Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Wrappings

Just a few days ago I sat down to begin preparing a sermon, quickly the Lord led me to Luke chapter 2 and I began to read that all familiar story. I read it once, twice, three times. I love this passage of scripture; I’ve got most of it memorized. As I read through the verses a third time, I began to wonder why God led me here. Nothing obvious was jumping out at me…at least as far as a new sermon goes. So, I began to read the Christmas story again, not expecting any grand revelation. Then, suddenly, there it was. It wasn’t grand to begin with; in fact, I don’t believe you could call it a revelation. What I received was a question mark; a simple point of curiosity. I whispered to myself, “I wonder why that’s in there?”
You see, I believe the Word of God is divinely inspired. To me that means that every story, every character, every idea, and even every word is there for a God-given reason. The Kingdom Heirs sing a song that says:
When the Bible was recorded and given to man
God wrote it Himself with a spiritual pen
He moved in the hands of the prophets in the days of old

God spoke to the hearts of the prophets and the Holy Spirit stood over their shoulder helped them write it…that’s how I see “divinely inspired.” Therefore, anything and everything that was written into the everlasting Word was meant to be read, known, loved, and lived. God said what He meant, and means what He said. Even the words or thoughts that seem to be insignificant are, in fact, purposed by God.
This very thought crossed my mind when I was reading through Luke 2 for the fourth time. About that time something caught my attention. I saw two words. Two words that I had seen or heard more times than I can recall…100’s of times. However, until that moment, I never stopped to consider them. “I wonder why that’s in there”, I asked myself (with my left eye brown raised, rubbing my chin between my thumb and pointer finger). “HMMMMMMM…yes, yes Lord, why did you choose to tell us that?” After all, Luke 2 is divinely inspired, isn’t it? Nothing was written ad-hock or unnecessarily…there must be a reason you wanted us to read those two words.
Now, before I let you in on the two words in question, I want to make another point. Anytime God tells us something, it’s important. We should take nothing for granted when it comes from God.  In fact, there’s only one thing I can think of that would be more important than a word from God ….and that’s when He says something two times. One time is vital, but when God repeats Himself…brother you better sit down and pay close attention! So you can imagine how I felt when I read down a few more verses and saw the two words AGAIN!!! “Oh man, this must be a big deal. What is it Lord? What do you want me to know?”
Okay, I’ve stalled long enough. Let’s look together in Luke chapter 2…and discuss the meaning behind the mysterious two words. I’ll cut through the chapter and give you the verses in question. Here goes…
Luke 2: 6-7
So it was, that while they were there, the days were complete for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Well, what do you think? Do you see it? No? Okay, I’ll give you the verse where God repeats the two words…then we will discuss.

Luke 2: 11-12 (the angel speaking)
For there is born to you this day in the city of David a savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find the Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.

