Saturday, November 10, 2018

LEST I BECOME A CASTAWAY



            I have started a lot of things in my life that eventually fell by the wayside.  I have begun and ended diets, running or walking for exercise, sticking to a strict time-management system and a few other things.  I was excited about the ideas in the beginning and wanted to do those things.  I had good intentions, but they were clearly not a priority in my life.  Other things took precedence, and they were abandoned. 
            There is one thing I never want to let go by the wayside, and that is my relationship with Jesus Christ.  He has been my priority since I was eleven years old, and He still is.  All healthy, growing relationships require time, loving and giving.  If we do not make our relationship with Christ top priority, it will fall by the wayside.
            The apostle Paul was determined that his relationship with Christ would be foremost in his life.  In 1 Corinthians 9:26-27, he said, “Therefore I do not run without a definite goal; I do not flail around like one beating the air [just shadow boxing]. But [like a boxer] I strictly discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached [the gospel] to others, I myself will not somehow be disqualified [as unfit for service].” (Amplified Bible)  The King James Version says, “lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”  Paul wasn’t talking about training to become a great athlete.  But he knew if he allowed his body and mind to dictate his life, he would lose out in his relationship with Jesus.  So, he determined to make his body serve his spirit instead of the other way around.
That is easier said than done. There are times we know we need to draw aside and be with Jesus, but the busyness of life says we don’t have time, not right now.  Or when God speaks to us to do a certain thing and we put it off because we are afraid.  Doing what we know is right will cost us physically, financially, and emotionally. Sometimes it is difficult.  Those are the times we need to tell our bodies and our minds that they will serve the Spirit.  They cannot have their own way. 
It’s easy to give ourselves a break and rationalize how the demands of this life keep us from fulfilling the things of the Spirit. Paul was ruthless in keeping his spirit strong, and he was always ready for whatever lay ahead.  He knew how easy it could be to get soft on himself and lose his spiritual strength.  We need to be careful, too, not to relax our guard and become unfit for the kingdom of God.  It doesn’t happen all at once.  It is a gradual decline when we let our relationship with Christ take second place.
Paul knew the temptations and faced them head-on.  And he knew the time to prepare for service in the kingdom of God was not fifteen minutes before a “ministry opportunity”. Sometimes he didn’t know fifteen minutes in advance where he would be or what he would be doing.  He seldom knew just when an opportunity would present itself, so he had to stay spiritually fit.  That means “working out” during private times.  Prayer, worship, reading and meditating on the Word of God to keep spiritually strong and in tune with God. Without becoming one with Jesus, we cannot follow His directions. Paul also knew “ministry” took on many different manifestations.  One day it may mean preaching to a small, obscure group of women who were meeting at the river bank.  Another opportunity could bring him before a king to plead His case and share the gospel. Yet again, he could find himself in jail.  Whatever occasion presented itself, Paul had to be ready.  And the only way to be spiritually fit is to deprive the body and soul so the spirit can be strengthened.
Paul faced much opposition in his life, but his earthly life wasn’t his priority, so he could call them “light afflictions”. His connection to Jesus and obedience to Him was top priority.  His body had no choice in the matter, but to follow Christ.  Paul said, I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)  He went on to list some of his afflictions. “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.”  (2 Corinthians 11:24-28)
Paul did not set out to become a well-known, celebrated person in the kingdom of God. Those who do will seldom be selfless and commit themselves to the conditions Paul often found himself in for the sake of Christ.  Paul was not trying to impress people with all his knowledge of Scripture, his pedigree or the numbers who came to hear him preach.  He had already gone down that road and found it empty and leading him in the wrong direction.  He considered it all garbage once he came face to face with Jesus Christ.
Serving in the kingdom of God is full-time, regardless of who we are. We either serve Christ or we don’t.  It’s not enough to obey Him only when it’s convenient.  A true disciple gives their life to follow Jesus. You may have a secular job, but as a Christian you are called to be serving in God’s kingdom on that job.  Every minute of every day, we are ambassadors.  Our lifestyles, our words, our attitudes, all reflect the One we are representing, Jesus Christ.  We have to be ready at a moment’s notice to share our faith.  That requires a relationship with Jesus that transcends all other priorities in our lives.
Many times God chooses someone for a particular work.  He sets them aside for that work and places His Spirit in them in a distinctive way.  They may begin to operate in that work with joy and humility, following the leading of the Holy Spirit.  But the humility and eagerness to serve can be tainted if the focus turns from the glory of God, to the glory of self.  Paul knew that.  That’s why he was so determined to keep himself spiritually fit and close to Jesus. 
Just as Paul gives us a strong example of one who gave himself up to serve God in complete obedience, King Saul is an example of failing to remain humble, obedient and true in his service to God.  He was chosen to be king of Israel, the very first king.  He ruled well for a time.  But when he placed his position and prestige before the glory of God, the prophet Samuel reminded him of the time he was not full of pride, but of humility before God. He said,  “Is it not true that even though you were small (insignificant) in your own eyes, you were made the head of the tribes of Israel? And the Lord anointed you king over Israel?” (1 Samuel 15:17, Amplified Bible)  Now Saul had turned to a pattern of rejecting God’s Word.  He listened to the Lord’s voice through Samuel, but then took matters in his own hands, what he thought was best.
            After yet another act of disobedience by taking part of the spoils of battle, Saul tried to cover for himself by rationalizing the reason he disobeyed.  He placed his human reasoning above God’s instructions, and when he was faced with his disobedience and rebellion, he treated it as nothing.  He was more concerned how he looked before the people than the fact that he had defied God.  He had disobeyed before, but this time Saul learned the drastic consequences of his rebellion.  Samuel said, “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king.”  (1 Samuel 15:28) 
God may choose to use us greatly at some point, but we must be watchful that we don’t allow it to cause us to place ourselves on a pedestal and rob God of His glory. When the Holy Spirit works through us, we cannot take credit.  We are only earthen vessels.  He is the Treasure.  The vessel is disposable.  The Treasure inside is eternal.  Saul discovered when the Spirit of God left him, he was helpless and hopeless.  It had not been his wisdom, valor and strength that brought him success.  He had seen success because God was with him.  Now he was destitute.  He had no one to give him directions.  Yet he still tried to keep up his image as king of Israel.  He even went so far as to go to a witch for help.
If we feel as though we have to keep up our image, we may resort to means outside the leading of the Spirit.  If we are purely following Jesus, we will do whatever He says regardless of how it affects us.  God knows better than we do.  We don’t have to warn Him about the pitfalls that may lie before us.  He already knows. Our part is to trust and obey, to be one with Him and His purpose.
Oswald Chambers said, “It cannot be stated definitely what the call of God is to, because His call is to be in comradeship with Himself for His own purposes, and the test is to believe that God knows what He is after.  If we are in communion with God and recognize He is taking us into His purposes, we shall no longer try to find out what His purposes are.  If we have a purpose of our own, it destroys the simplicity and the leisureliness which ought to characterize the children of God.”  Oh, may we trust the wisdom of God!

