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Showing posts with label Jesus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jesus. Show all posts

Monday, October 31, 2022

Don't Fall Away

Introduction
Do you ever stop to review all God has done for you?  I have lived long enough now that it is quite easy to forget all the wonderful things Jesus has done for me.  It's not that I'm not grateful.  It's that there is just so much my brain is not big enough to consciously contain it all--unless I intentionally sit down and try to recall it.  As I do, I think of how Jesus saved me from a broken, abusive home and from poverty.  I remember how Jesus led me to the woman who would become my wife.  I recall how Jesus inspired me and my wife to get a college education, even though it was very difficult and we didn't have a lot of financial support from our families.  Then, Jesus called me to leave a promising career in engineering to enter the ministry, which was another great unknown and tremendously difficult.  Furthermore, Jesus somehow gave us the wisdom and energy to raise 3 brilliant kids, despite moving around from place to place and living on very little income.  I could go on and on about God's blessings to me and my family.  

How about you? What has God done for you? Some of you have survived strokes, heart attacks, and other devastating injuries.  I know someone who conquered cancer and gone on to be very active in my church.  Others have overcome, with God's help, substance abuse or other terribly difficult problems.  Some of survived losing a child or a spouse or someone else you love deeply, picked yourself back up after a divorce, or coped with mental illness.  We’ve all made it through COVID (so far); do you remember when the world shut down?  Here we are.  We are still alive and living, with God's help!  Let us give thanks for God is good!

This is the last blog in our series about conquering your fears. Through faith in Christ we can overcome our fears because God fights for us and we are not alone.  God is with us and the heroes of the Bible and even our loved ones who’ve died and gone to heaven cheer us on when we have faith in Christ.

We’ve been studying how the Israelites had to conquer their fears in order to enter the Promised Land.  The Israelites started out as slaves in Egypt.  God sent 10 plagues to force the Egyptians to let the Israelites go free.  Unfortunately, the Israelites were too afraid to enter the Pormised Land, so they were stuck wandering in the wilderness for forty years until Moses and all the original generation died (except for Joshua and Caleb).  Then Joshua became the new leader who led a new generation to conquer Jericho and the rest of Canaan.  

Now, as we come to our story for today, Joshua is an old man.  God has done all the major fighting for Israel.  Most of the unbelievers have been driven out of Canaan.  A few remain as a test of Israel’s faithfulness—to see if they will complete the work of driving out all the worshipers of false gods (or if they will be unfaithful to Yahweh, the God of Israel).  And now, Joshua is coming to the end of his life and he has some parting advice for his people. 

Joshua 23:6-13
“So be very careful to follow everything Moses wrote in the Book of Instruction. Do not deviate from it, turning either to the right or to the left. Make sure you do not associate with the other people still remaining in the land. Do not even mention the names of their gods, much less swear by them or serve them or worship them. Rather, cling tightly to the Lord your God as you have done until now.

“For the Lord has driven out great and powerful nations for you, and no one has yet been able to defeat you. 10 Each one of you will put to flight a thousand of the enemy, for the Lord your God fights for you, just as he has promised. 11 So be very careful to love the Lord your God.


12 
“But if you turn away from him and cling to the customs of the survivors of these nations remaining among you, and if you intermarry with them, 13 then know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive them out of your land. Instead, they will be a snare and a trap to you, a whip for your backs and thorny brambles in your eyes, and you will vanish from this good land the Lord your God has given you.

Joshua’s 4 Pieces of Advice
Joshua gives the Israelites four pieces of advice:  
1.     Be Obedient.  2.     Be Faithful.  3.     Continue the Mission.  And 4.     Love the Lord your God.

 

Be Obedient

God wanted the Israelites to be obedient.  It’s important to point out that God’s grace came before His call to obedience.  In Exodus 1, the Israelites were slaves in Egypt.  Then God does amazing, miraculous things to deliver the Israelites:

He sent ten plagues on the Egyptians to force them to let the Israelites go.  Then God parting the Red Sea so Israel could cross the sea safely on dry ground.  Next God fed the Hebrews in the wilderness with mana from heaven and quail for meat and water in the desert.  


