Stand Firm

We are in a war and it is real. The enemy is relentless. The battle does not get easier with time and it can be exhausting. Yet in the Bible we learn that the battle is not uncertain, the turf is not individual, the enemy’s schemes are not unknown, nor is our strategy a mystery.

It is natural when under attack to fight or flee, yet what we discover is that we cannot hide from the attack and we are often too weak to fight on our own. There is another option—a better option. God’s primary battle strategy for trials, suffering, doubt, discouragement, and spiritual warfare is to “stand firm.” There are more than a dozen situations in Scripture where God or his messengers told those in difficult circumstances to stand firm. Within each of these real life stories we learn about the multifaceted battle and God’s strategy of standing firm.

Moses and the Red Sea

After the tenth and final plague, Pharaoh had lost his firstborn son. Egypt was swimming in a sea of sorrow. Moses didn’t have to beg Pharaoh to leave; Pharaoh asked Moses and the Israelites to leave in a hurry (Exodus 12:29-33).

When the Israelites arrived at the shore of the Red Sea they were stuck. Pharaoh knew this and he had a change of heart. He recruited a revenge army and chased after the Israelites.

In their rearview mirror, the Israelites saw the dust clouds from chariots and the glistening swords from Pharaoh’s army barreling towards them. They feared greatly and they cried out to the Lord. Moses responded,

“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.” (Exodus 14:13)

It sounds like odd advice. The Israelites had no weapons. They were slaves. They had no place to run. They were pinned between the army and the sea. However, God had a plan. God asked Moses to put his staff into the sea, the sea split and the Israelites passed through on dry ground. When Pharaoh and his chariots tried to pass, the sea closed and drown them. That day the Egyptians saw who was the Lord and the Israelites learned to trust the Lord. The Lord won the day.

Jehoshaphat’s Prayer and Interruption

In a similar situation to Moses and Pharaoh’s army, king Jehoshaphat was being hotly pursued by a vicious horde. He was afraid. He knew his army was powerless. So he sought the Lord and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah to seek help from the Lord.

Jehoshaphat stood before the men, women and children, not knowing what to do other than call upon the Lord. He said,

“O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you.” (2 Chronicles 20:6)

The king knew who God was. He heard stories told by his father’s how God fought for his people. He recalled from Abraham to the present day how God had driven out their enemies and they built altars to praise God. With a fierce army at their doorstep, he said no matter what they would stand before the house of God and before God (v.9).

As Jehoshaphat was speaking, the Spirit of the Lord came upon a man in the assembly named Jahaziel. He interrupted the king by saying,

“Listen everyone, including you King Jehoshaphat, Thus says the Lord, “Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s…You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf.” (vs. 15-17)

After Jehoshaphat heard this he bowed to worship God knowing only God could save them. The next day the king went out before the people and charged them to believe that they heard. They sang a song to the Lord before the army, “Give thanks to the Lord for his steadfast love endures forever.” (v.21) At that exact time God set an ambush upon the enemy armies. Again, God won the battle that day.

Job’s Friend Gives Good Bad Advice

Job lost everything: his family, his home, his herds, and his health. Job’s friends came to him to offer their advice and were quick to point to his sin as the result for his calamity. In other words, you must have done something bad to have all this bad happen to you. They didn’t have great theology nor did they know God was allowing Satan to sift Job. Even though Job’s friends didn’t understand and missed the diagnosis they did give some good advice,

“Yet if you devote your heart to [God]
and stretch out your hands to him,
if you put away the sin that is in your hand
and allow no evil to dwell in your tent,
then, free of fault, you will lift up your face;
you will stand firm and without fear.
You will surely forget your trouble,
recalling it only as waters gone by.” (Job 11:13-16)

In the right place with the right proof, it would have been good advice. Job may have lost everything, but truly he had everything. He stood firm in what he knew about God,

“Then Job answered the Lord and said:
“I know that You can do all things,
and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.
Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”” (Job 42:1-3)

Indeed, God was with Job, even in the middle of such great loss and evil. His story is written for our example, “Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” (James 5:11)

Ethan the Ezrahite’s Song

In Psalm 89, there is a beautiful song about the steadfast love of God. The song was written by a wiseman named Ethan who lived sometime after King David. There isn’t a lot we know about Ethan, but his song captures God’s forever faithfulness from creation through to the generations of David. A time when God crushed many enemies for his people. Speaking for God and his promises to his people, Ethan writes,

“My steadfast love I will keep for him forever,
and my covenant will stand firm for him.” (v.28)

Here God is the One who stands firm (cf. Psalm 33:11; 93:5). He is a covenant keeping God who always keeps his end of the deal. He is unchanging, immoveable, and steadfast. He is compared to as a Rock, a fortress, and a strong tower.

David also wrote a song similar to Ethan,

“I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.” (Psalm 40:1-3)

David who was in many sticky situations surround by armies and headhunters knew the steadfastness and faithfulness of God. He saw firsthand how God fought for him and kept his promises. Like David, Ethan believed God was a covenant keeping God even in catastrophic circumstance. He trusted that a Promised One would rule and reign from David’s lineage.

Solomon’s Wisdom

Solomon picked up where his father David left off. When God offered Solomon anything he wanted (cf. 1 Kings 3) all he wanted was wisdom. This pleased God and God made Solomon the wisest man ever to live. In his book of wisdom, Solomon says, “When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone, but the righteous stand firm forever.” (Proverbs 10:25)

In other words, tempests of trials will come. The wind will gust, the rain will pour, the lightning will crack, and the floods will rage. The wicked will be swept away because they have unsure and untested footing, but those who are firm in God will endure forever.

Notice the proverb doesn’t shirk from the reality that life has storms or the consequences of not standing firm God. This small proverb offers hope and assurance as an anchor for the soul during the storms life brings.

Isaiah and the Sign of Immanuel

In the reign of king Ahaz, when he was marching to fight against Jerusalem to no avail, the Sovereign Lord gave a promise, “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” (Isaiah 7:9) So the Lord gave a sign to Ahaz whether he asked for it of not.

By his messenger, Isaiah, God spoke and he said, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (v.14) What might have sounded like brief word then, was chalked full of meaning. Isaiah foretold a time when a Messianic hope would come and make all that’s wrong in the world right.

For king Ahaz and Israel the call was to stand firm in the faith that God who would deliver his people. Whether that was to happen immediate or not in their lifetime was unsure, but what was sure was God’s promise.

Isaiah and the Idols of Babylon

What Isaiah saw was horrific. He saw Israel ransacked and taken into captivity. Although he prophesied and warned Israel to turn back to the Lord, they ignored him and sadly what said came to pass. The people of Israel were shackled as slaves and ushered to Babylon. God was using a wicked nation to punish the apple of his eye. Yet in the midst of the chaos and confusion, God bring a clarifying promise,

“Remember this and stand firm,
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like Me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all My purpose” (Isaiah 46:8-10)

God promised to accomplish his purpose, which was to purify his people. A remnant would remain that would not bow to foreign gods, but would trust in the Most High God as in the days of old. As the people were walking from the rubble and destruction of Jerusalem to an unknown land Isaiah was calling the people to remember God, his unchanging character, his wise counsel, and stand firm because,

“I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off,
and my salvation will not delay;
I will put salvation in Zion,
for Israel my glory.” (v.13)

Ezekiel’s Warning

Ezekiel the prophet had just as difficult a job trying to convince the people of Israel to listen to God. He was alone standing against the flow of humanity. The other prophets of God had scattered and become scavengers in the land. They, like the people, turned from trusting in the Spirit of God. Worse yet, they led the people astray and into captivity. The Lord didn’t have good words for them,

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing! Your prophets, Israel, are like jackals among ruins. You have not gone up to the breaches in the wall to repair it for the people of Israel so that it will stand firm in the battle on the day of the Lord.” (Ezekiel 13:3-5)

When the prophets should have unified to help the people fortify their faith and prepared the people to stand firm they acting as the enemy. In reality, they were playing into the hand of the enemy. It was a hard lesson for the people of God. In the end, God would win the day, “I will save my people from your hands. And then you will know that I am the Lord.” (v.23)

Jesus Prepares His Disciples for Persecution

Jesus ministry on earth was short. He came as the Messiah, but not to fulfill that role completely. He came to prepare his followers by saying the last days will be difficult. Nations will be at each others throats. Wars will be commonplace. Creation will be in upheaval. Persecution will be escalated. Families will be torn apart. Believers and followers of Jesus will be hated as they hated Jesus. It will not be a pretty picture.

