Habakkuk 1:1-4

The prophecy that Habakkuk the prophet received.

Habakkuk’s Complaint

How long, Lord, must I call for help,
    but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
    but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
    Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
    there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
    and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
    so that justice is perverted.
(Habakkuk 1:1-4 NIV)

Today we begin looking at the Old Testament book of Habakkuk, a minor prophet with a major message.

The book is considered “minor” strictly due to its length (three chapters), not because of its message.

The book is unique because it is all a back-and-forth dialogue between a man (Habakkuk) and God.

Time-wise, Habakkuk was a prophet at approximately the same time as Jeremiah.  Thought of another way, Habakkuk was the movie trailer, the preview of what was to come; Jeremiah was the full-length feature film of the same events in history.  Habakkuk had his ministry after the death of king Josiah, and before the invasion of Judah by Babylon, when Daniel was taken captive.

Habakkuk was in a perplexed state of mind.  Judah was a mess, as they were not walking with God, and it showed everywhere.   And so he decided to ask God what was going on.

What was Habakkuk’s complaint to God?  “God, You are supposed to be God, and yet You seem to be doing nothing about this mess down here.  There is conflict everywhere, and wrong is prevailing over right.  What’s going on?”

As a prophet of the God of Israelites, Habakkuk felt a tremendous burden.  The stakes were high – at a life-and-death level.  If he chose to not tell the whole truth that God had revealed, God would take his life.  If he did tell the whole truth of God, the Israelites would likely reject his message, and take him out and either beat him to a bloody pulp, or just outright kill him.  This was not an enviable position to be in – no matter what, there would be conflict and danger to saying what God had laid on Habakkuk’s mind.

And when God called you to be a prophet, the call was mandatory.  You could not turn down the assignment.   Jonah tried to do so, but we know that story well – how God chased Jonah down when he was running away, and used a big fish to deliver Jonah to the place of God’s choosing (Ninevah).  Jeremiah (Jeremiah chapter 20) proclaimed God’s truth to God’s people, and he was beaten and put in stocks for his words.  Jeremiah complained bitterly to God about the injustice; the book of Lamentations is Jeremiah’s sorrow and anguish over the situation with God’s people.  No wonder he is known as the “weeping prophet”.  None of the prophets had an easy life.  Habakkuk was no exception.

Habakkuk’s name means “one who embraces another”.  In the first part of the book, Habakkuk’s embrace of God is not a hug, but rather, more like a wrestling match, as Habakkuk asks his “why” questions.

Habakkuk knew well of God’s character – and could not understand why the Lord would allow all this evil to take place among God’s people.

Hmmm……. does all this sound familiar?  Maybe a bit like our world today?

Take heart, friends – God is still sovereign – He neither sleeps nor slumbers (Psalm 121:4).

Blessings,
~kevin

What Is Our Heart’s Deepest Desire?

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
(Matthew 13:44-46 NIV)

I am reminded this morning of the enormity of God’s goodness, and the smallness of my earthly affections.  Do you ever feel the same way?

I often find myself blissfully happy with the equivalent of drawing stick figures on the driveway using sidewalk chalk, and fail to recognize the Creator of the universe paints His love across the sky in an ever-changing canvas throughout each day and night.  My feeble attempts to find fulfillment and joy are short, and all is lost to the dew of the night and the rain of the day as the chalk colors merge to gray and trickle down to the street gutter and eventually the storm drain.

C.S. Lewis expressed this same idea well:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
(from The Weight of Glory)

Why do we give our hearts away so quickly?  We have a deep inner longing that we try to fulfill, and we often stop when we find something that quenches that inner longing, even if it only does so temporarily.

But yet, our deepest inner thirst is not satisfied.  Only the Lord can quench our deepest desires.  When we finally find that deep affection in the Lord, we will take no prisoners, and risk everything to be in that abiding walk with Him.

