Does God use organizations? Or individuals?

Ever wondered how God works best, with a group of organized individuals? Or with individuals alone? It does kind of mater. Should we endeavor to find a group of like-minded folks who share the same vision, goals and understanding of the Lord as we have? Or should we concentrate on our personal relationship with the Lord and just follow as best we can the Word and the directing of God’s Spirit?

Of course the best way to find the answer to this is to look to God’s Word. But the answer that comes back may not be conclusively for one side or the other. If you were to say that God blesses and usually wants us to work within some larger organized structure, you could use the example of Israel of old and how He raised them up and blessed them as a nation for centuries. It was their unity, their cohesion and their subjection to His laws and prophets that made them what they were. Or in some cases what they were not. “Believe in the Lord your God, so shall you established; believe His prophets, so shall you prosper.” (II Chronicles 20:20)

But there were times when this wasn’t the way the Lord blessed or delivered His people. The Lord raised up the shepherd boy David, virtually a child, to deliver Israel from Goliath and the Philistines in his day. Before that, Saul’s son Jonathan famously said, “God is not limited by many or by few” (I Samuel 14:6) and then he and his armor bearer routed the Philistines and turned the tide of battle when the larger army and forces of Israel were bottled up and tied down.

“Mark, you’re wrong. God prefers organizations and the safety of the flock.”

Yeah, sometimes He does work that way. But equally, some have traded their insecure liberty in following God individually for safety and security but ultimately bondage in Christian organizations that stopped truly follow God generations ago.

It looks like you can’t make a really solid case that God only works one of these ways or the other. But what about in Christian times? Was the Early Church a highly organized, structured, top-down outfit, demanding subjugation and dominion over all the multitudes who came to Christ in the first century?

Well, back at the time of the Early Church, they did have some organization and they did try to shepherd and feed the tremendous wave of people who kept coming to the Lord from all over the known world of that time. But it was centuries before there was the kind of stultifying, soul-quenching “organization” that the Catholic Church, as well as the various Orthodox churches, came to be by the time of the so-called Dark Ages.

Maybe it’s just because there are so many kinds of people. Some, perhaps the majority, are more followers than they are pioneers and spirit-led disciples who can really forge ahead on their own. Admittedly, not everyone is going to turn out like the Apostle Paul or some of the famous missionaries and pioneers of history who just couldn’t be tied down in some daily routine that was supposed to be the fulfillment of their obligations to the Lord’s call to discipleship.

But maybe we should note that the Lord did call individuals to personal discipleship and to even leave behind their present life to be “fishers of men”. (Matthew 4:19) He said we should pray to the Father that He would “send forth laborers into the harvest” (Matthew 9:38). Is that best done on a huge scale with much leadership attention to detail, where the laborers need to constantly be checking back with headquarters far away to make sure every move they make is ok with the council of the elders? Or is it best portrayed by Spirit-filled and called individuals who go out, even “not knowing whether they went”? (Hebrews 11:8) I suggest, and I’ve experienced, that this second mode seems to work better, even though it’s rarer and some folks just think it’s almost dangerous.

“How can we just let these individuals out there to roam around, saying whatever they will and with no accountability to anyone?!”

But if you look at the record of God’s Word, as well as Jewish and Christian history, some of the greatest things God ever did, some of the greatest works He ever started were where there was no controlling head but God , no organization but that supplied by the Holy Spirit, no directors or direction except His Word and the leading voice and presence of the Lord.

Sometimes, alone and outnumbered, people of God have had to utterly depend on Him for support, direction, inspiration and just the whole caboodle. But the Lord came through wonderfully time and again. Isn’t that what happened with Noah? With Abraham? With the Apostle Paul and the pioneers of the Early Church? In some situations that might seem weak and unorganized by man, God had some of His mightiest works done through His frail but yielded individuals. I might add that ones like Saint Patrick and many of the highly effective early Celtic Christian apostles were like this. Could we add ones like Dr. Livingstone and Florence Nightingale to this list?

And is there a reason I’m even writing this? Perhaps because in my own life I’ve come to feel that at times when I had no one but God to lean on and direct me, that at those times some of the most amazing things happen. So if you’re feeling quenched and subdued in some kind of Christian organization that is supplying your need for fellowship but is slowly sapping your faith, fire and initiative, perhaps you might find greater blessings in simply doing and living the truth you know in your heart that you realize your religious organization is just not following. Perhaps you need to follow God into greater fruitfulness, greater faith and a closer relationship to Him as you follow and obey the Lord, where so often modern Christian organizations just won’t be taking or directing you.

“Let not your heart be troubled”

Jesus told His disciples, “Let not your heart be troubled.” (John 14:1) You mean it’s up to us to keep a calm heart? We have some control and responsibility over the state of our heart? Yep. That might be a surprise to some. Because it seems that often people think that our thoughts and emotions are our masters, that we are in thrall to every whim that pops into our minds.

