A Rally Cry

Perhaps some of you saw the news report yesterday regarding the most recent Pew survey entitled, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape.”

The major finding of the study was that “the United States is a significantly less Christian country than it was seven years ago.” Alan Cooperman, Pew’s Director of Religious Research, was quoted as saying, “the trend is big, it’s broad and it’s everywhere.”

My initial response was, “Do we really need a survey to tell us this? Anyone with a pair of eyes or a set of ears could tell you this. It’s written all over the pages of our 21st century American culture.”

But then I got to thinking about the emotions that could be raised by the reports. You see many of those same emotions displayed in the Bible when it appeared to believers that skepticism and unbelief were winning out against faith in Christ.

Just to preview a bit for you, in today’s Bible reading alone…

  • Delilah and her Philistine masters seem to win out against Samson and the Israelites
  • The Israelites’ devotion to God’s order of things is questioned time and time again by the refrain we find in the book of Judges: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Judges 17:6, NIV).
  • Jesus himself is attacked by the very people who were expected to provide leadership for God’s people in matters of faith
  • David, feeling rejected by God, cries out in the Psalms: “You have rejected us, God, and burst upon us; you have been angry—now restore us!” (Psalm 60:1, NIV).

So, this isn’t our first rodeo. For followers of Christ, experiencing setbacks and losses, along with the accompanying feelings of rejection or fears of dismissal, have all been around as long as faith in God has been around.

And that takes us to my favorite verse from today’s reading. Immediately following David’s lament above, he goes on to say this:

“But for those who fear you, you have raised a banner to be unfurled against the bow” (Psalm 60:4, NIV).

In other words, for those who remain steadfast in faith, this is a time of opportunity. It’s a call to rally around Jesus Christ as our banner, to fight courageously for the cause of faith, and to proclaim the gospel more boldly and strenuously than ever before.

In ancient sea battles, a banner was unfurled to rally the troops. A banner was lowered on the bow to identify which nation you were fighting for. A banner was proudly displayed to encourage and strengthen the resolve of those who believed in the cause.

In other words, David says, “This is not the time to be discouraged. In fact, it’s prime time to be encouraged, and to fight all the harder for Jesus. It’s an opportunity God is providing to struggle for the sake of the gospel.”

The Bible shows us again and again, “With Jesus at our side, who knows what great things — and great victories — he has planned? After all, didn’t he die, and then come back to life? Hasn’t he promised to return one day with greater glory than we have ever seen?”

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, May 13, is Judges 16:1 – 17:13, John 7:45 – 8:11 and Psalm 60:1-4.

Lord, help me to be bold to share the gospel of your Son, Jesus Christ, with others. Rally your church around the cause of loving others with the love of Jesus, and proclaiming in words, in music, in actions and in sacraments the message of your forgiveness, grace and peace.

Oh, and by the way, sandwiched in the Pew research is this little paragraph that may give a measure of encouragement to those who hold to Biblical, historical and conservative Christian beliefs. Does this perhaps foreshadow the direction of Christianity in the U.S.?

“The new survey indicates that churches in the evangelical Protestant tradition – including the Southern Baptist Convention, the Assemblies of God, Churches of Christ, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Presbyterian Church in America, other evangelical denominations and many nondenominational congregations – now have a total of about 62 million adult adherents. That is an increase of roughly 2 million since 2007, though once the margins of error are taken into account, it is possible that the number of evangelicals may have risen by as many as 5 million or remained essentially unchanged.”

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God’s Outstretched Arm

This was no small problem Moses was facing. His job was to deliver the Israelites from Egypt. But Pharaoh, the most powerful man in the world, was a tad resistant to the idea.

Pharaoh had plenty of authority to back up his desire to keep the Israelites enslaved. In fact, when the Israelites requested a short leave so they could worship God, Pharaoh felt completely comfortable doubling down on the Israelites and increasing their workload instead. What were the puny Israelites going to do about it?

Moses was supposed to be helping the Israelites gain their freedom, and it seemed like all his efforts were merely increasing their servitude instead. Moses’ efforts only served to stretch the problem out further.

We’re not discussing your everyday, garden-variety problem here. We’re talking real problems. Big problems.

