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In Ephesians 6:10-18, Paul provided a vivid picture of being prepared to do battle with “spiritual forces of evil” (verse 12). When we read these verses, it’s easy to picture ourselves putting on the “full armor of God” in preparation for battle; arming ourselves with the belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shield of faith, helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. But how many of us read these verses and remember that Paul is writing to the church in Ephesus — that Paul is talking about equipping an army of believers with the full armor of God?

When we view this passage in this context, it is not just about the individual believer being equipped for battle, but it is also about the church being equipped for battle. If you take that a step further, it prompts questions about whether your church is properly equipped to do battle “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world” (verse 12).

Take a look at your church and ask yourself if it is equipped to act as one body, ready to wield the sword of the spirit as a unified force for the Kingdom of God. Do the believers in your church have confidence in their faith, salvation and righteousness? Are they prepared to use God’s truth to deflect the false truths and flaming arrows of the evil one? Are they ready to lay aside differences so that they can stand together as believers in Jesus Christ?

I once had a professor who commented on this passage and its context of equipping an army of believers. He asked the class to picture themselves surviving a horrific battle against the evil one. “As the dense smoke begins to clear you wonder if you are alone,” he said. “Now imagine the smoke clears and you see your fellow believers standing with you, locked arm and arm ready to defend the Kingdom of God.” This powerful imagery reminded me that the church must act as a unified army, suited up with the armor of God and joined together to defend God’s truth.

“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” – Ecclesiastes 4:12

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There are times when we can feel overwhelmed by the demands of life. We seek solutions but they seem impossible to achieve based on what little resources we have available to us. This can lead us to overlook how God can take seemingly insufficient things and multiply them to meet needs in ways we never expected.

We see this in John 6:1-15, a well-known passage where Jesus feeds the 5,000. In verse five and six, Jesus tests his disciple Phillip by asking, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” These verses tell us Jesus already knows what he is going to do, but he wants to see how his disciples respond to the situation. The question is very revealing. Phillip answers like we do so many times to problems we face. We’re standing there surrounded by hungry people and all we can say is, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” 

Phillip can only comprehend the cost to barely provide an appetizer for all those people. Andrew chimes in with a different answer. He seeks help from the crowd and brings a boy to Jesus with five small barley loaves and two small fish. Then he asks Jesus, “How far will they go among so many?” Phillip and Andrew can only see what’s in front of them as answers to the hungry crowd.

Jesus encourages us to look beyond our own abilities and resources and seek Him. Too often we respond like Phillip where we can only see the cost or like Andrew where we can only see what is in front of us. We shouldn’t just reluctantly turn to Christ pleading, “What can you possibly do with this small amount? How can we possibly get this much money to meet all these needs?”

Jesus wants us to bring what little we have, our doubts and all, and lay them before his feet. Through Him lives can be transformed, hunger can be satisfied and thirst can be quenched with living water. It is an opportunity to experience the life Jesus offers when we choose to trust Him. It is Jesus who does the multiplying through us with what he has given us.

Jesus is all about multiplying what little we have whether now or across generations. We need to come to Him with the faith of a mustard seed, planting it and nourishing it with the expectation that ultimately God will do great things. Note in verse 11 that Jesus takes the little that the apostles brought to him, gives thanks to God and then has it distributed to the people. It is after everyone has their fill that they see God’s provision. 

We should do the same. Give thanks for what God has given us and work with what we have. Then let God do the multiplying so everyone can have their fill instead of just an appetizer.

I have always been intrigued by the encounter between Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-39. Here we have two people seeking Christ. One is seeking to serve Christ, the other is seeking to find Christ. It’s an instructive, God-ordained encounter that should encourage us to follow the prompting of the Spirit. It also shows us how God is preparing the hearts of those who don’t know Christ for such an encounter.

The passage opens with an angel of the Lord directing Phillip to go down the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. He doesn’t know why, but he obediently starts down the road. He encounters an Ethiopian eunuch which verse 27 tells us was “an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (NIV).” The chariot must have been an intimidating site, but at the Spirit’s prompting Phillip walked along side the chariot and discovers the eunuch is reading Isaiah 53:7-8. 

