Unless your name is Jesus
Breaking Down Our Walls
Text: Mark 1:21-27
Few believers realize how much we are influenced by areas in our lives that we haven't yet allowed God to sanctify. Paul, writing in Romans 7:15 said, "For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do." Paul is talking about an area in his own life he is struggling with that he unable to conquer, and unless your name is Jesus, we also struggle with areas of our lives that seem out of our control, even as blood-washed, Spirit-filled believers. We in the church have been guilty of giving people generic answers to their problems: "You need to read your Bible more," or "You just need to have more faith."
When we become converted to Christ, many of our old habits and hangups drop off immediately, and we are truly free of them. We may still be tempted in those areas, especially as newer believers, but Christ gives us the power to overcome them. But many times, there is something deeper at work: A long time addiction to some sin, a generational curse that we may not even be aware of, and other scenarios where so much has been ceded over to the devil, it becomes a stronghold that takes additional spiritual warfare.
Jesus met a man in the synagogue who was oppressed by a demon. It's not likely the man knew this until his demon could no longer hide in the presence of Jesus. When we've been wounded by life, traumatized, usually at a young age, God has wired us in such a way that we can temporally block the event and put up a wall to keep us from being hurt further. But until we get to the root of that issue and get healing, the devil can take advantage of this and use it to get a demonic foothold in our lives. Practically, these walls become protective personalities, where we adopt an outward persona to mask what is actually taking place on the inside. As we grow up, we can start to believe that this adopted personality is actually who we are, because it has become so much a part of us. But God didn't create us with this false identity; it protected us at a time when we were young and vulnerable, but now as adult Christians, it is time to shed this personality so we ca become the person Christ created us to be.
For instance, some people use anger to push people away, fearing that if someone gets too close to them, they will see them for who they are and won't accept them. If this false personality leads the person to actual violence, we know a demon has taken advantage of the wound and is now influencing them. Or someone who has been deeply shamed by some abuse in childhood can grow up being highly critical of others. Thus, "Mr. Critic protects them from being shamed further. The protective personality ?turns the tables? so to speak, to protect the wounded individual. This will drive the person to say and do things, to develop habits and behaviors that seem out of their control, until they find healing and deliverance by faith in the Blood of Jesus. This starts by acknowledging our need, confessing it to Christ, and then following James 5:16; "Confess your sins one to another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed." The church needs to have an environment where people feel safe to be able to share their burdens and sins without fear of gossip or judgment. People were wounded in relationship, and their healing can only come in new relationships.
The Church and preachers commonly error in one of two extremes when it comes to Satan and his demons. One: Everything is a demon, and their whole theology is one of chasing them. The other extreme is that nothing is a demon and we can interpret all of spiritual life with our natural reasoning. Both are obviously wrong. Jesus didn't chase demons, but He knew what to do when He encountered them, and so should we.
When Jesus encountered the demon-oppressed man in the synagogue, the first thing He didn't do was judge him. The number one reason a non churchgoer does not want to come to church is fear that he/she will be judged. The church needs to be a hospital for the hurting, not a showcase for church people to show how spiritual they are.
There will be plenty of time for lemon cake after the harvest is in.
"A steady hand in Perilous Times"
"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore..." So begins the inscription on the Statute of Liberty in New York harbor. What America offers the broken and oppressed of this world, God offers spiritually. "Come unto Me who you who are heavy laden and I will give your rest.." (Matt.11:28).
We live in what the apostle Paul called "perilous times." The weather in America and the world has gone berserk, it's on an unpredictable rampage. The earthquake/tsunami in Southern Asia in 2004, killing over 300,000 people, was described in Newsweek magazine as "a cataclysm of Biblical proportions." There are more and more tornadoes, Joplin, Missouri was hit by a massive tornado, western Massachusetts, in the same area where Jonathan Edwards once had his ministry, had their worst one since one famously called the "Worcester Twister" of 1953. Most financial experts warn of a soon, economic meltdown, food shortages, and continued international unrest in the Middle East. If you are of average weight, in the next twenty-four hours you can expect your heart to beat 103,689 times, pumping your blood 168 million miles. Add all this together and no wonder you're tired and stressed.
There is a deep weariness that goes far beyond the physical. The chief cause is stress, the culprit behind 80% of all medical and psychological visits. Feelings of hopelessness, despair, bone-chilling weariness--a weariness of being rejected by a loved one, a child going off the deep end, a weariness of trying to make ends meet and life to make sense.
Then there's the stress that comes from sin. Oh, not just the outward, obvious kinds, but the sinful behaviors that we turn to to avoid the pain of life. Isaiah 1:6 states, "The whole head is hurt, and the whole heart is sick. From the sole of the foot even to the head, no spot is uninjured--wounds, welts, and festering sores not cleansed, bandaged, or soothed with oil."
When life bruises us and we turn to coping behaviors to avoid facing the pain, like alcohol, drugs, anger, unforgiveness, religion (self-righteousness without Christ), or a hundred other things we use to numb the pains of life, we end up with the same original problem we started with, as well as an addiction. Like the Good Samaritan who ministered to the Levite alongside the road, bandaging and pouring healing oil on his wounds, we get our healing touch through God's people who have worked through a healing process in their own lives first.
The Church has by and large dropped the ball on this. Numbers and nickels are too often the focus. Jeremiah wrote, "They have treated superficially the brokenness of My dear people, claiming: Peace, peace, when there is no peace." (Jer.8:11). Later, "[they have] healed my people slightly."
