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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overcoming Victim Mentalities

Posted: September 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

“Woe is me!”

“Everything and everyone is against me!”

“Why me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overcoming Depression

Posted: September 5, 2014 in Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Put your hope in Him.

Pray to Him.

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

Walk in obedience to the Lord.

Confess any sin that needs confessed and repented of.

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

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

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

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

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

Walking with God

Posted: August 30, 2014 in Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When All Hope Seems Lost

Posted: July 22, 2014 in Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Before very long…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what does this mean?

Does this mean there is no hope?

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

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

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

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

But that is not all Paul said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anxiety & Peace

Posted: July 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is a movement underway, especially (but not exclusively) within the “Word of Faith” circles (which takes various forms, some of it overt: Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Fredrick Price; other aspects more covert: Joel Osteen, Rick Warren etc…) where there is a “yoking” together with the Pope and Roman Catholicism. Truth is being sacrificed for the sake of unity. Although, truth has already been sacrificed especially by those within the Word of Faith movement long before this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let’s define and clarify a few things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We seem to go from extreme to extreme.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Psalmist begins by bemoaning feeling forsaken by God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You place defiled food on my altar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wonderful…or Wearisome?

Posted: December 16, 2013 in Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joy of the Lord

Posted: October 11, 2013 in Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Put Away Your Sword!

Posted: August 16, 2013 in Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trust God and put away your sword.

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

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

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

Revival

Posted: August 6, 2013 in Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does that upset you?

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

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

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

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

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

Hope in Darkness

Posted: August 5, 2013 in Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there hope?

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

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

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

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

Victim or Victor?

Posted: August 1, 2013 in Uncategorized

Ever feel like things are turning out completely opposite of the way you imagined?  Ever been disappointed or disillusioned, depressed or discouraged over how life has or is turning out?

I’ve been thinking about some stories in the Bible recently and my own life (and others) at certain times in certain things where this has been true.  Let me share a few of those stories and also some personal things.

First of all, I think of Joseph having these awesome dreams given by God, but then his own brothers becoming so jealous and angry with him that they threw him in a pit and then sold him into slavery.  Joseph later winds up in prison and is totally forgotten for two more years (13 years total of living a life completely opposite and seemingly totally contrary to the dreams God gave him).

And then there is Job.  In one day he received more devastating news than most of us receive in a lifetime.  All his livestock (and he had more than anyone around) was stolen or killed and all his servants were killed except the one who escaped and told Job what happened.  But far worse than all this, his seven sons and three daughters all were killed that same day too.  Not long after this, Job lost his health and suffered a lot of pain.

Or what about a young Israeli girl who was taken captive in a raid and forced to become a servant of that army’s commander (Naaman’s wife:  2 Kings 5).  Imagine being uprooted from your land and home and taken away from your parents at a young age.

Or what about David?  Destined by God to be the next king, He comes under the jealous wrath of King Saul (though he was extremely loyal) and is forced to flee and constantly be on the run as Saul pursues him to try to kill him.  He had to hide in mountains and caves and take refuge in other cities that were often at war with Israel!

And then there is Daniel.  Seemingly unfortunate for him, he was a young man at the time when Israel was taken captive by the Babylonians.  He could have had a great life and successful career in Israel, but instead he would be forced into the service of a pagan king, the king responsible (humanly speaking) for destroying his city and temple and taking his people captive.

Or how about Naomi in the book of Ruth?  Not only was Naomi left a widow, but both of her sons died too.  In fact when she returned to her homeland she told the people to stop calling her Naomi (which means “pleasant”) and to call her “Mara” (which means “bitter”).

What about John, the one who came water-baptizing the people in preparation of the coming Messiah?  Jesus said of John that there was never anyone born of women greater than him.  Yet he ended up in prison and then was beheaded for speaking the truth and calling sin, sin.

And what about the apostle Paul?  Here is a snap-shot of the life of Paul in his own words out of 2 Corinthians 11:24-29:  “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?”

Sound glamorous?

