Four Ways to be Easily Conquered (Pt. 5)

4 | Be Isolated

(Four Ways to Be Easily Conquered, Pt. 5)

Strength in Numbers

Interesting fact: termites cannot digest wood. Instead, they rely on millions of microscopic organisms of over 100 different species living in their stomachs to digest the cellulose in the wood for them.

MEET THE PEEPS: Just some of the
MEET THE PEEPS: Just some of the “friends” termites rely on to live.

Termites require community to survive. A termite without its comrades starves to death, no matter how much wood it consumes.

This is not only true for termites. Humans, too, thrive in community and starve in isolation. While this may look different for different people (e.g. introverts suffocate on too much community but still need a network–albeit smaller, more selective network than extroverts–of deep, meaningful relationships), even a strong person, if isolated, is vulnerable and easily defeated.

This is evident in many areas of life.

Want to lose weight? A diet and workout plan coupled with determination can still be easily defeated in time. However, procrastination and compromise are less likely when the plan is done with a trainer, a partner or a group.

Likewise, addicts who participate in support or recovery groups have greater success of overcoming their addictions than those who attempt to fight alone.

Within helpful communities (specifically those whose members are intentional about contributing to each other’s well-being and success), a person finds strength, support, encouragement, counsel, accountability, and even very practical help (e.g. financial, physical, etc.).

Unfortunately, many are intentionally or unintentionally becoming isolated from these vital communities.

The Exodus from Church

The following info is from: Tyson, Jon. Sacred Roots: Why the Church still matters, part of Barna Group’s “Frames” series. (Zondervan), 2013; particularly pages 22-27.

It seems fewer and fewer Christians recognize the Church as God’s solution to our need for community. Research from a Barna Group study in 2013 exposed some disturbing trends.

wpid-haveyouattendedchurchinthepastsixmonths.jpg.jpeg

More than one-half of American Millennials (born between 1981 and 2000; 15-34 year olds) and Gen-Xers (born between 1965 and 1980; 33-50 year olds) have not attended church or a church-related function in the last six months.

In fact, only 2 out of 10 Millennials believe church attendance is important. Of those who do go, only 1 out of 10 says they go because they believe the Bible says to gather with other believers.

Oddly, when asked what factors help Americans grow in their faith, church was not even named among the top 10 factors.

Compare these numbers to older generations–for instance, 40% of the Mature/Silent Generation (born 1927-1945; over 70) rating church as “very important”–and the decline is obvious. The practice of believers consistently gathering as a meaningful community is in jeopardy.

Some churches have responded by making their worship, sermons and resources available online. This addresses people’s need for solid biblical teaching but cannot forge human interaction. People have the need for both the content and the community of the Church, and options other than gathering with believers may satisfy the former but cannot satisfy the latter.

The result is much like a termite who eats plenty of wood but has no companions to help it digest.

The Reason to Bother

What’s the big deal? Is it really so bad to be withdrawn from consistent participation in a community?

Ask the antelope who is not careful to stay within the safety of the herd.Hunted

Ask the inhabitants of Laish.

The Danite scouts observed that the inhabitants “lived a long way from the Sidonians and had no relationships with anyone else” (Judges 18:7). We’ve already seen how their city was prosperous, well-fortified and suspecting no trouble, so why worry about relationships? Why do the extra work to maintain connection with surrounding peoples?

No doubt, relationships take time and effort and can be messy. So why bother?

Because attack and hardship will come eventually, and when it does, having no one to help will practically ensure defeat.

[The Danites] attacked them with the sword and burned down their city. There was no one to rescue them because they lived a long way from Sidon and had no relationship with anyone else” (Judges 18:28).

Gather Your Team

Just as a lion preys on the antelope who gets separated from the herd, so our enemy preys on those who are not connected to a helpful community.

We have already learned from Laish’s defeat about how to be victorious rather than victims.

The best investment in our security is not money, insurance, alarm systems, etc., but an intimate relationship with Jesus.

Keeping in mind that hardship is imminent, we must remain vigilant, disciplined and dressed in the full armor of God.

We must train ourselves not to rely on any luxury for contentment, most effectively by voluntarily denying ourselves what we crave most through the discipline of fasting.

And finally, we must cultivate “a herd,” a network of companions committed to each other’s well-being who will fight for one another, celebrate victory together, provide for each other, encourage, support and counsel each other.

This commercial perfectly depicts God’s design for how a community of comrades can literally mean the difference between defeat and victory.

[2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Big Game Ad: Team (Extended)]

Do you have a team, a herd, a community of people who have your back?

Parents, do your kids have that? Have you helped them develop, not just acquaintances or friends, but a community of peers and adults purposefully invested in their success?

If not, a great place to start is to find a local church with children and youth ministries, family/adult small groups and recovery groups. If you live in Lewisville, Flower Mound, Highland Village or any of the surrounding areas, Garden Ridge church of Christ would love to be that community for you and your family. Find out more at http://www.gardenridge.org. (Explore the “Ministries” menu for various groups to fit your needs.)

