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.

Compression

Lago de GardaYears ago I lived in northern Italy for 4 months. It was a very interesting time. I was working together with Christian friends who had a very wealthy Italian businessman who wanted to help and support them. (And to all my Italian friends, in case I say something wrong in any of this, please forgive me.) So I don’t want to stereotype but this dear man was really an interesting character.

For one, he always carried a pistol with him. His office building was equipped with state of the art security, especially in the area of preventing break-ins. One reason for this was that in the garage of his office building he had a stable of around a dozen ultra-high performance sports cars. Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Lotuses, and more; millions of dollars worth of sports cars is one place where he’d put some of his fortune.

Ferrari F40One day he had his Ferrari F40, pretty much the ultimate sports car at the time, which he’d often drive down to Rome in, and he and I were talking about the car. I’d once been a sports car buff but I was delivered from that, rather like a deliverance from drugs or drink. But while we were talking, he said something that I guess the Lord rang my bell on and gave me a glimpse into an area of human life that I had not seen before.

Ferrari F40 engineHe was talking about the motor of the Ferrari, a 500 horsepower V-8 engine. And he said “the compression” was like 7.7, referring to the ratio of the volume of its combustion chamber from its largest capacity to its smallest capacity. It seemed like the Lord was wanting to get some mileage out of that with me as I mulled over the idea and saw some spiritual parallels in my life and the lives of all of us.

Truth be known, there’s an element of an engine in each of us, our motor. Some have more capacity, a stronger motor, even sometimes more complex and harder to keep in tune. It’s not a matter of good or bad, God has made us each differently. On the other hand, the Lord needs laborers and He needs those who will run the race and finish the course. Some of this relates to our fruitfulness and how much we really go the extra mile in laying down our lives for Him and others.

How do you see Jesus? Was He a really a tightly wound, tense, high pressure guy? I don’t think so. But on the other hand, neither was He some ethereal, aloof spiritualist, given to long naps and endless hours of contemplative solitude. He told His mom, “I must be about my Father’s business.” (Luke 2:49) He said, “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me and to finish His work.” (John 4:34) He “set His face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51) and He said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with and how am I straightened till it be accomplished.” (Luke 12:50) I imagine that the personality of Jesus, if we can use that phrase with Him, was one of some measure of zeal and determination.

And certainly it was that was with the Apostle Paul. He said of himself, “By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace which was bestowed on me was not in vain, but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I but the grace of God with was with me.” (I Corinthians 15:10) Was he boasting there? On a works trip? No, he was just stating what he knew was right, that he’d been given a strong motor with relatively high compression and he intended to be used by the Lord to the furthest of his ability.

I guess in some ways I’m a little like that or at least I can see that it can be a good thing. Paul also said, “…not of works lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:9) but he was speaking there about salvation. If you have zeal and a determination to work with vigor for the Lord, you’re probably not doing it to earn your salvation but in plain thankfulness for the salvation you have, as well as to share His love and truth with as many as you can.

But sometimes it takes compression. It takes being able to, in some ways, take a lot of pressure, “rpms” (revolutions per minute), movement, acceleration and de-acceleration and through it all to be dependable and useful in His service. The Lord needs us all, there’s a harvest to be reaped, there’s a world to go into, there are glad tidings to publish and He needs us to have our motors in good shape, tuned up and available for His calling for each of us. And that may even mean we need to be a high compression version that can get somewhere when we are letting Him be in the driving seat.

Convicted

convicted of fraud flatThe word “convicted” is not quite in the same category as some of the other words that have recently come to mind for me. “Worship”, “repentance”, “sin”, those words have little or no modern usage except for those who are Christian. But you do hear about “convicted”. The only problem is, it’s almost always something like “He was convicted of fraud and sent to prison.”

Again it’s a case of important words fading out of usage. Would it be right to say “convicted” is a really important word? In John 8 it says of some that they were “convicted by their own conscience”. (John 8:9) The Greek word used there in other places is translated as to correct, convince or reprove. Speaking of the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus said that he would “reprove the world of sin…” (John 16:8)

so convicted flatAll this comes to mind when I was thinking about how sometimes friends of mine will say, “I really felt convicted about that.” But then, that’s not a normal thing to say, perhaps even within Christian circles. Maybe it should be. If we were more tender-hearted, especially in our relationship with the Lord, He could more easily convict us by the Holy Spirit to do things according to His leading.

