Open The Door

Open The Door Acts 12:1–11

Introduction
As we enter Phase Two in Louisiana, doors are opening that have not been. More churches are meeting – although with recommended restrictions to keep people as safe as possible from the virus.

Emerging from a time of crisis is not easy – and everyone is dealing with that on their own terms. In our text today the Christians in Jerusalem are in a firestorm of persecution and trouble – a time of crisis that became a time of prayer. In Acts 12… King Herod was arresting Christians with the intention to persecute them.

This King Herod is the grandson of Herod the Great- who ordered the killing of the children when Jesus was a child. The Herods were ruthless and cruel authorities.

James, the brother of John, is put to death. James and John were among the first to follow Jesus. Peter is arrested. Herod intends to make a public spectacle of him before executing him. He is in prison, guarded by 16 soldiers, bound with two chains. Peter is a well known Christian leader in the church at this point. Do you think that if we were facing this kind of crisis we would be on our knees in prayer? That’s what the church was doing – “earnestly praying”. While Peter was sleeping in Prison an angel awakened him and led him through all the guards and gates to freedom. He decided to go to the house of Mary (12:12) “where many people had gathered and were praying.” The Church in crisis, gathered to pray, and God began to answer their prayers.

Acts 12:13-17
Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!” “You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.” But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this,” he said, and then he left for another place.

I want to encourage you to…

OPEN THE DOOR WITH PRAYER

Prayer opens doors in our faith. We trust that God hears us and acts on our prayers in His wisdom and in His time. God is answering prayers at this moment. Some were prayed long ago, some seconds ago. Some answers we will never see, some will surprise us.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their
land.

2 Chronicles 7:14

hear from heaven” is a phrase the Chronicler uses several times. When we pray God hears from heaven and moves in our behalf.

Prayer opens doors in situations when we have no control – but God can intervene. We intercede on behalf of others. What doors need to open in the lives of other people? our country? our loved ones? Are we praying for doors to open? Doors of addiction, poverty, fear, or distress?

Prayer opens doors when we do not understand the answers. God knows what is best, even when we do not understand. In this chapter we have the execution of the disciple James. We find it nearly impossible to explain the workings of God, we just continue to pray through them.

Steven Cole: There are times when evil seems to be winning the day. Wicked men get away with murder and their popularity goes up, not down. The righteous suffer terribly. Their loved ones are bereaved. It’s easy at such times to wonder, “Where is God in all of this? Why did He allow this to happen? How can any good come out of such awful wickedness?”

Prayer opens doors that we did not even know were there. Sometimes God answers prayers in ways we could not have predicted, and can only see later. Kind of like when God led Peter out of a prison cell to Mary’s house, even though no one expected it!

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.

Colossians 4:2-4

Open the Door With Prayer. Sometimes there is a problem here.

HAVE WE LEFT THE DOOR CLOSED?

By trying to solve everything on our own without God’s help.

By not believing that God can or will act when we are in crisis.

By not listening to the voices of those who seek to encourage us in faith.

By allowing sin and sinful habits to have control in our lives. Genesis 4:7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.

Let’s not fall into any of those traps. Instead….

KEEP ON KNOCKING

Keep on Praying Earnestly. Intentional, passionate, sincere – even though they did not know how it would turn out.

“These people prayed earnestly and doubtingly, yet the force of earnest halting prayer was mightier than Herod, and mightier than hell!” – G. Campbell Morgan

Luke 18:1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.

Keep on praying earnestly…

Keep the Focus on God

After Chapter 12 of the Book of Acts, Peter is hardly mentioned. This story shows the importance of prayer by the church. Peter is spared from the death sentence, and fades from the story of the early church. It wasn’t about Peter – it was about God!

Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.

Psalm 24:7-8

Keep an open door to God in your heart.

Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.

Psalm 84:10-11

Conclusion
Today let’s resolve to open doors
Open door of faith
Open door of prayer
Open door of persistence

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?”

Matthew 7:7-9

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

– Revelation 3:20

Prayer: God, there is no prison so strong that you cannot free its captives. There is no situation so dire that you cannot provide relief. There is no life so ruined that you cannot restore it. May we trust you to save and protect us, to deliver us from evil and the valley of the shadow of death through the power of your Son’s sacrifice at Calvary. We pray this in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.