Listen to how the author of Hebrews expresses this same reaction:

12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
(Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV, emphasis mine)

The Puritan preacher Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) called this all-consuming desire to walk with the Lord “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection”.  Chalmers said that we cannot simply try to quit our worldly pursuits as our primary objective – those attempts to stop sinning will fail every time.  Chalmers said that we must see our joy and fulfillment by the Lord as so much greater than anything we have previously experienced, such that we willingly and forcefully exchange anything and everything in pursuit of our heart’s deepest desire.

Does this mean that all of us should quit our jobs and sign on to be missionaries in “the remotest parts of the earth”?  No, not necessarily.  It simply means that we put God first in our lives, and keep Him there, not allowing any other affections to take His place.  Our pursuit of the Lord must come first, everything else is second.

Listen to Jesus’ words about our priorities and heart pursuits:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
(Matthew 6:25-34 NIV, emphasis mine)

Earnestly seeking Him,
~kevin

Psalm 65

Let’s join King David for some praise and worship time this morning…
May this psalm express your heart to the Lord today.

Psalm 65

For the director of music. A psalm of David. A song.

Praise awaits you, our God, in Zion;
    to you our vows will be fulfilled.
You who answer prayer,
    to you all people will come.
When we were overwhelmed by sins,
    you forgave our transgressions.
Blessed are those you choose
    and bring near to live in your courts!
We are filled with the good things of your house,
    of your holy temple.

You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds,
    God our Savior,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
    and of the farthest seas,
who formed the mountains by your power,
    having armed yourself with strength,
who stilled the roaring of the seas,
    the roaring of their waves,
    and the turmoil of the nations.
The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
    where morning dawns, where evening fades,
    you call forth songs of joy.

You care for the land and water it;
    you enrich it abundantly.
The streams of God are filled with water
    to provide the people with grain,
    for so you have ordained it.
10 You drench its furrows and level its ridges;
    you soften it with showers and bless its crops.
11 You crown the year with your bounty,
    and your carts overflow with abundance.
12 The grasslands of the wilderness overflow;
    the hills are clothed with gladness.
13 The meadows are covered with flocks
    and the valleys are mantled with grain;
    they shout for joy and sing.

Blessings,
~kevin

Ephesians 6:21-24

21 Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. 22 I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you.

23 Peace to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.
(Ephesians 6:21-24 NIV)

As we finish up our study of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (and us), we see Paul giving final remarks and instructions.

In yesterday’s study, Paul had just finished talking about prayer, and had asked for prayer for himself.  Paul’s prayer was not to be released from prison, but to be a fearless witness for the Lord, even while being held prisoner.

Paul specifically mentions Tychicus here – he is the person that hand-delivered the letter from Paul to the Ephesian church.  Tychicus is mentioned five times in the New Testament – he was one of Paul’s faithful friends and traveling companions.  Paul did not want to write about all the trials and tribulations of his life – he wanted to encourage the Ephesians and remind them to live for the Lord.  Paul said that Tychicus could answer their questions and help them pray more intelligently, and also tell them about Paul’s situation.

Are you thankful for faithful friends, ones that you can entrust to tell your story when you are struggling or need prayer?  Paul found such a friend in Tychicus.  Paul calls Tychicus a “dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord”.  That is really high praise for an amazing friend.

Obviously, the Ephesians were concerned about Paul – they had not heard anything, and were worried about his well-being, where he was located, and what his situation was.  With no phone, internet, or even mail services in Paul’s day, information was sparse, and often delayed in its delivery.  Paul wanted the Ephesians to know that he was doing fine, and even in prison, that his concern was not about his well-being, but about preaching the Gospel fearlessly and faithfully.

Paul wanted to share the struggles that he was facing – he was not trying to hide the fact that he was in prison, but he did not want the Ephesians to focus on that fact – he wanted them to pray about his opportunities to share the Gospel wherever God gave him opportunity, not fearing the consequences of doing so.  Both Paul and the Ephesians understood that Paul’s message about the Gospel might very well cost him his life, but Paul gladly counted the cost in order to share the good news with those around him.

