And There Was War In Heaven

Who among you, who publicly confesses faith in Christ, has not been challenged by the plaintiff question, “If your God is so loving, why would he let this happen?” (“This” being the latest, or perhaps historic earthbound suffering.)

It seems to me there is enormous misunderstanding among both believers and non-believers regarding the nature of suffering in the world, and the nature of God’s will and purpose in that suffering; so much misunderstanding in fact, that the question itself requires serious examination. First, in the case of the non-believer, the question is more rhetoric, an accusation against God that is best answered with the question, “Indeed, why?”

The Bible tells us that Jesus was also challenged, in the same way, but He answered them not. Instead, “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. ” (Isaiah 53:7)

As it is for the Teacher, so it will be for the disciple. In such cases it is better to pray for that person than to give answer, because the question is not a question at all, but a premise for debate, a challenge to God’s sovereignty and authority in the world. Their rhetoric is intended to sow the seed of doubt in the same way as did the serpent in the garden. In its very nature, the question, asked in this way, becomes an illustration of the problem. It is the heart of rebellion against God, the very heart of sin and not deserving of the knowledge or the mystery of His grace and mercy.

Sometimes, however, the question is truly a plaintiff cry, that is, a wounded heart crying out to God seeking answer, seeking understanding. In this case the best answer is simply the gospel of God’s love for the individual. Not a defense of His authority, or sovereignty, but an outpouring of His love and compassion through the believer, His ambassador on Earth. As God points out in Job 5:18, “For He bruises, but He binds up; He wounds, but His hands make whole.”

It is important to note that God accepts responsibility for Job’s suffering. Such is the nature of a great king, the seal of sovereignty, accepting that “the buck stops here.” God has never been shy to announce His involvement in human suffering. He clearly accepts responsibility for the Great Flood, for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, even for the destruction of the cities of His people in Israel and Judah and their exile. Through Amos God says, in 3:6, “If there is calamity in a city, will not the Lord have done it?”

This reality may be shocking to some, but God has a purpose in human suffering, just as He had a purpose in the suffering of Christ Jesus, His own son, whom He sent to die on a cruel cross, saying through Him, In John 10:17-18 “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”

In these words of Jesus, can be found the key to our misconception of suffering and death. You see, as much as you may not like to hear it, God does not place the same value on our temporal lives as we do. As Jesus points out to us, He has the power to lay down life and to pick it up again. He proves it over and over, from creation to Ezekiel’s valley of the dry bones, and from Jonah’s rescue to Lazarus,  of whom Jesus said, In John 11:14-15 “Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe…””

I repeat the words of our savior, “that you may believe.” You see, what is most important to God is your faith, not your life; not that life is not precious to God; it is, and He has plenty to say about that, but your life here, on temporal Earth, is not as precious to Him as His purpose for it. So the proper question to be asked is not, “Why would God allow this suffering,” but, “What is God’s purpose in this suffering?”

Believers suffer too, and, like Job, they cry out to God wanting to understand the reason for it. The answer today is the same as it was for Job, in his day. That answer lies, veiled, in the opening scripture of Job’s story, that Satan, a fallen angel, leader of a rebellion against God, is free within God’s permissive will, to challenge your faith, by bringing suffering upon the faithful. What we, the faithful, fail to understand and what we fail to teach, or even speak of in our churches, is the fact that we are the subjects of a war, an invisible war that surrounds us every day; a war in which we are forced to choose one side or another.

“And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” (Rev. 12:7-9)

I think there are few Christians who realize that this war broke out in Heaven long before John wrote his book of Revelation. The war in Heaven was established in the beginning, at Genesis. It is not a future event, it is a continuing event that began, perhaps, even before Adam was created. That’s why, in my novel, “The Oubliet,” I have the demon, Azazel, declare that,  “Elohim created the eternal heavens first, and, unlike you and your kind, I am of the Spoken Ones.”

Bob Dylan seemed to understand the truth of the invisible war, even before he was saved, when he wrote the song, “You’re Going to Serve Somebody”, but the principle is better established by God Himself in Joshua 24:15. We who believe are free each day, in peace or suffering, to choose between God, or Satan, between goodness, or evil, between darkness, or light. The Gray Empire in which the world tries to live, the shadow-lands between darkness and light, hiding from our true purpose, hiding from our Creator, like Adam in the Garden. The true mythology is believing that you can hide your junk from God with a fig leaf.

Unfortunately, our fallen nature makes us more likely to properly respond to God when we suffer, than we would in times of comfort, so sometimes God allows us to suffer in order to draw us to His side. At other times, as noted in Job, chapter one, we suffer because of an attack on our righteousness. In such a case, however, our suffering is limited by God’s decree. Sometimes our suffering is part of a pruning process, a way for God to use us to produce more and better fruit for Him, but most often our suffering is our own, the coincidental result of a fallen world and a war we refuse to acknowledge.

