Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Standing on the Promises - Paul

There is a defined difference between an opinion and a conviction. An opinion is a commitment to what we think is true or want to be true, based on personal feelings and perception. Opinion is relative. It may change with age, information or circumstances. Opinions are affected by how things look, what others are saying or how we feel about what we’re going through.

A conviction is more absolute. It remains constant. A conviction is a commitment to what we’re convinced is true, based on facts from a source we trust. It isn’t affected by how things look, what others are saying or how we feel about what we’re going through. Convictions remain true because the source of our trust doesn’t change.

I was surprised to find that Rick Warren and I agreed on something: An opinion is something you hold; a conviction is something that holds you. An opinion is something you’ll argue about. A conviction is something you will suffer for and, if necessary, die for.

We form opinions by collecting data from observation, circumstances, feelings, other people and logic. Though these are our feelers to help us regulate ourselves to what’s around us, they do not always tell us the truth. My eyes can deceive me. My heart can overwhelm me. What people say may confuse me. My logic can be flawed.

A man stepped on a scale that produced a card giving his weight and comments about his personality. “Here, listen to this: “You are a dynamic, born leader, handsome, and much admired by others for your personality.” “Let me see that card,” his wife said. “Oh, I see it’s got your weight wrong too."
An opinion is a preference. A conviction is a principle. Preferences change. Principles remain the same.

Faith, as you might imagine, is designed to operate on conviction, not opinion.

Heb 11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 

Opinions do not reflect faith. They reflect the moment. How I feel today about an issue may not be how I feel about it tomorrow. If all I have is an opinion that God is faithful, I will not depend on Him. I must be convinced. My opinion may change if God disappoints me, or my pain is worse today than yesterday, or the flat tire makes me late to an appointment. My conviction stands firm because God doesn’t change. If I have a God who changes, then I can have no convictions.

Spurgeon: If I thought that the notes of the bank of England could not be cashed next week, I should decline to take them; and if I thought that God's promises would never be fulfilled – if I thought that God would for some reason alter some word in his promises – then farewell Scriptures!

If God is unfaithful in part, He is unfaithful in the whole. If God lies about one thing, then what’s to stop Him from lying about something else. Which takes us into a theological term that references God’s unchangeableness: Immutability.

One dictionary defines immutability as the quality of not being subject to or susceptible to change. 

Mal 3:6 I am the Lord, I change not…

1Sam 15:29 The Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind. 

Heb 13:8 Jesus: the same yesterday, today and forever

Immutability is our basis for depending on the certainty of God always being God. 

  • We can be sure God is holy. Lev 19:2 Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, 'You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. Ex 15:11 Who is like You among the gods, O LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders? 
  • We can be sure God is eternal. The same God we discover in the beginning of the book is the same God at the end of the Book. Ps 90:2 Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
  • We can be sure God loves us. 1Chron 16:34 Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever. Jer 31:3  I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness. 
  • We can be sure of God’s plan for our livesJer 29:11 For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Ps 33:11  The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation. 
  • We can be sure of God’s promises. 2Co 1:20 For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us. Heb 6:17-18 In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. 
Knowing God doesn’t change provides us with a life anchor. An anchor that holds us steady even in the storm. When many voices are shouting “Believe this. Think this way. Try this. This is best, We have the solution,” we can know that God’s message remains the same. 

Our example today is Paul.

Act 27:1-10 When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, they proceeded to deliver Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan cohort named Julius. And embarking in an Adramyttian ship, which was about to sail to the regions along the coast of Asia, we put out to sea accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica. The next day we put in at Sidon; and Julius treated Paul with consideration and allowed him to go to his friends and receive care. From there we put out to sea and sailed under the shelter of Cyprus because the winds were contrary. When we had sailed through the sea along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy, and he put us aboard it. When we had sailed slowly for a good many days, and with difficulty had arrived off Cnidus, since the wind did not permit us to go farther, we sailed under the shelter of Crete, off Salmone; and with difficulty sailing past it we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea. When considerable time had passed and the voyage was now dangerous, since even the fast was already over, Paul began to admonish them, said to them, "Men, I perceive that the voyage will certainly be with damage and great loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives." 

Paul, how do you know this? “I have eyes, don’t I? As I see it, this makes sense. All these conditions coming together can’t be good. We’re going down.” Paul is sharing his opinion. Adding up all these factors, he’s simply stating the obvious.

