Thursday, March 24, 2011

Croesus and Cyrus

1 May the LORD answer you in the day of trouble; May the name of the God of Jacob defend you; 2 May He send you help from the sanctuary, And strengthen you out of Zion; 3 May He remember all your offerings, And accept your burnt sacrifice. Selah 4 May He grant you according to your heart’s desire, And fulfill all your purpose. 5 We will rejoice in your salvation, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners! May the LORD fulfill all your petitions. 6 Now I know that the LORD saves His anointed; He will answer him from His holy heaven with the saving strength of His right hand. 7 Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the LORD our God.8 They have bowed down and fallen; but we have risen and stand upright. 9 Save, LORD! May the King answer us when we call. (Psalm 20)

One of my favorite stories from history is the account of how Cyrus the Great of Persia defeated Croesus, the King of Lydia. Some of you may have heard this story before, if so, bear with me. If you have not, I’ll fill you in.

Croesus was the King of Lydia for almost 50 years, from 597 BC until 547 BC. Lydia was in the western part of what is now Turkey. Croesus is known for being one of the wealthiest kings who ever lived. His name is remembered in the old expression that someone is as “rich as Croesus.”

Cyrus the Great was the founder of the Persian Empire. He was set on dominating the entire known world, and was successful in establishing the largest empire the world had ever seen at the time.

Cyrus the Great
We also know of Cyrus from the Bible. He is the king who defeated the Babylonians, and allowed the Jews to return to Israel after the exile. In fact, because of this, Cyrus comes out sounding pretty good in the book of Isaiah. “[God] says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd, and he shall perform all My pleasure, Saying to Jerusalem, “You shall be built,” and to the temple, “Your foundation shall be laid.” (Isaiah 44:28)

Because of Croesus’ wealth, he had a great army. In fact, his cavalry troops were world renown. Cyrus had already met them in battle and was defeated. Cyrus, however, was a brilliant strategist, and was not going to give up on his quest for world domination.

Croesus prepared for another attack from Cyrus, by amassing an even larger army. He met the Persian army on the plain of Thymbra. Cyrus’ troops were organized in a large square. The square was outlined with chariots, cavalry, and his best infantry. He also added one new division; the camel corp.

While this may sound strange, Cyrus knew what he was doing. When the Lydian cavalry came swooping in to attack, their horse reared up, and became uncontrollable. The riders had to dismount and retreat. This caused the entire army to retire to the walls of the city, and Croesus was defeated in a matter of days.

What Cyrus knew would happen, that Croesus did not, was that the smell from the camels would disturb the horses. They were unfamiliar with camels and were frightened. Thus, the battle was won with very few casualties.

The Psalm above states in verse 7 “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the LORD our God.” All of the things that we like to depend on in this world, will eventually fail us. Our health will wane and our material goods will break and rust. However, when we put our trust in the Lord, He will always be faithful. He knows much better than we, what is good for us, and how our battles can be won.

Just as Cyrus used a very unconventional method to defeat Croesus, the things God uses to aid us in our daily battles may seem odd to us. He may use tragic events, help from a stranger, or things we perceive to be inconveniences. Instead of questioning God, in these circumstances, thank God for His providence, and ask Him what you need to learn from them. Trust Him, and He will provide for you.

The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:25)

The Guardian

Imagine you are a car thief in Washington D.C. You have targeted a particular car to steal. It’s parked in a dark place on the street. You have checked all around to make sure there is no one around to witness your crime. You have cased the area and know the owner will not be back for the car for a long while.

You break into the car, and are about to go to work on the ignition to hotwire it. However, you notice something move out of the corner of your eye. You stand up to investigate. You are now sense that something is wrong.

DCs Guardian
Suddenly, a figure begins coming into sight. You’re not sure exactly what it is, but it is not a common pedestrian. The figure is coming right at you! Only then, do you begin to see the details of a man, but it is no ordinary man.

This man is dressed in blue pants, with bright red boots. He is wearing a red leather jacket that has a blue front emblazoned with white stars. Red gloves cover his hands, and a blue mask with darkened eyes covers his face. He is also wearing some kind of utility belt, with who knows what, in it. You choose to not stick around to find out more about this crazy man in a superhero outfit. You decide the car isn’t worth the trouble and run!