Now then, there it is in black and white. SWADDLING CLOTHS. God meant for us to read that. It may seem like a peripheral detail, but evidently it was important enough for God to say it twice…swaddling cloths. In fact, the swaddling cloths were the very sign that He gave for the Shepherds to recognize the One they were seeking. Let me pose a question; how many new born babies were lying in a manger in Bethlehem that night? I can’t say for sure, but I would imagine baby Jesus was the only one. Couldn’t God have just told the Shepherds, “…You will find the Babe lying in a manger.” Now surely that was a good enough sign, they could have located Him that way. Just look for the Baby in Bethlehem that’s lying in the cattle trough. But that’s not what God said…He said “swaddling cloths”…twice!
So there I sat with this thought bouncing around in my brain. What is the significance of the swaddling cloths? Before that, what is a swaddling cloth? Let me share what I learned.
Swaddling cloths are simply strips of material, pieces of cloth. You see Mary and Joseph were not surprised with a baby shower before they left for Bethlehem. Truth be told, they were not the most popular young couple in their home town. Most believed Mary to have had an illicit relationship behind Joseph’s back, that resulted in a pregnancy. And Joseph wasn’t much better off because most folks thought he was crazy for not kicking Mary to the curb. Both of them had become the hush-hush topics around the water coolers and over the back fences of Nazareth. All that to say; they were poor, they were outcasts, and they didn’t have sweet grandmothers volunteering to knit baby Jesus his first blanket.
They had no warm baby blanket, so Mary did her best with what they had. Strips of cloth, likely found in the barn they were forced to take shelter in. Mary collected strips of cloth and wrapped her new born baby in them. Then, in the absence of a cradle or a baby bed, she lined the livestock’s feeding trough with the cleanest hay they could find…and laid the King of the universe down to sleep, exhausted from the birthing process He had just experienced.
Have you ever seen the newborns in the hospital nursery? If so, you’ve watched the blue and pink caterpillars snoozing comfortably in the Plexiglas baby beds. They look like a tight ball of material with a doughy face poking out one end. And you know what? The babies love it. They want to be tucked up like a burrito. With their knees pulled up and their arms pulled in. Why do they like it so? And why do we make sure they are wrapped up that way? We all know the reasons. It’s because the newborn’s life, up to that point, has been experienced in a warm, cozy incubator inside mommy’s tummy. The securely wrapped blanket replicates this as much as possible; warmth, security, and protection. Now, this is an amazing thought. God, the un-diminishable, un-matchable, necessary being had condescended to take the form of a helpless, dependent infant. God needed warmth because His fragile body could not yet regulate temperature. The Creator needed security because His ability to thrive was now reliant on His very creation. The Great Judge of Heaven needed protection because He did not have the tactile senses to even know if His life was in danger, much less the ability to fend off a physical threat. So, Mary took simple strips of cloth, wrapped God up snuggly, and God was content inside the swaddling cloths.
Very picturesque, isn’t it? It’s even heartwarming to consider the Great I AM leaving His rightful position of power, glory, and worship to come to Earth, allowing Himself to be so vulnerable, so needy…just for you and me. I was sure this is a great part of the meaning of the swaddling cloths. Still, I wasn’t satisfied that it was the only reason God wanted me to consider the two words. As much as this painted a beautiful picture of the manger scene, and of Christmas in general, I couldn’t help but believe that there was more to be found within the wrappings of the swaddling cloths.
Perhaps it’s much more than simply what the swaddling cloths did for baby Jesus…maybe we should consider what the swaddling cloths represented for baby Jesus. So there I sat on my bed pondering  this thought. Then, as I was praying, asking God for understanding, it hit me. I was suddenly dumbfounded by a thought. I began flipping furiously through the four Gospels, searching for a verse that was faintly fluttering in the back of my memory.  When all of a sudden there it was before me; my mind started racing with the possibility.
Could the manger’s swaddling cloths point to another time and place? Could they represent a moment in time that we would never associate with a newborn? Allow me to lay out the parallel, and then I will share the verse that tied this up with a pretty, red bow.
Imagine, if you will, the events of that first Christmas night. Joseph supplied the only refuge he could offer his son. Historians agree this was likely a cave used to shelter live stock. Yet in this cool dry cave, Mary wrapped Jesus in swaddling cloths and laid Him to rest on a bed that no baby had ever used.
Now, flash forward 33 and a half years.
This time Joseph of Arimathea supplied the only refuge he could offer God’s son. Historians agree that this was likely a cave that was to be used to shelter the deceased. Yet in this cool dry cave, he and Nicodemus wrapped Jesus in swaddling clothes and laid Him to rest on a bed that no man had ever used.
John 19: 40
Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with spices, as was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.

They bound Jesus in strips of linen…swaddling cloths. Look again at the last part of verse 40; this was the Jewish custom for burial. Swaddling cloths at death were normal, but swaddling cloths at birth were not. After all, if swaddling cloths at birth was a normal occurrence, the shepherds might have located multiple babies in Bethlehem in similar wrappings.  You and I know the birth of Jesus was absolutely unique, therefore the sign God gave the shepherds had to be unique. Still, after reading John 19, perhaps the swaddling cloths were more than a sign to the shepherds. Could it be they foreshadowed much more that the obvious? Is it possible that they predicted His death?
Let us never forget the true story of Christmas. It’s not simply that a baby was born. It’s not even that the baby was God, Himself. The truth of the matter is this…the Christmas baby was born to die. The manger’s baby was Calvary’s sacrifice. Jesus was sent from heaven on a pointed mission. Scriptures tell us Jesus had set his face like flint for the cross. Sure, along the way He would teach, preach, heal, love, gather and divide.  Nevertheless, ultimately, He had come for a singular purpose….to DIE. His life’s journey was written in the prophet’s words, it was written in Bethlehem’s star, and it was written in Mary’s swaddling cloths.

Merry Christmas,

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Living in Laodicea: Introduction

Today my family and I attended a Sunday morning service at a local church. The worship and preaching was Spirit led and spot on. The service culminated with the congregation gathering around an American flag that had been placed at the altar. Many took their turn to step up to the flag and lift prayers for America. These prayers were genuine, heartfelt, and much needed. In fact, the Bible instructs us to do this, and I’m glad to have been a part. Still, as I listened to the heart of the congregation, my mind went back to a word God placed in my heart while I was in Bible study the morning after Election Day.

