The Glorious Gift

The Glorious Gift

When we instinctively think about a time for new beginnings (lose weight, get healthy, read the Bible more, get out of debt, etc.), one of the verses that is often quoted by well-meaning Christians is Proverbs 3:5-6.  In this verse we find the elusive promise that we all crave:  How to know what is the will of God for our lives or, more precisely, how to get God to show us what we need to do in a particular situation that we are clueless about, such as, should I marry this person?  Or, where should I work?  Or, what college should I attend?  Or, should I do this or that or go here or there?  I think you probably get the point.

The promise we want to claim is found in the latter part of Proverbs 3:6 and says:  “And He (God) shall direct your (me and you) paths.”  Yes, this is what we want.  This promise is what we so desperately need.  We want and need God to direct our paths, to show us what to do, to let us know what’s the right decision He wants us to make— to literally bring us out of the darkness of doubt, indecision and fear and into His light of perfect peace (Isa. 26:3).

And, if you are completely honest with yourself, you’d probably have to admit this promise usually, almost always, goes unanswered.  Did you ever wonder why?

Is God somehow not in the promise keeping business these days?  Or, were these words meant for someone other than you?  You know, someone God loves more than you, or someone who is a better person than you, or someone more likeable than you?  In other words, is God selfish in keeping His Word and does He only hand out His blessings to His children like the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge in the Dicken’s classic?  Is that how you view your God?

Or could there be some conditions to the promise that we’ve failed to meet?  Maybe we didn’t even know those conditions existed.

Let’s take a closer look at these two verses and see exactly what they say.


Building on What Came Before

In Proverbs 3 we see the Lord, through the pen of Solomon, building upon a base already established in the two previous chapters.  For example, Proverbs 1:7 tells us “the fear (awe, profound respect, terror) of the Lord is the beginning (starting point, genesis, first, best) of knowledge (discernment, insight, understanding, notion).”  Then, moving to the next chapter, Proverbs 2:5 reveals how we can “understand (to perceive, discern, become aware of) the fear of the Lord and find (attain) the knowledge of God.”  How?  How can we find the knowledge of God?  By reading the conditions in the previous verses.

Proverbs 2:1-5 – My son, if (conditional clause) you receive my words, and (if) treasure my commands within you, so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; Yes, if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then (promise) you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.

This is a classic if / then conditional promise.  it states that If you do this, then I will do this.  It’s basic, first year, Contract Law 101.

But there’s also a condition, actually three conditions, that must be met to receive the desired promise found in Proverbs 3:6.  And those conditions are also found by reading the previous verses.  Let’s take a look together and discover the if / then conditional promise in Proverbs 3:5-6.


What It Says

Proverbs 3:5-6 reads:

Condition One (the Do):  Trust in the Lord with all your heart

Trust (to be confident, secure, bold, safe) in (who or what) the Lord (how much) with all (with each, every, the entire, the whole, complete, inclusive, holding nothing back) your (personal responsibility, something you can and are expected to do) heart (or, your inner self, your mind, will, emotions, personality, the “you”).

Condition One states we are to trust and have confidence and security in the Lord, in the Sovereign One, the Creator God, the Personal God; and we are to trust Him with all our heart, with all that we are, with our entire being, our complete person; with our mind, our will, our emotions, our personality and our volition.  We are to trust Him completely and personally and this is something we have the responsibility to do.  It’s one of the ifs in the if / then conditional promise.

Question:  But how do we do this?  How do we trust in the Lord with all our heart?
Answer:  See Condition Two.

Condition Two (the Don’t):  And lean not on your own understanding

And lean (rely, trust in, support) not (no, not, never) on (what) your own understanding (comprehension, discernment, perception).

Why are we not to trust or rely on our own understanding, on our own personal take on things?  After all, didn’t God give us a mind and expect us to use it?  And am I not to “follow my heart” and do the things that seem right to me, things that give me peace and make me happy?  Isn’t that what the Disney movies have taught me from Bambi on?  Can’t I trust my own heart and my own feelings?  Who knows me better than me?  And who knows what is best for me better than me?

This is why Condition Two is so hard to meet and why we seldom are blessed with the then part of the if / then promise.  Consider the following:

Jeremiah 17:5 – Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord.”

Jeremiah 17:7 – “Blessed in the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord.”

And the grand finale regarding the heart and our own feelings and understanding of things:

Jeremiah 17:9 – “The heart (your inner self, your mind, will, emotions, personality, the “you”) is deceitful (sly, insidious, slippery) above (what) all things, and desperately wicked (sick, ill, diseased, incurable, in a weakened condition that leads to death); who can know (to know by experience, to be intimate with, to approve, to choose, to show favor towards, to know as in an intimate relationship) it?”

In other words, the heart, our heart, our self, our mind, our will, our emotions, and our personality is deceitful and insidious, sly above all things, above anything, with no limit.  It is desperately wicked, sick, incurable, wracked with disease, weakened to the point of death, to the point of who can know it, or who can be intimate with it, approve of it, or have a relationship with it?  Answer:  No one.  Zip.