Now notice, all this happens before God gives Israel the Law.  Exodus chapters 1-19 is all about what God does for the Israelites.  It is not until Exodus 20 that God gives Israel the ten commandments and the rest of the Law.  You see, God’s grace and deliverance precedes the requirements He gives, even in the Old Testament.

 

The same is true for you.  God’s grace pursues you, woos you, encourages you, and invites you before you even spend a single second thinking about Him.  Then, when you realize you need God and you turn from your sin and turn to God through Jesus, God saves you and adopts you as His very own child.  Now, you are part of His family forever.  It is only after God has done all this that you don't deserve that God asks you to be faithful and obedient and act as a member of His royal family.

 

Be Faithful

God enabled Joshua and the Israelites to drive out the unbelieving Canaanites from the Holy Land, because the Canaanites had rejected the One True God for generations (for at least 400 years).  So now, God gave the land to the Israelites.  They were to be God’s royal priesthood who would represent God to the whole world.  They were to help all the nations return to God.  They had a special purpose. 


A few Canaanite settlements remained in the land.  They were there to test Israel’s faithfulness.  Would Israel be faithful to God?  Would they become bored with their devotion to God and become intrigued by the exotic foreign gods of the Canaanites who remained in the land?  Would they decide to hedge their bets?  (You know, let’s worship the God of Israel so He will be good to us, but let’s also worship the gods of the Canaanites just in case?)  God wanted Israel to be faithful to Him alone.


Unfortunately, Joshua 23:12 has been used to say God forbids intermarriage between different races or nations because it says, "if you turn away from him and cling to the customs of the survivors of these nations remaining among you, and if you intermarry with them, then know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive them out of your land."  God doesn't have a problem with intermarriage between people of different races.  It is intermarriage between believers and unbelievers that God discourages.  We know this is true because the clues are right there in the Scripture.  Caleb was the only other Israelite (besides Joshua) who left Egypt who was also honored to enter the Promised Land.  Caleb was not an ethnic Israelite. He was a Kenizzite (which were a Canaanites), yet Caleb married and had descendents who were accepted as Israelites who received allotments in the Holy Land.  Furthermore, Rahab was a Canaanite from Jericho. God saved her when she converted and worshiped the God of the Israelites.  Rehab married an Israelite named Salmon.  She became the great great grandmother mother of King David and one of the direct ancestors of Jesus. Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute, is listed in the New Testament as one of the great heroes of the Christian faith (Hebrews 11:31).  Intermarriage of different races wasn't the problem. Marrying people who worshipped false gods was the problem.  The person you marry is the person who has the greatest influence in your life.  Therefore, we should chose someone who shares our most important core values, which should be our devotion to God through Christ.


In this life, there are many things that will entice you away from God.  Be very, very careful that you remain faithful to God.  He is the only one worthy of your worship.  He must be the first priority of your life.  Do not turn away from Him for riches, for family, for power, for influence, for nation, for politics, for entertainment, for anything.

 

Continue the Mission

God chose the Israelites for a purpose.  He blessed them so that they could be a blessing.  God had already done the hard work of driving out most of the Canaanites.  All that was left was to mop up the few remaining groups.  This was certainly doable for the Israelites who now had a majority and who occupied the fortified cities of Canaan.  Unfortunately, they lost their focus on being the royal priests of God.  They turned their attention to their own personal pursuits—their families, income, and pleasure.  They forgot the mission of God.  Before long, this led to complacency and unfaithfulness.

 

Christians have a mission too.  We are to go into all the world and make disciples of Christ.  We are to teach people about the love and salvation of Christ and invite people to follow Him as Lord.  We are to baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  When we get distracted, we worry about all the other things in life.  The main mission of Christ becomes an after thought or no thought at all.  Our lives are about what makes us happy and soon we don’t even care about God at all, except that maybe He can be useful to give us what we want or help keep us from losing what we love.  Where are we then?  We've become like the Canaanites.  We are right back where we started—full of fear, feeling lost and alone.  


We must stay focused on the mission of God or we get lost once and consumed by our selfishness, fear, and depravity.