One of the plagues upon the world now is that so many hearts and consciences are so hardened. And for some, they are proud of it, proud of their hardened hearts. But it says of Jesus, “He looked about with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts.” (Mark 3:5) angry JesusIt’s very difficult to get through to someone with a hardened heart, they don’t get convicted by their own conscience and they often mock when others try to reprove them or bring them to their senses. But being able to be convicted, being sensitive enough in your heart to have a strong sense of right and wrong, even of being able to feel it when the Lord is leading in some situation, this is how it’s supposed to be within societies and each individual.

Sadly, we’ve come to the place in time where even the principle, the word itself “to convict” has all but disappeared from our language except in criminal courts. It goes without saying that if more folks felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit, there’d be far fewer criminal convictions.

The word “reprobate” comes to mind, another virtually extinct word. It means a person who has gone so far away from the truth that they no longer even know the difference between right and wrong. This is written about in Romans chapter 1, “even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind.” (Romans 1:28) That’s where we are today in so many countries. The very words of God, not only the Word of God but the words of God, “convict”, “repentance”, “worship” “sin” and many others are hardily even in our vocabulary anymore. We have not liked to retain God in our knowledge. And the result? God has given such vast multitudes of people in many nations over to a reprobate mind. I wrote about our conscience in “What is a conscience?” But for multitudes, it’s like the Bible says, they’ve “had their conscience seared with a hot iron.” (I Timothy 4:2) They are “past feeling” (Ephesians 4:19). It’s as pretty bleak picture.

“Any solution?” you might ask. I guess, for those of us who know these things, who want to feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit and who don’t want to have our “hearts hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13), it behooves us to “let our lights shine before men” (Matthew 5:16) with all our hearts. Love is flatHopefully those who know the truth of these things will show in their words and deeds daily that society has lost so many integral parts of what God would have us to have. So much has been stripped away from the pattern God original gave to us all of how things should be, how we should follow His instructions and operating manual for mankind, the Bible.

Somehow society and the world sputters along but so many feel a sense of foreboding that something is deeply wrong. They are right; our world has gone far away from God’s Will, so much so that we don’t even have the vocabulary anymore to understand ourselves. It reminds me of the obscure verses in I John, “Let that therefore abide in you which you have heard from the beginning. If that which you have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, you also shall continue in the Son and in the Father.” (I John 2:24)

What is sin?

so what is sin flatYears ago a dear loved one asked me, “What is sin?” Unfortunately, the question was more of a challenge about if there was even such a thing as sin. And certainly, in our “modern world”, the idea of sin is ridiculed and usually rejected out of hand.

But, is there such a thing as sin? Does sin exist? Is it a prevailing force on humanity and each individual? If so, then what is it? Can it be measured, quantified, observed, detected? Admittedly, in this day when the mind of man is supreme in so much of the world, to talk about sin seems antiquated and passé. There’s no app for that. No college course and, besides, it can be plain discouraging to even talk about sin. It sounds so religious, like something you heard your grandmother talk about one time.

But, what if? What if sin is actually real, “alive and well”, and is daily wrecking destruction across the planet and probably in your own life also? It’s insidious. A pervasive, all encompassing phenomenon that prevails in its destruction throughout the planet, yet remains for the most part undedicated and unrecognized.

report on sin flatWhat an enemy sin is and yet only a tiny few even know of its existence while it daily destroys lives, nations, families, dreams and innumerable souls. There will be no speech today at the UN about sin, no 30 minute special on CNN or BBC about sin. In fact, I challenge you to do a search of material found on any major news outlet to see if you can even find once in a day the word “sin”.

But why? Well, sin, like love, is one of those things you don’t pick up readings on with your Geiger counter or spectro-analysis. Sin works in the realm of the heart and soul. And the mind. But like they say about the devil, one of the devil’s main jobs is to convince you that he doesn’t exist. The same could be said of sin. One of the more cleaver deceptions of sin is to tell you that sin doesn’t exist.

I dont sin flatAnother loved one many years ago told me, “Mark, I don’t sin.” This was said very sincerely and I knew what they meant when they said it. To them, sin was robbing banks, murder, adultery, that kind of thing. And this person never was like that. But of course the reality is that sin is a whole lot more than that. That’s the kind of thing that some religious teaching will leave you with. Some religionists have conversations like, “Is it a sin to…” and then they bring up some things that are “classic” sins.

It’s like the story about the two little old ladies on the front row of the church and the reverend was preaching a hell-fire sermon. “IT’S A SIN TO DRINK WHISKEY!”, yelled the reverend. “Amen!”, affirmed the two little ladies. “IT’S A SIN TO RUN AROUND ON YOUR WIFE”, the reverend went on. “Amen!” shouted the little ladies. The preacher lowered his voice, looked down at the two ladies on the front row and said, “It’s a sin to dip snuff!” The two ladies gasped, looked at each other and one said, “He ‘dun stopped preaching and gone to talkin’!”