Tell Your Story

We would LOVE to hear what your helpful community means to you and how they’ve come through when you needed them. Please add a comment to share your story with us.

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Four Ways to be Easily Conquered (Pt. 4)

3 | Lack Nothing

(Four Ways to Be Easily Conquered, Pt. 4)

 

Prosperity seems to be an advantage, but in fact, it may be the very thing that keeps us unprepared for attack.

Disproportionately Blessed

It certainly made Laish unprepared for the Danite assault. We are told twice that Laish lacked nothing and was prosperous (Judges 18:7, 10), no surprise because of its ideal location.pampered

The city was situated perfectly at the foot of Mt. Lebanon and the Hermon mountains, whose melting snow provided the majority of the water for the Jordan River. This made Laish uniquely lush and fertile in an otherwise arid region.

Also, they had apparently faced little or no mistreatment since another way to translate the Hebrew phrase for “lacked nothing,” is, “no oppressive authorities taxing them.”

No doubt, this city–like many people–seemed disproportionately blessed.

The Misfortune of the Fortunate

How could such prosperity be a bad thing? I can think of two reasons.

1 | Wealth becomes a target on the wealthy person’s back.

Capture01People who are perceived to be more privileged evoke the envy of others who feel unfairly deprived, making them targets of hostility or theft.
Wealth may have the advantage of providing for greater safety measures–high-tech home and car security systems, insurance on expensive possessions, living in gated communities, etc.–but a disadvantage of wealth is that it makes such measures necessary.

Proverbs 13:8, says, “The ransom of a man’s life is his wealth, but the poor hears no rebuke” (NASB).

The Amplified Bible expounds,

“A rich man can buy his way out of threatened death by paying a ransom, but the poor man does not even have to listen to threats [from the envious].”

Whether wanted or not, prosperity naturally calls attention to a person, making them the object of admiration to some and a more compelling target to others.

Including spiritual foes. If Job was singled out by Satan because he was so fortunate and untouched by hardship, we too may expect to be harassed for our good fortune.

2 | A person who lacks nothing becomes dependent on having everything.

The longer we live in prosperity, the more it becomes our norm. Before long, having everything feels so normal that it feels necessary.

When something is taken away, we panic at the thought of living without it, even if it is something many people easily live without. Maybe even something we ourselves were previously content living without.

This is true for me and cell phones.Capture02

I did’t have a cell phone until I was a junior in college, and I didn’t have a smartphone until four years ago (2011). Before that, I lived actively and even did youth ministry without a phone with internet, GPS, texting, camera, cloud storage, etc.

naked-smart-phone-addiction-dependency-confession-ecards-someecards-300x167Now I shudder to think of having even one of those functions taken away, much less trying to live without any cell phone at all.

The more we have, the more we require to “survive” and the greater our shock when we are forced to go without.

 

Boot Camp

Misfortune can be good for us, then…so good, in fact, that we should intentionally inflict hardship on ourselves if we hope to overcome difficult challenges that will inevitably befall us.

Our success in battle depends on how we train in boot camp.

In boot camp, if soldiers “lacked nothing,” it would be quite a shock to them in combat when they have to live on very little and they’re under attack.

Training conditions should mimic actual battle conditions so there is familiarity, not shock, when suddenly forced into the discomfort, deprivation and danger of battle!

Soldiers can withstand, even succeed in, the worst battle conditions because they have trained themselves NOT to be dependent on favorable conditions or good treatment to do their jobs.

Maybe the Monks are On to Something

We can do this ourselves with a practice called “fasting.”

Many believe fasting to be an antiquated discipline practiced only by extreme pious nuts in monasteries. It seems outdated and irrelevant for modern disciples, but I believe fasting is needed now more than ever.

If we are not careful, the attitude of entitlement will infect our minds.

It is an epidemic in the American church, if not globally. Many Christians feel entitled to a certain level of comfort, prosperity and protection. When these expectations are not met, when hardship comes, they are easily conquered by discouragement, despair, bitterness toward God, compromise, or maybe even all-out surrender and defection.

Fasting is our way to practice having nothing so we will be prepared for times when we indeed have nothing.

Essentially, fasting is merely voluntarily removing something we have come to depend on for fulfillment other than Jesus.

We can fast from food, of course, or maybe a particular food/type of food (sweets; Starbucks; a “Daniel Fast” of only fruits, nuts, and vegetables; etc.).

Some fast from a certain activity that has, or could, become too important to their happiness.

Couples can agree to fast from sex for a spiritual purpose (I Corinthians 7:5).

Many modern “fasters” have chosen to challenge themselves by abstaining from digital entertainment and/or social media for a time.

A person might even fast from money, determining what income is absolutely mandatory and choosing to give away everything over that for a certain amount of time. This benefits the people, families, churches or organizations they give to and allows the person to practice finding contentment on a tighter budget.

