My Help Comes from the LORD

smokey mountain

One of my favorite places to visit is the mountains of North Carolina. I think one of the reasons for that is because mountains make me feel very small. It’s hard to go to the mountains, see the majestic sky lines and the unbelievable views and not be in awe of God’s creation.

This year in particular, I felt very small. The house in which we were staying was surrounded by terrifying roads along with a terrifying driveway leading up to the house…and let me tell you, I probably prayed as hard and as fervently as we drove up and down these roads and that driveway as I’ve prayed in some time. There’s nothing like contemplating your impending doom, to get you praying…and praying hard!

I write all of this a bit tongue in cheek, but on a very serious note, I came back from vacation quite refreshed (even if it wasn’t that relaxing). I think one of the reasons I came back so refreshed was because I had time away from the everyday “hustle and bustle” of life to spend some time contemplating the things of God. And no matter where you find yourself, it is always a good thing, and a beneficial thing, and a soul refreshing thing to do…to contemplate the things of God.

For me personally, the mountains are a good place to do this. I’ve heard some say the beach helps them to connect with God in a way that they may not in their ordinary day to day lives.

With all of this being said, and aside from my terrifying drives that got me really close to God a few weeks ago, the fact is we as Christians here in America live in relative safety. We get to worship in relative safety. But this has not always been the case, and that is the backdrop for one of my favorite Psalms – Psalm 121.

The backdrop of Psalm 121 is that of a pilgrim traveler that was making his way up to Jerusalem to go up to the temple to worship. And this pilgrim who was making his way to and from the temple would encounter many trials and dangers along the way.

I suppose in light of the immediate context of this Psalm, some might wonder how this Psalm would apply to you and I. Well, let’s take a closer look.

While it is true that you and I dwell in relative physical safety in our day, that doesn’t change the reality that we are still pilgrims in the midst of a dangerous world. This being true, we can see very plainly in just the first few verses just how applicable this text is for us.

In verse 1, the Psalmist says, “I lift my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?”

Friends, even though we may not be facing perilous physical journeys right now in the way of dangerous mountain roads, the fact is that all of us deal with challenges in this world. Dangerous challenges that threaten to derail us on our journey WITH and TO God, and that threaten to derail us on our path to worship.

Our world and our lives are filled with things like sickness, the death of loved ones, difficult relationships, money issues, trouble at work, and we could go on and on. All of these things are in addition to the Spiritual and emotional challenges that we all face. (Of course the big one that sort of sums up all of these things up is SIN…We ALL deal with sin.)

Each of us could, I have no doubt name something that we are dealing with right now.

So…in this context, I love this question. Why? One, because it is an acknowledgement of and an awareness of the need for help. Secondly, because it implies that there is an answer, and there is help to be found.

The Psalmist asks, “Where does my help come from…?” As the Psalmist looks to the hills as a picture of the trials and dangers that await him, it reminds us that we are a people who do need help. Much like I said earlier about how the mountains help me to feel small and they humble me…so does our seeing and going through challenges and difficulties in our everyday lives. These things help us to remember that we are not self-sufficient. We are not strong. We are not the ones with all the answers. We are small…and we are in need of help along the journey of life.

But here is the reality. The truth is we are all tempted to look somewhere else, other than to God for our help. Unfortunately most of us, and maybe even all of us often look in places that offer no help at all or at least they don’t offer us the help that we truly need.

But, the Psalmist here in Psalm 121 gives us just the answer that we need, and tells us EXACTLY who we are to be looking to for our help. In the midst of whatever trial, and in the face of the mountains that lay before us.

Verse 2, “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”

Folks, we can and we MUST be looking to the ALMIGHTY, ALL POWERFUL, SOVEREIGN God of the Universe. The God who is the creator of the heavens and the earth. Look around at the world, look all you want, and you won’t find anything that God didn’t create. If God created it, He is sovereign over it. I know sometimes it seems like the world is out of control. Sometimes it seems like your problems, your hurts, your pains are too much for anyone to bear…but if you have the ALMIGHTY God, the creator of the world…the one who is sovereign over ALL things…then what should you fear? Nothing!

Is anything too hard for the Lord? Absolutely not!

Look what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 8.

Romans 8:31, “…If God is for us, who can be against us?“

Romans 8:35, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?….” Verse 37, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

There is a lot going on in these verses, but I think we can sum it all up quite simply…You are in good hands with God. Nothing can separate you from the love of God. There is nothing this world will throw at you that can destroy you if you are in the hands of God, and friends if you are in Christ, that is precisely where you are. Firmly in the hands of God.

And I think the Psalmist in Psalm 121 would agree. So,  no matter what challenge or what mountain you see before you on this day…be looking to the LORD, the only one that can truly give you the help that you need.

