“Lift up now your eyes”

Lift up now your eyes flatGod sometimes tells people what to do, often in fact. And He’s still doing that today, although you don’t hear much about that in most churches. One of the most famous times this happened was when God spoke to Abraham, 4000 years ago. Did Abraham obey? Well, yes, mostly. But in this case, it seems there was a period of time before Abraham fully obeyed. There’s really a lot we can learn from this.

Now the Lord had said to Abram, ‘Get out of your country, and from your kindred and from your father’s house into a land that I will show you.’” (Genesis 12:1)  Like I said, in many ways Abram did obey. In the first leg of their journey, Abram’s dad and Abram and Lot, his nephew and their families, did move as far as Haran, nearly 600 miles up the Euphrates from Ur, where they started out. Pretty good, no? Only, the Lord had told Abram to separate from his kindred and his father’s house. Still, it was a big step in the right direction of full obedience.

Abraham leaving HaranThen, when Abram was 75 years old, he pulled up stakes again and headed south towards the land that God had been leading him to. But it says “and Lot went with him” (Genesis 12:4). So, he was still with his family who it turns out were not on the same page as Abraham when it came to the things of the Lord. But the Lord hadn’t given up on Abraham and was in the process of performing the work that He had started in him. (See Philippians 1:6)

We read that “There was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdsmen of Lot’s cattle.Abraham and Lot(Genesis 13:7) So Abraham, the man of God that he was, said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between me and you and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren.” (Genesis 13:8) The result was that they decided to part ways and this is the place where Lot looked towards the lush valley of Sodom, near the Dead Sea, and decided to head down to the valley while Abram stayed in the high country.

But then what happened? What did God then do or was able to do then? Here’s what it says in Genesis 13:14 & 15. “And the Lord said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, ‘Lift up now your eyes, and look from the place where you are northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward. For all the land which you see, to you will I give it, and to your seed forever.’

God couldn’t and didn’t fully bless Abram till Abram fully obeyed God. “Lift up now your eyes.” Now that Abram had finally separated himself from his kindred and his father’s house, God was able to perform the fullness of what He had planned.

Roll ye away flatAnd the Bible is just completely full of other examples like this. Before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He told the ones present to “roll away the stone” (John 11:39) that was covering the place Lazarus was buried. In another place Jesus told someone to “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” (John 9:7) They did and they were healed. Jesus told the 10 lepers, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And, get this, “It came to pass that as they went they were healed.” (Luke 17:14)

Sometimes we have to do “the wenting”. We have to do the obeying. It seems like such a simple thing but it’s so utterly important. Jesus raised the dead but they were required to roll away the stone. Jesus healed the lepers but they had to have the faith and obedience to do what Jesus said and to go show themselves to the priest. It seems so simple but actually it’s huge.

So it behooves all of us to search our hearts and to even bring it to the Lord in prayer, “Am I failing to fully obey you in something?” And in our cases, it doesn’t even have to be some specific “personal voice of God” event in our lives. For those of our times, we have the whole Bible to look in to find God’s will for our lives. Are we walking according to the instruction Jesus gave His disciples? If we want His blessings and protection on our lives, are we following closely the instruction He gave in His Word, even what Jesus taught His disciples when He was here on earth?

I think that many of us may find that we’ve not been fully obeying the voice of God through His Word and that’s mostly likely why so many are not near the fullness of the blessings that God would bestow our lives. May the Lord mightily help us to have the vision to more strongly and fully follow the voice of God and the Word of God so that He can do with us what He knows is the very best for our lives.

One hundredfold, now in this time

one hundredfold flatSometimes we think life is really rough and then the Lord comes along and just “blows our mind”, as people used to say. We’re grimly armed for battles and to survive the worst we think will come. And then, almost out of nowhere, the Lord “pours out a blessing that there isn’t room enough to hold it.” (Malachi 3:10)

“Oh, Mark, what are you talking about?! Life is very hard and rough and the Lord is there to comfort us and strengthen us as we wearily trudge along. Someday, when we get to heaven, then Mark, things will be nice and happy and heavenly.”

It’s sure easy to think that way and there are times when it is like that. But not all the time. And that kind of attitude can almost end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. For those of us who not only believe in Jesus and go to church once week but who’ve taken the challenge to “take up your cross and follow Me” (Luke 9:23), there are some amazing promises of blessings, in this lifetime. Actually, I’m presently experiencing some of the most amazing blessings of my entire life. At some point I’ll get more specific about this but it’s really been on the scale of “above all we can ask or think.”  (Ephesians 3:20)

And Jesus promised this to His followers and disciples. Here’s what He said, “And everyone that has forsaken house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands for My namesake shall receive one hundredfold now in this time, and in the world to come, eternal life.”  (Mark 10:30)

Did you get that? It’s not just all pie in the sky for us. Jesus promised that those who have forsaken all, those who are serving Him “here and now” won’t have to wait for the “there and then” before getting some measure of reward. He said they would receive 100 fold “now in this time”, and in the world to come eternal life.

“OK, Mark, I can see you’re really beginning to get tripped off now. You’re going down the road of the prosperity gospel preachers, promising abundant life and lots of material wealth to Christians.”

whoever forsakes flatNope, I don’t think I am. The verse I shared above made the stipulation that “forsaking all” was the prerequisite for the 100 fold blessings that the Lord said would be to His followers “now in this time”. And I can understand that for probably the vast majority of Christians, the very words “forsaking all” (Luke 14:33) are almost unknown to them. This is just another of the very many things that Jesus taught that never are almost ever mentioned in church.

But for those who are following Him, He did say that there would be persecution but at the same time, there would be this 100 fold blessing in this lifetime. It’s sort of sad in many ways. So many Christians today are not really “living Godly in Christ Jesus” and so they are not “suffering persecution” (II Timothy 3:12). Also, possibly because their pastors never taught them about this, they’re not even close to forsaking all and perhaps that may be why they’re not having the experience of really having the blessings of God mightily being poured out on them.

holy spirit which flatThere’s just something about obedience. “He gives the Holy Spirit to them that obey Him.” (Acts 5:32) Of course it’s not that most Christians are utterly disobedient. They do obey some. They worship, some read their Bibles, go to church and are walking according to the light they have since so many churches serve a rather thin gruel of spiritual feeding rather than the pure milk of the Word, much less anything approaching strong meat.

But I was just struck this morning by the significance of that verse above, Mark 10:30. Part of my original Christian experience involved a commitment to “forsake all” in order to “go into all the world and preach the gospel.” (Mark 16:15) And it has at times been a rough and rugged, even lonely road. But it’s really not the full and complete picture if we allow ourselves to fixate on all the battles and little sufferings that can come along.

Because it’s really true what the Lord said, “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) I’ve had a very blessed life and the Lord’s promise of 100 fold in this lifetime is currently a theme playing out in my life so strongly that I’ve struggled at times to even believe what’s going on right now.

So don’t let them kid you. God doesn’t want you to endure years of depressing, fruitless emptiness. That’s not the picture. He is able to do “above all we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20), in this lifetime.

Familiarity

Familiarity flatHere’s a question for you, “Is familiarity good or bad?” “Um, Mark, that’s a trick question, isn’t it?” You’re right, it is. Because it pretty much depends on how you define familiarity. It can be good when we are getting familiar with a situation or even with people we know so that we’re more at ease and able to function in a knowledgeable and capable way.

But there can certainly be a downside to familiarity. What can happen is that, as we get more familiar with a situation or especially with people we love, we can lose the original respect, esteem and even love we first had for them. So familiarity can be an avenue by which a lot of serious damage can be done to our relationships, often with the ones we should love the most.

get behind me flatI was trying to think of some examples of familiarity in the Bible. The actual word “familiarly” isn’t in the Bible. But I thought of at least two possible examples of where familiarity may have been creeping in. Jesus told His disciples that they would be going up to Jerusalem and that He would be crucified and would rise again the third day. Whereupon it says that His top disciple, Peter, began to rebuke the Lord and telling the Son of God that this was not going to happen. What did Jesus do? He sternly rebuked Peter, or actually the devil that was speaking through Peter at that moment saying, “Get behind me, Satan, for you savor not the things of God but the things that be of men.” (Mark 8:33)

Had Peter momentarily gotten a little familiar with the Lord? A little too buddy-buddy and feeling he needed to step in and correct the Lord when he may have thought that Jesus was being a little negative? We certainly know that Peter was not speaking by the Spirit right then and, as Jesus said, he was thinking in the ways of man and not in the ways of God.

Familiarity can be like that. It can just pop up so easily, like a perennial weed and the next thing you know you’re totally out of the Spirit, speaking in a Godless, worldly way to often the ones you’re closest to. What a device of the devil that is; something we all can run into almost any time, if we’re not on guard.

nathan and David flatAnother example that comes to mind is the prophet Nathan and King David. One time King David had been mulling over the idea of building a great temple for the God of Israel. So he asked his chief prophet, one of his top advisers, Nathan, what he thought of the idea. Nathan replied, “Go, do all that is in your heart for the Lord is with you.”  (II Samuel 7:3)

But that night, when alone with God, Nathan heard the Lord telling him the exact opposite of what he had told David earlier. Was Nathan being a little familiar with David, speaking “off the cuff”? Was Nathan being not really in the Spirit so that he actually gave council that was the opposite of the mind of God? Seems like it.

But like I said, there are aspects of familiarity can be good. It reminds me of the sweet song seen in the old movie, “The King and I”, where some of the words were, “Getting to know you, getting to feel free and easy.” Being comfortable and at ease with people can be a wonderful thing, as long as we can be aware of the potential pitfalls to it.

And actually it’s possible to get familiar with the things of the Lord, His Word or even the Lord Himself so that we just don’t want to read our Bible since we think we already know all it says. Or the Lord can become so sweet, close and trustworthy that we begin to not treat Him and our relationship with Him with the awe, respect and Godly fear that we should.

I guess all this can get you to the point where we’re like what Paul said one time, “Oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?!”  (Romans 7:24) You just wonder, “Yes, familiarity’s such a subtle, fatal trap. But what’s the solution?!”

Well for one, if you don’t recognize the problem, you won’t even know to search for a solution. Just being aware of the stark danger of familiarity is a start. But perhaps, like any really heinous, debilitating sin, if nothing else, we can confess it to God and others. A verse that pulled me though some of the worst times of my life is, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  (I John 1:9)

if we confess-flattenedWhat a promise. If we confess it, He’ll cleanse it. It also says to “confess and forsake” our sins (Proverbs 28:13). But at times they are so deep that it seems at first all we can do is to confess it and ask Him to work at the deepest level of our heart to cleanse us. That may be how it is for some people and familiarity, whether it’s with their mate, their family or with the Lord and His Word itself. It’s the beginning of the victory if you even can recognize the problem and then bring it to the Lord in prayer, confessing it and looking for His cleansing.

May we all be delivered from the clutches of familiarity which drags us out of His Spirit and back into our worldly, fleshly, unregenerate selves. “Be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.” “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:32 & 3)

Tie up in port?

launch out flatThere’s just something about going on the initiative to the attack that brings victory. This isn’t specifically a Christian teaching but actually it’s known and spoken of across many platforms and schools of thought. But certainly for the people of faith, you really have to keep wanting to make progress or you’re well on your way to becoming an “old bottle” (Luke 5:37), like Jesus talked about.

A lot of Christians think they should be conservative when actually they really should be progressive. OK, here in the States both of those terms are thickly slathered with extra added meaning. So let’s unpack that and break it down. What do you mean by conservative and progressive? If conservative means timid, supine, hesitant, hold-the-fort, old-fashioned and both critical and fearful of change, then I really don’t think true Christians should be conservative. If progressive means a desire to go further, to achieve enduring positive progress, to dream dreams that can become the Godly reality of tomorrow, then progressive sounds the best bet to me.

And yes, I certainly know that in the superheated socio-political atmosphere in America now, “conservative” and “progressive” are virtually fighting words. But what saith the Scriptures? Are Christians actually supposed to be ultra conservative and to abhor progress? As the Lord said, “I trow not.” (Luke 17:9) In fact I suggest that the propensity to think that we believers are supposed to be “conservative” rather than “progressive” is a serious impinging drag on millions of individuals as well as the body of Christ as a whole.

jesus on horseJesus told His followers to “Launch out into the deep”, (Luke 5:4) He didn’t tell them to tie up in port. Jesus “went a little further and fell on His face”. (Matthew 26:49) Solomon said “Whatsoever your hand finds to do, do it with your might”. (Ecclesiastes 9:10) And Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength.” (Mark 12:30) But sadly, the vast majority of Christians today, if they go to church at all, are being taught that God’s highest and best is to tip-toe through life, ever watchful of sin lurking at every corner which will suddenly jump out and devour the hapless, virtually defenseless sheep that they are.Conquering

What a travesty. Is that the picture of the Early Church? Is that how Christianity and the knowledge of salvation in Him spread throughout the earth? By holding the fort? This is what I wrote about in “Conquering”. Frankly, I believe with all my heart that modern Christianity needs a whole lot more progressives than it does conservatives, a whole lot more gas pedals and fewer brakes.

Where are the soul winners? Where, oh where, are the pastors, imploring and engaging their flocks in the business of personal evangelization? Where are the pastors and church leaders who are actively training their flock in the basics and essentials of salvation itself so that their congregation can turn around and personally win souls in the coming week?

How many people in your church can lead a soul to Jesus? Do they even know they should? Do they personally know the plan of salvation? Or do they think that’s just for the preacher or the Apostles of the Book of Acts? How many people in your church can quote John 3:16 and/or know how to find it in the Bible they carry with them at all times and share that verse with those looking for His truth?

you need Jesus flatIt was 17 year old and 18 year old “Jesus people” who knew their bibles well enough many years ago who showed me on the street the plan of salvation. Verse after verse, John 3:16, Ephesians 2:8 & 9, John 1:12, Revelation 3:20 and others, showing it to me right out of the Bible, that convicted my heart and opened my eyes to the plan of salvation, that changed my life utterly and set me on the path of Christian service for decades now.

Do you know how to do that? If you’re a pastor or preacher, do the people of your congregation know how to share verses like that with ones they meet? We are to “be always ready to give an answer of the hope that lies within us.” (I Peter 3:15). But for so many, if they know they’re supposed to do that at all, it’s mostly some sweet little weak squeak rather than any kind of bold, Scripturally educated testifying and opening of the Word to those who are hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Is your pastor or preacher teaching you and others how to witness and win souls? If not, I suggest you ask him why he isn’t.

While Christians are blindly drawn into political, secular, worldly hostilities, thinking that this is doing their “conservative” duty to God, the unsaved lost continue to go unreached. How it must break the heart of God that His people are so misled and distant from the original pattern of Christianity that we see in the book of Acts and the Early Church. The “great commission” (see Mark 16:15) was not to be fuddy-duddy, hold-the-fort, Sunday-go-to-meeting “conservatives”. Jesus still calls those who will to “launch out into the deep”, not to tie up in port, rot away and die. May God have mercy and help us all.