Over These Prison Walls

I feel like, and have felt for a long time, that the church has been imprisoned by its own walls. That through its history, the church has created a prison fortress that has defined it since the beginning of the industrial age. When I study the history of the church, that is the institution that lies within the control of men, I am saddened at how quickly it departed from the model of Christ to become a deterrent to the gospel of His coming, rather than the encouragement he intended.

Oh, I can feel your outrage, but the scriptures are clear concerning the power of God, the “keys of His Kingdom,” and the authority of the church to use that power. Yet, as I look at the world around me and the history of its journey to this point, it is clear that the church has failed to use the power of God, as it was given, and has hidden the keys away, beneath an alter to, what, or whom, I’m not sure. What I am sure of is that the church, as an institution of men, like their father, Adam, has chosen the Tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil, that is, dependence on the power of men rather than the power of God. I don’t exclude myself from error, but I simply identify cause and effect, observing what is obvious to a lost world, if not to ourselves.

Over the last century, the general model of the church has been to meet for worship on Sunday morning, to, in some cases, eat a meal together, then to close the doors of the church, that is the building, and go home to resume a secular life until next Sunday.

Even so, for many of those years, the gospel was still preached from the church’s pulpits, without neglecting the realities of sin, or the price that was paid to reconcile us and to save us from an eternity in Hell but the model has all along promoted a “feeling spiritual” worship experience, along with cheap grace, lazy discipleship, the promotion of programs rather than relationships through the power of the Holy Spirit, and an inclination toward exclusion, “separating” ourselves from the sinful world that surrounds us, as if we were somehow better than they. That kind of thinking has created a deeply flawed “us and them” mentality. As a result, the worship experience today is more focused on “feel good religion” than it is on the problems of a sinful world, and it seeks solutions more from  government than from God. The entire enterprise reminds me powerfully of the message in the story of Jonah, so often missed by those who claim to believe, but we have become like Jonah, defiant and disobedient in the face of Christ’s command to “Go,” and to “make disciples,” not converts.

As it is, a few do occasionally “Go,” and others occasionally “make disciples,” mostly, however, we insist that the lost world “come,” to us, to enter our fortress, our private club, where we can share the lie of cheap grace, telling them they are saved through an insincere prayer, a salvation that requires no recognition of sin and, therefore, no true repentance.

When rarely we are compelled to “Go,” we often go grudgingly, like Jonah, with sour faces and sour hearts then we wonder why the world shows our religion no respect. We complain about the trampling of our constitutional rights and the worsening conditions of morality in the world outside our fortress. We seek out politicians who will agree with our utopian goals and promise to fix the problems that offend us rather than see the truth, that the problems are spiritual in nature and our goals fall short of the Kingdom of God.

Something has to change. I keep praying for a new vision for the twenty first century church and the answer that consistently comes is the model that Jesus left for us in the gospels. Jesus said, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” (John 5:17)

As I read the scriptures I see that this was consistently the case, that Jesus was always working, “doing good,” on the Sabbath. It stirred the ire of the religious leaders of his time, as the suggestion will today, but if you step out of the fortress and look around, you will see a world in desperate need. Our duty as His disciples is to minister to those needs. That ministry begins by forming community, that is, putting ourselves among them, where they are. Only in community with the lost can we convince them that we care enough to commit ourselves to making things better by the power of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. That process means spreading the tent of God’s Kingdom to include the lost where they are, a feat that can only be accomplished by faith, earnest prayer, and the power of God. No politician or political solution will ever alter our path to destruction. Abraham bargained for Sodom and Gomorrah, but the lack of ten righteous persons brought about its destruction. Today, with the advantage of the cross, Jesus’ sacrifice and the Holy Spirit, people can assume righteousness in God’s eyes, but they have to make that choice themselves, by faith. Only earnest prayer can accomplish that and the church, that is The Body of Christ, is the source of that prayer. So I ask you, where is the prayer? Where is the sack cloth and ashes of earnest intercession? I don’t see it. What I see is a lot of people divided over music, hog tied by an order of service, fighting over budgets and preaching to the choir while the world plunges ahead to its prophetic destruction. Surely there must be a better way.