Good Friday

Matthew 27:27-54

“Some of the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into their headquarters and called out the entire regiment. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him. They wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head, and they placed a reed stick in his right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mockery and taunted, “Hail! King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and grabbed the stick and struck him on the head with it. When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified.

Along the way, they came across a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. And they went out to a place called Golgotha(which means “Place of the Skull”). The soldiers gave him wine mixed with bitter gall, but when he had tasted it, he refused to drink it.

After they had nailed him to the cross, the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. Then they sat around and kept guard as he hung there. A sign was fastened to the cross above Jesus’ head, announcing the charge against him. It read: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.

The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery. “Look at you now!” they yelled at him. “You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, if you are the Son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross!”

The leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders also mocked Jesus. “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself! So he is King of Israel, is he? Let him come down from the cross right now, and we will believe him! He trusted God, so let God rescue him now if he wants him! For he said, “I am the Son of God.” Even the revolutionaries who were crucified with him ridiculed him in the same way.

At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

Some of the bystanders understood and thought he was calling for the prophet Elijah. One of them ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, holding it up to him on a reed stick so he could drink. But the rest said, “Wait! Let’s see whether Elijah comes to save him.”

Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit. At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart, and tombs opened. The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead. They left the cemetery after Jesus’ resurrection, went into the holy city of Jerusalem, and appeared to many people.

The Roman officer and the other soldiers at the crucifixion were terrified by the earthquake and all that had happened. They said, “This man truly was the Son of God!”

Psalm 22(written perhaps 1,000 years before the birth of Jesus)

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help? Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief.

Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. Our ancestors trusted in you, and you rescued them. They cried out to you and were saved. They trusted in you and were never disgraced.

But I am a worm and not a man. I am scorned and despised by all! Everyone who sees me mocks me. They sneer and shake their heads, saying, “Is this the one who relies on the Lord? Then let the Lord save him! If the Lord loves him so much, let the Lord rescue him!”

Yet you brought me safely from my mother’s womb and led me to trust you at my mother’s breast. I was thrust into your arms at my birth. You have been my God from the moment I was born.

Do not stay so far from me, for trouble is near, and no one else can help me. My enemies surround me like a herd of bulls; fierce bulls of Bashan have hemmed me in! Like lions they open their jaws against me, roaring and tearing into their prey. My life is poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax, melting within me. My strength has dried up like sunbaked clay. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. You have laid me in the dust and left me for dead. My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs; an evil gang closes in on me.

They have pierced my hands and feet. I can count all my bones. My enemies stare at me and gloat. They divide my garments among themselves and throw dice for my clothing.

O Lord, do not stay far away! You are my strength; come quickly to my aid! Save me from the sword; spare my precious life from these dogs. Snatch me from the lion’s jaws and from the horns of these wild oxen.

I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters. I will praise you among your assembled people. Praise the Lord, all you who fear him! Honor him, all you descendants of Jacob! Show him reverence, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not ignored or belittled the suffering of the needy. He has not turned his back on them, but has listened to their cries for help.

I will praise you in the great assembly. I will fulfill my vows in the presence of those who worship you. The poor will be satisfied. All who seek the Lord will praise him. Their hearts will rejoice with everlasting joy. The whole earth will acknowledge the Lord and return to him. All the families of the nations will bow before him. For royal power belongs to the Lord. He rules the nations.

Let the rich of the earth feast and worship. Bow before him, all who are mortal, all whose lives will end as dust. Our children will also serve him. Future generations will hear about the wonders of the Lord. His righteous acts will be told to those not yet born. They will hear about everything he has done.”

Isaiah 52:13-53:12(written about 700 years before the birth of Christ)

“See my servant will prosper, he will be highly exalted. But many were amazed when the saw him. His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human, and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man. And he will startle many nations. Kings will stand speechless in his presence. For they will see what they had not been told; they will understand what they had not heard about.

Who has believed our message? To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm? My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. He was despised and rejected-a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.

Yet it was our weakness he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we cold be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s path to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.

He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. Unjustly condemned, he was led away. No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short midstream. But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave.

But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands. When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins. I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier, because he exposed himself to death. He was counted among the rebels. He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.

Thank you precious Lord Jesus for bearing the sins and interceding on behalf of this filthy rebel. I certainly am not worthy. All praise in heaven and on earth belong to you, and you alone. Amen…

Please follow this link, and meditate on what Christ has done for you….When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

Today’s Sermon-“Humble Pie”

I’m not sure whether or not many of you are going to agree with the statement I want to get us started with or not. Some of you may agree, some of you may not. That’s okay. Some of you may think I’m flat out wrong…or maybe think I’m just looking at it from the wrong angle. I don’t know…but one thing is for certain, I hope it makes us all think. So what is this statement?