Our heart cannot be trusted, ever.  It must be redeemed.

Question:  How can we learn not to lean and rely on our own understanding when that’s all we’ve ever been taught since kindergarten?  What can we do to meet the requirement of Condition Two?
Answer:  See Condition Three.

Condition Three (the Do):  In all your ways acknowledge Him

In all (with each, every, the entire, the whole, complete, inclusive, holding nothing back) your (personal responsibility, something you can and are expected to do) ways (your paths, journeys, walk, the road traveled) acknowledge (to know by experience, to be intimate with, to approve, to choose, to show favor towards, to know as in an intimate relationship) Him (God).

Think for a moment.  In all your, or our, ways, in everything that we do, secular or sacred, in church or out of church, seen and public or hidden and private, in everything we do, in every place we walk, wherever the Lord sends us, whomever we encounter, whatever the circumstances or conditions, either good or bad, in all situations, success or failures, pain or joy, life or death, in each and every thing and without exception— we are to acknowledge Him.

Let’s stop for a moment and look closer at what it means to acknowledge someone or something.  In our language the term acknowledge means to “accept or admit the existence of something.”  For example, “I acknowledge my mistake.”  Or, “I acknowledge your authority.”  Or again, “I acknowledge that you believe what you are saying is true, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with it.”  It also means to “show or express recognition or the realization of something or someone.”  An example would be when one man slightly nods his head in acknowledgment or recognition of another man.  “I see you big guy.  I acknowledge your presence.”  We see this all the time in life.

But that’s not what the Hebrew word means in this Proverb.  Condition Three doesn’t say “in all our ways we are to nod our head or tip our hat in simple recognition that God exists.”  No, the word is much deeper.

The Hebrew word for acknowledge in this verse is yada and is the same word defined above as know in Jeremiah 17:9.  The word, yada, means “to know by experience, to be intimate with, to approve, to choose, to show favor towards, to know as in an intimate relationship.”

Or, simply this: Condition Three means we are, in all our ways and in everything we do or say throughout our lives, we are to know and live intimately with God in such a way that He would approve of, and show His pleasure and favor on, the way we live our lives.  It means we would trust Him for everything (Isa. 41:10), strive to have the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16), to “bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5), to “walk in the Spirit and not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16), and to “find out what is pleasing to the Lord (Eph. 5:10) and live our lives accordingly.

This is the meaning of Condition Three.  We are to “walk just as He (Jesus) walked” (1 John 2:6).

Question: And what about the promise?


The Promise

The promise in Proverbs 3:5-6 is:  And He shall direct your paths

And He (God) shall direct (make right, straight, smooth, level, to lead, to be pleasing, to approve, esteem) your paths (way, journey, course of life and lifestyle).

In other words, God will take our fallen lives and our fractured past and smooth out the way before us.  He will lead us as He did His children in the times past (Isa. 52:12) and His glory will be our rear guard (Isa. 58:8).  He will “instruct us and teach us in the way we should go and will guide us with His eye” (Ps. 32:8).  As the Good Shepherd, He will freely “give His life for His sheep”— for you and me, for those He loves (John 10:11).  He will “strengthen and protect us from the evil one” (2 Thes. 3:3), and “present us faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 24).

This, beloved, is the promise of the Father given to you.  It’s a gift, it’s the abundant life Jesus promised just waiting to be opened by you (John 10:10).

Are you living in the reality of that promise?  Has God taken your broken paths and made them smooth before you?  Has he redeemed the years you’ve lost to sin and selfishness and turned them into a testimony of His grace freely given to you?  Has He “numbered your wanderings and collected your tears in His bottle and written them in His book”? (Ps. 56:8).  Are you currently in the center of His will and is He directing “your steps by His Word”? (Ps. 119:133).

He can, you know.  And He will.  He wants to.  All you have to do is claim His promise by meeting the conditions of one of the most glorious if / then promises in all of Scripture.

If –  Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
If –  And lean not on your own understanding;
If –  In all your ways acknowledge Him,
Then –  And He shall direct your paths (Prov. 3:5-6).

Begin this wondrous walk of faith today.  Don’t wait.  Why?

Because we’re all running out of time.

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Why Does God Let Christians Suffer Trials

Why Does God Let Christians Suffer Trials

One of the most troubling questions I get asked as a pastor is this: “Why do Christians suffer trials and tribulations?”  Or, to put it another way, “Why is all this bad stuff happening to me?  What did I do to deserve this?”

The easy answer is found in James 1:2-4 where it says:

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.  But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

But realizing that someday, somehow, in the sweet bye-and-bye, when all this pain and suffering and misery is over, you will become “perfect and complete” in Him often rings shallow while you are in the midst of the flames of your fiery trial.  When people are suffering they need more than simple platitudes or mini-sermons or one verse, knee-jerk theology— they need truth.  They need something to help them make sense of their impossible situation.  They need something more than Romans 8:28.  They need the long, detailed, answer to their question.

