Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Shaken, Not Stirred


You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” – Isaiah 26:3

I grew up watching James Bond movies.  No, it wasn’t at all because I liked them, but my Dad sure did.  Back then, there was one TV in the house, and if Daddy was home, he owned the remote.  If you want to watch TV, you watched what Daddy watched.  And…you didn’t talk during the show!

But deep down, I thought James Bond was pretty cool.  Beyond all the fancy gadgets, and buttons on the car dashboard, he wasn’t one to get scared of what his enemy was doing.  He kept on course with his mission, and the show always ended with James as the victor.  Thinking back on “007”, I think what I admired most about watching him, the Sean Connery him, was his lack of fear.

Fear can be such a debilitation thing.  Even with all the ways in which James could fight, fear would have caused him to forget that he was “Bond, James Bond”.  Don’t we as Christians sometimes do the same thing?  We forget who we are in the face of adversity.  We forget that our Father has got this whole world under His control, and that whatever happens He has allowed for our short or long term good (Romans 8:28).  We forget that through Christ, we CAN do ALL things (Philippians 4:13). 

James always ordered his favorite cocktail “shaken, not stirred”.  I think that was more of a person anthem than a drink order.  He could be shaken, but his spirit was never stirred up.  Even captured, He was not to be considered down for the count.  Isaiah 26:3 is one of my favorite antidotes for fear.  It says “You will keep him in PERFECT PEACE whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.”  To be a spiritual James Bond, we have to focus on who is pulling the strings: God, always.  And we have to trust that God is doing all things for our good. 

There’s a great expanse between believing in God, and trusting Him.  Friends, it’s hard to trust someone you don’t spend time with, and that is why we often feel fearful of our situations.  Distance between us and God clouds our vision, and gives us a stirred up, confused and fearful heart.  I pray that you, and I, will find ourselves to be more like Bond, James Bond, with a heart that perhaps can be shaken, but not stirred.



Monday, June 23, 2014


Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.– Romans 5:5

I had an unusual question asked of me a few days ago.  The question was “What drew you to Christianity?”  It was unusual only because I’d never thought about it.  I was raised in church, prayers said before every meal and at bedtime, and knew the stories of the Bible as a small child.  God has been part of my life all my life, and my salvation through faith came at only 8 ½ years old. 

But after thinking about the question, the answer was simple.  “It was the love, His timeless love”, I said.  There has never been a time when God did not love me, even though I didn’t always love Him back. 

Even from before the world was created, God loved me.  Revelation 13:8 says that even before the world was created, God had prepared Jesus, who was there when it was created, to be the sacrifice for my sins.  I often think about how Jesus must have felt when Mt. Calvary was raised from the surface of the earth to be a mountain, knowing what would happen there when He came to earth as our Savior.  But I’m told in John 1:1-5 that nothing was made without Him.  He loved me then, and He loves me now.

God’s love shines as early as Genesis 3.  Adam and Eve chose to sin, to disobey God.  Sin is always a choice.  But even after they had rebelled, God in His great love for mankind, did two amazing things.  He said in verse 22-24 “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”—  therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.  God sent Adam and Eve out of the garden not as punishment, but to prevent future damage to our broken relationship with Him.  I say “our” because their sin was something we inherited.  Romans 5:12 says “just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned”.  It was a contagion in our blood.

We had already eaten of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which was sin.  But we had not eaten of the second tree named in the garden, which was the Tree of Live.  Had we eaten of that tree, we would have lived forever - but lived in sin.  We had to be able to die so that Christ could rescue us from a sinful lifestyle where we would be eternally separated from God.  God is holy, and holiness does not have fellowship with evil.  Psalms 5:4 says “For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness,
Nor shall evil dwell with You.”
 We could not know God as our Father had we eaten of the Tree of Life, so he put cherubim with flaming swords around it, and cast Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden, away from the tree.  He wanted us to have eternal life – but never wanted us to have it apart from Him.    

And there we were – separated from God through our own selfish desire to do what we wanted instead of what He wanted.  That’s all sin is – our own selfish desires. James 1:14-15 says “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”  

But even before Adam and Eve, God had already set the steps of Jesus’ life to lead Him to the cross, to gain victory over death.  If Jesus didn’t die, no one could be saved.  He had to lay down His life (John 10:17-18), and then take it up again in victory after His own death in order for us to have victory in our own death by accepting Him as our sacrifice.  Jesus knew it, and said in John 14:6 “No one comes to the Father except through me.”  That included Adam and Eve. 

