I recently had a dream in which God warned me of a strategy the enemy is currently employing to attack God’s people. The dream portrayed the enemy as mangy cats, prowling about, ready to pounce and scheming to claw out the eyes of their prey.
Just as the enemy is strategic and even systematic in how he is attacking the vision of God’s people right now, so is our Father prepared and strategic about giving His children the specific tactics necessary in this hour to be victorious over the evil one.
So let me ask you: have you felt distracted lately? Has it been a temptation to dwell on the negative circumstances around you? Do you feel you are able to see with clarity, God’s heart for you?
If you recognize our enemy has been coming against your eyes in this season, I hope you will find encouragement in what I am about to share with you as it is the counter-strategy God showed me.
Strategy #1: There is strength in numbers.
The “Teacher” in Ecclesiastes, chapter 4, gives us this wisdom:
9 Two are better than one because a good return comes when two work together. 10 If one of them falls, the other can help him up. But who will help the pitiful person who falls down alone? 11 In the same way, if two lie down together, they can keep each other warm. But how will the one who sleeps alone stay warm against the night? 12 And if one person is vulnerable to attack, two can drive the attacker away. As the saying goes, “A rope made of three strands is not quickly broken.”
Though I will be the first to admit the difficulty of being transparent and asking for help, this is precisely the path towards being strengthened with our Christian brothers and sisters. Are you praying with anybody these days? Take some time to consider how initiating a prayer time with someone you know might change your current difficulty. Though it may not change the harsh realities of your circumstance, could bringing your needs to the Lord together offer you strength and encouragement to move forward in victory? My hope and prayer for you is that you will take courage and action towards this truth.
Strategy #2: The gateway of gratitude, leads to overflow.
In a recent time of prayer with others from St Aidan’s, a number of ideas came to my mind as I listened for God’s voice: a picture of a storehouse structure, the tune “Give Thanks with A Grateful Heart” and the word “overflow”. I waited for God to tie all these ideas together and this is what He showed me:
God has an abundant storehouse of provision and blessing for His children. He is the Good Father and is always looking for ways to give good things to His children, no matter what the enemy may be bringing against them. These blessings can be accessed through the gateway of gratitude. When we take our eyes off of what the enemy is doing and put them on our Lord by moving in the posture of thanksgiving, we open ourselves to seeing and experiencing the many blessings God is giving us in the midst of our trying circumstances.
The Kingdom of God is an upside-down kingdom. This means that when the enemy brings forward his plans to harm us, God turns those same circumstances on their head to bless us! (Esther 9:25) May you access and experience all the blessings God has stored up for you and may you “Enter His gates with thanksgiving.” (Psalm 100:4)
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When searching the scriptures for a verse to back up the strategies God was giving, I sensed the Holy Spirit lead me to Colossians 4:2, in which Paul directs the people of God with this instruction:
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
Thank you Father for showing us how to live victorious in this difficult season. Give us grace to reach out to others so that we can pray together and share our needs. Grant to us the heart posture of gratitude so that we can access the many blessings you have for us. In Jesus name, Amen.
Bible Verse: My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.
I enjoy the commercials on TV that some of the cell phone service providers air, although I must confess that sometimes I’m just not sure what the video content has to with the audio content. I really not sure what a cute lion cub has to do with cell phone use. Maybe it’s just a way to grab our attention so we are open to the message they want to convey. Maybe. I once heard someone say, although I’m not sure who it was, that the biggest myth in communication is the mistaken belief that it actually occurred. Did we hear what the other person said? Did we understand what they meant? Did we actually get the message?
The Bible has a great overarching message, which is the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ, and it is one of the main ways that God speaks to us, but it is not the only way. For example, Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, had some amazing things to say, which we would do well to listen to. And it’s awesome to go to church on Sundays and hear some first-rate sermons. But some people in our culture believe that you have to be a bit disconnected from reality to believe that God may want to speak to you directly. Even some Christians might say, “Sure back in the day, when the books of the Bible were being written. Maybe to those men and women mentioned in the Old Testament, sure. But today?” People will usually encourage you to stick to the solid and the real, things you can touch and see and hear and feel. Stick to the science and the technology. That’s something you can trust.
