After Naomi describes how she was feeling, verse 22 finishes out chapter 1 by saying,

[22] So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest. 

It just so happened that when they arrived back in town, it was the beginning of the harvest – which is a good time to return if you were looking for food. Also I found it interesting that the commentaries place this event happening in our month of May.

Then in chapter 2, we, the reader, get some important information in verse 1:

“Now Naomi had a relative of her husband’s a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz.

But Ruth did not know who Boaz was, so then when we read what happens next, we have to remember that this was not strategic planning. Some might call it a “coincidence.” Look at verses 2-3:

Ruth 2 [2] And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.”

Now let me quickly explain something. It was part of their custom (kind of their welfare system) that the poor could go to the outskirts of a field during harvest time and walk behind the workers to pick up or glean whatever was dropped or left over for themselves and their families. She was doing what she could. God’s providence was beginning to unfold, but remember that it was coming through her hard work, not her laziness!

[3] So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech.

I love that – “and she [just] happened to come to Boaz’s field. How many of you know that these kinds of things do not just “happen.”

It had to have been an emotional time for Naomi and a fearful time for Ruth. She was far away from home, in a foreign town, in an enemy culture, and knew no one except her mother-in-law. But she did not let her fear hold her back. She did what she needed to do – she went out to the field to get some food.

I do not know how many times in my life I have stayed up late just wondering, “God – why am I here? What am I doing? What are YOU doing?” Because as hard as it is to understand our past, sometimes our present can be just as hard or harder to understand. It can be fearful and even paralyzing to to begin to try to make sense of all the things that just “happened” to put us today where we are in life.

But Ruth found a way (even in the middle of her tears, doubts, fears, and everything she did not know about where she was) to just work and do what she could.

Remember the Children of Israel? After God delivered them out of slavery in Egypt and they were walking toward a land promised to them that they could not see without any kind of map or sense of direction. So God provided for them a cloud by day and a fire by night so they could see which way to go.

And you know what? I have found in my own life that you can find so much happiness in that moment if you just trust God. As a matter of fact, there have been several key junctures in my life when I just did not know what to do that God reminded me with passages like

Matthew 6 [25] “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? [26] Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? [That was a rhetorical question – yes you are!]

So what should we do then? Jesus goes on to tell us to just

Matthew 6 [33] But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

It is SO freeing to know that God values us, loves us, and has promised to take care of us if we just put our lives into his hands and do what he has told us to do. That is because Happiness is Trusting God not just with your past, but with your present, too.

Happiness is Trusting God with your present.

If we look at our life through the lens of trust in God, then all those things that have “just happened” stop looking like chance and coincidences and start looking like God’s providential working.

Think about our church. there are SO many things that “just happened” for us to even become a church – culminating with it just happened that you decided to come to a church service today. But let me just go ahead and let you know – these things are not coincidences… that is just what God does and, friend, we can trust God with our present and just commit ourselves to obedience. In that, I promise – we are going to find true happiness. Trust will change your whole countenance.

David said in

Psalm 126 [5-6] “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy! He that goes forth weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.”

I love what Chris Hodges (a pastor of a church in Birmingham, AL and author of a book I’m reading right now called Fresh Air) said:

“We can be sure that when something is happening to us, God is doing something in us – something that will shape as for eternity”

How do we get through the troubles of the present with happiness and joy? Well it is really by looking beyond our present with Trust in God. Which leads us to our last point – because unless we are finding happiness through trusting God with our future, our present will not really make much sense.

– – –

Well let’s finish today’s passage:

Ruth 2 [4] And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, “The LORD be with you!” And they answered, “The LORD bless you.” [5] Then Boaz said to his young man who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” [because at this point he did not know]

And after it was explained to him who she was…

[8] Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. [9] Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.” 

What started off as such a fearful step forward into just doing what she could, began to play out as God taking care of her. Then notice Ruth’s response:

[10] Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” [11] But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. [12] The LORD repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” [13] Then she said, “I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, though I am not one of your servants.”

Ruth did not know it yet, but Boaz’s promise of God repaying her and giving her a “full reward” was about to come true. But at this point, she was just finding the happiness that comes through God with what was going to happen. That is because

Happiness is Trusting God with our future. 

Boaz was a “worthy” man which meant that he was a man of integrity, character, wealth, position, etc. Later in this story, we will find out that Boaz becomes Ruth’s “kinsmen redeemer” and provides for her a whole new life. And looking back now, 3,000 years later, Scholars tell us that Boaz is a type of Jesus Christ himself who stepped in and gave this “foreigner” Ruth comfort, favor, a hope, and a future. Thankfully, Ruth was trusting God with her future, and was later able to receive all those things.

