisdom and my purity and I will forever be in your debt. There is nothing you can do for me that would help me more.

How about the gift of encouragement? Who doesn’t need someone to get them off to the side and say, “You are doing so well! Keep it up. Good job. I know this is hard but you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you”?

Ooh! Ooh! I know! Here’s the scenario. Are you listening? Show up for church. It doesn’t matter if it’s Sunday morning, Sunday night, Tuesday night or Thursday night and you get somebody off to the side and you encourage them by telling them that you have been praying that God would intercede in the circumstances of their life for their sake and the sake of the Kingdom.

Do you know what you just did? You just pulled a trifecta of gifts. See it? You showed up. You prayed and you encouraged. Boom! Eat that, Satan! Oh, wait. I forgot. You don’t have any gifts, right? Or it’s too hard to use the gifts you have. Or you don’t know what your gift is. Yes, keep making excuses. That’s fine. You just sit in your little fox hole safe and sound and don’t move.

But know this. Jesus said He will build His church. (Matt. 16:18) It is His responsibility to build it as He sees fit, but He gives us gifts so that we can be the tools He uses to build it. Now, if you are too scared or too lazy or too selfish to even show up, pray or encourage then God will use somebody else but you will miss out on His blessings of obedience and you will have to deal with the consequences of disobedience.

Yes, I said disobedience because all three of these examples that I gave today – showing up, prayer and encouragement – are all commanded in scripture. In fact, we are commanded to use any of our gifts for the edification of the church but these three are so important and have individual commands to do each one. Hebrews 10:25 gets two of them in one sentence. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encourage one another.

Then 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says to pray without ceasing and we know that no matter who wrote it, whether it is Paul or Peter or Luke or Jude – it doesn’t matter who – it is scripture and it is a command. If we don’t obey a command, it is sin.

I want to tell you something that is based on scripture but comes from my heart. When we started this preparation for battle way back in January with Boot Camp, I told you it wasn’t going to be easy. It’s hard because we have Satan’s playbook and he is ticked off. I have seen you prepare for the battle and I see you putting on your armor so that you can keep from having the worst to happen to you, which is sin.

But because you have done all of this, I believe that Satan has had to resort to different strategies to get you out of the battle. Because you didn’t give in to sin, you have been attacked physically and financially and in other ways. It has happened too much around here not to notice the sickness, the hurts and other issues that have threatened to keep you away from the body and away from opportunities to use your gifts and be obedient.

My dear family, please see these attacks for what they are. Satan can’t stand this church and if God will not allow him to destroy the church then he will try to get the members of this church to destroy it and themselves…brick by brick. I know you can’t be here for everything every time the doors open. I can’t even be here all the time and I live here. And if you are sick with a cold or the flu or something, PLEASE stay home.

But the next time that you hear opportunity knocking on your door to make a little extra money on Sunday or take off for the lake or the golf course or just stay home and catch up on your sleep, remember that it is Satan knocking on that door wanting more than anything for you to fall for his tricks and lies that will keep you out of this place.

I say all the time that you need the church and the church needs you. Remember that the church is not a building. When I say that the church needs you, I mean the people here need you. We need your gifts, talents and abilities even if they are just showing up, praying and encouraging. Those are huge!

I believe the greatest problem this church has is a lack of respect for the Lord’s day. We are commanded to use our gifts to edify the church but we can’t be obedient if we aren’t here. In the military, if you go AWOL – Away Without Leave – they dock your pay at minimum. We can’t do that but if you aren’t using your gifts, talents and abilities to edify the church then I fully believe God will dock your blessings.

I know, for most of you, I’m preaching to the choir. I so appreciate how you use your gifts around here. I see you encouraging and praying for each other. I see how you love on even the weirdest of us. I see how you use your gift of mowing, your gift of cleaning, your gift of hugging, your gift of texting and your gift of giving rides.

If you have never officially joined this church, maybe you want to walk the aisle and do that today. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 6:2 that today is the day of salvation. Maybe you have never asked Jesus to be Lord of your life and asked Him to forgive you of your sins and then turned away from those sins in repentance. Maybe you just need prayer. We have several that will be down front using their gifts of prayer for you today. Do that right now as the music plays.