Walking Through Waters

Isaiah 43:2
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you.”

Isaiah gives us two very different promises. First, he promises life will be filled with difficulty. He writes of passing through waters, facing floods, and raging fires. There are times when the road of life takes us straight into difficulty. We might be struck with disease, discomfort, heartbreak or tragedy. None of us are immune to any of these things. But Isaiah gives a second promise that is true for all who have trusted Christ. He declares that God will be with us in the midst of the darkest hours of life.

Over the years I have found myself walking through some pretty difficult, unnerving, and even fear-filled times. In some cases, it seemed as though I might not make it through the difficulty. Yet, I have also found that in every case, God has been faithful to His promises. I have not only experienced the trial come to an end, but have experienced the presence of God in the midst of it. Whether I was facing something head on or dealing with the burden of someone I loved struggling to keep their head above water, I have always found the presence of God within His promises.

No matter what you might face today, remember He is walking it with you. Part of the purpose behind the hardship, is to learn to fellowship with Christ in your struggles.

Pastor Jim

 

Prosperity

1 Thessalonians 3:3
“That no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this.”

There seems to be a great deal of teaching in the church today regarding prosperity. The messages vary, but the basic idea is God wants to bless and prosper you. This prosperity is defined as being wealthy, healthy and successful. There is no question, by following Jesus, you will avoid many of the pitfalls in life that lead to suffering, but it is wrong to use a secular dictionary to define Biblical terms. The same Jesus who promised abundant life, also promised that in this world we would have tribulation (John 16:33). The same apostle who experienced what it was to abound, also went through times where he was abased; he said, “Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” (Philippians 4:12).

Here, in 1 Thessalonians, Paul speaks of the afflictions that the believers were experiencing. The word translated ‘affliction,’ means to press together. It would speak of someone who is experiencing trials that are squeezing in upon them,  making them feel as though they will be crushed. Similar words to affliction are: distress, oppression, or even tribulation. Paul tells the Thessalonians two things about the trials they are facing.

First, the word is in the plural form, meaning these afflictions come in many shapes and sizes, and are incidents we will experience throughout our Christian walk. Second, Paul reminds us, we have been appointed to theses afflictions. God, in His sovereignty and will, His unlimited love for us, and power toward us, not only allows difficulties, but appoints us to some of them. While it is wrong to blame every trial on God (some things are the consequences of our own sin, or the result of living in a fallen world that fights against God), there are difficulties into which God directs us. Why? Why would a loving, heavenly Father allow us to go through times of difficulty? The answer is manifold, but carries at least two primary thoughts.

First, we are appointed to afflictions so we will grow in Christ. The Thessalonians were known for their faith, love and commitment to the Lord. Their maturity had much to do with the difficulties through which Jesus led them. Second, their growth, through afflictions, worked to lead others to Christ. So often, it is seeing how a believer handles his trial, that leads others to trust in Christ.

Be careful you do not accept prosperity teaching at the expense of the Bible’s teaching on Christian growth and maturity. Paul said his desire was “to know Christ in the fellowship of His suffering”(Philippians 3:10).

Pastor Jim

 

Storms

Isaiah 25:4
“For You have been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shade from the heat; for the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall.”

Many places in the world are subject to devastating storms. Within the U.S., the northern states face blizzards, while the south is subject to hurricanes and the Midwest has its tornados. In order to be safe, when one of these natural disasters strike, certain preparations must be done ahead of time. One of the most important, is to have a structure that can withstand the severe cold or intense winds that come with these storms. Proper preparations go all the way back to when the house was built.

A few years ago I watched as some friends built a new home. They used concrete block instead of wood, windows designed to withstand 150 mph winds, the roof was attached with hurricane straps, and in the center of the house, they built a safe room with concrete  walls and a steel door. It was not long before a storm hit and most of the residents in our town evacuated. This family not only stayed, but actually opened their home up to some folks who had no where to go. After the storm, many homes were severely damaged, but their’s remained intact, having withstood all the storm brought upon it.

I think there is a vital spiritual lesson for us here. It is one that Isaiah understood. He wrote,

“For You have been… A refuge from the storm… For the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall.”

Isaiah understood that in this life, terrible storms will come. He also understood that if we are going to withstand them, we need a refuge strong enough to handle whatever terrible blast may come. Certainly, the Lord is a refuge that will hold up to any blast life can bring. However, it is important to remember that the time to prepare for the storm is not when it is upon us, but years in advance. If we want to benefit from the refuge the Lord offers, the best thing to do is to build our lives upon Him during the seasons of rest. He will be there for us in the times of greatest difficulty, but we will benefit the most if we draw near to Him now.