God's major work and focus in the world, aside from saving souls, is not the mega-church, not the "barking revival," but the ongoing process of sanctification. "He did this to present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and blameless." (Eph.5:27) In the Gospels and the Book of Acts we see the miracles at the hands of Jesus and the apostles. From Romans to Jude we see sanctification. Without an ongoing work of sanctification in the life of believers, the church will not see many miracles. It's not that God did away with miracles, but He can't perform many unless the church is submitted to holiness. (The Biblical kind, not to be confused with the holy bun and unshaved legs kind).
How do we deal with the stress of life? We yoke ourselves to Jesus instead of trying to live the Christian life on our own. And we keep short accounts with God, asking Him to search our hearts and show us if there is anything not pleasing to Him in our lives (there will always be something, unless your name is Jesus Christ). And we confess our sins one to another, to a safe person that will guard our confidentiality. "Confess your faults one to another, and pray for one another that you may be healed." (James 5:16) The bruises we pick up in life come from relationships and can only be healed in safe relationship with trustworthy believers.
When the Emancipation Proclamation, that set the slaves free, was ready to be signed by Abraham Lincoln, the completed papers were placed in the president's desk for his signature. But Lincoln wasn't ready. He had spent the morning at a reception, where he shook so many hands they became swollen. He said, "Let me wait until my hand is better. I don't want my signature to be shaky. I want people to know I set the slaves free in confidence."
This is what Christ has done for us. He set us free with confidence. No hesitation, no regrets, no second-thoughts. He wrote our emancipation proclamation in His own blood with a steady, confident, nail-scarred hand.
"The Silver Trumpets"
Three of man's most basic needs are, deliverance, guidance, and a meaningful adventure. All three of these needs are met through having a genuine, personal relationship with Jesus Christ. First, we are delivered from the bondage of sin and death by faith in the Blood of Jesus. Then God gives us His Holy Spirit that "guides us into all truth," through the pitfalls, confusion, and assaults from the enemy of our soul and the dictates of our own flesh. Finally, the great adventure, which if we pick up our cross and follow Jesus, and don't just settle for the easiest, most comfortable route and become a nominal Christian, we'll have enough adventures to fill a book.
Anyone can live for the devil and this world, it doesn't take any particular skills or character. All you have to do is give into your every desire regardless of where that might lead you. But if you want to live for God, it will take some fortitude, some Holy Ghost backbone, a super abundance of humility, and large doses of having a hunger for God's Word and His presence in your life. And even then, the pull of this evil world will try to suck you into its undercurrent and drag you toward Niagara, and you'll need some Holy Ghost power to paddle back upstream again.
In our text in Numbers 10, Moses and the children of Israel are finally setting out for the Promised Land. Back before megaphones, telephones, cell phones, texting, twitter, and tweet, one of the ways people communicated was by the sounding of trumpets. With between three and four million people out there in no-man's-land, you can see how communication might be a problem. In Moses day, these trumpets were used for three reasons: To congregate and mobilize the people of God, to call them to battle, and in times of celebration.
The Bible is filled with trumpets, but there are only two trumps of God. The first is in Exodus 19 when God gathered His people at the foot of Mt. Sinai and ordered them to move out toward the Promised Land. The second trump, the last trump, is the one all of us expectant, blood-washed Christians are anticipating. This one is sounded to gather God's people as well, to gather them for the Rapture of the church, the snatching up by God of all true believers who will then be forever with Him. Just prior to this last trump, there will be a great apostasy among believers. Paul called it a "mystery of lawlessness." This is a spirit that refuses to come respect any authority, be it secular or spiritual. I am reminded of this every time I see a mob of people rioting in the streets, attacking Policemen, black lives matter, or in a church where the board has its own agenda to wear down the pastor. This will also be accompanied by a strong spirit of deception, a delusion that God will allow nominal Christians to believe if they refuse a love for the truth. This we see in spades as the devil makes his final play to deceive even the elect.
This will be an exciting time for all true believers. Paul lays it out in 1Cor.15:51,52: "Listen! I am telling you a mystery. We will not all sleep, but we will be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead in Christ will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed."--literally, we will be metamorphosed, like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. If you want to reject Christ, or you want to merely be religious and go through the motions of Christianity, you can stay here as a caterpillar, but I?d keep your head down with all the fireballs and such that will be flying around.
The Last Trump. It won't actually be a trumpet blast at all. It will be the voice of the Son of God. Rev.1:10,11 says these words, "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day. I heard behind me a great voice, as if a trumpet, "Saying I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last." This was John's best description of the booming voice of God like a trumpet blast. And no saint will be left behind.
Paul describes the Rapture at this last trump in 1Thes.4:16-18; "For we say this by a revelation from the Lord. We who are still alive at the Lord's coming will certainly have no advantage over those who have fallen asleep [died]. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel's voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words."
As in the Old Testament, there was also a trumpet for war. Revelation chapters 6-19, describes a time of great war and tribulation such as the world has never seen or will ever see again. Seven years of the judgment of God upon unrepentant Mankind. This terrible ordeal will culminate in national Israel being saved when Jesus Christ returns with His bride (all true believers) at the Battle of Armageddon.
These will be glorious days for those saved, but unspeakable horror for all others. Many have a problem with the subject of hell, like how could a loving God sentence anyone to an eternity of torment and pain? But in fact, He does no such thing. Hell is the absence of the attributes of God. If a person says, "I don't want God in my life," the only alternative is to go where God isn't. If someone rejects the Light, all that?s left for them is to go to a place of eternal darkness. If someone doesn't want eternal life, then all that's left is eternal death.
As C.S. Lewis put it: "Once a man is united with God, how could he not live forever" Once a man is separated from God, what can he do but wither and die??