So, for those of you in the midst of trials you don’t understand and didn’t deserve, let me give you the long answer to your question.


Why Do Christians (You and Me) Suffer Trials and Tribulations?


1.  To Bring God Glory

As strange as it may seen, sometimes we go through trials and hard times for no other reason than to bring God glory.  Just think about what Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego had to endure for the glory of God.  It was only through their trials, their fiery trials, that King Nebuchadnezzar and his subjects caught a glimpse of the Lord Jesus.  And it may have been this very event that led to the king’s salvation and faith declaration:

For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, “What have You done?” (Daniel 4:34-35).

And one verse later the King said:

“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice.  And those who walk in pride He is able to put down” (Daniel 4:37).

Remember, none of the glory given to God by Nebuchadnezzar would have happened unless Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego faced deadly trails for no fault of their own.

To read more about their trials, go to Daniel 3:8-30.


2.  To Discipline and Chastise Us for Our Sins

That’s right, as uncomfortable as it makes us feel, sometimes God has to get our attention and discipline us, like we do our own children, when we sin and refuse to repent.  Why does He do this?  Because He is the perfect Father and He loves His children dearly, even more than we love our children.

Consider the following from Hebrews 12:5-11:

And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:
“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.”

If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?  But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.  Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect.  Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live?  For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.  Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Sometimes, when we wonder why God is allowing hard times to come our way, remember that “whom the Lord loves He chastens” just like we do to our own children.  And be encouraged.  After all, the Lord’s discipline means you are His child and that He loves you.  That fact alone should put a light in our heart when all around us seems dark.


3.  To Prevent Us From Sinning Again

This is kind of obvious.  We discipline our children to keep them from doing wrong and the Lord does the same with us.  When our children get spanked, or “suffer in the flesh” as Peter would say, they “cease from sin.”  And the same is true for us as God’s children.

Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God (1 Peter 4:1-2).


4.  To Keep Us From Pride

Pride is the first and foremost sin and the Lord hates pride (Prov. 8:13).  That’s right, He hates it.  Why?  For one thing, Satan was cast out of heaven for pride (Isa. 14:12-15).  Even someone like the Apostle Paul was prone to pride.  So the Lord allowed him to suffer trials in order to keep him humble and to protect him from the encroaching sin of pride.  It was God’s way of loving Paul, as strange as that may sound today.  Read what Paul said about his suffering, his “thorn in the flesh”:

And lest I should be exalted above measure (pride) by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure (pride).  Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.  And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake.  For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

God’s answer to Paul’s prayer was, “No.  What I have already given you is enough.”  This is the Biblical cure for pride.


5.  To Help Build Our Faith

Like precious metal, our faith grows stronger when it is tested in the fire.  It’s during tough times, during sufferings and tribulations, that we see what we’re made of.  Is our faith real?  Are we truly committed to Him?  Are we more than a fair weather disciple?  Do we really believe what we tell others we believe?  Yes, the genuineness of our faith becomes evident when we put it to the test.  And trials help our tested faith grow stronger.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-7).


6.  To Help Our Faith Grow

Much like the previous reason, sufferings and trials also help our faith grow, not just in strength, but in quality and number.  When we persevere under tough times, we have more faith.  And more faith is a good thing, by the way.  Jesus said if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, which is about the size of a pin prick on our finger, we could do incredible, unbelievable things (Matt. 17:20).  So more faith is a good thing, something to be greatly desired.  And more faith comes from using the faith we have to faithfully endure under trials and pain and suffering.  The more faith we use, the more faith God will give us.  You know, “No pain, No gain.”

And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, (why) knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 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 5:3-5).

In this situation, more is definitely better.


7.  To Teach Us Discipline and Obedience

Like a coach on a football team or a personal trainer in a gym, the key to success to those we are training is discipline and obedience.  We are to run the plays exactly like the coach demands.  If not, “Run it again!”  When our personal trainer tells us how many reps and how many sets we must do to complete the workout, we have to have discipline and obedience to the plan in order to see the results.  Again, “No pain, No gain.”

The Lord did the same for Paul at the outset of his ministry.  He told him in advance about the trials and suffering he would endure.  Why?  To teach Paul discipline and obedience, to hang tough, to keep his eye on the goal, the prize (1 Cor. 1:9), the finish line (2 Tim. 4:7) even when everything in him screamed, “I quit!”  Same is true with us.  Which is why the Lord often allows us to suffer unjustly— to teach us the value of discipline and obedience.

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he (Paul) is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him (Paul) how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16).


8.  To Equip Us to Comfort Others

God never wastes an experience, either good or bad.  Whatever He allows us to go through is something He will later use to help others going through the same thing.  If you have lost a loved one, only you can truly say to someone suffering the same fate, “I know how you feel.”  And that empathy and comfort can only come from the depths of your own pain and the comfort you have received from Him.  This is why, for the comfort of others, the Lord allows His children to suffer loss and pain and rejection.  Because it is only through that suffering the comfort of the Lord can be shared with others.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, (why) that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

Remember, your scars allow you to minister to those with open wounds.


