The Last shall be First

the first shall be last flatSometimes life is kind of funny, amazing and strange; you know what I mean? It’s like where Jesus said “Many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.” (Matthew 19:30) You think you’re on top and have arrived and then, oops! It all turns to ashes and it seems you’re left with nothing. Or maybe you think you see that in someone else’s life. “Boy, they’re ruined now. What a failure they are; I knew it all along.” It’s easy to think that about ourselves or others.

If I can get away with quoting a little Bob Dylan here in perhaps his most famous song, he sang “The slow one now will later be fast” and he went on to sing, “And don’t start talking while the wheel’s still in spin, for the times they are a changin’.” So often we think it’s “the end” (our end or someone else’s end) when it turns out to be just “a bend in the road.”

About 15 years ago I’d pretty much lost faith in myself and was at a real low point in my life. I felt like all I was good for was moving boxes, sweeping sidewalks and driving a truck. It’s sometimes hard to have faith in yourself or the Lord being able to use you when others see little or nothing in you or have much faith in you. That was part of it. But also my life in many ways just seemed to be losing its meaning and purpose. So I moved back to my home country after living many years abroad as a missionary. I got a secular job and began puttering around, just trying to get along.

same day born flatThen, during that time, happened one of the most unusual and bizarre things that ever happened to me in my life. It occurred in the middle of a Thursday night get together with some Christian friends I’d begun meeting with. I wrote about this in “Strange, Very Strange. But True.” A Las Vegas gambler would probably give odds on what happened there that night at something like around 10 million to one, if that.

Back then I didn’t even know why it happened but I guess I just felt that the Lord was ringing His bell in my life, letting me know He was still around and could do some impossible things when it fit His plan. And during that time was when the first beginnings of the video ministry with the Prophecies of Daniel started for me. I was sharing Bible classes with those folks and some others and a number of people told me, “You should video this.” So that time, when it really was like the end for me, was actually the beginning place of this video ministry which has been a real personal blessing and encouragement to me.

Im so great flatI was thinking this morning about how things like that work, how it seems at some points that some people are really way out in front, amazingly used of the Lord, full of the Holy Ghost and then some time later something seems to have happened. It’s like they’ve crashed, stumbled, fallen or laid down their crown. But sometimes it’s just that, like trees, we go through winters.

Even fruitful trees have times when they look dead. But they aren’t. However, for us humans, it can look like the end. King David knew about this. He said, “And in my prosperity I said ‘I shall never be moved.’ Lord, by your favor you have made my mountain to stand strong. You did withdraw your hand and I was troubled.” (Psalm 30:6 & 7)

In fact, because of his sins, God let David basically lose his kingdom and have to flee for his life with a small band of followers, being cursed by former friends along the road as he went. But David got his heart right with the Lord and kept holding on to his faith until the Lord restored him to his throne.

We all go through seasons, like the famous chapter in the Bible, Ecclesiastes 3, says and which was immortalized by the popular song by The Byrds from the 1960’s:

four seasonsThere are just these cycles of life: birth, life, death and resurrection which in some ways can happen more than a few times within our lives here on earth. I think the lesson for me this morning is that this has happened in my life a good number of times. But I also need to remember that this can and does happen in the lives of others, even ones I have (Lord help and forgive me) somewhat given up on.

Some folks seem to have fallen so far and stayed there so long but that really doesn’t have to be “the end”. God is still the God of miracles and He can still “deliver from the lowest hell.” (Psalm 86:13) Sometimes the Lord lets things or people and their hearts get to be really pretty bad so that they’ll see it themselves and come to where they feel a desperate need for God. That’s what happened to me.

The first shall be last and the last first.” (Matthew 19:30) It’s not the end, just a bend in the road. “He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20) and He delights in taking complete failures, twisted wasted lives and bringing them into His kingdom of light through His unimaginable, miraculous, loving touch. So, don’t give up on yourself or others. He hasn’t.

Distracted

fight distractions flatI was trying to have my morning prayer time, something I often do by going out somewhere in nature.  But this morning, as has happened at other times, it was a real battle to focus on prayer and not to be distracted.

I’ve recently moved and now am able to go out in a secluded wooded area, away from the bustle of the city. You would think that would be a great place to pray and I suppose it is. So the problem isn’t with the surroundings, it’s me. I seem to get easily distracted. “Oh, look at that butterfly! Those trees need pruning. The clouds are nice today.” Just on and on it goes. Repeatedly I have to snap out of it and turn my attention back to why I came out there: to pray and “pour out my heart before Him.” (Psalm 62:8)

lead and guide me flatMaybe my problem is that things are more or less going OK right now, that I’m not face to face with some ominous crisis. That may be a part of it. Sometimes situations you’re facing can drive you to desperate prayer. But what about when you need to do today what you did yesterday and will be doing for probably a few more weeks and months? Well, we still need to pray. We still need to “in all our ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your path.” (Proverbs 3:6) We need to “commit our way unto the Lord, trust also in Him and He shall bring it to pass.” (Psalm 37:5)

