Living in One Accord (not the car)

Living in One Accord (not the car)

As we discovered in our last post Jesus, right before He crossed the Kidron Valley and headed into the Garden of Gethsemane and onward towards the cross, offered one last prayer for His disciples.  He prayed for those who stood with Him in the Upper Room, those who would be lost, confused and scattered in just a few short hours.  He prayed for Peter and James and John and the others.  And what was His prayer for them? That they be protected and “kept from the evil one” (John 17:15).

But Jesus wasn’t finished praying.  He also prayed for “those who believe in Me through their word” (John 17:20).  That’s you and me, the church.  In His last hours with His beloved disciples, Jesus prayed for you and me.

And what was the focus of His prayer for each of us?  That “they (you and I, the church) all may be one, (to what extent) as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, (why) that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:20).  Jesus prayed for unity, for oneness, and for loving harmony for those He called His own.

In other words, Jesus prayed for the one thing that seems like such a foreign concept to His church today.  He prayed for unity, for the church to live as a family, brothers and sisters each loving each other.

Why is that ideal so elusive?  Why is it so hard?  Why can’t we, as the church, realize “how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell in unity”? (Ps. 133:1)


Time to Put the Gloves Down

For one thing, we like to fight.  And boy, we seem to fight all the time.  We can duke it out, toe to toe, mano a mano, with the best of them.  We’re scrappers, battling warriors, like Rocky and Apollo, Ali and Frazier, or Leonard and Hagler.  Oh yes, the church can fight.  No doubt about it.  Just look at our history.  But can the church get along with each other?  Can the church, you and I, live in unity, in oneness, and in love of each other?  Can it, or we, be forgiving and accepting of each other?  Can the church live in peace with itself?  That’s the question that so desperately needs to be answered and is the essence of the final prayer of Jesus.  But sadly and unfortunately, the answer seems to be, “No.”

Did you ever wonder why?

Most church fights and our shameful lack of love and unity with each other is based in the simple sin of selfishness.  That’s right.  We’re selfish, self-centered, and more concerned about our wants and needs and comfort than about God and His glory— or God’s people, for that matter.  The writers of the New Testament were keenly aware of this tendency we all have.  Listen to their warnings and admonitions to the church.

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition (or, self-interest, rivalry) or conceit (or, empty pride, haughtiness), but in lowliness of mind (or, humility, meekness) let each esteem (or, value, consider, honor, treasure) others better (or, over and above) than himself.  Let each of you look out not only for his own interests (or, for himself), but also for the interests of others (Phil. 2:3-4).

In other words, don’t do anything out of self-interest or jealousy or rivalry, but in all humility consider and honor others over and above your own self- interest.  In fact, put their interest first, before your interests, as a fiduciary, like an older brother.  Sounds like we may have found an antidote to church fights, doesn’t it?  But there’s more.

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people (or, those empowered by the Holy Spirit and living in Him, our goal) but as to carnal (or, fleshly, base, with a natural affinity for sin), as to babes (or, an infant, newborn) in Christ.  I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal (or, fleshly, base).  For where there are envy (or, jealousy), strife (or, contention, wrangling, verbal disputes), and divisions (or, dissensions, factions, separations, discord, to tear apart) among you, are you not carnal (or, fleshly, base) and behaving like mere men? (1 Cor. 3:1-3).

Yikes.  Since the church is fighting and quarreling with each other and breaking up into factions, they are unable to be fed mature, adult spiritual food for their growth but still have to be breast or bottle fed.  And that’s more than sad.  For an adult to be bottle fed is a heartbreaking, pitiful sight.  It means something is terribly wrong, something is broken, stunted, retarded, deficient, defective, flawed, damaged and is in dire need of healing or repair.

That’s the condition of the church today.  It’s no wonder we have yet to see the winds of revival blow across our land.


One Accord

The phrase one accord means “having the same mind and the same temperament.”  It means to have “unanimous consent, to be all together in vision, mission and purpose.”  Not exactly how we would describe the church today, is it?

