Changes

Posted: January 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

I just posted an audio message on my new podcast website (www.benfoley.podbean.com) based on Matthew 5:6 where Jesus said “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they will be filled.” In that podcast I talked about how I have been sensing God “stirring” a lot of people to more…or to step out in ways that they never have before. I spoke to how there seems to be a “wrestling with restlessness” (in a good way) that many are beginning to experience and tried to encourage making a change or whatever changes may need made at this time. In this blog article I want to speak to that one word that is dreaded by so many, yet without it we “get stuck” and stop growing and miss out on so much of God’s blessing. That one word is “change.”

As I write this it is January 20th, 2015. My family and I are in the midst of major life changes. We had a newborn baby on the last day of November. At the same time, we had begun packing as we would be moving back to PA for a few months before moving out to Colorado. I also went to Africa for the first time. This was all less than a month before we actually moved!  Then we made the move, after pasturing a church in NJ for the past six years. I began a new job, not as a pastor of another church, but joining with a mission organization (ServeNow). This is entailing major adjustments and learning so many new things. It has already been challenging and stretching…but it means we are learning things and doing things we have not before. My wife and I are also taking on homeschooling this last half of the year which is new…and also stretching. We just got back from a road-trip to Massachusetts for a few days and are adjusting to a life of traveling more frequently. On the day we drove back, I then had a meeting with a mission committee at another church. We have been in three different churches the first three Sunday’s since being in PA! Point being, we are in the midst of many new changes even circumstantially and externally.

Change is not easy. Is not always comfortable. It can feel very awkward. It can be very stressful. It can bring to the surface many insecurities and fears. It can be exhausting emotionally and even physically.  It can make you more vulnerable to seeking comfort in other things and make you more susceptible to temptations of all kinds. These are some of the reasons people in general seek to avoid change at all costs. Some won’t make changes even though they know they are stuck and unhappy, because to them familiarity (even if it is killing them) is better than the unknown and unfamiliar.

But without change we do not grow. Yes, learning new things can be challenging and frustrating at times, but the reward is so worth it! Without change we get too comfortable and “stuck” because we cease to depend on God as much as we tend to when we are in the midst of changes and challenges. Change shatters our illusion of having things “under control.” This is actually why so many are not experiencing much more of the power and movement of God in their lives…they don’t really need Him.

But I just want to encourage someone who may read this and be experiencing a “restlessness” and “stirring” to make some changes. In the podcast message I just posted I spoke about a story in 2 Kings 7 where the city of Samaria lies besieged, there is a famine on the inside and so people are starving and the price of food has skyrocketed. So dire are the circumstances that a disturbing story of cannibalism has even come forth.

It’s at this point that we are told of four men with leprosy sitting outside the city gate. We get a glimpse into a conversation they have where they are considering their options. We read of them coming to a place of recognizing that if they stay in the place and position they are…they will definitely die. If they go into the city they likewise will die, for there is a famine in the city. Their only other option is surrendering to the enemy. It doesn’t sound promising, in fact it is likely they might kill them, but of the three options it’s the only one with the possibility of perhaps being spared. They choose to make a change and move towards the camp of the enemy.

It’s then that something miraculous occurs. As they began to move it says God began to move on their behalf! He caused the enemy army to hear the sound of an army coming their way and they reasoned that the Israelites had hired the Hittites and Egyptian armies and were coming to attack them. The reality however, was that it was just four men with leprosy!  The enemy army ends up fleeing leaving all their food and valuables behind!  The siege is thus over, the famine is ended and everything changes…because four men dared to make a change in their own lives.

When we dare to step out of the place we are in and make a change, we can feel very small, weak and insignificant. And the reality is…we are! But the other reality is what the apostle Paul spoke to in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. Interestingly, while in Massachusetts this weekend sharing and speaking at a church, someone during the worship service basically spoke this forth as the Holy Spirit was seeking to encourage and exhort us in this very truth that Paul came to learn from the Lord Himself: “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

None of the above realities are pleasant to our flesh. We often pray for God to keep us or remove from our lives these realities! Yet, God is seeking to teach us to trust Him, rely completely on Him and come to know His power…a power that is especially demonstrated when we are “weak” in and of ourselves!

For whatever it is worth and whoever else this might be for, be encouraged and comforted today. Change is challenging but it results in growth. You will learn things and skills you never possessed before. When you step out and make a move, you will see God step in and move on your behalf! You will come to know His power, even His supernatural and miraculous power doing or accomplishing what you couldn’t and can’t in your own strength or ability.  There may be those reading this who…if you stay where you are, you will “die.” But if you get up from the place you are in and begin to move…that’s when you will begin to experience more of God’s movement in your life and will “come alive” spiritually!  So…step out! Step up. Make a change. Do something new. Depend on God. Look only to Him. Trust in Him. You may feel “out of control” but rest in His control. Rest in the truth that He is in control and knows about, and cares for, even the little details of your life!

Matthew 6:25-26; 33-24 “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?…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.”

Desires of the Heart

Posted: January 10, 2015 in Uncategorized

Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

For this blog post, I just want to give personal testimony of the reality of this verse, to perhaps encourage someone that might read this (as this is a testimony not of my goodness but God’s goodness and faithfulness).  But before I do that let me try to clarify what this verse does not mean, because I think it is one of those that can be dangerously taken the wrong way. What I mean is that there are selfish and sinful desires; and then there are what I call “sanctified” and godly desires that align with the desire and heart and will of God. It is those desires that are promised here. In fact when you are truly delighting yourself in the Lord (which is the condition the promise is made on), you begin to desire what God desires. Your heart becomes aligned with His. But this is not promising that if we somehow “appease” Him, He will give us “whatever” we want. He may very well “hand us over” to our own desires (Romans 1:18-32) if we persist in our selfishness and reject His conviction, but that is a different issue.

I also want to clarify that the heart is a funny thing. The human heart apart from God’s saving and sanctifying work is “deceitful and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). This is why we need God to give us a “new heart” with new desires. And this is exactly what God does for us in Christ!  God actually promised this for example, in Ezekiel 36:26-27: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” This is what happens when someone turns to and trust in and is transformed by the Lord Jesus Christ.

But even after that, we need to continually remain humble before God, because although we have a new heart with godly desires, we still possess our “old” sinful nature that tries to exert it’s selfish desires. So we need to say as the Psalmist did: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24). Scripture also exhorts us: “Above all else guard your heart, for out of it flow the issues of life.” (Proverbs 4:23). Jesus also warned that there are those who the “desires for other things” choke the Word of God from bearing fruit in their lives as intended (Mark 4:19).

That all said and out of the way; let me share about God’s goodness to fulfill the desires of our heart, when we delight ourselves (give ourselves wholly and joyfully) to and in Him!

When I was in eleventh grade of high school a girl I did not know walked into my math class. Immediately I was smitten and it was like “I knew” I would one day marry her. I prayed so hard that semester to be seated next to her the next semester (we were on other sides of the room) and muster up the courage to talk to her. The next semester I was actually seated right behind her and I actually mustered up the courage to stand in front of the class one day and do my best “Gladiator” (favorite movie at the time) impersonation specifically to try to impress her (it actually worked and got her attention!). It all started from that day and we did actually begin to talk on the phone and date for a short time. However, I wasn’t “delighting” myself in the Lord at that time or living for Him and everything (including that relationship) fell apart and I was devastated and depressed. About a year or so later my desire to be a major league baseball player (I was obsessed with baseball) was also coming to an end and I was again depressed.

However, it was that summer that my life began to change, because God began to draw me back to Himself and I eventually surrendered my life entirely to Him. It was at that point that God began to redirect my desires and also began to grant me some of the desires of my heart!

For example, actually because of and after the tragic death of my closest (and first real spiritual friends) at the time; that girl from high school came back into my life. She began to come to the bible study that that friend and I had started. This time however, I was “delighting” myself in the Lord (and that actually attracted her more to me!). Not long after we began dating again and ended up getting married (and now we have four kids!). God worked things out (despite “bumps” along the way) where before I could not make it work apart from Him.