Act 27:11-13 But the centurion was more persuaded by the pilot and the captain of the ship than by what was being said by Paul. Because the harbor was not suitable for wintering, the majority reached a decision to put out to sea from there, if somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing southwest and northwest, and spend the winter there. When a moderate south wind came up, supposing that they had attained their purpose, they weighed anchor and began sailing along Crete, close inshore. 

Based on what? It just feels right. And if it feels right, then it must be right. We have come to a consensus of opinion. We all agree. Majority rules. Our opinion is more important to us than your opinion.

Act 27:14-15 But before very long there rushed down from the land a violent wind, called Euraquilo; and when the ship was caught in it and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and let ourselves be driven along. 

Opinions can’t withstand the strength of the forces against them. This storm is more than their opinions can handle. Amazing how quickly our confidence can faulter in a storm.

Act 27:16 Running under the shelter of a small island called Clauda, we were scarcely able to get the ship's boat under control. 

They’ve lost control. Actually, they lost control when they left Crete. They lost control when they acted on their opinion. A rule for steel workers on high rise buildings: don’t trust the wind.

Act 27:17-18 After they had hoisted it up, they used supporting cables in undergirding the ship; and fearing that they might run aground on the shallows of Syrtis, they let down the sea anchor and in this way let themselves be driven along. The next day as we were being violently storm-tossed, they began to jettison the cargo; 

They lost their purpose – the cargo. The merchandise they were shipping was their purpose to be on this journey in the first place. The cargo held highest value. But realize, value changes in a storm. What was once most important now is worthless. Opinion cannot support a person’s purpose.

Act 27:19 and on the third day they threw the ship's tackle overboard with their own hands. 
Ship’s tackle was the hoists and ropes that helped them sail the ship. When you’ve lost control, you find what you used to rely on for direction no longer works.

Act 27:20 Since neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small storm was assailing us, from then on all hope of our being saved was gradually abandoned. 

Hope was the last thing thrown overboard. Hope, like faith, cannot function on opinion. It needs something more dependable.

Act 27:21-22 When they had gone a long time without food, then Paul stood up in their midst and said, "Men, you ought to have followed my advice and not to have set sail from Crete and incurred this damage and loss. Yet now I urge you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.

“Paul, you told us before we’d all die. Now you say we won’t. What’s the deal? Can’t you make up your mind?” No, Paul is adjusting himself and his circumstances from opinion to conviction. How?
Act 27:23-25 For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, saying, 'Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.' Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told. 

There it is! I have a word from the Lord, I have God’s promise and I will stand on it. Paul found solid ground in the midst of a storm-tossed sea.

Act 27:26 But we must run aground on a certain island.

But I thought a word from God would free us from the consequences of our actions or the actions of others against us, or stop what’s going on. Remember, sometimes God takes us out of the storm, but more often, God takes us through the storm.

Act 27:27-31 But when the fourteenth night came, as we were being driven about in the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors began to surmise that they were approaching some land. They took soundings and found it to be twenty fathoms; and a little farther on they took another sounding and found it to be fifteen fathoms. Fearing that we might run aground somewhere on the rocks, they cast four anchors from the stern and wished for daybreak. But as the sailors were trying to escape from the ship and had let down the ship's boat into the sea, on the pretense of intending to lay out anchors from the bow, Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, "Unless these men remain in the ship, you yourselves cannot be saved." 

            This is God’s doing and self-effort will not save the day.

Acts 27:32-34 Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship's boat and let it fall away. Until the day was about to dawn, Paul was encouraging them all to take some food, saying, "Today is the fourteenth day that you have been constantly watching and going without eating, having taken nothing. Therefore I encourage you to take some food, for this is for your preservation, for not a hair from the head of any of you will perish." 

Paul, you are so sure of things you cannot control. How can you guarantee no one will drown? Because God, who doesn’t lie, has spoken and said we’d all get safely to land. I’m standing on that promise.

Act 27:35-44 Having said this, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of all, and he broke it and began to eat. All of them were encouraged and they themselves also took food. All of us in the ship were two hundred and seventy-six persons. When they had eaten enough, they began to lighten the ship by throwing out the wheat into the sea. When day came, they could not recognize the land; but they did observe a bay with a beach, and they resolved to drive the ship onto it if they could. And casting off the anchors, they left them in the sea while at the same time they were loosening the ropes of the rudders; and hoisting the foresail to the wind, they were heading for the beach. But striking a reef where two seas met, they ran the vessel aground; and the prow stuck fast and remained immovable, but the stern began to be broken up by the force of the waves. The soldiers' plan was to kill the prisoners, so that none of them would swim away and escape; but the centurion, wanting to bring Paul safely through, kept them from their intention, and commanded that those who could swim should jump overboard first and get to land, and the rest should follow, some on planks, and others on various things from the ship. And so it happened that they all were brought safely to land. 