John 1:4 says that “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.”  That Life was not human life was we know it with a beginning and an end.  Jesus’ life was eternal, because He was first and foremost, God’s son.  His blood was pure because there was no sin, and being born into human flesh didn’t change Him.  2 Corinthians 5:21 says “For He [God] made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Those that died before Jesus was born were loved as well.  God didn’t give up on them until they rejected Jesus, and yes, they all had an opportunity to do that in Hades.  1 Peter 3:19-20 says that “He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited”.  They were captive because the world still remains, and death and Hades have not yet been thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14).  When that happens, life as we all know it is over.  And as the next verse says “anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.”

But for those that had died before Jesus was born, God had mercy.  Ephesians 4:8-9 says “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.” (Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth?  How many people do you know that would go to Hades to save you?  God’s love has no boundaries.

God still has mercy on us today, allowing us to believe in Jesus with a faith that He Himself provides. Ephesians 2:8 says “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves.  He not only provides the sacrifice, Jesus, but provides in us the ability to believe in faith and receive His righteousness as atonement for our own sin.

God’s love is so unlike anything we can compare it to.  It’s not like the love of a Dad, because even that has its moments when forgiveness isn’t offered.  It’s not like the love of a spouse, because that kind of love has boundaries and we can by our own actions cause that love to die.  Our mothers loved some of us before we were born, but others did not have the love of a mother at all.

God’s love is timeless, unchangeable, and unfailing.  He loved us before we were born, as Ephesians 1:4-6 says “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love,  having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will,  to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. We are BELOVED. Oh, get a grip on that! BELOVED, which means darling, dearest, most precious, adored, much loved, treasured, prized, and even admired!

And even when we messed up, broke the rules, and sinned, God still loved us in spite of ourselves as Romans 5:8 says “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  He didn’t wait for us to come gravelling to Him, on bended knee, begging for forgiveness.  He just offered it in hopes we would accept it.

Here’s the reason I’m a Christian in a nutshell.  A year from now, 5 years, 10 years, when I die, I don’t know how many people that love me today will still love me.  But I have a Father in Heaven, and a brother in Jesus Christ, who I know will love me not only till I die, but long after that, and always welcome me into their presence.  And because they love me, I love them.  I cherish time spent with them, though in this life only in Spirit.  And I look forward to death for the sole reason that I will be able to be in their presence and see them face to face.  

Long distance relationship?  Not really.  He took care of that by giving me His Spirit to live inside me, poured out into my own heart.  Yes, we are that intimately intertwined.  Why? Because I am His BELOVED.  

Now, tell me, where else can you find a love like that? 

What other religion gives you selfless, secure, eternal love?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Grace and Mercy of the Light

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.”

Even in John’s name God has hidden treasures for the lovers of His Word!  God left nothing undone in proving through His Word His love for us! 
John’s name in the original Greek (G2491) is Johannes, which is Yehochanan, meaning “grace and mercy of Jehovah (God)”.  His purpose was to be a witness, a proclaimer of the grace and mercy that had been sent through the birth of Christ, which would give “Light” to man. 

“Light” is the Greek work “phos” (G5457), which means to shine or make visible, or enlighten and enable discernment.  “Light” is not a physical light, but a spiritual one.  God is spirit and the Word must be understood to be spiritual.  John was bearing witness of Christ, who is also God, having a divine existence wrapped in human flesh (“Hypostatic Union”).  Spiritually speaking, the “Light of man” refers to the Holy Spirit, which gives man the enlightenment of right and wrong, discernment of truth, and eternal life.
Luke 11:34-35 says The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness. Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness.“

The eye spoken of by Luke is not the one in the head, but the spiritual eye that can see and know good and evil.  He calls it a “lamp” noting that it should have light, and also states that the light in you can be darkness, which is the absence of light.  That absence of spiritual light is the absence of understanding good and evil, of understanding sin and the will of God, which is without sin. 
A lamp is meant to hold a flame.  It is not at its full purpose until the flame is lit, creating light, and giving discernment of all around it.  We all, being created in the image of God, have a lamp inside us called a soul.  That soul has a void which is meant to hold the Holy Spirit through believing in Jesus Christ, who John says in John 1:4 “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.    