What to fast from is different for each person. To determine what would have the greatest impact for you, evaluate (honestly!) what would be hardest to give up.

Coffee? Netflix? Sex? Facebook? Dating? ESPN? Extra spending money?

Whatever you would be most defensive about giving up if someone suggested it is probably the thing you benefit most to fast from.

I know what it is for me. What is it for you?

Enough Prayer

To paraphrase someone much smarter than me, it is in times when God is all we have that we discover God is all we need.

Do you want that kind of unshakable faith?

Do you want to be able to say, as Paul said, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:12)?

Then rather than praying for prosperity, pray simply for “enough,” and nothing more.

Proverbs 30:8 is the Enough Prayer:

“Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.

Otherwise, I may have too much and disown You and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’

Or I may become poor and steal and so dishonor the name of my God.”

May the Lord use both blessing and hardship to train you so you will be successful under any and every type of combat conditions.

Four Ways to be Easily Conquered (Pt. 3)

2 | Be Unsuspecting

(Four Ways to Be Easily Conquered, Pt. 3)

 

Sleeping in the Enemy’s Lap

How was Samson captured?

dont-be-complacentEasy. He fell asleep on the lap of the woman who had already tried three times to subdue and overthrow him.

A sleeping person is easy to conquer, even one who is otherwise strong when awake and motivated. All the strength and skill in the world benefit a person nothing if they are asleep and oblivious to the presence of the enemy.

Being unsuspecting is a great way to be defeated.

Demilitarized Zone

The scouts for the tribe of Dan reported excitedly that the city of Laish could be captured despite the impressive walls. A reason this fortified city was so vulnerable is noted in their description: “When you get there, you will find an unsuspecting people” (Judges 18:10).

Sounds like many people, including many Christians. We may have, at one time, been very intentional about our defense and preparedness, but we have now become, for all intents and purposes, demilitarized.

No more training.IMG_7069

No more watchmen vigilantly scanning for potential threats.

No more self-discipline to stay in shape for action.

Prayer, which was once an urgent survival mechanism, has become an optional “To Do” item.

The sword of the Word of God has rusted from lack of use.

And rather than carefully suiting up in the full armor of God first thing in the morning, we casually slip into sweats, dressing for comfort instead of conflict.

And who could blame us? After all, why all the vigilance and preparation if we don’t expect an attack?

The Devil’s Greatest Trick

zewJjFrench poet Charles Baudelaire said, “The finest trick of the devil is to persuade you that he does not exist.”

And he is very persuasive!

There’s a reason for the popular saying, “Ignorance is bliss.” We deeply want to believe we are safe and secure, and many would rather be oblivious than to acknowledge the reality of an enemy whose sole purpose is to steal, kill and destroy.

In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, British novelist J.K. Rowling gives us a vivid embodiment of blissful ignorance in the character of Professor Umbridge. See the short video below.

(You can watch the full 2:42, or skip ahead to :50.)

Umbridge, teaching the Defense Against the Dark Arts class, announces that a theoretical knowledge of defensive spells rather than experience and practice will be sufficient for the students. The students object, arguing that only experience, not theory, will prepare them for attacks. Umbridge scoffs and naively assures them there is no real enemy, so they need not prepare so rigorously.

It certainly is more pleasant to believe there is no enemy.

But what we don’t know can still hurt us a great deal. In fact, being unsuspecting makes us all the more vulnerable, Samsons sleeping while the enemy cuts our hair and binds us.

A Call to Arms

So when you have enjoyed peace and favorable conditions long enough…

When your days no longer feel like warfare…

When you have had enough victories to feel strong, almost invincible…

When you have ample resources and safeguards in place to give you peace of mind…

When you are finally enjoying prosperity and security…

… BE CAREFUL!

an-american-soldierThese are the type of conditions that put Laish to sleep, and they are exactly the types of things that make Christians lose their vigilance and, therefore, lose their battles.

If you want to continue being easily conquered, remain unsuspecting and at peace.

But if you want to be unconquerable, remain watchful, disciplined and vigilant, especially when there seems no reason to be.

“If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you do not fall” (I Corinthians 10:12).

Keep your guard up, and you will never be caught off-guard.

 

 

Four Ways to be Easily Conquered (Pt. 2)

1 | Be Safe and Secure

(Four Ways to Be Easily Conquered, Pt. 2)

 

The Key to Crossing a Frozen Pond

Two hikers want to explore the woods on the other side of a frozen lake.walking_on_thin_ice_by_x_ample

One is hesitant to cross the lake, skeptical that the ice will hold their weight. The other is bold and confident they can make it.

Who will make it to the woods on the other side of the lake?

That all depends…on the strength of the ice.

Success and security are not based upon the size and strength of one’s faith but upon the size and strength of the object of one’s faith.

We are only as successful and secure as what we rely on for success and security.

A person with only a little faith in thick ice is more secure than the person with great confidence in thin ice.

