Wednesday, January 20, 2021

ENCOUNTERS

 


            Have you ever had an encounter with God? If you are a born-again follower of Jesus Christ you have. No one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws them to Him. But there are other types of encounters with the Lord, too. Encounters that call us for service, direct us in God’s ways, cleanse us from sins, or fortify our confidence in Jesus.

            Abraham lived with his family of idol worshipers in Ur when he had his first encounter with the Lord God.  The Lord spoke to him and called him away from his home, the idols and his family to follow the true God to a place He would show him. We are not told how God spoke to Abraham, simply that He did. It was a tremendous step of faith for Abraham to believe God and follow Him. But he did it by faith and God counted it to him as righteousness. Abraham’s faith in God was the beginning of the generations that would produce the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ. And now those who believe in Jesus receive the power to become the sons of God. It is by faith. Our belief leads us to follow Jesus and leave this world behind, living in the kingdom of God even though we are still physically residents of this earth. Through Abraham all nations are blessed with the opportunity to be born again.

Isaiah encountered God in a spectacular way when King Uzziah died. Uzziah had been a godly influence for most of his reign and was king of Israel for about 50 years. Isaiah entered the temple after Uzziah’s death and he saw the Lord on His throne. It was a magnificent sight. The earthly king had succumbed to death, but the King of kings was and is still alive and in control. Isaiah witnessed the glory of God, His might, power, wisdom and splendor. The sight he tried to describe was beyond human description. He recognized that God is pure holiness and is in control of every throne and every nation. Isaiah fell down before the Lord and cried out to Him because he fully sensed his own sin. Any time we encounter God, we see ourselves as we really are, not as we perceive ourselves to be. We may think we are pretty good, but we see how unholy we are in the light of His holiness. Acknowledging our sin is the first step to cleansing. Isaiah’s sins were cleansed and then God asked this question. “Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?” [speaking of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit]. Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” Isaiah’s encounter with the Lord brought cleansing from sin, and a new level of his ministry as God’s prophet. The earthly king was dead and powerless. God was not! If we want a ministry that brings powerful results, it has nothing to do with our charisma, wisdom or our earthly connections. It has everything to do with the glory of God being seen in us. The more we come into God’s presence, the more of His holiness will shine through us, and the more of the earthly things will fall away.  In His presence we learn His desires and purposes, then we stop pushing our way through life with our own agenda and pursuits. Instead, we say, “Here I am, send me, use me, I will obey”. Then we are on the right track. We are working with God.

            Joshua had an encounter with God as he stood near Jericho. It would be their first city to conquer in taking the land God had promised them. God had already told Joshua to be strong and of good courage, that He would never forsake him. He would be with him. And He was. God had parted the Jordan River just as He did the Red Sea, and all the people went over the Jordan safely just like when Moses was leading them. Why? Because God hadn’t changed. Now it was time for their first battle – Jericho! “And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, “Are You for us or for our adversaries?” So He said, “No, but as Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, “What does my Lord say to His servant?” Then the Commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua, “Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so.” If the Lord had said nothing else, Joshua’s strength and courage for battle would have still been fortified, because he had the Lord’s assurance that He was with him. But after that, Joshua received God’s battle plan to conquer Jericho. And the Lord was with them. When we find ourselves in the presence of God, we are voluntarily humbled. His presence brings reverential fear and awe to us. In humbling ourselves before the Lord, trusting Him and obeying what He says rather than taking matters into our own hands, we can have victory even in the middle of our trials because He will never leave us or forsake us. We need to always remember as long as we are following God’s orders, we have with us the Commander of the Lord’s army.

Gideon lived during a trying time for Israel. The children of Israel repeatedly disobeyed the Lord’s commandments, so the Lord allowed Midian to prevail over them for seven years. “Because of the Midianites, the children of Israel made for themselves the dens, the caves, and the strongholds which are in the mountains.” When the Israelites had a crop in the field, the Midianites and the Amalekites would come and destroy all their produce and take all their livestock. They left them with little or no sustenance. “So Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites, and the children of Israel cried out to the Lord.” God brings judgment on those He loves who know to do right and yet choose evil instead. It really should be no surprise, because He lays out the commandments clearly and also the results of obeying or disobeying. His judgment is not always complete destruction, but is often a time of punishment to turn hearts back to the Lord Who loves them. Israel was in dire straits because of their disobedience to God. After seven years, they finally cried out to Him. In answer to their cries, God sent a deliverer. But this deliverer was not who we would have chosen. When Gideon encountered the Lord, he was hiding in a winepress threshing the little bit of wheat he had gleaned from somewhere. He knew if the Midianites saw him the wheat would be lost. Gideon was disillusioned with the talk of God working miracles for His people in the past. He hadn’t seen a miracle, and they had needed one for seven years. His conclusion from this faulty reasoning was that God had forsaken them. While he continued to thresh the wheat, “the Angel of the Lord appeared to him, and said to him, “The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!” Gideon said to Him, “O my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.” Clearly Gideon missed that it was the Lord Himself who had just said, “The Lord is with you.” Gideon’s faith seemed to be totally depleted. But here God was, right there beside him, drawing him into the middle of the miracle he didn’t believe in. “Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?” So Gideon said to Him, “O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” Gideon replies about how weak he is. After all, he was a man hiding from the enemy just to keep from starving. But God said, “Go in this might of yours.” What might? The might of the Lord God. “And the Lord said to him, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man.” After patiently giving Gideon several signs and whittling down the army from 32,000 to 300 men, God used Gideon to free Israel from the Midianites. The reason God used so few men was because He didn’t want them claiming they were the victors when it was God Who did it. If God calls you to a task, know that He will enable you and give you His might to accomplish it. You may feel weak and the least likely candidate for His mission, but “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” Believe Him and go in His might to do great things.

