March 2020

WINNING THE REAL WAR

Imagine for a minute that the town where we live has become a war zone. 

The big bombs have done their work and now two armies are battling for control of what’s left. Those of us who have survived are staying in our houses and apartments. Food and water are in short supply. We’re trying to get up enough nerve to venture out and see if some abandoned house might at least have a little rice or flour or a can of beans. 

But the chatter of automatic weapons and the rumble of exploding shells frightens us….

“Maybe we better wait and stretch out what little food we have left.”

Suddenly, in the middle of all this chaos, we hear singing. We pull back the drapes and look out on the street. And to our amazement we can see an old truck piled high with sacks of potatoes and rice and fresh fruit and corn. Behind it is another truck with jugs of water. 

Men and women, singing at the top of their lungs as if there were no war at all, are carrying food and water from the trucks to each house … and singing all the time.

“They’ll be dead by the time they get to the end of the block,” someone says.

“But how come they got this far?”

 “Where did they get the food?”

“And how can they be singing?”

There’s a knock on our door. 

There stands a man loaded down with food. Behind him is a woman with a jug of water.

“Here, take this,” they say, and head back to the trucks singing their hearts out.

Suddenly a burst of automatic fire … the woman is hit.    

From out of a house across the street two women run to take her place. By the time the food trucks reach the end of the block, the army of helpers has doubled in size … still singing.

Two armies are battling for control … both of them are pawns of Satan the Prince of this world. 

A third army comes up the street without a gun

… this is the army that will conquer 
because it is over­coming evil with good, even at the price of death.

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient ser­pent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world — he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have con­quered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Rejoice then, 0 heaven and you that dwell therein! But woe to you, 0 earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”                        

Revelation 12:7-12

We could sit down and discuss for the rest of our lives why God, if he is all powerful, should permit any opposition from men or demons. Why does he allow this war to go on? But that wouldn’t change the fact that there is a struggle in the realm of spirit, of which the political, military, economic wars being waged at this hour, are only a dim reflection. 

Evil is not just the absence of good … like cold is the absence of heat.

Evil is not just something inside our heads.

Evil exists outside of us as well as within us.

– Evil is intelligent.

– Evil is personal.

– Evil is organized.

– Evil is a kingdom.

If we survive all the wars that will ravage the earth in the coming years but allow our hearts to be conquered by evil, we’ve lost the real war. 

The real war is between good and evil … between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan … and every one of us has to choose which side we’re going to be on.

“I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!  I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; for henceforth in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against her mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”       

Luke 12:49-53

These are the words of a man who never carried a sword, never raised his fist,never gathered an army, yet he came to divide the earth … and he did.

 And each of us has to decide whether we’re going to sur­render our lives to the kingdom of evil or surrender our lives to Jesus, and by his power conquer evil.

– We don’t conquer evil by hiding in the house with the drapes drawn.

– Nor do we conquer evil by picking up a gun and going out there shooting.

– We conquer evil by joining the army of the Lamb.

Observe how the Lamb, Jesus, overcame evil: by walk­ing right into it!

“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written of the Son of man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon; they will scourge him and kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”                                                     

Luke 18:31-33

He went up to Jerusalem and laid down his life and conquered Satan. And so we overcome the kingdom of evil not by running away from it, but by walking straight toward it.

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”                                       

Revelation 12:10-11

They conquered him….

1. By the blood of the Lamb.
2. By the word of their testimony.
3. By loving not their lives even unto death.

Thank God there are no shells exploding out there. 

But to pretend there is no war going on is to be willfully blind. 

The dragon and his angels have been thrown down to the earth … and things are out of control and there is not a man or a nation that is able to bring things under control again. 

Yet the simplest child of God can go out there like David before Goliath and conquer.

We are not helpless victims on a sinking ship. 

We are sons and daughters of the most high God. And we are given everything we need to conquer the lying spirit which has captured this earth. We conquer him,

– by the blood of the Lamb,

– by the word of our testimony,

– by defying the fear of death.

We conquer Satan by,

1. The blood of the Lamb, which brings peace into our own hearts.

In order to win the battle on the outside we first have to win the battle on the inside. You win this inner war by getting your sin covered.

Blessed is he whose transgression is for­given; whose sin is covered.                                                        

Psalm 32:1

….”God be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Satan only has scope within us when he has sin-ground to stand on.

 Call for the blood … the ground drops away and Satan sinks.

– By the blood of the Lamb we put away the old nature.

– By the blood of the Lamb we call for the Spirit and put on the new nature.

– By the blood of the Lamb we end the war inside us by driving sin, guilt, fear of death and Satan himself out.

In mercy the Lord has instituted the meal we call Communion so that we can come together and renew our vision of his atoning death, confess our sins, repent of them and join ourselves, with thanksgiving and praise, to his broken body and his shed blood.

– Now we have peace.

– Now we can handle the battle on the outside.

We conquer Satan by,

2. The word of our testimony

…. they sang as they went down the street feeding the hungry.

Thou art my hiding place, thou shalt preserve me from trouble;

Thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance.

                Psalm 32:7

When the war zone around us begins to hear those songs of deliverance … begins to hear a word of testimony, Satan will be driven back in defeat.

And what is the word of our testimony? 

Our testimony is that Jesus of Nazareth is the Savior of this world.

– He alone is its healer.

– He alone is its hope.

– He alone is its peace with a holy God.

– He alone is the escape from the false God of this world.

 Jesus is Lord!

Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords now … and we need to confess this to him, to each other and to the world.

We don’t conquer Satan by just being respectable and proper. 

We conquer Satan by a strong, clear, bold Spirit-anointed word.

Lord God! Open our mouths and give us tongues to speak your burning truth until it sets fire to the earth!

We overcome Satan by,

3. Loving not our lives even unto death.

Who of us can deny that far too long we have loved our lives to death?

– We loved our lives so much,

– We played it so safe,

– We pampered ourselves so much ….. worrying about dying ….we were dead.

Help us now, Lord God, to throw away the fear of death and all the fears that hang with it.

God help us to go out into the streets of the city of this world with the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony…

…  and feed the hungry, and free the captives, and conquer Satan.

If in the process we lose our lives … praise God … what better way to die?

Whether we like it or not,

– there is a war going on.

Whether we like it or not,

– we’re in it … on one side, or the other.