9.  To Prove Jesus is Still Enough

Untested faith is just talk.  We can’t say, “Jesus is all you need” unless we’ve been to the place where He is all you have.  Only then can we confidently proclaim, like the Apostle Paul, “our momentary light affliction is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 7:11).  Only then can we offer comfort to others by boldly saying, like Corrie ten Boom, “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.”

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.  We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.  For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
So then death is working in us, but life in you.
And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke,” we also believe and therefore speak, knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you.  For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.  Therefore we do not lose heart.  Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:7-11).

Imagine what it would be like to have the faith to refer to all your sufferings and pain as “light affliction” when compared to the eternal glory awaiting us.  Now that’s living in the realm of heaven.


10.  As a Testimony to the Angels

This has to be one of the strangest reasons the Lord allows us to go through trials.  It’s like He uses our faith in Him, especially during dark times, to stick it in the face of the angels who rebelled and rejected the sovereign love of God.  After all, it was God who brought Job to the attention of Satan.  He was saying, in effect, “Satan, you blew it big time.  Just look at Job.  How I have blessed Job I would have also blessed you.  But, you had other plans, didn’t you?  Ah, your loss, loser.”

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?” (Job 1:8).

And this is not limited to the Old Testament.  In Ephesians Paul let’s us know that the grace of God given freely to fallen man, the “unsearchable riches of Christ” are being made known, literally stuck in the face of, the demonic realm.  God is using us as His trophies of grace to shame those fallen angels who went their own way.

To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him (Ephesians 3:8-11).

In summary, we go full circle back to the beginning, back to the easy answer.  We know why God has allowed His children, His chosen, to suffer, for a while, hardship and pain.  But how are we to act?  How are we to respond to others in the midst of our dark times?  We are to know that the trials and tribulations we are currently experiencing are producing in us something only trials can produce.  And that our Father, the Sovereign God, is doing this for us to make us perfect and complete in His sight (James 1:2-4).

We should praise Him for our current trials and joyfully embrace the next one.

After all, “No pain, No gain.”

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Serving God in Your Own Generation:  Zachariahs and Elizabeth

Serving God in Your Own Generation: Zachariahs and Elizabeth

At the beginning of Paul’s’ first missionary journey, right after John Mark deserted them (Acts 13:13) and shamefully returned to Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas entered Antioch in Pisidia and began to preach in the local synagogue.  During his first major sermon, as he spoke of the resurrected Christ, Paul made a statement that has troubled me since the first time I read it.  In Acts 13:36 Paul says of David, in part:

“For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep.”

This is so convicting for me.  It states that David served the people of his own generation, and he did so by or through or in accordance to the will of God, and then, he died.  He faithfully served His God in the time and place His God placed him, and when God was finished with David, God brought him home.  He fell asleep.  He simply died.

This is how I want to live my life.

I want to faithfully serve my God in the time and place of today, in my generation, with all that is in me.  And when God is finished with me, when I have finished the race as Paul would say (2 Tim 4:7), I eagerly look forward to God receiving me unto Himself, that where He is I will be also (John 14:3).  Ah, this is the promise of the abundant life in Christ (John 10:10).  To be used by God for His purpose in the generation He sovereignly places us and then, like soldiers returning from war, He brings us home to Himself.

It is a joy to be found faithful in Him in the generation He has placed us in, is it not?


This Christmas Season

I am also mindful that today is the first Sunday in December and the trappings of Christmas are all around.  As I prepare my sermon on the birth of Christ the words of Paul echo again in my mind.  “David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep.”

I wonder if the statement about David and his generation could also apply to those in the generation of Jesus’ birth?  Amazingly, they do.

As a gift this Christmas season, consider how each of the following served God in the time and place sovereignly chosen by Him during their own generation, and relish in the truth that God has the same plan for you.  Regardless of your upbringing, your inherent advantages or disadvantage, your past failures or great triumphs, God still wants you to serve Him in the generation He has placed you.  Why?  Because this is the will of God for you.

Be blessed as we look into the lives of the cast of characters surrounding the birth of our Lord.


Zachariahs and Elizabeth

Zachariahs, whose name means God or Jehovah Remembers, was an aged, elderly priest of the division of Abijah who lived and faithfully carried out his priestly duties in obscurity in a small, remote town in Judea.  He was married to a fine woman named Elizabeth, meaning My God is an Oath, and they were both “righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless” (Luke 1:6).  Yet, in spite of their reverence and devotion to the Lord and their lifetime of service, God, for His own reasons, had not seen fit to bless them with children.  Elizabeth was barren.  Therefore they had no children, no offspring, no future, no one to carry on the family name and, being “well advanced in years,” no hope that tragedy would ever change (Luke 1:7).

