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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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Have you ever seen an angel? Have you ever given a prophecy?

Some people say they have. Should I believe them?

Well, yes—unless they give further information that contradicts scriptural truth. However, if we boil it down, if I just hear or read about such an encounter without further information, it doesn’t really matter if I believe them or not. However, what I would like to discuss in this blog is another aspect of such supernatural encounters: how we view such people and how they view themselves. So, let me begin with a broadside: You saw an angel. Good. A donkey saw an angel once. I write that because I want to diminish, not what God did, but to diminish our view of the people involved in such occurrences, to urge caution about such events.

I know a wonderful, gentle Christian lady who prays a lot for people who are sick or oppressed by forces of darkness. Years ago, she prayed for a spiritually oppressed man, and he was thrown against a wall in the room. Because of this, my friend garnered a reputation for being spiritually powerful. She now had cred. This woman, thankfully, was wise enough to reject such accolades. She knows who did it, and it was not her. The Lord possesses power. We do not, unless He bestows it.

So. Back to angels.

Several people in the New Testament saw angels. Joseph, Mary, shepherds, Zechariah, the women at Jesus’ tomb after His resurrection, Peter, Philip, Cornelius, Paul, John, and, of course, Jesus. Should we exalt such people because they saw angels? No—except Jesus, of course. Why did God allow these people to see angels? Well, it appears that each angelic appearance had a purpose. The angels didn’t just show up to give these people a thrill.

Why did God choose them? We don’t know. God chooses whom He chooses. And, most of the time, it is people we would not expect—because they are nobodies.

So, what about people who give prophecies? Should I believe them?

Well, yes—unless they give further information that contradicts spiritual truth. But let me offer another broadside: You prophesied. Good. Balaam also prophesied—beautiful prophecies about Jesus. However, he was later killed for leading Israel astray (Numbers 31:8). Murderous King Saul prophesied, too (1 Samuel 19:20–24), as well as Caiaphas, one of the priests who agreed to crucify Jesus (John 11:49–52).

Devilish, deceptive thoughts and feelings sprout up like weeds among Christians when these and other supernatural events occur. We start lifting up people and struggle with lifting up ourselves, as well.

The person through whom the Lord chooses to be involved in a marvelous spiritual event must seek humility. He must reject being elevated as more spiritual or somehow better than other Christians. As for those who know about the event, they must not treat the gifted individual any differently than any other Christian. I write “gifted” in a biblical way, not a worldly way. God gives spiritual gifts. Gifts are not earned. They are freely given without merit. This not-earning truth should be evident to Christians, but all too often, we err. We lift up people for spiritual gifts, whether it’s angelic visitations, prophecies (that come to pass, of course), speakers, leaders, singers, and musicians.

I think Christians of evangelistic/Pentecostal/Charismatic bent have fallen for a worldly deception. Exalting gifted people is what the world does. Christians should not do this. God allows angelic visitations and prophecies and all manner of spiritual gifts for His own purposes, the specifics of which are largely unknown to us. He does not give them to extol individuals so they can “build churches” or “build ministries.” He does not need great churches or ministries. Jesus will build His Church. He gifts people to glorify Himself and accomplish His purposes.

And to test us.

Whom are you elevating when you praise your pastor or a Christian singer on social media? Please keep in mind that the Lord uses people of insignificance to do His wonderful works—not famous people. Who was Joseph? Mary? Who were the shepherds? The women at the tomb? Peter? Paul?

Have you ever planted a seed in the ground? You stick it in the dirt and cover it up. You water it. Then, mysteriously, a sprout appears. Did you cause that seed to sprout? Of course not. This is what Paul referred to when he wrote, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6–7). 1

This truth should be obvious to us. It is not.

Do not boast in men.

“God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:28–31).

 

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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It is interesting living as a Christian in the United States. Better said, puzzling. Confusing.

A few examples.