So many people are bound up in fear of what might happen that they never experience any kind of joy in their life. But if you are a follower of Christ today, no matter what happens in the future, we can be joyful knowing He who holds the future in our hands has a wonderful plan for us. And let me go ahead and say no matter what these next 5, 10, 20, 100 years look like for us – our true joy is found in our true future which is in Heaven one day. Now that is hope. That this life is not it.

May we be inspired by what the Apostle Paul said in…

2 Corinthians 4 [16-18] Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is enteral. 

In commentary, Chris Hodges, wrote: “Paul never lost heart and neither should we. Why? Because what we see and experience around us is not all there is.

And just like Jesus, Hebrews 12 tells us, we can

[1] …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, [2] 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.

Church – we can live today in joy, by trusting God with what has already happened in our past that he is going to use it for his glory and for our good. We can live in joy today by trusting that what God is doing right now in our present has a purpose and it is part of his plan. And we can live in joy today by trusting that what God has in store for us in our future is going to be SO much better than anything we could ever come up with on our own. Because as Paul reminds us in

Ephesians 3 [20] [God] is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, [21] to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

What has life dealt you? How have you responded? Maybe you need to stop worrying about trying to control what you really cannot control and just work on how you are responding to it. Some of you need to discover the true joy and happiness that comes through trusting God with your past (no matter what happened), your present (wherever you are) and your future (whatever happens).


(This is the second half of a message preached by Robert Hampshire on May 21 at Village Church in Churchville, VA.) 

Happiness is… Trusting God

 

We have a saying in our culture that “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” That means that the item thrown away by one person does have value, but they did not SEE the value of it. It took a different lens, a different set of eyes, a different outlook in order to see it for the treasure that it was.

It is the same way with happiness. I have discovered that the problem with so many people (especially Christians) is NOT that they are looking for happiness in the wrong places, it is that HOW they are looking for happiness is wrong.

See nothing actually gives you happiness or causes you to be happy. It is your response. In the same way no one can really “make” you angry or sad or bored. I tell my kids that all the time: nothing IS boring – boredom is our response to something that we do not care about because we do not see the value in it.

Jesus told a story (or a Parable) in Matthew 33 about a man who found an invaluable treasure worth more than anything he had in a mundane field – a field that looked just like countless other fields that he had passed by countless times.

My desire for us (and me) in this series (called the Pursuit of Happy-ness) is that we will discover that hidden gem of joy in the normal, mundane, common fields of our life in which we live. Here is our prayer for this series. It is what the Apostle Paul prayed for the Roman believers in…

Romans 15 (ESV) [13] May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

In our last message, we laid the groundwork for this series and text. We ended with Naomi and Ruth heading back to Judah (Naomi’s hometown) together. Today, we will consider Ruth 1:19-22 through 2:1-13 to understand another aspect of happiness or joy and talk about how we can have it in our life – and it comes through TRUST.

What is “trust?” It means: “assured reliance on the character, ability, or strength of someone.”

To trust God means to have an assured, a certain reliance on his character (who he is), his ability (what he does), and his strength (how he does what he does). Because of who God is, what he can do, and how he does what he does – I want to present to us today that we CAN find true happiness – because Happiness is Trusting God – in and throughout our past, present, and future.

Let’s look together at this passage and see what God has for us today.

Notice with me in verse 19, that

“the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem” 

Remember that when Naomi was leaving to go back to Judah, Ruth and Orpah started on the journey with her, but Orpah eventually turned back. She loved Naomi – but not enough to stay with her. Ruth, on the other hand, continued and finished the journey – letting us know that she meant what she said. This is huge – we’ll come back to this at the end. But for now – It is important to see how they trusted God togetherThen the

“whole town was stirred because of them”. 

I’m sure they were thinking, “what happened to Naomi?” We can only imagine the toll that those 10+ years away must have played on her and how much she changed in the far country. Her husband died, her two sons died, her one daughter in law had left, and she just came off a tiring journey. And to top it off for all those years, she was far away from Godly influences and encouragement.

Life had dealt her a bad hand. This gives us a little sympathy for when she began to throw a pity party for herself in verses 20-21, saying

“don’t call me Naomi (meaning pleasant), but call me (with her hand on her forehead in desperation) Mara (meaning bitter)… for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me… I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty… the Almighty has brought calamity upon me.”

Life had crashed down her and Naomi was having a difficult time seeing how her past was going to lead into any kind of happiness.

But why? I think it is because of her view of herself and her view of God.

Naomi’s whole life was overshadowed by the difficulties of her past. But as we read this story, we get to see her past laid out in the context of and on the timeline of the rest of her life, don’t we? We can get to see how God was about to use her past for something incredible – something that if Naomi was able to recognize, would have brought her great joy and happiness. Because

Happiness is Trusting God with your past.