But it wasn’t that way in the beginning.  In fact, one of the key requirements missing for revival is the coming together of the body of Christ as He intended.  We’re all interconnected as a family, and we’re created and designed to function as one body, one man, one voice, one mind, in one accord with each other and with the Holy Spirit.  Anything short of this is sheer chaos.

Do you want to see what happens when a group of ordinary men and women from all different walks in life, filled like we are with the Holy Spirit, commit themselves to live according to the new life given to them no matter what?  Do you want to see how that plays out in real life?  Good.  Just look what happens when the church is unified and in one accord.


In the Upper Room After the Ascension

Just after Jesus’ ascension into heaven and the promise of His someday return (Acts 1:9-11), the 120 “returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet” and entered into a large upper room (Acts 1:12-13).  Everybody probably stared at each other wondering what the plan was and who was in charge.  Jesus was gone and all they had left was each other.  The natural tendency would have been for several of the men, those natural, gifted leaders, to gather around themselves a coalition of like-minded followers and break from the large group and form their own sub-group, their own gang or clan or tribe.  “Hey, come join us.  We know what’s going on and what needs to be done.  There’s a place for you with us.  Come join, you can be somebody important in our group.  The others don’t care about you but we do.  We need you.”

Maybe there would be several of these coalitions, these ad-hoc splinter groups, all centered around a different charismatic personality that would then try to get others to follow their leadership and vision for the future.  Promises would be made, under-the-table deals cuts, errors in the thinking, planning and character of the other leaders would be pointed out to the crowd.  You’ve been there, you know how things like this play out.  And they never end good, do they?

Questions, in the form of accusations, would be publically hurled at the inner circle of the pre-ascension leadership.  Now, with Jesus gone, the 109 who were not the elite, who were not the handpicked, chosen disciples in the room could exert their own authority to create the church the way they wanted to.  They could band together against the current leadership and make their own demands and decisions and choose for themselves, like the Jews in the wilderness wanderings, who they would follow and who would lead them home.  No longer would they remain disenfranchised, under-represented, second-class citizens.  No longer would they ride the bench as a second-string player hoping for a chance to start.  It was now their time, their day in the sun.  Today things were going to change, things were going to be different.  They had a destiny to fulfill and the future was now firmly in their own hands.  The coup, the revolution had begun.  All that was necessary was to fire the first shot.

“Hey Peter, what’s your plan?” they would ask with mocking sarcasm.  “How are we going to do what Jesus commanded us to do by sitting in this stuffy room all day, huh?  And what about our jobs and our mortgages?  What are we suppose to do about them?  Hey Peter, I’m getting hungry.  We’re all getting hungry.  What’s your plan to feed all these people, Peter?  Have you even thought about that, Peter?  Come on, I’m getting bored, Peter.  How long do we have to sit around here doing nothing, Peter?  When are we going to do something, Peter?  I’m tired of wasting my time, Peter.  Hey, what’s your grand plan for all these people, Peter?  What do you have to say for yourself, big guy?”

When one faction’s demands are not met by the twelve they soon force a vote of confidence to see if the majority will continue to follow the current leadership.  And, when that vote is finally taken, say 60% yea and 40% nea, those on the short end of the vote storm out in disgust vowing to all who remain that “they will build the church the way it was supposed to be built, the way Jesus wanted it built,” and “anyone who wants to be part of something new and hip and exciting and cool and relevant should go with them.”  I know, we’ve all seen it before.  Yawn.

Something like this would have most certainly happened in the church today.  We’ve all been through it and have the scars to show.  But that’s not what happened back then.  Not by a long shot.


Living in One Accord
(and not in the car)

The Scriptures say, “these all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication” (Acts 1:14) in the upper room waiting for the Holy Spirit to come upon them as Jesus had promised (Acts 1:8).  And they waited, with no end in sight, for ten full days.  They ministered to each other, they prayed together, they worshipped together and shared stories with each other— basically they just hung out with people they may have not known as well before the ascension.  They made new friends and forged new life-long relationships.  There was no indication anyone left the group, or broke off into a separate splinter faction, or griped and complained about anything.  The faithful 120 who entered the upper room after the ascension were the same 120 that experienced the glorious birth of the church ten days later.  It was, and still is, an amazing picture of church unity and acceptance and of the church functioning as one body with one Head— Christ.

