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Showing posts with label Courage. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Courage. Show all posts

Monday, June 22, 2020

Jesus Power Helps Us Be Bold


Introducion
Yesterday was Fathers Day and I am thankful for my dad, Jerry Mullis, and the relationship we've built.  I also thankful for many other men who have been father figures to me throughout my life.  One father figure was my Grandpa who fought in WWII in the battle of the bulge.  I asked him once if he  was ever shot at and he said yes.  Grandpa Wingo was an engineer in the army and his job was to build and repair things.  He told me a story of building a bridge while German soldiers were shooting at him.  He said, you could hear bullets whizzing by and ricocheting around you.  I have built things where you apply all you thoughts to taking measurements and making sure everything is level ans square.  It takes a lot of thought and concentration.  I can't imagine trying to build while also being shot at by people who want you dead!  He was a bold, brave man.

As we prepare for Vacation Bible School—July 12-16—we are studying the themes and passages from each day of VBS. The title of our VBS is the Rocky Railway. And our theme is “Jesus’ Power Pulls Us Through!”

So far, we’ve learned:  
Jesus Power Helps Us Do Hard Things and 
Jesus Power Gives Us Hope.
Today, we learn:  
Jesus Power Helps Us Be Bold!

Isaiah 40:29 says, “He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.”

One of the things about the New Testament Church that always impresses me is their boldness.  There were only a small number of Christians when the New Testament was written.  People thought they were crazy outlaws who believed a dead man was alive.  The ruling powers wanted Christians silenced.  The world around them was dark and full of sin.

Those early Christians were not intimidated by an evil world, because Jesus power helped them be bold.  A perfect example is in the 3rd and 4th chapters of Acts.  Let me summarize the story.

Peter and John were on the way to the Temple for a prayer service.  This is a clue for you if you ever feel feel outnumbered by a world who rejects your values.  You need to pray fervently.

On the way to the prayer meeting, Peter and John see a crippled beggar asking for money.  Now, Peter and John are Christians so they don't have any money.  You see, at the time Christians had no power or influence and most everyone around them though they were crazy.  It's not like they were doing "well" in society.  They were just getting by.  But the crippled beggar thinks they are baout to give him some money when they say, "We don't have any silver or gold, but we will give you what we can offer."  And with that, they grabbed the man by the hands and lifted him to his feet and his crippled legs were immediately healed!  

Here's another clue for us.  The problem you see may not really be the problem.  So this guy's problem was he needed money.  That's why he was begging.  But that wasn't the real problem, right?  The real problem was his legs were crippled so he couldn't earn a living.  If Peter and John gave him some money, it might solve the problem for today, but tomorrow he'd have the same problem again.  So the surface problem wasn't the real problem.  And the power of God enabled Peter and John to reach beyond the surface issue and solve the main problem--the disability.  When you look at teh problems around you in your life and in the world, always remember, the problem you see may not be the real problem.

Well, this miracle got everyone's attention. The power of God had obviously healed the man.  And people starting gathering around in the Temple.  Peter see's the opportunity; he has everyone's attention.  So, he begins to preach. What did he preach?

Acts 3:17-19“Friends, I realize that what you and your leaders did to Jesus was done in ignorance. 18 But God was fulfilling what all the prophets had foretold about the Messiah—that he must suffer these things. 19 Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away.”

Peter preached and called out everyone's sin. He didn’t call for riots or a revolution to overthrow the government. He called for repentance and offered God’s forgiveness to the very people who helped crucify his Lord.  This is the Christian message. It’s bold and it has changed the world for 2,000 years.  It addressed the core problem in the human heart--the problem that leads to all the other dysfunctions in our life and in society.

Change doesn't happen overnight. Sometimes one human heart can be changed overnight, but it usually takes time for the world’s systems to change. The Temple authorities arrested Peter and John and threw them in jail. The next day, they were taken before the council.

Acts 4:8-13 - Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of our people, are we being questioned today because we’ve done a good deed for a crippled man? Do you want to know how he was healed? 10 Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene,[a] the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead. 11 For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures, where it says,
‘The stone that you builders rejected
    has now become the cornerstone.’
12 There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”
13 The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.

Being Bold Made Us Great
These early Christians were bold and it made them great.  They were persecuted, had their property seized, were arrested, sometimes tortured, and even killed.  However, they would not back down.  They continued to preach the Truth—that Jesus was rejected and murdered by the authorities, but that God raised him from the dead.  They called people to repent of their sin, turn from rejecting Christ, and worship Jesus as Lord.  This is our heritage as Christians.  It is full of bold, brave people who spoke the Truth and live for Jesus.  It takes being bold to be great.

I believe America is the greatest nation on earth right now. I'm proud to be an American. America was made great by bold, brave people.  Our nation was settled by bold, brave people who left the old world behind to come start a new life in a new and unknown world.  Our founding Fathers boldly fought a war to win independence from the most power army in the world at the time.  Pioneers boldly traveled west to settle new lands—facing hardships and disease and danger and death.  The greatest generation storming the beaches of Normandy against a hail of bullets to help defeat the evil of Nazi Germany.  In the 1960s, astronauts risked their lives to take America to the moon—many lost their lives in the quest.  At the same time, people were fighting for civil rights for black people and the end to segregation. These were costly, dangerous battles. People lost were beaten, thrown into prison, and others lost life and limb in the fight for equality.