Cole, Steven J. From the Series: Acts https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-30-unstoppable-gospel-acts-121-25

How Are We Going to Heal?

Whether you contracted COVID-19 or not, you are still going to need to heal from it. It has impacted every one of us. I believe in many ways we do not even know yet how it has impacted us. We know from the news that the economy has suffered, thousands have died, and there are ongoing concerns of a new outbreaks. It has impacted us physically, economically, socially, religiously, and emotionally. If the pandemic disappeared tomorrow, we would still be reeling from the effects. We would still be in need of healing.

While scientists scramble to find a cure or vaccine (pray!), what is going to help us all experience healing? I wish I could say that an injection will clear things right up. But as we all know, long after the body heals the scars of the heart remain.

Anyone is welcome to continue reading, but I want to speak to my minister / pastoral friends. I do believe the effect upon ministers will be long-lasting. Recently I wrote a post that received quite a bit of attention (caught me by surprise) that dealt with the Coming Pastoral Crash. Though there were some dissenters who took issue, there was an overwhelming response of support and many who just said ‘me too‘. Dear minister friends, I don’t want any of us to walk into the coming months just waiting for this to be over so we can go back to normal. We are going to have to experience some healing so we can help our churches experience the healing they need as well. What follows is not a plan. It is not a list of ‘steps’. But it is my best effort to spread a little light on the path ahead as we seek healing and strength from the Lord to enable us to do the work of the Lord among the people of the Lord.

Why You Are Particularly At Risk

It’s not because we’re more spiritual than our church members. It’s just that the church is, in a very distinct way, our life. Aside from the bi-and tri-vocational ministers (who are worthy of double honor), most pastors do not have another job. The focus of every day is on the life and work of the church. Associated with that is the need to develop and maintain a rich spiritual life. There is a fair amount of study and preparation that goes into our lessons and classes. We feel a deep need to keep things moving along in the church. These duties and responsibilities did not cease with the ‘stay at home’ order. They just became nearly impossible. And that’s not going to change overnight.

Ministry in the Midst of Tragedy

The new cultural context in which we minister is one of tragedy. In addition to thousands losing their lives, paychecks, and freedoms due to COVID-19, our country is experiencing the sparks of a racial crisis. No matter your perspective, this certainly complicates the recovery from the pandemic. My experiences of ministering in the midst of tragedy are both difficult and rewarding. My family lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast when Katrina roared ashore on the Mississippi/Louisiana coastline. The next two years of ministry were some of the most heart-breaking I had experienced. In another way, they were heart-mending as well. In 2008 we lost our son, John Robert, at the age of 18. The years following that loss were grueling as we tried to love and minister through our tears. Maybe you’ve had similar experiences. I just want to say that being a minister in the midst of tragedy is your ‘climbing Mount Everest’ moment. I want to make sure you come back alive. It is going to beat us up a bit, though. What determines how we come out of this experience? I believe it is how you approach healing.

Initiate Healing Practices

Accept that you may not be your sharpest right now. Expect emotional and intellectual cloudiness. Maybe it’s not true for everyone, but I think it’s true for many of us. Pastors are inundated with books, articles, and conferences on leadership. Maybe for too long we’ve had such high expectations of ourselves. If you are not feeling like the grand visionary leader you’ve expected yourself to be, give yourself some space. As we heal, our experience takes up a segment of our brain. After my son died, I expressed that grief felt like an unwelcomed friend that moved into my heart/mind and wouldn’t leave. This pandemic and all of the resulting chaos is like that. It impacts everything. It’s hard to keep up with. It occupies our thinking. We are simply not at our best and we should expect that.

You Have Never Needed a Friend More Than Now. The loneliness of ministry is well documented. Being the voice calling in the wilderness is not appealing to most people. When we are weary and our heart is just not in this any longer, you will need to talk to a friend. Ministers have a hard time confiding in members of their own church. There are probably exceptions, but we so often wonder if our confidences become table conversation before long. Talking with someone who understands what you are experiencing is a mentally healthy way to work your way through the pandemic and the aftermath.