Yet in the midst of the doom and gloom Jesus promises that not one hair will be missing from the heads of his followers. He says, “Stand firm, and you will win life.” (Luke 21:19; cf. Matthew 10:17-22; 24; Mark 13) And continues, “Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” (v.36)

Paul Encourages the Young Churches

Paul knew that following Jesus was difficult. He experienced firsthand the physical, emotional, and spiritual battle from the front lines. He also knew the joy of walking with Jesus in the most wretched of circumstances.

Paul was pastoral and cared deeply for the young church. Paul would encourage these first generation Christians was by writing letters as he traveled. The letters were sent throughout the Roman Empire from modern-day Turkey to Greece to Rome. The beauty is that we still have these letters today and can be encouraged by them generations later.

Writing as one who had been-there-and-done-that, Paul frequently encouraged the church to stand firm. As Pastor Paul shepherds struggling souls of the young church allow him to shepherd your soul.

On the resurrection:

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:56-58)

On rapid-fire commands and last words:

“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13)

On a change of plans:

“Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come… Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm.” (2 Corinthians 1:21-24)

On the freedom we have in Christ:

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)

On the armor of God:

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,” (Ephesians 6:10-18)

On a life worthy of the gospel:

“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him,” (Philippians 1:27-29)

On straining towards the goal:

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” (Philippians 3:20-4:1)

On one’s identity in Christ:

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation — if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.” (Colossians 1:21-23)

On encouraging gospel partners:

“Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.” (Colossians 4:12)

On the responsibility of the community of faith:

“But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” (2 Thessalonians 2:13-17)

After reading through these snit bits from Paul’s letters, we find our faith being bolstered too. If Paul encourages the early church this way, how much more should we be encouraging one another to stand firm?

Peter Encourages the Persecuted Church

Peter’s early life was a rollercoaster. He was impulsive, his mouth and temper often got him into messes and he blew it bad. As difficult as it is to read Peter’s life we can easily relate.

It is beautiful to watch Peter’s relationship with Jesus. Through it all, Jesus never give up on Peter. He loved Peter. He worked with Peter where he was at.

Later in the book of Acts, we see a new Peter. A Peter who has repented, redeemed from past shame and is restored with God. Peter grows bold in his faith, shares it unashamedly, and becomes a conduit of grace. Peter went on to write two letters still in the Bible. It is clear from his words he became a counselor and pastor who deeply loved people (aka: sheep). From a pastoral heart he writes,

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Pt. 5:6-11)

The audience to whom Peter wrote were experiencing persecution from outside the church, inside the church and within their very souls. Peter doesn’t encourage the hard-pressed to fight or flee, but to simply crawl under the mighty hand of God who promises to crush their foe at the proper time. God is the safest haven in times of suffering.

James Eyes the Lord’s Coming

James was the younger half-brother of Jesus. According to James, growing up next to Jesus was a little over-the-top, but as he grew older he realized that Jesus was who he claimed to be. His brother, Jesus, became his Savior too. Just read how he writes about him,

“Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.” (James 5:7-11)

James’ tells his brothers and sisters in the faith to stand firm. If Jesus said he will return surely he will keep is word. Jesus has kept all his words and promises and hasn’t gone back on any of them. Just as he waited for the right time to reveal God’s plan, he endured the cross despising the shame and the result was the salvation of our souls. Perseverance through pain, trials and suffering promises great results.

It is waiting that is often the hardest, especially if in the waiting one faces hardships. One can question, “When will it end? When are you coming?” Or like the Psalmist, “How long, oh Lord?”

Application: How to Stand Firm

Surely you can find yourself somewhere in the stories above where God’s people are encouraged to stand firm in difficult situations. The scenarios and the enemy is universal. These stories are a goldmine for the soul. They are bricks for fortifying the faith. Yet applying the charge to stand firm can be easier said than done. How do you stand firm?

Standing firm is active.

Standing firm is an act of readiness. Think of a soldier who has a shield and sword in hand, even when asleep his weapons are at his side. When awake his feet are firmly planted in the soil. The weapons of warfare in Ephesians 6, all but one (the sword), are weapons of readiness. The weapons ultimately focus on Christ and what you have in him, not what you have within yourself.

Standing firm is an act of endurance. Standing firm is not the same thing as standing still. To stand firm means you embrace faith while you wait out the storm of trials and suffering or while you await the coming of the Lord. In your relationship with God, he is the strongman. He does the fighting for you. He gives and grows the faith. When you stand firm you get a front row seat to see how God acts on your behalf.

Standing firm is directly attached to belief in the character and promises of God.

Standing firm is founded on what you know about God and his Word. God’s character is sure. His promises are kept. The two are not to be separated. For example, if we believe in the promise that God will deliver we must also believe that God is good, merciful, and loving while we wait to be delivered.

Standing firm is the opposite of fearing. When we are not standing firm we are freaking out. We have the same response as Israel when they saw Pharaoh’s army or Jehoshaphat in hot pursuit. When the odds seem stacked against us and defeat seems inevitable we are tempted to fear by fighting or fleeing. Both responses show our eyes are on what we can do and not on God with us.

Standing firm is never done alone.

Standing firm is only possible by the power of Christ. On our own we are weak, but with the Spirit of Christ we have the power to stand. Jesus knows the full weight of temptation, suffering and hardships. He endured through the power given to him by his Father. That same power is available to us who are in Christ. If we stand alone we will will falter, but with Christ we will have victory.

Standing firm is best done with other believers. An army of one does not mean one soldier, but an army of one is a massive global community of soldiers standing firm together under the banner of Christ. The life of Christ is meant to be lived in community with other followers of Christ. Standing together is better than standing alone. It is so encouraging to know that there are others who are enduring with you. Timothy calls this life the “good fight” (1 Timothy 1:18; 6:12) One day the enemy will face his certain demise, but until then standing firm against the enemy is necessary.

Standing firm adamantly resists the wiles of the world.

The enemy is cunning, crafty, and relentless. Yet God is sovereign, powerful, and wise. God has Satan on a leash. God has his purposes for Satan in the world. This does not mean Satan is not powerful and good at what he does. He is, therefore we must be adamant about resisting the enemy (1 Peter 5:9; James 4:7), refusing to give him an opportunity (Ephesians 4:27), and standing firm against his schemes (Ephesians 6:11).

“Resist the devil, and he will flee from you!” (James 4:7). It is interesting that as we stand firm by resisting it is the devil who flees not us. Again, the power to resist is not our willpower, but the power is in the blood. Look at Revelation 12:11, “They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” Victory is possible in Christ by his blood. The blood of Jesus conquered the grave and wiles of Satan. It is by the blood of Jesus that we have power to resist too.

As this world keeps on spinning and Satan keeps raging, Jesus calls us to wartime prayer, “Watch at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36). Also, Peter encourages a similar end-time prayer, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers” (1 Peter 4:7).

