Sword Of God

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Zechariah is the longest book of the minor prophets. His ministry overlaps Haggai the prophet, Ezra the priest, Zerubbabel the governor, and Joshua the high priest. I point all of this out because we need to always keep in mind that the Bible isn’t a collection of stories. It’s a verifiable (or falsifiable) record of real people at real moments in history. Many of the stories in the Bible confirm and even amplify each other. 

Let me remind you of what we learned from our study of the minor prophet Haggai:

  1. Hear the Word 
  2. Consider the Word 
  3. Obey the Word 
  4. Stand assured, encouraged, and unmovable on God’s Word 

Aren’t you more assured of a message that has a confirmation? Like if one person gives you a compliment that you hadn’t considered before, and then later on someone else notices the same attribute. I think we are more ready to receive the word when it has a confirmation like that. 

Haggai delivered a word directed to Zerubbabel the governor, which we saw was a prophecy pointing to and ultimately fulfilled in Jesus. God called Zerubbabel “My signet ring—a mark of God’s supreme authority. 

That might have been a difficult thing for Zerubbabel to accept, so Zechariah is given a confirming word two months after Haggai’s prophecy (Zechariah 4:1-9). This prophecy affirms the message given through Haggai, and also points to its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus. 

But then Zechariah is also given an amplifying word, as he speaks a word from God to Joshua, the other “olive tree” in his God-given vision (Zechariah 3:1-9; 6:9-13). 

Zechariah confirmed and amplified Haggai’s message. And then Jesus fulfilled both of their prophecies! We have the benefit of seeing the prophecy and fulfillment, which should build our faith in ALL of the promises in God’s Word. 

The Word of God then become the (s)word of God in our mouths and hearts!  

Isaiah prophesied that Jesus would wield the sword of God, and this is the same blessing we can claim today. Jesus defeated satan’s temptations with the sword of God, and so do the saints of God today (Isaiah 49:2; Psalm 149:6; Ephesians 6:13, 17; Luke 4:1-12; Revelation 12:11). 

Because of these specific prophecies that have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, we can now stand assured, encouraged, unmovable, and well-armed with the same sword of God. 

There isn’t a more effective sword or shield than God’s (s)word! 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series discovering the major lessons in the minor prophets, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

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People Of The Word

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible.

Haggai appears on the historical scene for just five months, but what a bright light he shines! He is the first of three post-exilic prophets to encourage the Israelites who have returned to Jerusalem.

Before we talk about Haggai’s ministry, we need a brief grammar lesson. Specifically, let’s look at two prefixes: un- and non-. Both of them ultimately mean “not,” but there is a distinction that we need to consider when it comes to the Bible: 

    • unbiblical would mean something contrary to the teaching of the Bible 
    • non-biblical is something that may or may not be correct, but it’s not specifically mentioned in the Bible 

Let me give you an example from my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter. Chris asked me whether I preferred the title senior pastor or lead pastor. This is a non-biblical issue; that is, it doesn’t really matter to me because neither of those titles are found in the Bible. Technically, the word pastor isn’t in the Bible either. The word that is usually translated “pastor” is really a herdsman or a shepherd. 

The problem is that if we put too much focus on non-biblical things, those things can end up becoming unbiblical pursuits. Like when Jesus took the Pharisees to task for their focus on traditions over Scripture (see Matthew 15:1-6). I wrote Shepherd Leadership mainly to get pastors and church leaders to spot non-biblical metrics which may have sneakily turned into unbiblical pursuits, so that they could return to pure biblical principles. In the Preface of my book, I wrote—

“My larger concern is that churches, parachurch organizations, and nonprofit ministries that are largely founded to fulfill a biblical mandate are straying from the simple, freeing truths found in the Bible. Or maybe I should say that they are adding things to their ministries that aren’t in the pages of Scripture. Whichever way you want to say it, the result is the same: We are using the wrong metrics to define ‘success’ for our ministries. I fear that in our focus on unbiblical practices, we are missing the joy of really doing ministry.”

Haggai calls God’s people to return to God’s Word. This is the second-shortest book in the Old Testament (at just 38 verses long), yet Haggai says something like “this is what God says” 28 times in these 38 verses! 