For those of us who believe, and recognize the spiritual battle that permeates our lives here, on Earth, the refrain, “onward Christian soldier, marching as to war,” actually means something beyond the words of an old hymn. Paul reminds us of this purpose for our lives in his letter to the Ephesians, when he says, in 6:14-18 “Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.”

This is our draft notice and marching orders, our declaration of war. As with any war there will be suffering, especially for the “innocent”, those who are lost and confused, those who think that the Gray Empire actually exists. They will be caught up in the battle when their mythical  Matrix collapses around them, unprepared and unaware of the truth.

In the end, as difficult as it may be to accept, God allows us to suffer when we deserve to suffer, or when our suffering can turn us to Him, or when our suffering can prepare us to serve Him. The patterns of suffering in the Bible clearly demonstrate that when God’s people are living according to His will, that is His moral and specific will, suffering in their world is greatly reduced by His outflowing mercy. The opposite is true when the situation is reversed. So what is God’s purpose in suffering? It is to put an end to the rebellion that has torn His Kingdom apart and, through sin, brought suffering to the world He created. More importantly, however, is God’s will in all of this. His will clearly demonstrates that His love is the driving motivation behind all of His actions, from creation to the fact that He sustains us each day, from breath to breath. His perfect will is that, when the rebellion of The Gray Empire finally collapses, all people should be saved and none should be lost at the end. He says so in His word, 1Tim. 2:3-6, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all.”

Therefore take joy in all your suffering, for in it lies the perfect will of God, and remember:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation.”

(2 Corinthians 1:3-7)

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Lie To Me

John 8:43-45

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks [his native tongue], for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me.””

If showing our love for God means obeying the commands of Christ, then what does it mean that we live in world of lies and of liars? Are there liars among us in our worship services, like Ananias and Saphira? Psychological studies done at major universities in the sixties, seventies and eighties prove conclusively that we prefer a lie to the truth, every time we hear it. In fact, our culture is built on lies and the best liars become the most successful among us. That’s a shocking statement to make, but, as usual, the truth is an unpleasant thing.

I can certainly testify to this axiom, as one who’s career was ruined by the truth. I forgot an important standard of business, that the man in charge does not want to hear bad news and the messenger will always be killed. A man I worked for on my way down advised me, “Truth is a quality that makes you unemployable.” I find that he is virtually correct. As painful as it may seem, however, the truth is better than a lie. I saw a poster recently that said, “Telling a truth that makes someone cry is better than telling a lie that makes them smile.”

Do you see how upside-down that statement feels to us? That upside-down feeling, in conjunction with the above scripture should make us all very uncomfortable, because Jesus is pointing out that we are condemned in two ways by our sinful nature. He points out that we are both liars, unable to speak the truth, and by our lying, we are unable to accept the truth when we hear it. This fact of our existence puts our entire species on a slippery slope to depravity. If you don’t believe that, you are walking through this world both blind and deaf.

In preparation for this blog, I looked into the psychology of lying, the work that is being done currently in that field of study and I found some very interesting articles in support of Jesus’ statements. Years ago I saw a videotaped university study in which several groups of five people each were brought together, one group at a time, all strangers to one another, given a difficult task to complete that required certain, specific knowledge which no member of the group had. Each team was told to choose a leader and organize themselves for the task, and invariably, the chosen leader was a person who lied about their qualifications. In effect, in each case, the best liar among them ended up in charge of the group.

More evidence that we prefer a lie came forward in the story of James Hogue, (aka – Alexi Santana, Jay Huntsman,) a man who lied his way into Princeton University, even though claiming to have no formal education. The registrar, however, was so enamored by the man’s lies, that he gave Alexi a free ride. In the end, unfortunately, Alexi turned out to be a felon and fugitive named James Hogue. He was arrested and his promising university hoax came to an end. There are many such stories out there, stories of how easily we are victimized by ruthless con-men who have learned to take advantage of our need to hear a lie. Movies have been made about such stories and, in a certain way, we find ourselves admiring these people.

In truth, I find that much of the business done in our nation is based on lies. We don’t like to hear that, or admit to it, but we all know the reality of it. Bought a car lately? Had some repairs done at your home? Paid for a product or service that turned out to not be what you were told it would? We have all experienced it. What’s sad about the lies is that it has become so prevalent that it is a part of the business model. Whole departments are dedicated to developing lies in order to rip off customers for the sake of profits. They’re called marketing departments and we have university degrees devoted to the art lying in order to deceive customers. I know this is harsh, but let me give you one example from among millions.

The paper products industry is notorious and, in sympathy to their plight, I recognize that competition for market share is brutal. (Of course, competition is not God’s way, but I digress, that’s for another blog.) In the quest for better market share, (really for more profits,) I can picture the marketing group gathered around the conference table, scratching their heads. Customers have suggested to them that they don’t always need a whole sheet of paper towel and it would be nice if there could be an option, so the marketeers decided they could add a perforation that would divide each towel in half. It wouldn’t cost much and the advertising advantage would increase market share enough to cover the cost, and add a little profit. So it was decided, so it was done. The customers were elated to the point that they didn’t notice the subtle increases in price that followed, nor did they notice the spacing of the perforations moving so that, eventually, they were paying more money for less product. Of course, that had been the plan all along and that is the purpose of having a marketing department.

