Posted May 22, 2020

THE JOY OF THE LORD IS OUR STRENGTH

 

And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the Lord had given to Israel. And Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until mid­day in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden pulpit which they had made for the purpose … and Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and when he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God; and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands; and they bowed their faces to the ground …

And Nehemiah who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to him for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” So the Levites stilled all the people saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.                                                                                                                       

Nehemiah 8:1-12

It was a vast assembly in the square of a Jerusalem that was now but a ghost of the city it once had been. People who have spent their entire lives in exile and all their lives were told by their parents and grandparents what a magnificent place Jerusalem had been. Now they come back to this! It’s Rosh Hashana and the congregation has gathered to hear the word of God. Ezra the scribe gets up on this wooden pulpit specially made for the occasion and opens the scroll containing the Torah and blesses the Lord God. Quite spontaneously everybody says, “Amen.”

And then as he begins to read the law of God, a very strange thing happens. Down toward the front of the assembly a huge hulk of a man begins to sob like a baby. Ezra keeps on reading. A woman way back toward the rear of the assembly cries as if her heart is breaking. Ezra con­tinues to read and the people drink in the word. Men who hadn’t cried since they were little children, find their faces and their beards wet with tears. Everywhere you look, you see weeping.

What does this mean? It means that the Spirit of the living God has moved upon this assembly and given it the gift of deep, genuine, broken, heartfelt repentance. Finally, Ezra stops reading.

The word of God has done its work.

Their hearts have been broken, and now they’re ready for the comfort of God.

Ezra says,

“Do not mourn and weep, this day is holy unto the Lord. Go your way, eat the fat and drink the sweet wine and send portions to those for whom nothing has been prepared, and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Gradually the weeping subsides and in its place comes a joy such as they had never experienced before: the joy of the Lord. And they rise up, go their way, and eat and drink and send portions to people who have nothing. The same Spirit that had moved them to weep now moves them with a joy that they were meant to have when man was first created. A joy that will now be their strength as they rebuild the ruined city and revive the wasted nation.

The joy of the Lord is your strength….

The joy of the Lord is a very strange thing. Invariably it comes to us by means of the gift of weeping. The weeping may not be on our faces but it will surely be in our hearts. When we are visited, truly, by the joy of the Lord and not by some cheap counterfeit, the first evidence of the coming of the joy of the Lord is that the heart of stone begins to break and all the hardness and all the indifference and all the bitterness and all the arrogance crumbles. We begin to see ourselves as in the sight of the living God, and as we do all the flesh-strength that seemed to hold us together in the past drains away, and we have no choice but to break, to weep. Then we are visited by the joy of the Lord.

What is it that causes these people to weep as Ezra reads the word? As they’re listening to Ezra read the word of God they know that they haven’t been obeying it. They have fallen far short. They’re so far from God! They’ve wronged Him in so many ways! There’s no choice for them but to just break inside their hearts. And the minute they begin to admit that they have been wrong, (no longer defending themselves, no longer try­ing to give excuses for themselves), God comes in with joy that becomes their strength against all the failure and all the disobedience and all the un­belief which has plagued their lives in the past.

Now exactly the same thing happens to us. The joy of the Lord is our strength against all the things which have defeated us and made a mockery of our intentions to walk with God. But the joy of the Lord does not come into our hearts initially by means of singing and dancing; it comes rather by means of weeping.

They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.

He that goeth forth and weepeth bearing precious seed

shall doubtless come again with rejoicing

bringing his sheaves with him.

If you ask God to give you joy and find that soon He takes you through a valley of tears, do not suppose that He’s playing some weird trick on you.

He’s answering your prayer, bringing you to your heart’s desire by means of the only possible way you will ever have it.

 The joy of the Lord is our strength against despair.

No doubt there are some of us who are living in despair right now.

By despair I mean your soul is numb, your heart is dry, you just see no hope, nothing to look forward to, nothing to live for.

Now the strange thing about despair is that when it gets hold of your heart you can’t cry.

Oh, you can shed crocodile tears to get sympathy, you can weep little tears of self-pity. But the deep brokenhearted cry of repentance is impossible to you. When Judas finally realized what he had done to His Master there was no weeping. Judas could not weep.

 He had closed and locked his door against the joy of the Lord, and found himself in the prison of despair. There seemed open to him only one last desperate step, and Judas took it without one tear.

Compare this with what happens to Peter when he wakes up and realizes what he has done in denying his Lord.

 Peter went out and wept bitterly.

And as Peter wept he was beginning already to taste the joy of the Lord which would flood his being three days later. When the joy of the Lord visits our despair we suddenly realize that our numbness and our dryness of soul are simply unbelief in the face of a God who has given us everything He has, laid down the life of His Only Begotten.

When we see how we have hurt God, broken His heart, we begin to break. And as we offer to Him the sacrifice of a broken heart joy comes to us as we’ve never known it. And that joy becomes our strength against ever having to fall back into despair again.

The joy of the Lord is our strength against vanity.

We are living in vanity when we are building our lives on a foundation which has no more substance than air.

– Pinning our hopes,

– drawing our satisfaction,

– laying up our treasure…..

              …. in such a way that one good storm will take it all down the drain.

When we’re living in vanity,

it’s impossible to weep for anything except our own petty disappointments.

 But to weep for what we have done,

for the fact that we’ve wasted our lives, seems to be impossible.

When the joy of the Lord begins to visit those of us who are living in vanity,

and we open the door of our heart to it, we suddenly see…

– how we’ve been throwing our lives away,

– all the people we’ve been hurting,

– all the people we’ve been letting down,

– all the damage we’ve been doing.

We see that we’ve been breaking God’s heart.

And we turn around and we offer to Him the sacrifice of a broken heart.

Then the joy of the Lord becomes our strength against vanity.

When Jesus told Zacchaeus to come down out of the tree, Zacchaeus was living in vanity. But the fact that he climbed that tree was already indicative of a change. Zacchaeus scrambled down out of that tree and received Jesus joyfully.

And the fact that this joy was the joy of the Lord is evident in that it was the kind of joy which brings about a heart-change. There was no out­ward weeping, but before dinner is over Zacchaeus stands up and says,

 Half my goods I give to the poor.

And if I’ve defrauded anybody I’m going to restore fourfold.

He doesn’t just say, “I’m saved,” and go right on doing the same evil he’d done before.

This heart-change means that Zacchaeus was weeping in his heart for what he had been and what he had done.

And he made the change with the joy of the Lord.

The joy of the Lord is our strength against a fruitless life.

 By this my father is glorified, that you bear much fruit

 and so prove to be my disciples….

  I have said these things to you that my joy may be in you

and that your joy may be full.

It’s amazing how we can go for years and years without ever batting an eyelash over the fact that we have pro­duced absolutely nothing with our lives for anybody else. It doesn’t even bother us that we send people away empty again and again. Then one day we wake up and recognize this.

We want to be useful, to truly serve, only to come up against a second shock.

We discover that we have nothing to offer. People come to us for help and we find that we have nothing to give them, our cup­boards are bare.

When you finally get to the place where you start going next door to your neighbor, (who happens to be the Heavenly Father), and pound on His door and cry out for bread,

 Somebody has come in the middle of the night and

I have nothing to set before him, give me something!

When you’re doing this, then you’re approaching the joy of the Lord. You won’t be pounding on that door very long before it will open and into your heart will flow the joy of the living God which will be your strength to feed the hungry with the living bread of the true and living God.

 For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law.

Then he said to them. “Go your way, eat the fat and drink the sweet wine and send portions to him for whom nothing is prepared;

 for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved,

               for the joy of the Lord is your strength.

 May it be that joy that comes into our hearts afresh,

even if it has to come to us as it came to them by means of ….

weeping, brokenness, repentance…

That we may rise up…

out of our despair,

out of our vanity,

out of our fruitless lives,

out of our temptations,

and do the will of our Father with hearts that are filled to overflowing with no other joy but His. 

