Encouragement

The Opposition

The people who had moved into the land were tolerant of the Israelites who returned to rebuild Jerusalem, but once construction began on the Temple, conflict broke out.

In this message, we evaluate why the people of the land opposed the construction of the Temple, and how that correlates to Satan’s opposition to our daily lives today. This chapter illustrates how Satan actively opposes you and tries to sabotage you as you try to live out God’s purpose for your life.

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Walking in Darkness

Austin

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

-Isaiah 9:2

Are you afraid of the dark?

When I was a kid, I had to have a nightlight if I were to go to sleep. My favorite nightlight projected an image of Scooby Doo on the ceiling in my bedroom. I could lay in bed, look up at Scooby Doo, think about all the adventures he went on with Shaggy, Fred, Daphne and Velma, and drift off into dreamland in a happy state of mind.

Without a nightlight, my mind would focus on the uncertainty of what all was in my room, invisible due to the total darkness. I imagined things, and even though I knew that ghosts and goblins weren’t real, I was still unsettled by the total darkness in my room.

Darkness can be a terrifying thing. It certainly robs the law-abiding man of security, provides cover for criminals, limits visibility and can be a factor in accidents and injuries.

Scientific studies have shown that overexposure to darkness can lead to depression, as suicide rates increase during the winter time, and overnight workers can suffer physiological effects if they don’t get to spend a day in the sun. For this reason, prisons are required to provide rec time, outdoors in most cases, for their inmates.

Just like physical darkness can lead to fears, emotional problems and physiological ramifications, spiritual darkness is a detriment to the soul.

Spiritual darkness is the condition experienced when a person lives outside of God’s presence. This occurs when a person takes up a lifestyle of sin, preoccupation with the occult, or denies the presence of God in the first place. While this does not always lead to a person living in pain and misery, it always degrades their spiritual health.

The resulting condition includes increased sinful activity, more severe sin, the consequences thereof, and a time of hopelessness.

Such was the case in Israel in Isaiah 9. The people had lived for generations in sin and idolatry. As time progressed, the nation lost territory to invading armies, saw their sovereignty diminished, their economy flounder, their society degrade, and national optimism evaporate. Israel was in a dark place.

I remember a time in my life when I lived in a dark place. It was back in college, and my life had become consumed by revelings, satanic rock music (I was into the weird stuff), dark movies, and to a certain degree, substance abuse. This not only messed up my thinking, but also led me to a dark and hopeless place, until the Lord reached me through the work of some really dedicated preachers, ministers, Christian workers, evangelists and just all-around good people.

Christ shined His Light into my life, and saved me. Likewise, He shined His Light into Israel to redeem them.

Just as the porch light can be a welcome sight for a man traveling home by night, or a Scooby Doo nightlight can be a comfort for a young child, the Lord gives us hope through His light.

Today, if you are in darkness, it’s time to turn on the light. Come out of that place of hopelessness and despair into the blessedness and hope of Jesus Christ. Turn from your sin, and trust the Lord to save you, for He gave Himself on the cross to save you.

And this Christmas, let’s remember the hope that He brought us, and be looking forward to the Kingdom, city and redemption that He promised us. May God bless you this Christmas holiday.

–Leland Acker has served as pastor of Life Point Baptist Church since its inception in 2008. Sunday, He will bring a special Christmas message from Isaiah 9. Sunday School begins at 10 a.m., Morning Worship at 11 a.m. Life Point meets at the Early Chamber of Commerce at 104 E. Industrial Dr. in Early, TX. 

Endure

 

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,

-Hebrews 12:1

Tommy and Gina were married 52 years before being separated by Tommy’s death. When I managed a small, West Texas radio station, Gina worked as my news director. She was wise, passionate, and proactive in her community. She often visited my office, and we discussed everything from community development, to life in general. Many times, we discussed Heaven and eternity, a place she looked forward to going after her 92 years on Earth.

“Oh, I can’t wait to go to Heaven,” she’d tell me, to which I often replied, “Well, you don’t have to be in too big of a hurry to get there.”

“I can’t wait to go to Heaven to see my Tommy,” she would reply, then I’d feel guilty for my cavalier comment. That exchange always led into her reminiscing about her marriage that started rough, but grew into a stronger love than most can imagine.

“We hated each other for the first 20 years,” she would say, “but the last 30 were such a blessing.”

It always impressed me that, despite how tough it could be at times, she and Tommy stayed married, stayed committed to each other through 20 years of conflict, only to realize a more perfect love for the last 30 years of their time together.

Many married couples struggle to stay together for seven years, and that includes the good times. Fewer make it to 20 years, and even fewer stay married for 20 years in the presence of constant conflict. Yet Tommy and Gina stayed true for 20 years even though they “hated each other.” Their reward? The 30 years of wedded bliss that followed.

All of this, because they endured.

Hebrews 12:1 says that we are to “run with patience the race set before us.” That word “patience” means endurance. Hence, when we run our race, we are to do so with endurance. Our race is the life God set before us. Running the race means actively living the life God has set before you. Running with endurance means you stay committed even when you don’t think you can go any farther.

Just like the marathon runner endures when he continues to run, despite all of his energy being spent, we are to endure as we live the lives God has given us.

There are times when we just don’t think we can go any farther. We can’t live in this situation one more day. When everything within us, and everyone around us tells us to give up, we are called to endure.

Married couples understand this when they stay committed to each other even though conflict abounds. Parents understand this when their kids have pushed them to the brink of insanity. Employees understand this when they continue in a job despite seven-day workweeks and 12-hour shifts. Endurance means never giving up.