Listen: while it is okay to vent to God and air your frustrations with others that love you (God can take it and that is what community is for), but we need to understand that everyone of us have experienced such things as injury, loss, death, sickness, addiction, failure, misunderstanding, attack, not being loved, loneliness, depression, etc.

We all know what it is like (some of us much more than others) to look back at our past and think (like Naomi), that we are unusable or unlovable, that God doesn’t like us, or even that God did this to us. But that is the wrong view of yourself and the wrong view of God.

If you were unusable, you would not be on this earth. If you were unlovable, Jesus wouldn’t have died for you. If there was no hope, God would not have arranged and orchestrated your life to bring you here today.

And we could argue about God’s “will” and what he caused to happen or just allowed to happen all day, but in the end, it really doesn’t matter because no matter what has happened in your past and no matter how bad you might feel like life has kicked the crap out of you, God (and only God) is able to work it all into a plan that is not only for his glory but also for your good.

For Naomi, God was about to use the famine that led to their displacement out of their hometown, her husband Elimelech’s death, her two son’s deaths, her son’s wrongful marrying of a pagan, Moabite woman, and everything else that happened as moves on a chess board to eventually bring about the birth of not just the greatest earthly king Israel ever had but also a few generations later the birth of the King of Kings in flesh – Jesus Christ – who would provide salvation for the whole world. Can you imagine how that would have changed her perspective on what she went through if she had known that?

How can we look back on all that we have been through and still be happy and discover joy? It comes through trusting God with your past.

It is by trusting that there is a reason why it happened and a plan for what God is going to do with it and clinging to promises like Romans 8:28 that for those who love God and are called according to his purpose, God is going to work all things (the good, the bad, and the ugly – what happened to us and what we did) for his glory and for our good – even our happiness.

Look what the Apostle Paul said happened to him:

2 Corinthians 11 [23] …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. [24] Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. [25] 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; [26] 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; [27] in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. [28] And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. [29] Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? [30] If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 

Then he gets to his main point and says that all of this (and more) was to teach him a powerful lesson:

2 Corinthians 12 [10] For the sake of Christ, then, I am content [literally “I am pleased,”] with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

And why did that matter to Paul? Because he goes on to say in…

2 Corinthians 12 [9] But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

…(continued in a later post)

————————

 

This was part of a message preached by Robert Hampshire on May 21 at Village Church in Churchville, VA.

Happiness is NOT ABOUT ME

As children, we all heard the song, “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands…”

As I got older in life (and more critical), I began to think: “how odd is that song?” We throw around the word, “happy,” as if we are saying “If you are breathing and you know it…” It doesn’t matter whether you were happy or not, you better clap your hands, stomp your feet, and say “hoo-ray!” or whatever else.

While all of us have an innate desire to be happy and fulfilled and blessed, if we were honest, many of us would NOT say that we were happy. Some people have even written the idea off – assuming that their lot in life is to never really find happiness. I mean they used to, but not anymore.

Even though we sing songs about it from before we could even sing and we read in our country’s founding documents that we have the “right” to pursue happiness, we cannot seem to find it.

And then we run across statements in Scripture like:

Proverbs 17 (ESV) [22] “A joyful heart is good medicine…” 

Or commands like:

Psalm 37 (ESV) [3-4] “…take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart”
Philippians 4 (ESV) [4] Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
Joel 2 (NCV) [21] “Be happy and full of joy, because the Lord has done a wonderful thing.” 

Or we read in Galatians 5 where Paul said that part of the fruit of the Spirit (a result or effect of the Holy Spirit being active in our life) is actually JOY!

But what if that does not match up to our life? What if we feel that much of our lives – and especially our relationships – are NOT happy. Do we just accept that we are not “supposed” to be happy? Do we just leave behind those things that are not contributing to our happiness in search for something that seems like it would? That is certainly what many people do in our culture today.

Or do we open our hearts to consider that living a life of happiness and joy IS possible, that fulfillment in life CAN be found – but that we have been looking for it not necessarily in the wrong place, but in the wrong way – that the lens through which we are looking in search of joy is dirtied and smudged.

Continue reading Happiness is NOT ABOUT ME

The Next Big Thing?