Find your place of peace. Visit often. For a bereaved person, that might mean trips to the cemetery. For the minister, it may be something else. One of the differences in your life and the life of your congregants is the ability to take weekends off. Some days when we are exhausted and just need a day or two to decompress, we might be tempted to be envious when we see our members’ travel pictures on Facebook. (Not just me, I hope!) By nature, our work centers on the day of assembly. We can fall into a cycle of having to be at the church on weekends and having to be at the church during the week. As we wear ourselves down and out, we are of less service to the church even if we look busier. I wonder if some of you feel as I do – that when we begin meeting again as a church we are entering into that time worn out from nonstop-new-territory-service we didn’t even know we could do? How are we to take some time off to recuperate and renew when we’ve been prohibited from meeting for months? Friend, you will not find healing until you find your place of peace and visit there often. What’s your place of peace? Maybe it will be a literal place, or some mental space you can get to, but find your place of peace. You need to take a break. I’m preaching to myself here. I don’t know who we think we are, but we are certainly not super-ministers. Maybe it’s the prayer closet, or a walk in nature, or working on a project, or reading fiction, or photography, or some other hobby. Whatever brings you peace, you should make that a part of your routine.

Expect some clearer days ahead, and then again. It is my experience that after about six months you are going to have a moment when you experience a new kind of clarity. You will look back and realize just how unclear it has been, as you step out of an almost-literal fog. This will feel revelatory, but hang on. In a few more months it’s going to happen again. As your mind processes the experience, you will gain clarity. It won’t be days. Or weeks. It will be months. Just keep living according to your calling in the mean time and don’t give up. You learned something during the pandemic that you couldn’t have anticipated. You might not know what that is for a few more years.

Healing comes from hope. We know that hope never disappoints us. It remains on the horizon reminding us that there are brighter and better days ahead – even if we only find them in eternity. As long as we have hope, we have something to live for. I am speaking quite literally, having heard of yet another minister who took his own life this week. This is why I write this. Dear friend please do not give up hope – even if you can’t seem to find the next steps forward. (The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.) I don’t think you’ll find strength in knowing how many are depending on you, but I hope you find hope in knowing how many love you, and none more than our Abba.

I’m not a psychotherapist. Not even a counselor. I’m a preacher – and not always as great as I imagine in my own mind! I’m just a minister friend to ministers. I know enough to know that we need to experience healing so that we can help others find healing. Healing our hearts from the trauma of a pandemic experience will only come as we explore ways to find rest in His hands.

“But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.

Micah 4:2, NLT

Jesus and the Disinherited

I reviewed Howard Thurman’s stirring book, Jesus and the Disinherited, a couple of years ago (LINK). This is a book that Martin Luther King, Jr. carried with him during the Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955-1956). In fact, King and Thurman’s families had a long history together as they grew up in Atlanta. (Who Was Howard Thurman?suggested reading!). In light of our current troubles in America, I decided to spend a little time with it again. I think it would be good if every American did – Christian or not.

The significance of the religion of Jesus to people who stand with their backs against the wall has always seemed to me to be crucial … Why is it that Christianity seems impotent to deal radically, and therefore effectively, with the issues of discrimination and injustice on the basis of race, religion, and national origin?

From the Preface

Howard reflects on the missionary zeal of Christianity. “There is a certain grandeur and nobility in administering to another’s need out of one’s fullness and plenty.” One of the subtle dangers of the missionary enterprise, though, is the temptation to look down upon those who are being helped.

The masses of men live with their backs constantly against the wall. They are the poor, the disinherited, the dispossessed. What does our religion say to them?

Thurman patiently paints a picture of Jesus, layer by layer, to expose the religion of Christianity as it was birthed in the life and times of the Messiah. The fact that Jesus was a Jew, and more, a poor Jew. “The economic predicament with which he was identified in birth placed him initially with the great mass of men on the earth. The masses of the people are poor. …Jesus was a member of a minority group in the midst of a larger dominant and controlling group.” Here all wealthy Christians should pause and consider Jesus as He is presented in the New Testament setting of His life. Perhaps we all imagine Jesus to be just like us. If you are white, wealthy, comfortable … do you see Jesus as the same? Thurman wants us to see that Jesus does identify with the masses of humanity – indeed every human being. But he does not live among the powerful and influential.