 

Love the Lord Your God

Joshua told the Israelites to love the Lord their God.  Jesus said the same thing.  He said the most important commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  And the second was like it:  Love your neighbor as yourself.  


Love is powerful.  Fear of punishment only goes so far.  It’s an immature and incomplete way of living.  God doesn’t want us to obey Him out of fear.  He wants us to obey because of love.  

 

How is it with your friends, your children, your spouse?  Do you want them to be faithful only because they’re afraid of what will happen or how you will react if they betray you?  No!  We want the people we love to be kind and faithful because they love us. Right?


God is the same way.  God has already loved you with the greatest love of all.  Romans 5:8 – “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”  God wants us to be obedient and faithful—not out of fear, but—out of love.  When you love someone, you try to the best of your ability to do what they want.  Most importantly, you do what they need (even if it's not what they want).  That's love.  


What Christ asks of us is not so difficult.  It is an easy burden to bear and one He helps us carry.  It is love.  Love God with all you are love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Is that so hard?  We are not asked to take up a sword and drive out Canaanite armies.  In America, thanks be to God, we are not even in danger of being tortured or killed for our faith as many other Christians are around the world. So can’t we be obedient and faithful and love?


Closing
As I close, I want to invite you to decide who you will follow.  Have you ever decided to follow Jesus as a Christian? If not, please do that today.  Ask God to forgive you for the ways you've turned your back on Him up until today.  Now make a commitment to follow Christ and ask Jesus to help you keep your commitment.  From this day on, seek to be obedient and faithful to God through Christ.  


Perhaps you are already a Christian.  Maybe you even became a Christian a long time ago.  Have you been faithful or have you drifted from the faith or from your commitment? If so, please chose to recommit your life to Jesus today.  God will forgive you for getting off track.  He will help you to make a fresh start if you ask Him.  So ask Him today.

Monday, October 24, 2022

You Are Not Alone

Introduction
Kids are scary.  Once, when my daughter was maybe two years old, I was sleeping peacefully when I was startled from my sleep in the middle of the night.  There, in the dark, just inches from my face, I saw two big blue eyes staring at me!  After just a moment of shock, it registered that this was the face of my blonde-haired, blue eyed daughter.  She'd woken from a dream and was scared in the dark, so she silently wandered into her parents' room for comfort.  We welcomed her into our bed, where she immediately curled up and fell back asleep.

For some reason, we often don’t want to be alone when we’re afraid.  When we’re afraid as kids, we run to our parents or someone strong who can protect us.  When we’re afraid because we’re facing uncertainty, we want the company of those who have faced our situation before.  Sometimes, we just want someone to be with us so we’re not alone.  

Today, I want to reassure you:  you are not alone in your fear.

Hebrews 11:1
Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see

It Starts with Faith
Faith is the key to so much in life because we can’t see what the future holds.  We don’t know what tomorrow may bring, let alone what will happen next week or next year.  We hope for something good and the Bible says God has good plans for us, but we can’t see the good that will come or the God who promises to give it to us.  

That’s where faith is the key.  Faith shows us the reality of what we hope for.  We hope that God is good, that God loves us, that God has the power to do good for us. That is our hope.  Faith shows us it is true.  Faith is the evidence.  

Through the lens of faith, we can see the love and power of God through all the events of life.  Where others who lack faith see nothing, we see the power and goodness of God.  Where others, who lack faith, see terror and tragedy and disappointment, we see God helping us, healing us, and even using bad things that He didn't want to happen for our good.  Faith in the lens that enables us to interpret events as the work of  good God.

The 11th chapter of Hebrews gives a long list of people whose faith helped them do amazing things.  Noah built the Ark and saved the animals and his family from the flood so the world could have a fresh start.  Abraham left his homeland and went to the Promised Land where God gave him so many descendants we can't even count them all.  His wife, Sarah, was able to have a child even though she was barren and too old.  By faith, Moses was saved from the Nile River and raised by Pharaoh's daughter.  Later, by faith, Moses delivered the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt.  By faith, Joshua led the Israelites to conquer Jericho and all of Canaan.  By faith, Rahab, who was a Canaanite, was saved from destruction and became one of God’s chosen people—and ancestor of King David and later Jesus the Christ.  By faith, all these people did amazing things because they trusted God and He helped them.

