Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Finished Work of the Cross

We often say the phrase “the finished work of the cross” and correctly so. However it crossed my mind that the work of the cross was completely finished early one Sunday morning. Until then the work was "pending".

When a contractor builds a house no one can move in until the final inspection. Christ built the house of redemption upon the cross, but the resurrection was the final inspection that allowed "whoseover will" to move in.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Sermon on the Mount

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

God is jealous of His glory and He has said in several places that He will not share His glory with another. Compromise is a cancer that is most effective when the compromise is not only practiced, but embraced, by believers. There is much compromise within the church today. Some began as small compromises and with practice they grew into larger compromises until it could well be described as apostasy. Men like Rick Warren began with a measure of compromise until their ministries have evolved into full blown falsehoods. It is a very sad spectacle indeed.
The emergent church was birthed out of a compromised gestation period that began decades ago until men like Rob Bell and Brian McClaren could teach all sorts of nefarious doctrines that are nothing more than mental musings of the flesh, and yet be followed by many thousands of professing believers. Compromise is not stagnant and is willing to await the next generation in order to move significantly forward. It is cloaked in religious words and even incorporates Biblical verbiage in order to remain shrouded as it pursues a course of deception.
Today’s western ecclesiastical construct is permeated with compromise on every level. We have preachers living in extravagant houses and driving luxury automobile. We see teachings of greed and avarice, as well as rampant immorality within the pulpit. Thousands of believers go on Christian cruises and costly retreats while the world dies without the Savior. Millionaire Christian singers abound, and much budget money is spent to keep the youth entertained. Millions upon millions of dollars are spent every month on mortgage interest for large religious edifices. The walls have been broken down and our reproach continues with little tears and almost no call for revival except for some manipulated dog and pony shows.
Yes, the Spirit calls out to those attempting to worship God with the ways of Babylon. But just as the Jews who lived in Babylon, our ears have become deaf and our hearts hardened through the love of this world. Only a remnant left Babylon in order to rebuild Jerusalem because most had carved out a comfortable lifestyle in Babylon. Their power was gone and they were not worshiping God anymore, and like Samson, they knew it not. But take another step into this vision and direct your eyes to a sin that is almost beyond imagination.
Picture the Jews in Babylon pledging their allegiance to that Babylon and in fact professing their love for such a place. A place of idolatry and hedonism that was a fallen culture of excess and paganism, and yet God’s people pledging their hearts to such a place?! Do not be deceived, brothers and sisters, it is easy to confront the false teachings of men like Warren, Osteen, and Bell. But while some make loud consternations about those and other false teachings, they themselves remain enveloped in a strong deception. The light of the church has been extinguished under a bushel called nationalism.
God continues to call His bride out from among the heathen so that the light of the gospel can reach their hearts, but as long as our light is diffused by a misguided patriotism we will continue today as we have yesterday and as we will tomorrow. Unless there is a sweeping move of the Spirit that rescues believers from the clutches of nationalism there can be no real divine power shining through His body. The western church remains unremarkable among its cultural peers as we refuse to fast and pray about issues that just might be hindering the light that should be shining through us.
Deception of all kinds flourishes here, and with one absolutely astonishing feature. Many who see and confront major deceptions in others are themselves enveloped in a major league deception. Picture a Babylonian Jew pledging allegiance to Babylon and also criticizing other Jews for their liberal view of the Passover. What a contradiction! And yet patriotism and nationalism are incredibly vicious strongholds that when confronted many times respond in a decidedly unchristian way.
In order for His light to shine through us we must be seen as exclusively His and His alone. So often we are seen as Americans or conservatives or even moral crusaders. That is very unfortunate and blocks the crystal clear light of Jesus Christ. God will not share a platform with all kinds of other causes, and the Spirit is jealous over God’s born again children. What kind of deception are we living in? The number of professing believers in America numbers in the tens of millions and yet with very little affect. And the church is constantly being affected by the culture with many incremental changes, some overt and some imperceptible, but whose effect dilutes our witness and extinguishes our light.
And still we trudge on without any concern or call for something - anything! Pastors and congregation alike are comfortable in Babylon and assuage their conscience by whipping the gays, liberals, Muslims, and a host of other targets which usually does not include the church itself. And the founding fathers have become nothing less than idols set up in the high places. And in direct opposition to Scripture, those founding fathers who were believers, surely not evangelical, joined hands with pagans, deists, and men who practiced debauchery. Thousands upon thousands of men died in the Revolutionary War and entered a Christless eternity so we might have lower taxes. And that is supposed to be God’s way? America was birthed upon the principles of monetary gain and political self government, both of which are not part of a believer’s calling.
If we are to experience any semblance of the power exhibited in the Book of Acts, we must cast off the grave clothes of divided loyalties which consider some men better than others based upon their ethnicity, their nationality, and their financial status. We are not of this world even while we are in it. Sadly, the church has become a willing part of this world in almost everything. Are we satisfied with being a voting block, or are we thirsty for the living water that can only flow through a clean and separated vessel?

Time marks its territory every single day.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Who is an Exclusivist?

After my son had explained the gospel to a professor, the professor said to my son,

“So you are an exclusivist.”

I would like to ask that man a question,

“Can a whale give birth to a horse.”

Assuming he gives the right answer, I would call him an exclusivist too.
The Sermon on the Mount

Matt.5:13 - Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

Allow me to wax dietary. Salt, or salty, is one of the five basic taste categories. The human palate likes the taste of salt in many different foods, and in fact animal life requires salt to live. Salt is used also in minimizing a taste of bitterness which is another of the five basic tastes. And salt is also used in food preservation.
But I believe our Lord was referring to salt as a seasoning and also the way salt creates a thirst for that which makes up most of our lives - water. Our lives are to be living epistles that can be recognized by unbelievers as different and curious. This difference is not to be forced or manipulated, and the difference should not be because we are dour, inflexible, or morally self righteous. And we cannot be different if we join “forces” with the unsaved on any important issue that would cloud the majesty of God’s gospel of grace. Helping to sod your son’s little league field with unbelievers is light years from aligning ourselves with unbelievers in political morality, national allegiances, or war.
Our seasoning must not be about what stands we take about issues, or even our systematic theology. Our seasoning must be about Jesus through the power of God’s Spirit. “O taste and see that the Lord is good” says the Psalmist. Denominations have been a hindrance to penetrating evangelism because so many denominations are so inflexible about certain points of doctrine that they have separated themselves. And most of the time the points of doctrine in question are not central to salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. That kind of in house sectarianism dilutes the power of the gospel and magnifies things other than Jesus Himself.
We as western believers have lost the fragrance of Jesus; the seasoning that permeates our lives in such a way as to be noticed. The lost person does not care if you do not drink or smoke or go to the theatre, but he can see acts of compassion and kindness. He cannot understand to squabbles over the nature of the Trinity, however he might respond to a joy and peace that passes all understanding. We are not called to live “your best life now”. No, a thousand times no! We are called to allow Jesus to live through us. Many believers live as if this is all there is, but with their lips they express a belief in eternal life.
A man inherits 60 million dollars. He and his family get into the car and start the 10 hour drive to the lawyers office to receive the check. They stop for gas, and drive on. Then they stop for gas once more, he pays the attendant with a credit card, and then the man reaches into his pocket and feels nothing. He “knew” he had placed a five dollar bill in his pocket but now it is gone. He berates everyone in the car and demands that every inch of the car be searched. They spend over an hour tearing the car apart but did not find the five dollar bill. They continue their journey again but the man is unsociable and bitter.
What would you think about a man like that? Would you doubt that he had indeed inherited the money, or would you doubt his sanity? Either way, the man’s behavior did not mesh with someone only hours away from collecting 60 million dollars. And so it is with believers who get entangled with the things of this world to the extent it occupies their time and energy and seems at odds with someone on their way to inherit eternal life. In truth, when we are compromised from a crucified life it always indicates a lack of faith on some level.
Now salt produces thirst. Our lives, when lived in His power, should produce a thirst in people to know what we know and the reason for our hope. A life lived for Christ is selfless and humble, and it pursues the life to God’s glory and in the best interest of others. That kind of life has no earthly motivation, and it is that lack of observable motivation that creates an atmosphere of curiosity. People can ignore or even confront others with opposing issues, however they may find it difficult to ignore someone who loves and cares for them even though they may have opposing issues.
Correction belongs in the church, but for too long the church has sought to correct the lost, and with varying degrees of judgment depending upon the particular sin. It is time we begin to touch the darkness with light. It is time we begin to live redemptively. It is time for the church to be Jesus to the world around us. Of what good is salt if it cannot be tasted, or it cannot preserve, or it does not elicit thirst? Jesus said it is of no good, especially as it concerns the kingdom of God.