It’s just so easy to lapse into lethargy and it can often begin with our prayer life. Jesus said to His disciples at perhaps the most desperate hour of His life, “Can you not watch with me one hour?” (Matthew 26:40) But they were asleep in the garden of Gethsemane while it says of the Lord in prayer, “and being in an agony, He prayed more earnestly. And His sweat was it were great drops of blood, falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:44)

Maybe we don’t “feel” like praying, maybe we’re tempted to think of it as drudgery or some kind of daily ritual we’re called to. But this can all be so much clearer if we shine the light of the Word on it. When I was going out to pray this morning, a verse came to me that I’d reviewed earlier. “Through desire, a man having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddeth with all wisdom.” (Proverbs 18:1) I’ve heard folks say that verse is talking about something bad, separation from God and going after evil wisdom. But it equally can be taken the other way.

watch and pray flatHaving a desire to get alone with the Lord and to connect with Him, we separate ourselves from the world around us and its distractions so that we can seek and intermeddle with the wisdom, love and Spirit of God. That was my verse I claimed as I went out to pray today. But it was a battle. Another verse that came to me was what the Lord told His disciples when He said to them, “Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)

Temptation? You mean one of them had brought a bottle of whiskey or some other sin of the flesh? I don’t think so. I think the temptation was the same kind I was facing in our garden here this morning. Distractions, lethargy, fainting in our minds. “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.” (Proverbs 24:10) And that “day of adversity” doesn’t only have to be when you’re faceing ISIS or your neighbor’s dog.

It’s a battle every day with our besetting sins, the “weights and sins that do so easily beset us.” (Hebrews 12:2) And one of those besetting sins is to just grow weary in well doing, to get our eyes off the Lord and the goal before us. “Where there is no vision, the people perish”, (Proverbs 29:12) and in some ways it takes vision to take prayer time.

For me that vision is strengthened and enhanced by quoting the Word of God I have memorized. Otherwise I will just stroll along, doing my own thing and thinking my own vain thoughts. King David said, “I hate vain thoughts, but your law do I love.” (Psalm 119:113) Or it’s like Paul said, “Casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. ” (II Corinthians 10:5) That says a lot there, bringing every thought into captivity. Maybe that’s what that verse in the Old Testament meant when it said, “He did evil because he prepared not his heart to seek the Lord.” (II Chronicles 12:14) We have to not only get in prayer; we have to get in the Spirit.

dont have to pray flatIt can all seem tedious. The devil and our own carnal mind can tell us that this isn’t really so important. “What you’re doing today doesn’t really have to be prayed about. You can handle this on your own.” Boy, what a lie. The Lord said, “Without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)  Well, we can do a lot of wrong and useless things. But to do His Will, we need His strength and power.

So even if this day may look a lot like the one yesterday, it still needs to be hemmed in at the beginning and end with focused, undistracted prayer. Lord help me, I’m almost writing this to myself as much as I am to anyone else. These are things I need to really remember, do and hold on to. I hope it’s something that others may be facing and need help with as well.

Turning Back

will you also flatThere is an incredible joy in becoming a Christian, I certainly experienced that and continue to experience it. But most of us know that there also can be some serious times of difficulty, challenges and even wrenching heartbreaks that come in our life along the road of faith. One of the heartbreaks that I’ve experienced a lot in recent years is seeing dear brethren in the Lord who’ve turned back from their convictions and life of faith they once held and are now no longer believers or who are overcome and defeated with “the affairs of this life.” (II Timothy 2:4)

It’s a bit of a delicate subject. Jesus said to the self-righteous religionists, “He that is without sin, cast the first stone.” (John 8:7) So definitely the idea here isn’t to cast stones and condemn those who, for whatever reason, have “cast away their confidence” (Hebrews 10:35) in the Lord, His Word and the life we’ve been given.

Demas has forsaken flatBut it is heartbreaking. It’s even discouraging to have contact with ones who once were not just believers but soul winners, disciple-makers and missionaries at the ends of the earth who now question the basic tenets of the Bible and have sunk back into the morass of humanity and the mire of the multitude. Paul said in one place, “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world.” (II Timothy 4:10) Or like it says in the Old Testament, “The children of Ephraim, being armed and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle.” (Psalm 78:9)

It’s almost like being in one of those dreams where you see someone in mortal danger and you try to reach out to them or rescue them. But, in your dream, you can’t reach them or save them from their plight. I suppose it’s similar to what solders experience in the heat of war when a comrade falls at their side. Except this is not exactly the same because it may be closer to what the Bible says about being “wearied and faint in your mind.”  (Hebrews 12:3) Or even what happened with John the Baptist and Jesus.

are you he flatJohn the Baptist was the herald and forerunner of Jesus, preparing the way before Him. But something must have happened because he later sent his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you He that should come, or do we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3) It’s hard to read that any other way than that John had really fallen back from his faith in Jesus. So the Lord said to “go show John again those things which you see, the blind see, the lame walk, the dead are raised.” (Matthew 11:4 & 5) And then the clincher, “And blessed is he who is not offended in Me.” (Matthew 11:6)

