God holds the trump card

Genesis 5:24 Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.

4 of spadesOccasionally, my wife and I get the chance to play cards with some good friends of ours.  We usually play a game called “500.”  It’s one of those games where the high card wins, except that there is also a trump suit.  So there are those times when you are sure you have the winning card and someone lays down trump and takes the round.  I lay down my Ace of Diamonds with confidence waiting to grab the stack of cards about to be played, but then comes the lousy 4 of Spades – it’s just a 4!  But not any 4, it’s the trump suit 4.  And I lose my Ace to that stupid low card because someone trumped me.

In Genesis chapter 5, we read about the genealogy of some of the first dudes in the Bible.  They were living some amazingly long lives.  Now I don’t mean like 100 years.  No, these guys were living 800-900 years.  Some of them didn’t even start having kids until they were over 100.  Can you imagine?  Methuselah lived just shy of a millennium!  Then there’s this one guy whose story stands out among the rest.  He only lived 365 years.  While that seems like a long time, it’s not even half of what these other guys lived.  His name was Enoch.

I noticed something different about Enoch as I read.  Every other guy in this chapter has a story that reads like this: “He lived this many years, had kids, and died.”  But Enoch doesn’t die, which is strange.  After all, this was the cycle of life that God prescribed to Adam as he left the garden.  From the dirt you came and to dirt you will return.  Every human has at least two things in common.  You were born and you will die. That’s just how it works.  It’s the Ace of Diamonds.  That’s how it’s played.

But for Enoch, God laid down the 4 of Spades.  He trumped order.  He trumped the cycle.  He trumped death for a man who walked faithfully with God.  So Enoch never died.  He walked with God on earth and went on to walking with God in heaven. This little slice of Enoch’s life reminds me that God holds the trump card.  At any moment, He can play it.  In His hands, He holds the power to win any round.  He can trump despair, addiction, sickness… even death.  Amen!

Oh, one more thing about this card game that I play with friends.  It is a game of partners.  There are times when my hand doesn’t look so good.  I think we are doomed.  But then my partner comes to the rescue.  When I think all hope is lost, he plays the trump card.  It’s not just about the hand I have been dealt.  I may have nothing good and he may have a whole bunch of trump.

*Do you feel like you were dealt a lousy hand?  God is your partner and He holds all the trump! 

Lessons from video games

Genesis 5:7 “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 master it.”

video gameI liked playing video games when I was younger.  I still do from time to time, actually.  It’s just that there isn’t usually time and I’m okay with that.  My kids are the ones who play now and I get to watch them struggle through figuring out how a game works.  But when I was a kid, I was the one trying to figure it out.  When a kid gets a new game, they want to win instantly.  My son bought a Madden football game last year and was frustrated that he couldn’t win at first.  I had to explain to him that he had to learn it, figure out how to master it.  When I was a kid, I would try over and over to figure out the right strategy for a certain game.  I would ask friends how they did it.  If I had the option of looking online, I would have done that too.  It took work, strategy, and commitment.  But it was worth it in order to master that game.

You see the computer is programmed to defeat you and you’ve got to figure out strategy to master it.  In the same way, sin is programmed to defeat you and you need a strategy to master it.  That’s what the Lord told Cain in Genesis 4.  Sin is Bowser, the big boss, the bad guys.  You are the player trying to figure out how to overcome. So how do you do it?  Who can help you beat the game?

You know who knows the winning strategy?  The game designer.  God is the game designer.  He knows all the plans of the enemy and has already gone before you to defeat him.  He sent His Son Jesus to attain victory for you on the cross.  He sent His Holy Spirit to transform you.  He sent His Church to surround you, encourage you, and hold you up.  He has given you the tools, but you need to use them.  Sin is crouching at the door and desires to win, but you must master it.  Let’s stand with Jesus in victory today and overcome!

*Do you need to master some sin in your life?

Shaking your fist…or foot.