Jesus himself battled against the devil on our behalf with the weapon of prayer. He said to his friend Peter in Luke 22:31–32, “Satan has asked to have you that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” Isn’t it powerful to know that Jesus intercedes this prayer on our behalf?

Summary

The call to “stand firm” appears throughout the entire Bible from cover to cover, especially in critical moments of battle, temptation, persecution, or societal decay. It is a powerful and encouraging little phrase.

We are in a war and the war is real. The question is not whether you want to be in the war. You are in it. Everyone is in it. Either you are living defeated fighting in your own strength and fleeing in fear or you are standing firm.

Standing firm in faith has good results. Paul, a man who knew a lot about suffering for the sake of Christ, encouraged his younger colleague, “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3), and “wage the good warfare” (1 Timothy 1:18). Did you notice he called the warfare ‘good’? Why would he use that adjective? You might think of a million others words other than ‘good’. Yet Paul is on to something true. As Paul looks back, he sees how God used all the hardship, discouragement, endurance, suffering for good, particularly the good of his faith.

Jesus was the champion of Paul’s faith. He is also the champion of our faith. Jesus is no less a warrior today than in the days of Paul, Moses, Peter, Job or Jehoshaphat. So I call you as God and his messengers did: Stand firm in your faith as willing soldiers fixing your eyes on Jesus the Prince of Peace and the King of kings.

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The Future’s Work in Faith

When you consider your future it will have an impact on how you live now. In other words, eyes that are fixed on a future hope will inevitable impact where the feet tread today. When it comes to faith it is no different. Hope of the future has its work in faith.

God is sovereign and powerful. He shook creation and history with his presence. The image of Exodus 19-20 was not a small pyrotechnics show at Mount Sinai. God appeared in blazing fire, ear-piercing noise, and trembling earth. God said that if anyone but Moses touched the mountain they would be scorched on the spot. The people of Israel freaked out, Moses himself was afraid, and the people begged Moses not to experience God like this again (Hebrews 12:18-21). Who would blame them?

“For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” – Hebrews 12:18-24, ESV

You are invited to another mountain—Zion. The image of Zion is greater and more epic than Sinai. Countless angels will be there. Throngs of heaven will be there. Saints from all ages will be there. God as Judge will be there. Jesus as the Mediator of the New Covenant will be there. The city of God is a holy and awe-filled sight (vs.22-24).

No one will be able to run, hide or ignore the fact that God exists. On that day in the near and not so distant future you will appear before him who is utterly inescapable. He who shook the earth will shake the heavens. When he shakes it this time it will be a sifting. Above all the kingdom of God will stand and for this God will be praised because is worthy of all worship, reverence, fear, and awe. He is God and holy is his name—a consuming fire (vs. 25-29).

“See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” – Hebrews 12:25-29, ESV

The future image of Zion is wowing. Even now, it’s quite the stimulus package for the imagination. That you are given a sneak peak at what is to come is meant to inflict you with great excitement and trepidation. Zion is meant to shake your faith and affection towards the God who is unshakeable.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • Read Exodus 19-20. What do you learn about God? What do you learn about the people of Israel? How would you respond if you were present that day? How is God a consuming fire?
  • Now read Revelation 20-21. What do you learn about God, Jesus and heaven? What awes you about these verses? What assurance do you have that these verses are true? How must these verses about the future impact your now?
  • How can we ensure that we are frequently remembering our eternal inheritance in heaven? What difference should the knowledge of this glorious future make to the way we live our lives now?

The Church’s Work in Faith

I once heard a church member say, “The church would be a lot more peaceful if there weren’t any people in it.” As true as that statement may sound, what would the church be without people? No church at all.

A church is a community of imperfect people striving for peace together (Hebrews 12:14). This is no easy task. Often it is exhausting, discouraging, heartbreaking and wrought with conflict. However, relationships, especially difficult ones take work, but the rewards of these relationships are rich and healthy to your faith (vs.12-13).

What is the goal of the church? A church can have many goals, but the author of Hebrews cues us into a common goal—to aim for peace with all and live holy before Christ (v.14). This is the pathway to growing a great church.

“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” – Hebrews 12:14-15, ESV

The church that received the letter to of Hebrews was experiencing persecution from outside the church and conflict from inside the church too (v.15). How discouraging would that be? Who would want to visit that church? Yet this is what church is like for many around the world. Living in a fallen world with broken and imperfect people, the church often reflect the world. That is okay. It is no reason to dog the church. Church and relationships are messy. Yet the church working together in grace is light and example to the world of what grace looks like between imperfect people who love the Perfect Christ.

Work in the church begins with confession. There is great power and freedom in confessing our sins to one another and encouraging one another (James 5:16). The power in confession is that we admit we cannot fight alone. We need one another. We are weak, but together in Christ we are strong. A force hell cannot reckon with.

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” – James 5:16, ESV

The example of Esau is a serious warning for the church (vs.16-17). In the story of Esau, he turned his back on grace. He sold his birthright for fast-food (see Gen. 25:29ff). He did not fight for holiness rather he was driven to bitterness. When Esau wanted to inherit the blessing from his father, he was rejected—it was too late to be reversed. He became a memorable example of someone who failed to appropriate God’s grace by wasting the opportunity. Likewise turning from Christ and failing to be one’s brothers keeper will lead to ruin and sorrow in the church.

Church relationships take work. It is a two-way street. Like a family, those within the church often know intimate things about one another. A church that loves Jesus and strives for peace and holiness will grow even more intimate together because they see that the grace of Jesus can fully heal brokenness and hurt caused by sin within the Body. May we be more like Jesus with one another.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • How does this passage encourage you? How is it meant to encourage you to strive for peace in the community of faith?
  • How do we reach the goal of peace with all people and live holy before the Lord, especially in the church? What happens when the community doesn’t aim for this goal with one another? How does this text help churches before of during conflict?
  • What makes relationships within the church difficult? Why is it worth the work to strive for peace and holiness? How have you benefited in your faith with the church? What would be the detriment to your faith if your were without the church?
  • What responsibility do we have to one another in the church? What is your role and responsibility to help your brothers and sisters? How will you strive for peace and holiness together with them?

God’s Work in Faith

To melt gold a goldsmith needs to stoke the furnace to over 1,000 F. However, in order to remove all the impurities and to make 24k gold the heat of the furnace is doubled to nearly 2,000 F. The hotter the purer and more valuable.

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God is like a goldsmith. He takes his creation made of dust, full of impurities and at times puts it into the fire to make it pure and beautiful. Nobody likes being in a furnace, but everyone like the result. It is in the fire that God does his greatest work. It is in the furnace that our faith grows.

Pain and suffering are unavoidable, but is it fruitful or beneficial? There is no doubt they get our attention. In his book, The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis says,

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain, it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

In the midst of suffering it is helpful to remember that Jesus is our example. See how he suffered and faced pain. He was not immune to it. As horrific as Jesus’ sufferings were they are for our benefit (v.3). It was his pain for our gain. His sufferings are far greater than any suffering we will ever face (v.4, cf. John 18-21). Take heart!

“Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” – Hebrews 12:3, ESV

We must understand that suffering can come from the hand of God. That might mess with your theology, but it is true. Now, God doesn’t inflict pain and suffering for fun like a mean ogre or an abusive father, but God is likened to a father and God will discipline his children. The difference between God and earthly fathers is that God always disciples out of infinite love (vs. 5-6; cf. Proverbs 3:11-12). It is his parental prerogative (vs. 7-9). If God didn’t discipline us and allowed us to get away with every evil thing we wouldn’t have any respect for him nor would we say that he is truly loving. God’s discipline stems from love because he desires to see his children learn from the heat of the furnace rather than to get away with sin and suffer even greater in hell. The discipline he gives lasts only a short time but the effects can last a lifetime (vs.10-11).