Perhaps that’s part of our problem.  The desire to live the “American dream” runs so deep within us that as we think about these cases above, we feel sorry for these people and more than that sorry for ourselves.  This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

I bet we all could write on our woes and sorrows and trials and grief that we have endured.  My first real friend in Christ was killed at just 18 years of age in a motorcycle accident, six months after rededicating his life to Christ and making serious changes in his life.  Within my first year of marriage my wife had a miscarriage and not long after that we were meeting with a pastor who was counseling us as we were literally on the verge of divorce.  And as I write this, even though I know I am in God’s will right now, (and our marriage is stronger than ever as God has ministered much healing and given us three beautiful kids), life and even (or especially) ministry has not at all turned out as I imagined or thought or hoped it would.  There are and have been many times I battle with feeling sorry for myself.  I am just being real right now.  (And it is part of why I am writing this!).  So if this happens to minister to anyone else as I preach to myself, praise God!

But here is what has to be remembered.  All of what I have shared so far is only one half of all these stories.  If what I shared so far was the complete story, we’d have reason to be utterly depressed and feel sorry for ourselves!  We’d have reason to view ourselves as victims and become bitter while drowning in disappointment and disillusionment.  I admit I battle with these things from time to time and sometimes worse than at other times.  And that is why I have to remember there is another part to all these stories.  Let me now give those other parts!

Joseph.  After all his seemingly pointless suffering, all of a sudden Joseph in an instant went from the prison to the palace, second in charge of all of Egypt!  This position put him in a position where he was later able to save his entire family (yes, the same family that hurt him so deeply and sold him into slavery!) and thus preserve the line that the Messiah (Jesus) would eventually come through!  God gave him a wife, who bore him two sons, Manasseh (which means “to forget” as Joseph testified that “God has made me forget all my trouble and my father’s household.”  [Genesis 41:51]) and Ephraim (which means “twice fruitful” for Joseph testified that “God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering” [Genesis 41:52]).  And twice Joseph assured his brothers that he forgave them recognizing God’s sovereignty in all this.  He put it this way:  “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.”  (Genesis 45:5-7).  Later he said this: “But Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.’”  (Genesis 50:19-20).

And Job?  Well, God restored to him twice as much as before he lost everything and was blessed more in the latter part of his life than the first.  He also had seven more sons and three daughters!  And how many people through the ages have turned to Job for comfort in times of sorrow and seeming pointless tragedy?

And that young Israeli girl who was taken captive?  Well, she didn’t play the victim and become bitter.  When she found out about the condition of her master’s husband (the great army commander Naaman who had leprosy), she didn’t gloat in his suffering, but sincerely wished for his healing and spoke about a prophet in Israel who could heal him!  Naaman went and was healed and came back testifying that there was a God in Israel and that He was the true God!  God used this young girl to bring about the salvation of a pagan army commander!  I wonder if we would have (or do have) that same heart as this girl?

David.  If it weren’t for all those years of being hunted by Saul as if this were the “Hunger Games” (that is a current popular movie/books among teens especially), we wouldn’t have many of the Psalms that have brought so much comfort to the hearts of those facing battles and struggles!  A lot of the Psalms of David were written during his time of being on the run! And these things prepared him to be king and were the years that loyalty to David was forged as many other “outcasts” joined with him.

And Daniel?  Well, who hasn’t heard of Daniel and the lion’s den and how God shut the mouths of the lions?  There are besides this story other classic stories in Daniel that were not Daniel taken captive, never would have happened.  King Nebuchadnezzer and all of Babylon came to acknowledge through Daniel and his friends’ witness, the reality that their God was the one true and living God!

Naomi (or Mara) in the book of Ruth?  Well, she had a wonderfully faithful daughter-in-law named Ruth (who wasn’t even Jewish, but a Moabite) but who firmly decided and declared to Naomi in Ruth 1:16-17 “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”  Because of Ruth’s faith and loyalty, God honored her by causing her to find favor in the eyes of a man named Boaz who was a relative of Naomi.  He and Ruth ended up marrying and having a child. But it wasn’t just any child.  Ruth 4:16-17 says this:  “Then Naomi took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him. The women living there said, “Naomi has a son.” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.”  Jesus, the Messiah, of course came from this line!  This was the greatest blessing that could be bestowed upon someone, to be included in the lineage (family line) of the Messiah!

And then there is John.  John along with Jesus’ disciples, though they all were persecuted and endured much suffering for their following and proclaiming Jesus (and almost of all them were martyred), God has used them to turn the world upside down by taking the good news of the Gospel into all the world!  So many lives have been (and are still being) changed and touched and transformed through their witness and words!

The same goes for the apostle Paul.  Most of the New Testament was written by him!  And Paul though beaten, abused, stoned, thrown in prison and so much more for his faith; he didn’t view himself as a victim and didn’t want others feeling sorry for him.  Listen to what he wrote in Philippians 1:12-14 “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.”