“…lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”

 

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

A RENEWED MIND




A pastor friend of ours was teaching on the belt of truth mentioned in Ephesians 6.  He made the statement that truth brings order to everything. As Christians, we already know that. Yet we don’t always take it to heart and apply it to our lives. The simplicity of those words is astounding. Every part of our Christian life is held together by the truth, the Word of God.  If we want order in our lives, we will stay in the realm of God’s Word. 
Numerous passages of Scripture tell us the importance of the Word in our hearts and minds. Let’s look at a few and see how to integrate the Word into our lives.

For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?
But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:16, NKJV)

When we saturate our mind with the Word of God and hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, we have the mind of Christ. He is the Word.  And the Word is Life.  And in that Life is Light. He is all in all. (See John 1:1-4)
We have the written Word of God to guide us and teach us.  We also have the Holy Spirit Who brings the Word alive to our present situations, reminding us what God says. We activate the Word of God in our lives through faith, believing what the Word says and acting accordingly. If we learn and act on what the Word says, the Word will do His work through us. We will have His life and light within us, no longer walking in darkness.
For anyone who wants to walk according to the Word of God, there will be opposition.  Most of this opposition begins in the mind. Satan tries to steal our thoughts and divert us from the Word of God. He attacks our minds with doubt, fear, unbelief, unrest, clutter, resentment. It is important to fill our minds with what God says, not what the enemy says! When Satan makes inroads into our minds, he causes us to feel hopeless, fearful, confused or apathetic.  But those are feelings.  They are not facts.  So we need to base our lives on the facts of the Word of God.  We need to learn how to weed out the harmful, unsettling, useless thoughts and fill our minds and hearts with life-giving thoughts.

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-6, NKJV)

Walking in the flesh simply means our lives are dictated by our soul which is our mind, will and emotions. But we can choose to be dictated by truth, by the Word of God.  That’s where the warfare comes in. When Satan brings thoughts to our minds, we can entertain them and follow through on those thoughts, or we can draw on the Word for direction, and then bring those thoughts and feelings into obedience to the Word.  No matter how we feel, we can choose to walk according to truth.  When we submit ourselves to God, we are resisting the devil (bringing every thought into captivity to Christ, the Word) and Satan will flee from us. (See James 4:7)

 God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”  (2 Timothy 1:7)

“God is not the author of confusion, but of peace”.  (1 Corinthians 14:33)

When Satan tries to plant confusion, fear and feelings of helplessness in us, we need to uproot them immediately before they begin to grow and bear fruit. Those feelings are not born of the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God does not direct us in that way.  When those feelings come to us, it’s time to stop and seek the Word. He gives power to overcome fear, love that leads us in the path of the Father and a mind that is led by the Word, which will bring a sense of peace and unity with Him.  We can have a sound mind.  One that is complete in Christ. The Amplified Bible says it is a mind with “sound judgment and personal discipline [abilities that result in a calm, well-balanced mind and self-control].”
            Allowing our minds to wander without restraint can be detrimental to having the mind of Christ. The default mode is one of evil because it follows the pattern of fleshly feelings and desires rather than the Spirit of God. Left alone our minds will entertain all kinds of thoughts, many which will lead us in a wrong direction.