But there is more to that story. Had I not married her, I would not be in the role I am now in with ServeNow. And that’s because I would not have met the president of this mission organization, of whom my wife’s family has been supporters of for many, many years. I believe that God orchestrated our being married for a purpose even beyond marriage itself…a kingdom purpose…and that that purpose is now being fulfilled!

As far as baseball goes, that was a desire God redirected for a time and then removed completely. I ended up helping to coach a high school summer baseball team for two years (while attempting to be a witness to them of Jesus) and then got connected with a group of guys who played softball and would use that skill on mission’s trips in Latin America with a mission organization called: SCEI (Sports & Cultural Exchange International).  I began to play with them and go with them on various missions trips where we were able to use softball as a platform to share the Gospel with people who otherwise might not come out to a church, but would listen to a bunch of fellow softball player’s talk to them about relationship with Jesus! Whereas once I played baseball for myself in trying to find personal happiness and fulfillment, now I could use it for God’s glory and to reach others with the Only One who can truly satisfy the thirst of our souls and set us free from our bondage: Jesus Christ!

But I have to also share something “special” that God did that He really didn’t have to do, but I think is just His heart and goodness. On one of those trips we played against a team that had an ex-major league baseball player playing with them that day. I was playing third base that game. And while standing there I thought “wouldn’t it be cool if he hit a ground-ball my way and I could say I threw out a major league baseball?” Well…I had my “Field of Dreams” “Moonlight Graham” moment (for those who know the movie). He actually did hit a ground-ball my way that game and I threw him out at first!  From that point on I have had no desire for (and don’t even watch anymore) baseball or even sports in general!

Well, I also had a desire to pastor a small church and see God change people’s lives and awaken them to fellowship with God and a greater hunger for Him and His word. The last six years I was able to pastor a small church and see those realities occur in several people’s lives.

I have also had a desire for missions and now I will be able to be more involved in serving people in various ways in several parts of the world, in many cases getting the Good News of Jesus Christ to those who have never heard it better.

I have had a heart for those in danger of human trafficking and now will be able to be involved with some projects that will help prevent some from being swept up into that evil.

I have had a desire to “Make the dreams of others come true” and now in this new role, I will be able to be a part of seeing that happen.

I have had a heart for India for years (India was the first mission trip I went on) and India is the country ServeNow primarily works in.

I also remember having such a strong desire to go to Myanmar (Burma) after they got slammed by cyclone Nargis and miraculously God not only opened a door to go, but connected me with a contact that I have been able to revisit and will be doing some ministry with again in a few months!

I also had a desire to have girls.  In fact (funny story) when my middle brother was born, (I was about 4 or 5), I wanted a sister.  My parents had the name “April” picked out if it was a girl.  Well, when I was told that I had a baby brother, I said: “Well, I will call him April until he turns into a girl!”  That still hasn’t worked.  But my first two children were girls.  My wife had a desire for sons and our next two were boys!  And in that case, like many others, God did something that I didn’t even realize I had a desire for but am thankful He did!

And lastly, (for this blog post anyway!), I took a few classes my freshmen year of high school in “Elementary Education” as I considered becoming an elementary school teacher. Well, I realized that as I write this that desire is being fulfilled in helping my wife to organize, teach and home-school our girls this year!

There are many more desires fulfilled that I could speak to in more detail, but my point in sharing these things is just to testify to the goodness and faithfulness of God, His word and His promises to perhaps encourage someone else. As 2 Corinthians 1:20 says: “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.” If you delight yourself in the Lord He truly will give you and satisfy in you, the desires of your heart. He is the “water of life” the very spring and source of eternal life. He is life…real life…itself…and that life is all found in fellowship with Him.

One more thing.  I honestly wonder if I would be alive today, had I not surrendered my life to Christ and come to know the joy, purpose, meaningful, life, hope and just fulfillment that is found in Him and doing His will.  There is no greater joy than fellowship with Him, willing obedience, wholehearted submission and surrender to His will. This very place that so many are so afraid to go…is the only place of true freedom and life that satisfies. Many stay where it is “safe” and they can still be “in control” or we try to satisfy our desires with substitute and counterfeit things. But until you truly submit your life to Jesus Lordship and Leadership you will not know the life and power and fellowship there is in Him.

I would encourage you to “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, but acknowledge Him in all your ways, for He will direct (make straight) your paths” as Proverbs 3:5-6 promises. God is faithful and God is good. The question is will you trust His goodness and submit your life and ways entirely to Him, delighting in Him and trusting in Him?

I have found the enemy of our souls (Satan) will seek to attack us in some of the following ways: temptation, distraction, discouragement, doubts, fear, oppression & opposition.

In this article I want to address oppression and opposition; but then also times when it may not be the enemy hindering God’s will, but God actually directing or delaying us in accordance with His will!

Let’s start with oppression. Oppression is that feeling that the weight of the world is on your shoulders in a way that depletes you of joy, peace and strength. It’s bearing a “heavy load” or weighty “yoke.” It causes us to feel very sluggish and “tired” with little desire to pray, worship or spend time in God’s Word.  Sometimes oppression comes upon us as a result of our own sin and straying from the Lord. Sometimes oppression comes from what other people do to us. Sometimes it is simply spiritual warfare directly from Satan.

One of the beautiful promises of Scripture is that God see’s, cares and has power to deliver us from oppression. In Psalm 12:5 God Himself says: “Because of the oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise,” says the Lord. “I will protect them from those who malign them.” The whole story of God delivering His people from slavery and “oppression” in Egypt is predicated on the fact that the Israelites began to cry out to God in regard to their oppression. Moses reminded the Israelites in Deuteronomy 26:7 that: “Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression.”

This is one of the keys to combating oppression: cry out to the Lord in prayer! Call upon His name. There is power in His Name and peace in His presence. Come to Jesus. Jesus Himself, in a statement that reveals His heart of compassion (and power) said in 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.”

Rest assured, God cares and has power to set you free from oppression. In one of the most beautiful prophecies in regard to Jesus’ coming, one part of it states in Isaiah 9:4: “For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.” A major part of Jesus’ ministry and presence is setting the oppressed free.

I have found that when I am oppressed, getting into His presence and simply worshiping Him until the oppression lifts is crucial. However, when you are oppressed you don’t feel like doing anything…especially worshiping! But it’s in His presence that there is victory, freedom, deliverance and peace, joy and strength is restored.

 

Secondly, the enemy also seeks to oppose the will of God and plans of God in your life. He seeks to thwart and hinder any movement forward or advancement or spiritual growth to once again rob of joy. In 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20 for example, Paul writes to the Thessalonian believers this: “For we wanted to come to you — certainly I, Paul, did, again and again — but Satan stopped us. For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.”

Recently, at the time of writing this, this is one of the main tactics I have been experiencing. This can also then cause oppression. But what God laid on my heart to combat this is greater prayer and intercession until it “breaks” or the way/door opens up. One of my favorite verses in the book of Song of Solomon puts it this way in Song 4:6: “Until the day breaks and the shadows flee, I will go to the mountain of myrrh and to the hill of incense.” Myrrh in Scripture speaks of sorrow. Incense is pictured elsewhere as representing prayer. Prayer is often hard work and can be likened to “climbing” a mountain or “hill.” But it’s in that place of prayer and intercession that things are moved forward in accordance with God’s will! This verse spiritually speaking, is saying “until the light drives out this darkness and there is breakthrough I will continue to remain in the place of prayer!” Remember, 2 Corinthians 10:4 tells us: “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” Prayer is one of those weapons we have that has divine power and results in God’s power being demonstrated in situations beyond our human ability or strength.  I have been experiencing that reality just recently and it is encouraging!

 

Lastly, let me address two other realities. And this is where we need wisdom and discernment that can only come from the Spirit of God. There are times or situations where it is not Satan opposing or thwarting, but God redirecting or delaying us!