God help us to see clearly who the real enemy is and to conquer him,

by the blood of the Lamb,

by the word of our testimony,

by loving not our lives even unto death.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, we bow before you, seeking your strength to overcome evil with good.  In these times and the coming times, dear Jesus, keep us singing of your beauty, your perfection, your peace, your hope, your healing, and of your love. May we joyfully, without fear, join the army that truly conquers. We are not helpless victims. We are your beloved sons and daughters, equipped to conquer. Holy Lord, help us to see who the real enemy is, and may by your power we conquer that real enemy.  Lord be merciful to us, cover us, drive this sinful nature out of us so we may go forward with a new nature, so we can face the true battle outside. May your truth burn so strongly on our lips that satan is rendered defenseless and that fire is set to this earth. And yes Lord, help us to throw away the fear of death and all other fears, so we may courageously win the real war.

THE GEM IN THE MUD

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in 
which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy, 
he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field.”

Matthew 13:44

One of the ten richest men in the world went to bed one night and had a dream. In his dream he saw a gigantic pile of gold, rising like a mountain before his eyes. Suddenly there was an earthquake. As the earth shook, the mountain of gold melted, and sank and shriveled, until it was nothing but a puddle of mud. In his dream the man began to weep. “My wealth is gone! How can I face my family and friends? How will I survive?” Then, through his tears, the man noticed a gleam of light coming from the puddle of mud. He came closer and discovered a tiny gem lying in the mud.

“Now you’re looking at the real treasure,” said a voice from somewhere above him. “Find that gem, and gold will no longer be your master.”

“But what is it?,” asked the troubled billionaire, “and why is that beautiful gem lying in the mud?”

“The gem is my Kingdom,” said the voice. “You will never find this gem in a mountain of gold. It’s always wrapped in mud. But once you find this gem, you have found the real treasure, and gold will no longer rule your life.”

The man awoke with the memory of the dream branded on his soul. In the days that followed, he was obsessed with finding the gem. “Find my Kingdom,” the voice had said, “and you have found the real treasure.”

The billionaire’s family started to worry, as his business affairs were pushed aside, his social obligations neglected. Is he losing his mind? Has he become a fanatic? What are we going to do?

In his search for God’s Kingdom, our billionaire decided to go back to church for the first time in many years. He began with the church he attended as a child. It was a smaller congregation now, but in other respects, it had not changed. The pastor preached eloquently about global warming, and the need to save the planet, before it’s too late.

Beautiful words, and true.

But the man knew that this was not the gem.

Then our billionaire remembered driving by a sprawling set of buildings on the edge of town, where the parking lot was jammed with cars every Sunday. The sign out front read, “New Life Center.” He parked his BMW and joined the crowd inside. The music was up-beat, and the preacher knew how to communicate as he waved his Bible in the air and attacked the evils of the world.

But the man just knew that this was not the gem.

“Maybe the Jews have it,” he said to himself. “After all, Jesus was a Jew.” So he found a Labovicher Synagogue, where there was great fervor and tons of joy.

But this, too, was not the Kingdom.

“Perhaps the Muslims are the ones with the gem,” he reasoned. “They seem to be growing in numbers all over the world.” He was given a warm welcome by the Imam and all the members of the Mosque.

But, when it was over, his heart was still empty.

He heard of a group meeting in a hotel downtown, where they practiced meditation and studied the spiritual masters of the ages. A strange feeling came over him as he sat there among the meditators. He felt like he was poised on the threshold of the spirit world, but something in his soul made him wary.

No, this was not the treasure.

One day when our billionaire was downtown at a board meeting, the discussion ran late. It was evening when he finally worked his way through the streets to the car park. He noticed a little storefront with a crudely painted sign, “JESUS SAVES” hanging above the door.

“What can I lose?” he said to himself. He slipped inside and took a seat in the back, while the folks were singing. Maybe two dozen souls were scattered through the room. A man went up to the front and began to teach about the sower and the seed, when, suddenly, a woman came bursting in the door howling with grief. She stumbled to the front and threw herself on the floor, sobbing in anguish. Two women came and knelt beside her, placing their hands on her shoulders and speaking so quietly, only the suffering woman could hear. All the teaching and worshiping stopped, and a strange silence filled the room, as the focus was directed toward the woman’s anguish.

At last she rose with a sigh and took her place beside her two new friends. Then the worship leader invited everyone to gather in the back room for a simple meal.

“I think I’ve found the gem,” the billionaire said to himself, as he joined the gathering at the meal table. “This is the Kingdom of God,” he told himself, as he broke bread with his sisters and brothers.

It could be a little storefront, or a mega church, or a handful of believers gathered secretly in a basement somewhere in China. It could be some praying souls on the bank of a river in an African jungle.

When it’s the real thing, 
     the gem is always lying in the mud without shame.

A light shining in a dark place, as simple as the sunrise.

Yet the gem is always hidden from the natural eye.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field…

The Kingdom of heaven is like leaven hidden in a lump of dough….

The Kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed buried in the ground.

The Kingdom of Heaven is …
     where God’s will is done on earth as it is done in heaven.

The Kingdom of God is …
     where God rules the heart, not money, or vanity, or lust for power.

The Kingdom of God is…
     where Jesus, crucified and risen is allowed to speak his simple truth.

Strange thing about the Kingdom of God, we never see it until our pile of gold, or our mountain of vanity disintegrates and becomes a puddle of mud.

Only then do we have eyes to see the treasure.

There was a man named Zaccheaus who had a huge pile of gold. That pile was a testimony to his skill at tax-collecting. Zacchaeus knew how to scoop off some of that tax money for himself. But Zaccheaus was uneasy. Something within his soul was telling him that his gold was a dubious treasure. It seemed that his pile of gold was already beginning to lose its shine.

So when Jesus called him down from that tree, and said, “I’m coming to your house for dinner,” Zaccheaus was overjoyed. He knew that he was looking at something far better than his pile of gold. Pretty soon his eyes opened, and he realized that a priceless gem was sitting at his table. Zacchaeus was so delighted that he immediately started dumping his gold.

“Lord, half my goods I will now give to the poor. 
And if I have defrauded anyone, I will now restore it fourfold.”

It’s amazing how many people go to church year after year, and never discover the gem. How many people read their Bibles and quote scripture, yet haven’t found the gem. How many preachers preach every Sunday for years and years, and still haven’t found the gem. Because they’re hanging on to a pile of gold or some vain ambition, or some ridiculous grudge.

They won’t see the gem until that pile shrivels into mud.

And what about us? Are we willing to pray?….

“Lord, do whatever it takes to give us eyes to see the gem!”

Then turning to the disciples, he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes which see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”

Luke 10:23-24

Prophets and kings longed to see the gem and never saw it.

Thousands of people saw Jesus with their own eyes, but they did not see the gem. Multitudes were touched by his healing hand, fed with bread from five loaves and a couple fish, but they did not see the gem.

Only a handful saw the gem and entered the Kingdom, because their pile of gold, their mountain of vanity, had shriveled, till there was nothing left but mud.