Evidently something the Lord did or said must have offended John the Baptist. And in our times as well something can happen that offends us, something we never thought would happen.  “Surely the Lord wouldn’t let that happen!” But it did. And we are offended, stumbled and sometimes, if we don’t get back to standing on the Rock and trusting Him, it can take us all the way out of our realm of faith rewards in heaven-flattenedand land us in the outer darkness of unbelief. It happens to a lot of people, maybe you know some. That may be why the Lord said, “Hold fast to what you have that no man take your crown.” (Revelation 3:11)

Paul wrote a whole epistle which was around this theme, to the Galatians. “Oh foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” (Galatians 3:1) Some “false brethren” had come to the Galatians after Paul had left them and had sown major doubts and questions about the faith and freedom Paul told them they had in the Lord. Repeatedly in Galatians you can see Paul trying to restore these ones back to the foundation he’d laid for them which had been challenged and attacked by “brethren.”  “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you…” (Galatians 4:19)

I dont believe flatIt’s an ongoing occupational hazard of being a disciple of the Lord to have ones you love and who stood with you on the battlefronts of the Lord to somehow later turn back from their faith and convictions and to even be used of the enemy at times to try to sow doubt in your mind that has entered theirs.

And I can hear some say, “Well, they just got tired or discouraged”. There’s a difference between that and turning back on the Lord. I know a lot of people in their 60’s who can’t carry the physical load they once did but who still are keeping the faith. Some are even witnessing in parks and on the streets, doing what they can, even when their bodies can’t do as much as they did before.

Prodical sonIs there a happy ending to this? I don’t know. We can hope and pray that some of these will be like the prodigal son and return to the Father’s house and their original calling. But perhaps for all of us, it’s good to remember the admonition, “Cast not away your confidence which has great recompense of reward.” (Hebrews 10:35) “Now the just shall live by faith, but if any man draws back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.” (Hebrews 10:38)

We all need encouragement and the help and love from fellow brethren. It is a battle and the darkness deepens steeply in our times. My prayer and hope is that each person reading this will keep the faith and continue to be a helper of others in order that we continue to let our lights shine before men as we lift Him up and all will be drawn to the Lord.

“No man knows the day and hour”

no man knows flatIf you are a student of the future events predicted in the Bible, you’ve almost certainly heard the verse quoted, “No man knows the day and the hour” (Matthew 24:36). My experience is that this is often brought up by folks who want to negate the revealed plan of the future that Bible prophecy presents. And I suppose a light reading of that verse could persuade some people to look at things that way. In other words, “No man knows the day and hour” so therefore “Forget about the whole thing! Don’t even try to understand it.” Or so they say.

why try flatBut I don’t think that’s the meaning or the intent the Lord had. For one, I certainly agree with the verse that, at that time and probably for now, no man knows the day and the hour of the Lord’s return. For one, back then, they didn’t need to know that because that wasn’t the main thing that was happening right then. Jesus Himself was the one Who said that no man knew the day and hour of His Return. He said this near the end of His ministry on earth, before His crucifixion. His return was still far off in the future. Also, if we just take literally what Jesus said, He said that no man knows the day and the hour of his coming. But that doesn’t mean that at some point in the future we won’t know perhaps the year, the month or even the week of His coming.

Revelation 11 3D-d for D9 blog postWhy do I say that? If you’re a student of prophecy, one of the most often-prophesied events in the Bible is the coming 3½ years of “Great Tribulation” that Jesus Himself spoke of. (Matthew 24:21). This three and a half year period is also mentioned in Daniel chapters 7 and 9 and extensively throughout Revelation. Over and over again we’re told about this period of “42 months”, “1260 days” and “time, times and half a time”.

Matthew 24 21-a for blog postThe Lord doesn’t waste His Words. This wasn’t put there for effect. While I believe that we won’t know the specific hour of the Lord’s coming, it is one of the clearest subjects of Bible prophecy that this period of 3½ years will come. Even the specific sign of the beginning of this 42 months is pointed out by Jesus Himself. In Matthew 24:15 and 21, He said, “When you see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the Holy Place….then will be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time…”. I’ve made a video specifically on this subject of the Great Tribulation that Jesus spoke of and which is revealed in Daniel. The video can be seen here.

At the time of Jesus, no man knew the day and the hour. But the people of the future will be able to have a pretty good idea of how much time there is left, those ones who will pass through the last years and months before the Lord’s return.