Following earnest prayer, the gospel requires us to “go” out from our zone of comfort and form community with the lost around us, as He sent the seventy before Him, (ref. Luke 10:2 – 6). As we go, led by the Holy Spirit, the many needs for ministry and God’s love will be revealed around us. As an example, there are elderly widows and even couples among you who’s homes are falling down around them because they lack the strength and, or financial ability to maintain them. This is a place for the church to work on the Sabbath, as Jesus worked, a place to gather for worship and share the love of Christ and His gospel in a way that He would have approved. It puts the church out there, visible in the community, a testimony to God’s love for those who don’t know Him. Worship should not be a rut that traps the followers of Christ in a comfortable routine of shallow commitment to an order of service. Jesus wants more from us, yet what He calls us to is not complicated, it’s simple, just like His gospel, a simple church.

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Silent No More

islamic-terrorismGen. 16:12

“You shall call his name Ishmael…  He shall be a wild man; His hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him… “

On the advice of family and friends, well meaning Christians all, I have held my tongue for a very long time on the subject of religious violence in our world, but the time has come, in this year, the 16th since the 9/11 attack, to speak out. Before I begin pointing fingers, however, I want to make clear that history is replete with religious violence and Christianity, as it has been defined, is as guilty as any. Indeed, the “church”, as an institution of men, will have much to answer for when it stands before the Living God. That said, however, I want to point out a very important distinction. What people most often see and identify as the “church,” buildings, assemblies, people who identify as “Christians,” various political movements, or some involved in cultural activism, often are neither Christians, nor the Church. They are, more often, religious fanatics more interested in cultural and political outcomes than they are in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Jesus refers to them in Luke 13:27 where He says, “I tell you I do not know you, [or] where you are from. Depart from Me all you workers of iniquity.”

You see, the true Church, cannot be seen with human eyes. It is a spiritual entity called, “The Body of Christ”, a spiritual bond between God and persons, through Jesus Christ, who joins them together in unified purpose, both individually and collectively, in a Kingdom that is invisible to the world around it.

The Church’s purpose does not include violence against any people, but it does include participation in a spiritual war against the powers of darkness and all that darkness represents in the world. Therefore, to say that the “Church” is guilty of the war and violence attributed to it in the past, is a lie, but the truth concerning God’s will and purpose is much more complicated than any simple statement. For example, God is perfectly capable of using the violence that men perpetrate in the world to suit His will and purpose. He is equally capable of using those who oppose Him in the world to carry out His judgments against nations, groups, or individuals who turn their backs on Him, but these are difficult concepts for anyone to comprehend. Suffice it to say that God is God and He is sovereign over His creation. His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. He is, in fact, to us, for the most part, an enigma.

Now to the matter at hand:

In an article in the January 2015 issue of Decision Magazine, Bob Paulson writes about the Muslim worldview of death and violence. He makes the following opening remarks in his article:

Around the world, multiple daily news reports reveal the bloody carnage wrought by followers of Islam who simply seek to obey the clear instructions of their scriptures and sayings – the Quran and the Hadiths. While the politically correct establishment in Western nations refuses-or fears-to acknowledge that this is the true expression of Islam, millions of Muslims take literally the explicit commands to fight, seize, kill, crucify and to smite the necks and cut off the hands and feet of those who do not follow Islam.” […or those who break its oppressive laws.]

Mr. Paulson then goes on to list a record of events from the month of November, 2014. The list is shocking, citing 89 murdered and 79 wounded in 4 separate attacks in 4 separate countries, but what’s more shocking is that his list is only a tiny piece of the larger picture. I thought it would be interesting to look at the complete history of the last decade or so since 2001 and to begin an ongoing record of offenses. I wanted to begin with just the offenses and locations from 2014 and if that isn’t enough to wake you up to the reality of this “peaceful” religion, then, I will begin loading the numbers from incidents worldwide for the past decade. Instead, I’ve decided to open with just the complete numbers from November, 2014, a 30 day snapshot that should surely open your eyes.

In the month of November, so called jihadists murdered 5,042 people in 664 separate attacks, in 14 different countries around the world. Specifics regarding these attacks can be found here. The data and the daily news verify Mr. Paulson’s assumption that “this is the true expression of Islam.” Millions of Muslims around the world, including in the United States, take literally the [Quran’s many] explicit commands to fight, seize, kill, (etc.), as an example:

Quran: K 5:033

Set 21, Count 54

The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His apostle and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned [Pickthall and Yusuf Ali have “exiled” rather than “imprisoned”] 

As for Islamic terrorism, here are some key statistics:

In 2015, according to the US State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism, 11,778 terrorist attacks in 92 countries resulted in 28,328 deaths. Of that number, 6,924 were the terrorists themselves, all the rest were innocent victims. The list of terrorists was dominated by four groups: the Taliban, Boko Haram, ISIL, and al Qa’ida. All four are Islamic Jihadists, all four claim the Quran as their guiding scripture, and all four claim Mohammed as their Prophet and guiding authority. All four worship a god they call Allah and, though they themselves and most of the secular world are convinced that Allah is the same God worshiped by both Christians and Jews, I assure you that they could not be more wrong. They have, in fact, believed in a lie.