Zachariahs and Elizabeth were growing older day by day, seemingly content with their lot in life, spending their lives faithfully “serving their own generation by the will of God”— until something marvelous happened.  Something so great, we still talk about it two thousand years later.

It was Zachariahs’ time to serve in the ministry of the Temple and he was chosen, by random lot, to burn incense at the altar.  This was a once in a lifetime event and marked the height of this old man’s priestly service.  It was something in Zachariahs’ life never to be repeated again.  It was his finest hour, his time of greatest joy, the cumulation, the reward of a lifetime of priestly service.  It was Zachariahs’ greatest time of honor.  It was the zenith of his life, the pinnacle, the mountain top experience of all.  Nothing, it seemed, would be greater than this.

His family and friends waited patiently outside, at the bottom of the Temple steps, as Zachariahs carefully and reverently entered the Holy Place.  To them, it was the crowning celebration for a life well lived in reverent service to the Lord.  They viewed this honor as the reward Zachariahs and Elizabeth earned for serving in the generation they were placed.  But little did they know what more the Lord had in store for this simple couple who walked blamelessly before Him all those years.

Suddenly, while preparing to offer incense, Zachariahs realized he was not alone.

Standing, at the right side of the altar of incense, was an angel, Gabriel, the heavenly messenger sent from God to this simple man (Luke 1:19).  Zachariahs was shocked, literally terrified, by what he saw and overcome with fear.  But the divine plan of our sovereign God was about to unfold and this old, faithful, loving man and his treasured wife were to become a vital, intricate part of it.  They were about to experience the beginning of the greatest move of God known to man, and they were to experience it center stage, with front-row seats.

The angel said:

“Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.  And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.  For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink.  He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.  And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.  He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:13-17).

The promised forerunner of the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God, was to be born to Zachariahs and Elizabeth.  All those years of longing and hoping and praying and crying, those countless dark nights of unanswered questions and doubts and fears would now find their fulfillment and joy in holding and cradling their own baby boy— a son named John.

Zachariahs and Elizabeth had more service to the generation God had placed them.  Their time, even at their old age, was not yet over.  Retirement?  Out of the question.  They were to raise and train their son to someday proclaim the coming of the Lord of all.  They were entrusted with the earthly care of the one spoken about by Isaiah the prophet centuries earlier.  Their young son, a miracle from God Himself, was to be the one who is:

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough ways smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God’ ” (Luke 3:4-6).

No greater task had been given to such a couple, save maybe Joseph and Mary, the ones given the privilege of raising the Lord Jesus from a boy into a man.


What About You?

So what about you?  Have you come to the conclusion that your life of service to the Lord is just about over?  Are you convinced your best days are behind you and God cannot, or will not, do more through you than He has already done?  Do you feel like your spiritual ship has already sailed and you, somehow, missed the boat?  Are you drifting in neutral, just coasting along until the day He calls you home because you don’t think you have anything to offer the King or His kingdom?

“I’m too old for God to do anything through me now.  Maybe when I was young, but not now.”
“I’ve committed too many sins for God to use me.  He’s looking for someone else to use, not me.”
“I’ve wasted my life. God doesn’t want what I have left— which is next to nothing.”

Do not be deceived.  God will use whatever life is placed in His hands— including yours, as broken and wasted and worthless as you think it is.  All you have to do is trust Him and His sovereignty.

After all, he took an old couple, well past the age of child-bearing, and not only gave them the desire of their hearts, a son, but He also gave them a son that would grow to be, according to Jesus, the “greatest man who ever lived” (Matt. 11:11).

And what He has done for others, He will also do for you.

Be encouraged.  Your time of faithful service to your Lord and your generation is not yet over.  There is still much to do.

So let’s get about doing it, shall we?

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The Word and the Spirit

The Word and the Spirit

How does the Word of God and the Holy Spirit work together to make us complete in Him?  How do they interact?  What is their relationship one to another?  This is something I have often asked myself as I study His Word.  Yes, I know the Spirit of God takes His Truth in His Word and energizes it, makes it come alive, real, to me.  But is there more?

Today I read the following from a new book by JD Greear that perfectly summarizes the divine interaction of the Word and Spirit and I want to share that truth with you.  Enjoy and be encouraged and blessed.

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The Word is eternal and unchanging.  The Spirit‘s direction is temporary and varied.

The Word gives us promises.  The Spirit compels us to risk in certain situations.

The Word outlines the mission.  The Spirit inspires a vision.

The Word sets the standards.  The Spirit guides the operation.

The Word shows us the end game.  The Spirit points to a starting place.

The Word sets our expectations.  The Spirit inspires our dream.

The Word describes the character of God.  The Spirit pulls us into His emotions.

The Word recounts God’s acts of salvation.  The Spirit sheds abroad His love in our hearts.

The Word gives us the revelation.  The Spirit illuminates the explanation.

The Word provides the content.  The Spirit brings the convictions.

The Word helps us to know.  The Spirit enables us to learn.

The Word commands us to hear.  The Spirit empowers us to listen.

