The Bolder Kindness of the Gospel

There are times when our hearts are Weeping in the Passing Lane, having lost cherished relationships, fruitful careers and ministries – when we suffer the loss of how life used to be.  But in Christ, loss and suffering are never wasted but are often a painful avenue to another level of faith.  (I think this is only believable when you’re exiting the fiery furnace!)

As a State Parole Officer, I loved the ongoing opportunities to share the Gospel with felons, inmates, families in the communities and other officers.  When everything in my life was practically perfect, the Potter saw fit to squash the lump of clay and painfully remold the design.  While life may be stripped of venues, relationships, and resources, God still owns us and “gives us the desires of our heart” – in other words, He installs desires within us. 

The desire to share the Gospel, the burden to be a useful vessel in His Kingdom, still captures my heart.  While fervently praying for God to “send me”, “open doors”, and avail a ‘call’, the Lord showed me opportunities missed, even in one day, on my way downtown to the WTC Occulus…

Almost every train in NYC leads to the ‘Occulus’ – a humungous architectural design to commemorate the World Trade Center, housing upscale stores, restaurants, and waterfront sites.  Although a New Yorker, I had never been there and now, meeting a friend, I must have seemed lost to the concierge there.

“Can I help you?  You seem lost…”  Well, I wasn’t lost but her friendly overture engaged us as I waited for my friend.  Jolene* shared about being a concierge, how she came from Africa, and later, when my friend saw us, the three of us enjoyed a friendly chat.  Before heading for lunch I invited Jolene to visit our church but I knew in my heart, that’s not the same as sharing the Gospel…. 

After a lovely lunch and stroll by the waterfront, I headed back to the subway.  While adding money to my Metrocard, an elderly tourist couple approached me, “Could you please help us?”  Of course!  There’s such pleasure in helping the elderly and tourists!  After friendly overtures, I said, “There’s no need to figure out this machine.  Here, take my Metrocard.  It will take you to your destination…” I gave them some travel tips and said good bye to this grateful couple.  But as they walked away, hand in hand, I was so happy to show kindness but knew in my heart,  that’s not the same as sharing the Gospel….  

I proceeded to the A train and found as I boarded the only seat left – next to a woman with two Chihuahua puppies.  “I got the best seat!” I said as I sat.  This immediately engaged the woman and she happily shared the story of her pet life and puppies. The same age range as me, Vivian* shared some life struggles as well.  I surmised that the many tattoos on her arms were of various cultural witchcraft symbols especially when I asked, “What are the puppies’ names?”  “Oh,” she replied, “this one is Voodoo…”  We were both going all the way north Manhattan but my stop was before hers.  “Thank you for sharing your stories, I wish you the best with your pups!”  It was so nice talking to Vivian, but I knew in my heart, that’s not the same as sharing the Gospel….

Maybe there’s something of value in ‘relationship Gospel’, sharing God’s truth after building relationships or friendships but I don’t see that much in the Bible.  But this, however, exhorts my heart:   “Make the most of every opportunity because the days are evil.”

I  truly believe that God moves His Body around, sovereignly ordains meetings, ‘coincidences’, and prepares hearts in unseen ways.  One word can make a mark in a soul that the Lord is calling.

The Lord is stirring my heart toward the venue of the world, however small the piece before me!  I am praying for a greater boldness with ‘strangers’ –  knowing that even a word that we share may be an answer to someone’s prayers.  To launch this boldness, I pray, Lord,  for a deeper burden and love for the souls before me.

subway moving

While I hate to miss a train, may the opportunity to share the Gospel not pass me by….

Kindness is good, but I pray for the fruit bearing kindness of sharing the Gospel truth.

 

The REAL Independence Day

We all look to celebrate, especially as this world and our personal lives may hold such cause to lament. In fact, I often pray for reasons to celebrate, for laughter in my soul, for joy that makes my feet dance and arms punch the air.

But the bad thing about man made ‘celebrations’ is that whatever you bring into it, sadness, defeat, loss, sickness, disappointment, you will end up bringing out with you at the end. Man-made celebrations tantalize the flesh with sensory pleasures….fireworks, food, drink and parades….but are powerless to reach the needs of the heart or release us from what really oppresses.

It is our heart and soul that long for victory and celebration.

fireworks

Momentary pleasures are but a distraction

To celebrate freedom from England or any other government can never replace the true cause for man to rejoice – the freedom to approach God, the freedom from sin, from guilt and all that would separate us from our Heavenly Father.

