My dog is not very good at playing fetch. I throw the stick and he runs and gets it, but always fails to bring it back to me. He simply lays there grinning at me, almost as if to thank me for the treat. Is our life like that? What has God given us, expecting us to use in his kingdom, that we are gleefully and selfishly holding between our two little paws, all the while smiling and thanking God for the great gift?
In the Bible, Hannah and Mary were both given great gifts that were expected to be returned for the Lord to use in the Kingdom. Their gifts were their first-born children. Men destined, actually predestined, to be used by God for His Kingdom and His Glory.
Hannah asked for her gift. (1 Samuel 1:20 English Standard Version) And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the Lord.” But when the Lord had answered her prayer and given Hannah the gift of a lifetime, a child to a previously barren woman, she did not keep him for herself, but offered him back to the Lord for a lifetime of service. (1 Samuel 1:27-28 English Standard Version) For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.
Mary, most likely a teen-aged girl, betrothed to be married; did not ask the Lord for her gift. Rather, she was informed by an angel that she had found favor with God. (Luke 1:30-31,35 English Standard Version) the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall call his name Jesus…The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God.”
Both women, in faithfulness, released their gift back to God to be used as He saw fit in His Kingdom. There were no strings attached from their end and no excuses. Hannah handed her toddler son over to a priest and his two sons, even though they were not reputed to be God-fearing men, to serve the Lord in the temple for his whole life. Mary had been told by the angel before His conception that Jesus was the Son of God, and that He was destined to receive the throne of David and rule over the house of Jacob forever. (Luke 1:38 English Standard Version) And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Her response to this amazing announcement was an up-front ‘yes’ to the Lord even though she undoubtedly had many unanswered questions about what that would mean for her. His Word was her will, determined obedience to whatever the Lord saw as good. She did not even intervene with the plan of God as she watched her son, and His, being crucified for the sins of the world.
What an example these two women set for all of us, Brothers and Sisters in Christ alike. In their previously ordinary lives, they were obedient to the word and will of God; and He rewarded them with great gifts. Their gifts brought them personally both great joy and great pain; but they never wavered in allowing them to be used for God’s Kingdom.
Using our gifts for God’s glory will also undoubtedly bring us great joy as well as great pain at times. As I write this I am convicted at how many times I shrink back from using a gift that God has given to me because it might cost me something to do so, might not be well-received, or might be difficult. Like my dog, I’ve received a gift, but I am often tempted to just hold onto it for myself or for what I view as an ‘opportune’ moment to use it. It is so much easier to keep for ourselves the blessing that the Lord intended for us to share than to give Him the up-front ‘yes’ of obedience. We would be wise to follow the example of Hannah and Mary and lend all that has been given to us back into the Kingdom economy that we are part of as God’s dearly loved Children.
(I Corinthians 12:4-7 New International Version)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. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. (emphasis mine)
As I throw my dog his stick, knowing He will not return it to me; I pray that our lives will reflect a different reality. Whatever God graciously throws out to us from the Heavenlies as gifting, may we eagerly offer back up to Him to be used however He sees fit in His Kingdom.
There is a 5-year-old at our church who likes to play hide and seek with me. I’ve never considered myself one to have a great rapport with the very young generation, but Bentley seems to think I make a wonderful playmate, so I humor him and play along.
I have to admit that I’ve come up with some pretty good hiding spots. It’s not always easy in a small church like mine. Sometimes I know I’m hidden so well that poor little Bentley might never find me. While I could take advantage of that and have a little nap; my conscience always gets the best of me and I reveal just a little of myself so he knows where to find me – a soft whisper of his name or a toe peeking out from behind the curtains. It wouldn’t really be fun after all if he didn’t find me!
Acts 17:26-27 “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.”
Deuteronomy 4:29 “But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.”
Jeremiah 29:13 “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”
Our God is a little like the Hider in Hide and Seek. He can seem elusive at times, quiet, hidden; but as you get to know Him you realize that He really isn’t hiding, but just waiting to be found. He is much more of a revealer of Himself than a hider.
At home recently, my youngest son went traipsing through the woods that are behind our house. Having recently taken up the hobby of whittling, he was intent on finding the perfect sapling for his next project. He proudly came out from the bushes, hauling behind him a small tree, beaming with pride at his find. As he got it closer to the house and began to inspect it, he noticed something very peculiar…there was a perfect heart in the center of the trunk of the tree. His face lit up as he ran, dragging his little tree behind him, to show me what he had found. You see, in our family, we always search out hearts in nature to remind us of God’s love for us – his prize creation. He excitedly showed me that his perfect whittling tree had become infinitely more valuable – God had given him another heart!