The results of last Tuesday night were a big eye opener for me. Now, I’m not ignorant of current affairs or naïve about the state of the Union. I believe I have a better than average handle on the spiritual and moral condition of America. However, there were some unfortunate results on Election Day that I didn’t see coming…and I’m not referring to the Presidential vote. Even more alarming to me were the results that came from the state ballots. As some of you are well aware, two states voted to legalize recreational marijuana, two more states voted in homosexual marriage, and one state elected the first openly homosexual senator. In these cases, we are not referring to the under-the-radar activities of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats; we are talking here about the voice of the people. You don’t have to look too hard to see the spiritual and moral degradation of our American society. These smaller state level votes are really a microcosm if the spiritual temperature of America as a whole. As a nation, I believe we are blindly slipping down a slope that could very possibly lead to destruction. I know many of you agree with me on this….and I realize that many of you don’t agree at all. Either way, Election Day was a great indicator that our nation is greatly divided in thought, opinion, and in general, in what is right and wrong. Now, with all that said, my objective is not to write a referendum on the spiritual status of the nation. My thoughts are on something quite different.
Truth be told, America’s issues can be boiled down to one common denominator. There is a single reason that we have plummeted socially, economically, domestically, educationally, and spiritually. To make a long story short, I’ll put it like this. America’s problem is not that corrupt people are in leadership. America’s problem is not that greedy people are getting richer while hard workers are becoming poorer. It’s not that the majority is oppressing the rights of the minority or that 50% of our population is dependent on the government for support. The real issue is something quite different from the campaign talking points that we have been inundated with as of late. America’s problem is not that sinners are sinning….you see, that’s what sinners do. It is the height of foolishness to expect the lost sinner , even if he/she is an elected official, to live like a saint; because they absolutely cannot! Our number one issue is not that sinners are sinning; it’s that the Church has forgotten how to be the Church.
As the Church goes, so goes the Nation. Please let me repeat: As the Church goes, so goes the Nation.
1 Peter 4:17 says: For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God.
That being said, my objective with this blog is not to convince you that this is true. A short look into history will verify this claim. Israel’s history, Great Britain’s history, and now America’s history all prove that the health of the nation is inextricably tied to the scriptural and spiritual purity of the body of Christ.
Very well then, what is my objective? My desire is not to call out the Nation or to justify the idea that as the Church goes, so goes the Nation. Instead, what I feel led to do is use the Word of God to help define the condition of the modern American Church. If the blinders might be taken off, if the light is allowed to pour in, if we can know the TRUTH, then perhaps we can regain an appropriate position before the Father. Perhaps He will be able to forgive our sins and heal our land.
Scripturally, what is wrong with the Church today? What does the Bible say about this? What is the result of being in this condition? Where do we go from here? These are the questions I desire to tackle with this study. To accomplish this, we will have to break this study into sections. For this first lesson, I just want to give you a brief introduction to the text. Then, in the proceeding installments, we will unearth the scriptural treasures that God desires for us to find.

When the book of Revelation is mentioned, people tend to jump into one of two camps. Normally, there is not much grey area here. People either love it or steer clear of it. Some don’t understand what they are reading, so they avoid it. Others are able to comprehend, but they don’t like the drastic, graphic depictions Revelation contains…so they avoid it. Whether you are pro-Rev or opposed-Rev, I contend that it is one of the most amazing books in the entirety of the Word. It’s the only book that is almost entirely “yet to come.” Also, it’s the only book in the Bible that comes with its own blessing for the reader.
Revelations 22:7 says: Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keeps the sayings of the prophecy of this book.
This blessing comes to those who receive the words of this book as a message from God; who makes use of them to teach and comfort others in the last days; and who are obedient to the instructions of the book as they are written. We shouldn’t avoid anything in the Word, we should embrace it all!
When John was commanded to write the book of Revelation, God’s instruction to John was very specific.
Revelation 1:19 says: Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter  
We see here a three part command given to the Apostle. First, write the things which you have seen. These “things” were the sights and sounds of the vision John had received. You can read about these “things” in the first chapter of Revelation. Secondly, John was to write the things which are. These “things” referred to the letters to the 7 churches that were dictated in Revelation 2 and 3. Finally, John was told to write the things which shall be hereafter. Obviously these “things” were the prophesies that are chronicled in Revelation chapters 4-22.
Most of the time, when we think of the last book of the Bible, we tend to recall horsemen, bowls of wrath, the antichrist, Armageddon, and so on. However, one of the most instructive parts of the book has little to do with these topics. In fact, it’s a section that is regularly skipped over. I’m referring to “the letters to the seven churches” found in the first 3 chapters of Revelation. In these letters, Jesus himself gives specific words of encouragement, praise, instruction, rebuke, and correction to the 7 churches of Asia. John was instructed to write down exactly what Jesus wanted the 7 churches to know.
Although the letters applied specifically to the Asian churches in John’s day, they are also prophetic to the progressive experiences and conditions of the worldwide Church down through the centuries. In fact, the progression, or the seven ages, of the Church can be traced by studying these seven letters in the order they were given.
The first letter was written to the church at Ephesus. The word Ephesus means “desirable”. In the prophetic since, the Ephesian church represented the first century church after Christ ascended. The teachings of the Apostles were at the forefront of this body. They were powerful and effective, turning the first century world on its ear for the Gospel of Christ. However, by the time John was writing the book of Revelation, before the end of the century, the first glimpses of distraction were beginning to be seen. Undoubtedly, this is what caused Jesus to say, "Nevertheless, I have something against thee, because thou has left thy first love"(Rev 2:4).
I won’t take the time to outline all seven letters and their prospective Church ages, as this is not my objective. However, I highly encourage the study. It is eye opening and, at times, stunning; just as the prophesy of our Lord always is. Instead, my desire is to key in on the final letter to the Church of Laodicea.
The word Laodicea means “judgment”. This church represents the last church age. With this station, Laodicea denotes the last bearer of the Gospel before Christ’s return for the Church. As much hope as this may bring, the letter to Laodicea stands in stark contrast to the previous letters. In the other letters, Jesus gives a measure of praise to the church. Laodicea receives no such praise. In fact Jesus’ rebuke is ,”you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked”(Rev 3:17). It is bitter-sweet to realize that this church represents the Church age we are currently living out. This is why it is vital for us to study and understand what Jesus is saying to the Church of today.
In the following installments, I am going to dig down into the letter to the Laodicean church. My objective will be to unpack the words of Christ to this first century church, and then relate His message to the 21st century Church we are serving in. This will be exciting and sobering. I hope you are willing to join me as we understand what “Living in Laodicea” is all about.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