Haggai also records five times that God says, “Give careful thought to your ways.” This phrase literally means to take a strong hold on each thought and examine it intensely. This idea is always connected to a phrase like, “This is what the Lord Almighty says” (1:5, 7; 2:14-15, 17-18). In other words, we are to thoughtfully examine our lifestyle with God’s Word being THE standard of measurement. 

Paul made a similar connection in the New Testament: We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). 

Jesus did this too. When speaking to the religious leaders, He said, “You are wrong because you know neither the Scriptures nor God’s power” (Matthew 22:29). And even with His own disciples, He had to open their minds to see how the Scriptures pointed to Him and were fulfilled in Him (Luke 24:25-27, 44-45). 

Indeed, the phrase “it is written” is used 75 times in the New Testament! 

That’s why Haggai’s words still ring true to us today: “Give careful thought” to how you live in light of how God says you should be living. Christians need to…

  1. Hear the Word of God every day 
  2. Consider their lives in light of the Word of God
  3. Obey what the Word of God is saying to us 

(check out Acts 17:11; Psalm 139:23-24; 1 Samuel 15:22) 

We must become people of the Word of God or else we run the very real risk of letting our non-biblical decisions spiral downward into a sinful, unbiblical lifestyle that grieves the heart of God. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series Major Lessons From Minor Prophets, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

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Trainable

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Blessed are the people of whom this is true… (Psalm 144:15). 

This is how David closes the 144th Psalm, but a good question for us to ask is, “Of whom what is true?” David explains that blessed people are those who are experiencing safety from their enemies, healthy, prosperous children, abundant harvests, and freedom.

Well, you might ask, how are these blessings to be obtained? David opened this psalm by thanking God this way: “Praise be to the Lord my rock, Who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle.” In other words: Thank You, God, for giving me victory! 

This raises yet another question for me: Did David win all of these blessings of victory, or did God? The answer is quite simply, “Yes!” 

David recognized that God trains, but he had to be trainable. So too for us today, we have to be trainable to learn to discern God’s voice. Sometimes God says, “Attack,” and sometimes He says, “Stand still and watch My deliverance,” but in all cases, God is the ultimate Source of our victory and the blessings that flow from that victory. 

The blessings of God our Trainer flow to the people who have made themselves trainable.Blessed are the people of whom this is true; blessed are the people whose God is the Lord.” This blessing caused David to sing out in worship, as it still should for us today, “I will sing a new song to You, O God; on the ten-stringed lyre I will make music to You, to the One who gives victory to kings, who delivers His servant David from the deadly sword. 

If you want to experience more of God’s blessings, you need to regularly ask the Holy Spirit, “Am I trainable today?” As this psalm makes abundantly clear: Those who are trainable are also bless-able! 

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Present Communion With Jesus

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

Present Communion With Jesus

     The desire of a renewed soul is to find Christ and to be with Him. … Past communion with Christ is very well: ‘Therefore I will remember Thee from the land of Jordan…’ (Psalm 42:6). But these are only stale meats, and a loving soul wants fresh food every day from the table of Christ. … 

     A true loving soul, then, wants present communion with Christ. So the question is, ‘Tell me where You feed. Where do You get Your comfort from, O Jesus? I will go there. … Where do You feed Your flock? In Your house? I will go there, if I may find You there. In private prayer? Then I will not be slack in that. In the Word? Then I will read it night and day. Tell me where You feed; wherever You stand as the Shepherd, there will I be, for I want You. I cannot be satisfied to be apart from You. My soul hungers and thirsts to be with You.’

From The Church’s Love To Her Loving Lord

There are so many pictures in the Bible about our continual reliance on God’s presence—from the manna that was only good for each day, to Jesus teaching us to pray for “our daily bread,” to the vivid example of Christians being as dependent on Jesus as a branch is dependent on the vine (see Exodus 16:4-5, 14-17; Matthew 6:11; John 15:1-8).  

All of these mean that we need to constantly abide with our Savior. 

