A quick online search for “strongest material on earth” results in a storm of websites listing Graphene as number one. Graphene is a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon 200 times stronger than steel. One engineer said that It would take an elephant balancing on a pencil to break a sheet as thin as Saran wrap. Incredible when you think about it isn’t it?
When I think about the strongest man in the Bible my first instinct is to think of the mighty Sampson. Called and gifted by God, Sampson displayed some miraculous feats of physical strength. Yet for me, another man jumps to my mind when it comes to a different picture of strength, and that is Job. Job’s integrity as a faithful servant of God withstood some of the most painful personal hardships that one man could ever face.
Job 1:1 (NIV): “This man (Job) was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil”. The whole book deals with the realities of suffering and righteousness, something many christians continue to struggle with today. Verse one of chapter one describes Job as “blameless”, not necessarily sinless. Romans 3:8 reminds us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of the Lord.” Job’s integrity and devotion to God was tested through the unfathomable loss of his family; his good health was stripped from him and every material thing he had was taken away. In the midst of all these things Job utters these words, “he tests me — I shall come out like gold” (23:10)…“My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. (42:5).
We are given a picture of Job’s integrity in heart, soul and mind as we read his story. There is no doubt in my mind that Job struggled with sin in his life, he was human just like you and me. His story tells us that his suffering was not because of any sin that he may have committed (despite what his “friends” try to tell him). Job’s integrity came out of his fear of God, it was an attitude of respect, obedience and upmost trust that guarded his integrity of heart from failure.
Job’s life, his experiences, should not drag us down, it should build us up with hope as we continue to live in a world filled with suffering and injustice. It has the power to encourage and inspire each of us in our own lives. This life of integrity lived by one man is and has been a model for many generations of believers.
To fully know what something is we must also understand what that something is not. The antithesis (a person or thing that is the direct opposite of someone or something else) helps us hone or sharpen our understanding of the subject. John records many of Jesus’s “I am” statements in his Gospel. In order to grasp Jesus’s claim to be our “shepherd” we can understand what he means by looking at what a shepherd is not. Ezekiel uses the metaphor of a shepherd in a way that helps us understand what role a shepherd is not. Here are some of the highlights.
They focus on their own gain, not the well-being of the flock. (34:1-3)
They ruled harshly and brutally. (34:4)
When the sheep were lost, no one searched or looked for them. (34:6)
There are many more examples in scripture that use this same metaphorical language of “shepherd” to describe who Jesus is. Isiah puts it beautifully with these words, “He tends his flock like a shepherd: “He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart;” (40:11). Johns record of Jesus’s clear statement in chapter 10:11 says “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” The implications of what Jesus says with these words is beyond incredible. The role of the true shepherd in Ezekiel chapter 34 is described as fulfilled by God, Jesus makes the claim in John’s gospel that He (as God in flesh) is the one fulfilling this role.
Jesus came to care for his sheep and to lead them back into a relationship with His Father. His focus was not on himself but for the well-being of the people. He chose to seek out the lost, the broken and the hurting, to lead and guide them with love and compassion. Jesus willingly laid down his life for us as our shepherd, for the forgiveness of our sins. He came back to life and continues to lead and guide us through the work of the Holy Spirit, what an incredible gift. Who are you following? Are you trusting in Jesus as your shepherd? Have you experienced the life transforming power of the Holy Spirit in your life? Jesus, the Good Shepherd is calling out your name, he is your shepherd, take a moment to listen and follow his call.
That’s handy… Can I give you hand with something?… That’s a job for the handyman… They were welcomed into membership with the right hand of fellowship… She has the upper hand in this challenge… I could use an extra pair of hands to get this setup… There are a handful of expressions I could write to complete this paragraph, yet, I will leave it in your capable hands to come up with some of your own.
The book of Isaiah has a wealth of imagery that reveals who God is through the descriptive words and references to His hand. Here is a great example, “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?” (40:12). The deep hollow and incredible breadth of his hand reveal to us the immensity of God and his sovereign power over all creation. Chapter 5:25 reads, “His hand is raised and He strikes them down”. These words reveal his mighty power, his anger towards sin and mankind’s disobedience which ultimately leads to the actions of his divine justice. Chapter 41:10 says, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” These words so beautifully reveal the reassurances of the compassion and love that God has for his people. With his righteous right hand, with power and authority he will not let us fall.
