You Are God Alone

14 Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. 15 And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: 16 “O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 17 Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 18 Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations and their lands, 19 and have cast their gods into the fire. For they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 20 So now, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord.” – Isaiah 37:14-20 ESV

Faced with the threat of annihilation at the hands of the Assyrians, Hezekiah, the king of Judah, had taken the situation directly to God. He had entered the temple to pray and sent his key officials to plead with Isaiah to intercede with God on behalf of the nation. And Isaiah had sent the king a reassuring message from God.

“Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the young men of the king of Assyria have reviled me.” – Isaiah 37:6 ESV

God promised to save Jerusalem from the threat of Assyrian invasion. King Sennacherib would receive a divinely inspired message that forced him to return home, where he would be assassinated by his own sons. So, God has provided the king of Judah with His personal guarantee that none of the boastful threats of the Assyrian king will come to fruition. Yet, in spite of God’s assurances, King Hezekiah still has the Assyrians camped outside the walls of his city and the threats of the Assyrian emissary ringing in his ears.

“Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, devoting them to destruction. And shall you be delivered? – Isaiah 37:10-11 ESV

The problem persisted. The enemy was still outside the city walls. And Hezekiah was left with two options: Believe the words of King Sennacherib or those of God Almighty. At this point in the story, that is all he has to go on. The words of a man and the words of His God. One was visible, his power manifested in the sizeable army camped outside the walls of Jerusalem. His words were backed by a well-documented reputation for accomplishing what he set out to do.

“Has any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?” – Isaiah 36:18-20 ESV

Hezekiah could see the power of Sennacherib with his own eyes. It was all around him. And it was clear that the forces of Judah were outmanned and ill-equipped to deal with the circumstances facing them.

To make matters worse, Hezekiah’s God was invisible. Yes, the king believed in Him. He even spoke to Him. But he couldn’t see Him. And, unlike the gods of the pagans, there were no statues or figurines representing Yahweh that Hezekiah could turn to for assurance. His God was transcendent and hidden from human view.

But while God was invisible, He was far from unknowable or imperceptible. He had a reputation as well. Yahweh had a long track record of intervening in the affairs of mankind, especially on behalf of His chosen people. From the day He had called Abram out of Ur, God had chosen to reveal Himself in a variety of ways, to reassure His people of His imminence or nearness. He spoke to Abraham audibly and regularly. He appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush. He revealed Himself to the people of Israel as a flame of fire and a cloud, leading them across the wilderness for 40 years. And God had repeatedly intervened on behalf of His people, accomplishing great victories on their behalf, even when they faced more formidable foes and insurmountable odds.

Hezekiah was faced with a dilemma familiar to all believers of all times. He could allow the presence of a tangible trial to influence his decision-making, or he could rely on the promises of a God he couldn’t see but who had proven Himself faithful time and time again. And the text tells us that Hezekiah made the right choice. He took his problem to God.

Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord – Isaiah 37:14-15 ESV

He took the enemy’s message to the only one he could trust: God. And he opened his prayer to God with a series of appellations that seemed designed to remind himself of God’s power and distinctiveness.

“O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, God of Israel, you are enthroned between the mighty cherubim! You alone are God of all the kingdoms of the earth. You alone created the heavens and the earth. – Isaiah 37:16 NLT

He addresses God as the divine warrior-God. He leads the innumerable hosts of heaven, a supernatural army that far surpasses any earthly or human foe, including the Assyrians. He describes God as Israel’s God, a not-so-subtle reminder that God had chosen the nation of Israel as His own. They belonged to Him, and He was responsible for their well-being. Hezekiah goes on to describe God as sitting on a throne, but unlike any earthly throne occupied by a human king. God sits enthroned between cherubim – supernatural, angelic beings who are unlike anything of this earth. This designation of God’s glory and magnitude is borrowed from the psalms.

Please listen, O Shepherd of Israel,
    you who lead Joseph’s descendants like a flock.
O God, enthroned above the cherubim,
    display your radiant glory
    to Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh.
Show us your mighty power.
    Come to rescue us! – Psalm 80:1-2 NLT

The Lord is king!
    Let the nations tremble!
He sits on his throne between the cherubim.
    Let the whole earth quake! – Psalm 99:1 NLT

And Hezekiah acknowledges that Yahweh alone is God of all the kingdoms of the earth, including the kingdom of Assyria. He is sovereign over all. In fact, Hezekiah admits that God created all that exists. He made the heavens and the earth and every living creature. While Sennacherib could brag about his creation of a mighty kingdom, only God could claim the title of Creator. Hezekiah was bringing his problem to the source and the solution of all things.

