Posted July 17, 2020

HE GATHERS, HE SIFTS

 

When Jesus saves, he saves all the way. He doesn’t save you for five minutes or a year-and-a-half. He saves you forever. Nor does he save you from Hell, and then let you go through the rest of your life having temper tantrums or going on weekend binges.

“If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things are passed away and behold, all things have become new.”

“Whoever follows me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life.”

“He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'”

From the moment Jesus Christ takes up his abode in you, and forevermore, if you walk with Him

Your life becomes a fountain of living water in this desert-dry world.

Your mouth becomes an oracle of the living God.

Your hands, as the hands of your Lord, lift up the fallen and feed the hungry and heal the broken-hearted.

Salvation is not just a feeling; it is a life.

When you went down to the altar in some church and fell on your knees, there was a feeling of God’s presence, an inward peace. Or should you come down to the altar today and ask Christ to come into you and take over, you’ll feel relieved and clean.

But the important thing is not that feeling.

The important thing is the life, the divine life, that burns in you when you get up from your knees and start living as a reborn son or daughter of God.

The life of the Son of God in you is a life that stays with you when the going gets rough, a life that increases in purity and power as you obey its leadings. Your body ages. Your circumstances keep changing. But the life of the Son of God in you burns on and on, brighter and brighter, stronger and stronger.

Blessed are the men whose strength is in thee, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. As they go through the valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs. The early rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength.   

  Psalm 84

And in the strength of God they bear fruit.

They bring forth a harvest.

They turn men from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God.

These so-called “saved” Christians, who are sitting around in their spiritual plastic bags, with their hands folded and their eyes shut to reality, these so-called “saved” Christians who never lift a finger to help their fellow man, who never go half-a-block out of their way unless they smell some kind of reward for their ego or their pocket-book, who think they’re saved because they had “that feeling” once-upon-a-time. Time will test them. Time will show what they are.

Give them a little time and you’ll hear-them hollering, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”

No, my friend, the proof that you are saved is not that feeling. The proof that you are born of God is that you are walking with His Son, even when His road takes you through fire. In fact, that’s why we’re put through fire; to sift out those who love Jesus Christ from those who are in love with their own emotions.

The people who stood along the road into Jerusalem that day just couldn’t help themselves, as Jesus came riding along, the multitudes singing and the children waving their palms. They were overcome by a spirit of praise. Men who’d never cried since they were children begin to weep. Women who ruled their households without ever raising their voices start shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

Who can explain it? These dead, flat, colorless people are praising God and calling this man the Messiah! Heaven has broken out-upon-that street and there’s glory all around. Their eyes are opened and they can see that this is God’s Anointed. “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” “That God should let me live to see this day with my own eyes! Praise His name!”

Now the same Spirit that poured out glory on that multitude has lately been stirring this church as He has never stirred this church before. I’m not saying that this is the only church where this is happening. I know that it is happening in many places in this city and across the earth. But it is happening here. Many of you sitting in this room have already been caught up in this spirit. You’ve been awakened. You’ve begun to see the Son of God with new eyes.

There’s power moving in you that you never knew before in all your days.

And some of you will be touched by this thing for the first time today. Before this service ends, something inside you will break and there will be a flood of God’s forgiveness pouring over your mind and rushing through your heart.

You will see Jesus by faith. And you will worship Him. You will fall on your knees before Him.

For some of you it will take a little longer. Perhaps you’ll awaken from a dream some night soon and you will know that the Spirit of Christ is in the room. Before long, in some way, every soul who is connected with this flock will be awakened to a new vision of the Son of God. People who never came to a bible study in all these years will start turning up at bible studies with a Bible in their hand, a Bible they suddenly begin to read and love. People, who in all these years never talked about anything after church but the weather and the latest gossip, will now be talking about the things of God.

People in this church will begin to pray for each other as never before, and for their friends and for their enemies…. and gathering here to worship God and His beloved Son will become more important to you than food and drink. You’ll want to come. You’ll have to come. It will no longer be a duty or a habit or an occasional ritual you go through to prove you’re respectable. It will be both necessary and a thing of joy.

People in the neighborhood, people among your friends will catch wind of this thing and come, and be caught up in the Spirit of God with the rest of us. Again and again you will look up and wonder if you’re “seeing things” as someone you never ever expected to see here walks in…. perhaps kneels at this rail.

How fast this thing will develop or how long it will go on I do not know. It has only barely begun and it is already glorious.

 But you might as well know now that this glorious time of revival and God-consciousness and worship and praise that we have begun to enjoy will be followed by a sifting.

Jesus gathers the multitudes to Himself, gives them vision, blesses them.

Then He sifts.

He shakes that multitude.

He causes the winds of God to blow upon that multitude.

He builds a fire under that multitude and soon the dross is consumed and only the gold is left. The chaff is driven away in the wind and only the wheat is left. The half-baked souls who want a cheap salvation are offended by His words and only disciples, true disciples, are left.

If you read Matthew 21, from which today’s gospel comes, you find that as soon as He reached the Temple this King of Zion, meek and sitting upon an ass, gets off that ass, climbs the Temple steps and starts turning the place inside-out. He drives out the merchants, upsets the tables of the money-changers.

“it is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of thieves.'”

This was the beginning of the sifting.

Read through to the end of Matthew and you’ll see how that sifting goes on—how Jesus offends more and more people by calling them to turn that Palm Sunday joy into concrete living, obedience, true worship of the living God day-by-day and hour-by-hour.

And this is precisely what Jesus is going to do with the multitude He is gathering and is going to be gathering here in the coming days. He is going to gather. Then He is going to sift it down to the disciples who are serious. Then He is going to send those disciples forth to gather others and sift them down. This is, and will be, going on in many places. Until He has literally gathered and sifted this whole city and this whole earth. Then comes the End.

And there’s one thing which determines whether you will remain true or fall away when the sifting comes: your obedience.

            Not your grasp of the doctrines.

            Not your good intentions.

            Not your strong religious feelings.

Your obedience to Jesus Christ.

You have to do more than say, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” You have to do what the Son of David tells you to do or your “Hosannas” will turn to “Crucify! Crucify!”

Obedience: In today’s gospel the disciples “went and did as Jesus commanded them.” And Jesus, riding that donkey, was doing what His Father commanded Him. He was riding that donkey toward His cross.

And being found in human form He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

The Kingdom of God is made up of those people who obey the Son of God— Just as the Son obeyed His Father, so we obey the Son.

We don’t just do good deeds according to our own whims.

We obey Him.

That obedience to Him is our life, our strength, our power.           