And all those who remained together, in one accord, received the greatest blessing imaginable: God, Himself, came to live within each of them, forever.  They experienced the birth of the church, the blessing of Pentecost.  In fact, this group remained and prayed for ten days in unity and in one accord until the blessing came.  But they had no idea when they started that the Holy Spirit would fall on Pentecost.  It could’ve been ten weeks, or ten months, or ten years. Didn’t matter.  And if any of them would have left before the promise of Acts 2 and retreated back to their homes or jobs or old way of life… well, they would’ve missed the bus.  It was those who stayed, who endured and persevered, in unity and fellowship and one accord that had their lives changed forever.

Which group would you have been in?  Which group are you in now?  There is so much more for us to learn from these guys.

And by the way, this group of faithful believers lived in unity with each other before they received the promised Holy Spirit.  That alone says volumes about their character and commitment to each other, doesn’t it?  It also raises the question: What’s our excuse?

Next we will look at the birth of the church and try to discover what they knew and practiced that we don’t.  How could they grow from a small, family congregation into a megachurch in one afternoon and still remain united.

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Leaving Laodicea:  Our Purpose

Leaving Laodicea: Our Purpose

While I was preparing for last Sunday’s sermon I was arrested, literally taken captive, by a statement Jesus made during His last message to His disciples before heading to the cross.  He was praying to His Father for them that they would be protected from “the evil one” (John 17:15).  He was not praying for the lost world, but only for His disciples (John 17:9).

But a phrase in Jesus’ prayer stopped me cold in my tracks.  He said:

“I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours.  And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them” (John 17:9-10).

It was the last sentence that really got to me.  Read it again for yourselves.  Slowly.

Jesus said, in effect, that all that is His belongs to the Father and all that is the Father’s belongs to Him.  The context of the “all” is Jesus speaking of His disciples, those with Him in the Upper Room and those, you and me, the church, “who will believe in Me through their word” (John 17:20).  Jesus was also speaking of His church— the called, chosen, justified and redeemed (Rom. 8:29-30).

But look closely at what He said about His church, about you and me.  He said, “I am glorified in them” (John 17:10).  That’s not future tense, but present tense.  He is glorified, now, in them.  He is glorified back then, and also today, in them.  He is glorified in the present in them.  And the “in them” means, of course, the church.  “In them” includes those in the Upper Room and those of you reading this post today.  It includes all that call upon His Name for salvation no matter where they live or what local church they attend.  It includes all, everyone, who have ever been saved.

And it includes you and me, individually, and each of us, collectively, as the church— whatever local body of Christ we choose to attend.


I Am Glorified

But what convicted me the most was the glorified part.  Jesus said He is “glorified in them” or in us.  Not will be glorified or maybe, someday be glorified, but He is, right now, glorified in us.  How can that be?

The word, glorify means “to bring glory, honor, or praise to someone, to show great dignity, to highly esteem, to celebrate profound worth, to magnify and exalt above all others.”  Wow.  Jesus said He is all of that in His church and in you and me, right now.  I don’t see it.  I don’t see it at all.

Do you know why?  Because I live, like you, in the Laodicean church age (Rev. 3:14-22) where the prevailing spiritual mindset is embodied in the meaning of the name, Laodicea: “the people rule.”  That’s right, we call the shots.  We’re masters of our own fate, our own destiny.  We’re independent, self-made and proud of it.  We refuse to bend our knee to anyone or anything except our own selfish lusts and pursuits.  And this carnal attitude is engrafted into our DNA, into the very fabric that makes us who we are.

How can Christ be glorified in a church like that?  And, worse yet, how can He be glorified in me when the only glory I seem to seek is my own?

In my flesh, He can’t.  There’s no way.  It’s an impossibility.  There’s nothing I can do on my own to bring Him glory.  Jesus said, “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5) and He was talking about bearing spiritual fruit so that “My Father is glorified” (John 5:8).  He even goes on to say that we are created, as disciples, “to bear much fruit, (why), so you will be My disciples” (John 15:8).  And bearing fruit, according to Jesus, is the greatest evidence of our salvation (Matt. 12:33).

But the good news is that with the Spirit “all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26) and we can move beyond our inherent, diseased DNA and leave the land of Laodicea and strive to live in the wonder of His grace, of His Spirit, in union with the Father, as children of God and “joint heirs of Jesus Christ” (Rom. 8:17).  In other words, we can be different than those of the church age in which we live.  Things can change.  We can change.

“How?” you ask.  “How can we be different from all that is around us and all we’ve ever known?”


Leaving Laodicea

The answer to that question is the reason this blog exists.  Together we will devote our lives to knowing and understanding how to help each other move beyond our apathy, our cultural conformity and moral carnality and embrace the life our Lord designed for us to live.  Remember?  He called it the “abundant life” found only in Him (John 10:10).  Are you living the “abundant life” in Him right now?

If not, I’d say it’s high time to pack your bags and jump on the next bus out of Laodicea.  It’s time for all of us to leave Laodicea and never look back.


Are You Ready?

Are you ready?  Are you ready to forge ahead into the wild unknown in your life with Christ?  Are you prepared to “count the costs” of true discipleship? (Luke 14:28).  Are you willing to forsake everything, and I mean everything, for the sake of “knowing Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead”? (Phil. 3:10-11).

Are you ready to live your life for the sole purpose, like Paul, of fighting “the good fight, finishing the race, keeping the faith”? (2 Tim. 4:7).  Are you prepared to “suffer hardship as a soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3) and to bear His reproach gladly?

Are you ready to experience an intimacy with the Lord Jesus that is beyond description?  Are you ready, maybe for the first time in your Christian life, to be truly one with Him?

If so, rejoice.  Because making a commitment, a definite resolution, a sacred vow to forsake your citizenship in the land of Laodicea and move to the promised land the Lord has given you, will open for you a promise of blessing previously unknown to the church for centuries.  It’s the promise to the overcomers, the blessing of Ephesians 3:20-21.  Read these words with a hunger and anticipation of the glory waiting to be revealed in you and “run with endurance the race that is set before us, (how) looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:1-2).

This, beloved, is your inheritance in Him today when you leave Laodicea.

Now to Him (Christ) who is able to do exceedingly abundantly (or, immeasurably, beyond comprehension) above all that we (you and I) ask or think (or, can conceive in our minds), according to the power (Gr. dunamis – explosive, miraculous, achieving, overcoming power) that works in us (in you and me, in the church), to Him be glory in the church (in us, collectively, as the Body of Christ) by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.  Amen (Eph. 3:20-21).

This is our inheritance, our birthright.  Let’s not let the toys and trinkets of this world take it away, shall we?

Will you join me?
Come what may.

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Unity:  The Last Prayer of Jesus

Unity: The Last Prayer of Jesus

One of the attributes of the early church that is so missing today among professing Believers is their fervent commitment to unity.  And by unity we mean oneness, togetherness, brotherhood, family, fellowship or koinonia.  The early church, with all their problems and issues and prejudices, truly functioned as one Body with one Lord, living as a united, undivided family with one Head, Christ (Eph. 4:4-5).  Doesn’t sound like the church we attend today, does it?  Did you ever wonder why?


The Final Prayer of Jesus

Jesus, in His last few words to His disciples before leaving the Upper Room, prayed for them (John. 17:9) and then prayed for us.  He prayed for those “who will believe in Me through their word’ (John. 17:20).  That’s you and me, the church, those who came to trust Christ through the testimony of others.  Just think, one of the last prayers of Jesus before His betrayal and suffering was for us, for you and me.  Pretty humbling, isn’t it.