Do you have any problems like that? I’m talking about the type of problem that makes you feel far more like a slave than a person who’s been freed in Christ. I’m referring to the kind of problem in which the solution only seems to make matters worse. This is the sort of problem that comes with built-in, huge resistance to change.

Do you know what the beauty of these problems is? Eventually we come to the realization that we can’t solve them in our own wisdom or strength. Only God can.

Big problems are the precursor to witnessing God step in to create a big solution.

The Israelites slavery in Egypt was that kind of problem. Our slavery to sin is that kind of problem, too. On both occasions, God responded with the perfect solution. And it was a solution only God could provide.

Because the stretched-out problems we face demand the power of God’s outstretched arm.

“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.’” (Exodus 6:6-8, NIV).

Lord, how awesome to know that whenever I’m facing a big problem in life, you are there to deliver me. It’s not all up to me to discover and implement the solution. My wisdom and strength are not nearly as important as your wisdom and strength, as you pointed out to Moses. Help me to rest in the power of your outstretched arm and find peace in knowing I am your very own.

Our Bible reading for Monday, February 9, is Exodus 4:1 – 6:12, Matthew 26:31-46 and Proverbs 4:10-19.

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Even Before It Happens, He Knows

Wouldn’t it be great to have a periscope that allowed you to peer around the corner of today, and see into the future? Personally, I think even an hour or two’s foresight would be great, much less a whole day!

Although you and I possess only the gift of cloudy foresight, Jesus is the Son of God. That makes him capable of seeing with 20/20 vision what’s coming in the future. This is pretty obvious from what happened as Jesus prepared to celebrate the Last Supper with his disciples. He knew perfectly well what was about to happen. And his love for you and me compelled him to go forward with the plan.

“As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away” (Matthew 21:1-3, NIV).

As the Son of God, Jesus not only knows the future, he controls the future. That means nothing can happen to me that is outside of his control and loving purpose for my life.

Maybe you’d rather have some sort of early warning system to see stuff coming for yourself. Would that feel safer to you?

The thing is, we have to be willing to surrender control to him. The person who wants an early warning system is a person who still feels he’s better equipped to be behind the wheel than Jesus is.

How about this instead? Move over. Let him provide the answers. Let him assemble the protection. Let him be your solid hope and help. After all, like the Bible says, Jesus is your rock, your fortress, and your deliverer. And nothing that’s coming up is going to catch him by surprise.

From David’s limited, human perspective, there were always a lot of invisible “moving parts” in his future. David learned to surrender the control to God and simply trust that God’s plan for him was good and gracious.

If we do it that way, we don’t need the periscope at all.

Because we can do the same as David and say, “I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Psalm 18:1-2, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Saturday, January 31, is Job 19:1 – 21:34, Matthew 21:1-17 and Psalm 18:1-6.

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Two Reasons Why God Answers Your Prayers

As king of Israel, David had a lot of responsibility. For the kingdom of Israel, he was a visionary leader, a political leader, and a military leader. And not to be lost in all those responsibilities is that David was to shepherd and lead the people’s hearts to God.

For David to carry out all his varied responsibilities faithfully, he needed help. Lots of help. And there was one place that he knew he could always go to receive that help.

That made David a man of prayer. As you read through the Psalms, you’ll notice David displayed confidence that God would hear his prayers. And that was because he knew two things for sure.

He knew that God loves powerfully. God’s love for him and the people of Israel was truly a wonder to David. It was so powerful that David could ask God to show up. In fact, he believed, God’s love would never allow him not to show up.

David also knew that God loves him personally. David recognized that he is “the apple of God’s eye.”

How about you? I’m guessing you have a lot of responsibility too. You need to be able to call on God and know that he hears your prayers.

He does. And he will answer. Because God’s love for you and the people you are responsible for is powerful. And because God’s love for you is personal. You are the apple of God’s eye!

“I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer. Show me the wonders of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes. Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings” (Psalm 17:6-8, NIV).

Lord, I know two things about you. Your love is wondrously powerful. And you love me personally. I have responsibilities that are far too large. I cannot handle them all adequately. But you can. Because you love powerfully, and because you love me personally, hear and answer my prayers.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, January 29, is Job 11:1 – 14:22, Matthew 20:1-19 and Psalm 17:6-12.

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Wind. Waves. A Hand Up.

How quickly our faith can go from flying at 70 miles an hour to a full stop.