Victor or victim?

That brings me to my life.  I admit sometimes I throw myself pity parties.  But that’s only when I take my eyes off the Sovereignty of God and miss the hand of God in every circumstance and situation.  That’s when I forget that it was through the death of my first real friend in Christ that God perhaps did the greatest work in the quickest time in my life and others’ lives.  I saw more people saved and recommit to Christ during that season than any other season since.  (And I had no clue what I was doing or saying!)  And sometimes I forget that had not every door in PA shut and everything seem to fall apart and fail, we wouldn’t be in Jersey and have seen many lives touched and transformed by the power of God and Word of God.  I forget sometimes about all the emails or letters or testimonies that are sent describing how God has used certain sermons or writings or one-on-one times in counseling/prayer.  Sometimes I focus on all that isn’t or all that could have been instead of all God is doing and has done.  I forget sometimes that coming here was the best thing that could have happened for our marriage and for healing in my own life in some things.  I forget how often both my wife and I comment on how grateful we are that God brought us here during this time.  I was confused and disappointed and disillusioned in all of what happened in PA, but God’s hand was so clearly evident on the other hand in all of it.  He was dealing with some things in me that needed dealt with and also preparing us for coming here to NJ and ministry here.

I was just talking last night with someone in our congregation who has gone through an awful lot in the last few years along with his wife, from being out of work, to his wife going deaf in one ear, to finding out she would have to have a mastectomy.  Yet, in all these things the hand of God has been so evident, from a job starting the day they needed something, to her cancer being the catalyst to reconciliation between two family members (where all other attempts had failed), to just finding out that due to her breast cancer, she can now apply to have a surgery done for free to help her hearing!  Before the cancer she did not qualify for assistance and it was too expensive for them to afford.  But now every penny of it will be covered!

My wife was also just telling me about a local youth pastor and his wife (who she was good friends with) who have been through a very tough and abusive season of life that drug on for 5 years.  None of it was really making sense and nothing seemed to open up and fall into place for them.  But they endured.  Just recently, their house sold, a good job opened for both of them near both their families in another state, and through the benefits of this teaching job, this youth pastor will be able to take seminary classes for the pastorate as he has always wanted to but didn’t have the resources to be able to!  All of these things just suddenly came together and fell into place, the hand of God being so obvious, whereas before they wondered what God was doing.

And isn’t that the paradox in these things?  And actually isn’t this a more accurate description of the true Christian life?  On the one hand in the natural you wonder where God is, but then on the other hand you do see (or end up seeing) the hand of God.  But it isn’t easy when you’re really living it and serving the Lord.  Paul described it like this in 2 Corinthians 4:7-11 “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”

The other day I was listening to a sermon of Pastor Jim Cymbala of the Brooklyn Tabernacle which is a church and pastor that has been very special and an incredible blessing to me and countless others.  He was talking about how a well-known minister came to his church and made a comment that I think many of us pastors have thought or said, too.  This pastor was commenting on how he’s always wanted a church like the Brooklyn Tabernacle as God has just worked in amazing ways in people’s lives there and the presence of God is so overwhelming and you have people of every color and race worshipping Jesus together.  From the outside it looks like the dream church.  But Pastor Cymbala was saying how he has only known one thing since getting into the ministry:  problems.  Problems with people, problems in leadership, problems with money, problems with opposition and warfare, problems, problems, problems.  And he was saying that is what life is:  one problem after another.  But he was saying this is how we grow.  We grow the most or experience the opportunity for quickest growth when problems surround us on every side.  Problems are actually opportunities for God to display His power!  Is that not what all the stories above demonstrate?

So I feel encouraged already in just writing this!  My focus is back where it needs to be.  I feel joy rising up and hope being restored again.  And even though the sorrow is going to be there and problems are always going to be there, we need to endure and persevere, not seeing ourselves as victims but victors through Christ and in Christ and as servants of Christ, who are to remain faithful to God no matter what we are going through.

In 2 Corinthians 6:4-10 Paul said this:  “Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

Victim or Victor?

Romans 8:37 “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

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.”

The story isn’t over yet!  Keep trusting the Lord.  He is faithful.  Our perspective is limited, while God see’s the whole story from beginning to end.  We however are still in the process of journeying through it.  But take heart, this is not the last page!

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

Jonah

Posted: July 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

Jonah 1:  “The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai:  “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”  But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port.  After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.

Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up.  All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god.  And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.  But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep.  The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep?  Get up and call on your god!  Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish.”

Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.”  They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah.  So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us?  What do you do?  Where do you come from? What is your country?  From what people are you?”  He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.”  This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.)

The sea was getting rougher and rougher.  So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”  “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm.  I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”

Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. Then they cried to the Lord, “O Lord, please do not let us die for taking this man’s life.  Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, O Lord, have done as you pleased.”  Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm.  At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.

But the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.”

There are three main truths I would like to briefly speak to out of this first chapter of the short but well known book of Jonah.

1.      There is a price to pay for disobedience in our own lives.

2.      Our disobedience causes “storms” in others’ lives.

3.      God’s grace is amazing!

First of all, Jonah paid a price for rebelling against the Lord.  He went in the opposite direction that God was telling him to go (trying to run away from God and His call on his life) and paid for itThe end of verse 3 says:After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.”  Later He would pay a greater price, that of seeming death, although instead he was swallowed alive by some “fish.”

But the basic point is simple yet sober:  there is a price to pay in disobeying the Lord.  This seems obvious, but it is amazing how we fool ourselves and think we can “hide from God” or “get away with it.”  As a pastor recently told me in regard to a situation we were talking about concerning a member of his church and someone attending our church, “sin complicates things!”

Galatians 6:7-8 warns: “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.”

Notice also Jonah wasn’t merely trying to run from the call on his life or what God told him to do, he was trying to run away from the Lord Himself!  But we cannot hide from the presence of God.  No matter where we go He sees us and knows.

Psalm 139:7-12 says:  “Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.  If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”

This is either a comforting truth or a troubling truth depending on whether you are trying to run away from God or not!

Secondly, sin, disobedience or rebellion against God not only has consequences in our own personal lives; but our sin causes “storms” in others’ lives.

My wife sometimes watches a TV show called “Hoarders” which deals with those about to face the loss of their home because of their extreme hoarding.  Just the other day she was watching a show called “Intervention” where family and friends sit down with a family member caught up in addiction to try to put the pressure on them to get help.  It is amazing when watching these shows, how the choices and sin of one person can cause such pain and heartbreak and “storms” in the lives of others.  I am sure we can all think of those whose presence was not a blessing in our lives, but cause such “unsettling storms” and “drama.”  And I am sure if we are honest, we can point to a time or season in our own life where we caused “storms” in others’ lives because of our choices.

This is an important but often forgotten truth.  Many are deceived into thinking that our choices affect only ourselves.  Or we are so selfish we don’t care.  But none of us are an island unto ourselves.  Everything we do or don’t do affects others and has a ripple effect in ways we couldn’t possibly fathom.  This is a very sober truth.  Read Joshua 7 and see how one man’s sin brought God’s wrath on an entire nation, resulting in 36 soldiers losing their lives (and think of how that affected their parents, their spouse, their children’s lives), and resulted in the death of that man and his entire family.

Our sin never just affects us.  It affects those closest to us the worst!  However, thankfully Jonah was spiritual enough to connect (and confess) that this storm affecting the other sailors was because of him.  I see many more who think they are Job’s when really they are Jonah’s!  I have also seen within the church how sometimes we make the minor mistakes/issue’s of others major issue’s; or non-issue’s are made into issues’ (creating drama), yet we can’t see (or don’t want to see) how serious our own sin and compromise is and the severity of the consequences of it (both in our own life and others).  Again thankfully Jonah was humble and honest enough to acknowledge this storm was not because of his faithfulness but unfaithfulness!

Well, all of this would be more than depressing if it were not for this third truth:  God’s grace is amazing!  Once Jonah was thrown overboard (the situation and root of the situation addressed),  the storm stopped and the men on the boat were safe, but God also provided a “fish” to swallow Jonah and while Jonah was in the belly of the fish 3 days and 3 nights, he was later spit up on dry ground.  And then God gave him a second chance to do what He had told him to do before.  Jonah obeyed and a nation was spared the wrath of God and saved!

God’s grace is truly amazing and awesome.  If you are running from Him, disobeying Him and causing storms in your life and others, all it takes is one sincere cry for mercy and willingness to obey and stop rebelling.  All it takes is a willingness to deal with the root issue.  God is merciful!  But why don’t I just let Jonah tell you that (out of chapter 2) in his own words, from his own experience:

“From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. (Notice there is always hope if you are still alive, no matter where you find yourself or how deep the pit is or “belly of a whale” is…if you will just pray!)

