Calvary Love

To make the statement “There is freedom in surrender” may make some question your logic.  The reality of life in Christ’s kingdom is that very often the “foolish things of the world confound the wise” and the weak confound the mighty.  The way up is down.  The way to live is to die.  The way of freedom requires a cross.  Surrender to the cross of Christ brings freedom that can only be described as abundant life in Christ.

Amy Carmichael was born in 1867 and died in 1951. She spent fifty-three years in India setting up orphanages to rescue children from prostitution in Hindu temples and ministering to the people she met. Amy affected the lives of countless Indians, giving them a hope for a future on earth and in heaven.While serving in India, Amy received a letter from a young lady who was considering life as a missionary, She asked Amy, “What is missionary life like?” Amy wrote back saying simply, “Missionary life is a chance to die.Continue reading “Calvary Love”

WE ARE IN A WAR!

“A wise man has great power, and a man of knowledge increases strength; for waging war you need guidance, and for victory many advisers.” (Proverbs 24:5-6, NIV).

Wherever people honor wickedness, darkness prevails and it sets the spiritual atmosphere. As the spiritual climate in our world deteriorates, we are facing warfare as never before.  A spiritual warfare climate tries to make us feel insignificant – lives no substance, no worth – battle futile.  However, the truth of the matter is, we are already victorious! Read the back of the Book!

In Judges 2, we find Israel coming under the principalities and powers of their day – worshiping the Baal gods… instead of Israel influencing their world.

In times of spiritual warfare, you cannot honor the heathen climate of your area.

The commission of the church today is to displace the kingdom of darkness and replace it with genuine Christianity and power.  As the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi went…  “where there is hatred, we must bring love.  Where there is strife, we must bring peace.  Where there is sickness, we bring health.  Where there is death, life.”  It is not just speaking but acting out principles of the Kingdom that will displace the kingdom of darkness.  When church is filled with obedient believers, active faith, darkness is pushed out. The church must be more than just a group of people with set of doctrines, beliefs, and rituals.  Darkness is not dispelled by what goes on within the four walls of the church.  We must take the warfare to the field.

When our inside relationship with Jesus is hot – we have the law of the life of Jesus flowing through us.  When this relationship wanes, we start battling lust of the flesh, things of the flesh, darkness creeps in.  We must keep walking in the light and having fellowship or light turns to darkness.

We must never fall into the deception that comes with believing that accumulated knowledge is the same as applied knowledge.  It’s not!  Books on prayer can be tremendous but knowledge of prayer is useless unless we pray. We may know all the Greek words for love but if we hold bitterness in our heart toward one another all that knowledge is to no avail.  We must live what we know!  Knowledge in action will produce substance and fruit.  Without the action we will not have Biblical Christianity; we will not displace the kingdom of darkness.  God’s people acting on truth in love, brings displacement of darkness.  The devil directs his warfare against the actions of our faith – not just what we say.  You can say all you want.  You won’t intimidate him until you start doing.  He can still say, “Jesus, I know and Paul I know, but who are you?

Obedience is a vital part of every miracle. In the Old Testament, everything God did after creation was done in cooperation with man.  God could have scraped land of Canaan free of inhabitants, but He didn’t.  He had the children of Israel march around Jericho – and shout – before the walls came down.  They had to do something for the substance – the deliverance – the victory – to come.

In the New Testament, Jesus could have snapped a finger and filled the pots at the wedding in Cana with wine.  He didn’t.  Instead, he had men take the existing waterpots, fill them with water, and carry them to the head waiter.  It has been approximated this was about 168 gallons of liquid.  Yet the miracle was contingent on their obedience to His instructions.  Obedience is the pre-requisite for miracles.  When you obey God, He releases power.

The battle we face is against passivity and inactivity.  It seems our struggle is to act on what we believe, not on what we feel.  The enemy often intimidates us into inactivity.  Manifestation of the kingdom ceases when we are inactive.  We can sing songs about warfare – but singing about warfare and doing warfare are two different things.  We pray and suddenly a wave of unworthiness tries to undermine our confidence in prayer – a barrage of questions comes.  Did I pray right?  Did I use right words?  Did I pray long enough?  Did I pray in faith?  Do I need someone to agree with me?  What’s going on?  It is demonic warfare against our confidence to make us believe our prayers haven’t reached God.  That’s not true.  God hears.  The time frame for answering is His and His alone – but He hears every word.

When we worship we face warfare.   The Old Testament war instructions for Israel were to let Judah go first.  (Judah is representative of worship and praise.)  But Judah, the praisers, had to be prepared spiritually.  So must we!

Satan tells us we’re not worthy – that’s warfare of guilt and condemnation.  Remember, though, he is the father of lies and he is not going to start telling the truth with you.  When someone went to the Temple to sacrifice, it was the sacrifice, not the worshipper, that was examined and judged as to its worth.  If the sacrifice was acceptable and sufficient, then the worshipper was fully accepted.  The Lamb who was slain is worthy – therefore we are accepted.  God’s acceptance of our worship isn’t based on our mechanics – but on our faith and on the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  Our salvation is built on the foundation of grace, not law.  Many Christians live under the weight of guilt, condemnation, constantly trying to gain God’s approval. Our minds and senses war against things of God.  If we bow under warfare we miss the miracle – miss the very thing we are praying for.  If you bow to Baal you get cheated out of the miracles!

