Freedom (Memorial Day 2020)

2020-05-25 Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a special day in this country. It is a day we pause to honor those who have fallen in service to our nation, protecting our rights and defending our freedom. It is also a day to remember those in our own families who have passed on from this life.

For the Christ-follower, Memorial Day should also be a day we consider the death of Jesus on the cross. It should be a day to honor his sacrifice for us so that we might be truly free – free from the grips of hell. In my tradition we honor this each week by partaking of the Lord’s Supper, a time to commemorate the death that Jesus suffered for each of us. In Jesus’ death he paid the price for our sins and offered a path to God through his blood. When we believe in Jesus’ life-saving death on the cross, we are given eternal life with him.

So today, take time. Take time to pause and reflect on Jesus and what his sacrifice means for you personally and for the lives of those family members who have gone before you. And take time to remember the soldiers, men and women, who have given their lives so that we can live in a country where we can freely talk about and worship Jesus. Without their sacrifice we would not be free to do so; but Jesus’ sacrifice is what truly makes us free.

Focus on What Matters (Matthew 10:28)

Matthew 10 28

This verse really causes us to put things into proper perspective, doesn’t it?

We are living life on earth and it’s important what we do, how we spend our time, and the relationships we make. But in the grand scheme of eternity, our life on earth is but a blip in time. The time we spend here is nothing compared to the eternity we will spend after we leave this life. Jesus is reminding us here that we should not fear those who threaten to harm or kill our bodies, because in reality, they can’t affect our eternal destiny.

God, on the other hand, does control our eternity destiny. If we are right with God, then we have no fear about where we will spend eternity because he’s promised us eternal life in heaven. Why worry, Jesus asks, about those who can only affect our bodies? Why worry about a virus that you may or may not get because in the end, your soul is secure in Christ.

Jesus goes on in the next couple of verses to talk about God’s care for the sparrow – “not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care” (10:29). He also says that the hairs on your head are numbered. God cares deeply about his creation, of whom you, as a human being made in his image, are the crown jewel. He knows how many hairs are on your head – he knows what your deepest needs and desires are – he knows your most intimate fears.

Jesus encourages us to not be afraid of those things which can only affect the body because the soul is the most important thing we have and no one and no thing can touch that apart from God. Instead of worrying about things outside of our control, let’s spend time focusing on things that bring God glory – helping the poor, telling people about Jesus, spending time in prayer, and sharing our resources (time, talent, and treasure). When we are focused on God and his work we have less time to focus on the fears we may have.

Shame is the Devil’s Game (Isaiah 54:4)

Isaiah 54 4

Do you have a past filled with questionable or downright bad decisions? I’m sure we all do to some degree or another. We’ve all made choices that turned out to be wrong. Sometimes those choices have caused hardship, to ourselves or those we care about, or they caused setbacks to us, financially, relationally, professionally, or spiritually. This verse addresses those mistakes.

Isaiah is reminding us that even if (though) we have made mistakes in the past, with God, we can put the shame behind us. We will never forget what we have done, and there may be long lasting consequences, but the shame we feel can be a thing of the past.

Once we confess our sins to God, he offers us forgiveness (1 John 1:9). Those sins are cast away and we are renewed in Christ. The problem is that the enemy tries to remind of us those sins and cause us to feel unworthy of God’s grace and forgiveness. “How could God forgive me for doing that?” you may ask yourself. You may fall for the lie that you’ve done too much or that your sin is too great to be truly forgiven. That. Is. A. LIE. Do not fall for it!

Paul, himself, was a persecutor of Christians before he was forgiven by Jesus. David was a murderer and adulterer, yet still called a man after God’s own heart. Our past needs to stay in the past – experience God’s forgiveness and love and grace in the present.

When you find yourself entangled in the web of lies and shame, it’s no wonder you can’t find comfort or peace in these times of trials. Part of finding comfort in God is recognizing the grace and forgiveness he has already blessed you with and trusting him even more. Don’t let Satan’s lie keep you bound in the burden of shame and guilt. Accept Jesus’ forgiveness and grace and trust in him and his Word.

Play Offense (Isaiah 41:13)

Isaiah 41 13

Today’s verse is just a few verses past yesterday’s verse in context. The Israelites are in exile, foreign lands, under foreign powers, and they are afraid of what is to come. They wonder if God can help them and if he wants to help them. Here, God reminds them – rather, promises them – that he will help them.

