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.

The Feast of Trumpets

Shofar

The King is coming, get ready
“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites: `On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts. Do no regular work, but present an offering made to the LORD by fire.'” Leviticus 23:23
Last Saturday (9/30/00) began the celebration of the ten day biblical feast of trumpets which reminds us that the King is coming. Jesus will return to this earth and set up His kingdom.
God says to celebrate the feasts. They belong to Him, they are not just for the Jews, they weren’t just for the Old Testament, they are for today, “These are the LORD’s appointed feasts, the sacred assemblies you are to proclaim at their appointed times… This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live.” Lev. 23:4 + 21
The feasts give us insight into God’s plan for His church and the process of being conformed into His image. They were and are a shadow of what was and is to come. The accuracy of the shadows inspired faith in the past ages and they do today as well.
The feasts give us a glimpse at God’s prophetic calendar. All of the bible feasts relate to the harvest. God is a God of Order and Design . God did significant things on significant days and He has revealed it in His Word. God used the harvest theme to show His plan for His harvest of souls. Many of Jesus’ parables or teachings about the growth of the kingdom and salvation had harvest themes. In the Old Testament, God ordered three pilgrimages each year in which every Israelite was to go up to Jerusalem. These were: The feast of Unleavened Bread which begins with Passover and is during the early spring or planting season;; Pentecost, which occurs 50 days after Passover and marked the beginning of the barley harvest, and then the feasts of the seventh month on the Hebrew calendar which mark the completion of the harvest in the fall. The number “seven” in scripture is frequently associated with the theme of completeness.
The theme of the fall feasts is the completion of God’s harvest. The two feasts of the seventh are Trumpets and Booths. The first day of the seventh month begins the ten day Feast of Trumpets culminating on the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur. Trumpets announce the coming of the King which is to be preceded by time of great repentance, revival, spiritual battle and the final sanctification of the believer Booths celebrates dwelling with God. (see Zech 14:16)
Fall feasts of ingathering are yet to be fulfilled; they point to the return of Christ and His millennial reign. 1 Thessalonians 4 associates the return of Christ with the blast of the trumpet.
So how do we as Christians celebrate these feasts today. God’s Word gives us four requirements:
First, it is to be a day of rest. As New Covenant believers, we interpret this to mean that we should spend time with the Lord in prayer and worship. We should rest in His finished work.
Secondly, God calls a sacred assembly: a time of gathering together for corporate worship.
Thirdly, we are to “blow the trumpet.” A literal trumpet blast is a good reminder and can be fun, but in the larger sense, we are to sound the alarm that the King is coming.
Finally, we are to make an offering by fire. As New Covenant believers, we understand that Christ has fulfilled all of the sacrificial law in the sense that it is no longer necessary to perform animal sacrifices. Jesus is our perfect sacrifice for sin. But He still calls us to make a sacrifice of our own lives in dedication and worship to Him.
The burnt offering is described in Leviticus chapter 1. Interestingly, the entire subject of Leviticus is worship. The first offering discussed is the burnt offering. Lev. 1:9 says, “the priest is to burn all of it on the altar. It is a burnt offering, an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the LORD.” This offering was completely consumed and it points to our complete dedication. We are to be a spiritual burnt offering, purified by the refining fire of God’s loving discipline. We are to be a perfect sacrifice unto our King. Our offering is worship
Every feast before the Day of Atonement is just practice and preparation for the final one when the Lord will return. Don’t be taken by surprize The Lord’s return and the establishment of the Kingdom is our great hope. (Titus 2:13)

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.

The Kingdom of God on Earth

Kingdom

“Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” (Mat 6:10)

The idea of God’s kingdom on earth is a classical Christian belief. Christians affirm this belief in the Apostles Creed: “He ascended into Heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God, the Father almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead”. In modern western Christian thinking the concept of salvation is usually confined to the spiritual realm. We usually think of salvation in terms of a personal relationship with Christ by faith. We rarely discuss the idea of a progressive fulfillment of the concept to the physical earthly realm. We tend to think of heaven as the goal. But, biblically speaking, salvation is the restoration of the entire creation. That restoration starts with the individual spirit, but it will progress to the entire physical creation. Biblical salvation ends with the physical realm; the restoration of Eden.

Restoration is not accomplished in a single moment. Quoting George Ladd, “The Kingdom of God belongs to the age to come. Yet the age to come has overlapped with this present age. We may taste its powers [Lazarus] and thereby be delivered from this age and no longer live in conformity to it.” The focus of the modern western Church has changed. The common message is usually about how to escape hell and get to heaven. It shows up in how we evangelize. We ask questions such as, “Are you going to heaven?” or we invite people to come to Jesus and get healing, peace, prosperity or some other personal benefit. You don’t very often hear an evangelist say, “Come to Jesus and die to yourself.” Most Christians are not expecting His imminent return and the establishment of an earthly Kingdom.

The hope of the early church was, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that having denied ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live discreetly, righteously and godly, in this present world, looking for the blessed hope, and the appearance of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,….” (Tit 2:11-13) Jesus will rule on earth with His church. (Rev. 20:4-5; Zech 14:16) God created the earth for a dwelling place with man. His plans are not frustrated; He is not a loser; He doesn’t have a plan B.

God’s church will not be raptured away from this world in defeat. God saves the best for last. The wedding in Cana was a type of the wedding of the bride to come. Just when we think that the wine is all gone, Jesus will perform His great miracle. He is the Creator and He is always doing something better. (Hag. 2:6-9)

But God’s people perish for lack of or a wrong vision. Our focus should be preparing for the Kingdom. Jesus will return when the gospel of the Kingdom is preached to the whole earth. (Mt. 24:14) Heaven will hold Him until He has made His enemies His footstool. (He. 10:12-13) Our part is to hasten the day of His coming. (2Peter 3:12)

How do we prepare the way? Do what Jesus told us to do. Make disciples, not converts, teaching them to obey the things that Jesus taught. (Mt. 28:19-20) Preach that the Kingdom is at hand and serve. (Mt. 10:7-8) That requires being a preserving influence, being salt and light. We must be involved. It is disheartening to see so many Christians not involved in the battle. We are in a struggle for the culture and too many are silent. God has granted us a gift of having a voice in our civil government, but too many believe it is unspiritual to be involved in the fight. The kind of government we have will influence the kind of soil that we sow our seed in. The scriptures teach that God has prepared good works for you in advance. We are to expose darkness by turning on the light.

We must walk in true holiness, not phony legalism, loving God with all of our heart and loving our neighbor as our self. The task is attainable in this life by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Gal 5:16)

THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST

The return of Christ is one of most written about subjects in the entire Bible; it is the main message of God’s word. Christ is coming to rule and reign; to take back His creation. The Bible reveals how to be saved from the judgment to come and be a member of God’s kingdom. This is what Jesus Christ had to say regarding His return to this world:

“But in those days, after that tribulation, ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars of heaven will fall from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.’ “At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens…. “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. … What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” Mark 13:24-37

There are some questions about Christ’s return that have interested people throughout the ages: how and when will He return?

How will He come? What will it be like?

This scripture says He will come in the clouds and in glory, not quietly like a babe, and not secretly as some teach. “At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”

The Bible says He will come with fire. This speaks of divine judgment upon those who have rejected His rule. He will judge those who refuse His offer of forgiveness.

“God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.” 1Thessalonians 1:6-7

He will come like a thief, by surprise:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare…. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 2Peter 3:10-12

When will He return?

Jesus said that no one knows the day or the hour, but there will be some signs. What Jesus revealed was not intended to gratify the curiosity of men. Why was He deliberately evasive? He wants us to live by faith. If everyone knew exactly when He was coming back, most would wait until the last second to get right with God. He wants us to always be prepared for His coming. He said His second coming would be like the days of Noah. In other words, things would be occurring normally. People would not be expecting it

Some people think that because Jesus has waited thousands of years to return, that He was not who He said He is and is not coming back. The Bible warns about this deception:

First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2Peter 3:3-11

SO WHAT SHOULD OUR ATTITUDE BE?

We should be eagerly waiting, looking for His return. We should be ready; spiritually prepared and in right relationship with Him.

So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 2Peter 3:14

That is why Jesus told many parables about being ready for His return. It is not important that we know the time. It is important that we be ready at all times.

2nd coming

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.

Demonology

pexels-photo-539861.jpegJesus is bad for business, Mark 5:1-20

Is there demonic activity today? There is little biblical justification for the idea that demonic activity has ceased since the resurrection of Christ.  Paul referenced that Satan operates as god of this world and roams the earth seeking whom he may devour. Modern scientific rationalism has attempted to explain all manifestation of evil as a result of natural processes, so even Christians tend to ignore the possibility of demonic activity. C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters is probably the best extra-biblical portrayal of how demonic activity works.

When studying historical accounts in the gospels we must dispose of our own pre-conceived notions and biases. We must ask, “why” things are said and done in an attempt to understand the reality of what occurred. We lack a familiarity with the culture and circumstances that the gospel writers took for granted. Modern commentators (within the past millennia) may have imposed a false understanding, so we shouldn’t automatically accept traditional explanations. Modern understandings of old English may have distorted the true meaning. For example, many moderns understand the term, “possessed of” as meaning that a person was controlled or owned by a demon, when in reality the old English meaning of that term is really that the person owned the item. In other words, the Gadarene owned his demons and not the reverse in spite of the powerful influence the demons had on his behavior. In fact, in scripture, there is little evidence of demonic powers completely owning anyone except for the person of the anti-Christ. What we see in scripture and experience is that God, in His grace, preserves the free will of individuals and that by the grace of God, people are able to find deliverance.

Consider the historical background of the area where this incident occurs. Gadarea was part of an area known as the Decapolis (ten cities) which were part of the larger area of Samaria. Samaria, from the time of the Assyrian conquest (@ 700 BC) of the northern kingdom of Israel was re-populated with non-Israelites as the Israelites were deported and dispersed. Over time some of these people came to adopt a bastardized form of Judaism. They were not what would be considered orthodox Jews. Their mores, values and religious practices were very different from the Jews of the southern kingdom of Judah. After the return of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity, the area was gradually infiltrated with practicing Jews, such as the families of Jesus and his friends John and Peter. So the area was a diverse area. A large commercial hog operation such as we see in this account would be unwelcome and probably be unprofitable in orthodox Judea, but not in the Decapolis.

The account begins with Jesus arriving in Gadarea and immediately being met by a demonized man. What unusual behavior for a man supposedly controlled by demons. You would think that demons would want to avoid Jesus. But, apparently the grace and sovereignty of God was sufficient to draw this man to Jesus and he had enough reserve of will to obey the call of God. Further, we see from verses 6 and 7 that the man worshipped Jesus. Demons don’t worship Jesus. It was the man who worshipped. Moreover, he had a revelation of Jesus’ true identity, referring to Jesus as the Son of God. Whether this was a divine revelation or from the demons who knew Jesus’ identity is unknown.

In verses 3 -5 we have a description of the man’s plight. He made the cemetery his dwelling place, which would be unusual for anyone unless they were unwelcome in normal company. Apparently, the people of the village, probably the pig farmers, often tried to bind the man. We must ask “why”. Was he a threat to them? There is no mention of him harming anyone. Instead, he would inflict pain upon himself. Were they attempting to bind him out of compassion? There is no evidence of any compassion among these pig farmers.

We see in verse 7 that in the process of worship (the man did so, not the demons) and referring to Jesus as the Son of God he expresses fear that Jesus would torment him. Was this expression of fear coming from the demons or from the man? Did the man have a wrong understanding of Jesus’ mission? Was he aware of his sin and supposing that Jesus would punish him?

Jesus commands the demons to leave the man and asks them to identify themselves. Why does Jesus ask the demons to identify themselves, after all He knows? I believe Jesus does this so that the man would understand the depravity of his situation. Strangely, in verse 10 we see that the man asks Jesus not to send the demons away. Here is proof that demonized people own their demons and in fact, they enjoy them just as they enjoy their sin. And this is the main stumbling block that prevents people from finding freedom. It was the grace and sovereignty of God that enabled this man to be free.

The demons beg to be sent into the pigs. They were perfectly willing to destroy the pigs and the pig farmers, knowing that physical death would leave them, as spirit beings, unharmed. Jesus showed more concern for the man than for the animals or the business.

The village people and pig farmers come and find the man in his right mind. The normal reaction of most people would be to rejoice. They clearly had no compassion for the man and probably were guilty of abusing the man. Perhaps the man was bad for business. Maybe he was scaring the pigs. Their response to the mercy of God is fear. They beg Jesus to leave. Why? They presumed that Jesus would be a detriment to their business.

The man for his part was grateful for his deliverance, loved Jesus and wanted to go with Him. But, Jesus had a different plan which the man was willing to follow as he went out to preach the good news throughout the area. And thus we see the purpose of Jesus’ trip to the area and the purpose for extending His grace to the man.

The Greatest Threat

It’s not North Korean or Iranian nukes. It’s not Islamic terrorism or Central American gangs. It’s not having your job shipped overseas. It’s not Obamacare or losing your health insurance. It isn’t Donald Trump. It is the judgment of God on our nation.

You rarely hear about it on the “news”, but occasionally you might catch a nature show talking about Yellowstone or the San Andreas Fault in California. Yellowstone is a giant active volcano crater. The last eruption was the largest cataclysmic event in North America. You might be familiar with the red clay soil that paints a wide swath from Wyoming all the way to Texas and the Gulf coast. It came from Yellowstone and is discernible in satellite images. And scientists warn that it could blow at any moment, just like the San Andreas Fault. A magnitude 9.0 quake on that fault would kill millions in a matter of hours. If Yellowstone erupted in a similar way that it last did, Denver would be covered in ash in a matter of hours. There is no possible way that the population could escape in time. The same fate would fall upon Omaha, Kansas City, Oklahoma City and Dallas in a few days. Bozeman and Casper would be obliterated almost instantly. This volcano dwarfs Mt. St. Helens. It would make a nuclear bomb look like a fire cracker in comparison.

I think the wrath of God is sometimes like a volcano. It may take many years because God is patient and forbearing with our sins. But, He is a God of justice and He has judged nations before. His judgment, when it comes, is swift and sure. Are we deserving of His judgment? Of course we are. And it might come at any moment. We are guilty, as a nation, of murdering more than 30 million innocent children. Our people, including our elected leaders and judges, even Christians have turned a deaf ear to the pleas of those defending the defenseless. Their blood cries out for justice. And infanticide isn’t our only sin. Pornography, fornication, adultery, prostitution and murder are rampant. 2 Timothy chapter 3 perfectly describes where we are as a nation, “For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;” (2Ti 3:2-4) Our nation has exalted perversion. We could be judged at any moment.

Perhaps, what stays God’s wrath is that there are worshipping Christians in our land. Our churches are everywhere and they are full. It’s perplexing that there are so many Christians in our land and yet evil is pervasive. Has the salt lost its savor? Are our churches filled with phonies or are we blind? Great revivals are always characterized by social change for the better and an increased commitment to godly obedience by the populace. But we don’t see that in America today. For all of our evangelizing and conversions, we see no change in the culture. The culture continues to descend into the sewer. The church, Christians, need to change what they are doing, because what they are doing now isn’t working.

In contrast, the Great Reformation of the 18thcentury that birthed this nation was marked by widespread repentance among the people. It was sparked by a sermon delivered by Jonathan Edwards entitled “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Edwards called people to repentance. He identified sin for what it is, an affront to a holy God. He described sinners as hanging by a spider’s thread over the fiery pit of hell. The hearers shrieked out in fear. I doubt that such preaching would elicit a similar response today. People today would mock those repentant sinners as superstitious. We don’t fear God anymore. We‘re too sophisticated. It’s rare in American churches to hear about sin, judgment and hell today. The message that people have offended God and must repent has been replaced with “Jesus loves you.” Of course He does! That is why He went to the cross. But, that does not negate the need for people to understand their sinfulness. It is conviction of sin that leads people to receive the grace of God and repent.

John chapter 21 is an account of Jesus meeting His disciples by the Sea of Galilee after His resurrection. Peter and the other disciples had decided to go fishing, which was his original profession. They fished all night and caught nothing. In the morning, Jesus appears on the shore and exhorts them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. When they do, they haul in a load of fish that they can barely handle and they recognize that it is Jesus on the shore. One explanation of the meaning of this is that Jesus, when He had first called them, told them that they would now be fishers of men. They had abandoned the calling of God and gone back to their old life and it was fruitless. We must heed God’s calling.

I think this passage has another message for us today. We are trying to be fishers of men and we are not catching very much. Jesus is saying, “Put your nets on the other side. Change what you are doing. Do it my way. Hear my voice.” We must be guided by the voice of the Holy Spirit if we expect to be fruitful.

As I was studying the scriptures on this subject I was reminded of the parable of the sower. Jesus talked about how the seed that fell on stony ground blew away and bore no fruit. I felt the Holy Spirit tell me that America has been paved over. Our soil is concrete! He said we need a jackhammer to break it up! There must be preaching about sin and hell and soon coming judgment.

I sought the scriptures for Jesus’ evangelistic approach. There are numerous examples in the gospels of Jesus doing power evangelism. People listen when someone gets healed or raised from the dead. Most of us don’t believe we can do that, but Jesus said that we could do greater things. He said that He only did what the Father was doing. You see, Colossians tells us that Jesus laid aside the prerogatives of deity and humbled Himself as a man. He only did miracles by obeying the voice of the Holy Spirit within Him that told Him what the Father was doing. We have that same Holy Spirit in us. He speaks, we must listen.

I also found an account of Jesus’ evangelism that did not involve miracles. It is told beginning in Mark 1:14 thru 1:17. Read the red, the words of Jesus. Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent, and believe the gospel.” Now as he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, “Follow me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.” (Mar 1:14-17) There it is. Let’s break it down and put it in modern vernacular:

  1. Time’s up!
  2. The good news that God is in control, He is here and He rules.
  3. Stop what you are doing (sinning).
  4. Believe the good news of what God has done to forgive you and re-establish His rule here and now on earth
  5. Follow Jesus. He will tell what you should do. He will do great things through you.

Do it in this order, don’t use old English or Christianese:

Time is up! The hearer must understand that it is urgent. Today is the day of salvation. Jesus didn’t say, “Think about it and we’ll talk tomorrow.” You can fall into judgment at any moment. Yellowstone is ready to blow. Your heart could stop this instant. You might get hit by a car. Remind them of that horror movie where people can’t escape death when their number is up. Moderns relate to movies.

God is in control, not Trump, not Putin, not ISIS, not the banks, not your boss. He is working all things together to put everything under Jesus’ dominion. (Eph 1:9)

Stop sinning. Tell them, “You are going the wrong way!” Just as in Trains, Planes and Automobiles, “don’t mock because there are two semis headed right for you.” The hearer must be told that their sin will soon lead to tragedy.  We must call sin for what it is. We must preach sin and hell. Stop soft pedaling with your neighbor. If he blows you off, shake the dust off your feet.

Tell them the good news that Jesus paid the price for their sin and they need not suffer judgment. Not only that, but Jesus is going to restore Eden, there will be peace on earth when He sits on His earthly throne.

Tell them that they must listen to Jesus and do what He tells them to do. He wants them to have a part in building His new Kingdom.

Response to “10 Things Pastors Absolutely HATE to Admit Publicly”

I recently read this column in Church Leaders. (http://churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/174135-matt-boswell-things-pastors-absolutely-hate-to-admit-publicly.html/5) I’m not sure that I am really qualified to comment on this as I was only a “pastor” for five years. Actually, I was a church planter. I planted a Vineyard church in a growing suburban area of eastern Iowa. I’m not sure that I was really “called” to be a pastor. My gifting and passion really was teaching, but in the modern American version of church the best opportunity to express that gift is in pastoral ministry. Never the less, I really could identify with many of the author’s sentiments. So here is my take on it.

  1. We take it personally when you leave the church. Yes and amen. I was deeply committed to seeing the church thrive, but American churches are deeply competitive and consumer oriented. Too many church goers have a consumer mentality and shy away from relationships and commitment. It is especially difficult for new church plants without denominational or sending church support to compete with mega churches. We didn’t get much help. I spent four years without a paycheck. The Vineyard helps very few church plants. We gave more to the Association than they gave to us. The church that “sent” us out gave lip service to church planting, but the pastor was greedy. He eventually resigned from ministry because he was discovered to be embezzling donations.
  2. We feel pressure to perform week after week. I never really felt this pressure. I loved teaching, studying and preparing. I felt confident in my teaching/ preaching skills to the point that I never worried about it.
  3. We struggle with getting our worth from ministry. This was probably my biggest problem.
  4. We regularly think about quitting. Not really. Most of the time I loved what I was doing. I developed strong relationships that exist to this day and I know that I was used to help many people to grow in their walk with Christ.
  5. We say we are transparent—it’s actually opaque. I think I crossed the line too many times. We were deeply wounded by people that we thought we could trust.
  6. We measure ourselves by the numbers. Yes, especially in a church planting movement like the Vineyard. While I was serving we attended a number of church growth conferences and our movement placed heavy emphasis on church growth. Yes, Jesus wants a big church. But, He also wants a mature church and He wants His people to be in committed communion/ community. There was not much emphasis placed on the later. Success and support was measured and received based on numbers. I firmly believe that the American church would be stronger if there were fewer mega churches and more small churches characterized by greater commitment and maturity.
  7. We spend more time discouraged than encouraged. Most of the time this was not true for me as our church was growing in maturity, community and numbers for about five years (We were running about 75 in attendance and almost half were in one of several weekly home groups). We were doing relatively well compared to most church plants which fail before five years. Ours blew up over a short time span over a discipline issue. I made the mistake of following the biblical plan of church discipline by dis-fellowshipping a gossip after repeated warnings. My district overseer warned me not to do it. He was right from a strictly worldly business perspective. I should have done it sooner as the damage was irreparable by the time I did it. It wasn’t discouraging until the end. I once had a rude old Methodist pastor ask me, “Why did your church fail?” I wanted to smack him. I told him it wasn’t my church. Those who were blessed by our ministry do not consider it a failure.
  8. We worry about what you think. What, me worry? I should have been more sensitive to what people were thinking.
  9. We struggle with competition and jealousy. Oh yeah. I learned that it wasn’t about me.
  10. We feel like we failed you more than we helped you. No, I know I helped them.

 

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.