Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Warning! Attack Imminent! Expect Many Losses!

On August 29th, 2005, Hurricane Katrina stormed through Gulfport and Biloxi. The storm surge that it brought overstressed the levee system protecting the city of New Orleans. When two of the levees breached, it caused major flooding damage to over 80% of the city, most of which is below sea level. If you have ever been to New Orleans you know that in order to get there, an elevated Interstate 10 crossing over vast swamplands or the causeway bridge over Lake Ponchartrain are the only ways in or out of the city. Major storm damage to both of these roadways was sustained by the hurricane. This severed the city's supply line for food. The water supply, electrical systems and telephone services were all interrupted by the rising flood waters. Backup generators were eventually drowned out by the same. Those people who did not leave the city when they could or because they couldn't, faced a deluge that has claimed many lives and the body count is in progress even now. Thousands of pets had to be left at home and many perished. The entire city eventually had to be evacuated and thousands of people lost everything and are now living in the surrounding areas. Baton Rouge, the capital of Lousiana two hours northwest of New Orleans, doubled its population overnight. Displaced persons affected by the flood are scrounging for places to stay all across northern Lousiana and Texas.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) main responsibility is the oversight for such disasters. They are supposedly poised and ready to step in when the scale of a disaster cannot be adequately managed at the state level. They have contingency plans for just such a scenario as Katrina, but for some as yet unexplained reason, were not able to respond adequately to the victims of the floods in New Orleans and the surrounding areas. The focus for FEMA over the past few years has been to prepare for an attack by terrorists, but evidently while they were looking the other way, Katrina hit. The amount of devastation caused by the hurricane, while in the playbook, was not something the authorities were paying enough attention to.

We're told by Peter that our enemy is prowling around like a roaring lion seeking a victim. Someone whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8); someone looking the other way, not expecting an attack. If he were to appear to our physical eyes as a lion, I'm sure most of us would turn and head the other direction. But that, of course, is not his ploy. His subtlety does not usually employ someone scarey and/or unfamiliar to us. Sometimes Hollywood wants us to see the devil as pale children whose eyes glow or whose heads turn around backwards and then they vomit green goo all over the floor. This, of course, is fiction and perhaps even a further subtlety to pull the proverbial wool over our eyes. The real devil, in the meantime, slips out the door unnoticed after successfully reeking havoc. No, rather than strangers, his plan is to influence the hearts of friends and lovers. Or worse, he gets to our own heart and uses our mouth and our actions to carry out his perverse plans of hatred and division. He sets us against one another and before you know it, the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3) has been shattered; replaced by division and violent vindictiveness.

How can this happen? How can those saved by grace and washed in the blood turn on each other with such ferocity? It is clear that the modern church is not the only place where such ironical behavior has occurred. The writings of the New Testament are filled with admonitions and warnings for the saints of the first century, exhorting them to watch out for this problem. Much blame is given to the devil and rightly so, but I think the issue is closer to home. The devil is to blame, but as believers we have been given the tools to defeat him. If he is successful in his divisiveness, it is because we let him do it. Human nature (aka the "Flesh") is very powerful and does not give up its control over us easily. But as powerful as it may be, the flesh is controlled by us, not the devil. Saying, "the devil made me do it!" is no excuse.

Peter's take on the problem in the 5th chapter of 1 Peter begins with "Be of sober spirit, be on the alert." (NASB) This word "sober" is the Greek word "nepho" and does mean to refrain from too much wine. But used metaphorically, the word appears six times in the New Testament. Each time it contrasts a mind of impared judgment affected by alchohol with a mind finely tuned and focused. Thayer says this word means "to be calm and collected in spirit or to be temperate, dispassionate and circumspect." It is coupled in the 1 Peter passage with the admonition "to be on the alert." This is the word "gregoreuo" meaning to stand watch as a guard.

For all Christian believers attack is imminent. The entire sixth chapter of Ephesians is dedicated to addressing this problem. Spiritual warfare is not an "if," it is a "when." Why some Christians remain unprepared is a mystery. When the attack comes, it is bad, but for those not ready, it is devastating. What can be done? Focus must be given to this issue. A plan must be devised and readiness practiced.