Why? Why would the Lord want anyone to know when He was coming back? I believe there are several reasons. For one, it’s going to be a time of tremendous hardship for believers and worshipers of the God of Abraham. But for those who know these verses in the Bible, it will be an anchor of their faith that it’s only for an appointed time, that it will have an end and that end will be the Lord’s coming.

few more months flatAlso it will be something that can be used as a witness to the waverers and the undecided. When the believers in God can tell the undecided what is going on, that it’s the time of the Antichrist and that all those things have been predicted for centuries, it will be a witness and testimony to millions. That’s why it says in Daniel 11:33 “And they that understand among the people shall instruct many”. This comes only two verses after the verse that Jesus Himself pointed to in Daniel when He was teaching about the time before His coming, Daniel 11:31.

The Pact flatYes, “No man knows the day and the hour”. No one knew it at the time Jesus said that and no one knows it right now. But I believe that there will be those of us in the last 3½ years before His return or even in the last 7 years before His return, who will have a pretty good idea of the year, the month and perhaps even the week of the Lord’s return. And it will be a tremendous help and blessing to know that as the believers at that time will face troubles unparalleled in history.

So if someone tells you “No man knows the day and the hour”, don’t let that rattle your faith. Know what the Word says and what is repeated again and again in Daniel and Revelation about the specifics of the Last Days. Then you’ll be strong, prepared and you can “instruct many”. (Daniel 11:33)

The stones would cry out

jesus on donkey 3Jesus had taught, healed and preached throughout Israel for 3 years. As He neared Jerusalem, His disciples brought a young donkey to Him and sat Jesus on the donkey. Then, as they approached Jerusalem, the Bible says,“And when He had come near  the descent of the Mount of Olives, all the multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works which they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King coming in the name of the Lord! Peace in Heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:37 & 38)

Pharises with Jesus 1 flatAlmost always in any crowd that followed Jesus were His detractors and antagonist. In this case the next verse says, “And some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to Him, ‘Master, rebuke your disciples.’” (Luke 19:39)

The Pharisees were a prominent sect of the Jews at that time and were the primary religious leaders of the Jewish people back then.  A few of them, like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea recognized Jesus for who He was. But the vast majority of the Pharisees felt that Jesus was a false prophet and they often hounded and harassed Him, as in this case. They called out to Jesus, out of the rejoicing crowd, that He should rebuke His disciples.

Jesus answers 1 flatAnd Jesus said to them, “I tell you, if these should hold their piece, the stones would immediately cry out.” (Luke 19:40) Honestly, the first time I heard that, it seemed a little far out. In fact, if you’re like me, maybe the first time you read the Bible there were a number of things that really kind of seemed strange. Why would Jesus tell the Pharisees right then that if His rejoicing, happy disciples had not been rejoicing and praising God, that the stones would start doing it? You gotta admit, it kind of sounds “out there.”

But as you read further and find out more, it becomes quickly much clearer. This very moment in history had been prophesied to happen by the prophet Zachariah over 500 years previously.  Zachariah 9:9 says “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, your King comes to you. He is righteous and victorious, meek and riding on an ass, even on a colt, the son of an ass.

So that very event of Jesus riding in to Jerusalem on a young donkey, surrounded by His rejoicing disciples, was something that was directly prophesied and recorded in Hebrew Scriptures centuries before.

And Jesus was so sure that those Scriptures and that prophesy was going to be fulfilled that He told the Pharisees, “If these should hold their peace, the stones would cry out.” Jesus called Himself “the son of Man” when He was on earth. But He was the Son of God and He knew that the Word of God would not and could not fail. It’s a certainty that eludes many of us as we read God’s Word and think on these things. In John 10:35 Jesus said, “the Scriptures cannot be broken.” In three places in the Gospels Jesus said, “The Scriptures must be fulfilled.” (Matthew 26:54, Mark 14:49, Luke 24:44)

Jesus’ love for mankind is perhaps what He is best known for. God is love, if He is anything, and perhaps the most famous verse in the Bible says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  (John 3:16) It’s about love. But if we are to study and to emulate Jesus, the perfect Man, then grasping His certainty that prophecy will be fulfilled is vital.

Prophecy fulfilled flatWe look about us at the foolishness and horror of our times and gaze with perhaps a good deal of apprehension towards the future. But for those with faith in the God of Abraham, we could do well to have that depth of confidence and certainty that Jesus had in the unbreakable veracity of Bible prophecy. I believe He wants each of us to have that certainty in the Words of God that are yet to be fulfilled, for the troubled times each of us now have and for the tribulations that may yet come.

Daniel First

Daniel Night for blog postIf you were going to build a house, would you start by putting shingles or tile on the roof? Would you start by painting or by putting in the windows? Of course not. But the sad state of prophetic teaching about the endtime by so many Bible teachers seems to go that direction. And sometimes it just ends up being a mess and incoherent, far from “sound doctrine“. (Titus 2:1)

Matthew 24 15-d for blog postTo build a house, you’d start out with the foundation, then the framework, the walls and last would be the finishing touches. Jesus Himself pointed His disciples to the Book of Daniel and told them, “Whoever reads it, let him understand”. (Matthew 24:15) This was when He was teaching about the events prophesied in the Bible as leading up to the coming Kingdom of God on earth,

But how many Bible teachers today really start there?  Sadly, so often their first and only stop is into the book of Revelation. And then they often get off on some tangent or just end up teaching things that might look nice or sound exciting but just isn’t on the rock of the foundation of endtime truth. It’s like they started painting and roofing before they got the basics of the house up.

This morning someone sent me a link on YouTube about Bible prophecy.  The dear teacher was instructing us that the Trumpets of Tribulation and the Bowls or Vials of Wrath are actually the same thing. I didn’t get much past that point. I guess for me, instead of attacking and criticizing what I sometimes find in the prophetic teaching of others, instead I’ve just tried to keep my “shoulder to the boulder” in continuing to get out this series of videos on the book of Daniel. If this is a subject that’s interesting to you and perhaps you know a good deal about, you might find the last class I did, about Daniel chapter 9 and “The Last 7 Years” to be interesting. You can see that video here.

foundations-flattenedTo paraphrase Paul, I believe God is the “wise master builder who has laid the foundation”. (I Corinthians 3:10) And I believe that the foundation that was laid for the picture of the endtime that He put forth in the book of Daniel is not going to be discarded or overturned by the last book in the Bible, Revelation.

Daniel smiling with Gabriel for D9 blog postIt all fits wonderfully together, both the information God gave in the Old Testament, primarily through the prophet Daniel, then what Jesus taught about the matter in Matthew 24 and the places Paul talked about the subject, like in II Thessalonians. There are other places as well but I’m just hitting the highlights here. All these things are the building that was done by God through the Scriptures, “line upon line, precept upon precept.” (Isaiah 28:10)

And when we come to Revelation, we find that God continues to build on the same story and the same house, not that He throws out the whole thing and starts over. He doesn’t expect us to build our whole endtime theology around what we find in Revelation, any more than a builder would build his house out of material brought to the building site for the doors, windows and roof.

I guess I get a little incensed. I think of all the poor souls trying to make sense out of it all. How difficult it must be to understand any of this if someone is not building their teaching on the foundation that God has been laying out for us over many centuries, not only just on the revelation that God gave John on the isle of Patmos.

But it’s in a sense good. It motivates me to “press in” all the more to try to put out what I believe is the original plan and teaching that was found at various times in the teaching of the Early Church and with Bible scholars down through the centuries. And by the way, I really don’t think that the 7 trumpets of Revelations 8 and 9 are the same thing as the vials of Wrath in Revelation 16. First things first. Otherwise it can get confusing and “God is not the author of confusion.” (I Corinthians 14:33) Thanks for your prayers for this video project, “If the foundation be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalms 11:3)

 

Freedom

freedom pictureI’ve had a conversation with a new friend and some of it has been about freedom. My gosh, what a subject.  Are you free? Free from what? How can we tell? How can we measure and quantify freedom? Everybody talks about it, most everybody wants it, a few people say they have it and some say that others don’t have it. But some people just really feel and know they aren’t free. They are bound. Sometimes they feel like a slave, either to some other person, to some system, to their families, their egos or whatever.

you shall know the truthBut Jesus talked a pretty good amount about freedom. In fact, He promised it. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed”. (John 8:36)  The university I went to has at the top of its main building, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” Of course it was Jesus Who said that. But the university appropriated that Bible verse to apply it to the secular education received at the university.

I don’t know, maybe some find the truth there. I’m afraid I found some knowledge there but knowledge is not really the same thing as truth. While I was acquiring knowledge at university, I was literally nearly dying for a lack of wisdom that comes from the truth that comes from God. And I certainly wasn’t free. I guess I could have thought I was, going to university, cool sports car, apartment, pretty good job, nice clothes. But inside I was like a person with a terminal disease in its last stages. I was sick and starved of the knowledge, wisdom, truth and freedom that come from God.

From the early 70's. London, England

But when I came to that point where I received Jesus and was born again, I truly in so many senses became “a new creature in Christ Jesus”. (II Corinthians 5:17) Was I free then? I sure was; but it was something so totally in the middle of my soul that it might not have been apparent right away. Or maybe it was. I’m sure my countenance was different, my words began to be different, my lifestyle changed and I just had a complete change in my heart and soul from the inside out.

For one, I was free from addiction to psychedelic drugs, something that had a grip on me till then. But it was much more than that; it really was like what Jesus meant when He said those words written in stone at the top of the building at my university, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”(John 8:32)the truth will make flat I began to have a freedom, a peace, a joy and even words that there may be no words for, maybe close to the word “ecstasy”. But I don’t find the word that fits, really. Simply put, it was a form of freedom and deliverance from the fear, confusion, bondage, lack of direction, just the overwhelming lack in every area that was the essence of my life before my coming to God.

You may say, “I don’t know. I went to church one time and those folks didn’t look free at all. It all seemed pretty formal, traditional and, frankly, dead.

