Seeking & Knowing Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do we really believe this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overcoming Fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Need of the Hour & Key to Fruitfulness.

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

Consider the following Scripture, stories and examples:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Difference the Risen and Living Jesus Makes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Wants to Do Great Things Through You!

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

“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

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

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!

A False Love Coming From Cowardly Fear

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

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

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.

Sacrificing Truth for the Sake of Unity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Distinguishing between “Good” & “Evil.”

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.

There is Hope: When you Feel Abandoned

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.

Giving God our Best…not our Left-overs

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?

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

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!

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

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

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?

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

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

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.

Prejudice & Victim Mentalities

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.

Be Lifted Up

Luke 21:34  “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life…”

As I have been seeking the Lord and spending time in His Word, in prayer and in worship, I am being reminded through various passages of our need to be lifted up above our problems and troubles.  If we are not careful, our hearts will be and do get weighed down by the anxieties, burdens, cares and troubles of this life.  This can and does cripple many people.  And it robs them of the peace and joy and life God wants for us to have.

We have to learn to live above and be lifted above our problems.  Notice I didn’t say we need to find a way to live free of problems.  I hate to break it to you, (and I probably don’t have to!) but in this life we are not going to escape troubles and problems.  Rather we need to learn to trust God and look to God and experience His peace and joy even in the midst of troubles surrounding us.  We need to focus on His character, not be consumed by our troubles.  Pray for deliverance, but you can be delivered in the midst of your problems, before God delivers you out of your problems.  This is the key element missing in many of our lives.  We are missing peace and joy in the midst of our troubles because we fail to see God in the midst of our troubles.  We are waiting for Him to deliver us out, but not focusing on Him delivering us through and in the midst of.  But listen to what David (a man who knew what it was to have problems and troubles on every side!) writes in Psalm 3:

Psalm 3  “O Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.” Selah 

(Everything in the natural looked bleak, hopeless and overwhelming).

“But you are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head. To the Lord I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill.  Selah.  I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side.

“ Arise, O Lord! Deliver me, O my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked. From the Lord comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people.”

Notice David had troubles all around him.  He was surrounded on every side.  And his foes rising up against him and drawn up against him on every side were vast and overwhelming.  Yet in the midst of this and in the midst of David praying for deliverance, David could say His heart was at peace and that he could lie down and sleep.  In the midst of being outnumbered, overpowered and overwhelmed, David said the Lord was sustaining Him and was a shield around Him.  God was protecting him and preserving him and providing for Him even though all seemed against him and there seemed to be no hope for him! Do we have that kind of faith, trust and rest in the Lord?  Do we have that kind of spiritual vision?  Can we see with the eyes of our heart the Lord shielding us, sustaining us and strengthening us, even when we feel weak, feel like we can’t endure anymore and feel completely vulnerable?

We need to learn to not only seek God for deliverance, but see God in the midst of our problems before we are delivered out.  We need to learn to cry out for deliverance, but not get distracted by all that is against us.  We need to set our heart on seeking Him and seeing His glory no matter what troubles surround us and we are facing.  Notice this dynamic in Psalm 27:

Psalm 27  “The Lord is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life — of whom shall I be afraid? When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.

“One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock. Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his tabernacle will I sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord.

“Hear my voice when I call, O Lord; be merciful to me and answer me. My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’ Your face, Lord, I will seek. Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, O God my Savior.  Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. Teach me your way, O Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors. Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, breathing out violence.

 “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

Do you see David’s focus?  Do you see his heart?  Do you see his trust in the Lord?  Do you see that in the midst of trouble and trial he set His heart to seek the Lord and see the beauty of the Lord?  In the midst of being surrounded on every side by enemies, he trusted the Lord to keep him safe and give him victory over his enemies.  He trusted God would exalt him above and over the enemies that surrounded him!  He anticipated the victory.  He committed to praise God for the victory.  This was a man of faith.  He didn’t wait till he was delivered to trust God, He trusted God before being delivered.

And he wasn’t distracted by or consumed by all these troubles.  In the midst of all this, He set His heart, His gaze, his desire on the Lord.  He wanted to see the beauty, the glory of the Lord.  He had a passion and hunger to know Him even more than a desire to even be delivered.  He didn’t just pray to God to help him, he prayed to God because he desired Him.  Do we truly desire God?  Is the passion of our heart to gaze on His beauty or simply have a better life?  Do we desire fellowship with Him or simply freedom from problems?

Here’s a secret.  You can know true freedom even in the midst of troubles on every side and all around you.  That freedom is found in fellowship with God.  When you abide in Him and hide yourself in Him (read Psalm 91), you will know freedom, peace and joy.  That is how we get lifted above and over our problems, even in the midst of our problems.  Don’t wait to praise God and seek God and focus on God until He delivers you from your present problems.  You are going to constantly have troubles.  If you focus on the troubles, you will be consumed by them.  But if you focus on the Lord He will consume you with His love and mercy and grace and faithfulness and glory and beauty.  And He will then consume your enemies as you worship Him and delight in His presence.

Psalm 34:1-8 says: “I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.  My soul will boast in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice.  Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.  I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.  Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.  This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.  The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.  Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.”

I was reading Ezekiel chapter 1 today.  It contains some things (a vision) that sounds very strange to our human ears.  But there is a beauty and awe in the vision Ezekiel has of God that blessed my heart and spirit.  But one of the things that struck me was how Ezekiel saw “visions of God” while among the exiles of his people who had been taken captive.  The situation and circumstances couldn’t have been worse.  Yet it was in the midst of this that Ezekiel saw the glory of the Lord.

Some of the most meaningful times I have had in relationship with God have been in seasons of trial, trouble, darkness and seeming hopelessness.  God wants us living in that reality of seeing His glory and being lifted up and above our circumstances and situations.  He wants us to see His goodness and beauty in the midst of trials and troubles and difficulties.  His light shines the brightest in the deepest darkness.  But we must seek Him.  We must focus on Him.  We must set our hearts on Him.  We must look up, to be lifted up.  Acknowledge what is around you, but don’t let it distract you and weigh your heart down.

Colossians 3:1-4  “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

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

Discouragment

Nehemiah 4:10 “Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.”

As I was praying about what to write next by way of a blog article, I was reading through Nehemiah when I came across the chapter and specifically the verse above.  I knew this was a word in season for those who may be weary or discouraged.  I pray it will encourage you and that your heart and hands will be strengthened to continue on in the work or task God has called you to.

We have all been there.  Perhaps you are there right now.  You feel like you’re at the end of your rope and that the task at hand is too overwhelming.  You feel there is too much rubble to clear out to even begin “rebuilding the wall.”  I have felt this way so many times in so many areas of life.

In Nehemiah, this wasn’t the only thing overwhelming or discouraging the Jews who had returned from Babylon to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and restore the city after years of laying in ruins.  They had an incessant enemy who was constantly trying to intimidate them, discredit them, mock them and discourage them.

Chapter 4 begins this way: “When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble — burned as they are?” Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building — if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!”

Whenever we set out to restore or rebuild something that has been destroyed by the enemy, Satan will oppose and fight against us.  He doesn’t sit idly or passively by when people set their hearts to do the work of the Lord.  He will try all kinds of manipulative and intimidating tactics.  Here he was mocking them and trying to make them feel weak, incapable, helpless, powerless, and as though their work was not good enough or significant or would ever be accomplished or doable.

Ever feel this way?  Feeling this way right now?  Don’t give in!  1 Corinthians 15:57-58 reminds us of this:  “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 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.”

Do what Nehemiah did.  He prayed (Nehemiah 4:4-5) and the people continued on with the work with ALL their heart! (Nehemiah 4:6).

But this only made the enemy madder.  Nehemiah 4:7-8 says:  “But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the men of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it.” But Nehemiah tells us in the next verse that once again they did not back down or give in:  “But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.”  (Nehemiah 4:9).

But this was when the enemy countered again with what we began with. And this is when the people begin to lose heart and get discouraged. Nehemiah 4:10-12 says:“Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.” Also our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.” Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.”

The laborers (the workers, the servants) were growing weary.  The people were growing discouraged over the amount of rubble.  The enemy appeared to be closing in on them, surrounding them on every side and about to succeed in aborting the whole project.  But Nehemiah 4:13-14 says that Nehemiah did and said this: “Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows. After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”

Don’t be afraid.  Remember the Lord (who is great and awesome!) and fight for the future of your children.  Don’t give up!

Galatians 6:9-10 says:  “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

God told Joshua something similar in Joshua 1:7-9 “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Read the last part of that last verse again: “…for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Remember the first part of what we read earlier in 1 Corinthians 15:57-58: “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Nehemiah encouraged the people: “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome…” (Nehemiah 4:14).

Stand firm and let nothing move you (1 Corinthians 15:57).

Be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:9).

Do not be afraid (Joshua 1:9).

“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 15:58).

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”  (Galatians 6:9).

At the end of Paul’s letter to the Colossian church, right before he closes, he singled a particular man out and wrote this in Colossians 4:17 “Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord.”

See to it that you finish what God gave you to do. See to it that you persevere in what God has called you to do. Don’t quit!  Don’t give up! Don’t be discouraged!  Be strong and courageous! Be strong and very courageous!

I have a feeling that not only are many believers battling discouragement right now, but I know many believers and even churches have fallen asleep due to discouragement.  One of the things Jesus said to the church of Sardis in Revelation 3:1-3 was this (and this is something He is still saying to many today!)  “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent.”

The task before you might seem daunting or overwhelming.  The rubble may seem endless.  Rebuilding the wall may seem hopeless.  The enemy may be taunting.  You may feel discouraged and defeated.  It may be easier and more comfortable to crawl into bed and pull the covers over your head and fall asleep.  Don’t do it!  Don’t give in!  Stay awake or wake up!

What you need to do is not focus on your ever-changing and uncertain circumstances but on the never-changing and always certain character of God!  Fix your eyes on Christ who is faithful! (Hebrews 3:1-8).  Pray to God.  Submit yourself to God.  Resist the enemy.  Stand firm in the faith.  Be strong in the Lord and the power of His might (Ephesians 6:10).

1 Peter 5:6-9 says:  “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith…”

James 4:7-8 says something similar:  “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.”

What in your life seems overwhelming to you?  What are you discouraged in or over?  What are you thinking about quitting or giving up that God called you to?  Don’t do it!  Persevere!  Fight the good fight of faith! Call on the name of the Lord!  Strengthen yourself in Him.  Rest on and stand on His promises.  Keep working.  Keep laboring.  Keep serving. Keep trusting.  Keep going.

Recognize the tactics and schemes of the enemy.  Nehemiah recognized again and again the tactics of the enemy.  In Nehemiah 6:9 he says: “They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.”

And then he says He did this in response: “[But I prayed,] “Now strengthen my hands.”

Ask God to strengthen your hands and steady your heart.  He will do it for His glory.  Paul wrote to the Thessalonians in 2 Thessalonians 3:3-5 this reminder: “But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.”

God promises this in Isaiah 41:10-14 (and make it personal and applicable to your life in the things God has called you to: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  “All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced; those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish. Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them. Those who wage war against you will be as nothing at all. For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob, O little Israel, for I myself will help you,” declares the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.”

Press on!

2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.”

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

Seeking God

I just spent part of the other day reading through the book of the prophet Jeremiah.  One main thing kept striking me and standing out to me that I want to share.  That one main thing is how the people of Jeremiah’s day were not seeking the Lord with all their hearts.  In fact, they were committing spiritual adultery in that they worshipped other gods (idols) and they had forsaken the One, true Living God, unwilling to listen to His voice and obey His Word.  The same is true in our days, even if the “gods” we worship are different.

An idol is essentially anything that replaces devotion to the One true God.  For example, for 18 years of my life, my “god” was baseball.  I cared more about baseball than I did my relationship with God.  There is nothing inherently evil about baseball, but what I did in becoming more committed to baseball than God was evil.  It was spiritual adultery.  I loved baseball more than God.  I was devoted to baseball more than Christ.  I lived for baseball, not Jesus.  I sacrificed for baseball, but not my Savior.  My mind, my heart, my affections, my desire was for and on baseball continually, not the Lord.  Then God convicted me that I needed to seek Him with all my heart, surrender my life to Him and love Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength.  I did and I am not turning back.  That is not to say I have lived perfectly, because I haven’t.  That is not to say I haven’t stumbled and sinned at times, because I have.  But I have set my heart to seek Christ and surrendered my life to Him and to serving Him with nothing coming before or above or even equal to Him.

And this is the place we need to get to and live from because Jeremiah 2:11 still rings true today in a lot of cases: “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”  Notice this is God’s own people who have done this, not merely the world living like this!

What we need to see happen in our country, but beginning in our churches among Christians is a revival where there is a genuine and wholehearted seeking of God.

Amos 5:4-5 says: “This is what the Lord says to the house of Israel: “Seek me and live; do not seek Bethel, do not go to Gilgal, do not journey to Beersheba.”

Put in modern day language, Amos is saying, “Seek the Lord and live; don’t merely go to church!”  Church is not what saves you and simply going to church does not mean you’re truly seeking God. Seek Him! It’s not about doing this or doing that or being involved in this activity or that activity or this study or that study.  It’s about our hearts turning fully to the Lord and our lives being devoted and committed to Christ.”

Joel 2:12-13 puts it this way:  “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.  Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.”

Why are there so many problems in church and in the United States?  One reason.  We are not seeking God but have gone astray and turned away from the One, True and Living God. 

But in Jeremiah 4:1-2 God says this: “If you will return, O Israel, return to me,” declares the Lord. “If you put your detestable idols out of my sight and no longer go astray, and if in a truthful, just and righteous way you swear, ‘As surely as the Lord lives,’ then the nations will be blessed by him and in him they will glory.”

Later in Jeremiah 29:12-14 God says that eventually after judgment has come and they have suffered through 70 years of captivity, being chastised for their sin, He says this: “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.”

That’s a wonderful and beautiful and gracious promise, but unfortunately, like with the Israelites in Jeremiah’s day, for many it takes being brought to utter misery before they will seek the Lord and live! We seem to turn everywhere and to anyone or anything but God until we realize there is nowhere else to go and no one else who can help and heal but God!

Hosea 5:13-6:3 puts it this way: “When Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah his sores, then Ephraim turned to Assyria, and sent to the great king for help.”

Notice it doesn’t say they turned to the Lord first for help, but man for help. How often we turn to others first and God last!

So God says this: “But he is not able to cure you, not able to heal your sores. For I will be like a lion to Ephraim, like a great lion to Judah. I will tear them to pieces and go away; I will carry them off, with no one to rescue them.  Then I will go back to my place until they admit their guilt. And they will seek my face; in their misery they will earnestly seek me.”

It is sad that before some people will seek the Lord earnestly, they must be humbled by God.  It would be so much better if we would just humble ourselves before the Lord and earnestly begin seeking Him.

And until we admit our guilt, until we acknowledge our sin, God will not pour out His blessing and we will not know the joy of rich and real fellowship with Him.

Are you earnestly seeking the Lord? Is your heart fully engaged in seeking Him?

Hosea goes on (as all the prophets do in different ways) to promise something awesome: “Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”  (Hosea 6:1-3).

If we seek Him with all our heart, God will not hide Himself or continue to remove His blessing from our lives.

Proverbs 8:17 says: “I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.”

Isaiah 45:18-19 says:  “I am the Lord, and there is no other.  I have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in a land of darkness; I have not said to Jacob’s descendants, “Seek me in vain.  I, the Lord, speak the truth; I declare what is right.”