There are many other examples I discovered in reading through these incredible words written by Isaiah. One of the most powerful and meaningful verses that made an impact on my understanding of who our God is can be found in chapter 8:11, here it talks about “his strong hand upon me”. Both Isaiah and Ezekiel make reference to these words which reveal to me that our God is a personal God, one who is present among us through the work of the Holy Spirit. The hand of God leads and guides every life that he creates, helping us to navigate life in a world of sin and temptation. Whose hand are you holding on to in life? Grab a hold of God’s hand, it is reaching out for you today.
“Bus driver, move that bus.” This was the moment everyone was eagerly waiting for as work crews put the finishing touches on the massive surprise home renovation project for a family in need. Huddled behind the bus, a family who had just returned from an all-expense paid vacation waited in anticipation for the grand reveal of their new home. As crowds gathered around the family, they all together would yell “bus driver, move that bus”, and ever so slowly the bus would drive forward and reveal the newly renovated home.
The book of Exodus is filled with many extra-ordinary examples of how God revealed himself to his people. Why move a bus when you can move a mountain? “The smoke billowed up from it (Mount Sinai) like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently” (19:18b). Can you imagine the feeling of power and the impact of that moment on the lives of the Israelite people? What about the pillar of fire and pillar of cloud that directed and protected the path of the people as God led them away from Pharaoh and his army in Egypt. God reveals himself as the provider of life by supplying the physical needs of nourishment through a daily portion of manna and quail and draws fresh water from a rock. We read about the supremacy and authority of God as revealed through the incredible events surrounding the parting of the Red Sea. The ten plagues are an important reminder of God’s promise of deliverance to the forefathers of Israel, each plague revealed the wonders and power of God that eventually brought Pharaoh to his knees just as he promised in chapter 3:20, “So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go.”
God continues to reveal himself to us today through the bible, through the events and lives of those who came before us. God reveals himself to us through nature and his creation, through other believers, and through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. God revealed himself to us through his Son Jesus Christ. Is there a “bus” blocking the way for you to see God today? Just remember, God can move mountains, He can calm storms and He has the power to change lives. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Mathew 7:7-8) What “bus” can you ask God to move today?
When I was younger, I would go to Frank’s Barber shop to have my hair cut, there was an older gentleman there who was all about doing things “old school”. After you sat down he would pull out a long leather strap along with his unusually lengthy straight blade; with great care and a seemingly sinister look on his face, he would hone the edge so it was razor sharp. You never told him what kind of cut you wanted, and he never asked, you just sat as quiet and still as deer staring into the headlights of a car while he meticulously worked his blade around your head cutting and shaving until each and every last hair was touched.
The book of Ezekiel describes God’s judgement on Israel like that of a razor (chapter 5). Take a second to this about these words: annihilate, eradicate, obliterate, demolish and destroy. In the first thirty-three chapters the main theme or message is all about doom, the plight of the chosen people of God because of their disobedience to his law. Statements like “I will inflict punishment on you… I will do to you what I have never done before and will never do again… I myself will shave you… I will not look on you with pity or spare you.” (5:8-12) The word shave used in the NIV is used to explain the idea of being cut off, removed or withdrawn. God, who is righteous and just in his actions, tells the people through Ezekiel that they will be cut off from His presence, he will withdraw from their lives just as they have withdrawn from life in him. God’s swift razor of judgment came through the finishing actions of the sharp sword, famine and plague.
In between the words of doom and destruction we are reminded of God’s promise to carry a remnant of people through the impending judgement on them. Thinking in terms of a close shave or well-defined hair in respect to the straight razor, I am reminded that the remnant of hair left on top of my head was also affected by the sharp cut of the blade; it had been cut off, damaged and left to grow again. God did not promise that the remnant, those who were scattered among the nations would not be affected by his judgement, I can only imagine what happened to them left visible and defining scars both in a physical and mental sense; a reminder that God’s promise of justice over the whole nation of His people were not just empty threats. “They will loathe themselves for the evil they have done and for all their detestable practices. And they will know that I am the Lord” (6:9-10a)
I’m not sure I have met anyone who enjoys waking up to the sound of an alarm clock. If you are old enough to have had one of the “old school” bell ringing alarm clocks, you will recall that they have only one volume, and that is LOUD. Today most of us have digital alarm clocks on our bedside tables and alarms set on our digital devices to wake us up or remind us of an important task. No matter what you use the alarm for, it is a wakeup call, a reminder of something important.