“The biggest stumbling block for Christians in their Christian walks, and their service to the Lord is not their sins. It is themselves.”

I suppose I need to clarify somewhat. The big problem, in the big picture is definitely sin. But I think many of us have this idea, that if we could just stop sinning, we could serve God better, become more intimate with Him, and finally be all that He wants us to be. I suppose in theory there may be some truth to those thoughts. So yes, in general, “Sin” is the problem. But, for each of us on a personal level, on an individual basis, in our individual lives, in our individual relationships with Christ, I don’t believe our individual sins are the problem. The problem for each of us is well…us. Some of you may be confused, but I pray that you guys would bear with me, as we go through several passages, and hopefully I will be able to articulate, and accurately “handle the word of truth”, as Paul instructed Timothy to do.

Philippians 2:5-8

This is by far one of the most amazing texts in the entirety of the Bible to me. I say that a lot…I guess because the Bible in itself is amazing. But in all seriousness think about this. John 1:1-2 tells us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God…” What is John telling us here? John tells us later in John 1, that the “Word” he was speaking of became flesh and dwelt among us. He tells us that the “Word” he was talking about was Jesus Christ Himself. John is saying in these verses that Jesus Christ was with God from the beginning, and Jesus Christ was Himself God. In the text we just read in Philippians 2, Paul tells us that Jesus was in the form of God. Jesus was equal with God. But Paul tells us that even though Jesus was God, and was in the very presence of God the Father, He made Himself nothing. Jesus let go of His equality with God in order to become a servant. He took on the likeness of man. He humbled Himself, He was obedient to God, even to the point that He was willing to suffer and die.

Think about that for a second. God Himself came down from heaven, took on the form of a man, emptied Himself of the majesty that He had, became a servant, and died for you and me. I don’t think most of us really grasp this. I don’t even know if we can.
There is an interesting verse to me in Luke Chapter 2. It’s very easy to just read past this verse and not think about it, I did that for years. But look with me real quick at Luke 2:52, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”
I think many of us have this idea of Jesus popping out of the womb, chilling in the manger for a bit, then getting up and starting to recite Scripture. This isn’t how it was. This verse shows us that. I think we all have this idea that things were so easy for Jesus. He was like a superhero, with super powers. But I don’t think that’s an accurate picture. Luke tells us here that Jesus “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” If He increased, then obviously he didn’t have the wisdom, and even favor with God and man that He needed, from birth. I believe Jesus had to pour over the Scriptures and learn them just like you and I do. I believe Jesus had to learn humility, and obedience just like you and I do. How exactly that all worked out…I don’t know. You and I are sinners, we sin, the Bible tells us that Jesus did not. Generally we fail at humility and obedience and God has to discipline and humble us in some way to get our attention. That wasn’t the case with Jesus, but still, like us, God used the circumstances, trials, and even disappointments in Jesus’ life to prepare Him and grow Him into His ministry, and what He had been called to do.

So how does this apply to us? Well, if Jesus, God in the flesh, humbled Himself, took on the form of a servant, how much more should we? If Jesus had to pour over the Scriptures, learn about God, and grow in His relationship with Him, how much should we have to? For Jesus to be obedient to God, and glorify God, the first thing He had to do is empty Himself, of Himself. If that is the case for Him…how much more should that be the case with us?

Lets look at Philippians 1:27-30

I think many of us think that, “well, we believe in Jesus, so we’re good.” But that isn’t enough. James tells us in James 2:19 that even the demons believe in Jesus, so just an academic belief, or a knowledge of God and of Jesus isn’t enough. It’s about a real faith, that changes your life, and causes you to submit to Christ. It is about striving for the Gospel of Christ. Paul tells us that this is a sign of our salvation, and the destruction of those who would seek to hinder the Gospel. I wonder how many of us today are striving for the Gospel? If you were to look up the word “Striving” in the dictionary, the word means to “try hard” or to “struggle”. Are we trying hard and struggling for the sake of the Gospel? Paul tells the Philippian Church that they will not be frightened of their opponents. How many of us are fearful of the world? Maybe not fearful in the sense that we fear death, but how many of us are fearful of losing ourselves, or giving up things in our life that we love? How many of us are fearful of what the world is going to think of us? But Paul tells us that we should also suffer for the sake of Christ. How many of us suffer for Christ? How much did Paul suffer for Christ and “striving for the Gospel”? Paul was ridiculed, persecuted, shunned, called crazy, imprisoned, lost friends, beaten, and many people believe He was beheaded. Paul willingly endured all of these things for Christ. As Paul said in Philippians 1:20-21, “…Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

Now, I’m not saying we all need to go on foreign mission trips, or be homeless, and travel from town to town preaching the Gospel, or even be beaten and die a martyr. But we should be willing to do without, or make sacrifices for the sake of Jesus, for the sake of the Gospel.