Acts 16:6-10 for example records this: “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”

Notice it wasn’t Satan who prevented them from entering these territories; it was God directing them to where He wanted them to be! Sometimes God closes doors, because there is another door elsewhere He wants us to go through. We need to ask God for wisdom as to whether He is redirecting us or whether it is the enemy hindering us.

Other times it may not be the enemy opposing but God delaying. To the Roman believers Paul wrote in Romans 1:13: “I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.”

Here we learn sometimes God may delay us not because it isn’t His will or the enemy opposing; but because it’s not yet the right time. Fruit for example, needs time to ripen before it can be picked and enjoyed. Sometimes God has to do a work in advance to the work He is calling us to do! Sometimes this is a work that has to be done in us, other times a work in those we are being sent to, so that it will be effective and fruitful and accomplish the purpose God intends.

The point is we need spiritual discernment to know what is really going on spiritually. That can only come from asking God! And thankfully, James 1:5-8 reminds us that: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.”

Seek God to “see” spiritually what you are up against. If it is oppression or opposition that comes from Satan, hunker down in worship and prayer. If however, it is God redirecting or delaying, trust in Him and submit to Him. He knows what He is doing!

Giving Part 2: Stories

Posted: January 3, 2015 in Uncategorized

In this blog article I want to follow-up with the previous post, by sharing three personal and real life stories (from myself, my dad and my wife’s grandfather).

The first story I’d like to share is about a time when I was newly married and we just had our first child. My wife was working part-time and I was working in real estate, along with other part-time jobs here and there. We lived in an apartment and were not making much money. But one day, I had it on my heart to give a specific amount to a local youth center.  That amount, at that time, was somewhat of a “sacrifice” for us in light of our bills and needs. Right after I wrote the check, my stomach sank when I saw in the mail a notice about owing three times the amount we just wrote out to give away, in regard to our child’s birth that our insurance apparently wasn’t covering. I was discouraged and was even tempted to tear up the check I just written to give to this youth center! But when my wife called to take care of this issue, we received interesting news…they had made a mistake and our insurance would be paying that amount! That in itself was like getting three times the amount we just wrote out to give away…back! But the story gets even better. That very night we got a phone call from Lauren’s sister. She proceeded to tell my wife that she had been cleaning out her car and happened to find an old check from months ago, that had never been cashed, between the seats. The amount of that check was literally the amount we just wrote out to give away, plus three dollars and three cents more! God can provide in ways you never could think or imagine!

The second story I’d like to tell comes from my dad. I asked him to write something up himself. Here is what he wrote:

“The blessings of giving started for us long before I had the business. When we started tithing things almost immediately started getting better for us. But the real blessing was the joy we felt in giving. We did not have a lot when we made the commitment to start tithing. I still remember being delighted to be able to help people in need. What really helped for us was never considering the money ours, we always set it aside first then looked for where God was directing us to give. Shortly after we started tithing the company I was working for hired a consultant to look at every aspect of their business. One of the things they told them was I was way underpaid for what I was doing. I got a substantial raise at that point. As we got more money via raises, bonuses, tax refunds we kept giving more both dollars and percentage as we realized that we got such joy out of it and also saw God was faithful to His promises in Malachi 3:10-12.

So when I started tinkering around on eBay I asked myself after a little while why I was doing this as I already made a nice living as a salesman. It was then I decided that the profit from that business would be used largely for us to be able to give more and to help the Kingdom. Wow, did it take off at that point. I mean immediately that day the sales like tripled without explanation other than God blessing it. Then very shortly after that we stumbled upon the memory cards and that really took off. As we continued to give the business continued to grow in leaps and bounds. It has been so cool being used by God and watching Him work through our business.

It has been a spiritual battle as well though. As virtually every time we go on a mission trip something would happen to threaten the business. Even now as Amazon has suspended my account I have a peace that if it is from Satan then my God is greater and the issue will be resolved. And if it is from God then I will trust in what He has planned next for us.”

The third story I’d like to share concerns my wife’s grandfather who was an extremely generous man. He gave to the work of the Lord and had a heart for those in need. The president of the organization I will be working with, who was a personal friend that the family has supported for many years, told me it was from him that he received the largest gift he has ever received in one check. When my wife’s grandfather was just 15 he prayed a prayer that he wanted to give away a million dollars one day for the sake of the kingdom of God. That was a “big” and “bold” request at the time, but in reality it actually seems like nothing compared to what he ended up actually giving away! God blessed him with a knack for business (he attributes a lot of his success to the book of Proverbs!) and he became the founder of what became a successful potato chip company!

There are so many stories that could be told, both from the Bible and from those past and present. You cannot out-give God. The question is will we trust in money or trust in Him? The issue is not the amount compared to others. Luke 21:1-4 tells a story about how many “rich” people were putting into the temple treasury “large gifts” and a poor widow who put in an amount significantly less, yet significantly more: “All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” We can’t give what we don’t have. We can only give according to what we do have. But the question is are we willing to give according to what we do have and what is put on our heart to give?

God can take that, even if it seems “small” or “insignificant” to us and do amazing things with it.  Think of the boy who gave all he had to Jesus.  Jesus blessed it, used it and multiplied it to feed over 5,000 people! (John 6). 

Small amounts can actually make a big difference.  With a ministry like ServeNow for example, just $5 provides a NT Bible to someone who cannot afford or does not have access to one of their own!  $5 provides clean water to a family for an entire month in area’s of India where it can be 125 degrees in the summer!  $5 provides a mosquito net to protect from malaria.  $10 provides a hat, scarf, blanket, gloves, sweater & socks to one person in Northern India where temperatures are freezing and hundreds literally die due to the cold and lack of sufficient clothing!  $323 can provide a day long medical clinic that will treat hundreds of people who do not have access (or have never had) medical treatment from a doctor before!  $165 provides a bike to a pastor in rural parts of Uganda, some of whom pastor more than one church, which means walking miles on foot.  A “little” can be a “lot” and make a “big” difference!

Sometimes God will put on our heart to give in ways that actually are “sacrificial.” It’s not that He wants us to suffer while others prosper. But He also doesn’t want us to prosper while others suffer and we do nothing about it (see 2 Corinthians 8:12-14). He wants us to share in the joy of giving and blessing of giving. It is actually a means of knowing Him and His heart.

Jesus is in fact our example: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Lastly, 2 Corinthians 9:12-15 goes on to remind us of this reality that I have witnessed and seen to be true time and time again: “This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”

Giving Part 1: Scriptures

Posted: January 2, 2015 in Uncategorized

“But just as you excel in everything — in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us —see that you also excel in this grace of giving.”     -2 Corinthians 8:7

In a few more days, I will officially be joining with a mission organization called ServeNow, which exists to serve those in need (often in dark/remote places in various parts of the world) and to help equip churches to better fulfill the Great Commission, while doing other good deeds in Jesus’ name. Ephesians 2:10 reminds us that while we are not saved by doing good deeds (but by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus) we are saved to do good works: “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” God has assigned for each of us work that He is calling us to do. Our job is to discover what those works are and then do them!

Years ago, before I began to pastor the church I did for the last six years, God was already at work in putting on my heart the kind of work I will now be doing. At the time He said to me: “Make the dreams (God-given dreams) of others come true.” Over the years, God has opened up some doors and put a few opportunities before me to do this on a very small scale. Sometimes it meant giving to certain projects or missionaries/mission organizations myself, other times it meant going and calling on others to give.

For example, when cyclone Nargis hit Burma, my heart was filled with a compassion I had never experienced before, for a country I had never heard of prior to that event. I began to pray and God opened up a door for me to go a couple of times and help in various ways. Our church just this year gave money to help build a new orphanage building and some are also now monthly sponsoring some of the orphans there after coming back and presenting the need to the congregation.

Now God is putting me in a role with bigger needs and greater responsibility. And of course, with that, and to do the work God puts before us, money is needed. So, I’ve naturally been thinking more about money. The reality is ministry requires money. In fact, Luke 8:1-3 tells us that Jesus’ own traveling ministry (which involved preaching, teaching, healing/helping people) was “funded” by a group of women in particular, some (or all) of whom had been helped by Jesus. After listing some of their names Luke 8:3 says: “These women were helping to support them out of their own means.”