But that’s not true, and if you hold on firmly to that, it’s holding you back from accomplishing what really matters in this life. Just because we can’t see or touch something doesn’t mean it’s not there or doesn’t exist. Gravity and electromagnetism exist even though we can’t see or touch them. But we experience their reality every day. They, along with the strong and weak nuclear forces combine to hold the universe together, binding together everything from atoms to galaxies, just as God created them to do. So consider God and His invisible works. We can’t see or touch Him either, but we can experience His reality, too, and in deeper ways than anything we can perceive with our everyday senses.
God does speak us today, and He wants to speak to you. He speaks to us in myriad ways, and He always has. He speaks to us ways that resonate specifically with each of us as individual creations. The Bible tells of Him sometimes speaking in ways that actually are detectable by our physical senses, with an audible voice; through physical phenomena and signs; through messengers, such as angels, prophets, everyday people, and in one particularly stubborn case, through a donkey. But scripture also shows Him speaking in ways that are beyond our physical senses: through dreams and visions; and directly to our minds, through His Holy Spirit.
This last one has come to be known as the “still small voice,” and the words come from the story of Elijah, when God told the prophet to go out from the cave where he was hiding because He was about to pass by. God was teaching Elijah, and us, that His voice doesn’t usually come as a blast, or a boom, or a blaze, although it can if He wants to, but as what we might call an inner voice. He’s teaching us that when He speaks, He speaks more to our thoughts than to anything else. Think of it! The voice of God Almighty, Creator of the universe, speaking to us in a whisper. Forcing us to pay attention, bending our minds to focus on Him, to humble ourselves to listen inside our thoughts for the God of impossibly great power. What might He say to you?
If you aren’t used to listening for His voice, find a comfortable place where you won’t be disturbed, remain humbly quiet for a while, invite the Holy Spirit to direct your thoughts, and listen for that inner voice. Don’t try too hard and don’t overthink it. Just be still and invite Him in. When and if you think you might have heard something, test it against Scripture, or share it with a mature believer for their comment. If it fits with biblical principles, be encouraged, be bold, and believe that God is taking an active interest and role in your life. Praise be to the Ever-living God, our Heavenly Father!
In the Old Testament God’s people were in exile, “battered from head to foot – covered with bruises, welts, and infected wounds – without any soothing ointments or bandages” (Isaiah 1:6). The prophet Jeremiah catalogued the sin that had done the damage as lying, adultery, greed, religious hypocrisy, twisting and rejecting God’s Word. The people knew they were guilty, and they had lost all hope of recovery. “For the Lord our God has decreed our destruction and has given us a cup of poison to drink because we’ve sinned against the Lord,” they lamented. “We hoped for a time of healing, but found only terror” (Jeremiah 8: 14-15).
Jeremiah did not want to accept that there was no available cure for the sin-sickness of God’s people. The hopeless state of his people broke the prophet’s heart:
I hurt with the hurt of my people. I mourn and am overcome with grief. Is there no medicine in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why is there no healing for the wounds of my people? (Jeremiah 8: 21-22)
Gilead was a country beyond the Jordan River where a tree grew that produced a resin known for its healing properties. The resin was made into a Balm that cleansed, soothed, and cured. Because the tree grew only in Gilead, the balm produced from it was costly and precious.
When Jeremiah asked, “Is there no balm in Gilead?” he meant it as a rhetorical question because he was confident of this balm’s availability and effectiveness and therefore God’s provision for healing. Of course there is more than enough supply for healing! There is more power in the balm to heal than there is power in guilt to wound. There is more power in grace to save then there is in sin to destroy.