There is a great awareness these days of Bible prophecy. Unfortunately, many who are interested in the End Times seem more concerned about who the antiChrist is than actually living for Christ today. But there's something in the air like no other time in history. I personally believe our Blessed Hope is close at hand. I'm not one to set dates; Harold Camping thought the Rapture would take place on May 21, 2011. This sort of date-setting only brings a reproach to the Gospel. Jesus said, "no one knows the day or hour," but we can know the season and I believe we are presently in it. Every Bible prophecy that needs to be fulfilled before the Rapture has already long been fulfilled.
So what are we to be doing until He returns? I would suggest getting as many people converted to Christ as possible. When Jesus ministered in Mark 1, He healed the sick, cast out demons, and preached. The next day, with a full revival going on there in Capernaum, His disciples found Him early the next morning praying and urged Him to go back and minister again. But He confounded them by saying, "Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth." (vs.38)
Interesting strategy. I believe what He was saying that He didn't want people to flock to Him merely to be healed or set free from demons, as valid as that was. He didn't want His ministry to be sidelined by anything else, including signs and wonders. More than supernatural, miraculous manifestations, He wanted primarily to see the Gospel preached and people converted. This was and still is His chief concern for the church today. Signs, wonders, and the miraculous will follow them that believe, but never supersede it.
I read an article about a youth group called "Jesus Culture," and about a revival that broke out in Redding, California. It didn't come out of the regular Sunday morning worship, or out of an explosive worship service. It came about when some youth got sold out for Christ and the Gospel. They didn't have a pizza night, they took to the streets and brought a Holy Ghost worship and preaching service, complete with healing of the sick and people being baptized in the Holy Ghost. In short, they had a genuine, Holy Ghost, Biblical revival, seeing souls set free, healed and filled with the power of God.
This is what we're called to do. In the Old Testament, people had to keep their ears tuned to the sounds of the various trumpets. We too, need to keep our ears tuned for the trumpet, the last trump. There are many things people can tune their ears to in these last days, some of them aren't sinful in themselves. But this is not a time to be sidetracked by anything, but to win as many souls to Christ as we can.
"Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live."(John.5:25)
A Man of the Mountain
The nation of Egypt is in the world's headlines again, the Land of the Pyramids. All news eventually returns its focus to the Middle East. The pyramids were built by captive, Jewish slaves under the iron fist of Pharaoh. Later, when the children of Israel miraculously escape from Pharaoh through the dry seabed of the Red Sea, Moses is called to the top of Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments. (That was back before some liberal judge ruled them unconstitutional). While there, God began by saying to Moses, "I am the Lord God who took you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage." Some have wondered why God didn?t refer to Himself a bit more powerfully, like, I am the God who created the heavens and the earth. Wouldn't that have been more dramatic? Actually, no, because referring to Himself as the God that took them out of Egypt (a picture of the world) and out of the house of bondage (our sin) was God's way of saying that He was a more personal God than merely one seen as the Creator.
God hasn't stopped caring for the world He created. He is deeply involved and has a Master Plan for the End Times. This is why the Jews instinctively have a certain optimism about the future, in spite of centuries of persecution their Egyptian experiences always reminds them of the truth that God is a God of history and a God of Messianic deliverance. And He will indeed rescue them one more time when this Age comes to its cataclysmic conclusion.
The greatest of Israel's leaders was Moses. One of his most heroic moments is found in Exodus 32. Atop Mt. Sinai, after receiving the Ten Commandments, he and Joshua hear shouting and celebrating down below. Joshua believes it's the sound of victory in the camp, but Moses, with the discernment of a leader, is hearing something else, the sounds of revelry. In Moses' absence, Aaron has taken over the leadership of the people, but immediately reveals his flawed headship skills by giving into the pressure of the people to make a golden calf, like the idols they saw in Egypt. This is what the people were waiting for and they cut it loose, acting like a bunch of hippies at a Rainbow Gathering, stripping off their clothes and running around unrestrained. Moses rebukes them, telling them that their carousing is giving an advantage to the enemy. This could only mean two things: If they were naked, they couldn't carry any weapons and they'd be defenseless. But more likely, when the enemy found them carrying on like an all night, Las Vegas happy hour, their suspicions of hypocrites in the pews was convincingly reaffirmed and helped ease the conviction about their own sins. When Moses came on the scene, they suddenly felt like a bunch of drunks at a Southern Baptist convention.
Then God weighed in and threatened to exterminate them and start His Jewish experiment all over again with just Moses. Given Moses' own frequent frustrations with the people of God, although there's no Biblical evidence, he had to at least entertain the idea. And this is the moment the moment he shone the brightest and revealed how much God had been able to change his life. He interceded, standing between the wrath of God and the people, petitioning God not to destroy His people.
The question begs itself: Did God change His mind? When God makes a decision, does He later come to His senses and reverse Himself? Is He double-minded? Is what He says today likely to change tomorrow? No, none of the above, for the record says, "I am the Lord, I change not."
Then what happened? God found an intercessor so that He would not have to judge the people, something He was hoping not to do all the time. And how did it work out this way? Because God had put it in the heart of Moses to intercede for the people, enabling the Lord to spare them.
This was a testimony to how much Moses allowed God to change his heart. God wants to change all of our hearts in a similar way enlarging our hearts to break for what breaks His. "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." (2Cor.3:18). When God can't find a man to intercede, a man whose heart he won't allow Him to break, He has no choice but to judge the sinner. "I searched for a man among them who would repair the wall and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land so that I might not destroy it, but I found no one."(Ezek.22:30) It's not that God couldn't spare the land, but He wouldn't. He has chosen to limit Himself to working through man's prayers. Once in His hometown of Capernaum, Mark records that "He could do not mighty work there." Why? He couldn't find anyone to partner with Him in faith and prayer.