The problem with money is that it is a sensitive and personal thing for so many of us. First of all, for many people, money is their god. It represents power for some, social status for others, pleasure, control or a combination of all these things for others! Money equals livelihood and it’s not easy for us to part with. But as David prayed before the people to God in 1 Chronicles 29:14 in regard to the resources that he and others had given for the building of the temple: “Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.” Before this, He prayed: “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this?

David understood everything comes from God, belongs to God and giving to the work of God is a gift, a grace and a responsibility. Paul called upon the Corinthians to excel also in the “grace of giving.” Giving is a grace (a gift) God gives us. It is a privilege. It is not to be viewed as a burden. Jesus is recorded as having once said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” (Acts 20:35). In Luke 12:48, Jesus said: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Giving is a grace and a sacred responsibility for which we will be accountable to God for. Our money is not to be squandered for selfish purposes. It is to be invested in the kingdom of heaven. As Jesus also once said in Matthew 6:19-21: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

The greatest, most secure “investment” you can make with your money that also produces the greatest “dividends” is in regard to the work of God and kingdom of God! Your reward will not be merely temporary earthly “treasure” but eternal reward in heaven that will last forever and impact other lives one earth, possibly even for generations to come!

We are to give, because God is a giver by nature and this is one way we reflect His nature and character. In fact, perhaps the best known verse begins by saying: “For God so loved the world, that He gave…” And God gave His only, His all, His best!

You cannot out-give God. Go ahead and try. This is one area you God basically says “go ahead I dare you to test me!” (Malachi 3:8-12). I could share testimony after testimony of God’s faithfulness to us personally in this regard. (In the next blog I’ll share a few stories). But Jesus Himself said in Luke 6:38: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Proverbs 11:25 says: “A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”

Proverbs 19:17: “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done.”

Proverbs 22:9 says: “A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.”

But Proverbs 21:13 warns: “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.”

Proverbs 28:27 likewise promises/warns: “He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.”

I challenge you, as I challenge myself, to trust God more in the area of giving to the work of the Lord in 2015. I challenge you as I challenge myself more, to excel in the grace of giving. I challenge you, as I challenge myself, to take seriously the responsibility we have and privilege we have in giving. I challenge you to invest in eternal things, not earthly things. I challenge you to give cheerfully, sacrificially, willingly and according to what you have (not what you don’t have) (2 Corinthians 8:12). Give of your first and give your best out of faith like Abel; not your last and left-overs out of obligation like Cain (Genesis 4:2-5; Hebrews 11:4).  It will not only change your life, but God will use it to change others’ lives as well!

2 Corinthians 9:6-8: “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

Rescued From This Present Evil Age

Posted: December 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”   -Galatians 1:3-5

Most of us (those who have trusted in Christ) stop at the statement that Jesus died for our sins. We rejoice (and rightly so) that while we have “missed the mark” (sinned against God and have fallen short of His glorious perfection) and thus should justly and rightly “miss out on the prize” (eternal life); Jesus, out of His love for us and through His death on the cross, atoned for our sins that we might be forgiven of our sins and granted the gift of eternal life. This is “good news of great joy!”

But the Good News does not end there. It only begins there. The Good News doesn’t only reconcile us to God; it revolutionizes our whole life. It doesn’t only change our eternity, it is to change our life on earth. The verses above in Galatians remind us that Jesus “gave Himself for our sins” not merely that our sins could be forgiven and we could go to heaven when we die…but He gave Himself: “to rescue us from the present evil age.”

We don’t often see this present world for what it really is. But this present world lies under the dark domain of Satan. We live in a fallen world. We live in a sinful world. We live in a world in rebellion against God. We live in a world filled with wickedness. It is simply…evil. Jesus gave Himself on the cross to rescue us from the wickedness of this fallen world system under the devil’s control.  He died not only to forgive us our sin; but to set us free from our sin and this present evil age.

Ephesians 2:1-3 reminds us of this reality before Christ came and rescued us: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.”

This is grim reality. And apart from Jesus Christ it would be the only reality. But Jesus’ coming and giving Himself on the cross for our sins resulted in a new and beautiful and other reality as Ephesians 2:4-7 goes on to describe: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

Picture it like this: we were spiritually speaking, locked and chained in a dungeon with no hope of escape, left for dead. We were “Sleeping Beauty.” But Jesus was the prince who slayed the dragon and by His “kiss of love” caused us to awaken from our sleep!

Jesus changed the eternity of those who trust in Him…and the way we are to live our lives on earth.

So what does this practically look like? How do we apply this to our lives today?

First of all we have to see that this “age” we live in is not merely fallen…but evil.  We can’t call “good” what is evil (Isaiah 5:20) or accept as “normal” what God says is “sinful” even if everyone else accepts it or condones it. Until we see and accept the world and its ways as God see’s it, we will continue to live under unnecessary and unhealthy denial, deception and bondage.

Secondly, if Jesus gave Himself to rescue us from this present evil age, how can we “jump” back into its polluted streams and “go with the flow” any longer? Our lives have been radically transformed so now how we live needs to radically change. How we think, what we speak, how we act, what we do needs to be different than the world around us. Colossians 1:12-14 reminds us that God, who is now our Father, He “…has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

We have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness, into the kingdom of light. We have been rescued from the domain and “dominion of darkness” (Satan’s rule) and brought into the kingdom of light (Jesus’ rule).

Therefore as Romans 13:12-14 calls us: “So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”

This Christmas season, remember that Christ didn’t merely give you a gift; He gave Himself for your sins to rescue you from this present evil age.  Really pause to think about the implications and application this should have in your life…not only for eternity, but even now on earth.  Ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes and bring conviction and correction to anything in your life that needs brought under the submission of Christ.  Participate no longer in the “deeds of darkness” but choose to be the “light” that we are now called to be as “children of the light.”  God has undertaken the greatest rescue operation of history for you!  It cost Him everything.  It cost Jesus His life.  The least we can do is now live our lives for Him in return for Him rescuing us. He has rescued us from this present evil age…to God be the glory now and forever, amen!

Africa: Mission Trip Report

Posted: December 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

I just got back from a missions trip to Uganda…and actually my first trip to Africa! I went with ServeNow, the mission organization I will be joining with in January 2015. I wanted to write a brief summary of the trip, along with some of the needs that we saw and what ServeNow is doing to come alongside in regard to those needs.

This trip was basically broken up into two parts. The first part of the trip was visiting several of the eight schools that the pastor we were with oversees. These schools are providing an education to 3,000 children who otherwise could not afford an education. They are either orphaned children, children from broken homes, or children living in poverty.

In fact, I was immediately struck by and surprised by the intensity of the poverty and need we saw, especially in several of schools we visited in the “jungle” in very remote villages. I have been to India five times and Latin America many times, so seeing poverty isn’t something new for me, but I wasn’t prepared for the severity of it where we were to be as bad, if not worse than what I have already seen. Some of the children even at the schools don’t have shoes. Their clothes are old, dirty and torn. Most of the kid’s hair is short, even the girls, because lice is such a huge problem.

These schools started with one man and three children. It has now grown to eight schools with over 3,000 children in various places. The vision is actually for 10,000 children. For these children an education is not just an “education.” It is their only hope for a different life and future. It is a catalyst to changing their communities and country. Already, there have been those who have graduated who have gone on to high school, college, university and now are doctors, lawyers, builders, etc. It was a joy to be with the kids and hear them sing, see them dance and meet their teachers, many of whom clearly have a heart for the children and for teaching. It can be a real struggle for them, but for the ones who do this because of their heart and not merely for the money, they possess a real joy!