Here’s some advice for warfare:

  1. Don’t Bow to Baals – Greed – materialism – lust – worldliness.  These spirits don’t belong in the church – and don’t belong in our lives.  Don’t bow to them. We are to be in the world but not of the world. We are to affect culture not bow to it.
  2. Don’t Let Men or Devils Define You – Don’t judge yourself in a storm.  There is an anti-Christ sentiment that wants to define us.  Read the newspaper, listen to the radio and you’ll hear all kinds of misrepresentation and misinformation about God and Christians.   Don’t let the devil define who you are or what you believe.  If we bow to the pressure and start apologizing, changing the message to suit people, telling people what they want to hear to avoid trouble – we’ll find ourselves in the worst of trouble.  Rise up with a weapon of truth.  Don’t let the devil define your message.
  3. Don’t Give In To Feelings of Failure and Uselessness – God has given us project to do.   Don’t bow to discouragement, hopelessness.  Rise up with God’s word in your mouth – “The gates of hell will not prevail!”   If we don’t rise up verbally and with action to confront the Baals, we will submit to their influence and be discouraged or depressed.  Courage is not the absence of the fear.  Courage is the presence of God.
  4. Don’t Drift Into Things – You never fall onto a mountain – you climb it.  The Scripture says, “Give more earnest heed to the things which we’ve heard lest we let them slip…”   The word “slip” there means drift.  You are not going to drift into victory – into holiness.  More often than not, when one drifts – you are drifting away from something – not into something.  Yelling at the devil won’t make him go away.   He must be displaced by right living.  We need to affirm the truth not only with our mouths but our actions.

We are in a war.  The victories we win, the defeats we suffer are not just for the moment but for eternity.  Souls are stake.  Read the back of the book – we win!

“‘And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.”  Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city” (Revelation 22:14).

Little Things

A few years ago there was a popular slogan on bumper stickers and t-shirts and an array of items that proclaimed, “Don’t sweat the small things.”  We have heard similar comments so often, “It’s no big deal – just a little thing!”  It’s the idea – though somewhat erroneous in most cases – that something is so inconspicuous that no one will notice.

Little things, though, can have huge impact. 

 I read some statistics about leaking faucets that arrested my attention.  We have all been annoyed by the constant dripping of a faucet that, regardless of the applied pressure, just would not stop.  Someone might look at that and say, “That’s not much water…just a drip…”  Consider this:  There are 1,680 drops in one pint of water which equals 3,360 to a quart.  According to calculations it takes about 30 minutes to accumulate that quart of water.  In 24 hours a consistently dripping faucet becomes 12 gallons of water.  In one week, that is 84 gallons – 372 in a month – 4,380 in a year.  Small things really do make a difference.  Just in case wasted water doesn’t really matter to you, think of this:  at $1.75 per 1,000 gallons that means your leaky faucet could be costing you almost $80.00 a year.

There are some people who think God doesn’t notice little things.  It was my old pastor who used to tell us, “That man that is too big to do the little things is too little to do the big things.

 I learned long ago that the triumph of God’s church did not come by the gigantic shoves of His champions, but by the gentle everyday nudges of His everyday people who are God’s men and women doing God’s work in God’s way.

Little things…every day! 

A precious saint who will stop and pick up a piece of paper in the aisle of the church – another who remembers the pastor’s wife on her birthday with a pie or a special lunch – the saint who slips a special gift to the pastor’s kids at Christmas – the one who anonymously (or not) gives a little extra in this week’s offering – These are all people who have learned the value of little things is not little.

 We all need people outside our family circle who are committed to our children.  It is no small thing for a faithful man of God to put their arms around the shoulders of a little boy and say, “If I can every help you, I will…” and mean it for a lifetime.

 Years ago my wife received a letter from a young evangelist.  He reminded her of many years ago when he was just a boy in our church.  One day Sister Tenney drew him aside in the aisle of the church and simply said, “God will use you if you will let Him.  He has a plan for your life.”  It was such a small thing – in fact, she had forgotten about it.  He never did.  Those words finally emerged into a fulfilled call in the world of God.  Little things.

 “Go to the ant, thou sluggard, and learn of his ways…”  Here is a little creature but in corporate union ants take care of their little things and consequently they become a tremendous colony.  You are not everybody, but you are somebody.  You cannot do all things, but you can do something.  There’s a little task somewhere calling for you.

 Sin always starts small.  However, it is greedy.  It never remains small.  It always wants more.  It may have been just a glance and a smile at coffee break then a lingering handshake then… Sin will always take you farther than you ever intended to go.  It starts out small and ends up bigger than you ever imagined anything could be.  One little pull on a slot machine can become a gambling addiction that costs you everything.  One little “private” drink of alcohol can be the opening volley of the ravages of alcoholism.