As a Jew under the power of Rome, he is never far from the question of attitude toward Rome. “No Jewish person of the period could deal with the question of his practical life, his vocation, his place in society, until first he had settled deep within himself this critical issue.” The Jew could simply give up his Jewishness and fall into the position of imitation of Rome and hope that there can be some peace in that. Or he could live in nonresistance and just isolate from the enemy as much as is possible, keeping “one’s resentment under rigid control and censorship.” Another alternative is to take up arms and resist the imperial power.

Armed resistance is apt to be a tragic last resort in the life of the disinherited. Armed resistance has an appeal because it proves a form of expression, of activity, that releases tension and frees the oppressed from a disintegrating sense of complete impotency and helplessness.

Jesus, however, seems to offer a third alternative.

The solution which Jesus found for himself and for Israel, as they faced the hostility from the Greco-Roman world, becomes the word and the work of redemption for all the cast-down people in every generation and in every age. … Whenever his spirit appears, the oppressed gather fresh courage; for he announced the good news that fear, hypocrisy, and hatred, the three hounds of hell that track the trail of the disinherited, need have no dominion over him.

Thurman compares the privileged position of Paul and the impoverished social position of Jesus. Paul was a Jew, but he was also a citizen of Rome. There was a security that Paul enjoyed that Jesus did not. Thurman makes his case that, using his language, American Negroes can find some identity in the impoverished life of Jesus and learn from his manner of survival in his context.

The Negro has felt, with some justification, that the peace officer of the community provides no defense against the offending or offensive white man; and for an entirely different set of reasons the peace officer gives no protection against the offending Negro. Thus the Negro feels that he must be prepared at a moments notice, to protect his own life and take the consequence therefor. … Living in a climate of deep insecurity, Jesus, faced with so narrow a margin of civil guarantees, had to find some other basis upon which to establish a sense of well-being. … Deep from within that order he projected a dream, the logic of which would give to all the needful security. There would be room for all, and no man would be a threat to his brother. ‘The kingdom of God is within.’ ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.’

I find this portrait of Jesus to be true to the Scriptures, and it reminds me to be true to Jesus in how I relate to my fellow human beings. Thurman then turns his attention to the shades of experience the African American (a term he did not use) has, and how the teachings of the poor and disinherited Jesus lifts the heart.

Fear

Fear is one of the persistent hounds of hell that dog the footsteps of the poor, the dispossessed, the disinherited…. it arises out of the sense of isolation and helplessness in the face of the varied dimensions of violence to which the underprivileged are exposed.

One expression of fear is the existence of segregation in society. “It is obvious that segregation can be established only between two groups that are unequal in power and control. … All over the world, wherever ghettos are found, the same basic elements appear – a fact which dramatizes the position of weakness and give the widest possible range to the policing effect of fear generated by the threat of violence. “

Thurman points to the teachings of Jesus that relate to finding a sense of self and security in the awareness of being a child of God. He shares the memory of his grandmother’s encouragements as she recounted the teachings of a certain slave minister who taught in secret religious meetings. She quoted him, “You – you are not niggers. you – you are not slaves. You are God’s children.” He says, “This established for them the ground of personal dignity, so that a profound sense of personal worth could absorb the fear reaction. … A man’s conviction that he is God’s child automatically tends to shift the basis of his relationship with all his fellows.”

The discussion of this chapter turns to children and growing up in oppressive and impoverished circumstances. To know that one belongs to God and to know that God cares for every individual empowers one to live without fear. Howard tells of being a small boy when Haley’s comet would pass near the earth. He asked his mother what would happen to them if the comet fell out of the sky. She replied, “Nothing will happen to us, Howard; God will take care of us.” He reflects…

Many things I have seen since that night. Times without number I have learned that life is hard, as hard as crucible steel; but as the years have unfolded, the majestic power of my mother’s glowing words has come back again and again, beating out its rhythmic chant in my own spirit. here are the faith and awareness that overcome fear and transform it into the power to strive, to achieve, and not to yield.

Love

Chapters on Deception and Hate contain such wisdom and reflection that I cannot convey here. The final chapter is on Love … and it is profound. Jesus’ teaching on loving our enemies is firmly set in his own context. For Jesus to love the Roman, the ruler, was to be regarded as a traitor to his own people (and by association, to God). The implications of loving all people are evident to all.