Acts 13:49-52 49 The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. 50 But the Jews incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. 51 So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

shake fistNowadays when someone is being a jerk, you probably shake your fist.  You do it in disgust, frustration, and a few choice words… either out loud or in your head.  But back in the day, apparently they shook their foot.  They really did.  Well, sort of.  It’s not that they were shaking their foot at them.  Rather they were shaking off even the dirt from the place that mistreated them.  It was something that Jesus had taught them years earlier.  He told them that if they were not received, to shake the dust off their feet and leave.  He also told them to pack up peace and take it with them as they left.

What’s remarkable to me about this passage isn’t the fact that the word of the Lord spread.  It isn’t that they were expelled from the region.  It wasn’t even that they were filled with joy as they left.  Even though the whole shaking your feet thing is quite interesting, it’s not where the power of today’s scripture lies.  The power for me isn’t why they did it; it’s that they did it.  Even after their teacher – their mentor – had left, they were still doing the things he told them to.  Even after much time had gone by, they remembered his instructions and followed them.

It seems like we so often forget the things we learn.  We read our Bible, get hit between the eyes with truth, and say we’ll never be the same.  Then two weeks later we’ve forgotten it.  We go to church and hear a sermon that is certain to transform our lives.  Then a month later we can’t recall what was said.  Why does this happen?  How can we be like the disciples who were still doing what they were taught a long time later?  The key – application.  I’ll be more specific – instant application.  We often take so long to “think about it” or “process the information” that we don’t ever end up doing anything.  If we are going to have change take place in our lives we need to apply what has been taught as soon as possible.  Then we need to keep doing it over and over until it sticks.   That’s what happened to the disciples; they were doing in Acts what they had done so many times with Jesus.  If we would do the same, we might find victory.  We might find peace.  We might even be able to shake our foot, er, fist at the devil. Take that!

*What is something that God has taught you that you haven’t got around to applying yet?  Start applying it today! 

Jesus hits walk off home run

Micah 5:9 Your hand will be lifted up in triumph over your enemies, and all your foes will be destroyed.

There’s nothing sweeter than a last second victory.  It’s the hail mary and the buzzer beating 3-pointer.  It’s the walk off home run in the 12th inning.  The crowd erupts with jubilation.  The players rush to the field in celebration.  The hero is placed upon shoulders and paraded around.  He did it!  He won!  Imagine the celebration in heaven at the resurrection.  He did it!  He won!  And it is His victory that makes a way for mine.  Yes, I too, can be a victor because of his home run.

I don’t always feel like a victor.  Not everyday seems triumphant.  My foes don’t seem to be destroyed.  Why not?

I think it’s because we forget to stand with the real victor.  After all, I’m not a victor by nature.  But Jesus is – and Christ in me brings the victory.  When I stand with Him, I remember that my battle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against strongholds, against the dark forces in the spiritual places.  When I stand with Him, I get a new look at who my foe really is.  I remember that Jesus has triumphed over the evil one!

As a victor, Jesus brought me into his victory.  He called me to be His Body – the Body of Christ.  He poured out the Holy Spirit to give me the power to overcome.  So I become His hands and His feet.  My hand will be lifted up in triumph over my enemies because my hand is HIS hand!  That’s when victory happens.  So I focus today not on winning the boxing match or hitting the home run, but on being His body.  I focus on bringing my life “into Christ.”  It’s then and only then that I can rush the field and celebrate with my hero.

Just say “no”

Titus 2:11-14 11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

You don’t have to teach a child to say “no.”  Have you noticed that?  They are naturals at it.  The problem is that they aren’t naturals at saying no to the stuff that will hurt them.  You actually have to train them to say no to those things.  Say no to drugs, say no to being mean, say no to sin.  Our flesh says “yes” before we even know what hit us!

It’s no different for Christians, either.  But for some reason, we think that when we get saved, it will happen automatically.  It doesn’t, does it?  In this chapter of Titus, Paul says that the grace of God teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions.  Yes, we have to learn to say “no.”