This is what we need to do:  seek the Lord with all our heart.  This is our only hope, yet seems to be the one thing, the only thing people will not do.  While we can’t force anyone to seek the Lord, we can make sure we are seeking the Lord ourselves wholeheartedly and then share with others the need to seek the Lord.  God is after our hearts.  He is looking for those whose hearts are fully His.  In fact 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.”

But the context of that verse is a warning to a king whose heart was not fully trusting in the Lord and committed to Him.  In fact the prophet speaking this to him goes on to say: “You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war.” (2 Chronicles 16:9).  Because He did not seek the Lord or set His heart fully on the Lord, committing His heart fully to God, he would have constant conflict.

There are many people today in constant conflict, because their heart is not fully committed to the Lord.  They do not know God’s peace, His power, His provision, His blessing, His joy, His strength in their lives because their heart is not fully committed to Him and they do not seek the Lord with all their heart.  It doesn’t have to be this way!  If we will just repent and return to the Lord, He would give us peace!

Lastly, let me point this out.  When the Apostle Paul was preaching in the great city of Athens, a city that was religiously zealous, but had a plurality of gods and different philosophies (much like our day), part of what Paul said to them about God was this in Acts 17:26-28:  “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’”

Your birth was not an accident.  God determined when in history you would be born and where. Why did God do this?  He did it so that you would seek Him, reach out to Him and find Him.

Some of us need to stop being angry and bitter towards God because of our upbringing or circumstances in life or lot we have received in life and turn to God.  Instead of them causing us to stray from Him, they should cause us to seek Him!

And it’s not God who is hard to find or is far away.  It is man that is hard of heart in seeking for Him and who has walked far away from God.

How we need a people who will seek Him with all their hearts!

How we need a revival and returning or turning of hearts to Jesus Christ!

If we would just seek Him with all our hearts and surrender our lives to Him, we would live!

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

The Resurrection of Jesus

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the very event that our faith and salvation hinges on.  If Jesus did not rise from the dead, even the crucifixion (Jesus dying for our sins) is powerless and merely reduced to a “good example.” The Apostle Paul paints a pretty bleak picture in 1 Corinthians 15:14-19 in talking about this reality:

“And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”

Everything hinges on whether Jesus rose from the dead or not.

And here’s the good news: He did rise from the dead!

But how can I or we as Christians say that so confidently and with such certainty and conviction?  Do we just say that out of our own desire to believe it is true or “feelings” that it is true?  Well, let me make this statement:

When you weigh all the evidence and possible explanations of the empty tomb of Jesus, you find that the only reasonable explanation is that He did actually and truly rise from the dead.

Consider what we are told in Matthew 27:62-66 for example: “On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, saying, “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’  Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ So the last deception will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard.”

It is important to note that Jesus’ tomb was specially and specifically guarded by professionals. In fact without realizing it, those making the tomb as secure as possible and setting a guard, are playing right into the plan of God, because they made it impossible and improbable for any human explanation to be given concerning the empty tomb.  They specifically did this so as to prevent any possibility of Jesus’ disciples stealing His body and trying to claim He rose from the dead. So right off the bat the argument that His body was stolen is absurd.

Secondly, it’s important to note that Jesus’ tomb was made as secure as they possibly and professionally could at that time and was sealed by a stone that no man from inside that tomb (let alone one who had just been scourged, nearly dying from that, and then crucified and confirmed by professional Roman soldiers that He had died on the cross) could possibly roll up and back.  Attempts to say Jesus merely “swooned” and “revived” while in the tomb and then rolled the stone back and walked out alive (without the professional guards noticing!), is absurd and ridiculous! Their securing the tomb by sealing the stone and setting a guard just sealed the truth of that supernatural and miraculous reality!

The only plausible, reasonable, logical explanation is that He actually did rise from the dead and is alive!

And that brings me to this point.  Anyone can believe that Jesus died on a cross. Crucifixions happened all the time.  But it’s not everyday someone rises from the dead after being crucified! 

Our faith is a faith in the supernatural and miraculous power of God. In fact Romans 10:9 says: “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Now, believing Christ rose from the dead implies you believe He first of all died. This is not taking away from the importance and significance of what He did for us on the cross.  If Jesus didn’t die on the cross for our sins there would be no salvation and forgiveness of sins.  His death on the cross was absolutely essential!

But the point in this article is that you must believe a supernatural event took place in Jesus rising from the dead in order to be saved and experience the miracle of salvation in your own life.  To believe the Gospel (“Good News”) is to believe in the supernatural, which requires more than intellectual assent but heart-faith.

That verse back in Romans 10:9 makes clear that in order to be saved you must believe not merely in your head, but in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead. And if you believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, then you do believe in something miraculous and supernatural and a God who works miracles.

But believing this in our heart is not a contradiction to our “head.”

And thus we come full circle back to the original point of this article.

Our faith is a faith that includes belief in something supernatural and miraculous, but it is not irrational or illogical. There is plenty of evidence that testifies to this being the truth.

For example, not only was the tomb guarded by trained professionals and sealed, but later in chapter 28 of Matthew, verse 6, an angel tells the women who came to the tomb to “Come, see the place where the Lord lay.”  Notice they didn’t tell the women to just believe them blindly or just take their word for it.  They actually encouraged them to go and see the evidence of the empty tomb for themselves.

And in light of that I just want to say this: God is not opposed to sincere seeking of the truth, to examining the evidence of the truthfulness of all this.

If you’re skeptical or struggle with whether this is all true or not, let me encourage you; God encourages honest exploration of the evidence or a sincere seeking of Him and considering the evidence. He is not threatened by that because He has nothing to hide or cover up! This is no hoax or nice but untrue story that was perpetrated by a few conniving disciples. This is the truth and whoever sincerely seeks God and seeks the truth will find God and discover this is the truth!

But see for yourself. Don’t just take the word of men or me or even angels.  Go see for yourself so you know for yourself!

In fact this has to be or become personal.  And the only way it is personal is when you personally come to Christ in faith. And if by examining the evidence that will help you put your faith in Him, great!  That’s what it’s there for and the scripture was written for; so you will believe in Jesus and by believing have eternal life!  (John 20:31, John 5:39).

The point is, faith in Christ, faith that He rose from the dead, is faith in something supernatural and miraculous, but it is not a superstitious faith; it is not a blind faith; it is not an unreasonable faith.  It’s actually the only logical explanation when you weigh the evidence!

Here’s something else to consider: Did you know that there were not just the women who claimed to see Jesus resurrected?  And did you know there were not just the 12 disciples whom Jesus appeared to multiple and many times over a period of 40 days before ascending to heaven? 1 Corinthians 15:6 tells us there were over 500 other believers who He appeared to upon rising from the dead!

In other words there were not a few people who claimed to be eye-witnesses, but hundreds of eye-witnesses!

And let me just say here, in regard to Him appearing to His disciples, we are not only told in Acts 1:3 that Jesus appeared to His disciples over a period of 40 days after He rose from the dead, but Acts 1:3 says that He also was “presenting Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible (undeniable, convincing) proofs.”

In other words, the disciples were not hallucinating or even gullible.

In fact, Jesus would even rebuke some of them after His resurrection saying they were “slow of heart to understand and believe.”  (Luke 24:25).

And remember Thomas?

He refused to believe on the basis of the other disciples’ testimonies saying he wouldn’t believe unless He saw Jesus for Himself and touched him, which was a request Jesus graciously answered but then said in John 20:29 “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Even His own disciples were slow to believe and one refused to believe unless He saw Him!

They weren’t looking to fool anyone and weren’t about to be fooled themselves!

Also, why would all of these men suddenly become willing to die for this truth when they all fled in fear of their lives when Jesus was being crucified?  How do you explain the change you see in these men when you read about them in the Gospel accounts but then read about them in the book of Acts?  The same cowardly, fearful and wavering in faith disciples, become bold, fearless and full of faith in the book of Acts!  And all are persecuted, and all but John is martyred for their preaching Jesus rose from the dead!  Why would all of them subject themselves to persecution and even death for a lie?

So we can believe this by faith, in our heart, knowing that this isn’t a foolish faith that flies in the face of reason or evidence.  It is a reasonable faith that is verified by much evidence and many eye-witnesses!

Jesus rising from the dead is not a myth, fable or desperate hoax of a few disillusioned deceitful disciples.

All the evidence validates that Jesus has risen from the dead!

The real question is the one Jesus once asked a woman named Martha:

John 11:25-26 “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Fact or Fiction? Allegories or Actual Event’s?

I would like to take this blog article to write about a few things I heard on a very popular conservative political talk show recently. What was said was in the context of discussion on the new TV series, “The Bible.” The commentator was explaining his views to a pastor he had on the show, that he did not believe in Jesus’ divinity, and that many of the stories of the Bible (particularly in the “Old Testament”) are “allegory” and not “actual” historical events. Stories such as the creation account, Adam and Eve, Jonah being swallowed by a giant “fish” and then being spit up on 3 days later, this commentator, and many people, from those who don’t identify themselves as Christians to those who do, feel these could not be true accounts but allegories or parables to communicate or illustrate “moral” or “spiritual” lessons. So let’s talk about it!

First of all, one common misconception is that the Bible is simply a book on “morality.” It is true that the Bible teaches how one ought to live, distinguishing between right and wrong, but it is something so much more than this. The Bible is the very Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16). That means that while it was written by men it was inspired by God who moved on these men to write what they wrote. It is the record, the testimony, the revelation of God Himself. It is first of all about Him and what He has done to bring sinful human beings back into relationship with Him for all eternity. And this is what the Bible calls the “Gospel” or “Good News” which revolves completely around Jesus Christ who died on the cross and rose from the dead to save us from our sins.

The “Old Testament” is primarily about God’s choosing of a particular people through which this “Messiah” (Jesus) was promised and prophesied to come from. It is the story of God’s dealing with the people of Israel as He prepared the world for His coming. The New Testament is the fulfillment of those promises, prophesies and preparations.

The difference between the Bible and other religious books is that the Bible reveals the reality that we have sinned (“fallen short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23) that is His perfection) and cannot save ourselves by our religious activities or moral living. But Jesus came and lived a perfect life and fulfilled all the requirements that we failed in, and then went to the cross as our substitute, dying for our sin, in our place, bearing our punishment, so that through faith in Him, we might be forgiven or pardoned and reconciled to God!

This is what the grace of God is all about. He has done for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves. Instead of having our own “self-righteousness” He clothes us in “Christ’s Righteousness.” (Romans 1:17). His perfection is credited to our account being He paid the debt of our sin! We simply receive this by believing on Him, trusting in Him to save us, instead of trying to save ourselves. The commands in the NT then are not to save ourselves and make ourselves right with God, but are too be obeyed because He has saved us and made us right with Him! (Romans 5-6).

But the point is, Jesus Christ is the focus of the Bible. Therefore knowing who He is and who He claimed to be is absolutely essential. So does the bible and did Jesus make claims or claim to be God? Well consider the following:

John 1:1-4 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”

(Side note: Interestingly the Jehovah Witnesses’ bible changes this to say that “…the Word was a god” to get around the truth of the bible that Jesus is God in human flesh as John goes on to say…)

John 1:14 “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (If you read on in John chapter 1 it becomes perfectly clear that John is referring to and talking about Jesus).

But here in John chapter 1 we see Jesus is identified as the Creator of the universe. The Bible declares elsewhere that God is the creator. Thus Jesus is equated with being God. It also explicitly states that “the Word” (Jesus) was not only “with God” in the beginning, but “was God.” And if you read carefully the rest of the Gospel of John this is in fact the very issue that the Jews found fault with Jesus in and sought to kill Him over. Consider the following:

John 5:17-18 “Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”

John 8:56-59 “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” “You are not yet fifty years old,” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.”

(Side-note: Jesus was not just claiming to have existed before Abraham was even born. That statement alone would have been a pretty remarkable claim, but Jesus said far more than that by using the phrase “I am.” The Jews knew exactly what He meant by that. That was the name God had given Moses when He revealed Himself to Moses! Exodus 3:14 says: “God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” For Jesus to say “I am” was a claim of divinity; that He was God!).

John 10:27-33 “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” “We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”

All of these passages show clearly that the Bible teaches and Jesus believed and His opponents understood that He was claiming to be God! And it wasn’t just His words but His actions that proclaimed this. For example, Luke 5:21 tells us: “The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Jesus did things that only God has the authority and power to do. Thus His works, not just His words, proclaimed He is God!

To reject the truth and teaching that Jesus is God is to call Jesus a liar and declare the Bible contains errors. This then opens the door to pick and choose what to believe and what not to believe. It opens the door to question other stories and accounts and statements the Bible makes. And that brings us to the last piece of this, whether the stories in the Bible are fact or fiction as well?

Let’s start with Creation and Adam and Eve. I will say upfront that whether you believe stories such as these are literally true or not does not determine whether you are going to heaven or hell. The issue that determines salvation is whether you believe Jesus is who He claimed to be and did what the Bible declares He did in dying for our sins and rising from the dead. If you turn to Him in faith and trust in Him for salvation you will be saved, not whether you believe these stories are literally true or allegorical. And I understand there are various viewpoints on the Creation account among genuine Christians. Some do not hold to a strictly literal 6-day creation account for example. Personally I do, and feel strongly the Bible teaches this clearly, and that not believing has other problematic ramifications, but going through that is beyond the scope of this blog article.

What we are looking at is Adam and Eve and whether they were the first created human beings or “represented” all human beings created at that time. Were they the first or were there many others? Genesis 2, to me, is the decisive and definitive answer to this question. It describes and details God forming from the dust of the earth “man” and breathing into him the breath of life. It also describes how from man he later made woman. But it is clear from reading Genesis 2 that Adam and Eve were the first two (and only) created human beings at that time. It doesn’t speak of “man” but “the man” and “the woman.” For example: Genesis 2:18 says: “The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” And then Genesis 2:22 says: ‘Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.” It is then after this that the bible says something (Genesis 2:24) that Jesus would later quote from. In Matthew 19:4-6 Jesus said this: “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” Jesus certainly took this literally. To not do so ourselves is moving down a dangerous slope of blurring the lines of fact and fiction, literal and allegorical.

But what about stories like Jonah being swallowed by a giant fish? Certainly something like that is too fanciful to believe as literally happening? But if we believe in a God who created the universe, why is something like this (and any other miracle recorded in scripture) so hard to believe? I find it hard to understand why those declaring themselves “Christians” have a hard time with believing stories in scripture of miraculous content. Our entire faith and salvation is contingent on whether we believe in the ultimate miracle, Jesus being raised from the dead! (Romans 10:9). And interestingly, Jesus compared His resurrection with the story of Jonah and the context of that is a rebuke of those challenging Him to show them a miraculous sign even though He had already performed numerous miracles and they had still refused to believe! Matthew 12:38-40 records this: “Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

If the story of Jonah being in the belly of a huge fish for three days and three nights was simply an “allegory,” then shouldn’t we question whether Jesus’ “resurrection” was an actual literal historical event or just another “allegory?” But we profess that Jesus did truly, actually, bodily, physically rise from the dead. We declare that as a real historical event as real as Him being crucified on the cross. And this means Jonah was really, truly in the belly of a “huge fish” (or sea creature—as this word is broader than “fish” as we think of it. In fact both the sperm whale and Great white shark can technically swallow a human being whole; although I still believe God supernaturally protected Jonah while in the belly of the “fish.” In fact I think trying to find ways to “explain” miracles to make them more “believable” is evidence of unbelief in the power of God. Many of the miracles in the bible may have incorporated natural elements, (God used a strong wind in dividing the waters of the Red Sea, provided a real “fish” to swallow Jonah, used water to turn into wine, multiplied real loaves of bread and fish, etc. But miracles by definition are “suspensions” or God “super-ceding” normal and natural “laws.” If there is a natural explanation for them then they are not miracles. And again, why is this hard to believe that God can do these things?). But anyway, Jesus was clearly teaching that Jonah being in the belly of the “huge fish” and being spit up was a literal, historical (miraculous) event, not a mere allegory.