“But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”  II Corinthians 3:17

The Bible says that the devil blinds us, taking us captive to do his will; that sin is a bondage, a prison, from which only our Savior and Deliverer can destroy.

I pray that on this Independence Day and every day our families, our neighbors, our community and country will look deeper for a true reason to celebrate. Lord, stir our hearts away from the temporal.   Let us rejoice as heaven rejoices, when a sinner – anyone separated from God – turns from his ways and trusts the Lord Jesus for forgiveness and new life. When a person is not just born into this world but born again into the family of God, that is cause for us to dance and shout!

May we see the Holy Spirit move and save those around us and celebrate as the Kingdom of God advances – freeing us from all that would ensnare and oppress – and leading us boldly to the Throne of God.

“For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”  Colossians 1:13-14

Walking Through the Fire, Through the Flood and Through the Rainbow Parades

When, years ago, I first heard the traditional hymn, “I need thee, Lord I need thee, Every hour I need thee…” I thought it sentimental and adoring but really wondered, do they really need the Lord every hour? After all, unbelievers make it through an hour, the whole day – many their whole lives – prospering and content without the Lord.  In fact, they shun His interference.  However, as a believer in Christ, this hymn has become a frequent personal anthem. “Every hour” speaks deeply to those of us who decidedly follow Jesus.  The closer we follow Jesus, the more we need him.  As A.W. Tozer describes, this world is ‘not our playground but our battlefield’.  And, within this battle ground, the Lord has one strategy for victory:  walk in obedience and total dependence to Him.

“Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus walked.”  1 John 2:6

It is in this great Scriptural challenge – “walk” – where we often slip, trip, and fall.

walk-dont-run

In the fire and in the flood, we want relief and deliverance – we are anxious to run and make things happen.  When the flood of sin rises higher, when “good becomes evil and evil becomes good” ” many Christians plan, strategize and gear up to protest and rally.  It is a prideful delusion that draws Christians to believe that the world can change through political, social or economic arenas.  The great danger is this:  we may miss the anointing that God would bestow upon us, the “good works which He planned in advance for us to do”.

“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  (Micah 6:8)

When the world around us or the personal world within us is crashing how can we walk like Jesus walked, humbly with our God?  It is easy to be sickened and shocked by grievous violence, pervasive immorality, and increasing apostasy.  But let us not be as those outside Noah’s ark, shocked when the rain began! Those who study the Word may be grieved but not shocked – we are witnesses to the prophecies that the Lord Himself proclaimed.

“Get into this Word and get this Word into you!” remains the cry of 90 year old Pastor Ben Crandall.  Walk into the Word of God, take time to digest, meditate and hear from the Lord. We are purposefully placed amidst this dark world and, step by step our mind and hearts will be renewed and strengthened from the Word.  Discernment and godly instruction often challenge and override the ‘good’ ideas and inclinations of our fleshly nature.  Jesus declared in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Now, more than ever, the Body of Christ needs to rise up as His Body.  Jesus may not lead us to the White House lawn but He may be preparing us to meet the woman at the well.  Legislation will never change our culture or the course of this world, it is as foolish as investing in a foreclosed bank.  The sad truth is, many Christians have befriended this world and now strongly ‘push back’ at the thickening darkness.  “Friendship with the world is hatred toward God” – we are not called to improve this world but separate ourselves from it.  

It is through separation that we gain spiritual strength.  We will not change the world but will have divine anointing as we walk through it in Christ’s shadow.  “Walking humbly with our God” is a divine call onto a path where He touches the sick, speaks life to the brokenhearted, and opens doors for those in bondage.  To ‘walk like Jesus walked’ is to walk in divine appointment – not knowing whom we might touch and the eternal difference it makes.

The Lord seems to overlook the influential, the politically endowed, and those with celebrity status to find the weakest, most insignificant, and unknown.  Those with a heart to obey are fully qualified. We can never renew or revive this world in any way but we can be vessels of honor in service of Most High God as He renews and revives the hearts of man for all eternity.

These are the last days before Christ returns as Judge.  Time is short and we must be in step.  The devil isn’t moved by campaigns or product boycotts.  We can boycott the whole world, if it were possible, and it wouldn’t add anything to the Kingdom of God.  The devil trembles, he loses ground, when we decide to really pray, to study God’s Word and walk humbly with Him through this world.  Along that lighted path, doors open and hearts change as people meet Christ their Savior.