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” – Hebrews 12:11, ESV

Just like nobody likes to be in the furnace, no child likes to be discipled and no parent likes to discipline their children, but it is a necessary practice to help children grow up. God always has the right discipline to produce the right character within our heart, particularly a pure heart full of faith.  A faith that is rich and valuable.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • How does God have a plan for our suffering and trials? Why is our fight against sin much lesser than Jesus’?
  • How does “considering” the sufferings of Jesus encourage you not to grow weary or lose heart in similar sufferings? What does it mean to share in Christ’s sufferings?
  • How does God discipline from genuine love? How is discipline a hard but good thing? How does discipline grow our respect and confidence in God?
  • How is an earthly father a picture of our heavenly Father? What are the limitations of this picture?
  • What is the holiness of God? How does God’s discipline produce holiness? How are you sharing in God’s holiness now?

Encouragements for Christians When their Faith is Under Fire

God never promised that this life will be easy, but he promises to be with you in the fire.

The consequences of saying that you love and worship Jesus can be real and hurtful. Those who are close to you may even turn their back on you.  For many around the world there is pain and suffering.  There is ridicule and rejection.

Peter knew what it was like to experience persecution, hardships, and suffering for Jesus Christ. This gave him a raw, yet real palate for encouraging other Christians who are walking through the same fire.

1 Peter is an excellent book to read to be encouraged.  Here are a sampling of encouragements for Christians when their faith is under fire:

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1:6-7)

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (2:2-3)

The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” (2:7a-8)

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (2:9)

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. (2:13-15)

For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. (2:20-21)

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, (3:13-18)

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. (4:8)

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. (4:12-16)

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (4:19)

Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (5:5-7)

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (5:10)

Jesus is the Great Object of Our Faith

Steve and I would ride our bikes for miles. We’d push each other faster and longer. After the ride we would wobble onto the road and run. Steve was more than 20 years older than me, but he could lap me on the run. That is embarrassing for a young guy, but exhilarating for an old guy. He knew running was my weakest event training for a Tri and he would remind me, “Justin, this is your cross to bear. Fix your eyes on the cross and run.” It did help to endure the middle of the run when I was tempted to walk or even quit.

I was a sprinter on my middle school track team. I ran the 100m and 400m. Running long distances was not my thing. Likewise, in life I would much rather endure a sprint than a marathon. However, this life resembles an Iron Man more than a quick jaunt.

We have just walked through the Hall of Fame. Hebrews 11 is a gallery of examples that help you to know what faith looks like and what God can do through a human vessel. Each name is an example for your benefit. That you too would exercise faith, endure through the trials and resist temptations in this life (Hebrews 12:1a).

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV

Now it is time to run (v.1b). The author of Hebrews describes life like a race. The course is not flat or oval like a track. It has high mountains and low valleys. There is pain and heartache. There are injuries and insecurities. In this life there are innumerable “weights” that taunt, trap, or trip us up.

Often our eyes are fixed on the weights and we worry what will come next or what will come of us. Yet those who have gone before us have given some valuable advice: keep your eyes fixed on Jesus (v.2).

That might sound nebulous. How do I fix my eyes on Jesus when I can’t see him? Or what exactly am I to fix my eyes on? The key is keeping your eyes fixed on how Jesus endured the cross and shame. Do you remember Jesus final days? Do you remember the trial, the rejection, the flogging, the walk through the streets of Jerusalem, the blood, the tears, the prayers, the cries? Do you see how he endured? Remember this.

Fixing our eyes on Jesus is hard but helpful.  Ultimately, Jesus is our example. He shows us what faith looks like. He is the founder and perfecter of our faith. He shows us what endurance looks like. He endured with joy and obedience. He shows us we are not alone. He is seated at the right hand of God as our intercessor.

Like my friend Steve, we need running buddies. One who will encourage you from time to time and say, “This is your cross to bear. Fix your eyes on the cross and run.”

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • Why do you think the author focuses on endurance after exploring the role of faith?
  • Read Philippians 3: 12– 14. How does this passage compare to the message in Hebrews 12? How is the example of a race so helpful?
  • Read 1 Corinthians 9:24–27. To what does Paul liken the Christian faith? How does he say we should live this life of faith? What does this mean practically for us as individuals and churches?
  • What are the weights Christians should remove so they can run the race? What are some of the things that believers cling to that hinder a their faith?
  • How is faith at times a grueling race? What sorts of “hardship” will believers endure as they grow their faith?
  • How can one have joy and endure at the same time? What can you learn from Jesus about melding of joy and endurance?
  • What are ways today’s church looks backward instead of forward? How can you follow the example of the heroes of faith and look ahead to the joy that awaits you? What role does faith play in the ability to look ahead?

What the Reward for Faith Looks Like

When I was in elementary school I was in a community swim league. Other than the Speedo and practices, I liked swimming. I was super strong in the backstroke.  All those tedious practices paid off with my first blue ribbon. After all these years, I still have it.

At the end of a race there is a trophy or ribbon. At the completion of a test there is a grade or a diploma. At the close of a performance there is an applause or a pat on the back. Yet what is the reward for faith?

You don’t often see the authors of the Scripture making public apologies about their writings. However, the author of Hebrews gives an apology for listing the final heroes of faith in rapid order (Hebrews 11:32). He said there were simply too many names to list and too little time to talk about them. Thankfully their stories are recorded in canon of Scripture (vs.33-34). This is your reminder to go an read about them.

“And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” – Hebrews 11:32-37, ESV

Although each person listed had their failures, the common thread between each judge, king and prophet was faith being their victory over death (v. 35). A hero or heroine often does not get to see the reward of his work in his lifetime (v. 39). Sometimes he dies in battle before the victory. Sometimes he is marginalized or even martyred (vs.36-38). The images of persecution and imprisonment pile up to convince us along with the first readers of this letter that the experiences of these men and women are no different than ours (cf. 10:32–34). Their names are here to encourage you to persevere in faith for the reward of faith is greater than what one can achieve in this lifetime (v. 40).

“And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” – Hebrews 11:39-40, ESV

It was said “the world was not worthy of” these people of great faith (v. 38), but they had the assurance that they were moving toward a greater goal. Again we enter the realm of “something greater,” and with that to rejoice in, to live for and fight for. The reward for faith is God. What better reward is there?

Hebrews 11 is here for you on look backward on the faith of yesterday in order to press forward in faith today. Press on! The greatest reward is yet to come!

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • What might the writer of Hebrews have said about these men if there had been more time?
  • Why do you think God chose to work through these people (e.g. Gideon, Samson, David) despite their faults and failures? What does this tell you about God?
  • How does faith enable you to seek only God’s approval rather than the world’s approval? How could God be more glorified by not delivering you from suffering than from delivering you from it? Does this give you more or less confidence in God?
  • What do Christians have to look forward to? How can you take the knowledge of your inheritance to come and use it to help you to be courageous and faithful in times of trial?
  • If you knew that you wouldn’t receive any earthly rewards for your faith, how would that affect the way you live? Knowing that you will ultimately receive a promised blessing, does that make faith easier or more difficult when challenges arise?
  • In what ways does the list of the faithful in Hebrews 11 encourage you? Challenge you? Intimidate you? If you were to add your own name to this list based on the way in which you’ve shown great faith, how would that entry read?

What Faith in Action Looks Like

Faith is a crucial piece of our relationship with God. We don’t always understand God or what he is doing. Sometimes we may feel like we are up against a wall or we feel like we are being run down by a fierce army and God is nowhere to be seen.