He said:  In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me.  From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry.  You hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me.  I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’  The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O Lord my God.  “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.  But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you.  What I have vowed I will make good.  Salvation comes from the Lord.”  And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.”

It may not sound pleasant to be vomited out of a fish, but it sure beats dying inside of a fish!  Sometimes the process of deliverance (or prayers being answered) isn’t pleasant or glamorous (though it may be dramatic!). But the point is God is merciful when we cry out to Him in repentance and faith, asking for His mercy, though we know we don’t deserve it.  Perhaps you need to call on the Lord on your life?  Perhaps you have been running from Him and caused storms in other lives and now you find yourself in the “belly of a fish.”  I pray you can see that the fact that you are still alive is God’s grace in and of itself.  And so I pray you will call on His name as that fact alone means there is still the possibility of a second chance.  And then once “spit up on dry ground” don’t take it for granted, but walk in obedience to God even if you don’t want to or your flesh desires something else.  “Salvation comes from the Lord.”

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

The Banquet

Posted: July 22, 2013 in Uncategorized

It has been a couple of months since I have been really writing blog articles (just been extremely busy and also needed to cut back on some things).  But this month I’ve already written a few.  This blog article is really from a message I shared with our congregation recently on a parable (story) Jesus told that characterizes a future reality.  It is found (with different nuances contained in each) in Matthew 22 and Luke 14.  I will simply combine the details given in both as I write this.

Jesus began by saying that there was a certain man or king who decided to give a great banquet/feast for his son.  Immediately this would have triggered in the Jewish person’s mind something their prophets of old spoke about that would one day be a reality.  Specifically, Isaiah 25:6-9 would have come to mind with these amazing and precious details:

“On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine — the best of meats and the finest of wines.  On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever.  The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth.  The Lord has spoken.  In that day they will say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us.  This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

Jesus spoke of this event at other times in other places as well and made clear that even as Isaiah says this feast would be for “all peoples” that this feast was not something for the faithful Jew exclusively. In Matthew 8:11 He said:  “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”  In fact He went on to warn the Jews that they would be excluded from this even though they were Jews if they failed to recognize Him as the Messiah that their forefathers spoke of and looked forward to in faith!

But can you imagine what this feast will be like?  Can you imagine sitting down at a table and taking “your place” a place reserved just for you, with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the other saints?  Can you imagine sitting at this table and enjoying the best of meats and finest of wines in all the world?  Can you imagine this feast that will be prepared for us by God Himself?

One would wonder why anyone would not look forward to this and not want to come to this feast!  Yet, that is precisely what Jesus spoke of happening in the rest of this parable.  He said that when the day of the feast arrived, this king sent his servant out to inform the guests who had been invited that everything was now ready, that the food was all prepared; that it was time to eat and enjoy!  But this is where the surprise and twist comes, because who would be apathetic and refuse to come to a meal like this???  Yet that is preciously what happened.

Matthew 22:3-6 “He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner:  My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready.  Come to the wedding banquet.’  “But they paid no attention and went off — one to his field, another to his business.  The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.”

Bizarre right?

Luke 14:17-20 adds the following details:   “At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’  “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’  “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’  “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.”

On the surface, these may seem like reasonable excuses, but when you dig deeper into the cultural context of this and understand what they are really saying, you find that these are just excuses (and not even good ones!) and more than that, insults!  They were trying to shut down the banquet by boycotting it!

The modern equivalent would be like sending out invitations to a wedding, but the day of the wedding, no one showing up but making excuses for why they couldn’t come.  It would be like one saying: “Well I just bought some property today, so I can’t make it, because I have to go check it out.”  Wouldn’t that sound fishy because who buys property without first checking it out, and who would do that on the very day when you knew in advance there was this wedding?  It would be like another saying, “well, I just bought some tractors for my field, or bought some antique cars, and I have to go test them out today.”  Again, sounds fishy.  It would be like another saying “well I recently got married, so I can’t come.”  You might as well have just been honest and said “I don’t want to come” because that is what is really being said, and by offering lame and fishy excuses, it’s actually more insulting than being honest!

Well, Jesus goes on to describe that the king got very angry over this and he dealt with those who mistreated His servants.  This was a warning to the Jewish people who were rejecting Jesus and all these years continually abused those He sent in His name.  God’s judgment would come on them, if they did not repent.