Here in the United States, we often hear the Christian song Amazing Grace performed at secular funerals and other events. As most U.S. Christians are aware, the first lines of that song are, “Amazing grace. How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” I wonder what is going through the minds of those non-believers when they sing such lyrics. They’re calling themselves wretches who were lost and now found? They were blind but now they see? What do these lyrics mean to them? I must assume the words have no meaning. Are they just pretty cultural poetry?

Another example. The first few verses of 1 Corinthians 13 are often read during wedding ceremonies. 1 Corinthians 13 is a very well-known passage. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1–3). 1 Really? Speak in tongues? Tongues of angels? Many Christians, much less unbelievers, do not even believe that tongues are a legitimate Christian behavior. I just can’t imagine what goes through the minds of those who say these things. I assume that to them the words are just cultural poetry, with some kind of meaning but surely nothing literal.

I am also puzzled by the ubiquitous presence in media of Christian hymns and songs in African-American churches. The songs are wonderful, beautiful, sung by spectacular voices. They’re about Jesus. The Lord. But why are they allowed by the overwhelmingly liberal, God-denying media? I’m not sure I have ever seen the same kind of singing in the churches of other races in the United States. My answer to this puzzlement is the same: pretty cultural poetry.

And thus meaningless; meaningless in any significant way that causes us to stop and think—which is odd.

Maybe not, concerning the nature of music. We could sing any number of secular songs that have no meaning. For instance, Kesha’s stunningly sung Praying mentions God and forgiveness, but the song’s tone is defiant concerning her former lover: “And I don’t need you, I found a strength I’ve never known. I’ll bring thunder, I’ll bring rain, oh-oh. When I’m finished, they won’t even know your name.” I don’t know if someone who had had a former lover would actually mean that he or she would bring thunder or rain upon a former lover. That’s, um, a little difficult to do. Ed Sheeran’s Castle on the Hill is a love song, well-written, but it is not different in essence from countless other love songs. One could sing it just because it’s a nice, catchy tune, but one that has no relevance to one’s life. I mean, many of us sang Hey Jude or Hotel California back in the day, songs that had no relevance to us, either. But they were fun to sing along with, right—maybe even gave us goosebumps.

Pretty cultural poetry with little meaning.

I’ve also been puzzled by the usage of this sentence. “Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of the victims of this tragedy.” How in the world does a prayer “go out” to anyone? These words have no meaning. Why can’t the speakers simply say, “We’re praying for them?” But perhaps that has no meaning, either. I mean, if Kesha can pray for her former lover while at the same time saying that when she was done, “they won’t even know your name,” what does praying for someone mean?

So. My conclusion? I’m not entirely sure, but please allow me at least to proffer an insight. And a fear. My fear is that Christian verbiage in the culture of the United States has become meaningless. They are words with no spine to them. If you were to quote the Bible, the words are easily ignored; ancient words from an ancient book with dubious legitimacy and little relevance to the world today. The words to secular songs may have little meaning, too, but at least they move the soul. However—and it’s a big however—since Christians believe the Bible is God’s words put to paper, we are never to doubt that, when spoken, the Holy Spirit is at work, making those words real and pertinent to the listener in a way that the words of a love song never, ever will.

This culture is strong. But our sovereign God has strength that cannot be overcome.

Christians in the United States live in a puzzling, post-Christian culture. Let us push through the meaninglessness, the confusion, with God’s truth—because He is the only truth. The only One with amazing grace. The only One with true, real, eternal love, without which our words are noisy cymbals. Far from being meaningless, His meaning for life, for truth, for us, is far deeper than any song will capture.

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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A pleasant surprise arrived on my now-defunct-tech iPod the other day. I was listening to a message by Matt Chandler, pastor of the Village Church in Dallas, Texas. Here’s a transcript of the part that made me happy (I edited it a bit for clarity):

This is the world to come. But here’s the question. Who rules it? Now, don’t let Sunday School bust outta ya. ‘Cause you can always answer, “Jesus,” and you’re somewhat right. You can, “Yeah, somehow Jesus can empower that,” but that’s not where the author of Hebrews goes. As much as our heart goes, “Jesus rules the world to come. Jesus does,” that’s not what the writer of Hebrews says. The writer of Hebrews quotes Psalm Eight. Do you know who Psalm Eight’s about? Psalm Eight’s about you. Psalm Eight’s about me. Who rules the world to come? We do. Put your pitchfork away. Let me do some work. This is not the first time this idea is present in Scripture. Here’s the Apostle Paul writing to the church at Ephesus through his disciple, Timothy: “The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also”—what with Him? “Reign with him. If we deny him, he also will deny us…” And one of my favorite phrases: “…if we are faithless,” He remains what? “Faithful” (2 Timothy 2:11–12) 1

Do you see it? This is not the only place. The apostle Paul writing to the church at Corinth: “Do you not know that we are to judge angels?” (1 Corinthians 6:3). By what criteria? Here’s my theologically informed answer: I have no idea. But here’s what I know: that glory is not me on a cloud playing a harp, singing forever. That glory is me in the full faith in Jesus Christ ruling and reigning alongside of Him forever. This is the dynasty that we’ve been talking about. This is the ammunition we have against the shallow, vain promises of this present world. Right. You want me to trade that for what? This dirt?2

I am glad Matt addressed this truth. And here are few more scriptures which deserve our consideration, that will add to our wondrous bewilderment:

“When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases?” (1 Corinthians 6:1–2).

I think Matt Chandler would have the same theologically informed answer for this one, too—“I have no idea”—and I have no idea, either; nor does anyone else. This is wondrous bafflement—but it seems to me that, somehow, saints will be functioning in the full, sinless mind of Jesus then, unlike the cloudy condition in which we find ourselves today: “The spiritual person judges all things but is himself to be judged by no one. ‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:15–16). In addition, we won’t be reigning alone, but with Him, as Paul told Timothy in the scripture Chandler quoted from 2 Timothy.

To continue the divine perplexity, we should consider these verses: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16–17).

What will it mean in eternity to be an heir of Christ? Again, scriptural information is sparse. However, we should ask, “Are we heirs with God, fellow heirs with Jesus, if we suffer with Him?” The passage from 2 Timothy says, “…if we endure, we will also reign with Him.”

Do these verses indicate that our reigning with Jesus is conditional?

Other puzzling passages exist, two of them from the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

These two verses seem to me to be a corollary to Jesus saying, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

Endurance. Steadfastness. Meekness. Poverty of spirit. Powerless, like children.

I wish I had greater understanding of this, but Scripture is not as defining as we would like it to be. That should be no surprise. Jesus said many things that, after centuries, cause the studying saints to scratch their heads and question—much as His disciples did. However, these truths are in Scripture, the very words of God. We know that, somehow, we will be judges, reigning with Jesus, and those eternal realities are connected to suffering, enduring with Him, humility, and powerlessness. These are all good things. We should take heed, consider, and obey.

 

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

2The Entry and Death of Jesus, March 28, 2018. The Village Church.

Gif courtesy of 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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In last week’s article, we addressed the fantasy that Christians can, by their actions, gain access to God’s power. This week, I’d like to address the thinking that claims Christians must be quiet and still to hear God’s voice.

The biblical examples that put the boot to this error are manifold. Let’s look at the very first example in Scripture. Adam heard God’s voice in the garden readily. He commanded him not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17). “Well,” the reader may say, “of course he heard His voice. He was sinless.” However, after they had sinned, the Lord spoke to both Adam and Eve—while they were hiding (Genesis 3:8-19).

How about Noah? No biblical evidence exists that Noah was praying when he heard the Lord say, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. (Genesis 6:13)1

Abraham? This is the account of the Lord’s first words to him when he was living in Haran: “Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 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’” (Genesis 12:1–2). Abraham wasn’t praying. In fact, as far as we know, he and his family probably worshiped idols: “Haran was an Aramaean city and was famous for its worship of the lunar Sin-and-Nikkal cult. This system was an offspring of the cult found in Sumerian Ur. Sin and his wife Nikkal were not only revered here, but throughout Canaan and even in Egypt.” 2

Moses? He had turned aside the see a bush that was burning but not consumed. “When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am’” (Exodus 3:4). No praying there. He was out shepherding the sheep (Exodus 3:1).

None of these men were quietly waiting so they could hear Him.

Joshua? “After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel’” (Joshua 1:1–2).

Should I go on? How about the prophets? The very first verse of Isaiah begins this way: “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah” (Isaiah 1:1).

I trust that this is enough Old Testament evidence to put to flight the thought that a person must be quiet and still to hear God’s voice.

However, perhaps things changed in the New Testament. This is an interesting example from the life of Peter: “The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth” (Acts 10:9–11).

I think it is noteworthy —and a bit humorous—that while he was praying, he realized he was hungry, so he asked some ladies, I assume, to rustle up some grub—and after he had made the request, he received a vision. It’s not a stretch to say that the Lord waited until after he was done praying to give the vision.

We could go on, of course. Mary. Joseph. The shepherds. No one praying in those cases.

The outstanding example that provides contrary evidence is John, in the Book of Revelation. It’s possible John was praying when this happened: “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, ‘Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea’” (Revelation 1:10–11).

There are always exceptions, but the biblical evidence is substantial: If God wants to speak to you, you will know it. Period. However, I am not maintaining that God does not speak when people pray. He has spoken to me as I was praying or worshipping but often when I was not—in particular, three calls to ministry, two of them by place name. The warning of judgment I wrote of last week is another example among many.

The current teaching about how to hear God’s voice by being quiet and still is unnecessary, to put it kindly. In much the same way that Christians cannot do something to “access God’s power,” they likewise cannot do something to hear the voice of God Almighty. He will speak to you when He pleases. If it’s Him, there is no doubt you will hear Him. I encourage the reader to study this claim in Scripture to discover the truth of it.

One word of caution. If you hear words that are contrary to Scripture, you will know the voice is not His.

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

2Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Haran (Place). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 927). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

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What will we Christians say, as we stand before Jesus for the judgment of our works, when the Lord asks us, “What did you do when you knew that My judgment was indisputable and imminent?”

I want to have a good and ready answer for that question.

My wife, Laurie, has been helping her father’s widow pare down her possessions for the last couple of months, and last Saturday I accompanied her to assist in selling some furniture. I was standing on the little front porch of the house. It was chilly and blustery, and it had snowed/rained that morning. I don’t remember why I was standing there, but it was likely because I had helped in some way with people moving furniture to their vehicles. In the yard across the street stands a magnificent, large deciduous tree. No leaves yet, but it’s not difficult to imagine the grandeur of it in full leaf. It possesses thick limbs and a hefty trunk. The wind blew up in that tree and tossed those sturdy limbs around. Then the Lord spoke.

A little background. In my early experiences with the Lord, He was, as He was with you, surely, very gracious, merciful, and compassionate. He made Himself known to me in you’d-have-to-be-stupid-not-to-figure-this-out spiritual events, but I was stupid. Ignorant. Foolish. The Lord had already done two wondrous acts in my life, but I was clueless. The third event occurred when my friend and I were in San Francisco. While there, I bought some occult books. As I was sitting in the shotgun seat of the truck parked in the driveway of the house where we had stayed, a wind blew up in this dried-up, perhaps dead, bush by the side of the house. In that wind, the Lord spoke to me. He said, “Trouble.” This was not aimed at me, and I had no idea what it meant at the time. So, I began to ask the Lord—after the cluelessness departed in large part—what He meant by that word “trouble” that day. I was answered in the course of time when I was out walking, when the wind shook the trees. The message was “Judgment is coming.” It was a clear but not overwhelming sense of judgment; however, it was sobering, nonetheless. Ominous. Occasionally, that sense returns, in different strengths, when the wind blows in trees.

As the wind blasted through the tree on Saturday, however, the sense of judgment was strong; so strong that when I stepped back inside, it was difficult not to break down in tears. Thus, I am compelled to write to you the message I received: Judgment is coming. It is coming as surely as the day breaks into dawn.

When Paul preached to the Gentiles at Athens, he didn’t mention Jesus by name but said, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30–31).1

John wrote, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:18–19).

Finally, “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And ‘If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’” (1 Peter 4:17–18).

Please pray with me for those who do not know Jesus. Do what you can to glorify Him, to make Him known. Please pray with me for the Church, not just in your country but in all countries. Please pray for the Church in the United States, where I reside. We have a very large influence on churches abroad, and I am saddened to tell you that not all that influence has been helpful. Too much of it has been unscriptural and damaging.

May the Lord be merciful. It should concern us that Jesus said, “And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:7–8).

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

Gif 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

 

 

giphy

My wife and I watched a movie entitled The Nativity Story the other night. I know, I know. It’s not Christmas. I’m thankful for this film, although like all such cinematic endeavors concerning biblical accounts, liberties were taken, but none that gave us much heartburn. I am thankful because it showed, with some accuracy, hopefully, the raw reality of those days in Judea, as the Romans called it, in particular the distances Mary and Joseph had to cover in order to be participants in God’s call to them. And a wondrous call it was. To give birth to and provide a family for, the Lord God Almighty Incarnate.

Quite a calling.

You all know the story, surely, so we’ll just cover some highlights that are pertinent to this piece.

One day the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and said,

And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end (Luke 1:31–33). 1

You know. Just normal stuff.

I don’t know about you, but I have never had an angel appear to me, much less have him speak to me. (I have had three dreams from the Lord, and none of them was pleasant.) Joseph, the man to whom she was betrothed, had four different divine encounters: The Lord Himself originally spoke to him in a dream and told him to take Mary to be his wife. An angel in a dream told him to flee Bethlehem and travel to Egypt. He was warned in a dream to leave Egypt and return to Israel, and then, specifically to Nazareth.

Both Joseph and Mary were called to this task. We are not told why the Lord chose them, that there was anything “special” about them. Keep this in mind, please, when the Lord chooses you or someone else to do a task. There is nothing special about you or them. And, as it was with Joseph and Mary, engaging in that task may involve some harsh experiences along the way.

In order to participate in this glorious calling, Joseph and Mary had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, from Bethlehem to Egypt, and Egypt back to Nazareth, a journey which covered hundreds of miles. Exact numbers are hard to come by, since we don’t know which routes they took. We don’t know how many miles they walked in a day (Mary was either pregnant or they were toting the child, Jesus), nor do we know if they used a donkey or not. Nevertheless, they spent many days, weeks, months on the road in all sorts of weather and possible dangers from robbers, animals, and iffy road conditions.

What would you say to the Lord if He asked you to walk hundreds of miles and spend months on the road in possibly treacherous conditions so you could to participate in His “wonderful plan for your life?”

Or to suffer soul-challenging humiliation?

I hope you would answer affirmatively.

Think about this.

At first the angel Gabriel told only Mary. Why didn’t He tell Joseph right away? Their families? The townsfolk? Because He didn’t, Mary faced fearful disgrace because of her pregnancy, as did Joseph. This is why, I think, Mary quickly left Nazareth to visit Elizabeth. Note the phrase “with haste” in this passage:

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth (Luke 1:39–40).

Remember, Gabriel had told Mary some wonderful news:

And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren (Luke 1:36).

I can’t help but wonder if another reason Mary fled to Elizabeth is because she—Elizabeth—was the only person she knew of who had also had a divine encounter with God.

There’s something to be said about such fellowship. No one else understands it. “Right. You’re pregnant by the Holy Spirit with God’s son. Um…”

Finally, the Lord told Joseph to return to Nazareth after their time in Egypt, back to their families, back to those townsfolk—back to that humiliation.

So, Christian, do you want to be chosen by God? It may involve brutal travel. Humiliation. More humiliation. More harsh travel.

But the blessing involved? Glorious. Immensely soul-satisfying. I told the Lord just the other morning that I would not trade the humiliations, the arduous hours of travel, the sicknesses, those wonderous experiences, for all the gold in the world.

It is true. I would not, and my wife agrees.

 

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

Gif courtesy of giphy.com.

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I’d rather not be broken to pieces, thank you very much.

However, that is what God has in mind for me and for you.

Yes. God will break us, more than once.

Welcome to life with Jesus, the Almighty God. This brokenness is what He desires:

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise (Psalm 51:17).1

The meaning of the Hebrew word “broken” here is clear. It means shatter or smash.

Something like Captain America told the Hulk to do.

And the word “contrite,” while seeming to be a little less, um, destructive, isn’t.

דָּכָה [dakah /daw·kaw/] v. A primitive root (compare 1790, 1792); TWOT 428; GK 1920; Five occurrences; AV translates as “break” three times, “contrite” once, and “crouch” once. 1 to crush, be crushed, be contrite, be broken. 1A (Qal) to be crushed, collapse. 1B (Niphal) to be crushed, be contrite, be broken. 1C (Piel). 1C1 to crush down. 1C2 to crush to pieces.2

So, how does a Christian go about obtaining a broken and contrite spirit? I think the reality of this uncomfortable truth is that it will just simply happen, and, to a lesser or greater extent, is always difficult. No one is immune. Remember, our God will shake everything that can be shaken and is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:25-29).

After telling the Parable of the Master of the Vineyard, and how the vinedressers had refused the owner of the vineyard, this happened:

But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written: ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone’? Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder” (Luke 20:17–18).3

Yes, Christian brothers and sisters, you and I will be broken because at one time in our lives we fell upon the Stone, acknowledging our need, our sinful malady. Nevertheless, we may bristle a bit at these words in the wonderful hymn written by Horatio G. Spafford.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,

Let this blest assurance control,

That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,

And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

We may say, “Now, wait a minute. Come on, now. I’m not completely helpless.”

I hope you do not think this way, but the truth is, all too often, I’m not sure that I don’t think this way, too. Oh, prideful humans, created by God, the ones whom God resists.

The good news is that we, if we follow our Savior, will come to admit how feeble we are. It’s a threatening admission. We do not want our weakness to be revealed. Helplessness is contrary to our human thinking. We want to be strong. We want to show how in control we are, how intelligent; how we just know we will come out swinging and winning.

I get that. I do, too. But sooner or later, we will encounter something which will force us to admit that none of the positive attributes we have relied upon will work. And after a series of such events, we will be much more eager to fall on our knees and admit our weakness, our inability to solve problems on our own.

We are not like cultures which, when life is difficult, turn to idols for help. We do not worship idols in the West.

We worship ourselves. When I write, “We worship ourselves,” I do not mean that we fall on our knees, raise our hands and praise and offer thanks, repeating our names. No, worship of another entails trusting in it above all others.

This idol-worshiping human pride God intends to break for our own good. Break, so He can heal and restore because His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9),

God is good and only does what is good for us, so that all might praise His glorious grace (Ephesians 1:3-6).

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,

who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:

“I dwell in the high and holy place,

and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,

to revive the spirit of the lowly,

and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isaiah 57:15).4

 

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

2Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

3The New King James Version. (1982). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

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

Gif courtesy of giphy.com

 

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