The Word commands us to obey.  The Spirit beckons us to follow.

After all, Jesus said:  “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26).

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The following is from Jesus Continued  by JD Greear.

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No Wheelbarrow, No Salvation!

No Wheelbarrow, No Salvation!

One of the greatest tightrope walkers the world has ever seen was a man named Charles Blondin— or, as he was known internationally, the Great Blondin.  Charles Blondin was born on February 28, 1924 and rose to international fame by being the first person to tightrope across Niagara Falls.  He was a master showman, highly skilled at his craft, and gifted with a unique, riveting flair for the dramatic.  For the better part of three decades he entertained huge, mesmerized audiences on both sides of the Atlantic.

But his greatest feat took place on June 30, 1959, when he became the first man to cross the great Niagara Gorge or, as we call it today, Niagara Falls.

On that day over twenty-five thousand people gathered on both the American and Canadian sides of the Falls to watch the Great Blondin attempt the impossible.  He was to walk on a thin rope only 2 inches in diameter and made entirely of hemp, stretched 1,100 feet across the gorge, and suspended 160 feet above the raging river— all without any safety net or harness.  One small slip, one slight loss of concentration and focus, one unforeseen gust of wind, and the Great Blondin would fall 16 stories to his death.

The crowd watched with nervous anticipation and he slowly, carefully, step by step, one foot in front of the other, made his way along the swaying rope, crossing a distance of over three football fields in 23 minutes.  When he finally reached the Canadian side, the crowd burst into a roar of triumphant applause.

But the Great Blondin wasn’t finished.

Over the next few days he walked across Niagara Falls many times and each time with increasing dramatic theatrics.  Today’s walk, it seemed, must be greater than yesterday’s show.  One time he walked across blindfolded.  Another time on wooden stilts.  Still another while wearing shackles and another while wearing a gunny sack.  He crossed riding a bicycle, he crossed in the dark, and one time he carried a stove on his back and cooked and ate an omelet over the middle of the Falls.  With each crossing he pushed the limit of what the audience believed he could do and each time they responded in praise and adulation for the Great Blondin.  It seemed they believed he could do anything on a tightrope. “Nothing,” they said, “was too difficult for the Great Blondin!”

One day he walked across Niagara Falls pushing a wooden wheelbarrow.  The audience enthusiastically cheered .  Then he placed 350 pounds of cement in the wheelbarrow and made the return trip.  When he arrived back at the American side, the crowds broke into thunderous applause.

Looking at a man who seemed to be cheering the loudest, the Great Blondin asked him, “Do you believe I am able to carry a man across in this wheelbarrow?”  The man eagerly proclaimed, “Yes!  I believe you can.  In fact, I know you can!”  To which the Great Blondin replied, “Then get in.”

The man refused.

Blondin then turned and addressed the watching crowd.  “Do you believe I am able to carry a man across the Falls in this wheelbarrow?”  They all responded loudly, “Yes!”  And again, “Which one of you will get into the wheelbarrow and let me push him across?”

They all refused.

No one was willing to get into the wheelbarrow.  No one was willing to place their life in the hands of the Great Blondin.  No one was willing to have him push them across the Falls, yet they all firmly believed he could do it.  In fact, they’d just seen him push 350 pounds of cement across in that very wheelbarrow but refused, to the man, to get into the wheelbarrow themselves.  Why?  What’s the disconnect between faith and trust.  What’s the difference between simple belief in something or someone and trusting them with your very life?

Simply this: It’s the difference between saving faith and non-saving faith.  It’s the difference between true salvation and being deceived into thinking you belong to Christ.  It’s the difference between the wide road of destruction and the narrow path of eternal life Jesus warned about (Matt. 7:13-14).  And it’s the difference between a living eternity in heaven with Christ and all that means, or a horrid eternity of dark torment in hell.

It’s the difference between life and death, light and darkness, heaven and hell.


No Wheelbarrow, No Salvation

Are you one of the ones that believe the Great Blondin can do what you’ve seen him do, yet you refuse to place your life in his hands, you refuse to get into the wheelbarrow?

You see, eternal life with Christ does not come from simple, cognitive belief.  Just believing is not enough.  You might believe in Jesus.  You might even believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died on the cross for your sins.  You may even believe He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven and is now seated at the right hand of the Father.  You may even go so far as to believe Jesus will someday come again to defeat Satan and bring in eternal righteousness.  You may even believe that day is coming soon… but none of that belief alone leads to salvation.  None.

Why?  Because Satan also believes the same things about Jesus (James 2:19).  In fact, Satan doesn’t just believe, he knows Jesus is the Son of God.  Satan knows He rose from the dead and he knows Jesus is coming soon to judge the living and the dead and that thought makes him tremble (1 Tim 4:1).  Yet Satan defiantly refuses to bend his knee to the Lordship of Jesus (Rom. 10:9) and Satan will spend eternity in “everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41).  Do you believe like Satan believes?