Remember, salt is most recognizable in foods that are without any salt at all.
And our salt can be most effective when it is surrounded by people who most desperately need it.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Gospel Age Will End

I believe that in this gospel age God has exercised great patience and extends grace around the world. But there is coming a day that is described with fearful metaphors and foreshadowing in the Scriptures. Behold, He comes quickly.

Rev.22:20 - He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Sermon on the Mount
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you and shall say all manner of evil against you, falsely, for my sake.

Just what is “persecution”? Today’s definition of persecution is often shallow and self serving. Believers squeal when the slightest verbal affront comes their way, and many loudly suggest their “rights” are being denied to them. That is not true persecution at all. Everyone is verbally assailed at one time or another regardless of religious affiliation. Authentic persecution comes when the world comes against you in word and in deed for Jesus’ sake.
I purposely placed the last two beatitudes together since I see them as completely joined together. Many men do good to their fellow man even if they do not have faith. But in order for us to claim some kind of persecution it has to be against our Master and not solely against us. And meditate upon that point. That which is called persecution by believers in the west is many times directed at our views about abortion, homosexuality, and other issues. Rarely are we persecuted because we love and walk in the footsteps of Jesus.
In fact, I am convinced some are just beginning to see the extent to which we have strayed from living as Jesus would have us to live. I was saved in 1975 and quickly became gobbled up into evangelicalism as it is practiced in the west. I did not question the flag being presented and even pledged to in the sanctuary. I felt it was a Christian duty to vote, and I listened to Limbaugh and all the rest. Many habits that have crept into the body of Christ are embraced without any genuine searching of the New Testament. One day my best friend asked me this question:

Where in the New Testament does it give license to violently overthrow the government when you are over taxed as they did in the Revolutionary war?”

Have you ever had a moment of awakening that began a journey to unravel much of what you thought was true and the more you unraveled the more you saw that needed unraveling? That has been my path these last ten years. We should not seek persecution, but if we are to be persecuted let is be because we so clearly represent Him that sinners are either drawn to or recoil against the Master. The entire culture revels in controversy and argument. Men make millions of dollars doing nothing but spewing negativity and even hatred through different forms of media. But that should not be our way.
Many early believers were martyred and persecuted because they humbly refused to pay allegiance to Caesar. It is easy to confront subversive elements who employ violence and hatred, but what can a culture do to those who refuse national allegiance but are humble and gracious? In the early persecutions some of the believers were so humble as they were being persecuted and even put to death that it became a tool through which the Spirit drew onlookers to Christ. Some came to watch the Christians get what they deserved, but some left with a new found faith in Christ.
But would sinners have been drawn to Christ if believers yelled and screamed about their rights? The atmosphere today has become so toxic and so misrepresentative of the gospel that most unbelievers think that Jesus desires to implement His moral agenda in America, and many believers speak more about moral issues than they do about Jesus. Democracy has become a colossal stumbling block for the church in many ways. And that democracy is even practiced in church business meetings as everyone gets a voice and a vote. The church has been assimilated into the culture in which it lives.

Now what should are attitude be when we are persecuted? The words of Jesus:

“Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”

Oh how far have we fallen from the authentic manifestation of the Christian life? Believers complain about everything from the economy to the President to Muslims or to the latest legislation that is unbiblical. The entire “conservative” genre is filled with an ongoing complaint about liberals and other undesirables. And many believers have not only fallen prey to this deception, many embrace it with great vigor. And in the very midst of this carnal carousel there are believers shouting and holding up the Bible draped in the American flag and attempting to leverage power through numbers and votes. It is a pitiful spectacle to say the least.
We must have no agenda but His, and if persecution still comes then let us humbly rejoice that we have “been counted worthy to suffer shame for His name”. Oh the sacred privilege of being accosted for Him! Oh what an honor to suffer because we love and follow Him too closely! And how many martyrs went to the stake with songs of worship coming forth from their lips? Read the Foxes Book of Martyrs and meditate on those who gave God glory as they gave their lives. As they were burned at the stake many sang hymns of praise; many smiled with approval; many prayed with words of worship; and many gave some outward sign of faith.
It is recorded that one martyr had told his fellow believers that he would point to heaven while being burned as a sign of faith and worship. But because of the wind the fire began to consume him more quickly that could have been anticipated, and when his body became charred many thought he would be incapable of moving his hand. But slowly he lifted his blackened hand toward heaven in the midst of the flames, and directly his spirit was ushered into God’s presence. That, my friends, is persecution on a more profound level than squawking about gay rights legislation or touting some myth about the founding fathers.
So let us reexamine what it means to live as He directs, and in that journey let us revisit everything we were taught and see if Scripture itself is the source for what we believe. And if and when we are persecuted and people say things about us, let us rejoice! And then let us humbly and with sincerity and love reach out with kindness to each and every one who comes against us. The greatest force in God’s creation is love, and the most complete manifestation of that love is redemption. And redemption can only be found through Jesus the Christ.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Sermon on the Mount
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
The word “peacemaker” is an accurate translation. Since no one can make the inward covenant peace in another, the concept here must be about external peace. Believers should be known for promoting peace between individuals as well as community peace as a whole. It is obvious to see that the power to do so is limited, however when believers exhibit a lifestyle of outward peace it can be used by the Spirit to draw men to the Prince of Peace. It is baffling how the western body of Christ has embraced all kinds of violence, usually under the guise of patriotism and nationalism.
Violence is man’s way to exert power and to protect the ownership of material things. It is counter to the gospel message and the character of Christ as well as the entire tone of the New Testament. And the only way a believer can justify violence is to blur the line between the Old Testament and the New Testament. That compromises the teachings and the example set forth by the Master Himself. We are to be a people of peace who serve the Prince of Peace and who preach a gospel that offers eternal peace between a rebellious race and their Creator.
God reserves revenge unto Himself, and He calls us to a life that is remarkable in its rejection of violence and revenge. If we as believers join in with the world’s view of violence, then what difference is there between us? The “just war” concept is nothing more than providing a platform for advocating violence whenever we deem it “just”. It is easy to advocate peace when there is no war, but to be a peacemaker when war exists is a difficult road to travel and usually results in castigation from believer and unbeliever alike.
One of the aspects of the early believers were that many refused to enter the military of their particular country and they were mocked and persecuted accordingly. Being a peacemaker will not always win you accolades. It will many times elicit criticism and attacks from every corner. Violence is a lucrative industry, and war lines the pockets of many a business man. And when the term “win” is used as it applies to a war it profoundly misrepresents the misery, heartache, and death that war leaves in its wake. No one wins in a war, it only seems that way in the natural and the nationalistic mind.
But God’s children should be known by a different standard. If believers join hands and hearts in supporting violence of any kind, then who can be identified as children of God? Jesus teaches that God’s offspring should be peacemakers. Well, what does that mean? Does it just mean arbitrating a family argument, or resolving a parking space dispute, or something on that level? Or is there a more profound and culturally remarkable manifestation of being a peacemaker that because of its uniqueness within a culture of violence stands in stark relief against that backdrop? Being a peacemaker goes much deeper than bringing warring parties to a truce. Being a peacemaker that identifies one as a child of the living God means taking a humble stand against all kinds of violence.
Aggression is at odds with the thrust and message of the gospel, as well as the volitional death of God the Son. The entire New testament is filled with an attitude of “turn the other cheek” and “do good to your enemies”. Violence cannot be parsed out with respect to the whims and purposes of each individual, and believing followers of the Lord Jesus must be known for their rejection of violence and promotion of peace that is on a much higher dimension than intervening in sibling squabbles . That in and of itself does not equate to eternal redemption, but perhaps it can be salt and light which can draw sinners to the Savior.
When the lives and views of believers are much the same as unbelievers, especially when it concerns issues as significant as violence and death, then it marginalizes the gospel and the kingdom of God. In effect it makes our lives and beliefs unremarkable within a culture of darkness, and makes our lives conform to the views and practices of fallen man, rather than being a brilliant reflection of the divine redemptive will. Many are those who promote peace that are motivated by the unpleasantness of war and the fear of losing a level of enjoyment of personal happiness in the material lifestyle. But that is not what Christ is suggesting.
We cannot be satisfied with a motivation based solely upon reason and the disruption of personal pleasure. Our views must be principles that are not only based upon the words and teachings of the New Testament, but are the direct revelations and substance of those words. Our views are not extrapolations of those teachings, but they are those teachings themselves. We are to be peacemakers because He commanded us to be so, and in the final analysis our outward peacemaking is a three dimensional model of the eternal peace that was made and offered at Calvary.
We are made children of God by faith in Jesus Christ. No amount of good works, including peacemaking, can accomplish that or even add to it. The peace that was forged between God and man at Golgotha is made a personal reality by simple faith alone. His redemptive labor needs no enhancement and is received as complete, even though we grow in its knowledge. But one way in which we can bear the moniker a “child of God” is by being a peacemaker. I have often referred to myself as a pacifist, however I believe I am going to change that to “peacemaker” since that verbiage is more reflective of the teachings of Christ. Pacifist means a rejection of violence, but being a peacemaker not only rejects violence but promotes peace.
The lion will one day lay down with the lamb, and the swords will be turned into plowshares. But until that day, we as believers in the Person who will bring that to pass, must be living prophetic images of a coming kingdom ruled by an Eternal King. We are by faith the children of that coming King.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Sermon on the Mount
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Just what does the Lord mean when He says the “pure in heart”? The Scriptures tell us that the heart of man is wicked and always thinking about himself.