Is this a page from a comic book or superhero movie? No. This is real life. The mysterious man is known in the Washington D.C. area as the DC Guardian. Underneath the jacket he wears a bullet-proof vest, and he “patrols” the streets of DC at night to ward off crime.

In a recent interview with National Public Radio, The DC Guardian said that most of the time, he never has to fight. He remarked that most criminals simply sun when they see him. He also stated that he wears the costume, which he calls a uniform, to call attention to what he is doing. Not for notoriety, but to call attention to the criminals.

He told of one incident where he saw a drug deal happening in broad daylight. He said there were lots of people around, but they were ignoring it. However, when he began to approach the men who had the drugs, the people on the street began to stare to see what he was doing. Then the people became aware of the drug deal, and the dealers ran. To quote the DC Guardian, “Evil doesn’t like light.”

Phoenix Jones
He is not the only one. There are a number of communities who have their own real-life superheroes. Another example is a man who wears a rubber suit and mask in Seattle. He is known as Phoenix Jones. All of these people keep their true identities a secret, but you can be sure the criminals know who they are and stay away.

We have such a “superhero” in God. He has delivered us from the ultimate enemy. He has defeated sin, death, hell, and Satan. He is our rescuer. David wrote many Psalms in praise of that fact, but Psalm 18 is one of the best.

This week I encourage you to think about all of the things that seem to close in on you. Maybe you are unsure of your job, or are unemployed. It could be that your marriage is failing. Perhaps you or family members or friends are gravely ill. Maybe your children are living a rebellious life. Whatever the issues are in your life, God is there. He may not make it all go away, like the DC Guardian or Phoenix Jones, but unlike them, He is always there. You can trust Him with your problems, frustrations, celebrations, joys, and your whole life. He is your true guardian and He loves you very much.

As you think about those things that plague you, commit to reading Psalm 18 this week. Pray before reading it that God will open your eyes, heart and spirit to hear His words and help you to apply it to your life. Read it each day, and know that if David, who saw much adversity in his life, can say these words, they can be real for you also.

The LORD lives! Blessed be my Rock! Let the God of my salvation be exalted. It is God who avenges me, and subdues the peoples under me; He delivers me from my enemies. You also lift me up above those who rise against me; You have delivered me from the violent man. Therefore I will give thanks to You, O LORD, among the Gentiles, and sing praises to Your name. (Psalm 18:46-49)

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Truth

Most of you know that before I was a pastor, I was a banker. However, you may not know that before I was a banker, I was a buyer and sales manager for a store in Greenville, SC that sold high-end furniture, home accessories, handmade rugs, and other types of floor coverings. In addition to the products, we also offered interior design services.

Because of the design service we offered, we did a large number of special orders. The delivery time on most wood furniture pieces was 4-6 weeks and 6-8 weeks on upholstered pieces. However, sometimes there was a glitch somewhere along the way, and it could take longer.

Such was the case with one client. One of the designers came into my office with an upset client. She was angry because a set of dining chairs that she had ordered were taking a very long time. It had been almost nine weeks since the chairs were ordered. The client was very upset and was blaming the designer for being slow in ordering the chairs or not placing the order at all. I assured her that I would find out where the chairs were and call her back.

The sales representative from that company was a friend, so I called him. He was astonished that we had not received the chairs and told me he would call me back with some information before the day was over. He kept his word, but I was not prepared for his answer.

He told me that the chairs were imported. They were made of mahogany and hand carved in the Philippines. He affirmed that our designer had placed the order correctly, and that the order was in their system. So, with a little indignation in my voice, I asked, “So, where are my chairs?”

He replied, “Stacy, you’re never going to believe me. The chairs are at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean somewhere between the Philippines and the U.S. The cargo ship that was carrying them sank. We placed a new order for the chairs about three weeks ago, so you should have your chairs in a week or two.”

If he had not been such a good man and a friend, I would not have believed him. Now my problem was having to tell my client, and expecting her to believe me. As it turned out, she did, and everything was fine.