Prayer:  Amen, Amen dear Lord… Move your Spirit upon us and upon our assemblies. Give us the gift of genuine heartfelt repentance. Give us hearts that see how far we have gone from you, how we have wronged you. Hearts that see we have broken your heart, dear precious Lord. We weep for all we have wasted, for those we have hurt and disappointed, for any damage we have wrought on your wonderful Kingdom. And as we weep, move us with joy. A joy that breaks these hearts of stone, that removes our indifference, bitterness and arrogance. A joy that strengthens us in you. May we take this joy you set before us and live in it. May we share the abundance you give us with those who hunger and thirst, as we ourselves thrive in and are strengthened by your loving presence.

Posted May 15, 2020

COVERED

 

Let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in  reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its lusts.

                                                                     Romans 13:13-14

The Spirit of the Lord has been highlighting a truth to the Body of Christ at this hour which will be absolute dynamite when this truth is actualized in our daily living. Here it is:

We have been called, as sons and daughters of Heaven, to function in two places at once.

1. We are to live in the unshielded presence of the Living God.

2. We are called to dwell in the unmodified presence of human anguish.

A lot of people want to walk in the presence of God, but they don’t want to get near human pain. They talk about healing, but they don’t want to get near the sick.

When the day comes that we are spending ourselves in these two places, we will see the kingdom of God as we have never seen it before, we will have power to minister the Kingdom so effectively that chains will break,

captives will be set free,

eyes will open to the glory of God.

Of course, it is much easier to talk about coming into the presence of God than to actually get there. And to truly reach out and touch the human anguish involves a great deal more than walking through a convalescent home or sitting in a skid row bar.

In order to come into God’s presence, and at the same time, touch the human heart where it hurts, we have to have the “covering” that protected the prophets of old.

We need a covering when we step into God’s presence.

In His mercy, and for our protection, God has set an angel with a flaming sword at the doorway to the Garden of Paradise, because, if we were to go in there in our natural state, our very bodies would be seared with the intensity of the light, our minds would wither, our spirits would faint.

After their rebellion, Adam and Eve became conscious of their nakedness. So they covered themselves with fig leaves. But when the Lord drew near to them in the cool of the day, they realized that the covering they had put on themselves was not enough. Trembling with fear, they ran into the bushes.

If we are having difficulty getting near to God, it’s probably God’s mercy holding us at a distance until we are properly covered.

Only when we are covered can we safely come into his presence and boldly approach his Throne of Grace and get help in time of need.

The Old Testament saints understood this. They would never even dare to approach Yahweh without some kind of covering – a kafar, an atonement. And they knew that the atonement had to be blood.

Nor can we draw near to God without that covering.

We also need a covering when we walk through the Valley of Human Anguish.

God, in his mercy, is watching over our movements out in the world among men. Because the minute we begin to open our hearts to human need, we are exposed to seen and unseen danger:   

– physical danger,

– hatred,

– discouragement,

– the temptation to jump down into the “mud bath” ourselves.

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness.                                                        

Ephesians 6:12

We need to be shielded, protected, covered.

It is dangerous to draw near to God, or the heart of human need, without a covering. The priestly robes that were worn in the Old Testament were symbolic of this.

They weren’t getting all dressed up to prove that they were priests. They were wearing this clothing, at the command of God, as a sign that they had to come into his presence clothed with a righteousness which was not their own. They also wore this garb as they came out from God’s presence and ministered God’s mercy to the people again as a sign that they were clothed in a righteousness which was not their own.This covering, which was symbolized in those Old Testament priestly robes, became actual the day Jesus came up out of the Jordan River from his baptism and began to minister as the Messiah. Jesus was under a threefold covering as he went off into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan and as he came forth to reveal the Living God to Israel.

He was covered first of all with the water of his baptism—

He who was without sin and yet became sin for us commanded that he be baptized to fulfill all righteousness.

He was covered with the Holy Spirit —

…who came down upon him as he emerged from those waters, making him the Anointed One, the Messiah.

He was also covered with blood —

…his own blood. And that blood was effective every time he forgave sin or touched somebody for healing.

For he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of calves or goats,

but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.

Hebrews 9:12

So covered, our Lord came as the Son of Man into the presence of the Holy God for us. And now, through the Spirit, he comes out from God’s presence to minister eternal peace for those reading these words who will receive his word.

But what about our covering?

What do we put on, as we approach God,

and as we move out among men?

We also need the water, which is a symbol of our death in Christ.

We need the Spirit who is the sign of our life in Christ.

We need the blood – our forgiveness in Christ.

This threefold covering becomes ours when we take Jesus himself to be our protecting Rock.

He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.

                                                                                    Psalm 91:1

Most of us have no conception of how completely we can be enveloped in the reality of Jesus … how necessary it is for us to be covered by his abiding presence. As Paul says, “we are to be dead — hid with Christ in God — so that our lives are truly wrapped up in him, before God and man.”

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation/ she is a new creation; the old things have passed away,

behold, all things have become new.                                           

 2 Corinthians 5:17

We are to put on Christ.

Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.

This covering,

this enveloping ourselves,

this wrapping ourselves in the reality of Christ,

 ….is not something we obtain by mysterious spiritual exercises, or long periods of fasting, or reading certain wonderful books on the deeper spiritual life.

Lord, Lord cover me. Shield me, cover me so that I can enter into your holy presence. Cover me so that I may face human suffering and need under your protection.  May I see and take up this awesome blessing of enveloping myself in you, wrapping myself in you.

This awesome blessing is obtained by an act of faith in each of four situations:

  1. By faith we cover ourselves with Christ as we draw near to the Father.

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.”

John 14: 5-6

He’s not just talking about coming to the Father after our death, or when the trumpets sound, but now.

If you ask the Father anything in my name, He will give it to you.

John 16:23

To ask something of the Father in Jesus’ name,

is to come under the covering of Jesus,

to be wrapped in him,

enveloped in his life.

“Lord God, I make bold to draw near to you, not on the strength of anything I am or have done, but on the strength of your Son, Jesus, my Lord. Covering myself in his righteousness, I now make bold to ascend into deep heaven; into the place of eternal life, and worship your holiness, and lay my petitions before you.”

And the more totally we are permeated with the Spirit of Christ, the more direct and swift is our approach to the Father.

  1. By faith we cover ourselves with Christ as we move out among each other — and among people out there in the world beyond.

“When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

              1 Corinthians 2:1-2

Paul approached those Corinthians absolutely wrapped up in the Crucified Jesus

This was an obsession with him.

This was a passion with him.

So much so that one could say, “This man is out of his mind.”

And from this obsession flowed life everywhere Paul went.

 Notice how his epistles are filled with the passion of Christ.

Paul makes clear that it is impossible to move out among men with any effectiveness, except as we are covered with Christ.

“I am crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Galatians 2:20

“For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,”

Philippians 1:21

“For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”

Colossians 3:3

The problem with many of us is that we don’t take that covering with us as we leave the assembly.

Maybe we experience a taste of it when we are at the Lord’s Table, but then when we go out, we leave it behind – we forget to take it….

into our jobs,

into our homes,

out on the highway,

visiting in the hospital.

“Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”

Ephesians 6:11

What is the armor of God?

Having your loins girded about with truth – the truth is Jesus.

Putting on the breastplate of righteousness – who is that but Jesus?

Taking the shield of faith

– the helmet of salvation

– the sword of the Spirit

– feet shod with the gospel of peace

all of these things are Jesus himself.

We are to be wrapped in …..

the Person,

the Presence,

the Living Reality of Jesus himself

             ….so that we can then go out with something real to offer people.

We are to practice that Presence day and night everywhere we are.

Lord help me to bring your presence with me wherever I go.May I never forget you are with me..

 Oh that I may be wrapped in you so that every interaction I have is touched with your living presence.

  1. By faith we cover ourselves with Christ when our minds come under the assault of temptation.

Not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to gratify its lusts.