What do I mean by sacrifices and doing without? Well that is a very broad question, with a broad answer. We touched on it a bit this past week in small group, so let me tell you what I believe it means.

Lets look at Philippians 3:7-11

I believe where Paul was at in His Christian walk, is the place we must get in ours. Paul said that he had suffered the loss of all things, and counted them as rubbish. As Will so elegantly explained in Small group, the word translated as rubbish here, would literally be our word for crap.

How many of us have gotten to the point in our lives where we count everything in our lives, except for Jesus, as crap…or rubbish if you want to be a little more “proper”. Think about Paul for a second here. Paul was “the man” in Jewish circles. Some say he was even on the fast track to becoming High Priest. Paul was well respected, and more than likely was financially well off. Some say he might have even had a wife, though that is only speculation, since the Bible doesn’t speak of that. Yet, when Paul became a Christian. He lost all of that. He was willing to lay all of that aside, and here he calls all of that stuff, all of the things he had gained in the world, as crap. Why? It was because he was willing to lay aside all of that “worldly gain” so that he could gain Christ. All Paul wanted was Jesus.
Can any of us sit here today and say that all we want is Jesus? Have any of us gotten to that point yet? We need to plead with God to transform us, and change our hearts so that that will be our mindset. How many times in our lives do we desire stuff more that Jesus? How many times do we desire the approval of our peers, more than we desire Jesus? How many times do we desire television more than Jesus? How many times do we desire time with our spouses, or children, more than we desire Jesus? How many times do we desire food, more than we desire Jesus? How many times do we desire sin, more than we desire Jesus?

Back to the statement I made earlier. “The biggest stumbling block for Christians in their Christian walks, and their service to the Lord is not their sins. It is themselves.” Look closer at what Paul says in 3:9, “…not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”

I’m not here today trying to get any of us to start following certain rules, or to start praying more, or to stop certain sins in our lives. I’m trying to wake us up to the truth that everything apart from Jesus doesn’t matter. Jesus is all that matters! Once we come to that realization, everything else will fall into place. When we desire Jesus more, we will seek Him more, we will pray more, we will read our bibles more, we will stop doing the things that separate us. But it starts first, with our desire for Jesus, above all else. We must get to that point. So don’t just try to stop sinning, that doesn’t work. Love Jesus. That is what works.

I believe when we say that sin is our biggest stumbling block, we are placing blame on something other than ourselves. We have an attitude that “well, we can’t stop sinning, so we’ll just do the best we can.” That is an attitude of defeat, and one that will not draw you closer to Jesus. You don’t need to defeat sin. Jesus has already done that. You need to have Jesus in your life, you need to love Jesus, yes, more than you love sin, but more importantly more than you love yourself. It isn’t about stopping to sin. If you lived the most pious life in the history of mankind, but didn’t love Jesus, it would do you no good. You’d still end up in hell. Actions without a pure heart mean nothing. The only way we can have that purity of heart is if we are focused on Christ, above all else.

This is a message that applies to each one of us here today on an individual level, and I pray, all of us will go home today and take it to heart, and truly ask God to transform us. I also believe this is a message that applies to this church(Crossmark Church). If this church is going to succeed, we must be a church that desires only Jesus. No fancy programs, no big rock band, but Jesus. If we are focusing on Jesus, then I don’t believe we can fail. For our church to succeed as a church, it is going to take all of us, as members of this body, to individually be willing to put away all of the nonsense in our lives that are drawing us away from Christ, and seek Christ above all else. We must as a church get to this point that Paul speaks about, where everything but Jesus is crap.

Will said in small group that this is his desire for our church. To be a church that is about Jesus, and nothing else. I echo that with my whole heart. That has to start with each of us individually. If that doesn’t happen I don’t believe God is going to bless this, and we might as well pack up and go home for good. We might as well find another church with a cool band, and rock out to some Casting Crowns or Chris Tomlin songs. But I want us to be a church that loves Jesus. It’s just that simple. We must, WE MUST, be willing to step out of our comfort zones, and lose ourselves, in order that we will glorify God. It may be sacrificing time with our spouses, it may be our kids going to bed a little late, it may be not having as much family time as we’d like, it may be driving 30-45 minutes out of our way, it may be getting to church early to set up, and staying late to encourage others, it may be missing a fishing trip. But isn’t Jesus worth it? As Paul said, we must be willing to suffer for the sake of Christ. We must be willing to strive side by side with our brothers and sisters here, for the sake of the Gospel.

There is a great song on Christian radio these days, that I quote all the time. I believe we all should make one of the lyrics from the song our prayer. “Rid me of myself…Lead me to the cross”

Father rid me of myself, and lead me to the cross. May we all decrease, in order that Christ may increase…Amen…