Category Archives: Relationships

Shipwrecked

Bimini

 

I recently was blessed to hear from an old friend who attended a home fellowship group that I led more than twenty years ago. It was great to catch up on what had happened in the time that we had not been in touch as we had moved to another city to plant a new church. It was a blessing to learn that he was still walking with Jesus. It was sad to learn about others that we knew whose faith was shipwrecked. We did not get into a discussion about eternal security. We agreed that there are strong arguments on both sides of that issue. Whether the ones we spoke of were never really “saved” or whether they forfeited their salvation could not be known for sure on this side of eternity. But, it was sad to hear about people that we knew and who had some kind of testimony about a relationship with Jesus Christ and are now no longer walking with Him. We both expressed thanks that God had kept us in His care.

 

After we hung up I began to think about what was it that enabled me and my brother to persevere. I was reminded of the analogy of the three-legged stool. A stool with three solid legs will stand, but if you cut just one leg it will topple. It occurred to me that there are three aspects to the Christian faith that must be present in order to persevere.

 

First and foremost, the believer must keep their eyes, their mind, their life focused on Christ. He must always be the main focus and purpose of life. The letter to the Hebrews affirms this saying, “Therefore since we also are surrounded with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily besets us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:1-2) Unfortunately, as in the parable of the seed, some people hear about Jesus and accept Him with enthusiasm, but when the care of life occur they take their eyes off of Christ. Perhaps they are drawn by promises of what Christ can do for them or by some outpouring of common grace such as a healing. But when difficult times come, and Jesus promised that they would, they are allured by Satan’s lie that Jesus is not the only way to God and they fall away. Jesus promised that we would have tribulation in this life. It is the Refiner’s fire. The Christian life does not get easier, in fact, as one matures it is often more difficult. It is like climbing a mountain. The higher one goes the harder it gets, but the view, real revelation and understanding, is priceless.

 

The second critical leg for the believer is fellowship. Again, Hebrews warns us not to forsake fellowship, relationship, with other believers, “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb 10:25) Many people leave churches because they are offended in some way. Such people are focusing on others rather than Jesus. People are broken and will always disappoint, but leaving fellowship is not the solution. Maybe the Lord would have you in a different church, we’ve changed churches a few times, but staying away from church forever is dangerous. Sooner or later, that missing leg will cause your stool to tumble. You must understand that we are in a spiritual battle. The devil seeks to destroy every Christian. I was an Air Force pilot. When pilots go into combat, they fly in formation for mutual protection. Solo pilots get picked off. Every believer needs to be in a place where they can be discipled, hear the Word, worship with other believers and be encouraged and accountable.

 

The third leg is being in the Word. Regular scripture devotion is necessary for the believer to stay in fellowship with Christ. The importance of regularly hearing God’s Word is repeated in the scriptures. “But He (Jesus) said, No; rather, blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it.” (Luk 11:28) Ephesians outlines the spiritual armor that God provides us in our battle with the devil. It is the shield of faith that quenches the fiery darts (lies) of the enemy. And faith comes by hearing God’s Word. “Then faith is of hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” (Rom 10:17)

 

The Apostle Paul wrote to his spiritual son Timothy warning him about those whose faith had become shipwrecked. “This charge I commit to you, my son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before about you, in order that you might war a good warfare by them, holding faith and a good conscience, which some have put away and made shipwreck as to faith. Among these are Hymeneus and Alexander, whom I have delivered to Satan so that they may learn not to blaspheme.” (1Ti 1:18-20) Apparently, Hymeneus and Alexander had become blasphemers which is to say that they had spoken falsely of Christ. They had turned away from the clear doctrine of the faith established in God’s Word. One of the tragedies of some modern so-called Christians is that they have abandoned a belief in the inspiration and authority of God’s Word. They make themselves the judge and create a false Christ of their own making, which is blasphemy. Paul continued to instruct Timothy, “Study earnestly to present yourself approved to God, a workman that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.” (2Ti 2:15) God’s Word is the only source of all truth. Regular meditation on God’s Word is necessary for remaining in the faith. “But whoever keeps His Word, truly in this one the love of God is perfected. By this we know that we are in Him.” (1Jn 2:5)

 

 

Loving Confrontation

Confront.jpgIt is an act of love to confront in love. “You shall not hate your brother in your heart: you shall rebuke your neighbor, and not bear with sin because of him.” Lev. 19:17

Confronting a brother or sister about what causes a breakdown in relationship is an act of love. The Lord knows that we will sin and break relationship, so He commands us to rebuke our brother or sister in Christ. It is sin that destroys relationships. Our alienation from each other is an extension of our alienation from God. Sin doesn’t take place in a void. It is done unto someone else. That’s why Jesus taught us to pray, “forgive us our debts”. Love is the opposite of sin. It restores relationships. Avoiding confrontation out of fear is not love. We must confront in order to restore relationship when it is broken. Confrontation prevents us from carrying a grudge which is sin.

The purpose of biblical confrontation is not to purify the church or root out all sin. That is Jesus’ job. He said He would separate the wheat from the chaff. We shouldn’t attempt to play God or think that it is our job to “clean up” the church. Who do we confront? A fellow believer when relationship is broken due to sin or perceived sin against us. We must have established relationship before we can confront.

How do we confront? Matthew chapter 18 contains Jesus’ instructions on how to confront a brother or sister. Jesus thought this to be important enough to give detailed directions. Consider the context of Christ’s instructions. The chapter begins with the disciples arguing about being greatest. Obviously there was a breakdown of relationship because of pride. Jesus exhorts them to have the humility of a small child. In verse 7 He says, “offenses must come, but woe to him by whom…” He then warns about temptation and exhorts them to deal ruthlessly with causes of sin, not to compromise. The context is offenses. He warns about looking down on others and then teaches about how to confront a believer who sins against you.

He ends His instruction about confrontation by emphasizing the importance of reconciliation, and the blessings and power of unity. (verse 19-20) There is spiritual authority bestowed upon us to maintain unity when we follow God’s principles of confrontation.