 “If you will be faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many.”  It pays to be diligent in noticing the little things for God, His Kingdom, and His people.  It also pays to be diligent in staying away from the little foxes that will spoil the vines.  As my old grandmother used to say, “Son, take care of the pennies, and the nickels will take care of themselves.”  That adage applies to other things in life as well.  Take care of the little things and you’ll be surprised how you will find yourself able to overcome the big things.   Take care of the little things and know that God will reward you with bigger things than you ever imagined.

The Wounded Healer

For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 14:15).  Our High Priest has this understanding of who we are, and how we hurt, because He walked where we walk and felt every emotion that we will ever feel.  He Himself has been wounded by life and by others.  Zechariah speaks prophetically of the coming Messiah who answers the question, “What are these wounds in thine hands?” by saying, “Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.”  He has been wounded, too, not for His own sake but for ours.  Isaiah tells us, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”  He can fully and completely heal us because He Himself is a wounded healer.  Only hurt people can heal.Amy Carmichael wrote:

Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land;
I hear them hail thy bright, ascendant star.
Hast thou no scar?
Hast thou no wound?
Yet I was wounded by the archers; spent,
Leaned Me against a tree to die; and rent
By ravening beasts that compassed Me, I swooned.
Hast thou no wound?
No wound? No scar?
Yet, as the Master shall the servant be,
And pierced are the feet that follow Me.
But thine are whole; can he have followed far
Who hast no wound or scar?

So it is that in His world, it is the wounded and scarred He calls to Himself.  For they, like Him, have known the agony and despair, yet in dying to self live again in Him.

Just as the runaway check mark identifies a Nike runner and golden arches identify McDonald’s, scars are the trademark of Jesus Christ.  After the resurrection, Thomas saw Jesus appear in the room without opening the door.  He heard His voice.  It was only when he saw the scars that he said, “My Lord and my God!”  We are recognized as His by our scars.

Jesus Christ trafficked in every emotion.  He explored the vast treasury of pain so that when we cry He could truly say, “I understand.  I have been there.

When He was falsely accused and the crowd that had been crying “Blessed is he…” had changed their song to “Crucify him!” He could say from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.

When a penitent thief, dying next to Him, cried out He had a word of assurance: “…Verily I say unto thee, this day…

There was a word of provision for a heartbroken, grieving mother, “Woman, behold thy son.  Son, behold thy mother.

He even understood the feeling of being God-forsaken.  He cried, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

He knew physical need.  He said, “I thirst…

He even knew what it was to commit what appeared to be an impossible situation into the hands of a loving God.  “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”  Notice, here He said, “my spirit.”  It’s an important thing to release your spirit into the hands of God.  If something cannot affect your spirit, it cannot affect your destiny.

At some time in our lives every individual will experience the stabbing heartbreak of betrayal by a trusted loved one or friend.  Our reaction as the one betrayed determines our future success in life.  A betrayal can be a blessing.  We give far too much glory to the devil, the world, the flesh for the circumstances in our lives.  We blame our enemies when we are under attack.  Yet, great peace and quietness become ours when we refuse to recognize second causes in our life.  God is sovereign.  He is our Father.  This is first and foremost.  He allows, He overrules, or He sanctifies.  Whatever comes your way falls into those three categories: He allows it – He overrules it – or He sanctifies it and makes it serve us.  Always remember, God is sovereign.

In the blessedness of quietness David endured, with a patient spirit, the cursing of Shimei.  He forbade any evil be done to him.  This was the loving hand of God working good through Shimei’s evil.  His men saw it and marveled at David’s strength.

Joseph was betrayed – betrayed by his brother, betrayed by Potiphar’s wife, betrayed by a fellow-prisoner.  Joseph should have been, could have been, mortally wounded in his inner man by the things that had happened to him to such a degree that he would perish under the bitterness.  He had been so often personally rejected it could have literally destroyed him.  Yet, he had a dream and he never forgot his God.  The secret of his sanity, the triumphant conqueroring patience he possessed  is revealed in his words to his brethren, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive”(Genesis 50:20).

If you have a word from God, anything that happens to you between then and its fulfillment is temporary.  His Word will always come to pass despite the pain and pressure of the time in between.

You might find yourself now in a situation where you are perplexed over the betrayal of a friend or a disappointment at church or work or in your family.  If you can only grasp this simple truth, it will make all the difference in your world.  God is sovereign.  He could have overruled it if He so desired.  However, He allowed it to happen so rejoice in the blessing as He is owning you as His own and preparing you for the comfort and the blessing of others.  “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;  Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” (II Corinthians 1:3-4).

He has graced your life with the glorious privilege of sharing with you the most intimate of the sufferings of Jesus Christ – the fellowship of betrayal.  Jesus had need of the betrayal in His own life so God in His own faithfulness may have chosen our betrayals.  He knew full well that had the choice been ours we would never have chosen a betrayer.