These struggles required people to be bold and brave. And as they were it changed our world and helped make us great. I'm so grateful because their boldness helped me be a better person today.
Being bold made us great!

Boldness In Our Time 
I see signs of boldness today as well.  I see it in my wife as she goes to the hospital every day.  I have known many people right now who are avoiding going to doctors and hospitals.  Even if they have an illness or injury, they say, "I'm not going to the hospital!  I might catch the virus!"  Meanwhile, my wife puts her scrubs on every day to go to work at the hospital as a nurse.  That's bold and brave.

I see boldness in in my daughter too when she goes to work at Taco bell. She comes into contact with hundreds (if not thousands) of different people each day.  And so many other young people, working mostly for minimum wage, are doing these jobs right now risking exposure at—grocery stores, restaurants, and other retail jobs because it's essential.  I'm so proud of them.  Aren't you glad our younger generation is being bold and brave?  I am.

I see boldness in police officers risking their lives every day to protect and serve.  99% of cops took their job because they care about our community and want to keep everyone safe.  They are there to protect and serve.  But they also must put themselves in harms way to do it.  They never know if they will encounter someone who will do something stupid and they won't be able to go home to their husband or wife and kids.  But they care and so the are bold and brave.  And this is especially tru right now because in our current climate because of what we saw happen to George Floyd, everyone is suspicious of the police.  However, these officers still go out and are bold and brave and work to keep our communities safe.

I can think of others too-firefighters, soldiers, and others that would be too many to list.  What about you?  Are you willing to be bold and brave?

We Need to Keep Being Bold and Brave
Unfortunately, right I also see a lot of fear in our community.  This virus has got us all on edge.  And the Word for you today is this:  Jesus Power Helps You Be Bold.  Jesus said in Luke 9:24, “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”  If you hide in your homes for the rest of your life trying to avoid COVID 19, is that really living anyway?  That’s a kind of living that’s not really living at all. 

Where would we be today if all our ancestors ever did was play it safe and stay at home?

Fear is a kind of thing that, if you’re not careful, will grow and grow and grow until it takes over your whole life.  Yes, there is risk.  There is risk in everything in life.  Just waking up and getting out of bed holds risks.  Staying in bed and hiding from everyone is even more risky.  When you worry and fret and let your fear control you, then you see a demon under every rock and death in every breath.  Fear paralyzes you and make you it's prisoner.

We've got to be bold and brave.

If my grandpa could build a bridge on a battlefield in WWII while German soldiers shot at him, then I guess I can manage to leave my house and face whatever dangers are out there today.  Peter and John faced the council after being arrested and told them boldly to their face, “You murdered the Son of God and you need to repent.”  I guess I can also be bold and tell people about Jesus today and say, “You aren’t living right and you need to repent.”  Perhaps we can all be bold enough to say things like:
If you are doing something the Word of God calls sin, you need to stop arguing and pretending it’s OK.  You need to repent.  

If you are judging someone by the color of their skin, you need to repent. There is no ifs, ands, or buts about this—all people are created equal and deserve to be treated fairly.  And if you find anything in your heart that makes you treat someone differently just because they don't look or sound like you, then you need to repent.

If you are a police officer that’s abusing your power, you need to repent and do better.  If you are a good cop, but you see something going on in your police department that isn't right, you need to step up and say something and work for change.

If you are angry because you saw George Floyd murdered by and police oficer while people stood by unwilling or unable to help, I get it.  But if you also are so angry that you want to pick up a rock and throw it through someone's window, or set a fire, or cause a riot you need to repent.  If your anger makes you hating the police or white people or anyone you need to repent.  Two wrongs will never ever make this thing right.

The love and grace and forgiveness Jesus is the answer to the real problem in the human heart.  And His power is more than enough to change us, heal us, and bring His mighty Kingdom on earth.  Is that what you really want?  I hope so.

Be bold and brave.

Monday, January 21, 2019

What is Courage?


2 Timothy 1:7
For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

Introduction
God has been leading me to preach a message about courage for quite some time now.  He first spoke to me about it last spring when I went to San Antonio, TX to see the Alamo.  In 1836, about a hundred Texas and Tejano soldiers were stationed at an an old Spanish mission church that'd been repurposed as a makeshift army garrison.  The held the fort for 13 days against an overwhelming Mexican force.  In the end, the soldiers bravely gave their life defending Texas independence.  Almost all the soldiers in the Alamo were killed or executed.  Their fight took great courage.

Then, last week, I was in New York City to visit the 9/11 memorial.  Again, the Holy Spirit touched my heart about courage as I viewed the exhibits of that tragedy and remembered the firefighters running toward the burning buildings to sae people while everyone else ran away.  But the most courageous demonstration to me was a voice message a flight attendant left for her family.  She called from the last plane, the one that crashed in a Pennsylvania field because the passengers decided to bravely fight back against the hijackers.  The flight attendant called her family, refusing to cry or promise that she would be ok.  All she could say was she was ok for the moment and that she loved her them and that she was sorry and that she hoped she would see them again.

This message has been planned since last spring. Today is the day you are reading it.  I believe God brought it to your attention for a reason.  I pray you will hear His Word to you today.