“And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”  (Genesis 6:5)

Our mind is the framework of who we will be, what we will do, how we will respond to circumstances around us.  It creates, imagines, determines and processes our responses to situations. It will guide us, or we will guide it by activating the Word of God in us by faith. This framework is the structure that determines the course of our lives.  It is either shaky and unsettled, or built on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ, the Word.  We are born in default mode, but we do not have to live in default mode.  We have a choice.

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

Our minds are renewed when we fill them with the Word of God.  Being conformed to this world means we are allowing our mind to run in default mode. We are following our feelings and our own thoughts.  But we can be transformed to walk in the light of truth.  The power of the Spirit and Word in us transforms us, and the Word continues working mightily in us as we are surrendered to Him.

“…Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,
That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25-27)

            The Word works in us by revealing areas in our hearts that need to be changed.  They are dealt with by allowing the Word to cleanse us and bring us into agreement with Christ. As we act upon what we read in the Bible, we are growing and being established.
Jesus spoke these words as a prayer to the Father shortly before He was crucified.

Sanctify [set apart] them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” (John 17:17, NKJV)
           
            We are set apart from the world to live in the kingdom of God and to be conformed more and more into the image of Jesus. Paul spoke to the Ephesians about those who lived in default mode.  Their minds were darkened to the truth and they lived their lives in darkness and evil. Then he said this:

 But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”.  (Ephesians 4:20-24, NKJV)

Choose life, light and order.
Be renewed in the spirit of your mind.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