In my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter, I spend two chapters talking to leaders about the need to rest—or sabbath. In fact, I call it sabbathing to give it the emphasis on the ongoing nature of this activity. I wrote—

“Without building in sabbath breaks, we run down emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically, which means loving God becomes a chore, not a delight (Mark 12:30). This then means loving your neighbor becomes nearly impossible (Mark 12:31). Ultimately, this means that we aren’t able to be the compassionate, wise, strong shepherds that the sheep under our care need us to be. … 

“The goal of sabbathing is to infuse more vitality into the shepherd leader for the purpose of pasturing the sheep under that leader’s care. You cannot give hope to others unless you are hope-filled; you cannot give health to others unless you are healthy; you cannot consistently speak wisdom to others unless you are growing in wisdom. All of this healthy growth for the shepherd leader takes place while sabbathing….” 

To reiterate what Pastor Spurgeon said: “A true loving soul, then, wants present communion with Christ.” I hope you will always seek that for yourself.

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No One Can Help Me

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

David uses the phrase “no one” three times in verse 4 of the 142nd Psalm. This verse is also the middle verse of the psalm. Since Hebrew literature often puts the central message in the center, we should start with this verse and then see the message that radiates out from the center. 

In this middle verse, David realizes that no earthly help can sustain him: 

  • no one is at my right hand with any strength to lend to me
  • no one is truly concerned for my wellbeing 
  • no one can help my eternal soul 

Radiating out from this middle verse we see…

  • …God, You watch over me, and You are my refuge (vv. 3, 5)
  • …I pour out my complaint to You, God, and You listen and respond to me (vv. 2, 6) 
  • …God, I cry to You for mercy, and You set me free from my prison (vv. 1, 7)

I find it interesting that David calls it “my prison.” David has learned that God may allow affliction and shaking so that he will see that there is only One who is reliable and stable. Trusting in anything or anyone else becomes, in essence, a prison. 

In verse 7, David mentions God’s “goodness to me.” Sometimes this word for goodness is translated “bountiful,” and it comes from a Hebrew word that can mean “to be weaned.” David is sharing with us that our afflictions can wean us from all human help so that we can fully enjoy the bountiful goodness of our loving God! 

When it appears that there is no one around to help me, that is actually a good thing.

It’s a good thing because it means that now that everything else has been cleared out of my way, I can clearly see The Only One that truly cares about me both today and forevermore! 

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Abiding In God’s Omnipresence

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Why do Christians say things like, “Let’s go to church” or “Let’s go meet with God”? 

Do we forget that Jesus said He would never leave us, or that He sent the Holy Spirit to be our constant Companion, or that our very heart is the temple of God’s presence (Matthew 28:20; John 14:16; 1 Corinthians 3:16)? We are naturally self-focused creatures. It takes discipline on our part to keep reminding and re-reminding ourselves that God is always with us. 

Psalm 84 and its two Selahs is one way of re-reminding ourselves of God’s abiding presence. The Selahs are reminders to pause and consider, “Where am I?” and to know that the answer can always be, “Surely I am in God’s presence!” 

This psalm is divided into three 4-verse stanzas. Stanzas 1 and 2 end with the call to Selah, and all three stanzas feature a powerful name for God: LORD Almighty. When we see LORD in all capital letters, that is God’s covenant name: Yahweh or Jehovah, which means that He is the “I AM that I AM.” Almighty signifies that He is the invincible, un-defeatable Captain of angel armies. 

In these two combined titles, we have the personal intimate God of love and the unstoppable God of limitless power! If He were just the God of love, we may not be able to trust His power. If He were just the God of power, we may not be able to approach Him. He is the All-Loving, Ever-Approachable Power. 

Another important recurring theme in Psalm 84 is the word blessed. It’s used three times in this psalm, more than in any other single psalm. This word means God’s unmerited favor, and the word either begins or ends each of the three stanzas.  

In stanza 1 (vv. 1-4), twice we have that combined title of LORD Almighty. But we must always remember that our God is not distant and unapproachable, but the sons of Korah call Him “my King” and “my God.” At the end of this first stanza, we are invited to Selah—a pause to praise our glorious King! 

Stanza 2 (vv. 5-8) begins with that reminder that we are blessed. The psalmists tell us that God’s blessings flow even in my Valley of Baca (or weeping). With God’s presence surrounding me, I can go fromstrength to strength” because the LORD Almighty hears my prayer and responds to my prayer! So at the end of this stanza, we are again invited to Selah—this time it’s a pause to pray to our listening God. 