So after pulling the people out of their ,shake your booty, worship service, Moses now needs to refocus the people of God. And how is he to do this? The only way it can be done; he pitched his tent outside the camp and called for a prayer meeting, of which only Joshua attended. We are all as close to God as we want to be, as we're willing to draw close to Him. He will gladly take us as far as we're willing to go. But He won't take us one step further than we're willing to go, at least not until we're ready. The only way we can realign our lives with God, is to take time every morning in prayer, that alone would solve most of our problems, and empty out the counseling offices.
In Exodus 14, God told the people of Israel that He would go before them with a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day, separating them from their enemies. God will do the same for us if we ask Him to. Jesus is our barrier between us and the wrath of God, having taken God's judgment for sin upon Himself. As the Good Shepherd, protecting His sheep, He lays across the sheep gate as a barrier between us and the enemy.
There is an enemy of your soul who desires to tear you up, overtake you with burdens, troubles, and temptations. He wants to pull you away from God and drag you to his eventual home in hell. God will stand between you and this enemy, Satan, if you'll call upon Him and ask Him to empower and strengthen you. This enemy also wants to drag others down to the pit, ones you love, family, neighbors. Sometimes the only barrier that stands between these unbelievers and hell itself is you and your prayers.
Will you be one who will stand in the gap for them?
Genesis 1:27 says that God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him. That means we were created in the image of the bravest, wisest, most amazing Person who ever lived. I've stood speechless before the Grand Canyon, and I've stood on the Indian Ocean at dawn, but nothing will be able to compare to what it will be like to stand face to face with Jesus Christ.
We hear a lot about original sin but not enough about original glory(before the Fall). Even buzzed out groups like Crosby, Stills, and Nash had this primal longing to get back to the Garden, where they somehow knew that all things would be made right again.
We were and are the crown of God's creation. Why does a woman long to be beautiful and a man to be brave? Why are little girls twirling and smiling and silently asking, Am I pretty? Why do little boys want you to see their muscles and know they're daring and fearless? Because we faintly, seeing through a glass darkly, know that we've lost something of our original glory and we long to get it back. What happened, of course, was sin. When Adam and Eve fell, they ran off into the bushes, and sinful man has been hiding from God ever since. Thus began God's long and painful story to win us back to Himself.
Now fallen, man has plummeted to epic depths of depravity. Without God, man has rapidly descended back into paganism. Christ's substitutionary death on the cross for lost sinners has been replaced by sustainable living and the worship of the creation more than the Creator.Why else would man insist on his right to execute his own baby, and demand that you pay for it?
Our study is on Judah's story from Genesis 37-44, and God's transforming work in his life, a picture of the changed life of salvation. A miracle rebirth that takes place upon repentance, where the life of Jesus Christ begins to be obvious in that person's life.
Starting in Genesis 37, Judah is seen as the chief instigator in selling his younger brother Joseph into slavery into Egypt. Then in Genesis 38, he goes further off the grid when he impregnates his own daughter-in-law, thinking she's a prostitute. I told you he was off the grid. Over the years, Joseph becomes a prominent, powerful man in Egypt, and through interpreting Pharaoh's dream about seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, he is put in charge of storing up grain during the years of plenty and then selling it during the famine years. When Joseph's brothers, the same ones who sold him into slavery thirteen years earlier, come down from Canaan to Egypt to buy grain, Joseph recognizes them but they don't recognize him. If this hasn't been the plot of a Hollywood movie yet, this may be my big chance to make it big.
Joseph is in no hurry to reveal his identity to his brothers, and takes the opportunity to play with their minds to see where they're at and if there's been any remorse for their past actions towards him. Between putting their brother's money back in their sacks after they paid for the grain, which would make it appear they were stealing back their money, and demanding that they bring their youngest brother, Benjamin, back with them, an action that would seriously grieve their father Jacob, his brothers start to feel God's conviction at the way circumstances are playing out. "It must be because of our sin against our brother Joseph that all this is happening to us," they reasoned.
Judah finally has his come to Jesus, moment, and vows to his father that he will stand surety for Benjamin, that if anything happens to him, he will bear the blame forever. Judah, for his own personal, selfish gain, once sold Joseph to slave traders, now he is willing to risk it all to save another brother.
Judah, who once didn't care that he participated in the heartbreak of his father, telling him Joseph had probably been killed by wild animals, now he's willing to sacrifice his own life to spare his father another heartbreak at the possible loss of Benjamin. Before, Judah made everything about his own selfish desires, now he sees those selfish desires as sin, he repents and does all he can to make it right with his father.
Judah is a picture of Jesus Christ. Both were willing to give up their lives for their father. Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, but primarily, He died in obedience to and to please His Father. He substituted Himself on the cross for us; Judah substituted himself to assure that Benjamin would live.
Romans 5:6-8; "For when we were still without strength, in due time, Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die, yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
In the Book of Revelation, Jesus is called the "Lion of the tribe of Judah."In C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, he portrays Jesus as a fierce lion. The repentant Judah had his lineage traced to David, and ultimately to Jesus Christ Himself. Even Tamar, his daughter-in-law who prostituted herself was in the same lineage, Amazing Grace.
One day, "every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father." We can either accept His Blood for our sins now, or pay with our own blood in the Tribulation. We were created for greater things, and it begins by surrendering our lives to Christ now.
"A God You Can Trust"
In telling a story, to do it justice, it is critical to get the details right. All great stories follow a familiar, time-honored pattern. Things start off idyllic, and then something awful happens to mess things up. Then a great battle is fought to regain what was lost. And just at the last possible minute, a hero arises and sets things right again, and rescues the damsel in distress, or whatever needed rescuing.