But there are others mentioned too—people whose life story did not have a happy ending—at least, not by the world’s standards and not in this life.  Some were scorned, some were abused, tortured, or even murdered because of their faith in God.  But by faith, they understood they were not defeated because God vindicated them in the afterlife.  These faithful martyrs from the past faced persecution and death willingly because their faith helped them see it was better to honor God than keep their life.  They believed in God’s goodness and trusted Him even to the point of death.  As Hebrews 11:35 says, “They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection.”  And so, now they have it.  We need not feel sorry for them.  We can even envy their eternal reward because they where special crown in eternity that honors their faithful witness in death.

Through faith, we can see that God didn’t abandon the world, even though our sin was terrible.  “For," John 3:16 says, "God loved the world so much, He sent His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but will have eternal life.”

Faith is the key to so much in life.

Have Faith in Yourself
You have to have faith in yourself.  You have to believe you can succeed.  Of course you have to put in the effort to train and prepare for success.  But even if you full prepare for success and don't believe in yourself, you will fail.  You have to prepare and have faith that you will succeed or you have already defeated yourself.  So you have to believe you can do it or you can't.

 

Have Faith in Others
The truth is we can't fully succeed in life on our own.  We need other people.  That's the life works.  You need to be able to have faith in other people.  You need others to succeed.  That's why it's so important that you surround yourself with people you can count on--people who will tell you the truth, people who will help and encourage you, people who will help you be your best.  Otherwise, if you can't have faith in the people around you, they will pull you down.  (It's also important to say you should be the kind of person others can have faith in too.  They need you to help them also.)

Have Faith is God
We also need to have faith in something bigger than ourselves.  If we only having faith in ourselves and others, we will be very limited in what we can accomplish.  We may accomplish some good things, but greatness will elude us because we will be limited by our human abilities.  God has big plans for you, bigger than what you can do on your own (or even with the help of others).  If David (from the Bible) only trusted in his ability (or even the ability of the army of Israel), he never would have stepped forward to fight the giant, Goliath.  He was just a skinny kid who couldn't even wear armor or pick up a sword.  David trusted God was able to give him the victory and he went to battle based on his faith in God.  When we trust God, He enables us to do great things--greater than we can do on our own.  So we must have faith in God.

One of the great things God does for us is save us from our sin, through Christ, for eternal life.  Do you trust God?  Do you have faith in Him?  Will you let Christ be your Lord?

You Are Not Alone
In the Old Testament, God spoke to reassure His people in their time of distress in Isaiah 41:10, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”

You are not alone!  In the New Testament, Jesus reassured His followers in Matthew 28:20, “Be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end

of the age.”  I'm sure the Twelve Disciples were afraid and overwhelmed by the prospect of going out into the whole world to make disciples for Jesus.  The "whole world" is a big, scary place!  So Jesus said they could be sure He was always with them.  And Jesus said He would be with His disciples to the end of the age.  "The Age" hasn't ended yet and we are Jesus' disciples if we call Him Lord.  So that means Jesus is with us too!  And it means we have a big job to do--to make disciples of all nations.

So we see that God is with us in the midst of everything we face in life.  Hebrews 12:1 gives even more encouragement to those who have faith.  You are not alone!  Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”

You are not alone in your fear or in any of life’s struggles or victories.  All the famous heroes of the Bible are cheering you own!  Abraham, Moses, David, the Twelve Disciples are cheering for you!  Not only that, your friends and love ones who trusted Jesus and have died and gone to be with Him, they are cheering you on too!  You can think of many of the names of your Christian loved ones who have gone to be with the Lord.  They are cheering for you!  You are surrounded by a great crowd of witnesses to the life of faith who are rooting for you!

So, DO NOT BE AFRAID!  God is with you!  His faithful people are with you too!