As we obey Him, He lives His life in us.

As we obey Him, He manifests the Kingdom of God through us.

Please, for your own good, understand what Jesus Christ is really after as He breathes His Spirit- of glory and holiness upon us today.

– He’s glad to see our tears of repentance.

– He’s glad to see you kneeling at this rail and surrendering yourself to Him.

– He’s glad to hear you calling on His name and He will answer you and bless you.

But what He really looks for in you, as you weep and kneel and pray, is a heart that is set to obey his commandments.

It is the only thing that will hold you when He begins to sift.

Is your heart set to obey His commandments?

if you love me you will keep my commandments.

This is my commandment:

– that you love one another as I have loved you.

– love your neighbor in deed and in truth. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, welcome the stranger.

– confess me before men without shame.

– abide in me and let my words abide in you.

The blessing of Christ is for everyone. But in that blessing is a call to obey Him—all the way…with your whole life … even unto death. God help us to answer that call now, while the door is still open.

O Jesus, I confess that I have been far from what you have called me to be. I fall on my face before your Cross, name my sins, and ask to be made clean by your blood. Then give me power by your mighty Spirit to begin anew to follow you all the way, whatever the cost, to serve you wherever you put me, however you choose to use me, until the hour of your glorious appearing. Amen

 

Prayer- Lord keep us holding to you, obeying you as a new sifting is happening. Oh that we would never stop loving you, never turn and be of those who cry “crucify him” because the circumstances have changed and our love has grown cold. Keep us faithful and prepared for the final gathering.

 

Original: March 22,1970 REB, edited 2015.  Also part of the booklet “Spiritual Power for the Underground Church”. 

Art: All art by the kind courtesy of Colleen Briggs (Fragments of Light gallery) colleenbriggs.com 

 “A message that came to the flock at Messiah Palm Sunday, 1970, the day the Spirit fell as never before.  It was our Pentecost.  It was the day we finally caught fire with the fire of God.”

Here it is 50 years later and we are still being challenged to live the divine life God calls us to… “The life of the Son of God in you is a life that stays with you when the going gets rough, a life that increases in purity and power as you obey its leadings. Your body ages. Your circumstances keep changing. But the life of the Son of God in you burns on and on, brighter and brighter, stronger and stronger.” 

Since that time there has been plenty of gathering and sifting. May once again during this sifting we are going through now, the life of God burn in us so brightly that it leads to another great gathering, a great harvest until the whole earth is gathered and consumed with the fire of God. 

Posted July 10, 2020

YOUR BURNING BUSH

(Based on Exodus 2:11-3:12)

You can be sure that Moses had been a religious man all his life. Though he was raised in Pharaoh’s palace he was a Hebrew, and he never forgot that he was a Hebrew. But in those early days, Moses’ religion, like the religion of so many of us, was mixed with a thousand impulses of his own flesh.

He killed an Egyptian for abusing a Jew and figured he had done a religious thing.

It was a blundering religion that got him into trouble and finally drove him into exile in Midian.

It was a mixture of faith and doubt.

One can imagine that Moses alternated, as so many of us do, between moments of deep piety as he stood on those wild semi-desert slopes, and moments of excruciating doubt.

“Where is the God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?

Why does he not hear the cries of his children?

Why am I spending my life out here in this wilderness away from my people, cut off from my own soul?”

One can imagine that there were entire days when he did nothing but pray as he looked out over those flocks, whole days when he did nothing….

but brood,

and wonder,

and question, as the years of his life kept slipping by.

Then came the day when Moses met God personally at the burning bush.

“Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”

Now a clear road is opened up before Moses and God says,

“Take it!

Walk in it!

Do what I tell you!”

Moses’ days of standing around brooding and guessing and wondering are over.

Now it’s either “Go and accomplish the work that I’ve sent you to do”, or “Take your own road and the consequences it leads to”.

Like Moses, in those early days, we too may be religious and still not be getting anywhere. We say our prayers at night, and think about God, but deep within is the question;

– Is God really there?

– Are things really the way I want to believe they are?

– Does it make any difference whether I believe or don’t believe?

Sometimes you seem to have faith – strong faith – you feel as though you could move mountains. And sometimes there’s nothing but doubt. Gradually you bring your faith and doubt into balance.

Now you have what they call sane, “reasonable religion.”

You have enough faith to quiet your uneasy conscience when it starts jumping.

And you have enough doubt to keep you from turning into a fanatic.

And so you walk down the road with other decent, sensible people doing your bit for humanity and taking your share of this world’s delights.

But then one day you come to a place where the road divides.

– The branch to the right arches up into the mountains.

– The branch to the left bends down toward the mud flats.

As you stand at that fork in the road, God speaks to you.

“Take the branch to the right”, He says.

“No”, says your flesh. “Don’t be a fool, take the one to the left.”

Now you’ve come to your burning bush, the days of your neat little compromise are over. Now it’s either the way of faith or the way of doubt. One or the other.

There may be some reading these words who have already passed that fork in the road – you’ve made that crucial choice. Your life has now begun to ascend or to descend, as the case may be.

But there are many who have yet to reach that place of decision. You are travelling on your merry way – a kind of dual citizen. You have a claim on heaven, and a claim on earth. But soon, you too will come to your burning bush.

No one can tell you when or how it will be.

– It may happen while you’re sitting in your kitchen drinking a cup of coffee.

– Or when you’re standing by the lifeless body of a loved one.

– Or when you hear the crack of gunshot piercing the night in your quiet neighborhood.

– Or when you’re sitting in a chair reading the New Testament.

– It is even possible that you might arrive at your burning bush this very hour.

But when it comes, everything that happened to Moses on Mt. Horeb will happen to you.

Some ordinary thing of this world will begin to burn before your eyes like the bush which was enveloped in flames but remained green.

– It may be the face of a child in the newspaper one day that will somehow burn in your mind all day long. You won’t be able to forget it.

– Or a passage of scripture that flashes upon you with glory and brands itself on your memory.

– Or a word someone speaks to you that turns on a light in your mind.

And out of that fire – out of that light – God will begin to call your name even as he called, “Moses, Moses”.

Suddenly you’ll forget all your questions about whether there is a God or isn’t a God. And all your questions about whether the Bible is right or wrong, or whether fanatics are crazy or not. And you will know, without the shadow of a doubt, that right then and there God is calling you by name, not Preacher Jones telling you how it is – –

 –God Himself calling you to open your ears and listen to what He has to say.

99 times out of 100 there will be no audible voice, no vision, no bells ringing, no angel choirs, but you will know that it is God.

“Don’t come any closer.  Take off your shoes,

 for the place where you are standing is holy ground”

And now you will begin to know what it means to be standing on holy ground. Whenever you are in the presence of God, in such a way that God is speaking to you, you’re on holy ground…

– you take off your shoes,

– you get down on your knees,

– you bow your head,

– and you confess your sins.

The soldier who watched Christ die,

– beat his breast,

– walked away with a shudder running through his body,

– knew that he was on holy ground!

God the Spirit was speaking in his heart as God the Son laid down his life for that man’s sins, and he was filled with awe.

Pity help the people whose eyes are open and they see that Cross and what it means, but they refuse to take off their shoes!

Pity help the people who see their Redeemer and hear His word of forgiveness, yet they stand there as if they’re at a carnival!

When God brings you up on Mt. Horeb and reveals Himself, and manifests His glory, take off your shoes and bow down before Him! Humble yourself in His sight even if it makes you look like a fool in the eyes of men.

And now, God begins to tell Moses what He wants him to do.

“Come, I will send you to Pharaoh…. there is work for you to perform, by my power.”

God doesn’t reveal himself to you so that you can sit down and write a book about your mystical experience. He reveals Himself to you to tell you what He wants you to do – to put you to work.

“You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.” (Matthew 20:4)

“You didn’t choose me, I chose you and appointed you, that you should go and bring forth fruit.” (John 15:16)

If it were merely a matter of saving your soul, God would have wrapped your soul in plastic and whisked it off to heaven long ago.

” But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”                   (John 1:12)

….and they live the life of children of God,

….and they do the work of children of God.

“Occupy till I come!”

“Prepare the earth for my return!”

Now if you haven’t been to the burning bush, you may still be able to sit around and be pious. But once you’ve been to the burning bush you’re going to have to get out there among those people and work.

Your job is to bring them out of bondage. Get them out of the clutches of Pharaoh. Take them through the waters of remission. Show them the way to the Promised Land.

“Who am I Lord, that I should do such things?”

“What do you mean ‘who are you?’ If I say I’ll be with you it doesn’t matter who you are. Go and do what I command you!”

When Moses walked down from Mt. Horeb he was no longer a citizen of Midian, or a citizen of Egypt, or anywhere else.

– He was a citizen of Heaven.

– He belonged to a city that cannot be found on this earth…

– Whose builder and maker is God.

And for the rest of his life and forevermore,

his eyes are on Heaven,

his mind is on Heaven,

he gets his orders from Heaven,

he lives in the dimension of Heaven,

he grapples with earthly problems as he never grappled with any problem before, but he solves them with the power of Heaven.

And when you walk down the mountain from your burning bush, you too belong no longer to this earth.

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior…” (Philippians 3:20)

And, if our citizenship is in Heaven, that’s where our minds are, that’s where our eyes are.

“Our Father who art in Heaven…..”

The proof of whether or not a person is really in Christ is,

where’s their citizenship?

where do they belong?

what country are they living for?

“For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. —-even though they claim to be Christians.

“Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.”      Philippians 3:18 & 19

They’re not citizens of Heaven. Their minds and their bodies are chained to the earth.

When you walk away from your burning bush a citizen of Heaven,

…. keep your citizenship alive

….  by keeping your mind where it belongs.

“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 minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Colossians 3:1-4

One thing is sure: Every single soul reading these words has either come to the burning bush, or will soon be there.

If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will…. soon.

When it does,

– May God help you to take that road that rises up toward that heavenly city in the distance and stay on it.

– May God help you to walk right through the troubles of this world with your eyes on Him.

– May God help you to stand before Pharaoh and his magicians and every high thing that exalts itself against God….

That you may do the work that God put you in this world to do, by the power of the Spirit he gives you to do it with.

So when the end comes for you and for this age,

you may be able to stand before Him without shame.

“Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt.”                                         (Exodus 3:10)

“Go, make disciples of all nations……”

Prayer: Precious, Holy Lord bring us to our burning bush. Bring us to the place where we prostrate ourselves in the midst of your Holiness, the place where we hear you calling us by name. May we choose to do what you call us to. Help us to take the high road, keeping our minds on Heaven and living like your sons and daughters as we face our own troubles, as we grapple with darkness, as we bring people out of bondage, and as we stand up to our own pharaoh’s. May we carry our burning bush as we journey through the days of our lives so we may stand before you without shame because we were humble and obedient to your call.

Original 1973, REB, edited 2016. Also part of the booklet “Spiritual Power for the Underground Church”.  This booklet is now available for mailing. The manager is unsure if it has ever been offered in the past.

Art: All by the kind courtesy of Melani Pyke… at melpyke.com

Posted July 3, 2020

THE RESTORED VISION

 

 To the angel of the church of Laodicea write: “The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation, “I know your works: you are neither cold or hot. Would that you were cold or hot!  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by the fire, that you may be rich, and white garments to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see.

Revelation 3:14-18

These strong words were addressed to the church at Laodicea, not to demoralize these believers, but to call them back to life. Here was a church that had begun to die the most dangerous kind of death – the death of the “lukewarm”, who are so comfortable they don’t even know they are dying.

How do you get back that flame? How do you restore fire to a church that has sunken into a lukewarm stupor?

Jesus says, Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by the fire, that you may be rich, and white garments to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see.

Gold refined by fire….. truth that begins to dawn on us when we feel the heat of God’s refining fire.

White garments to clothe you and keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen….. righteousness that comes from above never from within.

Salve to anoint your eyes that you may see….. vision which comes to those whose hearts are pure.

But for now, let’s just concentrate on our need for that eye salve.

I counsel you to buy from me… salve to anoint your eyes that you may see.

i.e. “Get your vision back, because if you get your vision back that lukewarm stupor will go.” Many of us can look back to a time when our vision of God was far more clear than it is now. At some point in our past, Jesus broke through the darkness of our unbelief and manifested himself to us.

We saw Him.  And seeing Jesus we saw the Father.

We began to see the world around us with new eyes.

We saw the Kingdom at work in the midst of all the chaos.

We had a clear view of the road we were called to walk.

 And as we walked in the light of that vision, having faith in God was easy. Being able to touch the world around us with God’s grace and healing was our joy.

But somewhere down the road our spiritual eyesight began to fade. We woke up one morning and found that our vision of God had fallen under a cloud. And instead of crying to the Father, “Father, the vision you gave me is fading! Father, I can’t live without that vision!” 

No, instead of calling for help, we went on pretending that everything was normal.

             We accepted our fading of this vision as a perfectly natural phenomenon.

And settled down to a dull preoccupation with…

things these eyes can see, and these hands can touch, and these mouths can eat, and drink.

Where there is no vision the people perish.

Proverbs 29:18

 In Acts 26, Paul is standing before King Agrippa in chains. And although he is in chains giving an account of his life, Paul is the only free man in that magnificent royal meeting hall:

 Thus I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining round me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and bear witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from the people and from the Gentiles – to whom I send you to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

Wherefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then at Jerusalem and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God and perform deeds worthy of their repentance.

                                                                                          Acts 26:12-20

Paul is describing to Agrippa the turning point of his life, which was a vision of Jesus. This vision of Jesus came to him as a gift. It was nothing that he earned or deserved. It just came.

 But when that vision came to Paul, he did two things:

He acted on that vision immediately.

 He went on into Damascus. After his sight came back to him three days later, he received the Spirit, and was baptized.  He then immediately went to the synagogues and began proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah!

When they were about to kill him in Damascus, he escaped.  Later in Jerusalem he again bore witness.  Then in Antioch, and on into the Gentile world Paul continued to obey the heavenly vision. 

The Lord Jesus revealed; Paul obeyed.

Paul disciplined himself to keep that vision bright through the rest of his life.

Years later Paul discloses to the Philippians how he continues to pursue the vision.  “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” 

He never allows the vision to fade.

And now the vision has come to us.  We didn’t earn it. We didn’t deserve it. It just came.

BUT when that vision came, it was up to us to act on the vision.

As we acted

As we responded, offering back our lives to him who had already given his for us,

As we began to worship Jesus, and thank him, and praise him, and confess his name to the Father, and to each other and to the world, and

As we began to go out into the world and practice his mercy, and show grace toward other people

the vision became ever more clear.

The vision is not something on the outside – it’s on the inside. It’s a flame burning at our center.

Driving us like a divine obsession.

Fitting us into a plan far bigger than we are.             

Joining us to the Body of Christ.

Guiding us to take good news to the poor,

and deliverance to the captives,

and sight to the blind,

and release to the oppressed.                                        

So why didn’t the vision stay?

How come it’s not as bright today as it once was in so many of our lives?

Paul’s vision remained fresh. Years later Paul stands before King Agrippa wrapped in chains, but his vision of the Lord is brighter than it ever was…because Paul acted on that vision, not just in the first couple weeks or months, but consistently down through the years.

 Once God gives us vision of his Son, it’s up to us to act on that vision, not just for the first three weeks, but through the rest of our lives. And if the vision, at any point, starts to get dull, it’s up to us to get it back.

I counsel you to buy from me… salve to anoint your eyes that you may see.

So how do we get that eye salve? How do we restore that blazing flame that once burned in our hearts?

The first thing we do is to admit that the vision is not what it once was.

It has grown dull.

It has become weak and vague.

It is eternally dangerous to go on stumbling through the darkness, pretending to have a vision that we don’t have.

For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

Many of us have wasted years of our lives pretending to ourselves, to each other and yes, even to God that the flame of life that once blazed inside is still there, when in fact it is not. We know all the right words to speak.

We know what motions to go through…

… motions of praise and thanksgiving.

…motions of love and care.                

But what do we do if the vision has lost its power in us?

When the words we speak are empty?

When the motions we go through are hollow?

When people come to us with desperate needs and we have nothing to give?

God, help us, to admit the truth when our vision has departed!

When the flame has turned to ash.

We can only move forward when we confess the truth to our Lord Jesus.

 

Once we have admitted that our vision has faded, we can then ask God to restore the vision to our thirsting souls.

Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation and uphold me with Thy free Spirit.       

Psalm 51:12

Restore to me the vision I once had! Clear my eyes so I can see once again! Put salve on my eyes, Lord God!  I’ve run out of bread. A friend has come to me on a journey and I have nothing to set before him. Open my eyes, Lord, so I can see what I’m doing and minister the Kingdom to this person.

 The promise is that if we ask for vision we will get it.

For every one who asks receives and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it is opened…

provided we keep at it…

Keep asking.

Keep seeking.

Keep knocking.

The man who went to his friend at midnight did not get the bread at the first knock. He had to keep knocking, and knocking, and knocking until the dullness of his own soul, which had caused him to run out of bread in the first place, was overcome. Then the door opened for him. And this is what we have to do. We have to keep at it until we prove to ourselves, and to the Lord, that we truly want to be restored.

 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew in me a right spirit. Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with your free Spirit.

 Psalm 51:10-12

Everyone who asks for restored vision receives it –

everyone.

 But there’s one more thing we have to do.

As the Spirit begins to fan the dying coals with us, we need to stir them up. The Spirit blows on the coals: we stir them with our obedience. God works his life into us; we work his life out with action. 

The Lord imparts the power…and by that power we obey.

Stir up the vision.

Hence I remind you to stir up the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control. Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord…

   2 Timothy 1:7-8

 Stir up the gift by opening your mouth and bearing witness to what you have seen.

And I tell you, every one who confesses me before men, the Son of man will confess before the angels of God…

                                                                                                 Luke 12:8

Is Jesus talking only about the end of the age when he will confess us before the angels?  Or is he also talking about now? Just as surely as Jesus lives to make intercession for us according to the will of God, he also ever lives to confess us before the angels. I confess Jesus before men boldly: Jesus confesses me before the angels.

Suddenly my eyes open and I begin to see again. 

My vision is coming back.

 We have opted to be, what we piously call, “silent Christians.”  No wonder our vision has faded!

Our excuse is that there are so many phonies around. “You hear them testifying to Jesus, and bigotry is oozing out of their pores!”  “In church their mouths are full of praise to God, but out in the rat-race they’re deceitful, and hard, and mean.”  “Man, we don’t want to be lumped in with those people!  We’re not going to talk all that pious talk like they do. No, we’ll go through this world like Jesus did – doing good.”

But remember that while Jesus did indeed go through the world doing good, he also opened his mouth and proclaimed the Kingdom. It was his words that shook that world. …. And got him in trouble with the religious folks.

True, the apostles went about doing good, but it was the words that came from their mouths that shook the face of this earth. And it was the words that came from their mouths that kept their vision bright.

 

 Wherefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then at Jerusalem and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God and perform deeds worthy of their repentance.”

Restore unto me the joy of your salvation.

 The vision will be restored, brighter than it ever was,

if we will admit that it needs to be restored,

if we will ask God to restore it, and …

if we will stir up the gift we have been given by opening our mouths and speaking the truth God has already put in our hearts.

“Hence I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control. Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord…”

Prayer: 

Father, father our vision of you is dimming and we are stumbling in blindness. Without the vision of you burning within us, we are poor, wretched, pitiful, blind, and naked. Open our eyes to our own emptiness…to our self-delusions, pretending we have life that is burning within us, when in truth, it’s nothing but ashes.  We are not truly alive without you; we have nothing to give without you. Give us thirsty souls for you once again. Restore to us the vision we once had. Clear our eyes, put salve on them so we can burn with love for you and minister your Kingdom once again. Restore to us the joy, the pure joy of living in your salvation and sharing it with others. And Lord as you once again fan the flame within us to life, may we stir it up, feed it, by confessing your name loudly and boldly until we shake the world and our own lives with your beautiful truth.

Original publication date 2007 REB

All artwork by gracious courtesy of Melanie Havnaer.  Propheticart. com … Some titles of paintings unknown by the editor. 

 

Posted June 26, 2020

THE RENEWED MIND

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2

There is a tendency among believers today to make a mis­take the scribes and Pharisees made in our Lord’s day: to vastly underestimate the importance of the mind in our relationship with God. Then, and now, if people perform the correct motions on the outside, mouth the right words, follow the acceptable pattern of behavior, they are considered right with God.

Jesus stressed that the presence of God in our lives is not a matter of adhering to certain external standards of behavior. It is a matter of what’s going on inside. And when Jesus talks about the inside, whether He calls it the heart or the eye, He’s talking about the mind, the place where we think and will, where we imagine and plan.

 “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.”

Mark 7:21-23

Jesus is not talking about the heart that pumps blood. He’s talking about our inner life, the place where we think and decide. When Jesus declares that the eye is the lamp of the body – (if the eye is single, the whole body is full of light ) — He’s talking about what we ob­serve, not only with our physical eye, but with our mind.

Every time Jesus spoke He was addressing people’s minds, calling them to think thoughts totally different from what they were accustomed to.

He opened their minds to understand scriptures, showed them that what went on in their minds was what they really were.

How does a person commit adultery in his heart?

 -By thinking adultery.

How does a person covet?

 -By thinking covetousness. 

It all begins with thinking.

Likewise, when God comes into our lives, when our minds begin to delight in God,and the ways of God, and the word of God,

–  our outward life will follow.

We break conformity with the old system of this world by changing our thinking. We enter into the realm of God’s kingdom by allowing our minds, our inner life, to be constantly re­newed.

 “...be transformed by the renewal of your mind,

 that you may prove what is the will of God,

 what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

 It would be nice if one could go to some spiritual hospital, have spiritual surgery, and come out thinking godly thoughts from then on. But the renewing of the mind is a thing we have to apply ourselves to daily as long as we live. Just as we take up our cross daily and follow the lamb.

 Specifically, a renewed mind;

  1. Is a mind that actively reaches out toward God, a mind that thinks!                                                                              

“Mary kept all these things and pondered

     (thought about them in her heart.)

 “Beware of false prophets … you shall know them by their fruit.”

this requires thought!

 “Be not unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

… an idle, lazy, self-satisfied, opinionated mind cannot be inspired!

“Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves”

 The disciples of Jesus – male and female – may not have had much formal training but they were thinkers, their minds were active, asking questions, trying to find out.

 The tendency in Christendom today is for people to swallow things without thinking, and call it faith. A well-known teacher comes along with some new insight and they swallow it whole,

 …forever devouring some new teaching

– without thought,

…endlessly clinging to some old opinion

– without thought,

… or submitting to some self-proclaimed authority,

            – without thought.

Why is it people so often prefer some soothing pre-­chewed piece of Christian literature to wrestling with scripture?

– Because scripture requires thought!

Every word Jesus speaks (in the Old Testament as well as the New) requires thought.

 “A man had two sons. The first said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward repented and went. The second said, ‘I go, Sir,’ but did not go. Which did the will of his father?”

Think!       Think!       Think!

The parable of the virgins, the parable of the talents, in fact all our Lord’s parables are a challenge to thought. You don’t need an IQ of 150.

  1. A renewed mind is a mind that is ever choosing the way of the Spirit over the way of the flesh.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.       Romans 8:5-6

 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their minds; but when a man turns to the Lord the veil is removed.       II Corinthians 3:15-16

Every day there has to be a turning of the mind.

If the clock in your car fails to keep time, you reset it, and reset it, and reset it, until it stays on time.

So we keep turning the mind toward the Spirit until it stays on the Spirit.

The fact that our mind wanders is part of our old nature — the veil that lies over the mind of the Gentiles as well as the Jew. To bring the new nature into our mind we have to direct it into truth, away from the lie,  — turn it!

 –  If our mind wanders while we’re praying, we reset our mind.

 –  If our mind is caught up in one of the delusions of this world, we reset it.

 –    We take hold of our mind and turn it away from vanity, to glory.

As time passes the ability of our mind to recognize when it’s being misled, and the power to turn from darkness to light, becomes stronger and stronger until our mind points to God like a compass points north.

  1. A renewed mind is a mind that takes the form of a servant.

 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:5-8

 The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.”

 “He who would be the greatest among you let him be the servant of all.”

 “I am among you as one who serves.”

 …not a heroic servant with someone keeping notes on all the wonderful things you’re doing so they can write a book about your life and make it into a movie.

            –  Just a plain servant, a real servant.

When we begin to see that serving is a function and purpose for being here, we have tremendous liberty.

The mind of this world is vanity.

The mind of heaven is mercy which ever takes the form of a servant.

  1. A renewed mind is a mind that delights in pleasing  God.                                                                                                          

So I said, “Here I am! I’m coming to you as a sacrifice, for in the prophetic scrolls of your book you have written about me. I delight to fulfill your will, my God, for your living words are written upon the pages of my heart.”        Psalm 40:7-8

For us it begins and ends with worship. As our minds are renewed in the Spirit of God we begin to find supreme joy in worshipping and praising God,

 – for His goodness,

– for this mercy of the Lamb which is forever,

– for His revelation of Himself in Jesus,

– for the gift of His Spirit.

 And as our hearts rise in worship and our tongues are set free in thanksgiving and praise we now, with renewed minds, begin to prove in daily living what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Now we begin to taste the joy of the Son in doing the Father’s pleasure, the joy of the angels in ministering to God.

Even the hard things, the monotonous things, the painful things become our delight as we serve God with a renewed mind.

 Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.            Romans 12:2

The believers who mount up on wings like the eagles,

who run and never get weary,

who walk and never faint,

 are those who see the importance of waiting on the Lord with their minds.

God help us to renew our minds this day and every day, until the only mind we have is –

the free mind,

the clear mind,

the perfect mind of a child of God.

REB- Original publication date unknown. This is found in the booklet “The Renewed Mind”… which can be mailed out upon request.

Prayer: 

Yes, Lord, we seek these free, clear minds that you ask of us. In your mercy, help us to transform our minds, change our thinking. Give us the mind of Christ; Servant minds, merciful and obedient. Rescue us from the thoughts that defile us. Help us to set any thought aside that prevents us from focusing on you, drawing close to you, in your secret place. Remove this veil that separates us from you. May we keep resetting our minds whenever our minds wander, whenever the lie tries to draw us away, help us turn our thoughts back to your truth. Give us the strength to continue turning our minds from darkness to light until our minds are locked on you. May our minds eventually be so focused on you, that our thoughts are saturated with thankfulness and praise for your goodness, your mercy, and we are set free to experience true heavenly joy. Amen.

All art by prior permission. Signe Flink’s gallery can be found on deviantart.com /signesandelin; Chris Power’s work at Fullofeyes.com ; Rik Berry’s work at  rikberry.com

Posted June 12, 2020

THREE STAGES

“He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

                                                                                John 14:21

 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. This I command you, to love one another.”                                                         John 15:12-17

In these simple words to his disciples … not just the eleven gathered in the upper room … but to all disciples of all time, Jesus explains how we can enter into the life of the kingdom of God here on this earth.

We enter the life of the kingdom in three stages:

First, obey his commandment to love

“He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me…..

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

 It starts with commandments … words … from Jesus, that call us to..

radical love,

                                     radical trust in him,

                                                  radical purity.

We don’t really know Jesus yet, we just hear these words and we know they come from God. And we take hold of these commands which are so high and so wonderful … so far above where we are … and struggle to do them. Even when we fail and fall short — still we know that this is the way we have to go.

Oh Lord Jesus, may we love you so deeply that we have no choice but to keep your commandments, especially the commandment to love one another.

And as we keep struggling to do Jesus’ words we arrive at the second stage:  friendship with Jesus.

Second, Friendship with Jesus

 “He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

 “You are my friends if you do what I command you.

No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing;

but I have called you friends,

for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”

 

 ……friendship with Jesus.

Suddenly, in the midst of our struggle to obey his commands, Jesus comes to us and manifests himself to us as our friend. He’s not just our Master — he’s our Friend who opens his heart to us and leads us into the very heart of God. Now the kingdom of God becomes for us much, much more than a set of wonderful commands.

– It’s fellowship with God the Son … heart-union with Christ so rich and so comforting that all our fears are driven out by this burning love of Jesus.

Beloved Jesus, in our struggle to obey you. Manifest yourself to us. Become our dearest friend. Open your heart to us…lead us to the very heart of God.

And in the power of that love we begin to love each other and to reach out to the wounded world.

Which is the third stage: fruit bearing.

Third,  Fruit Bearing

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that what­ever you ask the Father in my name he may give it to you. This I command you, to love one another.”

 So now in union with Jesus,

 – we’re bearing fruit,

– we’re asking the Father for life for others… and getting it,

– we’re loving each other with the love of God.

Our friendship with Jesus moves us out into the world with

– life,

– healing,

– prophetic words,

– signs of hope,

– power to overcome evil,

– power to set the captives free.

Jesus in the power of your love and friendship, pour life into and out of us so we may bear abiding fruit. In your love… may life, healing, hope pour out of our lives and mouths, may captives be set free, may evil be overcome.

 Three stages:

  1. The commands of Jesus.
  2. Friendship with Jesus.
  3. Bearing fruit in the name of Jesus.

 In describing the kingdom life in this way we’re not ignoring the cross. The cross of Jesus was the event which made these things possible … the fountainhead from which all this life springs. And as we walk with Jesus we learn to know him — not only in the power of his resurrection, but in the fellowship of his sufferings we become like him in his death as we lay down our lives.

 But we only begin to see the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection as we come to know Jesus himself in these three stages.

 “You keep talking about Jesus as if it’s possible to know him in a personal way here on earth, yet scripture tells us that Jesus is at the headquarters of the universe in heaven … that we are to look for his return.

So how can he be ‘here’ and ‘there’ at the same time?”

 “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore, I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

                                                                                              John 16:12-15

 Jesus promised that he would send the Holy Spirit to stay on this earth until he (Jesus) returns and that the Spirit will convey Jesus’ presence, Jesus’ life.

Where the Spirit is, Jesus is.

So it is the Spirit, the living, burning Holy Spirit of God, who brings us along on these three stages….

…… as fast and as far as we allow.

– It is the Spirit who wipes away the distance between earth and heaven, who opens our eyes and enables us to see the unseen.

– It is the Spirit who brings us into the first stage by causing the commands of Jesus to burn with fire in our hearts.

– It is the Spirit who brings us into the second stage by enabling us to truly know Jesus as our friend.

– It is the Spirit who leads us into the third stage  by anointing us with power to bear fruit in his name.

Jesus we need your Spirit to bring us along, to carry us into the life you call us to. Give us your Spirit so that our eyes are open and we can see the unseen. Give us your Spirit so that your commands burn within our hearts.Give us your Spirit so we can know you as our dear friend. Give us your Spirit so we are anointed with the power to bear fruit in your name. May we allow your Spirit to take us faster and deeper not holding back anymore.

 So, the first stage becomes the call of the Spirit.

  The Spirit calls us through the words of Jesus.

“It is the Spirit that gives life. The flesh is of no avail.

The words that I have spoken to you, they are Spirit and they are life.”

So we hear Jesus’ words spoken by someone, or we read the Sermon on the Mount in the Bible, or we wake up in a crisis and recall one sentence or one phrase from his mouth.

And we grab hold of those words.

“That’s what I want! I want to make those words real in my life!”

We may not realize it at the time, but this is the Holy Spirit calling us out of darkness into God’s light. The Spirit is quickening the words of Jesus to our minds and wills. And as we struggle with those words trying to do them … and perhaps failing … and wondering how in the world he can ever expect us to live them, we’re starting to love Jesus—starting to love him.

Oh Lord may we hear the call of your Spirit like never before. May that call draw us close to you, may we grab hold of your words. May love for you pour into our hearts as we realize the truth and beauty of your words.

 The second stage becomes the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit is when we are flooded and filled and overwhelmed by the love of Jesus … when we really begin to know Jesus as our friend.