The good news is that some churches are not like that anymore. They are drinking deeply of the things or God, or are trying to, and people pushing the envelope to find those spiritual realities that Jesus promised are ours in Him. For example, some people are singing songs together, powerfully and from their heart and they are being exhilarated with the freedom that comes sometimes through song. I personally have been in places where the songs even turned into dance and went on for hours. No, people were not jerking around like rodents; it was smooth and beautiful, heavenly and free like we’d been transported up from this world or the essences of heaven had come down to us. It was an indescribable experience.

Another form of freedom I’ve experienced was in the midst of one of the worst natural disasters on earth in our lifetime, when I was in refugee camps in Aceh province, Indonesia in the immediate aftermath of the Asian tsunami of 2004. It wasn’t some out-of-body experience but a very practical freedom of stability, sanity and focus in a time when most people were utterly stunned and overwhelmed in the aftermath of such devastation. There was an infusion of freedom and peace on me and my friends that made it so that we could minister for many hours each day, giving and pouring out in every way we could when almost all the local and state infrastructure had been destroyed and we were surrounded by devout Islamic people who couldn’t help wondering how in the world we got there and why we were there.

For a Christian, we’re not just given freedom like some lottery prize but as something useful and practical that brings us joy. But His freedom also strengthens us for the task at hand in this present world, of bringing people to God and His Son Jesus. And I’ll admit, it does seem like many Christians have not gone so far in experiencing the freedom we have in Jesus.

passing litMost churches are so “afraid of wild fire”, that they have little or no fire of the Spirit at all. Besides, only a few are beginning to tell the sheep in their congregations that actually they are responsible to not just “lie down in green pastures” (Psalm 23:2), but to “bear much fruit” (John 15:8), to witness and win others personally to Him. So they need to experience the freedom we have in Him and then start using it to get going for God and others.

sharing wordWe’re free, free, free; free to do God’s will. Free to “follow the Lamb, whithersoever He leads“. (Revelation 14:4) And for those few who are beginning to awaken to the fact that the dear Lamb of God has work to do for each of us in this world, they are finding that His freedom will help so that we can do so much more, dream so much more and accomplish so much more than most of us ever did before when our life in the Lord consisted of Sunday church service and perhaps a little more.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty”. (II Corinthians 3:17) “The creature itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God”. (Romans 8:21) How many people of God have really experienced that “glorious liberty” personally in their lives? where the spiritHow many people are daily living in that glorious liberty to the full in the action-packed, thrilling, significant destinies His saved children can have right now in this world, if we seek first His kingdom. Oh, that the Lord would be able to help more of His people to drink more deeply of His freedom and the things of Him now in this lifetime. “Eye has not seen, neither has ear heard the things that belong to them that love Him. But God has revealed them unto us by His Spirit for the Spirit searches the deep things of God.” (I Corinthians 2: 9 & 10)

Saying no to God

take your son flatHow do you feel about the great heroes of the Bible? Elijah in towering power, calling down the fire of God on Mount Carmel. Moses in majesty, leading the Hebrews through the Red Sea on dry ground. Every felt like you could do that? Nah. Well, I was in a Sunday school class last week where the lesson was on one of the more quirky characters in the Bible, Jonah. I got a lot more out of it than I ever have before and I’ll try to share some here.

Let’s face it, at times God seems to ask or just tell people to do things that can appear to be absolutely crazy and wrong. “Take thy son, whom you love, and go sacrifice him on the mount.” (Genesis 22:2) “Except you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53) Or, one of my favorites, in Acts 10 when the Apostle Peter sees the sheet full of unclean animals let down to him and he hears a voice commanding him, “Arise Peter, kill and eat. (Acts 10:13)No Lord flat Peter vehemently refused saying, “Not so Lord… So it happened three times.

Somehow, it seems like the Lord just barely got Peter to go along with this. Evidently with reluctance, he went with the Romans to Cornelius’s house. It went against every bit of Jewish training and tradition he’d received and here the Lord was telling him to go contrary to it. Somehow Peter just barely avoided completely defying God. And as a result the gospel was shared for the first time by the Early Church with the non Jewish peoples.

But what about Jonah? Jonah not only said no to God, he got up and headed the other direction! He was already a prophet of God but the Lord’s instruction to him to go to the world capital at that time and preach repentance to it just was utterly out of the question as far as Jonah was concerned.

Was Jonah struck dead? Did God get discouraged? Nope. In fact it’s one of the most amazing stories in the Bible. Jesus even referred to it Himself saying how that, “as Jonah was three days in the belly of the fish, so the son of Man would be three days in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:40) You could make some kind of case to say that God let Jonah experience something of hell. Jonah got to have his way but he really suffered for it, so much so that for all intents and purposes Jonah died in his sins.

But he didn’t. God had a much greater plan for Jonah and it was being accomplished. There are those famous words of his from the belly of the whale as he there prayed and quoted the Psalms of David. At length, realizing his terrible mistake and the sins of his heart, he said “They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.” (Jonah 2:8) What incredible truth in so few words.

