Seeking & Knowing Christ

Posted: October 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

This afternoon, after listening to two men of God who have now died, but who truly knew God and sought God, I got down on my face and just prayed and cried out to God to know Him more and better. How we need to seek His face! No matter how long ago we may have been “saved” or how long we have been “walking” with Christ, there is so much more to come to know of Him in our lives. The apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3:10: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings…”

I wonder how different our lives, churches and world would be if this really was our single greatest passion, priority and pursuit?

Also, consider this. If the “great” apostle Paul expressed this desire even after years of faithfully serving and “walking” with Christ (and writing this while in prison because of his faith in Christ!) how much more is there for us to come to know of Christ, His resurrection power and even the fellowship that comes in sharing in His heart/sufferings in our own lives?

I am restless. I am hungry. I am not content to merely “know” about Him…or be content in what I have come to experience of Him…I want to know Him more.  By the way…there is a major difference between knowing about Christ verse actually knowing Christ and having fellowship with Christ.

In fact did you know that fellowship with/knowing Christ is the essence of “eternal life” or being “saved?”

It’s not merely about knowing we will one day go to heaven when we die or that we have been saved from hell or forgiven of sin. Those are awesome realities. I don’t mean to take away from the richness and wonder of those things at all. But it’s not only about those things.

The essence of eternal life is fellowship with God. Jesus Himself said in John 17:3: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” This “knowing God” is not merely an intellectual knowledge about God. It’s speaking of a real (and reconciled) relationship/fellowship with God that will endure (and we will enjoy!) for all eternity! 1 John 1:3-4 puts it this way: “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.” Where does complete joy come from? Fellowship with God. God forgave us, saved us, redeemed us, delivered us, healed us, sent His Son to die for us, and reconciled us to Himself in Christ…that we might have fellowship with Him! It is this alone that satisfies the heart of man. We were made for God. We were made for relationship with Him.

God once declared this in Jeremiah 2:13: “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

I believe that’s at the core and heart of the problem today. We may not have “denied” God but we have “forsaken” God and “dug our own cisterns.” What are those cisterns that cannot sustain water? How about sports, food, family, religion, entertainment, work, ministry itself? These can easily become substitutes for fellowship with God. Let me just ask you this question: are you seeking Him with all your heart? Is your greatest passion, pursuit and number one priority to know Christ?

He is the spring of living water! Is this not what Jesus spoke of to the women at the well in John chapter 4? She had lived a sinful life. She was alone and empty. Nothing was truly satisfying or working in her life. Her relationships were shattered and the relationship she was in was wrong. But in John 4:10 we are told: “Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”   And then after she responds to that it records: “Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Later we have another incident recorded in John 7:37-39 where: “On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit…”

Do we really believe this?

Jesus calls us…invites us…to come to Him…and drink. He promises whoever trusts in Him will experience the reality of streams of living water flowing from within. In John 10:10 He said He came that we might have life and life to the full. That life is in Him. It’s not in “adding” Him to our lives as an “improvement” to our lives. It’s in Him becoming our life and our life revolving around Him!

I am working on a message from the book of Amos as I write this. In Amos 5:4-6, Amos tells the people of his day (religious people) this: “This is what the Lord says to the house of Israel: “Seek me and live; do not seek Bethel, do not go to Gilgal, do not journey to Beersheba. For Gilgal will surely go into exile, and Bethel will be reduced to nothing.” Seek the Lord and live…”

The interesting thing about this is that Bethel, Gilgal and Beersheba were very sacred and special places in Israel’s history. Men of God had significant encounters with God or significant events happen in those places. Yet years later Amos comes along and tells the people that it’s not about going to these places and going through religious rituals. Seek God! Life, real life, is found in seeking God Himself! Life is not found in going to church…it’s found in Christ! Life is not found in going through religious rituals…it’s found in the Living and Risen Jesus! Seek Him and live!

One of the keys for “revival” is just this…not seeking revival for revival’s sake…but seeking the face of God…simply to know Him! 2 Chronicles 7:14 says: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

This is what is most needed. We need to seek God. Knowing Him needs to become our greatest, deepest, sincerest desire. Seeking Him needs to be the passion, priority and pursuit of our lives. Not just when we “perceive” our need for Him, but all the time. It needs to be the “One thing” we must want and ask of God…that we might know Him. David put it this way in Psalm 27:4-5: “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.”

I come back to this and close with this. If even the apostle Paul expressed a passion to know Christ after having come to know and walk with and serve Christ so faithfully for so many years…how much more is there for us to come to know of Christ? If this is the essence of eternal life, then how can we ever be content in our present or past knowledge of Christ? A relationship is meant to be “alive” and “grow” otherwise it “grows” stagnant. Has your relationship with Christ grown stagnant? Then it is time to seek Him that you might live! Have you even ever really come to know Christ to begin with?  If not, seek Him.  Jeremiah 29:13-14 says: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.”  God created you to seek Him and find Him. 

But if have entered into relationship with Christ and it has not stagnated great! Keep seeking Him with all your heart. After writing about his deepest desire being to know Christ, Paul had the humility to write this in Philippians 3:12-14: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

No matter who we are or where we are at…the word is still the same: Seek Him…and keep seeking Him!

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Overcoming Fear

Posted: October 16, 2014 in Uncategorized

Ebola. ISIS. Terrorist attacks. Disasters. Wars. Rumors of wars. Economic problems.

What do all these things (and more) have in common? They all have the ability to instill fear in the hearts of people. The times we live in, especially as we turn on the news or see videos’ and pictures from around the world, can cause tremendous anxiety and fear. It can seem at times that everything is coming “unglued” or evil is “winning” or “advancing.” We all have recently heard/read stories or even seen pictures of people, even children, being beheaded, crucified, raped, plundered, trafficked and slaughtered in various parts of the world. Evil is real and evil things still continue to happen. Actually this should come as no surprise to the believer in Jesus Christ. Scripture prophesied that there would be “terrible times in the last days” (2 Timothy 3:1-5) that would only get worse before Jesus returns (Matthew 24).

About nine or ten years ago now, I sensed during a time of personal worship and prayer that the Holy Spirit was showing me that the number one issue I would deal with in my own life and in the lives of those I would minister to would be fear. I have witnessed that over the years to be very true. Actually from a very early age, I have been extremely sensitive and fearful. I can remember many nights being terrified of the dark and scared by just about every, and any, movie I ever watched! I lived in PA but still, upon seeing the movie Dante’s Peak for example, I was terrified that a volcano would erupt and catch me by surprise! It didn’t matter how irrational or unlikely what I saw in movies was to happen to me, I became terrified that it would. In many ways, those irrational fears (or even rational ones!) have not left me to this day.

For example, (this one is now funny looking back!) I was on a mission’s trip to Panama a few years ago, and I got it in my head that I may die on that trip. So you know how I spent a good deal of that trip? Thinking about every possible way I might die and wondering in each situation if that was going to be it! So bad was it, that when we went to cross a body of water in a small canoe to visit an indigenous Indian tribe, I waited for the moment that a crocodile would jump out of the water and try to eat one of us (I “romanticized” it though by preparing to be the “hero” who would save whoever it went after…and be eaten in their place). Now, mind you, before we got in the canoe we did see a crocodile swim by, but yes, granted, this was irrational, but it was real in my own head at that moment! I started to get this way on roller coasters too recently. I discovered when you’re only thinking about all the different ways you could fly off and die, it sort of robs of the joy of the ride!

Fear can be crippling. Fear holds people back from doing things. The owner of a business I once worked for had a house in Hawaii. Sounds nice right? One problem. He was afraid of flying in an airplane, so he never set foot in his own house in Hawaii! I know of another person who basically stays at home, or has as much as possible, since 9/11, afraid of something happening to him. I know many others who are afraid of going even on a week-long mission trip because of all kinds and every kind of fears. Did you know Proverbs 22:13 speaks to this? It says: “The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside!” or, “I will be murdered in the streets!”  There is a chance those things could happen…but have not people also died in their own homes as well? There is risk in everything and no one has “beat the odds” of death (except Enoch and Elijah…but that’s another story!).

What has greatly helped me over the years with my own fears has been the words of Joshua 1:9 where God says to Joshua: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

God commands us not to be afraid. In fact did you know that beside the phrase “Praise the Lord;” “Do not be afraid” (or something similar) is the most often repeated command in Scripture? And notice it is a command! God says “Have I not commanded you?” God calls us to “be strong and courageous.” He commands us not to give into fear. He reminds us and assures us that He will be with us wherever we go. The issue is one of trust. We must trust Him and walk in obedience to Him. It is Him that we must “fear” not anything or anyone else more.

For example we should not let the fear of terrorists or anyone who could kill us cause us to be crippled by fear. Jesus in fact said this in Luke 12:4-7: “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

We also should not fear death as believers. Hebrews 2:14-17 tells us this about Jesus: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants.” Jesus died not only to save us from our sins, but set us free from our fear of death. We now have the hope of eternal life, the promise of everlasting life, a kingdom that can never be shaken. Hebrews 12:26-29 tells us there is coming a day when this world and everything in it will be “shaken” and everything will change, but we need not fear. It says this: “but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken — that is, created things — so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”  Again, it is God that is to be feared, not anything or anyone else. And it’s the hope (joyful, eager, confident, certain, expectation) of eternal life that we have in Christ that delivers us from earthly fear. We need to meditate on eternal realities and place our trust in God and His promises to overcome earthly fear.

Really it comes down to trust in God. Fear is getting the main focus off of God and onto other things. But Psalm 27:1 says: “The Lord is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life — of whom shall I be afraid?” The Psalmist goes on in that Psalm to speak about an army coming against him and surrounding him, yet in the midst of that, in verses 4-6, you see His focus on the beauty of God and you see him setting his heart not in looking outward, but upward, confident that: “…in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.”

So many Psalms speak of God being our refuge, fortress, shield, strong-tower, defender, deliverer, place of safety, protector etc. Psalm 91 speaks of how if we make God our “dwelling” then He will supernaturally protect us from all the evil attacks of Satan. Psalm 46:1-3 says this: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” Twice in that Psalm it also says: “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

Jesus told His disciples in John 14:1-4 this: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” A few verses later after one of His disciples said out confusion that they didn’t know where he was going and thus didn’t know the way, Jesus said these famous words: “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by Me.”

Some people because of their evil deeds are afraid to come into the light of Christ’s presence, lest their deeds be exposed, even though Jesus would forgive them (John 3:16-20).

Others are bound by their fear of being rejected or ridiculed and so they stay silent in regard to their faith in Jesus (John 7:12-13, John 12:42-43).

Others are afraid of the judgment of God. (Often those who should be (unbelievers) aren’t and those who shouldn’t be (believers) are!). But no believer in Jesus ought to fear punishment, for Jesus bore our punishment and the judgment of God for our sins on the cross. 1 John 4:18 reminds us: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

Others fear the same things that non-believers fear. But 1 Peter 3:14-15 says: “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.”

Still others fear and worry about tomorrow and their needs being met. They therefore don’t put the kingdom of God as first priority of their lives. But Jesus said our Father knows what we need. And so He said in Matthew 6:33-34: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” And Hebrews 13:5-6 says: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

What delivers us from earthly fear? It’s having a greater “fear” of God. It’s magnifying God for who He is, rather than magnifying the things that would cause us fear. It’s focusing on His glory and beauty and character and promises, not the darkness, evil and problems of the world. This doesn’t mean ignoring or turning a blind eye to these things, it just means our eyes stay focused on God despite all that is raging around us. It’s when we get our eyes off of Jesus that we become to “sink” in the raging waters, rather than walk upon them (Matthew 13:27-31). It’s when we give more heed and attention to what causes us fear, than the one who has promised to be with us, help us, and never leave us or forsake us. Fear is maximizing the wrong thing while minimizing God. God has not promised that we won’t go through things. But He has promised He would be with us. To overcome fear we must place (and keep) our trust in our Living, Risen, Victorious Savior! We must put our trust in the One who created us, redeemed us and calls us His own.  Don’t let fear cripple you.

Isaiah 43:1-3: “But now, this is what the Lord says — he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…”

Revelation 1:17-18: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

I have been thinking a lot lately about a phrase the Bible uses several times (sometimes in a positive sense, other times in a negative sense). That phrase is this (or similar to it): “The hand of the Lord…” or we could (and I will) also include this phrase: “The Spirit of the Lord came upon…”  This is the great need in our lives, families, churches, business, “ministry” etc…the hand of God.  It’s His “hand” on our lives and His Spirit that makes (and will make) all the difference.

Consider the following Scripture, stories and examples:

First of all, in a negative sense, Moses warned Pharaoh that if he didn’t let God’s people go, “the hand of the Lord will bring a terrible plague on your livestock in the field…” (Exodus 9:1-4). God will not bless our disobedience or rebellion against Him! If we oppose Him, He will oppose us.

Later, in the book of Judges when God’s people are being unfaithful to Him, we are told in Judges 2:15: “Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the Lord was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress.” God will not bless our unfaithfulness!

In 1 Samuel 5:11-12 the Philistines have captured and have in their possession the ark of the covenant but the people told the rulers this: “Send the ark of the god of Israel away; let it go back to its own place, or it will kill us and our people.” For death had filled the city with panic; God’s hand was very heavy upon it. Those who did not die were afflicted with tumors, and the outcry of the city went up to heaven.”

Psalm 75:8 says: “In the hand of the Lord is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices; he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its very dregs.”

In 1 Samuel 7:13 we are told: “Throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines.”

In Acts 13:8-11 we are introduced to a sorcerer named Elymas who we are told: “…opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun.” Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand.”

I think these Scriptures speak for themselves that it’s not a good thing for the “hand of the Lord” to be against you!

But consider these cases when the “hand of the Lord” was “with” His people!

Joshua 4:23-24 says: “The Lord your God did to the Jordan just what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.”

In 2 Kings 3:15-19 we are told: “While the harpist was playing, the hand of the Lord came upon Elisha and he said, “This is what the Lord says…” Elisha being able to prophesy about something that happened before it happened was linked to “the hand of the Lord” coming upon Him.

In 1 Chronicles 28:19 King David gives this testimony to His son Solomon in regard to all the preparations and plans he made for the temple that Solomon would build: “All this,” David said, “I have in writing from the hand of the Lord upon me, and he gave me understanding in all the details of the plan.” David didn’t just make up his own ideas for God’s temple. God instructed and inspired him. His hand was upon Him!

In Ezra 7:6 we are told about Ezra that: “He was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given. The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him.” The kings’ favor in granting him what he needed to do what he was being called to do was again directly linked to “the hand of the Lord” being “on Him.” It wasn’t his eloquence that persuaded the king. It wasn’t his “fundraising skills.” It was the “hand of the Lord” upon Him to accomplish what God had put on his heart to do.

Ezra 7:8-10 goes on to say this: “Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in the fifth month of the seventh year of the king. He had begun his journey from Babylon on the first day of the first month, and he arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month, for the gracious hand of his God was on him. For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.” Notice a key point here in regard to the “gracious hand of God” being “on us” is that Ezra had committed himself to study, obey and teach the Word of God. We can be sure that God will be “with us” in a special way when we devote ourselves to Him, the study and application of His Word, and making disciples as Jesus called us to do as followers of His (Matthew 28:18-20).

Ezra 7:27-28 also records Ezra’s “testimony of praise” in regard to what was accomplished and how Ezra found “courage” and “encouragement”: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of our fathers, who has put it into the king’s heart to bring honor to the house of the Lord in Jerusalem in this way and who has extended his good favor to me before the king and his advisers and all the king’s powerful officials. Because the hand of the Lord my God was on me, I took courage and gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me.” It was all the Lord’s doing that Ezra was able to do what he did!

Isaiah 25:9-10 and Isaiah 41:17-20 speak of God’s salvation, favor and blessing. It talks of Him bringing forth new life and once again it is because of the hand of God. In fact, Isaiah 41:20 actually says that God will do the things described for this purpose: “so that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it.”

Isaiah 66:14 says: “The hand of the Lord will be made known to his servants, but his fury will be shown to his foes.”

The hand of the Lord speaks of blessing, favor when towards His people…but it also speaks of judgment and wrath when against His enemies and those who oppose Him. Surely we want to experience His hand being made known in the first sense, not the later sense!

Some of my favorite examples and stories that stir up my faith in regard to the Spirit of God coming upon people, are found in the book of Judges:

Judges 3:9-11 records: “But when they cried out to the Lord, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war. The Lord gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him. So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died.”

Judges 6:34-35 records: “When the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him. He sent messengers throughout Manasseh, calling them to arms, and also into Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali, so that they too went up to meet them.” The Spirit of God coming upon Gideon resulted in him “sounding” a call to battle that men responded to. Chapter 7 goes on to record an unlikely victory, through an unlikely tactic that resulted in Israel experiencing a great victory over their enemies.

Judges 11:29 records: “Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites.” Judges 11:32-33 goes on to record the result: “Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave them into his hands. He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon.” Once again, the key was not military might, but God’s favor, God’s Spirit, coming upon them and giving them the victory.

Judges 14:5-6 records an incident when Samson “tore apart” a young lion with his bare hands as if it was just a “young goat.” Verse 6 tells us how this was accomplished and it wasn’t because Samson ate his “spinach” that day. It was because: “The Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power…”

Judges 14:19 speaks of another time when: “Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power. He went down to Ashkelon, struck down thirty of their men, stripped them of their belongings and gave their clothes to those who had explained the riddle.”

Judges 15:14-15 records a time when: “As he approached Lehi, the Philistines came toward him shouting. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power. The ropes on his arms became like charred flax, and the bindings dropped from his hands. Finding a fresh jawbone of a donkey, he grabbed it and struck down a thousand men.”