And what was His prayer?  Did He pray, like we would today, to be blessed beyond measure and experience health, wealth and prosperity to the fullest?  Did He ask His Father to give us every selfish thing we could ever want or desire?  Did He command His angels to go before us and never let us experience pain or suffering, betrayal or loss or anything other than the “abundant life” He promised to us as defined by us (meaning all the trinkets and toys)?

No.  What Jesus prayed for, what was His final and greatest request to His Father on our behalf, was for our unity.  He prayed we would all be one in Him.

Jesus said:

“I do not pray for these (those with Him in the Upper Room) alone (or, only), but also for those who will (future tense) believe (or, have faith in, trust, be persuaded) in Me through their word; (what) that they all may be one, (to what extent) as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, (why) that the world may believe (or, have faith in, trust, be persuaded) that You sent Me” (John 17:20-21).

Ouch.  Stings, doesn’t it?  Seems we have fallen far short of the lofty expectations of Jesus’ prayer.  But it gets worse.

Jesus continues:

“And the glory which You gave Me (what) I have given them, (why) that they may be one (again, to what extent) just as We are one: (can you elaborate) I in them, and You in Me; that they may be (what) made perfect (or, complete, mature, made perfect by reaching the intended goal) in one, and (why) that the world may know (or, to know by experience, to be intimate with, to approve, to choose, to show favor towards, to know as in an intimate relationship) that You have sent Me, and have loved (agape) them (you and I, the church) as You have loved (agape) Me” (John 17:22-23).

To get this straight, Jesus said He has given us the glory, His glory, that was given to Him by His Father for the sole purpose of enabling us to live and exist and function as one body, as one flesh, in unity, each considering others more important than themselves (Phil. 2:3).  And, lest we try to devalue this unity as something easily obtained like friendship or kinship or just being a buddy or a pal, Jesus further explains our unity is to be compared to the unity found between the very Members of the Godhead, the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit: “I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one.”  But why?  Why is there such an overriding emphasis on unity?  Why is that aspect of the Christian life so important to Jesus?  What’s the big deal with the church being one?

Jesus answers and says our unity is to show “that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.”  Did you get the last part?  Our unity reveals to the lost world that God loves us as He loves His own Son.  What a blessing and privilege that is to show God’s love to others by the way we love and accept each other.  When we love those God loves and accept those God has chosen, we express the love of God to others.  And this was Jesus’ final prayer to you and me.

Boy, do we have a lot of work to do.


One Last Thought

One last thought, the last few words of Jesus before His fateful walk across the Kidron Valley and into the Garden of Gethsemane show us how much He desires you and me, the church, to be what He lived and died for us to be— and that is complete in Him.  These were the last thoughts of our Lord before He headed to the cross.

“Father, I desire (or, wish, will, my intended purpose) that they (you and I, the church) also whom You gave Me may (what) be with Me where I am, that they (you and I, the church) may behold (what) My glory which You have given Me; for You loved (agape) Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father! The world has not known (or, to know by experience, to be intimate with, to approve, to choose, to show favor towards, to know as in an intimate relationship) You, but I have known (or, to know by experience, to be intimate with, to approve, to choose, to show favor towards, to know as in an intimate relationship) You; and these (you and I, the church) have known (or, to know by experience, to be intimate with, to approve, to choose, to show favor towards, to know as in an intimate relationship) that You sent Me. And I have declared (or, make known) to them (what) Your name, and will declare it, that the love (agape) with which You loved (agapao) Me may be in them (you and I, the church), and I in them” (John 17:24-26).

Can you see how much the Lord loves you and me, His church?  And His final prayer, His deep, aching desire for His church is that we be one.  Together.  Unified.  Indivisible.  Standing and contending as one man in the Spirit (Phil. 1:27) submitted to His Lordship as those created in His image (Rom. 8:29), for His glory (Col. 1:16), and having the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16).

But where do we ever see this unity of the church fleshed out in real life?  Are there any examples of this kind of oneness and unity for us to study, to emulate, to hold up as an ideal, or to learn from?  Fortunately for us, the answer is, “Yes.”  And they are found in the book of Acts.

We’ll take a look at the unity of the early church in our next post.

