A few weeks ago a pastor of a large church outside of Chicago carried out a little experiment. The pastor, James MacDonald, host of the program you may have heard on the radio called “Walk in the Word.” Pastor MacDonald wanted to see how his congregation would react to a homeless person camped outside one of the church campuses. So he dressed in layers, put on a fake beard and long gray fake hair and parked a shopping cart next to him. Then he waited to see what kind of reaction he got. Not surprisingly, quite a few of the congregants walked right past as if he wasn’t there. However, he was happy to report that many offered food, water, money and prayer. When his little experiment was over, he pushed his shopping cart onto the church platform and began to take off his beard and layers of clothing to reveal his true identity.
Granted, an experiment like that would certainly work a lot better at a church outside of Chicago compared to a country church like Anthony. However, the point he was trying to drive home is certainly relevant to us as well. In the first 7 verses of James 2, we read about the sin of showing favoritism to certain people based on their economic status. James gives the example of someone who was obviously wealthy showing up in their congregation and being offered the best seat. On the other hand, a poor person attending the same service is offered to sit on a footstool. While I’d like to think we might not be as extreme in how we treat visitors at our church, we should take the time to evaluate how welcoming and friendly we are to people who look, smell or act different than we do.
It’s only natural that we like to hang around people that we have a lot in common with but how willing are we to step outside of our comfort zone and show Christian love to people who we wouldn’t normally want to associate with. As we have been able to experience a great blessing with many new people coming to Anthony over the past year, let’s be careful to make sure that we don’t fall into the trap of only associating with the same people week after week but to be very deliberate to be friendly and loving to anyone who comes through our doors.
One can tell when they reach old age. It’s when you ask yourself why you’re awake at zero dark thirty for no reason. Wide awake, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed; while the younger folk sleep like babies. Sitting down with my cat, I opened the Bible to Psalm 121. Lo and behold I am not four verses in when I read, “Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep”. It reminded me that God is awake too. It is comforting to know that He has our backs whether we slumber or sleep.
Most of my working years were spent enduring “graveyard shift”, so I consider myself an expert on the subject. I do not know how God does it (of course it is because He is who He is). There were times that it took all I had to stay awake for eight hours; let alone eternity. It is literally painful to fight sleep. I recall one particular night. It was cold, snowing and the heater was blazing in the patrol car. I had just finished checking out a call for suspicious persons in an alley. It was about 3 AM and all was quiet. What fool would be out in this snowstorm? I pulled down the dark drive and stopped to fill out a report. You guessed it. The warm against the cold caused me to doze for a few minutes. I was on watch and I failed. In contrast, God is always on watch and He never fails.
Because of the promises of God, we can lay our heads on a pillow and sleep worry-free. But we all have “bad nights”. We find ourselves worrying about our sick/lost loved ones, finances or our own illnesses. Through Scripture memorization we must learn Ps. 121:1-2, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.” Think of it. The same Person who created the universe is on call to us! “Is any thing too hard for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14).
“The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul. The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore” (Ps. 121:7-8). These promises apply to any believer in Christ. The television ditty says we’re in “good hands” with Allstate. Well, they cost too much! All it costs to be in the hands of God is admitting we are sinners, asking forgiveness, and asking Jesus to save us (Rm.10:9-10). No money at all, but certainly not free. It cost the Father His Son Jesus. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rm. 5:8). Jesus paid the debt we could not!
“God nurses a hatred for sin in His heart beyond our wildest comprehension. Yet, He stands alongside the murderer as he does his dreadful deed and does nothing. He listens to the vilest obscenity and does nothing. He hears the most appalling blasphemies and holds His peace. He sees little children being corrupted, body and soul, by men of the vilest character and does nothing…There must be a reason of extraordinary force and significance that stays His hand.”
This is the observation of Bible commentator, John Phillips. Do you sense a similar angst as you read 2 Chronicles 21? King Jehoram mercilessly slaughters his brothers working “that which was evil in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 21:6). The only thing holding back the hand of God was his promise to David over one hundred years earlier. This king forsook the Lord God of his fathers and led, even forced, the people of Judah to participate in his debauchery.
We have and will ask questions like: Where’s God in this crisis? Why isn’t God doing anything? Why does He let these people suffer? Why do these atrocities occur unimpeded?
The Bible does not give us much of the emotional status of the country during King Jehoram’s reign, but we do know three things: First, it appears the only qualification for Jehoram’s kingship is “he was the firstborn.” While others are simply named the king, this disclaimer attached to his inauguration indicates he was an inferior choice especially since he is told his brethren “were better than” himself. Second, we do have one recorded dissident, Elijah. He writes a fuming opinion piece to the king indicting the king for his idolatry and prophesying his death. Third, when King Jehoram does die (as prophesied), the official record indicates he “departed without being desired.”