I had my son cut the trunk a few inches back from the end so that we could preserve the heart. Do you know what? Two inches beyond where he cut, the trunk was perfectly normal. Had his cut been a little more that direction, there would have been no heart revealed. What are the chances?! Well, I actually think they are pretty good when you consider that we have a God who is not really hiding from us, but rather, in His love, finding ways to reveal Himself to us. God wanted my son, and our family, to be reminded of His love that day.
Hebrews 11:6 “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
Proverbs 8:17 “I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.”
Similar to my friend Bentley, who is always optimistically looking for the hider who is not really trying to hide; God is always whispering our names or peeking Himself out from the Heavenlies so we can find Him. After all, his goal isn’t to stay hidden, but to be discovered! He is waiting to be found.
Oh that our excitement would be like that of a child when we discover that the God of the universe is reaching down into each of our lives, revealing Himself to us! We should squeal with delight at discovering that He wants to be found, and is waiting patiently for us to hear His soft whisper of our names and see the ways He peeks his Holy Self out at us through creation.
May our faith become more and more childlike as we seek to find our Great God. May we playfully and joyfully look for His great revealing to us.
Every year for Christmas I make my husband a funny t-shirt. A favorite of his is the one that says ‘trophy husband’ on it. Troy is a hard worker and wonderful provider for our family, enabling me to stay at home with the kids, so it made us both chuckle quite a bit. But he truly is a treasure in many ways. At the top of my gratitude list would be his spiritual leadership of our family, but he also is quite handsome. This is not all a result of good genes. He goes to the gym on a regular basis to maintain his ‘trophy husband’ physique.
Troy has been frequenting this gym faithfully for almost 5 years now – same day, same time, same routine. Faithfulness and discipline are two more of his strong character traits. There are several other men who go there on the same days and same time. As Troy has faithfully, quietly read his Bible in the mornings while he rides his exercise bike, he has made an impact on them. Two of them come up to him now and ask for the ‘verse of the day.’ Usually this extends into a longer spiritual conversation. All this takes place while the men are lifting weights and riding bikes – physical exercise and spiritual exercise living side by side – a symbiotic relationship where both are beneficial to the other in this example.
1 Timothy 4:8 (English Standard Version) While bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
Other men have overheard my husband and his ‘daily verse’ friends talking, and have started to approach my husband in the locker room. Sometimes they have questions about what was being talked about, sometimes they have been encouraged and want to let my husband know.
The spiritual practices that my husband has so faithfully practiced for years, daily prayer and bible study, don’t just benefit him – God is using them to benefit others. Physical exercise has been good for Troy, and is even important for him to do; but the spiritual ‘flexing’ he does every day has been much more beneficial to his life. And it is not only his life that receives benefit from it; but the lives of many others. Our family is blessed by his leadership and faithfulness, and the men at the gym are being blessed as well. It is what truly makes him a ‘trophy husband.’ Through his faithfulness, not only is God working in his life, but in the lives of other men too.
God is willing to use whatever environment in our lives that we are willing to consecrate to him. The gym would typically be a place that someone frequented with a total focus on self and on the physical body. But this environment, as you can see from my husband’s testimony, can easily be consecrated to the Lord. Day in and day out, Troy gives witness to the Word of God and His working in our life as he faithfully reads and shares from his Bible. He is able to benefit his physical body while prioritizing the Spiritual opportunity that God has given him. The gym is his ministry, a time and place set aside and consecrated to the Lord. Many would not even think to use this environment as a platform for godliness, but God is not limited to churches and soup kitchens to do His Kingdom work.
From a prison cell, the most unlikely of ministry environments, the Apostle Paul wrote these words…
2 Timothy 2:8-9 (English Standard Version) Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!
Paul understood, like my husband, that there is no environment that cannot be consecrated to the Lord’s work. His prison became his pulpit as he preached God’s word from within its walls.
To the Philippians he also said, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” (ESV Philippians 1: 12-14) Paul understood that what others considered his misery, God had ordained as his ministry. What others saw as a prison, he embraced as a pulpit.
What environment are you in today that can be consecrated to the Lord? Are you willing to use your home, your job – even your gym – to proclaim the Word and the working of God?
Mark 16:15 (NKJV) And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.’
