Falling for the bluff


There you are sitting at the poker table with a pair of Jacks and a pair of 7s. You are feeling pretty good about your two pair until the player 2 seats to your right begins betting as if he has a royal flush. You are getting nervous but you still pretty confident about your hand. The betting goes around the table a few times and each time he raises. This guy must really have something, you think to yourself. At this point you are starting to crack, unsure if two pair is really going to cut it. Do you get out now or keep going? That’s when mister big stuff goes “all in.” You just can’t take it anymore so you fold. Someone else at the table calls him and it turns out he has a pair of 3s. Are you kidding me? You folded for a pair of 3s! Classic bluff. And you fell for it. The guy who didn’t fall for it, however, collected all the cash.

In Nehemiah chapter 6, Nehemiah found himself at the figurative poker table with a guy named Sanballat. This guy was trying to intimidate him and stop him from rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. In this particular chapter, Sanballat concocts a heinous story that he says is being rumored all around the land. Nehemiah didn’t fall for it, however. He called him on his bluff.

Nehemiah 6:8-9  I sent him this reply: “Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.” They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.” But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.”

I can just see Sanballat staring across the table, peering into Nehemiah’s eyes: “I’m all in.” But Nehemiah won’t be intimidated. He sees through the charades and fanciful technique. “I call,” he declares. In that moment he exposes the truth. He finds that his opponent, no… his enemy, is bluffing!

Some of you are in the same situation that Nehemiah is in: you are dealing with a bluffing enemy. It may be a real person who is trying to intimidate you. Or it may be the devil trying to tempt you, discourage you, and weaken your resolve and your faith. I say to you today: “don’t fall for the bluff!” Listen again to Nehemiah’s reply: “Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.” Or more elegantly stated, “liar liar pants of fire!”

Friends, don’t fall for the bluff! Call it out and then ask God to strengthen you. Ask Him to strengthen your hands for the work set before you. Ask Him to give you wisdom and discernment to see through the lies. God has placed before you a calling, an assignment. Don’t let a bluff take that from you!

Empty threats

threatenEver made an empty threat? Now be honest… you know you have. We’ve told our kids they will be grounded for the the rest of their lives. And did we follow through? No, we didn’t. Some of you have made some bigger empty threats than that. You’ve written verbal checks with insufficient funds. You knew it when you said it;  you weren’t really going to do it. But to the person threatened, it feels much more real. That’s why we do it, right? We hope our kids take us seriously. It’s an unrealistic motivational tool. Nevertheless, it is used every day.

Being threatened isn’t fun. In fact, it can be downright scary. In the book of Nehemiah, the Jews who were rebuilding the wall faced these kinds of threats. Mean threats, scary threats, death threats.  Oh, and it’s important to mention… empty threats.

Nehemiah 4:11-14 11 Also our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.” 12 Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.” 13 Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows. 14 After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”

These threats were meant to intimidate and discourage. They were meant to keep the work of God from stopping. Yet all throughout history, threats have never stopped the work of God. Never have they caused God to tremble and wonder if He could pull it off. Not once has God second guessed Himself  because someone took Him to task.

Yet so many of God’s people listen to the voice of the enemy. They listen to his empty threats and it causes them to be paralyzed in fear. “I’ll destroy your family. You’ll never succeed, I’ll make sure of it. You won’t ever amount to anything. God couldn’t possibly use a failure like you. You will fail again just like you always do.” Threats. EMPTY THREATS. 

To those threats of the enemy on your life, I repeat the words of Nehemiah today. “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” Call out the empty threats of the enemy today. Fight for what God has promised you and put your faith in Him!

Break a Leg

Zechariah 12:3 On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves.

breakalegAs I get older, I find it much easier to injure myself.  When I was younger, injuries came with outrageously awesome athletic attempts.  A diving catch, a mid air flip, an impressive play at home, or maybe some heavy lifting.  Yes, I once could push the envelope of amazing and walk away nearly unscathed.  These days, however, I can injure my ankle simply by walking.  My back can be sore simply from sleeping.  If someone tries to wish me luck by saying, “break a leg,” they should know that it is entirely possible.

You know what would be really cool?  If people who tried to mess with me injured themselves.  Now I know that sounds mean and all, but think about it.  Someone cuts you off in traffic and they pull a muscle.  Someone gossips about you at work and they get a canker sore that makes it hard to talk.  A bully who tries to pick on your kids trips over his shoelaces.  That all sounds fair, right?  In fact, if you knew you had that kind of protection, you would worry a lot less.  Fear wouldn’t mess with you; anxiety would be sent packing.  All because anyone or anything who tried would get hurt.

