Sunday July 24, 2011
As Christians, we often live in tension with the world around us. Jesus taught us that we are "in the world but not of this world'' (John 18:36), we are sent into the world to preach the gospel, baptize new believers and disciple (Matt. 28:19-20; John 17:18). Yet, while we are in this world we are to remain unpolluted by it (James 1:27). We are to be obedient citizens of earthly governments (I Peter 2:13-17), yet at times we must choose to "obey God rather than men'' (Acts 5:29; 4:19).
Like other people who are not saved, we face similar issues that they face: physical debilitations, financial shortcomings, emotional roller coasters, temptations and the like. And, once again, we face these situations with a different perspective because we have the love of God residing in our lives and we are filled with hope by the Holy Spirit.
Because of such tensions, difficult questions arise. Why do the righteous suffer? Why do we feel as though God has abandoned us? What do we do with the human suffering that we see others face and at times we face.
While grappling with questions like these, we can draw insight, strength and encouragement from the stories of God's people through the ages who have dealt with similar issues. In the scripture text before us, the background is found in one of the books that is very common to the Roman Catholic Bible- the Apocrypha that speaks of such an incredible story. It comes to us from the second century B.C., a time when faithful followers of God faced severe persecution, and the future of the Jews as a distinct people seemingly hung in the balance. I shared a bit of this story from the book of First Maccabees last year some time.
Daniel 11:32-33- 32 Those who do wickedly against the covenant he shall corrupt with flattery; but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits. 33 And those of the people who understand shall instruct many; yet for many days they shall fall by sword and flame, by captivity and plundering.
Now I realize that as Wesleyans and Protestants that we do not utilize certain books as Biblical authority such as our Roman Catholic friends down the road. However, Bible scholars and even Wesleyan Bible scholars have made use of them in historical research.
First Maccabees covers a period of a little over forty years in Jewish history, beginning with when King Antiochus IV ascended to the Seleucid throne in 175 B.C. to become the Syrian royalty. This book concentrates on the exploits of one priestly family-Mattathias and his sons Judas Maccabeus, Jonathan, Simon, John, and Eleazar; Simon and his son John Hyrcanus.
Mattathias's sons, known collectively as the Maccabees, rescued the Jerusalem temple from pagan hands and eventually gained political independence for the Jews. They founded the Hasmonean dynasty, which provided political and spiritual leadership for Israel that was leading towards the time of Christ.
We must understand, as Francis Schaeffer pointed out in one of his books, that we live and make history. True, your life and your battle against evil likely will never reach the annals of world history, American history, Michigan history, Oceana Count history but they will be reviewed on the day of judgment when God judges all of humanity and our hearts. We are making history even in very small ways to the world but in huge ways to our family members who watch our every move, to those in our friendship circle, to the Church and the community.
What Daniel writes in these verses and those before and after, is a prophecy. He has received a vision about the future of God's people. Remember, Daniel and his friends have been taken captive to Babylon. They are basically slaves to a different nation due to the sin of God's people. However, a day is coming when they will have their nation back again. And when they do there will be challenges that will come their way. These Jews who stood up against the terrible persecution and desecration of the Temple worship that they participated in was part of this vision that Daniel speaks of.
And I cannot help but believe that this prophecy is not only intended to speak of the Maccabees and their revolution to restore Israel and maintain the true worship of God, but also for us as we face struggles and frustrations in these last days. As I was pecking out the beginning stages of this sermon I called the Hilliard home and learned of the news that their 38 year old son's cancer has grown.
And I wondered then: "How in the world do you answer this, preacher man, as you speak about overcoming obstacles?"
All of us face obstacles of various kinds and at different times that we are called on to overcome:
- Spiritual development- knowing Christ, growing in Christ and sharing Christ
- Physical challenges- surgeries, injuries, healings, sicknesses, disease
- Financial limitations- lost jobs, loss of income, not enough income, increasing obligations
- Trials, temptations & tribulations- tests of our faith, temptations to sin, all out persecution of our faith in Christ.