The real source of Samson’s strength was the Spirit of God coming upon Him.

In 2 Chronicles 15:1-8 we are told: “The Spirit of God came upon Azariah son of Oded.” As a result he went out to meet King Asa and declared to him boldly the Word of God and history of what happened when Israel sought God with all their hearts. He encouraged King Asa then personally in verse 7 saying: “But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.” Verse 8 tells us the result: “When Asa heard these words and the prophecy of Azariah son of Oded the prophet, he took courage.” That courage translated into specific actions that were in accordance with God’s will.

In 2 Chronicles 24:20 we are told: “Then the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah son of Jehoiada the priest. He stood before the people and said, “This is what God says: ‘Why do you disobey the Lord’s commands? You will not prosper. Because you have forsaken the Lord, he has forsaken you.'”

This was not a pleasant or easy thing to say. But because of the Spirit of God coming upon Zechariah, he was able to say something hard to say to people who did not want to hear this, but nevertheless needed too, for it was the Word of the Lord. When the Spirit comes upon His, He gives us a boldness we don’t possess in and of ourselves. Ezekiel 11:5-7 also makes this point: “Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon me, and he told me to say: “This is what the Lord says: That is what you are saying, O house of Israel, but I know what is going through your mind. You have killed many people in this city and filled its streets with the dead. “Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says…” Micah 3:8 likewise records: “But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin.”

Clearly it requires the power of the Spirit of God to speak boldly about sin and call sinners to repentance! Even preaching the Gospel requires the Spirit of God! How could Peter only a little over a month prior deny Jesus in fear, but then in Acts 2 & 4, boldly proclaim the Gospel and call people to repent and trust in Him? The difference in Acts 2 is that the Holy Spirit came upon them before He preached and then in Acts 4:8, he was “filled with the Holy Spirit” and spoke to the people!

2 Chronicles 20:14-17 talks about a time when “The Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel…” and he prophesied the Word of God to King Jehoshaphat and all those in Judah and Jerusalem regarding a specific situation they were seeking God about. Due to that word and their obedience to that word, God brought about a great victory for His people.

Lastly, we come to Jesus who is our greatest example. Yes, He was God in human flesh, but the way He “operated” “ministry” wise was by the anointing and power of the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t until “He saw heaven being torn open” and the Spirit came upon Him like a dove (Mark 1:10-11) and He was filled with the Spirit (Luke 4:1) and subsequently led by the Spirit into the wilderness (Matthew 4:1) whereby after overcoming Satan’s temptations He came out of that place “In the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14) that He began His public ministry. (By the way, notice those who want the Spirit’s fullness in their life, must follow His leading and will undergo much testing, trials, temptation and tribulation!). And then when He read from the prophet Isaiah in His hometown, the section He quoted (and applied to Himself!) was this: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19). In Acts 10:38 Peter in relating to Gentiles about Jesus’ earthly ministry said: “…how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.”

The “secret” to Jesus’ ministry was clearly the Spirit of the Lord! If true for Him, how much truer must that be for us! He was the Son of God but it was the Spirit of God and power of God and presence of God that He was anointed with and operated in the works that He did. God’s work, which is “spiritual” requires the Spirit’s power! Man’s power is not sufficient. Psalm 127:1 speaks of toil apart from the blessing of God: “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.”

Jesus in fact said in John 15:5-8: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

If you read the biographies and testimonies of men and women used by God—you will also begin to note this same theme. Many of them, such as D.L. Moody, Adoniram Judson, and in more modern times, men like Jim Cymbala, were frustrated at the lack of power and fruit in their lives and ministry or experienced a new level of fruitfulness and power when the Spirit of God worked in their lives or the “hand of God” rested upon them and their ministry. God was with them. That is what makes and made all the difference.

And this applies not only in what we may think of as “ministry” but just life in general and every aspect of life. Isn’t it God that ultimately makes the difference and God that we need in every area of life? In our jobs, businesses, in our parenting, in our marriages, in our relationships…every aspect of life…we need God! But we must do things God’s way and be faithful to Him and His Word if we want God to be with us. Obedience to Him and faithfulness to Him is crucial. God will not bless our unfaithfulness or disobedience to Him and His Word. But He will bless obedience and faithfulness to Him and His Word. The prophet Azariah in 2 Chronicles 15:2-3, when the Spirit of God came upon him, said: “Listen to me, Asa and all Judah and Benjamin. The Lord is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.” We need to be “with God” if we want God to “be with us!”

But you read that language when you read about Joseph in Genesis 37-50. Despite what was done to him and despite the places he found himself there was a consistent and similar testimony that developed. Potiphor recognized that “the Lord was with Him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did” (Genesis 39:3). When Joseph was later thrown in prison, Genesis 39:20-23 records: “But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.” And of course when Joseph stood before Pharaoh, Pharaoh recognized there was no one like him (though it was only because God was with him) and appointed him second in charge of all of Egypt! God with us…is what makes all the difference! These men were not super-human. They simply knew God’s supernatural power in and on their lives and “ministry!”

What is impossible for man becomes possible with God. In fact Zecheriah 4:6-7 says: “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty. “What are you, O mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!'” It’s the Spirit of God and power of God and hand of God that makes all the difference!

Acts 11:19-21 records that when persecution broke out in Jerusalem and scattered the believers to different places (actually fulfilling Jesus’ words to His disciples in Acts 1:8 that they would be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth, which is another example to us that what Satan intends for harm…God uses for good…the saving of many lives, as Joseph told his brothers in Genesis 50:20!). But we are told in Acts 11 that some unnamed men who were actually Greeks and began to share the Good News of Jesus Christ (the Gospel) with other Greeks in Antoich. And verse 21 tells us that “The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.” And so a great work and key church began through unknown men who simply shared Jesus with others. The key to their “success” was not that they were “church-growth experts.” The key was not that they were eloquent or had “star power.” The key was the hand of the Lord was with them!

This is the need of the hour. We need to call upon God to fill us with His Spirit and for His Spirit to come upon us. We need to pray for His blessing and for His hand to be with us. What we most need is a touch from heaven. It is only this that will change us and our earthly limitations and problems. God’s work can only be done through God’s Spirit empowering us as we walk in His will and speak His Word. We can’t produce results or fruit. It’s God’s fruit that can only come via God’s Spirit. Our need is not for formula’s or a “man” or more of merely man’s efforts and idea’s. Our need is for God Himself. It is to Him that we must turn to, look to, and cry out to. Only He can help us and change us and enable us to do what He has called us to do.

Isaiah 41:17-20 says: “The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs. I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. I will set pines in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together, so that people may see and know may consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it.”

Psalm 44:1-8 says this: “We have heard with our ears, O God; our fathers have told us what you did in their days, in days long ago. With your hand you drove out the nations and planted our fathers; you crushed the peoples and made our fathers flourish. It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them. You are my King and my God, who decrees victories for Jacob. Through you we push back our enemies; through your name we trample our foes. I do not trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory; but you give us victory over our enemies, you put our adversaries to shame. In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever.”

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

John 20:19-20: “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.”

John 20:24-29: “Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

In both of those accounts the disciples gather together on the first day of the week (Sunday). Both times the doors were locked out of fear of the Jews. However, both times Jesus came and stood among them and said: “Peace be with you.” In the first account He showed all His disciples (Thomas wasn’t there the first time) His hands and side. He testified and proved or provided the evidence of the reality that He was alive! In the second account He ministered this truth specifically to Thomas who was there with the others the second time. In the first account this reality of Jesus risen and alive resulted in them being “overjoyed” when they “saw the Lord.” In the second account Thomas “breaks” and “believes.” (By the way, one precious side note in this is that even though Thomas missed out on this the first time, it’s as if Jesus does it all over again the second time for Thomas’ benefit! Take heart that if you have missed out on something of God, He is the God of second-chances!).

These two accounts are in a way the first “church meetings.” They are pictures of what church is meant to be and the difference Jesus’ presence makes when He “shows up.” In fact church is not church if Christ isn’t there! He is the center, the focus, the desire, the head of the church, the one who makes the difference. The disciples came together in fear, but left with peace and being overjoyed in seeing Him. Thomas came in doubting, but left believing. That’s the difference Jesus’ presence makes!

Jesus is physically in heaven today but there is no doubt from Scripture that He, in a very real and spiritual sense, is with His people when they gather together in His Name. Jesus even said to the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2 that He “…walks among the seven golden lampstands.” In the chapter before He makes clear the golden lamp-stands are the churches. He is the midst of His people! In Matthew 18:20 (which is in the specific context of church discipline), Jesus promised that “where two or three come together in My Name, there I am with them.”

His presence among us and with us, is what makes all the difference. Fearful saints can leave with peace spoken to their hearts. Depressed saints can leave overflowing with joy! Doubting saints can leave with hearts full of faith, being established in their faith. Weak saints leave being strengthened in His presence. This is one reason it’s important we don’t get into the habit of failing to gather together (Hebrews 10:25) but encourage one another in Christ. Think of what Thomas missed out on that first week and first Sunday gathering! Think of how despite the others joy and peace, He was still tormented and depressed that week! But again, think of Jesus’ tender grace, to especially and specifically, minister to Thomas that next Sunday when he gathered with the others!  Half the battle is showing up!  The second half is believing.

But here is what I really want to get to in this blog post. Do you have any “locked doors” in your life? What fears are binding you? What anxieties are eating away at you? Are you discouraged? Depressed? Downcast, troubled, lacking peace, lacking joy? It’s the presence of the Living, Risen Christ that makes all the difference! When He works in your heart and life, He can totally change your whole mood and speak peace to your heart. When you “see Him” you will be filled with joy. We may not see Him physically like the disciples did, but we can “see” Him through the eyes of faith. We can see Him and know Him through the eyes of our heart being opened (Ephesians 1:18). In fact, 1 Peter 1:8-9 says: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” And by the way…remember what Jesus said to Thomas: there is a special blessing for those who while not “seeing with their physical eyes” yet believe.

If you lack peace and joy, look to Jesus. Believe in Him. Trust in Him. If you lack peace and joy, get around or with believers who are seeking God and gathering together in and around Jesus’ name (2 Timothy 2:22). He will be there in a special way and it’s His presence that makes all the difference!

Jesus is alive and working in this world by His Spirit. He is not still on the cross.  He is not dead in the grave.  He has risen and is very much alive and working today.  The real question is whether He is alive and working in your heart and life?  The apostle Paul prayed in Ephesians 3:16-17:  “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”  He will as you put your trust in Him.  Our God is the Living God. The question is whether our faith is living and active. The question is as Romans 10:9-10 puts it: “That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” The question is, do we “see” Him who is the “first-born from among the dead?” It’s the living, risen Jesus that makes all the difference! It’s His presence that changes us and gives us peace and joy! Psalm 34:8 says: “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.”

Hebrews 10:19-25:  “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

The title of this blog says it all. But let’s unpack it little by little.

First of all, even though I use the phrase “God wants” don’t get the idea that I am suggesting God is dependent on us to do great things through or among. God is Sovereign and God is great and He does great things, with or without us. When Mordecai sent word to Queen Esther about the edict of the king to annihilate all the Jews, through the manipulation of Haman, Mordecai urged Esther to “go into the king’s presence to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people.” (Esther 4:8). Esther, however, initially resisted the idea because of its potential risk. To go into the king’s presence without being summoned meant being put to death, unless the king extended the golden scepter in the one exemption to this law. Here was Mordecai’s response in return: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”   (Esther 4:12-14).

God will do what God is going to do with or without us. However, He calls us, invites us, wants us, and positions us to be used in great ways by Him! Sometimes that involves great risk; but the greater the potential risk, the greater the potential blessing! Esther, decided to take that risk (with the famous line: “If I perish, I perish”) and here we are talking about her and how “blessed” of God she was and what a “blessing” she was to the Jewish people in her time who were saved due to her intervention and intercession with the king!  But had she not risen up, God would have used and raised up someone else, because He is Sovereign.  He uses people, but He is not dependent on any one person or church.

Secondly. Some may struggle with God doing great things. We read of the great things God has done in the Bible and in the past…but is He still doing great things today and perhaps even more so, can He really do great things through us today? Our own unbelief can get in our own way. Actually, it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, because if you keep walking in unbelief regarding God’s power, you’re not going to experience God’s power, which is only going to reinforce your unbelief. Some today would claim as they look around at their lives and situations that God doesn’t “work miracles” anymore like He did in the past and they grow cynical and bitter, feeling abandoned, discouraged, defeated and disheartened.  At times we can all be discouraged and disheartened by our circumstances but what we need to do is stay focused on God’s unchanging character, lest we become cynical.

Gideon initially had this problem. Judges 6:12-16 records this: “Then the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” “But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.” The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” “But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.”

There are two parts here to Gideon’s initial unbelief. The first has to do with His thinking about God. He had heard all the stories of the great things God had done in the past, but didn’t see the same reality in his present. He therefore concluded that God must have abandoned them. But notice something interesting. God didn’t enter into debating Gideon; He called him to take specific action. That makes for a good point. If we want to sit around debating whether or not God does “great things” or not anymore, we will certainly not see it or experience it ourselves! But if we get up and go do what God is calling us to do, we will see Him doing great things! God hasn’t changed. Perhaps it’s we who need to change!

The second part of Gideon’s unbelief revolved around himself. Although technically, His problem was not that he saw himself as being too “small” or “weak.”  His problem was actually that He didn’t see God “big” enough or “strong” enough to use him in this way! Perhaps you have this problem too. You limit God by looking at your “limitations.” You doubt God’s “strength” by focusing on your “weaknesses.” You limit God’s ability by looking at your inability.

Moses likewise initially dealt with this issue when God called him (Exodus 3-4). But the apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 that Jesus said to Him one time: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul’s response to this was: Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

When you feel weakest is when God can show His strength! It’s when you feel “small” that God can show how “big” He is! When you feel like you can do nothing, that’s when God can show how He can do everything and how you can actually do all things through Christ who gives you strength (Philippians 4:13). When you feel inadequate, that’s when God shows His sufficiency.  What would happen if instead of focusing on our limitations and weaknesses we focused on God’s unlimited power and unchanging character?  Well…just read the rest of the story in regard to Moses and Gideon and see what happened through their lives!

But do you remember the story of the feeding of the 5,000 in John chapter 6? This is a great story in regard to the reality that God doesn’t only do great things; He wants to use us and include us in the process of Him doing great things!

John 6:5-6 records this: “When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

Don’t miss the significance of what is happening here. Jesus could have just made bread fall from heaven (think manna in the wilderness for the Israelites!) independently from man’s involvement. Instead He decided to involve His disciples. Now, can you imagine having this “need” put on your shoulders? It would be overwhelmingly impossible. In fact we are told: “Philip answered him, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” (John 6:7). Whenever God involves us in something only He can do, it is overwhelming because it is humanly impossible. But notice earlier we are told: “He asked this only to test Him, for He already had in mind what He was going to do.” (John 6:6). Thank God that God knows what He is going to do! And God is going to do what He is going to do. The fun part (though in the moment it seems overwhelming and exasperating if operating from a human perspective) is that He involves us.

Interestingly, if Philip was the pessimist, Andrew was the optimist. “Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” (John 6:8-9). We may kind of laugh or even smirk at that…but Andrew is actually more in line with what Jesus had in mind, even though Andrew’s optimism wasn’t enough in and of itself!  It’s as if even Andrew catches himself mid-statement as he is conveying what they have available and gets embarrassed for even mentioning it so he tries to dismiss it and retract it! Ever catch yourself doing that? You start to say something and realize it’s foolish and say “oh, never mind!” Andrew though optimistic, realizes not even his optimism is going to see them through this one!

That’s because neither pessimism nor optimism is true faith.  Neither will get the job done when you are dealing with situations that require God and His supernatural power! Thankfully, what God is looking for is not for us to do what only He can do, but to have faith in Him and obey whatever He tell us to do.

“Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about five thousand of them. Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.   When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.” (John 6:10-13).

Notice a couple of things. The disciples followed Jesus’ instructions which were very simple and doable, though involving some logistics. They were to get the people to sit down, (Matthews account in chapter 14, tells us they distributed the food) and then gathered back up the pieces left over. And in the process of simply doing what Jesus instructed them to do, a miracle unfolded that they got to be a part of! They had nothing to do with the power being demonstrated, but they did have something to do with it being distributed for people to be blessed by!

This is similar to Jesus’ first miracle in John 2 with the changing of the water into wine. Jesus’ mother told the servants to do exactly what Jesus told them to do. And Jesus told them to do what they were capable of doing; fill the jars with water, draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet: John 2:6-8. As they did what they were capable of doing, He did what only he is capable of doing!  The key is to wait upon and then do what He instructs to do.  Sometimes we want to do what we think we should do and try to “bring God” into it.  That’s not how this works.  We need to seek Him for wisdom, believing He will give it (James 1:5-8) and then obey what He instructs, even if it doesn’t make “sense” to us (Proverbs 3:5) or seem “sufficient.”

Secondly, Jesus could have done it entirely on His own and by Himself, but He included and involved the servants, as He included and involved this young boy and His disciples. Jesus took and used what was made available to Him. What this young boy had to offer certainly came nowhere close to meeting the need in a practical sense. Sometimes what we have to give or offer seems so insignificant to the need that is before us that we think: “why even bother?” We think “what difference can that actually make” or “how far can that go among so many.”

But Jesus didn’t ask us to do what we can’t…He simply asks us to give all that we can and have! It’s as we set ourselves apart to Him and give Him what we have that He “adds His touch” to it and does amazing things among us and through us!

In fact this is the key: obedience to Him and giving ourselves (and what we have) to Him. This is faith in Him.  Before the Israelites finally crossed over the Jordan River and into the promised land Joshua 3:5 tells us that: “Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”

The key to seeing the Lord do amazing things among us and through us in the future is by consecrating ourselves to Him today in the present. This word for consecrate means to “set apart” to “purify.” First God asks for us to give ourselves to Him, then He does great things among us and through us!