Jeremiah saw the provision of healing that God would provide in Christ. Indeed the Balm of Gilead that brings healing to those wounded and infected with sin is nothing less than the costly and precious blood of Christ. “He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed” (1 Peter 2:24)
Prayer – Balm of Gilead; moisten my heart, melt away my pride, and cure me of my desire for sin that sickens my soul. Heal me with your precious blood.
Song: There Is A Balm In Gilead - Deborah Liv Johnson
Scripture Reading: “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, “This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.” “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” Luke 14:28-35
Our family loves to travel, but as with most other people in this strange year, we did not take a major vacation this year, and next year is still a question mark on our calendar. But one thing we learned long ago was that the key to an enjoyable trip was to plan well in advance and plan in detail. After many years of traveling for business and for pleasure, we’ve realized that if we don’t make detailed travel plans well in advance, we just may not get where we want to go.
Several months ago, I was reading an interview with the author of the highly acclaimed book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey. He was asked which of the seven habits was the most important and he said, “Begin with the end in mind.” In other words, he said to make your travel plans with your destination clearly in mind, because if you don’t have the end location in mind, everything you do between here and there will simply be a haphazard hit or miss, and you could end up in places you don’t want be.
It is incredible that we will put so much time and energy into planning a two-week vacation and yet, we so easily overlook planning for those things that are far more important. For example, what do you want to with your life? What can you do to ensure a strong marriage? What plans should you make for your retirement? And how about your ultimate trip beyond this life that will take you to your final and eternal destination? Have you made any plans for that journey?
In my career as a Project Manager there was a saying, “Nobody plans to fail: they just fail to plan.” Nobody arrives at their dream location accidentally. Getting there requires planning and lots of preparation. Obtaining the desire of our heart requires setting the goal and then lining up all the moving parts, such as finances, schedules, priorities, relationships, etc. to point towards the desired goal. Often that will require that you realign and adjust things as you go to keep up with the changing realities of your life. Ask yourself where you want to be at the end of the year. If you don’t know where you want to be, you may end up saying “Yes” to anything that comes your way. But if you begin with the end in mind, your heavenly destination, you will be able to wisely choose involvements that will shape your schedule, your friendships, your commitments and your quality of life.
Despite the challenges of these uncertain times, if you want this time to be a year of great personal enrichment, if you want your marriage and family to grow stronger, if you want to enjoy the present with eternity in clear focus, then make your plans accordingly. Spend your quiet times with the Lord. Dive into His holy, written Word. Listen for the whisper of the Holy Spirit in your ear. Resolve to imitate Jesus in your daily walk. Begin with the end in mind. Praise be to our Lord God Almighty.
In chapter after chapter of the book of Jeremiah, the prophet teaches the same lesson: God is a holy God who does not overlook sin but brings sinners to judgement.
Those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things. I, the Lord, have spoken! (Jeremiah 9:24)
The prophet says that to truly know and understand the Lord is to know and experience his unfailing love as well as his righteous judgment. And yet, how can he truly and fully demonstrate both? How can a loving God punish sin? But then, how can a just God simply overlook or excuse sin?
It is in Christ alone that God’s unfailing love and his righteous justice embrace. Through Christ and his substitutionary death on the cross, God demonstrated his love for sinners as well as his just judgment against sin. Paul explained how God’s love and justice come together in Christ:
God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty of our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin….God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. (Romans 3: 24-26)
Jeremiah and his contemporaries did not know how God would demonstrate both unfailing love and righteous judgment on sin. They simply trusted without seeing it clearly. But on this side of the cross, we see what God intended all along – to demonstrate his love and his justice through the death of Christ.
Let us boast in this.
Prayer – I was made to boast, Lord. But too often I have boasted in the wrong things. Now I see that there is one thing worthy of boasting about – who you are and what you’ve done for a guilty sinner like me! I will boast of your unfailing love and your righteous judgment forever.