And then we as a Church face obstacles to being everything God calls us to be. We must face and overcome:
- Congregational energy- We need people whose best years- physically- are behind them; the younger ones of us battling "schedule fatigue" (getting Christ and his church in the right priority). We're all busy but what are we busy with? God's ministry needs people to "work 'til the night is coming" because the "fields are white with harvest."
- Church membership- We need people willing to take the next steps and give of themselves totally to the advancement of God's kingdom. We need younger people to be willing to surrender of themselves and step up to a new level of not only Christian living but also of Christian service.
- Structural concepts- refreshing the ways in which we do ministry especially with the reframing of how Manantial de Vida will operate. The way we do church is critical to fulfilling our mission.
- Ministry growth- Seeing the Lord add to our number "daily those who are being saved." (Acts 2:42) There are great things happening among our young people and their children that involves our kids ministry. But there are also other areas of ministry that need attention so that we can see Church growth.
- Financial obligations- Procuring the necessary resources we need to fulfill our commitments. Too often our treasurer is having incorporate accounting gymnastics to make sure things and people are paid for. You want to know what us pastors say to each other about money issues? "If everyone tithed there would be no financial shortage."
- Faith that God is still at work. Sometimes we can begin to feel as though that because we aren't the church we used to be that we cannot become the church that we ought to be. I don't say this with a wagging finger
Of course, I could go on and on. In fact, some of you are probably adding a few others that you are doing. But the point is that there are obstacles to overcome both personally and corporately.
All of these challenge our faith whether they be life-threatening or not.
Sure, we are not in the days of the Maccabees where the Jews were offered both opportunities and temptations due to the new Greek society that had been impressed on them and the world by Alexander the Great. On the one hand, Jewish thought ultimately was greatly enriched by certain Greek concepts. A prime example is the Greek idea that "the hidden law governing the entire universe is divine reason, logos, and the moral task of humanity is to live a life of conformity to this divine reason, which is the law of ethics as well as the law of nature'' [Torah 5]. Jewish thinkers, beginning with the author of Sirach in the early second century B.C., identified the underlying universal law as God's Torah (see especially Sirach 24). In this way, the Greek concept led to the exaltation of the God of Israel and the promotion of his inspired word.
On the other hand, Greek influence- more commonly called Hellenism- created temptations for God's people to compromise certain aspects of the Law by creating questions similar to the serpent and Eve in the Garden of Eden. We are always on dangerous ground when we start questioning in the wrong way the Biblical principles and values that strengthen our faith. For the Jews in those days they began to abandon the boundaries concerning the Sabbath; families did not have their sons circumcised, and they began to introduce things to their daily food that Old Testament diet laws forbid. These issues, especially, set them apart as a unique and distinct people.
But you know how things go. By remaining separate from the Gentiles, some reasoned, Jews were missing out on the wealth and prestige afforded by Hellenism. But then on the other hand, but involving themselves with an outside culture they reaped benefits but also endangered their faith.
We face similar issues. For some, receiving government assistance bothers them because they feel beholden to the government but yet also realize that for survival's sake they need to do something. We want to believe by faith in God for healing and yet we also put ourselves in the hands and sometimes at the mercy of doctors and hospitals in our search for healing and a better quality of life.
However, there are lines that we realize we must not cross.
How do we as 21st century Christians who not only believe in Jesus Christ but strive to follow after him? The first aspect of overcoming obstacles is this:
KNOW YOUR GOD.
Let's consider the second half of Daniel 11:32- "but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits."
Are you a person who knows your God?
So often we can find ourselves simply content with reading our devotional scripture and calling that good. However, as a child of God you need to know Him more and seek Him more.
- To know God is the highest and best form of knowledge. There is a human thirst to know something- even the things we should not know. Humanity prides itself on its learning capabilities. Charles Spurgeon said in his sermon concerning this passage: "…strive with diligence to learn more and more of the higher Truths of God."
- To know God means that I am going to know His Son. My life verse is actually two verses together in Philippians 3:10-11- I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings becoming like him in his death and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection of the dead. I have experienced in my life the joy of knowing Christ. Not that I feel like I have achieved everything set out for me, but I can tell you that even in my toughest times, I want to know Christ.
- To know God calls for me to experience the filling of His Holy Spirit. It is only by the leading of the Holy Spirit that I am able to learn spiritual things.