If I were to hold a flashlight to walk through my bedroom at night, I could see the corner of my bed.  If I chose to run into it and nearly break my toes after seeing it, you’d call me crazy - and you’d be right! 
The light of the soul allows us to discern good and evil.  Jesus says in John 16:13 that He will send His Spirit, and He would “guide you into all truth”.  Having the Holy Spirit in your soul lamp, being able to see good and evil, and choosing evil - is also crazy.  The Light is meant to transform us into the image in which we were created – God’s image – who is also Christ – the giver of the Light.

Think back to the name of John, the witness of the Light, whose name means “the grace and mercy of God”.  How did John become the “witness” of the Light, the Holy Spirit?  In Luke 1:41 we read that when he was still in his mother Elizabeth’s womb, Mary, who was carrying Jesus in her womb, came to Elizabeth.  The verse reads "And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” John witnessed the Holy Spirit’s presence before His birth at that first encounter with the yet unborn, yet alive for all eternity, Jesus Christ. 
The Grace and Mercy of God!  God could have left us without the Light.  He could have dismissed us to the curse of sin, which disconnects us from Him, because He is Holy and Light has no fellowship with darkness (1 Corinthians 6:16).  But, through His infinite grace and mercy, He CHOSE to give the gift of Light, discernment of good and evil, and the gift of eternal life through Christ.  Jesus says in John 14:6, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

How can we accept the gift and ignore its purpose?  How can we hold the Light in our soul lamp and reject the transformation it is to create?
Father God, forgive us for not using the Light you have so graciously given.  We love you and thank you for your Grace and Mercy!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Step Two – Advice For Graduates

He raises the poor from the dust
And lifts the beggar from the ash heap,
To set them among princes
And make them inherit the throne of glory.
“For the pillars of the earth are THE LORD’S,
And He has set the world upon them.
He will guard the feet of His saints,
But the wicked shall be silent in darkness.
“For by strength no man shall prevail.
The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken in pieces;
From heaven He will thunder against them.
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth.
“He will give strength to His king,
And exalt the horn of His anointed.”
– 1 Samuel 2:8-10
When Hannah wanted a child, she first grieved that she couldn’t have one.  A child meant that she had a future, a role to play, a job if you will.  It meant having someone she could care for and love, even more than she loved her husband. In her desperation, she cried, she couldn’t eat, she was miserable because she wanted what she could not have. 
Lack will do that to you.  It’ll put you in a place where you cannot see how you can gain what you need.  But that’s exactly where we need to be sometimes to move to step two.

Hannah’s step two was as ours should be when we have grieved over our desires.  She went to the house of the Lord and prayed.  Now some will say that this should be step one.  But as it proved in Hannah’s life, her gratitude towards God came from the misery of that not being step one.

And because of her misery, the desire of her heart, and her feeling of utter desperation, her prayers were so emotional that the priest thought she was drunk! But it didn’t matter what the priest thought.  What mattered was what God heard.  And God did hear her misery, and her promise that if He gave her a son, she would return the child to His service.  From that emotional prayer time, a baby, Samuel, was granted to Hannah.  Samuel went on to be one of the great priests of the Old Testament.

We’ve just seen several high schools and colleges celebrate graduation.  It’s a time of happiness, celebrating a wonderful accomplishment.  But sometimes when one door of your life ends and another opens, you can feel confusion and misery.  When leaving school it’s easy to feel that “what will become of me?” worry.

Not everyone is awarded a scholarship.  Not everyone has a path laid out before them when the doors of school close.  But we all have a plan in God’s eye – each and every one.  He says that His plans for each of us is to give us a “hope and a future”.  Just because you don’t see the path doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Listen to the words of Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2 after she had baby Samuel, knowing God had answered her prayers.  She says that He has raised her from the dust, brought her out of the ash heap.  Ashes were used for mourning, a time of grief and pain.  She says that even the world rests on pillars that belong to the Lord.  Consider that.  He owns the world – every job, every company, every companion, everything in this round ball of dirt are His.

She goes on to say that He directs the feet of “His saints”, those that believe in Him, and that those that don’t will sit silently in darkness.  Darkness, throughout the Bible, is a void without God, and without hope. 

Then she says what is most important for you to understand.  Listen to her words:  “For by strength no man shall prevail. The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken in pieces; From heaven He will thunder against them. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth. He will give strength to His king, and exalt the horn of His anointed.” 

You cannot of your own strength get through your life.  Yes, I know you’re wanting to beomce independent, to do it all for yourself.  But apart from God, you can do nothing of true worth(John 15:5).  Apart from God, you become His adversary, and “He will thunder” against you.