Sin is a lot bigger than the classic sins that most folks know not to partake of. The Bible says, “The thought of foolishness is sin.” (Proverbs 24:9) Every time you entertain foolish vain thoughts, that’s sin. Maybe that’s why King David said, “I hate vain thoughts, but Your law do I love.” (Psalm 119:113) Folks, sin is so vast, so overwhelming, so pervasive and so intertwined with our very being that it’s the ultimate dominating conqueror of every individual ever born. It’s that bad. And I’m not exaggerating.

Well, volumes and encyclopedias probably have been written on the subject of sin and am I going to do the subject justice in one of these short blog posts? I guess, if you don’t acknowledge that there’s a problem, how will you search for a solution? And sin, as hated and vilified as the concept is in modern times, is as much a scourge of mankind as it has ever been. And my guess is that it will only get worse since virtually everyone is looking for solutions other than the ones God has given us to free us from sin.

How can we be free from sin? That’s what Jesus did. When He died on the cross and “God raised Him from the dead” (Acts 13:30), He not only defeated death, He gave us power through Himself to overcome sin. Do I understand it all perfectly? No. But I have experienced it. It is through Jesus, His act of atonement at His crucifixion that any person on earth can have power over sin in their lives.

for our sins flatNow the biggest challenge for all the intellectuals, like I sort of used to be, is that this doesn’t seem to “make sense.” I’ve told some people before, “You are 18 inches from heaven” and then indicated that I was talking about the distance between their head and their heart. At some point, especially for those with a lot of education and worldly wisdom, they just have to make the jump and “go with their gut”, in other words go with their heart. I know this because it’s what I had to do and it worked for me.

Sin is the greatest enemy of mankind and every individual. It’s running rampant in its destruction across our planet and actually it always has been. But there is an antidote, a solution, a champion and deliverer. And that’s Jesus. It doesn’t have to make sense. It’s just the truth. Give it a try.

Repentance

repent for flatRepent. It must be something we can do because it was one of the first things Jesus taught. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) But what is repentance and how do you do it? Well, repentance is sort of on the “endangered species” list of words and even ideas, as has happened to so many other words that once were clear and understood by all.

This means a lot to me because repentance was an essential step in my life that brought me out of indescribable darkness and death and into this (most-of-the-time-anyway) happy life I’ve had for decades. Probably most English speaking people have at least some inkling of what repentance means, even if they don’t fully understand it or even like the idea.

Simply put, “repentance” means to change direction in your life but from your innermost being, to have a change of heart. And it also implies that the direction you’ve been going has been wrong and that some at least of what you’ve harbored in your heart needs to be abandoned and turned against. But there are a few more utterly essential ingredients that go into repentance if it’s to be real and lasting.

Never do this flatI know this because I repeatedly tried to repent when I was using drugs in university. It was like I was vowing a vow, “I’m NEVER going to do this again!” But a few months later I did. What went wrong? I was sincere and desperate; I was really trying to repent. This is where another of those “endangered species” words comes into play: sin.

“Oh, Mark, please! It’s just insane to bring up these ragged, old, tired, unscientific concepts that belong to the dustbin of history! ‘Sin’! Mark, really? No one believes in that kind of thing anymore; you’re making a fool of yourself!”

And yet, this is the very best terminology to describe what happened to my life and how I survived to live beyond my 21st birthday. It’s like Paul the Apostle said, “The good that I would, I do not. But the evil that I would not, that I do.” (Romans 7:19) That’s exactly how it was with me. Although I was not familiar with that word yet, I really wanted to “repent”. But I just didn’t have the personal power to resist what I was into. That’s why Paul went on to say, “Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I do that do it but sin that lies in me.” (Romans 7:20)

Of course there’s a sense in which, in the big picture, God allows us to really go down the wrong path so that we will learn firsthand what the difference is between right and wrong. “The way of the transgressor is hard” (Proverbs 13:15) and often we have to learn the hard way. whapHe even uses our wrongdoing to be His instrument of correction to bring us back to His highest and best. As unpopular a concept as it may be among the worldly, the Lord does chasten and punish His children and even those who aren’t His children to bring them back to a better way.