Paul started with an opinion that was reasonable. Circumstances agreed. The consensus of the passengers supported it. No one would have disputed it. That’s what it looked like, yet it wasn’t true.
He changed his opinion when He received God’s Word. Once he had God’s word, because of his confidence in a God who doesn’t change, Paul switched from opinion to conviction.

Faith can only work when driven by conviction of God’s unchanging faithfulness – His immutability. Whenever we say, “I can’t believe that, I can’t do that, I can’t accept that,” we’re operating from opinion rather than conviction of who our God is. We cannot stand on opinion. We must stand on our conviction that God’s promises are true.

Anne Graham Lotz, Billy Graham’s daughter, wrote in Storming the Gates of Heaven: The key is not to view God through the lens of our circumstances, but to view our circumstances through the lens of God love and purpose – which do not change.

  1. If we were honest, many of our beliefs are opinions rather than convictions.
  2. As a result, our belief system is weaker than it should be.
  3. Confidence cannot operate from opinion. It must come from conviction.
  4. What we believe we do. All else is religious talk.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Standing on the Promises - Elijah

The role of the prophet was unique in Scripture. He had the responsibility to speak on behalf of God. He was to go at God’s command. He was to do whatever God said for him to do. Prophets confronted kings, challenged the people and could, when so instructed, change circumstances. But they would be abused, tortured, hunted down, thrown into dungeons, some were even killed because of their faithfulness to God’s message.

·       Nathan pointed his finger in David’s face and told him he was guilty before God. He even laid out the consequences of David’s actions.

·       Elisha predicted a woman would have a child and he would later raise that child from death. He also told a widow her oil wouldn’t run out.

·       Samuel anointed the first king of Israel, then told the people the consequences of that decision.

·       Jonah warned Nineveh of coming disaster and the city repented.

·       Jeremiah explained the captivity Judah faced and gave them a very specific time frame for how long it would last. He also stood in the presence of the king and told him to repent, and as a result was thrown down a well and left to die.

·       Isaiah told about Jesus nearly 700 years before He came.

How did they know this stuff? What gave them such audacious courage not only to believe it but to speak with absolute confidence it would happen?

Somewhere in each of their stories there is a unique phrase: the Word of the Lord came to…or thus saith the Lord.

Having a Word from the Lord was the game changer. These men discovered a boldness with which they could say what God told them to say or do what God told them to do. Why? Because it wasn’t their message. They were speaking and acting on behalf of God. To them, the Word of the Lord was an absolute. God said it; that settles it.

Other than Jonah, you never hear them hesitate or see them tremble or hold back. They know when God speaks things will happen.

One of the more spectacular moments for any prophet came on Mount Carmel. The prophet was Elijah.

Mount Carmel is a flat-topped mountain that overlooks the Valley of Jezreel in northern Israel. The view is breathtaking. As you stand on Mount Carmel facing the valley, the ruins of Megiddo are just a bit down to your right. That’s why the valley is also known as the valley of Megiddo, the anticipated place for Armageddon. But standing here, we are at the highest point in that area. Here’s what happened.

1Kings 18:20-39 So Ahab [King of the northern kingdom of Israel] sent a message among all the sons of Israel and brought the prophets together at Mount Carmel. Elijah came near to all the people and said, "How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him." But the people did not answer him a word. Then Elijah said to the people, "I alone am left a prophet of the LORD, but Baal's prophets are 450 men. Now let them give us two oxen; and let them choose one ox for themselves and cut it up, and place it on the wood, but put no fire under it; and I will prepare the other ox and lay it on the wood, and I will not put a fire under it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, He is God." And all the people said, "That is a good idea." So Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, "Choose one ox for yourselves and prepare it first for you are many, and call on the name of your god, but put no fire under it." Then they took the ox which was given them and they prepared it and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon saying, "O Baal, answer us." But there was no voice and no one answered. And they leaped about the altar which they made. It came about at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, "Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened." So they cried with a loud voice and cut themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out on them. When midday was past, they raved until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice; but there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention. Then Elijah said to all the people, "Come near to me." So all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD which had been torn down. Elijah took twelve stones according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD had come, saying, "Israel shall be your name." So with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD, and he made a trench around the altar, large enough to hold two measures of seed. Then he arranged the wood and cut the ox in pieces and laid it on the wood. And he said, "Fill four pitchers with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood." And he said, "Do it a second time," and they did it a second time. And he said, "Do it a third time," and they did it a third time. The water flowed around the altar and he also filled the trench with water. At the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet came near and said, "O LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and I have done all these things at Your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that You, O LORD, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again." Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, "The LORD, He is God; the LORD, He is God." 