Many people today in the age of “reason” and “science” do not think miracles are “reasonable” explanations of reality or compatible with science. Many are putting more stock in their own reasoning abilities than the revelation given in the bible. Many trust their own intellectual conclusions than the inspired clarity of the bible. Many see “science” as more definitive than Scripture and thus believe what science says if it conflicts with what the Bible says. But scientific “certainties” have been proven wrong before and God’s word proven right time and time again! The real question is are we going to trust what God says (and that the bible is the word of God) or what man says? That is not to say science and truth are incompatible. In fact, true science, will support scripture not contradict it! And one big misconception about faith is that true faith is “unreasonable.” Many feel believing Jesus rose from the dead for example is “unreasonable” and flies in the face of reason and reality. But when the evidence is weighed and eye-witness accounts considered what is found is that the only “reasonable” explanation is in fact that Jesus did rise from the dead! This will be the subject of the next blog, so stay tuned!

But for now, Jesus rebuke of the Sadducee’s (a sect that did not believe in miracles, angels, a future resurrection and judgment) in His day, in Matthew 22:29-30, would still apply in many cases and circles today: “Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know (believe) the Scriptures or the power of God.”

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

Does Doctrine Matter?

We live in a time and age where “deeds” are seen as more important than “creeds.”  More and more Americans are not identifying themselves with any “faith.”  More and more we are becoming a people who “accept” any and all lifestyles and belief systems as equally valid and respectable (so long as they promote “peace” and “goodwill,” “tolerance” and “acceptance” of other differing beliefs).  Many believe that “doctrine” (what we believe) is not as important as “deeds” (what we do). Even in the church doing “good deeds” is deemed more important in many circles than “right doctrine.”  I think this mentality is part of the explanation for why so many people have walked away from the church, especially youth upon graduating high school and entering college.  When we are weak in knowing what we believe and have not been rooted in the “faith” (doctrinal truths of the bible), we will easily be “taken captive” by human philosophy apart from and outside of Christ.  Read carefully some of what Paul wrote to the Colossian believers in Colossians 2:1-10:

“I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.  I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.  So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it (beware!  Be careful!  Be on guard!) that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.  For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.”

When we are not “rooted,” that is grounded, established, firm in our faith in Christ, we can easily be “uprooted” by the cunning and often seemingly convincing arguments and philosophies of man apart from and outside of faith in Christ.  We can easily be led astray (fooled, deceived, caught and ensnared in the trap) of worldly wisdom when we are not abiding or continuing in Christ and the true wisdom that is found in Him.  When we are not really living and walking in a continual and constant “fear of the Lord” we fall prey to empty human traditions and ways of this world.  We either are being transformed by God’s word or conformed to the patterns (ways) of this world.

Are you being influenced by the world or influencing the world for Christ?  In Romans 12:1 Paul tells 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.” Truth and doctrine and what we believe are absolutely important.  In fact Jesus said in John 8:31-32 “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Jesus also said in John 14:6 that He is “..the truth!”  And Jesus said in John 16:8 about the Holy Spirit that  “…when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.”  If God’s presence is truly somewhere, truth is there too, for the Spirit of God is the Spirit of truth who guides us into all truth!  Therefore “doctrine” is important, not just “deeds.”

Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 3:14-15 this about the church:  “Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”

Thus if the church is not proclaiming the truth, it ceases to be a true church.  The church is supposed to be the very pillar and foundation of truth!  If it ceases to proclaim “right doctrine” (truth) then it ceases to do its most basic and fundamental responsibility!  The churches’ responsibility is not first of all good deeds, but proclaiming the Good News!

Listen carefully to what Paul warned of and wrote of to a young minister named Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:1-5 “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

I believe we are now in that time and that this will only become worse and worse as the end draws near.

More than ever we must “contend” for the faith as Jude 3-4 speaks of:  “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.”

The church today (those who are Christians) need to “contend” for the truth and purity of the faith not be those who will (or give into those) who “compromise” and “change” the truth of the Gospel to “condone” their own lusts and desire to be Lord of their life instead of Christ.

We need to know what the Bible teaches and hold to the truth of His Word to protect ourselves from our own errors and deception as well as those who promote and teach errors and deceptive philosophy.  The church needs to come back to preaching and teaching the truth of the Gospel in purity and power, not watering it down or promoting good deeds over the Good News!  More than anything this will diminish the influence the church is meant to have and, in fact, I think this very mentality is part of the explanation for the decline in church attendance, because when “good deeds” are promoted above “right doctrine” why do you need the church?  Plus, if you only do good deeds but do not share the Good News and truth of God’s word with people, what ultimate and eternal benefit and good are you really doing?  We are called to feed more than physical hunger, but provide spiritual food.  We are not just to cloth the physically naked, but proclaim that it is through Christ that we are clothed with His righteousness.  We are not just to provide relief to those outwardly oppressed, but tell how Jesus tells those oppressed (burdened and weary) to come to Him to find rest for their souls! (Matthew 11:28).  We are called not just to give water to the physically thirsty, but tell them that Christ offers to any and all the “free gift of the water of life!” (John 4, Revelation 21:6).  We are called not just to visit the sick, lonely and those in prison, but proclaim how Christ can make whole, heal the brokenhearted and how He came to “set the captives free!”  (Luke 4:18).  Good deeds are powerless and temporary apart from proclaiming the Good News and the truth of the Gospel!

Lastly, let us not forget good deeds are not what saves a person.  It is through belief in His Word, faith in Jesus Christ, receiving the Good News of the Gospel, embracing the truth, that we are saved!  Good deeds are to follow true faith, but faith comes first and it is through faith that we are saved and receive the grace of God, not through good deeds. Ephesians 2:8-10, for example, puts these two together in the right order:  “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. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  

We are not saved by good works, but to do good works.  We are not saved by good deeds, but saved to do good deeds.  But those good deeds are not to proclaim our goodness, but the goodness of God.  Jesus said in Matthew 5:16 “…let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”  Our good deeds are not to bring praise and glory to us, but are meant to bring praise and glory to God as they reveal His goodness and grace! Good deeds are meant to be a witness to the grace of Jesus Christ that we might witness of His grace through our good works!

It is the “Good News” of the Gospel and truth of God’s Word that the church exists to proclaim.  Without this we are nothing more than another social club.  Many other groups do many “good works.”  This is not what makes the church unique.  If the church just exists to do good works, why do we even need the church?  Good deeds are important but right doctrine is essential.  Many churches today do many good works but are “dead” and dying because the Spirit of Truth has been rejected and pushed aside.  But only He can truly transform lives and save souls.  May the church come back to or continue in  contending for the faith, proclaiming the truth of God’s Word and presenting the Gospel to a lost and dying world without fear or shame!

Romans 1:16-17 “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 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.”

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

Seeing His Glory & Hearing His Voice

One of the most alarming things I have been noticing within the world of sports, entertainment and politics (but also the church! In fact this may be the fault of the church) is how many athletes, actors and politicians (and “church-goers”) say they are “Christians” and they talk about their “faith” and give thanks to “God” or speak of “Jesus” but either their lives do not match their profession or they have a very shallow and superficial understanding of the Gospel, the one true faith, what it means to be a Christian and the Lord Jesus Christ. It has all been watered-down and compromise is excused and justified away!

For example, I just read of a very popular singer who claims to be a Christian but dresses and dances in a way that is very provocative, especially for someone claiming to be a “Christian.”  She sees no problem or contradiction with her lifestyle and Christianity.  She doesn’t believe it grieves the Holy Spirit or that He has a problem with it.

Another example is an athlete right now who has created a lot of controversy himself due to his “faith.” But He recently cancelled speaking at a church because of it’s “controversial” positions.  What were those “controversial” positions?  Simply stating the truth that Mormonism is a cult (holding false views of Jesus and salvation) and Islam is a false religion (false views of salvation and Jesus too) and that homosexuality is sinful according to scripture.  (Which has garnered attention in the media due to the pastor’s public engagement in politics recently).  But apparently this athlete isn’t interested in taking a firm stand for the truth (or identifying himself too closely with those who do in love) but wants to promote a message of “hope” and “faith” and “love” that is inclusive but doesn’t reveal the hearts of men and bring conviction of sin.  Jesus did die for all, but all must come to Him in repentance and faith.  The apostle Paul testified that “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.”  (Acts 20:21).

So what Jesus are so many speaking of?  What Bible are we reading from? Last time I checked (and I just did) every Bible I have records Jesus saying things such as: 

Matthew 10:34-39 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Where has that Jesus gone?

Why are we trying to declaw and tame the Lion of the tribe of Judah?

This “nice” Jesus has no power and is the “Jesus” of our own imagination and culture.

Now, yes it is true—Jesus did not come to condemn the world but save the world.

John 3:16-17 is wonderful and beautiful saying:  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

But that’s not the last verse and last thing Jesus said.

The very next thing Jesus went on to say was this:  “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.  This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”   (John 3:18-20).

Jesus did not come to condemn; because we have already condemned ourselves through our unbelief in Him!

He did come to save us but that required Him dying on the cross and paying the just penalty for our sin, taking upon Himself the wrath of God that we deserved.

And Jesus said that after He left another would come (The Holy Spirit) who Jesus said in John 16:8-9  “When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.”

But today the unpardonable sin is to say a word about sin or that we are unrighteous and that we stand guilty before God and deserve His judgment!

What we need today is a fresh vision of Jesus in His glory, because I fear we have gotten so comfortable with Him being “human” that we have forgotten He is the Holy Son of God!

What we need is a Matthew 17, Revelation 1 and Revelation 19 moment:

Matthew 17:1-8 says this: “After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured (His appearance changed) before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.  Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters — one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”  While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”  When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.”  When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.”

This was in many ways a preview of an experience and encounter John would later have and record for us in Revelation 1:12-18:

“I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire.  His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters.  In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

Revelation 19:11-16  I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war.  His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.  On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:   KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.”

Is this the Jesus you know?

Because this is the Jesus of the Bible and the real Jesus alive in heaven and one day returning to earth to rule and reign!

I would encourage you to listen online to a message I spoke on the Revelation of the Glory of Jesus last year during a series through the book of Revelation.  The link to where you can find this message (which is on the right hand side of the messages page under the Revelation Series, and titled “Revelation 1” and “Revelation 19 &20” ) is here: www.theallenwoodchuch.org/messages.

And below are my notes on Revelation 1:12-18 (minus quotes from commentaries) regarding Jesus in His glory.

I just pray we will have a fresh vision and that many will see His glory and hear His voice so that only the real Jesus is seen and honored!

Revelation 1:12-18 notes from the message entitled “Revelation 1” 

Verse 12—-“7 golden lampstands”—represent churches—(we are the light of the world).

Verse 13a—-“One like the Son of Man”—this is Jesus in His glorified state.

-Notice He was in the midst of the seven lampstands.  Jesus is with His people!

But:

-It is not merely the Crucified Christ (or Savior) who is in the midst of the church.

-It is not merely the Resurrected Christ (Our Living Lord) who is the midst of the church.

-It is not merely the Soon Returning Christ (our King) who is the midst of the church.

-It is the Glorified Christ—-who is in the midst of the church!

And with that—let’s go through the description of Jesus John saw.

First of all it says He saw one: Like the Son of Man.

That reminds us of Jesus’ humanity.

And that is important because it reminds us that even in His glorified state; He still relates to us as human beings.

But let’s look at the description John gives of what was unique in comparison with us as human beings, in His appearance.

Verse 13b—-“clothed with a garment down to the feet…”

The wearing of garments down to the feet was a sign of someone of high rank/honor of importance; such as a King or Priest.  Jesus is both our High Priest and King.

Verse 13c—-“girded about the chest with a golden band.”

The High Priest back then wore a breastplate in which the names of the tribes of Israel were engraved so that they were on His heart.

Verse 14a—“His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow…”

This speaks of His Eternal nature, wisdom and perfect purity.  It speaks of Christ’s dignity, authority, Majesty, worthiness of respect, honor and awe.

Daniel 7:9 records Daniel as saying–“As I looked, “thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool.”

Verse 14b—“and His eyes like a flame of fire…”

This speaks of the fact that Christ see’s all and through all in such a way that His judgment is perfect and pure.  His eyes penetrate and pierce through even to the very thoughts and motives and attitudes of our heart.

Verse 15a—-“His feet were like fine brass…”

-Denotes strength, power, endurance, stability.

Verse 15b—-“as if refined in a furnace…”

Every description that is given is meant to inspire awe in the one who reads of this.

Verse 15c—-“and His voice as the sound of many waters…”

Again gives you the sense of how Majestic He is.

The authority and majesty of His voice is like the sound (the roar) of many waters.

When I read this I thought of when my family went to Niagara falls and just the deafening sound of the roaring of the waters.  It is awe-inspiring, majestic and powerful.

Ezekiel experienced the voice of the Lord like the sound of many waters as well—because Ezekiel 43:2 says this:  “I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east. His voice was like the roar of rushing waters, and the land was radiant with his glory.”

I also thought of Psalm 29 which says this: “Ascribe to the Lord, O mighty ones, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness. The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightning. The voice of the Lord shakes the desert; the Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh. The voice of the Lord twists the oaks and strips the forests bare. And in his temple all cry, “Glory!” The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord is enthroned as King forever. The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.”

Verse 16a—-“He had in His right hand seven stars…”

-Right hand speaks of power, protection, grace, favor, guidance.

-Seven stars are the angels of the churches the messengers of each church. (Perhaps pastors).

What a comfort to know He holds them in His right hand and they are under His influence!

Verse 16b—-“out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword…”

-This is the Word of God for the Word judges and heals!

Hebrews 4:12-13 says:  “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”

And so, Jesus sanctifies His people by the Word.

But He also fights against His enemies but not with a physical sword, but with the Word of His mouth.

Verse 16c—-“and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.”

Countenance…speaks of His face.

And John says it was like the sun shining in its strength, meaning unhindered by the clouds of the sky or darkness of the night: brilliant, dazzling, too bright for any human being to look upon and not be blinded.

In fact look at John’s reaction to this, Verse 17a— “And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead.”

Interesting because this is a very similar response as prophets of old who saw the glory of God; such as Daniel and Isaiah.

Isaiah 6:1-5 records this:  “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.  “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

The brilliant perfection, holiness, majesty of Christ the King exposed and laid bare all his sinfulness; which is perhaps why many don’t want to know the glorified Christ!

But anyway, Daniel likewise felt all his strength go out from him and John falls down at his feet as though dead as the glory of Jesus is too much for mortal man in their human flesh to take in to process to bear!

Verse 17b—“But He laid His right hand on me…”

Here is evidence of Christ’s compassion, His grace, His favor, as we have seen the right hand is symbolic of favor and grace.

And here this reminds us of the necessity of His grace in order to bear the sight of Him and stand before Him.

Verse 17c—“saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.  18 I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.” 

So notice He not only touched John with His grace, but spoke peace to His heart, calming His fears.

-Jesus strikes fear into man but Jesus also relieves the fear of man by His grace.

As the line in amazing grace goes: “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear…and grace my fears relieved.”

To really know the Lord we must have a fear of the Lord.