Have you written a letter or note lately to a dear friend, letting them know how much they mean to you, and thanking God for their influence in your life?  I unexpectedly received such a letter last week.  Words cannot describe how that letter lifted my spirits and encouraged me and blessed me.  Take time to drop a note to folks that are a special blessing in your life – you will be encouraged and thank the Lord as you remember all they have been and are to you.

Paul finishes his letter with a benediction, a blessing upon them.  As we close our study of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, this is my prayer for each of you as well:

Peace be with you, dear brothers and sisters, and may God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you love with faithfulness.  May God’s grace be eternally upon all who love our Lord Jesus Christ.
(Ephesians 6:23-24 NLT)

Blessings,
~kevin

Ephesians 6:18-20

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.  With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
(Ephesians 6:18-20 NIV)

As we wind down near the end of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (and us), Paul reminds us of the privilege and necessity of prayer.

It’s important to recognize that this section on prayer is a new thought in Paul’s letter; prayer is not part of the armor of God.  Instead, it is more like the air we breathe – an intrinsic, inseparable part of everything we are and do.

Paul did, however, put these commands to pray after describing the armor of God.  So how does prayer tie into the previous “armor of God” section?

One simple way to think about prayer is communicating with God.  All along our journey with Christ, we pray – for ourselves, for our loved ones, for those who do not yet choose to follow Christ, for those in authority over us, etc.

And so prayer is to the Christ follower as communication with his commanding officer is to the soldier.  The soldier (or group of soldiers) is sent out on a mission, but must radio back and let the commanding officer know where they are and what they need.  Yes, the analogy breaks down at this point, because the Bible tells us that God knows all about our situation before we do – but hopefully you get the point about prayer and communicating with God.

When does Paul say we should pray?  All the time.

What should we pray about?  Everything.

Who should we pray for?  Ourselves, and all the rest of the Lord’s people as well.

Paul also asked for prayer for himself, even in his current state of house arrest.  Note that Paul did not ask for freedom from his captors, but rather, for a bold witness during his imprisonment and anticipated upcoming trial.  Notice that Paul calls himself “an ambassador in chains”.  Paul did not see himself as a prisoner with no rights, but rather, as an ambassador of the highest calling, even while he is under arrest.

If we go back to the beginning of Paul’s letter, we see that Paul began with praise to the Lord in chapter 1, verses 3 through 14, then immediately went into prayer for the Ephesians (chapter 1, verses 15 through 23).  Paul starts his thoughts towards the Ephesians with prayer, and he ends his main remarks in chapter 6 with prayer.  Paul uses prayer as the “bookends” of his letter to the Ephesian believers.

May each of us find time to pray today, even during our busy times, to let God know what’s on our hearts, and to lift up others before the throne of grace, also.

Blessings,
~kevin

Ephesians 6:17b

… and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
(Ephesians 6:17b NIV)

In our study of the full armor of God, we come to the final piece today – the sword.

The word translated “sword” here refers to what we would call a large knife or a small sword, with a blade length of 6 to 18 inches.  This sword was normally kept in a sheath or scabbard that was connected to the belt or separately around the waist.  This sword was used primarily in hand-to-hand combat.  The word “sword” here does not refer to the broadsword, which was usually had a 30 to 40 inch blade length.

All of the armor Paul has described so far is used for our defense and protection.  The sword is for both our defense and protection as well as an offensive weapon.

Note that the sword is the weapon of the Holy Spirit, used to fight spiritual battles on our behalf.  And what is that sword the Holy Spirit uses?  The Word of God, the Bible.

Remember Paul’s words to us in verses 10 through 12 of chapter 6… our battle is not a physical one, but a spiritual one.

Jesus experienced this first-hand when he was in the desert and satan came to tempt Him.  How did Jesus respond to each temptation?  He used God’s Word as both an offensive and a defensive weapon.