Every great story shares the same basic structure, because every story borrows its power from the Larger Story. John Eldridge said, "We hear echoes of this Larger Story throughout our lives. Some secret in our hearts. A great battle to fight, and someone to fight for. An adventure, something that requires everything we have".
That Larger Story is, of course, that man had it perfect in Paradise, then Lucifer entered and conned Eve into sin, and Adam, playing the passive role, followed in right behind her. Then God came to the rescue, sending Jesus to pay the price and set things right and rescue us sinners.
But if we're to tell this story accurately, it's critical to get the details correct. This is especially important in our age, where things like doctrine and theology have gone for many the way of Pac-Man and slide rules, and has been replaced by subjective experiences. Consequently, Truth slips through the cracks, and much of the story is lost. Experience, as modeled by the latest TV prophets and their latest proclamations, have become the new theology. And you don't even have to crack a book.
C.S. Lewis illustrates it this way. Suppose you are walking along the Oregon coast (I'm localizing the details), and while looking out at the vast Pacific Ocean, you have an euphoric experience. Later, you look at a map of the world and locate the Pacific, but of course it's not the same. The map is only colored paper and can't compete with your walk along the beach. But before we discard the map as being humdrum and uninspiring, we need to look at two irreplaceable aspects of it. One, if we look at a world map, we can locate the Pacific Ocean as it relates to the rest of the world. Two, if we wanted to take a trip to Hawaii, we would need a map to show us how to get there (at least that would be true in Lewis's day). Point being: I had a salvation experience alongside a road while hitchhiking. Great experience, but without locating that experience in the context of the whole of Christianity, i.e. Church, fellowship, instruction in the Word etc., my experience would have remained just that, an experience with little relevance in my life. And, without the map, the Word, I would not know how to get from one point to the next; my experience would not lead to sanctification or maturity as a Christian. Thank God for the beautiful ocean, but we need to keep our experiences connected to Truth.
Hearing God's voice is also paramount in knowing God. I flinch when someone frequently prefaces their conversation with, "God spoke to me."
First of all, does God speak to anyone that often, even Bible characters. Perhaps more correctly we could say, I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit,but even that phrase could soon be over-used. If the experience wasn't connected to the map, one could confidently say, "God told me to go to the moon, gather up some cheddar cheese, bring it back to earth, and sell it at a roadside stand." That seems out there, but I've heard worse. And then, who could question what they're saying if "God spoke to them"?
Another aspect of knowing God is to know what isn't of God, and the necessity of being able to discern the spirit of a man. The Bible says we should not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. How many false prophecies does it take to make a false prophet? Yes, you answered correctly; One. Yet many believe the TV prophets, and to some extent, from their theology by what they say, even if it contradicts good sense and the Word. If a man has powerful miracles and signs and wonders in his crusades, but then begins believing in UFOs, that he is the prophet Elijah, and stops believing in the Trinity, at what point do you discredit his ministry?
What God says about Himself, and His own story, is far more about doctrine than experience. Because if our doctrine about Him is wrong, our experiences may be counterfeit. So we are limited to the map in order to validate our experiences. God says He is the absolute Ruler of the Universe, and that everything is under His control. This lifts a tremendous burden from off our lives, knowing that life's circumstances are more about His sovereignty than our actions or schemes. Arthur Pink said, Deny that God is governing matter, deny that He is upholding all things by the word of His power, and all sense of security is gone. Ages ago, many people believed that the world was held up by an elephant, or a large turtle. Humorous myths today, but not far removed from the way we think sometimes when we insist on carrying our own burdens.
But knowing God is in ultimate control is only good news if we know His character is good. What if He was like the Greek gods who had a short temper and were moody? What if He's just a senile old man on a walker who has to be led around heaven by the angels? What if He's like the Godfather one wrong move, cross Him one time and it's an early funeral?
His Word tells us He is merciful, slow to anger, holy, approachable, kind, and that He never changes. And that's plenty good for me. If you're going through something that seems unbearable and you don't know how you're going to pull through, or you've given up hope that you CAN be pulled through, if you just remain steady and persevere, lifting up your burden to Him, He will pull you through. "Little children, it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom."
"He is a Good God"
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Insurance companies routinely refer to catastrophic events such as hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes and the like to acts of God, as if God was up in heaven playing some kind of a world-sized video game, and that us poor creatures down here on Earth are the victims of some crazed dungeon master flinging fireballs and mayhem at us. Yet, when something good happens, very little is said about God having anything to do with that. But here's the dilemma: When difficult or tragic events happen to us, it begs the question, Where was God?-- especially when it involves us believers. I thought we were the good guys.
I am reminded of these questions because they were asked by a certain young lady who is especially dear to me. Having seen the latest installment of The Chronicles of Narnia with her, it reminded me of an earlier episode of the series where someone asks Mr. Beaver about Aslan, the lion. When the questioner understood that Aslan (Jesus) was not a person but a lion, he asked in his perfectly crisp British accent, "Is he quite safe then"? To which Mr. Beaver responded, "Of course he isn't. But he's good. He's the king, you know." Mr. Beaver was quite correct in saying that God is a good God, though the adventure with Him is sometimes rocky and doesn't always seem safe.
Jesus fully recognized evil in the world. This is true because Satan is the god or the prince of this world, it being handed to him through Adam's sin. So any suffering, evil, wickedness, or natural disasters can be rightly credited to him rather than God. Satan is responsible for all disease, sickness, and even death itself. He is also responsible for all the starving children in Africa that unbelievers like to bring up to question God's goodness.