Salvation is of flatEven though he was a man of God, Jonah must have had some major things in his heart, “lying vanities”, which kept him away from the mercy of God. Until it seemed utterly too late. But it wasn’t. There in the whale’s belly Jonah said, “Salvation is of the Lord”. (Jonah 2:9) And, one of the most astounding miracles in the Bible, the fish vomited him onto the shore.

End of story? Not by a long shot. Jonah still had the call of God. “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” (Romans 11:29) He still had what God had told him to do. Only now, he was about as chastened, humbled and emptied of himself as perhaps any man ever was. Sometimes God’s way up is down, it certainly was in Jonah’s case. When God can get us out of the way, then He has a change to work. But as long as our will is not surrendered, it’s almost impossible for God to use us.

Jonah in Ninevah flatJonah then went to Nineveh and declared God’s message, “Forty days and Nineveh shall be destroyed!” (Jonah 3:4) What happened? They repented! Evidently the king and the people of this leading city and country of that day in the Middle East, Nineveh and the Assyrians, repented in sackcloth at the preaching of Jonah. What an event that must have been, it’s not an often occurrence at all in history. God had to have a man so utterly humbled and broken like Jonah to deliver the message. And evidently the Lord’s message and Spirit really came through Jonah so much that it brought that people to repentance. And the message of doom that Jonah preached was somehow rescinded.

I never thought of it much before but I think it wasn’t just Jonah’s message that did it but his testimony. Have you ever thought of that? How do you think it went with the Ninevites and the king there himself when word got around that “There’s this Jewish guy here who is saying the God of the Jews told him that in 40 days Nineveh will be destroyed. And he’s saying that he didn’t even want to deliver this message from God. But a giant fish swallowed him and then spit him out so he’s here now to speak for God”. Jonah would have been like a living miracle walking among them.

So Nineveh repented in sackcloth and ashes. And do you know how Jonah took that? Well it sounds like he went off and sulked that it seemed like he’d gone to all that trouble for nothing. What an incredible story of the mastic, forgiving, powerful love of God. First of His extreme long suffering with his unruly, self-willed prophet and then to change His mind and rescind His threat of judgment when the Ninevites greatly repented. What a lesson that we don’t hear much about. What an incredible, amazing, unfathomable God we have.

Processing and Refining

convicted flatI got an interesting response from someone regarding what I wrote about Convicted”. It was sincerely written, nothing sarcastic or combative to it. Her first sentence said, “Conviction, reprobate etc seem to come from a judgmental mentality. I think that was done away with, with the message of love and compassion.

That’s an interesting way of looking at things and it’s a viewpoint that many now and over the centuries have had. Here’s more of what was written to me.

Spiritual growth can include the evolution of how we express ourselves, reaching inward with the intention of becoming closer to our soul’s essence, feeling that deep love that is the source of our existence and of creation, and then letting our light shine in word (vocabulary) and in deed. I think part of letting our light shine is connecting with our source of power individually through genuine prayer and faith, and letting that unique expression be our contribution to others with humility and compassion, which really is kindness. The world needs more kindness. Conviction comes from a place of strength, taking a stand from a place of deep faith and belief. Then we can use whatever words best communicate our faith and love. Isn’t that a universal way of sharing light with others, and the goal of openly practicing faith?

Obviously there’s a lot to agree with there. “The world needs more kindness”, I sure agree with that. I get the impression that this person is a gentle soul who wants to let her light shine, as she wrote, and to be a force for good in this world, working within the realm of faith and spirituality.

So it behooves me to respond to this one with respect and a prayer for wisdom in what to say. Paul said, “The servant of the Lord must not strive but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach.” (II Timothy 2:24) I feel the Lord wants to slow me down on this and to help me choose what I say with prudence. It could be easy to do what some Christians find all too easy to do, to jump in with what they perceive as wrong in what someone has said. To this dear friend I would say (with a respect and a hope that what I say is easy to be accepted) that it’s not what you are saying that I’m hesitant about; it’s what is not being said.

The reason is that in the same way our food in these times can be refined and processed so that it’s separated from its original nutriments,white bread or whole grain flat things of the Spirit can be processed in such a way that there’s still some substance left there but essential ingredients have been removed. It’s actually expressed rather well by Paul the Apostle when he said that one of the conditions in the future would be that people would have “a form of Godliness but deny the power thereof.” (II Timothy 3:5)

This sadly is happening a lot in our times where there exists a spirituality that has a lot truth to it, even Christian truth to it, but at the same time it’s somehow been “processed” and “refined” to take away what seems unacceptable or improper. A case in point with this is what this dear one said in her first sentence “’Conviction’ and ‘reprobate’ etc seem to come from a judgmental mentality.” This is a rather clear example of where some feel the original message of God in the Bible needs to be processed or refined to remove things we find offensive in our times. Again, many millions of people look at things this way, both those professing to be Christians as well as many who hold the faiths of eastern religions.

For me, it’s kind of like a whole package, almost like when you install an operating system on your computer. I wrote about that in “Resetting to Factory Default“. It’s not just one file but hundreds of thousands and it all interacts together to make your computer works. I’m certainly not able to try to go “under the hood” and delete files I don’t like or which I think would make things go better.