These famous verses are often quoted to prove our authority in spiritual warfare with spiritual forces of evil, but they are referring to binding and loosing people from relationship. Jesus concludes by telling the parable of the unmerciful servant, who imprisoned his debtors after the King had forgiven him. Confrontation hinges upon our willingness to forgive.

We must go with the right motives; go in love. Our motivation must be to keep the person as a covenant friend. We must not be motivated by a desire for revenge. We must die to our own self interest. It is preferable to be unjustly wronged than to have no reconciliation. Reconciliation is more important than personal rights.

A critical attitude that inflicts petty and nasty criticism for the purpose of inflicting hurt is the counterfeit of loving confrontation. Go with the understanding that you too have offended people and needed mercy. You will be judged in the manner that you judge others. (Mt 7:1) Remember that God has forgiven you a greater debt. As in the parable of the unmerciful servant, your unforgiveness towards others puts them in bondage. Be patient; give the Holy Spirit time to work. Don’t expect someone to apologize or confess wrong immediately.

Who is responsible for initiating confrontation? The burden is on both parties, regardless of who is at fault or who is offended. “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you; Leave your gift at the altar, go and first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Mt 5:23

There is a principle demonstrated here: Halt other spiritual activity and seek reconciliation first.

Go privately first. This contains the problem. If you talk with others first, it only magnifies the problem. Different viewpoints make reconciliation more difficult. It biases the people you talk to, and may cause them to sin.

Why do people talk about grievances with friends first? Because of insecurity, lack of faith in God to defend them, fear of rejection and self centered pride that insists on being right.

Be honest with the one you confront, don’t beat around the bush. But remember, there is no time limit mentioned for the different stages. It may require more than one meeting. If there is dialog and progress occurring, don’t go to next level.

The next level occurs if the person won’t listen. Then we are to take two or three witnesses. That doesn’t mean to bring others who agree with you, but have no knowledge of the alleged sin. It means to bring someone who actually heard or saw what happened! If there is no such person, then drop it. Forgive and forget!

At this level, where others are involved, it is important to avoid the impression of putting the other on trial. You must affirm your love and desire for covenant friendship. At this point, someone uncommitted to covenant relationship may avoid such a meeting. Inability to resolve at this level indicates a more severe problem with relationship than with the specific sinful behavior.

If the person still refuses to listen, tell it to the church. That does not mean to stand up in church on Sunday morning and shout out your case. It means, tell it to the leaders. If reconciliation can’t be achieved it is the job of leaders to inform the congregation. By this time, the offender has demonstrated a covenant breaking attitude that threatens the fabric of the congregation’s relationships. By excommunicating an individual, the leaders are merely noting a fact of what has already occurred so that no one is operating under false pretenses. The offender has brought the definition of pagan upon themselves. We must keep in mind that discipline has the goal of reconciliation. Reach out to the person as an outsider.

A Mountaintop Experience With God

Three On Top.jpg

 

Mountain climbing has historically been associated with a spiritual quest. The psalmist wrote: “I Will lift up my eyes unto the hills, where my help comes from. My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Ps 121:1-2

A mountain can be a place of revelation. It was on a mountain that Moses received the Law of God: “And the Lord came down upon mount Sinai, on the top of the mount: and the Lord called Moses up” Ex. 19:20. God revealed things to the Apostle John on a mountain: “And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city.” Rev. 21:10

Mountains can be a place of solitude where we can connect with God. Jesus withdrew to the mountains to pray and be alone with His Father (Mt. 5:1, Mt. 14:23, John 6:15). Jesus called his disciples on a mountain (Mark 3:13-15). He met them on a mountain after His resurrection (Mt. 28:16). Jesus was transfigured on a mountain top (Mt 17).

Mountains display the power of God, the awesome power of His creation. Mountain climbing, like few other endeavors, can reveal how helpless we are at the power of creation; how quickly our security can vanish. An ascent of a high peak can remind us of the importance of realizing that we are at the mercy of God and the need to trust in Him.

Mt. San Antonio, commonly called “Baldy” is a 10,500’ peak in the San Gabriel Mtn. chain in southern California. To professional mountaineers, it’s a walk up. But, for novices like me, it’s still a struggle. I climbed to the top of Baldy with my daughter and son-in-law in June of 2001. During our climb, the Lord was speaking to me almost continually. He was showing me all sorts of analogies comparing climbing the mountain to our walk as believers in Jesus. It truly became a spiritual journey for me.

As is common in southern California in June, the LA basin was covered with clouds for a good part of the month, including the day we climbed. It is possible to drive to within 10 miles of the summit, to an altitude of 6,000’. As we drove up the canyon, somewhere around the 3,000’ level, we emerged from the overcast to a bright sunshine. As we came out of the clouds, it reminded me of being born again. I was reminded of how dreary life was before coming to Christ.

Life under the dominion of Satan is very much like life below the clouds. Life goes on from day to day in the man-made world, but you can’t see the beauty of creation that is so close to you, because your eyes are blinded by the fog. The Bible says that the spiritual eyes of unbelievers are blinded by the god of this world, Satan (2Cor 4:4). Before being called by God and being given the gift of faith, we are spiritually dead, unable to see God, just as the people below the clouds can’t see the mountains. The distractions of a busy life and the cares of this world blind us to the beauty of God that surrounds us.

I suffer from allergies and impacted sinuses. Humidity makes the condition worse. I noticed that as we ascended to higher altitude (less pressure) and emerged from the clouds, my sinuses began to drain and I could breathe again! The Lord reminded me, that He is the one who heals all of our diseases and restores us; It is by His stripes that we are healed (Isaiah 53). When I first was born again and gave my life to Christ, He healed me of my alcohol and pornography addiction. I was reminded that it is in drawing close to God, that we are healed and that eventually we will be completely restored.

