Sports 

Proverbs 10:23
“To do evil is like sport to a fool, bur a man of understanding has wisdom.”

While Jesus hung on the cross paying for the sins of humanity, paving the way for man to have fellowship with God, and giving entrance to heaven, we are told a group of soldiers were gambling for His clothing. The most important event in the history of humanity is unfolding, and these men are playing games at the foot of the cross. Sadly, their behavior is all too common among people today. Many, instead of taking seriously their need for Christ, are playing around with sin and treating it like sport. Even among believers this behavior is all too familiar. There are many Christians who seem to live for the adrenaline rush they receive, by getting as close to sin as possible, while not falling completely into it. That, my friend, is a dangerous game. Solomon wrote,

Proverbs 6:27-28
“Can a man take fire to his bosom,
And his clothes not be burned?
Can one walk on hot coals, And his feet not be seared?” 

Toying around with, and living on the edge of sin, is a very dangerous game. It will not be long before you find you have taken one step too many and fallen hard. For many, once that line is crossed, it is very difficult to be restored. Sin gets its teeth in us, and like a pit bull, is unwilling to let go. The secret to success, is to stay away from the fences. Don’t live as close to sinning as you can, but as far away as possible.

I had a good friend who had a substance abuse problem. He was doing his best to walk with the Lord, and stay away from former habits. He knew, he not only had to make investments in his walk with the Lord, but he also had to avoid his old stomping grounds. He even had to choose new routes home from work, because the way he traveled in the past took him right through the neighborhood where he would purchase drugs. After months of doing well, staying clean, and growing in Christ, he thought he was strong enough to handle it, and decided to take a short cut home. His path took him right by his dealers place. Before he knew it, he had parked the car, entered the home, purchased drugs, and fell hard. It was over a week later when I heard from him. He had been on a binge and had finally come down. Broken, hurting, filled with self-loathing, and fearing what was ahead, he told me the details of his story.

His story is not an isolated case. If we are honest, we all have stories of toying with sin and falling. Our landing may not have been as hard as his, but sin has had a devastating effect upon us, and those to whom we are seeking to be a godly witness. It is folly to think we can gamble with sin and not lose. If you have been treating sin like sport, it is time to retire. Whatever has been leading you to the edge, remove it from your life, and draw as close to Christ as you can. Paul told Timothy to flee youthful lusts (2 Timothy 2:22) and Joseph took this so seriously he ran from Potiphar’s house leaving his clothes behind (Genesis 39:12).

Pastor Jim

 

Armed And Dangerous

Jeremiah 46:3-4
“Order the buckler and shield,
And draw near to battle!
Harness the horses,
And mount up, you horsemen!
Stand forth with your helmets,
Polish the spears,
Put on the armor!”

As the forces of Egypt prepared to go to battle with Babylon, Jeremiah describes the battle scene. He paints a picture of soldiers with weapons in hand and clad with armor. His battle scene has been repeated countless times over in human history, as one force prepares to defend itself against another. I cannot help but notice a few similarities to the battle we face as believers.

First, it is critical that we choose the right side. All the flashy armor, swords, spears, bows and impressive speeches, were no match for the forces of Babylon. Those who chose to side with Egypt, chose poorly and lost dearly. In the same way, it is important that we choose to side with Christ as we enter into the warfare of life. Too many are fighting vainly in life trying to get ahead, while neglecting to realize that the first step to real life is found in complete surrender to Jesus.

Second, we need to see that certain apparel is required for battle. While the people may have been more comfortable, and looked better in pictures, had they dressed in their finest suits, armor is required in battle. If we want to succeed in following Christ, we too must put on the armor of God. Paul described this as, a helmet of salvation , a breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth and the shoes of the gospel. The basic idea is that, we receive Christ, seek to live pleasing to Him, and be guided by His word.

Finally, in addition to armor, we are in need of weapons. A spoon might be the appropriate tool for the kitchen, but it has little value in hand-to-hand combat. The soldier needed a shield and a sword. The shield would protect him from whatever the enemy threw at him, and the sword was the offensive weapon, by which he would put down his enemy. Paul explained that our shield is faith or confident assurance in the promises of God. When we are attacked, we need to cling to the promises of God, and let His word, like water, wash away the fear, guilt and discouragement that keeps us from pressing on. At the same time, we need to cast down the enemy with the word of God. Paul said there would be times when thoughts would enter our minds that would not come from God, but would exalt themselves above His Word. We need to cut those thoughts down, as a soldier would his enemy. We need to be a people who are governed and guided by the Word of God.