Another question this young lady had, as she sincerely doubted the goodness of God, was this: "If God is good, she questioned out loud, then how could He send someone to hell to be in torment forever and ever"? I have to admit I have not always been comfortable with that question, until recently. First of all, God doesn't send anyone to hell,they send themselves there by refusing His only means of redemption. The problem is that we were all born sinners, and outside of God intervening, our only possible destiny is hell, that was not created for man but for the devil and his angels. But of course Christ's crucifixion and resurrection was that ,divine intervention, that gave us a way out.
But here's the part I had the most difficulty with: Why is the torment of hell eternal? Couldn't it be for a certain length of time to give people a chance to change their mind? No! Those that end up in hell are those who will not repent under any circumstances (escaping from hells fire is not genuine repentance). Those who have steadfastly rejected God's invitation in this life, and those who go through the Tribulation period forever unrepentant, even in the face of extreme judgmental suffering,they still raise their fist at God in defiance, these are people who have sealed their own doom because they are eternally unrepentant.
If their unrepentance is eternal, so is their hell.
How loving is that? Very much so for the redeemed. First of all the unrepentant would be miserable in heaven, and the saints would be vexed by having their wickedness there. What would heaven be if it was filled with wickedness and sin? I'll let you answer the question.
Another question this dear young lady asked is, "If God is a good God, then why doesn't He eliminate all evil"? If He's not able to, then how can He be almighty? If He doesn't want to, how can He be considered good? So let's suppose He did do away with all evil in the world. This would mean there would no longer be crime, danger, pain, or anything else that could be considered malevolent. The problem here is that in the absence of evil, GOOD would have no meaning or value. If there was no danger, than heroism, courage, and a host of other good qualities would lose their significance as well. If there were no wrong actions, how could we determine what was good? There would be no generosity, because we wouldn't know selfishness. Not even personality could be developed in this evil-less cocoon. It would be the worst of all possible worlds.
You see the problem. Without these obstacles in life, how would one develop perseverance, agape love or nobility? If the Fruits of the Spirit are to be developed in our lives, we would have to have a world consisting of things to overcome and resist, to struggle against and persevere. We would need to be tempted so that we could be victorious. For all of these virtues to be possible, we would have to live in a world very much like the one we presently live in. Can we then concede that God knew what He was doing all along?
This world was created for a far higher purpose than our own personal pleasure and comfort, though we enjoy of measure of that even now. A large part of that eternal happiness is dependent on the qualities, character, and virtues we allow God to develop in us down here. Meanwhile, overcome evil with good, and be glad that God gives us opportunities to become the best He can make us. "And I know that all things are working for the good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose."Anyway, I hope I have answered this young lady's questions, and yours as well.
" The Messiah Complex"
Psychiatry calls it, "Psychotic delusional disorder, grandiose type." Spiritually, it can be called the "Messiah Complex." We know we are afflicted with this disease when we insist on having an unreasonable and unsustainable opinion of our-self without any supporting evidence other than our own cosmic thoughts rumbling around in our head. People often contract this condition when they are not happy with their own self- image, either because of past abuses, failures, rejection, or other past events, or just because they've felt like dorks all their lives and they want an upgrade.
The downside is that without facing the real you, you don't see yourself as God sees you, and until you're willing to allow God to peel back the layers of your perceived image, He cannot begin to transform you into His.
It started back in the Garden, when Eve was interviewed by Lucifer for the job of "God." Apparently, all had assumed God had abdicated His throne and a replacement was needed. Eve took the bait and man has been succumbing to that same temptation ever since. Who wouldn't want to be God, at least for a day? Many have taken on that roll in the past: Alexander the Great, Hitler, and the list goes on. How would we do in the position of "God"? I don't think any of us would want to find out. Besides, none of us have on our resumes that we were crucified and risen from the dead.
This complex is nurtured by pride and stubbornness,an unwillingness to see ourselves as we truly are. One of the symptoms of this disorder is the inability to take correction or direction. Sufferers of this malady have a problem with this, in that they take it as a personal attack against themselves. Change requires a fluidity, a willingness to let go of certain things that sentence us to the past, and grasp onto a whole new and fresh vision that will propel the individual forward, and or propel a church forward into a genuine revival. This goes beyond mere outward obedience, but requires a surrendering in our own heart, allowing us to receive imparted vision. Paul said, "And you became followers of us and of the Lord ...? 1 Thes.1:6
The most critical reason to embrace humility over stubbornness, is that humility allows us to be broken before God. Until our hearts are broken, we're limited in helping the brokenhearted. Humility is a call to servanthood true servant-hood being a willingness to obey God behind the scenes, serving someone without recognition or hope of remuneration. Servant-hood has a greater purpose than merely ministering to people in need?it also enables us to stay broken and humbled before God.
Bill, an alcoholic, quit drinking. But one day he was overcome by a strong desire to drink. In desperation, he sought out another alcoholic named Bob. Bob, in helping Bill resist his alcoholic impulse, became sober himself. The two of them founded Alcoholics Anonymous. Bill understood that the main reason he told Bob about his problem wasn't merely to help Bob, but also himself. In helping another, he received help. And the same is true for us.
Jesus is the only person who ever lived who did not suffer from the "Messiah complex," because He WAS the Messiah. There was no grandiosity in Him, no un-brokenness, no unwillingness to be a lowly servant. He gave up His life, He poured out every drop of His Blood and was marred more than any other man, so that we would pour our lives out for others. And what better time than now when so many are alone and depressed, when the economy is down and troubles are magnified. Look around you, somebody needs the hope you can give, somebody has a need.
For the Old Testament Jews, nothing was more sacred to them then their temple the center of their worship and relationship with God. If you entered the temple by the north entrance, you had to exit by the south, and visa versa. The meaning was clear: You never entered the temple, the presence of God the same as you come in. Likewise, when we gather in a sacred assembly and the the Word preached, we should never leave the same as we came in.