In the same way, I don’t find it wise way to begin to remove basic pillars of God’s Word that are clearly there both in the New Testament and the Old. Many people want to get back to the original Godly food that can be grown naturally and contains the nutriments that are there for our good. In the same way, if the concept of “conviction“ and the many other explanations of our existence that Jesus taught us are repeatedly presented in God’s Word, I feel I need to take heed to these things and to be very cautious aboutkept back nothing flat any who would process and purify what they feel needs to be removed from God’s truth. It reminds me of how the original Christianity was founded in the early church. Paul said he had “kept back nothing that was profitable to you“, that he had not held back from sharing “all the council of God”. (Acts 20:20&27)

Some people have retained some of the essences of spirituality but have somehow removed the true center and source of it all, which is not our inner soul but God Himself and His Son Jesus. Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:) I believe that. It has to come back to Him, His provision, His direction, His infusion of light, direction and strength. We are “not sufficient of ourselves, to think anything of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of Christ.” (II Corinthians 3:5) Some inadvertently come to feel that every person on earth just needs to get in touch with their inner selves and things will be fine. I didn’t find that at all. I found I needed to have a regeneration of heart and spirit through the redeeming power of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

come not near flatIt’s a rather convicting thing to try to answer or respond to what this dear one wrote. It is true that judgmentalism and a “come not near to me, I am holier than thou” attitude (Isiah 65:5) has been prevalent in Christian circles towards those who may not fully agree with all aspects of it. A good deal more humility, gentleness, kindness and long suffering are sorely needed. But I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The sometimes haughty judmentalism that can be found in some Christians does not negate the unquestionable sovereignty of God and of the judgment that exists already and the final one that is to come.

 

Pilot lights

got something flatHave you ever had someone get something from the Lord for you? Maybe they had a dream about you or some verse came to them that was just the word of the Lord for you? It doesn’t happen all the time and probably we can quickly get too much of something like that, it can go to our head. But I had something like that happen to me when I was in my 20’s and it’s always stuck with me as a source of encouragement.

I was in London and preparing to move to Scandinavia. I’d been working with friends in England for close to 2 years and it was a big thing for me to leave and go off into what for me was the unknown. Someone came up to me and said they’d gotten something from the Lord for me. They said that the Lord had shown them a vision of a pilot light and said that this was what I was. It wasn’t some long prophecy, just a simple vision, but to me it said a lot.

pilot lightSome might even ask, “What is a pilot light?” Well, on gas stoves, maybe only on older ones now, there was beneath the surface of the stove a small flame, a pilot light, that stayed on constantly. Then, when someone turned the knob to get the stove to come on, the pilot light was there to light the flow of gas so that it provided flame on the burner on the stove.

So I was thinking of what that could mean, how could the Lord pictured me as a pilot light? I guess the thing that’s most singular about a pilot light is that it’s always on. It reminds me of the verse about the flame at the altar of the Lord at the ancient Hebrew temple.fire on the altar It says in the Word about this, “The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar; it shall never go out.” (Leviticus 6:13) And of course this is symbolic of how it should be with each of us. We are to be lights to the world and to “let our light shine before men” (Matthew 5:16), as Jesus admonished us in the Sermon on the Mount. Of the ten virgins, 5 had let their lights go out but the other 5 kept theirs burning.

And in the case of a pilot light, it isn’t even usually visible on the stove; it’s just there behind the scenes, always burning and ready to provide a start to other larger flames. So this was a very encouraging vision this friend received for me and one I needed as I was going through a lot of spiritual battles at the time.

Of course, in a sense we all can or should be pilot lights. We should all be having our lights burning at all times, “it shall never go out” as it is said of the fire on the altar in the Old Testament. And a pilot light has one function, to help start other, often larger fires. There are so many stories in history of insignificant people who led someone to the Lord who turned out to be really world-changer disciples.

Moody & Livingstone flatWhen Dwight L. Moody was an insignificant shoe clerk over 100 years ago, someone witnessed to him and led him to the Lord. And Dwight L. Moody went on to become one of most successful evangelists in American history. Or there’s the preacher who was speaking to a small gathering of ladies in a Scottish church on a gloomy, rain-drenched day about the need for missionaries to Africa. Unbeknownst to him, up in the balcony was a young man who was adamantly taking in every word of the preacher. That young man was David Livingstone, one of the greatest missionaries who ever went to Africa.

But for Livingstone and Dwight L. Moody, for all the great lights and flames that they were, there still had to be those pilot lights , those unsung, unknown ones who were there when the Lord needed them, faithful in “the day of small things” (Zachariah 4:10) that God had placed them in.

Jesus said, “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much, and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.” (Luke 16:10) One of the most important things to the Lord is our faithfulness and commitment to Him. Having our lights burning and being ready to be of service to Him is something that anyone can do and is at the bedrock of our Christian existence.