There’s much we could look at in this story. Like, who was Baal. He was a counterfeit god, a pagan god, the worship of which captivated the hearts of many of God’s people and carried them away into idolatry. But I’m most interested in how Elijah knew God would bring down fire.

Where is Elijah’s authority to obligate God to this contest? To say God will bring down fire is quite a bold promise. If Elijah is simply operating on wishful thinking, having come up with a plan and then asked God to bless it, he would have been setting up a failure with widespread consequences.

Had God not done this, the people would have left Mount Carmel greatly disappointed in Elijah but more so in God. Their faith would have been trashed. Elijah would have actually given credibility to Baal worship – see, God is no better than Baal. Remember, this was a contest to decide which was the real God. So why do this?

Remember those words that are unique to the prophets: the Word of the Lord came to…

In his prayer Elijah said: I have done all these things at Your word. 

That’s the prophets’ foundation. That’s where he stands. That’s what makes a prophet a prophet. Not a title or position, but a man or woman who will obligate him or herself to what God has said. A couple of chapters earlier it says: The word of the LORD came to Elijah, saying There was a whole series of actions God laid out for Elijah, awaiting the moment God wanted them enacted. One was stopping the rain, another fire.

James 5:16-18 The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit. 

That was true, but also misleading. It makes us think the rain stopped because Elijah decided the rain needed to be stopped and asked God to stop it. No. The rain was stopped, then the rain was resumed, at the command of God. He didn’t give God a prayer request, but an affirmation of God’s intentions.

Neither did Elijah decide it would be a great idea to have a contest by fire and then ask God to come through. No. The fire came at the command of God.

Prophets were not loose cannons. They were men and women who heard the word of the Lord and spoke it.

Two prophets explained this: 2Ch 18:12-13 Then the messenger who went to summon Micaiah spoke to him saying, "Behold, the words of the prophets are uniformly favorable to the king. So please let your word be like one of them and speak favorably." But Micaiah said, "As the LORD lives, what my God says, that I will speak." 

Num 22:18  Balaam replied to the servants of Balak, "Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything, either small or great, contrary to the command of the LORD my God. 

Balaam isn’t a very good example of a faithful prophet, but the words he says are true for any prophet. In both examples, a prophet will say what God wants said and do what God wants done or he is not a true prophet of God.

Not everyone who claimed a word from the Lord was a true prophet. Jeremiah expressed God’s distain for those who claimed they spoke for the Lord, yet hadn’t heard a word He said. They would say, “Peace,” when God had said “Distress.” They would say, “Prosperity,” when God would say “Captivity.”

Jer 23:30-37 Therefore behold, I am against the prophets," declares the LORD, "who steal My words from each other. Behold, I am against the prophets," declares the LORD, "who use their tongues and declare, 'The Lord declares.' Behold, I am against those who have prophesied false dreams," declares the LORD, "and related them and led My people astray by their falsehoods and reckless boasting; yet I did not send them or command them, nor do they furnish this people the slightest benefit," declares the LORD. For you will no longer remember the oracle of the LORD, because every man's own word will become the oracle, and you have perverted the words of the living God, the LORD of hosts, our God. Thus you will say to that prophet'What has the LORD spoken?' 

The benefit of the prophet was to relay God’s word to the situation. The prophet’s word was of little or no value. God’s Word was the only true word and the only word with power to accomplish God’s purposes.

There is a unique way in which Elijah spoke in his prayer. He said: I have done this at Your word…, which was his response to what God had told him.

The tense of the verb Elijah used describes something that has already happened but affects things in the future. It’s comparable to how our salvation is described. We were saved, we are saved, we will be saved. A past action secures a future fulfillment.

For the prophets, once God has spoken, in their minds, it is as though it’s already been done. They could count on it as though they are speaking about it after it happened.