When Christ returns, Zechariah 14 tells us that He will set His foot down on the Mount of Olives. An earthquake will split the Mount wide open, causing the whole region to undergo a radical, physical change. Out of this upheaval will flow a new river literally, a river of life. This river will flow from the altar, representing the Mercy Seat. The Mercy Seat is a lid that fits over the stone Ten Commandments in the Ark, and after the priest sprinkles it with blood, it speaks of how the Blood of Jesus covers our sins because we are unable to keep the Law.
The altar also speaks of having a thirst for God. Jesus said in Matt.5:6; Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled. Who is filled with more of God, more of His Spirit, but he that thirsts and hungers for it? In Acts 4, the apostles asked God for more of His Spirit, to embolden them them in their preaching the Word in the midst of persecution. Some cry out today, "More, more, let the fire fall," in hope of experiencing a little thrill or some good vibes, but the Holy Spirit is not poured out for our personal entertainment, but to give us more boldness in being a witness for Him.
In Ezekiel 47, the prophet describes a scene, an encounter he has with a strange measuring man, which is probably the Lord Jesus Himself, or an angel. He is instructed to take a walk along this river, and then at a certain point to step in. The water is up to his ankles, which speaks of coming to Christ in salvation, getting our feet wet, so to speak, in our walk with God. Then, a little further downstream, he is instructed to step in again, and this time he's up to his knees, which appropriately speaks of having a prayer life. Without a regular prayer life, a believer stands little chance of making it through this life unspotted by the world. A little further downstream, he steps in again, and this time he's up to his loins, which speaks of reproduction. After being saved and maintaining a relationship with God through devotions,prayer and Bible reading a natural result for a healthy Christian or church is fruitfulness, both in developing the fruits of the Spirit in one's life, and in the saving of lost souls.
Finally, when he steps in again, this time the water is over his head and he must swim. This speaks of letting go of our own self-will, dying to self, and allowing God to control our lives. It's surrendering in such a way as to say to God, I will serve and obey You no matter what the personal cost. This is when we are walking in obedience, holiness, and yieldedness to God, walking and living in His presence, or what the Old Testament Hebrew refers to to as the "chabod" of God. It's what clothed Adam and Eve before they sinned, and why they felt naked after wards. The "chabod of God" is not so we can roll around and act silly. We're a peculiar people, not weird, but so that that we can truly experience what Jesus said were living waters, welling up inside of us into Everlasting Life walking in the Spirit so we don't fulfill the lusts of the flesh.
Paul said, "For me to live is Christ." Let that be our motto as well.
"Word of Man Speak"
God has an unmistakably glorious plan for our lives. As Jeremiah put it, He wants to give us a future and a hope. Sin has interrupted these plans for man, so the Father planned for us to be redeemed from our sins by sending His Son die for us, and so that now His plan can be realized in our lives. But His plan for us cannot be realized without our cooperation. One part of that cooperation has to do with the words we speak, or don't speak.
The Bible says our tongue is either a fountain of blessing or cursing, depending on how we use it. We cannot see God's blessing, His plan unfolding in our lives if our tongue is constantly speaking negative things. Words are spirits, and when we speak we either reach into Satan's realm or God's realm, the choice is ours.
In Numbers 6, God commanded His priests to pronounce a blessing on the people, and when they did, blessing was miraculously and undeniably released upon them.
The third chapter of the book of James deals almost exclusively with the words we speak. James calls our tongue, though only a small member, a fire, a world of iniquity, and that it has the power to defile the whole body. Prov.18:21 further states that "death and life are in the power of the tongue; they who love it will eat the fruit thereof." If a man uses his tongue to bless and encourage, he will eat fruit of the same. But if he uses it to defame, slander, and curse, he will likewise eat of that fruit.
The most accepted and least judged sin in the church is gossip. God warns us in Proverbs 6, that "he who sows discord among the brethren" is one of the "seven deadly sins", seven things God hates the most. Gossip is saying things behind someone's back that puts them in a bad light, much like Ham exposed his father's drunkenness in the tent, while his other brothers covered him with a blanket. Ham brought a curse on his life for his actions, and so do we when we gossip and slander others.
One way we can keep from slandering others is to use our tongue in a Pentecostal manner"speaking in tongues." The more we pray in tongues, the less likely we are to "prey" upon our brothers and sisters. Col.4:6 states, "Let your speech be always with Grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer every man."
If you are the victim of slander and gossip, there is no use trying to continually defend yourself. Your best defense is living your life well, giving would-be gossipers less ammunition to work with, and forcing them to lie if they want to speak against you. Prov.22:1 says "A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.." But at the same time, we can't be overly concerned about what others think of us.
Jesus said, "Beware when all men speak well of you." Sometimes slander, depending on where it's coming from, can be a backhanded compliment. Paul said, "I count it a very small thing to be judged by man's judgment."
Someone said, "Our outer man is our reputation with others. The hidden man of the heart is our reputation with God." No one can touch our reputation with God.
Phil.2:5-7; "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ. Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God. But made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of man."
"Changing GOD'S Mind"
More Christians would pray more if they were convinced that their prayers actually had the power to change things. Many look at prayer as something Christians are supposed to do, and they feel guilty about their lack of it, but they don't take seriously their responsibility to intercede before the throne, not seeing it as worth the effort.