- To know God requires of you to study His Words. There is a Biblical illiteracy among Christians that is rather embarrassing. Our culture no longer views the Bible as something sacred but just another book among many books. You might be saying, "I read the Bible but I don't understand it." That is the time you seek the Holy Spirit's assistance but also you need to get involved in a Bible study where a Spirit-led teacher is able to guide you.
There is something different about the person who knows their God. There is a confidence of faith that is unshakeable even in the face of the most dire of circumstances. I pray that you would be that person who knows their God in a very real and personal way. (Oftentimes it becomes more real and clear during the furnaces of life.)
Not only does Daniel point to the people who know their God but tells us about their character and what our character should be:
BE STRONG IN THE LORD.
Let's look at our scripture text again: "but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits."
The Apostle Paul seems to echo Daniel- whether he intended to do so or not- by saying in Ephesians 6:10- Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.
- Knowing who God is gives us a confidence of faith.
- Our confidence of faith gives us victory in battle.
- Our victory in battle testifies to the power of God.
The power of God is the work of the Holy Spirit.
LIVE BY THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.
"but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits."
How do you feel about carrying out great exploits? Kind of scary, huh? Who does God think we are? Indiana Jones? Zorro? The Lone Ranger?
Let's check out Galatians 5. This particular chapter is one of those key chapters in the Bible that is very important to every believer about how to live the Christian life. Now if you don't want to mark in your Bible, I understand. But I believe every Christian should have these verses highlighted in some way in their Bible as well as in their heart:
Verse 16-18 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever
you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
Verses 22-25- 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
Again, some feel awkward about this and that's okay. Take time to write these verses out and post them in your bathroom mirror, on your refrigerator and anywhere else that you might see them on a regular basis.
For God's people, the power of God is proven through the power of the Holy Spirit as he works in and through our lives. Whatever we face in life we can still live a holy life that please our Lord. Wherever we find ourselves we can be overcomers with power. Whenever the problems arise and the obstacles show themselves, we will not be hindered because "…there is more with us than be with them- we're on the winning side!"
When we face obstacles we will win every time with the Holy Spirit empowering us. In the world's eyes and by its standards they might see us as losers. But in the eyes of God and in the eyes of those who are being saved, victory is not found in physical healings, financial gains or emotional highs but is found in the believer who lives by faith, who loves their God and neighbor and is filled with a hope that is not found in this world.
CONCLUSION- The Word of our Testimony
So how do we win in a world controlled by sin? We win by the testimony of our lives. We may lose court cases, we may lose our health, we may lose money and resources, we may even lose our lives but we will not lose our citizenship in the kingdom of God through Jesus Christ as long as we 1) Know our God; 2) Are strong in the Lord; and 3) Live by the Power of the Holy Spirit.
Notice what happens when God's people like you and I take serious our faith in Christ:
33And those of the people who understand shall instruct many…
We tell and teach others God's ways
Revelation 12:11- They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.
Be so in love with God that you will not deny him in the face of dangers or in the midst of stardom. Be so filled with his strength and power of the Holy Spirit that in spite of the turmoil all around you will stand firm and your faith will remain unshaken.
At District Conference I and others received a wrist band that simply says "Overcoming Obstacles." This is the theme of our District this year and I plan to get into a bit of what Pastor Tom spoke about.
This is a reminder to me of my commitment to overcoming obstacles by the power of the Holy Spirit. In fact, the one thing that God spoke to my heart about was overcoming negativity in my thinking because it affects my faith. What's interesting is back in May I had projected that today's message would be titled "Overcoming Negativity." This week I changed it to "Overcoming Obstacles" because so many of you are facing difficulties to overcome and we as a Church face them as well.
What obstacle lies in front of your faith today? Are you willing to surrender yourself to God and say, "With the help of the Holy Spirit I will fight the good fight of faith and overcome the obstacles that lie in front of me. I will get to know God better and as I do I will grow stronger in my faith in Jesus Christ and I know that the Holy Spirit will be able to do great things through my life for the glory of God."
If so, come forward, make your public commitment to God and receive this wrist band as a reminder of the commitment you are making to God and to yourself.