Jer.17:9 - The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

So if that be the truth then how can a person’s heart be pure? A study of the Greek word “pure” ( καθαρός ) finds that the word indicates a genuine and sincere heart, and one that isn’t compromised by uncleanness or guile. It does not mean perfection, but it does indicate a surpassing level of authenticity and even transparency. It is that kind of child like sincerity that Christ describes when He uses the word pure.
This, my friends, is a challenge to all of us. We all deal with different kinds of hidden agendas, some known to us and some are hidden even to us. There are two primary ways to uncover our hearts and see if there is any compromise or selfishness in them - prayer and the mirror of God’s Word. And the believer who wishes the Spirit to filet his heart open before him must be willing to approach the Spirit with vulnerability and a rejection of any preconceived ideas about how pure his heart may or may not be.
And the fire of God is the only spiritual agent that is able and worthy of burning off the dross and double mindedness inside that mercurial area within us God calls the heart. Do not become legalistic and perfectionist about this issue since that will only immobilize you. I have seen people, although sincere, who see every little imperfection in their hearts as mountains which must be removed before they can even proceed on their spiritual walk. And since no one can be perfect, they usually become immobilized. I also have seen believers contend that their hearts are completely perfect and without sin, and you can guess where that leads. Self righteousness.
We can reject both of those extremes, however we can embrace the principle of that verse and pursue a heart that is pure. But even a pure heart must still rely on God’s grace since it is only by His power can we ever claim to be pure. So while we are wrapped in the grace of God, we enter into a personal inventory that is not by us but by God’s Spirit. It is good to remember that God does not wish to defeat us by correction and repentance, but His desire is to crystallize more clearly the image of Christ within and without. Another words, although correction is often painful and is a challenge to one’s “self esteem”, when it is the Spirit molding a believer in spiritual surgery it is all to the glory of God. And when that believer repents and is changed in an area, he himself experiences the renewing power of the Holy Spirit.
But listen as Christ reveals an amazing mystery that is so often ignored or at least diluted pragmatically. The Lord Jesus teaches that the pure in heart can see God. Wow. Not many believers are even looking to see God, so that narrows the field already. But to those who thirst to see the face of the Risen Christ, the pure heart is a prerequisite. Let us first define some terms. How many of us could say we heard the voice of God? Most of us have heard God speak to us in something other than an audible voice. So in the spirit God can speak through avenues other than an audible voice that can be picked up by the human ear.
The same is true about the face of God. Since God is a spirit He does not have a face as we would define a face, and when God uses the terms mouth, ears, eyes, voice, and other anthropomorphic terms it is for our benefit and understanding. But God still beckons us to see His face which means that there is a place in the spirit where God will reveal to a greater degree His character, His love, and all His attributes. And to the pure in heart God will pull back further and further the veil that reveals Who He is and the glory that defines Him. Does this not expose our present Christianity as utilitarian and pragmatic? Aren’t we guilty of ignoring the greater glories of knowing the Risen Christ and distilling the faith down to a “don’t lie - don’t steal” kind of Christianity? The present wastern Christian community models itself after Martha and often considers those who pursue Mary's place as too spiritual and mysterious.
We seem to have lost the thirst for the sacred and are content with the earthly. Benefits are described in the material and ignored in the spirit. And the hunger for a greater and more vivid revelation of Christ has all but disappeared since few are willing to spend the time in prayer necessary for the refiner’s fire to accomplish His work. Everyone would want to see God if He walked into a church service, but only a handful will seek Him in the night watches, fastings, and in the labor of the prayer closets.
But it all boils down to a pure heart. The fast paced western lifestyle has little room for patient and elongated time spent with an invisible deity. If that deity can enhance our lives then we give Him a limited audience that does not interfere with our plans and dreams. If this God can help my marriage, my parenting, and especially my finances then I will perform the minimum religious obligations in order to secure that which benefits me. That, my friends, is not the faith we call Christianity. That is nothing more than a self help program that manipulates Christ and His Word and turns it into a tool. The average believer uses Christ to change his circumstances without changing him.
But for the few that desire more than that shallow religious construct there lies ahead a glory that far surpasses anything here on earth. I cannot say with honesty that I walk everyday in that glory, but in 36 years I have indeed been transported to a realm in which I desired to stay forever. I have in special times been allowed to experience the presence of God in ways that cannot be communicated to anyone except those who have similar experiences. I realize that we do not depend upon those kind of experiences for our faith, but I also realize that we should not become complacent and satisfied with the mundane ecclesiastical expressions that all too often deny anything supernatural.
Are we just waiting to see God one day in eternity, or are we hungry to see glimpses that by God’s grace are available to us today? And if we are desirous to see and experience Him, then we must have a pure heart. And that can only happen through His power in prayer and the ministry of His glorious Word. The sermon on the Mount speaks to us today. Christ is calling us out of dependence upon programs, pragmatism, buildings and debt, preacher idols, endless seminars, and a Christianity that finds a convenient and unobtrusive place in our cluttered lifestyles.