The sword, the Word of God, used in the Holy Spirit’s hands, is not a crude hack-and-slash weapon, but a precision instrument used in our lives to battle evil.  Listen to the writer of Hebrews:

12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
(Hebrews 4:12-13 NIV)

This reflects not only the instrument, the sword itself, but also the skill of the one who uses it, the Holy Spirit.  The writer of Hebrews says that works not only on the forces outside of ourselves, but also the forces inside us as well.  The Holy Spirit uses God’s Word to go deep into our lives, dividing soul and spirit like joints (bones) and marrow, even down into the very thoughts and attitudes of our hearts.

The writer of Hebrews goes on to say that nothing is hidden from God’s sight – God, through His Holy Spirit, knows us better than we know ourselves.  He looks past the “what” in our lives and asks the harder “why?” questions, to find the reason behind the “what”.  We may be doing a good thing, even a God-honoring thing, but if the reason why we are doing what we’re doing is selfish, then it’s not honoring to the Lord.  The Holy Spirit helps us see the “why”, and uses God’s Word to gently instruct us and guide us and do the surgery when needed.

May we put ourselves in the hands of the Great Physician, who loves us and cares for us, and teaches us through His Holy Spirit, using His Word, the Bible.  The wounds of sin are often deep, whether the sin is our own or the effects of another’s sin on us.  The pain is very real, and there will likely be scars from the battles.

As followers of Christ, this life is the worst we will ever experience; the next life, with Christ, is sin-free and pain-free.  For those who are not followers of Christ, this life is the best it will ever be.

Let us not lose our eternal perspective and take an “exit ramp” off the Narrow Road of following Christ.

Blessings,
~kevin

Ephesians 6:17a

17 Take the helmet of salvation…
(Ephesians 6:17a NIV)

As we continue on our study of the full armor of God, Paul discusses the next piece of our armor – the helmet of salvation.

As we discovered in our earlier studies, there are pieces of armor that we put on and keep on, an there are other pieces that we put on during battle, and can take off and keep right beside us during times of rest when we’re not in battle.  The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, and the boots of the gospel of peace are all pieces that we put on and keep on.  The shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit are all pieces that we can take off and keep right beside us during times of rest.

Today we take a look at the helmet.  While the helmet may have been made of either thick layers of leather or formed metal or some combination of the two materials, the purpose is the same – to protect the head.

Notice that Paul associates the helmet with salvation.  Is he talking about getting saved?  No.  If Paul was talking about accepting Jesus as our Savior and Lord at this point, then we would not have any of the other pieces of armor that are dependent on our salvation in the first place.  We would not have the belt of truth, nor the breastplate of righteousness, nor the boots of the gospel of peace, nor the shield of faith.  You can’t have any of those pieces of armor without salvation first.

So what is Paul talking about?  Remember that the best commentary on Scripture is other Scripture.  Let’s see if there are any other parallel thoughts that mention the idea of helmets and salvation.

Paul mentions a similar thought in 1 Thessalonians:

… putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.
(1 Thessalonians 5:8b NIV)

In both the Ephesians passage as well as the 1 Thessalonians passage, Paul is talking about salvation in the future, our ultimate salvation when we spend eternity with Christ.

Confused yet?  Don’t be.  Remember our salvation is once and for all, but spans three different time periods:

  • our past, when we came to Christ and invited Him into our lives as Savior and Lord
  • our present, as we live out the reality of Christ as Savior and Lord of our lives
  • our future, as we look forward to the day when we join Christ in heaven and spend eternity with Him

So how does all this tie together?  The helmet of salvation reminds us Whose we are, and protects our head from the blows of the enemy.  The enemy wants to inflict a head wound, to make us think that our salvation is in doubt.  If the enemy cannot inflict a head wound, then he tries to knock us out with a strike to the head, and give us a concussion so we can’t think or function properly.

Often this concussion-like blow to the head comes in the form of disabling doubt and/or discouragement.  The enemy does not have to make us a fatality (where we die) as long as he can make us a casualty (where we are no longer a threat).

Our helmet of salvation protects our head and prevents such strikes from the enemy.

Remember to be strong and put on all your armor as you take on the enemy of your soul today.  At the end of the day, Paul reminds us in verses 11 through 14, to be the one standing, victorious in the battle.

Blessings,
~kevin