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From The Pastor's Pen

VICTORY ONE STEP AT A TIME  

The LORD your God will drive out these nations before you little by little. You will not be able to destroy them all at once; otherwise, the wild animals will become too numerous for you.—Deuteronomy 7:22
When God led His people into the Promised Land, He did so step by step. If He had allowed them to annihilate their enemies at once, the land would have been too difficult to manage. So He allowed some of the enemies to remain for a time in order to maintain the land and suppress the wildlife. In doing so, God taught His people to trust Him step by step. He gave them only as much responsibility as they could handle at one time.
As God leads you in your Christian growth, He will allow challenges that match your character and relationship to Him. God will not totally change your character at once when you become a Christian. Rather, He will lead you through a process to become more like His Son. He will keep working in an area in your life until it is controlled by the Holy Spirit. You may eagerly desire maturity in every area of your character, but steady, gradual growth is more lasting. God will not take shortcuts in His process of making you like Christ. He sees your life from eternity and will take as long as necessary to produce lasting spiritual growth in you.
Do not become impatient while God is producing Christlikeness in you. Do not seek more responsibilities than those He has given you. Obey all that you know He has asked, and He will lead you at a pace that fits your present character and His purposes for you.


THE MEEK

Blessed are the gentle,
because they will inherit the earth.—Matthew 5:5
In popular thinking the term meek implies weakness. The word Jesus used had a different meaning. His picture of meekness is that of a stallion that has been brought into subjection to its master. Whereas it once fought against any attempt to bring it under control, resisting direction with all its strength, now it yields its will to its master. The stallion has lost none of its strength or endurance; it has simply turned these over to the control of the master.
For the Christian, meekness requires submitting our will to the Master. Meekness is not submitting to everyone around us, it is taking our direction from God. Meekness means that we do not have to defend our rights, but we allow the Lord to defend us. Meekness means a life that is submissive to the Holy Spirit, giving Him the freedom to make any changes He knows are necessary. Meekness involves a self-control that comes from trusting God. Meekness demonstrates an attitude of long-suffering that allows God to deal with the injustices we face.
Jesus' life was the paragon of meekness. He could have called upon legions of angels to remove Him from the cross, yet He allowed sinners to torture and kill Him. Although Jesus was by no means powerless to defend Himself, He chose to yield His life to the Father's will. He did this because He trusted the Father completely. When we doubt the Father, we tend to act in our own strength, rather than relying on His power. Jesus said that in relinquishing control over our lives to God, we will gain life in abundance!


MAY GOD RULE IN OUR MIDST

Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.—Matthew 6:10
In heaven, God's will is the only priority. A word from God brings angels to do His bidding, immediately and without question. Jesus instructed us to pray that God would accomplish His will in our world in the same way. This means that God's purposes would be preeminent in our homes, our businesses, our schools, our churches, and our governments.
Jesus taught His disciples to pray that God's purposes be carried out in the world around them. In modeling how they should pray, Jesus was teaching His disciples how to share God's heart. He demonstrated this again at Gethsemane when He prayed “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39). It is as we seek God's kingdom on earth, and not our own purposes, that we gain the same mind as our heavenly Father. We become colaborers with God by praying faithfully in agreement with His desires.
As you seek the Lord's will, He will guide your praying. He will invite you not only to pray, but also to become involved in His activity as He answers your prayer. If He places a burden upon you to pray for an individual's salvation, that burden is also His invitation to join His activity in that person's life. Prayer will prepare you to be a servant through whom God can bring about His will on earth. Pray that the Lord's absolute rule on earth will begin in your life. Then watch to see how God uses you to extend His Lordship to others.


HaLLOWED BE YOUR NAME

Your name be honored as holy.—Matthew 6:9b
Our calling as Christians is to bring glory to the name of God. God's name represents His character. Taking the name of God in vain misrepresents God's character to others (Exod. 20:7). As Christians, we carry the name of our Savior. The way we live and relate to others is a direct reflection on the name of Christ.
Doing something “in Jesus' name” is to do something that is in accordance with His character (John 15:16). It means that Jesus would be pleased to join us in what we are doing. If, however, our actions detract from God's reputation, He will jealously guard His name. Sometimes we are too concerned with protecting the reputation of people but too little concerned with protecting the holy name of God. When the Israelites profaned God's name before the nations by the way they lived, God “hallowed” His name: He made His name holy by punishing them (Ezek. 36:22). When David sinned before his nation, God publicly disciplined him in order to protect the holiness of His name.
We can so tarnish the name father before our children that it hinders them from loving God as their heavenly Father. We can be such unforgiving Christians that our sinfulness discourages people from seeking forgiveness from our God. We can show such disrespect for God as we worship Him that those observing lose their reverence of Him as well.
Our supreme desire should be to glorify the name of God by the way we live.
We ought to pray daily, as Jesus taught us to, that God's name be treated as holy.