And there was the gem, sparkling in the sunshine. So they left their fishing boats behind and followed Jesus. They sat down to eat with him and found themselves at a Banquet of the Kingdom of God.

That gem, lying in the mud, is the door to God’s World.

Out here there’s nothing but darkness.

Watch the news, look into your own heart, and what do you see?

But in there, beyond that open door, it’s bright as day.

All we have to do is step into the Kingdom…
        and start walking in the light with God and with each other.

Once we’re in there, following the Master, he helps us….

to live by faith.

When we stumble, he lifts us up and helps us keep going…

to walk in love.

He teaches us to forgive, Keeps pouring his love into us, until we get over ourselves and learn to wash feet…

to live in hope.

He keeps us from forever looking back. Helps us to look ahead and prepare for the coming glory…

to forget our fears.

He empowers us to defy our fears and walk in the courage of heaven.

Who would have thought that the door to God’s kingdom was so simple?

Who would have imagined that the precious gem was so easy to find?

We complicate things by looking for the big-time stuff.  The gem is no more wrapped in “big-time” than it’s wrapped in gold.

Don’t be looking for signs and wonders. 
Don’t be chasing after visions and revelations.

Look for the man, the woman, the people, 
   who walk with simple integrity in the footsteps of the Master…

and you will find the Kingdom of God.

Draw near… 
   and you will be touched by the power of Jesus’ resurrection.

That’s where the billionaire found the gem:

breaking bread in that back room in the store front.

The family of the billionaire was convinced he had lost his mind. They felt betrayed by his new-found faith in Jesus. After all, his pile of gold was their security too. 
And now it seemed to be shrinking by the day. What’s going to happen to us, if this goes on? Doesn’t he care? So the billionaire called his family together, and told them about his dream. He explained to them how he had searched for the gem in many places until he found it. “Do I love you any less, now that I have found the Kingdom of God? I love you more!” he said. “If gold is your security, there is still plenty at your disposal. I won’t keep it from you. But I must confess that since I’ve found the Kingdom, gold no longer means to me what it once did.”“But Father,” said his oldest son, “we are living in the real world. We have to pay our bills and buy our groceries, and pay taxes and look after our children. We can’t live without money!”“Who said you have to live without money?” answered his father. “Once you find the gem, money will still be an important part of your life. But now money will be your servant instead of your master.” His family shook their heads in sadness. They saw the poorhouse looming up before their eyes. And then a little girl spoke up and said, “Grampa, I want to see what you see. I want to be where you are!”

Jesus did not come to start a new religion. Jesus came to bring us that gem, God’s Kingdom, which will one day fill the whole earth, visibly, with the glory of God.

That Kingdom is closer to us now than our breath.

Jesus promises that if we seek God’s Kingdom above all things, everything else will take care of itself. If we walk in the way of God’s Kingdom, we will already be breathing the air of the world to come.

The way of God’s Kingdom is so simple.

Every day anew, we watch our pile of gold, vanity, fear, resentment, fade in importance.

Every day anew we reach down, pick up the gem… and walk in its light.

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up.

Then in his joy, he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field.’”

Matthew 13:44

Prayer

O Lord … may we let go of our need for security, may we let go of our fears, our inhibitions and our vanity, and be willing to dig through the mud, without shame, for your priceless treasure. Seeking this precious gem until we possess it, cherish it, and nurture it with all we have. And, yes Lord, do whatever it takes to give us eyes to see this gem. Empower us to live by faith, to walk in love, to forget and even defy our fears in pursuit of your Kingdom.  And each day help us to draw near to you and with pure hearts and pure motives, willingly following your footsteps into the mud where your beloved treasure lies. And each day may we reach down and lovingly pick up that precious gem covered in mud and walk in it’s light. 

February 2020

THE PLUMB LINE

(Where’s the Beef)

Where’s the Beef?  

If you want to hear some real prophecy from TV turn away from the religious programs and just watch the old “Where’s the Beef”commercial on YouTube. That’s prophecy. The little ladies look at this great big beautiful hamburger bun and they’re admiring it…and it’s wonderful! Everybody’s impressed by this bun. Then the lady with the raspy voice says, “Where’s the beef?….Where’s the beef?”

American culture is just like that bun…with a hamburger on it about the size of a quarter.  

All kinds of froth and very little substance. The worst offender at offering people a great big lovely bun with a shriveled excuse for a hamburger inside is the professing Christian church. And then the voice of the  little old lady becomes the voice of God. And he says, “Where’s the beef?

      —  You say you have living bread for the world….   

Where is it?

      —  You say you have the power to change lives….   

Where is it?

      —  You say you’re the one place where the forgotten, rejected, outcasts of this world can find acceptance….

Where are they?

      —  You say Jesus died for your sins and rose from the grave and is now alive and lives in your midst…                

Where is he?        

And when God begins to say to the people who claim to be his church, his kingdom, his royal priesthood on  this earth, when God begins to say, “Where’s the beef?” the laughing stops and we’re talking about  divine judgment.

When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.                                                                                       Luke 12:48

Then Jesus told this story: “A man planted a fig tree in his garden and came again and again to see if there was any fruit on it, but he was always disappointed. Finally, he said to his gardener, ‘I’ve waited three years, and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s just taking up space in the garden.’

“The gardener answered, ‘Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer. If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.’”    

 Luke 13:6—9

The more we have of God’s word and Spirit, the more we taste of God’s mercy, the more clearly we’ve heard the call of the Lord to obedience, the more justified God is in expecting fruit. Not the fruit that appeals to other people and impresses other people, but the fruit that pleases and satisfies God. When God comes to us looking for fruit three, four,  five times, and we’re busy producing gorgeous leaves with no fruit…we reach a point where judgment begins.

There are two kinds of judgment: 

There is a judgment where God just backs off and leaves us to our own devices….the judgment of abandonment, spiritual death. When God backs away and says, “Have it your way,” you’re not at Burger King, you’re in Hell. 

The other kind of judgment is when God, instead of withdrawing, comes near. He comes near and he draws a line and he says,“Everything on this side of the line stays and everything on that side of the line goes.”

The people in the wilderness are dancing around the golden calf while Moses is up on the top of Sinai. God sees this and he’s determined to abandon them to wrath. Moses, under the Spirit, begins to intercede. “Spare your people. Don’t do it!” (It’s the Spirit of the Lord moving Moses to say this.) And so the Lord instead of consuming Israel comes down into its midst for the second kind of judgment. Comes down through Moses and draws a line. 

“Everyone who’s on the Lord’s side, get on this side of the line, stand here with me.”

You and I haven’t been dancing around a golden calf. We’ve been tiptoeing around a great big hamburger bun with nothing inside. We’ve been given much and we’ve produced very little…individually and corporately…who can deny this? And so we, along with thousands of others like us are moving into a time of judgment. 