Following his Damascus road experience, Paul lived a life of God’s will worked out in humanity.  One time he was heading for Bithynia when God said, “Don’t go.”  He tried to go again.  God said, “Don’t go.”  Finally, he had a vision of Macedonia and followed it.  Paul had wanted to go east; God wanted him to go west.   Paul was very human.  He had personal desire and ambition.  He also was committed to the God who rules and overrules what ultimately ends up in our lives.  Paul went on in the next verses to remind us that we are chosen, adopted, and accepted:

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:3-6).

Notice the three words Paul used in this passage.  We are chosen, adopted, accepted.  That is the God-ordained chain of events for all of us.  He chooses us, He adopts us, He accepts us.

When you are chosen, you are specifically selected.  Does your stomach still drop when you remember grade school playground games when teams were being chosen and you weren’t first?  David was forgotten by his father, ignored by his brothers.  He was definitely last in the line.  However, sometimes God chooses from the back of the line and those who the world might label losers become winners in His kingdom.

God chooses us to use us.  A key can be cut and carefully designed but it is totally useless until someone picks it up and uses it.  We should rejoice when we get in God’s hands.  He slips us in where He wants us.  We must be committed to His hand in restful trust.   Can you imagine having to chase a key that doesn’t want to go in its designated slot and open up the door it’s designed to open?  Please remember, too, that frequency of usage has nothing to do with the significance of design or purpose.  Some keys are used more than others.  But, when that particular key is needed, no other will do.  It’s what being chosen means.

There are three Greek words that are used for adoption in the scriptures.  In this particular passage the word actually refers to a son and infers that it is a full-grown person, mature in purpose and person.  In our role as His adopted children, He does not deal with us as runny-nosed babies or spoon-fed infants.  He sees us as grown ups. He sees me becoming – He doesn’t see me failing.

Even when we do fail, acceptance steps in.  He does not boot us out.  He loves us.  The verb “accepted” means that while I’m standing here in my fear, He accepts me as I am and invites me to grow beyond my failure.  He moves in my direction.  He pursues me in grace.  That’s what it means to be accepted in the beloved.

Jesus Christ heals and delivers beyond our dreams to a place where His expectations of us are fulfilled.  Jesus Christ – The Wounded Healer – chooses, adopts, accepts.  It’s how He feels about us.

That He Might Be Lord

 The heart and soul of evangelism is found in the story of Easter.  Without the cross – without  the death, the burial, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ – there is no evangelism and no winning of lost souls.  Jesus Himself proclaimed,  “If I be lifted up I will draw all men unto me…

It is only when we lift Him up that the lost are drawn to Him.

Salvation is a divine act. Evangelism is our responsibility. We must lift Him up! And in so doing, we all find ourselves at the foot of the cross proclaiming Him both Lord and Savior.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified…”  In Romans 14:9 we read: “For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord….”  Integral to evangelism and soul-winning is the proclamation of His Lordship.

Why did Jesus Christ die?  For our sins, yes – but that He might be Lord.  Why did He rise from the grave?  That He might be Lord.  We must comprehend that we live under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  He was referred to as Savior 33 times, yet as Lord over 400 times in the New Testament.

We read in Acts 2:36-38 that to the Jews he became “both Lord and Christ.”  In Acts 10:46, to Gentiles, He was made “Lord of all.”  The sign on the cross proclaiming Him King of the Jews was written in 3 languages.  Latin was the language of politics, finance, and commerce.  Greek was the language of the media, philosophy, the arts, education.  Hebrew was the language of understanding and religion  This simply means that you can plant the cross anywhere – in any culture – He can become Lord in any occupation — But you will never be in alignment with heaven until you enthrone Him on earth.

At that name every knee shall bow…every tongue shall confess” – on earth, under earth – paying homage – When this name is thundered, Jesus is Lord!  However, it is not – nor can it ever be – just words to us.  He said of some, “You’ll say ‘Lord, Lord’…I never knew you…” – Just saying it is not enough.  It has to become a lifestyle.  They said to Him, “But we have cast out devils – done many miracles in your name...” His response was “I never knew you…” – I was not intimate with you.  “Why call ye me Lord and do not the things I say?”  Obedience denotes Lordship.  He said, “You call me ‘Master’ and ‘Lord’ – but if I be your Lord and Master...” – notice Lordship precedes mastery in His eyes.  They said “Master and Lord.”  He said, “No, it’s Lord first and then I can be your Master.

There are varied responses to the concept of Jesus as Lord.  Some reject Him outright.  The parable in Luke 20 tells us that when the Son was sent they rejected him and said, “We won’t have this man reign over us.”  Another response is “nominal” Lordship, if there even is such a thing.  Luke 6:46 references individuals who called Him Lord but did not do the things He said. He becomes like a king in a limited constitutional monarchy – just a symbol, with no real authority.  You sing to him, call him by name, but make your real decisions of life yourself.  There will be no crown of life without the cross of discipleship.  Jesus said, “He who does the will of the Father in heaven…” – the miraculous may not necessarily mean you know Him.  He said you are evil-doers if you don’t do His will – “Depart from me.

Lordship is not optional; it is mandatory.