But then the story takes a second unexpected twist that would have especially been a shocking twist to the Jewish people!

Luke 14:21-24 records Jesus putting it this way: “The servant came back and reported this to his master.  Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ ‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full.  I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.'”

What is shocking about this, is that rather than this shutting down the banquet, it rather served to open up the banquet to others in place of those who refused to come!  The king’s anger towards one group turned into grace being extended to another group!  And more shocking than that even is that those who the banquet is open to are those who in that culture were deemed the outcasts and unworthy!

And this is the part I really wanted to get to and write about (and you can listen online to the message version of this at www.theallenwoodchurch.org/messages.  It is titled “The Banquet: God’s Grace” on the left hand side of the message page).

God has opened up this future banquet to any and all who will accept the invitation being extended in Jesus Christ!  He is sending His servants forth to tell all the outcasts and unworthy to come to this banquet.  Too good to be true?  Well, it is good, but it is also true!  Although notice the master (the king) tells the servant to “make them come in” or “compel them to come in” so that His house will be full. 

First of all, can I just tell you, there is still room in God’s house!  And secondly, for those who know they are unworthy, it takes some convincing or compelling to communicate to them that this is for real and God really can and is willing to forgive them and give them the gift of eternal life!  Some people think they deserve God’s grace or try to earn God’s grace (and therefore don’t receive or understand God’s grace.  In fact, they like the man the king will later throw out of the banquet because he was not dressed properly, will not be accepted, because you can’t come on your terms, in your “righteousness” but have to come on God’s terms:  faith, receiving and being clothed in Christ’s righteousness!).  But many other people need to be assured of God’s grace to them in Christ.  Be assured!  God’s grace is for those who especially feel like outcasts and feel unworthy!  Come to Christ, He will forgive you!

But let me challenge the rest of us.  Who are those that our culture or the church deems as outcasts and unworthy today?  God says to go to them and invite them to Christ.  Tell them of God’s grace in Christ.

Make this even more personal.  Who are the Ninevites in your life?  The Ninevites were the people God told the prophet Jonah to go and preach to; but Jonah had a prejudice against this group of people and didn’t want to preach to them, because he knew if they repented God would have mercy on them and save them and Jonah didn’t want that; he wanted God’s judgment to fall on them!

There is a lot of prejudice in this world and even in the church towards certain “kinds” of people.  For some it is those of a different culture or race or religion.  For others it is towards those of a different political persuasion.  For others it is those engaged in some type of behavior.  And while there are certain behavior’s and lifestyles that are sinful and while we don’t have to (and shouldn’t) agree with everybody on everything; we do not have to prejudice towards them.

God has no prejudice in Him.  He shows no favoritism towards any group or person.  Romans 2:11 for example says quite clearly:  “For God does not show favoritism.” 

And 2 Peter 3:9 says: “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 

1 Timothy 2:4-6 says that God “…wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men.” 

And what did Jesus say?  “For God so loved…who?  The world.  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotton Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.”

World means everybody.

And whoever means…whoever!

God’s grace is being extended to those who will repent and accept (believe) this awesome invitation to have a place reserved for them at this banquet!

Revelation 19:9 says: “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”

Don’t reject this invitation but accept it and have a place reserved for you at the wedding supper of the Lamb!  And then tell others the good news, that this invitation is extended to them too.  Compel them to come!

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

The nation has been captured and divided by the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman case.  Whenever and however a 17- year- old boy dies, it is always a tragedy.  Two parents lost a son and I could think of no greater pain.  By the way, it is a pain that God understands as His Son too was killed.

Without wading into whether George Zimmerman was or wasn’t justified in his actions that night, and without wading into whether Trayvon Martin was or wasn’t at fault in anything himself; and without saying prejudice or stereotyping was or was not a factor in this particular case, here’s the reality:

Prejudice is a reality in many ways in this country, in the world and even within the church.  But here is another equal reality:  many people also “play the victim” and have a “victim mentality” seeing race and prejudice in everything or making race and prejudice an issue in everything.  Both issues are major issues in our culture.  Both create all kinds of drama and division that is of the devil and not of God.