Let us walk together in unity, close behind Jesus Christ through the fire, in the flood, and across the ‘rainbow parades’ in step with Him as He reaches out to those who would receive Him, those who would be set free.

DELETING WORDS OF LIFE…

…will never change their power or purpose.

“Repent and Live!” declares the Sovereign Lord (Ezekiel 18:32), however today only “Live!” remains and resounds in our vocabulary.   There is power in words and, in God’s living Word, it is power to renew, restore, and resurrect.  “The Word became flesh and for a while lived among us”.  The Word of God defines the fall of man, what keeps him separated from God, (Isaiah 59:1-2) and that which would restore and reconcile him to his Maker (Galatians 1:4).  Separation from God aligns us with the spirit of this world – the very spirit that “sets himself up as god” and continually baits our pride with the ancient seduction of sin: “you will be like God”.   As ‘gods’ we reinvent the Lord’s  proclamations, decrees, and promises into that which circumvents acknowledgment and  submission to Sovereign God, elevating our knowledge and wisdom against His truth. 

Toward this, we tolerate and broadcast the most profane words and phrases – many that enflame our flesh with corrupt imagery while, at the same time, systematically eradicating the very words that usher our minds toward Almighty God.  Who today calls for repentance?  Words that evoke life changing decisions are erased from our culture. With near success, we have eliminated “sin” from our vocabulary, our thinking – our entire belief system.  In fact, the Oxford Junior Dictionary, grooming the next generation, has removed the word ‘sin’ because “it has fallen into disuse, is obsolete, and is not recognized by the younger generation”.

It has been aptly said,

All moral engineering is preceded by verbal engineering.”

This reality was heralded by renowned psychiatrist Karl Menninger in his acclaimed book, “What Ever Became of Sin.”  The very word ‘sin’, he expounds, “was once a strong word, an ominous and serious word…It has almost disappeared – the word along with the notion.  Why? Doesn’t anyone sin anymore?”  Dr. Menninger predicted that sin would be replaced with symptoms of illness and disorders.  He foresaw a day where practically everyone would be considered sick with little or no personal accountability for choice and willful conduct.  Biological and psychiatric terms, even environment, would define deviant behavior.

That ‘day’ is here.  Redefining and reinventing ‘sin’, we have rendered ‘repentance’ obsolete and offensive, scorning God’s sacrifice for remission of sin and the gift of reconciliation through our Savior.  Ultimately, it is a collective rejection of God as our reference point in life.

Changing our reference point, framework, and jargon however cannot change the truth, neither can it alter the damage and guaranteed consequences of sinNo matter what we call it, “The wages of sin is death…”  Yet God’s call to repentance is the deepest call of mercy to man, “…but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Romans 6:23)   At the heart of our refusal is rebellion – intuitively we know that to receive a gift from God we must acknowledge that He is God

Sin unleashed, driven by lust and corruption, bears such reprehensible fruit that we label it uncontrollable – a mental defect or disease.  While mental illness is a painful condition in all its forms, are we oftentimes diagnosing the consequences of sin – those we commit and those committed against us?   Can layers of guilt and self condemnation ever be lifted by an ‘anti-depressant’?  Will a laboratory find the balm for the deep wounds of abuse and betrayal?  The  Bible defines sin in Old Testament law and New Testament, such as the ‘obvious’ acts noted in Galatians 5:19-21 and the condition of man today, II Timothy 3:1-4.   Against this hopeless array, the Lord offers unmatchable promises, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;” the relief of forgiveness and the joy of new beginning.  

Jesus calls out,

“Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  (Matthew 11:28) 

The launching pad for every sin is the refusal to go to God.

Satan finds no threat in manmade programs that exclude God yet propose to remedy the sure damage and destruction of sin, he knows their futility.  Deleting words cannot diminish their strength – sin is a powerful stronghold which man CANNOT master, an ensnaring deceit that man CANNOT outsmart or resolve.  Pride, confidence in the ‘human spirit’, encourages us to address ‘drunkenness, debaucheries, sexual immoralities and violence, lack of self-control, rage, hatred, jealousies, and the like’ with programs, prisons, therapies and medications that ultimately yield no freedom, reform, relief, or cure….no inner peace.

Sin is a cruel taskmaster, ‘taking us farther than we planned to go…costing more than we ever thought to pay’.  Calling us ‘dead in sin and trespasses’, God Himself initiates our repentance, drawing us and quickening our hearts with truth through the Holy Spirit.  Worldly regret, remorse and tormenting guilt are a downward deadly spiral but godly sorrow, repentance, leads to life. (II Corinthians 7:10) The Lord did not die for our sins to be treated, improved, or morphed into something acceptable.  He came to save us, deliver us from our sins, cleanse us completely, and in doing so, create new life.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation:  the old has gone, the new has come!” (II Corinthians 5:17)

                       “Repent” come under the authority of God “and live!”