And the mind loves to make provision for the flesh;

to think ahead,

to scheme,

to plan,

to worry,

to fret,

to fantasize,

to dream dreams – good and bad.

When this happens, it’s necessary to clothe our minds in the sanity, which is Jesus himself — to bring order into our mental chaos.

It’s a matter of choosing his Presence instead of the flaky thoughts we indulge in.

“Lord, come into my mind. Flood me with your light. Fill me with your reality again. Take me away from these inmost lies.”

  1. By faith we cover ourselves with Christ as we approach the reality of our own death.

No matter how near the Lord’s return may be, don’t forget that your death might precede his coming.

For we know that if this earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made by human hands which is eternal in the heavens. Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling, so that by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we sigh with anxiety; not that we should be unclothed, but that we should be further clothed, so that what is mortal might be swallowed up in life.

 2 Corinthians 5:1-4

So that this naked spirit might be clothed in a new body which is the body of Jesus himself.

So that the same covering that

– takes me into the presence of God,

– takes me safely out among human beings with something good to give them,

– protects my mind against the lies that constantly bombard it,

….   now also takes me through the door of death.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.

When I cover myself with the covering of Christ, the anxiety, and dread, and terror of death leave me.

I begin to see death as something, which is far better than what I now have.

I begin to say that with my heart, not just with my mouth,

 that I might depart and be with Christ which is better by far.

If it should be the Lord’s will that we remain until the King comes back, good.

If it should be the Lord’s will that we should be taken in the meantime, praise God, provided we’re covered with his life.

Lord may I be so covered in you, your life that I no longer fear death

In order for us to live a life that makes sense, we have to put on the covering…

Help us Father,

 – that we may clothe ourselves, with the presence of your Son,

– that we might truly come up into his presence and touch his throne,

– that we might go out among men and women and touch their broken hearts with healing,

– that we may conquer the enemy as he attacks our minds,

– that we may approach our coming death with holy joy.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things that are above, not the things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.                                                              

 Colossians 3:1-4

 

Sermon circa 1978  REB

All art from Kate Austin. An artist from the United Kingdom. She has no formal art training. She paints from the inner impressions that come from prayer. She sees her art as “windows into the Heart of a loving and all powerful Father, to be used as inspiration to draw near to Him.” and gives all glory for the art to God. 


Posted May 8 2020

CHANGE OUT OF THAT OLD FLEABAG

 

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me;

and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish,

and no one shall snatch them out of my  hand.”                                                           

John 10:27-28

 

“I give them eternal life…”  …What does that mean- “eternal life”?

 Is it a ticket you get so that  when you die, you show the angel your ticket and you’re ushered into Paradise? That’s a nice thought, but what good is your ticket going to do you here in this world?

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them,

and they follow me; and I give them eternal life,…”

   Eternal life is more than a ticket you cash in when you die.

   Eternal life is a gift that brings about a big change in you…already, on this side of the grave.

 

One way to describe it, is to say it’s a robe of light you are given to put on…

    

As Paul says in Romans 13,

 

“The night is gone. The day is at hand.

Let us then cast off the works of darkness

 and put on the armor of light.”

You have been given eternal life as a robe of light… 

But you’ve got to put it on!

You’ve got to wear it!

Remember Jesus’ story about the king who prepared a magnificent marriage feast for his son? He sent his servants to tell those who were invited, “The feast is ready. Come!” 

But they wouldn’t come.

Then he sent other servants to try again. “Behold, I have made ready my dinner. My oxen and fatted calves are killed. Everything’s ready! Come to the feast!” But they made light of it and went off; one to his farm, another to his business. They even took some of the king’s servants and beat them up…some were killed.

“Okay”, says the king, “we’ll take care of them. Meanwhile, go out to the streets. Bring in as many as you can find. Anybody – bad or good. It doesn’t matter. Bring them!” Now the hall is filled with guests.

The king comes into the hall to see how it’s going and he notices a man who is not wearing a wedding garment. “How can you come in here without a wedding garment? The man is speechless. “Bind him hand and foot and cast him out into the outer darkness.”

Now why would the king do a thing like that? Just because the man doesn’t have on a wedding garment?

Well, here’s the point. That man was given a wedding garment. Everybody invited to that feast was given a wedding garment and it was understood that this is what you wear when you come to the feast. But this guy chooses not to wear his. He likes his own clothes better.

Now he can do that if he likes, but not at the king’s banquet. He’ll wear his own clothes in the outer darkness.

The wedding garment stands for the same thing we see in Revelation 7.

“A great multitude which no man could number,

from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues,

standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes…”

Not one there that does not have on a white robe.

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying,

 “Who are these, clothed in white robes,

and whence have they come?” I said to him,

“Sir, you know.” And he said to me,

“These are they who have come out of the great tribulation;

they have washed their robes and

 made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

                               all the stupid things

                               all the evil things

                               all the pitiful and vain things they did and said in the past.

They are covered with a robe of light. A robe washed in the blood of the Lamb. Without this robe to cover and cleanse them, they would burn to a crisp as close as they are now to the throne of God.

Clothed in these robes, they serve God.

    Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night within his temple; and he who sits upon the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

             __________________

 

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

When you become a follower of Jesus, when you are born of the Spirit, you are given this new robe called eternal life.

But it’s up to you to put it on.

It’s surprising how many people say, in effect, “I like what I’m wearing now. Why should I change? I’ve had this coat for years. It may be a little shaggy. It may have a few holes but, I like it – it’s me. Of course, I’ve noticed I have a lot of fleabites. And people are starting to back away from me when I come into the room wearing my favorite coat.  I don’t mind the smell. Why should they?”

This “coat” may be comfortable, it may be “me”, but it’s full of fleas. It has an aroma.

 

This “coat” I like so much is my nature. It’s how I am, how I think, the way I use my time and it’s really not all that different from all the other coats around town.

My “coat” has fleas. Your “coat” has fleas. My “coat” has an aroma. So does yours. And as long as we are wearing these coats, we’re going to be self-centered, easily hurt, anxious, and edgy.

But over here on the rack is this new coat I was given by the Spirit of God – Eternal Life.

And this new coat is God’s nature. If I put on this new coat, there are no fleas, no smell. It’s clean – washed in the blood of the Lamb. If I put on this coat, I discover I can actually think differently, act differently, just by putting on this new coat.

 

Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.         

Ephesians 4:22-24

In other words, take off that old fleabag and put on the new coat.

You can do it!

You alone can do it.

Nobody can do it for you.

Many a morning, when I wake up and throw some water on my face, it’s like, “Wait a minute! What am I doing in this fleabag again?”  The things I was stewing about through the night…the chip on my shoulder as I think about facing another day…why, I am in the old fleabag!

So now I have to take some time to change

“to put off the old nature which is corrupt through deceitful lusts and be renewed in the spirit of my mind”…

     …put on the new nature…lift my heart to God…open my mind to him…

    …clothe myself in the coat he gave me; his nature, his thoughts, to see people as he sees them.

I can do that – and what a difference it makes!

     If I catch myself through the day wearing the fleabag, I can stop and change!

Our goal is to get to the point where we realize we don’t have to wear that fleabag anymore – where we can walk around clothed in a new coat all the time.

Then he showed me Joshua, the high priest, standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chose Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with rich apparel.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments; and the angel of the Lord was standing by.           

Zechariah. 3:1-5

Satan could accuse Joshua, the high priest, as long as he was clothed in filthy garments and a dirty turban, but once he put on that new robe and clean turban (a sign of a renewed mind), Satan lost his power over Joshua.

If you at any point in you life, opened your heart to receive Christ:

     – you already have a new coat

                                       – you have this robe of light.

It’s a matter of constantly taking off the fleabag and putting on the new coat.

There are a lot of well-dressed people out there who are actually wearing a fleabag and there are some poorly dressed people walking around in a coat of dazzling light. It shows in the way they live, in what comes out of their mouths, in the things they consider important.