Up to this point in the passage God has been content with telling them how he will protect them and keep them safe. Shortly after our verse, however, the tone shifts to offense. God is not only going to protect his people, he is also going to fight for them.

It’s incredibly encouraging to know that the God of the universe protects us and is with us at all times. Just as it is comforting for a child to know his parent is going to do whatever possible to protect him in times of distress. But in addition to protection, God is also going to fight on behalf of his people.

There is an enemy out there who is hellbent on destruction. He wants to destroy the world, and he particularly wants to destroy the faith of the followers of Christ. The enemy wants to plant seeds of doubt in your mind about who God is and what God can do for you. And when those seeds are planted, watered, and allowed to grow, loss of faith is the result.

What God is telling you today is that he will protect you from the enemy, yes, but he will also fight the enemy on your behalf. In fact, God enlists you to his army to fight the enemy with him! Paul talks about putting on the armor of God so that you can fight the battles that life throws at you. Jesus talks about the gates of hell no prevailing over you. In His Spirit you are powerful!

You have within you, by the grace and love of Jesus, the power to defeat the enemy and fight for truth. I encourage you today to claim this powerful truth and suit up! The battle is raging all around us and with God YOU have the promise of victory! Don’t just sit around waiting for the enemy to attack – read Scripture, spend time in study and prayer, and be ready to take the fight wherever God may lead.

In Your Corner (Isaiah 41:10)

Isaiah 41 10

In this section of Isaiah, God is speaking to the Israelites as they are in captivity. They are not free people at this point, and they have been exiled to other countries instead of the Promised Land God had for them. Here, as elsewhere in the context, God is reminding the people that he is with them and he will protect them.

There may have been a sentiment among the Israelites about whether or not God had the power to save his people anymore. They may have forgotten the power and majesty of the God of their ancestors – the God who marched his people through the Red Sea.

There may also have been a sentiment that God could help his people, but he simply doesn’t want to. Here God reminds them that they need not fear because he in fact does have the power AND the will to save them. He WILL strengthen, he WILL help, and he WILL uphold. When we face tough times, it’s easy to forget both who God is and what he desires to do. God is all powerful and he does want what is best for his people – all who choose to follow him.

Don’t forget who you have in your corner while you’re fighting fear and uncertainty, and don’t ever doubt that he will give you the strength you need to make it through!

Power in the Word (Psalm 56:3-4)

Psalm 56 3-4

These two verses form a chiasm in the Hebrew. A chiasm is simply a structure that the Psalmist used to highlight something important. In a chiasm the central idea is always found in the middle. In our verse, the chiasm is this:

(a1) What I am afraid

(b1) I put my trust in you

(c) In God, whose word I praise (or I praise God for what He has promised)

(a2) I trust in God

(b2) So why should I be afraid

What can mere mortals do to me?

You can see how David moves from a point of fear to the point of trusting God, not being afraid, and then exclaiming how mere mortals cannot do anything to him. In the center of it all is the reason for his trust and confidence: God’s word. God’s word is trustworthy and when God says something that is the way it is.

God created the world simply by speaking it into being – it is in that powerful word that we put our trust. When David was feeling afraid and was being pursued by his enemies (as he was in this passage), he took comfort and found courage in the Word. John tells us that the Word is Jesus (John 1).

When our fears start to take hold of us, we simply need to remember that Jesus had the power to simply speak the world into existence, so certainly he has the power to be there in our time of need! When you’re feeling afraid, go to the Word of God and find comfort in the words given to us all – the very words of God.

Remember the Lord is with You (1 Chronicles 28:20)

1 Chronicles 28 20

In Scripture, we are told that David was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). Because of this, David wanted to build a permanent Temple for the Lord. God, however, gave David the plans, but told him that his son, Solomon, would be the one to build it. In this verse, David is commissioning Solomon to do just that and reminding him that God will be with him during the project.

Solomon was the wisest person in the world. People would come from around the world to consult him – to hear him speak wisdom. Yet, when it came time to commission Solomon for the building of the Temple, David found in important to remind him that God would be with him and not forsake him during that time.

It’s remarkable to me that a man filled with such wisdom still had some doubts about himself and his standing before the Lord. So much so that his father felt the need to remind him of those facts. When we are having our own doubts about God being with us, we can take comfort in the fact that we are not alone in our concern. Even Solomon, the wisest man to ever live, had his own concerns.