Let’s start with prejudice.  The first thing I want to say about prejudice is that prejudice is a problem and is sinful because God is not prejudiced.  Scripture is very clear.  Romans 2:11 says bluntly and clearly:  “…God does not show favoritism.”  The context of that verse is in regard to Jews and Gentiles and how God will not just accept and reward Jewish people because they are Jewish, or exclude Gentiles just because they are Gentiles.  This was something the Jews continually struggled with because they were, after all, “God’s chosen people.”  And that is true; God did choose them in a special way, for a special purpose.  But that purpose was not to puff up their pride and make them feel superior to other people and nations!  That purpose was simply to communicate through them to the world His love and His light, ultimately in the person of Jesus Christ, who died not only for the Jews, but died for all!  And when God sent Peter to the house of a Roman-Gentile Centurion solider to share the Good News of the Gospel  (that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead) so that whoever trusts in Him receives the forgiveness of sins, this is what Peter said once he got there (although initially he resisted, being going to the home of a Gentile was against the Jewish law and would make him “unclean”): “Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.”  (Acts 10:34-35).  God does not favor one group of people or “race” over another.  After all, all “races” come from and can be traced back to the same ancestor:  Adam!

Ephesians 6:9 also says this:  “And masters, treat your slaves in the same way.  Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.”  This means God does not favor the wealthy over the poor, or the business owners and job creators, over the common worker and employee.  Social status means nothing to God.  Living in a way that pleases Him regardless of our social status is what matters to God.

James 2:8-10 says:  “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right.  But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.”

Prejudice is not of God and is sinful in God’s eyes.  Period.

And in the church, we are not to view each other or treat each other or judge each other on the basis of race or color or gender or anything else.  Because in Christ, we are all children of God: brothers and sisters; whether black, white, Hispanic, Asian, male, female, rich or poor!

Galatians 3:26-29 says to the church: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

There is no place for prejudice in the church.  In fact the church is supposed to be the place and people who model true unity before a world that is divided.

And that’s because only in Jesus and because of Jesus and through Jesus is there true peace between all and do all these barriers come down.  Jesus is the one who unites every true believer:

Ephesians 2:14-18 says:  “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations.  His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them (Jew and every kind of Gentile) to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.  For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.”

This is what Jesus prayed for the night before He would be betrayed.  John 17:20-23 records Jesus saying this:  “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one:  I in them and you in me.  May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

When believers of all different backgrounds and races walk in God’s love towards one another, it communicates to the world one simple and powerful message; the most important message of all:  Jesus is truly the way!  Is this not the Gospel we are to be proclaiming?  The power of it is supposed to not only be heard through our lips, but seen in our lives/relationships.

Prejudice has no place in the church.  It is ugly.  It is sinful.  It is divisive.  It is arrogant.

Why do we even boast about our race or look down on other races?  Did you choose or have any say into what family you would born or what race you would be?   How arrogant to take pride in this!  And how ridiculous to say “those are my people” and you better not say anything about “my people.”  Pride and prejudice are not good combinations.  We shouldn’t be into “defending” our culture but proclaiming Christ and His kingdom which is made of all kinds of people of every different background! 1 Corinthians 1:31 reminds us: “Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

But let’s also talk about another big issue in our culture and churches:  a victim’s mentality.  There is no denying that people have been victims of abuse and victims of prejudice and so forth.  These are traumatic and often life changing experiences that alter someone’s life and perceptions.  But we do not have to succumb to a victim’s mentality or believe our perceptions are “true.”  Have you ever heard people use the phrase:  “perception is reality?”  That is utter nonsense.  Perception is not reality.  Reality is reality!

But there is no doubt people pull out the “victim card” to garner sympathy and power.  It is also used to justify certain attitudes and behavior.  But here’s the simple truth:  you don’t have to live as a victim because the Bible says this in Romans 8:31-39:  “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.”

Last word:

I think if we’re honest, all of us to one degree or another, in different circumstances or situations, either have or do (or it could get brought out in the “right” environment) struggle at times with prejudice towards a certain group or kind of person and with a “victim’s mentality.”  What delivers us from these things is the cross of Jesus Christ, (the blood of Jesus) the Sovereignty of God (God is in control of our circumstances and situations) and the love of God.

Therefore, (speaking to Christians) because of Jesus and through the blood, power and love of Jesus; let’s stop the petty prejudice that stirs up such hatred and division.

And let’s drop the victim mentality that creates such drama and makes issues out of non-issues.

Let’s show the world and the culture that the answer to prejudice and the victim mentality is Jesus Christ!

Philippians 4:13 “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

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

Colossians 3:11 “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”

Revelation 5:9-10 “And they sang a new song “You (Jesus) are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”

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