There are literally millions of examples of the same scenario, but suffice it to say that the lie is king in our world. There is further proof. Have you ever noticed that bills presented before congress, or articles in the New York Times, or white papers meant to inform you, seem to bear titles that express quite the opposite of their intent? In my research I read an article entitled, “The Truth About Lying,” in which the author, a professional psychologist, opened with a blatant lie in which he deliberately misquoted Biblical scripture. Not that his normal audience would notice, It doesn’t get much worse than intentionally misquoting God, then accusing Him of telling a lie. It was all done, by the way, to rationalize our own bent toward lying. If you thought that Jesus was a bit harsh in naming Satan as the father of the Pharisees, who represent religion in a fallen world, then there can be no better proof than “The Truth About Lying.”

The song says, “Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies,” and so it is for us, so it has always been in this world. You can escape the trap of lies, however, and their promise of death, by recognizing the truth of who we are and confessing in your heart that you stand in rebellion against God. If you wave the white flag of repentance and surrender yourself to Jesus Christ, God has promised to save you from certain death and to give you, instead, eternal life. You can be born again, and once you have done that, God will give you the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome the lies that threaten to drown us all. As His disciples, we are called to the Truth. Jesus said, “I am the Way the Truth and the Life. No man comes to the Father but by me.” Eph. 4:25 says, “Therefore, putting away lying, let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.”

Our downfall as a species began in the Garden, with a lie that appealed to our flawed sense of self-awareness. Like psychologist Dan Ariely’s stunning lie in “The Truth About Lying,” Satan also accused God of being a liar, then promised Adam a better way. Faced with a choice between two trees, one scarred and bloodied, the other a lie of promising fruit Adam was drawn to the lie, and we have but followed in his footsteps. At first, the lie seems less harsh, an easier way to go, but that way leads to death. So, based on a lie, Adam rejected Life in exchange for flawed knowledge and we have been cursed by his choice ever since.

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Loving God

Here is a quote from the book, “Loving God,” by Chuck Colson:

“The mind of Jesus could look into the heart of Judas and see every scar, every soiled tissue, but he would say nothing hurtful to this man, even when he knew that Judas was stealing from the common purse, even when he knew (Judas) Iscariot no longer believed in him. Love? It required a unique devotion to continue to address this person as an apostle, to refrain at all times from showing a mark of disfavor, to be able to do it so well that, at the last supper, the others could not guess the name of the traitor and had to ask, one at a time, “Is it I, Lord? Is it I?”

“Love ye one another,” Jesus said, “as I love you.”

Man betrayed Jesus almost every time he was given a choice. He called Jesus a faker; he lied about him; he bunched his lips and spat in the face of his redeemer; he beat him and spent time devising cruelties to vent upon the one who held out hands laden with tenderness.

Has any journalist remarked on the expression when he looked from the face of the young mother to the tiny blue-eyed face inside the bundle she carried at her breast? It was not of consequence. It had no bearing on the grim mission of saving man from himself. Did Jesus long, for a fraction of an instant, to take the little bundle in his own arms, to feel the warmth and goodness of innocence encompassed in a toothless smile? Of course he did. He came here as a man with all the limitations of man – the joys as well as the sorrows, the affections as well as the pains.

These limitations hindered and hurt Jesus at all time because they hobbled his divine nature; these were self imposed fetters that held his feet to earth while his soul yearned to soar. At times these shackles chafed him and he became exasperated with the men around him who tried to understand, but could not.

His little band of warriors could not even remain awake on his last night on earth. At one time or another everyone failed him, even his mother when she pressed him to begin his public ministry before he was ready.

Love? He showed that he preferred to sit with sinners who had need of him than with saints who believed they did not. Jesus knew that the sinner was swimming in dark joys. And he knew that, at some time, the swimmer would become fatigued and would drown if there were no one there to save him. And so, Jesus was willing – nay, eager to sit and sup with the sinners.

What he offered them was not recrimination. Not condemnation. Not a recital of past errors. But Love… Mercy… Forgiveness… No one understood the weakness of the human heart as well as Jesus, and no one was willing to spend the time trying to save one contaminated soul while the healthy and righteous ones grumbled outside the door.

And when the time came to die he flinched from it and worried and sweat blood and felt a convulsive agony even before the busy little man came to the garden to kiss him. Men have gone to death more stoically than this. From the time of the caves on down, the pages of history are replete with the faces of men who looked directly into the face of death and had a smile for a superior enemy.