Closing Meditation
Imagine a great cloud of witnesses surrounding you.  Among them are Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah and the prophets, and the Twelve Disciples.  Among them are the many Christian martyrs who gave their lives for the faith over the last 2,000 years.  Among them also are so many of the people you've loved who have died and gone to be with Jesus in Heaven.  

They are so proud of you.  They are cheering for you, encouraging you, rooting for you to succeed.  They understand the difficulties you face, because they faced them too and they made it through.  The know you are scared or overwhelmed, but they know you can make it through.  They are rooting for you!

I also want you to know that God, in Jesus, is with you too. He is not angry.  He is not disappointed.  He loves you.  He loves you so much He died for you.  Imagine Jesus calling out to you.  He says, “Come to me, you who are weary and carrying a heavy burden. Give it to me. I offer rest for your weary soul.  I have something better for you.  It isn’t hard to carry.  And you don’t have to carry it alone.  I will walk with you and help you.  And all these saints around you will be there too, cheering you on.  And there will be many Christians in this world who will help you too.  For in my Church, we are family—brothers and sisters in Christ.  You are not alone.  Don’t be afraid.  I am with you."

Let the reality of this scene wash over you.  You cannot see it with your physical eyes.  See it with the eyes of faith and believe,  Amen.

Monday, October 10, 2022

Fear is and Opportunity

Introduction
Halloween is just around the corner.  It’s a holiday full of monsters and frightening characters.  Scary movies are shown on TV and in movies.  It's not meant to glorify or celebrate fear or evil.  Halloween is a chance to have a little fun with our fears.  Making light and laughing at our fear and the monsters who scare us is a way for people to cope with real fear. 

The scary monster jumps out on the movie screen, everyone screams, and popcorn flies through the air, but then we laugh.  “They got me!”  We’re relieved and endorphins flood through our body and we laugh, because it’s entertainment.  We know the monster isn’t real and, subconsciously, we’re happy that monsters aren’t real and we don’t really have to be afraid.

However, there are also real fear in life.  What are you afraid of?  When did you first notice your fear?  Was it triggered by something?  Does your fear keep you from doing something you want to of need to do?

Today, we will see that fear is an opportunity.  The Apostle James wrote in the New Testament to encourage a small group of Christians living in a scary, hostile world who faced ridicule, persecution, arrest, exile, and even death simply because they believed Jesus was the Son of God who rose from the dead.  Listen to what he said. 

James 1:2-4
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

Fear is an Opportunity
Fear is an opportunity, because fear tests your faith.  When God asks you to do something, it is often scary because it challenges you to step out of our comfort zones and do something beyond our natural ability.   

God called me to preach and pastor, but it’s not natural to me (well, at least it wasn’t natural to me in beginning).  I’m shy.  I’m nervous around large crowds of people.  I don’t even like to go to Walmart if it’s particularly crowded.  Standing up in front of a group people to speak is not normal for me.  If you'd told me I was going to be a preacher when I was 18, I would have said you were crazy.  That's not me.  I even remember one time freezing up at a youth Sunday event trying to give the announcements when I was only 22.   

Still, God called me to preach when I was 23.  It was an “opportunity”.  I was afraid to do it.  When I finally got up the courage to say yes, I found out my wife was afraid  too.  At first, she said "no", point blank.  She said she was not cut out to be a preacher's wife.  She felt she didn't have the bubbly personality of the stereotypical preacher's wife.  However, God made my me and our wife the way He did for a reason and then He called us into the ministry.  He chose us for His own reasons. Eventually, our faith overcame our fear and we said yes to God's plan and we’ve ministered now for 21 fruitful years in 4 churches.  

God promised to give the Israelites the Promised Land—a land flowing with milk and honey.  But in order to realize the Promise, they had to trust God despite their fears.  Last week, we learned how their lack of faith (because there were giants and fortified cities in the Promised Land) led to their wandering in the wilderness for 40 years.  Finally, when a new and more faithful generation arose, God led the Israelites to finally enter the Promised Land.  But they still needed faith and courage.  The Lord appointed Joshua as the new leader of His people.  And he said:

Joshua 1:5-9
No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you.