 To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”              Acts 1:3-5

And when they were baptized with the Holy Spirit they knew the friendship of Jesus from within …they knew Jesus as they never knew him before.

 And for anyone reading this to whom this hasn’t happened yet,

 – you should expect it,

– ask for it,

– open your heart to receive it.

John baptized with water … Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit. 

He floods you with the life of God and specific things begin to happen to you.

– Suddenly Jesus is right there and you know that he’s your friend he’s with you, he loves you, his hand is on you.

– And with that wonderful awareness of the presence of Jesus, the scriptures open. Things in the Bible that never made sense before now begin to fit together.

– Prayer begins to flow from you with a freedom  and a power you never knew before.

– Your tongue is set free and you find yourself giving testimony to Jesus.

 Perhaps there are some people reading these words to whom this all happened some years ago, but now it’s like a fire that has almost gone out.

– Stir it up!

– Put some kindling on it.

– Get down on your knees and coax it until those coals which are almost out … begin to glow once more and burst into flame.

The Holy Spirit was given to you so that you could know Jesus and love Jesus and serve Jesus, not just for a year-and-a-half, but forever.

Lord Jesus, flood us, overwhelm us with your love. Flood us with life. Open our hearts to the beauty, power and truth of your scriptures. Relax us into the tender embrace of your friendship… so that we can coax back to life even the tiniest of flames, so that our prayers unleash holy power, so our tongues are finally set free.

The third stage becomes walking in the Spirit.

“If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit,”              

– You’ve been baptized in the Spirit,

– You’ve been brought into union with Jesus,

 …  so now you can do those commands which before were impossible.

You can love your enemy,

you can go the second mile,

you can be pure,

you can get rid of your grudges.

 

 Now it’s not simply friendship with Jesus out in the desert away from the hassles, now it’s friendship with Jesus in the midst of  the pressures, confusion, and trials of life.

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bring forth fruit and that your fruit should abide. So that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give it to you … “

 ….” even power to obey the commandment to love one another.”

Lord may we be so filled with the power of the Spirit..that we walk with you at all times. May we step forward willing to go the second mile, committed to loving our enemies, letting go of our grudges, May we walk in the power and confidence of your friendship in the midst of all things. Thank you dear Lord for choosing us, anointing us, drawing close to us and giving us the gift of bearing fruit.

 And so we go out into the world in unity with each other.

– We go out with prayer in our hearts.

– We speak those same gracious words of Jesus that drew us into the kingdom.

– We speak those words under the authority of the Spirit.

– We speak them as friends of Jesus who are walking with Jesus and know Jesus.

And people are drawn just as we were drawn … we bear fruit.

Each of us may be in the kingdom of God at one of these stages….. right now.

  – At very least we can take hold of Jesus’ commands and start to do them by answering the call of the Spirit.

  – We can enter into friendship with Jesus by opening our hearts to the power of the Spirit.

  – We can get under the yoke with Jesus and start to bear fruit by walking in the Spirit.

Consider these words from John 15 one more time … remember that these words of Jesus are addressed to us today. And as we respond to them we will certainly experience the life of the kingdom of God.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

This I command you, to love one another.” 

John 15:12-17

Original sermon 1982 REB. This is found in the booklet “LOVE”… which can be mailed out upon request.

All art from the generous heart of Ineke Hopgood  inekehopgood..weebly

Posted May 29, 2020

DESIRE AND RESOLVE

It might be well to warn you that this message isn’t going to contain any illustrations. No stories, not even a parable. To get anything out of the following paragraphs, you’ll have to think with me. If you don’t feel up to it you might want to skip this message.

What I want to share has bearing on what I believe God wants for the Body of Christ across the earth. Things may seem to be going well in our churches, at least on the surface. But if we are sensitive to the leading of the Spirit, we cannot help but know that we’re not even scratching the surface of the job that lies before us. We know in our hearts that God desires to do much more through us than we are presently allowing him to do

The things that we long to see… like effectively bringing people into the Kingdom and establishing them as authentic disciples of Jesus, will happen only when we as individual believers have settled some issues in our own lives.

It is so easy to see what’s wrong with the other guy’s life. But let’s take a few minutes to concentrate on our own need to repent. Let’s block out everyone else’s shortcomings and each consider what has to change in me if the Lord Jesus is to get the job done through me.

Many years ago there was a school of thought which suddenly went underground, but which is now beginning to make a dramatic reappearance on the world scene. This school of thought holds that a human being can accomplish almost anything if he or she learns to exercise the will. The person who succeeds in exercising his will against his own fears, against the elements of nature, and against his enemies will rule the world.

This person is the true Superman.

The nation, which learns how to unify its will and then assert that will against all other nations will become the master race.

You are what you will. You will accomplish what you…. will to accomplish. Phenomenal things have been accomplished by people who adhere to this philosophy.

But the inspiration for this teaching is the same devil that told Eve that she and her husband would become like God if they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It is based on a lie.

All the willpower in the world will never enable you to jump twenty feet in the air, or to fly like a bird, or swim like a fish, or turn yourself into the Incredible Hulk who can uproot trees and tear down buildings with his bare hands.

Nor does the power of the human will do the job in the moral realm. How many times have we made up our minds that we are going to turn over a new leaf, “I’m never going to do that again,” only to stumble again, and again, and again.

I do not understand my own actions. For I do what I do not want, but I do the very thing I hate. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. So I’m finding a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

Romans 7:15-24

Who of us hasn’t experienced this? Who of us, by the sheer power of the will, can overcome self-centeredness?

But the mistake we make, when we discover the futility of willpower in dealing with sin, is that we then tend to flop to the other extreme and believe that the will is useless.

“For the good which I desire, I don’t do;
but the evil which I don’t desire, that I practice.” v. 19 (WEB)

“So what good is my will?”

We excuse the mediocre lives we live by pointing to the weakness of the human will. “After all, I’m not some kind of spiritual superman – I’m weak. I’m only human.”

Granted all the willpower in the world will not enable me to sprout wings and fly. But it is within the power of my will to get myself out of bed in the morning at a decent hour.

Willpower will never make me sinless.

But it is within the power of my will to turn my back on my delusions and start following Jesus who is able to deliver me from sin.

Paul who wrote those words, “The good I would I do not do. The evil I would not that is the thing I do”, also writes these words just a few verses down the page,

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” 

Romans 8:5,6

And to set the mind on the Spirit is an act of your will.

Further on the page:

“So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh — for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the flesh you will live.”

So the will joins the Holy Spirit and puts to death the deeds of the Body.

