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.”

Thursday, May 3, 2018

WONDERFUL PEACE



            My husband and I found ourselves in a situation that was not at all of our own making, but we were swept into it by a business that was supposed to do some repairs for us.  The complexity of it was unbelievable.  Our friends who heard the story were amazed.  We tried to resolve the issue for two months with no success.  We went ‘round and ‘round with no progress being made.
            I thought about the situation constantly, trying to come up with a way to work it out.  It left us in a very difficult position, and I was on an emotional roller coaster ride.  One night I read Psalm 102:17. “He [God] will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer.” In this situation, we were destitute with no recourse.  We were praying, but there seemed to be no Divine intervention.  After a few weeks of the turmoil, I realized that I had allowed this seemingly unsolvable injustice to steal my peace.  Confusion reigned in its place. 
            As I was reading my Bible on another occasion, I kept coming across scriptures  reminding me that I have a Shepherd Who loves me and will take care of me. I am the sheep of His hand.  I could feel the peace of God slowly filtering back into my heart and mind.  My emotions began to settle down. Suddenly, I knew everything was okay.  Although nothing changed physically, I realized God was doing a wonderful work inside me.
            I am sharing this because I know I am not alone in falling into the trap of slipping out of the yoke with Jesus and trying to pull it on my own. I thought just maybe, somebody might find some hope and renewed strength from my story. I felt terrible and guilty when I realized the turmoil I had allowed to come into my spirit.  But now I feel loved and cared for by my heavenly Father on a deeper level, because God zeroed in on the spiritual destitution of my heart instead of the earthly trial that will pass.  I was expecting a miracle to turn my situation around, but God was focusing on the eternal. I cannot fully put into words what God has accomplished in me because it is of a spiritual nature.  But there are lessons of patience, endurance and trust to be learned in our trials.
            Believe me, there is nothing, and I mean nothing, worth losing the peace of God in our lives. Proving that we are right, getting vengeance, or gaining some material prize is not worth it.  Inner peace is worth more than silver and gold.  It is the essence of God’s presence.  Without His peace, how can we survive?  His presence and the peace it brings in the life of a believer should be our most valued possession.  And we should guard it jealously.  His peace lets us know we are at one with Him.  When it fades, we need to examine ourselves and find what has broken our peace.  I have begun to see James 1:2-4 in a very different light than I did before.  It has settled deep into my spirit. 
            “Consider it nothing but joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you fall into various trials.”  That’s the way it was for us.  We just fell into it with no prior notice.  But I wasn’t finding much joy in it.  However, when you wake up and realize God is allowing this to do a work in you, it makes a lot more sense and even can be joyful.  It may not be the ‘jump up and spin around’ kind of joyful, but rather the ‘calm delight’ kind of joyful. It is one thing to rejoice when we win a victory in the natural.  But when we have to submit to an injustice and overcome the enemy of our souls rather than win in the natural, it can be misunderstood as failure. Our trials are not useless.  And they are not for the advancement of our personal goals.  They are allowed so they will position us to submit to the will of God and to bring Him glory; whether or not we overcome in the natural.
            What is there to be joyful for?  The next verse spells it out for us. “Be assured that the testing of your faith [through experience] produces endurance [leading to spiritual maturity, and inner peace].”  Oftentimes trials will show us an area in which we are destitute in spirit.  God is faithful to help us recover, and we can rejoice in that.  I know that other trials will come, but this is just another example of God’s kindness and care of me that I can look back on and remember during the next trial.  It is a stepping stone on my path to spiritual maturity. I can have a stronger faith that God gives peace in any storm.  Even one that is still raging.  We need to hold to Jesus and let Him do the work.  Don’t fight Him or the battle.  It is for our good or He would not have allowed it.
“And let endurance have its perfect result and do a thorough work, so that you may be perfect and completely developed [in your faith], lacking nothing.”  Does that say to let patience have her perfect work so that we can get vengeance for every personal injustice and prove how right we are?  Of course not!!  The work is being done inside us, so work with it instead of against it.  Jesus never let people, things or circumstances perturb Him.  He kept His unity with the Father, and He lived in that peace (being set at one with the Father) on a day by day basis. 
If you think about it, Jesus didn’t feel the need to straighten out every unkind word, lie, accusation or wrong done against Him.  He just spoke the truth and did the will of the Father.  The disciples didn’t always win the worldly battles either, because those are not the important battles.  They don’t decide eternity.  But the disciples did win the spiritual battle to spread the gospel of the kingdom.  That is why we have the gospel today, and it is still being spread.
When we plan our strategies to get revenge and gain victories over people who treat us unjustly, we hurt ourselves by taking on the spirit of this world instead of being at one with the Father. Focus on the spiritual work God wants to do, and leave the rest in His hands. When something comes against us, our natural instinct is to jump into action to make it right.  But we need to be on guard and ask God to lead us.  Handle each situation the way Jesus tells us in His Word.
Choose your battles.  Those that destroy or even interrupt our peace are not worth it.  When in the battle, simply do what God says to do.  He told one group facing a battle to march around the city walls.  He told another to send singers ahead in the march toward the enemy.  He told another group to bring the number from 32,000 down to 300, then use trumpets, pitchers and lamps.  They all won their battles.  Why?  They stayed connected to God instead of running in human strength and man’s wisdom.  Whatever God directs you to do, do it.  Stay with Him in the battle. Don’t let Satan deceive you by making you think “this is just a small battle; I can handle it on my own.” Don’t retreat from the kingdom of God to fight on Satan’s turf.  That is certain defeat.  But with God, we have certain victory. 
“Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  Not this corrupted world, but the kingdom.  Not the temporary, but the eternal.  Not the carnal, but the spiritual. Sometimes we misunderstand just like the disciples did before Jesus died and was resurrected.  They expected Jesus to overcome Rome and set Israel free from their oppressors.  Jesus had a much greater mission that would span the annuls of time and reach to you and me and beyond. That is what Jesus had in mind, the kingdom of God coming to us.  That is what the Father decreed.  And the Father has decreed that those who belong to Him will be conformed to the image of Jesus; even if it means going through temporary trials and tribulations in this world.
Whatever your Rome may be today, look past it into the kingdom of God.  Don’t settle for winning against Rome.  There is something much greater God is working toward in your life.  Submit to His training. Let it have its perfect work, because He is preparing you to rule and reign in His kingdom. He is teaching you to see, understand and discern with your spirit, not just your mind. We can live in the kingdom of God in His peace and power even though we are in this world.  The world will not always recognize the battles we are winning.  To them it seems we have lost.  But we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. When we gain spiritual ground, we have won a greater possession than anything this world has to offer.