What is courage?
Google defines courage as the ability to do something that frightens one.  Some people think courage is the opposite of fear.  Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, you cannot have courage without fear.  The opposite of courage is not fear.  The opposite of courage is timidity.  Timidity is shying away from what you must do.  2 Timothy 1:7 says God doesn't give us a Spirit of fear and timidity.  So if you have a spirit of timidity, it didn't come from God.  We are to be bold and courageous.

The Source of Courage
Courage is not something limited only to Christians.  Many people of all different nations and religions have demonstrated incredible courage through throughout the ages.  Some people draw courage from a sense of duty.  Maybe, a soldier has taken a vow to protect his country and his people; and even though they are frightened of death, they may do their duty even if it cost their life.  Their sense of duty gives them courage.  Others may draw courage from a stoic resignation.  They determine that their fate is sealed.  It is what it is and there's nothing they can do to change it.  So they resolve to face their destiny courageously. 

Christians sometimes gather courage from these sources as well.  However a Christian can draw courage from greatest source of all--our faith in Jesus Christ.  Throughout the Bible, we find courage from God's promises to HIs faithful people.

“If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” (Romans 8:31)
We can face any fear we have knowing that God is with us and can help us overcome any obstacle.

"Be strong, and do not fear, for your God is coming to destroy your enemies. He is coming to save you.” (Isaiah 35:4)
God has promised to overcome our enemies.  We don't have to fear.  We can be bold and courageous knowing God fights alongside us.

"Dear friends, don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot do any more to you after that.” (Luke 12:4)
Christians have eternal hope in Jesus Christ.  The worst thing that can happen to us is we die.  Some would say, "Yeah, well that's pretty bad."  But death is not the worst thing that can happen to us and it is not the end.  Death will come for us all, eventually, but Christians have a hope that goes beyond death.

“For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.” (Hebrews 13:14)
Hebrews reminds us that this life, this world and all the things in it are not our goal.  All that we see in this physical world will pass away one day.  But those who trust in Christ have the promise of eternity; and nothing can take that away from those who believe in Jesus Christ.  We can courageously face even death, because our hope transcends the grave.

True Christianity is Radical
There is a halfhearted, lukewarm Christianity in this world that won't offer much hope or courage.  It's a kind of Christianity with the chief aim to make this life better.  It seeks mostly to enhance a person's enjoyment of this life and this world and the things in it.  It promises to help us get ahead at our job, have a happy home, be healthy, and remain safe.  It's a kind of halfway Christianity that doesn't really put Christ first, but instead adds him on as a extra.  The individual is always first and Jesus is only their as an enhancement.  

But this kind of religion won’t do you much good.  It offers little courage.  Half hearted Christianity cannot save anyone.  Christ has to be absolutely first.  Jesus must be Lord if he is also to be your Savior.  You must surrender it all to him and you must give yourself as a living sacrifice.  Giving yourself to completely Christ can be very scary, but you've got to have courage to do it.  It is the only way to truly have eternal life and eternal hope.

Four Steps Towards Courageous Living
I want to give you some practical steps to lead you toward more courageous living.
  1. Embrace your fears. Avoiding fears actually makes them stronger and scarier.  You would think running away would save you from your fear, but it doesn't.  You can only run from your fears for so long.  Eventually, it will catch up to you.  It's better to face your fears now, than fret over them as you vainly try to avoud them.  God ahead and step outside our comfort zone and begin to truly live.
  2. Just do it. When it comes to doing things you fear, the longer you wait in hesitation, the more time your mind has to make the monster bigger.  I once did a team building exercise at a Christian camp.  I had to put on a safety harness attached to a rope that was held by an experienced guide.  Then I had to climb up a very tall telephone pole atop which was a small platform.  Once standing on the platform, I had to jump a short distance and grab a trapeze bar.  Now, remember, I was safely secured by my harness and rope.  If I fell or missed my mark, my guide would safely lower me to the ground.  And yet, it was still very frightening.  I was able to overcome my fear and make the leap, successfully grab the trapeze bar, and then be lowered to the ground.  However, I watched many people who went before me hesitate.  They thought, was they weren't ready.  They would go in a minute.  But the longer they waited, the harder the jump seemed.  They gave their mind time to think about their fear and the fear grew and grew.  The best way to handle the challenge was just do it.  The distance and the danger and challenge never grow smaller the longer you wait.  However the fear usually does grow bigger the more you hesitate.  So just do it.
  3. Pray.  I don’t just mean pray when you must face to face your fears.  You shoudl do that too.  We gain courage as we pray in the face of our fear.  But what I really mean is practice a life of prayer. Prayer is communion with God. Prayer helps us know God is right here with us in every moment. It is much easier to be courageous when we know God is standing beside us. You have to pray daily so your awareness of God’s awesome presence becomes stronger than your fear of the monsters may have to face.  Pray daily.  Pray deeply.  Pray diligently.
  4. Finally, practice makes perfect. You can practice courage. Start with relatively small things. Challenge yourself to be brave in a safe, controlled environment.  Do somethings that you are afraid of.  Are you afraid to talk to someone you don't know.  Take a friend and go out to eat and try to engage your waitress in a short conversation; or go further and talk to someone at a nearby table.  There are all kinds of ways you can practice facing your fears in small doses so you will be better prepared to do it fully if the need ever arises.  Such exercises can be a kind of spiritual discipline to help you rely more and more on God’s strength to overcome timidity.