Matthew 6 (ESV) [33] But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 
– – –
Many people in our culture today seem to be plagued with an insatiable appetite for the “next big thing.” We are looking forward to the newest car, the newest gadget or equipment, a newer relationship, a better job, a better house, and a bigger or more extreme experience than last time. It seems like as soon as a new smartphone comes out, the lines are already forming for the next one. I believe it was Samsung that even began to use the phrase “the next big thing is here.”
While there seems to be a resurgence today among “millennials” to go vintage and minimalistic, most of us are all too familiar with the idea of the “next big thing.”
Just think: at the turn of the century (just 17 years ago), there were no smartphones, no Facebook, no online storage, no YouTube, no iPads, no 1080p TVs, and the list goes on and on. Much of the world has drastically changed since then.
Now there ARE some positives to this: our culture is always pushing for innovation, businesses cannot settle, relationships cannot get stale, a group must stay mission-focused, and some people are always trying to improve their life. Those are fine things.
But there is a great negative side to this movement: boredom with the mundane or normal. Although it seems like the culture moves at a neck-breaking speed and we are always playing catch-up, most of us live very normal, mundane lives full of sameness. So because of that contrast, we get stressed and we very easily let go of the things that aren’t moving as fast to grab onto the things that are.
The Church has experienced this contrast, too. Over the last few decades, many churches put a lot of time and energy into getting bigger, better, flashier, and faster-moving. But the majority of them cannot keep up the pace. Eventually, no matter how dynamic the preacher is, he ends up a little boring. No matter how good the music is, people want something a little edgier. And good luck keeping up with technology!
And sadly, what often happens is that the normal relationship isn’t enough for some people, so they move on to find something more “exciting.” For some parents, the “normal” family gets old and they go find another one. The mundane job looses it’s luster and job security or longevity becomes a thing of the past.
Some people get tired of going to that “same ole” church where they hear the same preacher and sing the same kind-of songs and serve in the same ministry. And while it is true that we as a church MUST try to stay culturally relevant in order to reach our culture, there is a widening gap between “seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…” and just seeking the“next big thing.” 
So let me bring home what might seem like little more than a rant:
If we are going to live faithful and consistent lives as husbands and wives, parents and children, leaders and followers, Christians, and (in our setting) church members, we must be diligent to keep ourselves laser-focused on our mission. Along the way, if there are new and better and even bigger things that can help us reach that goal – then great! But if they are going to distract us from it, we have to cast it aside. It is like what the Apostle Paul said in:
Philippians 3 (ESV) 12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
So no matter what the decision is, we always have to come back to the heart. And (just as we started with), our heart should be:
Matthew 6 (ESV) [33] But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 

#FAILINGFORWARD – “The Battle Belongs to the Lord”

 

This message will wrap up our Failing Forward series. In our text, Joshua 9-10, we have seen how God took Joshua’s bad decision to make an alliance with a deceitful enemy, the Gibeonites. The root of his failure, though, was that:

Joshua 9 [14b] “… [they] did not ask counsel from the LORD.” 

Because of that failure, Joshua and the leaders lost some respect from the people of Israel – which is an inevitable price to pay for our failures.

[18] “…Then all the congregation murmured against the leaders.” 

Sometimes that is the worst part, isn’t it? People talking about us, murmuring about is behind our band because we messed up. I hope we will make it a point to give feach other grace when we fail in the same measure that we hope to receive grace from each other. 

The good thing was, Joshua did not keep letting his failures get him down – instead he put them to work for him. Which is a pretty interesting thought – and a good life lesson. Don’t keep letting your past mistakes mess up your present life – figure out a way to use them to push you forward to the future that God wants for you.

But for Joshua, it all came to a head when they found themselves facing not just ONE enemy in battle – but five enemy armies combined. The enemy coalition attacked Israel at their weakest point – they attacked the people of Gibeon, whom Israel had unwisely made an alliance with. They were fighting a battle not on their terms or schedule, but on their enemies’.

Joshua 10 [5] Then the five kings… gathered their forces and went up with all their armies and encamped against Gibeon and made war against it. [6] And the men of Gibeon sent to Joshua at the camp in Gilgal, saying, “Do not relax your hand from your servants. Come up to us quickly and save us and help us, for all the kings of the Amorites who dwell in the hill country are gathered against us.” 

And because they were full of integrity and commitment to their promises, they immediately took off to go help the Gibeonites. [7] So Joshua went up from Gilgal, he and all the people of war with him, and all the mighty men of valor.

As we know from the rest of the story in Joshua 10 – it all ended very well for Israel. God sent down large hailstones on the enemy, caused time to stand still, and he granted an amazing, public victory over the five armies and their kings.

But God says something notable and memorable to Joshua that I want us to look at and focus on today – because I believe there is a message in it for us, too: God told Joshua in

[8] …“Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands. Not a man of them shall stand before you.” 