Judgment begins at the house of God….

And so we read in Amos 7:

The Sovereign Lord showed me a vision. I saw him preparing to send a vast swarm of locusts over the land. This was after the king’s share had been harvested from the fields and as the main crop was coming up. 

God is forming locusts. Not just two or three or four or five hundred, but millions of locusts. So many locusts that you can’t even see the sky. It’s just like night as they come swooping in. They land, and when they go everything green is gone with them.

In my vision the locusts ate every green plant in sight. Then I said, “O Sovereign Lord, please forgive us or we will not survive, for Israel is so small.”

How can this little nation of Israel make it…it’s such a tiny nation, and so weak.

 So the Lord relented from this plan. “I will not do it,” he said.

Then the Sovereign Lord showed me another vision. I saw him preparing to punish his people with a great fire. The fire had burned up the depths of the sea and was devouring the entire land. Then I said, “O Sovereign Lord, please stop or we will not survive, for Israel is so small.”

Then the Lord relented from this plan, too. “I will not do that either,” said the Sovereign Lord.

Then he showed me another vision. I saw the Lord standing beside a wall that had been built using a plumb line. He was using a plumb line to see if it was still straight. And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?”I answered, “A plumb line.” And the Lord replied, “I will test my people with this plumb line. I will no longer ignore all their sins. The pagan shrines of your ancestors will be ruined, and the temples of Israel will be destroyed; I will bring the dynasty of King Jeroboam to a sudden end.”

Amos 7 (NLT)

         So God spares Israel the first kind of judgment.

              —   He’s not going to destroy it with a plague of locusts.

              —   He’s not going to destroy it with a plague of fire. 

Instead, he comes in with a plumb line.

“I will test my people with this plumb line. I will no longer ignore all their sins

         …meaning, I’ll never again let them get away with a crooked wall or a fruitless tree.

            — The straight wall will stand, but the crooked wall comes down.

    — The tree that bears fruit will stand, but the tree that bears no fruit comes down.

And so, for 750 years the plumb line in the midst Israel was made up of God’s prophets beginning with Amos in about 721 B.C., and running all the way through to the last of the prophets, John the Baptist.

         So we read in Matthew 3 beginning at verse 1:

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,”The voice of one crying in the wilderness:’Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.'”

      …Right with the plumb line.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? (Where’s the beef?) Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree (every tree)therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 

At this point the plumb line switches from John the Baptist the last of the prophets to Jesus the Messiah, the first—born of the New Creation….God the Son, the living word.

           And so John goes on to say:

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 

So far we all agree and we hear this and love to hear it, but somehow we miss this next verse which says:

“His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

So Jesus comes to bring good news to the poor, sight to the blind, deliverance to the captives. To baptize us in the Holy Spirit, But the ultimate purpose of his coming is to clear the threshing floor

So that over here we put the wheat and over here in the fire the chaff.

The plumb line of God in our midst today is the Spirit of Jesus. 

And he is here as our Savior, as our friend, as our healer, as our guide. 

But he’s also here as the plumb line of God. 

And he sees right into our hearts and he knows exactly what we’re thinking and what we’re doing and where we are. 

And he says to the Father, on our behalf:

“Father, give this fig tree one more year while I dig around it, fertilize it and do everything  I can do to help it. If it bears fruit, well and good. If not, you can cut it down.”

Now the plumb line of the Lord in our midst is measuring us and calling us to repentance to get on the right side of the line in three areas of our lives:

First, the plumb line of the Lord is in our midst to measure whether we are, in fact, living by faith.

Living by faith to the point where we’re producing the fruits of faith. The fruits of faith are deeds of obedience. And we read in Matthew 7:21:

 “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?

‘And then will I declare to them, ‘Where’s the beef?’

     … I was hungry, you gave me no food.

         … I was thirsty, you gave me no drink.

         … I was a stranger, you didn’t welcome me.

         … I was naked, you didn’t clothe me.

         … I was sick, in prison, you didn’t come to me.

“I never knew you, depart from me you evildoers.” 

The fruits of faith are deeds of obedience. Obedience to very simple clear unmistakable commands that Jesus gives us. And the reason we don’t perform those deeds of obedience is because we’re scared that if we do we’ll go broke, we’ll lose our friends, or we’ll get  killed. And Jesus says, “Trust me. Do what I say and trust me. I will be with you. You’re going to be all right. Things might be a little different from the way you anticipate them, but you’ll be all right. Do what I tell you and trust me. I’m looking for the fruits of faith”…..deeds, deeds, deeds.         

Second, the Lord comes in as a plumb line to measure us to see whether we are, in fact, practicing love.

The command to love comes again and again.

             —Love your enemies.

             —Love your neighbor.

             —Love one another.

Love one another, love your neighbor, love your enemy to the point where you are producing the fruit of love, and the fruits of love again are deeds…this time deeds of mercy.

       In Luke 10:25-37

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength,and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered right; do this and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’  Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him he passed by on the other side”.

Now the priest was a lovely big, beautiful hamburger bun…

Where’s the beef?

“Well, I’m on my way to a meeting…I just want to get this book to the printers…I want to do this and I want to do that.”

….So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side….

This was a middle sized hamburger bun with nothing inside.He was very very busy checking out other people’s doctrines and behavior and attitudes. But he has no substance. He can’t see what God’s telling him to do in that given moment.

…..But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he  was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine….Which of these three do you think proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed mercy on him.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

And so the plumb line comes down into our midst and measures us, individually and corporately to see whether we are, in fact, producing the fruits of mercy.

Third, the plumb line is measuring us to see whether we are given over to the worship of God.

Are we given over to the worship of God to the point where we are producing the fruits of worship? And the fruits of worship are holy lives. 

Lives that hallow God’s name. 

Lives that are consumed with God. 

Whatever form or posture or method of worship we use….

God doesn’t care whether we’re lying flat on our face or standing with our hands up, or shouting, or weeping…he’s looking for fruits of worship.

 Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…

How can we pray that prayer day after day and not do it?

How can we mean that and not hallow God’s name in our life?

Am I hallowing God’s name…

in the way I use my time?

in the way I handle my money? 

in the way I speak?

in the way I think?

And the Lord replied, “I will test my people with this plumb line. I will no longer ignore all their sins. The pagan shrines of your ancestors will be ruined, and the temples of Israel will be destroyed; I will bring the dynasty of King Jeroboam to a sudden end.”

“Father, give the fig tree one more year, while I dig around it, fertilize it, do everything I can to help it, If it bears fruit well and good. But if not, you can cut it down.”