Jesus did not come here to be brave. He came to be tested as a human being. He came to suffer and to feel pain beyond the power to endure, and to be humiliated, and to die. There was no other way. The pain had to be magnified in a man who was sensitive and hyper-sensitive; in a man who could weep. This too was Jesus.” – (Chuck Colson)

Nothing could be truer, and nothing has changed but for those who are being saved. Pray for the souls of a lost world, that they will come to the Truth, the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

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Three Stones Make a Wall

Nehemiah prays for the people:

Neh. 1:5-11

“I pray, Lord God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments, please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses. Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations; but if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there, and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name.’ Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your great power, and by Your strong hand. O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.””

Author and archeologist Eric Cline has written, ” But, when three stones are found in a row, it’s usually pretty clear that you’re looking at an ancient wall ”

Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there in the midst of them.”

Of course, Dr. Cline is referring to real, ancient, stone walls, a reference that brings to mind Nehemiah and the fallen walls of Jerusalem. Therein lies one of the greatest lessons for discipleship in the church. I say this because the condition of the walls of Jerusalem in the time of Nehemiah is representative of the condition of the spiritual walls of the church today. To make better sense, there are walls, and then there are walls.

Some walls, like the ones Dr. Cline so meticulously uncovers from the past, are made of hard, visible stone, but other walls exist in the spiritual realm. They are not visible to the human eye yet they serve the same purpose as the ancient walls of Jerusalem. They are constructed for defensive purposes, to protect those within from attack by hostile enemies outside.

In a previous post,  “These Prison Walls,” I spoke of the of the walls of exclusivity that the church sometimes employs, fortress walls that are made of religious obstructions created by an institution which, sadly, too often represents the living church in the eyes of a lost world. The real church of course is “The Body of Christ,” a living, invisible entity that exists wherever two or more are gathered in His name. So, the spiritual wall represented in Nehemiah is a wall that protects this living entity, the church, from her spiritual enemies. For that reason, It’s important that the wall be well maintained, and in the Book of Nehemiah we are given clear instructions for maintaining the wall, thus an emphasis on unity within the church. The importance of this goes beyond the church, however. The walls of Jerusalem did not only protect The people of God. There were many gentiles within those walls. In fact, the Temple itself contained a court for gentiles, as should the church today. So, a whole society of people were dependent on the protection of those stone walls then, as we are dependent on the spiritual walls today.

As I look at the condition of the world around us, and especially our own nation, I am struck by the obvious truth that we, The Body of Christ, have failed in our duty to maintain that spiritual wall. Today, the wall is broken down and crumbling everywhere that I look, and demonic powers have taken advantage of that condition to enter our world, our nation and our society, in order to wreak havoc among the children of Adam. Their attack has brought us low  for sure, and though I don’t pretend to speak for God, or to know the future, I have no doubt that He is displeased to the point of withdrawing His mercy from us. I know enough of the Bible to know what the consequences for neglecting to maintain the wall are. I am well aware that God used foreign peoples, Persians and the Babylonians, to exact punishment on His people, sparing only a remnant, who were taken into captivity. I pray that such will not be the result for us, but the wall is in shambles.

Like everything else related to sin, it happened slowly, with the subtlety of a serpent. The trouble is that somewhere we lost sight of the big picture and the way that each of us, individually, are related to it. We began to think, lost in the crowd that is the success of our faith’s evangelistic outreach, that no one would notice my one little sin, the one little idol I kept hidden from among the things of my past; but each time I act on that sin, each time I worship at that idol, I put a chink in the wall that is protecting all of us. My failure to confess that sin, to throw out that idol is a failure to maintain the wall, to repair the damage that has been done. And so that same scenario has been repeated again and again along the entire length of the wall until, eventually, the wall crumbled and fell and our demonic enemies rushed in, like the Persians and the Babylonians, to destroy us spiritually and carry us off into the desert of Sin.

How can we fix this? Well, the answer is, we can’t. Only God can fix this, as He did for Nehemiah and the remnant of Judah, Thus I opened this piece with Nehemiah’s prayer. I urge you to be serious about prayer in your own lives, as Nehemiah was. Prayer is the beginning of all things good, thus Nehemiah prayed, “O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name.” I want to emphasize the “desire to fear” that Nehemiah mentions here, because I’m afraid that many in the church have, through ignorance, or misappropriation of the price that was paid for their salvation, lost their proper fear of the Lord, that is, the desire to obey Him in fear and trembling. Only through a proper, daily, hour-to-hour relationship with the Living God, can we hope to maintain the wall that protects, not only ourselves, but also the gentile world within, from the forces of evil that are arrayed against us for our destruction.

Nehemiah organizes the rebuilding of the wall so that each family of the remnant, and each individual with the family group, was assigned a section of the wall to maintain. So it is for us today, as the Body of Christ. We must each, individually and collectively, take seriously our assignment. We must throw away all idols and actively confess our sins before the Lord, so that we do no harm to the wall, and we must be vigilant in our efforts to make repairs whenever they are needed. For now, as Nehemiah put it, (ref. Neh. 2:20) “The God of Heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build,” and we must do so in complete faith. “So we built the wall and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.” (ref. Neh. 4:6)

Are you ready to build? Then let’s get to work, “For where two, or three are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst of them.” …and three stones make a wall.

