Lincoln Forlong

Working next to others

Church life, as with family and employment life, requires coexistence with others. It’s inescapable, the church is comprised of many different people, existing and operating as the body of Christ. Therefore, as members of this diverse body, we do things together; worship, pray, fellowship, eat, serve, make disciples, etc. Working together is central to most of our activities as Christians. It takes work with effort, to pull it all together, functioning as a healthy family of God, operating in unison for His common purpose.

As Nehemiah describes how Israel went about rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem, Nehemiah chapter 3 records some revealing phrases; “next to him,” “next to them,” and “after them.” A few words which  communicate much about the attitude and actions of a large work force. Nehemiah makes his point even stronger by repeating these phrases approximately 30 times in chapter 3 alone. While there are many lessons to be learnt from Nehimiah, a few catch my attention today.

As Nehemiah was God appointed, and assigned by the King as leader of this rebuilding project, he unashamedly informed those who opposed him that the God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build… (Neh 2:20). Opposition strengthened their resolve to get on with the job God had set for them. They had both a spiritual mandate and determination to carry out God’s will. Nehemiah 3:1 tells us that Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brothers the priests, and they started the building project. As soon as stage 1 was done they consecrated it to the Lord. Spiritual leadership set the standard and ensured everyone knew this project was God’s work.

Then we have the first use of the statement, and next to him; that is, next to Eliashib the high priest, the men of Jericho built (Neh 3:2). The labourers followed the working spiritual leadership of Eliashib. Nehemiah wisely joined with Eliashib to head this massive project. These 2 men first bonded in doing God’s work themselves, then in calling others to follow them by working with them. Of necessity, everyone had to sacrifice fierce individuality to operate as a unit. This was the only way God’s rebuilding project could ever succeed. This huge work force, from priest to rubble carrier, along with all the required support people, worked together. They worked next to each other, in close proximity to one another, one after the other in the structured  chain of operations needed for their single minded purpose – get the wall rebuilt.

The spiritual leadership and building principles implemented by Nehemiah and Eliashib were simple enough, yet they required the typical everyday labourer to join in and make it happen. Otherwise, the wall would remain nothing but a pile of useless rubble. This is a timeless principle for all of God’s people in all of God’s work. God’s people must work in single minded close proximity with one another to accomplish God’s purposes.

The apostle Paul requested this of the Philippian’ church. Paul wanted to hear that they were  standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents… (Philippians 1:27-28). While God’s opponents will always try to divide and separate God’s work force, God’s people pull together. Unity is powerful when it begins in our hearts and minds with soft humble attitudes towards one another.

May this principle be true in each of our lives today, as we seek to serve side by side in harmony for the common purpose of Jesus’ gospel, beginning in our own local church congregations.

God of Rescue

Israel’s 400 year enslavement under Egypt and their subsequent deliverance offer us numerous important lessons. Among these, a significant quality of the Lord that would have resonated with Israel at that time was Yahweh’s role as the God of rescue.

Exodus 2:23-25 reads, During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel – and God knew.

God permitted Israel to remain enslaved in Egypt far longer than they thought necessary (400 years). Yet a full rescue of the entire nation came precisely when Yahweh appointed it. Not a moment too late.  The man God used for the rescue mission was Moses, a man Israel neither recognised, nor wanted as their saviour. So it was, and remains today, with Jesus. Many fail to recognise Jesus Christ as their  Saviour and miss their only opportunity of rescue from the power of sin and the coming wrath.

Today, Israel remains in the safe hands of their divine rescuer. As Paul asks and answers in Romans 11:1, has God rejected his people Israel? By no means! …Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; “and this will be My covenant with them when I take away their sins” (Romans 11:26-27).

Through Moses, God used methods of rescue that neither Israel nor Egypt, in their wildest dreams, would ever have imagined. The Lord displayed His power and His determined will through the 10 plagues upon Egypt (Exodus 7-12), until Egypt finally released Israel. What’s more, Yahweh performed Israel’s rescue without asking their permission or getting them to contribute. In the end, Israels’ rescue through the divided waters of the Red Sea became Egypt’s’ judgement, drowning their entire army as they pursued Israel (Exodus 14).