The next verses show us how God had worked on this man’s heart, preparing him for the encounter with Phillip. The eunuch had been worshiping in Jerusalem and was now reading the prophet Isaiah. He was searching for Christ and Phillip was able to tell him “the good news about Jesus (verse 35).” Upon hearing about Jesus the eunuch stopped the chariot by a pool of water and remarked, “What can stand in the way of my being baptized (verse 36)?” Truly this man was ready to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

This passage is a good reminder to followers of Christ Jesus to be ready to follow the prompting of the Spirit as we go through our day. We may feel God nudging us toward an intimidating encounter, as Phillip and the official in the chariot, but we should remember that God has likely already been working on the person’s heart. Our job may be to sow more gospel seeds or to bring a person to Christ. Either way obedience to Christ can enrich our lives as well as the lives of those ready to hear the gospel.

A friend of mine has been in ministry for more than 40 years. Recently we were together and I relished hearing him tell about how several people he impacted with his ministry over the decades were now coming together to create a new ministry that he would lead. It reminded me of the parable of the mustard seed in Mark 4. Here were small seeds, sown years ago, about to mature into a mighty plant with strong branches bearing much fruit. This is the longview of the Kingdom of God.

What’s intriguing to me about the parable of the mustard seed is the parable that precedes it. In Mark 4:26-29 Jesus talked about a farmer scattering seed on the ground. Verse 25 tells us, “Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grow.” The next verse tells us that the seed matures and bears fruit even though the farmer “does not know how.” He then proceeds to harvest the crop. 

Couple this parable with its companion parable in verses 30-32 and you get a powerful image of how God can turn small things into a large, fruitful thing for the Kingdom of God. In this parable, Jesus talked about how a small mustard seed, when planted, “grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants.” So big in fact that “the birds can perch in its shade.”

The common thread weaving through both of these parables is the action of planting. In both instances, the seed must be planted in order for it to grow, but it is God that actually grows the seed to enable it to be fruitful and useful. Too often we focus on trying to create the big thing first without waiting on God to grow and mature it from first sowing the small seeds.

In these parables Jesus reminded us that often the work of the Kingdom of God is found in the small things. We should not ignore the work of sowing the seed of the gospel into the lives of people we encounter each day. Even the smallest of seeds can eventually mature into something powerful for God. When we see the fruit it bears years later we are amazed that God could grow something that large from something so small. 

Jesus reminded us in these parables that it is God who transforms the seed of the gospel into mature and fruitful believers in Jesus. We are to be obedient in responding to God’s leading to sow the gospel into the hearts and minds of people in our lives, no matter how small and insignificant the encounter might seem. As my friend found out decades later, many of the small seeds he had sown over the years now were maturing to bear fruit and provide for people in ways he never dreamed possible.

In Mark 13:11 Jesus tells us not to worry about what to say when we are brought to trial, instead we should let the Spirit of God guide our words. In a world full of scripted remarks and prepared statements, it is hard to think about going into a trial without proper preparation. Yet I don’t think Jesus is saying that we should go into these situations totally unprepared.

Jesus’ whole discourse in Mark 13 is a warning to his disciples to be prepared for what is to come. He is warning them of coming persecution. To that end he tells them to be ready and to let their faith in God guide them, not their own strength, cleverness, or words. “So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time,” Jesus said in Mark 13:23.

For us that means we need to prepare ourselves for trials in life by immersing ourselves daily in the Word of God; to prayerfully seek God and his will each day. We need to learn to endure struggles without compromising our faith in Christ. We need to continually strengthen our resolve to follow Christ so that we will endure to the end. Jesus reminds us in Mark 13:13, “Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

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It is hard for us to comprehend what the earth was like before God created light. In his book Riding Rockets, Space Shuttle astronaut Mike Mullane described how from space, the earth is “framed in a pre-Genesis black.” He goes on to explain: “There is no blackness on Earth to compare… not the blackest night, the blackest cave, or the abysmal depths of any sea ” Since I never made it into space, the blackest cave was the closest experience I had to seeing pre-Genesis black.

When I was a kid, my mom and dad took us on a tour inside a deep cave at Mammoth Caves National Park in Kentucky. Deep in the bowels of the earth, the park ranger stopped us in an expansive part of the cave with a large vaulted ceiling. With a few minutes warning, he had the lights turned off so we could experience total darkness. Instantly we were thrown into the formless and empty darkness of Genesis 1:2.

When the lights went out, it was impossible to see anything. I had no way of knowing what was next to me or around me. There was no form, no definition to the space where I stood. Suddenly a light appeared. The ranger struck a single match and suddenly the entire area and everyone in it came into view. It was astounding how that single match suddenly separated us from the darkness.