Did you see that? God said to not fear because “I HAVE GIVEN THEM into your hands.” “I HAVE.” Meaning that in the middle of managing the cosmos, God chose to involve himself in the affairs of man – his people – in not just a distant, passive way (like a crossing guard giving directions) but in a personal, active way (going through it with them) – even (as we find out later in the story) fighting for them.

Why is that? Why would God fight for man? The answer is simple:

The Battle belongs to the Lord. Our battle belongs to the Lord. Your Battle belongs to the Lord!

Throughout Old Testament battles just like the ones here in Joshua, we constantly see phrases like, “and I will give you them into your hand…” God told David in 1 Samuel 17 that “the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give it into your hand.” As a matter of fact, the entire story of the Bible from Creation to Eternity is the story of how God has intervened, is intervening, and will intervene. God says, “I have…” and “I am” and “I will.”

I’d like to give a few short implications of this truth.

1. The Battle belongs to the Lord… and He fights for His people. 

God was fighting FOR Israel because it was ultimately HIS battle. God puts us all the time in the middle of spiritual battles that we cannot win on our own. The proverb, “God will never give you more than you can handle” is NOT Bible truth. As a matter of fact – it is quite the opposite of truth. God ALWAYS gives us more than we can handle – because he wants us to trust in Him as he fights not just with us but for us.

In faith (and after being tired from marching all night), Joshua “came upon them suddenly.” There is no way that was from his own strength. But then the Bible says in vs.

Joshua 10 [10] “And the Lord threw them into a panic… [who there them into a panic?] [11] And as they fled before Israel… the Lord threw down large stones from heaven on them… [who threw down large stones?] There were more who died because of the hailstones than the sons of Israel killed with the sword. [13] [After Joshua prayed for the sun and moon not to move in the sky] …The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day. [who stopped the earth from spinning?] [14] There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded the voice of man, for the Lord fought for Israel. 

God wasn’t just WITH Joshua and His people in the sense that he was down there next to him slinging around a sword or up on a horse yelling down at him to “swing away.” No – God fought FOR His people from much higher above and did more to bring about victory than Israel did themselves. Israel would have never won the battle without God’s intervention – and we will not win our battles either!

Think about this: Jesus himself did not defeat Satan on his own human strength – he relied on the power of the Holy Spirit. As a matter of fact, that was exactly one of the ways that Satan (our enemy) tempted Jesus in the dessert!

Matthew 4 [1] Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. [2] And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. [3] And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” [use your own ability to fix your problem] [4] But he answered, [remember, this is Jesus, the Son of God, the embodiment of HE who could not only turn stones into bread but could turn the vast nothingness of the cosmos into planets, stars, nebulas, and life itself] “It is written, [quoting Deuteronomy] ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

So God puts things into our life to teach us to keep our eyes on him, learn to trust him, and to have faith in what he is doing.

But before we start to think that it was JUST God fighting and Israel watching, make sure we get this second wonderful that…

2. The Battle is the Lord’s… but He chooses to use us in the fight.

If we keep reading in the book of Joshua, we will notice that although Israel was out of the wilderness and was now going through Canaan or the “promised Land,” they had to keep fighting. That is because the promised land was not “heaven”; the promised land was being in the will of God.

At no point time in Scripture are we told to “stay on the sideline and watch God win the fight” or “sit on your pew and watch God build His kingdom” or “sit on your hands and let God do the work.” Listen – if you want God to work in your life, fight with and for you, and bring victories, you’re going to have to show up and fight, too. Wouldn’t it be silly if I signed my son up to play football, but when it was time to play, I said, “Stay right there, Son, I got this.” Now it would be a lot of fun for me (until I tore an ACL trying to live out my football dreams) – but he would get absolutely nothing out of it, would he? No lessons would be learned, no character would be built, no sense of accomplishment would be gain.

I have had conversations with people and asked, “How are you serving God?” And there response is: “Well… I’m just waiting on God to show me what to do next.” Hmm – really? Now don’t get me wrong – waiting on the Lord is an essential part of life. And taking time to rest isn’t just good for us – it is commanded by God himself who modeled it. But that day of rest was 1 day – not 20 years! “Waiting on the Lord” is what we call the season “in-between” where we are gearing up to fight the next battle – it is not a “calling for your life.” If we want God to fight for us, we have to get in the battle, pick up a sword, and fight, too.

I have asked others, “are you reading the Bible?” And their response was “Well… I’m just waiting on God to lead me to a passage. But I have it right here in my heart.” Well Scripture says, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” – and I’m not so that I heard Scripture coming out of your mouth.

And I have asked others: “How is your prayer life?” And they respond: “Well… God knows I love him. He knows what I want to say to him.” C’mon – you can’t have a relationship with someone you never talk to.