And Hezekiah begs the great, majestic, transcendent, all-powerful God of the universe to intervene on Judah’s behalf.

Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. – Isaiah 37:17 ESV

Hezekiah acknowledges that Assyria had successfully defeated the other nations, but only because the gods of those nations were lifeless and impotent. They were fabricated by men and, unlike Yahweh, had no power to save.

For they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. – Isaiah 37:19 ESV

False gods provide faulty help in times of trouble. They can’t deliver the necessary aid because they lack the necessary ingredient to do so: Life. But not so with Yahweh. He is alive and well. He is all-powerful and fully capable of providing the hope and help we need in life’s darkest moment. There is no challenge too great. There is no enemy too strong. There is no challenge we will face that is beyond His awareness or outside His ability to provide a solution. So, Hezekiah asks his Sovereign for salvation.

So now, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord. – Isaiah 37:20 ESV

Selfishly, Hezekiah wants to see Jerusalem saved. But he also wants to see God glorified. And he knows that the seriousness of the situation will require the power of God for any hope of salvation. He longs to see God work so that the nations will see that God is sovereign over all. He wants His God to receive the glory He deserves. And so, he begs God to save. When we trust God to do what only God can do, He alone gets the glory. When we turn to Him as our sole source of help and hope, we get to see Him work, and the world gets to see the one true God in action. Our reliance upon Him gives proof of His reliability. Our trust in Him demonstrates before the world the trustworthiness of God.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

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Human Vs Holy Help

1 Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help
    and rely on horses,
who trust in chariots because they are many
    and in horsemen because they are very strong,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel
    or consult the Lord!
And yet he is wise and brings disaster;
    he does not call back his words,
but will arise against the house of the evildoers
    and against the helpers of those who work iniquity.
The Egyptians are man, and not God,
    and their horses are flesh, and not spirit.
When the Lord stretches out his hand,
    the helper will stumble, and he who is helped will fall,
    and they will all perish together.

For thus the Lord said to me,
“As a lion or a young lion growls over his prey,
    and when a band of shepherds is called out against him
he is not terrified by their shouting
    or daunted at their noise,
so the Lord of hosts will come down
    to fight on Mount Zion and on its hill.
Like birds hovering, so the Lord of hosts
    will protect Jerusalem;
he will protect and deliver it;
    he will spare and rescue it.”

Turn to him from whom people have deeply revolted, O children of Israel. For in that day everyone shall cast away his idols of silver and his idols of gold, which your hands have sinfully made for you.

“And the Assyrian shall fall by a sword, not of man;
    and a sword, not of man, shall devour him;
and he shall flee from the sword,
    and his young men shall be put to forced labor.
His rock shall pass away in terror,
    and his officers desert the standard in panic,”
declares the Lord, whose fire is in Zion,
    and whose furnace is in Jerusalem. – Isaiah 31:1-9 ESV

Where do you turn in times of trouble? When the going gets tough, what are your go-to options for finding relief? The answer probably depends upon the circumstances. There are a lot of times in life when things can take an unexpected turn for the worse. In no time at all, we can find our life circumstances surprisingly altered and our need for a solution suddenly become a top priority. And the list of potential battle zones is a long one. It includes our health, relationships, emotional state, and financial stability. Things can be rocking along quite well and then, suddenly, the bottom drops out. Our world gets rocked by an unexpected and unwanted bit of bad news. And, again, the question is, where do you turn in those times?

For the people of Judah, things were looking dramatically dire. They were facing the threat of joining a long list of regional powers who had fallen at the hands of the Assyrians. It was only a matter of time before the enemy was at the gates of Jerusalem and the collapse of their once-mighty nation became an all-too-real possibility. And, with that potential outcome looming on the horizon, the leaders of Judah had come up with a plan. They had determined to seek aid from the Egyptians. It was going to cost them, but it seemed like the only viable option left open to them. Or was it?