Prayer

Jesus, we bare our hearts before you, confessing that our lives and our churches do not have the substance and power you ordained us to have. May we instead be people and a church that has the beef… that has the living the bread and the power to change lives. May we be places that the outcast and lost can come to and find you… really find you. Measure us and straighten out our crooked walls, work on our roots, fertilize the life we have left in us… so that we can bear the fruit of obedience and love… doing what you call us to do, loving the way you mean us to love. And Lord may our lives burst with holy fruit… because we are drawing life from you…consumed by honoring you, loving you and adoring you. In this fruit, may there be the substance, the beef that gives life so that your plumb line finds us straight, upright and fit for your kingdom work.

January 2020

GO INTO YOUR ROOM AND SHUT THE DOOR!

In a church Jean and I were part of long ago there was a woman we all called Aunt Irene.  Aunt Irene had been part of that church from the time she was a little girl, when her father was the neighborhood fire chief.   Aunt Irene stuck with us through all the changes in our growing congregation. She was delighted to see black folks and Mexicans and Arabs becoming part of our church.  But there was one thing that drove Aunt Irene around the bend. It was when Mary Foster began to pray. We had open prayer after the sermon, and once Mary Foster got rolling we were in for some heavy praying.  Mary Foster had grown up in the black church tradition, where open prayer was as natural as breathing. Mary wasn’t putting on a show. She was crying out to the Lord for help for herself, her family and for all of us.

After the service Aunt Irene would go up to Mary Foster and say, “Now Mary, it says in the Bible, ‘Go into your room and shut the door, and pray to your Father in secret.’” Mary would smile warmly and thank Aunt Irene for the kind advice.  Of course, Mary Foster had long since been in the habit of going into her room every day and praying to her Father in secret. But Mary was convinced that if you prayed to God in secret, it was okay to pray to God in church. So if next Sunday she felt inspired to storm the gates of heaven nothing could stop her.

Aunt Irene and Mary Foster were both right.  Our Lord tells us to go into our room and shut the door and pray to our Father in secret.  But it’s also clear that the Master has no problem with Mary Foster’s kind of open prayer. We see it in Acts Chapter 4 when Peter and John were released from prison and the believers lifted up prayers so powerful that the place where they were gathered was shaken.

Of course, before we can pray like those believers prayed, or like Mary Foster prays, we need to learn how to go into our room and shut the door, and pray to our Father in secret.  

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father  

who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 

Matthew 6:5-6

“Go into your room and shut the door.”  Private prayer is where God’s Spirit teaches us how to pray.  Alone with God each day we move from this world into God’s world.  That’s where God does things in us and through us that happen nowhere else.  

In a gathering like this, we’re all at different stages in our prayer life.  Some of us may be disciplined in spending time alone with God every day. Some of us may approach prayer in a more random way.  

But for the next few minutes, let’s assume that we’re all just learning to pray.   Actually we are all just learning to pray. Because when it comes to prayer, we’re always beginners, beginners to our dying day.  After years as an apostle, Paul says, 

“The Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought.”  

Romans 8:26

When it comes to prayer, we need help, not from some “prayer expert” or some “spiritual adviser,” but directly from God.  As long as we are in these bodies we need help from the Spirit to enable us to connect with God in prayer. And help from the Spirit is the one thing we can absolutely count on.

“If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

Luke 11:13

The Holy Spirit is the one who helps us to pray, intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.  The Spirit prays inside us even as we struggle, helping us to actually connect with God.

We can expect help from the Spirit in specific ways.

The Spirit of God helps us find the time to pray.

When we can’t seem to find time to get alone with God each day, it’s often because daily prayer looks like just another chore.  Some kind of spiritual duty. Do we think of eating our pork chops as a duty? Drinking a cold glass of water when we’re thirsty as a duty?  And how long would we survive if we decided that breathing is just too much trouble? “Oh I’m so tired of breathing, I think I’ll take a break from breathing for a day or two.”   We’d be dead in minutes!

Prayer is simply spiritual breathing.  And yet the main reason we can’t find time to get alone with God daily is because we see it as a chore.  An obligation. A burden. “I’d really like to do this, but I just can’t seem to find the time.” “I did it for a week once, but couldn’t seem to keep it up.”

But now we’re going to look to heaven to help us.  We’re going to let the Spirit of God transform that time alone with God each day from an “obligation” to a gift—a gift that refreshes our lives as nothing else in the world ever did.

Here’s where we get recharged.  We go into that room, weary and dull, we come out refreshed, ready to face the world.   

The Spirit is going to come down into our confused lives and help us find the time to get alone with God each day and pray.  Pretty soon we’ll wonder how we ever got through our days without it.

The Spirit of God helps us find the words.


“And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words.

So here we are, alone with God.  What do we do now? How do we even start?

Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 

Pray then like this: Our Father who art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done,

On earth as it is in heaven.”

Matthew 6:7-10

Of course we can start our prayers any way we like.  But many of us have found the Lord’s Prayer a great way to begin.  The Lord’s Prayer helps us to keep it simple, because not one word is wasted.  

It also reminds us that if we want to get through to God we have to get right with each other. 

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.  

Okay, so I prayed the Lord’s Prayer, now what? If words come to us, we just start praying.  Maybe we pray out loud, maybe we pray in a whisper.  If no words seem to come, maybe it’s time to just listen.  

The Spirit helps us to hear the voice of God.

Somewhere in that time alone with God we begin to hear him speak to us through scripture.  The Bible is the witness of flawed, stubborn, stiff-necked people like ourselves, who encountered God and found grace.  

When we read the Bible we are entering their world. And the same God who spoke to them begins to speak to us.  


When we hit something that doesn’t make sense we say, “Lord, this doesn’t make sense.  Help me to see what this means.”  The Bible is like Mount Sinai.  You go up there looking for God, and God comes to you like he came to Moses.  Most of us find the psalms and the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are great places to begin.  In those gospels we meet a Jesus far different from the “Jesus” we find out there in the world , or even in many churches.  We read slowly and let it sink in.  

Often we come across a word that’s just what we need. It could be a word of encouragement or a word of correction.  It’s always a word that puts power from heaven into our lives. If I’m being told to forgive, I’m given power to forgive.  If I’m directed to right a wrong, heaven gives me the strength to do it.

The Spirit of God will show us how to intercede for others.

Without a doubt, the most powerful thing we do when we’re alone with God, is intercede for other people.

We take time while we’re in that room with the door shut, to lift people by name before the Father’s throne.  We lift up that name, and if the person we’re praying for is a thousand miles away, something from God’s world touches that person.  

Sometimes we linger over a name and ask God to touch them with healing, or help them out of a financial jam, or guide them to a decent job.  But often we just lift up their name before God, trusting that God will touch them where they need it.