Imagine what would have happened if the “sinking ship” story had not been true. What if I suspected that the company was lying to me? What if I threatened to pull all of our business with the company? Do you suppose they would continue to lie? What if I walked into the office of the company’s CEO, put a gun to his head and threatened to kill him if I didn’t get the truth? Would he continue to lie? Probably not.

Jesus told his disciples and a number of others that he was going to suffer and die, but that He would be raised on the third day. However, many of them didn’t want to accept that it could happen or didn’t believe Him. Everything happened, though, just as He said.

He was executed and buried, but then rose on the third day. After His resurrection, He spent 40 days with His friends. He touched them and ate, walked and talked with them. They knew that this was no ghost. He was alive!!

From the best evidence we have, we know that all of the twelve disciples, except for John, died violent deaths. Some were tortured, but all faced death. All they had to do was renounce their “story” about Jesus’ resurrection. They refused. Not one of them reversed their position. They were willing to die because they knew Jesus had risen, and they would not have done so if the resurrection was a made up story.

Is the resurrection true in your life or is it simply a story you like to believe? Have you faced the cross and accepted the reality that the blood shed there was for you, or have you written it off as folklore? Does the empty tomb prove victory for you or does it point to an ancient conspiracy?

The account of the death and resurrection of Jesus is very real. He is alive and by His resurrection, we have eternal life as well. Whether or not we choose to ignore or disbelieve the truth, does not affect the truth. I could have chosen to not believe that a ship sank, but it would not have changed the fact that twelve dining chairs are still at the bottom of the ocean. Accept the Truth of Jesus Christ and live a blessed life on this earth, and an eternal one in Heaven!

God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah. (Acts 2:32 & 36 NIV. From Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost)

Who's Driving?

Some of you may have read the poem that begins, “A basketball in my hands is worth about $19. A basketball in Michael Jordan's hands is worth about $33 million. It depends on whose hands it's in.” The rest of the poem goes on to talk about other sports stars who add value to ordinary things because they know how to use them. The poem then turns to a more serious subject. The last few lines read, “Nails in my hands might produce a bird house. Nails in Christ Jesus' hands will produce salvation for the entire world.
It depends on whose hands they're in.”

Many people pride themselves on how “in control” they are of their lives. They brag about their accomplishments, who they know, how much money they make, and how well their children turned out. Some of them even call themselves, “self-made.”

However, Christians are called to do the exact opposite of this. We are called to turn our entire lives over to Christ. We are to empty ourselves of our own desires, wants, and needs, and completely trust God with everything we have. After all, He created us, and knows far better than we, how our lives should be lived and what we are capable of in His kingdom.

I’m reminded of a news story from several years ago, in Germany. Tuncer Yilmaz was a cab driver in Berlin. One day, Yilmaz picked up a fare who was in a huge hurry. He had just flown in from Switzerland and was on a tight schedule to meet a dog breeder in the town of Gesuelz. He was going there to buy a puppy from the breeder and needed to get back home quickly.

The passenger decided that Yilmaz was not driving fast enough on the way back to the airport and asked if he could drive. The cabbie allowed him to, because he had recognized the young man. The fare he had picked up was Michael Schumacher, who is arguably the F1 series winningest race car driver.

When Schumacher took the wheel of the cab, the ride was a completely different experience. Yilmaz was quoted as saying, "It was sheer lunacy. He took the curves with full speed, but you couldn't even notice it. He just knows how to do it." He also said that he would never forget the ride.

Michael Schumacher knew how to handle the car. He made a living driving and pushed the car to its limits. He made the cab do things that Yilmaz never dreamed it would do. It depends on whose hands it’s in.

Physicians tell us that we only use from .01% to 10% of our brain. However, if we placed it in God’s hands, what could the one who created it do with it? We have no idea what we are capable of, and how effective we can be for God’s work on earth, until we give Him all that we have.

If we will give Him our life, our marriage, our job, our children, our will, our future and our past, He will take it and make it into more than we have ever dreamed we could do or be. Our lives, in our hands, is simply a mess. In God’s hands, it is a powerful tool for Him. Give Him your all today. You will never forget the ride!

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV)