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Have you ever been in a large, public venue, where you are the center of attention, and you’re praying for people? If you have, you may have experienced the pressure of this feeling: Are you powerful in the Spirit? Are you—is your ministry—blessed by God? Produce something. Results, please.

In last week’s article, I attempted to strike down the notion that because Christians have had spiritual events in their lives, they should be elevated above others. This week, I would like to look at another danger concerning spiritual experiences: the lust for them.

Look at this passage: “And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, ‘When it is evening, you say, “It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.” And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.’ So he left them and departed” (Matthew 16:1–4).1

The idea that one must “produce something,” which has happened to me and may have happened to you, was at work here. The religious leaders wanted Jesus to demonstrate if He was blessed, if He was powerful, if He could produce results. It didn’t matter that He had performed miracles in the past. “Do it now. Right here.” But Jesus told them they were evil and adulterous. Why?

The consummate sign of His messiahship, Emmanuel-God-With-Us, was not an act of power, like healing or delivering someone from demonic forces, but His death and resurrection—the sign of Jonah, as He said—which would restore the relationship that Adam had lost. It was not, “I have come to show you how powerful I am”—it was “I have come to be the Suffering Servant as prophesied, the One who will lay down His life and be wounded for your transgressions.” Those religious men of Jesus’ time were seeking after something other than that life-giving relationship, thus they were adulterous and evil. The true God, He alone, loves us and brings us true life and fulfillment and sacrificed Himself to do so. Nothing, not even something He did, is to be placed above Him.

As easy and understandable as this truth among Christians is, departure from it is where many of us Pentecostals and Charismatics begin to go astray.

Many years ago, I was at a healing meeting with my wife, Laurie. The call had been given to come forward, get prayed for, and perhaps slain in the Spirit as many had been. One of our relatives gave me an encouraging, gentle push on my back. I didn’t budge. Even then, in my relative youth, thankfully, the Lord had given me a healthy skepticism about such things. Most of you are aware, I assume, of a man who has become famous for this kind of ministry. But I must ask. What is its value? Where do we see this ministry in the New Testament? Please don’t misunderstand me. Being overwhelmed by the Spirit’s power is scriptural. It has happened in places where I was a ministering person. However, thankfully, I had nothing to do with it. I touched no one. No emotional music. No anything. We were just praying as we stood. However, let me tell you that this “slain in the Spirit” stuff has become so significant among Pentecostals that it has become a proof—as well as a healing or deliverance—of the power of the one who is praying.

Wow. You got the goods, baby.

But it has nothing whatsoever to do with the individual’s relationship with God.

That’s how goofy it has become. What has happened to our thinking? If anything at all occurs because one is praying, does the source of that power need to be explained?

Apparently.

So, why do Spirit-filled believers, after having come to the knowledge of Jesus because of His death and resurrection, seek further signs? Because we want to see the miracle-working God do wondrous things? That’s where it begins, perhaps, but it quickly turns into something else, something evil and adulterous.

I understand the yearning for a touch from God. But a touch is not Him. Seeking an experience, being slain, an act of power—none of these are Him and should not be sought. It becomes adulterous because seeking an experience from Him becomes more important than seeking Him.

God is loyal and steadfast. His love and mercies never end. He has made it possible to have a relationship with Him, which you do not deserve—not only a relationship, but a sonship. To have a Brother who died in your place, was punished in your place, and will share His inheritance with you, one you do not deserve. To have a Father who will love and care for you for eternity.

And you want a touch?

Do not seek spiritual signs and experiences. Do not take Him out of the spotlight and put in the spotlight a spiritual event, as thrilling or spectacular as it may be. Seek Him. Seek Him alone.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

 

 

 

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Most of us by now I would think, have been exposed to media about demons—Christians and non-Christians alike. Most everything you have seen—especially if it’s from Hollywood—is false.

Not biblical.

Misleading.

Pagan and devilish.

Dangerous.