After driving as far as one can and parking the car at the Mt Baldy ski area, we took a chair lift from the 6000’ level to the lodge at Baldy Notch (8000’). Riding the chair up reminded me of how the Lord carries us when we are new believers. The ride seemed easy. We began to see more as we ascended up the steep grade, but we were still boxed in by canyon walls which seemed huge from this vantage. Later on, as we climbed higher, the ridges surrounding the canyon appeared small compared to what we had climbed and what lie ahead. Some of the challenges that we face as new disciples seem huge to us at the time. When we look back upon them after the Lord has taken us through them, they don’t seem so big.

As we rode up, below us we saw remnants of civilization discarded below us; things people had dropped and lost; baggage discarded along the route. It reminded me of the things of our carnal nature and the world system that we discard as we progress in our walk with Christ. Soon we arrived at the notch and the lodge. It is a place of refreshment and rest which seemed unnecessary on the way up, but on the way down it was sorely needed. God affords us times of rest in our walk between times of trial and challenge. In the early days of our walk, when we are zealous, we don’t appreciate the times of rest as much as we do when we are older, having been through many trials. 

We began our climb up an adjacent ski slope. The slope was steep and in the open sun. The climate was warm and sunny with a light breeze. We saw a peak in the distance, which seemed near and we mistakenly assumed it to be the summit. We later found out that it was only an intermediate smaller peak about half way between us and the summit which was obstructing our view of the main peak. It is a fact that the Lord won’t give us more than we can handle. Often times He prevents us from knowing what lies ahead in order to keep us from becoming discouraged.

As we continued to climb, the journey began to become a labor. We started to sweat and we had tp stop every 10-15 yards for breath, as the air was getting thinner. We moved from shade spot to shade spot. Our journey with Christ would be impossible if we did not take time to rest in Him. Only He can provide shade from the torments. So, our walk is broken down into intermediate goals that seem attainable.

Eventually, we came to a place of choosing different routes. Both were acceptable. One was the bunny slope, which is easier, but longer. The other was the main slope, which is steeper, but shorter. The Lord permits different paths to maturity. The ones that mature us sooner come at a greater cost.

When we arrived at the top of the ski run, we met a guide who had done the journey before. We learned that the summit was far beyond and still out of sight. We discovered that the journey is more difficult than it first appears. To the unlearned and unschooled, the Christian walk may seem simple. As one who has walked with Christ for more than 20 years, let me assure you, it is not simple if you are truly dedicated and willing to take up your cross and follow Christ. It is not for the weak; the higher you go, the harder it gets. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that the Christian walk gets easier as you grow. It becomes more difficult with each progressive step. But, the blessings are also much greater with each step. The higher you go the more you can see; revelation is cumulative and it comes at a cost.

We were feeling the stress of the climb and seeing the size of the peak, we felt it would be impossible, but we just kept going (Phil. 3:14). Along the way we stopped to rest by an old weathered bristlecone pine tree that resembled a cross and it seemed to grow out of a rock. It is God who sustains us through our walk with Him. It is He who gives us rest. he hides us in the Rock who carried the rugged cross on his back for our sins. it is our appreciation of Christ’s sacrifice and His forgiveness that encourages us to “run the race.” (Hebrews 12:1-8)

Along the route to the summit we had to traverse a long narrow path atop one of the ridges which descend from the peak. The path was only about 2’ wide and the slopes on either side descended for thousands of feet covered by loose rock. To stray off of the path would mean certain death. This was a reminder of the narrow path that Jesus spoke of. (Mt 7:14, Prov. 15:10, 24) The narrow ridge leading up to the peak from the east side is called the devil’s backbone. The wind on this ridge was blowing strong constantly and the temperature must have been close to freezing because there were patches of snow up there in June in southern California. I remembered that the attacks from the devil come like gusts to deter us from the goal, but, in Christ, we walk on his back, he is under our feet. (Luke 10:19, 1Pt. 5:8)

We could now see the top.  Again we were out of breath and needed to rest on a rock. As we ascended the summit, people would appear small in the distance. The further we progress on the journey of knowing Him, people appear smaller compared to His creation, His purposes and His Kingdom.

The peak was so desolate, nothing but rock. Getting closer to God, we realize that HE is a giant rock, nothing competes for His glory. As we approached the summit we felt a light headed sense of euphoria. (2Tim 4:7) Now, there was nothing to obstruct our view. We could see 360 degrees around us, in all directions. However, we soon realized that we couldn’t stay at the top; It was cold and would get colder as the sun went down. Besides, we were hungry and there was nothing to eat up there. The Lord reminded me that He has called us to go down and live on the earth, not in the clouds; that this earth is our abode, both present and future. (John 17:15-16)

The trip down was much easier and quicker, but we had to be careful of slipping. It reminded me that in our Christian walk, we must not be overconfident. Once we have been to the top we are more susceptible to the danger of pride.

At the bottom, we met a couple just starting their climb. By now, it was late in the afternoon and they were a little on the chubby side. They asked us if they were on the right path and how far the top was. It was obvious to us that people don’t take the journey seriously; they start too late and they refuse to shed excess baggage. The journey is for the strong; it doesn’t get easier, it gets better

The Marriage Covenant

Covenant

 

God created man because of His nature. God is creative. He is love, He loves and love always wants to expand community. Thus, His first and last command is to be fruitful and multiply, that is to be like Him. Man can’t do this alone. Genesis states that it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone. Man was created for relationship, first with God and then with each other. In both the Old Testament and the New Testament God uses the analogy of the marriage covenant to illustrate His relationship with His people.

Kingdom relationships are based upon covenant, a mutual agreement of commitment. Covenant is God’s way of protecting relationships. His commitment to faithfulness is total. He wants the same from us. God keeps His covenant in spite of our failure. Covenant is not the same as a contract. In a contract, if the conditions are not met, it nullifies the contract. We live in a world estranged from covenant keeping and commitment. In fact we might say that covenant breaking is the foundation of all sin and because of sin, Christ died. He offered His own body as a sacrifice to restore relationship or covenant.