Psalms 96:3 (NKJV) Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples.
“Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit; let the earth cause them both to sprout; I the Lord have created it. (ESV)
I am a novice gardener. I’d like to say that I am enjoying the challenge of bringing forth fruit and vegetables from the earth, but truthfully I am usually just challenged by the challenge. My excitement is at its peak when I am picking out the packets of seeds that will go into the ground. There are so many to choose from, the store display full of envelopes displaying the beautiful produce that their contents were designed by God to bring forth. I bring them home and lay out a plan for where they’ll best thrive in my little garden plot. As I open the packages, my optimism starts to fade…on the outside of the package is a glossy color picture of the beautiful garden produce; but I feel somewhat slighted when I peel back the package to find little specks of lifeless seeds clinging to the bottom of the envelope, seemingly staging their own mini rebellion at having their dark cavern ripped open. I can barely see them as I try to obediently plant them their prescribed depth in the soil. A prayer seems appropriate at this point as I am made aware of the truth of Scripture that says “neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:7 ESV)
Before we were saved, God used someone to plant a ‘seed’ of salvation in our life and someone to ‘water’ it. If you are a Christian today, at some point God enabled that seed to take root in your heart and you received salvation from the penalty of sin which is death; and you received the righteousness of Christ. What a glorious day! But God, not being the novice Gardener that I am, is not content to have his seeds stay hidden beneath the dark soil of our hearts. He gives us new hearts so that their soil will be a fertile place for his salvation and righteousness to sprout…to bring forth the Kingdom produce it was designed to bear. As our verses from Isaiah say, ‘let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit.’
Salvation and righteousness are not an end, but a means. They were never intended by God to be our final goal, but rather his starter seed for bringing forth a harvest in his Kingdom and in our lives. Our modern-day evangelism often presents salvation as the ‘goal,’ but this falls short of God’s perfect plan. Salvation and righteousness through Christ are merely the starting points, the seeds of faith that will grow to become godly fruit in our lives.
Perhaps you are a gardener like me…or hopefully a gardener more skilled than I. This spring, as you break up the fallow ground and begin to sow the seeds of your garden, pray to God. Don’t just pray that He will bring forth rain from heaven to water our earthly crops; but pray that He will bring forth the fruit He desires from the seeds of righteousness and salvation that are ours in Christ.
Hosea 10:12 (ESV) Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.
Whether you are a brand new Christian or have been the Lord’s for decades, He still desires to grow you and to grow Kingdom fruit from the seeds of salvation and righteousness that He gave you. Will you let Him have his way with you? Will you allow Him to create the fruitful ends He desires from the means of His salvation?
Isaiah 55:6, 10-11 (ESV)
“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near…For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
Dear Father God, thank you for the seeds of salvation and righteousness that you plant in the hearts of your children. We pray today that you would have your way with us, that we would die to ourselves and allow you to use us to bring forth fruit for your Kingdom. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
John 12:24-26 (ESV)
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”
Wake up. Start the coffee pot.
For me, I don’t even have to think about it, I just do it. I’m not sure I’m really even awake, but my body knows to go to the kitchen and press the button – awareness is optional.
We all have habits -some good, some bad. I’m not exactly sure where my morning coffee fits into that spectrum, but it is definitely habitual.
What are you in the habit of doing? You might not be as quick to answer that as the people around you. Others often notice our actions when we are unaware. This is the case in Matthew, chapter 25. Jesus is talking about his ultimate return. As he says, “Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
What strikes me about this passage is not the fact that Jesus blesses the righteous or reveals their inheritance. This is merely confirmation of what we are told throughout the Bible. What makes me stop in my self-aware tracks is the response of the people…
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
These folks had no recollection of the good they had done for Christ. They weren’t keeping track. It wasn’t on a to-do list. It was habitual – awareness optional. They had developed the spiritual habit of caring for others. Can you even imagine their delight when Christ says ‘whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
What a beautiful story, and one that we are allowed to participate in! But it doesn’t stop there.
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’
Ouch! What did these folks on the left do to merit eternal condemnation? Jesus tells us.
‘For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in. I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
They did nothing. And that is exactly the point.
Habits are a double-edged sword; the good and the bad; things we habitually do and things we habitually don’t do.
Like the first group, these on the left are confused. They also have no recollection of seeing Jesus hungry or thirsty, naked or sick. They answer ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?”
Jesus replies, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
“Whatever you did not do.” These are convicting words. Those bound for eternal punishment were not in the habit of doing good. They were not in the habit of doing evil. They were not in the habit of doing anything.