And then we will know the grace and peace of the Lord.

So Jesus says to John: “I am the First and Lastthe beginning and the end.”

I am everything.

I have always been, always is and always will be.

And as He says next—“He who lives…was dead…but behold am alive forevermore!”

So right there is the Gospel!

-“I have the keys of Hades and Death.”

Remember all authority and power on heaven and on earth has been given to Him.

And so, He has not only been resurrected and glorified, but holds all power and authority.

He is Sovereign, the possessor of all power!

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

Hiding & Denying

In this blog post I would like to take some time to go through one of the most important chapters in all the Bible.  The choices made in this chapter have affected every generation since this chapter and are replaying themselves out in different ways in each generation and each individual life down to this day.

The chapter is Genesis 3.  The chapters before detail how God created the world and how all He made was good.  But Genesis 3 changed everything.  This is the chapter where “paradise is lost.”  If you grasp the truths revealed in this chapter you will understand all of the Bible.  If you do not take to heart and apply to your life the things discovered in this chapter, you will not understand the heart of God, the sin of man (yourself), the reality of Satan (the devil) and the grace of Jesus Christ.  If you grasp the truths contained in this chapter, you will see God for who He truly is, the world as it truly is and yourself for who you truly are.

So let me take you through this verse by verse with an explanation and application to today.

Genesis 3:1 “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

Here is the first time we are introduced to the enemy of God (the devil or Satan) and all that is truly good.  Satan is a spirit being who originally was known as Lucifer.  Prior to Genesis 3, there was some type of angelic rebellion against God, led by “Lucifer.”  But this isn’t the focus in this blog.  Here we are simply seeking to understand how he operates in regard to his schemes against human beings, who alone have been created in the image of God and are loved by God with a special love in comparison to all other created things.

And the first thing we see is that Satan, like a snake, is cunning and crafty.  We also see that his first line of attack was an attempt to cast doubt and distort what God had actually said to try to move Adam and Eve to disobey God and thus be able to destroy the fellowship and relationship man had with God and wreck destruction on the earth.  We will see his plan succeeded…though not forever!

But let’s apply this to today.  Satan’s first line of attack is to cast doubt in people’s hearts regarding God’s word and God’s heart.  Isn’t it amazing how the Bible of all books comes under such attack and scrutiny?  Isn’t it interesting how schools are terrified to use it and highly intelligent people criticize it more than any other book?  Isn’t it amazing how even though so many people own Bibles, how few actually read it, including Christians?  Do you not think and do you not see there is something more going on than meets the natural eye?  Make no mistake Satan is still whispering to the hearts of human beings: “Did God really say?”

Why?  

Because Doubting + Distorting God’s word and heart = Disobedience and Destruction.

But let’s back up to doubts and distortion because as we see in the next verse what Satan questioned was not what God had really said.

“The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'” 

Satan asked Eve if God had said they couldn’t eat from any tree.  But as Eve replied, God had said they could eat from any tree, except just one tree.

Again do you not see and and do you not think there is more going on than meets the natural eye when people are focused on and fall back on the “restrictions” of Christianity instead of the freedom we have in Christ?

And once again what is being questioned is not just God’s word but God’s heart.  God told Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree because if they did they would die!  This one rule, this one restriction was for their own protection and good!  God is not out to rob us of joy and pleasure, but to keep us from loss and pain!

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

At this point Satan flat out contradicts God’s word.  God had said they would die if they ate of the fruit of the one tree.  But Satan tells Eve she won’t die, that God is lying and His word not true!

Again, humanity is falling hook, line and sinker for this same lie, that God’s Word is not true and He cannot be trusted.  That God is holding back good from us.  That God is restricting our own “progression.”

And here is the root of all rebellion against God; the desire to be our own God instead of depending on God.

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.”

This is how temptation works.

 1.  We look.  We consider. We think about.

 2.  We focus on the benefits, the pleasure, the gain; instead of the consequences and pain.

 3.   We take and we eat.

Did you notice the battle is won and lost in the heart and mind first?

And isn’t it amazing how no matter how much we have, very few are content and want (have to) have more?  Each generation grows discontent and “pushes” the boundaries, “breaks the chains” that are “restricting” them.

God gave Adam and Eve license to eat any tree in the garden except one; but it was that one she had to take and try!

How is it we get focused on what we shouldn’t or can’t have and forget about all we do have and can have?  But this is the power of temptation!

“She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.”

Here is the picture of the passive man who failed to intervene on behalf of his wife and follow God. How many of us as husbands and fathers are sitting passively by while the enemy deceives and distracts and attacks our family? Worse yet; how many of us go along with it; being influenced rather than having an influence?

Secondly, here is a picture of how sin loves company.  Sin is very inclusive.  Sin wants to involve others.  People feel better when others join with them in wrongdoing.

God intended that we share in His life together.  That we agree together in prayer, not in sin. God intended that we fight with each other, not share in sin together!

“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.”

Now we get to what we see all over the place.

Sinful man covers himself with his own righteousness. We sew our own fig leaves together to cover our shame. We try to suppress our guilt and atone for our sins, hoping our good deeds outweigh our bad deeds. We clothe ourselves and cover ourselves; trying to be our own saviors.

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.”

Covering up and covering ourselves leads to hiding from the presence of God.

Jesus said in John 3:19-21 “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”

Sin not only leads to shame but also an unhealthy fear of God instead of a true fear of God that keeps us from wrong.  Natural man and sinful man is afraid of God because we have sinned and don’t want to be held responsible for our sin.  So we cover our shame and hide from God; our sin separating us from fellowship with God.

In other words, we are a mess and have royally messed this is all up! And we are hopeless and helpless in and of ourselves.

But the story doesn’t end here.  In fact this is where the Gospel (which means “good news!” kicks in!) God didn’t just shrug His shoulders and say oh well we lost them! And He didn’t just stand back and wait for us to come to Him. He came to us (in Christ) and called us to come out of hiding and into the light!

“But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

Don’t just quickly skip over this.  Pause here…and let this sink in.

Can you hear the broken heart of God in this?  Can you hear the pain in His voice in this question?

And think about this question.  The first question He asked them was not “what have you done?”  It was “where are you?” This is God weeping over the loss of communion, fellowship and relationship with mankind.

Why God even desires relationship with us is a mystery. Why God decided to redeem relationship with us is an even greater mystery! But the truth of the Gospel is; He is pursuing us.  He is calling us out. He is drawing out of us a confession (Spoiler alert; while there will be consequences, the ultimate end is so that He can clothe us in His righteousness, rather than us try to atone for our guilt, sin and shame.  Calling us to repentance is so He can reconcile us to Himself and restore fellowship!)

“He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

Think about what Adam is saying and not saying here.  Everything he says here is true. It’s just not the whole truth and the core truth. And so God calls him on it and draws out it out of him.

“And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

Ouch.

Yet…how tender.

God didn’t blast him and attack him. He didn’t say “what have you done you dirty rotten scoundrel!”

But Adam is still going to try to wiggle out of this somewhat: “The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

Once again this is true. But this is the classic blame game and “I’m not really the one responsible for my sin.” I may have done something wrong but someone else is really to blame and is responsible!

Again, can you not see this playing out all over the place in our culture and in your own life?

And Eve doesn’t do much better: “Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

It’s the devil’s fault!

Once again what she says is partly true. The serpent did deceive her. But she chose to disobey God.

Well after this the consequences are dished out in verses 14-19 because sin has consequences.

Sin always comes with strings attached.  The first part of Romans 6:23 says “For the wages of sin is death…” And this does not mean merely physical death, but spiritual death (separation from God) and eternal death (separated from God for all eternity in a place called “hell”). 

But that verse doesn’t end there because the rest of it says “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” In fact in verse 15 back in Genesis 3 is found the first prophecy about regarding a future Messiah that would come to atone for man’s sin and deal thoroughly with this enemy of God, the devil.  “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”  This was fulfilled when Jesus was crucified as Satan struck His heel, but Jesus crushed His head (destroyed His power) through His death on the cross!

Colossians 2:13-15 tells us this:  “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”

In other words God has provided a covering for our sins: Christ’s righteousness.

Verse 21 of Genesis 3 hints at this when it says:  “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.”

Note: Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves; but now God made His own garments (of skin—implying a sacrifice) to cover them in.

Why did God do this?

Because man’s own “coverings” (righteousness, works and “good deeds”) are not sufficient. They do not adequately deal with sin and guilt and shame. We cannot save ourselves.

And so Paul writes in Romans 1:16-17 “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 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.”

God has done for us what we couldn’t and given us what we don’t deserve. In fact someone came up with an acronym for Grace that goes like this:

God’s

Riches

At

Christ’s

Expense!

There is nothing more precious than God’s grace!

Have you received  His gift of grace? 

Have you been clothed in Christ’s righteousness; receiving God’s righteousness by faith?

Are you covering up, hiding, diminishing your sin and responsibility before God, blaming others and suppressing your guilt; or have you come into the light and confessed your sin?

Do you understand the consequences of sin?

James 1:14-15 says:   “…but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

But 1 John 1:9 says:  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

John 3:16-18 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”                     -Jesus

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

Self-Inflicted Wounds

Isaiah 1:2-8 “Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the Lord has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the Lord; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him. Why should you be beaten anymore? Why do you persist in rebellion? Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness — only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil.”

In my last blog post I talked about the reality of wounds and warfare and the great need for healing. I spoke to wounds that have been inflicted by the words of others or the lies that we have received that have hurt us. I talked about how Jesus came to “heal the brokenhearted” and “bind up their wounds.” Jesus is the Great Physician and Healer of our souls.

However, in this post I want to address not “other-inflicted” wounds or “enemy-inflicted” wounds but “self-inflicted” wounds.

Many of the wounds in our lives are merely the consequence of forgetting or forsaking, rebelling or resisting, sinning or straying from the Lord. That is what the passage this article began with is addressing and speaking to.

What we need to do is come humbly and honestly before God and discern true guilt from false guilt. We then need to confess and repent of true guilt and turn to, or back to, the Lord in faith. God’s heart breaks over both wounds inflicted by others or the enemy as well as self-inflicted wounds due to our own sin and selfishness. Notice His question to the nation of Israel was “Why should you be beaten anymore? Why do you persist in rebellion?”

In verses 7-8 He reminds them of this because of their sin: “Your country is desolate, (laid bare/empty) your cities burned with fire (destruction); your fields are being stripped by foreigners right before you (poverty and ruin), laid waste as when overthrown by strangers. The Daughter of Zion is left like a shelter in a vineyard, like a hut in a field of melons, like a city under siege.”

Sin and selfishness, stubbornness and straying, rebellion and resisting the Lord only lead to emptiness, desolation, ruin and destruction. Sin robs of peace. It robs of joy. It robs of strength. It robs of life. It doesn’t have to be!

The great need in our day is not bolstered “self-esteem” but a people who will recognize they have sinned against a Holy God and will then confess their personal sin and turn to the only Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, instead of simply blaming everyone else. Certainly others have sinned against us and have not loved us as they ought, but have we not also sinned against others and not loved as we ought? We all have been wounded by others and have wounded others. And we also have wounded ourselves by our own sin. And that we cannot blame on others. You have to own your own sin. You can’t say “so and so made me so angry that I snapped and did what I did, so it’s really their fault. If they wouldn’t have done what they did, I wouldn’t have reacted as I did.” There may be truth in the fact that “Eve handed you the apple” but you are still responsible for taking it and eating it. And it may be true that “the snake” (Satan-the devil) tempted and deceived you, but you still disobeyed God. And God will hold you accountable not for others’ influence or actions, but your own actions and decisions. (Read Genesis 3).

We are now a culture of people who are blaming our environment, upbringing, parents, and everyone around us for the way we are. Certainly all these things influence and contribute, but sin comes from within, not without. Circumstances only reveal or bring out what is really already in our hearts. And put in the right circumstances at the right time to the right degree, what would come out of any of us, apart from grace prevailing in our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit in the life a true believer, is ugly, evil and sinful. And at times ugliness, evil and sin have come out of us (revealing the reality of it inside of us).

Self-esteem (feeling better about ourselves) is not the answer. Yes God loves us and being secure in that is essential (1 John 4:16-19) and healing (Psalm 139). But the healing of self-inflicted wounds requires confession of sin and repentance of sin.

But both of these (confession of sin and healing) require coming to Jesus humbly and honestly. To be justified by God you must stop trying to justify yourself. To receive the grace of God you must stop lying to yourself, deceiving yourself, blaming others, denying, or diminishing your sin. You must come broken and totally open. The walls and masks must come down. The games must stop. Only then will you come to know God’s grace and mercy.

James 4:6-10 says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. 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.”

Isaiah 1:13-20 says: “Stop bringing meaningless offerings!…When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

No, you are not responsible for others’ sins against you, and you need not feel guilty for their actions or abuse in your life. But you are responsible for your sin and/or sinful responses (becoming bitter, sinning in your anger, striking back, getting even, etc. toward those who have wronged you).

The point is, many of our wounds are self-inflicted because of our sin, selfishness, stubbornness, rebellion and pride. But even these wounds can be healed if we will but repent and return to the Lord! God wants to bring wholeness and healing to His people! It is not His desire for us to be crippled by other or enemy inflicted wounds or our own self-inflicted wounds. Scars will remain. But Jesus can heal the pain and calls us to “stand up, pick up our mat, and walk.” (Matthew 9:2-6).

The big question is “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5). That may seem like a silly question, who would not want to be healed! But the truth is many don’t want to be healed because they have lived with wounds for so long they are afraid of life without them. Some people actually like the attention and pity they get from others because of them. Some people use their pain (wounds) to their own advantage. Some like (or want) to be dependent on others and have others do everything for them. Some people are afraid of personal responsibility and the changes that will come with being healed. But this is sinful and will only lead to greater suffering and shame.

Let Jesus heal you. He is near to hear and to heal.

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

Fearfully & Wonderfully Made: Wounds & Warfare

Psalm 139:13-18 “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,  your eyes saw my unformed body.  All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.  How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!  How vast is the sum of them!  Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand.  When I awake, I am still with you.”

This is a powerful Psalm with awesome truths in it.  It is a reminder that God is the one who not only created us but loves us, being intimately acquainted with all our ways (read all of Psalm 139).  It is a sober and hauntingly beautiful reminder of the sanctity of life and the horror of abortion which is the murder of a life God is knitting together inside the womb.  Life is incredibly precious, and God’s thoughts towards us are also precious.  He has a plan and purpose for our lives, and He knows every thought, every deed, every act, every day of our lives before it even comes to pass.  His love for us is unfathomable.

Unfortunately, not many truly know or are able to receive at the heart level the love of God.  Some have never heard of His love; others only know of His love in their heads, but it has never penetrated their hearts and isn’t filling their lives and flowing out to others.  I want to talk about why that is in this post and pray you will be able to receive His unchanging, everlasting, amazing love!

The Bible is clear that we have an enemy called Satan who Jesus said in John 8:44 that: “He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”  Jesus also said in John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

All of us have been wounded and are wounded in life.  Some of us have been wounded more traumatically or dramatically than others, but all of us have been wounded by events, by words that have been spoken to us and just the consequences we experience in living in a fallen world.  Satan uses all these things to speak lies that many of us have received or believed.  Some of these lies we may be aware of, but other lies have been so subtle we don’t really recognize them or are blind (or have blinded ourselves) to them.  Some lies go deep and have been embedded in us for a long time.  Some of these lies have crippled us, paralyzed us and prevented us from knowing God’s love, grace and mercy and also from living in the fullness of life Jesus came and died that we might have.  Some of these lies explain (don’t justify) but explain why we are or do some of the things we do.