A Double Portion

After they had crossed over, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell [me] what I can do for you before I am taken from you.”

So Elisha answered, “Please, let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.”—2 Kings 2:9

There had never been a man like Elijah. Elijah had raised the dead, called down fire from heaven, and revealed God's plans for a devastating drought. The Israelites must have felt certain there would never be another prophet like Elijah, until Elisha came along. Moses was arguably the mightiest leader the Hebrews had ever followed, yet God prepared Joshua to accomplish what not even Moses had achieved. David's reign marked a high point for the nation of Israel, yet it was Solomon who carried out the task that was denied his father, by building the spectacular temple.

We can be tempted to put more trust in the leaders God gives us than in God Himself. History teaches that, as wonderful as these godly people are, God always has another Moses, Elijah, or David. Often the successor will come with a double portion of their predecessors' spirits.

God's purposes do not depend on us. He has limitless ways to accomplish His will. The same God who led Moses could also use Joshua. If no one were willing to serve Him, the Lord would accomplish His work by His own divine power. We are not irreplaceable to the Lord. He will achieve His purposes. The question is this: Will we be a part of God's activity, or will He find someone else? We deceive ourselves if we think we are indispensable to God. Service to the Lord is an honor God bestows on us, not a favor we do for God.

If you are mourning the loss of one of your leaders, do not despair. God has another leader, for He will see that His will is carried out. It may even be that He has been preparing you to be that leader.


“Lord,” another of His disciples said, “first let me go bury my father.”—Matthew 8:21

Often our struggle as Christians is not in deciding whether we should obey Christ but in obeying immediately. We may acknowledge our need to follow Christ and commit ourselves to do what He has told us. Yet when God reveals His will to us, that is the time to obey! God's revelation of His will is His invitation to respond immediately.

Some would-be disciples pledged their willingness to follow Jesus, but they told Him they were not ready yet. In Jesus' day, a Jewish man was expected to care for his elderly parents until they died. One man wanted to wait until his father died before going with Jesus. This would be an honorable delay. The man had to choose between this important responsibility and heeding a call from the Lord. Yet God knew this man, and He knew the man's father. God would have taken care of the man's father, if he only would have followed Jesus. This was an opportunity to walk with the Son of God, yet the concerns of this life were competing for priority with obedience to God.

Timing our obedience is crucial. Invitations from God come with a limited opportunity to respond. Some opportunities to serve Him, if not accepted immediately, will be lost. Occasions to minister to others may pass us by. When God invites us to intercede for someone, it may be critical that we stop what we are doing and immediately adjust our lives to what God is doing. Missing opportunities to serve the Lord can be tragic. When an invitation comes from God, the time to respond is now. 


Giving Your Best

“You must not sacrifice to the Lord your God an ox or sheep with a defect or any serious flaw, for that is detestable to the Lord your God.”—Deuteronomy 17:1

God's love moved Him to sacrifice that which meant the most to Him—His only Son. Our response, if we truly understand His love for us, is the desire to give back to God that which means the most to us.

The Old Testament reveals that God set forth high standards for the sacrifices He required of His people. A worthy sacrifice had to cost the people something. As their hearts shifted away from God, the people began struggling to give God costly offerings. They would bring blind, lame, and sick animals, assuming God could not tell the difference (Mal. 1:8). God saw what they were doing and declared their offerings to be in vain (Mal. 1:10). Throughout the Old Testament period, God was setting the stage for the ultimate, perfect, and sinless sacrifice of His Son for the sins of humanity.

The offerings we give back to God reveal our hearts' condition. A heart that overflows with gratitude for God's love will respond in selfless devotion. If we are unwilling to sacrifice our time, our possessions, our money, or our energy, we indicate that we do not love God as He desires. God takes delight in the person who gives to Him cheerfully out of a loving heart, a person who understands that God is the source of everything he has and who knows that God will more than compensate for whatever is sacrificed for Him (2 Cor. 9:8).

If you struggle in giving your best offerings to God, pause and reflect on what God sacrificed for you. Trust Him and give Him the best that you have because you love Him with all your heart.


Not One Word Has Failed

“. . . and you know with all your heart and all your soul that none of the good promises the Lord your God made to you has failed. Everything was fulfilled for you; not one promise has failed.”—Joshua 23:14

Near the end of his life, Joshua took time with the Israelites to review all that God had done for them since they first began following Him. God had given them an impossible assignment: to conquer a foreign and hostile land with fortified cities and armies more powerful than their own. The Israelites were to go forward with nothing more than God's promise that He would go with them and take care of them. Now Joshua looked back over their experience and reminded the Israelites that God had kept every promise. They had experienced numerous victories and had enjoyed God's provision for every need.

