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)


Monday, March 12, 2018

GRACE AND GLORY


Our son used to do repairs, yard work and other odd jobs for one of our neighbors.  As I was standing on her porch talking one day, I noticed she was looking at me rather intently.  When I stopped talking, she told me that my comment sounded just like something our son would say, and his mannerisms were so much like mine. She was right. It comes from spending time together and being part of the family.
Oh, how I hope others see my heavenly Father’s mannerisms in me, and hear me saying things that are exactly what He would say.  That comes from spending time together and being part of the family.  How can we be part of God’s family and live in such a way that people see Jesus in us?  Only by His grace. 
Psalm 84:11 says, “For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.”
            “God is a sun” simply means He shines His brilliance on us as the rays of the sun.  In the Hebrew, the word ‘sun’ means “in the presence of the sun, with the sun, as it were, looking on.”  That brings up a mental picture of God standing close enough to us that the rays of His glory are illuminating us, just as the moon is illuminated by the sun.  The closer the sun is to the moon, the brighter the moon shines. The closer we are to Jesus, the brighter we will shine.  We can be constantly in His presence if we will draw near to Him.  We can experience a life of grace and glory that far exceeds anything this world has to offer.
            He gives us His grace and glory as He shines on us, in us and through us.  The two go hand in hand, because without His marvelous grace, we do not have His light in our hearts.  We may think of grace as being docile and passive, God’s favor on whatever we choose to do whether good or bad.  But God’s grace is powerful and imparts that power to us enabling us to live a Christian life – a “Christ-like” life.  We are saved by grace, changed by grace, kept by grace, empowered by grace.  Not to continue to live in the same condition we were in before grace was extended to us.  Jesus invites us to come to Him just as we are, but He loves us too much to let us stay that way.
Grace goes beyond the forgiveness of our sins. Being born again is just the beginning of a life in the Spirit that leads us to greater depths into the love and power of God.  My favorite definition of grace is found in Strong’s Concordance.  And I have shared it often.  Grace is “the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life.”  Another source breaks it down to show us the distinctive components of His grace.  It is His good will, loving-kindness and favor. But it also includes “the merciful kindness by which God, exerting His holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues.”  The grace of God is a powerful source that is deposited in us by God.  Our lives are governed by the powerful influence of His grace in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.  As we grow in grace, we grow in His glory.  Without grace, there is no glory.  The more we grow in grace, the more of Jesus’ glory will be seen through us.  It doesn’t stop with us, but shines through us.
 “Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness.  But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18) Growing in grace means the Spirit of God within us increases, and we decrease. Knowledge without the grace to work it out in our lives will keep His glory from being shown to others through us. By His grace, God places in us the influence of His Spirit and the power to change our lives and ultimately the lives of others.  His glory is seen in us as we are consistently changed by this grace.
If we are not careful to submit to the influence of God in our hearts, we will be led away from what is right and holy.  Studying the Word of God and allowing the Holy Spirit to show us His truths enable us to incorporate them into our lives more and more every day.
Our union with Jesus by His Spirit will cause us to grow more into His image, in knowledge and in grace.  Oswald Chambers said, “You always know when a man has been beholding the glory of the Lord, you feel in your inner spirit that he is the mirror of the Lord’s own character.”  We will take on His character, and our own will fade away as we look into His glory.  We will meld into one with Him, just as Jesus prayed we would.  His glory is seen in His Word as revealed to us by the Holy Spirit.  His glory in us increases when we enter into His presence.
            When Moses went up on the mountain to meet with God for forty days, his face was still shining with God’s glory when he returned to the people.  They asked him to put a veil over his face because they couldn’t bear the light.  Stephen had the same shining glory on his face when he was stoned to death for his faith. As Stephen was dying, he saw the glory of God and said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.”  Yet the religious leaders were so angry with him for preaching the gospel that they went into a rage and killed him.  There will be some who don’t want to see the glory of God.  There are others who are hungry for it.  Don’t let those who fight against God or reject Him keep you from showing them His glory.  Whether we are rejected or accepted, we are called to shine the light of God’s glory.  Just like Jesus.  We are called to be made into the image of Christ. 
            “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NKJV)  There is no veil between us and God.  We can see Him clearly in the Spirit and be formed into His image from one degree of glory to another degree of glory by His grace.  In His presence we will experience His love, the understanding of His Word, the correction we need to adjust our lives into His likeness, and a joy that never ends.
            The influence of God’s grace will lead us step by step closer to Jesus.  One degree of glory is only one step.  There is another ahead if we will keep our focus on Him and follow even when we don’t understand. Every time His Word speaks to our hearts and every time we come into His presence, we step into another degree of His glory.
            Why have we been given this grace and glory?  To reveal the glory of God to others.  Jesus said, “Ye are the light of the world…Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:14, 16)  We have been given His influence in our hearts so we can show His light and glory through our works and our character…the works and character of Jesus.
So, we continue to grow “in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  We can be constantly stepping from glory to glory as we follow the example of Jesus.  He was constantly praying to the Father and keeping in communion with Him.  Molding into His image is not a one-time experience that transfers this glory to us.  It is a lifetime of being connected to Jesus by His grace, of continually looking into His face. Sincere prayer and opening our lives up for God to examine us will keep our hearts pure and renewed in His Spirit.  We need to surrender to Him daily and allow Him to use us for His glory.  Don’t let anything get in the way of that oneness with Christ. 
            “The rush of other things always tends to obscure this concentration on God.  We have to maintain ourselves in the place of beholding, keeping the life spiritual all through.  Let other things come and go as they may, let other people criticize as they will, but never let anything obscure the life that is hid with Christ in God.” (Oswald Chambers)
            So many have never seen or experienced His glory.  But it is up to those of us who have received His grace and are increasing from one degree of glory to another, to show them.  That is our responsibility.  Their responsibility is to make the choice whether to accept or reject the Son of God.