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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 Fatal Sin of Self-Deception

The Fatal Sin of Self-Deception

Sometimes, living in the land where tolerance is deemed the greatest virtue— sometimes we as Christians fail to realize just how lost our lost friends and family truly are.  Often we consider them “good” people that would be better still if they would just add our Jesus to their own intrinsic, innate goodness.

“Frank is such a good person.  Just think how much better he’ll be when he gives his life to Jesus.”  Or, “My boy is a good boy.  I know he gets into trouble a bit, but he’s got a good heart.”  Or, “I feel pretty good about myself.  Why do I need Jesus to make me better?  I’m doing OK just as I am.”

When we try to tell them about Jesus we go to great lengths to skirt the offensive issue of their sin and instead play up their value and virtue and inherent righteousness and then try to sell them on Jesus “who will take what is good in them and make it even better.”— like pitching a new and improved model of themselves.  “Step right up and come to Jesus.  He will take the parts of you that you don’t like and change them right before your very eyes.  He’s the Master Fixer-Upper.  Just what the doctor ordered.  So who needs Jesus to bless your life?  Come on, step right up.  Who wants to be first?”

Sound familiar?

But none of this is true, Biblically.  It may be the way we do things in our culture and the way we try to live out the great commission without being offensive or intolerant, but none of it is true.  Jesus never promised to make our life better on this earth.  Never.  He never promised to make us better.  He promised to make us new.  The old man is not improved, he dies.  And in the old man’s place a new man is born again, created in the image of Christ, for the glory of the Father (2 Cor. 5:17).

Everything changes.  Including you and me.

God doesn’t take our old heart and make it better.  He makes it new.  Why?  Because there’s nothing of value in our old heart to update or improve.  Jeremiah 17:9 states: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?”  Get that?  Deceitful and desperately wicked above all things.  Not much good to salvage here.


The Plague of Spiritual Ignorance and Self-Deception

But our lost friends are deceived in thinking their sin is not bad enough to merit judgment or Hell.  They’re duped into thinking they don’t need to change.  After all, they do plenty of good things they feel good about and the good things they do outweigh the bad things and they net, at least in their own eyes, on the good side.  Hence, bottom line in their thinking, they’re OK with the Big Man in the Sky, just like they are.

This is exactly the crowd Jesus was speaking to in John 8:33.  Jesus had repeatedly told the unbelieving Jews they were separated from the Father (John 8:19) and lost in their sins (John 8:24) and by believing in Him, and in Him alone, they would “know the truth, and the truth would make them free” (John 8:32).  But lost people chaff at the thought they’re in bondage.  They reject it because it assaults their self-image and inward sense of self-righteousness.  They hold fast to the lie, their false sense of security, that something in their past, something they have done or accomplished, something they are or will become will be sufficient to satisfy God on the day of judgment.  And for the Jews, that something was being a physical descendant of Abraham.

They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone.  How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?” (John 8:33).  In essence, they didn’t need what Jesus was offering because they, in their own minds, already possessed it.  The major obstacle to discovering the life and truth Jesus offers is thinking you already possess it.  And, as we and Jesus both know, they didn’t possess the “truth that will set them free” (John 8:32, 36).  Do you?

So. just how lost is a lost person?  How ignorant are they of their spiritual condition?

AW Pink says: Tell the sinner that there is no good thing in him, and he will not believe you; but tell him that he is completely the slave of sin and the captive of Satan, that he cannot think a godly thought of himself (2 Cor. 3:5), that he cannot receive God’s truth (1 Cor. 2:14), that he cannot believe (John 12:39), that he cannot please God (Rom. 8:8), that he cannot come to Christ (John 6:44), and he will indignantly deny your assertions.  So it was here in the passage before us.  When Christ said “the truth shall make you free”, the Jews replied “We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to anyone.”

Today spiritual ignorance focuses on our desire to make Jesus into anything we want and to create our own religion and our own system of righteousness.  If it goes contrary to the Scriptures, then we either ignore the Scriptures, or try to explain them away by some sort of theological sleight of hand, or conclude the Scriptures are “living and breathing” and therefore do not apply to us on this point.  Whatever the reason, the outcome is that we are right and God is wrong.  After all, “we have never been in bondage to anyone!” (John 8:33).