Song: Unfailing Love by Chris Tomlin
Scripture Reading: Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3 Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” 4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. 5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. Mark 3:1-6
Just about anywhere in the world you may travel, Canadians have a reputation for being nice. Having a red maple leaf sewn on your backpack will most often bring a friendly smile to your host’s face. Having the stars and stripes on your backpack, however, well that’s a whole other discussion. We Canadians are generally regarded as being kind, generous, polite, and peaceful. In short, we’re…nice. That’s how you know Jesus wasn’t Canadian. He wasn’t just “nice”, but He was many other things, like humble, compassionate, forgiving, and loving.
Maybe if Jesus had taken a course on conflict resolution in Canada, he would have realized that there was actually a very simple — a very nice — solution to his dispute with the Pharisees over doing miracles on the Sabbath. All he had to do was wait until sundown when the Sabbath ended, and then perform His miracle of healing the man’s withered hand. The afflicted person would be healed and the Pharisees would have nothing to complain about. That would have been the nice thing to do. Nobody’s feathers would ruffled and everyone gets to go home happy. It’s probably what the Pharisees had expected him to do. But Jesus wasn’t concerned about being nice. He was concerned about doing what was good and right.
In another story found in Luke 13:14, Jesus is chastised for healing a woman on the Sabbath who had been crippled for eighteen years. “Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, ‘There are six days for work. Come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.’” But Jesus didn’t care about any of that. He had already declared himself “the Lord of the Sabbath.” The Sabbath exists because it was, and is, and always will be His creation. In other words, the Lord has authority over the Sabbath; the Sabbath doesn’t have authority over Him.
In our scripture reading above, Jesus sums up his entire ministry with just two words: “do good.” Those two words cover everything Jesus came to earth to do … heal the sick, cast out demons, declare the kingdom of God, go to the cross and tear down the wall of sin that separated us from God. Everything Jesus did was for our good and for His Father’s glory.
So how can we, the disciples of Christ, imitate Him and “do good” in ways that glorify God? One way is to put into action all the “one anothers” found in Scripture, such as encourage one another, instruct one another, accept one another, serve one another, submit to one another, forgive one another, show humility toward one another, offer hospitality to one another, and above all, love one another. Jesus says in Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
It’s so much easier for Christians to act nice instead of actively seeking justice, or showing mercy, or simply being a friend to a stranger. Being ‘nice’ doesn’t confront the pain and anguish of this broken world in the same way that Jesus did, and commanded us to do as well. Being nice only makes us agreeable, not good. Jesus knew that and He modeled it for us every day of His life on earth. Let’s not make the mistake of thinking that being nice is the same as being righteous.
Praise be to our great God!
The prophet Isaiah described the Messiah as “a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief” (Isaiah 53:3). And in numerous places in the Gospels, we are touched to see tears on the face of God in the person of Christ.
Jesus cried at the death of his friend Lazarus, personally pained at the hurt the death caused to people he loved. Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem, seeing beyond their welcoming words into the hardness in the hearts towards God.
But it is in the very words of Jesus, spoken in the garden of Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion, that we see most clearly his fulfillment of Isaiah’s moniker of “man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.” Matthew describes Jesus as “anguished and distressed,” seen clearly in his words to Peter, James, and John: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26: 37-38).
The writer to the Hebrews shows us another facet of our agonized Savior as he wept in the garden that night:
While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of this deep reverence for God. Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. (Hebrews 5: 7-8)
The sorrow of Jesus had more to do with the sin he was about to bear than it did with physical suffering or even physical death. It is sin and its devastating effects on people he loves that made Jesus a Man of Sorrows.
But the day is coming when we will no longer have to cry over sin. Isaiah also prophesied of the day when “the Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears” (25:8). Revelation 21:4 tells us that not only will Jesus wipe away all tears on that day but he will also remove all of the sorrow that caused the tears in the first place. God’s plan for the future is to destroy forever the evil that has caused so many tears – for him and for us. Then, he will live forever with us in a place he has lovingly prepared – a place where there will be no more tears.