As of this writing, the problems caused from the company have not been resolved.
But God is still King of kings and Lord of lords.
And I have His peace in my heart.

Monday, April 2, 2018

THE prince OF THIS WORLD



A little girl was baptized on her seventh birthday.  A couple of days later, she was having breakfast with her younger sister and their mother.  The younger sister asked if she could have a bite of her cereal, but there was no answer.  So, their mother answered, “sure you can have a bite.”  The little girl sat quietly for a few seconds, then said, "Satan is telling me to pour the bowl of cereal over her head, but I have been baptized, and I am telling Satan ‘No’!” 
When I heard that story, I had to laugh.  Then I thought about the spiritual aspect of that little encounter.  The girl knew it wasn’t God’s voice telling her to pour the bowl of cereal over her sister’s head.  She was aware that those thoughts came from the enemy.  She also knew her position in Christ.  She did not have to obey Satan’s voice. Jesus would not be pleased if she did.  So, she refused to listen to the voice of Satan.  Oh, if we would all take authority over our thoughts and actions as simply as that when we are tempted by the devil!  As the people of God, we have the power and authority in Christ to say “no!”
If Adam and Eve had said ‘no’ to Satan, sin would not have entered the world.  They were placed in the Garden of Eden by God Who gave them dominion over the creatures and instructed them to keep the Garden.  The Hebrew word for ‘keep’ here means to protect, be a watchman, be on one’s guard.  Adam and Eve failed to keep their charge and brought a curse on the whole creation. With just a few words and innuendoes from Satan, they dropped their guard and handed their authority over to him.  Satan still skillfully twists the words of God to turn aside unguarded souls from the truth. 
On our own, we are no match for Satan. “For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe.  His craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate.  On earth is not his equal.” (A Mighty Fortress Is Our God)  In several passages of Scripture Satan is referred to as “the prince of this world” or “god of this world”.  Jesus Himself referred to him as “the prince of this world”. Matthew Henry said, “It is the devil that is here called the prince of this world, because… he is the ruler of the darkness of this world…of those in it that walk in darkness.”  It was the devil (Lucifer, Satan) who wanted worship for himself, whose ambition was to sit in God’s place and be worshipped.  It was Lucifer that staged a coup in heaven and took one third of the angels with him in his rebellion.  It was Lucifer who tempted Eve and caused sin to come into this world.  It is Lucifer who brought darkness to the earth.  But it is Lucifer whom Jesus defeated once and for all.
Because of Satan’s seizure of authority, there was a time when the whole world was in darkness, but Jesus broke the darkness and brought light to those who would receive it.  He gave us power to become the sons and daughters of God and no longer serve under the power and authority of Satan. Jesus told Paul He had called him “to open their [spiritual] eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness and release from their sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified (set apart, made holy) by faith in Me.” (Acts 26:16-18, Amplified Bible)  That is the gospel, the good news.  That is the truth.
 Now, each of us has been given the same choice as Adam and Eve.  Our choices are eternal life or eternal death, blessing or cursing, darkness or light, truth or lies.  We cannot be neutral in this cosmic battle.  We are fully on one side or the other.
Only through Jesus Christ can we have power over Satan and sin.  Verse two of A Mighty Fortress Is Our God: “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing. Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing. Dost ask who that may be?  Christ Jesus, it is He.  Lord Sabaoth His Name, from age to age the same, And He must win the battle.”  Through Christ our darkened minds and spirits can be enlightened to the course of God’s kingdom instead of the course of this world.   We can live in the same spiritual light and understanding Adam and Eve had before the fall.
Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience.” (2:1-2) What came alive?  God made our spirits alive. We were born of the Spirit to new life in Christ because Jesus destroyed the works of the devil.
“For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8)  God does that by cleansing us with Jesus’ blood, then placing His Holy Spirit inside us.  We receive the seed of God within us, changing our spiritual genetic code, renewing us to spiritual life, the life and spiritual awareness that Satan stole from us in the garden.  So the spiritual life we were intended to have all along becomes ours now through Christ.  Yet we still live in this world and have physical bodies that remain under the curse.  We now have eternal life, but Jesus also gives us the power and authority in this life to be able to say ‘no’ to Satan’s lies. God’s Spirit gives us spiritual discernment, the ability to differentiate between what is right and wrong.  That way we can have the knowledge and power to make right choices.