But we aren’t. Jesus was very clear about that and the Bible is full of examples where we are responsible for and even to rule over not only our emotions, but even conditions and circumstances around us, as strange as that may seem. So you don’t have to get mad. You don’t have to be swallowed up in despair, even though things may seem and even are very bleak and rough at the moment. This is another place where the miracle-working power of God commands us to do what seems to be the humanly impossible: to look at disaster or extreme despair in the face and to see “things that are not as though they were” (Romans 4:17).

Maybe you’re wondering if I’m a little off the beam and “out there” on this one. So perhaps an example of this in the Bible might help. In the Psalms, King David could get pretty down and desperate at times. Psalm 77 is an incredible example of his being in despair and at wits end. At first he says things like, “My sore ran in the night and ceased not: my soul refused to be comforted. I remembered God and was troubled: I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. You [God] hold mine eyes waking: I am so troubled that I cannot speak.” (Psalm 77:2-4)

So what does David do, go jump off a bridge? Go “postal”? Nope. Here’s what he says later in the same psalm. And I said, ‘This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High. I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will meditate also of all Your works and talk of Your doings.’”  (Psalm 77:10-12)

David got a grip on himself, on his heart, and then made a strong, conscious effort to “let not his heart be troubled”. This is all similar to what I wrote about in the blog post ”Keep your heart”. And frankly, “with man it is impossible but not with God, for with God, nothing shall be impossible.”  (Matthew 19:26)

I suppose this is somewhat a sequel to what I wrote about having a troubled mind in “God has given… a sound mind.” Like Jesus said, “Why are you troubled and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?” (Luke 24:28) But when you’re really down, discouraged, despondent and in the depths of despair, one of the last things you want to hear or do is to be counseled to “let not your heart be troubled”. Usually you have gone beyond hope. Things look utterly impossible. But then, God teaches us that “it takes an impossible situation for God to do a miracle”.

It looked really, really bad for King David there. But he’d grown in the Lord and in His wisdom enough to know that he could, by the power of God, turn away from his despair by making a conscious effort of his heart to, if nothing else, start remembering all that God had done in the past for him. He just kept saying to himself, “I will remember…” all the good things that God had done for him before that time. For us in these times, a similar thing to this would be to just quote comforting, strengthening Bible verses to ourselves in times of greatest difficulty.

This is one of the miracles and secrets of a Godly life, that you can and even must have dominion over your heart and mind. You don’t have to be a slave to your emotions or circumstances and conditions. In the case of Jesus and His disciples, He said that to them that they should not let their heart be troubled, just hours before He was to be captured and led away to His trial and crucifixion.

It’s almost unfathomable and incomprehensible the grace, depth and love that Jesus must have had to be counseling and consoling His disciples at a time when He certainly knew that His excruciating death was less than a day away. But He did that so that we could have “rule over our spirits” (Proverbs 25:28), so that we can have victory through Him over, not only outside enemies, but the enemies within own hearts: our fears, our prejudices, our foolishness, our weak human emotions.

Let not your heart be troubled.” (John 14:1)  “Keep your heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life.”  (Proverbs 4:23) “I will remember the works of the Lord. I will meditate also of all Your works and talk of Your doings.” (Psalm 77:10-12) These are things we can and even must do in order to survive the terrors, traumas and vicissitudes of this present evil world. Granted, it can seem almost impossible. But then we know it really isn’t. “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

 

 

God has given …a sound mind

It seems like everywhere I go nowadays, I hear about people who are suffering from serious mental problems. Fears, confusion, syndromes, suicidal thoughts and just various forms of insanity or bleak mental instability. And these are folks across all spectrums and nationalities, Christian or otherwise. It really moves me because for a time, in my younger years, I certainly battled royally with what some call “mind battles”.

It’s serious stuff. If it doesn’t actually end up killing you, it can just snuff out your life as far as any joy, peace or enjoyment that should be ours. I feel I can really testify that this is a battle that is winnable as I’ve had a lot of those battles but have survived and even, I feel, been blessed and prospered in this life. And of course it’s all through the dear Lord Jesus. It wasn’t pills, therapy, scientists or yoga that got me through those terrible times. A Bible verse that has always meant so much to me on this subject is “God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (II Timothy 1:7)

I was going to say that perhaps the biggest thing that made the difference was when I found out that it wasn’t really my mind, it was my heart. But of course the really biggest thing was the work of God in my life, to show me His love when I was light years beyond any hope. First I found that there is a God, the true God of light and love, the God of Abraham, the God of the Bible. But then it was seven months later that I found that God was not alone up there in heaven. He has a Son who He sent to the earth to die for us, redeem us and “be a ransom for many”, (Matthew 20:28) as He said.

“Aw, Mark, darn. I thought you were going to tell us how to overcome mental problems and then you come along with all that Jesus and God stuff!”

Well, what should I say? This is what happened to me. This is how I found full deliverance and a joyous, meaningful life that’s now gone close to 50 years from the time I was so very far gone in confusion and depravity. So “all that Jesus stuff” may be, for some, too much a price to pay for having mental healing. But for those who will go that far, I’ll tell you more about what happened.