Don’t wait until you are being hit by disaster to cry out to God. Begin today to build your life on the solid Rock of Christ, by turning to Him and getting to know His Word.

Pastor Jim

 

Don’t Go Back 

Isaiah 23:17
“And it shall be, at the end of seventy years, that the Lord will deal with Tyre. She will return to her hire, and commit fornication with all the kingdoms of the world on the face of the earth.”

Tyre was an ancient coastal city situated on the Mediterranean, just north of Israel. Like all people, they were answerable to God for their actions, and would soon face the consequences of ignoring Him, and living by their own standards. Isaiah describes a time coming, when the Chaldeans, also known as Babylonians, would attack and drive them into the sea.

About one hundred years after Isaiah’s prophecy, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, led his troops against Tyre, driving the people to flee to an island just off the coast, where they rebuilt the city. Since Nebuchadnezzar did not have a navy, Tyre, though defeated, was saved. Rather than turning to God, they went right back to their own ways, which finally led to their destruction.

Unfortunately, this is a very common story. I often meet people going through great difficulty, who begin to cry out to God. They realize they have been living wrong, make some immediate changes, and plead for God’s assistance. Sadly, when things settle down, they go right back to their former conduct. It is only a matter of time before things begin to unravel again.

It is important to remember that tragedy will not change your life. Losing your job, wife, or family, may grab your attention and turn your eyes upward, but your life will only change when you surrender to Christ, and begin to make daily decisions to live pleasing to Him. If you have wandered from God. and are facing hardship as a result, use that as a driving force to get your eyes back on Jesus. Start making decisions to grow in Christ. The first step is to surrender all, the next steps involve getting into a healthy church and establishing daily time with Christ in His word.

Pastor Jim

 

What Happened To Me? 

Philippians 1:12-14
But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”


As Paul is writing this letter to the church in Philippi, he is chained to a soldier and sitting in a Roman prison. He was incarcerated, not for making foolish decisions, choosing the wrong path, or getting in with the wrong crowd. His imprisonment was due to a rising hostility in the Roman world towards the message of the cross. We might say, Paul was facing difficulties outside of his control. Life is like that. Even when we decide to live pleasing to the Lord, we still face hardship, difficulty and opposition. It interests me what Paul has to say about the results of his hardship.

“The things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, . . .

In the midst of the storm he was facing, Paul realized that while it was creating hardship for him, it was also creating opportunity for others to come to Christ, or grow in Christ. He wrote of how the palace guard had come to know that his chains were in Christ. Rather than whining in prison about how unfair life was, Paul used his circumstances as a chance to tell others about the forgiveness of sins found in Jesus. While it is always easier to speak of Jesus when we are experiencing the blessings of life, the message has an added impact when it is shared through the backdrop of suffering. What a thrilling experience it must have been for those guards, to meet a man who was in prison and was actually innocent. Instead of hearing him complain, and play the blame game, they listened intently as he shared about the love of Christ, and the way of salvation. In Chapter 4, he mentions that the gospel message even reached into Caesar’s household, and many were won to Christ.

“. . .most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”

In addition to the spreading of the Gospel, Paul’s attitude during difficulty, also had a great affect on believers. Those who were once timid and reserved, regarding their faith, found a new sense of boldness to share. A revival broke out in Philippi as one man mustered the courage to share with another about the unsearchable riches of Christ. The most effective evangelism is not through giant rallies, but through one person sharing the love of Christ with another. Evangelism has its greatest rewards when you and I will speak the Word, without fear, to our neighbors, friends, family and co-workers. As we muster the courage to invite them to church, or strike up a conversation with them about the Cross, we demonstrate our genuine interest in them.

Paul saw his circumstances as a backdrop, in which the message of the Cross would have an even greater impact upon those around him. How about you? What is your attitude in the midst of the things you are currently facing? Do you see them as the chains of Christ and use them as an opportunity to share the Gospel with others? There is a world in need of hearing the message of Christ, and we are His mouthpiece. Pray that Jesus would open new doors for you to share His love with others. Who knows what kind of revival might break out, as other believers are stirred to boldness, as a result of your step of faith.