Purity is essential in knowing God’s power in fulfilling His purposes. Joshua 7 is a very powerful example of this principle. The Israelites, immediately after experiencing victory at Jericho, experience a devastating defeat at Ai. It as a battle they easily should have won, in fact they didn’t even take their whole army to fight! Thankfully, before more lives were lost, they didn’t just send out the whole army, but fell to their faces before the Lord to seek the Lord about what the real and root issue was.

God’s response was this in Joshua 7:10-13: “The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction. “Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: That which is devoted is among you, O Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove it.”

Purity is essential in experiencing God’s power and advancing in His purposes. There is a great need for Gods’ people individually and collectively to purify themselves of sin and consecrate themselves unto God. Confession of sin is essential for fellowship with God (1 John 1:9) and fellowship is essential for fruitfulness and effectiveness (Jon 15:1-8).  If we want to be used by God personally, we must cleanse ourselves and consecrate ourselves to the Lord. Thankfully, being used by God is something anyone can “qualify” for, because cleansing ourselves and consecrating ourselves to the Lord is something anyone can do. God doesn’t need the smartest, richest, strongest, most skilled people (though He certainly can and wants to use them too!). God is rather looking for those whose hearts are fully committed to Him. 2 Chronicles 16:9 says: “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”

2 Timothy 2:19-21 puts it this way: “Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.” In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.”

When someone plays an instrument, they first have to clean and tune that instrument. Without regularly cleaning it and tuning it, it will not play as beautifully or harmoniously as it is intended to. If you go to an orchestra and hear the instruments being tuned before the performance; it sounds awful! But after being tuned, when they start playing their pieces in accordance with their parts during the performance, the sound can be quite moving and beautiful. For some this is the only part they hear or see. But there is always a process “behind the scenes” or before the performance that takes place in preparation for the performance. So it is with the person or church that God uses. There must be a cleansing and consecration process first. Only then are can we become an instrument that can be used for “noble purposes” “made holy” “useful to the Master” and “prepared to do any good work.”

It’s one thing to experience or be the recipient of a miracle, but a whole other thing to be involved and included in a miracle being unfolded! It’s obviously a joy to be blessed, but what about being a blessing? What about being the instrument through whom the music is played and the people are blessed?

In the miracle of the water being turned into wine, we are actually told that the master of the banquet who tasted the water that had been turned into wine: “He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.” (John 2:9).

There are two kinds of people: those who are recipients of God’s blessing and those who are vessels of God’s blessing. To be a vessel through whom God blesses we must set ourselves apart unto Him and give Him all we have as the young boy did in John 6. To be used by God, we must like His disciples in John 6 and the servants in John 2, do whatever He instructs us to do. Then we will see God do great things among us and through us, that only He can do, that He might be glorified!

So again, in the words of Joshua to the people of Israel before crossing the Jordan and entering into the Promised Land: “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”  (Joshua 3:5). The Israelites did just that.  They consecrated themselves, the priests obeyed the Lord’s instruction to set foot in the Jordan with the ark of the covenant (presence of God) going before the people and as they watched: God parted the Jordan like He had the Red Sea years ago. His power was once again being displayed in a new generation, as of old. Sometimes the scale of the miracle is smaller depending on circumstances, but it’s the same God behind it as we obey His instructions and consecrate ourselves unto Him! Without obedience and consecration we will not witness His power among us and through us; but with obedience and consecration (evidence of true faith), we will witness God doing great and amazing things among us and through us, for His glory!  God still wants to do great things through us: Have faith in Him and show that faith by consecrating yourself to Him and walking in obedience to Him!

John 14:12-14:  “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

Overcoming Victim Mentalities

Posted: September 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

“Woe is me!”

“Everything and everyone is against me!”

“Why me?”

We all have had moments or seasons where we can relate to the above. It is easy to look at our circumstances (especially in light of what we consider “ideal” or what our hopes/expectations are) and feel sorry for ourselves. It is easy to fall into a “victim mentality.” In fact this seems to be a plague that is “plaguing” (weighing down) many right now. I say plague because it is not healthy to remain in a state of constantly feeling sorry for ourselves and looking to have that continually fueled by others and fed by others. In fact we have to be careful that in our compassion we are not the one’s feeding and fueling this mindset in each other. One reason “victim mentalities” persist is because of well-meaning but misguided people who continue to feed and fuel it! That is not to say we ought to be insensitive to others pain, but we have to be careful to discern the root cause of the “storms” people are facing or that we may be in and address any wrong thinking/twisted thinking/feelings that don’t line up with the truth.

For example…it’s vital to discern whether the “storms” we are in are because of being righteous like Job or disobedient like “Jonah.” In Jonah’s case God sent the storm because of his disobedience. In Job’s case God allowed a storm because of Job’s faithfulness and to test (prove) his faithfulness. In Jonah’s case he needed to repent; in Job’s case He needed to endure.

The two couldn’t be more different. So if we confuse the two and think we are a “Job” when we are a “Jonah”…we will only prolong the “darkness” and our deception. Likewise, if we are actually a “Job” (or Joseph is another example) but think we are a “Jonah”, we will magnify our own pain by beating ourselves up and carrying around false guilt, when the Word of God is merely testing us (proving us to be true) and refining us (see Psalm 105:17 & 1 Peter 1:6-8, Hebrews 12:3-13).

Let me repeat the above but putting it in a slightly different way: if we fail to rightly discern the cause of the storm, our response will be terribly misguided. Two different people can be going through a similar storm but for two very different reasons and therefore their response should be very different.

For example: A storm due to disobedience requires repentance and a cry for mercy (with a willingness to obey); while a storm like Job’s requires steadfast faithfulness despite the circumstances. Job 1:21-22 records Job, in fact, responding this way: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” It’s interesting to point out by the way, that later when Job’s friends come, they “diagnosis” the cause of the “storm” incorrectly. They think it’s because of Job’s unfaithfulness rather than faithfulness! How backwards we can be in our diagnosis and response!

In fact this can work both ways. If think we are a “Job” when we are actually a “Jonah”, we will only continue on a path of destruction and deception…and sadly the storm we are responsible for doesn’t just affect us but those around us and especially those closest to us. But if we think we are a “Jonah” when we are a “Job” the enemy’s accusations and condemnation will paralyze and cripple. Failing to discern rightly will turn God into the enemy and the enemy into “God!” So easily can we deceive ourselves or be deceived by the enemy’s lies! Discernment is essential and honesty is crucial!

Now…before we go on…I have to be honest. I have found over the years, at least in my personal experience and context, many who think they are “Job’s” are in reality “Jonah’s.” Many are not suffering because of their righteousness…but because they are running from wholehearted obedience to God. Many who are good at talking the talk are not actually walking the walk. They are “Saul’s” (see 1 Samuel 15) not “David’s” (see 1 Samuel 16) but in their own minds they are deluded and project an image of themselves to others that is more spiritual than what they actually are. They put on a big show of false humility to try to convey to others how “spiritual” they are and that they are “praising God” despite all they are going through or “suffering” when really it’s a storm of their own making that they are failing to truly deal with. Deep down however, (and when alone and quiet) most in this place know this to be true, yet they still do not truly repent, but rather remain stubborn and look for sympathy and attention from others. For many disobedience is the real or root issue and their need is repentance but their stubbornness (and our sympathy) is getting in the way and prolonging the storms (and their own deception). Unfortunately, many times even (or sometimes especially) Christians, out of a sincere and compassionate heart, (yet misguided and without discernment) are feeding those in that place the attention they want that only fuels their deception and plays right into their “pity party” “victim mentality.”

Instead of consoling we sometimes need to confront. Like the sailors in the story of Jonah we can find ourselves resisting and fighting against God, rather than co-operating with Him by dealing with “Jonah.” It may sound harsh, especially for someone operating in a victim mentality (who does not want to face the truth and confront their thinking and ways and sin) and also to those who have a misguided understanding of “compassion”…but sometimes we need to not only confront but cut off. On the boat Jonah acknowledged he was responsible for the storm, but it wasn’t until he was thrown overboard and was in the belly of the whale that he cried out to God for mercy. There is a big difference. Admitting you’re at fault is only the first step and not all there is to repentance or even evidence of true repentance.  For example, when I played baseball I would really beat myself up when I made an error. It was to the point that it was excessive and I would hit myself and kick dirt and apologize again and again. What was I really doing? I was looking for attention and sympathy. But in doing so I was actually taking myself out of the rest of the game. I could not focus on the present because I was wallowing in feeling sorry for myself. There are those who both want to ignore their past completely or wallow in their mistakes to garner sympathy. Both are extremes to be avoided.

The next step after acknowledging our disobedience, is repenting and asking God for mercy, with a willingness to obey. For some like Jonah, it takes the “darkness” and “hopelessness” of being “alone” in the belly of a beast to get to this place. This was actually God’s mercy, because I think Jonah thought he was going to die. The men tried to prevent having to throw Jonah overboard but eventually realized it was in vain because they were fighting against God by not doing so. Understand that we can actually interfere with what God is doing in people’s lives by trying to be “compassionate.”

That’s the first scenario that many with a “victim mentality” are in. They are in reality, not true victims, rather they are experiencing the consequences of their own decisions and disobedience. Galatians 6:7-9 says: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”

Now, on the other hand, like Job, (and like the disciples who got caught in a storm that threatened their lives, simply because they were following Jesus and He was in the same boat as them) we too because of obedience and faithfulness to the Lord can encounter some nasty storms. These storms test our faith in God’s faithfulness. The prescription is quiet trust and endurance. The disciples had the opposite reaction (see Mark 4:35-41): they panicked and waking Jesus up they completely questioned His love for them saying to Him “Don’t you care if we drown?” If you read that story you will notice that Jesus rebuked more than just the storm…He rebuked them for their lack of faith! Likewise as Job teetered on challenging God in regard to His justice, God challenged Him in regard to who He was! (see Job 38-42). Interestingly, God never answered Job’s “why” question. Rather He put things back into perspective in light of who He is. What you and I need when we are feeling sorry for ourselves is not answers but to stand in awe of who God is and let Him calm the storm as we cry out to Him. Here again, our feelings and thoughts don’t always line up with the facts and truth.

For example…Elijah. After an intense confrontation and awesome victory on Mount Carmel with the false prophets of Baal, where fire and rain falls from heaven through Elijah’s intercession; right after this revival breaking out, Elijah has a meltdown. When he hears that Queen Jezebel has put out a death warrant on his life, he runs in fear. (The same man who faced down 450 false prophets and the king; cowers in fear at the threat of one woman! How quickly we can go from being “bold and courageous” to being “intimidated and cowardly!” ) He finally collapses under a tree and in despair and depression prays that God would take his life, saying “I have had enough Lord!” (1 Kings 19). However, Elijah is woken up and given food that supernaturally sustains him and by which he travels forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God. God begins to draw him out and speak to Him and we find out that Elijah is discouraged thinking that all the Israelites have become unfaithful to the Lord, that all the true prophets have been killed and now they are after him, and he is the only faithful one remaining. While it is true most of the Israelites had broken the covenant and most were unfaithful it was not true that all were unfaithful and he was the only faithful one left. His perspective was skewed. One of the things God reminds him of is that he is not the only one left…God tells him there is a remnant…in fact 7,000 others who have not compromised and bowed the knee to Baal! In other words God tells Elijah, “You’re not alone or the only one.” He also tells him He is not finished with him yet, that he has a mission for him, which in essence is saying to Elijah: “you’re not going to be killed.” What Elijah thought and felt was real to him…was not true in reality! You too may be thinking some things, believing some things and feeling a certain way and that is all very real…but that doesn’t mean it is actually true! Perception may be your reality, but that doesn’t mean it is truly the real reality!

Here is one more example. In Genesis 42, Joseph has sent his brothers back to their father. He has not yet revealed himself to them, because he wanted Benjamin to be there when he did. Thus, he sent them back with some provisions, to bring Benjamin, while Simeon was kept in Egypt. Keep in mind that Joseph’s father Jacob all these years thought Joseph had been killed by a wild animal and doesn’t realize he is alive. When his sons come back and a pouch of silver is found in their sacks, (which would make it appear they had stolen it), Jacob is beside himself and feels that not only has he lost one son, but now is going to lose two more in retribution: Simeon and Benjamin. He then makes this statement of exasperation in Genesis 42:36: “All these things are against me.” Or the NIV puts it this way: “Everything is against me!” By all appearances it would seem that way. Maybe you feel the same way. You look at your life and circumstances and say the same thing in exasperation. Everything seems and feels to be against you.

What Jacob doesn’t realize however is that actually behind the scenes….in ways he didn’t see or realize…God was actually working all these things out for Him! We know the end of the story (or can skip to the end of the story and read it first) and we are able to read it in a matter of an hour or less.

But we don’t have that advantage in regard to our lives. That’s not how our life works.

But we do have the promises of God! Promises such as: Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Or if you go a little further in that same chapter we are told in verses 31-38: “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

So there we see clearly that we are not a victim…but a victor (or can be!) through the one who has risen from the dead victorious!

(For more dealing with this subject check out a prior blog post written in August 2013 titled: “Victim or Victor?”).

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Overcoming Depression

Posted: September 5, 2014 in Uncategorized

Without getting into all the statistics on depression (and linked with depression: suicide) this is an area that is receiving more attention lately, especially with the recent suicide of Robin Williams. It shocked people because his depression was masked to many because of his humor and ability to make others laugh. But Proverbs 14:13 says: “Even in laughter the heart may ache, and joy may end in grief.” Laughter and humor can in fact be a temporary escape/mask for the pain and emptiness under the surface.

In this blog article I want to address some root causes of depression (this is not exhaustive).  But first let me state that over the years, even as a believer and pastor (sometimes even because of being a believer and a pastor!) I have wrestled on and off with depression/discouragement myself.  The root of it (and solution for it) has been different at different times and the degree or intensity of it has been different at different times for various reasons as well.  What I write below I have known not only by studying Scripture, but by personal experience. Everything I write below has been applicable to me at some time, in some way and in some cases multiple times. In fact, this was written because of a “fresh wave” of battling with it and it actually helps me to work through it in my own life when I write about it or speak to it…as I also remember I am not alone in the battle against it.

To begin with, I would suggest for many the root issue is separation from God and the emptiness and meaninglessness of life that produces, especially those who deny the existence of God. Scripture is clear that our iniquities have separated us from God (Isaiah 59). Until we deal with this issue (through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ) we will not know the joy, peace, hope and purpose that relationship with God brings. When our philosophy or creed is “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die” there is an emptiness, a vanity, a depression that view creates in us. This is in stark contrast to the hope of eternal life we have in Christ and purpose that is found in relationship with Him. Ephesians 2:12-18 reminds those who have trusted in Christ of this fact: “Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ… For he himself is our peace…He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.”

My first point and plea to anyone reading this who suffers from depression or the “vanity” of life…turn to God through faith in Jesus Christ. In Him is hope that is eternal. There is peace, joy, life, purpose and meaning. Turn from your sin and trust in God. Confess your sin to God. It is our sin that has separated us from Him, but Jesus died on the cross for our sin to reconcile us to God and make us children of God! The guilt of our sin can make us depressed, but through faith in Jesus He lifts that burden and removes our shame. Psalm 32:1-5 says: “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” — and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” The burden of the guilt of sin can “sap our strength” and make us very depressed. But through confessing our sin and turning to Jesus who died on the cross for your sin, that burden can be lifted and joy flood your soul! If you have not confessed your sin and turned to Jesus to save you…do so even right now!

But for those who have been saved through faith in Jesus, I would encourage you to start here as well if you are depressed, not in being “saved” again (if you have truly been “born-again” you don’t need to be again: John 3:3; John 13:10) but what you may need to do is confess any sin that needs confessed. Not walking in fellowship with God can lead to depression. Denying sin and deceiving ourselves about sin can prolong depression. Check to see if you are truly abiding in Christ, remaining in His love, walking in obedience to the Lord. In John 15:9-11 Jesus said: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” The reason some are depressed all the time is because of not walking in obedience to Jesus’ commands and remaining in His love, abiding in Him. We need to confess sin, not deny it and deceive ourselves. 1 John 1:6-9 says: “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Keep in mind sin is not just doing what is unrighteousness, it is also failing to do what is right. This can be another reason we are plagued with depression, we are not living in obedience to God. God told Jonah to go one direction, but he went another. So God chased him with a storm and he ended up in the belly of a fish. Imagine the darkness, hopelessness and depression of that place! Perhaps we are not obeying the Lord in what He is calling us to do and thus we are being plagued with depression. Now is the time to lift your eyes to Him in repentance and ask Him for mercy with a willingness to walk in obedience to Him. Then watch as you get “spit up” onto dry ground! The process may not be pleasant or comfortable, but it will be freeing!

Another cause of depression is lack of trust in the Lord. In John 14:27 Jesus said: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” When we allow our hearts to be troubled we lack God’s peace and can become depressed. This is something you find the Psalmist battling with in his own soul numerous times throughout Psalm 42-43. Psalm 42:5-6 for example says: “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Notice how the Psalmist is speaking to his own soul. He is not denying his emotions, but neither is he going to allow his emotions to control him. He is taking authority over his soul. He is recalibrating himself! And what he calls his soul to do is first of all to “put your hope in God.” That’s the first key in battling depression: “put your hope in God.” Depression tries to communicate to you that there is no hope. You feel hopeless or discouraged when depressed. Putting your hope in God means looking to Him and choosing to trust in Him even though you aren’t “feeling it.”