Likewise, even small, struggling faith in an enormous God can uproot mountains and sustain us in impossible situations, while bold, wholehearted confidence in anything less, no matter how worthy it seems, cannot ensure our well-being.

 

Sidonian Safety

The Danite scouts looking for a city to conquer described Laish as “living in safety, like the Sidonians, at peace and secure” (Judges 18:7).

This may seem like a deterrent, but in fact, their Sidonian safety and security actually made them more vulnerable.

Avila_wallsSafety and security are, by no means, inherently negative, but, like many of us, Laish’s confidence was in the wrong safeguard.

Their defenses were modeled after Sidon. Sidon was a well-fortified city because it was wealthy. Archaeological findings show that Laish had similar defensive measures: enormous earthen embankments that served as massive walls, gate courtyards, etc.

Hence their peace of mind.

 

In _____ We Trust

They are not the only ones to put their faith in such safeguards.

Israel asked for a king, feeling more secure following a man into battle than an invisible God (I Samuel 8:19-20).

Leah trusted pregnancies to fix her marriage (Genesis 29:32, 34; 30:20).

Asa refused to seek the Lord’s help with his severe foot disease, instead trusting only his physicians (II Chronicles 16:12).

David observed that many trust in the military power of horses and chariots for their safety (Psalm 20:7).

Proverbs notes that the wealthy imagine their money to be an unscalable wall (Proverbs 18:11).

Proverbs also observes that many trust their own wisdom and ingenuity, that they feel safest doing whatever seems right to them (Proverbs 14:12).

And the trend continues today.

“Everything will be better if we can just get the right politicians in office.”

“This relationship will fix my problems.”

“If I can only get into that hospital, be treated by that doctor, or get that treatment, I could be cured.”

“Our military is keeping this country safe.”

“This is a safe place to live because it has the top police department in our region.”

“I feel safer since I started carrying a firearm.”

“Getting into that college is the key to my successful career.”

“I know my future is secure because I’ve got a solid 401K.”

“I don’t worry much because I can always find a way to work things out for the best.”

For our well-being, we might pray…but we are definitely going to buckle up, lock our cars, get home alarm systems, and demand top-notch police, fire and medical services.

Then we have peace of mind that we are secure.

Indeed, we may be more Sidonian than we think.

 

Scalable Walls

There is nothing wrong with these safety measures, but they do not make us secure! To place our trust in them implicitly only makes us more easily conquerable.

What happens to our security when:

… jobs we trusted in are lost?4ceac20dee7c2a9c1e6b5409e4ec920f

… our bank accounts dry up?

… people we rely on let us down?

… our own wisdom and ingenuity prove to be wrong, often with serious consequences?

… doctors and treatments turn out to be ineffective?

… disasters strike that cannot be fixed by money, people, our own effort, etc.?

Laish had peace of mind because of their walls, but these walls were eventually scaled by the Danites, and the city fell.

We, too, can be at peace behind the highest walls of finances and resources and safety measures, and yet be totally vulnerable.

The good news is, this means we can stop frantically building these high walls and instead focus on a single thing for our security.

 

The Strong Tower

Proverbs 18:11, states that wealthy people only imagine their riches to be an unscalable wall. The verse just before it describes a truly unscalable, impenetrable wall:

The name of the Lord is a strong tower. The righteous run to it and are saved (Proverbs 18:10).

The Lord does not fail.

To cultivate a relationship with Him is the greatest investment we can make in our success and security.

lighthouse-in-the-storm1One missionary explained, “Security is not found in the absence of danger, but in the presence of Jesus.” (And this is a woman in a country where 60 missionaries are killed every year!)

Better to be in the direst circumstances with only Jesus to hold onto than abundantly wealthy in the safest house in the safest city with incredible insurance and access to the best doctors but no relationship with Christ.

Remember, you are only as successful and secure as what you rely on for success and security.

So the first question to ask yourself to find out how conquerable you are is, “What/whom am I relying on for security?”

 


To encourage you to make Christ your one hope of security, read these lyrics from Edward Mote (1797-1874), and then watch the video of Hillsong’s rendition of it, titled “Cornerstone.”

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

His oath, His covenant, and blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When every earthly prop gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

 

 

 

Four Ways to be Easily Conquered (Pt. 1)

image

Some days, I’m the hammer. Some days, I’m the nail.

Some days, I’m an indomitable force of conviction, courage and self-discipline. Other days, it seems even the slightest pressure can pound me into submission.

Whether it’s diet, spending, spiritual disciplines, self-improvement, overcoming unwanted habits or maintaining new resolutions, sometimes I am impressively victorious…and sometimes I am too easily conquered.

WHEN GOOD INTENTIONS ARE NOT ENOUGH

I’m not alone in this. Anyone can recognize areas where they are particularly vulnerable to fail.

You may be unfazed by many temptations, but when confronted with a certain one or two, you consistently feel powerless to resist.

You may maintain a responsible budget, except when it comes to this one indulgence.

You may function well in most situations, but around this person or in that type of environment, not so much.