Our Eternal Hope is in Christ
Titus 3:4-7 – When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.[a] He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.

There is eternal hope in Jesus Christ, but you won’t find eternal hope in half hearted, lukewarm Christianity.  Christ has to be absolutely first in your life.  So many are trying to find hope and fulfillment and satisfaction in a career, romantic relationships, family, friends, politics, a car, a house, clothes, money, or possessions.  You can find a type of fulfillment in these, but it is not lasting and it will eventually fail to fulfill the deepest eternal longings in your soul.  Only a relationship with God through Jesus Christ can truly satisfy your deepest longings.  And that only comes when you lay it all down at the altar of God, and offer yourself up as a living sacrifice:
“Lord Jesus!  I give You my life--wholeheartedly.  Take me.  Use me for whatever purpose you wish.  Fill me up or pour me out.  Let me suffer or let me be happy.  Put me to work or lay me aside.  Give me whatever you want or take it all away.  I freely and wholeheartedly surrender it all to Your pleasure and disposal.  I trust You.  I am Yours and You are my Savior, Redeemer, and King.  Amen.”

Maybe you tried to live this way before and failed. Maybe you’re scared you might fail again. But you have to have courage and keep trying and not give up.

Maybe giving yourself to Christ wholeheartedly is scary.  But you've got to do it. You’ve got to have courage.  Take a leap of faith.  Trust in the Lord.

I'm praying for you.  God bless.

Monday, June 18, 2018

When You Are Lonely, God is With You

Introduction
            As you may have read in my previous blogs, the Babylonian empire conquered the Kingdom of Judea around 600 BC.  They destroyed the capital of Jerusalem and burned their temple to the ground.  All Jews who were not killed in the battle were taken captive back to Babylon.  The best and brightest like the biblical figures Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were forced to serve as advisors in the Babylonian empire.  They were given new Babylonian names and forced to live as Babylonians.  The hope was they would be completely assimilated and forget the homeland ever existed. 
            Daniel and his friends must have felt lonely.  What makes you feel lonely?  Have you lost someone you care about?  Do you feel like no one thinks or believes like you anymore?  Are you facing a battle no one else really understands--even those who try to be kind and support you?  Are you a leader or a parent (which can sometimes be a very a lonely job)?  Today, I want you to know when you are lonely, God is with you.
            King Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylon when Daniel and his friends were taken into captivity, but his reign did not last forever.  Others succeeded him like King Belshazzar.  (There is a really cool story in Daniel Chapter 5 where Belshazzar literally saw "the writing on the wall" just before his life ended.  It's a great read and it is the story from which we get the expression "Can't you see the writing on the wall?")  As Babylonian power began to wane in the world (all worldly kingdoms come and go), it created a power vacuum where variousl kingdoms and leader vied for power.  Of those clamouring for the top were the Medes and the Persians. 
            Daniel 6 tells of a person called Darius the Mede.  Historians are not sure who he is.  It's possible he was a general of the Mede’s who conquered Belshazzar (or who ruled for a time in the power vacuum after Babylon fell).  He is called King Darius, but we get the sense that his status as "king" is a precarious one.  One thing's for sure.  It’s lonely at the top.  You are responsible for taking care of the kingdom while also fighting off everyone who wants to take your place.
           We also see Daniel in chapter 6.  He is a, a follower of the One True God of the Bible.  Daniel is older now than he was in the previous chapters of the book.  He has survived multiple kings and kingdoms.  Through it all, he has been highly respected by them all for his ability and most of all his integrity.  
  
 Daniel 6:1-18
1Darius the Mede decided to divide the kingdom into 120 provinces, and he appointed a high officer to rule over each province. The king also chose Daniel and two others as administrators to supervise the high officers and protect the king’s interests. Daniel soon proved himself more capable than all the other administrators and high officers. Because of Daniel’s great ability, the king made plans to place him over the entire empire.

Then the other administrators and high officers began searching for some fault in the way Daniel was handling government affairs, but they couldn’t find anything to criticize or condemn. He was faithful, always responsible, and completely trustworthy. So they concluded, “Our only chance of finding grounds for accusing Daniel will be in connection with the rules of his religion.”

So the administrators and high officers went to the king and said, “Long live King Darius! We are all in agreement—we administrators, officials, high officers, advisers, and governors—that the king should make a law that will be strictly enforced. Give orders that for the next thirty days any person who prays to anyone, divine or human—except to you, Your Majesty—will be thrown into the den of lions. And now, Your Majesty, issue and sign this law so it cannot be changed, an official law of the Medes and Persians that cannot be revoked.” So King Darius signed the law.

10 But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God. 11 Then the officials went together to Daniel’s house and found him praying and asking for God’s help. 12 So they went straight to the king and reminded him about his law. “Did you not sign a law that for the next thirty days any person who prays to anyone, divine or human—except to you, Your Majesty—will be thrown into the den of lions?”

“Yes,” the king replied, “that decision stands; it is an official law of the Medes and Persians that cannot be revoked.”