The fleabag always causes you to be sidetracked from God. You spend your life caught up in your own ego – in the trivial but, when you’re wearing that coat of light, you know what’s important – and you go for it.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my  hand.”                                                                                                          

John 10:27-28

Eternal life is a gift from the Lord himself. It’s a robe of light, but it’s up to us to put it on.

 The king has given you a wedding garment to wear.

Don’t leave home without it, and for goodness sake, don’t leave this world without it!

Prayer: Oh tender, loving Lord what a beautiful, precious gift you offer us, that we can wear even now, on this side of eternity… your robe of light.  Thank you, thank you. Forgive us when we set aside this beautiful garment you provide for us. May we see our old clothing for what it is… raggedy, flea ridden, filthy and foul smelling.  Lord, help us to discard the filthy garments of our own self absorption, anxiety, bitterness, anger, and hostility. May we take your offer to change these stony, stubborn hearts for tender, responsive hearts. May we put on your nature, changing into new robes and following you each time we hear your voice. May we keep this precious garment wrapped around us and wear it lovingly, everywhere we go, every day of our lives,  into eternity.

 

Sermon originally titled: Armor of Light, circa 2001 REB

 

Posted May 1, 2020

THE ARMOR OF LIGHT

Besides this you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light;  let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its lusts.

Romans 13:11-14

In one of his novels, Sartre describes how it was in France before the outbreak of World War II.  Signs of impending crisis were everywhere. Anyone with half-a-mind could see that the serenity of those summer days was an illusion.  Yet, the people went on living as if that golden hour would last forever.  They kept looking away from the storm clouds.

Suddenly, the storm arrives.  No more lying on the beach and gazing up at the sky, dreaming away the days.  No more carefree afternoons in the park.

– Occupying armies.

– Tanks, guns.

– Labor camps.

– Hunger, cold, danger.

Today, everybody can see the clouds gathering, everybody can hear the thunder in the distance getting louder. Even the people who are supposed to have some control over events know, in their hearts, that something’s going on which is beyond their control.  Like the officers on a ship, assuring the passengers that everything’s fine, when they know very well the ship is sinking.

Among believers,

– who have any sense of God working in history,

– who have an ear for the voice of the Spirit,

It’s obvious that Divine Judgment, on a world-wide scale, is no longer something we merely talk about in bible studies.  It’s something we’re about to live through.

Knowing what we know as we watch the structures of this world crack and crumble, and as we see the prophecies of Divine Judgment begin to unfold before our eyes,

We have to decide how we are going to live in this present hour.

We have three choices:

  1. We can do what those Frenchmen did back in 1939: make the most of each golden day that’s left until they end. “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die.”
  1. Or, we can start making provision for the flesh so that we can go on in our illusions for a while yet, focusing on hoarding for the future.

We can stock up on food, fuel, water, toilet paper, weapons, and ammunition. We can  build bunkers on our property. But all the while we think we’re beating the uncertain future, we are selling our souls to the demon of fear.

– Even if we have a thousand gallons of gasoline in a secret tank,

– Even if we have enough wood piled in the garage to keep us warm for the winter,

– Even if we have a cabin in the wilderness stocked with everything we need to keep us going for years…

 The very fact that we’re thinking and living this way indicates that we’ve already lost our minds to the Enemy.

  1. There’s a third way in which we can live in these few remaining days of peace and plenty.

We can put on the armor of light.

 If we’re looking for survival, we’d better be looking for something much more than physical survival.  What’s the point of coming through the storm with our bodies in one piece if our minds and spirits are wrecked in the process.

Twisted out of shape by …. fear, self-preservation, adultery, perversity, drunkenness, murder, hate.

The real dangers of the coming days will not be starvation and violence, but spiritual corruption, the likes of which this world has never seen.  What’s the point of having your basement loaded with food, ammunition and fuel while your mind is wide open to every delusion the Evil One sends your way.

Arm yourself indeed for the days ahead.  But for pity sake, not with guns and rations and money! 

Arm yourself with light.  So that no matter how alarming, or confusing things get, you’ll be able to keep moving in God’s will.

The night is far gone, the day is at hand.”   

Romans 13:12

 

But that day isn’t going to look like day for a while.

– At the very time that God’s light comes to His people,

– At the very time that God’s glory rises upon them,

– Darkness covers the earth, and gross darkness the people, as never before.

In Revelation, when the Lamb breaks the seven seals and the seven trumpets are blown, (i.e., when God causes the light of His judgment to search the earth), darkness rises up against that light in the form of a hideous, undisguised trinity of evil.  The dragon, the beast, and the false prophet.

And the minds of the multitudes are, by that time, so deluded that they see this grotesque, false godhead as beautiful, and deserving of worship.

“Men worshiped the dragon for he had given his authority to the beast.

And they worshiped the beast saying,

 ‘Who is like the beast and who can fight against it?'”

Revelations 13:4

These people had ample opportunity to worship the True Father who has given His authority to the True Son.  This didn’t impress them.

 The true and living God?

Who is He?

But when the Prince of this world takes off his mask and shows himself in all his hideous strength, they bow down and worship.

       “Darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people.” (Isaiah 60:2)

And this very darkness will be, to the people of God, a sign of the coming Day – evidence that God is breaking through and fulfilling His Word.

Seen with the eye of the Spirit, all these signs of darkness will indicate that the Day of God we’ve been waiting for is now at hand.

“The night is far gone, the day is at hand.  Let us then cast off the works of darkness  and put on the armor of light.”

Romans 13:12

And the time to put on the armor of light is not at the end of the tunnel, when things start looking bright, but now, when they keep looking darker.

 To put on this armor of light involves three basics:

  1. To put on the armor of light is a thing of the mind.

“it is full time now, for you to awake from sleep.”

In other words, make your mind face reality.  No longer allowing it to indulge in dreams and delusions.  No longer allow your mind…

    – to dwell in the unreal past.  The past is gone  (and it never was what you’re telling yourself it was)

    – or to escape into the unreal future,

    – or to live in a dream-world here in the present.

Open your eyes and see what’s really going on.  If you’re willing to face reality, God will enable you to see reality.  Face the truth about who you are.

     – You’re not the big shot you like to pretend you are.

     – And the fellowship you belong to  is not the big-shot fellowship you like to pretend it is.

     – You’re just a servant.

And your fellowship, at best, is just an infinitesimal part of the divine plan that is now unfolding.

Face the truth that the only “big one” on earth is Jesus Himself.  And the only way to know Him and walk with Him is to get under His yoke and learn from Him to be meek and lowly of heart.

Wake up!  Get these delusions of grandeur out of your mind and see the lines being drawn for the final battle.

  1. To put on the armor of light is a thing of daily living.

It involves casting off the works of darkness and living as people who are exposed to the daylight continuously.

– No pretenses.

– No putting on that special face for brothers and sisters.

– Or that special voice of piety.

Be what you are and not some phony religious freak.  And no self-indulgence, as the Phillips translation renders it – no getting drunk, or playing with sex. And this includes all the other ways we manage to turn ourselves into slobs.

And no quarreling and jealousy.  How much energy is consumed by believers as they let their hearts smolder with rage and envy against brothers and sisters.

We are to live daily, hourly, as men and women who know that their lives are exposed to

Light, from which nothing is hidden.

  1. Finally, to put on the armor of light is a thing of spirit.

– By faith our spirit clothes itself in Christ.

– By faith we see the glory which even now stands above all this darkness.

And, we open our spirits to that glory. We welcome it into our hearts.

“Lord Jesus, fill us with your Spirit! Flood us with your life!”

That prayer is answered. 

The Spirit comes and keeps coming, dwells in us, rules us, quickens us, guides us, corrects us.

And as long as we follow where the Spirit leads and do what He commands…

 He continues to wrap us in the very light of God.

   Arise, shine, for your light has come. And the glory of the Lord has risen 

    upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness

    the people But the Lord will arise upon you, and His glory will be seen upon you.

    And nations shall come to your light and kings to the brightness of your rising.

  Isaiah 60:1-3

The ones who are going to survive the days ahead will not be those with plenty of hams and canned heat hoarded in their basements, but those whose minds, bodies, and spirits are wrapped in the armor of light.  The same light that shone in Bethlehem, and opened the eyes of the blind, and bled and died on Calvary, and rose on the third day.

The same light that is soon going to cause presidents and prime ministers to claw the earth looking for a place to hide.

Let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Romans 13:13-14

Prayer

Holy, perfect Lord of Light, as the clouds gather for the coming storm, wake us up, help us to face reality. Release us from the fear that traps us into being preoccupied with our own self preservation. Help us to cast off any garment of darkness that comes our way, that deludes us into thinking we are fully clothed.  Help us to face you, to face the truth of who we really are. Help us to be real, to lay down our pretenses…admitting and releasing any enmity we have in us.  Before you, we are naked, exposed, vulnerable.  We can hide nothing from your light. Oh Jesus, clothe our nakedness with your glory. Fill us with your Spirit, flood us with your life.  Rule us, correct us, quicken us, guide us. Wrap us in the very light of God so that we are armed against the coming darkness and will bring you no shame.

Original sermon 1973 REB, slightly edited

All the art from this sermon  is by Kate Austin…you can learn about her faith journey by visiting www.christ art.co.uk  

 April  2020

GETTING CONNECTED

Let’s face it.  You can get along perfectly well in this world without prayer.  

Most people do.  Oh, maybe they say a little prayer before they go to bed at night.  

Maybe they ask God to bless their loved ones.  But prayer,

connecting with God in a living way,

                                             getting in touch with heaven,

                                             breaking through to the unseen world, the unseen God, 

… this is not happening in their lives.  And they’re getting along.

You can get along without prayer.  Most people do. But once you begin walking the walk of faith — once Jesus, crucified and risen, starts making himself known to you; and you have to answer his call, you have to do something with this fire within you—that’s when you feel compelled to find out how to pray.  How to really pray.

He was praying in a certain place, and when he ceased, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 

Luke 11:1

These disciples had been with Jesus for some time.  He had sent them out to proclaim the kingdom and heal the sick.  And they had come back with glowing reports. “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!”  But the more they ministered, the more they became aware that something essential was missing. 

When Jesus sent them out to touch people with power in his name, they could do it.  

They could touch people.  But somehow they could not touch God.  

Jesus was touching God for them.  Jesus was doing the praying. 

 They watched Jesus pray, and they knew he was getting through to the Father in a way they could not.  “Lord, teach us to pray like John the Baptist taught his disciples. Show us how to connect with God the way you do.” 

This was music to Jesus’ ears.  Who knows how long he had been waiting to hear that.   “Lord, teach us to pray!”  It was the turning point. It was the beginning of something in their lives which never left them — the day the Master began to show them how to connect with God

How to really connect…so you’re not just putting on a pious show for your own benefit, like the Pharisee.  “God, I thank thee that I am not as other men…” So you’re not just heaping up empty phrases like the Gentiles,  “for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” So you’re not just sitting alone in a room trying to pray, while your mind wanders the universe with daydreams.  “Lord, teach us to pray!”

So he did.  Jesus taught them three things:

1. Who you’re praying to.
2. How to pray to him.
3. What to pray for.

 Jesus teaches us who we’re praying to

Do I know who I’m talking to when I’m praying?  Or am I sending up a request, hoping it will somehow find its way to the “Man Upstairs”?  i.e. “Dial 1-800-TALKTOGOD” If you have a question, press #1; if you have a problem, press #2.  Please hold, we are really interested in your call.”  

And he said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive every one who is indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation.

 Luke 11:3-4

“Father…..Father.”   Jesus always addressed his prayer to the Father.  “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes.  Yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.” 

And now he’s teaching us to do the same.  “When you pray, do like I do. Pray to the Father.”  “When you pray, say, ‘Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come.”  You’re talking to your real Father. You’re honoring him, hallowing his name, revering him. 

The Holy One who rules the universe is our Father.  So we take the words of the Lord’s Prayer, which we have known since childhood, and use them as our starting point, to bring us into the presence of the Father. 

 Just as the First Commandment is the most important of the Ten—keep Number One, and you’ll keep them all—so this First Petition of the Lord’s Prayer is the most important:

 “Father, hallowed be thy name.”

Get that right, and everything else will follow.

You are not praying to a machine.

You are not praying to a Cosmic Tyrant.

You are not praying to an Aloof Mystery.

You are praying to your Father.   Our Father…..

Who knows you better than you know yourself.

Who loves you more than any earthly Father ever could.

Who cares about every detail in your life, as if you were his only child.

Who longs to give you more than you could ask or think.

 He’s your Father!

Jesus teaches us how to pray.

Imagine that one of your friends comes over at midnight. He bangs on the door and shouts, “Friend, will you lend me three loaves of bread? A friend of mine just showed up unexpectedly from a journey, and I don’t have anything to feed him.” Would you shout out from your bed, “I’m already in bed, and so are the kids. I already locked the door. I can’t be bothered”? You know this as well as I do: even if you didn’t care that this fellow was your friend, if he keeps knocking long enough, you’ll get up and give him whatever he needs simply because of his brash persistence!

So listen: Keep on asking, and you will receive. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened for you.  All who keep asking will receive, all who keep seeking will find, and doors will open to those who keep knocking.

Luke 11:5-10

Though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence, because he keeps at it, makes a pest of himself, he will get up and give him whatever he needs.  In other words, Put something into it!  

Ask, and keep asking.  Seek and keep seeking. Knock and keep knocking!

Of course, there will be the rare occasion when you ask, and somehow on the “first shot” you know it’s done.  Answered. All you have to do is give thanks. But for every one-shot prayer there will be a hundred where you learn to pray by being persistent, proving to God and to yourself that you mean business. 

After your friend said, “Don’t bother me!  The door is shut, my children are with me in bed.  I cannot get up and give you anything,” what would have happened if you had turned and walked away.  You would have walked away with nothing. Or if the widow pestering the Unjust Judge had given up at the third brush-off?  She would have walked away with nothing. 

 Jesus is teaching us that there is only one way to pray:

Keep praying!  Pester! Don’t give up!  

Prove to yourself that this thing you want the Father to do for you is important!  It doesn’t matter what words you use, or whether you’re kneeling, sitting, standing, or flat on your face as you pray.  

What matters is that you keep at it!  Don’t be pussyfooting!  

Don’t be muttering and mumbling with half your brain. 

 Get serious!  Put something into it, and stick with it!  

For every one who asks receives—-if he doesn’t quit.  

And she who seeks finds—if she keeps at it.  

And to him who knocks it will be opened, if he sticks with it.  

Start praying like that, and heaven will come down and help you.

Jesus teaches us what to pray for

 What father among you, if his son asks for bread will give him a stone, or if he asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?

Luke 11:11-13

 Of course, there are many things we’re going to pray for.  

Things we need.  

People we’re worried about.  

Problems we face.  

But if these prayers are going to connect, 

if they’re going to come alive, so we can enter the presence of the Father with faith, 

we need to pray first for the supreme gift of God — 

—the one gift Jesus sent back when he returned to the Father: 

The gift of the Holy Spirit.   

…. “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

So we ask, and keep asking.  And as surely as we ask, we receive.  

The Spirit comes to us.  

And just as Jesus, during his earthly ministry, kept going back to the Father for fresh strength, so we keep going back to the Father, at Jesus’ command, for fresh life from the Spirit.  

Daily.  Hourly. “Father, how can I live this new life, how can I bring help to the wounded souls around me, unless you sustain me with your Spirit?”

 To make all this work in real life, most of us are going to have to do some adjusting in our thinking.  We’ve been in the habit of thinking of prayer as a little appendage to our daily routine, a little ritual which can’t hurt.  Maybe it will even bring us some luck. 

 But now we start all over again, and do exactly what the disciples did.  

We start by saying, 

“Lord, teach us to pray!  We don’t know how to pray, Lord.  Help us to move beyond these weak prayers we’ve been praying.  Help us to rise up on wings of your Spirit into the presence of the Father.  Lord, don’t give us any peace until we start setting aside enough time each day so you can teach us to pray!”

Many years ago I was serving as a pastor, when it suddenly dawned on me that my prayer life was next to useless.  I was trying to deliver sermons out of an empty heart. I was trying to help people find something which I hadn’t found myself!  So I began reading books on prayer. I must have picked the wrong books, ’cause it didn’t help. I tried this, and tried that. Still no help.  Then stumbled upon the idea of asking the Lord to help me. Soon after I met a strange little preacher from a strange little church and a far-away city.

This man explained to me that there was more of the Holy Spirit that God wanted me to have.  Then he prayed for me. The Spirit began moving in me in a new way.  

And the proof that this was happening was that prayer came alive.  It became real

That was a long time ago, and I’m still learning.  

But this much I know: that what the Spirit did for me way back then, and is still doing, he’ll do for anybody.  

You don’t earn this.  It’s a gift. Paid for by  our Lord Jesus with his own blood.  

It’s free. 

All you have to do is ask. 

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

Let’s make a covenant with each other — you the reader and I the writer.  Let’s agree to pray two prayers until the Spirit himself transforms them into something more:

1. Lord, teach us to pray.   (“Us” not “Me,” we’re in this together)

2. Father, renew us in the power of the Holy Spirit.

These prayers will be answered by unsearchable Love with unspeakable Power.

Let’s pray together:

Our Father, Our Father…We revere you, we honor you, we love you.

We are awestruck and tremble at the thought of entering your presence.

Yet, we want to connect to you, the Living God when we pray

Give us the gift of your Spirit, so we can rise up into your presence and come alive when we pray

Keep us longing for you, for fresh life, for fire from on high… daily, hourly, moment by moment.

Sustain us with your Spirit so that we can love you with a force beyond our capability and so we can live the life you call us to live covered by your precious love.  Amen.

 

 

 

 April 2020

THE SUSTAINING VISION

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”

Revelation 21:2-4

When we first taste the labor of the harvest and experience what it feels like to move through that devastated spiritual battlefield with help from God….

When we begin to experience what it’s like to be able to see beneath the surface of people’s “comfortable lives” to the actual anguish in their souls…

To hear the cries of their hearts…

When we begin to taste the joy of discovering that it is within our power to raise devastated souls and give them living water from the divine spring, who is Jesus…

We can hardly believe it! It takes us back.

That we are actually bringing people from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God!

He who believes in me, the works I do he shall do also. And greater works than these will he do because I go to the Father.

We see these words fulfilled….

on our jobs, in our neighborhoods, among our relatives and friends.

Now, if these newborn souls could all be quickly tucked into the City of God, safe from all danger and temptation, it would indeed be a happy ending.

But time is the enemy. Months stretch out into years and years into decades. And one day we wake up and discover that for all our efforts in the harvest field, raising people from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, we haven’t even scratched the surface.

As far as the eye can see from north to south, east to west, lifeless bodies are scattered across the desert floor. And among these spiritual corpses are some of the very people we gathered to the Lord Jesus. What’s wrong?

Moreover we ourselves, who have been laboring with such enthusiasm, begin to grow weary. The joy is drained from our faces. We start to snap at each other. Opportunities are missed. Sometimes we walk by people who desperately need us and we don’t even see them.

“How long do we have to wait before the harvest is over?” you say.

“I would have thought that by this time we would have arrived at the City of God.”

“I’m sorry, but I’m tired. I’m going over by that boulder and I’m
going to lie down in the shade and rest for a couple of days.”

Two weeks later somebody walks by the boulder and sees your body lying there almost dead and realizes that if something doesn’t happen very quickly the vultures are going to be picking at your bones.

They rush to the spring and come back with two flasks of water and pour them down your throat, “Here, my friend, drink.”

And as you begin to revive, you say, “Thank you. Thank you. Whatever happened to me?
I can’t understand what went wrong.”

“You lost your strength because you lost your vision,” explains your rescuer.
“While you’re working in the harvest, make sure that you never lose sight of the City of God. That’s where your home is. That’s where your king is. That’s what you were made for, and you will only be able to continue your labor if you keep your eyes focused on the goal.”

To be able to…

heal the sick,
raise the dead,
cleanse the lepers,
cast out demons,
to freely give without expecting in return,
to never wear out or grow weary,
we need to be driven by a sustaining vision.

To be upheld by that vision through the long seasons of weariness and drought.

We need to see the City of God, our ultimate destination and our present source of supply.

We need to stay under the yoke with our Master and hear him continuously reminding us to “seek first the Kingdom of God,” which is the City that waits for us at the end.

If we fail to see the City of God,

… if we fail to stop from time-to-time and listen to the music that
floats out from its tower,

…if we fail to breath the atmosphere it sends forth to us,

…if we neglect to drink from that stream of living water that flows from
beneath its gates,

… we will lose our strength and we will sink down into death.

But precisely what does it mean for believers in the twenty-first century to continue to have a vision of the city of God?

Three things are necessary:

1. We have to have our eyes focused there.
2. We have to make sure our treasure is there.
3. We have to make sure our name is there.

First, if we are going to have a vision of the City of God that remains, we are going to have to fix our eyes there continuously.

Then the presidents and satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom; but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.”Then these presidents and satraps came by agreement to the king and said to him. “O King Darius, live forever! All the presidents of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an interdict, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions. Now, O king, establish the interdict and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked.” Therefore King Darius signed the document and interdict.When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem; and he got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.

Daniel 6:4-10

If ever there was a man who had reason to be discouraged under the pressure of problems, and dangers, and enemies, and misunderstanding, and ingratitude, it was Daniel.The only way this man could survive was to get away daily and look toward the City of God, which for him was Jerusalem.And even though he knew that he was being watched and his life was in danger, he continued to do it because, “What’s my life worth if I forget Jerusalem?”And so he would climb to his chamber, open the windows that faced west toward Jerusalem, fall to his knees and pray, giving thanks to God. Daniel kept his vision alive.

And his vision kept him alive.

If you and I are going to keep our vision alive, we need to do the same.

The stronger the opposition,
the more hassles we endure,
the more we experience the pressure of time,
the more problems that crop up,
the more ingratitude that throws itself against us, the more urgent it is that we discipline ourselves to look toward the City of God.

Our Father, who art in heaven….

“But I thought God was everywhere,” you say.

He is, but heaven is his headquarters, his throne, and our destination.

Heaven is the City of God. Heaven is the goal toward which we move

– another dimension
– a place where the promises we wait for will be totally fulfilled.

Heaven is not “pie-in-the-sky bye-and-bye” because we taste heaven now.

We taste it, but we’re not there yet.

The reason we gather with other believers week by week, is to be given by God a foretaste of the City of God.

In fellowship with others, even with all the confusion and disruptions that take place in our assemblies, God gives us a taste of heaven.

He gives us bread and wine, which is the banquet of the New Kingdom – the Body and Blood of the Lamb, indeed, but also the foretaste of the coming glory.

He pours out upon us the Holy Spirit who is the atmosphere of heaven itself. And by this means we continue to keep our vision bright.

God help us to be faithful!

Second, if we are going to continue to have a clear vision of the City of God, we have to make sure that our treasure is there.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Matthew 6:19-21

Fear not, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Luke 12:32-34

Certainly, if we need transportation, there’s nothing wrong in saving money to buy a car. If our roof leaks, save to get the thing fixed or install a new one – it’s not sinful.

Whatever it is that we need in the material realm save for it, buy it.

But keep in mind that, if we’re not very careful, we begin to get
caught up in “things.”

If we are not careful, we get so bogged down with the cares, and the riches, and the pleasures of this life that we lose our vision of the City of God.