Pastor Jim

 

Competition 

Jeremiah 39:18
“’For I will surely deliver you, and you shall not fall by the sword; but your life shall be as a prize to you, because you have put your trust in Me,’ says the Lord.”

This promise was first given to a man from North Africa named Ebed-Melech. He was told that his life was like a prize, because he had put his trust in the Lord. It is quite common in Scripture for our lives to be compared to a competition. The New Testament compares the Christian life to a walk, a run, a race, a fight and even a battle. Jeremiah reminds us of one key ingredient of our training, if we want to win; Ebed-Melech, the Ethiopian, trusted in the Lord.

Trusting the Lord suggests he did not buy into the popular teachings of the day. While the Word of God warned against sin, idolatry, and worldliness, the culture declared these things to be acceptable in the eyes of a loving God. While prosperity teaching filled the pulpits throughout Judah, the Word of God spoke of judgment coming upon His people, for abandoning the ways of God. Ebed-Melech chose to put his confidence in the Lord, rather than trusting in the popular teachings of his day.

While our lives are a competition, it is important to remember we do not compete against one another. I am not seeking to beat you to the finish line, storing up more eternal reward than you. We are competing together, and we must encourage one another. Just as Jeremiah shared the promises of God with Ebed-Melech, we should encourage each other with the written Word. As you pray for your friends and family, consider the Word of God; perhaps He would have you share a promise with them that would help them run in such a way as to win.

Pastor Jim

 

Finish Line 

2 Timothy 4:6-8
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

Paul has come to the end of his road. While prison was an all too common experience for the apostle, he had been delivered from it, and other perils, time and time again. Somehow, he knew this time would be different, and his deliverance would be through death. Not long after this letter was written, Paul was martyred for his faith in Christ. As his journey concludes, Paul examines his life, looking at his past, present and future.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Looking back over his years as a believer, Paul sums his life up by comparing it to a race. The simple statement that he has reached the finish line, reminds us of the training, self-discipline, and obstacles he faced along the way. Finishing well starts when we decide to live for Christ. Many sit back, thinking about how they should get more serious about their relationship with Jesus, but as days become weeks and weeks years, they have done nothing about it. If we want to end this life as Paul did, we must decide, today, that we will live for eternity, laying down whatever is keeping us from moving ahead. Paul used another word to describe his life, he called it a fight. While fights may be something we enjoy watching, they are not something enjoyable to do. Sometimes, the only way to get in the race, is to stand firm, and fight against the desires of the flesh that keep us bound.

“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, . . .”

Paul did not see his present situation as a victory for the enemy, but as an opportunity to minister to others. In Old Testament times, the drink offering was to accompany the sacrifices that were burned on the altar. It would add to the beautiful aroma of the sacrifice. Earlier, Paul used the phrase, “if I am being poured out as an offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith” (Philippians 2:17). Paul saw his current struggles as a means to minister to others. Suffering is never pleasant, but God wants to use it in our lives as a witness to others. It is often through the difficult experiences, that we find inroads into reaching others with the Gospel.

“Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

One of the most comforting truths that kept the Apostle moving forward, was knowing death was not the end. He knew a final breath in this body, meant the first step into eternity. As a result, Paul lived to bring glory to God. This led to the expectation that upon entering glory, Paul would be rewarded with the crown of righteousness. This crown is not Paul’s alone, but for all who live committed to Christ, and anticipate seeing Him face to face; they will one day receive the crown of righteousness.

Let’s live today in expectation of His soon return.

Pastor Jim

 

The Whole World

Isaiah 19:24-25
“In that day Israel will be one of three with Egypt and Assyria—a blessing in the midst of the land, whom the Lord of hosts shall bless, saying, ‘Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance.'”

Isaiah takes us beyond his day to the future reign of Christ. In doing so, he promises a time when Egyptians, Israelites and Assyrians will follow the Lord and live in peace with one another. This might be referred to as the ultimate purpose of God, since He desires all men everywhere to be saved. If we look carefully at the church, and the commission we have received from Christ, we realize He wants ALL men EVERYWHERE to come to him for the free gift of eternal life. God designed the church to be assembled from people from every walk of life, and all people groups, who recognize Christ as Savior and follow Him as Lord.

If that is the desire of God, it should become the practice of the believer. Instead of viewing the world as our enemy, we should see it as the mission field. People behave the way they do because they do not know Christ. The solution is for them to come to Him, and have their lives transformed. That is where you come in. Make a list of a few people you know personally who have not yet come to Christ. Take that list and begin to pray for them daily. Pray specifically for them to be open to listening to the Gospel, and for an opportunity for them to hear it. Pray for a way you might be able to invite them to church, or to sit down and share your testimony with them.