I want to encourage you to take some time and ask God to reveal these lies that have been spoken over your life or that you have believed and received.  These lies are so numerous it would be impossible in an article to list, but some of the most common ones are “Your life is worthless.” “God couldn’t love you or forgive you or help you.”  “You are a failure.” “You are stupid.” “You have to be perfect for God to accept you.”  “No one loves you and you will always be rejected.”

All of these lies are aimed at twisting the truth of God’s word and heart toward us.  They are all aimed at cutting off or preventing us from drawing close and coming to know and walk closely with Christ in a real friendship and fellowship.  They are aimed at blinding us to the heart of our Heavenly Father.

Things that have happened to us in our childhood, whether through mistakes or abuse or neglect of our parents, Satan uses to distort our view regarding God.  For example, if your father was absent, you may “feel” God is distant and struggle with knowing His nearness.  If your mother was angry and abusive, you may have trouble feeling safe in coming to God.  If your parents did not show you the patient heart of God, you may feel extremely anxious when you blow it or sin and think God is constantly angry with you.  If your parents (or a teacher, coach, boss) were too strict, demanding and pushed you too hard to perform, you may have a hard time resting in God’s grace and acceptance of you, simply for being a child of His.

And even if you had good and godly parents, and didn’t have any real traumatic experiences growing up or seemingly traumatic events in your life, that doesn’t mean the enemy hasn’t used things in a more subtle way to traumatize or paralyze your soul.  He is constantly sending “fiery darts” aimed at destroying our faith in God, trust in God and view of God.  These darts can come through any set of circumstances (not just people) from losing a job, to a career ending injury, to the death of a loved one, to a break-up in a relationship, to words spoken to you or about you behind your back. Proverbs 12:18 says:  “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

God does not want us to walk around and live our lives never being healed of wounds.  We have been wounded and will be wounded, but He desires to heal and bind up the brokenhearted.  Jesus one time during His earthly ministry quoted from Isaiah 61:1-2 in regard to His mission and real heart of His ministry as Messiah:  “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

This can only happen if and as we come to Him in faith and open up our hearts, allowing Him to touch us and heal us in those areas.  This requires tremendous trust, humility and honesty.  Wounds being healed are incredibly sensitive, and it can actually be painful to go through the process of having those wounds healed.  But if they are not healed, they only get worse and more debilitating as time goes on.  Those wounds release poisonous toxins that pervade every part of our being.  They cause bitter roots  to grow up in us and Hebrews 12:15-16 says:  “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile (poison) many.”  This bitterness (anger turned inward) comes from not forgiving those who have hurt us and giving that pain, those people and those situations over to God for Him to deal with.  In fact, we even become angry and bitter, offended, disappointed and disillusioned with God!  This pushes us and drives us away from Him, but He is the only one who can truly heal us and help us!  And He loves us!  He is a Good Father!  A gracious Father!  And we are safe and secure in Him and when we come to Him!  In fact, Psalm 18:2-3 says:  “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.  I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies.”

And listen…He does care.  It may not always feel like it.  It may not seem like it.  And some people may say “If God cares, then why and how could He allow what happened to me to happen?”  But Psalm 10:14 says:  “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.”

If you commit yourself and those situations to the Lord (trusting in Him), you will see how much He cares about you and you will know His care for you!  But many of us are like my one daughter who is constantly pushing us away in trying to help her with certain things that we know she needs our help in and can’t do or handle on her own.  However, in patience we step back (most of the time!) and let her “fail” so that she gets to the end of herself and sees she does need our help.  God will not force Himself and His help on you.  He will wait for you to humble yourself or be humbled until gently picking you back up and helping you.  How much distress and struggle could be saved if we just came to Him right away!

And again He is there and He is near and He does care!  He  has not forsaken, forgotten or abandoned you!  Isaiah 49:14-16 says:  “But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.”  “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!  See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.”

It is Satan—the father of all lies—who tries to convince you that God does not see, that God does not hear, that God does not know, that God does not care!

But this is where you and I must choose to believe and do what Ephesians 6:16-17 tells us to do: “In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” The only way to keep the “flaming arrows” of the evil one from penetrating is to take up the shield of faith (that is, trust God and have faith in Him and His Word).

But what I want to gently encourage to call your attention to are the arrows that have penetrated and the wounds that presently exist that have never been healed.  Can you see any in your life?  I want to encourage you to bring those to God along with all the pain, anger and bitterness.  I want to encourage you to come to Him and trust Him.  It is when you open up and trust Him that healing comes and everything begins to change!

God knows everything about you.  He created you.  He loves you.  Christ died for you.  And know He wants you to trust Him.  He wants to heal you.  He wants to help you.  He wants to deliver you and set you free.  He wants you to know Him and to receive His love for you.  He wants to make you whole.

1 John 4:15-20 “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.  And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.  In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.  We love because he first loved us.”

You are fearfully and wonderfully made.  Let the Spirit of Christ minister to your heart and your soul, awakening your spirit to His love and bringing you into a fullness of life you never knew before!

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

Who Can Show us Any Good?

Psalm 4:6-8 “Many are asking, “Who can show us any good? Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord.  You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.  I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”

I have been spending some personal time in the first 30 chapters of Psalms recently.  As I was praying about what to write concerning the current state of things in this country and many peoples’ lives, these verses in this Psalm stood out to me.  The question that the Psalmist said “many are asking,” is a question many are asking again today.  The world is looking for a “Messiah,” someone who can fix their problems, fight their battles, make them happy and give them peace.  But the Psalmist does not look around or tell the people to “look within”  themselves for this “one.”  Rather he looks up and asks God to show him favor: “Let the light of your face shine upon us.”  When the Psalmist asks God to let the “light of your face shine upon us” or says things like “Do not hide your face from me.”  (Psalm 27:9, 69:17, 102:2, 143:7) or “How long will you hide your face from me?”  (Psalm 13:1) or cries out in despair: “Why do you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 44:24, 88:14), he is speaking of the joy, favor, peace and blessing of the presence of God and knowing Him as a friend knows a friend.  To the Psalmist who had come to know the very real presence of God and had gazed upon and saw the beauty of the Lord, nothing was better than the “light of His face shining upon him” and nothing was worse than feeling the absence of His presence.  This is impossible to simply explain, rather it is something only those who have experienced can understand and thus is why in Psalm 34:8 he says:  “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.” 

This is what we need today, to look up to the Lord (i.e., cry out or call on Him in prayer) and take refuge in Him (i.e., trust in Him).  And this is precisely what many or most of the country is not doing.  Many are asking this question: “Who can show us any good?”  but few are looking to the One who actually can show us good and from whom everything good actually comes!   And I really believe part of this is because people do not really believe what Psalm 37:4 assures us of:  “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”  And many do not recognize or believe the truth of James 1:16-18 which says:  “Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”  So instead of looking up, many are looking around or in.  And thus many are and will be deceived, disillusioned and remain in distress.

But for those who look to the Lord and take refuge in the Lord and humbly but passionately ask Him to “Let the light of your face shine upon us (your people),” we will come to know the joy and peace of His presence.  (And is not everyone looking for or desiring joy and peace?).

The first thing the Psalmist testifies to after praying for the light of the Lord’s face (His grace, His mercy, His blessing, His favor) to shine on His people is: You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound. Grain and new wine abounding is speaking of the prosperity of those who do not know the Lord and call on His name.  The Psalmist is saying even when others are enjoying the best this world could offer and are prospering, I have an even greater joy than they, for their lives may be filled externally with things that bring them temporary happiness inwardly, but God has filled my heart internally with a joy that does not depend on or derive its joy from outward or external prosperity!  And that joy comes from the presence (blessing, favor, closeness) of the Lord!  Psalm 16:11 says:  “In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”  And how we need joy today!  In fact Nehemiah 8:10 says:  “…for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”   How true is this!  When we lack joy or are without joy, life is even harder, unbearable, wearisome and burdensome!  But if you have and know the joy of the Lord you have strength and vigor no matter the difficulties or battles in life!

The second thing the Psalmist testifies to (or declares) is that:  “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”  Obviously, this is speaking of peace!  But this peace comes from the Lord and the Lord alone.  Only He can grant us and give us real peace, and that peace comes from His presence too!  And this is not some “bed of roses” kind of peace where all problems in your life disappear and you never face any battles again.  No, no, this is peace in the midst of battles and despite battles!  Psalm 3 shows this dynamic.

Psalm 3:  “O Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.” But you are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.  To the Lord I cry aloud, and He answers me from his holy hill. I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side.  Arise, O Lord! Deliver me, O my God!  Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked.  From the Lord comes deliverance.  May your blessing be on your people.”

So who can show us any good in the times we live in?  Who can fill our hearts with joy and give us peace?  Only the Lord.  In fact Isaiah 26:3-4 says:  “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal.”  Look up, not around and not in!

Call on His name for Psalm 145:17-19 says this: “The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them.”

Lastly, we need to choose and commit to rejoice in the Lord and cast our cares on Him (which is how you practically show that you do trust Him!).

The prophet Habakkuk 3:17-19 concludes his brief book where he has been told of judgment coming upon his people because of their sin, with declaring this: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.  The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.”

And the apostle Paul writing from a prison where he is a prisoner wrote to believers on the outside who were not prisoners (as least externally like him) this in Philippians 4:4-9: “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.”

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

Idolatry of Sports

“The sorrows of those will increase who run after other gods.”  Psalm 16:4

With the Super Bowl approaching this coming weekend, I thought now would be a good time to post something I had written last year but never did anything with.  By the way, as I share very briefly within this article, if you have never read a fuller version of my personal testimony, here is a link to the page of our website where you can open the document to my testimony: www.theallenwoodchurch.org/testimonies.

The above verse is what came to mind as I read about the events unfolding at Penn State University.  I read in one article about a man who sat crying in his office regarding the changes in the coaching staff at Penn State. I read of how sports are often a “sanctuary” for athletes (and fans) and a place of “distraction” from real life.  I watched in disgust as many of the students when the news first broke about Joe Paterno being fired, began to “riot” even tipping over vehicles, upset about that decision.  The rage and riot should have been over the crimes committed and moral failure of those involved to not stand up on behalf of those boys!  How backwards is it that the passion and support was for Joe Paterno, rather than the victims and their families of this injustice!?!!

It just shows the blinding power of allegiance to a man, exaltation of man and idolatrous worship of sports many in this country and around the world are engaged in.  For many the stadium has become the sanctuary where worship and sacrifice takes place to a false god who only offers a sense of momentary thrill, temporary relief and escape, but has no power to save.  Passion, time and money is squandered on something that does nothing to truly enrich lives, but is an escape from real life.  In the end, after it is all over, it leaves you empty, alone, unfulfilled and even depressed.  People literally walk around depressed when their team loses or the season is over.  Is something not seriously amiss in this?

Perhaps I am sensitive to this because I lived in idolatry for many years myself.  I lived for baseball.  I “ worshiped” (ascribed worth) to the sport and “god” of baseball.  It was my life, all I wanted to do, what I lived for, thought about, dreamed of and desired to do.  It was my passion and what all my energy, time and focus was spent on.  I was a slave and as time went on I became more “sorrowful” as the emptiness within me only grew larger and the lack of peace, that inner restlessness became more intense.  That’s what the above verse promises. “The sorrows of those will increase who run after other gods.”  (Psalm 16:4).

*You may also find helpful a current series we are doing on the book of Ecclesiastes that speaks to that emptiness, meaninglessness and lack of satisfaction: http://www.theallenwoodchurch.org/messages. The series is presently on the right hand side of that page.

1 John 5:21 warns even us as believers in Jesus to:  “keep yourselves from idols.”

A lot of people only think of idols as other “gods” like you see actual figures or statues of.

But in essence, an idol is anything (even otherwise good things) that become more important to us than relationship with the one true Living God.  Idols are anything that we become devoted to above devotion to Christ.  Idols are anything that take us away from fellowship with God, serving Him and worshiping Him.  For many in this country sports has become the god they worship.

We need to keep ourselves from idols and turn away from all idols, following the Thessalonians’ example:  1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 “They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead — Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.”

*This is not to say participating in sports or watching sports is wrong or evil.  Like many things and as anything good can become, sports has become an obsession to many.  Athletes (and actors) are also often looked upon as “gods” and much time that should be spent being in the Word or prayer or serving the Lord and being with family is squandered on undo time being given to sports.

 

When Evil is Called Good and Good is Called Evil

“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.”  Isaiah 5:20

I was thinking about what to write for this week in light of the inauguration that just took place and in light of what is going on within the culture (and world for that matter).  The above verse is what came to mind.  And then I went back and read the entire chapter and context that this verse is from and I couldn’t help but think of the parallels between ancient Israel and America today.  Although let me say right from the beginning, I am not one who believes America is the “New Israel” or that America has some special covenant with God.  America has certainly been exalted by God, for His own Sovereign purposes, but like any other nation, judgment will not come because of breaking some “special covenant” that God made with America but because of sin and rebellion against Him and His Word, and unbelief in Christ as the true King (read Psalm 2).  And we certainly have many things against us from our own holocaust and slaughter of millions of the most helpless and vulnerable among us (babies in the womb), to idolatry (obsession with sports, self, money, fame, etc…), to immorality of every kind (read Romans 1:18-32), to rejection and pushing aside of God’s Word, commands and truth and faith in, and obedience to, the Lord Jesus Christ.

But when I went back and read Isaiah 5 I was struck with the similarities of ancient Israel and modern-day America and so I want to write about it in this blog.

First of all, the chapter begins with God “singing” about His “loved one” and how He had lovingly provided for her and worked hard to do everything He could to prepare her to bear fruit (verses 1-2).  But the fruit she bore was only bad (verse 2).  In verses 3-4 the Israelites are asked “what more could have been done for this vineyard?”  And then in verses 5-6 we hear the one who did all this for this vineyard saying that He will destroy this vineyard and not provide what it needs to bear fruit any longer.  (By the way Jesus told similar parables, borrowing from this very passage in Mark 12:1-11, Luke 13:6-9).  We are then told in verse 7 that this “vineyard” is specifically Israel and the men of Judah the garden of His delight.  And then we are told at the end of verse 7 this: “And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.”

Following this are 6 pronouncements of “woes” (great sorrow, distress, judgment) that will come upon those spoken of in those categories.

1.   Greedy, selfish, materialistic, abusive:

Isaiah 5:8 “Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land.”

This is describing those who are never satisfied and have to have more, even if it means taking the land and homes of others through cheating them, robbing from them, taking advantage of them etc.

James 5:1-6 warns of this lifestyle this way:  “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.  You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.”

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

2.   Pleasure seeking, overindulging drunkards:

Isaiah 5:11-12 “Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine. They have harps and lyres at their banquets, tambourines and flutes and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of the Lord, no respect for the work of his hands.” 

This is speaking of those who live for their own pleasure, rather than seeking to know and please the Lord.  They consider only their desires and not the works of the Lord or word of the Lord.

Isaiah 5:13 follows that by saying this to begin: “Therefore my people will go into exile for lack of understanding…”

The prophets often bemoan this truth and warn of the consequences of lacking true understanding/knowledge/acknowledging God and His works and word:

Hosea 4:6 “my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.”

Hosea 5:4 “Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. A spirit of prostitution is in their heart; they do not acknowledge the Lord.”

3. Those who use deceit to hide/justify their sin and scoff and mock at God’s judgment:

Isaiah 5:18-19 “Woe to those who draw sin along with cords of deceit, and wickedness as with cart ropes, to those who say, “Let God hurry, let him hasten his work so we may see it. Let it approach, let the plan of the Holy One of Israel come, so we may know it.”

