“Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.” Mark 11:22-23
When God speaks everything changes! There may be darkness and chaos, but when God speaks, light and order come in response to His word transforming the world. (See Genesis 1) But what happens when we speak? I don’t believe there is intrinsic power in our words, but I do believe that our words can be filled with power if we speak out loud what God has spoken to our hearts.
Speaking expresses faith. Romans 10:10 says we believe with our hearts and then speak with our mouths resulting in salvation. What we believe about God and the world will affect what we speak and what we speak will then affect the world around us. Proverbs 18:21 says, “life and death are in the power of the tongue.”
So what is God speaking to this world? May our hearts be filled with the truth of John 3:17: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” We are not called to be positive in a negative world; we are called to be redemptive in a fallen world. We don’t ever have to live in a bubble that denies the brokenness and darkness all around us; we only have to believe that God has a redemptive plan for everything and everyone who is broken and dark.
Moses allowed himself to become frustrated and hit the rock when God told him to speak to it. The rock, which represented Christ (1Corinthians 10:4), had already been struck (a picture of Jesus dying on the cross), so God wanted Moses to have enough faith to just speak. If he had spoken to the rock it would have flowed with water for all the people, for God was the One telling him to speak.
Today He’s telling us to speak His redemption over our own lives, the lives of our loved ones, and over this nation. What are you speaking?
“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24
How do we navigate all the relationships in our lives? How can we love people and be loyal to people when we have so little time to share between so many? How can we reach out and love new people yet still give the necessary time and investment to the valued friendships we already have? Only by giving all our relationships to God, and by discerning His purpose in each one. Each of us will be called to have a few trees in our lives, and many flowers. Likewise, each of us will be called to be a tree to a few people and a flower to many others. Let me explain.
A tree is someone who is with you the rest of your life. A tree may not be as beautiful, or as fragrant as a flower, but they are steady through good times and through bad. They are the friend who sticks closer than a brother, the friend who loves at all times (Proverbs 17:17), the friend who is willing to speak the truth even if it hurts (Proverbs 27:6), and the friend who believes in your destiny in God even though they know all your sins and faults. A tree is a blessing from God and should be valued and not taken for granted. As someone said, “you can make new friends, but you can’t make old ones.”
Flowers are temporary. They are beautiful and fragrant and they enrich our lives by the grace they impart even though they aren’t called to be trees. These are people God brings into our lives at just the right time to give us a message, to pray for us, or to pick us up when we’re down. We must thank God for them and not resent their seemingly temporary nature in our lives. All of them will be trees in eternity, but down here they are called to be someone else’s tree. If you think everyone should be a tree to you then you will go through life feeling hurt and betrayed by those God called to be only flowers to you. “Why did they move away?” “Why did they send such a short response to my email?” “Why did they pretend to be my friend when they obviously weren’t?” We can easily judge flowers we wanted to be trees and end up shutting our hearts down in self-protection so we don’t get hurt again.
You and I will be disappointed with some people and be a disappointment to others, but there is One we can always please who is the ultimate Tree – Jesus!
“Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb; and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand.” Ecclesiastes 5:15
If you play Monopoly by the real rules a game should take about an hour. During that brief period Monopoly money has value – you can buy property, improve property, and pay your debts with its currency. But when the game is over you put everything away, put the box on the shelf, and there is no longer any worth in those dollars. It will be seen that the same is true of our money on planet earth.
Compared to eternity our time here is called a breath or a vapor. Money has value during this time and how we use it is one way God tests our hearts. Jesus said, “If you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth who will trust you with true riches.” (Luke 16:11) A few verses later He went on to say: “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Luke 16:13)
How do we pass God’s money test?
- Recognize we are stewards, not owners. We are to love God and use money; not love money while trying to use God.
- We are to give back to God the first fruits of our income (Proverbs 3:9-10) which Scripture defines as a tithe or ten percent. (Genesis 14:20; Malachi 3:10-11)
- We are to be willing to share in any good deed as God leads us. (2Corinthians 9:7-8)
- As riches increase, we are to guard our hearts. (Psalm 62:10) Money is a useful servant but a terrible master.
- We are to trust God as our Source and be thankful because He “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (1Timothy 6:17)
“If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” Isaiah 7:9b
News that Ephraim and Aram had joined forces to attack Judah resulted in king Ahaz being gripped with fear. The Bible says his heart was “…shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.” (Isaiah 7:2) He would either stand firm in his faith, or he would fall – those were the only two options. In easier more peaceful times you can get by without really believing, but when everything is shaking around you, you either believe God, for real, or you become a victim of fear.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5) When our situation is confusing and intimidating we must lean on God directly, not on our understanding of the circumstances, or even on our understanding of God. He is able to make us stand in the storm, and after we have passed His test, is equally able to speak “peace, be still,” to our situation. When He does the wind and waves of our circumstances will calm down, and we will see the deliverance of God. But it all starts with us standing in faith while everything still looks bad.