Throughout this book, Isaiah has gone out of his way to communicate to the people of Judah that they had another option, and a much better one at that. They could repent. They could humble themselves before God and ask for His forgiveness. After all, everything they faced was coming through His sovereign hands and was intended to punish them for their rebellion against Him. But they could avoid the coming destruction if they would only turn back to God. In fact, He had told them:

“Only in returning to me
    and resting in me will you be saved.
In quietness and confidence is your strength.” – Isaiah 30:15 NLT

But, so far, they had refused God’s gracious offer. So now, Isaiah tells them what will happen to them because they chose door number two over door number one. In selecting Egypt as their savior of choice, they were making a huge mistake. It wasn’t that Egypt was a bad choice, it was that it was the wrong choice.

What sorrow awaits those who look to Egypt for help,
    trusting their horses, chariots, and charioteers
and depending on the strength of human armies
    instead of looking to the Lord,
    the Holy One of Israel. – Isaiah 31:1 NLT

The problem was that Egypt, rather than being a possible God-appointed option, had become an option other than God. Seeking aid from Egypt was not necessarily a sin. It was that they were seeking aid from Egypt without seeking input from God. The leaders of Judah were circumventing the Almighty because they seemed to know that His help was going to require that they obey His commands. His rescue was going to demand their repentance. And they would rather grovel before Egypt, than humble themselves before God.

Just to stress the point that their choice of Egypt as a potential source of aid was not the root of their problem, consider the story of Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus, found in the gospel of Matthew. After the visit of the wise men, Joseph received a dream from God, instructing Him to take his wife and child to Egypt.

After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” – Matthew 2:13 NLT

In this case, Egypt was a good choice because it was the God-ordained choice. Joseph and his young family found refuge from their enemies because they relied upon the wisdom and will of God.

But Judah was guilty of making Egypt a substitute for God, not a possible solution from Him. They were relying on human solutions to what was a spiritual problem. Rather than trusting in God, they were putting all their hope in Egypt’s vast military might. But even King David had known that human resources were insufficient replacements for God.

Some nations boast of their chariots and horses,
    but we boast in the name of the Lord our God.
Those nations will fall down and collapse,
    but we will rise up and stand firm. – Psalm 20:7-8 NLT

And another psalmist echoes David’s sentiments.

You are my King and my God.
    You command victories for Israel.
Only by your power can we push back our enemies;
    only in your name can we trample our foes.
I do not trust in my bow;
    I do not count on my sword to save me.
You are the one who gives us victory over our enemies;
    you disgrace those who hate us. – Psalm 44:4-7 NLT

And Isaiah lays out the root of the problem:

For these Egyptians are mere humans, not God!
    Their horses are puny flesh, not mighty spirits! – Isaiah 31:3 NLT

They are not God. And they were not intended to act as stand-ins for God. That is the issue here. The leaders of Judah weren’t seeking solutions from God, they were seeking options other than God. But our God-replacements always fall short. They can’t deliver what we demand from them. They are incapable of living up to God’s standard. And yet, despite their abysmal track record, we turn to them time and time again.

And the amazing this is how patient God is with us as we continue to seek help from our pseudo-saviors. He was the same way with the people of Judah. He even told them that, in spite of their stubborn rebellion and refusal to repent, He would continue to protect them.

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies will hover over Jerusalem
    and protect it like a bird protecting its nest.
He will defend and save the city;
    he will pass over it and rescue it. – Isaiah 31:5 NLT

We know from the book of 2 Kings, that King Sennacherib eventually besieged Jerusalem, but was miraculously defeated by the hand of God.

That night the angel of the Lord went out to the Assyrian camp and killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. When the surviving Assyrians woke up the next morning, they found corpses everywhere. Then King Sennacherib of Assyria broke camp and returned to his own land. He went home to his capital of Nineveh and stayed there. – 2 Kings 19:35-36 NLT

God did what the Egyptians could never have done. He defeated the enemy of Israel, without any aid from a single human being. In a night, 185,000 of the enemy were killed, without a sword being drawn, an arrow shot, or a spear thrown. It was all the work of God.

But at this point in his message to the people of Judah, Isaiah predicts another victory over the Assyrians that is markedly different from the one over Sennacherib. In this case, Isaiah is talking about something that will take place in the future, when God not only gives the people of Judah victory over their enemies but restores their hearts to Himself.