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A Distressing Spirit

1Sam. 16:14, 17, 23

Saul’s Distressing Spirit:

“But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the Lord troubled him… So Saul said to his servants, “Provide me now a man who can play well, and bring him to me.”

 

“And so it was, whenever the [distressing] spirit from God was upon Saul, that David would take the harp and play it with his hand. Then Saul would become refreshed and well, and the distressing spirit would depart from him.”

Just when you think you have God all figured out, just when you think you can assign Him to a box and have Him behave according to your prescribed model, here comes a scripture that can’t be explained by your theology.

Like Samson, (ref. Judges 16:20), Saul’s relationship with God is so tenuous that he doesn’t even realize that the Holy Spirit has departed from him. His servants had to explain it to him. Are you like that? Are you so limited on space in your cluttered heart that there’s no room for the Holy Spirit? Is there so little of His presence in your life that you hardly know He’s there? Are you sure He’s there at all?

Perhaps He’s departed and you just don’t realize it. Perhaps God has replaced His Spirit with a “Distressing Spirit,” a spirit of dark anxiety. Would God even do such a thing? The answer is obviously, “yes,” but it’s important to note the conditions, because, just as with Saul, the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in your life is directly proportional to, and conditional upon, your obedience to the Lord.

Jesus said, “If you love me, obey my commands.” I believe that our obedience is required even beyond the commands He has recorded for us in the New Testament. I believe that the Lord includes our obedience to those things He speaks to us, individually and collectively each day. Yes, God speaks to us even today, in many ways. The trouble is that most of His church are not listening. In fact, many of us are making so much noise of our own, that we’re drowning out His “still small voice.”

In 1Thes. 5:19, Paul warns us, “Do not quench the Spirit,” and then immediately adds, in verse 20, “Do not despise prophesies.”

Certainly Paul is not concerned that we might stone the prophets of old, in the same way that the people of their time did, but Paul is not speaking of them at all. He is speaking of new prophesies that come during worship by way of the Holy Spirit, (and he does not mean speaking in a language that cannot be understood by those within hearing.) I like the way that the writers of The Message have expressed this scripture, “Don’t suppress the Spirit, and don’t stifle those who have a word from the Master.”

I think that we, unfortunately, have already done just that. I think that our scripted worship services are designed to “quench” the Holy Spirit, to suppress such prophesies, and, so doing, suppress the “still, small voice” of God. It troubles me to think where our script might have come from and who wrote it. I don’t know about you, but I prefer not to force God to have to shout at me in “wind, earth and fire,” (ref. 1Kings 19:11-12)

Full time pastors and preachers are not the only ones who have a “word” from the Lord. In fact, what passes for “preaching” in our churches often becomes so dead and dry, that it can be a major deterrent to the interaction of the Holy Spirit. I find it very difficult to hear the voice of God within a prepared interpretation of scripture, while the Holy Spirit is trying to speak to me about a very different interpretation. The Word comes to us fresh, each day as “prophesy,” by way of the Holy Spirit, not by way of a sermon that was planned and prepared a year in advance. That’s teaching, not preaching.

I like a good praise service as much as the next guy. I like to raise my hands in worship and praise God from my heart, through song; but I think that worship should proceed from fervent prayer, prayer based in what God is speaking to us at the moment; and song, scripture reading, or sermon, should flow out of that worship, not into it. I believe that, very often, God has a different idea than we do about how we should approach Him. I don’t think our worship should be a prescribed and scripted order of service, and it certainly should not be a form of entertainment used to draw unbelievers into our worship services. If you want to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with a lost world, (and you should), then you need to step outside the sanctuary walls and “Go,” to them, where they are, in obedience to Christ’s command.

Worship comes in many forms, but it should always be a form of two-way communication with God, a time when we, His children, not only listen to His voice, but we get to respond to Him. Praise music and preaching are fine, but sometimes the Holy Spirit has something very different in mind and we need to be available to His call, not so scheduled and over-planned that we can’t squeeze Him into our collective worship. God is speaking to His church, but I’m afraid, for the most part, His church is not listening.

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Multiversalism

G.K. Chesterton said, “When men stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything.” I would rephrase that by saying, “when men stop believing in the Truth of God, they will begin to believe in any desperate lie they can conjure.”

And so it is for the Multiversalists, among whom are well known names like, Stephen Hawking and Steven Weinberg. Most interesting to me is that the desperate lie follows a common theme no matter what branch of science it stems from, (no pun intended.) That common theme is Godless evolution, whether it be Darwinian, or Lemaitrean in nature.

You see, these men know what I know, and that is that the math doesn’t hold up. Mathematics, for example, calculates that the odds of Homo-Sapiens, as we are today, developing randomly from a single cell organism are:

1:100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

And that doesn’t even take into account getting from a Big Bang to the single cell that starts the clock on this evolutionary process. Does anyone even know what that number is called? I don’t, so I’ll just call it “impossible.” The point, however, is, that knowing how impossible the science is, and refusing to accept even the suggestion that there must have been a design, therefore a designer, they had to find a way to reduce the odds. Thus they invented, “The Multiverse.”