A third option is to live one’s life confessing Jesus Christ as Lord.  In John 20:28 we read the heart’s cry of Thomas as He fell at the feet of His risen Savior: “My Lord, and my God…”  Does your life demonstrate that He is Lord?  If Jesus Christ is to be Lord, we must voluntarily surrender to Him.

Jesus made reference to taking up your cross… What is a cross?  When you know what you want to do and God’s will is the opposite and in spite of feelings deliberately you choose to do the will of God – that is a cross.

For Him to be Lord of our life means making godly choices on a daily basis.  In Acts 22:6 Saul said, “Who art thou, Lord?”   He knew it was God’s voice, but couldn’t put it together.  “I am Jesus…” was the reply.  The next question was what ours should be:  “What would you have me do, Lord?”  The second is the logical consequence of the first – “What do you want me to do?”  Jesus Christ told him.  He obeyed daily.  “I was not disobedient to that heavenly vision….”  The only thing of value at the end of life is what there was of God’s will in our life.

Several years ago I came across a writing by S. M. Lockridge that is a fitting conclusion to this article:

He is my risen Lord!

The Bible says that my King is a seven-way King.  He is the King of the Jews, the King of Israel, the King of Righteousness, the King of the Ages, the King of Heaven, the King of Glory, the King of Kings, and He is the Lord of Lords.

He is my risen Lord!

David said, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork.”  No means of measure can define His limitless love.  No barrier can hinder Him from pouring out His blessing.  He is enduringly strong, He is entirely sincere, He is eternally steadfast, He is immortally graceful, He is imperially powerful, and He is impartially merciful.

He is my risen Lord!

He is the greatest phenomenon that has ever crossed the horizon of the world.  He is God’s son.  He is the sinner’s Savior.  He is the centerpiece of civilization.  He stands in the solitude of Himself.  He is August and He is unique.  He is unparalleled and He is unprecedented.  He is the loftiest idea in literature.  He is the highest personality in philosophy.  He is the supreme problem in high criticism.  He is the fundamental doctrine of true theology.  He is the miracle of the ages.  He is the superlative of everything good that you choose to call Him.  He is the only one qualified to be an all-sufficient Savior.

He is my risen Lord!

He supplies strength for the weak.  He is available to the tempted.  He sympathizes and He saves.  He strengthens and He sustains.  He guards and He guides.  He heals the sick.  He discharges the debtors.  He delivers the captives.  He defends the feeble.  He blesses the young. He serves the unfortunate.  He rewards the iligent. He beautifies the meek.

He is my risen Lord!

He is the key to knowledge.  He is the well-spring of wisdom.  He is the doorway of deliverance.  He is the pathway of peace.  He is the roadway of righteousness.  He is the highway of holiness.  He is the gateway of glory.

He is my risen Lord!

His office is manifold.  His promise is sure.  His life is matchless.  His mercy is everlasting.  His love never changes.  His Word is enough.  His grace is sufficient.  His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

He is my risen Lord!

He is indescribable.  He is incomprehensible.  He is invincible.  He is irresistible.  You cannot get him off of your mind and you can’t get him out of your head.  You can’t outlive Him and you can’t live without Him.  The Pharisees couldn’t stand Him but they found out they couldn’t stop Him.  Pilate could not find any fault in Him.  The witnesses could not get their testimonies to agree.  Herod couldn’t kill Him.  Death couldn’t handle Him.  The grave couldn’t hold Him.

He is my risen Lord!

That is my King!  That is my King!  And thine in the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever…and ever…and ever…and ever…and ever…and ever…and ever…and forever…and ever…And when you get through with the forevers He is still King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Amen and Amen!

He is my risen Lord!

Christmas Miracles

Someone said it seems like the whole world dresses up for Christmas.  It’s wonderful times with family and friends.  It’s favorite once-a-year foods and too many cookies.  It’s songs that we sing with a twinkle in our eye as we remember childhood Christmases and carols past.

Christmas was – and still is – a time of miracles.  When you look at the Biblical story of the first Christmas it is a beautiful tapestry woven of one miracle after another.

There are the miracles of angelic visitations – a recurring thread in the tapestry of the story of the birth of Jesus.  An angel appeared to Mary with the incredible message that began with the first promise of Christmas: “Fear not…” he said to her.  It is still God’s Christmas message to us.  “Fear not . . . “ He says to us.  Later the angel appeared to Joseph and finally “in the fulness of time” there were angels disturbing the night watch directing the shepherds to Bethlehem’s manger.

Every birth is a miracle, none more so than that one in Bethlehem two thousand years ago.  So many things could have gone wrong, but didn’t.  Had there been a cell phone or a telegram system, Joseph’s message could have read  “Mother and son are well” and that in itself would be a miracle.  That the mother was a virgin, that the “father” standing by was not biologically connected at all to the boy he held were among the miracles of Christmas.

Incarnation.  There wasn’t a need for a word like that before that night.  The Word in flesh.  The God of the universe smiling at the world as newborn.  The hands that had flung the stars in space now flailed above swaddling clothes.  What an incredible Christmas miracle.

