Secrets of the Overcoming Life: Knowing Where Your Hope Lies (Part 2)

It is said that a drowning man will clutch at a straw. I like the Collins Dictionary definition of this idiom:

when hope of success is fading, people will try anything, no matter how unlikely it is that it will provide a solution.

Sometimes we find ourselves drowning in the sea of life and immediately we clutch at the first thing we see even though it is the proverbial straw. A straw is not stable. A straw is light and can be blown away easily. There are some people who are drowning in loneliness and they hold onto the first person that comes their way. They place their trust in the first person that shows any interest in their life. As time goes by that lonely person recognizes that they were actually holding a straw.

They are some who are drowning in debt and they hold onto the first sign of hope that comes their way of paying off that debt. Maybe it was a ‘get rich quick’ scheme or some new investment deal with a high payout. In the end they find themselves in the same place or in an even worse position because they placed their hope in something which could not give them deliverance.

I know what it feels like to be drowning in debt but I also know what it feels like to be delivered from debt. In those moments when the issues of life are strangling us and burying us we need to know where our hope lies. We need to know where our deliverance will come from. The Bible records that Peter found himself sinking in the water in the midst of a storm. Even though he was faithfully walking towards Jesus he allowed the circumstances around him to disrupt his faith and he began to sink. Even though he did not have the faith to continue walking on the water; even though he was sinking in the water, he did not clutch at a straw. In that moment of despair Peter knew where his hope lied:

But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted. (Matthew 14:30 NLT)

Peter shouted three words “Save me, Lord”. Peter knew his hope did not lie in the boat with the other disciples. He knew his hope was in Jesus. Jesus is our hope. He is not only our hope of eternal life. He is our hope of salvation in this life. Jesus is our hope in the darkness. He is our hope in the storm. He is our hope when we are depressed. He is our hope when we are stressed. When there is nothing in our life that we can hold onto and receive salvation, Jesus is always standing there waiting for us to call on Him for help.

The Bible also records that as soon as Peter shouted for Jesus to save him, Jesus “immediately reached out and grabbed him…” (Matthew 14:31 NLT). Jesus did not hesitate. Jesus saved Peter as soon as the words left Peter’s mouth.

We have a Saviour that is “always ready to help in times of trouble” (Psalm 46:1 NLT).

We have a Saviour that has promised: “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” (Hebrews 13:5 NLT)

We have a Saviour who said “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b)

OUR HOPE LIES IN JESUS CHRIST!

The First Overcomer!

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NLT)

Is there anyone who would not like to be first in a race at the Olympics? Imagine a grueling marathon with many runners from many different countries. A marathon is not easy. You need determination and endurance to run a marathon. The person who crosses the finish line first is the winner. The person who crosses the finish line first is the ‘first overcomer’. Others who have crossed the line after are also overcomers but there will always be the ‘first overcomer’. The first overcomer is the one who was able to run through the rough terrain or brave the harsh weather conditions and still come out on top.

The Christian life is a race. In fact it is a spiritual marathon. Life on this earth is the race course. It is a race in which we can grow while running. But we must run correctly.  We must run with the correct attitude. We must run with the correct fuel in our bodies. During the Christian race our endurance can grow. During the Christian race our faith can grow. During the Christian race our patience can grow. During the Christian race our love can grow. The Christian race is one in which the weak can become strong and the poor can become rich.

The Christian race is not designed to destroy us or discourage us. The Christian race is our place of victory. The race is our place of overcoming. How? Because we are following the First Overcomer. The First Overcomer is the leader of the pack. The First Overcomer knows the terrain. He knows the route. He finished the race before us. He won the race and wants us to win also. The First Overcomer obtained the prize and wants us to obtain the prize also. Even though He finished the race He has not left us alone. He joins us in the race. He sent the Holy Spirit to comfort us during the race. He has Angels ready to minister to us during the race. He commissioned Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers to equip, strengthen and encourage us to complete the race.