In Revelation 8:4, John saw the prayers of the saints ascending upward from the earth in the form of sweet-smelling incense, and then recorded how God used those prayers to accomplish His purposes in the earth. In one instance, recorded in Exodus 32, Moses was up on the Mount receiving the Ten Commandments, while below, the people got restless and crafted a golden calf ( a god they were familiar with from their days in Egypt) and began worshipping it. When Moses descended the Mount and saw what was happening, he smashed the stone tablets to the ground. God responded to their idolatry by telling Moses He was going to wipe then off the face of the earth and start over again with just him. Moses interceded before God for the people. He petitioned God: "Turn from your fierce wrath and relent from this harm to Your people." And amazingly, God heard Moses and changed direction. "So the Lord relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people."
In another instance, when the people of Judah had gone into idolatry, God decreed judgment upon them by having Nebuchadnezzar's armies invade them and carry them captive to Babylon. In Ezekiel 22:30-31, God said, "So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it.." God was looking for an intercessor, like Moses when he interceded for the calf-worshipping Israelites, but sadly God said, but I found none. Therefore I have poured out my indignation on them.
Why did God judge the people for their sin in Moses' case, but not in Judah's? Because in Moses, God found an intercessor that petitioned Him so that He could change direction and show mercy, something He always prefers to do, but in Judah's case, He could not find an intercessor and He had no choice but to bring judgment.
Prayer releases God's best possible solution into every situation. Prayer is not primarily designed for us to get what we want from God, but to pray the mind and purpose of God into every situation. It is not about getting our one desires fulfilled as much as it is letting God's desires becomes ours. Jesus said in John 15:5, "If you abide in Me, and I in you, ask anything of the Father and it will be done for you." James says, "You ask and receive not because you ask in order to consume it on your lusts." We cannot expect God to answer prayers motivated by selfishness, but we can fully expect God's positive response when we pray with His mind and heart about any situation.
Our God is a kind God, a loving God, who would always rather show mercy and forgiveness, that is His default position. He only responds in judgment when He cannot find an intercessor. When a sinner repents, he in effect is interceding for Himself, and he is forgiven and saved. When we intercede for others, God will move in every way He can to draw that person to a place of conviction and salvation. Your prayers are never in vain in the Lord.
Does God speak to mortal man? If He does, what is He wanting to say? Scripture tells us that He speaks to us first of all in Creation. The palmist declared in Ps.19:1; "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament declares His handiwork." There is a beauty and order in the earth that demands a Creator. But man in his stubbornness and rebellion prefers to refer to God's earth as Mother Nature,whoever she is.
But if God speaks to us through His Creation, the message seems to be contradictory. Yes, there is ordered beauty and splendor, but there are also earthquakes, volcanoes, droughts, and hurricanes. Does God author them as well? We call these destructive events, Acts of God, on our insurance policies.
So why the dual message from Creation? Because the earth is presently under the consequences of the Fall, and Romans tell us it groans, waiting to be redeemed at the Last Day, just as we long to fully redeemed.
God also spoke through the prophets in times past. Daniel and Zechariah had apocalyptic visions which were mostly incomprehensible in their own times. Even today some Christians try to run their lives based on their visions and dreams. The prophets foretold about a coming Messiah, but they couldn't put it all together that this Messiah would come twice, first to lay down His life for our sins, and a second time to rule and reign on this earth.
God also speaks through our conscience--a God-given ability to discern right from wrong. But man soon learned to violate his conscience, and eventually, through hardening his heart, his conscience was seared. To further cloud this picture, Satan's lies and condemnation have a way of confusing man's conscience and so this too has become a limited means for God to speak to man.
How does God speak to us now? The Book of Hebrews declares that God has again spoken to us in these last days, and in a way that cannot be misunderstood or clouded by Satan. In chapter 1:1-2, "God who had various times and in various ways spoke in times past by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom He also made the worlds."
You can dial a 1-800 number in Salt Lake City and be told there's another gospel.
You can accept a magazine from the Watchtower that will tell you the gospel was added to in 1914. New Agers will tell you that God speaks through crystals, and there are even some Christians who say, "There must be more." But God has said I have spoken and given My final Word through My Son, and in Him and His Word is all everything deep and exciting to know about God and life.
It is God's Word that keeps everything together. When atoms should fly apart because of positive-charged protons that repel each other, God miraculously keeps them together by His Word. When man split the atom and temporarily undid this, he created an atomic bomb, which is what would happen with all matter without God's keeping power. Scientists call it atomic glue. But God says it is by His Word alone, which also holds our lives together. Scientifically, bumblebees, should not be able to fly, but God enables them anyway. If man cannot understand why a bumblebee can fly, why should we trust him with such weighty matters as eternity and our souls?
The Word also reveals Jesus to us. What is He doing in heaven today? Hebrews 7:25 tells us, "He lives to make intercession for us." The devil accuses us before the Father day and night, but Jesus, acting as our Defense Attorney, continually pleads our case, declaring all our sins are under the Blood. When we go through trials, Jesus isn't pacing back and forth in heaven worried about us. He knows we will make it. Phil.1:6; "Being confident of this very thing that He who had begun a good work in us will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ."
We can call out to Him day and night--He's closer than we might think. He declares that none will ever be ashamed who put their trust in Him. He may not be way up in heaven, where we have to shout up at Him. He said in Luke 17:21 that the Kingdom of God is within us, or literally, "among us."
Heb.12:1 says we are compassed about with a great cloud of witnesses.Who are these witnesses? They are the heroes of faith from Heb.11, all those who have gone before and fought the good fight of faith, and now they compass about us in an unseen dimension, cheering us on. For now we see through a glass darkly, Paul said. But one day we walk enter into that unseen dimension called heaven, and like Gehazi of old, who couldn't see the angels of God surrounding the Syrian army in 1Kings 18 until Elijah prayed to God that his eyes would be opened, our spiritual eyes will one day be fully opened when we stand in the very presence of God.