You Must Be Born Again

Oh to be a fly on the wall that night. Well, maybe not a fly, that would be creepy, but wouldn’t you have loved to have been there? Wouldn’t you have loved to see the look on Nicodemus’ face when Jesus said to him, “You must be born again.” It’s as if the message came from outer space. The Lord’s words were so sudden and so surprising, I am willing to bet that Nicodemus blinked.
He’d come to Jesus in the night, afraid to be seen with Him. Nicodemus was a respected Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin. He’d come to this clandestine meeting representing a small minority of that board of elders who thought Jesus just might really be the Messiah his followers claimed Him to be. He, Nicodemus and those he represented, wanted to know more.

When the formalities were completed and the two sat together alone, ready to get down to brass tacks, Nicodemus began to explain his position and that of his constituency, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher from God…”

It was as if Jesus interrupted him and said, ”“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
I’m sure it took a moment for Nicodemus to respond. He must have been confused, as many are today when we use that same phrase. On the surface, the statement seems to have nothing at all to do with the conversation Nicodemus had planned to have. In fact, to most people, the statement is ridiculous and non-sensical, but Jesus, in His infinite wisdom, has simply cut to the chase of Nicodemus’ inquiry.

As the Son of the Living God, Jesus knows the heart of every man, including Nicodemus’, and He clearly understands the disconnect between the way of the Pharisees and the Way of the Father. You see, Nicodemus’ problem, the problem with Phariseeism, and with any religion of law, is its focus on the flesh and on the world of the flesh. In spite of the testimony of the Torah, in spite of the sacred ritual of the Temple, and even though a religion of law may acknowledge the Supernatural Living God, even assenting to His rule, it fails to recognize that a relationship with Him can only exist “in Spirit and in Truth.”

In his ignorance, Nicodemus is completely baffled by the Truth that Jesus shared with him that night. In his confusion he reverts to thinking in the flesh, the only mode of thought he really knows. He is left wondering, “How can this be?” In His response, Jesus confuses him further by comparing the spirit filled life to the wind, but Nicodemus’ failure to understand lies in his own worldly heart and mind. For him and for all practitioners of religious law, the Kingdom of God is invisible, nothing more than a conceptual ideology.

God has been trying from the beginning to relate to all mankind that an eternal future exists beyond this world, for all who will trust Him by faith. Through the witness of Abraham He teaches us that faith is the medium of exchange. The exercise of faith takes us beyond the temporal world of the flesh into a Kingdom that lies, invisible, beyond our concept of time and space; beyond the apparent laws of physics that rule the visible universe and the world of the flesh.

Faith garners trust and trust flows out of a bond of mutual love and respect. God has been imploring us from the beginning to ignore the calls of an opposition that inhabits the world of the flesh, and, instead, to trust Him by faith. It’s a choice that every person is free to make and those who make the choice, even though no physical evidence exists to support it, are the ones who will be born again. They are the ones who will see the Kingdom of God. They, and only they, are the ones who will spend eternity with Him in a garden paradise.

All religion is an exercise in what you, or I, can do for God, or worse, what sacrifice we are willing to make for some lesser god. But the Living God has no need of my works. All religion is of the flesh, and so, it is temporal and corrupt. Faith, however, is about trusting God for what He has already done. Faith is about worshiping that which, for now, is invisible, it’s about believing, in spite of opposition, that when Jesus said, “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.” John 14:2 – 4
Though it seems foolish and impossible to the religious, secular, or intellectual mind, the only Way to His paradise is by faith. As Jesus told Nicodemus, I tell you, “You must be born again.”

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What’s Needed is Mo-Faith

In Exodus 7:9, the scripture reads, 9“When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Perform a miracle,’ (in Hebrew, mopheth, pronounced, mo-faith), then say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh,’ and (when you do,) it will become a snake.”

This is but one of the 125 miracles recorded in the Bible, one among the thousands upon thousands without record. John tells us in the last verse of his gospel, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”

In that time, in Judea and Samaria and even beyond, He was famous for the many miracles he performed, and He has become famous throughout the world because of them. If we count each birth and each of the stars, there will be as many as the grains of sand, billions upon billions, perhaps even trillions of miracles.

So, what is the nature of these miracles and why don’t we see them today, as the people did then? In John 14:12, Jesus told His disciples, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”

Jesus was speaking of the miracles He’d performed during his ministry on Earth, healing the sick, raising the dead, casting out demons, feeding thousands from a boy’s lunch basket, turning water into wine, to name only a few. To the people following Him then, these things were magical wonders. We call them “miracles.”

In the early church, the Apostles continued the tradition of miracles, casting out demons, healing the sick and even raising the dead. Magi of the time jealously tried to mimic the miracles of Christ in the same way that Pharaoh’s magicians worked so desperately to reproduce the miracles of Moses. Some of them, such as Simon, called Majus, even tried to buy the secrets of these miracles, as if they were nothing more than magic tricks. So what’s happened in the church? Why is it that most of the miracles we see are hokum or psycho-religious mumbo-jumbo performed by so-called “faith healers” who are nothing more than con-artists, like the magi, Simon Majus?

I don’t know about you, but I have little use for responsive readings in church. They seem only useful to parishioners, encouraging them to feel spiritual for an hour, once a week, but they do little to develop disciples. These rituals do not originate from the heart, where God looks to measure our commitment. They are, instead, autonomous repetitions, as unrelated to the Spirit of God as the chanting of a modern magician. I guess that’s my point. That the church, in large part, has become unrelated to the Holy Spirit, even when we think we are being spiritual.

Have you ever prayed your heart out in fervent, tearful supplication, only to have a loved one die. That experience will deliver a blow to your faith. It might even give rise to anger against God. It might lead to a period of wandering in the wilderness and yet, we pray, “Thy will be done…” or is that acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty also only  ritual repetition? You see, there has become, within Christianity, a huge disconnect between God’s will on Earth, and our own. In many cases, perhaps even most, we have lost sight of who is the servant and who is being served. But, because God’s will is often not our will, we have lost something more precious. We have lost our faith, our ability to believe that “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Mark 9:23. In those verses from Mark’s gospel, beginning in 14, we find a story about faith and Christ’s disciples. They are unable to cast out a demon who has possessed a young boy. The symptoms of his possession seem to indicate epilepsy and therein lies the challenge before the church today. Will you believe even if God’s will in the matter doesn’t meet your expectations? Even if the elders fail? Or will you return to Egypt where at least you were fed and felt safe. (ref. Numbers 14:3-4)

In the Bible, Egypt is a metaphor for the pursuit of forbidden knowledge. That’s a problem in the church today, the pursuit of knowledge rather than faith. In fact, it has been mankind’s problem from the beginning. The pursuit of knowledge is original sin. To depend on knowledge rather than God is the evidence of a lack of faith. Discipleship is not about knowing the scriptures, it’s about believing them. It’s about growing a relationship with God, trusting Him and depending on Him rather than what we know. Knowing the scriptures will not cast out the demon. If you want to cast out the demon, you must believe in order to make it so, as illustrated in Matthew 9:28, 29.

The church today has lost its faith to science and rationalism, as pointed out by Albert Barnes in his lecture on miracles, from “Lectures on the Evidences of Christianity in the Nineteenth Century.” We, the church, The Body of Christ, must strive to TRUST in God. What’s needed is not more knowledge, it’s Mo-Faith, mopheth. The church needs a miracle that can only come by fervent, believing prayer. As the boy’s father cried out to Jesus in Mark 9:24, help us Father to overcome our unbelief.

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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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