For God, Israel’s rescue was personal, resulting from the covenant He had made with Israel’s forefather Abraham, then confirmed with Isaac and Jacob. When Israel called out to be saved from Egypt, God knew them as His covenant people, therefore divine rescue was inevitable.

While others watched God’s rescue of Israel with hatred, for those being rescued, the Lord’s deliverance was life changing and irreversible. There was to be no going back to Egypt’s enslavement, even though some later wanted that. So it is today, for those who put repentant faith in Jesus Christ, others may not understand, some may ridicule you or even cut you off. But rest secure, from God’s perspective, there is no going back.

As Christians, we have entrusted our lives to Him who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father (Galatians 1:4). It’s important for us to view our relationship with God through Jesus, to be our daily rescue from the sin that took Jesus to the cross on our behalf in the first place. As recipients of such grace, we are to have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh (Jude 1:22-23). Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore (others) on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20). Through Jesus Christ, God is still the God of rescue.

Selfless God

When considering the many components within a person’s character, selfishness, or selflessness, often stands out as obvious.

From the first sin ever committed, selfishness was in Lucifer’s heart when he thought to himself “I will make myself like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:14). Not surprising then, that selfishness was at the heart of the serpent’s temptation of Eve, who looked upon the forbidden fruit, and in essence said to herself, eating will bring me pleasure. So she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband (Genesis 3:6). And to this day, we all experience the painful outcome of Eve’s selfish decision.

However, Yahweh is the opposite. From the beginning of time, He is seen to be selfless in His character and interactions with His creation. From a human perspective, none is more selfless than God’s son, Jesus Christ. Who made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:7-8). It should not surprize us then, that Jesus said selflessness is the second most important of all God’s commandments: You shall love your neighbour as yourself (Mark 12:31), which Paul repeated in Galatians 5:14.

The Christian life, especially church life, is not about self. Rather, it’s about the Lord Jesus Christ and His people, who Christ has partnered us with. Next to how you live Christ in your home and family, your local church congregation is the primary place where your true heart condition will express itself. Overflowing from your relationships within the family of God, will come your relationships with your non-believing friends and colleagues. Jesus explained this in John 13:35, by this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. Selfless love within the body of Christ is Jesus’ powerful declaration to the world of His selfless love expressed on the cross.

Jesus’ love is the foundation for Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians 5:1-2, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. If we desire to be increasingly like God, and we should, Jesus is our template. The self-sacrificing love Jesus has for us continues as a sweet smelling sacrifice to God, which we are to mimic.

Selfless God did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all… (Romans 8:32). Oh, may we invite the severity of God’s example to grip our hearts? Yahweh surrendered His only Son to the cross for we sinners. For God so loved the world, that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). How can we ever look at the world or our fellow Christian with selfish eyes with such a mountainous and glorious example before us.

May we today, pray with David, who pleaded in Psalm 119:36, Incline my heart to Your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! May we obey Paul’s exhortation in Philippians 2:3-4, Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. In these ways, may we be imitators of God, as beloved children. May selfless God truly be our God, our Saviour, and our LORD. May selfless Jesus Christ, by the power of selfless Holy Spirit, dominate our characters and lives for His glory and the blessing of others.

Jephthah the Faithful

Judges chapters 11-12 begins with a married man by the name of Gilead, committed adultery with a prostitute, who gave birth to a boy who was named Jephthah. Jephthah grew up in his father’s household with his stepmother who also gave birth to other sons by Gilead. As the boys grew up, Jephthah’s half-brothers resented him and eventually drove him out of the family. You shall not have an inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman. Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob, and worthless fellows collected around Jephthah and went out with him. Consequently, Jephthah became a mighty warrior (Judges 11:1-3).

Sometime later, the Ammonites came to make war against Israel. The leaders of the tribe of Gilead sent for Jephthah, seeking military assistance. They offered to serve Jephthah if he helped them defeat their enemy, to which Jephthah agreed. Initially, Jephthah sent a conciliatory message to the Ammonite king attempting a peaceful solution. But they rejected, making war inevitable.

By now, Jephthah had an only daughter, and they lived in Mizpah. Foolishly, Jephthah promised God, saying, if you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering (Judges 11:30–31).