There is great intimacy between whites and Negroes, but it is usually between servant and served, between employer and employee. Once the status of each is frozen or fixed, contacts are merely truces between enemies – a kind of armistice for purposes of economic security. … It is necessary, therefore, for the privileged and the underprivileged to work on the common environment for the purpose of providing normal experiences of fellowship. … The first step toward love is a common sharing of a sense of mutual worth and value.

Thurman is focused on Christians, and here he bears down on the church. Rightly so.

…American Christianity has betrayed the religion of Jesus almost beyond redemption. Churches have been established for the underprivileged, for the weak, for the poor, on the theory that they prefer to be among themselves. Churches have been established for the Chinese, the Japanese, the Korean, the Mexican, the Filipino, the Italian, and the Negro, with the same theory in mind. The result is that in the one place in which normal, free contacts might be most naturally established – in which the relations of the individual to his God should take priority over conditions of class, race, power, status, wealth, or the like – this place is one of the chief instruments for guaranteeing barriers.

Love is, of course, the answer to the struggles. But it is not simple nor easy.

The disinherited will know for themselves that there is a Spirit at work in life and in the hearts of men which is committed to overcoming the world. It is universal, knowing no age, no race, no culture, and no condition of men. For the privileged and underprivileged alike, if the individual puts at the disposal of the Spirit the needful dedication and discipline, he can live effectively in the chaos of the present the high destiny of a son of God.

A Few Concluding Thoughts

In this week, following significant unjust deaths of African Americans at the hands of those we all should be able to trust, our confidence is shaken. Reactions to these horrendous actions have been extreme. Howard Thurman wrote in a time of civil unrest and similar racial tensions. His language is not contemporary, but his concerns are very much so. As a Christian, he seeks to find answers in Jesus and his teachings. He points us to the culture and time of Jesus in such a way that the poor and disinherited will identify with Him. He warmly understands the reactions of fear, hypocrisy, and hate – but shows how Jesus’ way of responding to those can bring about the highest good characterized by love. This is the message that should also resonate today. It is not going to come from our world leaders, but must spring up from the ground level of individual Christians. It is a call to Christians to stop placing their security and hope in a powerful person, but to look to the impoverished and disinherited Jesus for strength. No one ever influenced human life on earth more than Jesus of Nazareth. That is not going to change.

No one ever influenced human life on earth more than Jesus of Nazareth. That is not going to change.

This is a long post, so if you read it all – thank you. Pick up a copy of Jesus and the Disinherited and spend some time with it. Your world will be a better place.

Conquering My Giants

CONQUERING MY GIANTS 1 Samuel 17

Every one of us have been fighting against giants in our lives over the past few months. These are actually NEW giants because we have always had giants to face. Each of these giants have names – they are not strangers to us.

COVID-19

Loneliness

Depression

Discouragement

Anger

Temptation

Addiction

Frustration

Whatever the name of your giant is, it has impacted your life.
Giants can stifle our motivation to move ahead in life.
Giants can cause us to be fearful of the unknown.
Giants can shut down our efforts before we get started.
Giants can damage our faith, our families, and our futures.

“First thought of the morning, last worry of the night—your Goliath dominates your day and infiltrates your joy.” ― Max Lucado, Facing Your Giants

You might have guessed that today we are going to spend a few minutes in 1 Samuel 17 – the best known of all of the stories of David. It is the introduction of David in many ways and it sets the scene for his iconic rule as the second King of Israel.

From that story I’d like to share three obstacles to conquering our giants and three advantages we have in our spiritual battles.

Three OBSTACLES to Conquering Our Giants

Our Giants Can Be Fierce!

Goliath was a giant – he was fearsome, intimidating, blasphemous.

1 Samuel 17:4 says he was nearly ten feet tall. He stopped even the bravest warriors of Israel in their tracks.

He wore a bronze helmet, and his bronze coat of mail weighed 125 pounds. He also wore bronze leg armor, and he carried a bronze javelin on his shoulder. The shaft of his spear was as heavy and thick as a weaver’s beam, tipped with an iron spearhead that weighed 15 pounds.

1 Samuel 17:5-7, NLT

Along comes the shepherd boy David, bringing his brothers some lunch. Compared to Goliath, David was a weakling. He didn’t have the strength, weaponry, nor battle experience to face such a challenger.