People often want the benefits of a relationship without commitment. They want sex without consequences. The high divorce rate in our culture reflects an attitude that doesn’t value commitment and covenants. Satan is attacking marriages, especially Christian marriages like never before. Now, he is even influencing our society to re-define the institution of marriage.  Why? It is because Christian marriages are intended to reflect the relationship between Christ and His church. Satan seeks to destroy that testimony. In today’s secular culture, marriage is considered to be a contract sanctioned by the state. This is far from the truth. Marriage was ordained by God. We often hear distortions of the marriage institution such as people living together and claiming that they are married “in God’s eyes.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Marriage in God’s eyes requires biblical covenant. Without that, such people are nothing more than fornicators. In fact, people with a marriage license from the state who have no relationship with God or His church are not married in God’s eyes. They are also fornicators. People, even Christians, believe that divorce occurs when one gets approval from the state. Wrong! Divorce occurs in God’s eyes when the covenant is broken. If there is no biblical covenant, there is no marriage or divorce. On the other hand, if there is a biblical marriage covenant, divorce occurs when the covenant is broken, not when the state says so. You can read more of my thoughts on divorce here.

We must overcome the works of darkness by the power of the Holy Spirit enabling us to live in accord with God’s principles and redemptive order. In Genesis 15 there is an account of God making a covenant with Abraham. “After these things the Word of Jehovah came to Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram, I am your shield and your exceeding great reward. And Abram said, Lord God, what will You give me, since I am going childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said, Behold, You have given no seed to me. And behold, one born in my house is my heir. And behold, the Word of Jehovah came to him saying, This one shall not be your heir. But he that shall come forth out of your own bowels shall be your heir. And He brought him outside and said, Look now toward the heavens and count the stars, if you are able to count them. And He said to him, So shall your seed be. And he believed in Jehovah. And He counted it to him for righteousness. And He said to him, I am Jehovah that brought you out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give you this land to inherit it. And he said, Lord God, by what shall I know that I shall inherit it? And He said to him, Take Me a heifer of three years old, and a she-goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon. And he took all these to himself, and divided them in the middle, and laid each piece against one another; but he did not divide the birds. And when the birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, Abram drove them away. And it happened as the sun was setting, and a deep sleep fell upon Abram. And, behold, a horror of great darkness fell upon him! And He said to Abram, You must surely know that your seed shall be a stranger in a land not theirs, and shall serve them. And they shall afflict them four hundred years. And also I will judge that nation whom they shall serve. And afterward they shall come out with great substance. And you shall go to your fathers in peace. You shall be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come here again, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. And it happened, the sun went down, and it was dark and behold, a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp passed between those pieces. In the same day Jehovah made a covenant with Abram, saying, I have given this land to your seed, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the giants, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.” (Gen 15:1-21) We can observe here that the covenant involved a promise, a public testimony, a sign, and a penalty for violation. The ritual of sacrificing an animal and walking between the pieces was a traditional middle eastern tradition. The one making the promise would swear an oath to become like the sacrificed animals should he violate the covenant.

A covenant requires a public testimony before witnesses and God. To have the blessing of God it must be blessed by God’s instrument on earth, His church. A biblical covenant is remembered by a sign, such as a ring, a handshake, the cross, or bread and wine. God established standards of behavior to protect covenant. Breaking a covenant necessitates forgiveness. The Word of God tells us that without the shedding of blood there is no justice or payment for sin. In biblical culture, a covenant was sealed by a blood sacrifice. The covenant was taken seriously and was considered to be permanent.

At Calvary God offered His own body to seal the covenant of redemption. God’s redemptive process holds out the possibility of restoration of the original partnership that God created between Himself and man as well as between all mankind, including marriage partners.

God teachers us that there a four requirements for a marriage to succeed. There must be severance, permanence, unity and intimacy. When questioned about marriage Jesus referred to Genesis and His Father’s original command, saying, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife and they shall be one flesh.” (Gen 2:24) The loyalty and fealty to one’s birth family must be severed. This doesn’t mean a breaking of relationship, but rather the forming of a new loyalty. Marriage is intended to be a permanent covenant. The unity and intimacy of the marriage relationship is intended to reflect the unity and intimacy of the Trinity and the unity and intimacy of Christ and His bride, the church.

 

 

The Truth About Divorce

Divorce

 

As described in God’s word, marriage is intended to be a life long covenant. A true biblical covenant is witnessed and confirmed in submission to God ordained authority, that is, the church. A wedding is a public expression of commitment. Marriage is intended to be a reflection of God’s relationship with His people. It should be public and permanent. When Jesus spoke on marriage, He referred back to the creation account: “A man will leave his father and mother, cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” (Gen. 2:24) This creation account reveals an intended progression. Leaving comes first. It implies a public act of commitment first. Then there is uniting. This is more than just sex. It involves communion. Only then do the two become one. Marriage is God’s plan for commitment. It is not just a piece of paper as some so glibly state in seeking to dodge commitment.

The hypocritical Pharisees came to Jesus with a question about divorce in order to entrap Him. Their hearts were cold and selfish. They were really not interested in the truth. It is interesting that the word “divorce” is only found in seven verses of scripture; in Jeremiah 3:8, God says He divorced Israel. Did God sin?

In the sermon on the mount (Mt. 5:31) Jesus addressed the issue of men divorcing their wives. He makes reference to the civil law given for the now defunct theocracy (Deut. 24). This law was established by God to protect women. In their culture only men could divorce their wives, not the reverse. Women were treated like property. By Jesus’ day, Jewish men had so abused the letter of the law that men were divorcing their wives for burning dinner. So, Jesus addressed this issue to men in order to prevent these easy divorces, which were perverting God’s original intent. He is saying that men should only divorce their wives if they have been sexually unfaithful, thus alluding to the practical reality that women do not usually do the kinds of things that constitute separation without becoming intimate with another man. For example, Jesus didn’t address the issue of physical abuse. Does God want spouses to stay in a relationship where they get beat? I don’t think so. But the reality is, most women don’t beat their husbands.