You see, the more universes you have expanding, out of control as they spin off into infinity, the better the odds that one of them might actually produce a planet with just the right balance of conditions to allow a single cell organism, by infinite luck, to become an ape and then a human being, as we are today. The trouble is, it may reduce the odds on the front end, those primordial odds which I didn’t include here, but the odds I did include remain unchanged.

Physicist, Paul Davies says, “Invoking an infinity of unseen universes to explain the one we do see is just as [made up] as invoking an unseen creator. The multiverse theory may be dressed up in scientific language, but, in essence, it requires the same leap of faith.”

In other words, the multiverse mythology is not science, it’s religion and it’s not alone among the many mythologies that exist among the various scientific disciplines. The great tragedy is that, in their desperate need to deny the existence of God, these men and women are unknowingly worshiping Satan, the father of lies.

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One Spirit, One Mind

Phi. 1:27-30

“Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God. For to you, it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.”

Paul is here calling to the church for unity, “that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind…” It is the place and the purpose of the church, in every age, to “suffer,” in unity, for the sake of Christ and for His gospel. What do you see when you gather for worship on Sunday morning? Do you see the Body of Christ assembled in unity with the mind of Christ, or do you see something else? Paul points out the conflict for which we all must strive together, noting that our adversaries come against us relentlessly from without and from within. Humble yourselves and pray together for the power of the Holy Spirit to come upon the church as at Pentecost, and remember, in the face of conflict with this world, God’s words from Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.””

Father God, we praise you for using us to bring joy to your Son, Jesus Christ. In the midst of all the struggles, pressures, and discouragement we face while in our frail, failing bodies, please continue transforming us into servants who are always of good courage. Lead us by your Holy Spirit to find rest in the grand promises that you’ve revealed to us in your Word. We confess that we are weak and that we need your strength. Prepare us for the day when you will judge an account of all our works. Though we do not deserve your grace, we cannot even begin to express our gratitude for nailing our guilt and shame upon the cross through your crucified Son. Lord, we earnestly long to experience the moment when you will declare to us, “Well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master.” Help us this week as we continue our walk of faith looking forward to the day when our faith will become sight. It is in the name of Jesus that we pray, Amen.

 

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Faith’s Appetite For Grace

Gal. 6:7-8

“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.”

What is the measure of your faith today? Do you want to know? There is a way to measure. You see, faith always wants to experience the power of God’s grace, and the more it experiences, the more it wants; a kind of spiritual addiction. So the question to be asked is, “what does it take to get you out of your comfortable rut of contentment? What would it take to pull you away from the TV, or your favorite restaurant, or the lake, or the beach or that video game, or whatever it is that consumes your time?”

God is at work all around you and God knows there is no end to the need of Him. He invites you to join Him in what he is doing. The question is, are you listening? Are you?

On Sunday morning it’s hard not to notice that the sanctuary is full of those of us who have come to worship, mostly for the purpose of “filling” ourselves with the Holy Spirit, so that we can survive another week in the cruel world of our daily lives. That’s not faith. That’s not pursuing the power of God’s grace. That’s “feel good religion,” the stuff of some TV ministries. That, in fact, is “sowing to the flesh.” On the other hand, “sowing to the spirit,” very often doesn’t feel good at the moment of ministry, but afterward, there is the great reward of joy in obedience, and even greater rewards to come, that “crown in Heaven” we so often hear referred to.

Outside the walls of the church is a world crying out for God’s love, and you, and I are His hands and feet, His enfolding arms of grace, His warmth. We, are the Body of Christ, but it’s hard not to notice that, on visitation night, after dinner, when the church has an opportunity to go out and get to know this world of need, to pray with them, to show them the warmth of God’s love – that the workers are few.

What happened to faith, and its insatiable desire to know the power of God’s grace? Maybe your saying to yourself, “but I’m an introvert, it’s hard for me to go out and meet people.”

I have good news for you, God has gifts for introverts too, and, incidentally, God can change an inny to an outty in a second. Beyond that, however, it’s also hard not to notice that many who claim it’s difficult for them to talk to people, can’t seem to shut up on Sunday mornings; but I digress. The point that the Apostle Paul is making here is that we, the Body of Christ should, for the shear addiction to joy, if not obedience, pursue God’s grace with all our hearts, our souls, our minds, and our strength. We should be out there, showing our love for Him at every opportunity. Jesus said, in John 5:17, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.”

The work continues and God is speaking. He is calling us to the fields to sow good seed to a lost world, to sow to the spirit, because all that we sow to the flesh will be thrown into the fire and destroyed.