It doesn’t have to be that way.  Your life now and your future eternity can be different.  But please know, your time is running out.

Head knowledge, mental assent, is not enough for salvation.  Believing the Great Blondin can take a man across Niagara Falls in a wheelbarrow is not enough— unless you are willing to be that man.  You’ve got to be willing to get into that wheelbarrow.  You can’t watch from the sidelines and think you’re saved.  You’ve got to place your faith and trust, your entire life into the hands of the Lord Jesus, for salvation to take place.  You’ve got to surrender your will to Him, everything.

Jesus’ terms are simple:  It’s all or nothing.  Jesus gives you all that He is for all that you are.  It’s called the Great Exchange: His Perfect Life for Your Broken Life.  You give Him your life, all of your life, the good and the bad, and He comes to live in You.  Permanently.  Forever.

You must die for Him to live.  It’s called being born again and it’s the most amazing thing this side of heaven (John 3:3-4).


Not What We Say, But What We Do

If you claim to be a Christian, you’re probably pretty mad right now that I would be so bold as to “judge” you and your spiritual life.  And I know that if you had a Facebook page, you would probably put “Follower of Jesus” or “Christian” or something like that as your religion tag.  But look at your life.  Look at the fruits of your years of living.  How much of it has any eternal value or significance?  How much of what you do every day gives glory to the God you claim to serve?  How much of your actions and deeds are good, holy, just and righteous?  Jesus called them fruits, “spiritual fruits” that the Holy Spirit alone gives those who belong to Him (Matt. 7:16-20).  In fact, Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.”

Did you get that?  It’s not those who say they believe in Jesus that will enter the kingdom of heaven, it’s those who “do the will of the Father.”  It’s not our words, but spiritual fruits that only the Holy Spirit gives.

Examine yourself.  Are these the spiritual fruits you have manifest in your life?  If not, be honest with yourself.  You know you’re not a Christian.  And if you would let yourself think beyond the immediate, you know you’re not going to heaven.

And that breaks my heart.  I know we, the church, have failed you many times and haven’t lived the Christ-like example we should before you.  I ask for your forgiveness for our failures. But I also ask you don’t judge Jesus by me or any other Christian.  We’re a poor example of who He is.  He’s all love and, as you know, we’re not.  He’s gracious and forgiving, and we’re not. He’s more than I can describe and more than you’ll ever need or want— but you must put your trust, your entire life into His hands and let Him change you from the person you are into His own image, the person He created you to be.  He doesn’t want to make you better, He wants to make you new.


Just Ask

All you have to do is ask— and then get into the wheelbarrow and let Him take you wherever He wants.  You must put your entire life into His hands and hold nothing back.

My dream and prayer is for you to know and experience Jesus for who He really is and not who you think He is or who the church has portrayed Him to be.  He’s far more than anything you can imagine (Eph. 3:20-21).  In fact, my prayer for you has been the same as Paul’s prayer for those he loved.  He says to those he loves the same thing I want to say to you:

That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come (Eph. 1:17-21).

Don’t wait.  Get into the wheelbarrow.  Give everything to Him.  Ask Him, beg Him to be the Lord of your life and watch the transforming power of His Spirit change everything about you and make the rest of your life a blessing to many.

Ask Him today.

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Malachi:  What Side of the Fence Are You On?

Malachi: What Side of the Fence Are You On?

Message from Malachi

A Prophetic Warning to the Church

What Side of the Fence Are You On?

“But to you who fear My name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings;
And you shall go out and grow fat like stall-fed calves.”

Malachi 4:2

After three chapters of blistering rebuke towards the people and priests of Malachi’s day, the Lord now begins to wind down the book of Malachi and the Old Testament in general with a question and a choice.  The question is simple: Where will you stand on the great day of judgment, on the great Day of the Lord?  And the choice is simpler still: What are you prepared to do about it right now?


The Day of the Lord

Four times in the last eight verses of Malachi we find that great and powerful day referenced (Mal. 3:17; 4:1, 3, 5).  The Day of the Lord is a day of judgment, of wrath, and of great calamity and describes some horrific events that take place at, or near, the close of history.  Zephaniah describes it as “a day of trouble and distress, a day of devastation and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness” (Zeph. 1:15).  But it’s also a time of great rejoicing when God fulfills His promise to true, believing Israel and ushers in His Kingdom.  It’s a time when “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26) and a time when God will forgive their sins and restore to Israel the land He promised to Abraham.  In other words, the Day of the Lord is the time when God will punish evil, disobedience and unbelief but also a time when He will fulfill all His promises to those who are “called by His Name” (Isa. 43:7).

It will be a day of great dread and fear or a day of great joy and rejoicing— and all that depends on what side of the fence you’re on when the Day appears.

After God encourages His faithful remnant by reminding them “they shall be Mine on the day that I make them My jewels (or, special treasure)” (Mal. 3:17), God then begins to unpack exactly what the Day of the Lord will be like for those on both sides of the fence.