“I know the glorious day will come when each of you will throw away the gold idols and silver images your sinful hands have made.” – Isaiah 31:7 NLT

On this future occasion, God will do for the people of Judah what they could never have done for themselves. He will accomplish for them things the Egyptians could never have done. First of all, He will dramatically alter their hearts, transforming them from a rebellious and idolatrous nations to a faithful remnant who worships Him alone. On top of that, He will destroy their enemies in a way that no other nation on earth could do.

“The Assyrians will be destroyed,
    but not by the swords of men.
The sword of God will strike them,
    and they will panic and flee.
The strong young Assyrians
    will be taken away as captives.
Even the strongest will quake with terror,
    and princes will flee when they see your battle flags,”
says the Lord, whose fire burns in Zion,
    whose flame blazes from Jerusalem. – Isaiah 31:8-9 NLT

Isaiah describes a victory like nothing the people of Judah had ever seen before. It will be a decisive victory that culminates the end of the age. And because God is going to accomplish this in time, Isaiah pleads with the people of Judah to repent and return to Him now.

Though you are such wicked rebels, my people, come and return to the Lord. – Isaiah 31:6 NLT

He is a great God. He is a reliable God. There is no reason to trust in anything other than Him. No matter what we are facing, our God is sufficient to handle any and all circumstances. He wants us to trust Him. He desires that we turn to Him.

Come and return to the Lord!

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Great Loss. Great Gain.

In the morning Jonathan went out into the field to the appointment with David, and with him a little boy. And he said to his boy, “Run and find the arrows that I shoot.” As the boy ran, he shot an arrow beyond him. And when the boy came to the place of the arrow that Jonathan had shot, Jonathan called after the boy and said, “Is not the arrow beyond you?” And Jonathan called after the boy, “Hurry! Be quick! Do not stay!” So Jonathan’s boy gathered up the arrows and came to his master. But the boy knew nothing. Only Jonathan and David knew the matter. And Jonathan gave his weapons to his boy and said to him, “Go and carry them to the city.” And as soon as the boy had gone, David rose from beside the stone heap and fell on his face to the ground and bowed three times. And they kissed one another and wept with one another, David weeping the most. Then Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, because we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord shall be between me and you, and between my offspring and your offspring, forever.’” And he rose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city. – 1 Samuel 20:35-42 ESV

David had experienced incredible life change over a very short period of time. He had gone from shepherding his family’s flocks to serving as the king’s armor bearer. He had been anointed by the prophet of God. He had slain Goliath. He had become a great military leader and champion against the Philistines. The people loved him. They even composed songs about him. But at the same time, David had gone through his incredibly confusing, totally inexplicable on-again, off-again relationship with Saul. One day the king loved him. The next, the king was trying to pin him against the wall with a spear. Saul had even tried to use David’s wife (Saul’s daughter) and best friend (Saul’s son) against him. He had sent troops to hunt David down and kill him. And in the process, David suffered great loss. He had lost his position on the king’s staff. He had lost his prominence as one of the king’s warriors. He had lost his wife, as he was forced to flee for his life. And now he was going to lose best friend, as he received the news from Jonathan that all was not well. He was not going to be able to return to the court, because Saul wanted him dead.

What is so important for us to remember in all of this is that David had been anointed by Samuel to be the next king of Israel. It is still unclear from the text whether David knew or fully understood what his anointing by Samuel had meant. At no point in the story so far, have we seen any sign that David recognized Saul’s evil intentions against him as the result of Saul’s jealousy over David’s anointing. In fact, David asked Jonathan, “What have I done? What is my guilt? And what is my sin before your father, that he seeks my life?” (1 Samuel 20:1 ESV). He seemed genuinely at a loss as to why Saul wanted him dead. And David shows no sign of understanding why Jonathan, the son of the king and natural heir to the throne, might have a problem with his anointing to be the next king. It would seem, at least at this point in the story, that David is oblivious to God’s future plans for his life. All he could see was loss. Whatever Samuel’s anointing had meant, it had left David suffering great loss. He was now going to be a man on the run, a fugitive. He was losing his family, wife, job, best friend, dignity, and any hope of living a normal life.  When he and Jonathan parted ways, it says, “they kissed one another and wept with one another, David weeping the most” (1 Samuel 20:41 ESV). This was a sad day. And the chapter ends on a very sad note, with the words, “And he rose and departed.”