            When I was about eleven or twelve, I had an encounter with God on several occasions while sitting in church services. A collage of faces that were not distinguishable would appear toward the front of the church and come closer and closer until they passed through me. Then a collage of buildings in a city would do the same. Neither was distinguishable, but looked like film negatives that you can see but not really see. I told my mother about the visions, but she didn’t have an answer. I thought I must be called to be a missionary. I listened intently to every missionary who came to visit the church, but never felt the call to join them. Step by step I was drawn into other ministries. Singing at church, recording an album, then being asked to do a radio program on the local station. During this time I felt called to begin writing articles and sending them out to those I met during ministry in churches and other venues. I talked to my mother and she asked, “how can you do that? You don’t have the resources.” I began by using the office copier where I worked (with permission) and after just a few of the newsletters had been sent, a machine was donated by a complete stranger, and it was a machine that I was already familiar with. God provided. My parents were with me at a coffee house in another state when Mom heard a man try to give the machine to the coffee house owner, but he didn’t need it. So Mom told him I needed it. We picked it up at his house that same evening with the supplies. I began writing songs, made several albums and went on to work on-air and in production work for a radio network. The Lord spoke to me about producing radio spots that eventually went around the world on several radio stations, shortwave and internet. Later, I was at the flagship station of the network, taking a break with one of the engineers. He knew about the visions and asked if I had discovered what they meant. I told him I had not. He explained that in almost everything about the ministry, it was to people whose faces I did not see, yet they received the ministry. The albums, the newsletter, the radio, the internet, and later television, writing books and a newspaper column. I had been walking out the vision in my life step by step without realizing it was being fulfilled. Although I had not known what the visions were about, I knew God was speaking to me and I was called out for His purposes. So, I had simply followed. Then the vision was made clear. God doesn’t always give us answers right away. Sometimes we just need to know He has called us so we will be available and listening when He gives us directions.

            What about you? Have you had an encounter with God? Has He spoken to you through His Word, by His Spirit or through someone else? How have you responded to your encounter with the Lord God? Do you hear Him calling you now? If so answer His call.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

THE CHRIST, THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD

 

Every year when I set up my manger scene, I put baby Jesus in the center of the display and all the other figures around Him. I try to make sure they are all facing Him with their attention directly on Jesus. In human terms, He is the smallest and frailest of the group. But in reality, He is the most powerful and the One Who is necessary for our existence, both physically and spiritually. Considering His greatness and love, shouldn’t we always live our lives constantly facing Jesus, giving Him our full attention and recognizing his deity and glory?

            One scripture describes Jesus like this: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end.” (Isaiah 9:5-7) 

This prophecy was given by Isaiah hundreds of years before Jesus was born. But the message is for us even today. “Unto us a child is born”. That “us” includes you and me. Jesus came into this world as a baby, wrapped in human flesh, yet He was God.

The first chapter of John tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.”

Jesus was there at creation speaking the stars into existence and every living thing as He brought order to this earth. He has always existed. Yet He limited Himself to time and space when He took on human flesh to be Emmanuel, God with us. His presence among us and the words He spoke brought life, light and order just as when He spoke everything into being at the Creation. And He can bring wonderful things and order into our lives, too. That is why He came.

Jesus is called the Word because He is the expression of the Father to us. He showed us the Father, and this is how He did it. “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”

Jesus, the child that was born, was also the Son that was given. There is a song that says “He left the splendor of heaven, knowing His destiny. Was the lonely hill of Golgotha, there He laid down His life for me.” That is love. The greatest love! He bore in His own body the wrath of God against our sins so we can go free.

We are also told that the government is on His shoulders. He is in complete control. There are people on this earth who have great power, and they think they are controlling things, but they just don’t realize they can do nothing unless God allows it. Jesus said, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.

He is Wonderful. The word wonderful means “a miracle, marvelous”. Jesus’ ways and thoughts are much higher than ours. He is far above human comprehension in every way.

            He is also the Counselor. He is all wise, all knowing, and will lead us in paths of righteousness and peace if we will follow Him. He will counsel us with His limitless wisdom.

He is the Mighty God. In being the expression of God, He showed His power and authority clearly through His words, His deeds and all the miracles He performed while He was in human flesh.