This is speaking of those who walk in sin and wickedness, using deceit to cover it up/justify it.  And then along with this they “dare God” to bring judgment on them, mocking and scoffing that He won’t act.

4.  Those who twist the truth:

Isaiah 5:20 “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.”

Is this not what is taking place in America today?  What is good is spoken of as evil and what is evil is spoken of as good.  “Alternative lifestyles” are applauded and celebrated though scripture condemns those lifestyles as sinful.  Laws are being passed to legalize that which is wrong, evil, selfish and immoral and laws are being passed to censor that which is good and right.

         5. Prideful:

Isaiah 5:21 “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.”

Does that even need further clarification to understand and see all around us?  Along these same lines is the problem seen in Israel during the time of the Judges:

Judges 21:25 “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit. (or some translations say “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”).

6.       Unjust:

Isaiah 5:22-23 “Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks, who acquit the guilty for a bribe, but deny justice to the innocent.” 

One commentary (Bible Exposition Commentary) summed these up this way:

  • Covetousness
  • Drunkenness
  • Carelessness
  • Deception
  • Pride
  • Injustice

Can you not see these 6 things rampant in our culture (and world)?  These were the six things specifically highlighted that resulted in the pronouncement of six “woe” judgments on the nation of Israel.

Now.  We can see the reality of these six things around us; but can we see any of them in our own hearts and lives?  We want to be people characterized by the following instead of the above:

1.  Generosity and selflessness.

Matthew 16:24-28  “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.”

2.  Soberness; being self-controlled and filled with the Spirit.

Ephesians 5:15-18 “Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”

1 Peter 5:8-9 “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

1 Peter 4:7 “The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.”

3. Fear of the Lord.

Proverbs 1:7  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”

Proverbs 9:10 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

Proverbs 19:23  “The fear of the Lord leads to life: Then one rests content, untouched by trouble.”

4. Integrity, honesty.

Psalm 24:3-6 “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?  He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.  He will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God his Savior.  Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob.”

5. Humility.

Isaiah 66:2 “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.”

Proverbs 15:33 “The fear of the Lord teaches a man wisdom,  and humility comes before honor.”

6. Doing justly, pursuing justice, showing mercy.

As the prophet Micah put it years ago in Micah 6:8 “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Are these realities in our lives or do we need to do some serious repenting before the Lord?

James 4:7-10 “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. 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.”

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

How Can I Know the Bible is True?

Often when people challenge the authority and reliability of the Scripture, it is merely an excuse for dismissing its claims over their lives. That is really at the heart of why there is so much passion (and emotional, defensive and dismissive attitudes towards the Bible) and a lack of sincere seeking of whether it is reliable or not. At the heart of this issue is not (as many like to try to claim) an intellectual problem but man’s rebellious nature.

The Bible makes claims such as there is a God who created this world. The logical conclusion of that truth is that we are therefore responsible to this God who gave us life. The prophets and Jesus and then His followers taught that there would be a future resurrection and judgment of the righteous and unrighteous and we will all stand before a Holy God and give an account (be brought to accountability) for how we lived our lives. Being that we are sinful, we are all doomed to eternal damnation, unless we humble ourselves and acknowledge we are sinners in need of a Savior and that that Savior is Jesus Christ who gave His life on the cross for my sin, your sin and the sins of the world; that whoever in repentance, believes in Him, confessing Him as Lord, receiving Him for who He is and trusting in Him, these would be saved by God’s grace and given the gift of everlasting or eternal life.

But it’s precisely this call to submit to Christ and trust in Him, it’s precisely this message that He is Lord and will return to judge this world in righteousness; it’s these truths that sinful man resists, because we want to be our own god and be accountable to no one but ourselves. We want to live how we want to live without accepting that there will be eternal consequences. We at our core are incredibly selfish and self-centered, deceiving ourselves and convincing ourselves that life is about us, not that we were created for the pleasure and glory of God. The appeal of relativism is that there are no external absolutes that apply to all people. You can pick your own set of values or rules to live by and all that matters is that you are “true” to yourself. You can be your own god.

At the root of this is simply rebellion against authority (ultimately God) outside of ourselves. It’s the ancient lie of the devil who told our first parents to eat of the fruit after God commanded them not to eat of it, for if they did “they would be like God” (become their own gods: free from being under the “control” of dependence upon or authority of God). We are still eating that fruit that sounds so wonderful but in the end turns sour with dire and eternally devastating consequences. It is man’s selfishness, rebellion and perversion of religion of that has resulted in all the wars and tragedies of this fallen world. “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23).

But back to the main question. How do we know the Bible is true? Isn’t it full of errors and contradictions? It has to be because it was written by men, so what makes it superior to any other book written by men? What about all the wars and God telling people to wipe out entire villages? What kind of a God is that? Didn’t some King write the Bible?

These are often common “questions” (often just excuses) that people use to dismiss the authority and accuracy of the Bible.

We could spend hours clarifying those questions and often misunderstandings.

We could spend hours talking about the amazing unity of the Bible, that although it was written over a period of 1,500 years by over 40 people of various backgrounds (fishermen, shepherds, kings, prophets, etc.) on 3 different continents, its central message is the same and its teachings do not contradict each other (when properly understood in its culture-historical setting, etc.). Often what appears to be contradictions is just ignorance or misunderstanding and a little research and study brings the truth to light.

We could talk about how hundreds of prophecies in the Bible written hundreds of years prior, have been literally fulfilled with amazing accuracy, regarding nations, individuals and especially Jesus Christ.
We could talk about how archaeology has time and time again provided evidence that the biblical accounts are historically reliable and accurate, even details that once were disputed, mocked and dismissed.

We could talk about the fact that the Bible is the bestselling book of all time and has changed and transformed countless hearts and lives by its message.

We could talk about the amazing survival of the Bible throughout history despite the attacks against it.

We could talk about how more manuscripts and copies of the Bible have been discovered then any other ancient book and even though there are minor variants in the manuscripts, there are none that contradict key doctrines; (most just normal copying errors). No other ancient work is disputed or attacked or so closely criticized like the Bible, even though for some famous ancient works we only have a few manuscripts compared to the Bible.

We could talk about how those who wrote the Bible, were honest, not hiding or covering up their failures and sometimes horrible sin.

We could talk about how, if those who wrote the Bible were trying to promulgate a myth, they did a horrible job because, for example, they used a woman as a witness to Christ’s resurrection (back then a woman’s testimony had no credibility in the court of law). They also did not wait long enough to develop this “myth” because at the time they wrote it, there were hundreds of eyewitnesses still alive, who could have disputed the accuracy of it but did not.

We could also talk about all the eyewitnesses (over 500 according to 1 Corinthians 15) of Jesus’ resurrection itself, lending proof to its reliability.

But ultimately all the arguments we could give for the trustworthiness of the Scripture, still will not convince everyone and people will still find reasons to dismiss it. And that is because it ultimately comes down to the fact that many people don’t want to believe it because of the ramifications to their lives.

And ultimately there is only one sure way for you to personally find out whether the Bible is true and reliable or not.

Jesus once said this: “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” (John 7:16-17).

To know the truth, you must choose to do God’s will (not your will). You must decide to go His way, not your way. To know if what Jesus spoke was true or not (and the Bible as a whole) you must choose to seek God and do His will.

God says in Jeremiah 29:13-14 “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.”

You must believe in faith and then through believing you will see. Jesus said this: “I am the way and the truth and the life and no one can come to the Father but by Me.” (John 14:6).

In other words, truth is actually found and discovered through a right relationship with Jesus Christ, where He is Lord of your life. It is then that as you hold to His teachings, that you “will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).

It all begins with surrender to the will of God and submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Until you surrender to Christ, you are a slave to your sin, to your selfishness. You are not free when you live for yourself, but actually in bondage to Satan who controls you by your passions and desires. Only Jesus can set you free, and only He can reveal the truth to you and help you understand your misunderstandings and confusion.

I encourage you to turn to Him in repentance and faith and trust in Him—-and then you will see for yourself!

Hebrews 11:6 “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

Acts 17:24-31 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring…” “…now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”

An Eternal Perspective

As I mentioned in my previous blog post on hope, we are suffering from an over-emphasis in having an earthly mindset verse eternal mindset. This is a major problem not only in society at large but in the church as well. We know that unbelievers live by the motto “Eat, drink for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32), but Christians should not!

2 Corinthians 5:7-10 says: “We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

I fear too many of us are living more consistently however by the exact opposite of this. We live by what we see and what we feel and can experience now, not faith. We are not living in confident faith but wavering faith. We would prefer to live longer not leave our body and this earth and be with the Lord in heaven (our true home). We live to please ourselves not God. And judging by the way we often live we don’t seem to really believe that we will one day stand before the judgment seat of Christ to receive whatever reward is due us.

I am not trying to be negative I am simply stating a weakness that we need built up in and encouraged more in. We need more preachers to preach on eternal realities. We need more believers spending more time thinking about and studying and living in light of eternity. We need more believers having the heart cry of Psalm 90:12 “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

Because of our weak (or lacking) view of eternity and emphasize on “having our best life now” we suffer from a weak (and often wrong) view of suffering.

How many of us live in the reality that Paul spoke of in Romans 5:3-4: “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Or how about 2 Corinthians 4:16-18: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Focusing on eternity and eternal truths (and eternal reward!) actually will (or would) motivate us and inspire us to live more fully on earth (though not in accumulating more possessions but in being more of a servant, making more sacrifices and being more selfless and giving).

Matthew 6:19-21 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Focusing more on eternity and eternal rewards and the reality of our citizenship being in heaven (Philippians 3:20) would actually make us better citizens and stewards here on earth.

Focusing on eternity and eternal truths (like the truth that one day Christ will return and we will all give an account of our lives to God) would motivate us to live a more responsible, productive, faithful and loving life.

Jesus said in Matthew 24:45-51 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Focusing on eternity gives us a proper perspective of our brief time on earth.

Can you not see that this is what is lacking and what is needed to be taught not only more in our churches but especially to a generation/youth that are bored, pleasure-obsessed and earthly minded?

I encourage you to spend more time reading, meditating on and studying portions of Scripture or books of the Bible that speak to eternal truths. You may find a series I did on the book of Revelation helpful by visiting our church website at www.theallenwoodchurch.org/messages and on the right hand side finding that series and listening to it. At the time of writing this blog we are also in the process of going through the book of Ecclesiastes and those messages will likewise be posted online, which will be another good resource along these lines. Finally, later this year, after the Ecclesiastes series, I plan on taking our church through the book of Daniel. That as well is another book and study that will be beneficial for us at this time, along these lines.

May God wake us up to eternal truths and help us live in light of them!

Hebrews 11:13-16 “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country — a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”

Hope: The Missing Element & Crucial Key

Romans 15:4 “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance (patience) and the encouragement (comfort) of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

The things recorded in what we call “Scripture” or “God’s Word” or “The Bible” were specifically and specially selected and written down by men inspired (moved by) the Holy Spirit of God. And according to the verse above it was ultimately all so that we might have hope! God’s intention, His heart, and the end result of what He has to say to us in His Word is that we might have hope!

Therefore to not spend time reading Scripture and being instructed in life by Scripture is to cut off our very source of hope! To remove study of the Bible or access to the Bible from schools or society is to remove the only source of true comfort and hope in this world!

And is this not something you see missing in so many of the lives of those in our society today? Is this not something you see on countless of faces each and every day? Perhaps it is even something missing in your heart and life right now. But for those of us who do have true and eternal hope we are reminded in Ephesians 2:12-13 to “…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.”

Someone has once put it this way: “Know God…know Hope. No God…no hope.” How true!

We all at one time were (or presently are) cut off (separated) from the life that is in Christ. We all once did not (or do not) belong to God and were (or are) strangers to His promises. We were (or are) without hope…being without God in this world.

So what happened and what changed for some of us (or can change for you)? The next verse in Ephesians 2:14 tells us!

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…”

True hope comes from truly knowing God which comes through truly trusting in Christ!

And listen.

The Bible declares that God is the God of hope!

Paul prayed for those he was writing to in Romans 15:13 this: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Only God by the power of the Holy Spirit gives us and causes us to overflow with hope as we trust in Him. And notice trusting in Him is the key, the pipeline, the cord that connects us or plugs us into the God of hope so that we overflow with or are “charged up” with hope.

Also notice joy and peace come through trusting Him and is what causes us to overflow with hope!

Perhaps this explains (it does if we’re honest!) why so many of us are joyless, peace-less and hopeless!

I see this more and more that the real issue some of us have or are struggling with is we do not truly and really trust in God!

And some of us need to give our souls a “pep talk” as the Psalmist did in Psalm 42-5-6: “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.”

How we need the God of hope to cause us to overflow with hope! How we need to truly trust in Him!

This is the missing element in so many today and unfortunately even many within the church, which should not be!

1 Corinthians 13:13 tells us that when you boil down the true Christian life to its bare essentials or most important “ingredients” there are three things: “Faith, hope and love.”

And may I remind you that true biblical hope that Scripture speaks of and that comes from God, is not the same as the kind of hope the world speaks of.

We often use the word “hope” in ways like “I hope my favorite football team will win the world series.” But that kind of hope is not certain or sure. It is more a wishful hope, not a hope that is guaranteed.

The Bible on the other hand uses the word hope as something that is certain and sure.

Hebrews 6:17-19 says this, “Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”

To have real hope in what God has promised (eternal life, forgiveness of sin, future resurrection, etc.) is not a matter of if it might “come true” but when it will be realized.

It is not a matter of waiting to find out whether it is true or not—it’s a matter of time until it is proven true.

Romans 8:22-25 says this: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”

In the Greek language—the biblical word we translate as “hope” means to anticipate with eager expectation and even excitement.”

It means to “look forward to with delight and confidence.

That is why true joy, peace, and hope (a confident, joyful expectation) all come together!

Those without hope lack joy and peace and those without joy and peace lack hope! But those with God also are with joy, peace and hope!

Consider the example of Abraham given to us in Romans 4:18-5:5 and the application to this in our own lives:

“Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead — since he was about a hundred years old — and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness — for us who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

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. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

This is where faith is connected with hope. Faith, according to Hebrews 11:1 is “Being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not yet see.”

In fact the other aspect of hope that is important to understand is that the kind of hope that comes from God is an eternal hope not only or merely an earthly hope. This is what a lot of people are missing (and I plan to write about in my next blog). We are suffering from an over-emphasis on an earthly-“here and now” perspective, instead of an eternal perspective.

But 1 Peter 1:3-9 reminds us of these eternal truths giving us this eternal perspective regarding earthly difficulties and suffering:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

My prayer has been for myself and for others and for those who read this blog article; the same prayer the apostle Paul prayed for the Ephesian believers in Ephesians 1:18-19:

“I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”

We Need An Isaiah 6 Experience

In my last blog, I touched on the real heart and root of the problems and issues within the church and dividing our country.  It is a lack of a true and healthy fear of the Lord, which is the beginning or starting place of true wisdom.   Proverbs 1:7 says: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” There are many intelligent people who are fools and lack true wisdom because they are proud, trusting in and depending on their own human wisdom and intellectual capacity and understanding, rather than in humility, trusting in the Lord and leaning not on their own understanding, but acknowledging God in all their ways so that He can direct their paths as Proverbs 3:5 puts it.  We are suffering from a lack of acknowledging the Lord, trusting in the Lord, fearing the Lord and depending on the Lord (i.e. being humble before the Lord).