Many of the classroom buildings they meet in are twenty years old, made of mud and bamboo and are being destroyed by termites. They could collapse at any time. One of these buildings, a recent storm blew the roof off, while the children were inside. If the roof had fallen on them, they all would have been killed. The building was condemned and torn down.  The other buildings are a safety hazard.  There is a great need for new classrooms. For about $31,000 ServeNow can help them build new classrooms. The largest school (674 children presently) however, needs to be moved entirely to a new location. The land is already purchased, but the cost will be one million dollars for the new school complex. This would also increase the number of children able to attend to 1,000 children.  But what I saw so clearly, is that this is not just about “buildings” it is about what happens inside of those buildings and the lives that are being impacted, that will then go on to impact others and the country of Uganda.

The second part of our trip was a pastor/leader training sessions. Over 600 came. The pastor we were with oversees over 150 other churches that have started from out of his church. Others from other areas were also invited and in fact there were those who came even from Rwanda and the Congo and elsewhere to attend the training sessions. Some of these pastors and evangelists are reaching unreached villages and people groups. Many of them were so eager to learn and grateful for the teachings that they normally do not receive. Many of them lack understanding or access to basic information as we may have, but many of them are certainly not lacking in passion and heart for the Lord!  Of course they have their issues as anywhere, and in fact we handled some pretty interesting questions and concerns!

One of the things we initiated while there with them was a program to get discipleship material in their language (or the language of the people they are reaching) into each church that would like to participate. There will be 28 booklets of 32 pages each titled: “The Basic Things You Need to Know” about various subjects of the Christian life (such as “Jesus” “Salvation” “The Bible” etc). The expenses are covered by donations by people like you and I, so they can be given freely to those in need of them. The way the program works is that every 3 months they are given a new booklet, so that over a period of seven years, they are instructed in the “Basic Things You Need to Know.” This is a huge deal to these pastors and churches, many of whom lack any training (pastor included).

Some churches, (such as in India, where 700 churches have been worked with over this last year through ServeNow) new believers don’t even have access to their own Bible or cannot afford their own. Did you know for just $5 you can equip one person with a NT Bible of their own? For just $10 you can supply a NT Bible and the first four discipleship follow up booklets to one person! $500 will equip a whole church with a NT Bible! (see www.weservenow.org/mission-area/scriptures/). It is amazing to think that what we consider a “little” can go such a long way.

One other project ServeNow is initiating once the funds are available are getting the “Story of Jesus” into the hands of 6 million children in India, Uganda, Nepal & Ukraine. This project has already been tested on 60,000 children and it was found each child shared the booklet with 4-5 other children. The project is being done through local churches who then share the Good News of Jesus with their community/village!

If it is on your heart to partner with ServeNow in regard to any of these needs please visit our website and make a donation today! (https://www.weservenow.org/give-now/).

Perhaps you could also tell a friend or your pastor about ServeNow. I will also be on the East Coast for a couple of months (January-March) to share with individuals, pastors, leaders, groups, churches, etc; about ServeNow if you would like to contact me about coming to share more! Isn’t this what it is all about…sharing the love of God in Christ and making disciples of Jesus in all nations? What a privilege and joy to be able to be a part of that whole process by giving and/or going!  This not only equips churches in other countries, but enables churches here to share in the work of spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ to all nations!  Blessings, Ben

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A Testimony of God’s Goodness

Posted: December 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

I just have to give a recent testimony of God’s faithfulness and goodness.  Our fourth child was due on December 15th, but my wife was measuring for December 12th. December 12th was the day I was to return from a mission’s trip to Uganda, Africa, with a mission organization called ServeNow. It was a risk to go, knowing there was a possible and good chance I might miss his birth. But I felt God was calling me to go on this trip and both my wife and I had a peace about my going, despite the circumstances.

A couple things have already transpired out of this decision. First of all, going on this trip despite the circumstances, actually played a role (unbeknown to us at the time) in being asked by the president of this mission organization if I would consider joining with ServeNow, which is a decision we have now made that will not only affect our future, but others around the world as well.

Secondly, In regard to my wife’s pregnancy, what ending up happening was that she actually gave birth on November 30th at 3:00 in the morning. What is significant about this is November 30th was not only sixteen days early, but the very day I would be leaving for this mission’s trip! My flight was at six that evening, so it ended up being that I got to be with my wife through the whole process, witness his birth and spend some time with him and family.  In between all that, I was even able to water-baptize a whole family at our church, before leaving for Africa!

Some may say that I was “lucky” but what are the “chances” of him being born sixteen days early, on the very day I would be leaving, yet enough time to witness it all? Tell me that is merely “coincidental” or “lucky.” Tell me God’s hand is not in that! Tell me that is not God’s faithfulness and goodness to us?

As a few people stated to me, it’s as if He didn’t want me to worry about that during the trip. I also think it was a little reward or blessing and confirmation about going and for being obedient to go, despite the possible chance of missing his birth. God does call us to make sacrifices for His kingdom’s sake, but He also promises greater reward. Luke 18:29-30 in fact says: “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.”

We knew many would not understand this decision and would think I was doing the wrong thing (and being a bad husband/father) by going on this trip, even though Jesus made the above promise and also made clear that if we are not willing to put Him before family and our own lives, if we do not love Him even more than family or our own lives, then we are not worthy to be a true disciple of His. He said in Matthew 10:37-39: “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Real life is found not in trying to control our lives or map it out the way we find most convenient. It is found in trusting, entrusting, obeying, surrendering and submitting our lives into God’s hands. It’s living life following His leading, under Jesus’ Lordship, even when it calls for sacrifices or doesn’t appear to make sense or be convenient.  We all could find a million seemingly “legitimate” reasons or excuses for not doing what God is calling us to do now (see Luke 9:57-62) and “claim” we will do it “down the road.”  But as the slogan of the mission organization I am joining puts it: “ServeNow, procrastinate later.”  Most of us get that backwards, but as one of the sayings on one of the schools we visited here in Uganda put it: “Don’t put off for tomorrow, what you can do today.”  We live like we will always have “tomorrow” but that can be a dangerous illusion (James 4:13-17).

Anyway, also consider this: if there are those who are willing to make great sacrifices (possibly even die) by serving in the military on behalf of their earthly country, does not Jesus, our King, (a king of an eternal kingdom where a true believers real citizenship belongs); does He not deserve our obedience in whatever He may call us to do and whatever sacrifices He asks us to make? There are many who have missed the births of their children and even a good part of their children’s lives due to serving in the military. Others have been killed in war. We honor them for it. If they do it and we honor them for it, why would it be different in regard to God’s kingdom? Is it because we are failing to see the very real spiritual war we are engaged in? Is it because we cannot see beyond our own lives? Much of the world lies in darkness and despair. Many are in bondage to sin, captives of Satan and on the cusp of an eternity in hell without Christ. We are talking not just about earthly realities but eternal realities with eternal consequences!

Also, does a solider tell his commanding officer what he will or will not do…or does He simply obey orders? I didn’t go on this trip just because I “wanted to.” I went because I sensed God was telling me to go and the only proper response is obedience. We are soldiers in His army and He is the commander (Philippians 2:25, 2 Timothy 2:4, Philemon 2).

I think this was a challenge not only to myself but to others. Obedience to God is not a matter of “convenience” in regard to our “schedules” or “lives.” We don’t just “pick and choose” what we want to do and when we want to do it. We don’t “serve God” as we see fit, but as He leads us and calls us. It’s a matter of love for Him and trust in Him.

And though I deserve nothing in return, God working things out the way He did was a little reminder that He rewards the faithfulness of His people who obey Him. Psalm 37:4-6 reminds us: “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.”

I am looking forward to what God will do on this trip, through this trip, out of this trip, after this trip and because of this trip.  Please keep us in prayer as we spend time with some of the (around) 3,000 orphans/disadvantaged kids.  This is a huge need and problem in Uganda.  Wikipedia notes that “Uganda is one of the poorest nations in the world, with 37.7% of the population living on less than $1.25 a day.[73]  There are around 2 million orphan children in Uganda, half of them orphans because of AIDS, which is also a very big problem in Uganda.  God loves children and especially cares (and calls for us to care) for orphans (Matthew 19:14-15, James 1:27).  Towards the second half of the trip we will also be speaking at a pastor/leader training conference, an event that is helpful, encouraging and important for these pastors.  Pray for a clear mind, strength, wisdom and the grace to be a blessing as we also consider the future. Thanks!