He is the Everlasting Father. He will never leave us and His love and care are always with us.

He is the Prince of Peace. Jesus came to bring peace between us and the Father, to close the gap that was caused by sin. He did that by taking our punishment for us. To those who receive Him, He gives the power to become the sons of God, to as many as believe on His name.

As children of God, we can have peace with God. We can become one with Him and start living in His kingdom now by the Holy Spirit within us and continue our new life uninhibited by the pull of this world after these bodies have died. We can do that because it is a spiritual kingdom. It is the kingdom that Jesus lived in even while here on this earth. He lived in spiritual power, principles, knowledge, holiness and connection to the Father. We can do the same, but we can have this life only through Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

The government of this Prince of Peace will never end! This is the good news of great joy for all people!

 

Jesus is the Child that was born – the Son that was given!

If you haven’t already received Him, do it right now!

 

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

 

 

 

Monday, November 23, 2020

“LITTLE BOY BLUE, COME BLOW YOUR HORN”

 

            I knew a doctor who recommended to a mother that her baby have a meningitis vaccine. The vaccine was new at the time. When she asked if there were any side effects, the doctor flippantly said, “none that I know of!” as he walked out the door to prepare the vaccine. It was administered, and the next day the baby was critically ill with all the symptoms of meningitis. He was taken to the doctor’s office and sent immediately to the hospital. The truth was that there were known side effects. The doctor was not a negligent man, nor was he arrogant. He was a good doctor and a caring man. He certainly didn’t mean to bring harm to the baby. He was simply careless in answering the question. The baby completely recovered and didn’t have meningitis although he had all the symptoms. According to the mother’s and doctor’s orders, he never received another vaccine. If the doctor had disclosed all the side effects, the mother may or may not have made the same decision. But she would have made the decision with full knowledge, and the doctor would not have been responsible for the outcome.

There is an interesting passage of Scripture in Ezekiel 3. God says to His prophet Ezekiel, “When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul.

Again, in Ezekiel 33 we read a passage with the same general idea except it refers to a watchman on a wall who stands guard and blows the trumpet when he sees danger approaching from any direction. He has the same responsibility to warn the people, or their blood will be on his hands.

Although the threat comes from an enemy that shows their intention to steal, kill or destroy, the warning comes from a friend, the watchman. It is given to thwart the plans of the enemy by making known to the people the danger that is impending. Then they can be prepared and make necessary arrangements to secure themselves.

It seems many people mistake the one who warns of impending danger for the enemy instead of recognizing him as their friend. The “watchman” is the one who sounds the alarm so they can prepare and take cover from the real enemy. But once the alarm is sounded, each person makes their own choice whether to prepare or allow the enemy to overrun them. The watchman is not responsible for their decision. He is only responsible for giving them the truth and a forewarning.

We don’t blame the weather man or woman for the tornado that comes or the hurricane that is headed our way. We recognize they are not the enemy. We are glad they care enough about us to warn us in advance so we can make wise decisions and save ourselves and our families. Of course, there are those who don’t take that warning seriously and lose their lives. But everyone has the same warning and the same choice to make. They could heed the warning or go on with their regular routine. Once the warning has been given, it is out of the hands of the “watchman”.

Jesus gave some teachings that people thought were hard, and they took them as a threat against them. He wasn’t threatening. Jesus made it clear He had not come into this world to condemn us. He came to save us, but He was telling us what we have to do to have that salvation personally. He was sounding the alarm, blowing the trumpet, giving the warning message about the day when we will all be brought into account. He suffered at the hands of evil men so we could have a choice. We can hear and heed the warnings in the Scripture, or we can go on with our regular routine. Jesus never forces anyone to follow Him or His teachings. But He loves us too much to let us go into eternal hell without giving us the truth that we have a choice. He tells us so we can prepare ahead of time. He is the only way to heaven.

Jesus is not our enemy. Nor are His true followers who proclaim His teachings. We are sounding the alarm. We don’t speak of the dangers and pitfalls of sin or the fires of hell out of a mean spirit that is just waiting for people to fall over the precipice. We speak the truth because we care about eternal souls. Telling people the truth about sin gives them a chance to prepare their hearts in repentance and change their destination. As Christians, we are the “watchmen” commissioned by Jesus to convey His truth and give everyone the choice of acting on the warning or ignoring it.

Are we sounding the alarm, or are we remiss in making the facts about salvation known? Maybe we are like the doctor. We may not be negligent or arrogant. We may truly care about the souls of the lost, but are we actively sharing the teachings of Jesus with them? Are we intimidated by those who consider us an enemy who is trying to condemn them? Do we love them enough to make sure they know there is a choice? That they can be free? Are our lifestyles showing Christ to them?

            As the people of God who are filled with His Spirit, we are called to uphold the standard and principles taught by Jesus Christ. If we lower those standards, we are endangering our spiritual lives. If we lower those standards and yet proclaim we are followers of Christ, we are endangering the lives of ourselves, other Christians who may follow us and those who are unsaved. It is imperative that we hold forth the Word of Life, not an opinion or what is accepted by our culture. We need to be sure we are following Jesus and His Word and not the watered down version of those who want to miss hell but don’t want to pay the price of following Christ.

Many people do not want to hear the truth. But until we know the truth, we don’t know to repent of sin. Until we repent of sin, we cannot receive the forgiveness of sin through Jesus Christ. Until we know about Jesus, we cannot choose to surrender our will to His and follow Him exclusively. The truth is that He took all our sins on Himself and the wrath of God that was meant for us so we could be free. Our salvation cost a lot.

            As Christians, we are examples to others. If we give the wrong example and withhold the warnings, their blood is on our hands. If we live by the Word of God, follow the teachings of Jesus and are led by His Spirit, we will be examples that will draw others to Christ.

            We have the responsibility of telling this generation about the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for us. If they receive it, they can be saved from eternal damnation. The choice is theirs, but they need to know the truth before they make their choice. Many choose to reject Him, but let’s make sure they know there is an alternative. Be bold enough to ask Jesus how He wants you to carry out your responsibility. We would be quick to offer a life-line to someone drowning in the ocean, but we seem reticent to offer an eternal life-line to them. Believing in Jesus to the point of forsaking all to follow Him is the wisest and safest and most blessed decision anyone can every make.

 

There is a nursery rhyme that goes something like this:

“Little Boy Blue, come blow your horn.

The sheep’s in the meadow and the cow’s in the corn.

Where is the little boy minding the sheep?

He’s under the haystack fast asleep.

 

            Several years back, I wrote a song using that verse, and then added this verse.

Children of God, lift up your eyes.

The harvest is white. It’s time to arise.

Where are the laborers minding God’s sheep?

They’re under the haystack fast asleep.

 

            It’s time to wake up. It’s time to blow the horn and sound the alarm that Jesus will return one day and we all need to be ready. If we don’t go in the rapture, we will go through the death of this body. We will all live somewhere in eternity. Whether it is hell or heaven is the decision of each individual. Dare to be a watchman, even when you are mistaken for the enemy.

 

“Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine.

Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.”

(1 Timothy 4:16)

 

Monday, October 26, 2020

THE TESTIMONY OF DISTRESS

 

 Have you ever been in distress? Maybe you are there now. Most of us have had numerous times of distress in our lives. Distress can be anxiety, physical or mental suffering, a state of danger or just plain being over our heads in trouble.

Psalm 118 gives us this testimony. “I called upon the Lord in distress: the Lord answered me, and set me in a large place. The Lord is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me? It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.” (vs. 5-6,8-9)

Notice the psalmist said he “called on the Lord”. That sounds so calm and confident, but the word ‘called’ means to cry out with a loud voice! It is an outburst of emotion that comes from deep within. And this time it was coming from distress.

I remember one of the times when I was in trouble, turmoil, suffering and anxiety. I could see no way out. I considered it from every angle I could think of, but there was nothing I could do to change the situation. When I called on the Lord, it was loud and went something like this: “Where is God and what is He doing?” I didn’t even direct that question to Him personally. But He heard me, anyway. And He answered me.

I knew He was right there and that He was working on my behalf, but I was in distress! I wanted to see victory right then. And victory did come. But it came in God’s timing and it came God’s way. He knows the right way and the right time.

In times of distress, the comfort and support we receive from others is a tremendous blessing. To know someone is on our side can be quite a comfort. But our real help comes from the Lord.

There is not a single person who can keep us safe or deliver us from every trouble that arises. There are no earthly princes, kings or presidents who can make everything right. Only God can do that. We need to learn to put our trust and confidence in Him alone. And we learn to trust God by going through those times of distress, calling on Him, and watching as He brings us through.

Just recently, God gave me a lesson that began with small requests. The picture I had planned to use for my upcoming book was lost in the shuffle and I needed to get another one at the same church where that one had been taken. The pastor was gracious to let us come and make the picture. I still felt some apprehension about getting it just right, so I prayed that God would let everything go smoothly. It couldn’t have been any easier. The next day, I was to go in the downtown area of a nearby city to cast my vote. My mother was with me. I wasn’t sure where the building was, but I knew the traffic could cause a problem with me finding the right building and a place to park. I had seen pictures of the chaos someone had posted. I prayed that God would help us find it without a problem. As I was driving toward the area, we saw the number on a building beside us. We were almost right at the address we needed. Immediately a car started to back out of a parking space. I waited for them to come out and pulled into the space. Another prayer answered. Later, as I was shopping, I asked for favor in buying dolls for my Samaritan’s Purse shoe boxes. I found the dolls for the exact price I had asked.

Now, let me explain something here. God doesn’t always open up parking spaces and let me find dolls immediately after I pray. Sometimes I have to walk in the rain or pay more than I expected for the merchandise I need. However, He was building my faith to believe for a much bigger mountain. When we returned home, one of my sisters called to let me know of an “impossible” situation, an emergency, involving a close family member. We all went to prayer. And over the next day or two we saw God work miraculously. He not only provided safety, but He provided safety with an upgrade. God goes above and beyond because He can!

I praise God for preparing me for what was coming. I was confident that if He cared about pictures, parking spaces and dolls, He certainly cared more about the crisis our loved one was facing.

God doesn’t work in our way or in our timing. His is always superior to ours. I will quote a friend of ours who says, “God has ways we don’t know anything about.” And she is right! I have shared her words many times, but we need to be reminded of them constantly. Because sometimes, if we can’t figure it out, we give up and come to the conclusion that God can’t do it.

We should never discount the fact that God does the impossible. We read of how He opened the Red Sea, brought down the walls of Jericho, and miraculously saved king Hezekiah and his people from a hostile army. We may not understand why He hasn’t intervened the way we thought He would. But we can be assured that He is in control and He will come through for us at just the right time…His time.

            The very first words in Psalm 118 are these: “O give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness endures forever.” I guess the psalmist wanted to make sure to praise God first because he was about to give a personal testimony of just how God had delivered him from his distress.

Psalm 57 gives God glory on a similar line. It says, “I will praise and give thanks to You, O Lord, among the people; I will sing praises to You among the nations. David had certainly praised God for His mighty works on his behalf, but he wanted to let everyone else know, too. He purposed that he would praise God among the people, even the nations. And as king, I’m sure he had that opportunity. He gave God glory.

Psalm 57 has been one of my life scriptures. I go back to it often. It reminds me to give testimony of all the goodness of God in my life. And, although I praise Him privately, I want to praise Him publicly, too, “among the people”.

Let’s share our testimonies of the greatness of God to us. People need to see what God is doing right now in the lives of His people. We can let them know that God is still active and still working miracles today. Testimonies are not just from thousands of years ago or hundreds of years ago. They are still in progress. Because the work of God is still in progress!

The testimonies of people who really know God and have seen His miracles and deliverance in their lives can be powerful. Be assured, God is still in the business of bringing His people out of distress and setting them in a “large place”. He didn’t stop caring for us once the first members of the early Church passed away. He is at work in us now if we will trust Him. If we will call upon Him. I have heard many people give their testimony of how God has worked in their lives recently. He has worked in my life, too!

A testimony is a statement made to establish a fact. When we let other people know what God has done, we are stating facts of true life happenings that glorify God.

            I recently heard the testimony of one who heard the voice of God about a certain dream they had to reach children. In God’s time and in His way, He brought it to pass. I know of two testimonies where God has walked with people through cancer and both received good reports, regardless of the odds against them.

            What is your testimony? What has God done for you? Don’t keep it to yourself. Make your statement to establish the facts of His glorious working on your behalf. Let His glory be seen in your life, and give testimony “among the people”! When you let people see God at work in you now, you are introducing them to the God Who was, Who is, and Who is to come. When we fail to show Him to others, they consider Him to be archaic and no longer active. That is far from the truth! Let your distress be used to prove the goodness, majesty and love of God.

            The worst distress any human can have is distress of soul because they are held captive in the bondage of sin. The greatest need of the human soul is to find freedom that will disentangle them from the snare of Satan. Satan’s path leads to destruction. Only Jesus can set us free from that distress. And the good news is that He is not only able, but is willing to do just that. Jesus will break the snare of bondage and set us in a “large place”, our own place in His kingdom where there is true freedom forever. Repent of your sins, surrender your will to His will and follow Jesus. There is freedom in surrendering to Him. I can give testimony to that!

Friday, September 25, 2020

MOVING AHEAD WITHOUT FEAR

 

           When things change quickly and drastically in our lives, it is common for fear to rise up inside of us. That especially holds true when it is a nationwide or worldwide phenomenon that brings it on. Fear can cause us to withdraw into survival mode if we are not careful. 

According to Wikipedia, “Fear is an emotion induced by perceived danger or threat, which causes physiological changes and ultimately behavioral changes, such as fleeing, hiding, or freezing from perceived traumatic events.” Some of the fears we have may be imagined. They may come from worrying about what might happen. But many of them come from a very real perception of a very real threat that is not only possible, but is staring us in the face. We can be faced with some terrible circumstances at times. Will we take the option of “fleeing, hiding or freezing” in our circumstances?

Our best option is to withdraw into the presence of Jesus so we can find out what He wants us to do, how to handle the threats and bring good out of evil. Times of trials and turmoil can be used to drive us out of complacency and a form of religion. They can be used to invite us into the fresh flow of God’s Spirit if we will refuse to get caught up in fear and unbelief. As humans, we need something stronger than we are to help us continue in the faith. Only the Spirit of God can do that.

In reading accounts of the great revivals of past years, the fuel for the flame of the Spirit of God was the deep, selfless desire of the people to know Him, hear from Him, and stay on their faces before Him until He poured out His Spirit on them. In so doing, ‘self’ was consumed by the Spirit of God and He was able to do His work and carry out His will, not bound by men’s standards, time restrictions and schedules.