AS A LITTLE CHILD




            When my sister and I were little girls, we liked to swing.  I especially liked the swings my Daddy hung from a limb high up in a huge tree in our yard.  It wasn’t like the little metal swing sets.  If you wanted to swing high on those, you were in danger of turning the whole set over.  The swings Daddy hung from the limb were sturdy boards supported with strong chains. We could swing as high as we wanted to with no limits!  Our goal was to swing so high that our toes would touch the leaves on the branch above us. We achieved that goal often, and it felt like we were flying!
            When is the last time we have tried to reach the limb above us?  When we grow up, we lose our childlike qualities.  And certainly we are supposed to mature as we gain wisdom and experience, but there are some qualities from our youth we need to reclaim for the kingdom of God.  Coupled with wisdom and experience, they can be dynamic.
            The solid foundation of those swings provided us the liberty to go higher than we ever had before with the small swing set.  A firm foundation in God’s Word and the experience we gain as we walk with Him provide us with the liberty to be free in God’s kingdom. This world’s foundation is like one of those little metal swing sets.  It will give way from underneath us.
            On one occasion, Jesus’ disciples asked Him, “Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  “He called a little child and set him before them, and said, ‘I assure you and most solemnly say to you, unless you repent [that is, change your inner self – your old way of thinking, live changed lives] and become like children [trusting, humble, and forgiving], you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matthew 18:3 Amplified Bible)  Children live in simplicity.  They live life in its purest form seeing the beauty of God’s creation, trusting, and free from the worries of this life.  They have no ulterior motives and no agenda.  They take life as it comes.
            In another passage, Jesus said, “I assure you and most solemnly say to you, whoever does not receive and welcome the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.”  How can we be childlike and yet mature Christians?  After all, Paul wrote to the Ephesians “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.(Ephesians 4:14) If we look at some of the typical qualities of children, we can see where we need to be “as a little child”, not naive or foolish, but childlike.  Living life in its purest form, trusting our Heavenly Father and free from worries.
Jesus spoke of the humility of children. They are not arrogant or hypocritical.  They don’t pretend to be what they are not.  They are real.  What you see is who they are inside and out.  The quality of being real in this generation is almost lost in the drama of social media and ‘reality’ TV shows.  As adults, we tend to try to please those around us at the risk of displeasing God. We need to be real through and through, in our worship, in our relationships, in our homes, in our churches.  God knows who we are, no matter how we try to hide it.
Children are forgiving.  If there is a disagreement between them, it is usually forgiven and forgotten within minutes.  They don’t naturally carry a grudge or allow bitterness to form in them. We need to relearn that quality.  As adults we tend to carry a lot of baggage that we are not designed to carry. If we want to be forgiven, we must be forgiving.  It cleanses our souls of bitterness and resentment. Jesus said, “But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:15)
Another trait of children is that they are trusting. Little children depend on their parents and don’t worry about things.  They don’t worry about how the bills will be paid or where the next meal will come from. Children don’t hesitate to ask for what they need, and they sincerely expect to receive it.  They go to their parents and say, “I’m hungry; feed me.  I’m afraid; protect me.  I’m cold; shelter me.  I’m hurt; heal me.”  Their dependence is not on their own abilities, but in the one who is taking care of them. How different we become as adults.  We feel the need to be self-sufficient rather than running to our heavenly Father. Of course, Scripture teaches us to work to provide for our families, but we don’t have to worry about things.  We can trust Jesus. He said, “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’… For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:31-33) Do we trust Him?
            There are no limits in a child’s mind.  Their imagination becomes the reality of their own world where they can slay the dragon or overcome all odds to become a princess.  In their minds they are strong and can run fast, so they don’t hesitate to run in the race.  They hardly notice that they came in last, because they were too busy running.  The kingdom of God needs to be our reality, not this world. We need to be so busy running His race that we don’t know who came in first.  When we begin to read God’s Word and let it soak into us, when we open our hearts and minds to God’s Spirit in us, we have no limits.  Oh, as we get older we feel physical limitations, but the Spirit of God in us has no limits. The Holy Spirit can still plant thoughts and ideas into our minds.  We just need to catch His vision, then run with it.
            Children are curious, inquisitive and open.  They are geared to learn…and to ask a lot of questions.  They don’t just want you to tell them how to do something, they insist “let me do it!”  Knowledge isn’t enough.  They want to experience it.  When is the last time we asked God “what are You doing? Can I help?  Can I be part of it?”  That’s how Isaiah became a prophet.  He went to the temple and was in the presence of God. It was there he heard God say, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for me?”  Isaiah said, “I’ll go.  Choose me.”  (my paraphrase)  When is the last time we entered into God’s presence, felt His heart, heard His voice, then volunteered to work with Him?  To go where He goes, speak what He speaks and do the works He does? When we are hungry for God’s wisdom and righteousness, we will pursue Him and He will equip us.  Then He sends us to the field to work out that knowledge, and there we get experience.  Then we can train others.
            Most children are adventurous.  They don’t weigh out what people will think if they do a certain thing.  They just do it.  They take a risk and don’t even realize it is a risk.  They have no idea what protocol means, much less follow it.  Now foolishness can cause problems and needs to be corrected, but there are times that protocol can keep us from following the leading of the Holy Spirit.  If you think about it, Jesus didn’t exactly follow protocol, either. How does being adventurous look when you combine child-likeness with wisdom?  Jesus listened to what the Father told Him and did it.  He trusted His Father to handle the fall-out when there was risk involved or when He broke the traditions of men’s religion, which was often.  He wasn’t afraid to journey into deep water when He needed to.  He just walked on top of it!  We can too.  Wisdom comes through the Word, and hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit.  Once we know He has spoken to us, it’s time to move. We tend to avoid any risk or anything that would keep us out of certain circles.  But we are called to hear, believe and follow.  When we hear Jesus’ call, do we argue with Him like Moses argued with God?  Moses weighed out the risk factor, what people might say, the mental idea he had that he was not qualified to do the job, the unbelief of the people he was asked to deliver, and the probable failure rate of the mission.  Do we do that? Or do we hear, believe and follow?  Following Jesus is not reckless.  Following our own imaginations and ideas is very reckless. Behaving foolishly will tarnish not only our reputation, but the reputation of God in the eyes of those who see it. There will be times we need to seek confirmation from a wise Christian friend to be sure we are hearing from God. And, of course, we need to have the leading of the Spirit and be in conjunction with God’s Word. But once that is settled, we need to move out as God opens the doors.
            Children are open to what they are taught.  They believe what we tell them and usually act accordingly.  When I was a little girl, maybe four or five, there was a big old two-story abandoned house next door to us.  Our parents told us not to go under the house to play because there was a well under there and it was dangerous.  I did not hear the word ‘well’.  I heard ‘whale’.  Granted, I misunderstood what they said, but the fact remains that although I could not wrap my little mind around the prospect of a whale living under a house, I still believed them. So I never played under that house.  Sometimes Jesus’ teachings may not make sense to us, or His callings may take us beyond our comfort zone, but we can trust Him implicitly and act accordingly. 
            When you take these childlike qualities and combine them with the wisdom and experience of age and the power of the Holy Spirit, you have a more complete picture of a Christian. One does not replace the other.  Rather, they balance one another.  The childlike qualities keep us humble, fresh, trusting, and energized, while the wisdom and experience keep us from acting foolishly.  It’s the door to living in the kingdom of God.

“…whoever does not receive and welcome the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.”