Whether he fully understood it or not, David was the next king of Israel. He had been hand-chosen by God. “The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people” (1 Samuel 13:14 ESV). David was to the God-ordained replacement for King Saul. And with God’s help and the Holy Spirit’s anointing, David would become the greatest king is Israel’s history. But long before David gained access to the throne of Israel, he would know what it was like to suffer great loss. It was as if God was knocking all the props on which David leaned out from under him. He had been a good and faithful shepherd, but God had removed him from the pasture and placed him in the palace. He had been the king’s armor bearer, but God promoted him to giant-slayer. He had been a mighty warrior, defeating the enemies of Israel, but now he be fighting for his life. David had been a happily married man, but had been forced to leave his wife behind in order to stay alive. He had enjoyed a deep and lasting friendship with Jonathan, but the two of them had to part ways, never expecting to see one another again. Everything David had in his life that brought him any fulfillment, joy, support, love, dignity, recognition, accomplishment or sense of self-worth, was being removed. He would give up the comfort of the palace for the dark and dank confines of a cave. He would learn what it was like to go hungry and without sleep. He would struggle with self-doubt, fear, loneliness, despair, and a growing sense of his own weakness.

But God was in it all. I am reminded of the words of Jesus, spoken to His disciples.

“I assure you that when the world is made new and the Son of Man sits upon his glorious throne, you who have been my followers will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life. But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.” – Matthew 19:28-30 NLT

Like David, the disciples had been called by God. And that calling would prove costly for all of them. Jesus had warned them:

“Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves. But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues. You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me. When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. For it is not you who will be speaking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” – Matthew 10:16-20 NLT

Most of them would die as martyrs. All of them would suffer loss and know what it was like to be hated, despised, abused and rejected by men. But God had great plans for their lives. He would use each of them to accomplish His will and, as Jesus promised them, they would do greater works than He had done while on earth.

“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!” – John 14:12-14 NLT

David was going to learn that the great gain God had in store for him was going to require great loss. God was in the process of making David God-dependent, not self-sufficient. He was teaching David the invaluable lesson of reliance upon Him. All of us have crutches in life, upon which we learn to lean and with which we grow comfortably incapacitated. But God would have us lean on Him. He would have us find our hope, help, strength, worth, fulfillment, and purpose for life in Him. David was a gifted young man, but God was out to make him a godly king. David had in Jonathan a true friend, but he would learn what it meant to have God as his companion. David had risked his life killing 200 Philistines in order to gain the right to marry Michal. But soon, David would discover what it was like to love and be loved by God – a relationship unlike any other in life.

In all of this, David was going to learn the truth behind the words of Jesus, spoken centuries later: “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24 NLT). True allegiance to God requires complete dependence upon God. Experiencing the full power of God demands that we lose our reliance upon any source of support other than God. David was going to be forced to give up a lot, but what he would gain in return would be well worth it.

I love you, Lord; you are my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. – Psalm 18:1-2 NLT

 

 

2 Corinthians 1:1-11

Learning to Lean.

2 Corinthians 1:1-11

We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. – 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 NLT

Going through difficulties is, well, difficult at times. No one enjoys trials and troubles, in spite of James’ admonition to “consider it all joy…when you encounter various trials” (James 1:2 NLT). Trials can be trying. Difficulties are difficult. Suffering can be insufferably hard. Unless we share Paul’s perspective on the subject. And there are few people who understood suffering as well as he did. In this follow-up letter to the Corinthian believers, Paul provided them with a primer on how to handle suffering, and he spoke from first-hand experience. He wrote of the trouble he had encountered somewhere in Asia during one of his missionary journeys. He didn’t provide any details, but simply said that it was a life-threatening experience. He and his traveling companions fully expected to die. So whatever it was, it was bad. Paul wrote that they were “crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure” (2 Corinthians 1:8b NLT). And yet, the result of this overwhelmingly difficult circumstance was positive. Paul learned to give up and look up. His strength and self-confidence at an all-time low, Paul understood just how much he needed God to see him through the trial. He learned to rely on God, instead of himself. One of the fascinating things about trials is that they can reveal to us just how lousy we are at being god. Through trials, we discover our weaknesses, fears, ignorance, inadequacies, and vulnerabilities. We are no match for life. And yet, small personal victories over trials and troubles along the way can lull us into a false sense of confidence and cockiness. We can begin to believe that we are our own savior. We can deliver ourselves from any and every difficulty – with a little ingenuity, creativity and determination.