What matters most in life is not the college you attend or the job offer you accept.  All of these will put you on a journey in life.  And in your life, your days will be spent doing something, even if it is just passing time. 

But if you choose not to rely on your own strength, to turn it over to God in prayer and choose to follow the path He provides, there’s a different future.  It is an exalted and anointed future for those that follow Him. 

How do you know which path to take?  Is it Western or U of L?  Is it Nashville or Atlanta?  Is it marriage or more dating?  Turn it over to God in prayer!  Pray as Hannah prayed, open yourself up to God emotionally, and pray with desperation for an answer.  Pray until the answer becomes an open door with nothing but hope and a clear future.  That’s what God has promised.  There’s no confusion or grief in following His plan when you’ve prayed for that open door.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Plastic Fruit


For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing.  For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.  For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.” – 2 Corinthians 7:8-11

It happens every Sunday.  We go to church, and the preacher preaches.  He tramples all over our lifestyle, our attitudes, our ways, how we treat each other, and our thoughts.  A prayer is said and the service is over.  On our way out we meet the pastor at the door, give him a handshake, and congratulate him with “That was a great sermon, Pastor!” and “You stomped my toes this morning, Pastor”.  And then we get in our cars and go home…unchanged.  By the time we get home we can’t even remember the title of the sermon.  The next week, oddly enough, we turn up at church again ready to reenact the entire event!  But why?  What do we truly hope to accomplish by hearing God’s word if we do not apply it to our lives?  It’s like going to the doctor, getting an antibiotic, and then choosing to go home and not use the medicine.  You don’t only stay stuck in your same sorry lifestyle, but you get worse, as sin sickens even more of your life.  After a while, church is a routine with no passion, and our desire for Christ dies from apathy.     

I believe the issue lies in being convicted.  We are happy in our sins, refusing to admit to them or attempt to exterminate them from our lives.  We choose to talk about God’s mercy, and silence all thoughts of His wrath and the consequences of sin.  But friends, that does not change who God is!  We use excuses that we cannot overcome sin, that “old habits die hard”, yet quote Philippians 4:13 (“I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”) over every other goal we set.  So, which is it?  Are we confined to our sins until we die?  Or, can we truly be overcomers through Christ?  It will only happen when we choose to allow conviction to change our hearts through self-examination.    

Can you imagine the pastor on Sunday mornings?  How insignificant and powerless it must feel to continually look people in the eye and ask them to come to Christ, removing sin from their lives, and have them congratulate you on what a beautiful speech you gave!  There must be a struggle to speak with stronger words, a desire to call names, to name the sins, to attempt to pass on the sorrow that should be felt from sin.  Yet at the same time, there must be a careful dance to try not to create enemies and calloused hearts that will never come to church again!      

The Apostle Paul felt regrets in writing to the Corinthian church.  He was trying to change their attitudes and behaviors on many things.  He felt as if it was an act in vain and it would only cause them hurt and that they would be changed only for a little while.  But he said in 2 Corinthians 7 that he no longer regretted it because it had led to repentance.  Repentance is at the core of what Christianity is all about. 

But not everyone can overcome sin.  Yes, that’s right!  It can only be done through the power of Christ dwelling in us through His Holy Spirit.  Repentance leads to salvation, for without a turning away from a life of sin, there is no salvation.  Quote every prayer card you can get, repeat after anyone a prayer, but salvation is not achieved through some magic incantation of words.  It is given to those that repent and choose to turn from sin with a contrite and broken heart.  Paul says “Godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation”.  Friends, if you’re wondering why sin still feels so pleasing, why it’s hard to break free, go back to square one and see if it was authentic salvation or some cheap imitation.

My grandmother use to have a bowl of plastic fruit she sat on the dining room table. It looked good, but it was only there for those that wanted to see fruit, but not taste it and have its benefits.  Examine your life.  What kind of fruit do you have?  Is it the plastic kind that looks good on Sunday mornings as it is displayed at church, or is it the real kind that keeps you fed during the week when trouble comes, adversity arises and sin knocks at the door wanting to invade your life? 

Paul says repentance, a sorrow of the heart, causes a “clearing of yourselves” through indignation, and produces desire, zeal and vindication.  You can walk out of unfruitful lives and into the power of Christ over sin any time you want.  You just have to allow repentance into your heart.