Well, Jephthah went to battle against the Ammonites and defeated them. Upon arriving home, his daughter was first to come out of the house to greet him (Judges 11:29, 32-34).

How could this have happened?

Apparently, it was customary for people of that time and place, to have animals living in the ground level of their house. Possibly Jephthah expected an animal to greet him first, not his daughter. As you can imagine, this unexpected surprize caused him enormous grief. What’s more surprizing, was his daughter’s response when he explained his vow to her. She accepted the consequences, only asking for two months to mourn first (Judges 11:37–38). At the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow that he had made (Judges 11:39).

Jephthah kept his vow to God, and the event became an Israelite custom for the daughters of Israel to mourn the event yearly for four days (Judges 11:40).

However, following Jephthah’s defeat of the Ammonites, the Israelite tribe of Ephraim became angry with him for attacking the Ammonites without inviting them to help. They threatened to burn his house over him with fire (Judges 12:1). This led to a battle between the tribes, with Gilead killing 42,000 Ephraimites. Jephthah went on to judge Israel for six years (Judges 12:6-7).

Lessons from Jephthah:
1) God can use us now and in the future regardless of our background, our history, or what others think of us.
2) Be careful not to make rash promises.
3) Even when we do the right thing, we may have to endure hardship from others.
4) Like Jephthah, who lived a righteous life as judge over Israel, we too can faithfully walk with the Lord, despite our irregularities, our failings, and even our occasional foolish decisions.
5) God never withheld His Spirit’s blessing from Jephthah, who is recorded in 1 Samuel 12:11 and Hebrews 11:32, as a man of faith whom God used.
6) God does not look for reasons to discriminate against His children. Nor does He hold past faults against those who are repentant, forgiven, and cleansed in Jesus (Romans 8:1; 1 Corinthians 6:11).

Uncomfortable Comfort – Part 2

The video of this message can be viewed at: 

Considering practical ways to receive and amplify God’s comfort 

Psalm 119:50 This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.

  • David says that the comfort he received came while in the time of affliction.
  • Don’t think that comfort only comes when the affliction is gone. That’s worldly thinking.
  • The greatest struggles of life present the greatest opportunities for God’s grace in its various forms of comfort.

While there are different Hebrew words for Comfort, in Psalm 119:50, David uses neḥâmâ, h5165 = consolation, to relent or comfort. It’s from a base word, h5162 nâḥam, which means to sigh, or to breathe deeply.

  • Which is very applicable in times of distress when the believer can emotionally, spiritually, and possibly physically, take a deep breath of pause.
  • This creates the opportunity to gather our thoughts from the perspective of God’s Word. Maybe through meditation of God’s Word, possibly by reviewing life, or simply to slow down what’s happening in our minds or in the surrounding events, to wait on the Lord.
  • It’s in the spiritual deep breath of comfort that we find some ease, maybe the ability to set God back in the centre of our attention. Here, there’s a sense of well-being while the turmoil swirls around you. It’s a time when you may conclude that you have lost control, but God hasn’t. Therefore, there is hope in the LORD.

2 Questions:
How do we receive God’s available comfort.
How do we amplify God’s comfort so that comfort drowns out the loudest pains?

4 Answers:
1)  Observe your life from God’s perspective
It’s only natural, and understandable, that life’s difficulties sometimes consume us.
When feeling afflicted, one of the early things that often happens, is someone begins telling you that God has abandoned you, you are obviously unworthy of His attention, you’re on your own, or God must be evil to allow such things to happen. It may be the voices in your own heart, it may be the devil, or it could be friends. Either way, the voices of condemnation are WRONG.

  • If you are a repentant believer in Jesus Christ as Lord, and you are not presently dominated by habitual sin, listen to who you are in Christ.
  • Read God’s Word, read books that tell you clearly who God says you are in Christ.
  • Romans 8:1, There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
  • Romans 8:39, Nothing… in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
  • In Colossians 3:12, Paul addressed the believers as the elect of God, holy and beloved
  • In Ephesians 2:13-14, Paul told the believers that they have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace… Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are heavily invested.

Our confidence of acceptance by God is not found in self or in the church size or character, but in Christ.