You may have resolved to establish a more consistent routine of prayer, Bible reading, participation in a church family, etc., but months, weeks or maybe even days into it, these are again neglected.

Why?! If we have genuine intentions to do what is best and to be the best version of ourselves, why aren’t our desires and intentions enough?

If we truly want victory so badly, why are we still so easily defeated?

I have come to recognize a pattern, certain dynamics that contribute to me being either victorious or defeated.

As a minister, I see the same pattern of dynamics in those to whom I minister.

In fact, these dynamics even explain how an entire city was overthrown by a handful of losers.

A CITY DESTINED TO FALL

After Joshua, the leader of the Israelites, died, it was up to the tribes to claim their territories. All the tribes were successful (to varying degrees)…except Dan.

While other tribes conquered and confined their enemies, the Amorites confined the Danites to the hills (Judges 1:34).

By Judges 18, they still had not found a territory they could conquer, and they were desperate.

imageUntil they found Laish.

Finally, a city they–even the Danites–could conquer.

The question is, what was so WRONG with Laish that made them so RIGHT as a target?

It’s an important question because the same things that made Laish conquerable are the same things that make us so easily defeated.

Judges 18:

[The five scouts] came to Laish, where they saw that the people were living in safety, like the Sidonians, at peace and secure. And since their land lacked nothing, they were prosperous. Also, they lived a long way from the Sidonians and had no relationship with anyone else.

When they returned to Zorah and Eshtaol, their fellow Danites asked them, “How did you find things?”

They answered, “Come on, let’s attack them! We have seen the land, and it is very good. Aren’t you going to do something? Don’t hesitate to go there and take it over. 10 When you get there, you will find an unsuspecting people and a spacious land that God has put into your hands, a land that lacks nothing whatsoever.”

11 Then six hundred men of the Danites, armed for battle, set out from Zorah and Eshtaol.

27 Then they…went on to Laish, against a people at peace and secure. They attacked them with the sword and burned down their city. 28 There was no one to rescue them because they lived a long way from Sidon and had no relationship with anyone else.

FOUR WAYS TO BE EASILY CONQUERED

From this, we see four dynamics that led to Laish’s defeat, the same ones that contribute to our own:

To be easily conquered:

1  |  Be safe and secure.

2  |  Be unsuspecting.

3  |  Lack nothing.

4  |  Be isolated.

If the Danite scouts were ecstatic to find these qualities in Laish, we can be sure our enemy, too, is seeking these same qualities in us.

It may be difficult at first to see how some of these could work against our welfare, so over the next several posts (Thursday, Monday, Thursday, Monday), we will unpack how each of these contributes to our victory or failure.

Begin praying now for God to help you see any of these, or other factors, that make you vulnerable.

Part 2: “Be Safe and Secure” coming soon!

Samson and Jacob: Zeros to Heroes

Hebrews 11 is often called the “Hall of Faith.” It’s a shabby title, but we all know it. The chapter moves through Israel’s history, lifting up certain individuals as heroes of the faith. They are all commended by the author.

But as you read through the chapter, some of the names stick out—if you recall the stories of their lives, they don’t really seem to be men of upstanding character. You have men like Abraham who has a problem with lying and trying to take God’s plan into his own hands. But Abraham showed great faith with the whole Isaac ordeal and even let Lot have the better land when they split ways. So we can understand him. But then you come to individuals like Jacob and like Samson.

Jacob and Samson are honored in the Hall of Faith despite being almost totally rotten people. Jacob, for one is constantly deceiving and stealing throughout his portion of the biblical narrative. He marries multiple women and plays favorites with children (which we all know causes some big problems for the family). He is even given the name “Struggles with God,” which while poetic is not particularly flattering.

Samson is not much better. He lies, sleeps around, marries a foreigner (while this isn’t too much of a problem for us, he knows that he wasn’t suppose to do it), and murders people out of rage. Moreover, the one good thing about Samson is his Nazarite vow, which acts as his dedication to the Lord. But almost the entire portion of Scripture dedicated to telling the story of Samson deals in some way with how he broke his vow. As a Nazarite, the three things he is must do are abstain from wine and grapes, not touch dead things and become ritually unclean, and not cut his hair. All of which he does.

Samson-lion_Rubens

So again, these characters seem to be unmistakably wicked. They don’t practice the love and patience and holiness that God’s people are called to embody. Why then are they praised?

I think the biblical authors (both of the Old Testament and Hebrews) included these men for a very specific reason. The foremost of which is to show that God’s purposes are never limited by us. Though humanity is often wicked and there are no suitable ambassadors to be found, the Lord still makes do. He accommodates to us so that his goodness is known.

I think another reason is faith. If there is one thing these men did right (and there really isn’t much) it is faith. Faith really means “belief,” but I think the virtue that is being commended here is most accurately described as trust. Samson in particular demonstrates amazing trust in the Lord in his final moments—and God uses that trust to forward his purposes.