The second key is to begin to praise Him. Here again, when you are depressed the last thing you feel like doing is praising God. Yet this is exactly what you most need to do when depressed! When depressed we tend to focus on our pain and problems. This is an important key in combating depression. Often when depressed we are thinking of all that is wrong. What we need to do is refocus and remember who God is. He is our Savior and God! He being our Savior reminds us of many truths that impart hope and begin to attack depression in us. He being our Savior means He has saved us from the penalty and power of sin. It means He has reconciled us to God. It means our sins are forgiven. It means we have the hope of eternal life. It means He is our deliverer, healer, restorer, protector, provider, refuge, strength, fortress, strong-tower, shield, rock, light, salvation etc! And He is not just the Savior, but My Savior. He is not just God, but my God! And who is like God? There is none beside Him, before Him, above Him, beyond Him or like Him! All these thoughts about God ought to begin to counteract depression as we praise Him for who He is in our lives. Faith is the victory!

A great story in this regard that is illustrative is found in Acts chapter 16. In this story you find Paul and Silas, being falsely attacked, beaten, flogged and thrown in prison. Yet then we read something we might not expect to read: that at about midnight they began to pray and praise God! This is the opposite of what most of us would probably do. When I am falsely accused and verbally/emotionally attacked, I get depressed and discouraged. I tend to complain and wallow in my pain. I even get angry. Paul and Silas however began to pray and praise God! And because Paul and Silas prayed and praised God even in those circumstances (not ideal or comfortable at all!) it got the attention of the other prisoners. I guess so! Wouldn’t that get your attention and make you wonder what is different about these guys and want what they have? Wouldn’t it get the attention of those around us if they saw us pray and praise God despite our circumstances that are unfair or not ideal?

It also got God’s attention because out of the blue an earthquake suddenly hit and so violent was it that the foundations of the prison were shaken, the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose! It also woke the jailor up and he about killed himself thinking that the prisoners he was responsible for had escaped, but Paul stopped him and ended up leading he and his whole family to faith in Jesus Christ! Then he baptized them and they tended to their wounds! Talk about a major reversal!

All because they began to pray and praise God. Think of it! Chains are broken, prison doors fly open, prisoners get set free, when we pray and praise God! Depression can be overcome through prayer and praise coming from a heart of trusting in and putting our hope in the Lord!

Philippians 4:4-9 pulls this all together. It says this: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me — put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Praise Him.  (Get away and alone with Him and put on some worship music and just begin to praise Him with all your heart whether you feel like it or not!  Or if working and needing to tend to other things, do what Scripture says: “Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (Ephesians 5:19-20).

Put your hope in Him.

Pray to Him.

Remember and refocus on God and who He is/His beauty.

Walk in obedience to the Lord.

Confess any sin that needs confessed and repented of.

Those are some key “keys” to combating depression. But keys do no good if they are not used. A door will remain shut and locked if we do not put the key in and turn it and push the door open. This is part of the struggle when depressed, you don’t feel like fighting but giving up and giving in. Yet, we must fight our way through it with the weapons God has given us of praise, prayer, trust, focus, confession of sin and obedience. Our soul will be bounced back and forth and we may not come out of it overnight. If you read Psalm 42-43 you see him go through these cycles as he seeks to come out of that cycle. You may be up one minute and down the next. Keep fighting. And understand this is normal.

There are some Christians who think Christians should always be “happy.” But I find that to be very shallow. I think those like this aren’t being truly honest with themselves either. And this only makes those suffering feel even worse. We all go through “seasons of the soul.” If you deny that what do you do with the book of Psalms? Talk about being up and down and all around emotionally! And what do you do with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane before being led away to be crucified (and then while being falsely accused, mocked, spit on, beaten, scourged and crucified) was He “happy?” Last I read He was in such anguish in the garden that sweats of blood were falling from His body (a rare but documented medical condition that occurs when stress is severe enough). Last I read, He cried out in anguish on the cross “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” I know He was bearing the sins of the world on Himself (and as believers the burden of our sins has been lifted) and God never forsakes us as His children; but there are times it “feels” that way. In fact again, just read the book of Psalms. A Christian is blessed yes, but that doesn’t mean we always feel “blissfully happy.” Should we praise the Lord all the time? Certainly. Should we put our trust and hope in Him at all times? Absolutely. But Christians have a soul that is subject to every human emotion and feeling too!

Those who claim to never battle at times with being depressed I question whether they are being honest. I have seen some who I believe are lying to themselves and denying or suppressing their depression. They appear happy externally but they hide and deny and won’t be real with themselves or God or others. Many fill that void with other things to ignore their inner pain. They turn to things such as sports, work, people, drinking, drugs, etc to keep from seeing or dealing with what really is in them. But as Christians we don’t need to run and hide and deny and pretend. We can be honest before God and with God. He encourages us to pour out our heart and souls to Him and find rest in Him:

Psalm 62:5-8: “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Walking with God

Posted: August 30, 2014 in Uncategorized

One of my favorite chapters in the Bible is Genesis chapter 5. At first glance it may be one of those chapters that you might just skip over, especially as it seems to become monotonous in just saying basically the same thing again and again about each successive generation in the genealogy of Adam given in that chapter. The basic pattern is this: “so and so was born, lived so many years, had a son, lived so many more years, had other children, altogether lived so many years total and then died.” That about sums up the lives of many on earth: they are born, have a family, live so many more years and then die. For many, this is all there really is and all that really matters.

But then someone breaks the “mold” of the “same old, same old” (not to take away from the simple joy of life and blessing of family!). There is something unique about the life of the 7th man compared to the others. We are simply told this twice in the brief summary of his life: “Enoch walked with God.” (Genesis 5:22,24). It’s a whisper of Eden, before the fall when Adam and Eve walked with God!  The second time it says this, it also adds something else unique compared to the others. It doesn’t say Enoch died like the others. It says “…then he was no more because God took him away” (Genesis 5:24). Enoch experienced something supernatural, because when you walk with a supernatural God, supernatural things are going to happen!

I have always been intrigued by this and desire to “walk with God” too and see Him work in special and supernatural ways in and through my life. This is the call to be a disciple of Jesus. This is the promise He made: “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19-20). He is saying, you’re responsibility is to be my disciple; (learn from me, listen to me, obey me, walk with me) and as you do that, I will change you and use you in ways you never thought possible or could accomplish in your own ability or strength!”

Who you “hang” out with will eventually influence you for good or bad. You become like those you keep company with (1 Corinthians 15:33, Psalm 1 etc…). Acts 4:13 records that: “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”

But here’s the deal…this doesn’t say Jesus had been with them…it says they had been with Jesus. In Genesis 5 it doesn’t say God walked with Enoch…it says Enoch walked with God. Most of us want (and try) to get God to walk with us. We want Him involved in our lives as an addition, protection, blessing or improvement to our lives. We try to “bring Him into our lives.” But God is saying I am calling you to walk with me and enter into my life! He doesn’t want to merely be a part of our lives…He wants to be our very life and have our life revolve and center on and around Him!

So what does this involve and imply? The same as it did for Jesus’ disciples. Before there can be a “cleaving” there must be a “leaving.” Matthew 4:20 says: “At once they left their nets and followed him.” This is perhaps the hardest part: leaving all that is familiar to us to go with Jesus into the unknown. But this is what it takes to walk with Him…we must get off our own path and trust Him.

To walk with God, we must go where He goes…no matter where He decides to go/lead us. And walking with God doesn’t mean we will traverse the easiest, scenic paths. Walking with Him means going through many “storms” and “dark” places and valleys at times (Matthew 8:24, Psalm 2:4). Acts 14:21-23 says about the apostles that: “They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.” Jesus has not promised a smooth flight…only a safe landing to the destination He is bringing us too…and that is heaven! Actually, He promised, (along with the example of others who have truly walked with Him) much trouble, trial, tribulation, turbulence, hardship, persecution, sacrifice & suffering (John 15:20) along the way. However, the one comfort in this is…He is with us! (Psalm 23:4). It also means we are “blessed” for we will have greater reward in heaven (Matthew 5:10-12). He will also deliver us out, in and through all our struggles, trials and testing’s (2 Corinthians 1:8-11). In fact, they actually serve to refine us and help us become more like Jesus (1 Peter 1:6-7). There is no testimony without there being a test! Walking with Jesus means we travel the road He travels, which is one not only of power, but suffering. But this is part of knowing Him. As the apostle Paul put it in Philippians 3:10-11: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” There is no crown without there being a cross; no resurrection power without there being a crucified death! To share in His glory, we must share in His disgrace (2 Timothy 2:11-12).

To walk with God also means we must go at His pace…not our own. He is in control…not us. Proverbs 3:5-6 says: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” He is Lord; we are not, which means we do (and go) as He determines. Jesus said in Luke 6:46: “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” We can’t be walking with Him if we are not obeying Him (John 14:15-21).

We must “keep step” with Him. This is part of dying to self and living unto Christ. Galatians 5:24-25 says: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Like the Israelites in the wilderness, (whom God led by cloud by day & a pillar of fire by night) we must move when He moves and stay put when He stays put. Whenever (and to wherever) the cloud (representing the Spirit of God) moved, they were to move. Whenever and however long it stayed they stayed. To walk with God we can’t get ahead of Him or fall behind Him…we must stay with Him. 2 John 9-10 warns: “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.” Whenever we get ahead or behind we cease to walk with Him. To walk with Him we can neither be passive nor pro-active…just obedient.

What we are talking about is “fellowship with God.” The word fellowship means to partner with and participate in the life of another. Are you “partnering” with God? Have you “yoked” yourself to Him as a disciple of Jesus? Are you “sharing” in His life, the life that is in Christ, by faith?  What an awesome privilege we are called into!

This is actually the very essence of what eternal life is. It’s not just knowing our sins are forgiven and that we will go to heaven when we die. It’s about “walking” with God. Jesus said in John 17:3 says: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Merely knowing about God is not the same as knowing God. Knowing God is relational, knowing about God is informational. 1 John 1:3-4 says: “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.” 1 John 1:6-7 goes on to say this: “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” 2 John 4-5 says: “It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us.” 3 John 3-4 says: “It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

This is about a walk with God. It is about fellowship with God. It’s about knowing God. Being in the light as He is in the light. Walking in the truth as He is the truth! Jesus doesn’t simply show us the way and teach us truth and give us life; He Himself is “the way, the truth and the life!” (John 14:6). It’s about relationship with God. Jesus died not only to forgive us our sins and get us to heaven; but to reconcile us to God (2 Corinthians 5:16-21). God desires a relationship with us!

May our prayer be the same as Moses in Exodus 33:13: “If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.” God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55). Therefore He must teach us His ways and reveal Himself to us (the essence of who He is in actual experience: Exodus 33:18-34:1-9) so that we might actually know Him. It begins through faith in Jesus Christ. But that is just the start of a journey through life of walking with Him and then enjoying His presence for all eternity! In fact, it is He Himself that makes heaven, heaven! Psalm 16:11: “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

Will you be known as one who “walked with God?” Will you respond to the call to follow Jesus?  What a privilege that we can walk with Him!

Recently, Franklin Graham wrote a needed and convicting article with a sobering title: “Heaven is not for Cowards!” Here is a link to read it: http://www.charismanews.com/opinion/44645-franklin-graham-heaven-is-not-for-cowards

This comes from a passage in Revelation 21:7-8 where Jesus says: “He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars — their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

Isn’t it interesting that the first kind of person described as being cast into hell are the “cowardly?” When was the last time you even thought of cowardly as being an offensive sin in the eyes of God? Yet this is the first kind of sinner described as being cast into hell!

But this is a needed reminder and warning. The word cowardly means “faithless.” It speaks of one who “cowers in fear” failing to do or stand for what is right in the eyes of God. In the words of Edmund Burke: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” However, I would question: if good men do nothing in the face of evil, are they really good men after all? Just as evil as injustice is…so is being passive in the face of it.

Now, some of us are by nature more timid than others. This is how I would describe myself before giving my life to Christ. And I still fight my old “timid” nature. I am also sure we all have acted “cowardly” at times and failed to do what is right. That is one reason we need God…only He can make us bold and give us courage to do what is right. Proverbs 28:1 says: “The wicked man flees though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.” Here we see a very important truth: the wicked are described as controlled by fear, but the righteous described as courageous.  Scripture calls us again and again to be “strong and courageous” (Joshua 1, etc…) or “strong in the Lord and His mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10-18).

There is a plague in the church of cowardness, passivity and compromise. This is arising out of a lack of faith in God and faithfulness to God. It is rooted in fear. Fear of rejection. Fear of division. Fear of lose. Fear of causing offense. Fear of man. A lack of fear of God. It’s holding people back and paralyzing people from doing what is right and walking in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. To overcome this we will have to have a greater fear of God and love of God (devotion to God) than anything else and regardless of potential consequences (sounds like we will have to be true disciples of Jesus!).

Another of the fruits of this cowardness that I want to address in this blog, is a false version of love (a cowardly version) going around even in Christian circles; a love that is actually unbiblical and contrary to how the Bible defines love. It is a superficial, shallow, watered-down—“nice”—version of love, where sin is not called sin, every belief and lifestyle is accepted and validated as good and not challenged, and where unity is exalted over truth, which is contrary to the Gospel because what does light have in common with darkness? What does truth have in common with error? What harmony is there between Christ and Satan? (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1). It is rooted in a fear of man and desire to please man, rather than God. It is rooted in a desire to be accepted, liked and praised, rather than be faithful to God and obtain His praise (John 5:44).  It is compromise.

The truth is Jesus causes division and offense (Matthew 10:34-39). Does that make Jesus unloving?  A person filled with the Holy Spirit is going to cause controversy and stir things up wherever they go. Read the book of Acts!  Does that make that person unloving?  Light exposes and reveals and drives out darkness and darkness doesn’t always appreciate that. One thing I am seeing more and more of is that our version of love is not the same as the Bible’s version. Even the great love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, is often misunderstood and wrongly interpreted.

For example, it begins with “love is patient (long-suffering).” When some read that they are taking it as: “love is tolerant of anything and everything.” For some they confuse and claim that their passivity is patience when they couldn’t be further from the truth. Love does not put up with anything and everything—forever. God Himself is very long-suffering but not eternally-suffering. He will one day punish all evildoers and judge the world with justice (2 Thessalonians 1:8-10; Acts 17:31). Patience is not the same as acceptance. In fact, His patience, is to give room or opportunity for repentance! (2 Peter 3:8-10). His patience is meant to produce change in our lives (Romans 2:4). It is not an endorsement of our passivity or acceptance of our ways.

The next description of love is another one that has become twisted: “Love is kind.” That often gets confused with “love is…nice.” But the word kind in the Greek language does not correspond with being “nice.” It means to show oneself useful to another. It has a very practical element to it, it’s not just about being friendly. For example, you can flash a smile to someone and be very polite and even say “God bless you” and feel really good about yourself, yet that actually be cruel, unkind and unloving. James 2:15-16 says: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” Kindness is not the same as “nice-ness.” In fact friendliness can be a disguise, a counterfeit, an excuse, to justify our passivity in not “showing ourselves useful” to that persons true needs. “Nice-ness” and “flattering” someone (telling them what they want to hear, not what they need to hear) actually means we are not a true friend.

Proverbs 27:6 says—“An enemy multiplies kisses—(will flatter you)—-but wounds from a friend can be trusted (they tell you the truth even if or when it hurts). Which is kind and truly loving: to tell someone the truth they need to hear even if it hurts; or to lie to them and flatter them so they feel better about themselves and you feel good about yourself? Actually, when we fail to speak the truth to others, we are being selfish, not loving. Jesus wasn’t afraid to confront with the truth and call sin for what it was (Matthew 23).

Here’s another one from the “famous love chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13: “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” I am stunned by how many professing believers today are calling “evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” In the words of Isaiah 5:20 where that is found: “Woe to them!” It’s unloving to delight in that which is not of God. And it’s unloving to not rejoice in the truth.

Here is one more that often gets twisted in our minds: “love is not easily angered.” Some take that as those who are most loving never get angry. But that’s not what is says. In fact, I would argue those who never get angry, are just as unloving as those who are always angry. In fact once again, it’s cowardly not to get angry at times over the right things. Jesus Himself made a whip out of cords one time and got real angry over what was happening in His Father’s house, the corruption and way worshipers were being taken advantage of! (John 2:13-17). And if you read the Bible you see God gets angry in many instances and acts on that anger in many ways! However, He is not easily angered over every little and petty thing and doesn’t sin or go overboard wrongly in His anger (as we tend to at times). But to be honest, I am glad God gets angry. I wouldn’t think much of a God who didn’t get angry. I want to know He doesn’t just shrug His shoulders at sin and injustice, evil and disobedience (Psalm 10:13-15).

If anything we need greater passion because much of the church today is so passive. We need some holy anger. We need to shake our apathy, passivity, compromise and cowardness. We need to know what real love is according to the Bible not our American culture. A lot of what passes for love is not Biblical love not agape love. It is arising from our own fears, cowardness and compromise. We need filled with the Holy Spirit, with courage and with holy boldness that results in action. Action by which we take a stand against that which is evil in God’s eyes and not tolerate it, while also showing compassion to those affected by it, without apology or backing down in fear. No, not everyone will understand. It will cause division even in close relationships. But we need to wake up and rise up as a church. The real question is this: where is the zeal of the Lord and fear of the Lord in our lives and churches? It’s time to stop being cowardly and become like Christ:

John 2:17: “His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

When All Hope Seems Lost

Posted: July 22, 2014 in Uncategorized

I’ve been thinking a lot recently on Acts chapter 27. I believe it contains some very relevant realities to what different people are going through or dealing with in their lives right now (or will be).  I also want to share this to give hope to two specific kinds of people: those who through no fault of their own, but because of the choices of others, are (or who soon might be) caught in a “storm” (experiencing consequences because of others decisions); and also those who through their own choices are about to (or are) experiencing and reaping the consequences. Both kinds of people in situations like this can feel hopeless and discouraged. I hope this article will provide needed hope and encouragement to both kinds of people.