To grow in grace and glory, we need “an intense narrowing of all our interests on earth and an immense broadening of all our interests in God.”  Oswald Chambers


Monday, February 5, 2018

THE GLORY

            I remember a time when there was a hunger among the people of God.  Although we were Christians and active church members, we felt there was something missing.  Our spirits were longing. For what?  We didn’t know exactly, but we knew there was something deeper than what we were experiencing.  We began to ask God, and doors started opening for us to hear His Word as we had never heard it before.  It was the same Bible, the same words, but suddenly they radiated Spirit and Life that was not only filling the void in us, but energizing our souls. It was as if a light had been turned on in our spirits and we could see clearly the Word of God.  We were aware of the working of His Spirit in us and around us as never before.
The Word is alive, because the Word is Jesus.  The first chapter of John tells us that.  It also tells us that Jesus is God, and nothing was created without Him.  Then it says, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.”  That light is His glory, His presence displayed for us to see and experience.  In the light of His glory, we began to thrive and grow in the Word.  We were excited and celebrating the light Jesus had brought to us.  We realized the Word could be applied to our lives, and would change us.
This revelation of God’s Word and His Spirit came in answer to many desperate prayers from many people across our nation. The answer came because we were hungry and thirsty for more of Christ.  Do you have a soul hunger that has not been satisfied?  Are you doing the same rituals over and over and still feel empty?  If so, you are in the right position for a spiritual revolution, because Jesus said, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.”
If you are hungry for more, ask of God.  Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” (Luke 11:9)  Those are not just calming words to encourage us when we are down.  They are powerful words of promise spoken from the same God who said “Let there be light: and there was light”. These words carry that same power and will bring light to your soul.  We are not waiting for God.  He is waiting for us to ask, seek and knock…and it shall be.
            My grandmother was born in the late 1800’s, and she used to tell us about a revival that took place in the early 1900’s.  Her mother would take her along as she went up to Paris Mountain to pray with other believers.  She said there were woods on both sides of the road and the men would pray on one side and the women on the other.  She told us you could hear those prayers long before you ever got to them. The people were consumed with seeking God.  He consumed their thoughts, their desires, their lives and their time.  My grandmother vividly remembered the mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit that followed.  She recounted many miracles that she witnessed.  This outpouring was about the same time as the Azusa Street revival on the west coast.  They were very similar in their origins, because the revival they experienced on Paris Mountain began among regular people who were tenaciously passionate to know more of God.
God is waiting for us to ask and really mean it.  He will move again if we pray like that and if we are truly hungry and thirsty for Him.  He will show us His glory.  He will impart to us His Spirit.  Our part is to lay aside other things and seek Him.  He will make us into His image during those times of prayer.  He will do a work in us, but He also wants to do a work through us, one that will reach the nations. Until we are emptied of self and filled with Him, He cannot do that.
Too many professing Christians are content with just enough ‘religion’ to soothe their consciences, with church as usual and a surface relationship with Jesus. Yet, all along it is God’s desire to fill us all with His Spirit and let His Word come alive in us.  He wants His glory to be seen in us.
            I was recently part of a prayer service where we did just that – we prayed.  The presence of God was very palpable to me.  I sensed He was right there with me, hearing the cries of my heart. I know He heard them because He has renewed something within me.  Why is it that
Christians seldom come together like that to pray?  We have some organized prayer vigils where someone offers up prayers for us on specific subjects and that is alright, but this prayer from the heart is anything but organized.  It comes from the depth of individual hearts and is heard individually by the Father.  It is the spoken desire of every longing heart being lifted up to heaven with no filter, just completely abandoned to God. It brings the very presence of God into our lives.  And that presence cannot be contained within us, so it spills out to those around us.