Let me begin by stating unequivocally that no titanic battle exists between the devil and his angels and the almighty God who created all things. No, not at all. In fact, the demons quiver in God’s presence. Here’s a great example from Matthew 8:28–29. The “he” in the first verse refers to Jesus.

“And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?’”

Hmm. So, the demons were afraid of Jesus because they thought He was going to torment them “before the time.” So, there was fear here; not among Jesus or His followers—just among the demons. The demons ended up in some pigs. No chanting or hocus pocus. No heads spinning. No pea soup being spewed. Imagine that.

Here’s something interesting from Luke:

“And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent and come out of him!’ And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. And they were all amazed and said to one another, ‘What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!’” (Luke 4:33–36).

Who’s taking orders here? Who’s concerned about being destroyed?

Two things to note before we move on. The demons recognized Jesus when many of those in the synagogue did not. Jesus told the demon to be silent. Lesson: Don’t talk to a person possessed by a demon.

“Ok,” the reader may say, “but this is Jesus, after all. We’re not Him. What should we do?”

Part of the problem for Christians is that the books outside the Gospels offer little help about practical ways to minister to demonized people. However, we should learn from Jesus’ ministry in this area and take the attitude of James, the brother of Jesus: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19).

In Scripture, there are no bloody attacks on Christians by demons. What we have seen in the media about exorcisms is a pagan fabrication. In their ignorance, they present demon-possessed people who must have a ritual performed to exorcise them. It will involve the cross or some religious symbol. Chanting something, perhaps in Latin. However, no one in the New Testament held up a cross before a demonized person or chanted. The media think a symbol of the cross is imbued with power. It is not. Power resides with God, who has authority over everything—everything in the world. He created everything, including the devil and fallen angels.

Here is an enlightening passage concerning the devil and how strong he is: “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while” (Revelation 20:1–3).

It was one angel, not an army of them, who threw Satan into the bottomless pit, and we were not even given the angel’s name.

This is the coup de main concerning the devil and his angels: “And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Revelation 20:7–10).

Should Christians ignore the devil? No. He goes about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). He is a deceiver (John 8:44; Revelation 20:10), and we are to resist him. But we are not under his power, nor are we enslaved to him as the world is. The media, however, produce false movies and shows about the overwhelming, scary power of the devil, so powerful that he defeats Christians. Ever wonder where these ideas come from?

So, some practical advice. If you do come across a demonized person, pray. In fact, keep prayed up all the time. When the disciples asked Jesus why they couldn’t cast a demon out, he said, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29). But if you read the account, Jesus didn’t go away and pray. He had already prayed. Also, don’t use a religious symbol. Don’t just chant things or use some religious formula. Speak with the authority given to you by Jesus. They are afraid of Him, remember.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

2Gif courtesy of giphy.com.

 

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My wife and I were watching something on television a while back, and, as we usually do, we searched for something to flip to during the commercials. I noticed that one channel was broadcasting a Mormon Women’s Conference, so I thought I’d tune in to see what was being said. I have never heard a Mormon message. A lot of right words were spoken. A lot of stuff about our loving heavenly Father and our Savior, Jesus. A few accounts of personal experiences with God. Some references to what Mormon elders have said.

So much sounded so good.

And so familiar.

I flipped back and forth as the program progressed, but when I noticed that the speaker was addressing “How to Access the Power of God,” I was curious about how she would handle the subject. This is a how-to topic Evangelicals, Charismatics, and Pentecostals sometimes weigh in on, depending on how one views “power” in Christian life. I don’t remember the specifics of the woman’s message, but the overlying theme was that we had to do something to get God’s power.

Again, it sounded so familiar. This you-must-do-something-to-access-God’s-power is an idea that we Christians (and Mormons, apparently) have dreamed up all by ourselves, perhaps with some other-worldly help.

It is stupefying, laughable, and tragic. Yep. All those emotions wrapped up in one messy message package. “Why?” you may ask. “Don’t you want to access God’s power?” Well, let me answer that question by asking another. Can you point out to me in Scripture where we are given instructions about how to access God’s power?