Jesus is the First Overcomer. He overcame Satan. He overcame death. He overcame the world. He is now seated at the right hand of God, His Father, interceding for us. Jesus wants all of His disciples to overcome. God’s plan was for Jesus to overcome. It is God’s plan for us to overcome also. Jesus told His disciples that they would have “trials and sorrows” in this world. That sounds like bad news but immediately after saying that Jesus told them to “take heart”. The King James Translation says “be of good cheer”. This seems paradoxical but really it isn’t.

Jesus did not tell them to “take heart” because of the trials and sorrows. He told them to “take heart” because “I have overcome the world”. All believers in Jesus Christ should “take heart” not because of the storms and temptations they are facing. They should “take heart” because they serve and are following the First Overcomer. Jesus Christ has “overcome the world”!

When we follow the First Overcomer we will overcome. When we learn from the First Overcomer we will be victorious. When we keep our eyes on the First Overcomer nothing will be able to prevent us from obtaining the prize.

 

Secrets of the Overcoming Life: Knowing God (Part 2)

It is impossible to know God without trusting Him. Sounds strange? It is impossible to know God as your Healer without trusting Him to heal your body. It is impossible to know God as your Financial Provider without trusting Him to provide you with finances.  It is impossible to know God as a Deliverer without trusting Him to deliver you or your household. A very close look into the lives those men and women in the Bible who overcame obstacles, trouble and afflictions would reveal one thing:

THEY ALL TRUSTED GOD

Lets look into the life of Abram (later called Abraham). Abram lived with his family in Haran. The name ‘Abram’ meant “exalted father” but Abram had no children because his wife was barren. He had no land to call his own. He was not famous and he was not rich according to the standards of the world at the time. One day Abram heard the voice of God. God told him to leave his country, his family and his father’s house and go to another land. God said what He would do for Abram if he obeyed:

And I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. 

I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you. (Gen.12:2-3 NLT)

Abram heard the voice of God but he did not know God until he decided to trust the Word of God. Abram obeyed God and left his family, his father’s house and started to travel towards the land that God would show him. Abram was on his own in a dangerous world but he trusted God with his life, family and possessions. Towards the end of his “sojourn” God had “blessed him in every way”. (Gen.24:1 NLT)

  1. A man who left his family without children was blessed with many children and became the “father of many nations” (Gen.17:4-5).
  2. A man who left his family with few possessions was blessed with an abundance of gold, silver and cattle (Gen.13:1).
  3. A man whose name was unknown to the world when he left his family was blessed to the point where his name was known by the Kings of Egypt, Babylon, Gerar and all of the wealthy men of the region. (Gen. 12, 14, 20, 23)
  4. A man who came from a heathen family inherited the Kingdom of God. (Matt.8:11)

Abraham knew God because he trusted God in everything. Anyone can live an overcoming life but they must learn to trust God in everything. David was a young shepherd but he overcame a lion and a bear because he trusted God with his life and his father’s sheep. When the giant, Goliath, showed up dressed in armor from head to toe with a spear, sword and a shield David knew that God would deliver the giant into his hands because he knew the God of Deliverance.

I join the writer of Hebrews:

How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. Women received their loved ones back again from death. (Heb.11:32-35 NLT)

Knowing God is our armor against the troubles of life. All of those men and women overcame obstacles, troubles and afflictions because they knew God and they knew God because they decided to trust God in the face of their obstacles, troubles and afflictions. We can decide to do the same because with God:

ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE IF A PERSON BELIEVES (Mark 9:23 NLT)

 

 

Secrets of the Overcoming Life: Knowing God (Part 1)

There are many secrets to living an overcoming life. One of those secrets is ‘knowing God’. Let me explain. A problem is not really a problem if you know someone who can fix it. A broken pipe in your home is frustrating but if you know a competent, reliable, trustworthy plumber, your frustrations will eventually disappear. The Bible is full of men and women who were afflicted and plagued with problems. Some were fearful because of their problems. Some were confused because of their problems. However, their fear and confusion eventually disappeared. They eventually disappeared because these men and women knew Someone Who could fix the source of their fear and confusion:

THEY KNEW GOD

King Jehoshaphat had a great problem. A large army was marching towards Jerusalem and they were coming to steal, kill and destroy. The armies of Moab, Ammon and others were coming to fight against Jerusalem. It seemed as though all hell had broken loose against Jehoshaphat. When Jehoshaphat heard the troubling news he was afraid but the Bible records something amazing. In the midst of his fear, Jehoshaphat:

“…set his face to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah” (2 Chronicles 20:3 ESV)

Jehoshaphat knew God. Knowing God does not mean knowing that God exists. Knowing God means knowing:

  1. The Identity of God (Who God is: His character, His attributes…)
  2. The Ability of God (What God can do: His power, His authority…)
  3. The Word of God (What God has said: His promises, His covenants…)

Jehoshaphat’s knowledge of God is seen in his prayer to God in 2 Chronicles 20:5-9 :

Jehoshaphat stood before the community of Judah and Jerusalem in front of the new courtyard at the Temple of the LORD. He prayed, “O LORD, God of our ancestors, you alone are the God who is in heaven.  (The Identity of God)

You are ruler of all the kingdoms of the earth. You are powerful and mighty; no one can stand against you! O our God, did you not drive out those who lived in this land when your people Israel arrived? (The Ability of God)

And did you not give this land forever to the descendants of your friend Abraham? Your people settled here and built this Temple to honor your name. They said, ‘Whenever we are faced with any calamity such as war,plague, or famine, we can come to stand in your presence before this Temple where your name is honored. We can cry out to you to save us, and you will hear us and rescue us.’ (The Word of God) 

Jehoshaphat knew God’s identity, His ability and His Word. He knew that God was all-powerful. He knew the promises God made to Abraham concerning the Promised Land. He knew that God promised to answer any prayer for help that was made in the Temple or towards the Temple that Solomon had built. Therefore, Jehoshaphat prayed and God heard him and helped him and all Judah.

God delivered Judah from that large army. God won a great victory for Judah because their king knew God. Jehoshaphat overcame fear because he knew God. Those who believe in Jesus Christ can be victorious even though there is a large problem coming to steal, kill and destroy. Jehoshaphat knew the problem. He knew the problem was big. He knew the problem was too big for him and his army to handle. But Jehoshaphat knew the problem was not too big for His God to handle.

Are you facing a problem that is too big for you to handle? No problem. There is no problem which is too big for God. Remember the Identity of God, the Ability of God and the Word of God. Learn Who God is. Learn what God can do. Learn what God has said. You will overcome!

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. (John 10:10 NLT)

Faith is Where the Heart is! (Part 1)

Then he asked them, “Where is your faith?” The disciples were terrified and amazed. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “When he gives a command, even the wind and waves obey him!” (Luke 8:25 New Living Translation)

Home is where the heart is! We can travel all around the globe and experience the best that other nations have to offer but our home will always be the place where our deepest affections are. It may sound strange but our physical bodies can live one place and our hearts can live somewhere else.

The disciples of Jesus were in a boat on the sea in a storm. Jesus was on the same boat in the same storm. However, Jesus and His disciples were in two different places. Luke tells us where the disciples were:

As they sailed across, Jesus settled down for a nap. But soon a fierce storm came down on the lake. The boat was filling with water, and they were in real danger.

The disciples went and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” (Luke 8:23-24a NLT)

The disciples were in the same boat with Jesus but their hearts were in a place called fear. They saw the fierceness of the storm and the water in the boat and they became fearful of drowning.

Jesus was in a different place:

When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and the raging waves. Suddenly the storm stopped and all was calm. (Luke 8:24b NLT)

Jesus was in the same boat with his disciples but Jesus’ heart was in a place called faith. When Jesus woke up He saw the fierceness of the wind and the waves but He did not respond to them in the same way as His disciples. Jesus faced the wind and the waves and He commanded them to stop.