It sounds really hopeless and in a sense it is. But let’s bring in another of those “endangered species” words: Jesus Christ. No, not the words so many use as a loud and profane curse, but the man of the Bible. To cut to the chase here, I never was able to really repent until I accepted the saving power of Jesus by asking Him into my heart. I didn’t understand it all, in fact I didn’t understand very much of it at all. But it came down to instincts and my gut, as they say. I knew I needed help desperately. I met people who’d been in the same fix and they said it had all changed when they’d prayed to become new creatures through His forgiveness and regeneration. So I tried it.

Up until that time, I had stopped using hallucinogenic drugs but I was still smoking marijuana sometimes. I’d come to believe in the God of Abraham and I read my Bible every day. But I still had a lot of fears and confusion and I had no idea who Jesus was. But as I’ve shared elsewhere, the Bible verse that best summed up my experience is this, “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” (John 1:12)

Jesus in heart-flattenedOnce I received Jesus, I had power I’d never had before. With that new power within me, I not only repented of using drugs at that time (and have never touched them since), I had a whole regenerative experience in my innermost being, in my heart, mind, soul and spirit.

So, from my experience, repentance without the power of Jesus in your heart… well it didn’t work or happen for me. But with Him, “all things are possible to him that believes.” (Mark 9:23) There have been other things over the years I’ve had to repent of, as the Lord brings them up in my life. Usually it’s been deeper things of my heart rather than physical sins like drugs. But the point is, through Jesus repentance is really possible, no matter what you’re facing.

Are you feeling doomed, defeated, utterly overwhelmed by aspects of your personality or life that you just can’t get on top of and overcome? As old fashion and out of style as it may sound, taking these things of your life and heart to Jesus Christ, through personal prayer, may very likely be the only way you’ll ever get a lasting victory over things that may end up being your total downfall and even death. It is possible, it does work and and I hope you’ll try it : repentance through the power of Jesus. God bless you.

Worship

worship flatWorship. How can you make sense of that? Well, maybe someone might say to their wife or husband sometime, “I worship you.” But that would be pretty extreme. Mostly we’d be fine with just saying “I love you” to them, that’s going pretty far already. But perhaps that means that “worship” is like an extreme, advanced form of love?

And “love” is not one of those things that always makes sense anyway. So worship must be like that: it just doesn’t make sense. It’s a “heart thing” rather than a head thing and most people get a little tripidatious when it comes to the heart in the first place. No university course about the heart. Sometimes people just think, “Don’t go there”. You don’t know what you’re going to find; might be something you don’t like, ha!

Hispanic prayerWell, probably hundreds of millions of people look at things this way, especially in the “post-Christian” West. Actually, “worship” still has a pretty good name in many parts of the world and perhaps billions of people feel right at home with the concept of worship. But, for the most part, that’s not how it is in much of Western Europe and North America.

“And what does it matter anyway?” some would say. Well, you’re really missing something. If a life is devoid of love, most folks would think that would be an empty life. But in the same way, a life without worship is missing one of the highest and most fulfilling emotions that exists. But the rub is, most of us know that worship is not really associated with our spouse, dog or sports team. It’s something we think of in relationship to God.

I was having my morning walk and I thought about the Bible verse, “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” (Psalm 29:2) And it dawned on me what a special concept worship is, often unknown to so many. love the Lord flatJesus was asked what the greatest commandment was and He answered from the Hebrew Scriptures, saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength.” And He went on to say, “The second is like unto it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30 & 31)

And I thought how He could have said, “You shall worship the Lord your God with all your heart…” That could have worked and fit just fine. But if He’d then said, “You shall worship your neighbor as yourself…”, somehow that doesn’t have the best ring to it. Still, worship and love are probably pretty close to each other. Maybe worship is like love on steroids? Or maybe love is like a single stage rocket that can get you from the ground into space. But worship is like the second or third stage of a rocket that works best in the upper atmospheres?

One thing I know, worship has greatly enriched my life since I came to know and believe in the God of Abraham and His Son, Jesus. I was like so many people, my heart was like a dark basement, full of all kinds of musty, dusty, often dank and dark things. But when Jesus came into my life, He not only cleaned out my basement, He redid my whole house plus added some rooms and a new floor or two. Now I don’t feel uneasy in the basement or the attic or anywhere else in between. So many things of the heart that were awkward to me are now either not that way or much less so.

Worship for me is a wonderful thing, not something I have to do as some ancient ritual or in some building on a certain day but just spontaneously, from my heart on a Saturday morning as I walk down the street. It’s a wonderful life. Reminds of the verse, “For the creature shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption unto the glorious liberty of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21)