1 John 2:15-17: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world — the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does — comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”

In this blog article, I simply want to call us to be lovers of God, not lovers of the world or anything in the world.

But what does this mean?

The word “love” speaks of more than just “emotion.” It certainly involves “passion” but it means to be “devoted too or attached too.” There is only One we should be supremely devoted to, attached to and have a passion for: the Lord Jesus Christ, His glory, His Gospel and doing His will.

First of all, as John points out, if we are filled with love for this world or anything in it, God’s love cannot and is not in us. Let that sink in for a moment. God wants us to be filled with His love; not us to be filled with love for something else. And it can’t be both. It’s either His love filling us or love for the world that fills us. There is no middle ground. To try to have it both ways is to compromise and be lukewarm. Jesus hates lukewarmness (see Revelation 3:14-22).

Secondly, nothing in this world that we see, is eternal. It is “passing away.” It is temporary, transitory. Only God is eternal and transcendent. So only those who cling to Him and do His will, will inherit the gift of eternal life, as they are connected to the eternal God, who is eternal life! To “cling” to anything else is foolish as it cannot be held onto forever. As Jesus said in Matthew 16:24-26: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”

Thirdly, love or devotion for the things in the world (our desires) is idolatry, which is spiritual adultery to the heart of God. James 4:4-8 sharply rebukes this way of life. Think about the reality of this to the heart of God: “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.”

We either are friend of God or friend of the world, but we can’t be both. As Jesus put it in Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”

We either are a lover of God or spiritual adulterer. That is strong language, but consider how offensive and hurtful it is to God that what He has created or given is “worshiped” or considered more important than Him! (See Romans 1:18-32). For years, baseball was more important to me than my relationship with God. What is it in your life?

Paul warned of this in 2 Timothy 3:1-5: “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.”

Lovers of themselves, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, a form of godliness. Does this describe you and your life? Who and what are you really devoted to? Money? Image? Sports? Entertainment?  Are you trying to have it both ways…God plus something?  

A lover of God seeks God wholeheartedly. A lover of God puts relationship with Him as the priority, pursuit and passion of their life, above all, before all and equal to none and nothing else. It is not God plus anything. It is God plus nothing. God is everything to the one who loves Him. Everything else they do, they do because of and out of their love, commitment and devotion to Him.

I challenge you, as I challenge myself, be a lover of God not a lover of the world. Be an Abraham, not a Lot (see Genesis 13:10-15:1 and chapter 19). Be a friend of God, not a friend of the world. Find security and comfort in Christ; not in the world or anything in it. Find peace in Him; not in anyone or anything else. Obey Him and do His will; seek Him and seek His will; not your own. Let nothing come in between your passion and devotion to Christ. This is true life and life everlasting!

John 4:34: “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me…”

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

A Cure for Being Lukewarm

Posted: November 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

Unfortunately, there is no denying that not only are many people in general lukewarm in regard to the things of God…so is much of the “church” in America. We are obsessed with comfort and convenience and blinded by our pride to our true spiritual condition before the only one whose judgment matters: the Lord Jesus Christ who we will all stand before one day to give an account of our lives (2 Corinthians 5:10, Romans 14:10). Nothing is hidden from His sight or will be pulled over on Him (Hebrews 4:13). We can fool ourselves and others; but not the One whose eyes are like fire (Revelation 1:14). It’s not enough to be partially “religious”…God is looking for wholehearted, fervent, faithfulness to Him.  As Jesus told the church in Laodicea He’d rather us be “hot or cold” but being “lukewarm” churns His stomach and makes Him sick to the point of us being in danger of Him “vomiting” us out of His mouth! (Revelation 3:16). This ought to cause us great concern and to consider carefully our ways (see Haggai 1).

Instead, we often to try to cover up our complacency and apathy, and ease our guilty conscience with “fig leaves” creating our own “righteousness” (see Genesis 3:7, Romans 10:3).  We have in many ways created our own versions of God (dumbing down the glory of who He is) and compromised (settled for) what we find comfortable and convenient. It’s like when King Rehoboam set up golden calves in Dan and Beersheba to keep people from going to the temple in Jerusalem to worship the One true and Living God in the place and way He directed. In 1 Kings 12:28 we find king Rehoboam (for motives really benefiting himself) placating to the people and telling them what they wanted to hear even though it wasn’t true or right: “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” The people bought it hook, line and sinker.

To the church of Laodicea in Revelation chapter 3 verses 14-22 Jesus not only rebukes them for being lukewarm and warns them regarding what is about to happen to them because of being lukewarm; He also offers them a cure for being lukewarm.

That is my purpose in this blog: for those, as Jesus would say, who “have ears to hear”…what is the cure for being lukewarm?

Revelation 3:17: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

The first thing we need to realize…is that our outward wealth and comfortableness is not indicative of our spiritual wealth or status. (By the way…avoid the temptation to think of those “richer” than you or to “let yourself off the hook” of this applying to you by saying you are not “rich.”  Most likely, the majority of those who will read this are richer than many in most of the world).  A lot of people wrongly equate outward prosperity with spiritual maturity or vitality. That is not automatically true. Many people are externally rich but internally and spiritually bankrupt.

We also need to beware of the ever-present danger for the rich of being lulled to sleep in regard to our need for God, simply because outwardly we are well-off. This pride of thinking we are “fine” and that we “have need of nothing” is misplaced dependency and false security. It robs of dependency on God and humility before God which robs of true spiritual power and blessing. We cling to wealth rather than clinging to God. This is why Jesus said: “It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:23). Can you part with your wealth and the “comfort” of it if Jesus called you too?

Wealth can be a powerful drug. It can cause us to forget our constant need of God for true spiritual life and vitality. That’s one reason there is a prayer found in Proverbs 30:8-9 where someone once prayed this: “Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.”

It is not wrong to have wealth; but wealth comes with great responsibility to use it rightly (not selfishly) and comes with a great and grave temptation to become proud. That’s why Paul writes to Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:17-19 to: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

Notice wealth is to be used to help others, not indulge ourselves. Our surplus is not to splurge on ourselves, but to help others in their suffering and need. Amos 6:1-7 speaks too and warns of coming judgment for those who remain selfish instead of selfless; complacent instead of caring for the suffering of others: “Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria, you notable men of the foremost nation, to whom the people of Israel come! Go to Calneh and look at it; go from there to great Hamath, and then go down to Gath in Philistia. Are they better off than your two kingdoms? Is their land larger than yours? You put off the evil day and bring near a reign of terror. You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves. You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments. You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph. Therefore you will be among the first to go into exile; your feasting and lounging will end.”

Becoming rich can also be a distraction from the pursuit of God, which results in true riches. Jesus talked about those who because of the “deceitfulness of wealth” have the Word of God choked from bearing the fruit it should have in their lives (Mark 4:19). Paul talked about those who view godliness as only a means to financial gain; rather than the true gain being contentment with godliness. He warned that when we make financial riches our primary motivation and desire we “…fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Timothy 6:9-10).

The first cure for being lukewarm is to stop measuring our spiritual life by our outward possessions, positions, riches or wealth. It’s to see our true spiritual condition according to God’s perspective. It’s to come to Him in humility and brokenness and daily recognize regardless of our social status or bank account, our constant need for Him and dependence on Him for spiritual life and vitality. It is to seek Him wholeheartedly in all circumstances, whether rich or poor.

Secondly, Jesus said this to the lukewarm: “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.”

The city of Laodicea was well-known for their wealth (gold), their fine black wool (which notice Jesus symbolically calls them to buy from Him white clothes to wear), and their eye medicine. These were the three things Jesus says they lacked spiritually! What they possessed outwardly and externally, they lacked inwardly and spiritually!