Emmanuel, God with us. To put it in perspective one writer said, “Jesus is not human pretending to be God, nor God pretending to be human.  Jesus is fully divine AND fully human…”  The Word made flesh, dwelling among us, “and we beheld his glory, as the glory of the only begotten of the father, full of grace and truth.”  The greatest miracle of all.

 

Boundaries

David said, “The lines are fallen to me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage” (Psalms 16:6).  I don’t want to live without lines and boundaries in my life.  They are the checkpoints in temptation situations.  I have never needed a guardrail while driving a mountainous road.  But I don’t want to drive on mountainous roads without guardrails.  Understand, the guard rail is not the road but it certainly serves to keep you within the boundaries.  To make the guard rail the road would be wrong.  To attempt the road that has no guard rail would be dangerous.  As stated, lines protect our “heritage.”

So often we are hemmed and hedged in by life and would like to break free to do our own thing.  An inheritance mentality led the prodigal son to break loose from the rules of his father’s house.  However, he who was a son in the father’s house became a slave in a stranger’s house.  Why?  He removed the boundaries and was entrapped by temptation. “He had the faith to claim his inheritance but not the faith to keep it.” (Rheinhard Bohnke)

Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit.  “Then the tempter came…” (Matthew 4:3).  Can you imagine?  The Spirit led Him into a place of demonic encounter.  Hedged in by a wilderness – bound by His commitment to the eternal Spirit – the interlocking of the ages came when Satan met the Son.  How did Jesus overcome it?  First, He understood there are wildernesses in life.  In that wilderness there can be darkness.  God is activated in darkness.  God can see at night.  God created the earth in the midst of darkness.  The first Passover came on a dark night.  Jacob wrestled with God through a weary black sojourn.  Gideon heard the soldier’s dream at night.  Our Lord prayed through Gethsemane in the midnight hours.  God is activated by the night.  Don’t worry about the wilderness.  He is there!  The entire purpose of the Book of Job is to teach us that faith in God is better than an answer – and Satan is no match for faith.

Jesus met the devil with the Word.  Yes, that’s the best way to handle temptation – with the Word.  “It is written…it is written…it is written….”  He whittled off three portions of God’s word and jabbed the devil with it.  We don’t just have three scriptures – we have the entire Book!  What a weapon against temptation!  If God said it, that settles it.  The Ten Commandments are not ten suggestions.  There are just certain temptations and struggles that you live with in the wilderness.  Why doesn’t God explain Himself?  Why doesn’t God move more quickly?  The coming of the Spirit rarely includes an immediate change of circumstance.  It takes time for God to let us develop.  We have to be melted before we can be molded.  That’s what wildernesses are for – but that’s why the Eternal Word is there.  Stand on it!  Jesus was forty days in a wilderness under satanic attack.

Jesus was in the flow of the River Jordan and heard a voice that said, “Thou art my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”  Just a few verses later another voice comes in the wilderness temptation situation and says, “If you be the son of God…”  Don’t ever doubt in the wilderness what you heard in the flow!  Don’t ever doubt in the dark what God told you in the light.

Lastly, the devil took Jesus up to an “exceeding high place.”  Yes, one of his last ploys is to get you into an exceeding high.  It can be a high of success – a high of ego – or even the height of temptation.  There Satan made Him a promise – “Look at the kingdoms of this world – I’ll give them to you.”  Watch for Satan and the flesh’s exceeding highs.  Even when it feels the world is at your feet, it can be a temptation situation.  Remember, it is written, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and him only shalt thou serve.

God set boundaries for the tribes in Israel. God set boundaries for the entire land of promise.  God sets boundaries for the church.  Live within them.  Remember His promises and don’t stray from your boundaries.

Two and a half tribes of Israel did not like the boundary of the promised land.  They asked God to stretch it to give them a place on the other side of Jordan.  God acquiesced and did it.  They became world borders – living right on the fringe.  One of those tribes was the tribe of Gad.  Years later these same Gadarenes thought more of their herd of hogs than they did the presence of Jesus Christ.  Why would Israelites even be raising hogs?  I’m sure they said, “Well, we don’t eat them – we just sell them to the Gentiles.”  They were living on the fringes of the border.  That’s what happens when you are too close to the edge.

Enhance your relationship with Jesus.  Get into His Word.  Remember, “It is written…”  Respect the boundaries.  Get as far into the Promised Land as you can and victory is yours!

 

Beware The Spirit of Absalom

David was a wise and experienced warrior. He was a man anointed of God to lead Israel in battles both spiritual and literal.  David knew when to fight and when not to fight. He knew the difference between retreat and strategic withdrawal to regroup the troops.  He knew that ultimately, the most important outcome was not who won which battle, but who won the war.

Though my tenure as overseer of a wonderful group of churches and ministers has ended, I find myself still fielding phone calls, text messages, and in counseling sessions with anointed and called leaders whose congregations are being attacked by men and women with what I identified long ago as “the spirit of Absalom.”

It seems every church of any size in existence for very long today has experienced some level of uprising.  Most of the time the spirit of Absalom is behind it.  It is not the result of poor leadership. It cannot be blamed on the pastor, nor his wife, nor his children.  There is always someone – or some family – or some group – with a hidden agenda.  For the Book of Acts church there was Ananias and Sapphira – “a certain man with his wife.