That Side: The Lost and Unbelieving— the Crowd

For those on the lost, unregenerate, unbelieving side of the fence, the Day of the Lord is described as a scorching, consuming fire, much like a furnace or great oven.  So intense is God’s judgment fire that it “will leave them neither root nor branch” (Mal. 4:1), no present and no future.  It’s a frightening picture of the total destruction of those who speak harshly against the Lord (Mal. 3:13) and defile and despise His Name (Mal. 1:6-7).  Jesus speaks of it as a “furnace of fire where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 13:42).  Paul says that day will come “as a thief in the night” (1 The. 5:2) and Peter concludes by stating, “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10).  Get the picture?  Intense fire, scorching heat, wailing and gnashing of teeth, a massive furnace, a red-hot oven, great noise, consuming flames, total destruction.

And those on that side of the fence?  What does God say about them?  He calls them the “proud, yes, all who do wickedly” and describes them as “stubble or chaff” (Mal 4:1).  They are the short dry stumps of grain left in a field after harvesting, highly combustible, ready to be thrown, discarded, consumed in the great fire of His judgment.  It’s not a pretty picture for those on that side of God’s fence.


This Side: Those Who Love and Fear the Lord— the Remnant

Note what the Lord says to those on this side of His fence, to those who fear Him and offer to Him “an offering in righteousness” (Mal. 3:3).

“But to you who fear My name, the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings; and you shall go out and grow fat like stall-fed calves” (Mal. 4:2).  They will rejoice when they see the wicked judged and God’s Name held high and glorified.  They will sing for joy when the righteous are brought into the Kingdom and they hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21).  And they shall praise His Name when God exalts His people over the wicked who have oppressed and persecuted them for so long.  The Day of the Lord will be a day of great rejoicing, a day of singing and dancing, for those on this side of God’s fence.


The Question: What Are You Prepared to Do About It?

That’s right, what are you going to do?  What’s your plan, your next move?  The Lord has revealed two great groups of people (Mal. 3:18), two separate and distinct paths (Matt. 7:13-14), two options, two destinations, and only one choice.  What will you choose?

Joshua told the people in his day to “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Josh. 24:15).  And the words of Malachi are telling each of us to do the same: Choose.  Choose whom we will serve?  Choose what side of God’s fence we want to live on.  Choose heaven or hell, life or death, blessing or cursing— just choose.  Why?  Because all eternity rests on that very choice.  So choose wisely.

And to help us choose correctly, the Lord ends the Old Testament with these words of warning and encouragement.  First, the look back into His Word: “Remember the Law of Moses, My servant, which I commanded him in Horeb (or, Mt. Sinai) for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments” (Mal. 4:4).  Remember the Word of God, the Law, the promises, the prophecies, the foretelling of the Messiah, the blessings and the warnings, remember all God has done for you and how much He loves you (Mal. 1:1).  Stop what you’re doing, turn around, look back and remember.  This is the same God who says, “For I am the Lord, I do not change” (Mal. 3:6).  He has loved you then, He loves you now.  Remember.

Then, look forward to the day of His promise, to the day of the coming of His Son, Jesus. “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.  And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse” (Mal. 4:5-6).  Before the Day of the Lord dawned it was promised that Elijah would first come and preach a message of repentance to prepare the way for the Messiah (Isa. 40:3).  That day has already come.  The promise has already been fulfilled.  John the Baptist, according to Jesus, was the very fulfillment of that promise and, for those who “have ears to hear,” was the “Elijah who was to come” (Matt. 11:14-15)  And who was this Messiah?  His name is Jesus.

So now, it’s your choice.  Do you remain on that side of the fence, the easy side, the sinful side, laughing along with those who arrogantly reject the sacrifice of Christ and strive to be a god in their own eyes?  Do you throw your lot in with them?  Are you part of the massive throng— blind, yet so proud, traveling aimlessly on the wide path that leads to destruction (Matt. 7:13)?  Is the cross of Christ, the only way to escape the curse, foolishness to you (1 Cor. 1:18)?  If so, Malachi has clearly told you what your future holds, and it’s not a pretty sight.  Actually, it’s dreadful, gruesome, and terrifying.  Or, are you one of the elect, the chosen, the few, the faithful remnant, the blessed beneficiaries of an incredible inheritance in Christ (Rom. 8:17) that is beyond description (Eph. 3:20-21)?

Which one are you?  Which side of the fence are you on?  And how will you describe the coming Day of the Lord?

Will it be a time of great blessing, of continuous rejoicing and singing, a time of childlike wonder and awe?  Or will you, like so many others, try to run and hide, foolishly thinking you can somehow escape the burning, scorching, all consuming red-hot fire of His judgment?  Will you be one of those that cry out to the very mountains and rocks to “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!  For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Rev. 6:16-17).

Which side of the fence are you on?  And what are you prepared to do about it?

Choose quickly.  Because time is short and He’s coming soon (Rev. 22:12).  The clock is ticking.  Time is running out.  Choose today.

Come Lord Jesus.

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