Scripture promises that these times won’t last forever, and once they are over, they’ll be a distant, faint memory. In the meantime, we are called to endure.

Or to quote Winston Churchill, “Never, never give up.”

Leland Acker has served as pastor of Life Point Baptist Church since its inception in 2008. He is currently leading the congregation through a study of the book of Hebrews, which will conclude Sunday, Dec. 17, with a study of Chapter 13.

Running the Race

1554446_10202778076678833_64181163_nThe New Testament book of Hebrews was written to remind us that salvation comes by God’s grace through our faith in Jesus Christ, and that no works on our part are involved in securing our salvation. Hebrews makes the case that our salvation was secured completely by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In making this point, Hebrews points to the lives of the Old Testament heroes, like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Moses. Hebrews 11 chronicles how their lives were all driven by faith. By faith, Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice. By faith, Noah moved with fear and prepared an ark to the saving of his house. By faith, Abraham offered up Isaac, accounting that God was able to raise him up again. By faith.

Whenever you see that phrase, “by faith,” it means that the one who performed the action did so because they trusted God completely. Their trust in God, their faith, motivated their action.

Faith is what gives you access to God’s salvation. It is what moves you from God’s wrath into His Kingdom. Faith is what saves. Actions, or “works” are merely an expression of that faith.

It is on that note that Hebrews 12 begins:

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,

Hebrews 12:1 says we are compassed about (surrounded) by a cloud of witnesses. We are surrounded by the legacies of the Old Testament heroes listed in Hebrews 11. These were men and women who lived their entire lives by their faith in God… from Abel all the way down to Rahab, and then on to King David and the prophet Isaiah.

Because of their faith in God, they believed the impossible, stood against insurmountable odds and foes, and did great things, whereby we remember them today. Some of these heroes won earthly victories, some had to wait to enter eternity to receive their reward, but the end of Hebrews 11 is clear, one day those of us who know the Lord as our savior will be resurrected and glorified with those Old Testament heroes. We will all reap the reward of our faith.

So, with that in mind, Hebrews 12:1 encourages us to live up to our Christian heritage by living by faith. This involves laying aside every weight (things that come between us and God) and the sin that so easily besets us, and running with patience (endurance) the faith that is set before us.

Throughout the course of this week, we will explore what it means to run the race before us, and to live by faith. May God bless you this week.

I’m fine! No, really, I am. Okay, I’m not.

How are you doing?

No really, How are you doing?

Nearly 100 percent of the time, when asked the first question, we say, “Fine.” Or, some of our more spiritually inclined brethren say, “I’m blessed.”

All too often, when we give those answers, we are not being truthful.

You see, we have been conditioned to think that any sign of distress, any sign of worry or stress is an indication that our faith is faltering. Somehow, by expressing heartbreak over the loss of a loved one, concern over a wayward child, fear over a pending financial disaster, uncertainty over the loss of a job, or anger over being mistreated, we are expressing a character flaw. We’ve “taken our eyes off of Jesus and looked at the waves crashing all around us.” We’ve become Peter trying to walk on the water, but sinking because his faith failed.

Indeed, we don’t want to lose faith in the Lord, and we don’t want to be focused on our problems. However, in the real world, we do have problems. And those problems still exist when we enter the church doors. Therefore, there is no need for the church to become a fantasy world where problems don’t exist. They do. Therefore, one of the ministries of the church should be to help people through their problems.

This is not just a humanitarian position. It’s actually in scripture.

Galatians 6:2 says to “bear one another’s burdens.” While the greater context of that verse deals with restoring a brother who sins, it should be noted that sin is part of the lives of those who live in the real world. We all struggle. We all fail. We should be able to turn to our brothers and sisters in Christ for love, encouragement, and restoration as we repent from that sin.

The Bible also tells those who are afflicted to pray (James 5:13) and to confess our faults one to another (James 5:16). In fact, the church experience was designed so we could gain encouragement from each other while we walk this Christian life together. Hebrews 10:25 says that we should not forsake the assembly of ourselves together, but should exhort one another. That means to encourage each other to stay strong in the faith and to do great things for the Lord.

We cannot be encouraged if we are unwilling to address the things that burden our hearts. We cannot be encouraged if we are not willing to face our problems, and seek help. We cannot help each other with our struggles if we pretend they don’t exist.

The Lord knows we have problems. He knew beforehand that we would. Hence, He gave us the church to help us through those problems. The problem is, the church doesn’t do this because we fear being judged if we admit we have problems.

The Lord understands problems. He had a few of his own. Hebrews 4:15-16 says:

For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

Do you know what that means? It means that the Lord was tempted… not only to sin by Satan after Christ spent 40 days in the wilderness, but also by the same struggles in life that we face: Not enough money, shortage of food, fatigue, being rejected and betrayed by others, being homesick and missing family, physical pain, emotional pain, bereavement, etc.

Yet, the Lord experienced all of this without sin. Therefore, He was uniquely qualified to pay for our sins on the cross, rise again to conquer the grave, open the gates of Heaven and plead our cases before God every single day.

Furthermore, these verses tell us He is sympathetic to our cause, because He has been through the same struggles we have.

Therefore, you are more than welcome to approach the Lord in prayer regarding the struggles you face. You should also be able to lean on your brothers and sisters in Christ for comfort and encouragement. If that’s not possible, maybe you need to find some other brothers and sisters in Christ.

The Lord understands our struggles, because He’s been here. We should understand each others’ struggles as well, because we’re still here. Love, help and encourage each other. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of God.