Like I said earlier, it was just a huge awakening when it dawned on me that my mental struggles were a direct result of my unregenerate heart. I didn’t even know I had a heart! No classes about that at the big university I was going to! But through the tender and steady mercy of God, almost against my will, He led me through the deepest depths I’d come to into a place where the simple message of salvation through Christ was shared with me. So by “receiving Him” (John 1:12) I was able to have the first step along the path towards peace of mind, by having a born again heart.  Without that, there never could have been any recovery of my weakened, confused mind.

But once my heart and soul were saved, the Lord went to work on my mind. I’m so thankful that I was able to fall in with a band of young radical Christians back then, “Jesus freaks” as they were known in those days. Most of them had come from a similar background to me so they knew what I’d been through and what it took to start up the road to full recovery.

“So, Mark, what did those people do to you? Did they brainwash you, Mark?!”

That word has a real negative connotation and I suppose someone who was just against the work of God’s Spirit in transforming a person into “a new creation in Christ Jesus” (II Corinthians 5:17) could chose that word. But for some people, like I was back then, I certainly needed a major resetting of my values, concepts, principles, morals, purpose, vision, goals and the way I ordered my life. So I joyously and eagerly got with the program of daily Bible study, learning the basics of what was written there. The Bible talks about “being renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Ephesians 4:23). It talks about “the washing of water by the Word” (Ephesians 5:26). Jesus even said, “Now you are clean through the Word that I have spoken unto you.”  (John 15:3)

Like I wrote about in “Memorizing God’s Word”, a major part of this training and “rewiring” involved the daily memorization of specific Bible verses. “Oh, Mark! That’s so horrible! You just surrendered your mind!” Well, some people just come to the conclusion that they are their own worst enemy, that they really need help and they can get to where they’re so desperate, they even turn to God and the Bible, as despicable as that may seem to many. That’s what I had come to.

I can see that this subject won’t be exhausted in one blog post. Because it is a big subject and people are dying in their darkness and troubled minds daily for lack of the light of God. I hope to write more about mental problems and how the truth of God can solve them better than anything.

How to say no to Satan

If we’re honest, we know there’s a lot about us that isn’t as it should be or the way we want. Admittedly, it can get to be discouraging. And then, often, along comes the devil.

It may surprise you to know that the devil can tell you a lot of truth about yourself that’s horrible, not to mention all the lies. So it can happen like this. You’re already a little down and then the devil points out some weakness you have. The devil is “the accuser of the saints” (Revelation 12:10) but often it starts out with something that you even know is true or at least partly true.

So in your heart of hearts you know you have a problem with lying, or gluttony, or violence, or some form of sexual deviation, or something. And sometimes you’ve tried to resist it. It’s not really what you want to do or be most of the time. But then the enemy pulls out his big guns and best sales pitch. “Go ahead!” he says. “It’s there in your heart! It’s what you really are! You want it!” If you don’t watch out, it’ll almost make sense.

But…, but, my friends, this is where a knowledge of God and His ways is a matter of life and death. Here’s just one verse, a really good one, that can trounce all the drool of Satan. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you,” James 4:7. Folks, there is so much crucial veracity in those few words that I can’t do the subject justice.

Even if the devil has a point, even if you have a tendency or a proclivity to be a certain way, it does not mean you HAVE to be that way. Back years ago you’d hear people say, “The devil made me do it!Nowadays it’s more popular to say, “I was born this way!” I wrote a blog article about that one. Well, to hell with both of those ideas from hell. The devil can’t make you do ANYTHING unless you COOPERATE. And no matter how you were born, the grace of God brings salvation and freedom “from all sin” (I John 1:7). Jesus said to be “born again.” (John 3:3) That’s what happened to me and I was delivered from a whole host of sins, foolishness, iniquities and vanity that had virtually ended my life before I was even 21.

So the first step in these things is to resist the devil. Just know and understand that simply because you have a tendency to some form of sin or evil does NOT mean you have to actually do it. Someone said one time,temptations-and-doubtsYou can’t stop the birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from making a nest in your hair.” That’s the truth, isn’t it? Well that’s how sin can be. Temptations can be like birds flying over your head. But you can keep shooing them away. You don’t have to let down your guard and let them settle and nest on your head. All of us know this. And it’s a real analogy to how sin is.

But Mark, I’m so weak! I have so little strength to resist!” OK, I know how that can be. For one, are you saved? If not, I can tell you, sin will “have dominion over you” (Romans 6:14), as it did for me. Here’s the truth that clinched it for me. “As many as received Him [Jesus], to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” (John 1:12) That’s what I did. I received Jesus into my heart and I strongly experienced receiving inward, supernatural power against sin that I didn’t have before.