True Freedom

Are you like me? Do you remember certain lines from movies that are your favorites? You know, movie lines inspire you to go beyond yourself, or at least to rent the movie again? One of my favorite “big screen” lines of all time is from the movie Braveheart. Like most big time one-liners, the surrounding story line and emotional build-up at that certain point in the movie is really what thrusts the adage into the “movie-line hall of fame.” So, for those who may have missed this top 10 movie, allow me to recreate the scene.

Mel Gibson plays Scottish radical William Wallace. He has stomached the life choking hold that England has over the feudal state of Scotland for as long as he can. Therefore, he spends most of the movie taking painful potshots at Edward Longshanks, king of England, and trying to rally the Scottish clans to join their numbers and fight for there liberation. After much self struggle and loss, Wallace finally gathers the willing freedom fighters to the climactic battle on the classic battlefield. On one side, the vast numbers and modern war technology of Longshank’s iron clad army. On the other side of the battlefield, the meager, undersized Scots, wearing home made battle gear, holding home grown weapons. The only thing they have on their side is the fire in their eyes, and the trust they have placed in their steadfast, dogged leader (I’m getting excited again, aren’t you?). So, there they are, out numbered, and out classed, still, determined and resolute.

NOW, here’s the best part!

At this point, William Wallace knows he has to do something that will catapult his men into an unbridled frenzy. He has to light the fuse. So riding upon his battle painted war horse, he begins galloping up and down the front line shouting out the words the men need to hear. (I wish I could type with a Scottish dialect!!) Wallace begins shouting at the top of his lungs with passionate fury. He begins reminding his men what the English have done, and what it will mean if they are allowed to continue to choke the life out of their families. He reminds them of their past. He reminds them of their future. Then at the very crescendo of the speech he raises up on his steed and shouts with all this might,


(please excuse me while I go pretend sword fight the invisible English in my living room)

Whew! Okay I’m back. Breathing a little heavy. Just a little bit sweaty, but at least I know my family is safe, again, from Longshank’s and his English bad guys. Yeah, you’re laughing now, but if you were at home by yourself you would have done the same thing, some of you probably did. I can’t help it if I become over inspired sometimes.

You know, there’s just something compelling about the fight for freedom that emboldens the heart of man. I think there is a created desire with in each of us to search for liberty, to know the peace that comes with obtaining the right to live, and the internal satisfaction when we know we are living right. This implanted, created desire is what propels us to search out what is missing in our lives, our freedom from this world. We, the redeemed, know that the freedom we search for can never be given or taken from the hand of another man. It is not man-made, it is divine.

In any case, we understand freedom don’t we? We live in this American, affluent society, and in the “land of the free” it is ingrained in us from birth to value our freedom. If you stop to think about it, the freedom we share as Americans leads us to believe that we have certain untouchable rights. Yet we spend much of our time, on several levels of society, protecting and fighting for our rights. American rights, civil rights, citizenship rights, religious rights, the right to free speech, the right to bare arms…and so on and so on and so on. Well here is my question; if we are truly free in America, then why are we in a constant battle to maintain rights and privileges? Shouldn’t our “freedom” offer us these things without a struggle, without resistance? If we are truly free, wouldn’t these rights, privileges, and liberties, once they are gained, be an automatic result of the freedom we enjoy? If we are free, why is our freedom placed in constant question? Is a conditional freedom really true freedom?

One unspoken American philosophy might be: With American freedom there is no slavery. But I think we are a slave to protecting our freedom and therefore we have a pseudo-freedom (Again, my opinion).