How Lost is My Lost Loved One?

When you share your faith with a lost loved one remember just how lost, Scripturally, they truly are— regardless of how much you love them or how many charitable deeds they have racked up in their own ledger books.

Consider the pitiful state of those we are sent to love in Christ:

One, your lost family member or friend is, according the Bible, a fallen creature, totally depraved, with no soundness or goodness in him from the sole of his foot even unto the top of his head (Isa. 1:6)— regardless of how he views himself or how much self-esteem he has.

Two, your lost son or daughter is completely under the dominion of sin, they’re a “slave to sin” (John 8:34), a slave to “various lusts and pleasures” (Titus 3:3), so much so they “cannot cease from sin” (2 Pet. 2:14) no matter how hard they try.  Only the cross of Christ can free them from the bondage of sin (Rom. 6:18,22).  You must tell them about Christ.  And you must tell them today.

Three, your lost husband or wife has “been taken captive by the devil, by Satan, to do his will” (2 Tim. 2:26).  They now walk “according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2).  They now live to fulfills the lusts of their father, the devil, Satan, even though they vehemently reject that claim (John 8:44).  They are completely dominated by Satan’s power, the “power of darkness “(Col. 1:13).

And nothing can deliver them but the power of Christ.

Our mission field, our own families, are self-deceived into thinking, like the Jews in Jesus’ day, that they need nothing.  That they possess all.  They are ignorant of their spiritual condition and it’s up to you and me individually, and the church collectively, powered by the Holy Spirit, to make disciples of those He has placed in our paths (Matt. 28:19).

Are you up for the challenge?  Are you prepared for rejection and persecution?  Are you ready to be counted worthy of suffering for our Lord (Acts 5:41)?  And are you ready to fulfill the very reason God chose you from the foundation of the world to be made in the likeness of His Son (Eph. 1:4; Rom. 8:29)?

They let’s get busy being who we were created to be.

Come Lord Jesus.

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Fire by Night, Jesus by Day

Fire by Night, Jesus by Day

After redeeming the woman caught in the very act of adultery (John 8:4), Jesus proclaims to the crowd, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).  This was the second of His seven “I Am” statements in John.  To recap the scene, the woman’s accusers, the scribes and Pharisees (John 8:3), brought her to Jesus demanding He decide what was to be done with her (John 8:5).  “Does she live or does she die.  What do you say, Jesus?”  They were not concerned about her or her sin, but had used her to set a trap in order to test and discredit Jesus among the people (John 8:6).  But, as usual, Jesus was one step ahead of them and would not take their bait.

He simply wrote in the sand while they spewed their self-righteous, hypocritical venom towards the woman.  Finally, when He had heard enough, Jesus stood and said, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (John 8:7).  Conviction set in.  Her accusers realized they were unfit, in the eyes of God, to judge her adultery since their sin was much greater.  And they “went out, one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last” (John 8:9).

Jesus then turned to the woman and spoke the words of redemption to her.  He said, “I do not condemn you; go and sin no more” (John 8:11; Rom. 8:1).  It was at this point our Lord proclaimed His second “I Am” statement.

“I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).


I Am the Light of the World

This description should not surprise us since Jesus has been compared to light since the first chapter of John.  “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4).  He spoke of the light six times in that context.  In John 3:19 we read: “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”  And again, light is used another 5 times in this context.  John MacArthur says: Jesus Christ alone brings the light of salvation to a sin-cursed world.  To the darkness of falsehood He is the light of truth; to the darkness of ignorance He is the light of wisdom; to the darkness of sin He is the light of holiness; to the darkness of sorrow He is the light of joy; and to the darkness of death He is the light of life.

But there’s even more.