God is searching for those who He can reveal Himself to; those with a pure heart.
The Sermon on the Mount
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
The undisputable fact is that the entire human race, including every single person everywhere, is in need of divine mercy. Without mercy divine justice would be swift and complete, and the sentence of death would be carried out. Now the unsaved are in a season of mercy in this gospel age while the saved have obtained eternal mercy through faith in the Lord Jesus.
We must remember that the Sermon on the Mount was meant in particular to believers as evidenced in many places including the last Beatitude which speaks of persecution for Christ’s sake. So this mercy of which Christ’s speaks does indeed apply most fully to us believers. And the principle is very obvious - those who have been shown mercy should show mercy in return. Of course this divine mercy we have received came forth from the divine love which is God Himself. True love is merciful.
So often believers feel a calling to judgment that is so strong and without any real mercy that it entirely misrepresents the heart of God and it repels sinners. These believers rehearse the law of Moses in a sincere attempt to make sinners aware of their sin and repentant about it. Of course many of that kind of believer believes that a sinner cannot repent unless God gifts him with such repentance, so the Moses road approach is so much window dressing.
We are called to preach the gospel without attaching the law of Moses. Most of the messages in the Book of Acts were without any litany of the Old Testament law, and in fact the core message was the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. The writer of Hebrews tells us that the main fear in man is death and the uncertainty about what follows that death. And the gospel is what addresses that issue including the gospel in a verse John 3:16. Sinners need mercy not a laundry list of their sins, and only the Spirit can draw a sinner to Jesus Christ regardless of how wonderful and organized your evangelistic presentation might be.

Matt.9:12-13 - But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.
But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

We believers still battle with our old nature, and that nature is filled with self righteousness and judgment. We tend to show mercy when we deem it warranted or when someone deserves it, but that is not what God commands us to do. We should be people after God’s own heart which Jesus said was mercy. You can perform all the religious oblations and serve faithfully in your local church construct, but if you are not a person filled with mercy that manifests itself through your very life than you are not an imitator of Jesus. And this kind of mercy is not easy to live since it includes showing mercy to many people who are the product of their own sinful choices - just like us if we are honest. But once a sinner arrives on the God side of grace the flesh sets out to turn around and judge the sinners from whence you just came. It is satisfying to the flesh even though such an attitude is an affront to the mercy and grace you just received.
Showing mercy goes against our propensity to meet out verbal justice and our willingness to verbally identify the sins of others while dealing with our own sins in the solitude of our own conscience. Mercy is foreign to the fallen nature and even when a believer shows very little to others, when he finds himself exposed in some grievous sin, that same merciless man begs for it personally. But this verse tells us that the way to receive mercy is to show it. How do we as believers show this mercy?
We must show mercy to unbelievers in order to reveal to them God's heart and His desire for their redemption. That does not mean we should condone their sin, but it also does not mean we need to publicly castigate them and prove to the ecclesiastical world our doctrinal purity. We live in an age where information travels quickly and through many avenues. And rarely do we get the entire story but not so rarely do we form concrete judgments about people. We should not desire information about people, and we should offer mercy to those with whom we have no relationship.
To masticate on the sins of the lost serves no redemptive purpose and that kind of self righteousness has often confused unsaved people into believing that our faith is one of moral alignment. Any kind of moral alignment is a result of God’s redemptive mercy and certainly not a prerequisite. It is residual and not foundational. In fact, if we are painfully honest, we still have much moral territory in our lives that is in need of alignment. Even when the bigger foxes in our lives have been slain, there are still many little ones that roam with all too much freedom. Again, we as believers are still in need of God’s mercy. God states that here:

Heb.4:16 - Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

We must also show each other mercy. This again is most difficult since we tend to show mercy to those we like and judgment to those of whom we are not fond. But showing mercy is not a divine suggestion, it is a command. And it is an integral part of exhibiting the kingdom of God and the Person of Christ worked out among believers. It is a very sad day when the distinguishing feature of the Christian community in this western culture is what we are against, and that much evangelical labor is given to return to and preserve some founding father’s mirage that never existed in the first place. All of which takes place in cubicle without mercy.
In general, the one aspect of doctrine that must be confronted when it is compromised is salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. The issue of redemption is the one aspect of Christian doctrine that must be corrected and even rebuked. That is a non-negotiable. But even that must be approached with a sense of humility and extending the hope for repentance. But as it pertains to showing mercy among the community of believers, we should be aggressively merciful.

I Tim.1:16 - Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.

Like Paul, let us show a pattern of mercy that those around us might see the heart of God revealed in His Son the Lord Jesus.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Sermon on the Mount

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

Later on in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus makes this statement:

Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.

These verses are the core of what it means to be a disciple. Surrounded and even suffocated by a culture of hedonism, humanism, and powerless religion, it is very easy to be assimilated into “a way that seems right to man, but the end thereof are the ways of death“. The first sign that the faith we call “Christianity” has been changed into something else is when those who profess such a faith have lost any hunger for righteousness.
I do not endorse any kind of legalism, but what I refer to is the complete absence of desire for leading a life that is marked by humble righteousness and the desire for more. And this righteousness cannot come through outward acts of religion or even acts of humanitarianism alone. The righteousness of Christ worked out through a believer’s life must always include an unmistakable attachment to His name and kingdom. There should be acts of humanitarianism, philanthropy, and all sorts of acts of love, as well as an open and passionate sharing of the gospel. All of which must be covered in humility and meekness.
The Scriptures teach us that when a sinner believes on Christ he is given the gift of righteousness, Christ’s righteousness, and that gift comes solely by faith. We have no righteousness of our own, and in fact the very things we think are righteous are the most clandestine kind of self righteousness. Any pursuit of God’s righteousness must begin with a rejection of our own false righteousness. And if we have no righteousness except His, what room is there for pride or boasting? And if we cannot boast, then what right do we have to condemn others?
Even though we are completely righteous before God, what righteousness are we suppose to pursue? This is the practical righteousness that emanates from and manifests the inward righteousness given to us from our Redeemer. But like I have said, these acts must be connected to Jesus. An unbeliever gives a cup of cold water to a thirsty person. That is good comparatively, but it cannot be an act of righteousness. A believer gives a cup of cold water to a thirsty person and says “Take this in Jesus’ name, sir”, and that is an act of righteousness.
So often “orthodox” churches are content with being righteous in doctrine and in their standing before God while neglecting a pursuit of working out that same righteousness. And so many times believers think that by not smoking or drinking or going to the theatre they are exhibiting righteousness. On the other hand many “liberal” churches are not concerned with doctrine and believe that humanitarian acts make them more righteous before God. And some times they do not care about personal habits that are a compromised lifestyle. Both constructs are flawed. We must do better.
In the general sense a hunger for righteousness is a hunger for more of Jesus and an unquenchable desire to walk "in His steps”. And if we stand upon the uncompromising platform of faith in Jesus as the exclusive Savior of mankind, then we are called to work out that faith in ways that draw sinners and saints to desire more of Him. And I firmly believe that the only way to seek more of Him is through prayer and a relentless pursuit of Jesus through the revelation of the Scriptures. Only then can we not only know what He is like and what He would do, but only then can we know Him.
We must look at the Scriptures beyond just being a collection of teachings and narratives. We must look at the Scriptures as windows through which Christ and His kingdom can be found. So often the church has used the Word as a club that can be used to condemn others, or a cold collection of doctrines that must be analyzed over and over. One church studies the Bible like an algebra book while another reads it like interesting stories. But we must search the Scriptures like parts to a treasure that feed the soul and give glorious revelations to a glorious Lord.
With so many Bibles available and with so many commentaries and study guides, many of which are good, we have subliminally ascribed the Bible to some type of religious academia and have neglected the spiritual aspect of its meaning and the indispensable way it sustains spiritual life. It is not the quantity of Scriptures you read, it is the quality of how you read. Do you read or do you consume? That is the core element in hungering and thirsting for God’s righteousness.
And God promises those who do so will be filled. Please notice the prerequisite for that filling is hungering and thirsting. This is where we must take honest and painful inventory. Are we passionate about God’s Word and seeking His kingdom? Does it motivate us like other things do? Do our minds rush to meditate upon His words and are we excited about spending time within the pages of Scripture?
Have you ever slid into bed at night and before you fell asleep you realized that you hadn’t eaten all day long? But have you ever slipped into bed without reading the Scriptures or spending time with God all day long? What does that tell us about where our appetites so often lay?