I know the only true freedom is a gift from the Almighty. It is gained only through the justification of Calvary. Still, there are even Christians who are not free at all. They are as bound by Satan and the world as they ever were before they were saved. I believe this is because we view our freedom in Christ the same way we are taught to view freedom as Americans. We apply the “with American freedom there is no slavery” philosophy to our Christian walk. Admittedly, it is easy to do. We are some what institutionalized by our man made ideal of freedom. The problem is that in that we are completely missing the boat and finding ourselves in chains. Yes, even though we are saved.

In my opinion, like most things where God is concerned, man’s viewpoint takes a completely opposite position.

We say: with freedom there is no slavery!

God says: you have to become a slave before you can be free!

Kinda confusing, I know. Let me try to explain.

To gain God’s freedom (the only real freedom) in our everyday lives, we must forfeit our rights for the sake of others, for the sake of the Kingdom. We must completely deny ourselves to find ourselves completely free. Paul spoke time and again about being a slave to the gospel, being a servant, and rejoicing over his chains.

Jesus is ultimately our example, right? I love Philippians chapter 2, and what does verse 6 say: He was in the form of God, yet He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, and taking the very nature of a servant, He humbled himself.

Isn’t that just amazing? He, the God-man, wouldn’t claim His own deity! He had it, He had every right to us it, but He never took advantage of its privileges. He was God, yet He would not enjoy the benefits of being God. What did He do instead? He gave up His rights for the sake of the Kingdom for your sake and for mine.


Christ, being our example, shows us the way. In order to receive the fullness of God's plan, we must be willing to lay down our pseudo-freedoms before the will and way of God Almighty. Through this, we find ourselves submitted to the Lordship of the Father. This may sound simple, but in truth it is not. Why? Becasue laying down our man-given/American/self claimed rights and privileges is un-natural to the heart of man. To truly place ourselves as slaves into the hands of God requires submission to the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus outlines this process in John 8:31-32:
Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My Word, you are my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,"

Many Christians are familiar with "and the truth shall set you free", but few are aware of the requirements in the previous verse. Jesus said, in order to receive the freedom, we must first become "disciples indeed". How do we do that? Back tracking in verse 31 a bit further gives us another clue. We must learn to abide in the Word of Jesus Christ. The word "abide" presents the idea of making the Word our lifestyle. Not just our reading past time....our lifestyle. Not just something we do on Sunday....our LIFESTYLE. When the Word becomes the way we live, we are then be recognized by God as a disciple of Christ. At this time we will begin experiencing the truth in our daily lives. In other words, the Bible become alive in our lives on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, along with Sunday. When this becomes true for you and me, Jesus said the truth will set us free.

True freedom is within our grasp, but it comes only when we have laid down our man-given, self expected freedoms, and become slaves to the Freedom giver.

There's a story told of an old Moravian missionary who was ministering in the West Indies. No matter how much he tried he couldn’t get access to the natives because they were working all day as slaves, and then when they got home at night they were too tired to be receptive to the gospel. After he had failed with every plan he could think of, Romans 12 verse 1 came to him, about offering your body as a living sacrifice. He took drastic action, and do you know what he did? He sold himself into slavery! The man that purchased the missionary began driving him, and the other slaves, into the work fields everyday. Finally the missionary was able to ministry to the people he was called to. You see, he gave up his right of freedom for the for the cause of Christ.

How much do we do that? Come on, we're not just talking about pastors and missionaries here, this is for us all. Are we obsessed with our rights? Can we say in the spirit of Christ, like the Moravian man, like Paul the apostle, and C.T. Studd: 'If Jesus Christ be God, and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him'.

Im proud to be a slave…because in these chains I found my freedom.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Locked Out

I was just recalling an experience that I had a few years ago that was a wee bit on the scary side. Well, lets just be honest…it was very scary. It was one of those moments that you never see coming until its staring you square in the eyes. It started simple enough, I was on my way into town when I decided to swing in and drop of some rentals at the local movie store. I had my two little ones in the back seat, safely buckled in their car seats; I had some good old gospel music on the radio, and a cold diet coke in my hand. Again, everything was great, no immediate difficulties in sight. I popped out of the front seat, made a comment to myself about the relentless heat of the summer, and walked into the store to lay the movies on the counter.

I may have been gone 20 seconds.

As I returned to the car, humming the tune I had just been listening to, I was suddenly stopped cold at the car door. My jaw dropped when I saw that Reagen had unbuckled her way out of her car seat (for the first time I might add), climbed into the front seat, and locked the doors up tight. The car was running, the air conditioner was blowing, and she didn’t have a care in the world. There she was jumping up and down in the driver’s seat with one hand on the steering wheel and one hand on the gearshift. Taylor was screaming, I was frozen with fear, and Reagen was contemplating her first joy ride.