Some will try to minimize these statistics by citing traffic accidents, or homicides, but I point out that in God’s view, murder is homicide whether it’s part of a crime, or done in the name of Allah. I will also point out that the above statistics do not include the victims of the many wars raging in the Middle East today, all for the sake of Islamic Jihad. If those statistics were included here, the numbers would be dramatically higher, remembering that numbers and statistics cannot begin to reflect the human suffering they represent.

Let’s face it, the fact is that Islam has a Great Commission, just as Christianity does. The difference between them is that Islam is given permission, by its founder and by its sacred scriptures, to accomplish both religious and political goals by any means necessary, including murder, rape and the violence of war, while Christianity’s Great Commission requires its people to go humbly forth and spread the good news of Christ in peace, gentleness and selfless acts of love. There is no authority from Christ to commit violence in this world and those who do so, calling themselves Christians, are living as much a lie as any other religious zealot. There is no comparison between Islam, a political movement cloaked in religion, and Christianity, a relationship with The Living God that is rooted in faith. The one is a dark lie while the other is “The Way, The Truth and The Life.”

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It’s Not About Your Happiness, Dammit

llph-ss-640x400I recently read an article about, “The Gospel of Happiness.” No disrespect to Joel Osteen, but if happiness is your goal in life, then you’ve missed the boat entirely. In fact, your religion is Hedonism, no matter how thickly you may have draped it in Christian themes. Nowhere in scripture do I find God’s purpose, stated or implied, to be our happiness. In the Garden God’s clear will is for Adam and Eve to resist the Serpent’s guile and choose life over misrepresented self-interest. Sadly, their failure to conform to God’s will has resulted in a tragic struggle to save mankind from the penalty for sin. At the other end of the Bible, in John’s Revelation, we see open war, including all the conditions of suffering that war always brings; up to and including the utter destruction of both Heaven and Earth. Jesus Himself tells us of these events in Matthew 24. Then also, In John 15:20, He reminds us that “the servant is not greater than his master; if they persecute me they will also persecute you.”

Where is this mythical happiness everyone pursues? Be advised that the Peace and Joy promised by our Savior is not the same thing as earthly happiness. Many Christians have been led into that misunderstanding. We attend our “churches” for Sunday worship, lift our hands and sing God’s praises, listen to motivational messages of hope, happiness and prosperity, all designed to make us feel good, to make us feel “spiritual.” Well I have bad news; being spiritual and feeling spiritual are two different things. The truth is that being spiritual does not often feel good, ask anyone who has truly “picked up their cross” and followed Christ.

Being spiritual means reaching into people’s messy lives, lives corrupted by sin, and doing what is necessary to bring a healing balm and the light of Christ’s salvation to the dark corners of the world. Being spiritual seldom feels good, yet, truly being spiritual is God’s purpose for “The Body of Christ.” It includes worship, ministry, discipleship, fellowship and evangelism, all balanced together in action that models the work of Christ in the world, work that was strongly opposed by the religious leaders of the time.

In large part, the misunderstanding lies in the church’s failure to properly disciple its members, to teach them that the reality of scripture is a war between good and evil, a battle between the forces of darkness and those of light. How could we have missed that? Why is it that most Christians are speechless at the question, “How could a loving god have let this happen?” The answer is simple, it’s because “war broke out in Heaven,” (Rev. 12:7), and that heavenly war has spilled out on the earth.

Anyone who has experienced war will tell you that, among the priorities of battle, “happiness” is fairly low on the list. But there is great joy in victory, so it’s important that you choose the winning side, and choose you must though the choices are few. A commonly heard phrase in time of war is, “you’re either with me or against me.” There is a large measure of truth in that adage, because in war as in peace, “you’re going to serve somebody.” It’s important that you choose this day whom it is you will serve, whether it will be “the gods of the Amorites,” or The Lord, the God of all creation. No one can guarantee your happiness, but the Lord will guarantee you eternal life with all the elements that lead to it. Choose today. Choose life.