-Daniel Crouch (the intern)

http://religionandstory.blogspot.com/2015/06/samson-and-jacob-zeros-to-heroes.html

Upside-Down Kingdom

In a world where right-side up means to step on others to get ahead, we need to live upside-down.

In a world where right-side up means to use every dollar made for our own security and pleasures we need to live upside-down.

In a world where right-side up means that beauty is defined by clothing, weight, skin, and a hundred other demands, we need to live upside-down.

In a country where the freedom and independence are the loftiest ideals that one can hope to attain, we need to live upside-down. (Thanks to Scott who preached well on this a few weeks ago. You can watch and listen here.)

You see where I’m going with this now, but here’s the thing: living upside-down isn’t just about selflessness. That’s a HUGE part of it, perhaps the biggest. But there’s another vitally important aspect. Goodness. You see, we’ve been tricked-whether by our nationalistic culture or by the Evil One himself I do not know. We, as Christians, have been dupped into the belief that abstaining from sin is equivalent to goodness. From a young age our parents tell us to “be good” when they actually mean: “don’t be bad.” We do our Christian lives the same way. We’ve become lazy do-nothingers.

In Galatians 5:22, “goodness” is listed as a fruit of living by the Spirit. English is terrible. There are many different words in Greek that we translate as good or goodness. In this passage, “goodness” comes from the root-word ἀγαθός (agathos)- meaning an intrinsic, inherent goodness, or the very goodness that comes from God Himself. It implies ACTION! Or when you hear the phrase “God is good,” do you just mean “God is not bad?” NO! You think of God at work doing good for His people!

Being a follower naturally implies movement in the direction of the leader. I want to be a Jesus-follower, not a Jesus-idealist, because Jesus is on the move!

Watch this inspiring video of a couple of guys living upside-down:

Yes, selflessness keeps us from hurting other people for our own gain. Selflessness keeps us from hoarding our possessions, calling people mean names, etc. But it is GOODNESS that enables us to live in His upside-down Kingdom!

We need to live upside-down because Jesus lived upside-down. One of the things I like most about Jesus is his ability to turn the common worldview on it’s head. Luke 6, Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plain” is full of this. He inspired others to live upside-down with him. After colliding with Jesus, wealthy Zaccheus gave away all his wealth to those he spent his career neglecting. After colliding with Jesus, Saul changed from a life of persecuting others to being persecuted for the Savior. After colliding with resurrected Jesus, Peter changed from self-preservation to wreckless abandon for the Gospel.

Two weeks after the close of VBS (my busiest time of the year), I am still buzzing with these examples of why God graciously led me to be a Children’s Minister. Children are the BEST at living upside-down!

nickels2 nickels1

These are some examples of just a few of our children following Jesus with action! (Left: a brother and sister selling their own toys and books to raise money for victims of the earthquakes in Nepal. Right: two sisters selling snacks and drinks and collecting donations for the same purpose.) In fact, in the months of May and June, the Ridge Kids are responsible for raising $2,089.40 (and thanks to a generous anonymous donor after VBS, an additional $1,605.78 for a total of almost $3,700!).

Perhaps this is why, in yet another upside-down statement, Jesus says: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Mt. 18:2-4.

May God bless you as you live “good-ly” in His upside-down Kingdom.

How NOT to Know God’s Will (and Four Questions that are Better than Fleeces)

“Fleecing” tests are more likely to lead us to our own will than God’s.


Praying for a Sign

In the movie, “Bruce Almighty,” Bruce, played by Jim Carrey, prays for God to reveal His will to him. What follows is a series of Bruce_01scenes in which God is clearly trying to communicate with him, but Bruce obliviously dismisses each attempt as unrelated coincidences, all the while growing more irritated that God has not responded.

If it were not for Carrey’s comic brilliance, these hilarious scenes might be more agonizing than amusing, for they depict a little too realistically the human struggle to hear and understand an invisible God.

Unlike in the movie, God does not page us to meet Him in person and thumb through His private files or stand on the street corner with signs.

So how, then, are we to know His will?

First, let’s look at a popular method that may teach us more about how NOT to know the will of God than how to know it.

Fleecing God

Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised—look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.”
And that is what happened.
Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew.”
That night God did so.
(Judges 6:36-40)

Gideon’s tests have become a popular model for discerning God’s will, particularly when trying to decide between two seemingly equal options.

“If they call in the next 30 minutes…”
“If I blindly open my Bible to a random verse…”
“If the next car that passes is silver…”

This method has the guise of giving God control, but there are some serious flaws.

1 | God’s will does not need confirmation.

This is not always the case, but often, God’s will is clear enough and needs no confirmation.

This was certainly the case for Gideon. God had already directly commanded him to attack and explicitly guaranteed victory (Judges 6:14, 16).

Notice Gideon’s statement to God:
“If you will save Israel by my hand AS YOU HAVE PROMISED…”

He knew the command and the promise; all he needed was faith, courage and obedience.

God has made His will for us more plain than we give Him credit for, most especially in His Word. We can’t, therefore, claim ignorance or blame vague or incomplete revelation.