Or when I ask others if they are in a small group or have a community of believers in their life that they meet with regularly, a common response is “I just don’t have time” or “I’m too shy.” Even though over and over in Scripture, especially in the New Testament, we are told to not forsake or forget about “assembling” together with other believers, about “bearing each others burdens,” about living as the “body of Christ,” and about giving to, sharing with, and loving on our brothers and sisters in Christ. An absolute certain way to make sure you live a life of continual failure (instead of failing forward) is to live life alone. 

If you want God to work in your life you’re going to have to show up and fight.

However, this is NOT one of those “God helps those who help themselves” statements. That is human-centered statement, but life is God-centered. I am saying, “God helps those who obey him.” Israel lost every battle they fought in their own strength. They won every battle that they fought on God’s side. Who’s side are you fighting on? We’re fighting on the Lord’s Side!

So as you fight your fight against enemy soldiers like lust in your mind, pride in your heart, laziness in your body, gluttony or indulgence in your lifestyle, addiction, lies, and all the other minions of the darkness and evil, know that God is fighting for you!

And then know this:

3. The Battle is the Lord’s… and we will win!

This is great news! Although, as we just said, we will still have to show up and fight, it means that God is responsible for whether we win or lose in the end, and it is His reputation on the line. And spoiler alert: God always wins! 

I love what Scripture says about Jesus when he came to earth that he was “tempted just as we are – yet without sin!” Think about it: every human ever born into this world has failed at perfection – but Jesus didn’t. Everyone (no matter what great things they accomplished or how incredible they were) – death still beat them the grave still held them – except for one: Jesus was victorious over that which has defeated every other human being born on this planet. And that is why now we can trust that IN CHRIST we will win!

Colossians 2 [15] [Jesus] disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. 

Piper: “Death is still our enemy. But it is defanged. The sting is gone.”

1 Corinthians 15 [50] I tell you this, bothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. [51] Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, [52] in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. [53] For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. [54] When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” [56] The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. [57] But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. [58] Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, noting that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

God promised victory to Joshua. Actually – he said it was already their’s! But they didn’t have it yet – how can that be? Because a promising word from God is as certain as receiving the promise. Faith in God is more concrete and constant then scientific evidence. God never lies.

The “coalition” of enemies we face are “the world,” “the flesh,” and “the devil.” The world tries to conform us to its mold. Our flesh betrays us and tries to rule us. The devil lies to us and accuses us and shames us (he did on the way over here – “no one cares,” “no one is listening.” And that is what our accuser does best isn’t it? 

And together -those enemies of ours are simply unbeatable… or at least on our own strength. By ourselves, we will fail. All of us have. Some of us recently. Some of us in big ways. But that was our past life. Or that was last year. That was yesterday. Today, God’s mercies are new again. Today, victory is possible. Not if we “try harder” on our own or muster up enough will power – but if we trust in the saving intervention of God. If we place our absolute faith in. Without God, victory is impossible. With God, victory is assured!

Wherever you are in life, know this: it is NEVER too late while you are still on earth to surrender to God and allow him to use your life to do amazing things! If God could save the thief on the cross in the very last few breaths of his life after wasting it all and include him in the redemptive story – then he can save and use you for his glory today!

God finds such great joy in taking our broken lives and what we have messed up and making something beautiful out of it! He told Jeremiah, “I will rejoice in doing them good.” (Jeremiah 32:40–41)

Will you allow God to help you “Fail Forward” in your life?

 


This message was preached at Village Church, Churchville, VA on March 5, 2017 as Sermon #7 (the last sermon) of our “Failing Forward” sermon series from Joshua 9-10. Visit our website at villagechurchva.com

#FAILINGFORWARD – “Don’t Let…” (part 2)

(read part 1 first here)

Don’t let misunderstanding keep you from winning the battle.

What is victory in a Christian’s life? If we do not know what “the win” is, then we are doomed to spend our whole life fighting for something that does not matter. There has been a lie from the devil floating around for a few decades that as long as you believe in something whole-heartedly and try really, really hard, that in the end God will have sympathy on you and let you into Heaven. But if we really thought logically about that, there is no way we would think that was true. It doesn’t matter how hard you play the game of basketball, but unless you put the ball in your team’s goal, you will never win.

Why are you here? What is your motivation for coming to worship?

I am afraid that some people are just playing the church game and Jesus game hoping that God is checking off boxes as they go and will one day give them a great reward if they do enough good.

I am equally afraid that many other Christians and many churches are aggressively and passionately fighting the wrong fight of moralism instead of trying to take Jesus to the world. Get this – Tim Keller said “heterosexuality never saved anyone.” Think about that. No form of holiness or Biblical morality has never ever came close to saving someone’s soul.