Jesus says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasure on earth”; for many people the “treasures on earth” have to do with mammon – money. But it is not always money. It may be money, or it may be something that money can buy. Or it may be something that money can’t buy.

Your treasure might be your status in the fellowship.
Your treasure could be your “success” as a harvester in the kingdom.

Or your “grasp of scripture.”
Or your “spiritual gift” now used in the service of your ego.

Your “work” for the Lord, which has subtly become your private
kingdom. We need to be on guard.

Suppose we invent a new “ambulance” for the harvest field that can rescue the lost ten times faster than before. This “gospel ambulance” can pick up a hundred souls a day!

Suddenly, we’re worried about how to finance our gospel ambulance.

How to keep it in repair. Now we’re into fund-raising.

And where are our hearts? Has our “gospel ambulance” distracted us from the real focus?

Hence, the Master keeps encouraging us to continuously trim down. To make sure that we neither get too complicated nor too comfortable.

Fear not, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Luke 12:32-34

God help us to continuously make sure that our treasure is in the City of God and in nothing else.

The third and final essential, if we are going to keep our vision of the City of God, is this: our names have to be hidden there – hidden in the City of God.

To him who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except him who receives it.

Revelation 2:17b

He who conquers shall be clad thus in white garments, and I will not blot his name out of the book of life; I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.

Revelation 3:5

If our lives are “hid with Christ in God”, this especially includes our names.

If we are born again and walking with Jesus, our names do not belong to this world; they belong to the City of God.

There is no way I can go through this world, even the religious world, trying to enhance my name, and still keep my vision of the City of God.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth…(angels, men, demons)…

Phillipians 2:9,10

Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to thy name give glory…

Psalm 115:1

But our tendency is to do the very opposite; to scoop off at least a “percentage” of glory for ourselves. Our “commission” as servants of God!

Our name then becomes a cumbersome weight as we walk through the harvest field seeking to lift people out of their bondage, and out of their disease, and out of their darkness. How can we do these things with integrity and still worry about our name?

When we drag names through the harvest field with us, a strange thing happens. Instead of reviving these broken lives, we begin exploiting them.

These are the people whom we raised up! We put labels and tags on everybody we were instrumental in saving or helping.

The minute we catch ourselves letting our names get in the way, it’s time to abandon them again to the City of God.

If we are followers of Jesus, we have no name in this world. Our name is hidden with our Lord in the City of God. Our name is swallowed up in the glory of his name.


We are… the voice of one crying in the wilderness,

“Make straight the way of the Lord.”

Until the day when we are safely inside the gates of the City of God, we will be tempted to become so engrossed in our labors, so busy trying to protect ourselves from the dangers of this world, so taken up with our own importance that we lose our vision.

May God help us never to let a single day go by without renewing our
vision.

— in Jesus’ name, fixing our eyes afresh each day upon the City of God,

— daily making sure that our treasure is only there…and not “here.”

— daily yielding our name to be hidden there.

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice coming from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning or crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Revelation 21:1-4

If we fail to look beyond this world to the destination of our journey, we will soon grow weary and faint by the way.

But when we remember daily, who it is who has prepared a place for us in the City of God, who it is who is soon coming for us, we will renew our strength in the midst of our labors.

We will mount up on wings of eagles.
We will walk and not grow weary.
We will run and never faint.


A prayer:

Father, help us run the race without growing weary,
To endure the long periods of monotony without losing heart,
To deal with each crisis that comes along, and still remain fresh.
Enable us to be thankful in season and out of season.

To minister to the ungrateful, never looking for anything in return.
To keep our hearts fixed on the City where true joy is to be found,
Our expectations centered on your throne,
Our minds ruled by your Spirit,
Ever beholding the face of your beloved Son, our Lord, Jesus.

Amen

 

Good Friday April 10,2020

ALL WE LIKE SHEEP

The Temple officials told Pontius Pilate,

“We have a law, and by that law this man must die, because he has made himself the Son of God.

God also has a law.  

And by that law this man will die, if this sin-sick race is to have a hope.

God’s law is simple:  

For every evil thought, every evil word, every evil act, there is a price to pay.

Innocent blood cries out, the whole universe cries out until the price is paid.

Isaiah understood this long ago, when he wrote:

All we like sheep have gone astray.  We have turned every one to his own way.  And the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.                                                          Isaiah 53:6

It was just another crucifixion, like thousands before it.  Criminals, outsiders, anyone who displeased the Roman governor.  Nail ‘em up! Hang ‘em out to die! Crucifixions took place in public, as a warning.  Watch yourself. It could happen to you.

As he hangs there between two criminals, the Temple officials stand nearby, stroking their beards with satisfaction. Off to the side some women are weeping.

Strange.  The sky has grown dark.  And as he breathes his last breath the earth begins to tremble.   A minor earthquake. Nothing to worry about. It happens all the time. Up in the Temple the few Levites who stayed behind are terrified.  The earthquake has ripped apart the heavy veil which concealed the Holy of Holies, exposing this sacred space to common view.  

What’s going on?  

No one has a clue.  

What they were looking at, and what we are looking at back across the centuries, is the pivotal moment in the history of this troubled planet.  

The God of the universe, in the person of that dying man, is taking upon himself the evil, the guilt, the curse hanging over the entire human race, dragging it down into the Abyss forever.  

This man, who healed the sick, opened the eyes of the blind, raised the dead, now dies in utter weakness. And as he dies, his Spirit tears apart that veil in the Temple, as a sign that he has now opened the way for us into the blazing presence of God.  

This crucifixion is the power which can bring you and me from darkness into the magnificent light of God’s World—not after we die, but now, here in this life!

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

All people.

Sooner or later we will all get there.  We will encounter that cross, and we will begin to understand exactly what divine forgiveness means.

And then we decide, every day, for the rest of our lives:

Am I going to receive God’s forgiveness and walk in it?

Am I going to abandon the darkness of my own ego, and live by the power of that cross?

Or am I going to sigh, turn and walk away?

Here’s what the crucified Lord offers us when we draw near to his cross and open our hearts:

Freedom from our past.

Forgiveness of our sins.

Eyes to see God’s Kingdom

Power to live as daughters and sons of God.

Freedom from our past

Some of us are always looking back.  Always trying to relive the good old days.  And some of us are still dragging with us regrets and resentments from things that happened years ago.  And some of us are still trying to prove ourselves to that hard-nosed teacher, or that skeptical uncle, or that father we could never please.

When we come to the cross and open our hearts, the blood of that dying man washes it all away.  All that regret, all that fantasy, all that bitterness.  

“You’ve given it to me,” says the Crucified One, “I’ll take care of it.  Just put your hands on the plow, follow me, and never look back.”

Forgiveness of our sins

Who can explain it?  Who can understand it?  When we draw near to the cross, staggering under the weight of our guilt, Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven.”    

And they’re gone!  

And now the Crucified One empowers us to show that same forgiveness to those who have sinned against us.  And as we walk in forgiveness, we have peace which passes all understanding.

 Eyes to see God’s Kingdom

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

What do I see?  I see God’s World, the Kingdom Jesus planted on this earth by his death on that cross. So that when I pray, “Thy Kingdom come!” I know the difference between God’s World and this world.

God’s World will remain on this earth long after the Lord has cleaned up this mess.  

And God’s world is open to us right now.

Power to live as daughters and sons of God

Power.

                        Paul writes,

When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 

And I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling; and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 

I Corinthians 2:1-5

It’s when Jesus takes us down into his death and up into his resurrection—  that’s when we begin to taste the power of the World to Come. 

We die with him and rise with him every day afresh.  Until we can say with Paul,

“I am crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ, who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Galatians 2:20

This man, who healed the sick, opened the eyes of the blind, raised the dead, dies in utter weakness. And as he dies, his Spirit tears apart the veil of the Temple, opening a way for us into the blazing presence of God. 

We can enter that presence, not after we die, but right now, even as we read these words.

We can draw near to the crucified Lord and be lifted out of our miseries into God’s World.  