The hearts of the disciples were in turmoil. Their hearts were as unsteady as the boat they were in. Even as the boat was filling with water, their hearts were filling with fear. The heart of Jesus was in peace and calm. Jesus was sleeping in faith and He woke up in faith. His heart was unaffected by the wind and the waves. His heart was unaffected by the water in the boat.

After He brought the wind and the waves to a calm. Jesus the question:

Where is your faith?

Where is your faith today? You may be in a place of fierce winds and raging waves but the Word of God reminds us that faith is where the heart is. Even in the midst of the storm your heart can be filled with peace and calm. Even though the world is crumbling around you, your heart can remain intact. Even though this world is unpredictable and circumstances change at any moment, your heart can remain steadfast and unmovable in Jesus Christ.

God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea.

Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge! (Psalm 46:1-3 NLT)

 

 

The Father’s Love

Have you ever thought about the Father’s love for us? I hope all fathers had a wonderful Father’s Day. Father’s Day is the time to celebrate and appreciate fathers. I am grateful for a mother’s love but when fathers express their love for their children it is something very special to behold. The same is true about our Heavenly Father. When Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, an amazing thing happened:

After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. (Matthew 3:16 NLT)

The Heavenly Father expressed His love for His Son by opening the heavens and anointing His Son with His Spirit. It was similar to a father opening his treasure chest and giving his son the most valuable treasure that He had. However, God did not stop there. God ensured that there was no misunderstanding concerning what John the Baptist witnessed. God followed up His actions with a declaration:

And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” (Matthew 3:17 NLT)

It was as though God was saying:

I have given My Son the best. I have given My Son of Myself. This is how much I love my Son. This is how much I am pleased with my Son.

When God fills us with His Holy Spirit, He is expressing His great love for us through His Son Jesus Christ. When God speaks about us in His Word He is declaring His great love for us:

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:10 NLT)

Let us always remember the Father’s love for us!

The key to Understanding the Parable of the Mustard Tree

Then Jesus said, “What is the Kingdom of God like? How can I illustrate it? It is like a tiny mustard seed that a man planted in a garden; it grows and becomes a tree, and the birds make nests in its branches.” (Luke 13:18-19 NLT)

The key that we will use to unlock understanding of this parable is:

The Bible is One Book

This means we must ask this question:

Is there something which was recorded in another part of the Bible that can help us understand this parable?

When we examine the Book of Daniel we see a similar parable. This parable was revealed through a dream God gave to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Here is the first part of the dream:

“‘While I was lying in my bed, this is what I dreamed. I saw a large tree in the middle of the earth. The tree grew very tall and strong, reaching high into the heavens for all the world to see. It had fresh green leaves, and it was loaded with fruit for all to eat. Wild animals lived in its shade, and birds nested in its branches. All the world was fed from this tree. (Daniel 4:10-12 NLT)

Here is Daniel’s interpretation:

That tree, Your Majesty, is you. For you have grown strong and great; your greatness reaches up to heaven, and your rule to the ends of the earth. (Daniel 4:22 NLT)

Nebuchadnezzar saw birds nesting in the branches of that tree. Daniel said that meant that Nebuchadnezzar’s rule reached “to the ends of the earth”. In other words, Nebuchadnezzar’s power and authority had spread so far throughout the entire world that everyone in the world had to live under his power and authority.

Jesus referred to birds making nests in the branches of the mustard tree. When we use Daniel’s interpretation to interpret Jesus’ parable we discover that:

The Kingdom of God will become so great and spread so far that it will rule the entire earth and every living person will have to live under its authority.

This interpretation is confirmed by several scriptures:

For the Scriptures say, “‘As surely as I live,’ says the LORD, every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.'” (Romans 14:11 NLT)

By Myself I have sworn; truth has gone out from My mouth, a word that will not be revoked: Every knee will bow before Me, every tongue will confess allegiance. (Isaiah 45:23 NLT)

Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices shouting in heaven: “The world has now become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15 NLT)

The Kingdom of Babylon had become so powerful that all nations and tongues had to bow down to King Nebuchadnezzar and serve him. Jesus teaches that the Kingdom of God will become so great that all nations and tongues will have to bow down and serve God. When we view the Bible as One Book we start to see connections between the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Prayer Point:

Ask the Holy Spirit to give you eyes to see the connections between the Old Testament and the New Testament.