Much of our behavior is habitual. This behavior is both our sinfulness and our sainthood. Both those on the left and those on the right had lived life habitually, a certain unawareness of their impact or lack there-of. Good habits and bad habits.
What are you in the habit of doing?
What aren’t you in the habit of doing?
I think I’ll go brew a pot of coffee and ask Jesus to give me his perspective on it.
This article was adapted from a sermon preached several years ago by my good friend, Mike Beach. Thank you, Mike, for being a faithful servant and a loving Brother. Thank you, God, for Mike! If you’d like to hear more of Mike’s insight, you can follow this link to a sermon he preached recently… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lotgidwI878&feature=youtu.be
Lift up your heads, O gates!
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
That the King of glory may come in.
As the gates about which the Psalmist sings, we too should lift up our heads for our glorious King. Christ Himself lifts our chins and raises our countenances; and as He does, our brokenness departs and His life enters in. Transforming our self-focus and borrowed identity into the glorious worship and freedom in Christ we were meant for.
Luke 13:10-13 Now he (Jesus) was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, like this woman in Scripture, we need to straighten up and praise God! What disabling spirits have we allowed to remain in our life that have crippled our spiritual posture? These bodies we are given that are intended to reflect Christ and praise His glorious name, can become bent over and our spiritually maimed, making our countenance fall and keeping our eyes on ourselves. What are we to do?
Notice in these verses, that the only thing this woman did was come into the presence of Jesus. Once there, He called her over, He freed her, and He made her stand straight again.
Two interesting things strike me about this passage. First, Jesus pronounces her freedom before He even lays hands on her. He tells her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” The verb ‘are’ is in the present tense – it is her current present reality – she IS a free woman. ‘Freed’ is in the past tense. This freedom that actually is her (and our) present reality has actually already been secured. We are freed! Christ rose from the grave in freedom and took us with him (Ephesians 2:4-10).
The second interesting thing I note from this passage is the response of the woman once Christ has lifted her countenance and straightened her body…”she glorified God.” This is the chief end of man – to glorify God. It is the simple summary of all we were created for. And in this passage we see that it is the very thing that happens when we allow Christ to lift our heads and we gaze on Him, He reminds us of our identity as freed Brothers and Sisters of His, and our natural response – to praise Him. Amen! Hallelujah!
Will you let Jesus lift your chin today? Let the King of Glory enter into your life! He died to change your spiritual countenance and He lives to see you reflect His glory!
Psalm 3:3 But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.
Christmas, the birth of Jesus – salvation, quite literally, is brought into the world. Emmanuel, Lord with us. Jesus came, born of a woman, fully man and fully God – a babe to save the world.
This is how the gospel, planned before time began, is presented to our watching eyes.
The story continues as the babe grows to a man who goes out and preaches repentance and salvation. He claims to be the only way – audacious! He claims to be the Son of God – imagine! He dies a brutal and merciless death because of his refusal to deny those claims.
Three days later, his tomb is impossibly empty. He is impossibly seen by hundreds of people – some of them elated and others not-so-much.
His birth, his death, and his resurrection. Just as sin came into the world through one man, so did salvation. God’s math never seems to add up, but what glory that the sum of his love was made full in Jesus birth, death and resurrection – for God so loved the world he SENT his only son…
Christmas arrived when Christ was born. Christmas is here again – mangers in front yards, churches full of half-forgotten attendees, Jesus the babe on Christmas cards – just as it does every year, Christmas comes with its familiar vestiges. We will wait in line for hours to receive a discount on a television, but many let year after year after year pass without ever receiving the free gift of salvation that God has offered us through Jesus.
Does Christmas ever leave you feeling empty? The holiday passes and the tree doesn’t shine as brightly, the music has become an irritant, scraps of wrapping paper and pieces of bows litter the living room carpeting. I have often felt that after Christmas comes a stillness. There is an eerie silence in the air that is now void of happy tunes. What next?
Don’t let the emptiness of the passing holidays be an illustration of your spiritual life. Let Christ’s coming mean something to you. Take it in afresh this year if you are already a follower of Jesus. He came for you. Take it in anew this year if you never have – Christmas represents your salvation.
As the holiday passes and you feel the stillness begin. Don’t ask yourself ‘what next’ and begin a list of ‘to-dos’ for 2017 to make you a better, fitter, healthier person. This time, take the gift of salvation that the Lord has offered, unwrap it and begin to use it – unto sanctification. As we ask God, ‘what next?’ we will see the stillness replaced with glorious workings of God in our life.