Saturday, August 4, 2018

GET OUT



Have you ever been told to “get out”?  Maybe it was a warning to leave an area because it had become dangerous.  Or it could be because someone was angry with you and wanted you to leave.
God told Abraham to “get out”!  He said, “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.  I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing.” (Genesis 12:1-2)
            To get out simply means to depart.  The Hebrew word here means to leave your tribal territory and the circumstances of your birth, your heritage, all the old ways of life. Abraham came from a country of idol-worshipers.  But God called him out of that to follow Him to a land that He would show him.  That requires faith.  Abraham knew the starting point.  He was standing on it.  But God did not give him the address of his destination.  God just said go “to a land that I will show you.”  He did not give Abraham a carefully laid out trip plan or a timeline.  But He promised this.  Not only would He remake Abraham the man, He would make a great nation from him.  God said, “I will bless you, and I will make your name great.”  That sounds exciting.  We think of our names being up in lights for everyone to see, but that is not what God intended for Abraham.  He had something more lasting in mind, not just for Abraham, but for you and me, too.  Abraham’s journey would be progressive, not instantaneous.  There is a process to coming into the land, to being great, to being blessed.  It is a process worked out through faith, by believing God enough to do what He says.  Abraham had to take the first step, then the second, third and so on.  He had to keep believing through the long years of waiting. 
            God was saying, “This is what you need to do and this is what I will do.”  That is covenant.  We know it as the Abrahamic Covenant.  Abraham had to do His part if he wanted to receive God’s promise.  He could not stay where he was and receive the promise, because the promise would be revealed through the process. Abraham believed God enough to act on what He said, and it was counted unto him as righteousness. 
            So, Abraham left his home. His nephew Lot went with him.  But there was eventually strife between the herdsmen of Lot and the herdsmen of Abraham, so they parted ways.  Once Lot was separated from Abraham, God showed Abraham the land He was giving him.
“And the Lord said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever…Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee.”  (Genesis 13:14, 15 and 17)  God showed Abraham the boundaries of his possession, his new heritage from God.  He told him to walk it, explore it! 
We do not live under the Abrahamic covenant.  We live under a New Covenant that was made through Abraham’s descendant.  His name is Jesus.  It is a spiritual covenant, and this is what God says to us concerning this new covenant. Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”  2 Corinthians 6:17-18
Just as with Abraham, this covenant requires us to leave our tribal territory and the circumstances of our birth – our heritage.  We were born in sin with a nature of sin and a heritage of death.  God says, you must come out and be separate.  When we do, He changes our heritage by giving us His righteousness and making us His sons and daughters.  We receive by believing in Jesus, believing enough to leave everything behind to follow Him. 
And so we enter His covenant if we “Come out from among “them.”  But who is “them”?  The Amplified Bible explains it this way.  “Do not be unequally bound together with unbelievers [do not make mismatched alliances with them, inconsistent with your faith]”.  Just as the herdsmen of Lot and Abraham had strife, so do righteousness and lawlessness, light and darkness, Christ and Satan, believers and unbelievers, the temple of God and idols.
We cannot stay where we are and receive the promise. We cannot remain the same person.  Our heritage changes.  We have to move from where we were, because our carnal nature is at war against our spiritual nature.  The two cannot dwell together because they clash.
To be separate means to “be marked off from others by boundaries”.  Children of God who have the heritage of righteousness rather than that of sin and death, have boundaries that keep us safe and free from returning to bondage.  We live, move and have our being in Christ, but we are still physically in this world.  I am in no way saying we are to keep ourselves in seclusion and have nothing to do with anyone who isn’t a Christian.  That is not God’s way.  We are here to win the world at whatever cost, but not to be part of it.  We operate in the spiritual realm even while we are here on earth, just like Jesus did.  It is the only way to obey the great commission.
Remember when Abraham left his old life, how God began to show him what He had for him?  He showed him the territory that belonged to him now.  He gave him the new boundaries.  Not the old tribal territory with the old heritage, but the new.  Once we step out of the heritage of sin and death, God shows us the boundaries of His kingdom and tells us to explore its abundance. 
Just as God called Abraham to go where He would lead and that He would show him the way as he went, Jesus says, “Follow Me”.  In John 14:5-6, Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and 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 except through Me.” When we follow Jesus, we are walking in the Spirit.  The Spirit will not lead us outside the boundaries of God’s Word.  He will teach us the ways of the kingdom as we walk it in its length and breadth, to live in the freedom of its truth and light.  We no longer yield to the impulses of the fleshly nature, but we follow wherever Jesus leads and follow the example He has given us.  We live by the teachings of Jesus – the blessings and the hard teachings.
We cannot stay where we are if we are going to follow Jesus. It is in the process of daily following Him that we receive the promise. If you asked me to follow you and I agreed, I would have to move from where I am to where you are.  Then, when you started walking, I would have to start walking with you.  If you walked in a circle around the room and I was right behind you, I would be following. If you made that trip again, but this time you walked out the door and I stopped where I was, would I still be following you?  I would still be standing where you led me at one time, but I would not be continuing to follow you.  We have to keep moving with God’s Spirit.
When we are born again, God will lead us through our lives one step at a time.  We will either go His way or our way on a daily basis. We will follow His leadership or submit to the ways of this world on a daily basis.
            Are you still in the same place you were in last year?  I don’t mean physically. I mean spiritually.  If you are, why?  Did you stop following Jesus somewhere along the line, leaving you outside the kingdom boundaries?
Maybe someone treated you unjustly, and you were consumed by the wrong, allowing resentment and bitterness in.  You knew Jesus said to forgive and trust Him to vindicate you, but before you knew it, you were outside of the boundaries.
Maybe you were pulled into another direction by a job offer or ministry opportunity that seemed so good that you ignored the voice within you saying it wasn’t what it seemed.  And now you are outside the boundaries
 Perhaps a crisis came your way and you were running scared.  Before you knew it turmoil overcame you and you were out of the boundaries.
Maybe Jesus led you to a place that seemed overwhelming and you were afraid to follow Him there, so you walked outside the boundaries, not realizing that was much more dangerous than following Jesus’ lead.
If we choose to stand on the fringes of the kingdom, the voice of the world will be louder in our ears than the voice of Jesus.  And we will be standing unprotected outside the boundaries. 
When the crisis comes or we do something wrong or Satan’s attacks seem to be unrelenting, it is time to press further into the kingdom. Don’t revert to the old heritage, but stay in the boundaries of His love.  The deeper we go into the interior of His kingdom, the more of us we leave behind and the more of Christ is in us.
Are there any boundaries you have crossed that are keeping you from fully following Jesus?  Have you stopped at a comfortable place instead of keeping pace with Him?  Isn’t it time to get back on track?  You don’t have to stay outside of the boundaries. 
Confess (admit) to God.
Turn away from your disobedience and surrender to Jesus.
Then start walking!