Now don’t get me wrong, if you live your life according to Biblical standards and try to follow the Proverbs and wisdom of the Bible, your life is generally going to be better. You will make less stupid decisions, you might even be happy! But if any of that ever saved anyone, then Jesus’s coming and dying was a cosmic waste of time.

But here is the truth: Jesus himself said that our sins separate us so far from God that even our most righteous acts are as “filthy rags” and our best efforts always fall short of missing the mark – and not just a little bit off, but an eternity off. So maybe some of you need to get that today and stop trying to live a good life but give your life to a good, good Father.

But for the rest of us that are Christians we need to know that the task before us is not to convert our friends or relatives or strangers to our way of thinking or to follow our opinions. If we actually succeeded in any of those things at the expense of not leading them to Jesus, then we might as well have punched there tickets to a very real place called hell prepared for the devil and is angels.

So then what is a victory? What is the “win” that we are fighting for? It is ultimately the glorification of God by lifting up his son Jesus Christ through the sharing the good news of the Gospel. It’s not even saving people because Jesus said only he can do that. Our task is just a lift up Jesus with our life (which always includes personal holiness) with our words (which always includes the proclamation of the gospel) with our actions (which must always be motivated by love).

Don’t let misunderstanding keep you from achieving that victory in your life. I know there is much more we could say about that, but we must go on:

Joshua 10 [22] Then Joshua said, “Open the mouth of the cave and bring those five kings out to me from the cave.” [23] And they did so, and brought those five kings out to him from the cave, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon. [24] And when they brought those kings out to Joshua, Joshua summons all the men of Israel and said tot he chiefs of the men of war who had gone with him, “come near; put your feet on the necks of these kings.” Then they came near and put their feet on their necks. [25] And Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and courageous. For thus the LORD will do to all your enemies against whom you fight.” [26] and afterward Joshua struck them and put them to death, and he hanged them on five trees. And they hung on the trees until evening. [27] But at the time of the going down of the sun, Joshua commanded, and they took them down from the trees and threw them into the cave where they had hidden themselves, and they set large stones against the mouth of the cave, which remain to this very day. [28] As for Makkedah, Joshua captured it on that day and struck it, and its king, with the edge of the sword. He devoted to destruction every person in it; he left none remaining. And he did to the king of Makkedah just as he had done to the king of Jericho. 

After the battle was over and Israel had destroyed the enemy’s armies, Joshua returned his attention to the five kings. He took them out of the cave and brought them out into the light in front of his people. Following an ancient Eastern custom sometimes pictured on Egyptian and Assyrian monuments, Joshua made the defeated kings lie down in the dust before him and his commanders, and they placed their feet on their necks, symbolizing victory.

Then Joshua used this as a teaching moment to remind everyone of God’s promises: “Don’t be afraid and don’t panic! Be strong and brave, for the LORD will do the same thing to all your enemies you fight.”  Then he executed the five kings publicly by hanging them on five trees.

Spiritually speaking, we need to do the same thing. We all know what it is like to hide things in our lives – secret sins, doubts, questionable motivations, and worries. So here is our last thought for today:

Don’t let private choices keep you from public victory.

The only way for you to get true victory over things hiding in your life is for you to confront them. You need to drag them out of their hiding place and lay them out before God and other Christians, symbolically place your foot on their necks in the name of Jesus and proclaim the victory over them – and then find a way to destroy them out of your life. If God has removed our sin as far as the east is from the west – then we should to!

Proverbs 28:13 “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.”

Last year I preached a message on 7 drastic steps to dealing with sin based on a previous passage in Joshua. You can find that sermon on our website if you’re interested, but for today, I want to talk about our daily choices.

Because as much as I would love to say: “Just lay your sins down on the altar today and leave them there and you’ll never have to deal with them again” – that’s not reality. As much as I wish that making a choice to be healthy meant that I will never have a problem with over-eating again, I know that’s not going to happen. But what I CAN do is deal with and kill my sins DAILY. That is why Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:31 that he “dies daily.” Because every day is a battle that we must face.

I like how one man, Michael Hyatt, put it – you have to “slay [your] dragons every morning” What are our dragons? They are those soldiers of the enemy king, those minions of the devil, those devices of the darkness, those temptations of our sinful nature that attack us the most. Hyatt said his dragon is “lethargy” or laziness and inactivity. He said he tried to “slay” his “dragons” every morning by doing four things: reading his Bible, physically exercising, listening to books, and praying.

How did Jesus slay his dragons? Looking at his life, it is easy to notice that he had great habits of at least these few things: reading and knowing the Scriptures (which was just the Old Testament at the time), fasting and praying, spending time with friends, getting alone to rest and relax, and walking – a lot.