Lord, give us a hunger and thirst for You and Your kingdom,
and fill us with the knowledge and experience of You.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Sermon on the Mount

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

Matt.11:28-30 - Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (ASV)

Again we see in Jesus the spiritual quality that believers are exhorted to manifest. That equation remains consistent in discipleship and Jesus is our pattern in every area of our lives. The word “meek” in the Sermon on the Mount is the same Greek word in Matthew 11 where Jesus describes Himself. Here we see the glorious paradox inherent in the Godhead. The omnipotent Creator named Jesus is also the loving Redeemer. The judge is also the advocate. The Lion of the Tribe of Judah is also the Lamb of God.
And here we find the One who created everything with just a word describing Himself as “meek”. Now in a misguided attempt to protect the character of Jesus many preachers have bent over backwards to diminish the definition and the essence of the word “meek”. They insist that it does not mean Jesus was a doormat or subservient in His life, and in so doing they malign what is a glorious, albeit mysterious, manifestation of God the Son. They even describe Jesus as a “man’s man”, which again brings Him into a human caricature and makes an inapplicable comparison. Many would be offended if Jesus had chosen to be an effeminate man (not gay) because that would undermine their own caricature. In truth, the physicality of the Lord Jesus begins and ends with “in the likeness of sinful flesh”. All other specifics are completely irrelevant.
Meek He was in the broadest sense. He allowed Himself to be spat upon. He presented His back for deep lashing. He road upon a donkey. He was born in some barn. He had no place to live. He forgave those who mocked Him. The word meek seems very shallow and incomplete when used to describe the Incarnate Son. And we are called to cultivate that same meekness within our hearts so deeply enough that the outward fruit of such an inward change is recognizable and without question. Oh how we have lost the desire and power necessary to manifest a life that overflows with the paradoxical power of meekness.
The phrase “inherit the earth” was somewhat of a Hebrewism or a saying which indicated ownership of something of great value such as land. Of course there is also a hidden reference to the coming kingdom here on earth. The first shall be last and the last shall be first is another spiritual principle embedded in that promise. It is very curious that believers applaud the incarnation because God stooped down and became a man in the likeness of sinful flesh, but when it comes to us becoming meek and being clothed with humility and meekness, we all too quickly choose to ignore that particular practice.
Our flesh desires the now reward as opposed to the later inheritance. The “inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you” requires far too much faith and patience when the convenience of a temporal and corruptible victory is readily available today. As the years have passed the notion of heaven and an eternal kingdom has lost its luster and now find their place more deeply embedded in theological teachings rather than unmistakable expressions in the lives of professing believers. And if it demands meekness to inherit such a place, then the price is way too high.

Eph.4:1-3 - I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

In this passage the Spirit adds the word “lowliness” along with meekness. What strange words in this modern age of rugged individualism, goal setting, and financial achievement. He who exhibit’s the greatest braggadocio draws the greatest following. And as we watch so many television preachers strut and prance their way throughout a message that always draws applause and excitement, we must wonder what Scriptures they have been reading…if any.
But even in the face of such modern, self elevating practices we still must bow to God’s Word regardless of who behaves and teaches otherwise. Meekness elevates the Risen Christ and those who strive to be meek reject the spotlight and point with their lives to the Christ they serve. Meekness in the life of a believing follower of the Lord Jesus lights the world and salts the earth. And this kind of selfless meekness is not the easy road. It requires sacrifice and a disciple’s path filled with voices of reason, self righteousness, injustice, and unfairness.

Ti.3:1-2 - Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men.

When you find yourselves speaking, and even thinking, evil about others you can be assured that you are in the flesh. Even in correction we must implore the Spirit to keep us humble and meek. The sad spectacle of believers castigating others publicly, including the lost, is indeed at odds with the gospel message and spirit. When we meet someone who is observably meek, they seem to make a mark in our minds and hearts since it is so rare. But the church should be filled with meek people who hold their beliefs strongly, and who are fiercely following their Savior, but whose life and spirit reflect the thrust of these words as well:

Acts 20:24 - But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.

So instead of demanding his “rights”, Paul emphatically relinquishes everything, including his own life, and sets his eyes upon finishing the course set before him which magnifies God’s unspeakable grace. Paul describes himself as the “chief of all sinners”, and he admits that his he has no real power except in Christ. Paul has been

II Cor.4:7-10 - But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;
Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.

II Cor.6:4-10 - But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; By pureness, by knowledge, by long suffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.

II Cor.11:21-30 - I speak as concerning reproach, as though we had been weak. Howbeit whereinsoever any is bold, (I speak foolishly,) I am bold also.
Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I. Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.
Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;
In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.
Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?
If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities

Rehearse all the trials and tribulation that were Paul’s to endure. Read the list and imagine a hundred others. He almost lost his life many times. And when you imagine what Paul was put through, then notice he says, “Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.” So during the persecutions from the world, Paul also was buffeted by the many squabbles and attacks from within the church as well. And in the spirit of meekness, Paul sums it all up:

II Cor.4:14-18 - Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God.
For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;
While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal

Where is the bitterness? Where is the questioning of God? Where is the self pity? Oh dear Lord in heaven, what a specimen of meekness and surrendered servant hood. Throughout it all this disciple, this apostle, has cultivated and maintained a spirit of selfless humility and Christ honoring meekness, all to the glory of God. And just how can a believer walk in such broken boldness? Again, the Spirit speaks through Paul:

II Cor.3:4-5
Not that we are sufficient of ourselves
to think any thing as of ourselves;
but our sufficiency is of God;

Read it again:
Not that we are sufficient of ourselves
to think any thing as of ourselves;
but our sufficiency is of God;

Not that we are sufficient of ourselves
to think any thing as of ourselves;
but our sufficiency is of God;


Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Sermon on the Mount

Blessed are those that mourn for they shall be comforted.

This verse magnifies God’s Spirit who is the Comforter. The word “Comforter”, in the Greek it is παράκλητος, identifies the Spirit of God as a Helper and a Comforter. In Jn.14 Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as “another Comforter” who will “abide with you forever”. The word “another” is revealing since it obviously identifies Jesus as a comforter, but John identifies the Holy Spirit as THE Comforter. You see, Jesus and His ministry incorporates all other ministries while the ministry of the Holy Spirit, although expansive, is much more specific.
How then can a mourner be blessed and how does God’s Spirit comfort? This is among the spiritual mysteries when hearts can be comforted without any physiological help, but with the powerful and yet delicate healing balm of God’s invisible Spirit. There are many times that the Spirit uses human instruments to help carry burdens and speak words of comfort and healing. Some believers dare to enter into someone else’s sphere of life in order to be touched by their anguish and be used of God’s Spirit to comfort. Many times that comfort happens without many words.
All of us have seasons of mourning and for a variety of reasons. And many times men are insufficient vessels of comfort and their well intentioned attempts to comfort are hollow. Sorrow, and its much deeper brother grief, can grip a person’s spirit and render them spiritually, and sometimes physically, immobile. But believers have God’s promise of comfort. Look at what Jesus says about the Comforter:

Jn.14:26 - But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

Let us remember that the Scriptures were written by men who were moved and guided by the Comforter, and Jesus said that His words are spirit. A glorious and surpassing mystery which should make our hearts soar and our spirits rejoice. That same Spirit which inspired and guided the formation of the Holy Scriptures now takes a principle role in communicating those same Scriptures. Therein lies the tangible metamorphosis of a believing follower of the Lord Jesus. We can only change ourselves externally, which is worthless window dressing that is no more powerful that a mannequin displaying the newest fashion. Without an inward transformation any outward change is an act of the flesh.
But the Spirit of God moves within the believer in order to effect change through the building blocks of God’s Word. The divine Mason places each Scriptural brick within us and continues to construct a spiritual house according to the divine blueprint. When a believer spends little time in God’s Word then there is no brick and mortar with which to build, and in fact, that which has already been built begins to decay. And the same is true for those that mourn. God’s Word is always the healing balm which massages the broken heart and comforts us in places and in ways that men cannot reach.