He came as a baby, the unrecognized King of Heaven, Prince of Peace.
He’s coming back – this time there will be no mistaking it. The Lord of All is returning to collect all those who are his. There won’t be time to unwrap your gift at that point. Be ready. Be saved. Be sanctified.
The Lord is our Banner – A message for the Church in America
“Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.” (Romans 14:18 English Standard Version)
Well, the elections are over and history marches forward. Whether you are Republican, Democrat, or ‘other,’ Tuesday came and went. For some there were tears, for others jeers; some wept in joy, and others out of dismay. Most arose the next day in disbelief, the outcome not being expected by many of us. And all of those forementioned emotions and responses… arose from within the Church. This is a message first and foremost that I believe the Lord wanted me to take to heart personally; and secondly, for the Church. Just as much of Scripture is directed at the Believer and not to the world, such is this discourse.
I think for me, a self-appointed technology hermit; I had been sheltered from much of the pre-election rhetoric that was being exchanged among Christians using social media. Although I am disconnected from Facebook, Twitter, and the like; I am very well connected in the local church. It didn’t take long for my more technology savvy friends to begin to share what they had been posting and seeing on Facebook regarding the election. I have to say, I am saddened that we, as a Body, would yield to what is permissible when it is not beneficial. I would agree with what Paul said to the Corinthian church, “Everything is permissible,” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible,” but not everything is edifying. (1 Corinthians 10:23 Berean Study Bible) Scripture tells us to do whatever we can that leads to peace and mutual encouragement. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. (Romans 14:19 English Standard Version). It says this over and over through the New Testament, hammering into the believing heart, God’s desire for unity within His Church. It is His will for us to be unified, because as Jesus said “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. (Matthew 12:25 Berean Study Bible). And what good is a fallen Kingdom going to be in serving its King?
Whoever is President, Brothers; our King reigns above him.
Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King of all the earth;
Sing praises with a psalm!
God reigns over the nations;
God sits on his holy throne.
(Psalm 47:6-8 English Standard Version)
This is not to say that our government and politics don’t matter. No, not at all; but you could easily fill in the blank in Romans 14:18 ‘do not, for the sake of politics, destroy the work of God.’ Our nation and its leaders are important and play a defining role in our life; but our God is King over the life of all Believers, and no matter who is President, He is not limited to accomplish His will through them; and in fact will accomplish whatever He desires through whomever He desires.
So, where do we go from here, in this season where fear of destruction based on our political alignments has led to division in the Church? We must lift our chins higher, whether Democrat, Republican or ‘other;’ and see our King and His purposes. It is His Kingdom that holds our primary citizenship – For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20 New American Standard Version). It is He who is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Ultimately, whatever position of government authority we are called to respect and live under, it is the Lord God that our knee bends to – and He is over all, in both authority and dominion.
There is a war raging out there…and it is not primarily a war between earthly factions like political alignments, denominations and gender identity – it is a war between our Heavenly Kingdom and the Prince of this Earth, Satan. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Ephesians 6:12 King James Bible).
One of God’s names is The Lord is Our Banner, Jehovah Nissi. The banner, in Biblical military times, was held up to draw the troops to the battle site. It was both a unifying instrument and a protection. There is effectiveness in numbers. We are to draw together as Christians under the banner of our Lord Jesus, who was lifted up for us to draw us to Himself – “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32 New International Version) We must march on, in unity, as soldiers and leaders and generals in the Lord’s army to work with Him to draw a lost world to Himself.
This is a call to unity for the church; a call to refocus our eyes on our King, Leader, and Banner; and a call to move forward with the work of God. We must not let division keep us from the work of God. “Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.” (Romans 14:18 English Standard Version)
Where do we go from here? Look up and move forward, Church. There is much work to be done in our Kingdom. Respect the office of President, whatever your political inclinations; and serve the Lord. Honor everyone. Keep on loving the community of believers, fearing God, and honoring the king. (1 Peter 2:17 International Standard Version)
‘Failure!’ The Enemy cried out as I lay on my bed the other night. Satan likes to remind me when I’ve fallen short. Tears filled my eyes as I mulled over the events of the evening’s neighborhood BBQ party, recounting all the lost opportunities I could have used to be a stronger witness for Christ. Thankfully, the sure, soft voice of my Savior interrupted my thoughts with the truth that “there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).” I may have felt like a failure in that moment, but the moment didn’t define my identity – that is defined by Christ alone. My feelings of failure quickly turned to genuine sorrow and repentance for not being bolder. I asked the Lord to not only forgive me, but to show me why I had not been a more courageous witness for Him.