During the Feast of Tabernacles there were two main ceremonies the Jews celebrated.  One ceremony took place each morning of the eight day feast when the priests of Israel joined with others to draw water from the pool of Siloam in golden pitchers.  Then, when they returned to the temple, the priests poured the water on the altar of sacrifice while singing and chanting Isaiah 12:3 and Psalm 114:7-8.  This water ceremony was in remembrance of God providing water from the rock during their wilderness wanderings.  And it was most likely during this ceremony, on the last day of the feast, that Jesus stood and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38).

There was also a lamp lighting ceremony whereby, after the sun had gone down, four huge candelabras were lit in such a way the light would illuminate the sky like a searchlight.  This ceremony, accompanied by singing and dancing and holding torches, served as a reminder of the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night that guided the Israelites in the wilderness (Ex. 13:21-22).  And it was against this backdrop Jesus proclaimed Himself to be the “light of the world” (John 8:12).

But most amazing is the structure of John’s gospel that presents Jesus as manna (John 6), then water (John 7), and now light (John 8).  Jesus is the manna that fed God’s people in the wilderness, He was the water flowing from the rock to quench their thirst, and He was the light of fire by night to guide their way.  Jesus is our Provider, our Source of Strength, our Protector, our Guide, and our Light along the way.

This is the mighty God we serve.


Fire by Night

When we examine the cloud that protected the Israelites during their wanderings we can learn much about Jesus.  For example, the first time the cloud is mentioned in Exodus it is associated with and identified as the literal Presence of God (Ex. 13:21-22).  This means the Israelites, all during their generation of wanderings and troubles and doubts, always had the Presence of God with them.  All they needed to do was look up and they could visibly see God in their midst.  They were not alone (John 14:18).

And neither are we.  Why?  Because Jesus now dwells among us (John 1:14).

The cloud, the Presence of God, also protected the Israelites from their enemies and from the elements themselves.  We see the cloud standing between Pharaoh’s armies and God’s people— protecting them until they could safely cross the Red Sea (Ex. 14:19-20).  The cloud also provided shade for them as they camped in the desert for close to 40 years.  With temperatures during the day reaching 140 degrees and at night falling below freezing, without the cloud, the very Presence of God, they would have all perished.  Without Jesus, we likewise would perish.  After all, “He is the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

The cloud also communicated to the Israelites when they should go and when they should stay.  It was the primary means by which the Lord guided His people during their wanderings.  When the cloud moved, they moved.  If they stayed when the cloud moved, they would die from the scorching heat since their protective shade was removed. If they ran ahead of the cloud— same problem.  In the same way, Jesus said we live and breathe when we stay connected, abiding, in the vine (John 15:4).  “For without Me,” Jesus said, “you can do nothing (John 15:5).

When Jesus said He was the light of the world He was proclaiming to them, and to us, that He is the very Presence of God, their source of protection, and the One who guides in all truth.

Again, that is the mighty God we follow.


What Does it Mean to Follow?

But what does it mean to follow?

The last part of Jesus’ second “I Am” statement reads:  “He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).  But what does that mean?  The Greek word for follow means “to accompany, to go with” and can apply, in a general sense, to the thrill-seeking crowds that followed Jesus just for the entertainment value (John 6:2).  But it also can refer to a true disciple (John 1:43, 10:4, 27).  In this context, Jesus is speaking about true discipleship and not casual followers.  He’s talking about coming to Him on His terms, and on His terms alone, and not like the ones who said:

Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.”  And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”  Then another of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”  But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead” (Matt. 8:19-22).

Or the conversation between Jesus and the rich young ruler in Luke 18:18-27.  As you recall, the rich young ruler walked away from following Jesus because the cost was too high.  Remember, we come to Jesus on His terms— and nothing else.

Jesus summarized what it meant to follow Him like this:  “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24).

Are you following Jesus?  Is He the Light of your world?  Have you denied yourself, picked up each day the instrument of your own death, and faithfully followed Him?

You should.  You need to.  Why?  Because He is our Protector, our Provider, our Light, and Our Guide.  If He’s not your Lord, you will spend eternity in Hell, in torment, alone, separated from the love of God, paying the penalty for your own sins.

And, in case you didn’t know, eternity is long time.

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