We may feel like weaklings in the shadow of some of the giants we face. Some things are out of our control. We can be uncertain about how to proceed forward. We can think that even our best efforts are not effective.

Whatever giant you are facing in your life right now, one obstacle to victory is that the giants are fierce!

We Can Lack Experience in Facing Giants!

Every one of us have overcome some difficult things in life. At times, though, we come up against a new giant. We may not be prepared. David was not exactly known as Giant killer – yet!

As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, came out from the Philistine ranks. Then David heard him shout his usual taunt to the army of Israel. As soon as the Israelite army saw him, they began to run away in fright. “Have you seen the giant?” the men asked.

1 Samuel 17:23-25a, NLT

No doubt Goliath was a huge challenge. David was disturbed at what he heard about this giant. 1 Samuel 17:26: Who is this pagan Philistine anyway, that he is allowed to defy the armies of the living God? Nobody would believe that David could defeat this giant. They even tried to put him in Saul’s armor – and he couldn’t function like that.

Whatever giant you are facing in your life right now, it may seem impossible to overcome it because it is fierce and we are not experienced in defeating it. Another obstacle David faced was of a different sort…

Criticism from Others Can Hold us Back!

David was criticized by…
His brothers (1 Samuel 17:28)
King Saul (1 Samuel 17:33)
Goliath (1 Samuel 41-44 )

In spite of all of that, he was not disheartened.

Critical remarks of others might hold us back in making progress against our giants. It is too easy to be catty and sarcastic with each other. Let’s make sure we are building one another up, and not keeping one another from a victory we would have otherwise.

We have a hard time conquering the giants in our lives. They are Fierce. We often do not know how to defeat them. Sometimes discouragement from others shuts us down. But this account from David also teaches us…

Three ADVANTAGES For Victory Over Giants

The Power of God

David did not attack Goliath on his own power – he knew he could not defeat him that way. He appealed to the power of God to help him win over Goliath.

This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

Joshua 1:9, NLT

The Lord is my light and my salvation— so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble?

Psalm 27:1, NLT

The power of God to take away our fear is not based on our own ability, but on His presence in our lives through the Holy Spirit. When faced with one of those giants that can alter your life, turn your prayers and focus on the power of God who promises to be with you.

We are not alone in our battle against the giants we struggle against. God will be our strength and help us to be able have the advantage for victory.

The Power of Faith in Action

There are several amazing things to be found in this story. One of them: David Ran to meet Goliath. He believed, and he lived out his faith. Faith is more than emotion or thought – we put it into action and that gives conduit to God’s action and plan in our life. James is the textbook for active faith.

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? … So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

James 2:14, 17, NLT

We do not even need to see the end of the story to act in faith and know that God is at work. Instead of letting a Giant shut you down, let your faith lift you up in obedience, service, love for others, and compassion for the hurting. Faith in action is about serving God by serving and loving others. The advantage we have over the giants in our lives is that God is our strength and help, and our faith is combined with action to produce the victory.

The Power of Heart

One of the keys to the life of David is that he had a heart that God noticed.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7, NLT

But God removed Saul and replaced him with David, a man about whom God said, ‘I have found David … a man after my own heart. …

Acts 13:22, NLT

David was not perfect, but his heart belonged to God. Giving God our heart is not about perfection but devotion.

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. 6 Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.

Mark 12:30 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.

Keep your heart focused on God, not the size of the Giant in your life. Return to the Bible and the prayer closet. Never let the enemy distract your heart and mind from the God who empowers and lives within you. .God desires for us to give him our heart – to be fully devoted to Him. When we do, we will have the strength to face our giants!

Conclusion

David had three obstacles: The giant was fierce, He had no experience, he heard critics.

You might identify with those disadvantages and obstacles.

David had three advantages: the power of God, His faith in action, A heart that belonged to God.

Today I encourage you to live in the provision of God’s victory that comes …

  • even when we can’t see it coming
  • even when it seems impossible
  • even when others tell us it won’t
  • even when we aren’t sure of the next steps

David ran to Goliath and slew him – and we run with God and never give up.