While we may find ourselves in good company with King Solomon, we must heed the advice of his father David when he reminds him (and us) that God will be with us always. Don’t believe for a minute that you are going through this time alone – God is with you! If you need help remembering that, go back and read the previous devotions or reach out to your pastor. As a pastor myself, I know that I’d be happy to talk with you and walk through this time with you. You are not alone!

God’s Got Your Back (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Deuteronomy 31 6

The people of Israel are being addressed by Moses in this verse. They have wandered the wilderness for 40 years due to their disobedience and unwillingness to trust God, and now the new generation is standing on the brink of a new and potentially prosperous time for their people.

Moses has told the people about the Promised Land that God will give them, but there are major roadblocks that they will have to overcome if they are to inherit the land as promised. The main problem is that their enemies already possess the land. As Moses lists off some of their enemies in the previous verses, he then makes the statement in our verse that the Lord will not leave you or forsake you because he goes with you.

He continues a few verses later to say basically the same thing, “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:8). Moses wants to drive this point home. He knows the people will face danger and fear ahead and he wants to encourage them with truth of God’s presence.

The people of God were about to take a huge step in their development as a nation and Moses wanted them to be on sure footing. That foundation was based on trusting the Lord in all things, remembering that God would be with them no matter what.

We aren’t getting ready to conquer enemy nations, but we are facing an enemy of our own. For some, it’s simply getting up each morning and fighting depression. For others, it’s battling their own minds in the “what-if” scenarios that play out in their heads. Whatever your personal battle is, trust in the fact that Lord will not leave you in this, your time of need. Prepare for battle knowing that God’s got your back!

Commands? (Psalm 112:1)

Psalm 112 1

Have you ever been commanded to do something? Sure, we all have. Whether it was to put our dishes in the dishwasher, do our homework, or have a report ready for work, we have all been commanded to do something at one point or another. In fact, most of us are commanded to be at work at a certain time of day, so we are dealing with commands on a daily basis.

The problem with commands is that we typically don’t like them. Even if they are good and decent commands, most of us simply don’t like being told what to do or when to do it. We want a sense of autonomy over our own lives and decisions and someone else’s commands don’t fit well within that framework. Just consider how people have reacted to stay-at-home orders during this pandemic!

But in our verse today, the Psalmist says that those who “delight” in obeying God’s commands will be blessed or find joy. The word delight means in the Greek basically what it means in English – to take pleasure in. So are you telling me that we should find pleasure in doing what God has commanded us to do?

The simple answer is yes!

God has laid out his commands in Scripture for us to follow. Granted, we are no longer under the Old Testament Law, but we still have commands and precepts that God has laid out for us. One of those commands is to not fear what the world or our enemies may throw our way.

God has given us the guidance we need to live our best lives following and serving him – when we actually do what he has said, blessings and joy will follow. So instead of rejecting God’s plans for us – rejecting God’s commands – let’s embrace the truths of Scripture and praise the Lord in the midst of our circumstances as we seek to trust and obey him in all areas of our lives.

Ask for Wisdom (James 1:5)

James 1 5

A verse about wisdom may seem to be out of place in a series of devotions about fear. But wisdom is the trait of utilizing knowledge and experience with common sense and insight. True wisdom, of course, comes from God, and in our times of fear, it does us good to ask God to share his wisdom with us.

When we are in a place of uncertainty, when we are focusing on the wrong things, it is critical that we turn to the Author of true Wisdom to guide our hearts and minds back to the truths of Scripture. In Scripture, as we have studied thus far and will continue to study, we see God over and over telling us to not fear because he is with us. This knowledge comes from Scripture and from our experience with God in the past. When we find ourselves spending time, energy, and mental focus on things that are not in line with what God’s Word has said, we need to ask God to give us his wisdom to get us back on track.

When we ask for wisdom, God has promised to give it to us. What a great promise given to us when we are in need of reassurance about the truth of God’s Word!

The next verse says, “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6). When we ask God to give us his wisdom, we should ask with full confidence that he will answer our request. If we doubt that God could or would give us the confidence of his wisdom, then James says that we are like a wave blown and tossed by the wind. Instead of making us fearful, however, that verse is meant to give us courage and boldness when approaching God’s throne.

And if we still have doubts, then we can do as the man who was asking Jesus to heal his son did, when he cried out, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). When we face doubts of any kind, we need God’s wisdom to pull us through. Relying on God’s wisdom means that we remember the knowledge he has given us in Scripture as well as the experiences we have had with God when he has been faithful to us in the past. When you forget those things, ask God to remind you and believe that he will.