Notice Jesus said to “buy from Him” these things. We must come to Him for what we lack. But how do we “buy” these things from God? What payment does He accept? God can’t be bribed, so you can’t use your master-card or visa or cash! “Buying” here means in the sense of obtaining. And you know how you “buy” or “obtain” anything from God? You simply recognize your need, desire it, and ask for it! As James 4:2 says: “You have not because you ask not!” This asking though is a word that means to earnestly desire. There is a passion in this. You have to really want it and see your need for it. The good news is, God gives “freely” to those who come to Him with humility and desire! (See Isaiah 55:1-3). The cost is only the laying down of your pride and self-sufficiency! It’s becoming restless instead of complacent and apathetic. It’s going after true spiritual riches; rather than physical pleasures.

Lastly, Jesus said this: “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.”

To the worst of the all the churches in Revelation, I believe Jesus makes here the greatest and sweetest promise of all: “I am offering you…myself…my fellowship and friendship.” What greater riches are there than Christ Himself?!

But notice Jesus said: “be earnest and repent.” There has to be a response to Him calling and knocking. In other words you have to really want Him and let Him in.  You have to turn from your ways and turn to Him. More than anything, Jesus is looking for those who will depend on Him, desire Him and are desperate for Him, who will respond to His calling and knocking instead of resting in a false comfort and security.

The antidote to being lukewarm is “earnest zeal.” It is passion for Him and true spiritual riches. The antidote to pride is humility; dependence on Him rather than self-sufficiency which breeds self-deception.

The church today is in desperate need of a passion for Jesus Christ, His glory, His Name, His Gospel and true spiritual riches above all else. But the church is made up of individuals like you and I. It begins with my heart and your heart. And like an older but favorite chorus of mine used to put it: “It only takes a spark to get the fire burning.” You and I need to be that spark. It’s bound to catch somewhere at sometime with someone. And then we need as Romans 12:11 puts it, to: “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.”

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

While working on a message out of John chapter 14, I’ve been thinking about the things that ought to not trouble our hearts verse the things that should trouble our hearts.  It struck me how often we allow our hearts to be troubled by things it ought not to be troubled by but we are not troubled by the things we ought to be troubled by.

Let me share a few things our hearts should be troubled by:

1.  Our own sin.

Psalm 38:18 says: “I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin.” This reveals the heart of someone who loves God and whose heart is sensitive to God. Someone who is not troubled by their own sin, shows they do not love God and have a hard heart, perhaps even a seared conscience. Our sin ought to trouble us enough to confess it and repent of it.

2.  A spiritually barren, unfruitful life.

Had a woman named Hannah not been “deeply troubled” over her barrenness and poured out her soul to the Lord, praying out of “great anguish and grief” Samuel, one of the greatest prophets and leaders in the OT, would not have been born (1 Samuel 1:15-17). Our spiritual bareness and lack of fruitfulness ought to trouble us greatly and cause us to cry out to God. What would God do in and through our lives and prayers if we let ourselves be troubled enough over our spiritual emptiness, bareness, lack of fruitfulness, spiritual power, courage etc…that we cried out to God like Hannah did? This is how many revivals have started: someone (or some group or church) became troubled enough to cry out to God in utter desperation.

3.  The lack of wholehearted devotion, obedience and faithfulness to God…of God’s own people.

When King Saul did not fully obey the Lord’s instructions in 1 Samuel 15, we are told this: “Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: “I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was troubled, and he cried out to the Lord all that night.”

The things that trouble God’s heart, ought to trouble our hearts. Things that grieve God, ought to grieve us. This is part of knowing Him…sharing in His heart and His sufferings (Philippians 3:10). Lack of wholehearted devotion, obedience and faithfulness among His own people, troubles the heart of God (read the book of Jeremiah or what Jesus said to the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3:14-22!). Spiritual lukewarmness, apathy, pride, injustice and disobedience, grieve His heart. It ought to trouble and grieve us as well. To not be troubled by these things, shows we may actually be part of the problem.

But there are other things our hearts should not be troubled by.

Jesus said in John 14:1: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.”

Psalm 46:1-3 says: “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.”

This is a needed reminder right now for a lot of people. Many things are changing, being shaken and even falling apart in many ways and lives. We live in a fallen world and so there are many troubles all around us and within our own lives. Anyone who denies that reality is a blind optimist or ostrich sticking their head in the sand and not dealing with reality. Or they may not truly be following Jesus, because He promised His disciples that preciously because of Him: “In this world you will have trouble. (John 16:33). Everyone has troubles simply due to living in a fallen world, but followers of Jesus and those who set out to serve Him, actually inherit more troubles and unique troubles and trials, specifically because of their faith in Jesus! (2 Corinthians 4:8-11, 6:4-10).

And our hearts are easily troubled. Thus so often we need reminded and called to refocus on who God is (our refuge, strength and every-present help…specifically in trouble!) And we need called to put our trust in Him and not be afraid; but to take heart for Jesus has overcome the world! (John 16:33).

However, it’s not as cliche as saying “well just trust God.” Sometimes we have to “fight” to find rest and “fight” to truly come to a place of trusting in God (see Psalm 42-43). Even Jesus’ Himself wrestled with a “troubled heart.” In regard to the reality of the cross He said in John 12:27-28: “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” In regard to Judas betraying Him, John 13:21 records: “Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.” And then later this same night in the garden of Gethsemane, Mark 14:33-34 tells us: “He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”

The reality is there are certain things that trouble our heart. That is especially the time we need to wrestle in prayer as we see Jesus did, to gain strength and find peace. It’s not just a matter of “oh, just trust God.” Real trust and real peace is often born out of real prayer. You find many prayers in Scripture along these lines. Psalm 25:17 for example says: “The troubles of my heart have multiplied; free me from my anguish.” When our heart is being bombarded by troubles that is when we need to turn to the Lord and cast our cares on Him and put our trust in Him as we cry out to Him, knowing He cares for us (Psalm 55:22)…and not just succumb to a troubled heart.

Jesus also warned about those who because of the basic “worries of life” the Word of God is choked from bearing the fruit it ought to in their lives (Mark 4:19). He also warned in Luke 21:34-36 in regard to coming judgment and His second coming: “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.”

We cannot afford to let our hearts be troubled or weighed down or distracted by the everyday “cares of life.” As Jesus said in Matthew 6:31-34 we need to stay focused on seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, trusting God will take care of our basic needs. We cannot carry the burden of the “worries” of the future; but trust God for today. Our lives are in His hands. The everyday troubles of life and future are the things that ought not trouble us.

Be troubled over the right things and don’t let your heart be troubled over the wrong things. And whether rightly troubled or wrongly troubled in both cases we need to look to God, seek Him, cry out to Him and turn to Him.

Psalm 77:1-15 says this: “I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted. I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint. Selah You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak. I thought about the former days, the years of long ago; I remembered my songs in the night. My heart mused and my spirit inquired: “Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion? “Selah. Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.” I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds. Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples. With your mighty arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.”

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

I wanted to write a brief follow-up to the recent and prior post on “Is This not what it Means to Know Me?”   The focus of the first one was on a recent experience where a homeless man showed up on our doorsteps. (By the way he came to our church on Sunday, two of us had lunch with him and then we set him up with a few things and hope to continue that relationship. But I have to say…another guy from the church, who went to pick him up with me and take him out afterwards…it was awesome to see his heart and generosity as he wanted to personally buy him the things we did even though the “church” would have covered it. Just seeing his heart and compassion for this man was beautiful).

But anyway, as I wrote in the first blog, it was an opportunity to know Jesus in a very practical way. As God spoke through Jeremiah the prophet about the present kings father, part of knowing God is “He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well.” (Jeremiah 22:16).

But that was not the only part of what God says it means to know Him.

That was the second part.

The verse before says this in Jeremiah 22:15: “He did what was right and just, so all went well with him.”

Lest we think we can separate and pick and choose between these two things (defending the cause of the poor and needy) and (doing what is right and just) I felt the need to write about this first aspect of truly knowing God (doing what is right and just). It’s important to examine our own lives lest we emphasize one over the other or to the exclusion of the other and deceive ourselves.

For example, I have found we can emphasize or focus on “right doctrine” and “proper living” but we can have a coldness, self-righteousness, lack of compassion, a lack of concern and giving or serving the poor and needy.