Or we can sigh, turn and walk away.

At the cross he gives us…

Freedom from our past.

Forgiveness of our sins.

Eyes to see God’s Kingdom.

Power to live as daughters and sons of God.

The door is open.  

The Crucified Lord is waiting.

All we have to do is come, and keep coming to that cross, for the rest of our lives.

Prayer

Lord draw us to your cross and keep drawing us each day of our lives. We drop to our knees knowing that you, the King of Kings, paid the price for our sins. What forgiveness. What love. We open our hearts to this divine forgiveness today. We draw near to you in your suffering, in your utter weakness so that we may be lifted from our own past, our own sins. Draw us near so that we can live in your Kingdom now, receiving the power to live as your sons and daughters, and experiencing your divine presence and your divine sacrifice each day of our lives.

March 27, 2020 post

 FROM DEAD BONES TO LIVING PEOPLE,DAILY

(Originally- Take Up Your Cross Daily)

 

Among all the people who claim to be followers of Jesus there are really only two kinds:

There are those who burn with the life of God, and convey that life to people around them.

And those who are full of religion—

religious insight, religious jargon, religious convictions –but produce only the aroma of death.

And here’s the mystery:

      The people who convey God’s life are continuously offering themselves up to death;

      And the people who convey the aroma of death are forever clinging to their own life …

their own point of view,

their own ego,

their own doctrinal position,

their own convenience.

The Lord took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the Lord to a valley filled with bones. He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. Then he asked me, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?”

“O Sovereign Lord,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.”

Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

So I spoke this message, just as he told me. Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’”

So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army.

Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.’ Therefore, prophesy to them and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel. When this happens, O my people, you will know that I am the Lord. I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live again and return home to your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the Lord has spoken!’”

Ezekiel 37:1-14 (NLT)

You could say that this prophecy applies to the Israel of Ezekiel’s day which was destroyed. The temple lay in ruins, and the people who weren’t killed, or didn’t starve to death, found themselves captives in a foreign land.

They were without hope. They said, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone.”

Hence this prophecy through Ezekiel to Israel:

“The bones are going to be gathered together and they are going to be restored. They are going to be given breath, and they are going to be brought back on the land. “

As we know, it all came to pass.

You could also say that this prophecy applies to the resurrection of the new Israel at the end of the age, the New Jerusalem that comes as history, as we understand it, has ended.

“And then I saw thrones, and seated on them was those to whom judgment was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life again and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life again until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and they shall reign with him a thousand years.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Revelation 20: 4-6

Between the prophecy that was given to Israel of Ezekiel’s day and the prophecy that can be applied to the new Israel at the end of the age, there is another application of this prophesy which is aimed at us – if we have the ears to hear and the eyes to see.

The bones that are being gathered together even at this moment ….
That a people are being called out of Babylon into the new Israel at this very hour….

A people are being raised up with hearts circumcised to God….

Lives totally, utterly, and radically given over to God….

People who are being raised from death into life by the power of the Spirit of God.

So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And as I looked, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy son of man, and say to the breath [or the wind, or the spirit], Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army.

In the midst of wars and rumors of wars, of the present moment— in the midst of prosperity in one place and famine in another, and sometimes prosperity and famine in the same place—the bones are being brought together. Now, at this hour.

And they are being formed, and they are being in-breathed with the life of God.

And they are being raised up by the Spirit of God “an exceedingly great army “ in order to take the gospel of the kingdom out over the earth, perhaps for the last time.

And every person in this army walks this earth with power, because each has been brought forth out of a grave.

We’re not talking about “churchianity” ….
We’re not talking about “Christendom” ….
We’re not talking about respectable Christians living their innocuous lives ….

These men and women manifest the resurrection life of Jesus every day,

….  because they themselves have been lifted out of their graves.

Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you home into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you up from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land, then you shall know that I, the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, says the Lord.”

I will raise you out of your graves.
I will fill you with life.
I will bring you into my Kingdom.
I will bring you back to me …

Notice that the initiative belongs to God.

God is the one who brings the bones together.

God is the one who breathes life into them, sets them up on their feet and sends them forth as a vast army.

But God can’t do any of those things until the bones are dead, and know they are dead…

“The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” And he said to all, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Luke 9:22-23

“ I am going to a cross to die. If you want to follow me, don’t sit around and meditate;
deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me— to death!”

If you deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me to death— you will be raised from the dead, not only in the next world, but right here, and right now.

God will take care of his part.

He will gather the bones.
He will bring them together, and quicken them with his Spirit.
He will set them on their feet and send them forth, when we begin to do our part…. 

Our part is to die.

“Follow me to death,” says the Lord, “and I will then raise you from the dead with the power of my resurrection Spirit.”

“If any one [any man, woman] would come after me,
let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

What does it mean to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow the Master?

You go out to the valley of the bones, where all the other dry bones are, fall on your face before God, and with an act of your will become one of them. You die to yourself.

When I go out to the Valley of Dry Bones, I don’t just take my ‘Sunday morning self’….

I take my dreams and they die.
I take my resentments and they die.
I take my bitterness and it dies.
And my fears … and my possessions … and my abilities …and my achievements … and my ambition.

I fall on my face before the Lord and become a dry bone.

When we do this, there is a rattling and a shaking, and the bones come together. The resurrected bones find unity in the Lord.

It’s easy to see who has been to the valley of dry bones and who hasn’t.

Those who have been to the valley of dry bones are walking around free of themselves. And those who haven’t are still locked in their self prisons.

If any man would come after me,
Let them deny themselves, take up their cross daily…

Daily!

From now on!

Every day of our life begins out there in the valley of dry bones.

Every day of our life begins with offering ourselves up to death for the glory of the Father.

We roll out of bed, drag ourselves to the valley of the dry bones, and begin there again – each day.

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.”
                                                                                                                                  Galatians 2:20

I die. He lives.

When someone hurts our feelings, or fails to give us proper recognition, we feel the Spirit nudging us with the reminder that we’re dead. Dead to ourselves; alive only to God.

“If any man would come after me,
let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

Follow me!

Follow me through death into life.

“Follow me through the valley of dry bones into a life that is utterly committed to my lordship.”

So now I begin the day committed to him. He’s going to guide me. And I’m going to follow.

The things that aren’t clear; don’t worry about them.

Don’t worry about whether God wants you to go to China four years from now. If he wants you to, he’ll let you know when the time comes.

In the meantime, there is the matter of getting right with your brother.

Repenting.

Giving to someone who is in need.

Speaking a word of encouragement to someone who needs to hear it.

There are specific things for us to do in obedience that the Lord will show each one of us, if we are willing to go to the valley of the dry bones every day.

And as we obey, awesome and wonderful life begins to manifest itself.

Each of us makes the decision to be obedient as an individual. But once we start walking in obedience, we soon find ourselves in company with other dry bones who have come to life.

Together with them, we become the body of Christ.

And together, as that mighty army raised out of that valley of dry bones, and filled with the life of God….we go forth to proclaim the kingdom with power, to heal the sick, raise the dead, give sight to the blind, to bring good news to the poor…

“If any man would come after me,
let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

If we are afraid, God will help us with our fears.
If we’re confused, he’ll clear things up for us.
If we’re full of doubts, all we have to say is,…..

“I believe, help my unbelief,”and he will help us.

Because the life we seek, begins and continues forever, at a cross

 – not only his cross – our cross.

Don’t be afraid to take hold of your cross, pick it up and carry it.

Because when you do…

the power of his resurrection will flood you,

and guide you,
and anoint you,
and fill you,
and satisfy you

…every day you walk this earth..Originally, 

Prayer

Jesus, Lord, we follow you into the valley of dry bones because this is where we find you, precious Saviour.  Open our graves, breathe into our dead bodies, bring us to our feet so that we may live again. Daily we follow you into this valley, falling on our faces and becoming dead to everything but your call. And daily put your Spirit in us and raise us up together as a mighty army burning with life for you.

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)

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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