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Lord, Lord, Did We Not

Mat. 7:22-23

“Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

For any Christian believer, this scripture ought to be one that brings a certain terror to your heart. I have wondered who it is that Jesus speaks of when He speaks the damning words, “Away from me, you workers of iniquity.”

Those words are a death sentence to anyone who hears them. They are words that condemn some delusional soul to an eternity of separation from God. They are words that are to be taken very seriously by anyone who claims the Christian faith.

I know believers who are so confident in their relationship with Christ, and so unconcerned about these words of Jesus, that their confidence borders on cockiness. I caution each and every one of you to examine your heart each day, as the scriptures admonish us to do, and don’t allow yourself to be fooled by the human mind’s bent toward rationale. If the human mind can rationalize the act of abortion, it can rationalize any form of evil.

I tell you, look boldly in the mirror each day and be brutally honest with yourself about where you stand in your relationship to Christ, and through Him to other people. As you interacted with people on any given day, was it Christ in you that they saw, or were you out in front of Him, busy taking credit for the work He’s doing, or worse, giving Christ’s reputation a black eye? There is not a day that goes by in my self-examination that I don’t find a flaw, many in fact. Things I have to confess to my Father and then humbly repent of. And they are not always things initiated by me.

I have given up certain ministry, at times, because the people I was serving were giving me too much credit for the work being done in their lives. No matter how many times I pointed out that it was Christ Jesus who was bringing blessings to them, they continued to attribute those blessings to me. That kind of adulation can and will, lead to a temptation to pride. I told them I would prove to them that it wasn’t me. I would leave that ministry and God would raise up someone else to take my place. I did, and so did He.

So who will it be, that hears those words from Jesus? John Piper says, “Consider the difference between a heart of ‘faith’ and a heart of ‘works.'”

The heart of works is forever running out ahead of God, intent on accomplishing some goal, completing some work “for” God, that he has convinced himself God wants him to do. All the while, with each work completed, he takes great, personal satisfaction in his accomplishment and, solicited, or unsolicited, also takes credit for the work.

On the other hand, the heart of faith waits for God to speak, by showing the work He wants done. It is very often not the attractive, glory job that our egos would prefer. Mostly it’s difficult, exhausting work, in the trenches. Work that can only be accomplished in consort “with” God, not “for” Him. In the end, lives are changed by the hand of God and, if we have done it right, no one takes notice of the heart of faith, only the Lord.

The heart of works will soon find himself standing in the place of the Pharisees, full of religiosity, overly concerned about the rules and who’s not following them, enforcing the law and making new interpretations that render the cross of Christ irrelevant; pointing fingers of judgement and closing himself off from the “sinful” world, in a fortress of exclusion.

The heart of faith acts humbly, knowing well that he has no righteousness beyond that of Christ’s shed blood. He shuns religious convention and its tendency to the law. He avoids making judgements about people and instead, goes among them, seeking persons of peace with whom to share the gospel of God’s love and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. He opens his heart to a lost world and shares their pain, their suffering, so that they might be healed by the power of the Holy Spirit within. The heart of faith always allows the Holy Spirit to go ahead of him, to prepare hearts and a way so that the success of the work will be assured by the power of God.

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By The Hand of God

(A word before beginning: I would never say the things I’m going to write today directly to a person who is grieving. It is not my purpose to cause further pain. So, if you have suffered a recent loss it might be better for you to pass on this one. For the rest, I am bound to write about what the Lord is speaking to me.)

 

Job 1:9-12

“So Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!”

And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power;”

 

For any person on Earth, this scripture should be terrifying knowledge; that there is a powerful, demonic entity behind the evil and the suffering it causes in this world, and that this entity wants nothing more than to destroy any relationship that we have with God. In fact, it has been his goal and purpose since God placed Adam within the hedge of protection that was the Garden of Eden. In fact, in Luke 22:31, Jesus warns Peter and the others about the danger of being tested as Job was, saying, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”

Before I go further, I would like for you to take note of two things in the scripture from Job: first, that God did not stretch out his hand against Job, but, rather, gave Satan permission to do so himself; second, please note that, in order for Satan to carry out his evil mission of suffering against Job, God had to allow Satan through the “hedge” He’d made around the man. That hedge is, perhaps, for those of us who love God, and live in His grace, the most important aspect of our relationship with Him. It is our refuge of protection, but, unlike our salvation, our refuge can be removed from us in an instant.