"Whom the Son sets free is free indeed" John 8:36

“Whom the Son sets free is free indeed” John 8:36

                                       

RISE UP AND GO FORTH

From threshing, to rising, to the offering of bread…
(c) Laing Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
“Grain is crushed for bread, but one does not thresh it forever…” (Isaiah 28:28)

While suffering, even threshing and crushing, comes equally to the lives of believers and unbelievers, those who follow Christ have great assurance through their trials, a two prong anchor: your suffering has purpose and its intensity and duration is divinely measured. It does not seem so under the weight of grief and loss, moreover, this assurance itself does not lift the darkness of torment, depression or fear. Truth is an anchor onto which we must fasten ourselves –  it does not stop the storm but sustains us to the end of it.

“Crushed for bread” is a Christian truism rarely preached in the western world. It does not fit well into much of the gospel entertainment and prosperity that prevails in many church circles. When the Lord allows, designs and orchestrates, threshing and crushing in our lives it assaults our fleshly thinking, our human comforts, our health and sense of security – sometimes all at the same time. It does not seem loving nor merciful. In fact, it may cause the deepest questions of ‘love’, ‘mercy’ and ‘God’ to arise in our soul. Yet Lord stands by the cries of anguish and even accusation – He will prove faithful if we decidedly hold fast to the anchor.

But why the fire? Why the pummeling pain of betrayal, disappointment, and confusion? Why the shaken ground, the void of peace – why indeed!

Like grain, we are shaken to remove chaff, threshed to make bread. Challenging our comfort, even all we have built as security and surety in our lives, as threshed wheat we are mixed for kneading and shaping – which leads us into a fiery furnace! While we desperately seek to dull the pain, find any exit, or extinguish the fire the Lord’s purpose remains – to reveal Himself to us in the furnace. The threshing floor and fiery furnace are painful places where divine opportunity is ever present: we can walk by faith in the strength of the Holy Spirit, surrender and defer to the Lord’s leading, and depend on Him to deliver us. If the Christian life is indeed supernatural, the Lord will shake all our natural strengths and prove them deficient.

But how do we survive through, even rise up and come forth from these trials?

Be honest with God. Forget the brave veneers, scriptural and religious clichés, and reverent formalities. Let go. “I can’t take this! ….Help me, Lord, I am sinking!…I’m not going to make it through…” Unburden your heart with expectancy and start the journey through the fire. Share your burden with brethren and spiritual authority, an elder or pastor. Consider support of godly counsel and intervention. Central to deliverance though – learn to shut in with God, unhurried and undistracted.

Study the sovereignty of God. Immerse yourself prayerfully in the Word of God and the testimonies of the ordinary men and women who fell prey to evil men, suffered great loss, were wrongly accused, deeply betrayed, tormented, grieved, anguished…yet found their pain and darkness counted greatly in the Kingdom of God. Beckon the Holy Spirit to speak through the Word to your heart, write down the very scriptures that challenge your fears, your doubts, your grief, and overwhelming powerlessness. Memorize them and decidedly dare to stand upon them in faith, they are your protective shield and winning sword. (Ephesians 6:16,17)

Decide to worship. “The sacrifice of praise” becomes a deep and meaningful as we willfully worship God even as our hearts fail from brokenness and fear. It is costly praise, valued by the Lord, a worship that declares, “Yes, I am miserable/in pain/fearful and anxious/crushed and heartbroken…but you are still God, sovereign over all and worthy of worship.” Powerful tactics of Satan, magnifying points of anguish and highlighting every possible disastrous outcome, begin to wane as we magnify the Lord and shift our thinking toward His promises of victory. Read aloud, even sing the Psalms as a battle cry.  A pastor once admonished, instead of “Set me free and I’ll worship you” resolve to “worship Him and He’ll set you free”.

Seek God’s Purpose. What is He threshing, separating, out of your life…what is He kneading into your life? What of Himself does He choose to reveal? Keep asking, keep seeking – believe that the Lord will draw near to us as we draw near to Him, “a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him”. What is His purpose for your suffering? As Pastor David Wilkerson often preached, “Don’t waste your afflictions!” Our suffering can produce valuable assets to the Kingdom of God, preparing our vessels for God’s Spirit to flow through and reach others who may be floundering in a dark miry pit.