It’s like watching the rerun of a game where you already know who wins and you can say with confidence: watch – he’s going to hit a walk off home run.

Having done these things at Your word meant he was doing what God said would happen and announcing in advance what the outcome would be so when it did happen everyone would know it was God who did it.

What’s that got to do with us? We’re not prophets, and we know who God is. Yes, but the challenge is for us to expect, with the same confidence as a prophet, what God’s Word will do in our lives. 1Thess 2:13 For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. 

“Yea, but I’m just an ordinary Christian.” An ordinary Christian has all the privileges and provisions of an extraordinary Christian.

There aren’t separate categories within Christianity. There is no select class within God’s family that gets greater benefits than others. God has leveled the playing field of faith. Believers – all who fit in that category – have the privilege of seeing the Word of God perform its work in their lives.

“Well, I haven’t been very faithful.” Our past doesn’t define us, our failures aren’t who we are, only what we will do with this moment. Will we take God at His word? Will we stand on His promises as though they are already accomplished, our confidence found in what the Lord has said?

So, I can call down fire? Not unless God says call down fire. And if He does, you might want to stand back.

  1. Though we may not have the role of prophet, we each can have the audacious courage to trust God like a prophet.
  2. One advantage we have over the prophet is, we have the Words of God recorded in a Book.
  3. When we want to know what God would say about our situations, we can ask Him, open our Bibles and read His Word.
  4. The only thing that needs to be added would be our determination to stand on the promises we discover.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Standing on the Promises - Shad, Mesh, Abed

We’re looking into the promises of God. Thus far, we’ve discovered that the promises are not placed in our Bible for us to simply go pick out what we want to be true and claim something God doesn’t intend for us. They are placed there so the Holy Spirit can direct us to our answer when we cry out to God for help.

When we have a need we seek a word from the Lord. God, here is my situation. Do you have something for me in Your Word that matches what I’m going through? We’re not looking for a promise, but the promise – that promise that is our answer from Him.

Last week we learned that the key to unlocking the promises is confidence in the One who gave the promise.

John wrote: 1Jn 5:14-15 This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him. 

We have permission to ask God for anything. We can even ask Him for what we want or want to happen. But there is no guarantee He will respond as we hope. But when we ask according to His will, we have confidence to rely on what we have asked.

Whatever we ask passes through the filter of His will. If something isn’t right for us, or best for us, or isn’t within His will, He rejects it. It if is within His will, He grants it.

According to His will means, when what we ask lines up with what He wants for us, we can be assured He will provide it. Why doesn’t He just give us what we ask for? Because we don’t know what’s best. We don’t know what’s going on. We don’t know how what’s going on fits within His plans.

In a church years ago, a lady suffering with cancer called and asked for the Elders to come to her house and pray over her. We claimed James 5:14-15 Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up

We anointed her with oil and prayed fervently. After a couple of minutes, I knew it wasn’t the Lord’s intention to heal her. The promise was true, but it wasn’t for her. And she died not long afterwards.
So, how do we know whether we are praying for our own desires or God’s desire? We make sure we are seeking the Lord first. We ask Him for His will to be done. We ask Him for the promise that fits our situation.

Heb 10:35-36 Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. 

Isaiah was the prophet of God to prepare Israel for the Assyrian captivity and Judah for the Babylonian captivity. At one point he wrote: Isa 43:1-2 But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. 

In the early days of the Babylonian captivity, Nebuchadnezzar had captured Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. They had become successful in his administration which made some of Neb’s other men so jealous they created a plot to get rid of them. After setting up a giant statue of Neb, they made it a law that everyone would have to bow down to it. Knowing the three wouldn’t bow, the trap was set.
Shad, Mesh and Abed discussed the problem, and prayed, and prepared themselves for the inevitable confrontation.

In my imagination, while they were seeking God, one of them found this verse from Isaiah. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. 

They wondered if it was a promise for them. It fit their circumstances. It was almost a direct quote to what they were to face. The only problem: how on earth was that possible?

Shadrach: “How can a person go through a fire and not be scorched or the flames not burn them?”

Abed-nego: “There’s no record of anyone doing that in Scripture.”

Meshach, “Well, there’s always the first time. Remember God asked Abraham: is anything too difficult for the Lord? If nothing is too difficult, then that means to God, everything is possible. So, getting someone through a fiery ordeal is doable for Him.”

Abed-nego: “We don’t know if Isaiah’s talking about spiritual or physical fire.”