How we do ministry as churches or even as a ministry like ours has been pressed to change. That in itself can be frightening because the known seems so much more secure than the unknown. However, security only comes when we seek and find the will of God for our times. Ministry does not have to end. It can be made better by our dependence on the Spirit of God rather than our own ideas and strategies. These times can prove to be a catalyst to get us back on track doing what God intends His people to accomplish in the way He wants it done.

Over the course of time, churches and ministries can become settled in a rut and less apt to depend on God to reach people that are beyond their pre-set borders. We can get so wrapped up in the organization of ministry that we leave out God and the very people the ministry should embrace. And until we are forced to break our self-imposed boundaries, we don’t. We have a “good thing” going, and we don’t want to rock the boat.

Think about your church, your ministry or your personal walk with Jesus. Is there insight in the teaching and preaching of the Word of God? Probably so. Is there a thrust to talk to people about their salvation? Even that may be securely intact. Is there good music? Possibly so. But is there a deep longing and searching for more and more of the Spirit of God personally in the lives of the believers? Is there a conviction in those who come among us – both saved and unsaved? Are they challenged to surrender all to Jesus? Are lives being changed radically to follow Jesus without restrictions? We need to be cautious that we don’t carry on the ministry Jesus entrusted into our hands on auto-pilot.

Every once in a while God allows circumstances to jolt us out of complacency to a greater and deeper relationship with Him. That in itself will deepen our ministries. It is up to us to see our circumstances the way God wants us to see them and to respond the way He leads us. To be open to the changes He speaks to us to make and to broaden our interest in His Word and lessen our interest in the world.

If a teacher told his students that he wanted them to write a paper on a certain subject, what would happen if the students stopped listening before they heard what the subject was? They may write prize-winning papers with great passion and flair. But if it didn’t fit the criteria given by the teacher, they would fail. I have found it to be difficult on occasions to be still and quiet enough to hear the whole message God wants to give me. If I run off with the “good idea” He planted in my head and take it in a wrong direction, I have failed Him.

Our hearts need to be surrendered completely to Jesus and His directions. There is a lot we can learn from the experiences of Paul and Silas. They planned to go to the province of Asia but the Holy Spirit forbade them to go. They tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. They went to Troas. “[There] a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man from Macedonia stood pleading with him and saying, Come over to Macedonia and help us! And when he had seen the vision, we [including Luke] at once endeavored to go on into Macedonia, confidently inferring that God had called us to proclaim the glad tidings (Gospel) to them. (Acts 16:9-10)  Certainly it was good to carry the gospel to those other places, but God knows the best time and the best person to do each work. That is why we need to be close enough to Him to hear His direction for us.

In planning ministry events and even articles and teaching programs, I am slowly learning that when something doesn’t seem right or it doesn’t work out the way I had planned, it could just possibly be God changing those plans. When I ask of Him, He redirects me in the right track. I am grateful for His corrections. Paul and Silas were careful to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. We should be, too. (Note: There are also times when the devil tries to distract us from doing certain things. We need to know the voice of God.)

Every believer is called to win the world, at least the part of the world in which they have influence. We all do that in different ways, but the call to make disciples is the same across the board. We cannot afford to allow fear to keep us from following the leading of the Holy Spirit. If we don’t want to be caught in the grip of fear and immobility, we need to seek God fervently and put aside our own agenda and plans.

Let’s not retreat in fear and cease to carry on the work that Jesus commands every believer to do. Instead let’s go deeper into the presence of God and not miss the calling He has for us today, tomorrow or any other day. Some directions may seem insignificant, but the Spirit of God in us makes everything significant. We can go out without fear when we know we are following Jesus’ leadership.

When the angel told Joseph to take Mary as his wife, he started that conversation with, “Joseph, thou son of David, fear not”.  When the angel told Mary she would be the mother of the Messiah, he said, “Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God.” The Lord spoke these words to Joshua after Moses died, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  There are numerous other verses telling us not to fear but to go out in the power of the Lord God. He knows our name and tells us to “fear not” when we listen to His voice and are following Him.

In Psalm 56, the psalmist says, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in You.” Believe me when I tell you that fear will offer itself to your mind, your emotions and your spirit. But you can turn fear away by trusting in the faithfulness of God.

When we are faced with fearful times, God will be faithful to us as we are faithful to Him. Just as He was with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace, Daniel in the lion’s den, and even with Stephen as he was stoned; He will be with us in our times of trial.

Here are a couple more scripture verses that speak to any fear that may come to us.

“I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:4 NKJV)

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18 NKJV)

 

Listen for the voice of God to you and move ahead without fear.

 

 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

WINNING THE BATTLE

 


When I entered the word 'stress' into a search engine online, it immediately found 1,050,000,000 items. The stress level of nearly every individual is over the top. Even children feel it from peer pressure, dysfunctional families, normal childish fears and parental expectations. Adults try to juggle all their daily responsibilities while under a dark cloud of uncertainly. Our world is increasingly dangerous and threatening. We all face overwhelming difficulties that have a new face, but are very old problems. With earthquakes, devastating storms, economic nightmares, pestilence and social unrest, most people live with a certain amount of stress. We all need to be reminded of a Source of strength we too often neglect in the rush of living and the threat of destruction. We can be infused with that strength from Jesus Christ when we get to know Him intimately.