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This Valentine’s Day Beware a Cold Heart

heart-of-christ-webI was saved in a Baptist church and blessed to find myself under the tutelage of one of the finest Bible scholars I have ever heard. In that atmosphere, as a young Christian, I was happy to accept whatever doctrine was advised to me, not only by my mentor, but also by those good Baptists who surrounded me in fellowship. As a Southern Baptist, I was committed to live and die by the Southern Baptist Faith and Message. Understand that I did not follow that doctrine blindly, those who know me, know that the very idea of me following blindly is laughable. I read the Faith and Message to near memorization and I dug into the Bible with the conviction of a monk.

I accepted Southern Baptist doctrine because it made perfect sense to me… in theory, at least. It took a number of years for me to recognize that, in practice, there was a great deal of error. When the SBC changed the Faith and Message in June of 2000, adopting an exclusionary doctrine that was clearly errant and elitist, I left the confines of that fortress to “Go” into the world and seek the Kingdom of God. In the course of my search, I have rejected the model of denominational Christianity and the institutional church altogether. I find that, like all of the institutions of men, the model is broken beyond repair. I am convinced that God will soon and undeniably support my claim, for I am not alone in hearing God’s voice in the rapidly changing flood of circumstances that have come upon us.

One of the things that troubled me most within the walls of the fortress church was the tendency toward Phariseeism, a need to separate ourselves from the world based on a misunderstanding of scripture. That tendency creates an “us vs. them” view of the world that ignores the church’s true mission. In addition, the “us vs. them” worldview engenders legalism and the idea that the solutions to our nation’s problems are political, rather than spiritual. Because of this view, false prophets have entered the fellowship, “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” bringing with them the most dangerous religious thinking on earth, the worldview of Utopianism, an elitist doctrine that says, in effect, “You’re doing it wrong. Do it my way and together we can make a perfect world.”

It is the kind of thinking that, on any scale has failed over and over in the past while, on a grand scale has been responsible for great violence and suffering in the world. It is a worldview based on a doctrine that believes the end, a perfect, utopian society, justifies any means necessary to accomplish the goal.

Look around you today, look into history, and see the prevalence of Utopian theory and the dark consequences of its practice. It is Utopian Elitism that drives “us vs. them,” thinking, the kind of thinking that leads to every kind of violence men can conceive.

Utopianism within any institution can only lead to division and strife. It becomes fortress thinking, the building of walls to separate one group from another. It is the enemy of freedom and leads to endless, restrictive rules, and enforcement intended to control every behavior, even one’s thoughts. It is a worldview that enslaves populations, especially those who are not members of the elitist party in power. Remember, it was Joseph Stalin who said, “Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not allow our enemies to have guns, why should we let them have ideas.”

I say all this to set the stage for a scripture that spoke very loudly to me this week, a word from God that ought to be preached from every pulpit in our land. It is one of those obscure scriptures that compels you to stop and think, to reassess doctrine you have come to accept, and cause you to question the security of your own salvation. It is one of those hard scriptures that includes the words, “But he who endures to the end shall be saved.”

We are living in a time of great division and strife that is being driven by spiritual forces invisible to this temporal world. We are living in a time long prophesied in many scriptures of the Bible, as far back as the days of Noah, or the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. We are living in the day of Romans, chapter one when God is pouring out the poison of our own depravity upon a world that has despised His Son and turned its back on Him. The stage is being set for the grand entrance of the Man of Lawlessness and the final confrontation between good and evil. As I watch, I have seen the church fall into the lie of utopianism. I have watched the walls go up and seen the fortress gates closed, locking the “elect” inside. That’s why I am calling to you today, warning you of the danger, speaking with the very words of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

“Because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.” Matthew 24:12, 13

I implore you to search yourself. Can you feel the cold creeping over you as the love of Christ fades from your heart? Are you thinking more in terms of us, vs. them? Do you seek solutions in politics and the institutions of men? If so, you have believed in a lie called Utopianism. I implore you to come out from behind the shuttered gates, come out from the fortress walls. Repent of the seat of judgement, fill yourself with the love of Christ and GO into a lost world with His gospel. GO with nothing, willing to suffer and to sacrifice, as He did, for the mission we have all been given, to share the good news that has overcome the world so that many will be saved.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

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A New Year’s Resolution

Redefining Purpose:

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I’ve been very neglectful of this blog over the past year. There are innumerable reasons for that, among them, a great deal of tragedy and suffering and the ministry related to it, but also family, travel, and a major focus on completing my latest novel. It’s that focus that has to change in the coming year.