Heb.4:12 - For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

God’s Word is not just some cold set of rules and regulations. It is alive and powerful and can gain access inside a believer where even the believer himself cannot go. So often when we are in mourning about something, whether legitimate of misguided, we turn to everything but God’s precious Word. There are places in our spirits that only the Word can heal and to which only God’s Spirit can bring God’s Word. That Word can encourage us when we mourn; it can correct us out of self pity; it can identify with our mourning; it can breathe life back into a depressed spirit; and it can chase the gloom with a burst of hope everlasting.

Let us proceed further into this sacred mystery of the Comforter.

Jn.15:26 - But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:

Do you see that? The Holy Spirit will testify of Jesus. But I thought you said He would share the Word? Yes, but Who IS the Word. “And the Word WAS God…and the Word was made flesh…”. Do you not see this incredible and glorious mystery? The Holy Spirit will share and minister Jesus Himself to us. In fact, the Scripture declares that all believers are inhabited by the Holy Spirit and Jesus Himself dwells within us through the Holy Spirit. Please do not attempt to explain it all since it goes far above our feeble attempts to capture it with thoughts or human words.
When we mourn we are comforted by a “friend who sticks closer than a brother”. And this friend is acquainted with our grief’s and sorrows and is well able to comfort us without judgment or condescension. So the Comforter comforts us by providing more of Jesus Who is our Healer. And so the Spirit proclaims that when we find ourselves in a state of mourning, we are blessed. Why? Because we can experience the magnificent ministry of God’s Spirit as he comforts us with the Lord Jesus Himself.
I have mourned, have you? Sometimes I have mourned in self pity and without an authentic cause while other times certain events have led me into that state. And sometimes I have just weathered the storm without leaning on God’s comforting Spirit while other times I have been gloriously comforted by THE Comforter. And why does God comfort us, aside from His everlasting love for us? It is so we can comfort others.

II Cor.1:4-5 - 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. 5For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.

God is not just motivated by redemption and healing, He IS the Redeemer and the Healer. And when He comforts us He expects us to share what He has done in order to comfort others. I will be honest with you, I am persuaded that when God uses me to genuinely comfort and heal someone as they mourn, I am more blessed than when I am comforted myself. Can you relate to that as well? We would do well to be a comforter to others rather than their judge.
Do you mourn today? Is your heart broken over some family member or friend? Are you under a mournful burden because of some situation or trial? In Jesus’ name I exhort you to lift your eyes and heart toward heaven and begin to praise Him for Who He is. Allow your spirit to rise before His throne and as you bow in worship surrender to the ministry of the Spirit as He supernaturally cleanses you from your sin and fills you with His eternal hope. Here are some selected verses from Isaiah.

Isaiah 40

1Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
8The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.

28Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding.
29He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.
30Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall:
31But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Spirit of God

Rom.8:5 - For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.

Just what are the “things of the Spirit”? If we are to mind, or pay attention, to the things of the Spirit would not that require us to know what they are? Many people imagine the Spirit as a kind of invisible cloud that has much less personality than does the Father or the Son. That is a misrepresentation and a caricature. The Holy Spirit is a Person who is one with the Father and the Son, even though He does not bear the name of a family member with which we can identify.

Jesus told His disciples that when He left this earth physically He would send another Comforter which was and is the Holy Spirit. He seems to be the most intangible of the divine persons, however that is only because He has been so neglected by the church. Many churches have relegated Him to a silent partner in the kingdom of God while some churches have constructed a strange and unbiblical set of manifestations that are forced and unwieldy. And the common definition of His ministry is almost confined to interpreting Scripture and sealing the believer, especially in non-Pentecostal denominations.
But Paul exhorts us to seek after the things of the Spirit. This encompasses more than just spiritual gifts and callings, although they certainly are part of the things of the Spirit. But God’s Spirit is seeking to tear down and build up in every true believer. He alone now wields the priest’s knife of circumcision which once belonged to Aaron’s sons. And He cuts the inward person of men and women alike and not just the flesh of males as in the Old Covenant. He wounds, and He heals. He cuts away, and He replaces. He brings death, and He brings life.
I can remember my first few weeks after being born again in 1975. It was like a dream for me since I had been a wicked and violent sinner. I had always lived by the dictates of my own flesh, and I was my own master. I did an enormous amount of drugs and sold them in high schools. I drank heavily and was often in fights. It was the result of one of those fights that landed me at my atheist aunt’s house to recover. But when I was saved my inward man was completely changed, and the metamorphosis that took place inside me cannot completely be described with human words.
But I remember the first time I heard the voice of the Spirit direct me in an unusual and startling way. Those first few weeks had been filled with excitement about everything remotely connected with Jesus. The Bible, t-shirts, bumper stickers, radio and television programs, church services, and even things like statues of Jesus in a familiar cemetery drew my attention. I was consumed with Him. But one day as I left for the bar that I still frequented but remained sober and became an evangelistic pain to all my friends and family, I heard the Spirit (not audibly) tell me it was time to stop going.
All of you know what I mean when I say I “heard” the Spirit inside me. People ask me if I heard Him audibly and I often say “No, it is much clearer than that.” Believers know what I am saying. But I want to confess publicly that keeping sensitive to the Spirit’s voice over the next 35 years was very challenging and I neglected Him more times than I care to acknowledge. I have found it very easy to walk in an image of religion and morality while the power within me dissipates. And there comes a time when you know so much Scripture and have become so familiar with Christian jargon that you can fake it with great success. I have done that in my life, have you?
I have even preached while being much less than filled with God’s Spirit, and I have spoken words in prayer that were hollow and nothing more than redundant Christian phraseology. Have you? Although I could claim to be free from adultery or drugs or other “major” sins, I still was in those times a pretender, and yes, even a liar. That is what this verse is pointing out. Look at the very next verse.

Rom.8:6 - For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.

A person can be saved and sealed with God’s Spirit, but if he is attending to the things of the flesh he is walking in death. Perhaps some of you can relate to this. When I was walking in my own flesh and not seeking the things of the Spirit, not only was I walking in death, but I was inwardly miserable even when smiling. But when I am seeking the things of the Spirit, not only am I walking in abundant life, I am filled with contentment and joy even if I am moved to tears. Have you ever been there?
What am I saying? And why would the Spirit through Paul point this out to believers? It is because the things of the flesh, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, are all pulling us away from the things of the Spirit. And it does not happen all at once, but it happens ever so slowly and with great clandestine design. The little foxes gather one by one until they provide a thoroughfare for the larger foxes. And the flesh is well adept at appearing religious and fitting into Christian circles unrecognized.
Are you seeking after the things of the Spirit? The prerequisite must be that Jesus must be Lord over everything. That does not mean perfection, but it does mean pursuit. One of the phrases that Jesus used most often was “He that hath ears to hear…”. Our ears must be fine tuned to not just listen, but also to hear what the Spirit is saying. I am not advocating extra biblical messages or some weird and strange manifestations that seem to draw attention to us and not Him. I am suggesting that we who hold the Scriptures in primacy and as the unabridged foundation for our faith should not shun or neglect a spiritual connection with the Spirit of God that creates in us a hunger and thirst for the things that are of His desire.
The Holy Spirit is not just a theological teaching within a systematic theology that has no tangible evidence in our very lives. I remember my brother telling me about a believing young woman at the university who would not even order at McDonald’s until she bowed her head and asked the Spirit what she should order. (He probably would have told her NOT to order! :) ). Now that is going overboard, however she was on the right course. How often do we ask the Spirit to speak to us? How often do we live our lives with us being the behind the wheel and just asking God to bless what we decide?
Is it not time to cultivate an insatiable hunger for the things of the Spirit? Do we look at people and see their spiritual need or do we see their gender, occupation, race, or - God forbid - their political persuasion? I will address more of this subject in a coming post.