Jesus never treats us like robots or zombies. Everything he has to say to us is addressed to our will.

Jesus stands inside a doorway, which he has opened.

All the willpower in the world would never open that door for us. He opened it for us with his death and resurrection. Now he invites us to come through the door to him.

Standing outside the door we see the freedom and life and peace that he offers
                  – and we desire that.

But those blessings do not become ours until our desire for Jesus is transformed into resolve that gets up out of our chair and walks through the door.

“If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink.”
“He who believes in me out his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

We long for life from God.

We want the rivers of living water to flow out of us.

That’s our desire. But the desire for these blessings God promises us in his Son will never bring them to us. The desire has to be vulcanized into resolve that goes through the door and receives blessings from the one who offers them…

Who draws near to Jesus.

Who doesn’t try to grab the blessings from Jesus and leave him standing there.

But who comes to him and finds the blessings in Him.

So how do we turn our yearnings…our longings…our desire…into resolve?

Two things:

First we turn our desire for the Kingdom of God into resolve by setting our face toward the Kingdom and we quit looking back.

When the days drew near for Him to be received up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem. And He sent messengers ahead of Him, who went and entered the village of the Samaritans, to make ready for Him; but the people would not receive Him, because His face was set toward Jerusalem.

Luke 9:51-53

As they were going along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has no place to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” But he said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first go and say farewell to those of my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and then turns back is fit for the Kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:57-62

Here we see the vivid contrast between Jesus, who has set his face toward Jerusalem, refusing to look back, and these would-be followers who have the very best intentions, but cannot let go of what’s behind them.

“Lord, I’ll follow you wherever you go.”
“Foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests.
The Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.”

Immediately this man looks back to see where he’s going to sleep, and he’s out of it.

Jesus says to another one, “Follow me.”

“Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
“Let the dead bury their own dead,”
says Jesus, “but as for you, you go and preach the Kingdom of God.”

And there he hangs between his yearning for the Kingdom and his attachment to his old life, and he gets nowhere.

Lord, I’ll follow you, but let me first go and say farewell to those at my home. No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.

These well-intentioned disciples are moved by desire, which is a beautiful thing.

Their desire to follow Jesus springs up from a living seed and becomes a hopeful plant—until the sun gets hot. Then it looks back and wilts.

Jesus is moved by resolve. His face is set, and he keeps going.

So desire is a perfectly good thing. We need more of it. It was desire that drew us to Jesus in the first place. But that desire has to be transformed into resolve, resolve which sets its face toward the Kingdom and won’t turn toward the left or to the right. Which puts its hand to the plow and won’t look back.

Otherwise we become that hopeful plant that grows up only to wilt in the sun.

No root, no resolve. No resolve, no endurance.

“One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.”

Psalm 27:4

“One thing have I desired of the Lord” – that’s desire. Praise God!

“…that will I seek after” – that’s resolve. That’s the act of the will.
Too many of us have stagnated at the stage of desire when it comes to our relationship with God.

We desire visions of Heaven.
We desire to live a radically committed life.
We desire to overcome sin.

And we even receive from God, in His goodness, beautiful tastes of things we desire. He gives us visions of Himself. And He has poured out upon us all kinds of blessings. Power has flowed down upon us from the Holy Spirit. We have seen fruit.

But in so many cases, it hasn’t survived the heat of daily life.

We’ve tasted God’s redemptive power.
We’ve seen God’s light.
We know that we are meant to live in God’s kingdom atmosphere all the time.

Yet the vision never seems to take on substance in our lives. Because instead of looking through the door and fixing our eyes on the Lord who waits for us on the other side, always calling us to himself…

….we keep looking back.

And what is in there waiting to be ours, will not really be ours until we quit looking back and start moving toward the vision and keep moving until it becomes ours. Until we shake ourselves loose from everything that tries to hold us back.

Which brings us to the second thing, which has to happen if our desire is ever to be fired up and turned into resolve:

We are going to have to disengage ourselves – violently, if necessary – from everything which tries to hold us on the wrong side of the door.

Why do you think Jesus says to Peter, whom he loves,

“Get ye behind me, Satan. You’re a hindrance to me. You’re on the side of man not of God.

You’re hindering me, Peter, because you’re trying to keep me from getting to the cross.

I’m not going to let you do it.

Our Lord does this with his own mother.

“Woman, what have I to do with you? My time has not yet come….. Who are my mother and my brothers? Who ever hears the word of God and keeps it.”

“Those who do the will of God.”

He keeps pushing his own mother away because Mary senses something terrible might happen to her son and she’s trying to protect him.

Oh well, maybe Jesus had to do that, but I don’t know if I could.”

“Now great multitudes accompanied him; and he turned to them and said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes and even, his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, “He began to build, and was not able to finish.” Or what king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with 10,000 to win against him who comes against him with 20,000? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an embassy and asks for terms of peace. So, therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”

Luke 14: 25-33

The only way in … is to shake ourselves loose and renounce the things that hold us out.

Somehow our up-and-down, hot-and-cold, in-and-out desire for the Kingdom has to become such a deep-rooted resolve that it is willing to tear itself away from anything that tries to tempt it back toward “safety.”

We are still going to walk through this world. We cannot withdraw from the world to escape conflict. The Lord God himself has put us here. We are going to keep our responsibilities and fulfill them. We’re going to do our jobs well. We’re going to play with our children. We’re going to rest by the river.

But always with a heart, which keeps everything but the Kingdom at a distance – even if we have to hate our own father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and especially our own life.

“One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after;
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.”

It is possible to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of our lives – to live in his presence; to know his peace; to walk in his light; to do his will; to feed his sheep; to manifest his Kingdom.

But this life of union with God in the midst of the confusion of this world will not be ours until we resolve to go in and get it.

Not desire – resolve.

Until we set our face with Jesus – to go with him to Jerusalem and the cross which waits for each of us there – even if we have to tear ourselves violently away from anything that tries to detain us.

May God help us, this day, to settle the conflict that rages in our hearts and turn our desire for him into resolve.

 

Prayer:

Worthy Lord, we truly desire your life, your peace, your presence. We long for your Living Water to be poured into us and from us. Transform these desires into resolve. May we stop looking back. May we break the grip of anything that holds us back from your promises. Deliver us from our own lack of resolve, our weaknesses, our excuses. May we fix our hearts on you, set our face on you and get up and do what it takes to follow you unimpeded to your Kingdom.

Original Circa 1980, Edited 2006

This is found in the booklet “The Renewed Mind”… which can be mailed out upon request.

 

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.

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.

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