Once we start doing this, God keeps adding names to our bundle.  Our loved ones. Our neighbors. People in the church. Our friends.  And especially people who give us a hard time. We don’t pray, “Lord, straighten him out!  Make him get off my back!” No, we pray, “Flood this person I’m thinking of with your fulfilling mercy, meeting all their needs!”  

We ask the Father to bless them.

The beautiful thing about this work of interceding for others—and it is work—is that nobody sees it but God.  

“Okay,” you say, “that all sounds nice.  But I’ve been praying for Jack for five years, and he’s just as ornery as ever.”  Never mind. Just keep on asking God to bless Jack. No prayer is ever wasted.  

If we make a habit of daily getting off alone with God, all the power of heaven comes to our aid.  And if we do this right, two things will happen:

First, our life will begin to match our prayers.  We’ll pray for the needy, and God will show us how to help the needy.  We’ll pray for the sick, and the Spirit will guide us to visit the sick, to call them on the phone and connect with them.  Everything we pray for, we will find ourselves doing. 

The second thing that will happen is that we will find ourselves thanking God more than we ever did before.  Our lives will begin to overflow with gratitude. We won’t have to TRY to be thankful, we’ll just BE thankful.

Aunt Irene has long-since gone to be with the Lord.  As far as I know, Mary Foster is still storming heaven with her prayers—-every day alone with God, and often in her church.

And if Mary Foster were here, I’m sure she’d tell us that the best time of her day is that time alone with God.

No matter what Kind of prayer life we have at the moment, we all need help from the Spirit.  And that help comes with power as we get alone with God each day. 

Only God knows what challenges we’re each going to face in the year which has just begun.   Only God knows what challenges our churches are going to face. There are so many things out there in the future which are beyond our control.  

One thing we can control, one thing that will help us as nothing else will, is this simple practice of daily checking in with God—in that room with the world shut out, to get refocused and recharged.

The Spirit of God will help us find the time. 

The Spirit will help us find the words.  

The Spirit will enable us to hear God’s voice.  

The Spirit will put fire from heaven into those prayers we pray for each other and for all people.  

Whatever challenges we face, the God who answers prayer will give us all the help we need if we’ll but check in with him each day in that room with the door shut. 

Prayer

Lord help us in our weakness when it comes to this most important part of our spiritual walk, prayer… Oh dear Master, that we would fervently look forward to shutting the door and being alone with you, opening our hearts, baring our souls. Dear sweet Father, connect us to you, moving us from our world to your world. May we know, to the depth of our beings, that this time with you is a precious gift, a gift we want to savor as much as possible, a time we need to survive and thrive. Give us the words to say to you, may your Spirit guide us in how to speak and listen to you as we pray.  May we also hear your voice speaking through your living words in the scriptures. May we meet you there and find the answers and instructions we are seeking. Help us to lift up others to your throne of mercy. Lay many on our hearts to lift before you. May our list of names increase, those we love, those we criticize, those we despair over, those who irritate us, the broken, the sick, the lonely, the lost, the random strangers we meet. Heal them, guide them, bless them, touch them. Flood them with your mercy. In all this be with us as we face the challenges of each day, the things out of our control. May we find your help as we shut the door to all but you.

December 2019

BREAKING THROUGH BARRIERS

Once upon a time in a far away city there was a church that seemed to be in it’s dying throes.  Week after week as the congregation gathered for worship, all you could see was a shrinking sea of gray hair.  “We’re all getting old,” they would say to each other, “What’s going to happen to this church when we’re gone?”

One Sunday a woman came to the service who looked to be in her 50’s.  She slipped out before the service was over and nobody got her name. The next Sunday she was there again, participating in the worship with joy.  Week after week, there she was, ignoring the sparse numbers and the sinking morale.

“We’re sure glad you’re coming,” the folks would say, “We can use a little youth in this church.” “Youth?” she laughed.  “I think I passed that some time ago. But I’m glad to be here.” As the folks got to know this woman, they began to share their concerns.   “You can see how we’re all up in years. What will become of this church when we’re gone?”

“Maybe God has plans for this church,” she replied, and walked on with a smile.

Of course, nobody really knew this woman.  They would have been surprised to learn about some valleys of trouble she had been through.  They would have been doubly surprised to know that this woman had learned how to break through barriers with her prayers.  All they knew was that she kept coming. Observant ones noticed that the atmosphere of the church was beginning to change. The man who did the preaching seemed to be going through a kind of revival.  His words began to ring with an authority they never had before. Strangers kept dropping by, many of them kept on coming to worship.

In three years that church was full, alive with a mix of young and old, rich and poor.  A place of joy. People looked forward to being there. And very few had a clue as to how this change came about.  

All it takes is someone who knows how to break through the barriers.

Someone like Mary….

On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there;  Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples. When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”  And Jesus said to her, “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

John 2:1-5

You know the rest.  The servants filled the jars with water.  When they dipped it out, it was wine. That wedding feast came back to life.  All because Mary broke through the barriers.

“O woman, what have you to do with me?  My hour has not yet come.”

Mary doesn’t take “No” for an answer.  She knows he’ll come through.

“Do whatever he tells you,” she says to the servants.

There are barriers that prevent us from getting through to God.  Some of these barriers are in our own heads. Some of them are outside us.  If we don’t break through these barriers, our prayers fizzle out before they even get started.  

Barriers of doubt.  

What’s the point of asking, when we don’t really expect an answer?

Barriers of discouragement.  

What’s the point of approaching God, if we’re going to slink away in discouragement, the minute we think God is giving us the run-around? Chicken-hearted prayers are not really prayers.  They’re little wishes that evaporate as soon as the sun comes up.

Here was this Greek woman.  She wasn’t one of the Chosen People.  She didn’t belong to the household of faith.  But her faith put them all to shame.   

And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon.  And he entered a house and would not have any one know it; yet he could not be hid.  But immediately a woman, whose little daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit, heard of him and came and fell down at his feet.

Mark 7:24-25

Talk about barriers!  Jesus was tucked away in this house, out of sight, out of reach.  That didn’t stop this woman. When she found out where he was, she got moving.  If her daughter was ever to be healed, it would be through this man!

“Let the children first be fed, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”   The “children” are the Jews. They deserve the bread. The woman is a Gentile. She’s an outsider, a “dog”. Why should she be given what is meant for the children?So she breaks through the first barrier, and gets inside the house.  She falls at Jesus’ feet, begging him to cast the demon out of her little girl.  But Jesus raises another barrier: She’s a Gentile; his ministry is to Jews.  