But Paul knew better. He had encountered a trial that was beyond his personal capacity to endure. And it drove him to his knees and into the arms of God. “We placed our confidence in him,” Paul wrote. And guess what? “And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again” (2 Corinthians 1:10a NLT). Paul gave up, looked up, and God showed up. He delivered. He rescued. And Paul learned an invaluable lesson: That God who rescued once, will do it again. He learned to trust God, because God is trustworthy. And that wasn’t just some academic understanding, gleaned from a book sermon, or seminar. Paul had learned it first-hand and up close and personal. Paul’s God wasn’t some ethereal, disembodied deity who lived in some invisible realm and watched over His subjects with disinterest and disdain. He was transcendent, but He was also eminent. God was involved in the lives of His people. He got His hands dirty. He saw what was going on. He heard the prayers of His people. And He did something about it. And Paul had learned to rely on God. He had learned to place his confidence in God.

But there was one other thing Paul had learned and attempted to pass on to the Corinthians. Paul had experienced the comfort of God in the midst of trials. God doesn’t always deliver. At least not on our terms or according to our time table. A big part of trusting God is being willing to let Him do what He knows to be best for us, regardless of whether we particularly like it or not. It’s interesting that Paul had to endure difficulties that practically crushed and overwhelmed him. From his perspective, his difficulties were bad enough to make him believe he was going to die. And yet, God was in the midst of it all. And while it was going on, God was not distant or disinterested. He was providing comfort. The Greek word Paul uses for comfort is parakaleo, and it means to “come alongside, to console, to encourage and strengthen.” God had been there. He had provided them with encouragement, exhortation and comfort – even in the midst of all the difficulties. Sometimes we fail to see God in the middle of our messes. He is there, speaking to us, encouraging us, teaching us – but we are so busy staring at our difficulty or scheming how to get out of it, that we fail to see or hear God.

And Paul had learned one more valuable lesson about trials. Not only does God comfort us in the midst of our trials, He expects us to pass on that comfort to others. One of the most beneficial things about enduring the difficulties of life is that we get the opportunity to come alongside others in their times of trouble, comforting them just as God did us. We can share our intimate knowledge of God’s love, compassion and mercy. We can encourage them to trust in the midst of trials, because we have learned to rely on God. We have seen Him prove Himself faithful in our own lives. So we can speak from experience and “come alongside” those in need and encourage them to wait on the Lord. We can become a source of comfort to them. God never wastes our suffering. He uses it to reveal our weaknesses, expose our pride, dismantle our self-reliance, and increase our faith. He shows up when things are looking down. He comes alongside right when we think He is nowhere to be found. He provides comfort and strength to endure. And He rescues right when He knows it’s time. All so we will learn to place our confidence in Him.

Father, the trials of life are real and regular. They come without warning and, sometimes, in waves. And the tendency is to miss You in the midst of them. Open my eyes so that I can see You in my trials. Help me to hear Your words of comfort and encouragement. Patiently pry my hands off the rudder of my life, so that I will allow You to direct my path and set my course. Forgive me for my self-reliance and stubborn self-sufficiency. I want to rely on You more and me less. I want to experience Your comfort and pass it along to all those You bring into my life who need it. I want to place my confidence in You – at all times and in every circumstance. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Day 34 – Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-17

Amazing Faith.

Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-17

“When Jesus heard this, he was amazed. Turning to those who were following him, he said, ‘I tell you the truth, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!’” – Matthew 8:10 NLT

I would venture to say that it would take a lot to amaze Jesus. After all, He is the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, and the creator of the world. He has literally seen it all. But in this story we read that Jesus was amazed. At what? The faith of an unnamed Roman officer. The Greek word used here for amazed means that Jesus was astounded, astonished – literally stunned by what He heard. Consider the source. This man was a Gentile – a non-Jew. On top of that, he was a Roman citizen. And to make matters even more astonishing – he was a Roman officer. Yet this man had what most of the Jews didn’t have: believing faith. Luke tells us this man was a good man who had been kind to the Jews under his jurisdiction, even helping pay to have a synagogue built for them. He was so well respected by the Jews, that they sent a delegation of their elders to seek out Jesus on his behalf. And interestingly enough, the reason this man was wanting Jesus’ help was because he had a SLAVE who was sick and hear death. Obviously, this man was a compassionate person who cared for those under his authority. He was more than just a leader of men. He was a servant leader who modeled many of the very characteristics Jesus had just taught about. “Do good to those who hate you.” (Luke 6:27 NLT). “Do to others as you would like them to do to you” (Luke 6:31 NLT). “Love your enemies” (Luke 6:35 NLT). “You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate” (Luke 6:36 NLT). “Give, and you will receive” (Luke 6:38 NLT).