A while back I read Bruce Wilkerson’s excellent advice in his great book, “The Dream Giver.” A truth lies in that book that I have struggled with ever since I finished reading it. The truth it revealed to me is the principle of the New Testament tithe, a principle that is well and intentionally misunderstood by the church, who conveniently adopt the old testament tithe of ten percent. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t represent the call of Christ that we are to die to self, so we might “live as Christ.” (Ref. Mark 12:41-44)

In the New Testament there are many examples of the principle Wilkerson suggests. Overall, the clear message from Jesus to His disciples is what I call, The Change.” The change is a paradigm shift, announced by John the Baptist, whom Jesus referred to as the “Greatest of Prophets,” a change that says we cannot be constrained by the law alone, living only for the flesh. History, and the record of the Old Testament have proven Him right again and again. Jesus teaches us that, what is important to God is not so much our behavior, as our motivation. God would prefer that we be motivated by our love for Him, more than our fear of the law and its consequences. Jesus led a selfless life in just that way, by loving God more than He loved Himself.

Again and again, He made a point of the priority of spirit over flesh. For example, in Mat. 5:27, 28, Jesus tells us that Moses has said, “do not commit adultery. But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (And ladies, you are not pardoned from this charge.) Also, as example, in the case of Annanias and Saphira, beyond their lie and at its root, is the selfish motivation of their hearts.

In conclusion, the only way for us to be changed is to die to self, as we symbolically represented in our baptism. The challenge to us all, following that symbolic commitment, is the requirement for our intentional effort to accomplish it, to “pick up our cross, daily, and follow Him.”

So the tithe is no longer ten percent, but our willing sacrifice of the whole check, placing it before Him as our voluntary offering, motivated by our love for Him, and allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us from there, asking only for “our daily bread” in return. In the same way as that symbolic check, we must also place our dreams, that thing we perhaps covet, we must place it on the Alter of God, for His determination.

In “The Dream Giver,” Wilkerson puts it this way, “When your relationship with God deepens into a genuine trust in His character, you will be ready for the final invitation. … Now God will ask you to consecrate yourself to Him — and surrender your dream.”

That’s the threshold I stand on today. Having completed the first draft of the manuscript for my next novel, the time has come for me to take my dream of being a novelist, and surrender it to Him. I do so with a trembling heart and the knowledge that I must trust Him in every area of my life. I must commit myself now to prayer and meditation on His word, to discipleship, worship, ministry, fellowship and to sowing the seed of His Truth, while I wait for His determination in my life.

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Lasko Strong

Again I must apologize for not having posted in a very long time. As before it has been a matter of priorities, where we each place our hearts in the day to day circumstances of life. It’s not that I don’t think my followers important, I do, but there are things in life, people and events, that must take precedence, even over this.14022253_10207104679004437_4880648477642960711_n Having said that, I can explain that for the past twenty months we have been ministering to a dear friend whom we consider family, as she and her family have struggled with brain cancer. Last week, our beloved Lisa went home to be with the Lord. It is difficult to express our feelings right now and impossible to sum up her life in a few words, but here are my thoughts:

First I want to offer my deepest condolences to Tim, Lindsey, Timmy, Andrea, Theresa and the rest of the family. I want you to know that I sincerely feel your loss and pain and, In that pain I offer a warning about the spirit of grief whose desire is to destroy your relationship with God, by dragging you back to the pit of grief and holding you there until you give in to it and give up on life. Don’t go there. Pick up the pieces of your life, with your loving memories of Lisa and walk away from the circumstance of her death. Move forward with her legacy and with your own, show the world that Lasko Strong means strong of faith in the resurrection of Christ and His promise that, “If you obey my commands, you will never experience death;” that is, to pass from this life to the next in an instant.

To defeat the spirit of grief, we need a new paradigm, an attitude that Lisa would encourage. Ellen G. White described it well when she wrote thus,

Praise the Lord, even when you fall into darkness. Praise him even in temptation. “Rejoice in the Lord always,” says the apostle; “and again I say rejoice.” Will that bring darkness and gloom into your families? No, indeed; it will bring a sunbeam. It will be the gathering of rays of eternal light from the throne of glory, and scattering them around you. Let me exhort you to engage in this work, scatter this light and life around you, not only in your own path, but in the paths of others with whom you associate. Let it be your object to make those around you better; to elevate them; to point them to Heaven and glory and lead them to seek, above all earthly things, the eternal substance, the immortal inheritance, and the riches which are imperishable.”

I assure you that, today, Lisa has gotten what she deserves. Today she knows the joy of Heaven, in part because Lisa was all about determination.

