Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Next Step

            When I have to do something that is strenuous physically, I realize how out of shape I am. It’s obvious that I don't have the stamina I could have if I put forth a little more effort. But I allow life's interruptions and busyness to keep me from changing that. As important as physical exercise is, nothing is more important than keeping in shape spiritually. When is the last time we had a spiritual checkup? The times we live in require some pretty strenuous spiritual activity.  Are we up to the task?
In the last few weeks, I have received a flood of urgent prayer requests concerning life-changing illnesses and circumstances. I have heard of numerous tragedies and violence in our little corner of the world and they are alarming. The weight of it all brings a heaviness of spirit, especially when you add to it the worldwide attacks on Christianity. It is oppressive, but that is where we are. So we need to determine what we are going to do about it.  We can become depressed and fearful, or we can get in shape and overcome. 
What is our next step? The answer is to look to Jesus. I don't mean that in a comfortable, sentimental, "pretend everything is okay" way. I mean it in a practical, "where the rubber hits the road" way. Allow me to elaborate on that statement. Jesus is our example in every area of life, so let's look to Him to see how He handled difficulty, opposition and other impossible situations.
Jesus was faced with a multitude of people who had incurable diseases and severe spiritual problems. He also faced powerful opposition from the spiritual and political leaders. What did He do? He didn't assemble an army and storm Jerusalem for religious and political reform (although that was what His disciples and the people were looking for). But neither did Jesus let the opposition keep Him from doing the will of the Father. He simply brought light into darkness by Who He was, what He did and what He said. Most of the people who came into contact with His light avoided it and drew back into darkness. Some fought the light, because it made their sins and hypocrisy conspicuous, requiring them to change. A few of the people received the light and allowed it to transform them. They were the ones who became bearers of the light. They passed the torch on, and it continues to shine today. Jesus calls them "the light of the world". They shine the truth, light and love of Jesus Christ - whether or not it's popular, whether or not it’s acceptable, whether or not it’s received. They don't hide who they are, but allow the Spirit of God to openly shine through them.  I want to make sure I’m in that number.
Yes, our world is in terrible trouble, just like Jesus said it would be! “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers [various] places.  All these are the beginning of sorrows.” (Matthew 24:7-8)
We have turned so far from God...the true God...that we have ushered in the perilous times about which the Bible warns us.  “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.  For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.”  (2 Timothy 3:1-5)
 Every Christian needs to shine their light as never before. If we are going to do that, we need to move up to a higher level of living and a higher level of relationship with Jesus. We cannot continue as we have been - passive and carnal. We can no longer value trivial things and trivialize valuable things. The stakes are too high. It is a sobering and urgent time in which we live. We need to heed the warnings of God.
So what is the next step? What is the course of action for one who truly wants to follow Christ? We are not called to assemble an army and fight the world. After all, Jesus came to save the world. We overcome when we follow Jesus' example - speak the truth in love, live the truth in love and shine forth the truth in love. It sounds simple enough, but when we put it into practice it has conflicting consequences. It was the same for Jesus.  Some will come to the light and be gloriously saved.  Some will ignore it.  Others will respond with violence.  Yet we must do what is right consistently. We must shine. Where truth is not manifest, darkness reigns.  Where truth is manifest, light and understanding will reign. That is what Jesus meant when He said we are the light of the world.  If we refuse to shine the light of Jesus Christ, the world will be in darkness. 
Light doesn't have to fight darkness to prevail. It just has to shine. When it shows up, darkness vanishes. How many times have you opened up a room full of light to let the darkness in? Never! Because it just doesn't work that way. We open up a dark room to let the light in. We are all familiar with flashlights, but have you ever heard of a flashdark? Of course not! You cannot shine a beam of darkness and dispel light. But when we shine the light of Jesus, we can dispel darkness in that area. 
Shining light doesn't depend on how many professing Christians we can get together. It depends on how much of the Holy Spirit we have active in our lives. Just one light can make a vast difference, but in order to keep shining, we need fresh oil from the Holy Spirit every day! Our lives and the lives of those around us depend on it. It is imperative that we receive from Him on a consistent basis – through His written word and by allowing the Holy Spirit to speak into our spirits. Prayer – communication with God – is a powerful privilege He has given to us.  We cannot function on a spiritual level without it and without the oil of God's Spirit. In this day it is absolutely necessary to be able to function on a spiritual level. The natural level is not strong enough.
In Zechariah 4:6, we read that it is "not by might [army, force], nor by power [strength], but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts." God reminds us over and over that we fight a spiritual war. It is not person against person. “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.  Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.  Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”  (Ephesians 6:10-13 – emphasis mine) 
We need to pray more and more for God to open our eyes to see behind the veil to the spirit realm.  There are spirits at work deceiving and destroying. These evil spirits use people as pawns to accomplish their evil deeds. They don't like us or have any desire to do us good. When we fight one another, we never win those conflicts because they are surface battles. The real war is in the spiritual realm - a realm of which most people are unaware. We also need to have our eyes open to Jesus Who has overcome and will make His power available to us if we allow His Spirit to work in us.  It is by His might and power that we overcome. 
When God's people come to the level of commitment Jesus spoke about, we will begin to make a difference. He spoke of denying ourselves in Luke 9:23, and losing our lives to save them in Mark 8:35. We cannot continue to be chameleons and blend with the world. We cannot continue to place our worldly happiness above spiritual matters. Our lights have grown dim and many have gone out for lack of oil - a lack of the power of the Holy Spirit. We spend more time on the things of the world than we do with Jesus, so we are weak. We grope in the darkness of doubts, fears and earthly pleasures just like those outside the Kingdom of God because we are barely within the gate ourselves. Carnality is displayed by a lack of knowledge, lack of power, lack of vision, lack of persistence and lack of holiness. It is time to wake up and become the people Jesus calls us to be. It doesn't happen overnight, but we can begin the journey today.
What is the next step? Let's get in shape, not just to get by, but to shine; not just for a few months, but for the long haul.  Hear the call to rise up before it’s too late.  Maintain a vibrant, surrendered relationship with Christ, and stir up the zeal of the Holy Spirit in you.  Hear the “wake-up call” to each of us.
Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.  See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.  Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.”  (Ephesians 5:14-17)
And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.  Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.  But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.”  (Romans 13:11-14)
Jesus’ mother gave some very wise advice to the men at the wedding in Cana.  After she had told Jesus they were out of wine (a symbol of the Holy Spirit), she said “Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it.”  We need to follow that advice today.

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