Scriptually speaking the first line of defense is the Word of God. By this I do not mean scripture memory. Studying the Bible is of the utmost importance, but without the enlightening living word of God delivered by the Holy Spirit, it is nothing but paper and ink. Unlike the movies, Satan is not threatened by "what is written." He speaks those "words" fluently. Scripture by itself is a matter of interpretation.

This is illustrated beautifully by Jesus' encounter with the devil in the wilderness. (Matthew 4:1-11) The devil quotes scripture and uses logic to make his points just as any scholar of the Bible would. However, the true Word of God is a message of life. It carries with it the joy and excitement and the virtue of the Creator. In describing it, the scripture says it is "living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword." (Hebrews 4:12) John confesses clearly in his gospel that Jesus is the Word. (John 1:1-14) To be used as an effective tool against the Prince of Darkness, the Word of God must be down in our hearts not just on the tip of our tongues. The enemy will only respect the Lord Himself and if He reigns in our hearts, He will be able to rebuke the attacks that occur there. This can only happen as we truly yield our will to His. He is Lord over the hearts of those who have made Him Lord. It does not automatically happen when we become Christians. That event is only the beginning of submission to His will and walking in His ways. Quoting scripture and $1.00 won't even buy a cup of coffee these days. But coupled with faith we're told we can move mountains in the name of Jesus.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Drinking Living Water – How It Changed My Life aka Meeting a Jewish Rabbi by the Well in Samaria and Getting Busted

The Lord gave me a message that starts with the story of the Woman at the Well – John chapter 4.

5 So He came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph; 6 and Jacob's well was there. So Jesus, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour (around noon). 7 There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give Me a drink." 8 For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. 9 Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, "How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?" (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water." 11 She said to Him, "Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? 12 You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?" 13 Jesus answered and said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst again; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life." 15 The woman said to Him, "Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw." 16 He said to her, "Go, call your husband and come here." 17 The woman answered and said, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her, "You have correctly answered, 'I have no husband'; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly." 19 The woman said to Him, "Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship." 21 Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." 25 The woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us." 26 Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am He." 27 At this point His disciples came, and they were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman, yet no one said, "What do You seek?" or, "Why do You speak with her?" 28 So the woman left her waterpot, and went into the city and said to the men, 29 "Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?" – John 4:5-29

Before I elucidate on this passage I need to tell you how I got to where I am now and why I am here. I am on a mission. God has sent me. It has only recently become clear to me what my mission is. Recently being in the past five years. I am here to reveal the truth. I am not the only one. You too have this mission, but it has not dawned on you yet. Jesus told Pilate that the purpose for His coming into the world was to bear witness to the truth (John 18:37) – and He has passed this mission on to me along with many others. Sometimes truth can only be revealed by overturning something that was previously accepted to be the truth, but turned out to be a lie. The enemy is not happy with this developing ministry. He’s been messing with me. We need to pray.

As I unearth today’s truth, it may get a little smelly. Sometimes that happens. If it’s under a rock or something and it’s been there for sometime, things can get a little ripe when it’s down under stuff – you know what I mean. I would never label myself as a “preacher” – I don’t even like the sound of that word because it sounds too much like my mother, but the Holy Spirit told me to bring my soapbox because I would probably have to stand on it today. I had a pastor tell the congregation one time that if they had never been offended in church, just stick around. This may be one of those times, so brace yourself. This is not from me, it is from the Lord. I am your friend and sometimes we need friends who are not afraid to tell us when our fly is down – who won’t act like nothing’s wrong when the stench is a little too ripe.

Since I was little, the Lord has constantly made my paths right. (I don’t like that word “straight”) I was saved when I was four years old when my mother prayed with me one night at bedtime. Jesus came into my heart and from that day to this, He has walked by my side and guided me even to minister here today. Over the years I have been in the process of change. I am not what I used to be and I am not what I should be and I will be different in a little while. My life is dynamic and I praise the Lord for what I have been privileged to see and experience and the places I’ve been over the years. I could recount to you growing up in Bible church and going to vacation bible school; shooting rubber bands at the picture of Jesus on the wall at church; the exhilaration of singing Onward Christian Soldiers as we marched into the auditorium; experiences during college evangelistic outreaches; going to Israel and seeing the places where Jesus walked, slept and ate and died. As wonderful as these memories are, there are also painful memories – wounds that were opened years ago that need to be healed – rejection by friends and family and lovers. Painful experiences must also be added to my list when I talk, because they too have added to my perspective of truth. Once as a young boy I cut my foot when I jumped into the bushes playing. It was rather serious and I needed multiple stitches. I still have the scars from that gash that happened more than forty years ago.