Sometimes hindsight gives us a clear picture of how faithful God has been. We are tempted during a crisis to wonder if God will be faithful to His promises. We focus on our problems, and our trust in God begins to waver. Twenty-four years after God promised Abraham and Sarah a son, they were still waiting on God to fulfill His promise. But in the twenty-fifth year, Abraham and Sarah could look back and see that God had been faithful. As David was fleeing for his life, he may have been uncertain how God would keep His promise to make him a king. But at the end of his long and prosperous reign, David could review how God had kept every promise.

You, too, can rely on God's faithfulness. Are you in a crisis? Hold to the promises of your Lord! He will not forget His promises to you. Look back over your Christian life and recount the many ways in which God has been faithful to His word.


Asking for Mountains

“Now give me this hill country the Lord promised [me] on that day, because you heard then that the Anakim are there, as well as large fortified cities. Perhaps the Lord will be with me and I will drive them out as the Lord promised.”—Joshua 14:12

Caleb's faith in God never wavered though everyone around him doubted. God convinced Caleb that the children of Israel should enter the Promised Land, but the people were intimidated by giants and fortified cities (Num. 13:28–33). Their disbelief forced Caleb to wait forty years in the wilderness before he finally entered the Promised Land. Even after all those years, Caleb was as confident as ever in God's power.

When God was dividing the land among the Israelites, the people were asking for the lush valleys and grassy plains. Caleb asked for a mountain. The Israelites had driven their enemies into the mountains, where they had built fortresses. This did not intimidate Caleb—he asked for a challenge! He did not trust in his own strength but in God's presence. Caleb longed to see God work in power, and he knew he would be less likely to rely on God if he dwelt in the easy places. He chose a situation in which he would have to trust in God. Caleb knew his inheritance from God was on the mountain. He refused to allow the difficulty of gaining it to stop him from enjoying all that God had promised him.

If you always choose the easy way, asking for the peaceful valleys, you will never see God's power displayed to enable you to take a mountain. Seek out the mountains, and you will witness God doing things through your life that can be explained only by His mighty presence.


A Loyal Heart

“For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to show Himself strong for those whose hearts are completely His. You have been foolish in this matter, for from now on, you will have wars.”—2 Chronicles 16:9

If your heart is loyal to God, you do not have to look for Him, He is already looking for you! God told King Asa that He continuously watches for those who are steadfast in their commitment to Him. When He finds them, He makes His presence powerfully evident to them. King Asa had experienced God's awesome power when he faced a menacing army from Ethiopia (2 Chron. 14:9). God gave Asa victory, despite the overwhelming odds he faced. In spite of this miracle, the next time Asa faced an enemy he failed to trust God. Even though the army Asa faced was smaller than the one God had previously defeated, Asa's faith in God faltered. God encouraged Asa to take courage in knowing that God never rests or sleeps. He is never distracted, but diligently seeks individuals whose hearts are completely committed to Him.

Life's challenges sometimes seem impossible. Do you feel you are too weak to fight the battle? Don't give up! Keep your heart loyal to God, for He constantly watches over you, and He desires to demonstrate His strength in your life. God is willing and just as capable of giving you victory in your current challenge as He was with those in times past. The question is not whether God is looking for His people, but whether His people are seeking Him. Take comfort in God's promise that He watches over you and He wants to give you victory.


God's Presence

No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. I will be with you, just as I was with Moses. I will not leave you or forsake you.—Joshua 1:5

God's assignment for Joshua might have caused him some concern. Being the successor to Moses was no small task. Through Moses, God had turned the waters in Egypt into blood, parted the Red Sea, destroyed the Egyptian army, and miraculously fed the nation for forty years. God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai and gave him His law. Joshua must have wondered how he could follow Moses.

To erase any doubt, God assured Joshua that Moses' accomplishments had all been due to God's presence. Joshua grew confident because the same God who walked with Moses now walked with him (Josh. l:6).

As you read the accounts of God's miraculous work through men and women in the Bible, you may wonder if God still performs such miracles today. Be assured that the same God who walked with Moses, Joshua, Elijah, Peter, James, John, and Paul now lives within you. No power can defeat the God who guides you. The God who blessed them is just as capable of working out His purposes through your life. The same God who gave them victory over seemingly invincible enemies, who provided for them when their own resources were insufficient, and who guided them in their decisions, is prepared to work as powerfully in your life today. The heroes of the faith had one thing in common: They were all ordinary people with no power of their own. The difference is the mighty presence of God. Times may change, but the effect of God's presence remains the same.