Too often, the behavior of the unbeliever makes us want to avoid them, rather than win them.

Pastor Jim

 

Courage 

2 Samuel 10:12
“Be of good courage, and let us be strong for our people and for the cities of our God. And may the Lord do what is good in His sight.

It is easy to become weary in the service of the Lord. This is especially true when it seems we have failed. David sent a group of men as ambassadors of Israel to King Hanun of Ammon. He desired to show kindness to the king after the loss of his father, Nahash. What seemed to be a relatively easy mission, turned out to be an embarrassing failure. Instead of being met with kindness, these men were treated with contempt. King Hanun’s men shaved off half their beards, and cut their robes so that their buttocks hung out, then sent them home in shame. Ammon’s actions were such as to incite war and Joab led the charge. As the battle was about to begin, Joab encouraged the men, by reminding them what they were fighting for.

“Let us be strong for our people and for the cities of our God.”

When things become difficult in our walk with the Lord, it is important to remember why we are in the battle. Although our battle is not against flesh and blood, it is no less of a battle. We are fighting for the furtherance of God’s kingdom, and for the sake of our family. Each time we resist temptation, or speak out on behalf of the Gospel, we are doing it for the Kingdom and for our family. Each time we overcome the works of the flesh, we are one step closer to having a positive impact upon others.

If you are weary of resisting the flesh, remember you are not fighting for yourself alone. Do it for your spouse, your children, your church, and His kingdom.

Pastor Jim


Game Day

Deuteronomy 9:1
“Hear, O Israel: You are to cross over the Jordan today, and go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than yourself, cities great and fortified up to heaven”

Imagine being on a team that has lost most of its games. Time after time, no matter who your opponent was, you figured out a way to lose. Now, imagine your team is about to face the best team in the league. How confident do you think you would be as the coach begins his pep talk in the locker room?

Israel’s 40 year journey through the wilderness has been marked with loss after devastating loss. From the very beginning they lived with fear, failure and defeat. They complained at the lack of resources, lusted for the fantasy life of Egypt, committed heinous sins with the golden calf and the women of Moab, lived in unbelief, refusing to enter the land of Promise, then watched as a generation died in the wilderness. Now, after what might be viewed as “pre-season games,” they are on the verge of entering the land where they will face “nations greater and mightier than yourself, cities great and fortified up to heaven.”

Based on their past, their future looks bleak. Moses exhorts them not to look at themselves and their failure, but at the Lord, and the work He desires to accomplish in and through them. He declares,

Deuteronomy 9:5
“It is not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you go in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord your God drives them out from before you, and that He may fulfill the word which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

The righteousness of Israel was not the driving force behind their victories. Instead, they were to be ever mindful of the faithfulness of God. Much of what we struggle with is too great for our personal weakness. Praise the Lord, He will fight for us. He will drive out what is too great and mighty for us to defeat in our own strength.

Take time today to cling to the promises of God and walk with the confidence that it is He who will bring you to victory.

Pastor Jim

 

The Champion

Genesis 32:28
“And He said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.’”

2015/01/img_1338.jpgThe Bible is filled with fascinating stories and amazing promises. I think it is safe to say, the most amazing events ever recorded are written in the pages of our Bibles. Of all these stories, this one records perhaps the most striking statement of them all,

” . . . you have struggled with God and prevailed.”

The same truth is recorded later

Hosea 12:4
“Yes, he struggled with the Angel and prevailed. . .”

It does not surprise me to read that Jacob fought with God; that is an all too common occurrence. All of us have had times when God has instructed us to do something and we have resisted Him, to our hurt. I have found, when I fight against God, not only will I lose, but sometimes, I will bear scars from the battle. How is it that Jacob fought with God and came out victorious?

I think the answer is quite simple. Victory was achieved, not by the fight, but with the surrender. It was when Jacob stopped fighting and gave in to God, that he became the champion and received the spoils. We will never win a battle against the will of God, or the ways of God, but we can come out victorious if we are willing to surrender to God. Years later, when the book of Hebrews was written, the writer refers to the heroic faith of Jacob, who leaned upon his staff. The reference is to the victory won when his knees bowed in submission to the the Lord.

Whatever stage of life you may find yourself, it is high time for a victory. The losing streak needs to come to an end. Why not give in to the ways of God, and begin to experience the blessings of a champion, rather than the agony of defeat.

Pastor Jim