“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then…” (Ephesians 6:13-14a) If God tells you to do something, do it, but after doing it, only “stand firm.” Don’t worry, don’t strive, don’t doubt, don’t wrestle… just stand. Evil will take its swing at you and me, and God will allow it, but if we stand in our faith, it will come to nothing. Believe in God’s promises; trust in His character; and then “stand still and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf.” (2Chronicles 20:17)
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” Proverbs 27:6
“Charm is deceitful…” Proverbs 31:30
We live in a culture where people are often offended so it is easy to become comfortable with being less than honest. Little white lies may smooth things over in the short run, but they eat away at our integrity. Charm is deceitful because it appears to be kindness; but it’s not. Charm has an agenda! It’s nice to you because it wants something from you. If you don’t give charm what it desires, watch out. All those kisses had an agenda behind them that had nothing to do with loving you for your sake.
An enemy appears nice to you in person and then gossips behind your back. A friend wounds you in person, if they have to, and will defend you to the death behind your back. You and I can’t make people be loyal or genuine to us – that’s in their hands. What is ours to decide is what kind of person we are going to be. Are we always about our own agenda or are we willing to lay ourselves out for the sake of others? Will we say what needs to be said or only stick with what others want to hear so they’ll like us?
The truth can hurt which is why Paul encourages us to “speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15) Just because something is true does not mean I need to say it right now or in front of other people. We need to be careful how we speak the truth, but we do need to speak it!
When I was in high school, Billy Joel was one of my favorite artists. Some lines from a song he wrote called Honesty come back to me: “Honesty is such a lonely word, everyone is so untrue; Honesty is hardly ever heard, it’s mostly what I need from you.”
Let’s purpose to be honest to God and honest to people. If we have an agenda let’s be forthright about it and not play games. I think we’ll stand out in a world that seems comfortable with deceit.
“The Lord disciplines those He loves, as a father the child he delights in.” Proverbs 3:12
God doesn’t correct us because we irritate Him. We are His delight and He wants us to be better for our own sake, not so He can like us more. You are unconditionally loved by God and totally liked; not some day when you’re mature, but as you are right now!
I was with a father recently who gave me permission to share what happened with his five year old daughter recently. She was caught hitting her three year old brother, so Dad gave her a time out. When the time out was done he invited her, as always after discipline, to sit on his lap to talk about it. But she wouldn’t come immediately. She had taken his correction as rejection, so she didn’t have confidence that his lap was safe for her.
When he saw this, his heart felt nothing but compassion for his daughter. He urged her to come and finally she gave in, so they cuddled first, and then talked about why hitting her brother was wrong. In this place of security, she was able to say she was sorry to her brother, he forgave her, and the family was restored to Dad’s delight.
Don’t ever mistake correction for rejection because Your Father in heaven is crazy about you!
“No longer will they call you Deserted, or name you Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah (My delight is in her)…for the Lord will take delight in you.” Isaiah 62:4
Yesterday we gave several ways those God genuinely sets on the wall (in a place of authority to pray) fall off of it. Today we look at how to get back on it. “A righteous man falls seven times, and rises again.” (Proverbs 24:16)
- Accept your calling. Romans 11:29 tells us that God’s “gifts and call are irrevocable.” Just because you don’t like the place God has given you, or feel like you’ve failed at it, doesn’t mean you get a new call. Our lives won’t work until we embrace God’s plan and flow with it. “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” (Acts 26:14)
- Forgive as you stand praying. “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive your transgressions.” (Mark 11:25) If we insist on justice, eventually God will have to give us the justice we want for others. (See Matthew 7:1-4) We don’t need someone to be sorry for us to forgive them. If we do, forgiveness will always be difficult. Here’s why – let’s say someone does say they’re sorry for the way they’ve treated you. How will you know if they’re really sorry? And even if they appear to be sorry, are they sorry enough? If they’re sorry enough, will that for sure mean they’ll never do it again? All we need to forgive is to remember that the greatest injustice didn’t happen to me; it happened to Jesus. The truly innocent Lamb of God died in my place – that’s injustice. Part of my worship is to lay my injustices at the foot of the cross and freely forgive those who hurt me. This is part of what it means to know Jesus “in the fellowship of His suffering.” (Philippians 3:10)
- Embrace your identity. The strength to stay on the wall is not in seeing your prayers answered; it’s in the fact that God’s delight is in you. We are favored sons and daughters not because of our works, but because of His great mercy toward us in Christ. (Titus 3:5-6) We don’t gain favor by praying; we pray from His favor. Our great reward is not in what He does for us, but in our relationship with Him. Until we grasp this reality it will always be hard to stay on the wall.