1999 was a terrible year of loss and injury for many people, including myself and my family. Life and the news were filled with tragedy, conflict and personal pain. In September of that year the news was filled with a tragedy that changed the public face of many church congregations in America. Suffering came to a small church in Fort Worth Texas, through an opening in the hedge. It came in the form of a deranged man by the name of Larry Gene Ashbrook. Eight people died at his hand that day, including himself. It was, for the congregation of the Wedgewood Baptist Church, as if a door to hell had opened among them and the devil walked into their midst.  I’m here to tell you that, that is exactly what happened and that door remains opened to this day. Year after year the violence and depravity grow worse, as the devil lashes out in desperation; “But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.” (Rev. 12:12)

Thus the world is filled with suffering and the world wonders why. I am reminded of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, “The Bridge of San Louis Rey,” in which the author, Thornton Wilder, expresses mankind’s unfathomable search for an answer to the unknowable “why?” Sadly, Pulitzer Prize and all, Mr. Wilder knows no answer beyond, “stuff happens,” because he knows no god beyond self.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the answer to the rhetorical question, “why,” is most often an enigma to all of us, except to know this, whether we like it or not, that nothing ever comes to us but by the hand of God. The good comes to us  directly from His hand of grace, like mana from heaven. The bad, or evil, comes to us by the removal of His hand of mercy. God did not stretch out His hand against Job, but He removed the hedge of protection from around him. He wants us to know that. It is important that we have an understanding of how things work in a fallen world, a world that is terminally at war with God. It is the only answer He will give to our demands to know “why,” the only response He will allow to our sinful challenge to His sovereignty and authority over life and death, and to the audacious judgements that are made against Him whenever we suffer, or things don’t go our way. (I told you, you wouldn’t like it. The truth is most often a painful thing.)

The answer to the question “why,” is a simple one. God withdrew His hand of mercy and the hedge of protection collapsed around us. For those in the church, God has illustrated the principle further, in the Book of Jonah, where He grows a sheltering vine over the prophet, to protect him from the scorching sun and, although Jonah is happy to have the shade, he continues in his disobedience, angry that God has not done things the way Jonah sees fit. So God removes the vine from him, then points out that Jonah has no right to be angry about God’s grace toward the people of Nineveh, nor about the vine, the one being a consequence of the other. He points to the flaw in Jonah’s heart that causes him to disconnect from God’s purpose by caring more about animals than he does people.

So it is for us today. The wall has collapsed around the garden of protection and the world, along with many in the church, point their accusing finger at God, just as Adam did, “It was the woman, that YOU gave me!” (ref. Gen. 3:12,) blaming Him for the suffering we experience in our sinful lives. Then, while the devil and his legion of rebelling angels pour in through the openings, the world demands to know “why.”

The answer is found in a simple, three-letter word, SIN. The first of the ten commandments of God, commandments that the world has rejected, is to love the Lord your God. Only one man has ever fulfilled that command and he, God’s own son, gave us a measure for it. He said, “if you love me, obey my commandments.”

We have not. Certainly the world has not, but there was no real expectation with God, that they would. God’s dealings in the world are primarily with His people, the Hebrew people of the Abrahamic Covenant, and the New Testament Christian Church today. We are the ones who have not shown proper love for our savior through obedience to His commands, yet, in the outcome, we presume to ask, “why?”

The Lord best illustrates His expectation for us, His church, in the book of Nehemiah. After the people had fallen into a long pattern of sinfulness, even ignoring, or killing the prophets God sent to warn them, and they were taken away into captivity as their rightful punishment, God relented and forgave them. He put it in King’s heart to send Nehemiah back to Jerusalem to repair the broken wall. When the work began the first thing God did through Nehemiah was to assign each group of people a section of the wall, beginning with the priesthood and then the rulers and finally the commoners. A massive cultural change was required and God knows that such change must begin at the top of a culture and flow down to the common people. So, within each group, each family was assigned a specific portion of the wall to repair and maintain, and within each family, each individual. Soon the wall was repaired, but not without some suffering and sacrifice. Nothing good ever comes into this world but from God’s hand and not without sacrifice, and often not without suffering, even to death; those are Adam’s rules, and Cain’s rules, not God’s rules.

Metaphorically, the wall is a representation of the hedge that protected Job. A spiritual wall to keep our invisible enemies from attacking us. Throughout the ages, the true church, not the institution that men see, but the invisible Body of Christ, has rebuilt the wall through sacrifice and suffering, and just as with Nehemiah, at the end of their hard work there was a reward, in the restoration of the Book of The Law and the peace that goes with it. Sadly, in these latter days, the church has been remiss in its duty to maintain the wall. Individuals have failed in their responsibility to obedience and the wall began to fall into disrepair. The sinful malfeasance began at the top, in the priesthood, whom, in their sin, failed to maintain the gates and the towers. It spread to the rulers, whom, in their selfish greed and lust, walked away from their responsibility to the battlements. Then covetousness grasped the people, they began to want the hedonistic life their wealthy, powerful rulers were enjoying, so they too abandoned their place on the wall and the whole wall began to crumble and fall. Now, in the resultant suffering, and death, our enemies stand at the fallen gates, ready to take us into captivity and we dare to ask God, why, as if it were His fault.

I look forward to a restoration, a revival, as in the day of Nehemiah. Not for me, it’s too late for that, but for our grandchildren, whom I pray, will rejoice in the rediscovered power and peace of God in Jesus Christ, as the Hebrew people did in the rediscovered Book of The Law. (ref. Nehemiah, chapter 8) Pray for our future, pray for restoration, take up your responsibility to maintain the wall in your own life.

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