There seem to be two predominant spirits that attack churches today.  The spirit of Jezebel is a spirit of control.  Jezebel can get into the worship department, or into the intercessors, or pulpit, or other departments.  The spirit of Jezebel is often after the finances, acknowledging that whoever controls the purse strings controls the power of the church.  The Absalom spirit is a little different.  It is a take-over spirit that has an ultimate objective of taking off a following, a separating from the body.  It is a spirit of division and discord.

Absalom was the favored son of King David.  In all probability, David might have been actually grooming him to take the throne. Absalom was impatient.  Like the prodigal son, he didn’t want to wait for his inheritance.  He wanted it now.  Nearly seven decades ago, my pastor taught me, “A man too big to do little things is too little to do big things.”  Individuals should be given opportunities in small things to prove their loyalty, dedication, and ability then find promotion into areas of leadership in ministry.

When Satan sets about to destroy a church, he goes for the leaders.  Leadership staff at a church of any size must be warned: Satan targets people who show potential. He will send discouragement.  When that works, he’ll let them spread their disappointments and discouragement and sow discord.  “We need to pray for our Pastor.  He just doesn’t get it.”  When this spirit shows up – in the earliest of stages – it should be confronted.  It is a strategy of Satan to plant destructive seeds in rising leaders.

When we read the story of David and Absalom we see what a strong conspiracy was created.  “For the people increased continually with Absalom.”  I call it a conspiracy because, at least at first, David and the other leaders didn’t know what was happening.  Absalom worked behind their backs.  I’ve seen it happen in churches.  The pastor goes on vacation and leaves a trusted man in charge to come back and find the church ripe for a split. The spirit of Absalom has been at work.  We have to remember that Kingdom work is not flesh and blood but “principalities and powers.”

Bill Gothard said,

“Disloyalty can develop over a period of time if certain attitudes are allowed to find a place of habitation in the spirit of a person with responsibility.  No one wakes up one morning and finds himself disloyal.  Disloyalty is an attitude that develops through various stages before it fully manifests itself.” 

Disloyalty does not begin with a massive conspiracy – it goes through stages.  It starts as a little seed – frustration, discontent, critical over little things – length of service, message, who sings.  Absalom just wanted to be made a judge – or so he said. In churches today, it seems to eventually come to a point where the man or woman with the spirit of Absalom begins to think he/she teach better, counsel better, move in the gifts better.  And, who knows?  Maybe that’s true.  However, he’s not the called anointed leader God has put in place.

There seem to be stages in the Absalom spirit that are readily identified.  It starts with an independent spirit.  An Absalom spirit will not submit to the leader.  It begins to maneuver to gain personal recognition from people.  There is nothing servant-like about this person. God anoints men and women with submissive hearts. Luke 16:12 tells us that if you’ve been faithful in keeping what is another man’s, God will commit to you what which is your own. Joseph had to buy into three other dreams before his own came true.

The next stage in the Absalom spirit is self-promotion.  The man not only wants recognition, he wants praise and promotion.  Every move is a strategic attempt to be seen and approved.  We find, in the story of Absalom, that for several years he had been weaning people away from David with a long-range plan to take the throne from him.  Satan always has a long-range plan.  Just like Absalom wanted to go pray – the Absalom-spirited one always has a “spiritual” reason behind what they do.  Absalom had 200 men who accompanied him from Jerusalem; innocent people who did not know what his ultimate plan actually was.  In a church setting, innocent people always get sucked in and become the casualties of war not of their own making.

Then, with the recognition and praise they have garnered for themselves, spiritual pride shows up.  They start believing their own hype.  “I am the best . . .”  From that invariably comes an offended spirit.

In one church somewhere between the north and south poles, the ushers got offended because the pastor stopped the  church from paying for the donuts being brought to the usher’s office each Sunday morning.  Half of the ushers quit.  All I can say is, if you get offended enough to quit over donuts, there wasn’t much holding you there in the first place.

As the Absalom spirit takes a stronger hold, you’ll encounter a critical spirit.  Every decision is questioned.  Every statement challenged.  From that, a competitive spirit is born.  It will begin to question whether or not the Pastor even hears from God. The more you decrease, the more Jesus will increase.  By the same token, the more you increase, the less of Jesus there will be.  The wise man of Proverbs said, “Confidence in an unfaithful man in a time of trouble is like a broken tooth and a foot out of joint.”  It cripples the body of believers when you’ve got men who have this kind of attitude.  The body can’t walk on that kind of crippled foot.

Absalom’s spirit brings with it the sowing of division and strife.  Complaints will abound over everything imaginable – how much money is spent, what it’s spent on, who sings, who doesn’t sing, who teaches, who doesn’t.  Absalom feeds followers on his own critical and fault-finding spirit. With increasing boldness, there is gossip against the leader – and usually, his family as well. Eventually there is open disloyalty and division.