We may “acknowledge” God with our mouths but our hearts are far from Him.  Many “acknowledge” God with their lips but not with their lives.  Many declare that they “acknowledge” God but their deeds declare they do not truly acknowledge God.

As in Hosea’s day so in our day:  “There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land. There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. Because of this the land mourns, and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying.”  Hosea 4:1-3

Hosea 5:4 says:  “Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. A spirit of prostitution is in their heart; they do not acknowledge the Lord.”

We need an Isaiah 6 moment.

Listen to Isaiah 6:1-8 and then let me explain.

Isaiah 6:1-8 “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.”  At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”  Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

In these 8 verses, Isaiah is brought from crisis and change to seeing the unchanging and Sovereign God above it all.  He then hears the seraphs (angelic beings) declaring the holiness of God and proclaiming the earth being full of His glory.  Isaiah then experiences His awesome power and is “undone.”  He is convicted of his sin and confesses his own personal sin and the sin of his people.  At that point he has an experience where his guilt is “taken away and sin atoned for.”  Upon that experience, he then hears the voice of the Lord saying “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?”  Isaiah, in grateful gratitude, overcome by the grace he has experienced, offers himself, even before knowing what the mission would be or details were!

Contained in these 8 verses are realities that we need God to make real in our own hearts and lives.

Verse 1:  How we need a fresh revelation of the Sovereignty of God–that He is seated on the throne in heaven!  Nothing takes Him by surprise!  Nothing escapes His ever watchful, never slumbering eyes!  Nothing happens without His permission!  He is in control!  He is high and lifted up!  In the midst of chaos here on earth and everything crumbling around us we need a fresh vision of this eternal truth.

Verse 2:  We also need a fresh vision of the Holiness of God.  We need to hear the sound of the angelic beings saying over and over again, day and night, never-ceasing: “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty!”  God is perfect and pure.  He is…holy.

Verse 3: We also need fresh eyes to see the whole earth full of the Glory of God.  I don’t think many of us have trouble seeing it full of darkness, evil, injustice and sin.  But I think some of us have a harder time seeing or focusing on the earth being full of the glory of God—but it is!  Just look at creation!  Look at the beauty and majesty and wonder of it all!  And look at those people who have been transformed and redeemed by Jesus Christ!  Think about those in whom you see the beauty and brilliance of Christ shining through.  Think of those through whom the grace and goodness of God is evident in what they say and do.  God said to the nation of Israel in Isaiah 60:1-3 “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.  See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the people’s, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”

Verse 4: We also need a fresh revelation or experience of the Power of God.  Many are asking “where is your God” (Psalm 42) or “where is the God of Elijah?” (2 Kings 2:14).  Many are asking this out of unbelief but we are to pray in faith for fresh demonstrations of the power of God (Acts 4:30).  We could use a good shaking today and display of the power of God.  We really shouldn’t need that to shake us and awaken us, but I fear we do.

When there is, or someone has a fresh vision or experience of the Sovereignty of God, Holiness of God, Glory of God and Power of God they will have an Isaiah 6 moment.

Verse 5: God’s Sovereignty, Holiness, Glory and Power results in man being humbled as his sinfulness is exposed and guilt made clear.  Isaiah cried out in response to the Sovereignty, Holiness, Glory and Power of God, “woe is me, I am undone!”  He went on to confess not just his people’s sin, but his own personal (and specific sin).  Would to God that we were brought to our knees, being humbled by God so that we cried out in confession and repentance of sin as Isaiah did!  Would to God that the Spirit of God would bring this type of conviction and His people respond as Isaiah did!

Verse 6-7: Only when Isaiah confessed his sin (and was specific) did he experience the grace and forgiveness of God!  Only when he confessed his guilt and sin was His guilt “taken away” and sin atoned for!  The angel touched the coal to his lips (the very thing he confessed was “unclean”) purifying and cleansing him of his sin and of a guilty conscience.  How we need an Isaiah 6 experience!

Verse 8: Only then, did Isaiah hear the heart and voice of God.  Only once He saw God in all His splendor and himself in all his sinfulness; only when he fell down “undone” and God had picked him up and put him back together as a new man…did Isaiah begin hearing the voice of the Lord.

And the question he heard being asked from heaven is a rather sad one.  “Whom shall I send…and who will go for us?”

How sad that God is actually looking for those He can use and send!  How sad that there are so few with the response like Isaiah who said simply “Here I am!  Send me!”

How we need more people in this place with this attitude!

How we need more people who have “ears to hear what the Spirit is saying!”

How we need more people who can hear the voice of God and are willing to offer themselves to do the will of God!

And notice Isaiah was willing to go before he even knew where God was looking to send someone to!  Isaiah didn’t first ask for the details of the mission so that he could decide if he accepted the terms or not.  Isaiah was not asking to see the plan to see if he could negotiate any of the details.  He just offered himself as a servant to the one who had saved him and forgiven him!

Once you are secure in the love of God, you will trust God.  Once you know God is in control, you won’t have to try to “take control” or “be in control” of your life.  Once you are undone and then restored by God’s grace, you lose the “entitlement” and “need to know everything upfront” mentality.  You just say “Here I am God!”

Have you had an Isaiah 6 experience?

Hosea 6:1-3 “Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.  After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence.  Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”

Don’t wait and see if others will respond to this…you respond to this.

Don’t wait for others to turn…you turn.

Don’t wait for others to humble themselves and repent…why don’t you do so right now?

Let God revive you.

Revival takes place beginning with each of us as individuals!

Government & Church: Difference, Role & Problems

We are a nation (and for that matter a church) divided, distracted and disoriented with misplaced priorities, passions and pursuits. And there is intense and heated (and politicized) debate and drama on the left and right regarding difficult issues. A deal regarding the “fiscal cliff” was just made (after heated debate and much political drama) but many questions and decisions still need to be made and more debate will be had.

My goal in this blog is not to solve those debates (not that I could anyway!) or even get into the discussions. Some issues are black and white (when you take an honest look at what Scripture says), but others are complex and delicate. We need the wisdom of God that is only found in the Word of God and comes out of praying to God. The Bible speaks clearly to many issues and gives clear principles in practical matters (see the book of Proverbs for example). And listen to what James 1:5-8 assures us of:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.”

We must pray in faith, trusting God will give us wisdom; but to pray, we must humble ourselves, acknowledging we need God. This actually gets to the very heart and root of the issue. We are a prideful people who are trusting in our own human wisdom and value our own opinions more than the wisdom of God found in the Word of God and given by the Spirit of God. We lack a true and healthy fear of God, which is the beginning of real wisdom ( Proverbs 1:7). We lack a clear vision of the holiness of God and sinfulness of man. Therefore, we are not crying out for forgiveness in brokenness and repentance. And so we do not know the freedom of our guilt being atoned for and the joy of a cleansed conscience, heart and life (Isaiah 6, Psalm 51). How we need God! How we need to be awakened to beholding His glory! How we need to humble ourselves and subject ourselves to the conviction of the Holy Spirit and discipline of a loving, heavenly Father! How we need God’s grace!

In this post, however, I want to speak simply and basically into and about the role of government and the church according to Scripture. There is no denying that there are serious problems in both the church and government today. To speak to all those problems would require more than one or two posts!

The first thing that needs to be stated clearly is that the government is not the church and the church is not the government.

That doesn’t mean those involved in government cannot be involved in the life of the church and that those in the church cannot be involved in the affairs of the state. There are saved people in government and therefore those in government who are a part of the true church. And Christians ought to be the light and salt of the world, having a godly and good influence and impact on every aspect of society, including government.

But the church and government are two separate, different, and distinct “entities” created or ordained by God. To confuse that creates worse problems than already exist (in both the church and government).

The church does not rule the government and the government does not rule the church. But ideally, (be it not for sin!) the church and government would coexist and work side by side, not be enemies or opposed to each other.

So what is the role of the government and the role of the church in the world?

Well, let’s start with what Scripture says about government and what our relationship in regard to government ought to be:

Romans 13:1-7: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full-time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”

From this portion of God’s Word we learn many things.

First of all, our attitudes and relationships ought to be characterized by submission to those in positions of authority because they have been put there by God. To rebel against those in government and disobey the law is rebellion against God and disobedience to Him. You cannot separate your relationship with God with your relationship and attitude towards government. To not pay taxes for example is to be living in sin, which affects your fellowship with God.

We also learn we are to be respectful and honor those in positions of authority. Attitudes, not just actions are important, for God is looking at our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7).

We also learn the government has been created by God to punish those who do wrong and reward (commend, honor) those who do right. Government is to uphold the law (righteousness and justice) and we are to obey the law (unless the law violates the greater law or Word of God; then we obey God not man. See Acts 5:29 although that is the exception not the norm).

1 Timothy 2:1-6 also tells us (the church) that we are to be faithful to pray for those in positions of authority:

“I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who 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…”

If you are a follower of Jesus, do these realities characterize your relationship and attitude towards those in government? If you are a follower of Jesus are you praying more passionately for souls to be saved or the “ship of state” to be turned around and go in the direction you desire and deem best? Are you praying for souls to be saved because they are facing and dangling over the eternal fire of hell because their sin has separated them from God or so that the “country is saved” and your comfortable (and often complacent) way of life is maintained? Are we citizens of heaven first or citizens of America first? Are we strangers passing through (as Scripture describes us again and again) or desiring to settle down and breeze through life into heaven? What is our priority?

And unfortunately, in my experience, I witness an awful lot of hatred, mean-spiritedness, lack of grace, rebellion, and just downright wrong attitudes towards those in government (unless of course “we agree” with them). But these Scriptures do not tell us to be a certain way towards “Republicans” and another way towards “Democrats.” It does not tell us to be a certain way towards those with whom we agree and a different way towards those with whom we disagree. In fact, in the days these Scriptures were written, the church was often persecuted by those in authority! And go read the book of Daniel to see how Daniel, though never compromising His relationship with God and obedience to God, was respectful, used tack (without false flattery), and honored those in authority (though pagan and having taken captive Daniel and his people!) Even when it meant disobeying those in authority or laws that contradicted the law of God, Daniel remained humble and respectful.

So why the attitudes and animosity? I am more and more convinced it is because we fear what man may do more than we trust what God can do or has promised to do! I am convinced it’s because we are more concerned with maintaining our own comfortable way of life than we are for being a witness for Christ, regardless of the consequences or cost! I am convinced it’s because we don’t really trust in a Sovereign God and haven’t really surrendered our lives to Him but are trying to “save our own lives and way of life.”

Anyway, those in government are to govern. The church is to be a witness in this world for Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8) and pray for those in government (whoever they are!).

The government is to protect the public using the “sword” to punish those who do wrong, but the church is to put away their natural swords (Matthew 26:52) and rather take up and wield the “Sword of the Spirit” for as Ephesians 6:11-12 says:

“…we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

And as 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 says: “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

(Side note: that is not to say all saved people cannot serve in the military, as there are many examples of true believers and converts to Christ who were Roman soldiers and weren’t told they had to leave upon repenting of their sin and placing their faith in Christ…Luke 3:14).

The government is to keep order in society; the church is to be a light in society (Matthew 5:14-16).

The government is to protect the people; the church is to pray for souls and preach the Gospel which is “the power of God unto salvation for all who believe” (Romans 1:16).

The government addresses the behavior of its citizens; the church calls people to trust in Jesus and have their hearts transformed. Government cannot change peoples’ hearts; only God can, and He uses the church, which is the pillar of truth (1 Timothy 3:15) and proclaimer of the good news of the Gospel!

May we (the church/the people of God) never forget the role assigned to us. May we not preach politics but preach the Gospel of peace…proclaiming the truth of God’s Word in purity and power but also with grace and humility. May we not get distracted by politics but pray for those in government.

In the midst of a nation divided, we need a church who knows her place and one that shows the world the character and beauty and grace of Christ.

Ephesians 4:1-6: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

John 17:20-23: “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.”

A New Year Has Begun but the End of All Things is Near!

1 Peter 4:7-11 “The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”

Lately, I have been thinking/talking/writing about, meditating on, and praying about this portion of scripture in regard to myself, personally, and our church.

And over this past year especially, (and this coming year) I have felt compelled to focus on and speak more on what the ancient words of scripture speak or reveal concerning the future. (Check out our series through the book of Revelation found on the right hand side at www.theallenwoodchurch.org/messages). Scripture spends a lot of time speaking about “end-time” signs and realities. That means if it is God’s word to us, it is important for us to understand.

But before I go further let me share several reasons why “end-time” truths are difficult to speak to. First of all, many people live as if life is just going to go on as it always has and don’t believe there will be an end. One reason people may justify this in their minds is due to so much “hype” and “false predications” that never come to fruition. Another reason, closely connected with that, is we so easily get caught up with life “here and now” or only seek “help” or desire “relief” from our current problems, that we don’t think about eternal realities.

But yet another reason is there are so many different perspectives and speculation out there on whether certain “prophecies” are to be understood literally or figuratively or allegorically, that some just grow frustrated and focus on other things. And some things are harder to understand than others, so we get discouraged or overwhelmed.

But another reason so many don’t think about or focus on end-time realities (which may perhaps be the deeper and truer reason) is because end time/eternal truths (be it the reality of death, being judged by God, the reality of eternity in heaven or hell, or the end of the age/world) call for major changes in how we live our lives now in the present. And quite frankly, a lot of people don’t want to live differently or deal with the changes that would have to come if they really lived in light of eternity and end-time realities.

But may I remind you of what 2 Peter 3:3-15 says?

First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.”But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation…”

Over and over again, scripture calls us to “live in light of eternal truths.” In fact, at the end of the musings and wrestling’s of the wisest man to ever live (besides Jesus Christ), King Solomon, in seeking the meaning of life and how one ought to live, comes to this conclusion (after seeking meaning in pleasure, riches, work, and success):

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole [duty] of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”

We ought to live our lives in light of the reality that one day we will stand before God and give an account of our entire life (what we did, what we did not do, and why we did or did not do what we did or did not do!).

Jesus, when talking about the end of the age and His second coming (which He talked about and scripture speaks to quite frequently), told us in just chapter 24 of Matthew alone to “keep watch” (24:42) to “be ready” (24:44) and to faithfully serve Him until He comes (24:45-47). And He also promised to those who live this way great reward to help motivate and encourage us to live in light of His coming!

But everywhere in scripture that end-time or future or eternal realities are spoken about, there are always very practical applications to how those truths ought to affect how we live our lives in the present.

In the scripture we started with (1 Peter 4:7-11) the truth is simply stated “The end of all things is near”. But the rest of that passage goes on to give four practical applications of how we ought to live in the present on earth, in light of that truth. Those four things are:

1. Be sober-minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.
2. Above all love each other deeply.
3. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.
4. Serve others by using whatever spiritual gift God has given you—administering His grace in its various forms.

Pray. Love. Be hospitable. Serve.

The future is meant to affect our present in very practical ways.

Focusing on eternal, end-time, future realities actually ought to stir us to more faithful and holy living and greater service, love, and fruitfulness.

Therefore what could be more important than focusing on end-time realities? We make plans all the time in light of and for many future earthly realities (like education, marriage, raising a family, vacations, retirement, etc.). Why would we not plan for our eternity and live our lives on earth preparing for it? After all, eternity is going to be forever!

Our life on earth is short, temporary, and transitional. James 4:13-16 reminds us: “Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

Life on earth can end quickly and suddently. Death could come at any moment. And the end of all things is near.