I want to express my deep gratitude for those of you who read and take to heart my writings. Many, many people have encouraged me via e-mail, and even those of you who communicate some disagreement have done so with a spirit of love and respect. I consider myself an obvious nobody and my blog does not attract legions of readers, however I feel so contented to know that God uses me in the lives of some of you. My health is not good but my spirit is being renewed all the time.

Thank you so much for your prayers and may the Lord Jesus receive all the praise and glory which rightfully belong to Him forever!

The Sermon on the Mount
Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed. The word has so often been confined exclusively to material gifts. The prosperous man exclaims, “I am blessed” when in fact he has misrepresented God’s spiritual blessings. The world’s richest men and women are those who know not Christ, and it rains on the just as well as the unjust. But the world “blessed” is a description of contentment and favor that can only come from above and that is birthed not by the material but by the attitudes and intents of the heart.
Oh that the church would again enter into the safe house of divine contentment and experience the wealth of “all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ“. Instead of settling for the passing exhilaration of earthly pottage we should be consumed with the gracious contentment and inward joy that can only come from a divine birthright that is completely untethered to this present world.
It is this blessing that is given and experienced by those who are “poor in spirit”. How counter that is to the world’s way of thinking. The spirit of this world elevates oneself and exhorts us all to display individualism and a personal broadcast of our talents and worth. But that is not the Spirit of God and His kingdom. God’s experiential blessing comes through a profound poverty of the spirit which admits fully in complete dependence upon Christ and acknowledges its worthlessness without Him. This is eternal wealth disguised as humility and it is birthed and maintained by an impoverished will that is devoid of the desire for personal gain or personal praise.
This poverty releases its grip on the material as well as self aggrandizement of any kind, and lives with a profound sense of daily, as well as eternal, dependence upon the Redeemer. The humility that God describes as “poor” is much more profound and remarkable than just allowing a car into a line or relinquishing your place in the grocery store line. This kind of spiritual poverty exhibits attitudes and actions that are pictures of a public and humiliating crucifixion. This humility counts your own welfare as subordinate to all others. In fact, this humility renders yourself as dead.
Not only have we lost the desire for humility, we have long since lost the template for the kind of humility that can accurately be described as “poor in spirit”. We have assigned such a spirit to Gandhi or Mother Theresa, but to the average believer it is both foreign and undesirable. I have often heard preachers and others proclaim that we are not supposed to be doormats to people. Have those people ever been to the cross? Have they ever read Fox’s Book of Martyrs? The times where we are called to be doormats are many times the most sacred prisms of all through which Christ can be seen.
Love chose to be a “doormat” upon the cross providing redemption for those who violently stepped upon this “doormat”. It is exactly this spirit that we are called to cultivate and exhibit. Followers of Jesus should be the most humble people within any culture. Our humility and poverty of spirit should be remarkable and observable and even bewildering to those who walk in darkness all around us. This spirit cannot be found in politics or nationalism. It cannot be found in competitiveness and ego. It cannot be found in award ceremonies and halls of fame. This spirit violates all the norms of western society and a capitalist culture. This spirit has been lost in the modern demonstration of what it means to be a crucified follower of the Lord Jesus.
To be poor in spirit is also to be prepared to suffer injustices to your very person, both small and egregious. Retaliation is unthinkable, and in fact any persecution or indignity must be an avenue for grace toward your detractors and praise toward your Savior. They spit on His face and yet we demand respect? To suffer as a humble servant of God is a high honor indeed, but you will receive no earthly reward or recognition aside from the penetrating joy and contentment that comes with the “fellowship of His sufferings“. And in an exhortation that seems almost unbearable, you will be called to both intercede in prayer for your enemies as well as to “do good to those who persecute you”. As you can see, being poor in spirit is a most inconvenient calling.
But Jesus tells us that those who are poor in spirit have the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is not found on some far away planet; the kingdom of heaven is found within us and is presented to the world through us. The kingdom of heaven cannot be separated from the King of that kingdom. It is precisely this King and His kingdom that can only be manifested and revealed through the prism of a crucified life that is polished with such personal meekness and sacrifice that its insignificance is what draws sinners to its significance. And its significance is always Him. It is the ultimate paradox.

To be last is to be first.
To have nothing is to have everything.
To reject being honored is to receive honor.
To deny yourself is to embrace Him.
To be dead is to be alive.

To be poor in spirit is to have the kingdom of God.

Lk.21:36 - Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.

obering words from the lips of our Master. If there ever was a time in which on any given day we might awake to world wide catastrophe, it is these days. The cares of this present world continue to choke the spiritual lives of so many believers. How can a follower and supposed imitator of the Jesus in the gospels watch and listen to carnal men like Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, and Rush Limbaugh? It can be summed up in one word - deception.
The church has become enamored with all sorts of glittering idols, from nationalism to politics, and from favorite preachers to sports heroes. But while believers spend their time and money on the temporal, the world rushes to divine judgment. I say this with humility because I know only too well that I deserve that same judgment, but Christ took it in my place. Halleluiah, what a Savior! But our calling in these dark days is much more profound than just professing Christ in the abstract. Jesus must be manifested in observable and remarkable ways in our lives.
We must be the light that shines through this spiritual quagmire, and we must be the salt that creates a thirst for Him. But a life that reveals Jesus can only come forth through prayer. Notice the phrase “and pray always” in the verse. One of the greatest deceptions in the modern church is the ambivalence toward its power and the paultry ways in which it is "observed". Until we pursue prayer with vigor and brokenness we will continue to be emaciated and powerless. When the spiritual connection between a believer and His Father is lost, or even marginalized, the power is gone.
When a piece of machinery begins to malfunction or runs sluggishly, then cleaning and lubrication is necessary. The same is true for our spiritual lives. When we have nestled into a comfortable and convenient spiritual life we cannot make any progress unless we clean the clutter and seek the lubrication of the Spirit. Oh how have we scorned the precious Holy Spirit by both a cultural lifestyle and a pitiful exhibition of prayer. It is one aspect of His ministry that aids us in prayer and yet we deny Him His very purpose by perfunctory, if any, prayer lives.

I Tim.2:1 - I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;

Rom.8: 26-27 - 26 Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
27And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.

The Spirit of God exhorts us to make intercession for all men, and He teaches us that He Himself is indispensable in that spiritual endeavor. But let us not deceive ourselves into believing that God’s Spirit will bless and use careless and tepid prayers that are convenient asides and exhibit no tears and no brokenness. The average prayer of some evangelicals are an affront and in fact undermine the entire ministry of prayer itself. And in a shocking revelation, many professing believers do not pray at all. We stand in a desperate need of an awakening.

Mk.11:15-17 - 15 And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves;
16And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.
17And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.