Meshach: “Does that matter?”

Shadrach: “But these are promises to the nation, not to individuals. You’re making a general promise into a specific promise.”

Meshach: “Look at the other two promises: pass through the water and God will be with you, and pass through the rivers and they will not overflow you. Both of those had already happened before Isaiah had even written this down. Moses led the nation through the waters of the Red Sea and God was with them. Joshua led them through the Jordan River and it didn’t swallow them up.”

Shadrach: “Yeah, but that was the nation going through.”

Meshach: “And you can’t imagine Avie looking at the water pulling back and hearing the command to walk through the sea and wondering if he would make it through. To him the promise was personal.”

Abed-nego: “So we’re believing this promise for us?” And they all nodded.

About that time the sound of the music came in through the window. Each looked at other and agreed. “We will not bow to a man and give him the worship that only our God deserves?” Daniel 3:8 begins.

Dan 3:8-29 For this reason at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and brought charges against the Jews. They responded and said to Nebuchadnezzar the king: "O king, live forever! You, O king, have made a decree that every man who hears the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, and bagpipe and all kinds of music, is to fall down and worship the golden image. But whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire. There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the administration of the province of Babylon, namely Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. These men, O king, have disregarded you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up." Then Nebuchadnezzar in rage and anger gave orders to bring Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego; then these men were brought before the king. Nebuchadnezzar responded and said to them, "Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? Now if you are ready, at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery and bagpipe and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, very well. But if you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?" Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with wrath, and his facial expression was altered toward Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. He answered by giving orders to heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated. He commanded certain valiant warriors who were in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego in order to cast them into the furnace of blazing fire. Then these men were tied up in their trousers, their coats, their caps and their other clothes, and were cast into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire. For this reason, because the king's command was urgent and the furnace had been made extremely hot, the flame of the fire slew those men who carried up Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. But these three men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, fell into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire still tied up. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up in haste; he said to his high officials, "Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?" They replied to the king, "Certainly, O king." He said, "Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!" Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the furnace of blazing fire; he responded and said, "Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, come out, you servants of the Most High God, and come here!" Then Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego came out of the midst of the fire. The satraps, the prefects, the governors and the king's high officials gathered around and saw in regard to these men that the fire had no effect on the bodies of these men nor was the hair of their head singed, nor were their trousers damaged, nor had the smell of fire even come upon them. Nebuchadnezzar responded and said, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him, violating the king's command, and yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation or tongue that speaks anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego shall be torn limb from limb and their houses reduced to a rubbish heap, inasmuch as there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way."  

All they had was a promise. All they faced was certain annihilation. The odds were in favor of them disintegrating into three piles of ashes. They had no experience seeing God do what they were trusting Him to do. All they knew was, He had done the other things He promised.

So, knowing God would either take them out because of the fire—their spirits unscorched, or carry them through the fire—their bodies unscorched, either way, God would be faithful that day. They would not bow to a man. They would stand to make God’s name glorious.

How do we know a promise is for us?

We find it after asking God for help. Finding starts with seeking God for an answer. We do not seek an answer, bypassing the God of the answer. So, ask and go to the Bible.

When we find our promise, it will seem as though it is a personal message to us. It fits our circumstances. We can affirm: this matches what I’m going through. Then, if we sense the assurance of God, we stand on it, confident that the God in whom nothing is impossible can do what the promise says.

But what if we don’t have that confidence? Or, what if God doesn’t come through as our promise says? We seek Him again for clarity.

It could be we found a promise we wanted to be true, then asked God to make it so, instead of going to Him first and asking Him to lead us to His promise.

Maybe the promise we found was specific to how God met the need of someone in Scripture and was not for general application. We need discernment to know the difference. We need to ask God for wisdom.

James 1:5-8 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. 

Single-minded praying is praying with the intention of knowing and doing God’s will.

James 4:3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives…to please yourself.
The whole process of needing and seeking a promise is not to magnify our ability to make something happen because we believe, or to get what we want simply because we want it, but to confidently trust in God’s faithfulness to do what He said He would do.

Our confidence isn’t in the promise but in the God who gave the promise. Never think the promise is the key. When we do, we’ll look for promises to do what we want done instead of asking God to show us the promise for what He wants done.

Spurgeon said: “God never gives his children a promise which he does not intend them to use. There are some promises in the Bible which I have never yet used, but I am well assured that there will come times of trial and trouble when I shall find that that poor neglected promise, which I thought was never meant for me, will be the only one on which I can stand.”