We’ve got to stop wallowing around in our self-pity wondering why we couldn’t resist the temptation.  We have got to stop wearing condemnation like a blanket because we failed.  We better stop trying to figure out what is terribly wrong with us.  I’ll to you what’s wrong with you: you didn’t say “no.”  And you need to learn how to.  Say it with me, just two small letters – n……o……. no.  You can do it friends.  When temptation comes, learn to say no. When the enemy tries to drag you down the wrong path, say no.  It’s not an automatic; you have to choose it.  So choose it today and see what happens.

Who needs a battle cry when you’ve got a victory chant?

1 Samuel 30:8 and David inquired of the LORD, “Shall I pursue this raiding party? Will I overtake them?” “Pursue them,” he answered. “You will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue.”

We can all relate to David and his men in 1 Samuel 30.  They arrive home and find that they have been plundered.  All that was theirs has been stolen from them, plundered.  It was senseless, too.  They stole their belongs, their animals, their children and their wives.  Not cool.

They were torn up, angry, and distraught.  It brought them to their knees, to the brink of weakness.  But David found strength in the Lord.  The strength he found wasn’t just adrenaline.  He found peace and hope and renewed confidence.  He asks the Lord, “can we take ‘em?”  God says, “oh yeah, baby!  All that and more!”  So off they march to reclaim all that had been lost with the confidence that victory will soon be at hand.

“Who needs a battle cry when you’ve got a victory chant?!” My friend Aaron Ruff made this statement recently and it has stuck with me.  We get ourselves all worked up about the enemy and his plans to impale us.  But guess what?  Jesus already won.  The victory is ours for the taking.  We don’t need to get all worked up and wonder if we can win.  In Christ, we have already won.  So let’s start singing the victory song – do a little victory dance if you want.  Because now is the time for you to start living a reclaimed life.  Now is the time to go after all that has been stolen from you.  Don’t settle for less.  You serve a big God who has the power to redeem it all… and even more.

From delivery boy to deliverer

1 Samuel 17:17-20  17 Now Jesse said to his son David, “Take this ephah of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp. 18 Take along these ten cheeses to the commander of their unit. See how your brothers are and bring back some assurance from them. 19 They are with Saul and all the men of Israel in the Valley of Elah, fighting against the Philistines.” 20 Early in the morning David left the flock with a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry.

Anyone who has a pulse has heard the story of David and Goliath.  (Well, maybe not babies; just go with it will ya?)  We have listened to sermons and Sunday school lessons about facing our giants.  There are plenty of sermons in this chapter, that’s for sure.  So I don’t want to talk about facing our giants or being equipped or anything like that today.  What got me in today’s reading wasn’t the battle itself, but how David got there.  You see, we often talk about facing our giants or going out to battle.  But we don’t talk much about delivering cheese.

Yes, delivering cheese. This was not a conquest for David; it was not a journey to an epic battle that would define his life.  It was a delivery.  David was told by his father to deliver grain, bread, and cheese to his brothers and their commanders.  So he left his sheep with a shepherd for hire and set out to find them.  I wonder if David knew he would find a giant that day?  I wonder if he knew he would become Israel’s hero?  I doubt it.  His greatest hope was probably that he would find his brothers.  That is what would make this journey successful.  All he had to do was find them and give them the food and dad would be happy. This whole David vs. Goliath grudge match was made possible by David following his dad’s directions.  It says in verse 20 that he set out,  as Jesse had directed.  What if he hadn’t listened to his dad?  What if he got indignant about having to be a delivery boy and blew his dad off?  I’ll tell you: the battle would never have happened.

We want to be heroes like David was.  I want to slay giants!  But sometimes God doesn’t just call us up to the battle for a good fight.  He sends us out on a delivery.  He gives us the role of the servant.  And it is in the midst of serving that heroism emerges.  How unpredictable is that!?  Think about it:  David woke up that morning on a delivery expedition and went to bed that night having delivered more than just grain, bread, and cheese.  He delivered a nation!  This is the way of our God.  So today, let us be willing to put our hand to the mundane and the mediocre.  Let’s be willing to do less than we think we are capable of and simply serve.  You never know where along the path Goliath will show up, but when he does, you will be equipped to take him out.