  • Our circumstances do NOT change any of these truths.
  • 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 NLT Paraphrase. It is God who enables us, along with you, to stand firm for Christ. He has commissioned us, 22 and he has identified us as his own by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the first instalment that guarantees everything he has promised us.

This is God’s commitment to every born again child of His. This is how He sees you, regardless of circumstances, regardless of how you feel about yourself, and regardless of what others tell you.

  • God knows everything about you and what’s happening in your life (Psalm 139:1-2) and He loves you regardless. So, count your blessings, name them, and talk about them.

2)  Engage & share with others – fellowship
When the going gets tough, we often just want to be alone, which is fine for short periods of time. But as creatures created in the image of God, we were designed for fellowship. God uses others to supply our needs, even though we may not want others, we need them.
Spend time with believers who weep and laugh with you, and who share their joy with you.
Spend time with those with courage and dogged determination to persevere. Be careful how much time you spend with those who continually look for a way out only.

  • Proverbs 18:1, Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.

This is why the New Testament speaks of the “one anothers” so often – we need one another to receive the relational resources of God. It is through one another the relational  voice of affirmation and security is increased.

  • 2 Corinthians 13:11, Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

It is often through one another that we realise the emotional impact of the God of love and peace being present in our lives.

This is why faithfulness is so critical to our emotional and spiritual wellbeing – God designed us to receive and amplify His love and peace through our loving and peaceful relationships with one another.

  • Paul warns us in Galatians 5:15, if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
  • 2 Corinthians 1:5, For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

As we open up to one another we become able to receive and give the comforts of God. When we distance ourselves from one another, we are more likely to judge one another.

2 Corinthians 6:11-13 NIV
11 We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you.
12 We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are  withholding yours from us.
13 As a fair exchange — I speak as to my children — open wide    your hearts also.

This is how we build a stronger community amongst ourselves. We open up to each other. This doesn’t mean you bare your soul or your deepest secrets to everyone.

  • But it does mean we all take time and make effort to pause, to attend fellowship times, to talk, to introduce ourselves, to offer help during the week, or ask for help.
  • To get into a routine of communication with your fellow church members.
  • To prioritise time together with your Christian brothers and sisters as significant time.
  • This is how we share and amplify God’s comfort in our church relationships. Be content with one another, choose not to take offense at one another.

2 Thessalonians 1:3, We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.

Book Promotion: “Unoffendable” by Brant Hansen.

3)  Read Scripture & Worship
This is an extension of number 1, “Observe your life from God’s perspective”

Spend time alone with God! Spend time with others, with God!

  • Psalm 119:36, Incline (Stretch out) my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!
  • As we grow our understanding of God’s Word, that understanding comforts and reassures.
  • Again, worship with one another is critical for our wellbeing. Private worship only goes so far. We need to make the connection, spending time in God’s Word fuels our worship.
  • David likened his pleasure in God’s Word to that of his combined financial wealth.

In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches (Psalm 119:14, cf. 119:162).
Psalm 119:52,  When I think of your rules from of old, I take comfort, O LORD.
Psalm 119:76,   Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant.
Psalm 119:92 If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.

  • In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul instructs us to give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. And it’s only as we know God better, and view our lives from His perspective in Christ, that we are able to do this.

4)  Serve on behalf of Christ
Serving is a powerful means of receiving, giving, and amplifying Christ’s comfort. As we serve, we act on behalf of Christ, and we see the blessing in others.

  • Galatians 5:13, For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

Spiritual freedom does not mean selfish living. No, we exchange those selfish activities for ones of service done in love.
Selfless service reminds us, and others, of the “freedom” we have in Christ. And we experience that freedom through loving service. This amplifies God’s comfort within us.

Matthew 20:26-28, Jesus informed His position hungry disciples that…
…whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.

When we disconnect or distance ourselves from relationships and service for God, we are disconnecting from one of God’s resources for encouragement and support.

  • This is why 1 Peter 4:10 says, As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace…

Mutual service administers God’s grace into each other’s lives. As we receive His grace, it is amplified through other’s service to us, affirming God’s comfort.

Review – We Receive and Amplify God’s Comfort when we:
Observe our lives from God’s perspective
Engage & share with others in fellowship
Read Scripture & Worship
Serve others on behalf of Christ

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