Trust and Be Blessed

Jeremiah 17:7-8

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

The Lord tells us, through the Prophet Jeremiah, that blessing and cursing are determined by where; or rather, in whom we place our trust.  The ones who trust in themselves … in their abilities as humans or the abilities of other people … whose hearts are not turned toward … God will not be blessed but left desolate.  But the ones who trust in God … who place their full confidence (faith) in Him … will be blessed.  They will be as a tree planted by the water and kept alive and bear fruit!

Psalm 1:1-3 (NIV)

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on His law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.

Jeremiah 17:5-8 (NIV)

This is what the Lord says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord. That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

In the context of the current Coronavirus Pandemic sweeping across our nation, we need to keep historical experience and perspective in mind. World-wide pandemics and pestilences have plagued humans over the millennia of human history. Famines, droughts, swarms of locust, earthquakes, powerful weather systems, etc. have occurred; and it is probable they will continue to do so.  History is filled with wars, violence, and other human conflicts ever since Cain and Abel.  But God has always taken care of those who trust Him with their whole hearts.  His care does not mean we will be free of hardship or suffering.  But we can be sure … we can be confident … that WHEN the heat of trials and difficulties comes, we will be watered.  We will be refreshed.  We will have the peace of God that surpasses all understanding; and He will keep our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Cf. Philippians 4:7)

So we need to remember that God will work every circumstance in our lives to grow our faith in Him … to help us become more rooted in His Word, more transformed in our thinking, and more fruitful in our lives. His desire is to conform us (those who love Him) to the image of Jesus, His Son. Considered what Paul affirmed in this regard:

Romans 8:28-39 (NIV)

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose29 For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He (Jesus) might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified. 31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who (or what) shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword (or Coronavirus)? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” (Quoted from Psalm 44:22) 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

What we can see in this passage is the sure promises of God through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Whatever happens in the days ahead, we KNOW that in ALL things, God works for the good of those who love Him … for the good of those who have been called according to His purpose.  We do not have to be afraid; rather we should believe Him at His Word.  As with Joshua, I believe we too can hear the voice of God saying: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous!  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Cf. Joshua 1:9) As Paul asked, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”  And, “What shall separate us from the love of Christ?”  And his conclusion? Our conclusion?  “No, in ALL these things (that we WILL endure in life) we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”

Note that our troubles and trials will not only be the physical realities of hardship and suffering that will test us; there will be spiritual challenges and battles in the midst of this tribulation as well.  The Coronavirus not only has the potential to disrupt our health and well-being, but Satan will attempt to use it to disrupt our faith … plant seeds of doubt … and entice us to question the love of God.  But, thanks be to God, we have Jesus!  Jesus said to His disciples: “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace.  In this world you will have tribulation.  But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Cf. John 16:33)  “For everyone born of God overcomes the world.  This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world? ONLY the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” (Cf. 1 John 5:4-5)

So how can we build our faith during this time of trial?

1 Peter 1:22-25; 2:1-3 (NIV)

22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.  23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God24 For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, 25 but the word of the Lord endures forever.” (Peter is quoting Isaiah 40:6-8) And this (the living and enduring word of God) is the word that was preached to you. 1 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

 Here, Peter emphasizes the power of the Word of God to produce the new birth that we experienced when we came to faith in Jesus Christ.  As Paul explained it, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” (Cf. Romans 10:17) And it follows, that upon our spiritual birth, we must begin to nourish ourselves with the Word of God in order to grow.  Peter uses the metaphor “pure, spiritual milk” to signify that as newborn babies in Christ, this is where we start our path of spiritual maturation.  The point is that we must know the Word of God in order to grow in our knowledge of His will through all wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives. (Cf. Colossians 1:9) And as we have already studied this past week, we are to add to our faith – qualities in increasing measure so that we can be effective and productive in our knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Cf. 2 Peter 1:1-12)

 Ephesians 6:10-18 (NIV)

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 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. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 

Here, Paul emphasizes the power of the Spirit of God to produce perseverance and to expose the real war … the real battle that is going on.  I believe what is happening in our natural world is a reflection of what is going on in the heavenly realms … the Kingdom of light at war with the powers of this dark world. … with the spiritual forces of evil.  The Coronavirus can be viewed as a metaphor of this battle in this: we are in a struggle for our lives against something we cannot even see … at least not with our natural eyes.  Yet, we can see in the natural that we are fighting an enemy; and I pray that more believers will now begin to see with spiritual eyes that the we are fighting a real enemy of our minds and hearts … our souls.  And so we need to be equipped!  We need to be strong in the Lord and in HIS mighty power.  All of the spiritual armor serves its purpose to protect us … to defend us from the onslaught; but do not overlook that we have an OFFENSIVE spiritual weapon.  That weapon is the sword of the Spirit … which is the Word of God.  To go on the offense, we must know and wield the Word of God … the Word of Truth!