So what are the “dragons” in your life that you need to “slay every morning”? What are the temptations that you need to daily fight against? What enemy kings do you need to put your foot on their neck in victory and then crucify daily?

Is it laziness? Gossip? Lust? Bitterness? Selfishness? And certainly. The list could go on and on.

Ask God and others to help you build private and public habits into your life that can combat those temptations so you may live a life of holiness, blessing, and impact that glorifies God. Those habits are called Spiritual Disciplines. Spiritual Disciplines are essential…

Here are some examples:

Read the Bible. The easiest thing to do, but the easiest to be distracted from. It is never urgent, but it is so important.

Exercise and rest. It is amazing how much better you feel, how much more energy you have, and how much more focused you are if you rest well the night before and begin your day with the right know of exercise.

Read or Listen to books, teachings, and sermons. If you have the time to sit and read book, articles, and sermon notes – wonderful. If not, find time in your day that you can listen to free audio teachings and sermons (called podcasts) through your computer or phone, listen to stations like WNLR that play great teaching programs throughout the day, and find audio books (on CD or through apps like Audible by Amazon).

Pray. Every day find time to talk to God and be silent for him to talk to you.

Worship. Maybe you can’t play and sing an instrument, but you can play a song on your phone or CD! Take time to praise God every day.

If you do not have spiritual disciplines in your life already, let me prescribe to you one plan that I know will help you in your life. For the next 7 days, start your day with these three things: Read the Bible for 5 minutes (start with the book of John if you want), pray for 5 minutes (start with the Lord’s Prayer if need help), and listen to 1 worship song which will be about 5 minutes (get on YouTube and search for “Hillsong Worship” if you need a suggestion). That is only 15 minutes, but I promise you that it will make a difference in your entire day. If not, you will get your money back, no questions asked.

As we close, I want to make sure we do not an important underlying theme in this passage. Although Scripture does not tell us much about it here, these kings were sentenced to death because of wickedness and breaking God’s law. Imagine that these kings were five mass murderers or five wicked leaders like Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin. No one would have had a problem with this.

Thankfully, today, we live in a time of grace. God does not quickly sentence us to death when we sin – he is long-suffering and merciful. But God is also still a God of wrath and judgment. In Revelation 20, John prophesied that one day there will be

Revelation 20 [11] “…a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. [12] And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. [13] And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. [14] Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. [15] And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

The wrath of God must be satisfied. Sin must be punished. But God (one of the best phrases in the world) sent his Son Jesus to (get this) be hung on a tree and put to death, put into a cave and have the stone rolled over the entrance – just like these kings – so we would not have to take the penalty for our sins.

Romans 5:9-10 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 

Like Lot was saved from Sodom and Gomorrah, like Noah was saved from the flood, and like Israel was saved in the middle of their failures, we, too, can be saved from eternal judgment through our faith in the one who took the penalty of our sin upon himself: Jesus Christ.

Take comfort in being counted among those who are saved, but we should in no way be comfortable, because we still have work to do.


This message was preached at Village Church, Churchville, VA on February 19, 2017 as Sermon #5 of our “Failing Forward” sermon series from Joshua 9-10. Visit our website at villagechurchva.com

 

 

#FAILINGFORWARD – “Don’t Let…”

Ever since I was a child, I have enjoyed playing games. Card games, board games, video games – any kind of game. Then in my early high school years I discovered that I was not completely un-athletic and began to play school sports and church league sports. Any chance I could get I would go play some sort of game.

Then college for me was not about the classes or the friends or partying. I didn’t have time for all that. It was about flag football during the day and sand volleyball at night. And when it got too cold to play outdoors, I would go in and play pickup basketball. And when the gym closed for the night I would find something else to do. I remember many nights staying up late playing some combination of baseball and tackle football with a whiffle ball bat and a ball made out of duck tape.

I realize now that I love games and sports so much is because I love strategy. Games that are completely chance frustrate me and games that require amazing skill are a waste of time for me – because I will not win. But when I am playing a game that requires thinking and working things out – especially when it is with a team – I’m living life to the fullest (and I’m typically not that bad).

But you know what I have discovered along the way? In games of strategy (whether that is Uno or Spades or basketball or dorm commons area whiffle/duct tape ball) – it is essential to know what a win is if you’re going to win! 

If you do not know what you are supposed to be working toward, you can waste a whole lot of time and energy doing something that does not take you any closer to winning. There is nothing worse than the feeling of working so hard toward a goal – only to find out it you were working on the wrong thing.

Continue reading #FAILINGFORWARD – “Don’t Let…”