Matthew 19 recounts the incident where the hypocritical Pharisees (a very religious, legalistic sect who made all of the appearance of being “holy”, but who Paul correctly pointed out were like white washed tombs full of dead men’s bones) tried to entrap Jesus with a question about divorce: “And the Pharisees came to Him, tempting Him and saying to Him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?” (Matthew 19:3 MKJV). Legally, the letter of the law (Deut. 24) did allow them to divorce a woman for any reason. But they missed the Spirit and intent of the law! Jesus answers the question by referring them back to God’s original plan for marriage recounted in Genesis 2, which was that the two should become one forever. He adds, “Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:6 MKJV) Notice that Jesus does not use the word “divorce.” That was a legal shadow that the Pharisees were hiding behind, but, as usual, Jesus goes to the heart of the issue. The issue is not a legal document made by man, but who is causing the separation of the two that God intended to be one. The legalistic hypocrites always point to the only reason that God permits divorce for, but they don’t know God or His heart. If a man is beating his wife regularly, they would say, “That’s not a cause for divorce.” But the truth is that the two are already separated as far as god is concerned! Going to court doesn’t make the reality, it only confirms it! Preachers are commonly heard to say, “God hates divorce!” I hate to disillusion you, but that is not specifically in scripture. Divorce is not listed in Proverbs 6 as one of the seven things that God hates. The truth is that God hates all sin and all covenant breaking. He has a solution, which is yielding to the lordship of Jesus Christ and relying upon His sacrifice for you sins. Forgiveness and restoration can only be found by faith in Christ.

If you want to know what God’s will is for husbands, read Ephesians 5:25 and following verses. He expects you to love your wife as Christ loves the church. He expects you, not her, to die to your own selfish desires. Do you know how God wants you to handle the property issue? God wants you to give it all to her, because you love her and are willing to die for her.

Jesus is Sovereign over Disease and Death

Healed woman

Healing a woman and raising a girl; Mark 5:21-43

“And Jesus having crossed again by boat to the other side, a large crowd collected on Him. And He was near the sea. And, behold, one of the synagogue rulers came, Jairus by name. And when he saw Him, he fell at His feet. And he begged Him greatly, saying, My little daughter lies at the point of death. Come, lay Your hands on her, so that she may be healed, and she shall live. And Jesus went with him. And many people followed Him and thronged Him. And a certain woman who had had an issue of blood twelve years, and had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and had not been bettered any, but rather came to worse, having heard about Jesus, she came in the press behind and touched His garment. For she said, If I may but touch only His clothes, I will be cured. And instantly the fountain of her blood dried up. And she felt in her body that she was healed of that plague. And knowing instantly within Himself that power had gone out of Him, Jesus turned Himself around in the press and said, Who touched My clothes? And His disciples said to Him, You see the crowd pressing on You, and do You say, Who touched Me? And He looked around to see her who had done this thing. But the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had been done in her, came and fell down before Him and told Him all the truth. And He said to her, Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be whole from your plague. While He still spoke, they came from the synagogue ruler’s house, saying, Your daughter is dead; why do you still trouble the Teacher? But hearing the word spoken, Jesus said to the synagogue ruler, Do not be afraid, only believe. And He allowed no one to follow Him, except Peter and James and John, the brother of James. And He came to the synagogue ruler’s and saw a tumult, and weeping and much wailing. And going in He said to them, Why do you make a tumult and weep? The girl is not dead, but sleeps. And they laughed at Him. But when He had put them all out, He took the father and the mother of the child, and those with Him, and went in where the child was lying. And He took the child’s hand and said to her, Talitha koumi; (which interpreted is, Little girl, I say to you, Arise!) And instantly the little girl arose and walked (for she was twelve years old ). And they were astonished with a great astonishment. And He strictly warned them that no one should know this. And He said to give her something to eat.” (Mar 5:21-43)

 

Jesus is sovereign over nature, the physical realm and demons, the spiritual realm. He was not surprised by the storm or in finding a demonized man. Jesus is not taken by surprise, He is completely man and completely God, and, though laying aside the prerogatives of deity (i.e., supernatural powers), He is filled with the Holy Spirit of God and He hears and obeys what the Father is doing. Through the Holy Spirit He has all power. Those indwelled by the Spirit, as He is, have access to the power of God as they obey the Father as He does.

Jesus is greeted by a great multitude. Though He has an opportunity to minister to a large group, he does not ignore the request of an individual. Don’t be afraid to leave the needs of the crowd to help an individual. If need drives your ministry, you will burn out.

This is an important person, the synagogue ruler. Perhaps he was the ruler of the synagogue where Jesus cast out a demon and healed a man with a withered hand. I doubt that he believed Jesus to be the Messiah. I suspect that he had seen Him heal and hoped that Jesus would heal his daughter. He wanted Jesus to hurry, but there is a delay. Jairus is probably frustrated at the delay. This shows us that Jesus did not neglect the outcast to curry favor with the powerful.

The woman with the flow of blood for 12 years has been abused by doctors and cut off from fellowship in the community. She is poor and unimportant. She was continually unclean according to Lev. 15:25-31. She could not go to the temple to worship. She could not touch anyone, or they would be unclean for the remainder of that day. If she sat in a chair, it was unclean. She was cut off from fellowship.

It leads us to wonder why these laws were imposed. Perhaps it is because the Jews refused His offer of Grace at Sinai and wanted religion, so he gave them a religion with laws that would illustrate their inability to achieve acceptance by their own power. The law is a teacher to drive us to Christ as it shows us our imperfection.

Leviticus gave God’s people the rules for worship illustrating  God’s holiness and perfection and that there is only one path to God.  Jesus claims that He is the way, the truth and the life; none come to God except through Him.

The woman sneaks up behind Jesus and touches His garment and is immediately healed. Jesus knew it. Was He surprised? He asks who touched Him. Did he know? Why did He ask? Did He know the name of the Gadarene man and his demons? Jesus asks us questions because He wants us to seek answers. He uses all events as a teaching opportunity. He is the great teacher. What did He want to teach the woman, the crowd and his disciples? He knew that this woman would touch Him and He wanted to have a conversation with her. We don’t know what was said, but from what the gospels tell us about Jesus and salvation we could make a good guess.

She told Him the whole truth. The scriptures are inspired, every word. Had she not told the whole truth before and what happened to inspire her to confession? I think she came to believe in Him after witnessing His mercy. This woman is often pointed to as a great example of faith. She had faith in a common superstition that power resided in the garment of a holy man.  Like the disciples at this point in His ministry, she probably had little or no understanding of who He was and what He would do.  Can you imagine the fear of being found out when you just defiled a holy man? This explains her fear when she is discovered.  Is Jesus defiled by her touch? Jesus touches a leper and he is cleansed. He imparts cleanliness and life when He touches us or we touch Him. Nothing can make Him unclean. Jesus is not defiled by sinful man. Does God not allow sin in His presence? Jesus has overcome sin and the law of ordinances that are against us.

Jesus tells her, “your faith has made you well (sotso = whole)”. She was not healed because she believed in a superstition. Was it the garment that healed her? She was healed because of who He is. Some use this scripture to teach that we simply must believe in order to be healed. I reject that. There are examples in the gospels of people having no faith and being healed. It’s not what we believe, our faith or what we confess that forces God to act. It is His mercy and compassion that moves Him to heal. It is his nature to heal.

Does God want us to have faith in Him? Does He honor faith in Him? Absolutely, yes. We must have faith in Him in order to be saved. But, our faith is not sovereign. He is. She was healed while her faith was still in immature, hoping in a superstition.

Jesus tells her to go in peace. Peace comes from trusting in Him. A messenger comes and informs the synagogue ruler that he is too late. Did Jesus know that the girl would die? He tells the ruler, “Don’t be afraid; only believe.” What is the man to believe? How strong was his faith at this point? Trust in the person and character of God delivers us from fear. Jairus believed, but his daughter was dead. We must trust Him and His timing. The delay brings greater glory to God. His delay sometimes leads to a greater demonstration of His power. Never give up on God. Death is not final and it is no barrier to Him

Why were only the three permitted to follow? Some teach that we must not allow unbelief to be present in order for God to act. This is not true. It probably had more to do with respecting the family’s privacy in their moment of grief. Jesus wanted witnesses to recall the gospel but not a crowd of gawkers. These were His best friends whom he knew He could trust. He never drew attention to His miracles. In fact, He usually discouraged recipients of His grace from reporting them. He does not seek to manipulate people into faith by displays of power. He refused that evil temptation in the desert.

She was really dead, just like Lazarus was dead. He says the same thing about dead believers in 1 Corinthians 15, because their physical death is not permanent. The servants were wailing. Their tradition blinded them to God’s mercy and power. He makes a point of telling us that the girl was twelve. She had been alive as long as the woman had been ill. What’s the point? Is it to give the numerologists something to speculate about? Possibly, to illustrate that the two incidents are related and that there is a harmony. There is one consistent message: Both accounts teach the importance of trusting in the person and character of Christ.

Victory over disease and death is not about what we believe, but about who He is. The power of the great physician and the hope that He inspires stands in sharp contrast to the limited abilities of this world’s doctors. We see an insider and an outsider compared and contrasted. There is a public miracle and a private miracle. It does not matter what your social status is. In all cases, Jesus is your only hope. The power is in the person of Christ, not in a fabric or formula.

A famous TV evangelist says, “The word of faith is all you need….” This is not true. The living word, not your words is what is needed

 

Have You Been Offended?

offended

Have you ever been offended by a friend? David was. He thought King Saul was his friend. He had done nothing to hurt Saul and yet Saul was seeking to kill him. Listen to David’s lament: “For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it: neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him. But it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company.” (Ps. 55:12-14)
Jesus said that offenses must come. (Luke 17:1) What a strange statement. What did He mean? He understands our fallen human nature and He knows that we will sin against one another. But He uses our failings and the failings of those around us to refine us; to make us and mold us into His image as the potter does to clay.
Offenses are part of a trap that the devil uses to put people in bondage. Offense is the bait. If you consume the bait (feed on it in our hearts), you become caught in a trap that leads to bad results: bitterness, unforgiveness, betrayal and even revenge. Hurt people erect walls, their love grows cold, and often they betray friends. Harboring an offense blinds you to your own sin because you’re always blaming others. It is the heat of trials which separates the impurities such as bitterness from our character. God created us to reflect who He is. Unless we’re pure, we can’t do that.
Some offended people have been treated unfairly. David and Joseph are two examples from scripture. Joseph was betrayed by his brothers because they were offended over his dreams. So, they sold him into slavery in Egypt. But, unfair treatment is no excuse to become bitter or hang on to an offense. David was betrayed by Saul. Jesus was betrayed by Judas. They forgave and refused to become bitter. Unconditional love allows others to hurt us. The more we are dead to our selfish interests, the less it hurts when people treat us wrongly. David didn’t take revenge when given the opportunity to kill Saul. Jesus trusted His Father to judge those who persecuted Him. (1Pt 2:21-23)
Escape the trap: forgive! God won’t forgive us if we don’t forgive others (Mt. 6:14-15). We’ve offended God more than anyone has offended us and He forgives ( Eph 4:32).
How do we forgive? Joseph demonstrated it (Gen 50: 15-21). He forgave his brothers. He said, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” He recognized that God had a plan for his life and that he would redeem his own suffering in order to help others. What great faith! Offenses hurt, but God has a plan to use it for good; to refine you.
Sometimes you need to put words to it in faith. You have to say that you forgive even when you may not feel it. You must ask God to change your heart. He tells us to overcome evil with good; reach out in loving action.
How many times do you forgive someone? Jesus said, “seventy times seven.” In other words, forgiveness should be granted without limits. If you’re counting, then you have missed the point. Reap the benefits of freedom; restored fellowship.

Teamwork

Teamwork

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. … For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God has dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, ….” Romans 12:1-8
Teamwork is characteristic of people in covenant. All fruitful spiritual action comes out of relationship God works as a team. Jesus only did what the father showed Him to do. (Jn 5:19)
Have you ever observed a crew team of rowers. A successful team must work together in perfect timing and rhythm following the cadence of the skipper. Can you imagine what would happen if they all decided to “do their own thing”? It would be a disaster. An interesting thing happens when they reach racing speed. The hull rises up as the boat hydro-planes. By teamwork, the whole ship is raised up. It should be just so with the church. Even though we may have different roles and functions, we all still need to work together as a team. In basketball each player has a different role. If one player did all of the scoring, it would be easy to defend against him or her. But if we’re all doing our part, it’s much easier to score.
God’s plan is to work through the church. (Eph 3:10) We are part of a body, members of one another (Ro 12:4). We may have different types of ministries and gifts, but all are intended to build up the church. (Eph 4:11-16) We all need to serve in some manner. The quantity of work is not as important as embracing a clearly designated responsibility.
There is a spiritual principle of agreement whereby there is an exponential release of power when we work together in agreement. “One will put a thousand to flight, but two will put ten thousand to flight.” Dt. 32:30 (Mt. 18:19-20) That is why it is so important to attend corporate worship. God doesn’t call us together to worship because He is some kind of egomaniac or because He is insecure and needing our praise. God needs nothing. Corporate worship is not just for individual edification. God calls us to worship Him as a body because there is a greater anointing when more of us are gathered together. We receive a greater blessing by gathering together to worship Him. We will experience greater growth and maturity by making a firm commitment to one congregation.
Additionally, by working together as a team, we reap the advantage of mutual protection. We are in a spiritual war. Jesus sent out His disciples in pairs. We need each other in this spiritual battle.
In order to work as a team, we must adopt the attitude, mindset and heart of a team player. We must adopt a goal for the good of the team versus individual achievement. We must have a commitment to working together.
The mission of the church is to fulfill the great commission by making disciples and teaching them to observe all things that Jesus taught. We will fulfill that vision as we work together as a team, giving of our time, treasures and talents.

Wise Counsel

Finding God’s will through counsel and revelation.

We can know God’s will. We can “hear” His voice with spiritual ears.
God often speaks through other believers. God speaks through supernatural revelation or prophecy as 1Cor 12 says. Prophecy is not just telling the future. It is communicating God’s heart on a specific matter. The purpose of prophecy (all gifts) is encouragement and edification of the believer. What we consider revelation today should never violate the written word of God. 1Corinthians 13 says that we only hear in part, so we must be careful to check any revelation by the Word of God. God’s will can be proved. “And be not conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Ro. 12:2

Why should we seek or listen to counsel? Because individually we only hear in part. No one has a monopoly on wisdom or hearing from God. The Bible says that there is wisdom in multitude of counsel. (Prov. 11:14) I believe that this is referring to a cooperative decision where the Lord speaks in times of corporate prayer.

One must be humble in order to receive counsel. The world may view a need for advice as a sign of weakness, but we should not be insecure or defensive. Advice from a friend is precious. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear.” Prov. 25:11-12

Who should we allow to speak into our hearts and lives? Should we let just anybody? It is important that we block words that can be bad advice, mislead or injure us. But, we also must be careful not to reject words just because they are hard or difficult to accept. Words from God may be sharp as a sword, discerning thoughts and intents of the heart.

We must have faith to hear God’s counsel through others. A friend earns the privilege to give intimate counsel. The one we should listen to is a covenant friend, one in relationship; one we trust; one with proven wisdom and Godly character. We must judge prophets first by their character rather than charisma.

How is Godly counsel delivered? It is given in a Godly manner and in God’s time. We should prayerfully consider counsel before giving it. It should be offered in humility, realizing that we could be wrong. We should understand the person’s situation before giving advice; don’t be like Job’s friends. Some people need compassion more than advice.

Consider a case of prophetic guidance and free will shown in the Bible in Acts 21:10-14. Agabus was a true prophet. He had a message from God for Paul and then he offered counsel as a solution to that word. The Word of the Lord ends with the prediction that Paul would be placed into bondage. There is no mention that the Holy Spirit prompted the advice. The anointed word was that he would encounter difficulty. The carnal word was “don’t go”. Notice that Agabus and the others didn’t force their will upon Paul. Here we see a case of counsel as to direction not a rebuke for sin. This is not a question of doctrine, or where there is clear guidance in the written word of God. This pertained to what some call the permissive will of God. Paul would not be violating some moral code by disobeying the advice not to go to Jerusalem.

The prophetic word was a confirmation of what Paul had heard earlier from the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:22-24). Later on, he had another word directly from Jesus that confirmed his decision to go to Jerusalem (Acts 23:11). Paul’s friends heard from God about what would happen, but they missed God’s will for Paul. Prophetic guidance must be balanced against freedom to hear and decide individually. We should guide people with spiritual principles and allow them to make their own decisions.

The Four Faces of God

Discovering Biblical Personhood

I recently attended a men’s breakfast at our church where we heard an excellent lecture from Dr. Robert Lewis on “The Four Faces of Manhood”. Dr Lewis describes the four faces of biblical manhood as follows: King, Warrior, Lover and Friend. He plots these on a graph as follows:

King

Lover —————–  Friend

Warrior

 

God has intended for the King to lead, for the friend to be faithful, for the warrior to be a protector and for the lover to love sacrificially as Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25). He then describes how God’s design for man can be perverted by “ugly caricatures”. The King becomes a cruel tyrant or a weak abdicator. The friend becomes a loner or a user of others. The warrior becomes a destroyer or a wimp and the lover becomes critical or cold.

It seemed to me that an unbalanced man would tend to lean in a circular direction and that the ugly caricatures would follow in a predictable pattern so that a tyrant king would be a using friend, a destroying warrior and a critical lover. On the other hand, if the unbalanced man leaned in the other direction he would be a weak abdicator, cold lover, a wimpy warrior and a loner rather than friend.

As I contemplated this, I was reminded of some scriptures about “four faces”. The first was in Ezekiel chapter 1 where Ezekiel has a vision of God’s throne and he describes four creatures (some call seraph) that stand guard around God’s throne:

As for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man; each of the four had the face of a lion on the right side, each of the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and each of the four had the face of an eagle. Ezekiel 1:10 NKJV

The Apostle John had a similar vision described in Revelation chapter 4:

Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. Revelation 4:6-7 NKJV

It is interesting that the two visions vary slightly, but to my mind it only lends credibility to the authenticity as the scriptures are inspired by God and penned by men with different perspectives. One can only imagine how frightening such a vision might be and how each might have a different memory of it, just as two people observing a horrible accident might have different accounts. If John had meant to copy Ezekiel he would have done it word for word, but he didn’t. But the two accounts are so similar as to confirm that they were seeing the same throne room.

We must understand that all creation is intended to glorify God as originally created. The creatures guarding God’s throne can be considered to display the character and nature of God just as mankind is made in the image of God. So, what do these creatures tell us about God and how does that apply to mankind?

I believe that the seraph show us that God relates to us as a man and a friend. God came to earth in the form of the man Jesus who referred to Himself as “the Son of Man.” God relates to us as King over all creation as the lion rules over all other creatures. Jesus is referred to as the Lion of the tribe of Judah and revelation assures that He will reign over all creation forever and ever (Rev. 11:15). An ox or a calf is a sacrificial animal. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29). An eagle is the swiftest of hunters and warriors. In the Psalms God describes Himself as an eagle protecting His flock.  He shelters us beneath His wings (Psalm 17:8).

So the new chart is this:

King/Lion

Lover/Ox —————– Friend/Man

Warrior/Eagle

As I have repeatedly read these scriptures in Ezekiel and Revelation I have wondered at their meaning and significance. I believe through this study that the Lord has granted me a measure of revelation. The four fold nature of God is even displayed in the different gospel accounts. Matthew depicts Christ as King beginning with His royal lineage (Mt. 2:2). Mark, written from Peter’s memories (Mark was Peter’s scribe), describes Jesus as a friend and a brother (Mark 3:35). No one was closer to Jesus than Peter. Mark reveals Jesus as a man (Mark 9:12).

Luke, written from Paul’s memories (Luke was discipled by Paul), displays Jesus as the warrior, the defender of the faith and the faithful. We see in the gospel of Luke the accounts of Jesus’ battles with the religious leaders and Pharisees (those accounts don’t name Paul, but I believe that he was among those who followed Jesus constantly seeking to trip him up; Luke 6:7). It is interesting that Jesus chose Paul, a fanatical defender of Judaism, to be the primary evangelist and his Acts and his letters portray how he battled like an eagle to defend the gospel.

John, the mystic, the romantic, depicts Christ as a sacrificial lover. He tells us that God so loved the world that He gave and describes Jesus as the Lamb of God. John records Jesus saying, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (Joh 13:34-35)

These scriptures revealing God’s nature and our response pertain to all mankind, including women. They show us what biblical personhood is. Women are created to reflect God’s image as well. Women are called to lead, love, protect and befriend all be it in a unique way.

As I looked further into Ezekiel’s vision I discovered that it reveals not only the nature of God, but it speaks about how we must walk with God. The vision shows us how not to become unbalanced, fall into sin and display a false, ugly caricature. I noticed that the creatures walked in the Spirit, that is they followed the Holy Spirit. They didn’t become unbalanced and turn to the left or right.

And each one went straight forward; they went wherever the spirit wanted to go, and they did not turn when they went. Ezekiel 1:12 NKJV

The vision goes on to tell us that a strange object followed each of the creatures.

Now as I looked at the living creatures, behold, a wheel was on the earth beside each living creature with its four faces. The appearance of the wheels and their workings was like the color of beryl, and all four had the same likeness. The appearance of their workings was, as it were, a wheel in the middle of a wheel. When they moved, they went toward any one of four directions; they did not turn aside when they went. Ezekiel 1:15-17 NKJV

The scripture goes on to describe how the wheels are covered with eyes, depicting the all seeing, all knowing nature of God. This strange object, like the Seraphim, does not turn to the left or right, but follows the straight path, the narrow way. It reminded me of a gyroscope. I searched the definition/ function of a gyroscope.

Gyroscope: an apparatus consisting of a rotating wheel so mounted that its axis can turn freely in certain or all directions, and capable of maintaining the same absolute direction in space in spite of movements of the mountings and surrounding parts: used to maintain equilibrium, determine direction, etc.

Gyroscopes are used in aircraft instrumentation to show relative position to the earth. They help the pilot to know where straight and level is. A gyroscope has two perpendicular axes. One is perpendicular to the earth and the other is parallel. The axes of a gyroscope make a cross.

Our church has recently been studying the book of Romans. Last week I heard a message from chapter 7 by pastor Keith Knight. Chapter 7 is about struggling with sin. The conclusion is that there is deliverance from sin through Jesus Christ. At the climax of the message Keith turned to a cross on the stage and told us that when the struggle is there, he turns to the cross and reminds himself what Jesus did there to save us from sin. That is the key! That is what will keep us on the straight and narrow road.

I know that this vision is meant to show us that God has provided us with a holy gyroscope to help us follow Him. If we focus on what happened on the cross we will keep our spiritual bearings and not wander off to the left or right displaying an ugly image.

It’s interesting that such a mysterious vision should boil down to such a simple truth that is spelled out in the New Testament: that the way to overcome is to walk in the Spirit and keep your focus on Christ’s finished work on the cross. That is exactly how God revealed Himself in the old covenant. Jesus spoke in parables because He searches for seekers who will find revelation in ALL of scripture.