13 Then they told the king, “That man Daniel, one of the captives from Judah, is ignoring you and your law. He still prays to his God three times a day.”

14 Hearing this, the king was deeply troubled, and he tried to think of a way to save Daniel. He spent the rest of the day looking for a way to get Daniel out of this predicament.

15 In the evening the men went together to the king and said, “Your Majesty, you know that according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, no law that the king signs can be changed.”

16 So at last the king gave orders for Daniel to be arrested and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to him, “May your God, whom you serve so faithfully, rescue you.”

17 A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den. The king sealed the stone with his own royal seal and the seals of his nobles, so that no one could rescue Daniel. 18 Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night fasting. He refused his usual entertainment and couldn’t sleep at all that night.

[I’m going to stop the story here.  If you want to hear the rest of the story, you’ll have to check back next Sunday.  Today, our task is to wrestle with the lonely night Daniel spent in the lion’s den.  If we jump to the end of the story too quickly, we might miss what God wants to say to us today, which is this:  When you are lonely, God is with you.]

King of the Hill
            When I was a kid, I used to play a game called king of the hill.  There was a dirt mound hill in the play ground and all the kids would scramble and fight their way to the top. Whoever made it to the top first was "king of the hill."  Now the kings job was to stay at the top by fighting off all the challengers.  Everyone else's job was to dethrone the king and take his place. 
            Now, if we'd been smart, we would have built alliances and worked together.  The king could have enlisted a few helpers by giving them some special privileges in return for their helping in fighting off the challengers.  3 or 4 peole working together would have more success than on lone king trying to defend his hilltop.
            It seems that is what Darius decided to do.  He divided his kingdom into 120 provinces with twelve high officials to rule them.  Of course, the problem with this is, who would keep the twelve high officials in line?  Well, Darius had a solution for that too.  He designated three of his best, most trusted administrators to oversee the twelve.  Daniel was one of those administrators and it soon became clear to Darius that Daniel was the most capable and trustworthy of them all.  He egan to elevate Daniel above all the rest and this made everyone else jealous.

Darius’ plan for King of the Hill
            When you’re on top, jealous people will always find something to bring you down (even if they have to make it up).  The other administrators and all the high officials allied together to bring down Daniel, but there they couldn't find anything against Daniel--he was a talented and honest man with great integrity.  The only chink in Daniel's armor was related to his commitment to God. Daniel would not violate his obedience to God, even if ordered by the king.
            So, the administrators and high officials went to the king and stroked his ego and tricked him into making a law where, for thirty days, no one could pray to anyone accept King Darius.  So in essence, the were making him like a god for thirty days.  Now, that was probably pretty appealing to a guy who had such a struggle to hold on to or enforce his authority.  So he feels pretty good about it and agrees and signs it into law, without really thinking about the implications for Daniel.  And so now, Daniel ends up in a quandary, because the Ten Commandments say "Do not worship any god accept the Lord."  So will Daniel maintain his integrity and do what he knows is right or will he bow to the new law, violate his conscious, and disobey the Lord?  He's got a tough decision to make and his life is at stake. 


There’s A Lion Already Outside the Den             The story makes you fearful for poor Daniel because he is facing the lion's den.  But what you might miss is there is already a lion outside the den prowling around.  What I mean is, there is already a dangerous threat to Daniel that I would argue is even more important than the threat to his life from the lion's den.  It's the same threat each one of us faces when it comes to our integrity.  You see, 1 Peter 5:8 says, "Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour."  The Devil is on the prowl.  He wanted to destroy Daniel witness.  If Daniel caves, the Devil has the ultimate victory.  Daniel integrity and witness and all that is truly important about him is destroyed.
            The Devil is a lion going about ready to tear apart the witness of the faithful today.  He wants to destroy the witness and resolve of God’s faithful children today.  He wants to discredit, remove, silence, and make irrelevant Christ’s followers so no one in this world will listen to us when we speak God’s truth.  We all have a choice to make.  Will we remain true to what we know is right or will we cave to the pressure to go along with the crowd?  How we respond will either show integrity and strengthen our credibility or greatly weaken or destroy our witness.  What will you chose to do?
            Daniel knew exactly what to do.  Verse 10, when he learned of the law saying no one could pray to anyone except King Darius, Daniel went home and got one his knees and prayed—as usual—to the God of heaven.  I want you to notice a few things here.  
           First of all notice that Daniel prayed.   Prayer gives you strength, because it keeps you connected to the One True God, the source of Life.  When you are lonely, prayer reminds you that you are not alone.  God is right there with you. 
            It is precisely in those moments when I have felt the most alone that prayer has helped me recognize the true nature of God the most.  It is precisely in those moments when I felt everyone had abandoned me, or when I felt no one cared, or when I felt I had failed and no one could love me, or when the world was so dark that I didn’t want to be around anyone else that I was able to pray to God and know His eternal, everlasting, ever-loving, all-knowing, all-embracing presence.  Such prayer during the darkest times reminds me at the very depths of my soul that if everything else falls apart or fails—even if the sun and moon themselves were to fall from the skies—it is OK because I am a child of the One True and Living God who made the Heaven and the Earth and He holds me in the palm of His mighty and loving hand.  And it is an experience that chases away all loneliness because I am not alone.  I am a child of God.  He is my Father.  He will never abandon me.  I will never be alone. 
            Second, notice it says Daniel prayed, as usual.  Now here is something you could easily miss.  Daniel prayed as usual.  That means this wasn't something he just started when he found out aout the crazy law or the lion's den.  This was already Daniel's regular daily practice--to pray toward Jerusalem three times a day.  This was what he'd being doing for years.  And he kept doing it and he did it in his open window.  He wasn't hiding anything from anyone.
            Now, there's an important lesson for us in this.  If you are going to take a stand and do the right thing when the challenge comes, you’ve got to be training everyday up to that point through regular, daily spiritual disciplines. 
            The Iron man is a grueling race competition that includes a long distance swim, biking, and then a marathon race.  Just to finish an Iron Man is a great accomplishment.  It takes a lot of training to get ready.  No one just decides to do an Iron Man race on a whim.  They don’t wake up on the day of the race and roll out of bed—without ever having trained—and say, “I think I’ll compete in the Iron Man today…”  That would be ludicrous, I don't care how fit and athletic you are.
            Neither would you want to wait for the day of trials to come before you start praying.  Start praying today.  Build your spiritual muscles now so they will be ready when the troubles come.  Read and study your Bible so you know what to believe.  Pray daily (Daniel prayed three times a day) so you know God with all your heart.  Worship the Lord in private and together with other believers.  Make it your faithful and usual habit.  Troubles come for us all, start training for them to day so you will always be ready. 