But Mark, I just hardly believe any of this. I have so little faith.” Virtually everyone starts out like that; you’re not alone in this. How can you increase your faith? Again we go back to the Word of God.The-Word-of-GodSo then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” (Romans 10:17) It’s the Words of God that will grow your faith. It IS possible. You CAN resist the devil. You don’t have to give into temptations or even the things you know are in your heart but you don’t want to participate in. Read the Bible. If you don’t know where to start, try the gospel of John.

Like I said, if you aren’t sure you’re a saved, born again child of God, start with that. Jesus died on the cross to take our sins, to free us from sin and to defeat the devil. If you have Jesus, then you have that power to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). So don’t give in to discouragement or some perverse form of fatalism that says you’re doomed to be some way you know is not right and not what you want to be.

Call out to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Put your will, heart and mind on the Lord’s side. I know this works because this is what happened to me. If you keep up your resistance, the enemy HAS to flee. But also make sure you’re getting filled up with the things of the Lord and turning away from any activities or lifestyles that expose you to the dark side. The Bible says, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

“Is it not a little one?”

Lot had just been rescued and delivered from the fiery judgments of God which He had rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot, his wife and two daughters had to be led by the hand out of Sodom, being warned by the angels to not even look back. Famously, Lot’s wife did look back and was turned into a pillar of salt. That might be hard to believe but evidently Jesus Christ believed it. See Luke 17:32.

You might think all this would be an incredible shake-up for Lot. My gosh, that guy is going to walk the straight and narrow the rest of his life, no? Evidently not. And it’s a watershed moment in the history of sin when we read what happened next. Lot turned to the angels as they passed by another heathen town of wickedness and said to the angel, “Behold, this city is near to flee unto, and it is a little one. Oh, let me escape thither; is it not a little one? And my soul shall have rest.” (Genesis 19:20)

Folks, you can get the soul out of the worldly satanic system, whether it be Sodom of old or the satanic amalgam of metropolises that now dominate the earth. But just like with Lot, it’s not easy to get the satanic system out of the soul. God had “delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked.” (II Peter 2:7) But was Lot all contrite and trembling before the Lord? Did Lot make a bee line to his Godly uncle Abraham and his family up in the hills and highlands of God, begging to be taken back in like a prequel to the Prodigal son?

Nope, Lot immediately tried to cut a deal with the angels, “reasoning” with them that another little Babylon-like city not far from Sodom would do just fine and he’d really like to get back to some system preserving compromises and worldliness, even after God had just destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah literally right before their eyes.

“Ah,” you say, “this happened 4000 years ago and things are different today.” Really? If you think that, I’ve got some bad news for you. It’s like Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) As difficult as it was to go through, I’m thankful that God made about as plain to me as He could just how hopelessly sinful and lost I was long ago. My own ignorance, my own willful darkness very nearly took my life except for the totally undeserved, almost strange mercy of God who brought light to my soul when I was writhing in the agonies of the afterlife without God.

“Oh, Mark! Why did God do that to you?! Why did He treat you like that? Why does a God of love send us to hell?!!” Sister or brother, you got it wrong there. God doesn’t send us to hell. We send ourselves to hell through our willful, stubborn ignorance and choosing the wrong path, away from the presence of God to live in the presence of our choices which we made against His truth and light.

He didn’t have to plead with the angels to let him go to a new manifestation of the worldly system of his day. Lot could have asked to have a place at his uncle Abraham’s table and to learn more fully of the ways of God as evidently Lot did believe in the Lord. But it’s just like how it is for millions and billions of people: sin does have dominion over them. And except for the mercy of God, sin will and does have dominion over every one of us. Lot was like the Prodigal Son but who never “came to himself” (Luke 15:17). And sadly there are a lot of those it seems.

In the last book in the Bible, we are told of “Babylon the Great”, pictured as a wretched prostitute which sits upon many nations and rules over the kings of the earth. And God says, “Come out of her, My people, that you partake not of her sins or receive of her plagues.” (Revelation 18:4) But God in a sense has been saying that for thousands of years. He even had the angels take Lot and his family out of the Babylon of his day by the hand. And in the last days before the setting up of God’s kingdom on earth, He is going to destroy the final Babylon the Great, this final Sodom and Gomorrah that has now spread across the earth. Whether or not any of His people will get the message and “come out of her” remains to be seen.

We need to acknowledge our sinful nature and ways every single day and pray desperately and sincerely that God will “withhold you from sinning against Me.” (Genesis 20:6) Because as sure as your garden will start turning up weeds if you don’t diligent tend it, your own human heart and nature will rise up against your Christian convictions and character if you don’t daily “keep your heart with all diligence.” (Proverbs 4:23)

“Oh Mark, I’m not going to read your blog posts anymore! I’m going back to Joel Osteen and his lovely wife. They’re so sweet and positive, always encouraging and uplifting, not like you!” Friends, I’m all for being loving, positive and uplifting. But I’m just telling you from extremely hard experience that none of us had better ever get to the place where we forget how much we need the Lord , how much we should be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “Oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?!” (Romans 7:24)

Don’t be like Lot. If the Lord has delivered you from your Sodom and Gomorrah, don’t beg the angels to let you off at the next hellish place just down the road so you can continue in the compromised worldliness that is anathema to God’s highest and best in your life. Instead, be like Moses who “forsook Egypt” (Hebrews 11:27) because “he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.” (Hebrews 11:26) What Egypt, Sodom or Babylon is God calling you out of?

Letting the Word be our prayer

You yourself can become your own worst distraction. You’re trying to go to the Lord in prayer and then suddenly you notice that your shoe lace is loose. Then there’s a beautiful bird that flies by. And then you’re a little hungry. “Oh, wait! I’m supposed to be praying!” Ever had that happen? Is there any solution or hope for this? One thing I turn to is to pray the Word.

Sometimes when I go to prayer, I just start quoting to myself Psalm 23 or, even better, Psalm 27. There’s an incredible power in the Word of God. It’s like changing channels inside your brain. When you quote the Word to the Lord, or to yourself, or even to the devil, there’s so much more power in it. God likes it and honors it when you bring His Word before Him , claiming it, clinging to it and letting it become your thoughts and your heart cry.

Of course there’s one hitch, isn’t it? You usually will have had to make an effort to commit portions of Scripture to memory beforehand. And I’m tempted to wax cynical or sarcastic here but I’ll just say it plainly: there are virtually no churches anywhere that do anything in the way of seriously admonishing their congregations to memorize the Word. So this integral part of our prayer life is left weak because so few know this principle of praying the Word. And so few really know the Word well enough to claim it and quote it in prayer.

Thoughts like this came to me some minutes ago as I walked back from my morning prayer time that I take in a clearing near where I live. Like everyone has experienced, I had been hit by distractions as I’d been praying and I needed to repeatedly “have rule over my own spirit” (Proverbs 25:28) and “bring every thought into subjection”. (II Corinthians 10:5) Thank God for His infinite mercy on us. Because, if we were required each day to pray earnest, distraction-free, focused and long prayers, I don’t think many would measure up to that. Therefor, often the Lord has to do things to break our hearts or make us in some way truly feel a strong need for the Lord. And in those times we can usually be a little more focused, a little deeper and more sober about our continuing need for Him.

Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Nothing good, that’s for sure. Paul said, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves, to think anything as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of Christ.” (II Corinthians 3:5) And this is as true when it comes to prayer as it is in everything else.

I’ll be in prayer and then some idiotic thought tries to take over my mind’s eye. So I’ll quote to myself, “I hate vain thoughts but Your law do I love.” (Psalm 119:113) Or suddenly I’ll get a picture in my mind of some foolish worldly thing, it doesn’t matter what it is. So, hopefully, I will quote to myself, “I will set no wicked thing before my eyes, I hate the work of them that turn aside, it shall not cleave unto me.” (Psalm 101:3) And if I’m fervent and focused enough, I’ll go on to quote “I have set the Lord always before my face, because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” (Psalm 16:8) Or, another one along the same line of keeping our eyes on Jesus, “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Maybe you don’t have this kind of struggle. Maybe you glide effortlessly each day into long periods of rich, full, deep, intimate interaction with the Lord. I guess I’ve had some times like that over the years. But more often than not I’ve had to make some effort to get through or out of my carnal mind and “the affairs of this life” (IITim. 2:4). And praying the Word, just entering into the Word of God and letting it be my shield and the  words of my mouth in prayer has been a method that’s helped me get beyond the trivialities and physicality of this world that’s so often with us.

So I suggest you try it, if you’re having problems like this. Maybe what I wrote elsewhere about Memorizing God’s Word could be a help to you. And, admittedly I’ve written about this subject before in “Praying the Word”. Also I wrote about “Distractions”.

But I sort of think that this is a problem a lot of people have. “It’s all by grace” but at the same time, we often do have to make some real effort to leave the Egypt of ourselves and enter into the Promised Land of His Spirit in prayer , coming “boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in the time of need”. (Hebrews 4:16) If you are feeling weak and struggling in prayer, try stirring yourself up to stronger fervency by quoting the Word in prayer and claiming His promises. God bless you.

Knowing

I know it is flatWords are kind of funny, kind of deep. You know what I mean? Take “knowing” for example. You can say you “believe” something but when you say you know something, it’s similar but also really different. And both of those words occupy a very prominent place in the Bible.

Probably the most famous verse in the Bible is John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” They say the whole message of the Bible is encapsulated in that verse. And the key and pith of it is in “believing” in Jesus. But that word, “believe”, in English, can at times come across as slightly weak. You can ask someone, “Are you going to the party?” And if they say, “I believe so”, you might come back with, “Well, are you sure?” And if they then say, “I think so,” you’d probably sense a lack of certainty in their voice. But if they say, “I know I will”, then that’s pretty much it. There’s certainty in knowing.