Acts 27 is the chapter where the apostle Paul and some other prisoners are being taken by boat to Rome. God had told Paul that just as He had faithfully testified of Jesus in Jerusalem, so now he was to testify of Jesus in Rome…even before Caesar himself! Acts 27-28 is a record of the journey to Rome.

But here’s the thing: God told Paul he was going to Rome…but how Paul got to Rome (and what happens in between) turns out to be nothing as would be expected. He is taken as a prisoner not put in “first class.” (However, God does cause the centurion over him to show him favor/mercy). But then when they set sail, they face things such as the wind being against them (Acts 27:4), making slow headway for many days, having difficulty getting to where they were going (Acts 27:7), the wind not allowing them to hold their charted course (Acts 27:7), moving along with difficulty (Acts 27:8), losing much time getting to where they needed to go (Acts 27:9) and sailing becoming dangerous because of the time of year they were now in that was not conducive to voyage (Acts 27:9).

Everyone living in this world can relate to these realities regardless of whether you are a believer in Jesus or not. We all contend with the complexities and difficulties of life. Things don’t always go as planned or expected. We struggle at times: the “wind” seeming to be against us. Often those who have their own business experience seasons of frustrations were they have difficulty making progress or have to change from their charted course because of variables outside of their control. Sometimes we even find ourselves in flat our dangerous situations, through no fault of our own, but due to unexpected and uncontrollable realities.

But notice the “great” apostle Paul is also going through the same realities! He is on the same boat as the other guys. I believe there are many faithful men and women of God who feel in this same place. God promised you one thing, but how things are unfolding are not at all what you expected. I think we often have a glamorized version of the Christian life…or ministry (serving the Lord) itself. We also seem to have a distorted understanding of the blessing and favor of God. Rather than realizing the favor of God results in all kinds of opposition and difficulties…we think it exempts us from opposition, challenges and difficulties. But there are seasons where we are hindered, delayed, move along with difficulty, have a hard time getting to where God has called us to go…and things even getting downright dangerous.

In fact it was at this point that the apostle Paul speaks up: “Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.”

Paul somehow perceived that if they continued on as planned, without factoring in the present realities, the ship would be destroyed and they would lose their lives. They were going to have to make some changes in other words to their initial plans.

I believe many people are at this same crossroads right now, perhaps business wise, but also in our personal lives and certainly within a lot of the church world. If we just continue on the way we are going, there are going to be serious consequences. In some cases, I believe the consequences are already setting in or starting.

Unfortunately, despite this warning from the man of God on their boat, it says: “But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest.

The “professionals” and majority and your “companions” are not always right. Just because people affirm what you are doing, does not mean what you are doing is right. We have to be careful to listen to the right counsel…godly counsel. The counsel of Scripture. Also realize that the majority usually favors just “sailing on” as is, rather than making real changes. Churches every day for example are  dying or shutting down because the members refuse to repent and change. People’s lives fall apart because they refuse to repent and change. People literally forfeit their souls for eternity and perish because they refuse to repent and be “changed” (converted). The warnings of the Spirit, through men and women of God go unheeded and we hold our present course in our stubbornness and stiff-neckedness. The counsel of Scripture goes unheeded and unread.

Interestingly it goes on to say that initially: “When a gentle south wind began to blow, they thought they had obtained what they wanted; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete.”

How true is this! Often people are deceived by signs that appear to be in their favor, confirming to them that they made the right call and have “obtained what they wanted.” There can be an initial and temporary sense of relief and happiness that can be very deceptive when the wrong choices are made. People leave churches and feel a “relief” and even have “evidence” (signs) that appear to be in their favor and justify that decision. You can see it in people who divorce, there is that initially “relief” and even “joy” and certain things that happen that appear to be in their favor and deceive them into thinking they made the right choice. You see it in people who cave into sin. They have been in a battle for a while, struggling with their flesh to not give in, but finally they succumb and there is that initial “relief” as sin is pleasurable…for a season. You see it in people who constantly move or go from job to job, each time thinking that a change of circumstances will change their life. Initially and temporarily things do seem to improve for them or go in their favor. This can even reinforce a spirit of pride in people in almost mocking or gloating that they were right…and the warnings issued by Scripture or the men and women of God were wrong.

But then we read this…”Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the “northeaster,” swept down from the island. The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along. As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure. When the men had hoisted it aboard, they passed ropes under the ship itself to hold it together. Fearing that they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along. We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.”

“Before very long…”

“We took such a violent battering from the storm…”

“When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.”

I am sure as I write this that many people are in the “lull” before a furious storm is about to come and everything fall apart due to their choices…and they blindly do not even realize it.  Or perhaps like Paul, you perceive it is coming because of others decisions…and you know it’s going to affect not only them but you and those around them.

I am sure as I write this that many other people are in that “storm” already that has suddenly come out of the blue and you are beginning to experience the consequences of your decisions or others decisions.

Remember the apostle Paul is on this boat too. He tried to issue a warning but the others did not heed the warning. He is now suffering the consequences of the others decision. This is similar to Jonah in the OT, except this time the roles are reversed! The man of God (Jonah) was running away from God and rebelling against what God had told him to do and as a result the other sailors (who were not men of God) suffered a storm that threatened their lives…because Jonah was on their boat! This time, the man of God (Paul) was trying to warn the others of destruction, but they did not heed and so Paul is suffering the consequences of their decision, being on the same boat as them.

Our decisions and actions do not just affect us. They affect all those around us…and especially those closest to us. And Scripture is clear: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-8).

We may not reap what we sow right away. Things may appear “calm” and “good” for a season. But the season of reaping the fruit of our ways will come. Proverbs 1:29-33 for example both warns and promises: “Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord, since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.”

So what does this mean?

Does this mean there is no hope?

Here’s the reality: God will let the consequences of our choices (and others) play out. But if we humble ourselves, repent and listen to His instructions: He will have mercy on us.

It was at this point in Acts 27, when all hope of being saved was lost, and the storm continued raging and darkness was the continual reality for many days…Paul spoke up again. Initially he was quiet as the consequences began to play themselves out and they struggled to prevail against the storm. But then he spoke up when he saw them giving up all hope of being saved.

Here is what he said to them in Acts 27:21-26: “After the men had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss.

(There comes a place and point where we have to accept we blew it. There also comes a place and point where we need to accept that had we heeding God’s warnings, we could have spared ourselves a lot of damage and loss. Rather than being angry with God and blaming God, we need to accept personal responsibility for the choices we made in our stubbornness).

But that is not all Paul said.

He also said this: “But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.”

The story goes on and another situation arises, where Paul urges them to do something…and this time they listen! Paul also goes on to encourage them and they take courage…and while the ship is shipwrecked and destroyed…no one losses their life! God had mercy in the midst of consequences.

I felt I was to write this article in the hopes of trying to encourage two kinds of people: those like Paul, who through no fault of your own are suffering the “storm” of consequences because of others failures to listen to God; and secondly, those who through their own failure to listen to God, are now facing the consequences of that…and are without hope.

Everything may seem dark and hopeless for you right now. The storm may be raging relentlessly. I just want to encourage you through this story what has been encouraging me and that is this: God is the God of all hope.

We may suffer great loss because of our choices…but if we turn to Him in humility and repentance…He will save us. And if you belong to Him and are serving Him but others around you are failing to heed His warnings and instruction: be encouraged. God will stand beside you, strengthen you and fulfill His promise to you, regardless of the choices of others. You may experience a shipwreck…but don’t let it shipwreck your faith in Him.

The reality is this: many in our churches and country are failing to heed the warnings of the Lord. A storm will come as a result. Hosea 8:7 says: “They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.” A whirlwind is coming. There will be much damage and loss that could have been prevented had we heeded the warnings. But because of His people, God will have mercy, and fulfill His purposes. Life does not always go as planned. We suffer because of our failure to heed the voice of the Lord or others failure to heed His voice.

But Psalm 46:10-11 says this: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

Anxiety & Peace

Posted: July 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

Luke 21:34-36: “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

In this blog article I would like to tackle an issue common to all people at one time or another: anxiety. Just within the past few weeks I have either talked to or prayed with several people battling or dealing with anxiety. This Sunday (7/20/14), just a few hours before the service at our church, I decided that even though I didn’t have long to prepare, I needed to change what I was going to share on and that I needed to talk about anxiety instead. You can listen to that message by going to our website: www.theallenwoodchurch.org/messages. It is titled: “Combating Anxiety.” I’d like to share a few points similar to what I made in that message regarding combating anxiety.

First of all, it struck me just this week how blessed those who know Jesus as their Lord and Savior really are. He truly is the prince of peace and only one through whom real and eternal peace comes from. In fact, even now, in case anyone has yet to come to God through faith Jesus, I want to encourage you that this is the place to start. Before you can know God’s peace as a reality in your heart and life, you need to obtain peace with God. See, we are all sinners, who have sinned against a Holy God (Romans 3:23). Our sin has separated us from God (Isaiah 59:2). The only way to be reconciled to God is through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus was clear that He alone, is “the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” (John 14:6).

But Romans 5:1-2 says: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”

Colossians 1:19-20 says: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

And Ephesians 2:12-18 tells us: “…remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.”

Whether religious or not, it is only through faith in Jesus, because of what He did for us on the cross (dying for our sins) and rising from the dead, (He is alive!) that we have and find peace with the Living God. Have you come to God through faith in Jesus? Only once we have peace with God, can we then come to know the peace of God. I invite you to turn to God through faith in Jesus. Receive Him as your Lord and Savior (John 1:12). Believe on His Name and be saved (Acts 16:30-31). Place your hope and trust in Jesus, confessing you have sinned against God and see your need for Jesus to save you (Acts 4:12). Jesus will not reject or turn away anyone who comes to Him in repentance and faith (John 6:37).

If you do have peace with God and know you are a child God, let me encourage you regarding the peace of God and how we can then combat anxiety in our lives. Let me make five points out of the following passage of Scripture:

Philippians 4:4-9 says the following: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me — put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

The first key to combating anxiety is rejoicing in the Lord. It may be helpful for you to know that the apostle Paul wrote this while in prison, to those outside of prison! His circumstances were worse than those he was writing to, yet he encouraged them to rejoice in the Lord regardless of their circumstances. Anxiety often comes as a result of circumstances in our lives. One key is rejoicing in the Lord, regardless of our circumstances. Though our circumstances change, He never changes (Hebrews 13:8). It’s by rejoicing in who He is and His unchanging character, that we find peace and strength despite our circumstances (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

Secondly, Paul says: “let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” He is basically saying, be “mild in manner or temper” showing you trust the Lord. Be calm, resting in the truth that He is near. Trusting in the Lord’s Sovereignty, that He is in control no matter your circumstances, and an ever-present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46) is a key to having peace. The Lord is near. Therefore we need not fret or freak out. He will help us and be with us. No matter how crazy or chaotic things may seem or be in our lives, God rules over it all (Psalm 66:7). Nothing takes God by surprise. He isn’t up there biting His nails and pacing back and forth trying to figure things out and going: “uh oh, didn’t see that one coming!” Be calm. The Lord is near. Trust Him.

Thirdly, Paul exhorts us to not give into anxiety or to be anxious about anything. Rather, than give into anxiety we are to give whatever is causing anxiety to the Lord in prayer. Whatever situations are troubling you, don’t let those situations trouble you. Psalm 55:22 says: “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” 1 Peter 5:7 says: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Consider that for a moment. God doesn’t just care about your situations, He cares for you! And He will sustain us as we lay those situations out before Him that are troubling us. Psalm 94:18-19 says: “When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your love, O Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.” God desires to be our Shepherd. One of the things a Shepherd does is give peace to his flock. Psalm 23:1-3 says: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.” The promise in Philippians 4:7 is that as we “present our requests to the Lord” (notice with “thanksgiving’-a spirit of faith and trust in the Lord) His peace, a supernatural peace, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. The word for “guard” literally means to “set a guard.” The picture is like soldiers guarding a post from the enemy and the enemies attacks. God’s peace is that supernatural power that shields our hearts and minds from the “thief” of anxiety. It keeps anxiety from being able to penetrate and rob us of peace and joy. Let God’s peace set a guard over your heart and mind! Pray to Him! I have seen God sometimes do more in 2 minutes of praying, than 2 hours of talking or 20 minutes of preaching! Peace comes from God as we pray. Peace protects us as we present our requests to God and entrust them to His care.

Fourthly, the apostle Paul writes: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” We often lack peace because we dwell on the wrong things or things that are wrong. Other times we let our minds run wild with speculation about what could happen or might happen. Often times those speculations and fears about our future or situations don’t even turn out to be true or near as bad as we were worried about. Worrying is futile. Jesus taught us not to worry about our lives. In Matthew 6:25-27 He said: “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 important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 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? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Worry adds nothing of value to our lives. Rather it saps of energy and strength, peace and joy! Jesus would go on to say in Matthew 6:31-34: “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Dwell on what is profitable and good as you trust in God and pursue Him. He will provide for you. This doesn’t mean you stick your head in the sand like an ostrich and ignore reality. It means in the midst of whatever you are going through you choose to focus your heart and mind on seeking after God and gazing upon His beauty (Psalm 27).

Fifthly, Paul writes: “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me — put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” This is another key point in regarding to peace in our lives: being doers of His Word, not just hearer’s or spectators or information accumulators (James 1:22-25). Storms are going to come in our lives. Therefore we would be wise to heed, not just hear, Jesus words (Matthew 7:24-27), so we are not shaken and fall apart when the storms come. We need to put into practice and walk in obedience to God’s commands out of love for Jesus. Paul assures us here that if we do so, not only will God’s peace be with us, but the God of peace will be with us! Jesus likewise assured us of this in John 14:15-21: “If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”

Do you need God’s peace in your life? Do you know that the word “peace” means “to be set at one?” Do you realize that there is no peace apart from God? People today are seeking peace through many ways and in many things. Some turn to sports and exercise. Others turn to drugs and alcohol and sex. Others are put on medication and endlessly seek help from psychologists. These things may make us feel better (or provide a false hope or temporary escape from the reality and difficulties of life) but only in Christ is there lasting, internal, abiding, supernatural peace. God has already prescribed to us the “medication” we need to combat anxiety and it is found in His Word and the things we examined above. Only He can truly “set us as one” and “put us back together again.”  The world cannot achieve or find lasting peace apart from Jesus Christ, the prince of peace.

Examine your life. Do you have peace with God, having turned to and trusted in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? Are you delighting yourself in Him, rejoicing in Him and who He is, regardless of your circumstances? Are you trusting in Him, resting in the truth that He is near and sovereign? Are you casting your cares on Him, presenting your requests to Him in prayer, with thanksgiving? Are you thinking on and focusing on and dwelling on and meditating on God and the things of God, the truth of His Word and His unchanging character, His splendor, beauty and glory? And are you walking in obedience to His commands? Are you putting into practice His Word?

I encourage you to rejoice in Him, trust in Him, pray to Him, dwell on Him and walk in obedience to Him. This is how we combat anxiety and come to know not only His peace, but the God of peace!

Psalm 131: “My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.”

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

There is a movement underway, especially (but not exclusively) within the “Word of Faith” circles where there is a “yoking” together with the Pope and Roman Catholicism. Truth is being sacrificed for the sake of unity. Although, truth has already been sacrificed especially by those within the Word of Faith movement long before this.

We need to learn to see beneath the surface and “test everything” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Exercising discernment is not an option, it is an exhortation. The reason exercising discernment is so important is because deception is real. And the nature of deception is the fact that it is deceptive. Just because something looks good, sounds good and feels good, doesn’t mean it is true or right or of God.

Just because the name “Jesus” is used doesn’t mean it is the Jesus of the Bible. The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 11:3-6 something very applicable still to today: “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. But I do not think I am in the least inferior to those “super-apostles.”

Just because Scripture is used does not mean what is being presented is the pure truth of His Word. Word of Faith teachers are notorious for using Scripture out of context and twisting it to make it mean something it doesn’t, to promise the people what they want to hear and have: (health, wealth, power, happiness etc…).

The Catholic church does the same thing, along with many cults, such as Jehovah Witnesses, the Mormon Church, Christian Science (which has many connections and similarities with Word of Faith doctrine) etc. Even “non-Christian” cults will use Scripture. And while the Mormon Church, along with the Catholic Church, will use the same key terms and terminology regarding salvation, they mean something totally different by those same terms.

For example, the Mormon Church defines grace this way: “It is likewise through the grace of the Lord that individuals, through faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance of their sins, receive strength and assistance to do good works that they otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to their own means. This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts.” (https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bd/grace?lang=eng).

Notice how grace to the Mormon is the ability to save yourself through your works that you couldn’t do apart from grace! That is in contrast to what the Bible says about grace and salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 says for example: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” To be sure, verse 10 of Ephesians 2 goes on to talk about how we have been saved to do good works, and James talks about how faith without deeds is dead…but grace is not the “strength” needed to do good works, so that we may “lay hold on eternal life” after we have “expended their own best efforts.” Our efforts have nothing to do with salvation; what Christ did on the cross on our behalf was sufficient for salvation for He cried out: “It is finished.” (John 19:30). There is no sacrifice or work needed to be done in regard to sin. Christ made a once and for all, final and sufficient sacrifice for our sins. (Hebrews 1:3, 10:12, 1 Peter 3:18). The grace of God gives to sinners this gift freely upon repentance and faith in Jesus (Acts 20:21).