A Peanuts cartoon had Lucy and Linus looking out the window at a heavy rainfall. “Boy,” said Lucy, “look at that rain. What if it floods the whole world?” “It will never do that,” Linus replied confidently. “In the ninth chapter of Genesis, God promised Noah that would never happen again, and the sign of the promise is the rainbow.” “You’ve taken a great load off my mind,” Lucy said. Linus replied, “Sound theology has a way of doing that!” 

It is not just believing, but believing the right things that makes a difference in how we face the challenges of our life.

The first thing we believe is our God is an Almighty God in whom nothing is impossible. The second thing we believe is our God has given us magnificent promises to help us deal with whatever we face in life. The third thing we believe is God expects us to trust Him.

So, here’s what we do. We cry out to God, confessing our burden, our circumstances or our concerns, and then trust Him to direct us in His Word to find our promise. And because of our confidence in Him, we stand on that promise while we wait for Him to come through.

  1. There is always a starting point for confidence.
  2. We don’t wait until the game begins to hope the pep talk charges us with assurance of victory.
  3. Before we ever face a challenge, we must have a foundational belief that God is able.
  4. Faith makes no sense if that faith isn’t in a God who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond whatever we ask or think.
  5. Confidence comes when we are assured we have God’s promise on which to stand.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Standing on the Promises - The Key (Abraham)

Image result for ancient wooden locks and keys

The oldest lock and key that has been found was discovered in the ruins of the Assyrian palace in Nineveh, dated to around 700 BC. The Romans were the first to make locks and keys out of metal. They are also credited for making the skeleton key that was still being used when most of us were kids.

Modern locks and keys were developed in the 1800s but didn’t start replacing the skeleton key until the 1940s.

Today we have key fobs. Keyless entry. At my son’s church he just passes his ID badge in front of a sensor and the door unlocks. You can even lock or unlock your house with your iPhone from anywhere in the world.

We use the word key to mean something that makes something else possible. What makes it possible for a car to start? A key. What makes it possible for a door to open? A key. We have a key idea, a key moment, a key piece of a puzzle, a key lime pie, a key player, a key-note speaker. The key unlocks what’s locked up.

Being able to lock what you want secure gives great comfort. Having a means to unlock what’s locked is essential. But here is the one matter that crosses all barriers: What good is a key if you don’t know what it’s for and don’t know how to use it?

In 1666, Philipp Spener became pastor of a Lutheran congregation in Frankfurt, Germany. He gave immediate attention to encouraging a “more extensive use of the Word of God among us.” He believed the Bible was the key factor in living the Christian life—not just a reference book for the sake of biblical knowledge.

The Reformation was now 150 years old and the Bible had become the source of doctrinal divisions and boundaries and a proof text in theological discussion but not a source for attending to the spiritual needs of the people. The church was strong on telling people what to believe but weak in telling them how to live out those beliefs. Spener wrote, “It is by no means enough to have knowledge about the Christian faith, for Christianity consists rather of practice.”

2Tim 3:16-17 All Scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfected, thoroughly furnished to every good work. 

That’s what it is, but what does it do?

1Th 2:13 For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. 

How do we get that performance God promises into our lives? What is our key to unlock what God said is possible?

Confidence in the God who spoke these truths to us.

2Pet 1:3-14 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. 

The expectation was: that by embracing the promises, we would to become partakers of the benefit of those promises. Partakers are those who receive and apply the promises to their lives. We’re participating in what God has said.

It is funny that so many believe in the hope of Heaven yet will not believe in the provisions of God between now and then. Both messages are written throughout the Book. Why believe one and not the other?

A God powerful enough to secure our salvation, is also powerful enough to deal with our family crisis, our health issue, our finances, fears, burdens, loneliness and concerns. He promised both. If we live in the hope for life after we die, we must also live in the confidence of His promises for while we still live. The same key unlocks both.

Charles Spurgeon, an English pastor from the 1800s, said: “I would recommend you either believe God up to the hilt, or else not to believe at all. Believe this book of God, every letter of it, or else reject it. There is no logical standing place between the two.”

Let’s take Abraham and see how he became confident in God’s promises to him?

Gen 15:1-4 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, "Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great." Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" And Abram said, "Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir." Then behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, "This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir." 

God’s promise was Abraham would become a great nation. All he needed was an heir.
Gen 16:1-2 Now Sarai, Abram's wife had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, "Now behold, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her." And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. 