Jesus was amazed at this man’s faith. As a Gentile and a Roman officer, there was no reason this man should have had any thought of turning to Jesus for help. But his need drove him there. His heart of compassion and his desire to love others, but his inability to help his servant, drove him to seek out Jesus. And he knew that Jesus could help him. He sensed that Jesus had the power and authority to solve his problem. He also knew that he was unworthy of the help for which he was asking. He told Jesus, “I am not worthy of such an honor. I am not even worthy to come and meet you” (Luke 7:6-7 NLT). What humility. What faith. What awareness of his situation. This man was illustrating exactly the attitude Jesus was seeking from His own people, the Jews. But He sadly states, “I haven’t seen faith this in all Israel!” (Luke 7:9 NLT).

This man’s faith amazed Jesus. It amazes me. And I believe it stunned the people in Jesus’ audience that day, including His disciples. Even they would struggle believing the way this man did. They would doubt and struggle with faith over the next few years, even as they walked alongside Jesus and watched Him do miracle after miracle. And I can be guilty of the same thing in my life. The key to faith is humility and a recognition of need. Faith requires reliance and dependence. It is based on an inner assurance that Jesus can and will help. He has the power. He has the authority. He has the desire. He just needs to be asked.

Father, I want my faith to be amazing faith. I want my reliance on You to be complete, not partial. I want to turn to You and rely on You, faithfully. Give me amazing faith like the man in this story. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Proverbs 21

Leave the Results to God.

“The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord.” – Proverbs 21:31 NLT

I come from the do-it-yourself generation. We are self-sufficient, independent free agents who don’t need anyone or anything in our lives. We have been trained to pick ourselves up by our own boot straps and deal with our problems on our own. We have been taught to gut it up and get it done. Even as believers we tend to have a lone wolf mentality that discounts our need for others, including God. Even our spiritual formation is our job. It is all up to us. And some of us have gotten really good at living the Christian life without God. But at the end of the day, we have got to learn that the victory belongs to the Lord. It is all up to Him. We cannot live the Christian life without His help or apart from His strength. Even all the pithy proverbs we have been reading are impossible to live out apart from Him. We can’t find wisdom without Him. We will never have understanding apart from Him. We will never really experience true success in life without God’s help. It is impossible to be godly without God.

So, do we have our role to play in all of this? Sure. Just as verse 31 says, you have to prepare the horse for battle. You have to get ready for what is headed your way, but you also have to recognize that the outcome is completely up to God. We cannot dictate or determine outcomes. Even our best efforts and careful planning cannot guarantee success. Only God can do that. We can’t do it ourselves. We can’t live the Christian life alone or on our own. A big part of living the Christian life is learning to trust God for the outcomes of life. We can do everything we know to do to raise godly kids, but we are completely incapable of raising godly kids. We don’t have what it takes to produce godliness in our children. Only God can do that. But we are to do our part. We are to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Then we are to leave the results up to Him. We have to trust Him for the victory. We have to let Him fight our battles. We have to depend on Him, which requires that we stop trying so hard trying to be independent.

The victory is up to God. Do you believe that today or are you still trying to win your own battles in your own strength? God does not need your help. That doesn’t mean that God absolves you from all effort or involvement. You have your part to play and your job to do, but the outcome is always up to Him. Rest in that assurance. Prepare for battle knowing that He goes before you and will be behind you. The outcome is in His hands and it is assured.

Father, may I learn more and more that You have the battles of my life completely in control. I do not need to worry, fret, or grow anxious. I simply need to prepare myself for the battle, then watch You work. You will use me. You will allow me to play a part, but the outcome will be completely up to You. The results do not rest on my shoulders. Thank You. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org