When this happened, there was a lot of blood. My mother rushed me to the doctor. One of the first things they did was to pour large amounts of hydrogen peroxide on the cut. The pain it caused was horrific. I know now that it was for my own good, but at the time I wanted someone in the mafia to eliminate this doctor. Sometimes wounds of the heart we get can be healed. The process may start amidst a great deal of pain. Scars tell a story and are there to remind us that God heals, but not without pain.

The Bible tells us about two blind men who were tired of not being able to see and they followed Jesus one day trying to get His attention. They knew that because of their disenfranchised status that they would have to be very cagey in order to get Jesus’ attention and so they plotted their scheme by following the sound of the crowd that was following Him. As it passed they cried out in loud voices, “Have mercy on us Son of David!” (Matthew 9:27) They were healed that day and received their sight. Have you been there?

The questions of the hour today are, “How did we get here?” “Where are we going?” and “How do we get there?”

1. How did we get here? We all arrived here at the behest of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no doubt to me that we have come together today not by accident, but by the leading of the Holy Spirit – who is constantly guiding us to the truth. Today represents another opportunity to get on board with the program. Our Lord is constantly appealing to us to come to Him, all who are weary and are heavy laden. This is where we begin analyzing the story of the woman at the well.

She arrived at Jacob’s well near the town of Sychar to draw water. She probably went there everyday – but on this day, a Jewish Rabbi was sitting there and began to engage her in conversation. This seemed a little unusual to her for not only was she a Samaritan, she was a woman and women in those days were considered chattel and Jewish men simply had nothing to do with Samaritans let alone Samaritan women. Women were considered the property of their fathers or their husbands. In order to do anything, she had to have a man and evidently she had already had five husbands we’re told. Though we're not told the full story, undoubtedly she carried within her many wounds, but on this day she would meet Jesus at the well and He would give her Living Water to drink and it would make her whole.

He told her about the Living Water and she asked to have some of it. He instructed her to go and get her husband. That’s when He revealed to her that He knew about her past and her current living arrangement. She was amazed and realized that He was a prophet. She obviously had given theology some thought because after she perceived that Jesus was a prophet she began speaking to Him about where the proper place of worship was; evidently some controversy existed about this at the time. Jesus told her about true worship and when she spoke of the Messiah who would come, He revealed to her that He was Him! Just then the disciples arrived back from their trip into town to get food and were amazed because Jesus was speaking to this woman, but they evidently had learned by then not to question His weird behavior. The woman, in the meantime, was so excited that she left her waterpot and ran back to town to tell everyone about Jesus and how He had given her Living Water at the well.

Have you had a drink lately? What are you waiting for? It’s available to everyone who will go out to the well and sit by the Messiah and get a talking to. Yes, His council may be critique that will humble you – let’s hope so, but it will set you free as the truth always does. He’s waiting for you to come out there. You have to go out to Him and let Him talk to you. It is necessary so that you can go on to question number 2.

2. Where are we going? Right now, nowhere fast. By not receiving the healing we need, we cannot go out and heal others. Our community is starving for the truth so they too can be set free. They need someone to come out and tell them about God’s love for them. It’s time to do it. But if we’re as wounded as they are, what do we have to offer that they can’t find at the local taverns. Just one chapter before the story of the women at the well, Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus:

16 "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God." – John 3:16-21

Are you practicing the truth and coming to the Light? Can the people you come in contact with see the difference between you and the world or are you no different in the way you talk and walk and play? You can only do something if you are connected to the Vine (John 15), because without the sustenance of life provided by that Living Water, you can do absolutely nothing!

3. How can we get there? There is only one way to get there. The answer is found in Matthew 4:19. “Jesus said, ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men!’” It’s simple yet hard.

We’ve got to stop playing church and fill these empty seats with starving people. If you are getting fed, those starving people will want to know where you’re getting food. Coming here Sunday after Sunday with the same 23 people and singing a couple of songs is not what the Lord has in mind for our church.

The truth may hurt us at first, but it will in the end lead us to freedom. Drinking that Living Water may hurt us, but it won’t kill us – it will give us abundant life.

-Rev Bob Ellis