This holy man, this man of God, is calling her a Gentile dog!  Shutting the door in her face! Most of us would have walked away embittered.  Not this lady! She knows in her spirit that her faith is being tested.  

“Okay, Lord, so I’m a Gentile dog.  Yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”  

And with those words this Greek woman breaks through the last barrier.

“For this saying you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.”

And it was so.  

Who are these people who break through barriers and reach God’s heart in their prayers?  Are they super-saints? No. They are people just like we are, with all the distractions that we face every day.  But these people are convinced of two things that give them boldness to break through the barriers:

  1. They are convinced that God is good.
  2. They are convinced that God is going to help them, no matter how bad things look.  

They ignore the barriers and keep praying with thankful hearts, pestering God, until the answer comes.

They are convinced that God is good.   

“Well, aren’t we all convinced that God is good?  Everybody knows that God is good!” We all say it with our mouths, and we sing it in our hymns.  

But when it comes down to actually connecting with God in prayer, believing that the God of the universe is listening, that he is going to reach down with some help,  that’s when our confidence in God’s goodness begins to waver.

Our mouths may still be saying the words, but our hearts begin to “chicken out.”   We’re afraid to expect too much. “What if the door doesn’t open? What will happen to my weak faith?   I’d better not put all my eggs in this basket.”

To believe that God is good is not a matter of theory, philosophy, or theology.  

It’s a matter of personal faith.  

Is God the one who Jesus says he is?  

Is he my Father?  

Is Jesus, for real, a manifestation of the Father’s goodness?  

Is it true?—

“Ask and it will be given you, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you.”

We will never break through any barriers until we believe that God is good.  

Really good.  

A Father like no other.

They are convinced that God is going to help them

People who break through barriers with their prayers are also convinced that God is going to help them, no matter how bad things look.  They ignore the barriers and keep praying with thankful hearts until the answer comes.

They don’t give up.

They don’t turn cynical.  

They don’t wallow in self-pity.  

They cling to the promise until it is fulfilled.  

This Greek woman saw what no one else seemed to see.  She saw the promise. God is good. Jesus is good. “Of course he’s going to help me!  Never mind how bad things look; he is going to help me!” She knocked on the door of heaven, and kept knocking until it opened.  

Who of us does not have at least one burden that we need to bring to the Master?  Some problem that we cannot solve. He has to solve it. “Lord, I need help!”

And there is one burden that we all share together.  We want to see our church come alive with the fire of heaven.  We want to see it grow in the power of the Spirit, and even in numbers.  The answer to our prayer lies on the other side of those barriers.  

We can break through, if we will allow the Spirit to convince us of two facts:

That God is good.

That God is going to help us, no matter how hopeless things look.

All we have to do is ignore the barriers and keep praying with thankful hearts, until the answer comes.  

Ask, and it will be given you.

Seek, and you will find,

Knock, and it will be opened to you.

Just keep at it, until the last barrier falls.

Prayer

Holy, Just Lord give us the boldness to breakthrough the barriers of doubt and discouragement that keep us from connecting to you in prayer. We trust your goodness, your kindness, your faithfulness. You hear us. You care. May we sense this with every fiber of our beings. And Lord we know that nothing is beyond your power. No matter how futile things feel, no matter how overwhelming the circumstances are, you can and will bring us help. May our hearts burst with thankfulness and confidence when we lay our cares at your feet. And merciful, all powerful Lord we lay the concerns about your faltering body before you, the shrinking church, the disinterested youth, and those who scorn religion. We also bring to you a major barrier to the growth of your church, the things that bring shame and derision to your body… the compromises organized religion have made with greed and evil, the disgusting false prophets and charlatans who make a mockery out of the cross by marketing your salvation, goodness and mercy. May the deeds, the obedience, the love of the true body of Christ overshadow these barriers.  Lord raise us up, fill us so we seek you with an intensity and love like never before. Pour your Spirit out, twist the hearts of the young who scorn religion into hearts that are inflamed with your love. May your body grow so close to you and embrace your cross so tightly that your light radiates so strongly from us, that it ignites an inferno of love for you across this earth.

November 2019

(sermon 11/17/19)

November 2019

(sermon 11/17/19)

HOLY FEAR

You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death; you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.

But not a hair of your head will perish.

By your endurance you will gain your lives.

Luke 21:16-19

These words of Jesus have been preserved to us, because Jesus was not just speaking to those disciples.  

He makes clear that as we near the end of this age there will be increased turbulence and terror on every level.  Nature will be out of kilter. Nations will be at war. Human suffering will reach its peak. 

How close we are to the final crisis, only God knows.  

But the outlook for us appears to be tough times ahead.

So the Lord says to us, as we face the coming days: 

He was speaking—is speaking— to us.

He makes clear that as we near the end of this age there will be increased turbulence and terror on every level.  Nature will be out of kilter. Nations will be at war. Human suffering will reach its peak.

How close we are to the final crisis, only God knows.  

 

But the outlook for us appears to be tough times ahead.

So the Lord says to us, as we face the coming days: 

 

 

To endure the turbulence that lies ahead, there is one essential which we all lack to some degree: 

 It’s called The fear of God.   

Strange as it may seem, the fear of God sets us free from all other fear, and keeps us strong.

Peter and his companions were dead tired.  They’d been out there fishing all night with nothing to show for it.  This was how they made their living, and it was another wasted night. They were wrapping it up and getting ready to go home, have breakfast and go to bed. But here comes a crowd of people following Jesus along the shore.  Peter is not pleased to see Jesus. “Hey Peter, I need to use your boat.”

What can he say?  Jesus sits in the boat and teaches the people gathered on the shore, while Peter, tired, grumpy and half-asleep, steadies the boat. Now the teaching is over.  Jesus turns to Peter and says, “Okay Peter, let’s go out there and do some fishing.” 

“Master, we were out there all night, and caught nothing.  It’s no good out there. But if you say so, I’ll let down the nets.”

Peter’s net comes up so full of fish it’s tearing apart.  Does Peter shout, “Hallelujah! Look at them fish! Praise the Lord!”

No.  Peter is terrified.  He falls at Jesus’ knees and says, “Get away from me Lord, I’m a sinful man.”   

“Don’t be afraid, from now on you’re going to be catching people.”

“Don’t be afraid….”

Peter’s response to that net full of fish was fear, a fear that changed his life.

In Psalm 25 there is a verse that explains exactly what was going on with Peter that day. 

It says….

 The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him.  And he will show them his Covenant.                                                     Psalm 25:14 

The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him.  Fear him?

Are we supposed to fear God?

There is a debate going on among us these days about fearing God.

There are those who say, “Why should we fear God? God is love!”

And there are others who are forever looking over their shoulder, scared to death that God is going to give them another whack.   