Now, this was no time to panic because the safety of my children was hanging in the balance, my response had to be calculated and effective. I quickly took inventory of the situation and made the only decision a good father could make…I began earnestly pray for the rapture to take place at that very moment. Obviously, God did not agree with my plan of action. So I did the next best thing, I called Pop-a-Lock. With the locksmith on his way, I began attempting to distract Reagen away from the gearshift. She responded by smiling at me as if to say…

“Poor man, do you not realize that this is my moment to shine.”

She then proceeded to show me that she could successfully operate every button and knob located inside an automobile…except the UNLOCK button. The LOCK button was not problem at all…she must have mashed that one about 75 times. But UNLOCK?

“Sorry Dad, I’m just not familiar with that one.”

I was a wreck. That ten-minute moment felt like eternity. I was helpless! All I could do was stand on the outside and watch as my daughter, unknowingly, played games with her life, and the life her brother.

Then, in a blink of an eye, she came to the window, put her knee on the armrest and unlocked the door. I quickly yanked the door open, before she could accidentally lock it again. As she came tumbling out of the car, I caught her and lifted her up. At that moment I didn’t know whether to hug her or ground her for life…I chose the hug. As I breathed a sigh of relief, Reagen looked at me and said...”Daddy, I drive?”

Moments like these cause us to age years in mere moments. Actually, I’m still recovering. Today as I sit and remember the  “the movie store incident”, God whispers truth to my heart…”David, now you know how I feel when you let sin separate us.”

Honestly, I have never thought of it quite like that before. On several occasions, I have considered how the separating power of sin affects me…but  never have I considered how that separation affects my Heavenly Father. I can see now how it could be much like my experience with Reagen. When my sin causes a break in the fellowship between God and me, I believe two things take place. There’s two sides to every story.

First of all, my access to the benefits of God has become limited. In essence, I have placed myself on the outside. On the outside of what, you ask? On the outside of His protection, His guidance, His blessing. I find myself separated from the very things that I desire most from my creator. Here’s what the Bible says…

Isaiah 59:1-2
Behold, the hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear dull, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.

Isaiah tells us that our sin does not diminish God; He can still reach and save and hear…BUT…out sin does disconnect the fellowship. When my kids rebel against my rules and expectations for them, they are in essence saying, “I know what you want from me, but I choose to do this my way, even if it hurts you.” This is essentially what we do when we turn against our Heavenly Father and choose the path of sin.

Now let me make one point here; I said the relationship is damaged, but not terminated. When my kids go against my rules and expectations it limits the fellowship that we both desire. Now, in order to restore our relationship the damage must be addressed. This is where confession and forgiveness come in. The relationship may be wounded but it will stand the trial…and it can be mended. At no point do they ever stop being my kids…never.  

So the first point is that I become separated from my God’s hand. Secondly, God becomes limited in His ability offer His protection, His guidance,  and His blessings. He has also, been placed on the outside, and finds Himself separated from His creation. The heart of a father longs to do what is best for his child. How then must it feel when the hands of a father are tied and he can no longer intercede on child’s behalf? I can tell you from my experience with Reagen, it is close to torture.

Can’t you just see Him? You walked away from Him and gave yourself to the world… gave yourself to sin. You locked the door on your Savior and now He stands and watches you through the window. His big heart is touched with sorrow. A few moments feel like an eternity. All He can do is stand on the outside and watch as His child plays games with their life.

Dr. George Sweeting wrote in his book “Special Sermons for Special Days”:

“Several years ago our family visited Niagara Falls. It was spring, and ice was rushing down the river. As I viewed the large blocks of ice flowing toward the falls, I could see that there were carcasses of dead fish embedded in the ice. Gulls by the score were riding down the river feeding on the fish. As they came to the brink of the falls, their wings would go out, and they would escape from the falls.
I watched one gull which seemed to delay and wondered when it would leave. It was engrossed in the carcass of a fish, and when it finally came to the brink of the falls, out went its powerful wings. The bird flapped and flapped and even lifted the ice out of the water, and I thought it would escape. But it had delayed too long so that its claws had frozen into the ice. The weight of the ice was too great, and the gull plunged into the abyss.”

That ice is much like the sin we carelessly play with, all because we enjoy the free meal it offers. The truth be told, the wages of sin is still death. Sure, we may get by with it for a season. We may even get along pretty good without God’s provision for a short time. We may lock God outside the car and have the time of our lives playing with the buttons and knobs of this world. But don’t deceive yourself; you can only pull on the gearshift so many times before you lose.

Think about it!

Keep Seeking the Truth

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Sanctification: the Process of Perfection - The Holy Spirit: How He Does It

Over the last several weeks…months really…we have been looking at the Christian doctrine of Sanctification. I subtitled this study “the process of perfection”. By this point, I hope that you have begun to understand the significance of this idea. Sanctification is both a position granted by God at the point of our Justification…and at the same time, it is the process whereby the Holy Spirit weeds out the effects of sin in our lives. John the Baptist hit the nail on the head when he said “I must decrease that He might increase”.