Conclusion
            This past Sunday was Father's Day so I want to end with a story about my own father.  On time when I was young, my dad was driving with me and my siblings in the car.  We were on the interstate and there were only two lanes.  Well, two cars were driving side by side very slow and it seemed as if they were doing it on purpose.  We were right behind them and they would not make an opening for cars to get through.  There were 10 or 20 cars stacked up behind them in both lanes.  My dad was really aggravated because it was becoming obvious they were just being jerks.  So, somehow, he managed to get around the cars (I think he did it on the shoulder of the road).  Once around, most people would just drive ahead and leave the situation behind, but not my dad.  He decided he was going to break this traffic jamming pair up so all the other cars could get through.  He got in front of one of them and slowed down to 50 miles per hour.  They still would not separate.  Dad said, "I'm gonna make them separate if I have to slow all the way down to a stop.  So he started slowing down.  45 MPH.  40 MPH.  Still no separation.  35 MPH.  30 MPH.  Finally, one of the cars sped up and went by leaving an opening that cars began to pour through.  One driver, thankful for my father's rebellious act rolled down his window and raised his fist in the air in the salute of defiance!  I have never felt so proud of my dad!
            Fathers are often the ones who teach us to take a stubborn stand for what it right, no matter the cost.  Challenges are coming for us all.  Will you stand up for what’s right?  I encourage you to do the right thing and also to start praying for courage and integrity for the challenge today.  And never forget--because it can be a lonely battle to do the right thing--when you feel lonely, God is with you!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

God's Heroes Have Courage

Introduction
As we think about Memorial Day, we remember and honor those who gave their lives to serve and defend our country.  They were brave and courageous men and women who did their duty even though it was tough and even scary.  Perhaps John Wayne described the meaning of courage best when he said, “Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.” 
The brave men and women we remember on Memorial Day displayed great courage.  We could all use more courage.  Couldn’t we?  That’s what I want to share today as we consider the character of God’s heroes.  God’s heroes have courage.
            Last week we learned about a man named David that God anointed to be the king of Israel.  David, like all of God’s heroes, had a good heart.  In fact, the Bible says he was a man after God’s own heart.  And even though a man with a bad, disobedient heart named Saul was still king of Israel, David grew more famous.  King Saul became jealous and tried to kill David.  Since David was unwilling to fight against his king, he fled for his life taking a group of 600 faithful warriors with him.
            On a personal note, when my wife and I were choosing names for our third child, we wanted a Biblical name.  We liked the name Abigail, but I wanted to check to make sure the Abigail of the Bible was a good person.  (You don’t want to name your child after a bad person.)  I was delighted to find that the Abigail of the Bible was a very good, wise, and courageous woman.   Let’s look at her story together.  It is quite a long passage, but it’s worth the effort to read.

1 Samuel 25:1b- 39
Then David moved down to the wilderness of Maon. There was a wealthy man from Maon who owned property near the town of Carmel. He had 3,000 sheep and 1,000 goats, and it was sheep-shearing time. This man’s name was Nabal, and his wife, Abigail, was a sensible and beautiful woman. But Nabal, a descendant of Caleb, was crude and mean in all his dealings.

When David heard that Nabal was shearing his sheep, he sent ten of his young men to Carmel with this message for Nabal: “Peace and prosperity to you, your family, and everything you own! I am told that it is sheep-shearing time. While your shepherds stayed among us near Carmel, we never harmed them, and nothing was ever stolen from them. Ask your own men, and they will tell you this is true. So would you be kind to us, since we have come at a time of celebration? Please share any provisions you might have on hand with us and with your friend David.” David’s young men gave this message to Nabal in David’s name, and they waited for a reply.