John writing in prison flatAnd the Bible teaches us not just to believe in Jesus and God but to know Them. And, yes, that is possible. Paul said, “I know whom I have believed…” (II Timothy 1:12) And John the beloved disciple said, “These things I have written to you that believe on the name of the son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life…”. (I John 5:13) There’s actually quite a lot about this in the Scriptures. Paul said, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings.” (Philippians 3:10)

Think about it. Jesus had certainty enough that God was going to raise Him from the dead that He allowed Himself to suffer the most horrible death known at that time, crucifixion. And, sure enough, “God raised Him from the dead.” (Acts 13:30) Maybe you don’t believe that. But 10 of the 12 original apostles of Jesus were certain enough about that resurrection that they all themselves suffered martyrdom. They didn’t just “believe”. They didn’t just “think”. They “knew” , they were certain enough about the truth they’d seen and heard from the Lord that they died for that truth and that Lord, knowing with certainty that eternal life was theirs.

And against the backdrop of the world we live in, that kind of certainty, that kind of knowing is rather rare. Of course, it can be said that people give their lives for causes all the time. Soldiers do it and many others give their lives in a lifetime of what sometimes turns out to be a very questionable goal or dream.

So, admittedly, there’s a lot of uncertainty in this world. I was thinking about an obscure verse this morning in Ecclesiastes which says of God “…also He has set the world in their heart so that no man can find out the work that God does from the beginning to the end.path ahead(Ecc. 3:11) That’s why we Christians say we have to take a lot of things “by faith”. Paul said, “We walk by faith and not by sight.” (II Corinthians 5:7) But with the heavenly vision we get from His Word, the eternal truths that are our foundation for this life we now live, we can see and find “the path of life” (Pslams 16:11) which often is radically different from “the course of this world” (Ephesians 2:2) which is what the ungodly trudge along in.

But for those of us who know and believe in the Lord, there is so much more an element of certainty and knowing than in what the world has to offer. Jesus talked about building our house on the rock so that when the storms come, our house will stand. That’s all about knowing, about the kind of belief that has entered into rest. It’s a knowing kind of belief. This is what Solomon meant when he said, “Have not I written unto you excellent things in council and knowledge? That you may know the certainty of the words of truth, that you may answer the words of truth to them that send unto you.” (Proverbs 22:20 & 21)

Life can be really tough. We all make mistakes. We all have times where we really thought we were right about something and it turned out we were wrong. foggy flatOr there are times where we are just in confusion, not knowing exactly what is true of false. But for those of us who know and have the Lord, a good deal of the fogginess of this life is lessened if we truly know and have a living relationship with God and His Son Jesus, plus also that we deeply study and receive the truth of His written Word, the Bible.

Then, even if there is a lot of uncertainty around you, a lot you don’t understand, a lot you just don’t feel very smart about, you can still have a strong presence of truth and knowledge of the most important things in this life: eternal life through the mercies of God and Jesus and precious instruction in how to live daily in this world through His Word.

Fighting the fight of faith

determined to go forward full flatLet’s say you are determined to go forward for the Lord. Maybe you’re determined to share your faith more with others. Maybe you’re determined to get the victory over some “besetting sin” (Hebrews 12:1)  in your life, alcoholism, gluttony, lethargy, materialism or whatever. But you’ve set your face to go forward to greater obedience, to overcome and really gain ground in the Spirit for the Lord.

Well, I almost hate to tell you this (and you probably know it anyway) but it’s like this: if you do it the right way, the enemy will fight you. The hellish, fiendish “god of this world” (II Cor.4:4) doesn’t plan to give up territory he thinks is his and perhaps actually is his at this time. So you can expect that, one way or the other, the enemy will fight back and do all he can to thwart your plans, your dreams and your desires to go forward for the Lord.

you are a mess flatHow does he do that? He sends ISIS or some radical Muslim to destroy your life? Usually he’s more subtle than that. I think the vast majority of the time the enemy uses words and thoughts to deter us from our determination to more greatly obey the Lord. And folks, I’ve seen it happen recently and I’ve seen it happen when I was in my 20’s and every step in between.

The devil is the accuser of the saints. The Bible even talks about “false accusers in the last days” (II Tim. 3:3). And the pitiful thing is, the devil can tell you a lot of truth about yourself (or your friends, coworkers or loved ones) not to mention all the lies he tells. But whatever he can find in his dirty bag of tricks, his awful arsenal of evil, he’ll throw it your way. And, sadly, it’s not like it never works. Lies, fears, discouragement, the past, the future, confusion, division, discord, accusations, “revelations”, the list is almost endless of what starts coming at you when you are starting out to climb the mountain of God’s higher will and calling in your life.

turning backPaul the apostle said of the devil “we are not ignorant of his devices”. (II Corinthians 2:11) But it can be downright disheartening how many of the Lord’s sincere saints are sidetracked from the direction the Lord has led them when the enemy pulls out his big guns and starts shooting. And for the most part, it’s all in a battle of the mind. If the devil can persuade you to quit and give up, he doesn’t need to waste his time with any violent persecution of you. You’ve already been eliminated by being overcome by his confusion, fears, false narrative or whatever.