Broken to be shared

Broken to be shared

Wheat must be threshed for flour, kneaded and molded for the fire and, finally, broken to be shared. When hardship and turmoil come, when emotional trauma strikes and pierces with multilayer pain, let us grasp the ‘two prong anchor’ and build on this foundational promise. Let us cry out to the Lord, seek godly avenues of wisdom and support. Decidedly worship, let your spirit gain strength as the Lord inhabits your praise. Above all, do not give up. Let us resolve that, even before threshing comes, we will stand and press on with the certainty that sovereign God will produce in us that which has eternal value.

When God Unleashes the Giants

Trials and tribulations are not giants, neither is a tumultuous storm. You will know a giant firstly by the fruits of his intimidation. Personal and deliberate, a giant arises and challenges us, often during times of calm and complacency. Like a snake bite with stored venom, a giant can surprise us with hostility.

A giant threatens to corner us....

Giants threaten to corner us….

When interference and confusion, even aggression, stand against us in our workplace, our marriage, our home, or ministry – a restrained enemy is allowed by God, even raised up and unleashed by God, with great purpose. It is God who leads us right into the battle. In doing so, the Lord sets the perimeters, determines the outcomes, and reveals Himself as defender and deliverer, One who will not fail those who trust in Him.

This truth is personified throughout Biblical accounts as God’s people, often at their weakest, must confront enemies with disproportionate strength, power, and arrogance. Moses, an elderly shepherd, became the perfect pick of God to confront an oppressive world power (Exodus 3). Unwilling and intimidated, Moses was led to the giant, surrendering to God’s supernatural power and purpose which infamously demonstrated:  no earthly or spiritual power can prevail over the weakest vessel led by God.  Later, in Numbers 13, as God pointed the Israelites to their promised land of abundance and beauty, we see the Israelites defeated by their unbelief, cowering in the shadow of giants. Their unfaithfulness slandered God as insufficient and the barren desert thus became their grave. Only Joshua and Caleb rightly gauged the power of God and gained the victory. And who, of any faith, hasn’t heard of David and Goliath?

Whether the battle consists of gigantic opposition or deceitful calculated attack, Satan instigates and influences those around us to intimidate and harm us personally, robbing our peace and confidence and stirring up flurries of fear and anxiety. Giants come with an aura and, after an initial sting, they will find any means to enlarge the threat and overshadow the arsenal of strength we have in the Lord. What is the true target in these attacks of harassment, intimidation, unprovoked hostility and slander? By raising up our flesh and weakening our faith, we become useless to purposes of God, we may lose God given ground in our life and, ultimately, dishonor the glory of an unfailing God.

And God unleashes, leads us to, such an opponent? Why?

God declared to Pharaoh, “…I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”  And God, who does not change, stands ready to show Himself strong on our behalf to deliver us when, not if, attacks come upon us.

Spiritual battles target the heart and soul of the believer…and God allows them to do so. Satan inspires with a  tool box of deceit, slander, unprovoked hostility,malice, confusion and division.  When attack  comes and threatens to apprehend the God given ground in our lives, there are three possible strategies to pursue.  Firstly, we may retreat and suffer – grossly mistaking weakness, defeat and suffering for humility. Often we initially respond in the flesh, seeking support and sympathy, utilizing our own intellect, natural strengths and resources. The Lord reveals this maneuver as fleshly and futile, exalting self and disavowing His lordship; He  may well use the battle to reveal in us the state of our heart,  flushing out pride and self-sufficiency.

The only recourse that defies and confounds the wiles of the enemy is total surrender – total surrender to almighty God. Resisting temptations to repay hostility and malice and guarding our heart against resentment opens a place for God to speak His living Word into our soul. We cannot see clearly under the enemy’s shadow but under the shadow of the cross is light, strength, and victory. Our cover in the battle comes from separation – committed times of prayer and fasting – communing with the Lord who longs to reveal Himself as our deliverer.

Pray for the giants, they have lent themselves to dark influences to oppose God’s sheep. May God confound them and bring them to shame, leading them to repentance on this side of eternity.  And may God woo us to that place of separation, of dependence and deep communion, of confidence when we face a giant…

“Do not be afraid or discouraged… for there is a greater power with us than with him. With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.” (II Chronicles 32: 7-8).

 

Freedom: the great reward of surrendering to God.

Freedom: the great reward of surrendering to God.