“Be strong and courageous, for you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Why Must We Face Fear?
Have you ever wondered why God didn’t just give the Israelites the Promised Land?  I mean, If He’s an all-powerful God, why didn’t God just hand the Land to the Israelites?  Why did they even need to be “strong and courageous” and fight to win the Promised Land?

The Israelites had to test their faith in God by facing their fear and overcome trials and hardships through the conquest of the Promised Land.  Yes, God could have just given the Land to the Israelites (He had the right and power to do it), but it would have robbed the Israelites of an critical opportunity.

Looking back at James 1:2-4.  Simply giving the Land to the Israelites would have robbed them of the opportunity “for great joy.”  It would denied them the chance to grow their endurance and to be perfect and complete, needing nothing. 

When you face your own fears, it is an opportunity for great joy.  For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow!  For when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.  When we face our fears, we grow stronger, learn more about ourselves, and draw closer to God.[i]  We learn to depend upon God and we find out God is bigger than any of our fears.  In Christ we see that even death itself cannot defeat God.  Therefore, death cannot defeat us because we belong to God in Christ. 

What is Your Promised Land?
What is your Promised Land?  For the Israelites who descended from slaves who lived in Egypt and then wandering nomads in the dessert, their Promised Land was a place to truly call their home—an abundant land where they could settle down and build homes and grow their own food and live at peace with their children and worship their God.  That was their Promised Land, but what’s yours?

You need a reason overcome your fear.  There are a lot of different fears that can plague a person’s life.  Some are scared of snakes or spiders or flying and maybe you don’t have to face all of your fears.  If your fear of snakes or spiders or flying doesn’t keep you from entering your “Promised Land”, then it may not really be a big deal.  In other words, if your fear of “whatever” doesn’t keep you from living a full life and doing the things God wants you to do, then maybe it doesn’t really matter.  If you're afraid of spiders, but your husband or wife will can kill them for you, then why do you need to overcome your fear.  (So, I’m saying you don’t necessarily have to face ALL your fears.) 

I want you to focus on those fears that are keeping you from being all and doing all that God wants you to do.  So if you’re afraid of flying, just don’t fly.  Simple.  But what if God is calling you to go visit your son who lives so far away that driving there isn’t a practical option.  Well see, now you’ve got to face your fear.  If your fear of standing up in front of people to preach is stopping you from saying “Yes” to God when He says, “I want you to be a preacher,” then you’ve got to face your fear. 

If you can’t live at peace with God and with each other because some “fear” stands between you and your “Promised Land”, then you’ve got to trust God to help you conquer your fear.  Otherwise, you will be stuck "wandering in the wilderness" the rest of your life. 

Is Jesus Your Lord
The biggest fear of all (something that I pray will keep you up at night until you finally make peace with it) is whether or not Jesus is truly Lord of your life.  The Truth is, Jesus is Lord of all.  “He existed in the beginning with God.  God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.” (John 1:2-3)

Unfortunately, not everyone accepts Jesus as Lord.  They may say Jesus is Lord with their lips, but they do not obey Jesus as Lord.  Their allegiance is not to Him above all else.  Some reject Christ all together.  Others pay lip services, claiming Jesus is Lord, but they try to control what parts of their life they give to Jesus and what parts they keep for themselves.  “But to all who believe in him and accepted him, he gives the right to become children of God.” (adapted from John 1:12) 

If Jesus is truly your Lord, you have nothing to fear.  Even when death comes (for it comes for us all), we still have nothing to fear because we have eternal life.  For those who reject Jesus as Lord, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  You won’t be able to excuse yourself by saying, “I never rejected the Lord!”  If you never intentionally gave your life to Jesus and chose to obey Him as Lord, you may hear Him say to you as He said in Matthew 7:23, “I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws."  Or you may hear as in Matthew 25:30, “Throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

It doesn’t have to be that way.  You can face the biggest fear today.  Chose  to serve Jesus as Lord.  Chose to let Him be your only Lord and Lord of your whole life.  Don’t try to hold back different parts from Him.  Let Jesus be Lord of all.  Choose to obey Him, 100%.  Go where He leads you.  Do what He asks.  Let His mission be your mission—even if it scares you.  Trust Him to see you through—all the way into eternity.  Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  “Love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear.” (1 John 4:18) 