“The wicked flee when no one is pursuing, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.” Proverbs 28:1
A man once described his walk with God as being on a treadmill. He felt he could never make progress because eventually he would stumble again in the area of lust. Every other area, he found, he could set his will and be victorious, but he was utterly defeated in this area and it was robbing him of confidence with God.
How do we overcome immorality and the shame it brings?
- Wage war against it. Jesus died on the cross so we could be forgiven and have a new beginning. Many today have stopped fighting and changed the gospel to a license to keep sinning in this area. They say something like this to themselves: “God understands how weak I am and why I’ve stopped even trying to be sexually pure.” No, He doesn’t. He didn’t stop when it was difficult for Him, He shed His blood, He took the shame and pain of the cross and drank the cup of the wrath of God for us. How can we stop fighting to be pure because it’s too hard?
- Wage the right war. After we’ve set our heart to be pure it is easy to get into wrong thinking, so here is a warning: If we try to wage war against our own sexuality we will become angry with God. God made us sexual beings. The fact that you’re attracted to the opposite sex is not sin, it just means all the equipment is working. Jesus said lust in the heart is like adultery, not a thought in the mind. When a lustful thought comes into your mind, you are being tempted, you haven’t yet sinned. Don’t let the thought have a place; press delete instead of downloading it. It’s not a sin to be tempted!
- Get into the word of God. “Your word have I treasured (hidden) in my heart, so I might not sin against You.” (Psalm 119:11) God wants our fantasy life, and all hidden thoughts to be transformed by the word of God.
- Delight in God’s love for you. We are dark but lovely to God. (Song of Songs 1:5) I honestly don’t think anyone can win the lust battle without experiencing the higher pleasure of God’s love for them. It can be hard for men to connect emotionally with God, but it is really important. In Christ, we are the favored, beloved, children of God. His plan is for our success, not our failure!
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.” John 12:23-25
Jesus speaks first about the necessity of His own death but then He alludes to the necessity of ours. If Jesus chooses to preserve His life, He can’t save us. If we choose to live protecting ourselves, we can’t bear fruit as Christians. What does death to self look like?
First, we must die to our plans. Proverbs 16:9 says: “Many are the plans of a man’s heart, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.” We are not discouraged from making plans, but only from clinging to them. Make a plan, give it to God, and then plan on the original plan changing to conform to God’s purpose. If our identity is in our plan, we will find ourselves continually disappointed and disillusioned when they don’t work out exactly how we thought.
We began a Sunday night service several years ago because we were having to turn people away from overcrowded nurseries in the morning services. Our plan didn’t work because we couldn’t get families to change to Sunday night, so we ended up solving the Sunday morning problem in another way. But in the process, we recognized God had a different purpose for Sunday nights. It has become the service of choice for many who want more and appreciate the culture of waiting on God at the altar since no one has to pick up their kids.
A second area we need to die to is our property or wealth. Jesus answered the rich young ruler’s question about eternal life by telling him to sell everything and give to the poor, and to then, follow Him. He went away sad because he owned much property (one translation: “had great wealth”). The Lord impressed on my wife during a retreat we took, that her great wealth was her children and their unmet needs were what was making her sad. Jesus invited her to really let go of her “great wealth” by giving her children completely to Him, so she could follow Him without sadness anymore.
What’s your great wealth? What’s holding you back from complete abandonment to God? The reason why God pries things out of our hands is so that we will be open to receive all He has for us. He is not against us owning property, but He insists that our property doesn’t own us!
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31-32
Jesus’ prayer concern had nothing to do with Peter denying Him three times; in His mind that was a done deal. What He was concerned about was Peter having the faith to get back up after he had fallen. Peter was about to fall hard and he couldn’t see it coming. In fact, in the very next verse he tells Jesus that he is “ready to go both to prison and to death” for Him. The reality is that he isn’t ready to stand up for Jesus in front of a servant girl. After his failure he would experience the shame and remorse of his actions verses what he had promised. He would loathe himself for a season.
But Jesus prayed that his faith wouldn’t fail. That Peter would remember God’s love for him and God’s wisdom to take even our brokenness and make something good out of it. That he would be able to look beyond himself and see the bigger picture, recognizing God’s hand even in allowing his failure.
When God looks at our lives, like He did at Peter’s, He sometimes makes a big call for change. It seems like we are put in survival mode when He brings something to bear on us that literally exposes everything inside of us. Sometimes it’s a failure that brings this to light, sometimes it’s a trial, sometimes it’s’ a difficult relationship, and sometimes it’s just God’s direct dealing. When God goes there you aren’t going to get better until you agree with Him about the depth of the problem and begin to face it with His love and grace.
When we sit in shame, condemnation, and self loathing instead of getting back up again in faith, all it means is that it’s going to take that much longer. Proverbs says that a righteous man falls down seven times and gets back up. (Proverbs 24:16) Successful Christians are not those who never fall but those who have learned how to get up quickly!