The book of Revelation is much like an alarm clock, it is a “loud and dramatic” wakeup call, a reminder of the reality of how great and powerful our God is. It is a wakeup call to the church to hear, understand and respond to the truth and message of the gospel. God’s message through John to the seven churches is quite clear as you read through the first three chapters of Revelation. “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die… But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you” John is revealing the words of Christ to us, the church, proclaiming a future judgement over all the earth. There is a profound sense of hopelessness and despair when we read John’s revelation the churches.
Where can we find hope in such a fallen world? Through Christ. In Christ. He who stands before us calling each and every one of us to him. There is a promise of victory in the future for those who open their hearts and lives to him. “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.” (3:20) “Consider how far you have fallen, repent and do the things you did at first.” (2:5) The church, the believers then and now exist in a world filled with sin, hurt, pain and suffering. Christ is calling us back to a restored relationship with him. He made the ultimate sacrifice and provided a way for all of us to overcome sin and judgement when he returns. The book of Revelation brings us a picture of future blessings, given by a God who is just in all his ways, who is true to his word and a God who is the final judge in life and death. The alarm is ringing, wake-up, open the door and let God be by your side.
You have probably heard the statement “in one ear and out the other”, this implies the person or people you are talking to are in the room and for whatever reason your words or message didn’t sink in. This might seem like an odd question but have you ever tried talking to a brick wall? Brick walls don’t listen. In fact, your voice, the words you speak will bounce back from the hard surface and come back at you like a “slap in the face”. Brick walls are not only hard to break down, it is even difficult to put a hole in one so you can reach the other side.
At times, I think Jeremiah felt like he was talking to a brick wall. The people God had called him to speak to had built up walls with their own “brick and mortar”, materials that were not up to God’s standards. The people chose to ignore the words that God spoke through Jeremiah, “they did not listen or pay attention” (17:23) “These wicked people, who refuse to listen to my words” (13:10). Jeremiah knew for the most part what he was up against from the time God called him into this role, 7:27 says, “When you tell them all this, they will not listen to you; when you call to them, they will not answer.” When we continue to read through Jeremiah we see the other half of the picture. Jeremiah was beaten (20:2), left for dead (38:6), called a liar (43:2) and again, threatened with death by the priests and prophets (26:11). Not only was the “brick wall” Jeremiah facing not listening it was “fighting” back, growing in strength and height as he pursued his calling to prophesy God’s impending judgment on the people if they did not repent and begin to follow Him.
Jeremiah had every reason to run the other way, to throw in the towel and let the people deal with God’s wrath on their own, but he had one very good reason to stay, and that was God. When we see God as our all-powerful (sovereign) Lord and King through Jeremiah’s story we get a glimpse of how God provided for all of Jeremiah’s needs. Knowing exactly what he needed and when he needed it and ultimately how much his mortal mind and body could handle, God walked alongside Jeremiah through all the trials that he faced. Jeremiah put his hope and trust in God to carry him through as he promised (1:8) Just as God worked through the life of Jeremiah to reach a lost and wandering nation of people He calls us to do the same. God created this world and all that is in it. As his people we are commanded to “go out into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation”. (Mk 16:15) Breaking down brick walls and reaching into the lives of the lost so that they may come to know God in all his power and glory should be our goal. It is our responsiblitiy to live in obedience to his will, it is what He desires.
Do you wear glasses? Did you have to take your glasses off to read this text? It’s possible your spectacles are sitting precariously on the tip of your nose. Maybe your one of the lucky people who don’t need glasses, if that’s the case there is a good chance you under the age of forty. (Just wait, you could be joining the “four-eyed” club sooner than you think.) I am a year or two over the age of forty and never dreamed that the day would come when I would need glasses, yet as I write these words I am wearing my optical aids. Our vision changes, it’s a fact of life.
Good leaders have vision, I’m not talking about the 20/20 vision that your ophthalmologist tests for, but a vision that defines a direction that leads and guides a group or an organization into the future. I have never really considered the person of Saul in 1 Samuel to be a visionary leader. When we are introduced to him in chapter 9 he is described more for his “looks” than his leadership ability, “as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.” (9:2) It doesn’t stop there. In fact, when Samuel called out to have Saul come before the people to be named king, he runs and hides. “And the Lord said, yes, he has hidden himself among the supplies.” (10:22) So, we have what we can assume through the word is a good-looking guy who likes to hide behind stuff, this is not something we usually equate to a visionary leader or king.