If God has already said it, the commands and promises can be believed and acted upon without further confirmation.

2 | The test may reveal more about OUR will than God’s.

Fleece_02Gideon’s fleecing test was not, as many view it, a humble way to confirm God’s will but a cowardly way to question His faithfulness and/or competence.

The issue was not, “Should I attack?” It was, “If I attack, will You keep Your promise?” and, “Can You really win?”

We may not like to admit it, but our own tests to “discern God’s will” may only be indicators that we don’t want to do what He has said.

Jim Cymbala tells of a woman who said she was so convicted by his sermon that she was going to pray about possibly leaving the boyfriend with whom she was living. Cymbala’s response was to quit praying and start packing. “You don’t have to pray about things God has already called sin!”

Leaving sin for righteousness is always God’s will. No confirmation needed. Taking time to pray about it does not prove our hearts are openly and obediently seeking God’s will but that they are stubbornly committed to our own.

3 | The test is rigged.

Gideon tested God once and had his answer. Why test again, and this time a more difficult task?

He was doing what we often do: rig the test to give us the outcome we want.

… Like plucking the pedals of a dozen daisies until one finally ends with “He loves me!”
… Like flipping through countless random verses until one is found that confirms what we’ve already decided to believe.
… Like seeking counsel from multiple people until one finally supports and helps justify what we want to do.

This example from Gideon is not meant to be a model we imitate for making decisions. God was graciously patient with Gideon and did play along, but as a rule, “fleecing” tests are more likely to lead us to our own will than God’s.

Four Questions for Deciding If You’ve Heard from God

So how do we distinguish God’s will from our own?HearingGod_01

When we think we’ve heard from God–Scripture that could be applicable to your specific situation; advice or input from someone; an impression or feeling; a dream; a “sign;” maybe even a response to a fleecing test–how can we be sure it is indeed God’s will we’ve heard?

Margaret Feinberg suggests four questions to ask about the “revelation”:
(Read her full blog here.)

1 | Does what I heard line up with Scripture?

“The Bible serves as bedrock, determining whether or not something is from God. If you feel led to do something that goes against the teachings of Jesus or the principles of Scripture,”–all of Scripture, not just a verse or two manipulated into a meaning that contradicts the more general principles throughout Scripture–“then what you’re hearing isn’t from God.”

2 | Does what I heard line up with wise counsel?

“Look for mentors in your life who can provide wisdom concerning your finances, relationships, marriage, career, and faith. Over the years I’ve discovered that one mentor isn’t enough. God speaks through a community.”

While some are best equipped to counsel concerning marriage or discipleship or finances, “all of them share common characteristics: they love God and long to see us grow in the fullness of who God created us to be; they pray for us; and they respond with honesty and grace.”

When you think you’ve heard from God, run it by these wise, godly counselors and be willing to be teachable.

3 | Does what I heard leave me with a sense of peace?

Worried_01Moments of decision often come with a wide range of emotion: fear, joy, anxiety, enthusiasm, sadness. These can compel rash responses that we may regret later.

Unless we wait for peace.

Peace of mind, peace of heart, peace of conscience, these can be a sign that God has ordained what we’ve heard, while a restless mind or unsettled conscience can be God’s way of warning us we’re moving in the wrong direction.

4 | Is what I heard blanketed in love?

Tamara recently told me of a person we know who was ugly to her in a restaurant, snapping at her about the happy noises one of the SIX kids she had with her was making. I have his phone number and began mentally drafting texts to set him straight.

Afterall, aren’t I her God-given protector?
Wasn’t my anger a righteous anger?
Doesn’t Christ fight for and avenge His Bride, the church, an example I was prepared to follow?

It would be easy to assume these rationalizations were from God, but I knew they were not because they lacked the brand mark of love.

Knowing I could not respond in a loving way while so angry, I promised Tamara (and God) not to confront him until I could.

Feinberg wisely states:
“The nature of God’s voice is that it calls us to maturity in love, nurturing the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. If love is protecting our actions and decisions, then we’ll be restrained from making grievous errors.”

How Do You Know?

So how do you discern God’s will?

If you are a disciple, then knowing what He desires in major decisions and everyday situations is your greatest priority.

Ours, too!

So please leave a comment to share what has been most helpful for you to determine it.


Cymbala, Jim. You Were Made for More. (Zondervan: Grand Rapids), 2008. p. 49

Margaret Feinberg. “4 Questions to Ask When You Heard from God” (Margaret Feinberg: July 7, 2014)
http://margaretfeinberg.com/how-to-know-you-heard-god

It Feels Like Fire in My Bones

 

July 1st will mark 8 years of being the preacher for the church family at Garden Ridge.  I hold this date very special because of the joy I have experienced working with this church family and because of the way the LORD has used my time here to help me grow in my own faith walk.