Jesus declared the identity of our opponent:

John 8:31-47 (NIV)

31 To the Jews who had believed Him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” 34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word. 38 I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.” 39 “Abraham is our father,” they answered. “If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did. 40 As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. 41 You are doing the works of your own father.” “We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God Himself.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. 43 Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! 46 Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? 47 Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”

So I pray … as a nation … as a community … as a church … as one born of God … that we will become alert to the spiritual lessons being presented as we observe the natural lessons the Coronavirus is teaching.  When we wash our hands … let us call to mind Scriptures like: “I wash my hands in innocence, and go about your altar, Lord,proclaiming aloud your praise and telling of all your wonderful deeds. (Psalm 26:6-7) When we keep our “social” distance from others … let us consider if we have distanced ourselves from God: “The Lord says: ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.” (Isaiah 29:13) When we run short of resources and supplies … let us remember: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Philippians 4:19-20) At every turn of the events that we will walk through in the days ahead, let us draw near to God and He will draw near to us. (Cf. James 4:8) Yes, as we educate ourselves more about the Coronavirus, let us turn our attention to the Word of God and educate ourselves about God our Father … His mercy … His grace … His peace … His compassion … His faithfulness … His love!

As we enter another week of uncertainty and upheaval, we need to encourage one another and build one another up … just as you are doing. (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:11) We need to encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of us may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. (Cf. Hebrews 3:13) And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together (even if only temporarily virtual through the use of technology), as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Cf. Hebrews 10:24-25) Yes, it is vital that we stay connected and that we continue to care for one another.

I will close with these two Scriptures:

Philippians 4:5-7 (NIV)

Let your gentleness and graciousness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 (NIV)

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies. 21 Test all things; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil. 23 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

The Struggle … With People

Ephesians 6:12-13

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 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.

We have studied this passage before….  But I think it is a good time for us to review it again.  Conflicts within human relationships are inevitable.  Our innate human nature is to be focused on our own physical needs and emotional desires.  And while it is not inherently wrong in to seek our own well-being; to exert a self-centered will on others can be a source of contention and disagreement between people.  And conflict will have to be navigated or negotiated in order to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Cf. Ephesians 4:3)

What Paul shares with us here is some insight that the source of our interpersonal conflicts may not always be natural or physical (against flesh and blood).  Rather, Paul asserts that when we have struggles against with one another, the issue is most likely a spiritual one … a spiritual battle, if you will.  And so, the fight is not necessarily with the person in front of you; rather, it is against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil that can exert themselves in our minds and through our bodies (actions). And this knowledge should cause us to pause and think before we react to what the person is saying or doing.  For example:

Matthew 16:21-23 (NIV)

21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. 22 Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” 23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

While Peter may have been well-intentioned in his feelings and how he addressed Jesus in that moment of emotion; he was wrong.  And Jesus told Peter that his concerns were distorted by spiritual forces of evil … Satan himself. Thus, a conflict ensued and Jesus used the occasion to teach the disciples a lesson in spiritual warfare:

Matthew 16:24-26 (NIV)

24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

Paul went on to speak about the “armor of God” and its protection against the spiritual forces of evil. (Cf. Ephesians 6:14-16) He taught that our only offensive weapon against evil is the sword of the Spirit – which is the Word of God. (Cf. Ephesians 6:17) And Paul affirmed that prayer in the Spirit … on all occasion with all kinds of prayer and requests … was essential to inflict offensive maneuvers against the spiritual forces of evil. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Cf. Ephesians 6:18) Yes, when someone gets adversarial with you … pray for them!  Seek counsel from the Word of God!  And remember that disciples of Christ Jesus must deny themselves … take up their crosses … and follow Him.  I believe this means you give up your right to be “right” … because Jesus taught us give and expect nothing in return; when offended to turn the other cheek; and to love and pray for our enemies.

Matthew 5:38-45 (NIV)

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven.

Note Verse 45 – “that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  A child of God … born of the Spirit through the Word … will follow Jesus and put His teaching into practice.  And this is what Peter instructed in his epistle as well – encouraging believers to understand that we, too, will suffer like Jesus as we follow in His footsteps:

1 Peter 3:8-18 (NIV)

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. 11 They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (Cf. Psalm 34:12-16) 13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.

It is clear that offenses will come. There will be differences and disagreements between people … even people of faith.  But if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Cf. Romans 12:18) For Jesus taught us to pick up a cross of suffering for ourselves and to follow Him … “that we may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conform to His death,” as Paul wrote in Philippians 3:10.  For even if you should suffer for what is right … you are blessed. So, stand your ground, and pray! Pray in the Spirit! Yes, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people! Love, bless, and pray for those who oppose you! For the battle is a spiritual one … and in the end, the battle belongs to the Lord. Amen.

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!