Failure from our vantage point is a lot different than God sees it from his perspective. His goal, even before we are His in Christ, is to save us, not condemn us (John 3:17); He sees every broken area in our lives as an opportunity for a grace repair. We see failure. He sees our future. We feel shame. He holds out mercy. We feel as though we’ve fallen on our face, but He extends to us the chance to ‘fail forward’ in our Christian walk through repentance and restoration.
The next day a missionary couple who was getting ready to go to a remote village in Papua New Guinea, spoke at our church. The villagers had been asking for missionaries to come for years, ever since they saw the difference Christ had made in a neighboring village. In that moment, as the young couple continued to tell of their plans, God answered my prayer. I had asked Him to show me why I wasn’t more bold. Through the missionaries’ testimony God revealed something to me about my thinking – I had wrongly assumed that most people don’t want to hear about Christ, and that wrong belief had created an unreasonable fear in me. There are people who do want to know Christ! While every witnessing opportunity may not be received well, the Holy Spirit has gone ahead of us and prepared hearts that desire to be drawn to God. Hallelujah!
A few days later, God would give me another opportunity to be a witness for him. A young man, Joshua, approached me for money in a parking lot. As I gave him the bit that I had in my wallet, asking him what he needed the money for, he began to tell me a shortened version of his hard-knock life story. I’m sure there were details left out; but before me stood a young man, tall in stature but short on hope, having broken his hand, lost his job, and sleeping on the street. All I could think to ask him was “Joshua, do you know the Lord?” The question caused him to immediately break eye contact with me and look to the ground, softly mumbling “Ma’am, I’m sure I messed that up a long time ago.” The Lord reminded me of the verse in Lamentations 3:22-23 (English Standard Version) The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I told Joshua that sometimes we choose to give up on God, but He does not give up on us. We may walk away from Him, but He does not walk away from us. Instead, as long as we are alive on this earth, He offers to forgive us for anything we have done to offend Him. Joshua and I talked for a long time about the Lord, we prayed together, and I left him with my Bible. I thank God that His mercies are not only fresh every day for sweet Joshua, but for me also. I thank God that He allows us to ‘fail forward’ and fall into His arms.
When the prodigal son returned, what did he do to deserve the things his father gave him. His father gave the son a robe, signifying his right–standing with the father; sandals, confirming his place in the family, and the father’s ring, representing power and authority to carry out the father’s business? All the son did…was return. Do you know what repent means? In Greek the word for repent is metanoeo and it means ‘to change one’s mind.’ Biblically speaking, it involves a turning with contrition from sin toward God. The son changed his mind, changed his direction, and came back to his father. He turned his back on his sin and turned his face toward his father. It is the same for us, whether the first time we repent unto salvation or the 100th time as part of our sanctifying growth as a Christian. Our Daddy stands ready; not to withhold and punish, but to lavish us with the gifts of sons, of family. He wants us to be part of His work, His life. He wants us to receive and use His power for His Kingdom. He sent His own Son, not to condemn; but to save. And not just to save us, but also to use us to bring His salvation to others.
The prodigal son had failed in his own eyes. He had reached the ‘rock bottom’ of himself. And his father was still there. Eph 1:18-20 reminds us of this marvelous truth that God’s power is there for us who believe. It is not how the prodigal behaved that caused the heart of God to lavish great gifts upon him, but what he believed. The son simply, humbly returned – expecting nothing as a reward for his behavior; but hoping in the mercy of his father, and receiving everything from his father.
My new friend, Joshua, gladly received the message that God had not given up on him – it was Good News! It is still Good News for me today as well, as I continue to fail forward in my walk with the Lord. God doesn’t walk away from us, and it grieves Him when we choose to go the way of the Prodigal. Repentance is always the fastest path back to the Lord – and He always stands ready to receive us. When we ‘fail,’ Brothers and Sisters, as will happen in our walk from time to time, we must remember that the walk back to our Heavenly Father doesn’t need to be a long one. He stands waiting and ready to receive us – James 4:8 (English Standard Version) Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.
Our sinful failings can be the forward fallings of our faith walk. Next time you find yourself in that place, humbly repent and ask God to help you to fail forward.