10 “Who is this fellow David?” Nabal sneered to the young men. “Who does this son of Jesse think he is? There are lots of servants these days who run away from their masters. 11 Should I take my bread and my water and my meat that I’ve slaughtered for my shearers and give it to a band of outlaws who come from who knows where?”

12 So David’s young men returned and told him what Nabal had said. 13 “Get your swords!” was David’s reply as he strapped on his own. Then 400 men started off with David, and 200 remained behind to guard their equipment.

14 Meanwhile, one of Nabal’s servants went to Abigail and told her, “David sent messengers from the wilderness to greet our master, but he screamed insults at them. 15 These men have been very good to us, and we never suffered any harm from them. Nothing was stolen from us the whole time they were with us. 16 In fact, day and night they were like a wall of protection to us and the sheep. 17 You need to know this and figure out what to do, for there is going to be trouble for our master and his whole family. He’s so ill-tempered that no one can even talk to him!”

18 Abigail wasted no time. She quickly gathered 200 loaves of bread, two wineskins full of wine, five sheep that had been slaughtered, nearly a bushel of roasted grain, 100 clusters of raisins, and 200 fig cakes. She packed them on donkeys 19 and said to her servants, “Go on ahead. I will follow you shortly.” But she didn’t tell her husband Nabal what she was doing.

20 As she was riding her donkey into a mountain ravine, she saw David and his men coming toward her. 21 David had just been saying, “A lot of good it did to help this fellow. We protected his flocks in the wilderness, and nothing he owned was lost or stolen. But he has repaid me evil for good. 22 May God strike me and kill me if even one man of his household is still alive tomorrow morning!”
23 When Abigail saw David, she quickly got off her donkey and bowed low before him. 24 She fell at his feet and said, “I accept all blame in this matter, my lord. Please listen to what I have to say. 25 I know Nabal is a wicked and ill-tempered man; please don’t pay any attention to him. He is a fool, just as his name suggests. But I never even saw the young men you sent.
26 “Now, my lord, as surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, since the Lord has kept you from murdering and taking vengeance into your own hands, let all your enemies and those who try to harm you be as cursed as Nabal is. 27 And here is a present that I, your servant, have brought to you and your young men. 28 Please forgive me if I have offended you in any way. The Lord will surely reward you with a lasting dynasty, for you are fighting the Lord’s battles. And you have not done wrong throughout your entire life.

29 “Even when you are chased by those who seek to kill you, your life is safe in the care of the Lord your God, secure in his treasure pouch! But the lives of your enemies will disappear like stones shot from a sling! 30 When the Lord has done all he promised and has made you leader of Israel, 31 don’t let this be a blemish on your record. Then your conscience won’t have to bear the staggering burden of needless bloodshed and vengeance. And when the Lord has done these great things for you, please remember me, your servant!”

32 David replied to Abigail, “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you to meet me today! 33 Thank God for your good sense! Bless you for keeping me from murder and from carrying out vengeance with my own hands. 34 For I swear by the Lord, the God of Israel, who has kept me from hurting you, that if you had not hurried out to meet me, not one of Nabal’s men would still be alive tomorrow morning.” 35 Then David accepted her present and told her, “Return home in peace. I have heard what you said. We will not kill your husband.”

36 When Abigail arrived home, she found that Nabal was throwing a big party and was celebrating like a king. He was very drunk, so she didn’t tell him anything about her meeting with David until dawn the next day. 37 In the morning when Nabal was sober, his wife told him what had happened. As a result he had a stroke, and he lay paralyzed on his bed like a stone. 38 About ten days later, the Lord struck him, and he died.
39 When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Praise the Lord, who has avenged the insult I received from Nabal and has kept me from doing it myself. Nabal has received the punishment for his sin.” Then David sent messengers to Abigail to ask her to become his wife.
Why Was David Angry?
            David had some serious problems.  First of all, he was running for his life.  Even though David had done nothing wrong and had only been loyal and good to King Saul, the king was jealous and wanted to kill David.  So David was on the run.  He refused to fight Saul.  Even though David had several opportunities to kill Saul, He refused saying it was not right to kill Israel’s king.
            Another problem—perhaps just as big—was what to do with the 600 men who followed David.  These were not just any men.  These were fighting men.  They were ready to fight for David, but he would not let them fight.  How do you keep 600 fighting men out of trouble when they have nothing to do and are constantly on the run?  How do you keep them fed and provisioned?  David had an answer.  He decided to use them as an unofficial security force for Nabal.  This would give his men something productive to do and hopefully build good will with Nabal who might return the kindness to David’s men.
By worldly measures, Nabal was a great man. He was rich, powerful, and in charge of many people.  People look at outside appearance.  They see things like wealth and power and property and think that a person is good if they have all these.  However, God looks at the heart and we see that Nabal was a fool because he had a bad heart.  He was selfish, ill-tempered, rude and insulting, and a drunkard.
Nabal probably had a great year with his flocks.  There were always bandits out in the countryside willing to steal and plunder business men like Nabal.  Anyone today who has a lot of wealth and property understands if you’ve got a lot of stuff, you better have some good locks and maybe some security cameras to keep it all secure.  If you have a lot of stuff, there’s always plenty of people out there who will try to take it from you. 
It would have been the same for a man like Nabal, but David and his 600 warriors kept Nabal’s property and shepherds safe.  No bandit could steal from Nabal with David’s security force keeping everything safe.  As Nabal accounted for his extra profits that year, he should have realized his great fortune was due largely to David’s protection.  Less theft and losses in the fields meant greater profits at shearing time, but Nabal presumed all his prosperity was due to his own efforts.  He had no gratitude for David’s help in the matter at all.  Furthermore, he even insulted David—basically calling him a no count, run-away slave who deserved only scorn.
Now, David was a man after God’s own heart, but David was not perfect.  And we see in this instance, David let his anger get the best of him.  He was on the run from Saul, hungry, up to his ears trying to keep his loyal men fed and out of trouble.  All he’s done so far is try to do the right thing and now even the good he has done for Nabal has been ridiculed.  David has had it.  He’s going to kill Nabal and every man in his household.  Talk about an over-reaction!  Even a man with a good heart can lose it sometimes.  Our imperfect hearts get the best of us when we don’t let God’s Holy Spirit direct us.  David was not following God’s spirit and was about to commit a great atrocity. 