A real doozy is when the devil can pull up something that is actually true and use it against you. It may be something about your life, your weaknesses, your past, someone else’s past, some mistake you or someone else has made, things like that. And he just keeps playing that song and that “fact” in your head without ceasing, if you let him. After all, it is true, you can’t deny it.

I showed you flat-1But the deal is, there are other things that are much more important that are also true and are what the Lord wants you to focus on. It’s like the verse in the Bible, “this wisdom descends not from above but is earthly, sensual, devilish.” (James 3:15) But it is some form of wisdom, just that it’s not the wisdom from above. Some facts are like that: things that are true but if you focus on them, they’ll lead you right out of the will of God and the mindset He wants you to have. I’ve seen it happen, recently.

Paul said one time, “None of these things move me” (Acts 20:24). He said to the Galatians, “But though we or an angel of heaven preach any other gospel to you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:8)  Later on he said to the Galatians, “You did run well, who has bewitched you?” Galatians 3:1 & 5:7)

Often we learn these things through very hard experiences. We learn some of this when we have fallen for this type of device of the enemy, whatever it may be. “The fear of man brings a snare.” (Proverbs 29:25) We are afraid of what people will say and their opinions of us. Or our heart condemns us and tells us that God can’t use us. Or there’s some division that the enemy works among brethren to stop the progress of God’s troops.

But whatever it is, I can guarantee you that it will happen if you are truly going forward to win the battles of the Lord and regain ground from the enemy, in whatever form it may take. So just expect it, don’t fear it or let it frighten or deter you but be prepared, have on the armor of God, and trust that the victory that is needed has already been won for us on the cross when Christ there defeated the enemy of our souls. May He help all of us to be winners in the battles He is leading us into, not victims but victors. God bless you to be fighters for Him.

Cast your bread upon the waters

give and it shall flatWhat do you think about when you think of the God of the Bible? Love? That sounds right. But how is love actually shown or seen? I think one of the clearest ways is in kindness and generosity. There’s just so much in the Bible about giving and sharing, from cover to cover.

Jesus said, “Give and it shall be given unto you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over shall men give unto your bosom, for with the same measure that you met shall it be measured to you again.” (Luke 6:38) In another place He said, “He that has two coats let him give to him that has none.” (Luke 3:11) But that spirit He puts in our souls of concern, altruism and benevolence at times can be quenched if our hearts become hardened through selfishness or possibly the heartbreaks of life that make us feel it’s just not worth it.

why give flatWe’re tempted to just stop sharing, stop caring, and stop going the extra mile. We do it and then sometimes it seems it was all for nothing. The ones we tried to help were rude or unappreciative. Our labors truly did seem to be in vain and there’s just the huge sentiment to throw in the towel, close up shop on our lives and turn out the lights. “Why keep giving? No one else does. I’m just an idiot to naively give of my own to people who don’t appreciate it, while others laugh and snicker at my immature generosity.” You can hear some say that or it’s the cry of our broken, wounded hearts at times.

For me it comes down to this. I just go back to the most foundational experiences of my life and see again that the words of the Bible and the words of Jesus far transcend any “reasonable” rationalizations that contradict the truths of God and His Word. Loving, sharing, caring benevolence and generosity are some of the greatest hallmarks of God and Jesus and they should be some of the strongest abiding characteristics of the people of God.

good samaritan 1We can’t just pass by the poor man on the road to Jericho. We have to stop and render aid. We can’t selfishly hoard our blessings but we feel impelled by the Spirit of God to share with others. And the Bible is just full of this line of thinking. Here’s what Isaiah said. “And if you draw out your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall rise in obscurity and your darkness shall be as the noon day.” (Isaiah 58:10) In another place Solomon said, “The liberal soul shall be made fat and he that waters shall be watered also himself.” (Proverbs 11:25) And we can turn to more from Jesus, “Give to him that asks you and from him that would borrow from you, turn not away.” (Matthew 5:42)

Of course some may have choked or stumbled back there when I quoted Solomon where he talked about “the liberal soul.” For some Christians today, the word “liberal” is virtually synonymous with Satan. And that is a stark sign of the darkened times we live in that “liberal” has come to mean that. Because originally the word “liberal” meant generous and giving , as well as free from prejudice. (See II Corinthians 9:13) Nowadays it has been taken over by a political movement and twisted to mean something totally different. So much so that Christians now feel that in order to be “conservative”, they’re obliged to be stingy, hard-hearted, uncaring for those having rough times and just all that goes with the modern “conservative” agenda which often really does not have priorities parallel to the words of Jesus and the Bible.

In conclusion? “Keep your heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life.” (Proverbs 4:23) Satan and the vicissitudes of life work incessantly to harden your heart, to make you faint in your mind and throw in the towel when it comes to being loving, kind, generous and giving. Don’t let it happen.