Hmm. Nothing comes to mind except asking for God’s help in certain situations.

The Charismatics and Pentecostals go-to passage for power access is often the second chapter of Acts. But think with me here. What were those Jesus followers doing when the Lord poured out His Spirit? They were all in one place. They were waiting. They were in one accord. Thus, some of us think, if we fulfill these criteria, the Holy Spirit will be poured out upon our gathering. One glaring problem exists however. Those early followers were gathered together, waiting, and in one accord because Jesus had told them to do these very things and promised what would happen if they did. Therefore, faith in a specific promise and a command from God were at work here.

The outpouring at Pentecost was God’s idea. He initiated it. The disciples would never have thought of it.

The outpouring of the Spirit and His power at the house of Cornelius is another example (Acts 10). This gracious act among the Gentiles was not in Peter’s thinking. It originated with God. He told Peter to do something. He did it. The Lord told Cornelius to do something. He did it.

Boom. God showed up.

How about Mary? Was the miraculous conception of the Messiah in her womb her idea? Her response proves otherwise. What did she do to “access God’s power” and become pregnant? She said amen to God’s word, in faith.

Let’s look at the most dynamic use of God’s power in the Old Testament: the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. Was this deliverance Moses’ idea? Hardly. How did Moses “access God’s power”? The Lord told him to do certain things. He did them.

Divine action begins with God. Too often, we Christians think it begins with us.

When the Lord God chooses to do anything through people—to exercise His power—He goes right ahead and does it, regardless of our spiritual condition and knowledge of God’s truth which is, comparatively speaking, woefully abhorrent in the light of His righteousness and foreknowledge.

So, am I saying you should just relax and wait for God? No. I think you should pursue and love the Lord our God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. However, nothing in that pursuit will earn you access to God’s power. He does what He does with whomever He chooses to do it.

End of story.

So, believer, if God has told you to do something, either in His Word or by a direct, personal command, do it. Then He will do what He will do. Be careful that you don’t boast when God’s gracious, powerful acts happen in your life or in your church. You were there. Yay, you. You were faithful. Even that faith is from God (Ephesians 2:1-10). God did what He did because—He desired to.

Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases (Psalm 115:3).1

 

1The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

 

 

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Oh, church, let’s stop talking about ourselves. What a great job we’re doing. How we’re helping the poor. Please. For our own good.

We are losing our reward.

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:1–4).1

Think about this. Would you go around telling people how good you are at giving to the poor? No? Then why do our churches?

Please, let us stop boasting about what great speakers our pastors are. Why? Paul told us.

And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:3–5).

Paul wanted those folks in Corinth to be confronted by the truth of God’s word, not by his awesome ability to communicate, but only by the power of God. Listen. People are only convicted of their sins by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, not by our words. By our humor. By our “relevant” messages.

Only the Father—not our on-stage presence—draws people to Jesus. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44a).

Let us please stop talking about how wonderful our worship is. One church website wrote, “Our music is contemporary, and not only do we like it, we tend to think God likes it too, because He keeps showing up.” Now, think with me about this for a moment. Suppose you were telling someone about how you worship when you play an instrument. Can you imagine yourself saying, “You won’t believe it! God likes the music I play because when I play the piano, He keeps showing up!” Or even if you were in a small group. “Yeah! Our worship is so good that God shows up when we sing!”

Does that sound boastful to you? Or just plain weird?

I know it’s so church-counterculture to say, but we cannot deny that the Bible—the truth we claim to cling to—says this:

“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends (2 Corinthians 10:17–18).

Jesus didn’t boast about what He did, either. There’s good evidence that He didn’t want people to talk about what He did at all.

Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat (Mark 5:41–43).

Can you imagine any church not broadcasting such an event to anyone and everyone?

If we did, we’d be boasting. Let’s be honest. It would be disingenuous to claim that we didn’t expect people to be drawn to our church because of such a miracle, don’t you think? That we never considered that might happen? No, rather, we should follow the example of the Lord God Almighty.

Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.” And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, “See that no one knows about it” (Matthew 9:29–30).

Jesus didn’t need to advertise. Why do we?

And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. And he charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them” (Luke 5:13–14).

Think about the question I asked above and get back to me. I’d really like to hear your answer.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy of giphy.com

 

 

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The Book of Genesis details the life of a greedy, proud individual named Laban. Christians can all learn a noble lesson from reading about his life.

Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, needed a wife. This is the family God Himself had chosen to be the forefathers of the One who would come to bless the whole earth:

“And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2–3. See also Galatians 3:8 and Acts 3:25). 1

In light of this promise to Isaac’s father, Jacob’s parents were adamant that Jacob should not seek a wife among the Canaanites, a group of people that had been cursed by Noah: “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers” (Genesis 9:25). So, they insisted that Jacob restrict his search for a spouse within the family. Rebecca, Abraham’s wife, had a brother named Laban. Seek a wife there, he was told (Genesis 28:15).

He obeyed and set off to a place called Paddan-aram, where Laban lived. Jacob found Rachel at a well, where she had come to water her father’s flock of sheep. (Genesis 29:1-13). The courting of Rachel went well at first. Jacob loved her but was not too keen on her sister, Leah. Laban promised Jacob that he could have Rachel if he worked for him seven years. Jacob agreed. So, after seven years of toil, Jacob was more than ready to receive his beloved Rachel into the marriage bed on their wedding night. However, in the darkness, Laban the Abominable slipped in his first-born daughter. Jacob and Leah slept together and thus became man and wife.

Jacob was a bit peeved.

However, Laban the Abominable had an answer. If Jacob worked for him seven more years, he could have Rachel after all. Laban said, “We just don’t marry of the younger daughters before the older ones around here. Sorry about that. I knew you’d understand.” Or words to that effect.

Jacob’s stay with the Laban the Abominable was turning into a stay at the Hotel California. He had checked in, but he might not ever be able to check out. Nevertheless, the Lord prospered Jacob. He eventually had twelve sons and an immense herd of sheep. Then, this happened: “Now Jacob heard that the sons of Laban were saying, ‘Jacob has taken all that was our father’s, and from what was our father’s he has gained all this wealth.’ And Jacob saw that Laban did not regard him with favor as before. Then the LORD said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you’” (Genesis 31:1–3).

So, without notifying Laban, Jacob and his family fled, herds and all.

Laban was enraged. Not only had Jacob left without saying good-bye, his household idols were missing. He assumed that someone in Jacob’s household had stolen them. So, he set out in pursuit of Jacob and his family. Laban was right. His own daughter had taken them. But that’s another subject for another time.

When Laban caught up with them, he launched into an angry diatribe. Jacob defended himself and told Laban, “If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God saw my affliction and the labor of my hands and rebuked you last night” (Genesis 31:42).

Apparently, this meant nothing whatsoever to Laban, because he offered this stunning response: “The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine” (Genesis 31:43a).

Translation: “God has prospered you and rebuked me, but everything that you own is actually mine.”

What would move a man to make this claim?

Pride. One of the great scourges of the earth. “Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished (Proverbs 16:5). Laban could not accept that Jacob had been so successful.

We all are subject to this abomination. Pride exists in our governments, our businesses, and yes, in our churches and religious organizations. I expect this in the world, but our ministries should not be exemplars of that sin. How do we model it? When we boast about our ministries. We have led this many to Christ. We have added this many members. We have fed this many people. We have helped these ministries, ones that protect the unborn, help dig wells in Africa, and so on. Good things, but remember Jesus’ admonition? “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:2–4).

I exhort my Christian brothers and sisters and their ministries, to cease boasting. Let us not follow the abominable example of Laban and lose our reward. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31).