What harm did it do? It was a reasonable solution. It was socially acceptable. It produced an heir. Problem solved. Our actions, even when they come with good intentions, but minus faith, do not accomplish the purposes of God. Without faith God is not pleased regardless of what we do. Why? We tossed the key and jumped the fence. That makes us a thief, not a privileged Child of God.

About ten years later: Gen 17:1 Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, "I am God Almighty [el Shadday]; walk before Me, and be blameless. 

Blameless meant it was Abraham’s job to trust in what God had said, even when and especially when the circumstances of that promise would be challenged.

Challenged by his wife: what God said is impossible. We must help Him. There is always someone to discourage you from trusting God. Satan will see to it.

Challenged by time: it’s been too long and we’re too old. Waiting is the hardest part of trusting in the promise of God. What do we do: we take matters into our own hands, run ahead of God or give up.

Challenged by a test: Gen 22:1-3 Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." He said, "Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you." So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 

What was Abraham thinking? How do you reconcile the promise associated with Isaac with this request? He was the fulfilment of God’s intentions to create a great nation through Abraham. There was no plan B. The promise was specific to Isaac. So, if God said, “Let’s take Isaac away,” God must have had a means by which He would restore Abraham’s son.

Heb 11:17-19 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, "IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED." He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type. 

Killing Isaac would have killed the promise. So how do you stand on a promise that is suddenly hit with a contradiction?
  • You go back to what God said.
  • You look beyond how things appear.
  • You realize God will have to do something extraordinary to accomplish what He said He would do.
  • And you stand on that promise.

Abraham stood on God’s promise in Isaac. Did he tremble standing on the promise? You bet he did. You don’t face a challenge of faith without trembling. Abraham stood even though he didn’t know how God would accomplish what He promised. We don’t need to know how.

That’s what unbelief asks: “How can this be?” Confidence says, “This shall be!” We pray, “God, I don’t know how you’re going to do it, but here I stand.”

Confidence operates like an accountant, writing the promise on the assets side of the journal. In our own finances we keep a record of what we owe and what we have as resources to pay what we owe. If an unexpected expense comes in, we check with the assets to see what we have to cover it. Confidence operates the same way. Whenever we face a trial, we can look on the assets side to see what promises we’ve been given.

Abraham didn’t have the Book. But He had the God of the Book. Gen 18:13-14 And the LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh, saying, 'Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?' Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son." 

What was God doing? Handing him the key. “Abraham, stand on this. I am God Almighty. I can guarantee My promise because nothing is too difficult for Me.”

Keep that in mind when you face your difficulties. Confidence in the God who keeps His promises is the key that unlocks those promises.

It is interesting what some Christians believe. It’s more interesting in what some disbelieve.

Serene Jones is president of Union Theological Seminary in New York. Founded in 1836 with the charter to promote the Kingdom of Christ, the early professors were required to affirm they believed “the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be the word of God” and the “only infallible rule of faith and practice.” Not so today. Ms. Jones said in a recent interview she doesn’t believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ, the power of prayer, a literal heaven, or miracles. 

She said, “At the heart of faith is mystery. God is beyond our knowing, not a being or an essence or an object. I don’t worship an all-powerful, all-controlling omnipotent, omniscient being. That is a fabrication of Roman juridical theory and Greek mythology.”

Oh Serene. With no all-powerful, all-controlling, omnipotent, omniscient God, you have no Christianity and the Bible is only a book. When we read the Bible, we know only an Almighty God could do what He did. We transfer that to our lives and realize only an Almighty God could do what needs to be done in our lives. Don’t say you are a believer if you don’t believe in an Almighty God big enough to handle whatever concerns you.

If we have no confidence in the God in whom nothing is impossible, then we must belong to a lesser god who guarantees nothing, makes promises he cannot keep and has nothing to offer that the world cannot provide.

Our God promises the impossible is doable.

What seems impossible in your life? Entrust that to our Almighty God. Because only an Almighty God in whom nothing is impossible can perform His work in we who believe.

  1. We really don’t want the responsibility of deciding what is and isn’t true in the Bible.
  2. We may throw something out that is vitally important just because we find it too hard to believe.
  3. The better position is to take the Bible as the Word of God which does its work in we who believe.
  4. Because it was produced by a God who cannot lie, we can believe it, receive it and apply it to our lives.
  5. The key to unlocking its inner value is confidence in the God who spoke it.