All of Jesus’ disciples were in a boat sailing across the Sea of Galilee following the feeding of the 5000. It’s the middle of the night. A huge wind is pressing against the boat and buffeting it side to side.

Jesus comes to them across the lake on foot in the middle of the night.

Yes. On foot. Walking on the surface of the water.

When the disciples saw Jesus, they were frightened out of their minds. In the darkness, they didn’t even recognize it was him at first. They thought they were seeing a ghost.

But then Jesus said to them, “Take courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid!”

And hearing those powerful words of Jesus, Peter made a bold statement: “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come on,” Jesus says.

And that’s how Peter finds himself walking on top of the water with Jesus.

He’s on top of the water, that is, until he isn’t: “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!'”

Sometimes in life we put ourselves into situations because we are excited to walk in faith, and we are confident that God will take care of us. And then something happens that frightens us out of our minds. Faith flees. Courage collapses. And we feel like we are sinking.

Fear is powerful. But do you remember what Jesus did?

“Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?'” (Matthew 14:31, NIV)

Be confident that when your faith flees, Jesus is also with you. He will offer you his hand. He will catch you. Jesus’ love is far more powerful than our fear.

Don’t doubt that for a minute.

Our reading for Wednesday, January 21, is Genesis 41:41 – 42:38, Matthew 14:22 – 15:9 and Psalm 12:1-8.

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A Man Burdened

E.M. Bounds (1835-1913), who authored nine books on the subject of prayer, once wrote, “Prayer is the language of a man burdened with a sense of need.”

But sometimes when we go through a painful patch, we wonder where God is. Does he know what I’m going through? Is he aware?

And if I pray, will he listen to me? Will he pay attention, even if all I feel like doing is lashing out? What if it sounds a lot like faithless whining?

Then, will he do something about it? Does he care enough to help me? Do I matter enough to him that he will get up and act to take care of what’s causing this pain?

And finally, can he do something about it? Does he have the power? The authority?

David must have had some of the same questions going through his own mind. And he wrote a Psalm about it. Whatever pain, sorrow or affliction he was going through at the time, he puts himself in front of God in prayer.

There he reminds himself (and if you actually look at, he appears to be reminding God too!) of these facts:

  • God is always in control, and that will never end.
  • He listens when we pray.
  • He encourages us and defends us–especially when we are most helpless and powerless.
  • He can and will do something about our troubles. The power and authority are there. The love and compassion are there too.

“The Lord is King for ever and ever; the nations will perish from his land. You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, so that mere earthly mortals will never again strike terror” (Psalm 10:16-18, NIV).

Lord, you are king! You are in control of everything that goes on in the world and in my life. You listen to me when I pray. You hear me when I’m most powerless. Lift my burden. Encourage me with your power and love at work in my life. Take my trouble and worry, and deal with them according to your will. I know that you can and will help me carry this burden, and at the same time, you will use this trouble to strengthen my heart, and increase my faith.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, January 18, is Genesis 36:1 – 37:36, Matthew 13:18-35 and Psalm 10:12-18.

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Anguish

Anguish is defined by Merriam-Webster as “extreme pain, distress or anxiety.”

You’ve been there. So have I.

We experience a loss. Maybe it’s a loved one, or a treasured possession, or a capability we once possessed. It’s painful.

We come under attack. Perhaps it’s an attack on our health by a disease or injury. Maybe it’s a personal attack by someone from whom we expect support. That’s distressing.

We face difficult challenges that lie ahead. They may seem insurmountable. Defeat looms, rather than victory. In the place of glory, shame hovers. The situation is most definitely anxiety-producing.

What’s the best way to handle anguish? I highly recommend David’s way.

He trusted God’s power to sooth his anguish. He leaned on God’s authority to address issues and provide healing, according to his will. Most of all, no matter what situation was creating his pain, distress or anxiety, David looked to God for unfailing love.

“Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long? Turn, Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love” (Psalm 6:2-4, NIV).

Lord, you are in control of the entire universe, and you love me. Please grant me relief of my anguish, according to your will, Lord. May this pain and distress draw me closer to you. May my anxiety make me a more faithful pray-er.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, January 7, is Genesis 14:1 – 16:16, Matthew 5:43 – 6:24 and Psalm 6:1-10.

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