Moses’ story is amazing from start to finish. As an act of faith his parents sent him down the Nile River in a basket (v.23). Moses was found by Pharaoh’s daughter and grew up in Pharaoh’s home (v.24). By faith he gave up the luxuries of Egypt to help let his people go free (vs.25-26). By faith Moses listened to God and obeyed his commands (vs.27-28). What God prepared Moses for was an amazing journey of faith marked by miracle after miracle.

“By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.” – Hebrews 11:24-27, ESV

Faith acts. With Pharaoh and his army charging after the slaves they just let go the people had a choice: freak out or have faith. By faith the Hebrews crossed the Red Sea on dry ground (v.29). No doubt Moses’ faith and leadership inspired their faith. Their faith preserved their lives from the bitter Egyptian army who drowned after the last Hebrew reached the other side of the Red Sea.

The city of Jericho was a towering menace and it was a barrier between the Hebrews and the land God promised. God’s plan seemed a little wacky: March around the city seven time and blow trumps and the walls would come down. No weapons. Only instruments and obedience. By faith the Israelites did as God said and God did as he said (v.30). And the people of Israel did the impossible were able to walk into the Promised Land.

Rahab the prostitute was saved when Jericho was destroyed because of her faith and kindness in helping the Hebrews spies escape (v.31; cf. Joshua 2:10-21; 6:25). Not only that Rahab became a part of the nation of Israel. She married Salmon and gave birth to Boaz who was an ancestor of King David (Matthew 1: 4–6).

When faith acts God honors it. Faith shows we trust God at his word. The moment we act in faith is never easy. That is why it is called faith.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • How does faith need great courage for difficult decisions?
  • How do you see faith in action in the life of Moses?
  • What does it mean that Moses “considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward”? What might Moses have known about Christ? In what sense can we say that Moses suffered for the sake of Christ or how did Moses give an image of Christ? (see 1 Corinthians 10:4)
  • How is Jesus never far away from any Scripture, even Old Testament Scriptures? How do all examples of faith ultimately lead to Jesus? What are the promises offered by the world which seek to pull us away from following Christ?
  • How can you encourage others around you to be bold in faith and to persevere, rather than yielding to the temptations of the world?
  • For all that Moses did for the Hebrews, he still didn’t get to enter the Promised Land. What does this teach us about God’s rewards for the faithful? What are some other examples of rewarded faith that seem unexpected or maybe even unsatisfying at least according to the world’s understanding of “reward”?
  • What is so unique about having Rahab listed as a heroine of faith? What does she show you about the unique plan of God and the kind of people God uses? What do Rahab’s actions teach us about the relationship between obedience and faith?
  • How might God use you to act in faith to further his kingdom purposes?

What Enduring Faith Looks Like and Looks Forward Towards

Life isn’t a calm breeze. Sometimes the winds gust and the storms batter from within and without. Life can be a grueling journey of endurance and faith is necessary.

We need examples. We need people we can look to and say, “If they did it, so can I.” When it comes to big time examples of faith, Abraham is a name that often comes to mind. Abraham was called by God to go to an unknown place. He journeyed even though he didn’t know exactly where God was taking him or what the journey would look like (vs.8-9). It was a true journey and test of faith (Gen. 15:6).

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents” – Hebrews 11:8-9a, ESV

Faith acts by moving forward. Abraham and Sarah never fully reached the Promised Land during their lifetime, but it was realized through the purchase of a small burial plot where Abraham would bury Sarah. The duration of their lives was lived as strangers in a strange land, yet they looked forward to a better country, a heavenly one that God was preparing for them (v.10; cf. 13:14). Their faith looked forward beyond the grave (vs.13-16).

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” – Hebrews 11:13-16, ESV

Faith acts on what seems impossible. A at 90 years old, God said he would open the womb of Abraham’s wife making it possible for her to bear a son (vs.11-12). Although, at first she laughed (ha!), God made the impossible possible (ah!). It was God’s starting point for fulfilling a promise to Abraham making his descendants as numerous as the stars.

“And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore” – Hebrews 11:11-12, ESV

Faith acts on what it knows about God. Abraham’s biggest test of faith was when God would ask him to sacrifice that son—his one and only promised heir (vs.17-19). Abraham acted in faith. He had faith that God would raise his son from the dead.

“By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.” – Hebrews 11:17-19, ESV

Faith acts on what God has already done. Abraham’s descendants Isaac, Jacob and Joseph continued on, but not without their own enduring challenges and faith struggles (vs.20-21). Joseph, was sold as a slave to Egypt by his brothers. His brothers would later come to Egypt bowing before Joseph demanding food amidst a famine. This fulfilled Joseph’s dream and he responded by embracing and providing for his brothers. Interestingly, after his death his bones were brought back to the Promised Land (v.22).

God’s plans aren’t always immediate. Sometimes they span generations. God has an enduring love for his people and the working out of his plans. God will do as he says even amidst the wind and storms of life. We too must have enduring faith in what God is doing and will do because of what he has already done.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • What is endurance? How is endurance linked to faith? Why is endurance often difficult?
  • What do you learn about endurance from the life of Abraham, Abraham’s children, and Abraham’s children’s children (e.g. Isaac, Jacob and Joseph)? How does their faith speak to you?
  • What do you learn about enduring faith through the life and death of Jesus? What was the reward he was looking forward to and the city he is preparing for us? (cf. Hebrews 13:12-14) How does the dramatic story in Genesis 22 anticipate the central work of Christ?
  • How do you hand down these stories to the next generation? Are there new stories of faith you can hand down? What are they?
  • In what areas of your faith and life is God calling you to endure?

what faith looks like

A few years ago, I went to the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame. It is an interesting and educational shrine to one of footballs most storied sports teams (I may be a bit biased). The most fascinating aspects of the Hall was learning about the teams early days and what the sport first looked like. A hundred years ago the sport was raw and tough. The founders and initial inductees to the Hall didn’t have much to look back on. They were creating the records that would be broken. They were paving the way for future players by creating the benchmarks and examples to follow.

1895_Auburn_-_Georgia_football_game_at_Piedmont_Park_in_Atlanta_Georgia

The first three examples in the Faith Hall of Fame are the founding fathers of faith after the creation the world: Abel, Enoch and Noah. There isn’t a lot we know about these men between Chapters 4-9 of Genesis. These three men show us that human history is a history of living “by faith” and the kind of life God expects (vs.4,5,7).

By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead. – Hebrews 11:4, ESV

Abel’s faith was not in the substance of his sacrifice, but in the heart behind his sacrifice. To Abel to give his first and best fruits was an act of faith and worship (Genesis 4). Abel was later martyred by his own brother, but Abel’s faith still speaks to us today.

By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. – Hebrews 11:5-6, ESV

Enoch’s faith takes hold of what God offers. In Genesis 5:24, there is a genealogy filled with men who live to be more than 900 years old, yet following each name reads the cold words, “and then he died.” Except for Enoch. Enoch walked with God and he was no more because God took him away. Death had no hold on Enoch.

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith. – Hebrews 11:7, ESV

Noah’s faith obeyed. Obedience to God amidst of an unclear future and chaotic circumstances is key to faith. Noah built a boat despite never seeing rain, hundreds of years or ridicule, and limited information. Noah takes God at his word and gets to work. His actions show his faith as he stands obedient among a wicked generation (Genesis 6:9).