[i] https://hebrews12endurance.com/face-your-fears/#How_to_Face_Your_Fears_Head-on

Monday, September 26, 2022

The Year of Jubilee - Freedom in Christ

Introduction
This is our last message in a series about the ancient Israelite Year of Jubilee.  Every 50th year on the Day of Atonement the ancient Israelites would blow a ram’s horn.  We get the name "Jubilee" from the Hebrew word for ram's horn, which is jubel or yobel.  Different kinds if horns can be used for the sacred Jewish trumpet (AKA shofar).  The prefered horn is a curved ram.  Next in line would be a curved from a sheep, followed by a curved horn from any other animal--like a
kudu, which have visually striking spiral horns.  The least preferred horns for a shofar would be a straight horn or a horn from a non-kosher animal.  Cow horns were not supposed to be used.

On the Year of Jubilee, slaves were freed, all debts were forgiven, land that had been sold was restored to the original owner.  There was also no agricultural work during the Year of Jubilee.

The Jubilee was every 50th year, but Israelites also got a year off every seventh year.  

Leviticus 25:18-22
18 “If you want to live securely in the land, follow my decrees and obey my regulations. 19 Then the land will yield large crops, and you will eat your fill and live securely in it. 20 But you might ask, ‘What will we eat during the seventh year, since we are not allowed to plant or harvest crops that year?’ 21 Be assured that I will send my blessing for you in the sixth year, so the land will produce a crop large enough for three years. 22 When you plant your fields in the eighth year, you will still be eating from the large crop of the sixth year. In fact, you will still be eating from that large crop when the new crop is harvested in the ninth year. 

Israel was God’s Kingdom on Earth
Most people don’t understand how special was ancient Israel.  They were a very, very special people.  They had the opportunity to be God’s chosen nation on earth.  They were to be God’s royal priesthood who represent God to the whole world.  As such, they would enjoy many special benefits that other nations didn’t have that allowed the Israelites the freedom to concentrate on showing God to the whole world. 

One special blessing was a year off of work every seventh year.  This was huge—especially living in and agricultural economy.  Lev. 25:18-22 answers the obvious question: how can people who live by subsistence farming survive without farming for a year?


Verses 18-22 explain the Israelites would have normal harvests for five years. Then they would God would send a super abundant harvest in the sixth year.  They would eat what they wanted in the sixth year and store away all the surplus.  When the farmers took the seventh year off, they would eat some of their stores from the sixth year.  In the eighth year, they would plant they next crop, but they would have to wait until that crop matured and was harvested.  So they would still be eating the food they stored away on the sixth year and those stores would last all the way to the beginning of year ninth year when were back on track with the regular planting and harvesting cycle.  This was the blessing God promised the Israelites if they would be faithful.

God’s People Live By Faith
How could the Israelites live this way? They could only do it by trusting in their Lord.  The whole concept of Israel was based on faith in Yahweh, their God.  

Yahweh is the God who called Abraham to leave his homeland in Ur and go to a “Promised Land”.

Yahweh is the God who delivered the Hebrew slaves from Egypt—the most powerful empire in the world at the time.  Only God could defeat Egypt and win the Hebrew's freedom.

Yahweh is the God who provided mana from Heaven and water of life as the Hebrews wandered in the dessert for forty years.  There was no farming going on for those forty, but could provided.  If God can provide for forty year of wandering in the dessert, He can provide one or two years of food for the Israelite's sabbatical years.

Yahweh is the God who conquered the Canaanites for the Israelites. God did the fighting.  Take the battle of Jericho for instance.  Tha battle plan was ludicrous and designed to show everyone that it was only God who won the battle.  The Israelites marched around the city for seven days and then on the seventh day they blew trumpets.  They didn't use catapults of siege works. They blew ram's and the walls cam crumbling down!

What was required of the Israelites for all this to happen? Faith.  They had to trust God and obey.  Faith and obedience was what God required as they took possession and lived in the Promised Land.  They had to trust God to provide enough food for living—even if they took one day off per week, one year off every seven, and celebrated a Jubilee every 50th year.  This was the requirement and the blessing reserved specifically for God's people, Israel.