Satan would like to keep us from such prayers that change the world.  He knows how powerful our prayers are.  He knows the damage it does to his evil kingdom.  The early church prayed together and saw wonders and miracles.  They had power and authority in their ministries and thousands came to Christ.  They were real Christ followers, many giving their lives for the gospel.
What do you want in life?  What is your greatest desire?  Is it for the things of this world or do you long to walk with God?  When we crave the presence of God, He will come and do a work in us that cannot be stopped and cannot be explained with words.  It is a transfer of His power and glory to us.  Jesus prayed to His Father for His disciples (and us) before His crucifixion, and asked the Father to make His followers one with Him.  He said, “And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:  I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.”  (John 17:22-23)
This glory is placed within us through the Holy Spirit to reveal Christ to the world, not to showcase our talents or build a career. The moment we take credit for His glory and receive the honor that belongs to God alone, that is the moment when His glory will depart.  God chose to reveal this glory through Jesus when He was on earth. Jesus was the manifest presence of God in human flesh. Now He has chosen to reveal Himself through us.  But first, we must be filled with His Spirit.  Just as Jesus was totally united with and submitted to the Father, we must be totally united with and submitted to Jesus.  We cannot do the work of God’s kingdom without being made into the image of Jesus, without His manifest presence being seen in us.  That is why Jesus gives us the same glory He received from the Father.  He gives us the “power to become sons of God.”  He gives us the “Holy Ghost and power” to be witnesses.  We are merely vessels to show forth His glory.   It is His glory in us, not our glory.
When Solomon built the Temple, it was a place separate from the natural way of life.  It was holy and was dedicated solely for the glory of God.  Everything in the temple was there for worship to God.  The day Solomon brought the people together to dedicate the Temple, God came in a cloud to show His glory and placed His presence there among them.  Look at what happened next.
“Now it happened that when the priests had come out of the Holy Place, the cloud filled the Lord’s house, so that the priests could not stand [in their positions] to minister because of the cloud, for the glory and brilliance of the Lord had filled the Lord’s house (temple).”  (Amplified Bible) 
When we surrender to Jesus Christ, and He places His Spirit in us, we become the temple of the Holy Ghost.  “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?  For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
            When we are inhabited by the Spirit of God, we are set apart solely for God’s service.  We are not to take the praise and honor that belongs to God to glorify ourselves.  We are only earthen vessels He uses to point the way to Christ.  We cannot continue to stand in our own position and in God’s glory at the same time.  If the priests had continued doing what they were doing, they would have missed what God was doing and would have called attention to themselves rather than God’s presence. 
We may know the ropes and have figured out how to operate in the religious system, but the glory of God (His presence, holiness and power) is not manifest in the parameters of a system or on our terms.  Nor will He allow another to receive His glory, honor and praise.  Jesus said He had given His followers the same glory He had received from the Father, but that glory must shine from a vessel that is submitted to the Father as Jesus was, that shows love with a meek spirit, does not seek its own way, and has the power and authority of Jesus that is controlled by the Holy Spirit.  Those who are led by and walk in the Spirit will show the glory of Jesus Christ to others.  They will not turn the spotlight on themselves.  This Light is His glory, His presence revealed through jars of clay.
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7)  Do others see the manifest presence of God in you?

“For ye are bought with a price:
therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit,
which are God's.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20