 

1All scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy of giphy.com

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Some Christians believe God would never speak to or through believers whom they think are in error. Of course, that means that the person making that declaration is without error him/herself. This is a difficult claim to make in light of who our God is. My biblical stance is this: The sovereign God of the universe will speak to and through whomever He chooses. To validate that position, let’s look at one woman who was trouble with a capital T, to whom God spoke, to whom He made promises, and who very well could have told others what the Lord told her, thus placing her in the category of prophetess. However, she might not have been the kind of woman you would want to hang around with. Her name?

Hagar.

Hagar was the female servant of Sarah, Abraham’s wife. Sarah was barren and concerned Abraham, who was getting old like she was, wouldn’t leave a male heir. She suggested that he have a child via Hagar. And that’s what happened. However, it wasn’t long before Hagar kicked up rancorous dust. Hagar, in her odd brain, held Sarah—the mistress of the house, wife of the master of the house—in contempt (Genesis 16:4).

What was Hagar thinking?

Sarah dealt harshly with her and she fled. (Genesis 16:6).

But that’s not the end of the story. After her departure, an angel appeared to her. If you’re familiar with the Bible, angelic appearances are relatively rare. Nevertheless, not only did the angel appear to her, he made a promise:

The angel of the LORD said to her, “Return to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel of the LORD also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” And the angel of the LORD said to her, “Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has listened to your affliction. He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen” (Genesis 16:9–12). 1

Just another day in the ancient Middle East.

So, Hagar the troublemaker returned to Abraham—and Sarah’s household.

Wish I could have been there for the homecoming.

However, this woman’s disgraceful behavior would still taint her son and the family dynamics.

The Lord appeared to Abraham again and promised him a son, Isaac was born.

Then this happened:

And the child grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac” (Genesis 21:8–10).

Once again, Hagar was out of the household. She and the child Ishmael were given a loaf of bread and a skin of water and bade adieu. Big surprise. After wandering around in the wilderness for a time, Hagar thought Ishmael was going to die. Then an angel spoke from heaven to this unwise, mischief-maker.

“What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink (Genesis 21:17b–19).

I don’t know about you, but I have never seen an angel nor has one spoken to me from heaven. Nor do I know anyone who has. Either one of those events would be milestones, I would think, in the life of any believer. But here is this despicable woman, who enjoyed humiliating others, with two such events.

To whom and through whom does the Lord speak? Anyone He chooses. But keep in mind that everyone in the Bible, even the “good people,” were sinners, as are we all. David, a man after God’s heart, had an amazing encounter with an angel—who was about to destroy everyone in sight because of what David had done (2 Samuel 24:15-17).

How about this:

But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad (John 11:49–52).

And Balaam. What shall we say about him?

So, fellow Christian, be careful when you’re tempted to say, “God would never speak through her!” Or, “That man’s doctrine is haywire. How could the Lord speak through him?” The real question is, “Is this God speaking or not?” We are told to test the spirits to see whether they are from God (1 John 4:1-3). That’s our job. God speaking to and through people—that’s His job.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 

Gif courtesy of giphy.com

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Can God’s people make their hearts and spirits new? Look at this passage from Ezekiel:

Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live (Ezekiel 18:30-32). 1

However, we also have this, penned by David after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba:

Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:9–10). 

So, how was Israel to make themselves new hearts and new spirits and thus participate in God’s new-creation work? According to the passage in Ezekiel, that would include:

  • Knowing they will be judged by the sovereign Lord God Almighty. Fearful words.
  • Repenting from all their transgressions because the iniquity they committed brought ruin. Humbling admission of the truth of God compared to theirs.
  • Casting transgressions away from them. Hard work, from the heart.

If they did these things, they would avoid death. The Lord has no pleasure in the death of anyone, we’re told. That’s good news. I hope we can hear the heart of God in these verses. Why does He not want us to sin? Because it kills us. It wrecks us. It destroys us. He does not want that to happen.

If God’s people did these things they would live.