Nancy and I call Tim and Lisa our kids, them among many others who are here today. Together, we were the ROCK class. We met each Sunday for Bible study and the only way up to our classroom was a steep, exterior stairway, twenty six of them in fact, steel, like the stairs of a fire escape. Lisa was very pregnant with Lindsey at the time she first started coming, and I remember being concerned about her making that climb in the summer heat. Concerned that it would be too much for her, concerned that if she made it to the top that Sunday, she would never be back, but I didn’t know Lisa very well, did I? My concerns were unfounded, because Lisa was determined that she and Tim would have a church family and a relationship with the Lord before they started their own family. Because of her determination, she reached the top of those stairs each Sunday for many years to follow and, when she arrived, it was with that beautiful smile of hers, a smile that exudes the joy that fills her heart even now.

Lisa was a person filled with Joy. If some considered her a Pollyanna, then we need more Pollyannas in this present darkness. More families like hers, who model the love of Christ in their daily lives. More joy to push the darkness away. It may seem that her joy has been taken from us, but I implore you, even in the midst of your pain to look to the Holy Spirit and find her there, Lisa and her joy, made bigger than ever by the most powerful force in all the universe, that is, God’s eternal love for those who will love Him back.

That Love has been modeled to all of us, over the past twenty months, by Lisa’s beautiful family. Modeled by a husband and children and an extended network of friends who have cared for Lisa with a devotion that can only be born of the love of God, a model of The Body of Christ in action, for all to see. I truly feel that in future editions of the dictionary, beside the word, “Devotion,” there should be a picture of Lisa, Tim and their children.

Know this, and write it on your hearts, we will see her again in a place where every tear will be wiped away by the hand of a loving God. Lisa has finished her climb to the top of the stairs. She arrived with her trademark smile and her joy in the Lord. Her reward was waiting for her there the moment she arrived, along with the words, “well done my good and faithful servant.”

We love you Lisa. We give thanks for the model of your joy, devotion and determination.

 

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Speaking of Suffering

2 Chronicles 15:5 “And in those times there was no peace to the one who went out, nor to the one who came in, but great turmoil was on all the inhabitants of the lands. 6-7 So nation was destroyed by nation, and city by city, for God troubled them with every adversity. But you, be strong and do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded!”

As with most other scripture in the Bible, this one speaks on many levels and with layers of meaning. I present it to you today in its role as prophesy. It was originally written as an historical record, a chronicle of events that had occurred in Israel’s  past, in particular, in a time when the people had “forsaken” God. In chapter 15 Azariah, a profit of God, is warning the king, Asa, that he sees the same pattern of “forsaking God” taking shape in the Kingdom of Judah.

The pattern is familiar and repeated throughout the old testament, the Bible and through all the written history of man in his relationship with the living God. The judges of old, the prophets, and the apostles, all addressed this problem of apostasy among the people of God. The cycle begins in suffering, when the people cry out to God in earnest, pleading for His help. God hears their cry and in His mercy, He rescues them from their own foolishness, protecting them from the consequences of their own sinful desertion. They repent, He forgives, they obey, He blesses, they travel a road He has made straight for them, finding their way back to prosperity, abundance and self reliance. Self reliance leads them to apostasy, the people turn their backs on God, seeking their own way, seeking their own pleasure. They turn their backs on God and God turns His back on them, thus they are returned to suffering, the very state in which they began their journey.

In the scripture Azariah warns Asa of impending disaster, but the record of his warning is historical. In creating the chronicle, the Jews of his posterity were warned and in their turn the early Christians and then Paul warns the Romans in the first chapter of his letter to the church in Rome. Thus the pattern, the cycle of apostasy, and the warning about its consequences echoes through the ages to every generation, right up to the present. In his letter, Paul speaks very specifically to the people of this age, who are about to experience the suffering that comes from “forsaking” our relationship with the Living God. In his warning he describes the state of affairs as follows:

“For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse. For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles.
Therefore God delivered them over in the cravings of their hearts to sexual impurity, so that their bodies were degraded among themselves. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served something created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen.” (Romans 1:18-25)

If I read the signs correctly, the suffering we see in the world today is nothing compared to what is soon to come. So, knowing that, how will you respond? I urge you to repent, to fall on your face before the Living God and cry out to Him for his mercy.

“We beg you please, don’t squander one more moment of the marvelous life God offers. As He reminds us, ‘I heard your call in the nick of time; The day you needed me I was there to help.’ Don’t wait another moment. I tell you now is the time of God’s grace. Today is the day of salvation!” (Paraphrase 2Cor. 6:1-2)

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