When Absalom is ready to move, he moves with swiftness.  A man with an Absalom spirit will embarrass the pastor in  a public forum – a church service or a board meeting. Those of like spirits will gather to him.  Like Absalom, they will become bold – call meetings and gather the innocents; focusing people on the minor issues, he splits the church either literally or psychologically.

God has a plan.  Absalom met his end. He rode a mule and got caught under the thick boughs of a tree.  The vehicle that was carrying him left him and he was hung.  His head – or his authority – became his downfall.  He was caught by head in a tree.  Terrible judgment on his life.  Finally, he was stabbed to death by 10 young men.

Absaloms need to repent of the criticism, to forgive if they think they’ve been offended, they need to seek your blessings even if they leave your church.  I’ve known of Absalom’s that underwent a chastening of the Lord, paid the price, and came out all right – but it’s a terrible price.

So, what can we do?  As a pastor, try and spot an Absalom in the earliest stages and always provide a place for restoration.  An Absalom that has been restored can be one of your most loyal members.

As a church member, when you see (or hear) that spirit of Absalom, refuse to be a part of it.

Beware the spirit of Absalom!

 

April Showers

It’s a catchy phrase from a childhood rhyme, “April showers bring May flowers . . .”  Gardeners love the promise of the phrase, as do the sales people in the gardening department at Lowe’s and various nurseries around town!  I saw a sign that had the phrase and suddenly wondered about an old hymn I remember from long ago and far away.

Daniel Whittle lost his arm in a Civil War battle.  While recovering from the surgery, in a prisoner of war camp, he looked for something to read.  Someone gave him a New Testament.  Reading it forever changed his life.  When the war ended, he served for a time as the treasurer of the Elgin Watch Company in Chicago, but soon left that for full-time evangelistic work.  He wrote 23 hymns before his death in 1901.  Among them, “Showers of Blessing.”

The prophet Ezekiel tells us of a covenant between God and his people – He describes it as a “covenant of peace” and ends with the phrase “There shall be showers of blessing.”  (Ezekiel 34:25-26) No doubt this passage was Brother Whittle’s inspiration:

There shall be showers of blessing; this is the promise of love;
There shall be seasons refreshing, Sent from the Savior above.

There shall be showers of blessing; Precious reviving again;
Over the hills and the valleys, Sound of abundance of rain.

There shall be showers of blessing; Send them upon us, O Lord;
Grant to us now a refreshing; Come, and now honor Thy word.

There shall be showers of blessing; O that today they might fall,
Now as to God we’re confessing, Now as on Jesus we call!

There shall be showers of blessing, If we but trust and obey
There shall be seasons refreshing, if we let God have His way.

Showers of blessing, Showers of blessing we need;
Mercy drops round us are falling, but for the showers we plead.

There’s nothing quite as refreshing as an April shower. . . Nothing quite as wonderful as being caught in the downpour of His showers of blessing and mercy and peace upon us.  My heart’s cry is simple:  “Send the rain!”  Let there be showers of blessing – showers of blessing we need!

 

OIKOS

Before you strangle on the caption for this article.  Let me make a confession.  It is a Greek word.  I know very little about the Greek language but this is a good one.  Colloquially translated, it simply means, “household.”  It is used in the New Testament.  It can mean your family, your servants.  It could even be your friends.  Acts 10:24 says that Cornelius called together his kinsman and his near friends.  His “oikos” came to his home to hear the Word of God.

There’s no greater outreach than the outreach of family and friends.  That’s the sphere of your influence for Christ and righteousness.  All of us have family and friends.

I have often heard people say, “I can’t win anybody to the Lord.”  Your greatest field of evangelism is among your own kinsman and your own neighborhood.  Church Growth Incorporated, in a recent survey, revealed that evangelism is most effective when it is targeted at friends, family, and associates.

They made a survey of 42,000 lay people who had come to the Lord.  Consider this:

  • 75-90% of them became Christians through friends or relatives.
  • At most, only 2% were won by visitation programs.
  • Believe it or not, less than 1% were won through evangelistic crusades or television programs.
  • Added to this, only 6% credited church programs with bringing them into the church.

Win Arn, in one of his books, made a classic observation.  He said,

Any Christian can accomplish oikos evangelism is he follows a simple set of guidelines: identify his “extended family.  The extended family includes those non-Christians with whom he has a unique relationship.  To effectively evangelize these individuals, he must listen attentively, relate to their needs, look for receptive periods, use appropriate timing, use understandable language (not Christian-ese), and be accountable to God.”

He observed that non-believers who are won to Christ by someone who is a genuine friend tend to become active in their churches and stay active.  In one survey of 240 new Christians and 240 drop outs, 94% of the active believers stayed in church because of their friendship with the person who witnessed to them.  On the other hand, 71% of those who dropped out did so because they viewed the evangelist as a salesman, not a friend.

There you have it!  We have a tremendous field of evangelism at our fingertips.  There are so many who are hungry for this born-again experience.  There is no need to say they don’t want it.  How do they know if they haven’t had a choice?  Expose them to the real thing.  Let them see the love of Jesus and the love of truth walked out in your life, as a living example of what a Christian ought to be.  This oikos evangelism will draw them to Him.