In stanza 3 (vv. 9-12), another important word is featured that reminds us that our God is not a stingy King, but One who delights in His children and wants to lavishes them with His blessings: the word is favor. We read, “look with favor on Your anointed one” and “the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless.” God’s favorable blessings flow toward us as eternally as He exists! 

This psalm is circular: it begins as it ends, so it invites us to continue to praise, continue to pray, and continue to abide in His presence. We’re called not just to know about God’s presence, but to rejoice in His presence. 

It’s one thing to know about God’s omnipresence, but it’s an entirely different thing to abide in God’s omnipresence! 

This isn’t something that happens overnight. Brother Lawrence reminds us that this is a progressive revelation for Christians: “One does not become holy all at once. … The more one knows Him, the more one desires to know Him. And as knowledge is commonly the measure of love, the deeper and more extensive our knowledge shall be, the greater will be our love: and if our love of God were great we should love Him equally in pains and pleasures.” 

I encourage you to Selah frequently so that you can move from mere head knowledge of God’s presence to becoming intimately aware of His closeness! 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series looking at the Selahs in the Psalms, you may find the full list by clicking here. 

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My Theme Song

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

… my hands … my mouth … my lips … my heart … my head … my words … my eyes … (Psalm 141) 

David’s all-in attitude toward God reminds me of the words of Jesus: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Mark 12:30). 

Clearly, David wants God to have full access—no part of his life is exempt from God’s lordship:

  • hands lifted in worship
  • mouth and lips free from ungodly words 
  • heart not drawn to unrighteousness 
  • head receptive to godly correction 
  • words always well-spoken and God-pleasing 
  • eyes fixed steadfastly on God 

This is also what the Holy Spirit wants to do for me in the process of sanctification: Bringing me into the place where no part of my life is exempt from His lordship. This reminds me of the words of an old hymn, “All to Jesus I surrender, all to Him I freely give.” 

May this ever be the theme song of my life! 

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Godly Leaders Do God’s Justice

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

How long will you judge unjustly, and show partiality to the wicked? (Psalm 82:2)

It’s been said that those who attain a position of authority or leadership will make it their sole focus to retain that position of leadership, even to the point of judging unjustly or showing partiality to the wicked. 

In my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter, I wrote, “When God uses the word ‘Woe!’ we should definitely take that seriously. He uses that very word to warn shepherd leaders who were shirking their responsibility when He said, ‘Woe to those shepherds who only take care of themselves’ (Ezekiel 34:2).” 

God is the Ultimate Judge, yet while we are here on earth He chooses to allow men and women to be leaders and judges. We can do this in a God-honoring way only when we lead and judge like God. 

In this psalm, God Himself calls out the ungodly practices that self-serving leaders employ to keep themselves popular and in their positions of leadership: 

  • partiality = wickedness 
  • biases = wickedness 
  • apathy = wickedness 
  • injustice = wickedness 
  • ignoring = wickedness 
  • seeking earthly applause = wickedness 
  • taking advantage of others = wickedness 

Instead, God calls on leaders to lead according to the principles He both exhibits Himself and lists for us in the Bible. Things like…

  • defending the poor 
  • serving as a father to the fatherless
  • dispensing justice to the disempowered 
  • speaking up for the voiceless
  • standing up to the wicked 
  • and doing all of these things in a way that God is glorified 

I must always remember why I am in any position of leadership: God chose me for that position and placed me there to do His justice in the world. 

A mark of a godly leader is one who is doing God’s justice in God’s way.

This is part 57 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

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Perspective On Persecution

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible.

Around the world we hear of Christians being persecuted for their faith in Jesus: Afghanistan … N. Korea … China … even in the USA, Christians like Jack Phillips and Barronelle Stutzman are being persecuted for standing up for what they believe. 

Here’s an important principle to keep in mind: In times like these, we need to remember there have always been times like these. Especially because the psalmist Asaph, Jesus, and the apostle Paul all forewarned us about persecution (Psalm 83; Mark 13:9, 12-13; 2 Timothy 3:12-13). 

Jesus said that our persecution should only come “on account of Me.” And Asaph notices the same thing in his prayer, using phrases like “Your enemies,” “Your foes,” “they conspire against Your people,” and “they form an alliance against You.” 