Pastor Jim

 

Qualified

2 Corinthians 11:23
Are they ministers of Christ? —I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often.”

Part of the reason for writing this letter, was Paul’s authority as an apostle was being challenged. When he came to Corinth, Paul chose not to receive a salary from the Corinthian church, instead he worked with his hands, and received support from the churches in Macedonia. He also chose not to use his great intellect or skills as an orator to persuade the people, but resolved to emphasize the simplicity of Christ, and relied upon the work of the Holy Spirit. As a result, after his departure, many ridiculed him and his teaching, calling his authority into question. Rather than responding to the criticism by referring to the seminary degree, the books he had written, or churches he started, Paul reminds them of the difficulties he faced in order to bring the Gospel to a lost world. This passage was admittedly difficult for the Apostle to write. He was not one who derived pleasure from boasting of his own accomplishments. As difficult as it may have been, I am glad he wrote it. For it reveals the hardships he was willing to endure for others to come to Christ.

“. . . In labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often.”

Notice the short list of Paul’s experiences: labors, stripes, prisons and death. In addition, he speaks in great length of perils and shipwrecks. To sum up, Paul was willing to endure great opposition in order to see others come to saving faith in Christ. Not every time Paul shared Christ was he met with beating, prison or threats of death. Albeit, even during those times, he was willing to invest the Gospel in the ears of others. He speaks of the difficulty of travel. The Jewish people were not known for being seafaring. In fact, it could be said of many, that they hated ocean travel. Paul was willing to set aside his fear of travel to bring Christ to others. He traveled to difficult places. He speaks of “peril”. This peril was due to the fact that not every road he took, or destination at which he arrived, was safe. Yet, he pressed on to bring Christ to a dying world.

Whether he faced threats, beatings or prison, Paul was willing to open His mouth to invite others to Christ. What are you willing to endure to see others come to Christ? Rather than living in the realm of theory, take a few moments to look back over the last few months and ask “What have I endured to invite others to Christ?” Perhaps today is the day to step out and take some risks for the Kingdom.

Pastor Jim

 

Where Are You? 

Job 23:8-9
“Look, I go forward, but He is not there, and backward, but I cannot perceive Him; when He works on the left hand, I cannot behold Him; when He turns to the right hand, I cannot see Him.”

I am sure each of us has felt this way at one time or another. We might be going through a particularly difficult season of life, and it seems God is hiding in the shadows. We may look in all the obvious places and not seem to be able to find His purposes in what we are facing. I think it is valuable to notice that righteous Job, not only experienced this same dilemma, but gives us the steps he took along the way. There are four important steps he took when it seemed God was hiding.

Job 23:10 “But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.”

First, Job realized part of what he was experiencing was designed to test him. Tests, or trials, as they are often called, are designed by God with a purpose. While it is not always easy to uncover what God is desiring to show us, it is important to recognize what we are going through is not random; God has a plan. Trials might be defined as difficulties we are facing over which we have no control. When the economy crashes, our place of employment goes bankrupt, a storm knocks a tree onto our roof, or any number of other things; these events are beyond our control. Trials are different than consequences. If we disobey God and suffer something as a result, that is not a trial, and the proper response is to turn back to God and walk with Him. If we are, in fact, in the midst of a trial, we must remember God has a purpose in it.

Job 23:11 “My foot has held fast to His steps; I have kept His way and not turned aside.”

Second, Job determined, in the midst of his trial, he would not turn from the Lord. In the Parable of the Soils, Jesus explained that many turn from Him because of the difficulties of life (Matthew 13:5-7). Like the sun scorching a small plant, the difficulties of life become an excuse for many to turn from the Lord. Too often, the first thing we do when times get tough is to blame God. We question His love and His right to allow us to go through anything difficult. The seeds of this way of thinking will often sprout into disobedience. Job determined, in his difficulty, he would not turn from the Lord.

Job 23:12 “I have not departed from the commandment of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.”

Third, and perhaps most important of all, Job realized the only way to endure was by clinging to the precious promises found in the pages of God’s Word. It is all too common, in the midst of difficulty, to neglect the promises that have been designed to keep us going. In the midst of difficulty, we need to cling to the promises of God and see Him carry us through. Whatever the trial might be, we should go to the promises as often as we go to the fridge.

Job 23:13 “But He is unique, and who can make Him change? And whatever His soul desires, that He does.”

Finally, Job understood the ways of God were much bigger than he could ever understand. This should not be an excuse to neglect getting to know Him through His Word, but should serve as a guide in times of trouble. Since we are finite, and cannot see around the corner, we often fail to realize that much of what we face has been designed with the long term in mind. God is in the business of ministering to us, and reaching the next generation for the kingdom. I think we spend too much time blaming God for the difficulties we are facing, instead of looking to Him for comfort and direction.

Pastor Jim