Wednesday, July 4, 2018

ARE YOU LIVING THE GOSPEL?



When I was a little girl, I heard a fable about a dog that had found a big, juicy bone.  He had it in his mouth and was trotting across a bridge over a stream, hurrying to find a spot to enjoy his treasure.  But when he looked over the side of the bridge, he saw a dog down there with a bone that looked bigger than his. He had to have it, so he opened his mouth to take the larger bone away from the other dog and dropped his bone into the stream.  That is when he realized the other dog was only a reflection of himself, just as the other bone was nothing but a reflection.  He gained nothing and lost what he did have.
The moral of that fable is to be satisfied and content with what you have, and don’t be greedy, always wanting what someone else has.  In his case, the dog already had what was a substantial treasure, but lost it all by chasing something as fleeting as a reflection of what was real.
As Christians, we have been given what is real and lasting, “life more abundantly”, so why are we constantly looking into the enemy’s camp for fulfillment?  Could it be because we are not completely surrendered to Jesus and are playing around the edge instead of plunging fully into His Spirit?  If we do not give ourselves wholly to Jesus and base our lives on His teachings and His power and authority, we will look at the world and long for what they have all because we have not allowed ourselves to experience what God has provided for us. Then we are left with nothing but a form of religion instead of the new life we can have through Jesus Christ. That religion is just a reflection of humankind instead of the reality of the pure glory of God.  Religion goes stale, but an ongoing, engaged relationship with Jesus is always fresh. 
Many people have an emotional experience, join the church, and become active in all the programs.  But they are soon bored with all the rote rituals, so they begin to wander back into the world system.  It is sad to see that happen, especially when Jesus offers much more.  He invites us to go deeper in His Spirit and actually follow Him, to walk alongside Him on a daily basis. It is an adventure with eternal results, and it requires a life commitment.  Yet, instead of surrendering our lives completely to walk in His kingdom, we keep looking to the ways of the world.  We are like the dog with the bone, always searching for something bigger and better, totally unaware of what we have in Christ. We want excitement, entertainment, comfort, abundance of material possessions, and as few problems as possible. Jesus is on that list, too, but He is last. We cannot have it both ways. If we choose to cling to this world and fall into step with its patterns, then we choose not to follow Jesus to eternal life.  Most people are not willing to let go of this world because we can hear it, see it, smell it, taste it and touch it.  We understand how it operates, so it seems safe.  It is anything but safe.  If we could only realize the gospel is literally the good news that we can be born spiritually and live above this world.  It is not a sentimental notion.  It is a fact.  It is a real dimension.  It is not a reflection in the water, but the real thing.
Be careful what you accept as the gospel.  If it isn’t what Jesus said, your eternal soul is at stake, and you will remain in bondage rather than knowing the truth and being set free.  Don’t accept a counterfeit.  In Galatians 1:6-8, Paul wrote “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:  Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.  But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.  We are not to add to or take away from the gospel.  We are to receive it just as it is.  Trying to alter truth makes it false, leaving us miserable in our self-made religion.
Paul also wrote this passage to the Corinthians, “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”  Paul was greatly concerned that the Corinthian church was in a vulnerable position to receive heresy as the truth, another spirit rather than the true Spirit of God or “another gospel” which was not the gospel at all. He wanted them to be on guard, to hold on to the Word of God even when it was unpopular or difficult.
Truth is eroding in our world, even in many churches, because of apathy, compromise, pressure from the world system, a lack of knowledge and a lack of faithfulness to Jesus.  We have become so enmeshed in this world system that we look at the Word of God and think it is too hard. We say, “surely God doesn’t expect that of us.”  That in itself is proof of just how far we have wandered from Jesus’ teachings.  God wants pure vessels through which His Spirit can flow.  I challenge you to re-read the gospels and the whole New Testament for what it actually says, without our cultural interpretation of it.  Then throw out any tradition, belief or concept you have been taught that opposes it…no matter how popular it may be.