Abigail’s Courage
            Then we meet Abigail (the woman who is my daughter's namesake).  Abigail had a courageous heart.  When she learned of Nabal’s foolish behavior and the impending disaster, she gets right to work.  First of all, she took personal responsibility for Nabal’s foolish behavior. 
We might wonder at this.  It was Nabal who acted so foolishly, not Abigail.  However, Abigail knew her husband was prone to foolish behavior.  If that had been your spouse, you would probably be extra careful to watch what they did and keep them from dragging you down with them.  Besides, Abigail was sort of like second in command for the household.  So she was largely responsible for whatever happened in the household, even if it wasn’t directly her fault.
            At any rate, the tact she took with David was both courageous and brilliant.  It took courage, because it put her at great risk.  What if David decided to punish her, taking her life?  The cowardly approach would have been to place blame on others.  But Abigail chose to courageously accept personal responsibility.  Her actions were brilliant because her confession moved David to have mercy.
            People tend to respect us more when we take responsibility—even when we have made a mistake.  It only makes people angrier when you try to blame somebody else.  Think about the recent United Airlines incident where they dragged a passenger off a flight.  Someone videoed the altercation and it went viral.  Then United Airlines came out with an apology that wasn’t really an apology; it was not received well by the public.  People had the perception that the airline was not really sorry and was avoiding responsibility for their actions; it only made the public even angrier. 
When we make excuses, it only angers others, but when we take responsibility, we learn from our mistakes and others tend to respect us and be more forgiving.  It worked for Abigail.  David had compassion and showed mercy.
            Abigail’s courageous actions also helped David avoid a great sin.  Her words showed David what he was doing was wrong.  He was overreacting in a moment of anger.  Abigail’s courageous actions stopped David in his tracks and made him think about what he was doing.  It saved him from making a terrible mistake that would have hurt many people and ruined David’s reputation and destroyed his conscience. 

Our Precarious Condition
            Although this story took place roughly 3,000 years ago, it has another important application for us today.  It is a warning that we should not be fools like Nabal.  Although some would argue we would never act like Nabal, we do it all the time when we take our blessings for granted.
            Those of us who live in America think we have it pretty good.  We are relatively safe and secure.  No foreign nation threatens to invade us.  We are very prosperous.  Even the poor among us are vastly better off than the majority of the world outside our nation.  We have very little to worry about.  And if we aren’t careful, we will take it for granted.  We will forget those who have paid a tremendous price to win and secure our freedom and prosperity.  As we eat, drink, and are merry, we may be tempted to think we are the ones who have made our fortunes.  We might forget that God has been working behind the scenes in human events to bring us to where we are today—even blessing us with the opportunities we have as a nation and as individuals to prosper and live freely.  And yet, how often are we like Nabal—the fool—who rudely disregarded what David had done for him.  We disregard what God has done for us.  He sent his Son, Jesus, to die for our sins.  However, we rudely ask, “Who is Jesus?  What has he really done for me?  Why should I concern myself with him?”
            Meanwhile, because of our sin, we are in danger of eternal punishment.  Jesus came to our world once as a peaceful, helpless baby.  However, Jesus is coming again and this time he will come as a conquering King.  Like David, who strapped on his sword and came ready for war, Jesus may be strapping on his sword right now, along with all the mighty armies of heaven.  Jesus will come to destroy all those arrogant people who have rebelled and continue to rebel against the God of Heaven.
            So what will you do?  Will you go on like the fool, Nabal, eating and drinking and thinking everything is just fine while destruction fast approaches?  Or will you be like Abigail, who had the courage to rush out to find the king, fall on her knees and beg for forgiveness and mercy?  Will you plead, for yourself, for your family, for your community, for you country, for the world?  Or will you pretend like nothing is wrong?
            Don’t be afraid to plead with Jesus for mercy.  Have courage!  Accept responsibility for your sin.  Don’t blame someone else.  It’s your sin.  Own it!  And ask Jesus for mercy.  He will listen and he will forgive.  Jesus will accept you back as his loyal subject if you ask for forgiveness and repent of your sin.  And you will live with him in glory forever.
            I invite you to have courage today.  Get your heart right with Jesus.  And have the courage to warn others when they are going astray too.