Therefore let us heed the words of Romans 13:11-13 (written after Jesus’ earthly ministry in the flesh had ended and He had ascended, upon being resurrection, upon being crucified) which tells us this:

“And do this, (walk in love) understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

Begin this new year with the end in mind!

Eternal Reminders in Earthly Realities

School shootings. Movie theater shooting. Mall shootings. Hurricanes. Earthquakes. Floods. Tornadoes. Wars. Rumors of war. Revolutions.

All reminders that there is no person, no government administration, no king on earth that can solve the woes of the world. Yet some (and more will) continue to look for this one (anyone but Jesus Christ) and be deceived and disappointed by many. But scripture, written thousands of years ago, speaks very clearly and often to this reality.

1 John 2:18 for example says: “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.” (Also read 2 Thessalonians 2). But that reality is not what I want to focus on in this post.

What I want to focus on is that all the “tragedies” and “disasters” of 2012 (and ones before) are terrible reminders that we live in a dark, sinful, and fallen world. All reminders that we cannot fix the problems of the world. All reminders that education (though it, along with government has its place) is not “the” answer. All reminders that our only hope lies in Jesus Christ and His Second Coming. And that ought to be our hope and focus and longing as believers.

Read carefully the words of Romans 8:19-25 written close to 2,000 years ago but still applicable to today’s reality:

“The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”

The fall of man (Genesis 3), the rebellion and disobedience of man, the sinfulness of man in turning away from trusting in, depending on and living in obedience to God, in rich and real fellowship with Him, is what put creation under a curse. Man and creation is decaying, dying, and dysfunctional. Not because God made us or it that way. Our creator and Savior (Jesus Christ) is the answer and the only one who can redeem mankind and will redeem creation.

Galatians 3:13-14 says: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.”

And read in particular (or you can listen to our entire study through Revelation at www.theallenwoodchurch.org) Revelation 21-22. Because the bible tells us not only the reality of the past while speaking powerfully to the present, but also reveals the truth of the future.

But anyway here’s what I really want to get to and share with you in light of the “tragedies” and “disasters” of 2012 and before. Paul the apostle wrote this in Ephesians 2:1-5 to the Ephesus believers that is a good reminder to every believer today:

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved.”

How can someone go into a movie theater and just start killing people? How can someone go into an elementary school and open fire on little kids and teachers?

The answer lies in the above scripture. They (like we once were—even though we may not have carried out an act that “extreme” though we have a nature just as depraved) are slaves to sin and under the power of Satan himself. The world may attribute it to mental health problems and being disconnected from reality; but scripture calls it sin, being disconnected from relationship with God, and under the influence of oppressive and evil demonic powers.  The bible makes clear until or unless we are saved by Jesus, we are slaves to sin and though created by God, children of the devil (Romans 6; John 6:31-47) under the wrath of a Just God (Ephesians 2).

The only thing that sets someone free from sin and Satan’s power, is receiving the grace of our heavenly Father who loves us, through faith in Jesus Christ. But the reality is, not everyone is going to turn to and trust in Him. In fact the bible tells us things will only get worse not better the closer we get to Christ’s second coming. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 tells us this:

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

Notice by the way that in the midst of selfishness and sin, the world will not cast off “morality” (but actually gravitate to it) but it will be an empty shadow, not a true inner reality that transforms their heart and life. And that is because only Jesus Christ can transform someone from the inside out when they surrender their life to Him).

Anyway, 2012 has been a rough year for many. I live in NJ about 10-15 minutes from where Hurricane Sandy destroyed a lot of homes. Our church has been involved in hurricane relief ministry, along with groups of people who came up from PA to assist us. We have been right there with people who have lost everything. We have prayed with those emotionally distraught and overwhelmed. On top of these things, our church also been with those caught in different kinds of “storms”, in difficult or deep emotional, spiritual, and relational pain.

We live in a fallen, evil, wicked, sinful, messed up world. And it all traces back to the reality that human beings (as a whole) have sinned and are separated from God.

And there is a greater tragedy awaiting multitudes for eternity than any earthly tragedy. In fact Jesus used two earthly “tragedies” in His own day to remind people a greater eternal “tragedy” awaited them if they did not repent.

Luke 13:1-9 “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them — do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

On the surface, to some, that may seem insensitive or harsh. But actually it is incredibly loving of Jesus and in fact the extension of grace to any and all who would head His words and respond in repentance. In fact listen to what is recorded next right after this:

“Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.'”

God has every right in His justice and righteousness to not give us any opportunity let alone many opportunities and then another opportunity to respond to His grace in repentance, receiving Christ as our Lord and Savior that we might bear fruit unto God!

In fact if God were only just, no one would go to heaven. God would be perfectly just to sentence us all to hell, because that is what we rightly deserve. But the bible tells us God is not just “just”. 1 John 4:8 says: “God is love.” But listen…though God is love that doesn’t mean He ceases to be just too. His is a Just Love and righteous grace. Let the words of Romans 3:22-26 explain:

“This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

Listen. If we want to talk about “fairness” why don’t you ask how it is fair that Jesus, the one who created this world and you and me, who took on human flesh and lived a perfect life but suffered and died for the sins of all the world on a cruel cross, could allow us to be forgiven and saved?! How is that fair?!!

God owes us nothing. But He loves us and gave us everything (ultimately Himself) because He is not just a holy, righteous and just God, but a God of love, mercy and grace. That is the message of the Gospel!

Tragedies” and “disasters” are going to continue to happen until Christ comes again and later creates a new heaven and new earth (2 Peter 3, Revelation 21). These tragedies are shocking reminders we live in a fallen world that is not as it should be. They remind us of our need for repentance and God’s grace in Jesus Christ. And they point us to deal with the question of our eternity if we can see beyond and through the earthly pain.

John 3:16-21 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”

Hebrews 11:13-16 “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country — a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”

Revelation 21:1-5 “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

There Were Two Prodigals

I think many people familiar with the parables (short stories to illustrate or communicate spiritual truth) that Jesus spoke, would agree that the story we refer to as (I think wrongly) the “prodigal son” found in Luke 15, is one of, if not the most, powerfully moving, beautiful parables He ever told. Although, on the other hand, technically speaking, Jesus being the greatest and perfect Teacher doesn’t have some parables that are “better” than others.

But I think you know what I mean. This parable is perhaps the one we most vividly remember or are moved by. The imagery of the father running to his returning son (who had essentially wished his father dead to his face and squandered all his inheritance-a disgrace especially in that culture), embracing him, and restoring him as his son, is incredibly touching. (Luke 15:20-24). And if you have ever read any books on this (I recommend Timothy Keller’s “Prodigal God”) you will see how shocking and countercultural this whole story would have been to the original audience and how it still applies just as powerfully today when understood culturally and contextually.

But I say that I think we wrongly refer to this parable as the “prodigal son” story because Jesus began the story by saying “There was a man who had two sons.” (Luke 15:1). And when you realize that the context in which Jesus spoke this parable, the reason He spoke it, is as Luke 15 begins by informing us:

“Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them”.

Jesus actually shared 3 parables (this being the last and longest) in response (and actually more as a rebuke) to the attitude and hearts of the Pharisees and teachers of the law! And by the way, they would have been more closely aligned with Jesus theologically and morally than the “tax collectors and teachers of the law,” which is quite interesting that Jesus reserved His “harshest” words for the “morally religious conservatives” not the “liberal sinners”! (To put this into modern-day cultural war language). That is because although being close, they (the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law) totally missed it in missing who He truly was!

The story therefore is not merely an encouragement to the “sinners” who were beginning to come to know the grace of God, being drawn to fellowship with Jesus. It was as much if not really more a rebuke and reminder to the Pharisees and teachers of the law that they were also (if not more so) prodigal sons…than the ones they called “prodigals”!

That is true because if you read the end of the parable, the “younger-prodigal” has returned to His Father (which by the way is evidence of true repentance, as repentance is not just ceasing from sinful behavior or living; but returning TO our Heavenly Father…which was the real root of sinful behavior) but the “elder-son” though never having “left”, was never really “there” either and is not entering in but arguing technicalities and “fairness” not understanding grace and not at all understanding His Father’s heart.  He was trying to earn His Father’s blessing by His actions, though His heart was really with his younger brother.  This is revealed in his angry statement to His Father in Luke 15:29-30:

“Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’  

I can almost hear him saying, (even beyond the attitude of “I deserve this” and he (my brother) doesn’t so how come he gets it?) “You mean I could have done what is really in my heart but didn’t have the courage to do like my younger brother??!!).  Some people like the younger son actually act on or carry out the sin in their heart.  But others let others (actors) “act out” their fantasies without actually acting on many things themselves so that they maintain a “good reputation.” (thus feeling entitled and deserving of God’s blessing).  But God looks at and knows our hearts.  (1 Samuel 16:7).

Anyway…the first point I wanted to make is…there were two prodigals then and there are still two prodigals today. You have the liberals represented in our culture (or media) today in people like Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and much of Hollywood.

On the other end you have the “moral conservatives” represented often within Fox News with those like (in the extreme) Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck. Fundamental Evangelical Christians would more identify with some of the beliefs (at least beliefs regarding orthopraxy—Christian practice or behavior, although often lacking is true biblical orthodoxy-Christian doctrine) of the “moral-religious conservatives” than “liberal progressives”.

In many, if not most cases, if one is not blinded by bias and has any discernment to see below the surface you will see that while the “liberals” use what is often real hypocrisy (in conservative circles) as a means of justification for not being a “Christian”, (and it is true that some liberals are clearly hostile/biased/prejudiced against “Christians” or “Christianity”) let’s be honest; many “moral religious conservatives” are more like the elder son in the prodigal son story, “angry, defensive, demanding, and bitter” not understanding God’s grace, thinking they “deserve” better, and are more concerned about their “rights” and being “right” than sharing and showing Jesus to liberal people, because when it comes down to it they really don’t know their Father’s heart.

They know His “rules” but they don’t have a real relationship with Him because they trust in their goodness not simply or only the grace of Jesus Christ received through faith in Him. They trust their righteousness not really submitting to His righteousness.

Dig deeper into many of the true beliefs of the writers of our constitution (and many “conservatives” today) regarding who Jesus Christ is and you will find many do not meet the standard of being a true “orthodox” Christian. Many of them certainly were religious and respected and admired or tried to live Jesus’ teaching on “morality” but they did not believe many essential doctrines concerning Him being God in human flesh, performing miracles, having died a “substitutionary death” on the cross for our sins and rising from the dead). Morality, yes, all for it. Religion, yes, all for it. But lacking in regard to who Jesus is (and therefore who we truly are). (But that’s writing for another time!).

The point is one reason I think the so-called “prodigal son story” is so powerful is because the one who is far away ends up “getting it” and “getting in” while the one who is so close the whole time isn’t “getting it” and isn’t “getting in”. (However, if you read the story carefully, it doesn’t say He never enters it…rather Jesus left it hanging (Luke 15:31-32) because He was challenging the Pharisees and Teachers of the law to repent and enter in!).

The other reason this story is so powerful, is because it not only cuts right to the heart of man, but also reveals so powerfully the heart of God, love of God, and grace of God…towards both sons! His heart never stopped loving or gave up on either son.

(Remember-Jesus died for the Pharisee as much as the “sinner” because the Pharisee needs the grace found in and through Jesus as much as the “sinner”. The problem is, Pharisee’s have a harder time seeing they are sinners who need that grace in Jesus!).

But anyway this parable is as much, if not more, about the Father who “had two sons” as it is about the two sons. This point is often missed. There is awesome and beautiful insight in this story regarding the heart and grace of our heavenly Father in how He deals with each son.

For example, His grace was extended to the younger son in waiting and welcoming Him back when He “came to his senses” (Luke 15:17). And when He came back He didn’t speak down on Him and berate Him and rub it in that his son was wrong and he was right. He wouldn’t let him wallow in guilt. He brought Him into rejoicing in His grace!

His grace is also seen in Him going out to plead with his older son (in essence extending the opportunity for a second chance in having a change of mind and heart…i.e repenting). Jesus certainly rebuked rather strongly the Pharisees and teachers of the law in many places, but actually His rebuking them so precisely and piercingly in revealing the true condition of their hearts; was His grace in calling them to repentance. Jesus rebukes for the purpose of moving us to repentance (because He loves us, even if we are offended!) so that we might know His grace!

Anyway…can you not see this parable playing itself out in our culture today? Generations come and go but the condition of the human heart stays the same. And the heart unredeemed by the love and grace of our Heavenly Father via faith in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit (whether the reality of a sinful heart manifests in “wild living” or “moral religious conservatism”) is as Jeremiah the prophet said thousands of years ago in Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?”

And may I remind us all that as Jeremiah 17:10 goes on to remind us: “I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind…” It’s not just our actions He looks at, but our attitudes (especially towards Him). The older son failed miserably at just this point. (Luke 15:25-30).

We don’t want to be prodigal in the way the older son represents “prodigal” or the way the younger son represented in a season of his life being “prodigal.” And unfortunately, we tend to be a people of extremes and the one extreme is liberal-loose actions; the other extreme is uptight moral hypocrisy, judgmental, condescending harshness, and “holier-than-thou” attitudes. Each of us (at least I do!) probably tends to be prone to struggle at times in one of these two extremes, which reveals we are missing the heart of God and failing to walk in His grace. Some of us (or sometimes we) may even bounce between the two!

But there is another way than these two ways. There is the way of Jesus. There is the path of grace. There is the heart full of the love of God-even for our enemies. There is the way of true humility (instead of pride), righteousness (instead of hypocrisy), and mercy (instead of anger, bitterness, and demanding our “rights”).

This way is not natural. I know it isn’t for me and isn’t in me. It is only possible through being filled with the Spirit. I can’t (and don’t) live it apart from abiding in Christ, drawing on His Spirit, feeding on His Word, depending on His grace, and having my heart continually “tuned” by the revelation of His heart. Without Him I am a lost sinner or a lost Pharisee or Teacher of the Law.

So…I am asking God to help me more consistently not be a prodigal son either way. I am asking Him to help me be more like Jesus. But I am painfully and often daily aware or reminded that I have a long way to go still and need His grace more and more every day. What about you?

Micah 6:8 “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

“Heavenly Father, reveal your heart, your glory, your beauty, your grace, your love to us more fully, that we might walk more fully in reflecting your heart, your glory, your beauty, your grace, and your love more fully. Forgive us for missing your grace and misunderstanding (thus breaking) your heart. Help us “come to our senses” and return to YOU, that we might know experientially, your grace. Help us to remain in your grace; depending not on our righteousness, but Christ’s and Christ’s alone.”

Purpose of Blog: Explanation

Hi everyone,

In this first post let me explain the purpose of this blog. I believe the bible is God’s Word to humanity. I also believe it is first of all about Himself, His heart, His love and His grace towards us in Jesus Christ. In God revealing Himself to mankind, we are revealed for who we truly are (sinners) and our hearts are exposed (that God can transform and change!). And in God revealing Himself (and therefore who we are) ultimately in the person of Jesus Christ, the bible is secondly and specifically for God’s people (sinners turned saints!).

2 Timothy 3:16-17 says: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” God’s Word (understood only properly with the help of the Holy Spirit: 1 John 2:26-27, 1 Corinthians 2) is ancient wisdom through which God still speaks freshly to our hearts and to modern-day issues by His Spirit. That is the purpose of this blog: to share God’s wisdom and show God’s heart through God’s Word, by His Spirit, speaking into modern-day issues as I feel led to write to or speak to. I hope what you read will encourage, penetrate and pierce your heart, drawing you into a real and/or richer fellowship of knowing His heart. God bless!

New posts coming soon!

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