I strongly believe we are living in the “perilous times” we were warned about in 2 Timothy 3:1. The Amplified Bible translates it like this: “But understand this, that in the last days will come (set in) perilous times of great stress and trouble [hard to deal with and hard to bear].” 

The conditions we face in our world today were unthinkable just a few months ago. So many of the things we took for granted disappeared before our eyes, and here we are in a very different world. As we navigate our way through this new world of confusion, uncertainty and danger, we need to realize the spiritual side of what is happening.

This earth is a battleground between good and evil. Oh, yes, there are mortal players in the battles, but they are not the real sources of good or evil. If you want to win, you need to understand that. If you fight on a physical level, you will wear yourself out and lose. If you want to be successful in battle, you also have to understand the enemy. The enemy of God and His children is Satan. And the enemy of Satan is God. So the battles we see with our eyes, the people acting out their allegiance to God or Satan, are just the tip of the iceberg. The real deciding factors are in the spiritual realm.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood [contending only with physical opponents], but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this [present] darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly (supernatural) places.(Ephesians 6:11 AMPLIFIED) 

These ‘world forces’ are evil spirits (demons) with varying degrees of power and varying territories. Because we are no match for them in the flesh, we need the power of the Holy Spirit in us to combat them. We need the armor of God and we need to know how to use it. Christians desperately need to be trained for combat, endurance, and knowing our Commander’s voice and following Him without regard to personal cost because we trust Him. If we are not prepared, we will fail in the heat of battle. 

If I was placed in physical hand-to-hand combat today, I would have no idea what to do. I would not know how to put on the gear for protection. I would not know enemy fire from friendly fire. I would not know the territory or even how to use the weapons. It would be suicide to go out to battle unprepared. Whether we like it or not, we are part of a battle. Yet, many Christians, for whatever reasons, are unprepared for the spiritual battle that is getting more intense than ever. They have read about the armor of God, but have no idea how to put it on. They have not learned to tell the voice of God from the voice of the enemy. They do not understand the spiritual realm or how to use God’s Word. They need to be taught before they find themselves in hand-to-hand combat. The brutality of combat can bring us down physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually if we are not prepared.

Let’s wake up and learn how to counter attack and win spiritual battles. Some battles we find ourselves facing may be on a personal level, some for a church or a city, a state or even our nation. We can make a difference. We may think our prayers cannot make a difference in a nation. We may think that is too big of a thing to take on. But it is not too big for God and that is Who we are trusting to answer our prayers. We can pray and get results when we pray in the Spirit. Here is how we can win battles.

“Put on the full armor of God [for His precepts are like the splendid armor of a heavily-armed soldier], so that you may be able to [successfully] stand up against all the schemes and the strategies and the deceits of the devil… Therefore, put on the complete armor of God, so that you will be able to [successfully] resist and stand your ground in the evil day [of danger], and having done everything [that the crisis demands], to stand firm [in your place, fully prepared, immovable, victorious].” (Ephesians 6:11, 13 AMPLIFIED, emphasis mine)

            You may say, “I have heard that Scripture all of my life”. But have you put it into action? We are in a day when we can be defeated by the enemy because we are not consistently wearing our armor. Or because we are so fearful that we are hiding. Or because we are ignorant of the enemy’s strategies. We don’t have to lose this war! Jesus wins and we can be on His side.

            When persecution began for the new Christians, they banded together and prayed to God. What did they pray for? They understood what they really needed, so this is how they prayed.

 “Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.(Acts 4:29-31 NKJV) Did they protest and strike out against those who were treating them unfairly? Did they set up a plan to bring down the powers that be? Did they run and hide? No! They prayed for boldness to keep doing what Jesus had told them to do. They prayed for power, signs and wonders so they could be a light to a dark world…just like Jesus.

It is important for us to understand how to put on the armor that God supplies and how to use it. We are called to stand our ground in Christ, on His foundation, and deflect the arrows that the enemy shoots at us, regardless of the level of our battle. So, let’s look at Ephesians 6:14-19 from the Amplified Bible.

“Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth…” Notice our call is not to start a fight with these evil forces and invade their territory. We are called to stand. Jesus simply stood strong in the truth and proclaimed it whether or not it made the people or the devil mad. Usually, it did make them very mad. Jesus said, “I Am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” Jesus IS Truth, so everything that comes from Him is true. His words have no deceit in them. His actions are without hypocrisy. All because they come from Truth. If we are going to have Truth as the belt that holds all the pieces of armor together, we have to know Jesus personally and be fully surrendered to His Spirit Who lives inside every true believer. He is the Spirit of Truth and will reveal things to us. He will show us on a spiritual level the truth of our circumstances, even when it seems that confusion and deception are reigning there. Sometimes it may even seem the enemy makes a valid point, but if we know the truth (what God has said), we will see the lies and deceit behind it. Don’t try to make a bargain with the enemy. Psalm 51:6 tells us what God wants and what He will do when we seek Him. “Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part [of my heart] You will make me know wisdom.” (Psalm 51:6 AMPLIFIED)  

 “put on the breastplate of righteousness.” If we are living in a way that is not pleasing to God, we have no ground to stand on. If we are not on His foundation, we are in the devil’s territory. You cannot be righteous and ungodly at the same time. If you are ungodly, you are not like God in character, thoughts, actions or anything else. Those who are righteous are walking in obedience to the Word of God and the Spirit of God. They have His light and are displaying the light of Jesus. Knowing Who Jesus is and what He said is not enough. The devils believe and even tremble. But they are still evil and not like God in any way. We need to allow the Spirit of God to alter our lives to walk in context with Jesus’ teachings. A righteous person is in right standing with God by the blood of Jesus and their faith and trust in Him. “Blessed (happy, prosperous, to be admired) are those who wash their robes [in the blood of Christ by believing and trusting in Him—the righteous who do His commandments], so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city.(Revelation 22:14 Amplified)

“and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” Romans 10:15 says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!” Jesus told us to go and preach the gospel to others. To share the gospel message that we have. Are we doing it? Souls are dying without Christ. What are we doing about it? “The fruit of the [consistently] righteous is a tree of life, And he who is wise captures and wins souls [for God—he gathers them for eternity].(Proverbs 11:30 Amplified)

 “above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.” This piece of armor is of great importance. Without trusting in Jesus, we cannot make it through the war. If we are just naming His name because we don’t want to go to hell, but are not truly trusting in Him for our very lives, we will fail in the battle. If we don’t trust Him, we will not follow His commands, seek to be like Him, tell others about Him or stand firm in the battle. Satan throws darts fast and forcefully. He sends sudden temptations our way that we were not expecting. If we are not fully trusting in Jesus, we will not be able to act quickly enough to deflect the darts. We need to learn to trust Him and follow His commands even when we don’t understand. It is imperative that we can differentiate between the voice of our Commander and the voice of the enemy. For every lie the devil tells, for every wound he inflicts, every threat he makes, faith in Jesus Christ will extinguish and overcome them all.

 “And take the helmet of salvation…” a helmet covers the head. It covers the mind with which we can reason and make decisions. The Apostle Paul said, “the god of this world [Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelieving to prevent them from seeing the illuminating light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Satan would also like to turn us (believers) away from our salvation which is our deliverance from sin and the penalties of sin. If we turn aside from salvation, we no longer have the rights of being children of God. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “But I am afraid that, even as the serpent beguiled Eve by his cunning, your minds may be corrupted and led away from the simplicity of [your sincere and] pure devotion to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:3 AMPLIFIED) And in Romans 15:5-6 he writes, “Now may the God who gives endurance and who supplies encouragement grant that you be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify and praise and honor the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” If we want to all be of the same mind, we need to all have the mind of Christ. Guard what you think. Don’t let just anything take lodging in your mind. Keep your helmet on securely. Protect it carefully. Make sure your mind is set apart for Jesus and not open for enemy fire.

“and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God…” The Word of God is a must for every believer. For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 NKJV) As we read the Word of God, we will be enlightened to anything that is amiss in our hearts. We can clearly see where there is a problem within that is causing problems without. And we have the answer on how to change the problem within right there in the Word. Psalm 119:11 gives us further instructions on how to keep sin out of our hearts. “Your word I have treasured and stored in my heart, That I may not sin against You.” (AMPLIFIED) Jesus is the Word, the expression of God. If we want to be able to stand in the battle, we must know what Jesus taught and follow it. The devil gets an advantage when he can feed us an untruth and we don’t know the difference between truth and error. Saturate your heart and mind with the Word of God. Lay aside whatever you have to, but know what God says, then you will recognize a lie when you hear it. You cannot be successful if you can be trapped by a lie. Deception has led many into the trap of the enemy. The Word of God is powerful enough to bring us out, but it is better to know the Word and not be trapped at all.

“praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.” Prayer is a powerful tool. It is our connection with the Almighty God Himself. As children of God we can go boldly to His throne to make our petitions. If we want to receive answers to our prayers, we need to make sure we are living steadfastly in Jesus. Jesus said, “If you remain in Me and My words remain in you [that is, if we are vitally united and My message lives in your heart], ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.(John 15:7 AMPLIFIED) We can also pray in the Spirit. “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.(Romans 8:26 NKJV)  Allow the Holy Spirit to pray on your behalf. He will pray in accordance to God’s will and you will see results.

Our armor works best when we wear all of it. God has provided it for us and tells us how to use it in the battle between good and evil. If we don’t put on this armor, we will find ourselves defeated by the enemy.

PUT ON THE WHOLE ARMOR OF GOD!