So, assuming they wanted to live—and I’m not sure the evidence is clear they took the Lord and His prophet seriously—how should they repent, cast sin away from them and thus make new hearts and spirits for themselves—I mean in a practical, day-to-day way? From their not-new hearts, they would begin to do just as the Lord told them to—repent. Sincerely. In fear—their lives were at stake. They would stop doing the activities that had brought them under God’s judgment. However, having repented, they’d soon discover their inability to obey His commands. If their hearts were true, they would feel guilt and godly sorrow. They had failed their God. That’s when repentance would be required again, and they’d ask for help, for mercy, for forgiveness.

Then finding life and new hearts, they would move on. If they sinned again, repentance was required yet again.

They would strive, to return to Jesus’ command in Matthew, to “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13–14).

 Notice that Jesus said this way is “hard.” Arduous. Restrictive. We don’t like these words.

The other way is “easy.” Broad. No worries about compromising. No constraining boundaries. No difficult humility. This is where we would rather live out our days.

 No need to strive.

This is the nature of our struggle with the world and our sinfulness. We must strive. We work through these sins and accompanying untrue thinking with the Lord, on our knees, repenting. We do not stop. We realize that in this process He is loving us and does not want us to be destroyed. That love would undergird our striving. His steadfast love never ceases. His mercies never come to an end.

Nothing offered here from the Lord is easy. And, as in Ezekiel, there is no step-by-step, engineering handbook about how to do these impossible things. Jesus doesn’t give us the how, just the command.

With a strong dose of heat. Like in Ezekiel, Jesus warns us about not entering this way of striving. The easy, broad way leads to destruction. Ruin. Waste. Annihilation.

Hello. There it is. Fear. Wonderful love. Impossible commands. Life to the full.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Thanks to giphy.com for the gif.

 

 

 

giphy

If you are a Christian, you may be familiar with the passages from Ezekiel where the Lord leaves His temple and His city, Jerusalem. He gives the people of God, the people of His own possession, the sons and daughters of Abraham, over to its enemy. This is Judah, keep in mind, who had witnessed what happened to the Northern Kingdom, Israel, but instead of taking heed, became worse:

She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore. Because she took her whoredom lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. Yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretense, declares the LORD (Jeremiah 3:8–10). 1

So, the question I would like to ask in this post is, would the Lord ever respond in a similar way to His Church, His chosen ones? Before you answer, please consider this: Jesus gave notice to the churches in Revelation that an unpleasant future lay ahead unless they repented of their actions. Since this is not an in-depth study of those chapters, here is a brief listing of His warnings:

He alerted the Ephesian church that unless they repented of their behavior, He would remove His lampstand from its place. Since the lampstands represent the churches (Revelation 1:20), the Ephesian church would no longer be a “church.” A church ceases to be a church when it no longer serves its Master with genuine love and dedication. “There is hard evidence that nominal Christianity dies a natural death within a generation or two and consequently disappears completely from the scene. The members may still come together, but they meet for social and not spiritual purposes.” 2

He warned the church in Pergamum that He would personally come and war against some of their members unless they repented of their actions.

Jesus cautioned the church in Thyatira that He would throw a woman, whom He calls Jezebel, into a sickbed unless she repented and cast her “children” into great tribulation, even striking them dead. Yes, the New Testament God kills people.

He told the Christians in Sardis that unless they woke up and repented, He would “come against” them at an hour they did not know.

As for the infamous church in Laodicea, Jesus wasn’t even present in that group of people. He was at the door, knocking, trying to gain entrance.

Therefore, we have strong and adequate scriptural evidence that Jesus will indeed punish a church or even leave it if they are sinning and do not repent. So, do we know if He has departed from any churches operating today? Is he punishing any? Are there any true Christians in those churches?

Let’s be honest. We just don’t know. A remnant may remain of which we are not aware. In sinful Israel and Judah, prophets were speaking. And remember that when Elijah told the Lord he was the only one in Israel who had not forsaken His covenant and worshiped Baal, God replied, “Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:18).