In Genesis 1:3-4 God says. “Let there be light.” Like that single act of striking a match, his command separated the light from the darkness. He brought form and shape to the world. It is the same light we can bring to this dark world. In the darkness of life, Christ is light that pierces the darkness, separating the darkness from the light. Even when we are in the midst of the deepest darkness of life, we can trust the light of Christ to bring form and shape to the void of a seemingly hopeless situation.

Sometimes no matter how much I plead with God to transform the life of a person with Christ, it seems nothing changes. The struggles remain and I feel helpless to show the way to Christ. I feel helpless to bring about any change and it feels like feel my prayers fall on deaf ears.

At times like this I am caught in the tension between God’s sovereignty and the free will of people to reject or embrace Christ. Romans 9:18 tells us, “Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” Within this tension I am forced to trust God’s sovereignty; forced to deepen my pursuit of Christ; forced to let the tension hold me close to God.

I must trust that God has a purpose for delineating between mercy and wrath and that only he is qualified to judge between the two. I must admit I am severely unqualified to judge why some graciously receive Christ and others reject him.

The only answer to this tension is to continue to liberally apply the Word of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to all people who God places in our life. We must continue to trust God to handle the response people give to the message of salvation.

On a recent tour of a factory, I watched with interest a robot painting automotive parts. Without fail, it painted the entire part with a flawless performance that resulted in a perfect coating of color. Once it finished that part, it moved on to the next one, going through the exact same motions without missing beat.

 It struck me as I watched the giant robot swaying back and forth that sometimes I act like a robot in my Christian walk. If I am not careful, I can get so caught up in the routine of reading the Bible, praying or even the act of worship that I find myself just going through the motions. On the surface it appears I am following Jesus, but my heart is not in it.

Psalm 51:16 in The Message tells us, “Going through the motions doesn’t please you; a flawless performance is nothing to you. I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered. Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.” It’s a good reminder that in the midst of our brokenness, when we humble ourselves before God, we find ourselves ready to worship from deep within our heart.

God doesn’t want our mass-produced worship that merely goes through the motions of devotion to him. He wants humble worship that comes from our sincere love for him.  In Joshua 1:1, God tells Joshua as he takes over leadership of Israel following the death of Moses, “Give it everything you have, heart and soul.” (The Message) It’s the same way we should approach God with our worship — not with a programmed approach, but from deep within our heart and soul.

“What’s your New Year’s resolution?” It’s a common question this time of year when we look back at the old year and forward into the New Year. It prompts us to pause, take note of our life and identify areas for improvement. In our Christian walk, that might be things like boosting our prayer or Bible reading time or committing to meet with a small group of believers.

But what if instead of a list of action items, you only focused on your resolution to Christ – your determination to follow Him? What would that look like? Would you drop everything and follow him as Matthew did in Matt. 9:9 when Jesus said, “Follow me!” Would you drop your nets and follow Jesus as Peter and Andrew did in Matt. 4:18-20 when He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” What is the degree of your resolution to follow Christ?

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 16:13: “Keep your eyes open, hold tight to your convictions, give it all you’ve got, be resolute, and love without stopping.” (The Message) Paul focused on following Jesus at all costs. When he announces in Acts 21 that he is going to Jerusalem, his friends plead with him not to go as they are sure it will mean certain death. Yet Paul responds in Acts 21:13, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” (NIV).

It only seems appropriate to give our life to someone who gave us the most important resolution of all – a resolution to our sin. Christ died on the cross so that we could have salvation from the sin that enslaves us. That’s a resolution we could never accomplish on our own. As Hebrews 9:26 tells us, “…he sacrificed himself once and for all, summing up all the other sacrifices in this sacrifice of himself, the final solution of sin.” (The Message)

The Journey of the Magi  Part 9

Matt. 2:12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

The magi expressed their faith with their journey. Their physical journey ended when they saw Christ, the new-born King. But their faith journey continues. The magi do not listen to King Herod. Instead they listen to God and return home a different way. We can only guess what their life was like after this encounter. It would seem that an encounter with Christ would change their lives forever.

This Christmas, what is your faith journey? Are you on a journey to Bethlehem or are you stuck in Jerusalem. Will you follow the magi to pursue the Messiah to seek Jesus Christ? What are you willing to sacrifice? What is your desire to put your faith into action? Do you fear God more than men? How generous are you? Are you willing to humble yourself before Christ?

King Herod and all of Jerusalem missed out on seeing the new-born King. Don’t let this Christmas pass without seeing Christ.

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