1 Samuel introduces us to an ordinary guy that was chosen by God for a special reason and specific time. “God changed Saul’s heart”, I believe at this point God gave Saul the gift of leadership and discernment to live out the vision that Samuel lays out for Saul and the people of Israel. He tells the people to fear God, obey his commands and you will be “good”, if you do not obey, if you rebel “his hands will be against you… if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will perish.” Saul, after 42 years of leadership begins to mislay the vision of following the Lord with his whole heart. The lines between true obedience of God’s commands and doing what he thinks is right become blurred, leading to what scripture describes as “the Spirit of the Lord” departing from Saul. Our lesson from this portion of scripture is clear: trust, listen and obey what God asks of us. Our vision, our direction as leaders in the church can only move forward when God is in the lead. God inspires vision, he calls ordinary people, gives them incredible gifts and changes lives so that we can be a part in advancing His kingdom here on earth.
Have you ever been driving through the countryside or nearby a local farm and come across the following scene? You must wonder, is the grass really that much better on the other side? This familiar idiom tries to capture the thought that people (or animals) are never satisfied with their own situation; they always think others have it better. When we consider our circumstances, when we compare our experiences with that of others we tend to think that we would be better off or happier on the other side.
Mankind has been struggling with this thought pattern for centuries. In Psalm 73, we are introduced to the thoughts of Asaph and his struggle to “jump the fence” and run free on what looked like the “greener” side of life. He says, “But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked”. Asaph continues to describes the appearance of a better life, “They have no struggles, their bodies are healthy and strong. They are freed from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills. He sees them (those who have turned away from God) and sees a life “free of care” and prosperity.
It is through the experience and power of God’s love that Asaph is able to stay on the right side of the fence. He describes a moment when he “enters the sanctuary of the Lord”, a place where he is able to ground himself in knowing that without God, those he looks over will one day be destroyed. Asaph makes the choice to enter into a place of worship with the assurance that God is with Him and that God will protect him. “My flesh and heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart… But as for me, it is good to be near God.” The experience of God’s love through the story of Asaph is the same love that God has for us today. Our lives, our “sanctuary” or place of worship needs to be found in all areas of life. Through personal prayer, song, scripture reading, working diligently, serving humbly or building Christ like relationships, we are called to worship God. As we stay connected with God he will keep us on the right side of the fence. God gives us the ability to see clearly that what He has given us is good and what He has prepared for us in heaven is even greater.
With names like Millennium Force, Top Dog Thriller, Formula Rossa, Intimidator 305 and Steel Dragon 2000, these world-famous roller coasters will provide the thrill that extreme adrenaline junkies seek. There are intense drops, twists and turns, incredible speeds and gut wrenching G-forces that push your mind and body to its limits. You might be one of those people who gets excited about being strapped into the seat on one of these giant steel mechanical marvels or you might be like me, the anxious spectator (who likes to keep two feet on the ground) left holding all the bags, hats and loose change until the ride is over.
When I read through the Psalms I get the sense of being on a different sort of roller coaster, a ride that journeys through a wide range of emotions. Through ups and downs, twists and turns and the pressures of life, we get a glimpse into the complex emotions that our creator built into us. Woven into the fabric of the text we can experience the writer’s feelings of joy, fear, anger, disappointment, outrage, gratitude, contentment and more. When we listen, hear, and take to heart the stories shared by the different author’s we are invited into their lives and deep into their hearts. One of the most powerful and emotional moments in the psalms for me is found in chapter 18:6, “In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.” Distress, suffering, pain, sorrow, grief, each one of these “places” can bring us crashing to our knees, desperate and needy, searching for God just a David did in this passage.
It has been said that every human emotion is portrayed in some way through the writing of the Psalms. The Psalms are a “go to” for many who need encouragement and direction in their lives; often when we find an emotional connection we can also experience the writer’s response or reflection. One of the strongest themes that help facilitate that connection is that of love. Out of His love for David, God hears his cry for help, He delivers him from the hands of his enemies. Today our God is no different than He was in David’s day, He waits patiently as we persistently try to work things out on our own, he continues to hear our cries, He loves us in all our brokenness, he rejoices when we put our faith and trust in Him. It is His love that will keep us standing with two feet on the ground.