Asaph also recognized that times like these call for a Selah pause—a pause to calmly consider. 

I think the first thing we need to consider is our part in bringing on the persecution. I need to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal if I may have been the trigger to the anger of these wicked people. If I have done something, I need to repent, ask forgiveness, and see what I can do to make restitution. 

Next, we need to Selah to consider this: It might look desperate, but God has handled these kinds of evil people before. Asaph mentions several enemies of God’s people whom God decisively defeated in the past. Our Selah pause will help us recall that God is the same today as He was yesterday—He is more than able to handle these persecutors. 

With all of these bullies ganging up on Israel, you can understand why Asaph cries out for God’s strong action against them. But I want you to notice that the call for judgment is NOT vindictive but redemptive. Asaph asks for punishment “so that men will seek Your name, O LORD” and that they may “know that You, whose name is the LORD—that You alone are the Most High over all the earth. 

In other words, this isn’t a “Get ‘em, God” prayer, but a “Save ‘em, God” prayer! 

We’re not looking for relief for ourselves—that’s only temporary—but we’re looking for glory for God—that’s eternal!

Jesus and the apostle Peter both tell us that God’s desire is for no one to perish apart from a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ (John 3:16-17; 2 Peter 3:9). 

The reason we need to Selah and ask that introspective question about our words or actions triggering our persecutor’s anger is because God will use our righteous response to persecution as a testimony. 

Jesus said our persecution should be because of Him, but He also told us that there would be a blessing in it (Matthew 5:11-12; Mark 13:13; Luke 21:17-19). And Paul tells us that this reward isn’t just a silver lining to a dark cloud, but a reward beyond compare (Romans 8:18). 

Asaph went to prayer when Israel was attacked, and that should be our first response too. 

But let’s Selah in that prayer to make sure we’re not the trigger, and then may our prayer be more for God’s eternal glory than it is for our temporary relief. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series looking at the Selahs in the Psalms, you can access the full list by clicking here.

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Such Love!

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

Such Love!

     Our Savior so loved us that He stripped Himself of His robes of radiance. Listen, you children of God, it is the old story over again, but it is always new to you. He stripped Himself of His bright array. He laid aside His scepter and His crown and became an infant in Bethlehem’s manger among the horned oxen. Thirty years of poverty and shame the King of heaven spent among the sons of men, and all out of love to us. Jesus the heavenly lover, panting to redeem His people, was content to abide here without a place to rest His head that He might rescue us!

     Do you see Him yonder in the garden in His agony? His soul is exceedingly sorrowful even to death! His forehead, no, His head, His hair, and His garments are red with bloody sweat. Do you see Him giving His back to the smiters and His cheeks to them who pluck off His hair? See Him, as He hides not His face from shame and spitting, dumb like a sheep before her shearers and like a lamb that is brought to the slaughter! He opened not His mouth but patiently bore it all on our behalf. See Him with the Cross upon His mangled shoulders, staggering through Jerusalem’s streets, unwept for and unpitied, except by poor feeble women! 

     See Him, you who love Him, and love Him more as He stretches out His hands to the nails and gives His feet to the iron. See Him, as with power to deliver Himself He is made captive. Behold Him as they lift up the Cross with Him upon it and dash it down into its place and dislocate His bones. Hear that cry, ‘I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint’ (Psalm 22:14). Stand, if you can, and view that face so full of grief. Look till a sword will go through your own heart as it went through His mother’s very soul. Oh, see Him as He thirsts and has that thirst mocked with vinegar! 

     Hear Him as He prays and has that prayer parodied, ‘Look, He is calling for Elijah! … Let us see if Elijah will come to take Him down’ (Mark 15:35-36). See Him as they who love Him come and kiss His feet and bathe them with their tears. Will you not love Him who did all that friend could do for a friend? He who gave His life for us?

From The Church’s Love To Her Loving Lord

My friend, if you don’t know Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, I ask that you would consider this amazing act of love all for you. Jesus went through all of this for you! Won’t you accept His love and invite Him into your heart today? 

If you do have a personal relationship with Jesus, look again at your Beloved Savior. Let this love rekindle your heart to share Christ’s love with everyone around you.

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