The Catholic Church does the same thing by using similar terms and terminology but meaning something very different. For example, take the phrase “born-again.” According to official Catholic Church doctrine, being “born-again” occurs through water-baptism. 1277 from the official Catechism of the Catholic Church states:  “Baptism is birth into the new life in Christ. In accordance with the Lord’s will, it is necessary for salvation, as is the Church herself, which we enter by Baptism.” (Libreria Editrice Vaticana (2011-11-02). Catechism of the Catholic Church (Kindle Locations 8220-8221). United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Kindle Edition).

Notice baptism, along with the Catholic Church herself, is necessary for salvation. In fact according to Catholic doctrine, faith is received through the church! (1270 states: “Reborn as sons of God, [the baptized] must profess before men the faith they have received from God through the Church” and participate in the apostolic and missionary activity of the People of God.”).

This is all very different from what Scripture teaches. And while we could go on and on and compare and contrast; I would encourage you to go to our church website and listen to a series I did on Catholicism in more detail in 2012. It can be found on the right hand side of the message page: www.theallenwoodchurch.org/messages. I would also encourage you listen to other messages along these lines such as in 2012 on the left-hand side there is a message titled: “True Discernment/Mormonism” spoken on 1/29 and then that same year at the end of the year, on 12/9 is a message titled: “Spiritual Discernment & Deception.” In 2013, on 1/27 there is also a message titled: “Being Discerning verse Judgmental.”

Scripture calls us to exercise discernment, in fact Jesus actually said, “Stop judging by mere appearances and make a right judgment.” (John 7:24). Jesus warned us in Matthew 7:15 to: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” Notice Jesus made clear wolves do not come looking like wolves, baring their fangs and making you afraid. They come in sheep’s clothing, seemingly harmless and innocent and “of God.” 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 warns: “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness.” These are the most dangerous of all, because they operate in deception, which by definition is deceptive! This is why we must have discernment.

We must also beware of the creed of the hour, where unity is being promoted above truth and truth is being sacrificed for the sake of unity. It is one thing to be respectful  to all regardless of what they believe or don’t believe or how they do or do not treat you. 1 Peter 3:15-16 calls us to this: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” Being respectful and reaching out to others in showing them Jesus and sharing Jesus with them (the hope we have in Him) however is different from embracing and endorsing different belief’s…or yoking ourselves together with those of a different faith or no faith. Respecting others is different from sacrificing truth for the sake of unity.

Many are quoting John 17, where Jesus prayed for unity. But what appears to be being left out is the fact that before Jesus prayed for unity, He prayed that His disciples would be protected from the evil one and prayed: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.” (John 17:17-19).

Being “sanctified” (set apart) by truth occurs before being “brought together” in unity. The kind of unity Jesus prayed for was also a unity brought about by “being in Him” (John 17:21). “Being In Him” is speaking of being “in the truth” for He is the “way, the truth & life.” (John 14:6). The unity Jesus prayed for a was unity among those who: “will believe in me through their message…” (John 17:20-21). Notice, not believe in Him through the church…but through their message. What was their message? Their message was the Good News of the Gospel. What is the Good News of the Gospel? The Good News of the Gospel is that Christ died for our sins, was buried, but rose again on the third day. And the reality of this was verified by hundreds of eye-witnesses. (See 1 Corinthians 15:1-7). The Good News is that through faith in Him, trusting in Him alone for salvation, we are “born-again” (John 3:16). The Good News is that through repentance, we receive the “forgiveness of sins.” (Luke 24:47, Acts 5:31, Acts 11:18). The Good News is that by “calling on His Name,” believing in our hearts He was raised from the dead and confessing with our mouths Jesus as Lord, we are saved (Romans 10:9-13).

Jesus prayed that for those that would be true of, that we would be one, as we are now of the family of God and the people of God. His prayer for unity was not that all religions would be unified together or into one religious system with different expressions as we see beginning to happen today. The current Pope has not only reached out but called for working together with Jews, Muslims, Hindu’s, something being eagerly hoped for (http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/why-jewish-muslim-hindu-leaders-have-high-hopes-pope-francis). Pope Francis has also sent “signals” to those who are homosexual saying “who am I to judge?” (Which is true we are not to be judgmental, but God’s word has already “judged” homosexuality as sin and we are to speak the truth in love!). He also hinted or at least made a comment aimed at embracing atheists and assuring them that “obedience to their conscience” is what is important and may be enough to merit the forgiveness or mercy of God (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/12/pope-francis-letter-atheists_n_3909425.html.).

This all is actually setting the stage for one world religion (or umbrella system) that is anti-Christ and that prophecies of the Bible warn of in the last days (see Revelation). This is a great compromise and apostasy that is occurring, not Biblical unity. Doctrine is being downplayed for the sake of unity. But it is only through the truth that we have true unity. Truth cannot be sacrificed for the sake of unity…and we must see past the surface of what is being said and not be deceived.

Recently, certain “Christian leaders” have been praising the Pope. A Catholic bishop named Tony Palmer is even declaring the “protest” (Protestant reformation) is over and it is time for Protestants to return and unite with the Catholic Church. Below you can click on the links provided to watch these endorsements. Do not be deceived! Here is also a good article about these present trends: Prosperity Preachers Join Ecumenical Movement With Praise Of The Pope.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=igNCUw1adIw.

Notice how Rick Warren exalts “Authenticity” and “Humility” over “truth.” It is true being authentic and not hypocritical is important. It is true walking in humility rather than pride is crucial. But sincerity and humility is not what saves and doctrine does matter, especially concerning the way of salvation.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j65tSPJZutQ.

Notice Joel Osteen praises the Pope for being “inclusive” rather than “narrow.” Yet how ironic because Jesus said this in Matthew 7:13-15: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Right after this Jesus warned: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” Part of the appeal of false prophets is their “inclusiveness.” Joel Osteen is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. His newest book: “I declare” is in itself blasphemous and straight from the New Age play book…just wrapped in “Christian” language and verses. He champions the belief that we can determine and create our own “destiny” and life (health, wealth, happiness etc…) by the words we speak. We are mini-gods. The Sovereignty of God is denied as 2 Peter 2:1 warns of: “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord…”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uA4EPOfic5A.

Here is the video of Pope Francis reaching out to the “Christian” community through a personal video message to Kenneth Copeland. In this video you find Bishop Tony Palmer, who claims both Kenneth Copeland and Pope Francis to be “spiritual fathers” to him, seeking to unite Catholics and Protestants. He is very clever in his framing of the issue’s and many are being duped. He tries to say through one statement that Catholics and Protestants believe the same thing now and so we need not worry about doctrine any longer, God will sort it out when we get to heaven. We just need to unite.

Yet Jesus said this and prayed this in John 17:14-19: “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”

Will you embrace the world and its value system (which is under the devil’s control) or will you embrace the Word of God regardless of the consequences and anger of the world?  Be warned.

Ezekiel 22:26: “Her priests do violence to my law and profane my holy things; they do not distinguish between the holy and the common; they teach that there is no difference between the unclean and the clean…”

Isaiah 5:20-21:  “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.”

Hebrews 5:13-14: “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”

1 John 1:5-7:  “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

Isaiah 55:6-9: “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

There is a great need today for discernment within the body of Christ. It seems overall we have lost the ability to distinguish between good and evil, our ways and God’s ways, the holy and the unclean and are no longer acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. In some cases the Word of God is being butchered and twisted to mean something it doesn’t, to fit a lifestyle we shouldn’t living but want to live. In other cases, there is not a “craving of the pure spiritual milk” (1 Peter 2)…but craving “pure spiritual junk food and fluff.”

So let’s define and clarify a few things.

First of all, the indictment in Ezekiel 22:26 is that the priests “…do violence to my law and profane my holy things; they do not distinguish between the holy and the common; they teach that there is no difference between the unclean and the clean…” Today, under the new covenant, all believers are priests of God (1 Peter 2:5, Revelation 1:6, 5:10). Unlike the priests of the Old Testament however, we don’t offer sacrifices for our sin (Christ has made one final sacrifice for our sin!) but we offer “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5). This includes among other things, the “sacrifice of praise” (Hebrews 13:11) and our very lives as a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1-2).

As a priest of God, as one belonging to God, as a child of His, we are called to “be holy, as He is holy.” But what does it mean to “be holy?” It means to be “set apart as belonging to God.” It means to live, act and think differently than the world. It means we are to be like God, imitators of God, reflecting and representing God.

This requires truly coming to know God and know the ways of God. To know God, we must seek God, and to know His ways we must know His Word, being taught by God (1 John 2:27) and actually walk in His ways. This ought to be a constant prayer of ours. Consider the following sample of prayers along these lines:

Moses, Exodus 33:13: “If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.”

David, Psalm 25:4-5: “Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.”

David, Psalm 86:11: “Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.”

This is about being a disciple of Jesus. To be a disciple, (to learn of Him and from Him) requires humility. It requires saying “God, I don’t have this all figured out and I need you to show me your ways.” One of our problems is that in our pride, we assume our ways are “right.” But God’s ways are not our ways. And it’s only as we offer ourselves to God (Romans 12:1) and stop just going along with the flow of the world around us and put into practice the Word of God, that we will come to know God’s will and ways. Romans 12:2 exhorts us: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

God is holy. His ways are holy. This is why we must seek Him and be taught by Him, to begin to distinguish between good and evil.

Now, let’s talk about “good” and “evil” or “righteous” and “unrighteous.” Herein lies more misunderstanding. Simply put, “good” is that which is of God and “evil” is that which is not of God. “Righteousness” is that which is of God. It is walking in the way of God. “Unrighteousness” is that which is not of God. Sometimes we think of “evil” or “wicked” only in terms of like “really bad things that only really bad people do.” But this falls far short from the truth. Our ways are wicked in God’s sight, because they are not His ways. Anything not of God and from God is evil and wicked. “Iniquity” kind of goes along with this, because “iniquity” is the “twisting of truth.” Many people today are “twisting the truth” to make it fit their lifestyle and justify their ways.

Don’t just skip over this next portion of Scripture. Read it. Meditate on it. Consider your own life.

Isaiah 59:2-17 says this: “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken lies, and your tongue mutters wicked things. No one calls for justice; no one pleads his case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments and speak lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil. They hatch the eggs of vipers and spin a spider’s web. Whoever eats their eggs will die, and when one is broken, an adder is hatched. Their cobwebs are useless for clothing; they cannot cover themselves with what they make. Their deeds are evil deeds, and acts of violence are in their hands. Their feet rush into sin; they are swift to shed innocent blood. Their thoughts are evil thoughts; ruin and destruction mark their ways. The way of peace they do not know; there is no justice in their paths. They have turned them into crooked roads; no one who walks in them will know peace.

So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like men without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead. We all growl like bears; we moan mournfully like doves. We look for justice, but find none; for deliverance, but it is far away.

For our offenses are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God, fomenting oppression and revolt, uttering lies our hearts have conceived. So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.

The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm worked salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him. He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.”

Do you see how sin is not only doing that which is “wrong” (the Biblical word is “evil” or “wickedness”) but failing to do what is “right?” James 4:17 says: “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” It’s not just participating in evil that is sinful, but being passive in regard to what is right!

This is where the Gospel enters in. We all have sinned. (Sin being that which is evil in God’s eyes and failing to do what is right in God’s eyes). Our sin separated us from God. No one was able to overcome this and save themselves. Humanity failed. There are no true human hero’s or saviors. So Jesus came, taking on human flesh and lived the perfect life we have failed to live. He died on the cross for our sin and rose from the dead. He is the Savior of the world!

And Romans 1:17 tells us: “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” Righteousness is a gift from God as true righteousness is of God. It is received by faith. We are saved by faith. We then can (and are called) to live a righteous life by faith. The Gospel saves us from our disobedience and calls us to obedience. Romans 1:5 says: “Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.”

Titus 2:11-14 tells us: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope — the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”

God’s grace is our teacher. It is not just what forgives us. It teaches us to say “no” to that which is not of God and “yes” to that which is of God. Grace is God’s power for us to become holy and live a holy life.

This is the other issue a portion of the body of Christ seems to be forgetting or not understanding. Grace is not justification for living however we want to live or doing whatever we want to do. Grace calls us to live as God calls us to live. Grace makes us a child of God and grace also calls us to grow up as a child of God!

When someone is “born-again” they become a “spiritual baby.” At that point they need the “pure spiritual milk” of His Word (1 Peter 2:2). (Notice again, not “spiritual junk food”….”pure spiritual milk”). But we are not meant to live forever on the milk of His Word. Again, Hebrews 5:13-14 says: “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”

The reason many are not able to distinguish between good (that which is of God) and evil (that which is not of God) is because we have not been digesting “solid food” and are not “acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.” This is because many are living on milk and thus are still “spiritual infants.” They are stunted in their spiritual growth. They are not maturing and by constant use training themselves to distinguish between good and evil. Thus we are blind and just going along with the ways of the world, rather than walking in the ways of God.

Let’s get real practical now and give some examples.

We seem to go from extreme to extreme.

Not long ago, legalism was more the rule or way of most churches. Legalism is essentially adding and exalting man’s rules to God’s word. So for example, it was very clear in a lot of church circles that if you were a true Christian, you didn’t ever go to the movies, you didn’t ever dance, smoking meant you were going to hell, playing cards was of the devil and you didn’t wear any make-up. Things were very strict and clear.

Today, we seem to have gone to the opposite extreme: liberalism. Liberalism in the context of the church world is when you basically do whatever you want. We have been separated unto God to belong to God, but are going the way of Samson (Judges 13-16). Now we don’t even blush over anything. Those who call themselves Christians can watch any movie, swear like a sailor, dance and dress even provocatively, seductively and immodestly, go to bars, drink, smoke, and think nothing of it, date those who don’t truly belong to God, and basically be just like the world.  Clear Biblical exhortations are not being heeded and principles concerning “abstaining from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22) are going unheeded entirely. Professing Christians justify continually going to settings that are questionable, and being just like the world by saying things like: “Well…Jesus ate and drank with sinners and tax collectors you know” and so for anyone to question them is “legalistic” and being “judgmental.” It is true Jesus did spend time with sinners in those settings. But here’s where the line seems to be being crossed, because while Jesus ministered to sinners, He didn’t participate in the sin of sinners. He wasn’t getting drunk. He wasn’t swearing. He wasn’t laughing at filthy jokes. And He was calling sinners to repentance, not approving of their lifestyles and “fitting in with them.”  Some who quote this, are using it to justify their compromise and worldly passions. They continually, in these settings, are falling into sin, compromise and sexual immorality and being influenced by influences that are not of God. They are not being a witness; they are being corrupted and led astray by the world and their own sinful desires. They are being yoked together with unbelievers in a way that is compromising their purity and devotion to Jesus (see 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1). Instead of attending Bible studies, prayer meetings and growing in the Word of God and having fellowship with the people of God for example, we are attending bars, going clubbing or to worldly concerts that promote immorality, kicking back, “hanging out,” “taking it easy,” failing to grow up spiritually and discern between good and evil, so that we can be a real influence (salt & light) in this world. Then we claim we don’t “have time” for the things of God. That serving Him is a “burden.” Oh, we come here and there and do things here and there to make ourselves appear spiritual, but we give God our left-overs, not our first, our all, our best (see the book of Malachi). We complain about a service that goes more than an hour, or a message more than 30 minutes, but we can spend hours watching sports or hanging out at bars.  And our lifestyle is being justified through the twisting of Scripture without giving it a second thought.

This comes back to Ezekiel 22:26: “Her priests do violence to my law and profane my holy things; they do not distinguish between the holy and the common; they teach that there is no difference between the unclean and the clean…”

Malachi 1:6 records God saying this:  “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the Lord Almighty. “It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name.”

It is time we repent of our carnality, compromise and worldliness and get on with God’s purpose for our lives: to be conformed not to the ways of the world, but conformed to the likeness of Jesus (Romans 8:29).  We must crave the pure spiritual milk and by it grow up and graduate to the solid food of the Word, the teaching of righteousness, training ourselves to distinguish between good and evil.  It is time we humble ourselves, turn from our wicked ways and seek the Lord, coming to know Him and His ways.

Isaiah 55:6-9: “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Psalm 22:1-5: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.”

The worst feeling in the world is to feel that God has forsaken you. There is nothing worse than to feel cut off from Him and His presence. In fact, that is the very essence of hell itself, the total separation from the presence and glory and goodness of God. That is what makes hell, hell; the absence of the presence of God. On the contrast, that is what makes heaven, heaven; the fullness of the presence of God!

Psalm 22 is a Psalm that ultimately points to Jesus. In fact the first part of this Psalm is what Jesus quoted from when He was on the cross. In the case of Jesus, and in the mystery of the trinity, God the Father did forsake His One and Only Son. This is something we cannot fully grasp or appreciate. In fact we are told in Matthew 27:45-46 that: “From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”-which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus, who had no sin, became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). Think about that. He took upon Himself not only all my countless and innumerable sin, but your sin and the sin of the entire world! Every injustice, every abuse, every neglect, every act and thought of immorality, every evil, wicked, unclean word and action and attitude. All the filth, the lies…every vile, immoral, wicked, evil, unrighteous thing we have done, thought, harbored.  He also fulfilled all righteousness, doing what we have failed to do, living the perfect life we have not. And all the unrighteous things we have done, He paid the price for. It all came crashing down on Him. He bore the weight of sin, the consequences of sin and the just wrath of God because of sin. No wonder darkness covered the land. The Son of God was forsaken because of our sin. It wasn’t just a feeling, but a fact in fullness.

However, the Good News of the Gospel and hope for us is what Peter preached on the day of Pentecost over 2,000 years ago that was prophesied years before He proclaimed it and it became a reality:

Acts 2:24-28: “But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. David said about him: “‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.”