In these last days, we are experiencing the perilous times the Bible warns about.  We see the outward signs of persecution, wars, hatred, perversion and chaos, but we need to look deeper than the surface to the source of the troubles.  Satan is at the core of it all.  He is keenly aware that his time is short.  (See Revelation 12:12.)  He is working feverishly to wear down and deceive the people of God.  His goal is to retain his authority over this world, but Jesus already has the title deed.  Jesus has already given His followers power over Satan.  And in God’s time, all the works of the devil will be destroyed once and for all, and the whole creation will be redeemed.
In this span called time, Satan preys on our minds and emotions.  He knows if he can cause us to feel afraid, feel hopeless, feel doubtful; then he has a good chance of wearing us down to believe it and act on it.  Satan is not trying just to destroy our bodies.  They are only temporary.  He wants to destroy our souls.  It is a war against us in the spiritual realm.  He doesn’t want us to take our position in Christ.  That is why it is imperative to bring every thought into subjection to Christ.  Don’t let your mind wander and be an open field for the devil to inhabit. 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 tells us, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.”
If the devil sees an empty place, he will try to fill it with his propaganda.  So, fill your mind with God’s Word. The only way we can win battles is to keep the mind of Christ and refuse to entertain the words of the devil.  When he comes to tell us we are failures in our ministry, our family members will never be saved, that God doesn’t care about the difficulties that are pressing against us or that God cannot use us, we need to combat Satan’s lies with God’s truth.  When we let our mind imagine all kinds of scenarios that will probably never happen, we are giving Satan a foothold into our lives. And he doesn’t miss a chance.  Satan’s thoughts are usually pressed upon us with a certain fear factor attached.  His lies do not bring peace to our hearts, but turmoil and confusion.  God is not the author of confusion, but of peace. (1 Corinthians 14:33)  Jesus is the Prince of Peace.
How can we bring our thoughts out of captivity to the “prince of this world” and into submission to the “Prince of Peace”?  We do it my meditating on God’s Word.  Isaiah 26:3-4 says, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the Lord for ever: for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.”  The word ‘stayed’ means to lay the hand on to gain support, to be braced by.  In this case, we are resting our mind on the Lord to be sustained and braced by Him.  If you want peace in your heart, trust in God and keep your mind on Him.  Then you will have HIS everlasting strength to overcome the enemy.  Our strength may falter, but God’s never will.
Psalm 119:23-24 gives us a powerful example to follow.  Princes also did sit and speak against me: but thy servant did meditate in thy statutes. Thy testimonies also are my delight and my counselors.”  Even when the “prince of this world” comes and speaks against us, we can meditate and be stayed on the truth of God’s Word and receive His counsel.
We have power and authority to overcome the world and the “prince of this world” through Jesus Christ.  But when we become distant from Him, we are weakened and become vulnerable to the wiles of the devil.  It takes more than a quick devotional time every day.  That may be better than nothing, but it will not arm you for warfare. Do you delight in the Word of God, or do you read it out of duty?  Learn to love Him and His Word.  It will bring life and light to your soul.
 Fill your mind with the Word of God.  If you don’t, Satan will fill it for you.  No one can live a victorious Christian life in their own power and outside the commandments of Christ.  We need to keep our souls, guard them, be on watch and protect them from infiltration from the enemy. We need to frequently examine our hearts and watch for anything that is not pleasing to God.  We must stay close to Jesus.  Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  (James 4:7)  Don’t give the devil an inroad into your life.  If you do, he will seduce you like he did Eve.
 “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.”  (1 Peter 5:8-9)  In other words, Satan wants to destroy you.  But know that these battles are not just against you.  Every surrendered Christian faces them.  Every godly person will suffer persecution.  But you can overcome through Christ Jesus. 

“And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo! his doom is sure. One little word shall fell him.”
(A Mighty Fortress Is Our God – Verse 3)