Prayer – Man of Sorrows, knowing that you understand deep sorrow enables me to draw close to you in my sorrow. I thank you for showing me what is worthy of my tears and for your promise that you will wipe my tears away.
Song: Man of Sorrows by Hillsong
Bible Verse: “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” Joshua 1:7-8
I must admit that I’m a bit of a Luddite. Not in the sense that I don’t like new technologies, just that I’m a bit slow on the uptake. When I finally got a Face Book account you could almost hear Zuckerberg exclaim “Yes!” as he rubbed his hands together in glee. I rarely post anything because I can’t imagine that anybody really cares what colour napkin I used when I ate lunch today, and I yet somehow, I’ve managed to follow people I don’t know and get messages in languages I can’t translate. I did a little research on this technological explosion, and I discovered that the average person is exposed to thousands of messages every single day on social media, radio, and television. Billboards (talk about old school), road signs, menus, bulletins, and so on and so on and so on. Yes, thousands. It’s difficult for us to filter out all that noise on top of our everyday responsibilities to family, work, friends and more. As great as technology is, our lives are filled with more distractions today than at any other time in history.
So, what are you focusing on? What is consuming your time, your thoughts, and your attention? What are you pressing into – work, social media, hobbies, sports, Netflix? There’s a saying that “you are what you eat”, and we are heavily influenced by what listen to. If we live on a steady diet of junk food and don’t eat anything healthy, eventually it will have a serious effect on our health. Likewise, if we’re constantly focusing on the negativity in the world, we’ll become negative people; we’ll speak and think negatively, and we won’t be much fun to be around. It’s hard to have a positive impact on others if we’re constantly negative, and our bodies are so unhealthy, we can’t properly function – or worse.
If we want to live a life of purpose and have a Godly impact on those around us, we must press into God and put him first in every area of our lives. We have to set aside the distractions that beset us daily, and spend quality time with our heavenly Father, just as Jesus did. Joshua 1:8 tells us to meditate on the word of God “day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” The interpretation here of prosperous and successful is to become more like Jesus, to have a Godly impact on my family and those around me, and to live out Matthew 6:33 to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” We’re called to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only.” James 1:22
If you’re struggling to press into God because other distractions are pulling you in a dozen different ways, I encourage you to put aside the technology, find a quiet place away from the noise of the world, and pray this bold prayer and ask God to help you lay aside the distractions and seek first his kingdom:
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
Praise be to our great God!
What does it mean to serve others?
Isaiah and the other prophets frequently portrayed the character of the Messiah as that of a servant:
Look at my servant, who I strengthen. He is my chosen one, who pleases me. (Isaiah 42:1)
See, my servant will prosper; he will be highly exalted. (52:13)
My righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins. (53:11)
This servant who would suffer for his people came in full view in Jesus Christ, who, “though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine priviledges; he took the humble position of a slave” (Philippians 2: 6-7).
In the most supreme act of condescension of all time, the one who should be served became the servant. He carried out ordinary tasks including carrying water from the well for his mother, feeding the animals, cleaning up in the carpenter’s shop. As his ministry began, he served the sick, the outcast, the hungry and the heartbroken.
But the supreme servant was perhaps never as clearly in view as he was the night before he was crucified. “He got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him” (John 13: 4-5).
When the disciples entered the room that night, none of them wanted to pick up the bowl and the towel, which was the task of the slave or servant. But they all had dirty feet that needed to be washed, so Jesus, bearing the heaviness of what was ahead, got down on the floor and washed their feet. Certainly he was filled with anguish over what lay ahead, and still he “took the humble position of a slave,” serving others when he deserved to be served.
With Jesus as our supreme example let us ask ourselves; what does it mean to serve others?
Prayer – Servant Jesus, you have given me an example to follow. As I fix my eyes on you, help me to find the grace I need to forsake my prideful perch and lower myself to serve my brothers and sisters as well as all those in need. Help me to understand the values of your Kingdom and my role as an Ambassador of your Kingdom.
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.