Jn.2:13-15 - 13And the Jews' passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
14And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting:
15And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables;

Two times in the life of Jesus we see Him cleansing the temple in Jerusalem. One was early in His ministry, while the other was at the end. It is quite astonishing that the one thing that elicited anger from the Lord Jesus was profiteering in the church. Many people use these texts to prove that anger is of God and should be a part of our lives. They over amplify God’s anger until it becomes the prominent aspect of God’s character, and many times they allow that to give them license to exhibit anger themselves. But they have completely missed the point of these events and the words of Jesus.
Of course Jesus was displaying anger over the way some used the church for their own profit, but as He drove them out He made a statement that has been ignored and forgotten in today’s fast paced ecclesiastical atmosphere. Jesus said His house was a house of prayer. Now in the New Testament there is no “house” made with hands in the strictest sense, but we are all God’s house. And Jesus emphatically labeled His house as one of prayer.
The church itself was born when men and women where praying in the upper room. The disciples of Jesus did not ask Him to teach them to preach; they asked Him “Teach us to pray”. They knew where the power of God could be touched. But if we are going to move forward in prayer, there are several thing which must change.

* We must forfeit much time watching television. In some ways television has become the scourge of the Christian life.

* We must devote specific times during the day to pray. And these times cannot be small increments squeezed between pressing duties of this world.

* We must approach our praying as if we are learning all over again what it means to touch heaven.

* We must repent of our indifference to prayer and beseech God to instill us with an urgent unction to pray.

* We must once again worship the August Redeemer both as a divine friend as well as a consuming fire.

* We must completely forgive every single person with whom we may have had issues and even begin to pray for them.

* We must view our prayer times as sacred and holy times of communion with our Savior and Lord. We must be prepared to fight for those times.

* We must allow God, indeed beg God, to break us, refine us with His fire, and remake us in the image of God’s Son.

* We must, along with a renewed vitality in prayer, consume God’s Word as if it meant our very lives. Be prepared for God’s Spirit to open new and glorious understandings of Scriptures that had become dormant.

* We must practice some form of fasting. Perhaps one day a month along with a fasting of all forms of entertainment or information on that particular day. (Or other constructs, all of which should not be legalism.)

But to even begin to enter into a deep and sincere journey of prayer we must admit we are in need of one. Desperately in need of one. To continue as we are is to continue as we are. One day we will stand before the King of all the Universe and give an account. Of course there may well be fear when we see His glory and power and have to admit to a lifestyle that was centered upon us and the world and had relegated His kingdom into a subordinate status. But there will also be another phenomenon when we stand before our Redeemer King. We will experience a consuming love that cannot be known in this present world. And before God wipes away all tears, we will experience a grief and sorrow that also is unknown here in its depth.

I exhort all of us to begin anew to pray with such desire and labor that we will be changed from glory to glory in His presence, and as people see a profound change in our outward lives because of a profound change in our inward lives, God will be glorified.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Who Exists for Whom?

The Person of Jesus Christ has been maligned, reshaped, redefined, compartmentalized, caricatured, and now is preached as a completely different Person than is revealed in the New Testament. Today, Christ is portrayed as existing for the pleasure and happiness of man.

In truth, man exists for the glory of God.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

The Tragedy in Arizona
What Can Believers Learn?

And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.

he God of the Old Testament was many times violent and many times directed Israel in acts of violence. I will openly confess that those narratives are a mystery to me, but we must receive their validity by faith. But we also must remember that there are things, more things than we know, that are God’s alone and not applicable to man. God’s ways are not ours, and the story of redemption that began in Eden’s Garden is filled with twists and turns that confound the wise.
God uses a Babylonian called Abram to father His people. God uses a whore to be in His Son’s lineage. God calls Himself the “son of David” who was an adulterous murderer. And there are many imperfect men and women who God used, some mightily, in His journey to redemption. It would be safe to say that we would not have used those people. It probably would also be safe to say that we would not use us if we were God. I often feel God made a poor choice in me, however He is God and I am not.
There is divine justice, and the Scriptures make it clear that there is an eternal place of justice for those who die outside of Christ’s redemption. God is holy and just, and we are not. By grace through faith we have been made things that we were never in the natural, but they were never in our fallen nature. But love, and its outward expression of redemption, are God’s motivating attributes. God is longsuffering before He resorts to violence, and Jesus, God in the flesh, revealed great restraint while on this earth. And in fact Jesus allowed Himself to be crucified when He could have destroyed the entire world. Violence was never a part of the incarnate God.
We as believers are called to mirror Jesus and His ways, not the ways of the Old Testament revelations. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus is the “express image” of the person of God. It is that image we are to strive to reflect and imitate. We as believers should shun violence both in word and in deed. The wars of men, regardless of American machinations, do not have God as a willing participant. Does God use and incorporate everything into the fabric of His eternal will? Of course, but that does mean that God directs and organizes everything, and that does not mean that God is on anyone’s side, especially any fallen nation. How God can use the rape of a child is a colossal mystery, but He does. But that surely does not mean God ordered or condoned such actions.
I believe the New Testament teaches a life of pacifism as it pertains to violence. But I want to address violence of a different nature, the violence of words. There was a tragedy in Arizona when a gunmen murdered and wounded many people including a United States congresswoman. Now all the facts have not yet been revealed, but it seems that this deranged young man was influenced by politics, as was John Wilkes Booth, Timothy McVeigh, Lee Harvey Oswald, and even the 9/11 terrorists as well as others. We underestimate the impact of unguarded and reckless rhetoric.
We live in a fallen culture that considers itself an example of human ingenuity and intellectual prowess. This culture cherishes itself and will resort to all kinds of violence to protect it and in fact was birthed by violence, the Revolutionary War. The first president was elected because he was a great general and was able to kill more Englishmen than his peers. So this present culture has violence woven throughout its formation. But having arrived at this present day model verbal violence continues unabated.
The airwaves are filled with repugnant rhetoric and verbal assaults upon any and all political enemies. People are addressed with all sorts of demeaning castigations and attacked as something less than legitimate. President Obama, probably not a born again believer, is assailed daily and attacked personally. People even hate him due in large part because of the violent verbiage spewed consistently through all media outlets. And sometimes people are moved to acts of violence through the influence of verbal violence.
But we must be different than the culture. Hatred does not belong in God’s kingdom. We must not stoop to words of disrespect and personal invectives. We are to correct in love within the church, but outside the church we are to preach the gospel and be in intercessory prayer. I have found this axiom to be true: We cannot accuse and intercede simultaneously. So when I hear believers castigating someone I immediately know they are not interceding for that person, or that their lips intercede while their hearts accuse. Again, we cannot accuse and intercede simultaneously. I know the heart of God is grieved when He sees those that claim His name supporting those who exhibit self righteousness and judgment and national idolatry.
So what can we learn from a tragedy such as the one in Arizona? Before I get to that let me address another tragedy. What can we learn from the tragedy of 9/11 as believers? A missionary in an Arab country related this observation. He said that American Christian television was broadcast in that Arab country and many Arabs tuned in. He said that often they showed an American church service which showed an American flag flying in the sanctuary. And many times they would hear the pastor pray that God would bless and protect the American troops.
Think about that for a moment. Muslims, who we supposedly desire to reach for Jesus, are hearing Americans ask God to help them kill other Muslims. How much fodder does that provide the evil one with? We are supposed to be wise as serpents but harmless as doves. But when believers support violence and even pray God would help them then we are neither wise nor harmless. And the terrorists on 9/11 prayed to their God that he would help them as well. Oh, you say, but they were praying to a false god. I agree. But how many times are we projecting a falsehood upon Jesus and thereby creating a caricature which is false?
Arizona should once again make believers examine their own verbiage and allegiances. I grieve for the carnage, both physical and verbal, that rain down upon this culture every single day. I used to be involved in that fallen jungle that so misrepresents the Person of Christ and His kingdom. But there is freedom when we come out from among them and become a peculiar people. I do not say that in self righteousness since I am still significantly and observable flawed, but I say it to the glory of God’s grace. If you still are confused about violence and political allegiances, I exhort you to fast and pray and seek God’s face about the matter. I believe you will, as did I, reach the heart of God. And just what is the heart of God?

The cross.