The common thread between these three ancients was their faith. They believed God existed, they feared him, and they believed God rewards those who seek him.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • How do these ancient examples of faith still speak to us today?
  • How does faith involve aspects of sacrifice (Abel), hope (Enoch), and obedience (Noah)? Which person can you relate with the most and why? Which aspect of faith do you struggle with the most and why?
  • What are the different things people mean when they talk about ‘faith’? How does real, biblical faith differ from the popular idea of ‘faith’?
  • Have you experienced times when your faith in God has been tested? What have you learned from such experiences? How have these lessons helped you in times of difficulty?
  • Why is it impossible to please God without faith? On the contrary, how does faith please God?
  • What is the reward of faith? (cf. 1 Chr. 28:9; Jer. 29:12-14; John 4:24)

what is faith?

Would you rather see the future or see what is invisible? There is a measure of faith that comes with both because we can see neither. One often think that seeing is believing or if one sees he will have greater faith. However, Jesus says, greater is one’s faith who believes and doesn’t have to see (John 20:29). That’s where faith is born.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” – Hebrews 11:1-3, ESV

Faith is defined as confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. In other word, faith confidently trusts and obeys God no matter the circumstances or consequences. We don’t live or define our life by the circumstances or consequences but by confident trust and obedience to what God has already said about himself and his plans.

Faith gives you the ability to see the future as the present because you know God is the same yesterday, today and forever. Also faith gives you the ability to see the invisible as seen because you can see what God has said and done in Scripture and that gives you proof enough that he is trustworthy and worth following.

The example in verse three is that by faith we understand that God created the universe by the spoken word. We weren’t there, but we read about it in Genesis chapter one. We cannot see God, but we can see what God has made and this proves that God exists. We can have faith in God because we can see the evidences of what he said by what he has done.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • How does the author of Hebrews define faith? How would you define faith in your own words?
  • How do the words “assurance,” “conviction,” and “commendation” help you to understand the meaning of faith?
  • What are things that you hope for? What are the invisible things you’d like to see?
  • What is something invisible that is easy for you to have faith in? What is something invisible that is difficult for you to have faith in?
  • Without looking ahead (even if you may know), who were ancient men and who in Scripture who were commended for their faith? What makes their faith so great?
  • What do others say about your faith? Would they commend it?
  • Other than creation, what other evidence of God do we have that God exists or keeps his promises? How do we see God at work even though we cannot see God Himself?
  • How do you see God in Jesus (e.g. Hebrews 1-10)? How does he encourage your faith?

Jesus Calls you to a Greater Faith

An arrogant Christian is an oxymoron. A Christian has no room to boast in himself. Rather that is reserved for Jesus.

There is little difference between arrogance and confidence. The difference is the attitude. An arrogant person boasts in his ability while a confident person simply acts.

A Christian can be confident because of Christ. The root of our confidence as a Christian is that we have unlimited and unhindered access to the Most Holy Place where Jesus reigns as a Great High Priest (vs.19-21). This should encourage us to look both upward and outward as we approach God. Upward with a sincere heart and full of faith and hold unswervingly to the hope we profess. Outward considering how best to stir one another towards love and good deeds (vs.22-25).

“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another —and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:19-25

We have power to forgive others because God has forgiven us of so much sin. If we go on sinning, we continue rebelling against God, stomping on the sacrifice of Christ, and insulting the Spirit of grace. Ultimately, if we go that route we reject the sole means for salvation through Jesus and what remains is fear of judgement without hope (vs.26-31).

The writer of Hebrews takes note of his readers confident faith in God even in their present difficulties. They knew that Jesus made it possible for them to inherit greater and lasting possessions and this gave them hope through their present circumstances (vs.32-38).

This hope multiplies our hope too. Through Jesus we have the means to keep on persevering, even in the face of temptations and persecutions. By enduring through public insults, humiliation and suffering, with others, we grow a full faith (v.39).

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • What is the difference between arrogance and confidence? How do verses 19-25 define confidence we have in Jesus?
  • What are some arrogant attitudes Christians can have towards God? What arrogant attitudes do you often exhibit?
  • Which of the three “let us” commands do you have a struggle walking in? (vs. 22-24)
  • How does one drift from their faith, waver in hope, or neglect loving others? What is the remedy for this according to the text?
  • What access do you have to God through the Most Holy Place and the Great High Priest? What is the benefit of this unlimited and unhindered access? Why are we prone to timidness rather than boldness?
  • How does faith go hand in hand with meeting together with other believers?
  • Why are you grateful we don’t have to endure this life and faith alone? Who do you have around you that you are meeting with that stir you to love and good works? Why is it difficult to stir others from a distance? Who are you stirring?
  • How do hard times draw us together and comfort often draws us apart? How do you see in verses 32-39 the power of remembering past hardships to bolster present faith? Do you have a similar remembrance?

James: How Faith Works

James knew that the world detested Christians, but he also knew the Christian faith was an active world-changing faith. It was a faith at work. In other words, faith had fruits of faith (i.e. works). It was a faith that looked like Jesus, talked like Jesus, and served like Jesus. With millions of Christians suffering persecution and isolation worldwide, what letter couldn’t be more applicable or encouraging today?

So what is faith, true faith? James shows us how faith works. He makes it clear that salvation doesn’t come through good works but that true faith produces good works. The journey of faith is like a construction site where one is continually sharpening their skills on the job and among others. Yet in the case of faith the site is the church among one another. It’s not an easy journey, it’s slow, and there are setbacks. The risks are great, but the reward is even greater because we are in Jesus.

Are you ready to grow in your faith? Then let’s go!

Click here to Download the James Study Guide

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unashamed I stand

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My first “real” job was at Schmidt Sporting Goods in the Wausau Center Mall. It was the perfect job for a teenager into sports. I was fifteen, a new Christian and a bit awkward socially. There were many times during a shift at work when the crowds would dwindle and stocking was slow and the employees would gravitate together to chat. You can imagine the variety of conversations that would unfold between young adults. This was the first testing ground of my faith. At first I was shy. I didn’t want to reveal my identity as a Christian. I was ashamed. I learned to camouflage to my colleagues. At church, I was outspoken and on fire, always attending youth group, serving where I could, even going on missions trips, but outside of church I hid my light under a bushel basket. I will share more about my time at Schmidt’s later.

Oddly enough, I am now on mission in North Africa. I’d like to say that I have changed. That I share my faith like a wild fire burning through the bush in a windstorm. However, that is not always the case. I often resort to hiding the light. Why am I so ashamed? Chiefly, I think much of what others think of me and think little of what God has done for me.

I know I am not alone when it comes to timidity of faith. The Bible is chalked full of examples of people reluctant to bear the name of God. Moses tried every excuse in the book not to go back to Pharaoh and represent God. Jonah ran opposite Nineveh to the sea. Peter denied Jesus multiple times before the rooster crowed. If you were to ask each of these men to write Romans 1:16 it might have read, “For I am ashamed of the gospel for is it the weakness of man unto slavery to everyone who disbelieves.”

You and I both know that isn’t how that verse reads. I have rehearsed that verse ever since I started attending Sunday School. Instead the verse reads, “For I am unashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.” According to this verse the gospel does two things: 1) it brings out shaming behavior in those who will not believe it and 2) it gives freedom from shame to those who do believe it. In other words, the gospel that causes shame also frees us from shame.

It is difficult to keep quiet about my faith in North Africa. When people see me or my beard their first question is, “Are you Muslim?” because most Muslim teachers have beards. I sport my beard on purpose. First, my wife digs it. Second, it’s a great conversation starter. Of course, I respond, “No. I follow the way of Jesus.” So I had this same interaction with a group of Islamic teachers and they responded, “Ah, we follow Jesus too and God’s other prophet, Mohammad. Do you follow Mohammad?” When I responded “No” the teacher with the biggest and whitest beard preached at me for 10 minutes trying to convince me of my error and foolishness. The way I was being belittled made me think about the religious guys during Jesus’ day. I left the interaction gut-checked and scarred, but like Paul’s words (see: Colossians 1:24), I was able to understand a smidgen the sufferings of Christ.