On the other hand, (and what I want to address in this blog) is how we can think that we “know God” because we give to the poor or we help or serve the needy or we “do good works” etc…but we are living a lifestyle of sin/living in sin. Those who live a lifestyle of habitual sin do not know God and are not walking in fellowship with Him. Scripture is very clear about that. (See 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21, 1 John 3:7-10).

We can be very “liberal” in our giving or perhaps even helping the poor and needy, but then also be very “liberal” in our lifestyle in regard to sin. But 1 John 1:5-7 makes clear: “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.” John is saying: if we claim to know God but do not do what is right…we are living a lie.

It’s not just about defending the poor and helping the needy…it’s about doing what is right (righteous) and just in God’s eyes. Hebrews 12:14-15 reminds us to “Make every effort…to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” God calls His people to be “holy” as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16). This means our lives are to be different from the world around us. We are to be “set-apart” unto God. We are to be “in the world”, but not “of” (or like) the world.

James 1:26-27 puts these two things together well: “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

Notice it’s not just looking after the poor and needy, widow and orphans. It’s living a holy, righteous, and pure life. It’s about not being “polluted” or “corrupted” or “tainted” and just going along with the sinful ways of the world…as we look after the vulnerable and needy. It’s living our lives in accordance with God’s Word as we reach out to others. It’s conforming our lives to His Word, rather than our lives being conformed to the world, as we minister to those in the world.  It’s not just giving to the poor…but keeping a tight rein on our tongues. Notice the verse in James 1:26 says if we don’t we are “fooling ourselves” and our “religions is worthless.” It’s just an outward form but it hasn’t truly transformed our hearts and lives.

We can live a lie or live a life of contradiction. For example there are those who could be described as “generous gossips.” These people may give and serve…but they also maliciously slander others. Likewise we can be “compassionate compromisers.” These are those who care about others, but are not living in wholehearted devotion to God. They have sin in their life that they have accepted or are tolerating or have justified. Again, that’s a contradiction. There are also “serving swearers.” These are people who think that it’s ok to be using crude language, telling filthy jokes, using inappropriate language etc…that it is somehow justified or “acceptable.” But again this is a contradiction. These things reveal a lack of the fear of the Lord/spiritual immaturity when or if our lives are characterized by these realities. For some they simply need to see their need for “sanctification” (holy living…the process of becoming more like Jesus in character). Others are simply living in hypocrisy and living a lie.

The point is, it cannot be either/or. It’s both/and. God calls us to help others…and be holy. He calls us to be holy…and help others. We can’t pick and choose. To know God…is to do what is right and just…and defend the cause of the poor and needy. It is to defend the poor and needy…and do what is right and just.  It is about walking “blamelessly” before God in fellowship with Jesus.  This is about knowing Him.  And this is what it means or looks like to know Him:  Jeremiah 22:15-16: “He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the Lord.”

(By the way, these things can only be a reality through receiving the righteousness of God that comes through faith in Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit “regenerating” us and continuing to work in us, as we humble ourselves before Him and yield our lives to Him).

Jeremiah 22:15-16: “Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the Lord.”

This last week, as I have just been intentionally seeking Jesus and to know Him better, one of the things God has been reminding me of and making real to me is the fact the fact that Jesus was not born in a palace under pampered conditions. He was not born into a wealthy family. His “crib” was a feeding trough for animals (Luke 2:7). There wasn’t even a proper room in an inn available to Him at His birth.   We are talking about the Son of God!  God in human flesh!  King of Kings, Lord of Lords!  And then, during His earthly ministry, He once reminded someone: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20). Think of it! No one is greater than Him, more important than Him, more deserving than Him, had more of an impact than Him….yet He had no where He could call “His own.” He did not own a home. He traveled around constantly during His ministry. He did not have a wife. He did not have children. He really had nothing of earthly possession…and what He did have (His clothes) were taken from Him when He was being crucified (John 19:23). He knew what it was to have nothing and belong nowhere, even though He is everything and created all things!  And we complain about our “rights” and “comfort.”

Earlier today, I watched a powerful video by Eric Ludy called: “Depraved Indifference.” Watch the video.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWHJ6-YhSYQ.

Later today, after this, a man showed up on our doorsteps. He had a dirty, old bike he was riding. He had dirty, old clothes on. He proceeded to softly tell me that he has been living in the woods for the past month. He had lost everything. No home. No job. He was hungry. He hadn’t showered in a month. He was wondering if I could help him…if I could even just give him a tent.

There are a million things that run through your mind in these situations. Some may be reasonable, some may not; but some were along these lines: Is he telling the truth? Is he on drugs, drunk? Is he a criminal? Is he dangerous? Is he trying to take advantage of me?

But you know what I most saw?

I saw Jesus.

And the verse I started with in this blog came to mind.

I took him out to eat…not at McDonald’s for a cheap meal…but Applebee’s for a better meal.  He had never eaten there. He had not had chicken and rice and beans for a long time and that is what he most wanted.  He smiled when thinking about it and seemed genuinely thankful for it.  I noticed he had trouble reading the menu. It was overwhelming to him.

As we drove by a nearby farm where families were out with their kids picking out pumpkins…a place we had just been last week with our kids…he commented softly…”some people have a good life.” I could tell it was a life he had never known or not known for a long time.  It was such an odd and different feeling seeing the same things through different eyes and a different life.  A life I have never known, but he was very familiar with.  My life was as foreign to him as his was to mine.  But who knows?  It could have been…could even be…my life under certain circumstances.  He could be me, I could be him.  I kept thinking…what if this was me? What if I was in his shoes?

As we talked I found out he had a daughter in Florida. He didn’t want to call her, because he didn’t want her to worry about him. He seemed proud of her.  He showed me her picture, along with his grandson.  However, he had trouble at first remembering his name when I asked what his name was. He seemed really embarrassed by that.  He had never met him.  His parents were dead. His siblings did not get along or have anything to do with him. I am sure there are reasons for that, but I didn’t feel the need to get into that today. He told me about a church he had gone to in Maryland and a 6 month program he was one week from graduating from before he “gave into temptation.” That was 10 years ago. He came back to NJ and now here he was reduced to having nothing but his bike, cell phone (with no more minutes) and clothes on his body.  He was embarrassed about asking for help.  I tried to encourage him that “God gives grace to humble” and that we would pray for God to help him (while really praying that God would help me know what to do!).

I bought him a few things at a store, a few snacks, cough drops for his cold, a toothbrush.  I put him up in a hotel for the night while I search for a shelter for him to stay and hopefully get back on his feet. This kind of thing is not always convenient and it involves a personal cost. But I thought of the “Good Samaritan” story where the Samaritan paid for the man who had been “beat up” and “left for dead” to be taken care. It helped me remember that ministering to others does involve personal cost.  Perhaps that is why we ignore and try to avoid as much as possible situations like this.  That is why it is easier to just walk by like the priest and Levite in that story.  After all they are busy with “Gods’ work.”  And after all, I am a pastor, it’s Saturday, and I have to preach twice tomorrow!

But…this was so God.  And I have been saying “God I want to know you.”  I have had a hunger stirring more again lately to know Jesus more. I have been seeking Him. So…it was like Jesus showed up on the very doorsteps of my house…and said…”So…I heard you really want to know Me?”

Think back on the verse in Jeremiah. It’s the verse that went through my mind as I looked this man in the eyes on my doorstep. Jeremiah was rebuking a king who thought what made him a “king” was accumulating more for himself for all to see how great he was. Building a bigger and better palace for himself. Jeremiah comes along and says “you think this is what makes you a king?” Then he reminds him of the example of his own father who had a very different focus and heart. Jeremiah said: “Did not your father have food and drink? (God provided for his needs). He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the Lord.”

“Is that not what it means to know me?”  It was as if God was saying to me today: “And this is what it takes to know me.” And you know what? With that mindset…it wasn’t a burden or inconvenience. It was a joy. A privilege. It was an opportunity to know God better and be with Him in a real way.

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

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.