The Blessings

Talk about rewarding!  It is difficult sometimes to imagine that I actually get paid to study my bible and share what I learn!  Can anything be better than being used by the LORD to help someone realize the freedom from sin and new life available to them?

Seeing people throw off the shackles they have carried and find eternal purpose is revitalizing to the soul!

Seeing someone light up with excitement and joy because they realize how real the LORD is and how much He cares for them is something you cannot put any amount of money upon.

Helping people find answers and healing for eternal problems and everyday issues is better than being a doctor who helps with sickness and issues pertaining to this world.

Seeing someone claim the crown of life is better than coaching a professional championship team. (Go Dodgers!)

The Struggle

However, sometimes the work of ministry is maddening, disappointing and frustrating!

To have the power of the Spirit of God available to us; the wisdom of His eternal perspective written out for us; and our greatest debt paid for us; and yet to see so many who live lives as paupers is downright discouraging!

To know that you have real answers to the problems people deal with, only to see people follow worldly lies and the desires from their flesh is depressing!

To be treated as though you are judgmental and that because you strive to live by a holy standard you think you are better is exasperating!

I understand and have a great appreciation for Jeremiah’s plight when he stated in Jeremiah 20:9 that if he claimed he would not remember the LORD or speak anymore in His name that it felt as though his heart was a burning fire even into his bones!  Sometimes it feels like it would just be easier to keep the Good News to myself and let people face the consequences of their choices; but then it feels like I will explode if I don’t try to help out!

“O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . .”

I understand I am not anyone’s savior!  I can’t even get out of my own way and certainly have no right or business judging anyone else!  I know that the job of savior is already filled by One much better qualified and adequate than myself!  I do not have a “Messiah complex” (at least I don’t think I do).  It is just that I cannot help myself in wanting to assist people so they see beyond the lies and junk of this world, so they will not settle for far less than the LORD has created them to be and do.

He Works Through It All

Some days it feels like all the preaching and ministry in the world will not make a real difference.  Sometimes voices of discouragement and acts of unkindness are used by the evil one to bring doubt as to one’s effectiveness in the role of ministry.  Yet even these things have a beauty over the long haul of ministry because they lead to deeper prayer and greater faith in the One who truly has control, rather than fooling me into thinking that I am holding the world by the tail.  (Holding anything by the tail never seems to go well!)

Thank you, Garden Ridge for 8 wonderful years!  I often tell people that it still feels like I am in my honeymoon because of the care and respect and love you have provided Deeann and me since we got here.  We love you and hope for many more opportunities to grow together in our walk with the LORD!

All of this is why I do what I do!

The 2,314 Mile Dream Come True

Have you ever been on a road trip with your siblings?

When was the last time you drove a U-Haul truck all day?

What is your favorite traveling snack?

Have you ever seen a herd of camels?

Last week I got to experience each of these questions.  I along with my older brother, Penney and older sisters Janice and Charla, embarked on the exodus.  Our ages range from my 62 to my brother’s 68.

We drove 2,314 miles in a U-Haul truck with my sisters driving a car behind us.  Why?  Well my sister’s daughter and son and their families live in or around Portland, Oregon.  They moved up there 12 years ago and my sister, Janice, has wanted to move up there ever since.  She worked in Dallas as an attorney with City Square (Central Dallas Ministries) for over ten years, and finally decided it was time.

We loaded up the rented 26 foot truck on Saturday, drove to Lubbock on Sunday, where Jan stayed to play with the grandkids and my brother joined me to help drive the truck. On Monday we drove to Denver, Colorado. On Tuesday we drove to Twin Falls, Idaho and Wednesday we drove to Salem, Oregon.  The average time on the road for the last 3 days was 12 hours.  Our shared snacks ranged from Fiddle Faddle to Fig Newtons to Maple Nuggets to trash to Hot Tamales.

We quickly realized how unusual this grouping was.   To have four brothers and sisters who got along well enough to even attempt a long trip like this was extremely rare.  The four of us grew up in a dysfunctional family but were still blessed by a great church and youth group and all four us still have great faith in Him.  A lot of that had to do with an amazingly patient, peaceful mother who many of you knew.

The states we drove through included Texas, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho and Oregon–some of God’s most beautiful creation!  Out our windows, we saw “where the deer and the antelope play”, the “buffalo roam” and a weird herd of camels in Colorado.

God was evident all along the way–no one got sick; both older vehicles had no mechanical problems;  all drivers stayed awake and alert; weather was perfect the entire trip; no one got mad at another brother or sister; and no accidents!  Not bad for 4 old people.

When we arrived Janice said a number of times, “This is a dream come true!”  She is finally living close to her children again.

Our lives and this trip was a reminder of God’s promise–“All things work together for good to those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28  Our trip was work.  The driving made us weary down to our bones.  The highways were not smooth.  The days were long and tiring.

But God!  He made it fun.  He made it a joy to be with siblings on a journey that allowed us an unusual, incredible type of reunion.  He showed us love through family once again.

He showed Himself.

Philip Nichols alias Nichols Worth