It was this level of protection that God promised Jerusalem.  He said that when anyone tried to come against His people they would injure themselves.  “Oh, you want to hurt my people?  Well go ahead, break a leg. (snicker)”   What is funny about this scripture is that God didn’t say He would wreak havoc on them.  He would just go ahead and let them hurt themselves.  They would sprain their ankles while doing nothing in particular.  They would randomly walk into trees and break their noses.  Well, it doesn’t really say that, but I find the thought amusing.

What’s the point? We don’t have to get all worked up about the kind of protection that God gives us.  We think that it is essential for Him to destroy our enemies.  We wish that He would go all Old Testament on some people.  But sometimes He just lets them injure themselves.  So enemies of God, good luck to you.  Break a leg!

*Are you worried about how God will protect you?  Don’t be.  His ways are creative… and sometimes even humorous!

Lose the shackles

Nahum 1:13 For I will now break off his yoke from you and tear off your shackles.

Anyone who has ever been in an oppressive situation can testify to the suffocating nature of being stuck.  It may have been an abusive relationship, a terrible job situation, or actual prison.  The Israelites understood this feeling too.  At the time this prophecy was written, they were under harsh oppression by the nation of Assyria.  This wasn’t just physical discomfort – it was robbery, destruction, and murder.  This was some serious pain.  They needed a deliverer, a rescue from the pain.  Through the prophet Nahum, God spoke the most life giving words many of them had ever heard: “I will now break off his yoke from you and tear off your shackles.”

We don’t have an Assyrian enemy in our everyday lives.  But we do have an enemy.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph 6:12).  Before we came to know Christ, we were held captive by the enemy.  Sin ruled our hearts and kept us in bondage. Then Jesus came into our lives.  When He did, He broke off the enemy’s yoke from you and tore off your shackles.  He neutralized sin’s power over you and gave you the ability to live for Him!  You are free!  You are no longer in chains!  Hallelujah!

So then, why do you sometimes feel like you still are? Why are you still addicted?  Why does fear rule over you?  Why do you still have thoughts of taking your life?  It’s because even though you are free in Christ, the enemy is still hanging on like a bad hang nail.  Left untreated it will infect your body and hurt like crazy.  You see, the enemy still wants to destroy you.  He has lost your soul to Christ like He lost to Christ on the cross.  He’s ticked off and he hates God’s children. So you must press in to the fullness of life God has for you.  If you are God’s child, you don’t have to deal with addiction any longer.  You don’t have to struggle with fear.

Listen: the Lord says, “I will NOW break off the enemy’s yoke from you and tear off your shackles!”  Receive it today.  Receive His freedom.  Find a brother or sister in the Lord and ask them to pray with you.  Be done with the enemy’s grip on your life.  Find true freedom and true deliverance in the Lord your God.  Lose the shackles, friends.  Lose the shackles.  Christ set you free, so live in it!

Nani nani boo boo

2 Samuel 5:6-7 6 David then led his men to Jerusalem to fight against the Jebusites, the original inhabitants of the land who were living there. The Jebusites taunted David, saying, “You’ll never get in here! Even the blind and lame could keep you out!” For the Jebusites thought they were safe. 7 But David captured the fortress of Zion, which is now called the City of David. (NLT)

Has life ever taunted you?  Have you come across obstacles that treat you like a bully treats a nerd?  C’mon now – all you nerds know what I am talking about.  LOL!  He ridicules and taunts you.  He embarrasses you and tells you how pathetic you are.  You’re only possible response is to be weak and powerless.  All you can do is cower and hope that his punch to your face doesn’t hurt too bad.   You’re only way out is to run and hide.  Or is it?

David didn’t seem to think so when he was being taunted.  He came across a stronghold where the Jebusites were hanging out.  They made fun of him.  They told him that they would send their blind and lame to go up against him.  He wouldn’t be able to handle their weakest people.  So what did he do?  He didn’t get discouraged and he didn’t run away with his tail between his legs.   Instead, he kicked theirs.  He broke through their stronghold and named their city after himself.  That’ll teach them no to mess with God’s called.

Why can’t God’s people respond the same way to the enemy?  We get taunted, teased, and ridiculed.  The enemy tells us we are worthless.  But we have Jesus.  He has the power to come into our lives and break down strongholds.  He has the power to take what the enemy meant for evil, destroy those plans, and give us a new hope and a future.  No nani-nani-boo-boo should ever slow God’s people down.  Like David, we have been given the power and the confidence to rise above!

The Original Rambo

Judges 15:11-15  11Then three thousand men from Judah went down to the cave in the rock of Etam and said to Samson, “Don’t you realize that the Philistines are rulers over us? What have you done to us?”    He answered, “I merely did to them what they did to me.”  12 They said to him, “We’ve come to tie you up and hand you over to the Philistines.”  Samson said, “Swear to me that you won’t kill me yourselves.”