And there are those who think that, because they have the Holy Spirit, they can lay aside their fear, relax and be a little lazy, a little glib, a little loose with the tongue. 

But why should we fear God, if God is love?

Yes, God is love.  His mercy is deeper than the sea.  But we never know that love—

we never know that love— until we see what Peter saw that day. 

Peter didn’t just see a mess of fish flopping in his net.  

He saw the holiness of God, and it scared him to death.

“The secret of the Lord…”  What secret?

Come to think of it, why is God so secret?  Why is God always hidden from our sight?  

It’s easy to proclaim, “God is in this place!” 

Is he? 

Maybe we’re just playing church.  Maybe it’s all talk and tradition.  Maybe our so-called “belief system” is just another crutch we lean on to get us through our weary lives.

But all that changes, once we see what Peter saw.  And we will see what Peter saw when the Lord opens our eyes—as he opened Peter’s eyes.

Listen to Jesus in Matthew 11.

No one knows who the Son is, but the Father.

No one knows who Jesus really is but God himself.  

No one.   

And no one knows who the Father is, except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

 The Son is the revealer of God.  He’s been revealing God to the human race since the beginning of history.  He’s doing it all the time, not just in our churches, but everywhere!

But we never see what Jesus reveals, until we have what Peter had that day:

Holy fear

Suppose that during church, a stranger came quietly through the door, walked up the aisle, and flopped down in an empty pew.  

He looks like a man who hasn’t had a bath in a month. 

The stranger leans over and begins to weep; he sobs and sobs!

While the stranger is weeping, a few people here and there begin to tremble for no reason.  Some of them even weep. The rest of us shake our heads and say, “What’s wrong with those people?”

What we don’t understand is that “those people” have been struck with holy fear.  And now their eyes open. They no longer see a man who hasn’t bathed in a month. They’re looking at an angel. 

The stranger gets up and quietly leaves the church.  We never see him again. But those who saw that stranger for who he actually is, walk out of here with their hearts on fire.

The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him.  And he will show them his Covenant. 

“He will show them his Covenant?” What covenant?  

The Covenant God made with the whole weary human race at Calvary…..

It began about 4,000 years ago, when the God of the universe, for reasons known only to him, comes to this sad little planet and makes his home among the Jews, the most despised tribe on earth. 

Over the centuries God tussles with these Jews. He watches over them, protects them, blesses them, yet time and again they turn away and reject him.  

God never gives up on them.  

Always finds a way to redeem them.

Then at their Feast of the Passover in Jerusalem, a few years before the Temple is destroyed for the last time, God himself, in a mystery, becomes their Passover Lamb.

As the body of the strange Jewish Prophet, Jeshua, expires, the very universe trembles as this Passover Lamb sucks all the evil, all the sin, all the corruption, sadness, misery and death into himself and consumes it.  

It’s gone!  All of it!

So that every soul who has ever lived or will ever live on this planet is given a clean slate, a chance for a new start.

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth (on the cross) will draw all people to myself.”

 John 12

It’s a Covenant of forgiveness, a door to heaven for the whole human race. But this Covenant becomes effective in our lives only when we have learned the fear of God. We can go to church for years and years, sing praises, listen to sermons, pray prayers—

—and never actually connect with God

Until we see what Peter saw.

Until we do what Peter did.

Until we learn the fear of God.

“How can you say such things?” you protest.  “Jesus never preached fear. He only preached love.”

A very popular idea these days.  But take a closer look.

Listen to Jesus….

I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.

But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear him!               

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 

Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

 Luke 12

In other words, 

“Fear God, and you won’t have to be afraid of anything else.”

So what does it mean to fear God? 

God is not a tyrant, a monster, a bully. There are people who, every time something bad happens to them, are convinced that God is picking on them.

“Why is God picking on me?  What have I done to deserve all this trouble?”

God doesn’t pick on anybody.  He’s our Father who knows everything about us.  How many hairs are on our heads, how many breaths we have drawn since our birth, all our sins, all our sorrows, all our shame.  And, for all that, loves us with unspeakable love.

But—God is holy.  If we were to come before him in our present state, we’d burn to a crisp.       

God’s name is holy. 

You take off your shoes in his presence.

Get away from me, Lord! I am a sinful man.”

“Don’t be afraid.  From now on you will be catching people.”

“Don’t be afraid.”  

Peter is delivered from all fear except one: the fear of God.

Even after we have come into his Kingdom, even after we’re “filled with the Spirit”,  we never abandon that holy fear.

Perhaps someone is shaking their head and saying, “Maybe you fear God, but I don’t.  I have no idea what you’re talking about. Is there something wrong with me?”

 Very few of us were brought up in the fear of God.  We hear that God is love all our lives. But fear God?  Not these days!

 Well, Moses didn’t fear God either, until the day he stumbled across that burning bush and heard a voice telling him “Take off your shoes!  You’re standing on holy ground!” 80 years old, and he didn’t know anything about the fear of God until that day.  

 But now, the same God who told Moses to take off his shoes, the same God who terrified Peter on the Sea of Galilee, is moving across the earth preparing us for turbulent times ahead by teaching us how to think, how to behave, when we’re standing on holy ground.

 If we’re going to live without fear through the coming storms, we need to learn to take off our shoes when we’re on holy ground.  We’re going to learn to fear God. And God is going to help us, just like he helped Moses and Joshua and Peter and Mary.

 Many years ago a man named Jim showed up at Messiah Church in Detroit.  During the service the Spirit convicted Jim. The sermon had hardly ended when Jim got up, walked down the aisle to the altar rail, and before he knelt to pray, he took off his shoes.  Why did he take off his shoes? Because at that moment Jim was moved by the fear of God. He knew he was standing on holy ground. In Jim’s case it lasted about two weeks. Then he was back to his old ways.  

 But for all of us the act of constantly humbling ourselves before a Holy God becomes the doorway to life lived inside God’s Covenant, a life guided and protected by the hand of God.

 So if we lack that holy fear, we will do ourselves a favor by asking God to help us find it. 

 Lord, show us what it is to live with holy joy and holy fear at the same time.

 Bring us to the place where we see what Peter saw. 

 Open our eyes to the terrifying glory of your Kingdom!

 It’s a prayer that God never fails to answer.

For….

Prayer

Yes, dear Lord open our eyes to what Peter saw… your perfect holiness. Strike us with holy fear. Drop us to our knees. Forgive us. Forgive us for our separation from you. Forgive us for our failure to keep you on the throne of our hearts. May we never abandon a holy fear of you. And precious Lord, we know that in holy fear we will receive the endurance to face persecution, the endurance to face loss, the endurance to face darkness, the endurance to face anything  with holy joy because you hold us in your everlasting arms.

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