The last few posts have dealt with getting a more scriptural and true look at the Holy Spirit. He is the power that drives the engine of Sanctification. In other words, He is the Sanctifier. While examining the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we focused our efforts at answering 3 questions: WHO IS HE, WHAT DOES HE DO, and HOW DOES HE DO IT? The question, WHAT DOES HE DO, was answered by developing a basic definition of the Holy Spirit’s ministry. Without going back into the teaching, let us just state the definition we arrived at.


That sounds simple enough, but this process requires a life time of effort by the Spirit. In other words, Sanctification will never be completed while we are living here on earth. Yes, we will find ourselves vastly changed and retooled as the process of perfection is manifested in us, but it ultimately takes death to complete the work. Still, you can rest assured that our story will end in grandeur and glory…as our earthly progression finally meets up with our eternal position. The point where our progressive sanctification meets our positional sanctification is a work of grace called Glorification. One day we shall be GLORIFIED.
Beloved, now are we the children of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.

                                                                                                                                                1 John 3:2
How fabulous is that? One day we shall see him (Jesus) as he is…in that day “we shall be like him.” We cannot begin to imagine how great a change that will be. Physically whole and well….just like God intended from the beginning. Mentally appropriate and stable…just like God intended from the beginning. Emotionally loving and patient…just like Jesus. Spiritually complete and free from sin…just like Jesus. The glory of GLORIFICATION; that will be a site to see, and an experience to behold.

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
                                                                                                                                              1 Cor 15: 52-54
Okay, very good then, the end result of the process of Sanctification will be a GLORIFIED YOU!! However, we are not glorified yet. We are still trudging through this process. And we still have one “Holy Spirit” question to answer….HOW DOES HE DO IT? How does the Holy Spirit do the job of expressing Christ Jesus to you and through you? How does He take our sin burdened hearts and lives and systematically change us? How does He direct our paths to those divine appointments that make the big differences? How does He introduce the Bible in such a way that it impresses our mind and our hearts? How does He convince us to look beyond our pride and selfishness and see that God’s way is the only way? How does He teach us to turn from attempting to please God by living the Law? How does He take us from being a baby, feeding on milk, to a discipled mature Christian, feasting on the meat of the Word? HOW DOES HE DO IT????
There, I’ve said it…I don’t know. And the truth is….neither do you. In fact, nobody knows how the Holy Spirit does what the Holy Spirit does. In some ways we know “why” He does it, but we can’t begin to verbalize “how” He does it. Therefore,  I want to make two points that are VASTLY important to your Sanctification process. The sooner you realize and apply these truths, the better off you will be, and the more effective the Holy Spirit will be in your life. Pay close attention here….here goes….

POINT NUMBER ONE – There is a GOD….and you ain’t HIM!! 
It is the height of arrogance to believe that a man can fix the heart of another man…We can’t even change our own hearts. This is why the modern day approach and philosophies of humanistic psychology and psychiatry are so asinine and off base…..THEY DON’T WORK BECAUSE THEY CANT WORK. Let me put it this way, if we could DO anything to fix ourselves….we would not have needed Calvary. Jesus would not have needed to come to earth to be tortured and executed. The reason we need a SAVIOR is because we could not save ourselves. Here’s what the Bible says…

I do not nullify the grace of God: for if righteousness comes by the law, Christ died in vain.
                                                                                                                                Galatians 2:21
It seems silly to have to bear out this point, but in today’s Christian world it is necessary. The Church does a great job in teaching that salvation is a gift from God. We can do nothing to gain this wonderful gift, we can’t earn it, and we sure don’t deserve it. However, when it comes to Sanctification, we somehow determine that we have the ability to perform this act on our own…or at best, we need to
“assist” do our part. For after all, God helps those that help themselves. The problem is that the Bible doesn’t teach these ideas at all. The truth is that we are just as dependent on God to perform our sanctification as we are our salvation. It is a job that the Holy Spirit and ONLY the Holy Spirit can perform. This leads me to point number two.

 POINT NUMBER TWO – You can’t do it…so give up and let GOD!!
Let me ask you a question: Where in the Bible are we commanded to fight against or defeat our sin? Don’t think too hard…it ain’t there. God would never command us to do something that we simply cannot perform. For some of you, this should be a HUGE relief. You can’t beat your sin…you can’t win on your own…so stop trying…give up!
Think about it, isn’t that what Jesus did? Didn’t He come to break the power of the sin nature and atone for the collective sins of the world?