And how about your church? Is it possible the Lord would want to remove its lampstand? Is it possible “that you have abandoned the love you had at first”? (Revelation 2:4).  Of course, it is. Are there any teachings that are a stumbling block to believers as there were in Pergamum? Please do not think that impossible. Are your works “complete in the sight of my God”? (Revelation 3:2). Have you prospered and think you “need nothing” as those in Laodicea? Do not think such conditions have not been occurring in your midst. Paul warned the church in Rome, “So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you” (Romans 11:20b–21).

Humbly pray for your church.

Humbly pray for the Church.

We earnestly want Jesus to find faith on the earth when He returns (Luke 18:8).

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

2Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Vol. 20, p. 116). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

 

wake up 2

Three weeks ago, as part of our efforts to become more fully awake to the truth of God’s Word, we looked at the validity of what is called the Four Spiritual Laws. We found in the New Testament that a person coming to the knowledge of Jesus was not a 1-2-3-4 step, verse-by-verse-proof process. Were verses quoted in those salvation accounts about a person’s sin? Verses about how people were separated from God, and that He wants them to have abundant lives? No. People came to the Lord in different ways and many times through miraculous occurrences. Repentance, however, was an essential ingredient in all cases. Sin was a given.

The aspect of the Four Spiritual Laws I’d like to look at with you in this article is this claim: God has wonderful plan for your life.

Is that true?

Well, if that means God’s heavenly kingdom and eternity, certainly.

If it means a long life full of effective ministry, success, and prosperity…not so much.

Did God have a wonderful plan for Stephen’s life? After a short, active, powerful ministry, this happened:

Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out,  “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:58–60).1

Did God have a wonderful plan for Simeon’s life? He was a righteous and devout man and, like very few in Israel, the Lord told him about Jesus before He ever performed a miracle or spoke one word. However, he shows up only once in the New Testament, does not appear again, and may have died shortly after he took the baby Jesus in his arms.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:25–32).

Did God have a wonderful plan for the man who was born blind? Would you sign up for this?

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:1–3).

Isn’t this God-displaying-His-works true of all those whom Jesus healed? The lame, the deaf, the paralytics?

How about Christians that you may know, those who have suffered and perhaps died from cancer, those who are in constant physical pain, or who die at an early age in accidents? Did God have a wonderful plan for their lives?

I have little doubt that Mr. Bright had good intentions in writing the Four Spiritual Laws. But here is the truth of God’s plan for your life:

The glorious God Almighty alone is the plan for your life.

He alone is your purpose. He alone is your salvation. He alone is your life. Your truth. Your way to His kingdom.

But, you may reply, “I don’t know how to do this. How am I to know Him? To receive salvation?”

Exactly.

I cannot fix that for you.

And He will not supply a step-by-step plan for you.

Why?

You must seek Him. Seek Him for salvation. Abide in him. Know Him.

And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:23–24).

Jesus said, “Strive.”

The Greek word is agōnízomai.

The definition from Zodhiates’ Complete Word Study Dictionary:

ἀγωνίζομαι agōnízomai; fut. agonísomai, mid. deponent from agṓn (73), conflict. To contend for victory in the public games (1 Cor. 9:25). It generally came to mean to fight, wrestle (John 18:36). Figuratively, it is the task of faith in persevering amid temptation and opposition (1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 4:7). It also came to mean to take pains, to wrestle as in an award contest, straining every nerve to the uttermost towards the goal (Luke 13:24 [cf. 1 Cor. 9:25; Phil. 3:12ff.; Heb. 4:1]). Special pains and toil (Col. 1:29; Col. 4:12). Implies hindrances in the development of the Christian life. 2

I encourage you to reject the easy, seemingly logical 1-2-3-4 way to salvation, the easy, unstriving prayer. Strap up, strap in, and seek the most wonderful God possible—the only God possible.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

2Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers

 

 

 

 

anna_wake_up_by_doragoon-d79r3xh

When I was writing The God We Do Not Know, I had a wonderful time working through the chapter, The God Who Is Perfect. It was fantastic to think about how God is perfect. His works. His judgments. His thoughts. His sacrifice. So, this thought buzzed through my mind a couple of days ago:

God’s weakness is perfect.