The gospel message has been made so relevant to our culture that it is no longer relevant to the kingdom of God.  This “new” version of “the gospel” has removed any discomfort or inconvenience and stripped away the power it gives to enable believers to follow Christ.  It is in direct opposition to the gospel of Jesus Christ.   Yet the true gospel stands firmly the same as when it was spoken and written.  What was spoken by God will not bend to the will of man.
In Jesus’ day, He saw this dilution of God’s Word in action in the religious leaders.  He said, “Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.  For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men…”  He said their worship was empty and useless because they had replaced the commandments of God with their own interpretations and traditions to fit their own desires. In essence, they had created their own religion and were worshiping their own gods. What are you believing?  The traditions of the church or the pure gospel of Jesus Christ? Who are you worshiping? Paul warned the Colossians, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments [elements] of the world, and not after Christ.”
Are we not too easily lured from being a follower of Jesus to follow traditions rather than His Word?  Those traditions are nothing more than a reflection of something transient that promises to give us things it doesn’t possess?   Have we looked over the side of the bridge and thought we saw a new teaching that would make us happy, only to lose the joy and peace that we already had? 
On too many occasions, those in the world are not hungry and thirsty for what we have as professing Christians because they see little difference in us and them.  They see our discontentment and don’t know it is because we are half-hearted Christians.  That there really is more.  That we have barely skimmed the surface of what is available to us.  They don’t know that we have a big God Who gives us more than we can ask or think and that we have His power within us.  The fact that we don’t fully realize it either is why we are discontent. Because we haven’t allowed ourselves to experience the power of God and walk in it daily. 
If we try to keep our spiritual feet securely on terra firma, we will think that serving Jesus is too hard, too restricted, or uneventful. But when we read the gospels and the book of Acts, we find it is anything but boring.  The Spirit was always at work in and through the disciples because they were fully engaged in the kingdom of God and not looking back at the world system. Were their lives uneventful?  No!  Because they were planted firmly in the kingdom of God, and they allowed the Holy Spirit to work through them.  They gave their lives for the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is also our calling today.  The principles of discipleship haven’t changed and the power of the Holy Spirit hasn’t changed.  We become disillusioned when we follow Jesus at a distance, because we are trying to live according to a set of rules instead of walking in the Spirit.  We are trying to live in two worlds and we become frustrated. It will lead us to re-invent the gospel to suit our understanding and inclinations rather than being led by the Spirit and walking in the Spirit of truth.  When we do that, we are deceiving ourselves and missing out on real life.
There is a certain soft drink that I like.  There have been times I got one from the drive-through at a fast food restaurant and it was mixed with something else.  I poured it out because it wasn’t the real thing and wasn’t fit to drink.  When we try to mix the power and teachings of Jesus with the accepted practices of our culture, we get a mixture that will not satisfy us. It is not pure.  We need the simple, unpolluted, undiluted gospel just as Jesus gave it to us, or it will be distasteful to us and those we share it with.
We need to know God’s Word and have personal contact and experience with Jesus.  When we do, we can counter the lies of the enemy and won’t be deceived into giving up our position in Christ. Silence the voice of the enemy with truth.  Be an avid student of God’s Word. Only accept the pure gospel, not what man has mixed with something else to water it down.
            Many people “followed” Jesus when He was in a nearby town.  They wanted to be part of the excitement, hear what He had to say, experience His healings and miracles and eat the food He miraculously multiplied.  But it was then as it is today, people tend to turn away from the truth when the truth gets hard, when it costs them something, and they start looking for some easier way.  But hard truth is better than soft lies.  Truth leads to eternal life, lies lead to eternal destruction.  Following Jesus leads to heaven.  Following Satan leads to hell.
Live by the gospel and be free!