 

Biblical Understanding Key #1: The Bible is One Book

The first key to understanding the Bible is accepting that the Bible is one Book. The Bible is one Book divided into two main sections:

  1. The Old Testament
  2. The New Testament

Many people hear the word ‘new’ and automatically reject the ‘old’. However, Jesus never rejected the Old Testament. The Apostles never rejected the Old Testament. In fact, the writings of the Old Testament were the only writings they used. Jesus referred to the writings of the Old Testament when He preached and taught:

For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. (Matthew 12:40 NLT)

“Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” Jesus replied. “They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’ (Matthew 19:4 NLT)

Remember what happened to Lot’s wife! If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it. (Luke 17:32-33 NLT)

The Apostles referred to the writings of the Old Testament when they preached and taught:

These people are not drunk, as some of you are assuming. Nine o’clock in the morning is much too early for that. No, what you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel: (Acts 2:15-16 NLT)

And God did not spare the ancient world—except for Noah and the seven others in his family. Noah warned the world of God’s righteous judgment. So God protected Noah when he destroyed the world of ungodly people with a vast flood. (2 Peter 2:5 NLT)

Well then, should we conclude that we Jews are better than others? No, not at all, for we have already shown that all people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are under the power of sin.  As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous—not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. (Romans 3:9-11 NLT)

The Old Testament contains information which can help us understand the New Testament. The New Testament contains information which can help us understand the Old Testament. When we sit down to study any Book of the Bible we must keep in mind that the Bible is one Book. It is one Book inspired by One God. I will discuss this in more detail in the next post God willing.

For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all. (Ephesians 4:4-6 NLT)

The Keys to Biblical Understanding

Any door can be unlocked if you have the right key. We need the right keys to unlock the door to Biblical Understanding. The right keys are those which are given by God. God inspired men to write the words contained in the Bible. The Apostle Peter said:

Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God. (2 Peter 1:20-21 NLT)

Many people who study the Bible build their own door and create their own keys to biblical understanding. They then call people to follow them through that door they have created and they teach people to use those keys they have created. God wants us to go through His door to Biblical Understanding. God wants us to use His keys to unlock His door.

I believe we are living in a time when all believers must strive to be “One”. We must be one in faith, love and hope. We must be one in doctrine. Jesus wanted His disciples to follow Him. Jesus did not mean to only physically follow Him. If that is what Jesus meant then the Apostles would be justified in following their own interests after Jesus died. One day Peter and some of the other disciples went fishing. However, the resurrected Jesus found them, helped them and called them to follow Him. Jesus told Peter:

“Feed my Sheep”

Jesus fed Peter and the other disciples with fish and bread. Now Jesus commanded Peter to feed His disciples. In the same way Jesus provided the fish and bread, Jesus provided the food for Peter to feed His disciples:

…go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. (Matthew 28:19-20 NLT)

“There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. (John 16:12-13 NLT)

Peter fed the believers with “all the commands” of Jesus through the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit showed Peter what to preach and teach and Peter obeyed. The Apostles did the same. When 3000 souls were added to the Church on the day of Pentecost the Bible records that the believers:

…devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching… (Acts 2:42 NLT)

The believers devoted themselves to doing what the Apostles taught. They followed the Apostle’s understanding of the Scriptures. They went through the same door to Biblical Understanding that the Apostles went through. They used the same keys to Biblical Understanding that the Apostles used. We must do the same. God wants us to understand the Bible but we must go through His door and use His keys.

…This is what our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom God gave him— speaking of these things in all of his letters. Some of his comments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different, just as they do with other parts of Scripture. And this will result in their destruction.

I am warning you ahead of time, dear friends. Be on guard so that you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing. Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

        (2 Peter 3:15-18 NLT)