So, it looks like I’m still waking up.

You and I know how the world works. By means of power. Wealth. Influence. Physical strength. Military strength. All these at once or in some combination. It has been thus since Cain used a rock to murder his brother. But weakness in the world? It doesn’t have any power at all. It is those without power who are usually at the mercy of those who possess it. Therefore, they are usually the ones who suffer when power moves its hand. However, power can be used for good as well as evil purposes. Time and space limit us from exploring this topic in any depth, but it doesn’t require an abundance of thought to understand how employers, families, governments, military, and police, to name a few, can use their powers either negatively or positively.

The Lord God Almighty, the Creator of all things, is the apex power among all others. No weaknesses or flaws exist which would enable another power to overcome Him. We see the magnificent use of this power in creation, or at least we should. One day, we will see how the greatest power in the universe exercises His incomparable strength to establish His righteous throne and perform ultimate good forever.

Regardless of what people believe about the Lord and His acts, He cares not at all and is not the least intimidated by human power in any of its manifestations.

“The kings of the earth establish themselves, and the rulers conspire together against Yahweh and his anointed: ‘Let us tear off their bonds, and cast their cords from us!’ He who sits enthroned in the heavens laughs. The Lord derides them. Then he speaks to them in his wrath, and in his fury he terrifies them: ‘But as for me, I have set my king on Zion, my holy mountain’” (Psalm 2:2–6)1

Paraphrase:

“We, the powerful leaders of the nations of the earth, have no need of You, God Almighty, or Your so-called anointed Messiah. We, together, reject You, Your outdated, constricting law, and Your supposed sovereignty. We don’t need you and never will.” The Lord God who created all things laughs and holds these power holders in derision. He mocks them. He terrifies them by His acts. “I—not you—have set My Ruler over all things upon the  mountain. Your claims to power mean nothing. I am the One who brought you to power and gave you the authority about which you boast. I am the One who will bring you down from that power and authority. Your nations are nothing—less than nothing.”

However, in mind-boggling contrast, He accomplished His most significant act in a way that no one anticipated.

Through weakness.

That weakness was perfect; perfect because it included all of humankind and all of creation. Perfect because He performed it by means of the weakest act possible known among mortals:

He died.

However, we need no reminder, do we, that the King of the Universe was born a helpless baby.

In addition, He emptied Himself. He, the Upholder and Sustainer of all things by His power, became a servant.

In His incarnate time on earth, He became least of all creation.

Thus, we read from Paul, writing as he was led by the Holy Spirit:

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25).2

What is foolish? Dying to accomplish something. That foolishness is wiser than the wisest thing man can do.

What is weak? Dying. No weaker act is possible. The weakest thing God can do is stronger than the strongest thing man can do.

So, let us consider the Lord’s answer to Paul, when he prayed for deliverance from infirmity:

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:9). 3

Let’s think about this for a moment. Let’s think about what these verses mean regarding, not only how the world thinks—because this is unthinkable to the world—but to how we in the Church think. We may well discover little difference between the world and the Church. Why? Because we in the Church cannot accept that anything at all can be done by weakness. We can only accept that we must accomplish change through strength of effort and expenditure of human resources in order to succeed. It must be effective and thus verifiable and countable. Remember, however, that His power is made perfect in weakness. He did not say that His power was made perfect through human effort and strength, human wealth, and human power.

So, we should ask, “How does death, how does weakness, accomplish anything that is effective, verifiable, and countable? How is weakness world changing?”

If you are a Christian, I encourage you to jettison the you-must-be-a-world-changer meme of the Church. I encourage you think how God gets things done without the agencies of human power and effort.

 

1Harris, W. H., III, Ritzema, E., Brannan, R., Mangum, D., Dunham, J., Reimer, J. A., & Wierenga, M. (Eds.). (2012). The Lexham English Bible Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

2The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

3Ibid.

Thanks to Doragoon for the gif.

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