Unfortunately, Biblical scholars and historians say most evidence shows the ancient Israelites never fully followed the Sabbath cycle.  One of the main sins of which Biblical prophets accused Israelites is not observing the Sabbath.  They only occasionally took the seventh year off and there is little evidence that they every really fulfilled the stipulations of the Jubilee year.  They always found loopholes so they didn’t take the Jubilee year off from work.  They found ways to work around the law so they didn’t have to set all their slaves free, they didn't forgive debts, and they didn’t give land back to the original owners.  

Some religious scholars point out the seventy years the Jewish captives spent in Babylon after the fall of Jerusalem were to make up for all the Sabbath years the Israelites skipped. According to 2 Chronicles 36:20-21, “The land finally enjoyed its Sabbath rest, lying desolate until the seventy years were fulfilled, just as the prophet had said.”  Even though the Israelites disobeyed, God made sue the land had its rest.  God cares about the land, even if people don't.

That’s what people do. We don’t fully trust God.  We're disobedient.  When we don’t fully trust God, we try to work things out ourselves. We do it our own way.  We try to justify our disobedience and do what seems right in our own eyes.  

At first glance, this seems like normal behavior. It seems like we’re being prudent, like we’re only doing what makes sense.  Sin often seems to make sense when we look at it from a merely human perspective.  It’s what happened at the fall of humanity in the Garden of Eden.

God made the Garden and told Adam and Eve they could eat any fruit in the whole Garden, only don't eat the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  If they ate it, God said they would die.  Satan told Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:4-5, 4 “You won’t die! …God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”

And it says in verses 6-7, “6 The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too.”

Thus, sin entered the world and we’ve been trying to do it all our own way ever since.  Look where it’s gotten us: a broken creation, a broken humanity, and we are stressed and a mess and slaves to our own sin.

You would think God had given up on us, but he hasn’t. God still loves us. John 3:16 says – “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

And so Christ came to save us.  He left the glory of Heaven to come to our broken world.  He didn’t come in glory as he deserved. Instead, he was born as a humble child to poor parents.  He lived as one of us—ordinary people. He was like us in every way—accept without sin, for He trust God and obeyed perfectly. Jesus fulfilled God’s law perfectly.  Jesus calls us to repent of our sin, to turn to God, to trust Him and obey.  

Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty of our sin. If we trust Him, we are no longer guilty.
We have eternal life in Him and we are called to be His people.


1 Peter 2:9 says, “…for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.”

Christians who trust in Jesus as Lord are now Israel.  We are God’s chosen people.  We are the captive Hebrew slaves who have been set free, but our freedom isn't just from Egyptian slave masters (or some other earthly power).  Our freedom is a freedom from the dark power of sin enforced by Satan.

Galatians 5:1 says,  “So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.”

You have to choose freedom over slavery every day.  You see, whenever you choose to trust your own way more than God’s way, you are choosing slavery to sin.  

Think over your life. Think about how it was when you’re rejected God’s way and chosen your own path.  It may have felt good initially, but then it led to trouble, to stress and weariness and pain.  Soon you were enslaved, and it felt awful.   And the only way out is to repent and seek forgiveness.

Confession of Sin (adapted from UMH 893)
So now, let us repent and confess our sins to the Lord and receive His forgiveness.  Here is a prayer you can use.  Read this prayer of confession as your words to God today.  Adapted it and add to it according to your need.

Lord, I confess my day to day failure to be truly human.  I confess I often fail to love with all I have and am, often because I do not fully understand what loving means, often because I am afraid of the risk.  Lord, we confess to You.  I have cut myself off from others and erected barriers of division.  I confess that by silence and ill-considered word I have built up walls of prejudice.  Lord, I confess that by selfishness and lack of sympathy I have stifled generosity and left little time for others.  

Holy Spirit speak to me. Help me listen to Your word of forgiveness, for I am very deaf. Come, fill this moment and free me from my sin. Amen.

Forgiveness
My friend, with the authority God gives me, I say to you:  In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.  Amen.