 13 “Agreed,” they answered. “We will only tie you up and hand you over to them. We will not kill you.” So they bound him with two new ropes and led him up from the rock. 14 As he approached Lehi, the Philistines came toward him shouting. The Spirit of the LORD came upon him in power. The ropes on his arms became like charred flax, and the bindings dropped from his hands. 15 Finding a fresh jawbone of a donkey, he grabbed it and struck down a thousand men.

A few years ago, Sylvester Stallone came out with another Rambo film.  It’s pretty impressive that this lean, mean killing machine still had what it took 20 years after the last Rambo movie.  The film is about the former U.S. soldier, John Rambo, who is hired by a church pastor to help rescue a group of missionaries who were kidnapped by men from a brutal Burmese military regime.  The carnage was at an all time max in this film and holds the record with the most kills out of the entire Rambo series, with 236 kills. In the film, Rambo kills a group of pirates, an entire squad of Burmese soldiers, and then, at the climax of the film, a huge number of Burmese army soldiers whom he shoots with a jeep-mounted .50-caliber machine gun.  How in the world does a guy single-handedly kill 236 people?  That’s just crazy!

As impressive as that is, it doesn’t even come close to the original Rambo: Samson.  This guy was a total stud!  On this occurrence in Judges 15, he kills 1000 guys.  He didn’t even have a machine gun, either.  He did it with a jawbone!  All this happened shortly after he chased down 300 foxes and tied them together 2-by-2.  Who in the world catches 300 foxes?  This guy was a machine!  But his strength didn’t come from machine guns, hand grenades, helicopters, and missiles.  His strength came from the Lord.

The cool thing is that God has equipped us with the same capacity for spiritual strength.  It says here that the Spirit of the Lord came on him in power.   That’s the same Spirit of the Lord that came upon the believers in Acts chapter 2.  And it’s the same Spirit of the Lord that comes upon every believer today who asks for it.  So if your spiritual muscles are tired and you are feeling defeated, ask the Holy Spirit to renew your strength.  Ask Him to come into your life with power the way He did with Samson.  If you will embrace the Spirit of God in your life, you too will put 1000 enemies to flight!  Thank you Samson, for showing us how to get the job done.

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Judges 1:4-7 4 When Judah attacked, the LORD gave the Canaanites and Perizzites into their hands and they struck down ten thousand men at Bezek. 5 It was there that they found Adoni-Bezek and fought against him, putting to rout the Canaanites and Perizzites. 6 Adoni-Bezek fled, but they chased him and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and big toes. 7 Then Adoni-Bezek said, “Seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off have picked up scraps under my table. Now God has paid me back for what I did to them.” They brought him to Jerusalem, and he died there.

Many years ago, my dad taught me that trick that looks like you are taking your thumb off.  I’m pretty good at it too.  I can take my thumb off with the best of them.  It’s fun to freak out the kids and watch their confused faces.  Of course, they know I am not really taking my thumb off.  They are smart enough to know that there would be blood and screaming and stuff if that really happened.  But it’s fun to make them ask, “how do you do that?”

Kicking off the book of Judges is a story about a guy getting his thumb taken off, his big toes too.  But it is no magic trick, no illusion.  They actually removed his thumbs and big toes.  That’s gotta hurt!  So why would they do something like this?  Why would they choose to cut of toes and thumbs?  Well, apparently this king had done the same thing to 70 other kings he had conquered.  That being said, this apparently wasn’t so unusual of a practice after all.  It seems as though they did this to disable the king and render him useless from battle.  Without big toes he would have terrible balance and would not be able to run effectively.  Without thumbs, he would not be able to hold a sword or a shield.  His ability to attack was rendered useless.

I wonder if there are things we should be doing to render our enemy useless. Our fight is not against an earthly king, but against the rulers and principalities of this world. In other words, our struggle is against Satan and his cronies.  And I think that we ought to do some things to make his attacks against us ineffective.  We ought to be inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on him, like calling to mind the cross and victory of Jesus.  There are other things that we can do to render him useless as well.  I will name just a few:

-Stand firm in our identity in Christ

-Clothe ourselves in righteousness and holiness

-Recognize temptation and resist it

-Pray on all occasions in every season

-Be humble and recognize our need for God

This is just a handful of general things we can do.  You may have some more specific to yourself.  It could be refusing to give way to fear or trusting the Lord in the midst of your circumstance.  Whatever the case, we need to work at rendering the enemy useless.  We cannot afford to allow him to defeat us when Christ has already defeated him. Let’s get some resolve today and cut off some thumbs and big toes!