Think about this. If God did not abandon His Son for good, despite bearing the sin of the whole world, do you think He will abandon you for good if you turn to Him and trust in Him?

This is where the second part of Psalm 22:1-3 comes into play.

The Psalmist begins by bemoaning feeling forsaken by God.

But then He states this fact: “Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.”

The only way we are cut off from God is if we fail to put our hope in Him. 2 Chronicles 15:2-3 says: “The Lord is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.”

There is no hope apart from Him, but there is hope in Him!

Our sin does separate us from God, but Isaiah 59:1-3 says: “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken lies, and your tongue mutters wicked things.”

The issue is not God’s power. The issue is repentance of sin. Confession of sin. Putting our trust in Him. Crying out to Him. If we repent, He will restore. If we confess, He will forgive. If we cry out to Him, He will save. If we trust in Him, He will come through.

When all seems hopeless, when God seems to have forsaken or abandoned us, we need to see both His Sovereignty and Salvation. He is “enthroned as the Holy One.” He is also the “praise of Israel” the salvation of His people. When all seems chaotic, God is still in control. He is the Lord Almighty, the one who has His hands on and in everything. And Jesus is our gracious Savior, our advocate in heaven, our high priest who intercedes and mediates on our behalf.

We need to guard our hearts from unbelief, panic and worry. God is willing to forgive, but we must be willing to confess our sin. God is ready to show mercy and grace, but we must be ready to repent. God’s arm is not too short to save, but we must acknowledge our sin and trust in Him.  God is able to help us; we must cry out to Him in faith.

The presence of Jesus is what makes all the difference. It is what is most needed.

In Judges 6, the angel of the Lord comes to a man named Gideon. He tells Him that the “Lord is with you.” But Gideon doesn’t believe this. In Judges 6:13 he protests: “But sir,” Gideon replied, “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.”

I believe many people right now have succumbed to this same question and unbelief: “If God is with us, why has all this happened to us?” “Why has God allowed these things in my life?” “I don’t see His power that I read about and have heard others testify of in my life.” “God has abandoned us (me) and handed us (me) over to the enemy for good! “There is no hope for me and my hope is cut off!”

It is true that God allowed (and allows) the consequences of the people’s sin to play out.  It is true He “gives us over” to our sin and consequences when we refuse to repent (Romans 1:18-32).  It is true that He allowed the enemy to plunder them and take them captive. But it was not to abandon them for good. It was actually to bring them back to Himself!

This is true throughout Scripture. When God’s people would sin against Him, they would suffer the consequences as a result. But when God’s people would cry out to Him and put their trust in Him, He would deliver them and rescue them.

Even in the case of the Egyptians enslaving the Israelites out of fear of them, when the Israelites cried out to God He heard them and delivered them.

Circumstances in our lives can lead us to feel like God has abandoned us or forsaken us. Our sin does rob us of the joy and security of fellowship with Him and result in consequences. And the world being against us can feel like God is against us.

But this is when we need to look to and trust in Jesus.

Romans 8:31-39 reminds us: “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Well…summer is upon us!  At the Jersey Shore, this means multitudes will be swarming to the beaches to soak up the sun, ride the waves, eat/play at the boardwalk and so much more. Summer also means grilling outside, having people over, swimming, sports, camps and taking vacation(s). Summer can be a busy time. Summer can also be another excuse for putting God on the back-burner and giving Him second best…or not much at all.

Every season has its purpose and time (Ecclesiastes 3).  But every season also has its distractions and temptations. In every season we can find excuses for not seeking God with all our heart and serving Him with all our strength. Winter is too cold, spring is too nice, summer is too hot, fall is too beautiful (and school is starting back up). Each season we can say we are too busy and have too much planned (Luke 9:59-62, Luke 14:16-24). Each season of life we can likewise excuse ourselves: when we are young, we are “too young” or have too much schoolwork/jobs to do. When we are out of the house, we have our career to pursue or marriage to tend to or family to raise. When we are older, well, we are no longer young and don’t have the energy we once had or ability to do what we used to be able to do. Every season in a year…and in every season of life we can find an excuse to not put God first, give Him our best and serve Him wholeheartedly.

Or…in every season…and every season of life we can choose to honor God and give Him our best in all things and serve Him with all our strength as we seek Him with all our heart. 1 Corinthians 10:31 for example says: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” This is not to say it is ok to do whatever you want to do…for this goes on to say in the next verses: “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” The point is that in every season of life and every activity of life we should do it all for the glory of God and good of others…not ourselves.

Colossians 3:17 says: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Colossians 3:23-25 goes on to say: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

And Proverbs 16:3 says: “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.”

So long as what we do is in line with God’s will and we do it unto Him, for His glory and good of others, God will bless us as we honor Him in everything and every activity.

But there is more than being faithful to do all we do unto the Lord. There is our work or activities which we should do unto the Lord; but then there is His work that we should be doing in serving Him. We are to serve Him in all things we do, our work and His work, but there is a difference. For example 1 Corinthians 15:58 says: “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 16:10 says: “If Timothy comes, see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you, for he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as I am.”

We are called as believers to do the work of the Lord in the sense of serving/edifying His people (the church) with the spiritual gifts He has given us (Romans 12:4-8, 1 Corinthians 12), telling others the Good News of the Gospel (evangelism), making disciples (Matthew 28:18-20), and offering “spiritual sacrifices” unto the Lord.

For example, 1 Peter 2:4-5 says: “As you come to him, the living Stone — rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Hebrews 13:15-16 says: “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise — the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

And God calls us to serve Him with all our heart (Deuteronomy 10:12), giving Him our best and all…not left-overs. Yet this seems to be the attitude of many: “If I have time left in my busy schedule, I’ll make time for God.” Or “I am too busy right now in this season of life to serve the Lord…it would be too much of a burden.”

This sounds too close to the attitude of those in the book of Malachi. Read carefully God’s rebuke in chapter 1 verses 6-14 of Malachi to the Israelites (His people) in that day:

“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the Lord Almighty. “It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name.

“But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’

“You place defiled food on my altar.

“But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’

“By saying that the Lord’s table is contemptible. When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the Lord Almighty.

“Now implore God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?”-says the Lord Almighty.

“Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands. My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense (prayer) and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the Lord Almighty. 

“But you profane it by saying of the Lord’s table, ‘It is defiled,’ and of its food, ‘It is contemptible.’ And you say, ‘What a burden!’ and you sniff at it contemptuously,” says the Lord Almighty.

“When you bring injured, crippled or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?” says the Lord. “Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the Lord Almighty, “and my name is to be feared among the nations.

Is serving God and offering spiritual sacrifices (and living as a living sacrifice: Romans 12:1-2) a burden to you?  It ought to be our greatest joy and privilege!  God is looking for willing, cheerful, wholehearted obedience and service!

Secondly, are you giving God your best and first…or left-overs and last?  God has given you His best, His first, His only and His own Son.  So does He get the best and first of your time, service and energy…or whatever you have left after you do what you have planned?  He would rather have your best or nothing…but not your left-overs!  Giving God left-overs is more insulting and pretentious than giving Him nothing!  Jesus said in Matthew 15:8-9, quoting from the prophet Isaiah, “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain.”  May it not be true of us and if it is, let us acknowledge it and repent of it and give Him the honor and worship He deserves!

Our priority should be putting Christ first (Matthew 10:37-39). 

We are to seek first His kingdom and righteousness (Matthew 6:33).

And we are to serve Him wholeheartedly (Deuteronomy 10:12), joyfully and gladly/willingly (Deuteronomy 28:47).

I encourage you this summer (and in every season of life)…don’t give God your left-overs…give Him you first and best and all. Do all you do for His glory…but also make sure you are faithful to serve Him in the work of the Lord…joyfully and willingly. Let’s be among those where God’s name is shown to be great and the honor He deserves is received!

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Wonderful…or Wearisome?

Posted: December 16, 2013 in Uncategorized

Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!  Or is it the most wearisome time of the year?

I was talking to someone the other day about what they were sensing and this person mentioned “weariness.”  Tiredness.  Fatigue.  Exhaustion.  Sometimes we naturally get tired; but I sense for many right now it is beyond just being naturally tired from working hard; but an emotional/physical exhaustion of the soul due to the busyness and burdens of life, (and in some cases sin in our lives) to the point we have grown weary, had enough and just given up.

Therefore these words of Jesus are all the more essential, relevant and needed to be heeded than ever.

But here is part of the problem.  I think many of us have heard the above verse so many times that I really think we fool ourselves into thinking we know it; when in reality we often do not live in the reality of it.  I am examining my life as I write this in this regard.

Worse yet; many of us don’t think it really applies to us because we think this verse only has to do with “coming to Jesus for salvation” when actually it has much more to do with coming to Jesus to be His disciple; learning to live in constant fellowship with Him and living as a servant of His.

I want to ask you to take an honest look at your life as I do mine:  How much of your “busyness” is by choice and actually a distraction from what is most essential?  How many of your “burdens” are self-inflicted and not being “cast on the Lord?”  Is there sin that is sapping of strength that we are not repenting of or overcoming?

Much of our “busyness” is because we have become distracted by things and caught up in things that we really did not seek the Lord on and that are non-essential and worse pulling us away from what is most-essential.  Or perhaps some things are essential but we have placed greater priority on those things than fellowship with the Lord.  In other words we “fit” time with Him and studies around other things, rather than making that the first thing.

Listen: the most important thing is not getting done all we “need” to get done, but sitting at His feet and being a disciple of His.  Many are too weary to serve because we are failing to spend adequate time with Him.  Let me ask you: are you spending personal time during the week in His Word?  In prayer?  In worship?  Are you abiding in Him and continuing to learn from Him as you come under His yoke?  If you are weary and burdened this is the answer to find rest for your soul: come to Jesus, take His yoke upon you and learn from Him.

But often we make excuses or we get angry if even questioned on these things.  We have this sense of “urgency” about earthly things; but where is that sense of urgency about spiritual and eternal things?

Remember this from Luke 10:38-42? “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”  “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Are you choosing what is better?  There may be work that does need done; but what is needed most is quieting your heart enough to hear what Jesus is saying and taking it to heart.

Please read and meditate on this verse because how my heart just longs for so many of us to take hold of this and recognize this is the very word we need to heed:

Isaiah 30:15: “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…”

You know what’s sad about the context of that verse?  It goes on to say about the people it was originally written to: “…but you would have none of it.”  And it goes on to describe the defeat and fear they will experience as a result.  My heart breaks over how true this is in regard to so many today.  It doesn’t have to be if we just respond rightly to the Lord who as Isaiah 30:18 goes on to say, despite our stubbornness: “Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!”

Really examine your life and seek the Lord about applying these to your life. What are your true priorities?  Are they the Lord’s and revolving around Him first of all?  Or are you sacrificing time with the Lord to do other things you feel need to be done?  What unnecessary busyness and burdens are in your life?  What needs pruned in your life?  What needs cut off or out of your life?  What needs given over to the Lord and released to Him?  What is holding you back and keeping you away spending time with Him, learning from Him as a disciple and serving Him?  Are you truly coming to Him and trusting in Him?  Is there sin (attitudes, actions) and worldly sorrow you need to repent of? Take time to spend with Him today and bring these questions before Him.  Let His Spirit minister to you as you seek Him.

Isaiah 40:27-31 “Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

Joy of the Lord

Posted: October 11, 2013 in Uncategorized

Recently, I got back from an amazing missions trip to Panama with eighteen others from our church (four of which included my wife and three kids!).  One of the things that was so awesome about the trip was how the “joy of the Lord” was our strength (Nehemiah 8:10).  There is so much joy in serving the Lord and being with Him where He is!

I want to speak about the joy of the Lord being our strength, because we desperately need it.  Discouragement, despair, depression, fear, anxiety, stress and weariness are crippling and paralyzing and weakening the hearts and lives of so many.  We all battle with these realities and the key to these things is both the peace of God (which comes through prayer:  Philippians 4:6-7) and the joy of the Lord (which is a fruit of the Spirit as we walk in the Spirit:  Galatians 5:22-25).

But here is where I want to start (similar to another recent blog I wrote titled “Revival”):  the joy of the Lord comes on the heels of sorrow (and confession) over sin.  The passage where we find the expression about the joy of the Lord being our strength, is Nehemiah 8:10.  The context is after years of captivity (because of sin), a remnant has returned (because of God’s gracious promise and the faithful prayers of men and women of faith) to Jerusalem (representing returning to God).  But the walls of the city had been torn down and the gates burned with fire.  There was a lot of work of restoration to do.  Nehemiah had a burden to restore the walls of the city and God’s hand was upon him to oversee that process and lead the people in that work.  Despite much opposition and being under constant threat and abuse by the enemy, they finished the work by the grace of God!

Chapter 8 tells us that after the walls were rebuilt they then all gathered together in the city square and Ezra the priest read to them the law of God (the Word of God).  They all listened attentively and worshipped the Lord.  He and the other priests made clear to the people the meaning so they could understand it and apply it to their lives.  But as they began realizing how far short they had fallen in their lives from God’s Word and as they realized how badly they had failed the Lord and as the Spirit of God began convicting them, they all began to weep as they listened to the words of the Law.

It wasn’t until that point, that conviction was doing its work, that Nehemiah and Ezra and the Levites said to the people these words : “This day is sacred to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.”  For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law….Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared.  This day is sacred to our Lord.  Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:9-10).

Here is what that teaches me:  Sorrow over sin comes before the joy of the Lord becomes our strength.  In fact Psalm 126:5-6 promises: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.  He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.”

And how desperately we need as the people of God to gather to hear the Word of the Lord and have it made clear to us where we see how far short of the glory of God we have fallen and failed and then begin to weep over these realities.  If we let God convict us; if we confess our sins; He will cleanse us and restore to us the joy of our salvation! , And once that happens, then revival will come and sinners will return to the Lord!

In David’s beautiful prayer of confession after a terrible fall in his personal life, he penned these words in Psalm 51:12-13 “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.  Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.”

I want the joy of the Lord to be my strength.  Therefore I must face the reality and grieve over the reality of my own sinfulness (but then look to my Savior who forgives and cleanses and restores!) and then rejoice in Him and His forgiveness and cleansing!  We can easily become discouraged or disheartened by our sin, but God wants us to look to Jesus and rejoice in Him as our Savior!  Remember the words of the angel to the shepherds long ago in Luke 2:10-12 regarding the birth of Jesus:  “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.   Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”  Weep over sin, yes; but rejoice in the One who saves us and forgives us of our sins!

I must also be willing to serve Him however and wherever He leads.  Jesus said in John 12:25-:26: “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.  My Father will honor the one who serves me.”  It is by staying focused on Jesus and doing His will that His joy remains our strength and we endure through all of life’s sorrow and pain.   Hebrews 12:2-3 says: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him 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 sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

In John 15:9-12 Jesus reminded His disciples and us of this:  “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Now remain in my love.  If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

Walking in the Spirit (obedience to the will of God), weeping over our sin and serving the Lord are three keys to the joy of the Lord being a reality in our lives and being the strength of our lives.  These all speak of fellowship with God.   And fellowship with God is the place of greatest joy.   In 1 John 1:3-4 John writes this as the purpose for writing this epistle:  “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our (or your) joy complete. “

Jesus came that we might have joy, full joy, that would be our strength; and this occurs through fellowship with Him.  He gave His life on the cross that we might be reconciled to God and have fellowship with Him restored!   He came to remove our shame and disgrace and all that would rob of joy.

In fact, the first miracle recorded for us in Scripture that Jesus performed was the changing of water into wine.  In Scripture wine is symbolic of joy.   Jesus and His disciples were at a wedding and the hosts ran out of wine, which not only was a real problem but would be a social disgrace.  It would have created need and shame; just like our sin creates need and shame; thus robbing of joy!  This is when Jesus stepped in and provided what was needed and removed what would have resulted in humiliation.  He restored joy and peace out of His grace, to reveal His goodness and glory!

So as Psalm 30:4-5 says: “Sing to the Lord, you saints of his; praise his holy name.  For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime;  weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

Put Away Your Sword!

Posted: August 16, 2013 in Uncategorized

One night recently, I laid down in bed, and I was flipping through the Bible, not really wanting to read anything, (yes, even preachers feel that way at times!!) but knowing I needed to just get into His Word and let the Spirit of God speak to me.  So I began praying for God to direct my reading that night and suddenly a story came to mind that I hadn’t heard or read or even thought of in a long time.  It is a story found in 1 Samuel 25 with a wonderfully godly woman (Abigail) who somehow was married to an ungodly man (Nabal).  In fact regarding her husband, 1 Samuel 25:3 tells us off the bat that he “…was harsh and evil in his doings.”  That word for “harsh” is also translated in other translations as “churlish,” “surly” or “crude.”  In the Hebrew language it means “severe” or “grievous” in the sense of being “hard-hearted,” “impudent,” “obstinate,” “rough,” “stubborn” and “stiff-necked.”  The word for “evil” (in His ways) means that which “displeases God” and causes “affliction” or “distress” to others.  It means to be “mischievous” in an arrogant sense.

I am sure we all know people like this or have worked for/work with those like Nabal or worse be married to one like Nabal!  They are very unpleasant people to work with or be with because you really can’t work with them.  They live in an illusional and irrational world, where everything is everyone else’s fault, they are always “victims” (even as they victimize) and they get offended by what you do even though they are the ones causing the real offense!

Let me just say one thing though if you are around “Nabals” or even married to a “Nabal.”  You don’t have to be like Nabal!  You can be an Abigail, who did not walk in Nabal’s ways or have his character.