To quote Solomon again, in the 11th chapter of Ecclesiastes, “Cast your bread upon the waters for you shall find it after many days. Give a portion to seven and also to eight for you know not what evil shall be upon the earth.” You may be “casting your bread upon the waters”. You may be giving and not really fully knowing where it’s going or what it’s being used for. But if you are doing it “as unto the Lord” (Colossians 3:23) , in obedience to His commandments to be loving and to share, someday (in this life or the next) “you’ll find it after many days.”

morning grace flatThat’s what God does, He gives and shares and pours out constantly. “He sends His rain on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45) And He implores us to have a heart like His, to love and give as He has given to us. So watch out about times when you just feel it isn’t worth it or “wise” to be loving and giving. Thank God He hasn’t changed His mind about being loving and benevolent. Lord help us not to change our mind about it either.

To whom shall we go?

find Christians flatGod “sets the solitary in families”. (Psalm 68:6) But often for those who long for the higher road in this life of Christian discipleship, it can be a lonely trek. It breaks my heart at times when I hear of ones who truly seek to not only be a Christian but to also take up their cross, as Jesus said, and follow Him. How can someone do that today? Where is anyone or any group of people truly following the original commandments of Jesus and the pattern of the book of Acts, who daily, whole heartedly are laying down their lives to be, in this hour of world history, all that the first Christians and disciples were?

Can it be done today? Is anyone really doing it in our times? With the Early Church in the book of Acts, it was just a monumental indigenous groundswell of the Spirit of God and “multitudes were added to the church, both of men and women”. They worked together, taught one another, encouraged one another and had a strong bond that developed into a whole society of saved souls, delivered from the power of darkens and translated into a whole new creation, a people of God made alive through Jesus which quickly spread across the world of those times.

Baptist churchIs it still the same today? Well, maybe somewhat. There still are Christians, there are churches you can go to, sweet people there and some of them will share with you the fundamentals of the faith. You can stand and sing with them on Sunday and imbibe the atmosphere of faith there. You can even go to their small groups or home churches where you usually can get to know individual Christians better and get a somewhat stronger feeding from the Word.

But I know for some people, perhaps many people, this really isn’t enough. Some at least just feel a God-given longing in their hearts for a much greater portion of the whole Christian experience. They may not even be able to express it but they have a yearning to be true disciples of Jesus, like so many were at the time of the early Church and the book of Acts.

freedom fellowship flatThey don’t want a once-a-week experience in church. They can just feel that it’s a distant echo of the original Kracatoan explosion of the Spirit that was the original wave of Christianity and all that was a part of what brought the truth of Jesus to our world. They want to live for the Lord as the first Christians did. God has put it in their hearts to be dissatisfied with a life of secularism and compromise with the world. They just know there’s a universe of joy, service, experience, purpose and fulfillment that is there, somewhere. But they can’t find it.

At least at times in my life I’ve been privileged to be around like-minded people who joyously took up the call of Christian discipleship and who at some times and in some places banded together in a similar fashion to the disciples of the Early Church. But many will say, “Well, that didn’t last. They didn’t all stay together like that or keep their fervor unto the end.” True, they didn’t. Still, it was a brilliant fire while it lasted and I feel at least that it was a more fruitful and fulfilling form of Christianity that I experienced in those times.

to whom flatIn a sense, there was something to join. There’s always a danger with that as it’s so easy for anything that becomes organized to fall prey to the world of things that can go wrong when people are organized in any way. But for people now, if someone feels a strong urging of the Lord to follow Him in full time Christian service, what are they going to do? “To whom shall we go?” as Peter once said (John 6:68).

He knew for sure that Jesus and the discipleship they had in Him was the only thing real that was around. But Jesus isn’t alive in the flesh with us on earth right now. And maybe you can find a good church. But almost certainly the Spirit will bear witness in your heart that what you find there is a sad far cry from the deeds, acts and words of the disciples in the Early church.

disciple in AfricaIs there a happy ending to this? I wish I knew a better one. Right now I don’t have any church, group or denomination that I can point you to which I know is fully, whole heartedly following the Lord like the Early Church did. I know a sweet couple in one foreign field or a tiny little association of a few families somewhere else. But it’s mostly a very scattered stand of rugged individuals who are trying to remain on the wall of His Will and service that I’m aware of.

So what can I offer you who want to truly serve the Lord? I can tell you that you can follow His Words as found in the Gospels and the New Testament. Jesus Christ is still “the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) Even if there’s no band of brothers who will take you in and show you how to do it, the Lord Himself sees your ardent desire to know Him, serve Him and lay down your life for Him in these times.

Even if there’s nothing to join, you can still join yourself to His Words. He will see it, honor it and may even lead you to other likeminded Christian disciples, even though they be few and scattered in these times.

Keep the faith. Keep holding on to your crown, your vision and desire to live for Him in your generation. It’s still as true today as it was 2700 years ago, “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose hearts are perfect.” (II Chronicles 16:9) Maybe you don’t think you have a perfect heart. But if your desire is to truly serve the Lord, He surely sees your heart and is fully able to bring you into contact with like-minded people who can help you on your quest. It’ll take a miracle, but that’s what He does. Keep the faith.