It would be great if this was a one-time interaction, in fact, it happens a lot. A few months ago, I arrived at our neighborhood corner store. There was an older woman arguing with the boy managing the store how there isn’t any coins to make change in this town. It is a true exaggeration. We sometimes make it our ministry to tape up crust old bills that are falling apart and return them to circulation. I tried sympathizing with the woman, but she turned at me and said, “You are white. You probably have lots of money and change.” Now, in this culture, it is not appropriate to talk much with woman publicly, so I didn’t make much of it. I just smiled awkwardly and said, “I just brought enough change to buy bread.” She then asked, “Are you Muslim?” When she learned that I only followed the way of Jesus she yelled, “Why are you here, you unbeliever.” I stepped back, blessed her and turned to walk back home. As I walked off she cried out, “Become a Muslim.” I thought she was just having a bad day, but the next day she had a similar interaction with a female colleague. We were bearing the shame for the name of Jesus and ouch, it hurt.

How did Paul or Jesus handle the shame heaped on them? Hebrews 12:2 says about Jesus: “For the joy set before Him [He] endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus did not let shame gain the upper hand, rather he set his heart towards joy in His future place with His Father. Jesus saw His temporary pain as eternal gain. Paul echoed this when he said, “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) It’s a win-win when you are in Christ.

In Acts 5:41 when the disciples were beaten and charged not to speak about the name of Jesus. It says, “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” They ‘despised the shame’ trading it for joy because they suffered with Jesus because no amount of earthly shame can erase the joy we will have when we’re with God. Jesus erases all shame. “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” (1 Peter 4:16)

Coming back to Romans 1:16, Paul said he is not ashamed of the gospel because it is “the power of God unto salvation.” What makes the gospel so offensive is that it takes me, man, out of the salvation equation and it puts Jesus Christ front and center. I can do nothing to earn salvation. Jesus did everything. That offends people because people want some credit or merit points to put on my imaginary good deeds sash.

My friends and I have recently committed to memory Acts 4:12 into Arabic, which in English says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) When sharing this verse with my Muslim friends it causes a stir and bring upon me shame from those who do not believe, but for me, these words have freed me from shame.

Therefore, with Jesus and Paul, I say to you. Suffer, yes. Be misunderstood, you bet. Be shamed, absolutely. But do not be ashamed. You will be shamed, but you need not be ashamed. Because the message of God’s saving work in Christ is the only final triumphant message in the world. Temporary pain. Eternal gain.

Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” It wasn’t until after the Alca tribe slaughtered Jim Elliott, Nate Saint, and their three colleagues that they realized the men they killed had lived the words they had been taught to them about Jesus. They saw Jesus in the way they lived and died.

It was a slow shift at Schmidt Sporting Goods and I gathered near the cash register to chat with Nate and Brian who were working that night. The question came up, “Why don’t you like to work on Sundays or Wednesday night?” I told them that I went to church and met with my friends to learn about Jesus. In the minutes that followed they allowed me to share the gospel with them. Nate responded, “Justin, you really believe that nonsense? That God wrote a book? And that Jesus is really God?” He went on to shame me for my beliefs. To fast forward a few years, while in college, I got an email from Brian. He told me how that summer he had a life-altering boating accident in which he broke his neck. In his recovery God brought to mind our conversations years earlier and he began reading his Bible and attending an evangelical church. Soon after he gave his life to Christ. He thanked me for not being ashamed.

I praise God for His work in Brian, but usually I expect responses to the gospel like Nate. If the Bible says people will think of me as foolish it is what it is (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:20-31). In 2 Corinthians 6:1-10, Paul says that we are to expect afflictions and slander (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:23-26). Peter echoes Paul, in 1 Peter 3:13-18 when writing to group of believers under fire for their faith to expect suffering because Christ Himself suffered.

1 Peter 3:8-9 is a key verse in which Peter calls the you and I, the church, to stand under persecution, shame, ridicule, misunderstanding for the sake of the gospel. Would you make this verse a prayer for me? As I will make it a prayer for you and your church. “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” (cf. Luke 6:28)

Emily’s Journey

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She had a spark the first time I met her.

Emily Ristau was a young seventh grade girl when we first met. Our first encounter was in the church lobby. It was memorable mostly because I opened my mouth and out flew a Freudian Slip (and no, I won’t go into those details). So, I was introduced to Emily alongside her two older brothers and parents. Her family soon became a favorite. I heard somewhere that you’re not supposed to have favorites in the ministry. “Shh! Don’t tell.”

Emily’s dad would frequently say, “My girl is a walking miracle.” Indeed she was. Emily was born with half a heart, also known as HLHS. When I found out for the first time I thought of little Laura from Little House on the Prairie and modified it to fit Emily. From then, on I dubbed her “Half Tank.” She didn’t seem to mind.

If you did not know Emily, you would not know there was anything wrong with her inward parts for outwardly she appear to be a ordinary teenage girl with an extraordinary faith in God. Though she often struggled with her image and what others thought of her, she would wander back to the truth that she was crafted in God’s image.
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What impressed me most about Emily was her spunky and everyone’s-a-friend-attitude. It was a huge asset to our youth ministry at BGBC. I wish I could have cloned a few Emily’s, although the awkwardness factor would have certainly multiplied exponentially. Just thinking about Emily now makes me laugh. I can hear her say, “Sup?” with that cheeky grin and that faint bob of her head.

When Sarah and I began our courtship, Sarah stayed with Emily’s family. Following Sarah’s first visit, I sought Emily’s approval of Sarah. She said, “She’s a keeper, Justin.” That was enough. A few weeks later Emily help me to assemble a sock monkey for Sarah named Patch. He’s still held together by the Emily’s threads and needlework.

The spark she had was ignited by the Spirit of God.

Emily, left a mark on me. Though I wasn’t her youth pastor for a very long time,  she was used by God to shepherd my life by her example. Emily preached a sermon with her life. Emily may have had half a heart, but she really had more heart than most because her real heart was possessed with the One who gave her life and ordained her days.

Emily went to be with Jesus on May 14, 2014. She was 21.

Emily’s Journey is not over, it’s just begun. Emily is a hero in the faith and now with the champion of her faith! Lucky!

“God as you used Emily in this life to be a ginormous blessing to many, may you use her testimony and ‘new life’ as a continual testimony of Your fame. Until we meet again. In Jesus name.”

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

wrecked

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wrecked: biblical truths to hold onto when life seems overwhelming

Remember summer vacations? What did you do as a child? I spent most of my summers in upper Wisconsin at my grandparents cozy cottage on Alma Lake. I loved it up there. The swims in the spring-fed lake were refreshing, fishing was superb, and fresh coniferous air was bountiful. Mmm, I can still taste dads north-woods fish fries.

There was one summer, I went fishing with dad. We puttered in our old aluminum fishing boat far from the cottage through a channel to a nearby lake. It was a beautiful day and the lake was so clear that it looked like a giant aquarium. I remember the fishing being great, however, in an instant, the situation changed. Winds picked up. Dark storm clouds rolled into sight over the tall pines. And a wall of rain was tromping it’s way across the lake.

We quickly picked up anchors, strapped on life jackets, and puttered as fast as we could back to the cottage. Our little 10hp Evinrude motor was no match for the storm. We were soon overtaken. The rain hit with a force that stung the skin. We had never seen bigger whitecap waves on this little lake as we did that day. Water from the rain and waves filled our boat and I was tasked with scooping out water because it was bogging down the boat. Needless to say we survived the storm, but we arrived to my grandparents cottage wetter than the fish we caught.