I have noticed over the years that there are those who excuse the sin and compromise or bad attitudes in their life because their parents were that way or because their spouse walks in those ways.  And in general, many of us have “settled” regarding certain realities in our life, excusing/justifying ourselves because that’s just “the way we are” or “who we are” or “how it’s always been.”  But if you read through the history of the Kings of Israel (1 & 2 Kings) you will find kings who may have had ungodly parents, but they chose to walk in the ways of the Lord, instead of the evil ways of their parents.  Or you will find kings whose parents were godly, but they did not chose to follow in their footsteps.  Parental influence does not dictate our lives.  Our own choices do.  You can be an Abigail even if married to a Nabal.  And we need to drive out and “put to death” these things in our lives that are rooted in us that are not of God.

Anyway, in this story Nabal mistreats David’s men and slanders David’s character, even though David and his men had done no wrong to him or his men (but actually had done good to them; meant no ill-will towards them and wished them well).  When David finds out about this, his response is like our initial response so often is:  “David said to his men, ‘put on your swords!’ So they put on their swords, and David put on his.”  (1 Samuel 25:13).  Can you not see yourself doing the same thing in certain situations?  We go into attack mode and are ready to take vengeance into our own hands when mistreated.  We pull out our swords and get ready to plunge them!  I know this is true in my life as there have been times I have prematurely pulled out the sword and even swung the “sword” and regretted doing so later.

But in this story, when Abigail finds out about what is about to happen, she intervenes and intercedes with David, calling him to put away his sword and let God deal with Nabal, so that his conscience will not later condemn him for bloodshed.  Abigail came at just the right moment, just like the Holy Spirit so often comes at just the right moment to “check us” and call us to put away our swords.  By the way, one of the things Abigail says is this in 1 Samuel 25:25, “May my lord pay no attention to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name. His name is Fool, and folly goes with him.”  In other words don’t even give “Nabals” (fools) the pleasure of even paying them any attention by pulling out your sword, let God deal with them!  One thing I’ve noticed also over the years is that there are those who so desperately crave attention they will do anything to provoke and create drama, even if it is “negative” or “hurtful.”  But the last thing they want is for people to not respond to them and just ignore them!

Well, David thanked Abigail for intervening and he did put away his sword.  Ten days later God dealt with Nabal and he died (read what happens in 1 Samuel 25:36-38. There is an interesting picture there that is applicable “spiritually” as those who refuse to repent, their hearts “fail them” and harden like stone, which leads to their “demise”) while God rewarded Abigail for her godliness despite her husband’s ungodliness.

That brings me to this.  Instead of taking vengeance, show mercy.  Instead of pulling out the sword, put away the sword.  Instead of becoming resentful, show kindness.  Let God deal with that person.  Romans 12:17-21 puts it this way:  “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head; do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

The other passage God has been focusing me on is 2 Timothy 2:23-26.  It says this: “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”

Only God can change a Nabal (if they are repentant and willing) or justly deal with a Nabal (if they are unwilling to change and repent).  Our job, however, is to let God be God and do what He does, while we do what He tells us to do.  And what He tells us to do is put away our swords of resentment and retaliation.  One reason for this is because anything done out of that place of bitterness and revenge will be an over-reaction to the offense that was caused.  That then makes you guilty of wrong-doing too!  Only God’s “vengeance” is just and done justly.  The reason we want to do God’s job for Him (which is what we are doing when we take “vengeance” into our own hands) is because we don’t trust that He will (so we feel we have to “defend” ourselves and our “honor”) or we are unwilling to wait for Him to do so.  God didn’t strike Nabal dead right away.  It was ten days later that Nabal died.  We have a hard time waiting for the timing of God and many believe the lie that God “doesn’t see” or “doesn’t care” or “won’t act.”  But God does see and God does care and God will act:  in His own way and timing.

Psalm 10:13-18 puts it this way: “Why does the wicked man revile God? Why does he say to himself, ‘He won’t call me to account?’ But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless. Break the arm of the wicked and evil man; call him to account for his wickedness that would not be found out.

The Lord is King for ever and ever; the nations will perish from his land. You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.”

Trust God and put away your sword.

Proverbs 16:32 “Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city.”

Matthew 26:50-54  “Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Revival

Posted: August 6, 2013 in Uncategorized

Who doesn’t want peace and joy in their life?

Well…there are some, I suppose, who seem like the only peace and joy they get or want is being miserable or seeing others miserable!  But that’s another subject for another time!  Most people want peace and want joy in their lives.  But many of us settle for superficial joy and peace.  And there is one reason for this: We don’t want to experience fully godly sorrow and angst over our sin.

When was the last time you heard someone preach on James 4:8-10?  It says this: “Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” 

“Wait, wait” you say, “don’t tell us that!  That sounds “negative” and “gloomy.”  Tell us things that make us feel good, not bad!”  Well consider this: that “spirit” or attitude and approach sounds pretty similar to the attitude of the people in Isaiah’s day recorded in Isaiah 30:10-11 that a pastor friend of mine recently reminded me of:  Isaiah 30:10-11  “They say to the seers, ‘See no more visions!’ and to the prophets, ‘Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions.  Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!’”  If that doesn’t characterize the spirit of this age, I don’t know what does!  “Just tell us things that make us feel good or better about ourselves.” “Just tell us about the love of God and how much He loves us.”  That’s the spirit of the day.

But this is the very spirit preventing revival and the full blessing of God.  This is the very attitude that hinders the full release of peace and joy in our lives.  Jesus said in Matthew 5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Paul wrote some tough things to the Corinthian church in confronting them and calling them out on various sins and issues within the church.  But listen to what he wrote in 2 Corinthians 7:8-10 “Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”

If we want to experience true revival (and the fullness of peace, joy, God’s grace and His blessing) in our lives and churches, we must learn to grieve and lament with a godly sorrow over our sin.  This sounds like a contradiction, but it is one of those “kingdom of God” paradoxes.  God’s ways are not our ways.  But His ways are the best ways!  And we need to allow the Spirit of God to work conviction in our lives if we truly want to experience the comfort He provides.  We need confronted with the Holy One of Israel, not coddled and told everything is okay.  We need confronted with Jesus Christ crucified for our sin.  (And then resurrected!)  Only then will we truly know the peace, joy, grace and full blessing of God.

I shared with our congregation the other Sunday in a message titled “Abomination of Desolation” (www.theallenwoodchurch.org/messages) about Ezekiel chapters 8, 9 & 10.  In Ezekiel chapter 8 Ezekiel is shown by the Spirit of God all these detestable things that were going on in the temple, (some in secret) among the people of God.  In chapter 9 something shocking happens in light of these realities.  Read it for yourself but note especially verse 4:

Ezekiel 9: “Then I heard him call out in a loud voice, “Bring the guards of the city here, each with a weapon in his hand.” 2 And I saw six men coming from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with a deadly weapon in his hand. With them was a man clothed in linen who had a writing kit at his side. They came in and stood beside the bronze altar.

3 Now the glory of the God of Israel went up from above the cherubim, where it had been, and moved to the threshold of the temple. Then the Lord called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side 4 and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.”

5 As I listened, he said to the others, “Follow him through the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion. 6 Slaughter old men, young men and maidens, women and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark. Begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were in front of the temple.

7 Then he said to them, “Defile the temple and fill the courts with the slain. Go!” So they went out and began killing throughout the city. 8 While they were killing and I was left alone, I fell facedown, crying out, “Ah, Sovereign Lord! Are you going to destroy the entire remnant of Israel in this outpouring of your wrath on Jerusalem?”

9 He answered me, “The sin of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great; the land is full of bloodshed and the city is full of injustice. They say, ‘The Lord has forsaken the land; the Lord does not see.’ 10 So I will not look on them with pity or spare them, but I will bring down on their own heads what they have done.”

11 Then the man in linen with the writing kit at his side brought back word, saying, “I have done as you commanded.”

Does that upset you?

More than upsetting us, it ought to bring us to our knees in repentance and provoke a godly sorrow in us over our sins!  But after that we ought to arise in such wonderful peace and joy in what Jesus has done for us on the cross so that instead of being slain, we are saved by His death and resurrection, through faith in Him, sheerly because of His grace!

We need to take sin seriously and grieve over our sin with a godly sorrow.  (After all Jesus was crucified because of our sin; so God certainly takes it seriously).  We need to humble ourselves and walk in a true fear of the Lord.  These are the keys of revival.  These are the attitudes that characterize true revival.  These are the things that precede revival or mark the beginning of revival.

Psalm 126:5-6 promises this:  “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.”

Let’s get on our faces before the Lord, seek Him with all our heart, grieve with a godly sorrow over our sin and cry out to God for mercy!  And let’s stay there in that place until He lifts us up in His grace and fills us with His peace and His joy.

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Hope in Darkness

Posted: August 5, 2013 in Uncategorized

It’s really quite amazing how the Bible speaks with such profound simplicity into modern-day issues.  Although on the other hand I guess that shouldn’t be amazing, as it is God’s Word and God is amazing!

I’ve been spending a lot of my own time in Scripture and in preparation for a series of messages in the first three chapters of 1 Samuel.  I am working on a series for those going on a church missions trip to Panama in September titled “Hearing the Voice of God” to speak to how we put ourselves in a position to hear the voice of God speaking to us.  But as I have been working on that I’ve been drawn to the contrast between Samuel and Eli and the parallels to the reality in our times.

Samuel, whose name means “heard of God,” (because his mother prayed to God for him) would ironically be a man who “heard from God.”  In fact the way this works (relationship with God) is that God creates a desire in us (usually exacerbated by difficult circumstances) and we call on His name in prayer.  Then, in due time, God answers those prayers.  God then calls our name and we are to respond to Him!  So, we speak to God and He answers; God speaks to us and we answer.  That’s called relationship!

Anyway, thank God for “mothers” who pray!  A praying “mother” comes before a “man of God” is born.  A praying “mother” is what produces a prophet who shakes a nation with the Word of God.  Her story (Samuel’s mother) is a story that has given me hope in prayer and comfort in being afflicted or mocked by the enemy on many occasions, though one in particular stands out above the rest.

Anyway, Samuel’s mother made a vow to God, that if He would give her a son, she would give that son to Him to serve Him all the days of his life.  So, after he was weaned, she kept her word and Samuel grew up serving under Eli the priest in the temple of the Lord. How we need more “Samuels” who are given over to the Lord to serve Him, worship Him and minister in His presence!

Well, in chapter 2 we are given detail into how Eli’s sons (also priests) were “wicked men; they had no regard for the Lord.” (1 Samuel 2:12).  They were corrupt and greedy.  They took advantage of other worshipers’ giving.  They actually were abusive, controlling and demanding.  They were bullies who intimidated the people.  They were also sexually immoral, using their positions of power to entice other women to sleep with them.  Some things never change, right?  All under the guise of “religion.”  The problem wasn’t with what God had established; the problem was with the people who established themselves against the Lord!

There are some detestable things (in the Lord’s eyes) going on within the church today.  Some of these are secret things, other things or times they are very public.  I got an e-mail just this week from a woman who fears the Lord and is a woman of prayer.  She was asking me to pray about a situation within the church she goes to, because someone in a leadership position (over the children’s Sunday school) is a lesbian and this church (at least the pastors) don’t consider this a problem. It’s one thing to reach out to homosexuals with the grace of God and love of Christ, but another thing altogether to accept this lifestyle as being “okay with God” and “okay with us.”  This shows a blatant disregard for the Lord, His Word and His Spirit, who is grieved over this.  It shows a lack of the fear of the Lord and a flippant, apathetic attitude towards sin and Scripture.  And this is just one example among many others that could be cited.

However, back in Samuel, all the while this was going on, Samuel we are told, “was ministering before the Lord…” (1 Samuel 2:18) “grew up in the presence of the Lord” (1 Samuel 2:21) and “continued to grow in statue and in favor with the Lord.” (1 Samuel 2:26).  In the midst of this perversion and unfaithfulness, there was a boy who feared the Lord and was faithful to the Lord.  This shows us that God’s people (even the most impressionable) can flourish and grow, being protected by His presence, in the midst of the worst environments of compromise and sin!

And isn’t it amazing how despite environments some people grow up in, they turn out different from those around them?  I think of some children whose parents are alcoholics or gluttons or immoral or you name it.  While some children follow in their parents’ footsteps (and do even worse than the parents did), other children go in the opposite direction.  And the same is true in reverse.  Some children have the godliest examples in their parents, but go in an opposite direction! That shows that while environment can have an influence, it does not determine human behavior.  We can be “Samuels” in the midst of growing up under “Elis” and having his sons as “older brothers.”

Speaking about “environment,” I was just talking with someone today who was telling me about a friend of his who was combating something that just came out in the news (that I saw later that same night) that claims global warming is to blame for higher violence rates.  I thought wow, there it is again, anything to lay the blame on something other than our fallen, sinful, rebellious human condition!

Anyway, God first sent a man of God to Eli the priest to warn him about what was going on under his watch, in his family and within the temple.  One of the things God said to Eli was this:  “Why do you scorn my sacrifice and offering that I prescribed for my dwelling?  Why do you honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel.”  (1 Samuel 2:29).  This is strong language.  Eli was not only complacent, he was a glutton (concerned only for his own comfort and desires being fulfilled).  In fact, later in chapter 3 when he is told for the second time that his family would be judged for these sins, (in chapter 2 we are told all his descendants would die, many prematurely; and his two sons would be killed on the same day), we are told Eli simply said in response to this: “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”  (1 Samuel 3:18).

What is that??!!!  Talk about apathy and not grasping reality!  Yet there are many of us with that attitude.  We shrug off our sin and the severity of the future consequences of our sin.  And in the midst of this we try to sound spiritual! 

I have been sharing/working on some messages on the life of Hezekiah lately.  He was one of the few great and godly kings in Israel.  However, at the end of his life, he did something that he was rebuked for by the prophet Isaiah and he was told in the future God would judge the nation and his descendants specifically.  You would think Hezekiah would be not only repentant and plead for mercy, but would be distraught over this.  However, Isaiah 39:8 says this: “The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,” Hezekiah replied. For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my lifetime.”  This is the attitude of “as long as it doesn’t affect me now, or affect me personally, then it’s ok.”  This is both selfish and apathetic.

And there is this terrible apathy that has set in even in the church.  In chapter 3 of 1 Samuel we read of how Eli was “in his usual place.” As I read that I thought, there it is!  Our problem is like Eli!  We are in our “usual place.”  We get set in our ways.  We get comfortable and complacent and aren’t really seeking the Lord and walking in the fear of the Lord.  We do our “duty” and claim and think we are “serving the Lord” and He is pleased with us.  I know a few people who the only faithfulness in them is being faithful to their routine and ways!  (Of course they see that as being “faithful to the Lord!”)  But they are stuck spiritually and blind spiritually.  There is a stone set up in the town I live in and you know what it says?  It captures well the attitude and spirit of many.  It says “Nothing has happened, nothing will and that’s the way we like it!”  What a delusion and bad attitude!

In fact here is what I see.  There are many “Elis” today whose eyes are becoming so weak we can barely see (1 Samuel 3:2).  For some our eyes are now set so we cannot not see, like Eli’s would later become (1 Samuel 4:15) because we have failed to heed and respond rightly and soberly to the Word of the Lord.  There is a severe lack of spiritual vision and fervency for the things of God.  There is a blindness within the church.  There is a lack of the fear of the Lord.  Forget the culture; the church is no better in a lot of cases!  Corruption rules, greed is the creed, immorality goes unchecked and unrestrained, we are concerned only for our own comfort; apathy has set in, we are just going through the motions, going through life as usual; we are gluttons in many ways; and power is being abused and misused.  The Word of the Lord is rare as in Samuel’s day (1 Samuel 3:1), and true spiritual vision is hard to come by (1 Samuel 3:1) as well.

Is there hope?

Well, this is where 1 Samuel has been ministering hope to me.  In the midst of all this we are told at the beginning of chapter 3 that “The boy Samuel was ministering before the Lord under Eli” and then in verse 3 we are told that “The lamp of God had not yet gone out…”  Hope was not (and is not now) entirely extinguished!  In fact it goes on to say that “Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord where the ark of God was.”  The ark of God represented the presence of God.  Samuel’s posture communicates humility before the Lord.  This is where and when the Lord began to call Samuel and speak to Samuel and through Samuel to all of Israel!  God had said to Eli that “I will raise up for myself a faithful priest who will do according to what is in my heart and mind.”  (1 Samuel 2:35).  That time had come and it would begin to change everything!  God is raising up “Samuels” under “Elis”!  “Davids” are being anointed under “Sauls!”  “Judases” are being replaced with “Pauls!”  There is hope.

I was thinking back on my own life.  Like Samuel, I had those around me who “gave me over to the Lord” or prayed for me.  That is why I am where I am today.  I am under no delusion about that.  It is only because of the grace of God that came through the faithful prayers of “Hannah’s” that I came to the Lord and back to the Lord and have continued on in the Lord.  Thank God for these people!

But like Samuel (though I am not claiming to be equal to Samuel) I have also been around “Elis” and “Elis sons.”  I was thinking about this miracle too that God’s presence, and others’ prayers, protected me from all that while surrounded or in the midst of these realities.  This inspires me to pray for others where the situation seems hopeless.  I have been reflecting on how “the lamp of God had not yet gone out.”  There is hope, even if it seems hopeless.  We can pray to God for “Samuels” and pray to God to raise up Samuels who will be faithful to Him no matter the unfaithfulness they are surrounded by.

And maybe this is a word needed for a mother or father right now who feels despair over their child/children.  Maybe this is a word for pastors or prayer warriors who battle with despair as they see what they are up against.  Maybe this is to bring hope to someone who feels like there is no hope.  Just remember “the lamp of God has not yet gone out.”  It may be dark, but it is only dim.  The light can shine brightly again in the darkness.  There is always hope with God and in God.  Maybe not as we expect or think, but as God decides and decrees and determines.