As the opening quote proposed, “There must be a reason of extraordinary force and significance that stays His hand.” The writer of these Chronicles wanted God’s people to recognize even through the worst of times, God is still the King! He is absolutely in control. Phillips continues his explanation: “And so He waits and waits. That ought not surprise us. If He held His hand at Calvary, it is no wonder He has continued to hold it…The great example of God’s sublime patience is Calvary. There men murdered their Maker and, not content with calling for His death, took pleasure in torturing Him to death on a cross and in mocking Him as He died. Only a word from Christ, and twelve legions of angels would have poured over the battlements of heaven and ushered in Armageddon then and there. That word never came.”
Whatever hurt we may endure, whatever inconvenience we may suffer, none of it compares to the undeserved violation Jesus endured on the cross. Even still, God was on the throne.
The story goes that three absent minded sisters were living in the same house. One night, one of the sisters was upstairs preparing to take a bath. As she began to put her foot in, she could not remember whether she was getting in or out of the bath and called to her sister downstairs to remind her. Her sister, who was downstairs, responded by telling her she would be up quickly to help her remember. However, once she arrived at the stairs, she couldn’t remember whether she was going up or down the stairs. The third sister heard what was going on and shook her head and muttered, “I hope I don’t ever get as forgetful as my sisters. Knock on wood.” She knocked on the table and then exclaimed to her two sisters, “I’ll be right up there and help you both as soon as I see who is knocking on the door.”
Memory is vitally important. The book of Deuteronomy was given to the Israelites as a book of remembrance. The book of Deuteronomy reminded them of the past faithfulness of God during their wilderness wanderings, their duty to God’s commands in the present, and the blessing and cursing of God in the future conditioned upon their obedience or disobedience to the law of God. The first four chapters reminded a new generation of Israelites about God’s righteous, yet tender, dealings with them and their forefathers during the past forty years of wilderness wanderings. Moses took the time to remind them of the past faithfulness of God to give them a confident faith in the present and for the future. Moses recalled the faithfulness of God despite their unfaithfulness to Him.
Just as the Israelites needed to be reminded of God’s faithfulness in the past, so we as Christians need to take time to remember where God brought us from and how He has faithfully worked in our lives throughout our Christian journey. The Christian life is a journey of many “ups and downs,” many changing circumstances, and a constant process of growth in conformity to the image of Jesus Christ. As we live the Christian life, God uses our past trials to remind us of His faithfulness in our present and future trials. The Bible tells us to “forget not all his benefits” (Ps. 103:2). The Psalmist said, “I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember thy wonders of old” (Ps. 77:11). It is true that there are things that a Christian ought to forget (“…forgetting those those things which are behind…” Phil. 3:13) such as past sin or past victories if they become a distraction to the present. However, we are encouraged to remember all that God has done for us and how He has been faithful to us. This recall of the past helps be strong in the present and stay strong for the future. 1 Chron. 16:12 says, “Remember his marvelous works that he that done…”
Today we come to one of the more familiar chapters in the Bible, Hebrews 11, commonly referred to as the “hall of faith.” In it we see references to many of the major characters of the Old Testament such as Noah, Abraham and Moses, as well as several lesser-known individuals such as Barak and Jepthah. All had lives that at one point or another had exemplified faith, i.e trusting in God and His Word even though in many cases the evidence of that faith is unseen (verse 1).
This begs the question of how many of us truly live lives of faith? Sure, we have faith in the creation story, as mentioned in verse 3, or the faith required for salvation. But how about beyond that? How often do we only want to trust in things that we can see- things that “make sense”?
I’m reading a book by Charles Swindoll, host of the radio program, “Insight for Living.” In it he tells the story of a man who was involved with the Navigators, a parachurch organization whose stated purpose is evangelism. This particular man was involved with the organization at its headquarters in Colorado but felt called to start a new satellite work in Uganda. As a husband and father of several young children, he wrestled with the decision to move to a place he knew nothing about. Feeling it was God’s will, he flew with his family to Kenya, left his family there while he took a survey trip to Uganda alone. He drove into a small town one night and inquired at a hotel if they had any open rooms. He was told there was “one bed” left and pointed in the direction of a particular room. Upon opening the door, he found that there were indeed two beds but one was already taken. He was going to be sharing the room with a complete stranger! The man went to his bed, got down on his knees and told the Lord that he was scared and prayed that God would be with him and confirm for him that act of faith was truly His will. Shortly thereafter, the door opened up and in walked the man who he would be sharing the room with. After some brief introductions, our American missionary was asked what he was doing in Uganda, to which he responded that he was involved with a ministry called the Navigators. As soon as he said that name, the 6’5” African man began to laugh out loud, threw his arms around the missionary and said, “Praise God!” He then pulled out a stack of Bible verse memory cards, with the name “Navigators” stamped on the bottom and explained that he had been praying for two years that God would send someone to him from that ministry. What a neat story and what a perfect example of living a life of real faith!