I know your struggling with a sin issue…maybe several issues…we all are.  Addictions, anger, pride, lust, homosexuality, lying, and on and on....we ALL have besetting sins. While it is perfectly acceptable for you to recognize your sin issues, you were never intended to figure out a plan to overcome them. God doesn’t expect that from you. That’s His job.
I love the song that says:
Give up, let Jesus take over
Give up, let Jesus take over
Give up, let Jesus take over
And He’ll make a way for you

Very good then, it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to do deal with your sin, to sanctify you and me.  Our job is to get out of His way; quit taking the job out of His hands, and let Him do what only He can do. Now that I’ve repeated myself over and over, I want to clarify one point. It’s not your job to fight sin…but you do have a job to perform…you do have a fight to fight. Paul commanded Timothy…

Fight the good fight of faith – 1 Timothy 6:12

We do have a battle ahead of us, a goal to strive for, and a fight to fight. However, it’s not the warfare we so often find ourselves fighting. Let the Bible explain the Bible…

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds;)
                                                                                                                                                2 Cor 10: 3-4
Now, I want to pull out a very familiar passage, but I don’t want you to read it and do what most of us have been trained to do. Don’t read the following words and decide you are supposed to fight against the army of darkness. Read what it says…not what many preachers have tried to make it say. We have got to let the Bible say what the Bible says, not what we want it to say. Remember we are fighting the fight of faith, not like the world fights…it’s a fight that is “of the Spirit”. Now read the following…

Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand, then stand.
                                                                                                            Ephesians 6: 11-13  
Now, what are we commanded to do here? Put on the Armor of God and then….stand. Stand still and pray (verse 18)…that’s it. You’re not commanded to beat up the devil or to defeat your sin issues or to war against the darkness. There are two reasons for this: Number one, YOU CANT WIN THESE FIGHTS. Number two, JESUS HAS ALREADY WON EVERY FIGHT YOU WILL FACE.
All we are called to do is fight to keep our FAITH centered on the fact that Jesus has already won the fight. Keep your faith centered on Christ. Let me summarize this again…
1.       You’re not God

2.       Give up trying

3.       Jesus has already won your battles on the cross

4.       Fight to keep your faith on His work…not your own

5.       When you do this, the Holy Spirit can work miracles in your life

Walk in the Spirit
It’s impossible to know how the Holy Spirit operates. That’s like asking a person to define God and give 3 examples. We may not be able to know “how He does it”, but we can rest in the fact that “He does it.” What we should be much more interested in is learning how to stay out of His way. Living in such a way that allows the Spirit to maximize His efforts, uninhibited by our meager attempts to fix what we cannot fix.
Kenneth Wuest said the following…
“…just as Jesus never saves a person until that person recognizes Him a Savior and by an act of his own free will puts his trust in Him, so the Holy Spirit is waiting for the Christian to recognize His ministry, and by an act of his free will trust Him to perform it.”

You and I need to pray for the wisdom it takes to surrender to the will of Holy Spirit. We need to learn how to recognize His ministry and allow Him to perform it. We have all heard the old cliché that God is a gentleman. He will not barge His way into our lives and take over. This is true of the Sanctifier also. If we should so choose to assume control of our lives, to war against our sin nature, to fend off the enemy; the Holy Spirit will step aside and allow it. He knows full well what the outcome will be, but He will graciously step aside…if that’s what we want.
The reason He is willing to do this is simple. Sooner or later, we are going to grow weary of struggling to roller skate uphill.  Sooner or later, we will realize we cannot win and we will give up trying, and let Him take over. This submission to His will is exactly what He’s waiting on. And it’s exactly what we need. It is the key to success in the Kingdom of God and the key to victory.

This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you be led of the Spirit, you are not under the law                                                
                                                                                                   Galatians 5: 16-18

Paul pleads with us, “walk in the Spirit.” This does not mean…be spiritual. This is a command to walk in such a way that the Holy Spirit can be your power, your leader, your defender. Walk within the Holy Spirit. If we do this, an amazing promise is ours…”and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” That’s powerful friend!

How do we “walk in the Spirit”? By fighting the good fight of faith. Keep your focus on Jesus and not on yourself. Give up trying and let God do what only God can do.

In conclusion, I want to share one more verse. Within this verse, we are given a hint on how we might
fight the good fight of faith.”

Likewise reckon you also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
                                                                                                Romans 6:11

First of all, reckon yourself dead to sin. Reckon means to remember or recall….remind yourselves. At the cross of Calvary, Jesus destroyed the power of sin. You are dead to sin now…it has no power over you. Therefore, you do not have to live as its slave any longer….REMEMBER THIS!!! Secondly remind yourself that you are alive to God. Again, the Cross is the key. Because of the death of Jesus, you are now alive to God. Dead to sin, but alive to God. Dead to sin, but alive to God. If you remind yourselves of this daily, it will keep your faith in the right place…off of yourself, off of the world, and on Jesus Christ. This is how we win the fight of faith! Faith allowed God to save you, and faith will allow God to sanctify you. It is our faith in the finished work of Jesus that opens the flood gates of Grace in our lives.

Keep Seeking the Truth