My boating story is minuscule compared to Luke’s masterful account of a storm on the Mediterranean Sea. Now, Luke is no sailor. He’s a doctor. Yet, in Acts 27. he describes with amazing accuracy the techniques used by sailors in his day to guard against shipwreck. Also, Luke weaves into the story biblical truths and themes repeated throughout the book of Acts. These are biblical truths to hold onto when life seems overwhelming. What do you do when life seems overwhelming? What truths do you hold onto?

1) GOD EMPOWERS THOSE WHO OBEY HIS SPIRIT (vs.1-20)

In the gospels, the disciples were weak and worthless, but in the book of Acts they became powerful and productive. How is that? The Holy Spirit empowered them. Power for life and ministry comes only through the Holy Spirit (vs.9-10). Real power belongs to God and is given by God. How is it that Paul perceived the voyage would be with injury and loss? The Spirit made Paul perceptive. It was already past the fast celebrating the Day of Atonement (September-October) and rarely did any ship sail between September and November because the sea was too dangerous and treacherous. Ironically, no one listened to the man empowered by the Holy Spirit and what happens is just as he said (vs.11-19).

There are two sure ways to to diminish the role of the Holy Spirit in your life and ministry. First, is to grieve the Holy Spirit (cf. Ephesians 4:30), wherein you do the things the Spirit doesn’t want you to do. Second, is to quench the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Thessalonians 6:19), wherein you don’t do the things the Spirit wants you to do. In either case, you decide to take the self-guided tour, ignore alarms to danger, and gravitate to your self-comforts when life seems overwhelming. Been there? Me too. It is a sure way to snuff out the power of the Holy Spirit.

On the other hand, there are many signs given in Scripture of a Spirited-empowered life. I will briefly give three. The first is comfort. In John 14:16, the Holy Spirit is our Helper and Comforter who promises never leave or abandon us. The Spirit helps us live free from fear, worry and anxiety. Second, is heeding caution. The Holy Spirit alarms us to danger. I don’t think He does it through hunches or fuzzy feelings, but through visible road blocks (Acts 16:7) and pure conviction. Third, a Spirit-empowered life walks with confidence. For we walk by faith not by sight. We believe God can be trusted. He is faithful. He comes through. He hears us. He is with us. And that gives confidence for life and ministry.

The question a Christ-followers doesn’t need to ask is, “Do I have the Holy Spirit?” The question I must ask is, “Does the Holy Spirit have me?” It is only the Holy Spirit who fills and empowers my life and ministry. Only He opens stubborn wills, awakens darkened hearts, and makes men alive with His Word. Without Him there is no hope (v.20). Without Him I am weak and worthless like Simon doing magic in my own power (cf. Acts 8), but with the Spirit I am powerful and productive even when everything around seems a wreck. God empowers those who walk with His Spirit.

2) GOD EMBOLDENS THOSE WHO BELIEVE HIS WORD (vs.21-26)

Paul’s ship incurred much injury and loss. It’s as if the storm spanked them. And while the situation has their attention Paul speaks with boldness (v.21), saying, “I told you so.” not to continue the spanking verbally, but rather to point them to his earlier words as being a prophetic warning from God (cf. v.10).

Like all spiritual fathers, Paul wisely mixes hard words with soft words and encourages the beaten and bruised words of hope (v.22-24 “take heart”). For that night, during the storm, Jesus came and assured Paul that the storm would not incur any loss of human life. He reminded Paul not to fear because he “will stand before Caesar,” which was a promise given by Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and confirmed by many others (cf. 9:15; 23:11). If God has said something nothing can deter it. It’s a sure thing. Nothing will make it untrue. Nothing can block His promises or plans. Not even the worst winter storm at sea or persecution on land will not stop Paul from getting to Rome. And God shows mercy to all on board because He has on mercy Paul. How do God’s words to Paul encourage you to “take heart” when life seems overwhelming?

Interestingly, when Paul speaks of God, he does not refer to Him as the Creator of heaven and earth, or the God of providence, or the God who rules over the wind and the waves. He refers to God to whom he belongs and serves. Paul considered his life as God’s possession. He is God’s bondservant (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:20; Romans 1:1). It didn’t take much convincing on the Damascus road and it emboldened him on route to Rome.

Paul, with boldness proclaims that what God has said will come to pass just as He has said (v.25-26; cf. Psalm 14:1). God is exact. He always hits the bullseye. Sometimes it is less difficult to believe in God than it is to believe in God’s says. This is especially true when you voyage through the valley of the shadow of death. Yet God’s Word is sure. Like Paul, let’s fix our eyes on the end goal. (cf. John 14:1-2) For Paul, the road that leads to Rome is the road that will lead Home.

3) GOD EXTRAORDINARILY PROVIDES FOR THOSE WHO SERVE HIM (vs.27-44)

We’ve come to the eye of the storm and it gets worse before it gets better. Almost like life, eh? Here’s what happens next: the soldiers cut the ropes to their only life boat (vs.27-32), the shipmen eat their last meal and dump the remaining wheat overboard (vs.33-38), then they throw the anchors into the sea in a last ditch effort to run the ship ashore (vs.39-44a).

In the midst of the chaos, when life seems overwhelming they are able to share in God’s provisions. They are encouraged by a meal and trust God for their next. And as God said, in the end, the soldiers spare the prisoners, and Paul and all 276 people survive the storm (v.44b; “…all were brought safely to…”; cf. 28:1). God provides and keeps His promises. Isn’t that all we need to know?

Do you reflect on God’s provisions? How God has brought you safely through? I have kept journals since I was 15 years old. Sometimes I read back a year or two and observe all that God has done through difficulties, disappointments, trials, hurts, struggles, hardships and wrecks.

  • 3.2.1996 – I lost my wallet with a newly acquired drivers license on a ski trip in Colorado. I found it later hallway sticking out of a snow bank. God provides.
  • 3.2.1999 – My beloved grandma Joan had recently passed away. I lived with her a lot while growing up. She left me enough money to pay for my college tuition for the next two semesters. God provides.
  • 3.2.2003 – I spoke to a group of teens in South Africa from Psalm 1. Later that night, a friend told me that one teen girl committed her live to Christ. Today she celebrates her 11th spiritual birthday. God’s provides.
  • 3.2.2004 – My aunt Karen overdoses on drugs and takes her life. My family is broken, but open and allows me to comfort them with the word of Christ at her memorial. God’s provides.
  • 3.2.2009 – Sarah and I fast from kissing during our engagement. Not easy. God provides.
  • 3.2.2014 – Learning Arabic in Chad. Following God to the ends of the earth. God provides.

God has brought me safely through. You too, I assume. May the words “brought safely through” be a banner of truth today and in the days to come. God extraordinarily provides. Paul later writes to the church at Corinth while in Rome, following the shipwreck,

“I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not as the Lord would but as a fool. Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that! But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.” (2 Corinthians 11:16-32)

Have you seen God empower you through His Spirit? Embolden you as you believe His Word? Seen Him extraordinarily provide for your needs? These are truths to hold onto when life seems overwhelming.

Communion Reflection: Remember what Paul did in the company of all the soldiers before they eat? He blessed the food and prayed (v.35). This is not the Lord’s Supper, but a simple meal prayer. Yet how is this similar to the meal Jesus shared with His disciples in the upper room? (cf. Luke 22:19-20) Jesus had the end goal in mind. It was His last meal before His death. In just a few short hours He would be wrecked, wrought, beaten and mocked, bearing the wrath of God in our stead. As we take communion, let’s celebrate with Paul a death march we’re all on keeping the end goal in mind.

Years ago, my wife, Sarah, wrote and sang this entitled, Shipwreck. It is so fitting to this text today. Listen and enjoy.