That First Sunday

This is going to be a little late for some of you, but for many ministers, there is a First Sunday coming. We’ve been …what…. Isolated? Quarantined? Locked Down? Or just not meeting at the church building? That’s all about to change as American Christians head back to church. It’s been a difficult few months for reasons I enumerated here. But now we face the moment when parishioners begin to congregate on the first Sunday back.

There is so much running through my own mind as we face our first Sunday back. It should have an atmosphere of joy, celebration, and praise! But that’s not what I’m feeling. I’ve spent too much time trying to parse out what social distancing means for our church and trying to communicate it without sounding like we’re going to be running a prison camp. I think it can be all the things it should be, but I doubt it will be.

Social Distancing is a term we’ve become so acquainted with over the past few months. I think pretty much if you look at the definitions it is the antonym for the word church. To be socially distant is to be the opposite of everything I expect and need when I assemble with God’s family.

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25, NLT

Yes, I’m going to have to think of ways to accomplish those things when we gather and sit with pews and space between us. Many have bemoaned the loss of hugs. One friend wrote a post called Why Get Out of Bed? – if you can’t hug, love on one another, sing out your praises and catch up with each other? He answered his own question by encouraging readers to focus on the things that are good (Philippians 4:8-9), and who can argue with that? Still, it’s hard to see a smile behind a facemask and it’s hard to hug from 6 feet away.

The First Sunday assembled together should be a special occasion – as special as you can make it. So, looking beyond the seating assignments, lack of handshakes and hugs, and (God help us) no coffee kiosks, what can we do to make that first Sunday a meaningful day? What can ministers do to help the gathered church embrace the moment?

Give Thanks

There is so much for which to be thankful. I do not expect the assembly to feel like a usual assembly – and that’s good and bad. So I will need to be focused on the things for which I can thank our Father. We are here together. We are in the shelter of a place that is sacred to us. We are renewing our solidarity to keep our faith. We are able to be joined by those who shouldn’t assemble via technology about which Apostle Paul could have only dreamed.

And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.

Colossians 3:17, NLT

God is present with us, as we have always affirmed about the assembly. Once seated, take a deep breath, let the fears and procedures fall into the background, and give thanks.

Commune Together

In my faith family, we commune each Sunday. It would be hard to gather and not observe the Lord’s Supper. So we will make it available to pick up on the way in – we won’t be passing trays as we traditionally have done. In a moment of prayerful devotion we will remember that it was the body and blood of Jesus that unites us together as a family of believers. The body of Christ sacrificed on the cross, yes, but also the body of Christ gathered together in his name. The blood of Jesus that flowed at Calvary, yes, but the blood of Jesus that continually cleanses us of our sins and allows us to approach Him in righteousness.

For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

Colossians 1:19-20, NLT

I know that not every faith tradition communes weekly, and many have sought to avoid it because of contamination possibilities. Still, with great care, I encourage communion together. It is in this moment that the divine meal, hosted by our brother and Savior Jesus, unites our hearts in His love.

Promote Harmony

Our own thoughts and perceptions about the response to Coronavirus is a source of division among Christian people. It is incumbent upon each of us to do what leads to peace. That might mean that I just keep quiet about my convictions. It might mean we temper our conversations across six feet to the Gospel and God’s grace. It might mean letting a comment pass by without our own rebuttal. It might mean saying to my own heart to set aside every attitude and thought except love for God and others.

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.

Colossians 3:14-15, NLT

Promoting harmony is a fruit of dying to self, discipleship. It is not my life’s goal to have you agree with me. It is my life’s goal to love you.

We have contemplated, prayed, communed, smiled, and embraced this moment together. It isn’t all that we wanted it to be, but it probably never has been everything we would like it to be. And when the service is over and we file out to our automobiles and travel home, let us utter a prayer to God. Ask Him to heal our land, soothe our brokenness, and enhance our trust in His workings. Even when it wasn’t what we wanted it to be, I wonder if God will be disappointed or pleased? If He is pleased, should we be displeased?

No, I’m not being pollyanna about it all. I still have my own feelings about things. And I still long for the day when we might be able to get together to worship without thinking about a virus. But on that First Sunday I’ll be asking God through thanksgiving, communion, and harmonious time together to help build me into a better minister and Christian…and friend. To me, those are the more important things beyond the rules and regulations of social distancing. They simply matter more and are more powerful than anything else we are dealing with, on that First Sunday.