Monday, June 4, 2018

THE FIRE OF OUR DEVOTION



In the song “Find Us Faithful”, it mentions “the fire of our devotion.”  That phrase really struck a chord in me.  It spoke to me of the fire, zeal and passion of our love for Jesus Christ.  This fire and passion come from the Holy Spirit at work in us.  Do we have fire in our devotion?  Or have we lost our first love?
John was told to write to the church in Ephesus, But I have this [charge] against you, that you have left your first love [you have lost the depth of love that you first had for Me].  So remember the heights from which you have fallen, and repent [change your inner self…seek God’s will] and do the works you did at first [when you first knew Me]. (Revelation 2:4-5, Amplified Bible)
Do we still have that first love, or has it faded?  From what heights have we fallen?  If we think back to remember the works we did when we first knew Christ, we can clearly see the heights from which we have fallen.  And from that vantage point we can gain insight on how to reach those heights again. So, what works did we do when we first knew Jesus?
We wanted to tell everyone about Jesus, and we wanted them to have what we had found.  Our worship was free and spontaneous.  We found it a joy to study the Word and worship with other believers.  We were hungry and thirsty for more.  Our passion was to follow Jesus wherever He led us.  And we did it all with joy and freedom.  Everything we did was out of love for Him.  Not out of obligation or to satisfy a set of rules.  We didn’t even know the rules yet!  Our Christian service was not a form we subscribed to, but an extension of who we were.  Jesus had changed us and we were free.  So, how did we get so bogged down again?  In parts of the world where life is simpler and there is not so much affluence, busyness and competition, people seem to embrace Jesus with a greater passion and simply take Him at His Word.  They see tremendous results.  Could it be we have allowed a wet blanket of obligations, cares of this life, worry, conformity to a system, unbelief and fear to snuff out the fire of our devotion?
Oh, to do those first works again!  When we lose our first love, we lose our openness with God, our self-abandonment (the surrender we give freely), and the fullness of His Spirit.  It is that love that compels us to keep Jesus’ commandments, not with a spirit of drudgery, but with joy.  It draws us to Him wherever He may lead.  We just want to be where He is. Without love, we can go through the motions, but we will accomplish nothing.
 “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (NKJV) Many love “the work” with its accolades and the applause of men, but have become disengaged from the Lord.  Many do “the work” without the Holy Spirit.  But God wants us to do “His work”, and we cannot do it without the love, fire and anointing of the Holy Spirit within us.   Only love for Jesus will fuel the fire of love for others.
A Pharisee who was a lawyer, (an expert in Mosaic Law) asked Jesus, Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  And Jesus replied to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’”  This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  Then Jesus said, “The whole Law and the [writings of the] Prophets depend on these two commandments.”  (Matthew 22:36-40 – Amplified Bible)  
            Jesus gave another commandment in John 13:34. He said, “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you too are to love one another.”  That may sound like a repetition of the Law, but look closer.  This new commandment bumps up loving others to a whole new dimension.  It calls us to love even more deeply and more selflessly than loving others as we love ourselves.  And the whole Gospel depends on this commandment just as the whole Law depends on the previous commandments.  The concept of our love for God being connected together with keeping His commandments runs consistently through both the Old and New Covenants. One of many examples from the Old Testament is found in Deuteronomy 7:9.  Know therefore that the Lord thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations.   
Then we have several more in the New Testament.  Among them is 1 John 5:2-3.  By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.  For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.
            Jesus spoke privately with Peter after His resurrection.  He asked Peter three times if he loved Him.  Each time, Peter declared that he loved Jesus, a different declaration than the three times he had denied Jesus.  But there was something more in that discourse.  Each time Peter declared his love for Jesus in answer to Him, Jesus gave Him the charge to feed His sheep or lambs.  Without a deep love for Jesus, Peter would not be able to feed His sheep. He would not be able to stay the course.  Love is a necessary element in our service in the kingdom of God.  If we don’t love Jesus, we cannot truly love one another, and our work is empty.
This new commandment to love others as Jesus loves us is monumental.  We don’t want to miss it.  How did Jesus love us?  With agape love.  Agape love is not just emotion, but pouring out our lives for the good of others even when we don’t feel like it.  If the early disciples had not followed that commandment, the gospel would have died with them.  But countless people have given their lives for it because of the love of God in their hearts.  And 2000 years later, the gospel is thriving and has been delivered faithfully to our hearts.  The question is this. Does our devotion have enough fire to carry it on?  Not just performing the mechanics of church.  That is useless without the fire of our love and devotion to Jesus.  God’s work out of God’s love in our hearts will break chains in us and others.  What are we willing to give to see it happen?
Jesus said, “No one has greater love [nor stronger commitment] than to lay down his own life for his friends.”  (John 15:13 – Amplified Bible)  That is how Jesus loves us. He gave everything for us!  In His life and in His death, He was spent for us.  What commitment are we willing to make for the work of His kingdom and for those who still don’t know the good news?  How about our resources?  How do we spend them?  Our time?  Our money?  Our gifts and talents?  Have we given them to Him to use for His glory instead of using them for our own?  What about our property?  Do we realize that all our property belongs to God?  Are we willing to release it into His hand if it can advance His kingdom?
God doesn’t want just part of it.  He wants it all.  He doesn’t want just part of you.  He wants all of you.  God entrusts us with resources so we can channel them into the kingdom of God.  When we do, He will never let us go lacking.  He will keep pouring resources back in. If we use our resources for our own entertainment and material gain, we will have nothing to show for it in the end.  If we place it all in God’s hands, He can work wonders with it and us.  I am not talking about living in a commune and giving everything away so we can live in poverty and prove our humility.  That actually puts the spotlight on us and our dead works.  And I am not suggesting we be irresponsible, but open to how the Holy Spirit leads us to use our resources.  God has given us what we have and will tell us how to best use it for the kingdom.  But we have to trust Him and be willing to let go.  He will teach us to spontaneously give out of our resources as we have opportunity and as Jesus speaks to our hearts.  It is a matter of making everything we have and everything we are available to Him.  Isn’t that how Jesus lived as one with the Father?  We can, too, but first we must return to our first love.
I believe it’s time we, as the Church of Jesus Christ, realize we don’t have time to continue in dead works, lost love, apathy, complacency, selfishness and compromise.  It is past time to reignite the dying embers of our first love and the fire of our devotion.  Let’s renew our first love, the love that caused us to passionately follow Christ.  Give ourselves and all that we have.  If we love as we are loved, it will change the world…it already has!  But the generations to come depend on you and me.
“Keep yourselves in the love of God,
looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.”