Sunday, August 31, 2014

Does God Discipline and Reward Us Based on Daily Activity?


Are blessings given or withheld based on my personal holiness?

I don't have the answer! It seemed appropriate to get that out of the way. Many writers and teachers appear to have the answers or appear that they believe they do. If you review my postings here or elsewhere, and or read my books, watch my videos, or just engage me in social media, I will often appear to have "the" answer. And sometimes scripture or logic is so obvious (at least to me) that I'm willing to give a clear, unambiguous answer.

A couple of months ago at a small group Bible study, we discussed this very issue. Half of those in the room said something to the effect that they never struggle with this question of a connection between their actions and God's direct and personal response. I am not questioning their honesty, but only whether they are clear in their own self analysis.

Let's jump right in with the one no one likes to discuss. Tithing. I tithe. On the net, not the gross. I am very consistent and have been for a very long time. Right now, because of unexpected expenses, overspending and a bit of a shortfall in expected income, I am a month behind in the tithe. As I look at my ledgers this morning, I don't want to fall two months behind, but I can't be sure enough that expected income will arrive in time this week to meet other obligations. If I don't pay anything again this week am I:
  • lacking in faith that God will provide
  • unwilling to step out in faith
  • sinning by not giving God the first fruits
After I work through those questions (or fail to find adequate answers), I move to the next question. Will my failure result in less income, more unexpected expenses, or other consequences. Is my being anxious about all this just another sin, or just evidence of good intentions. Clearly in the month of August, I lost more income as a result of losing clients. It is not unusual to lose clients in my business, but the number of losses in August was very substantial. On the other hand, new clients came on board, and there are good prospects for more new clients in September.

We do know that God disciplines those he loves.

Take this issue another step. Were the unexpected expenses ($225 flat tire, $90 dental bill, I could go on) thorns in the side, tests of my faith, related to other sin?

I can certainly offer many scriptural references to support the idea that God is actively involved in allowing or causing suffering, problems, and blessings in our lives. But I also hear pastors and verses on grace that suggest that we are not being judged on a minute by minute basis for these types of things.

I do believe that there are natural consequences for actions that God has built into our life, and that when we are disciplined and faithful, blessings are more likely. And I understand that rain falls on the believer.

How do you reconcile these differing responses to how God does or doesn't move in our lives based on our own actions?

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Noah, the Flood, Nephilim and perverse sexual acts.

Last week we looked at giants in the Bible. We’ll do a little more this week and tie it to the flood story and as to why God really destroyed the earth.

Several of the biblical description must surely convince some of you skeptics that these giants are not just tall people, or mutants.

Here’s one of  a giant’s skull.

(As a side note, if you looked on which supposedly tracks if things fake, their article will tell you these images were doctored, but if you read to the very end, you’d see that Snopes qualified their article that they cannot truly verify that the images are fakes but that they must be since scientifically humans cannot possibly be this large! That’s because they weren’t humans—were they? They were giants—nephilim! People who don’t believe the Bible will find ways to justify their beliefs and not believe that these images are even real, even when their eyes see it. This was the Snopes caveat placed at the end of their article:

“In any case, we don't need to know the specific origins of these photos to definitively determine that they're fakes” 

(Which means you cannot believe everything Snopes writes!)

Some biblical accounts of giants--aside from the twelve spies who saw giants and became too afraid to go into the promised land:

20 Yet again there was war at Gath, where there was a man of great stature, who had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot, twenty-four in number; and he also was born to the giant.21So when he defied Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimea, David’s brother, killed him.

The Amorites were also a giant race:

Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars, and he was as strong as the oaks; yet I destroyed his fruit above and his roots beneath. Also it was I who brought you up from the land of Egypt, and led you forty years through the wilderness, to possess the land of the Amorite (Amos 2:9–10).

Sometimes the names of peoples like Anakim actually is descriptive of what these people were like—Emim means terror or feared in Hebrew.

By the way when you come across these names (below) in your Bible reading just remember what they mean:
Emim—the fearful or feared ones
Rephaim—the dead ones
Anakim—the [long]-necked ones

10 l(The Emim had dwelt there in times past, a people as great and numerous and tall asmthe Anakim. 11 They were also regarded as 3giants, like the Anakim, but the Moabites call them Emim.

Moses and Joshua reported giants and they were all described as extremely tall—not just Michael Jordan-of-the-Nike-basketball-fame tall—tall as cedars! In fact in Bashan (where King Og--a giant-- lived) archaeologists uncovered giant tomb markers that marked the head and the feet positions on top of grave sites and these spanned about thirteen feet--head to feet.

The King Og of Bashan, a Rephaim, (Joshua 12:4) was said to be 12 to 13 feet tall. That’s double of a man’s present height.

Deut  3:11 King Og of Bashan was the last survivor of the giant Rephaites. His bed was made of iron and was more than thirteen feet long and six feet wide. It can still be seen in the Ammonite city of Rabbah.)

So where is all this talk leading to? How is it related to giants in Noah’s time and the flood? :

 Let’s return to the passage in Genesis 6.

2the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. 3Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever,… 

The “then” surely signify that the LORD (Yahweh) was not happy (understatement) with the state of things during Noah’s time because the sons of God “married” the daughters of men (human women).
This sort of perverse demonic sexual activity happened twice on this earth and produced Nephilim—

4The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. 

The giants (the unlikely union) were in those days—days of Noah—and also “afterward”—meaning after the flood. (Yikes--could they be among us today--maybe a watered down version?)

(By the way, as an aside, eight people were on the ark –Noah, his wife and his three sons and their wives) and in the Chinese language the word “boat” is made up of three “words” vessel, eight and people.

Ancient China, which if you know geography, was cut off from the rest of European and Middle Eastern history due to their location and mountain barriers, yet China’s history also spoke of a worldwide flood.

In Chronicles 20 it speaks of the last of the giants –the Anakim killed. Anakim means large of stature and 1chronices 20 describes this also.

So what happened to the fallen angels that participated in this perverse acts?

God has reserved them in everlasting chains—they are today bound in chains as they had been since they were cast there. (Next week we will explore this further and perhaps it might give us indications as to the on-going troubles in the Middle East. Perhaps?)

6And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, 7just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. 8Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties.

Notice in Jude 1:7—“as” meaning just like—after strange flesh—perverse sexuality.

(Also, if you noticed above, God was very clear that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was of a perverse sexual nature--not just immorality—i.e. homosexuality and don’t you let those who want to promote this sin tell you otherwise—unless you don’t believe the Bible is the Word of God, in which case there’s nothing to argue.)

All this to say, that the LORD looked upon the sin of fallen angels defiling women and procreating with them (and producig giants like Goliath) a serious one. 

Right after the sentence in Genesis verse 8, it said:

The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.

I think context is real important, don’t you? There’s a reason why God ordered (through the Holy Spirit) the arrangement of sentences and paragraphs—so we read them in sequence. It appears that from the above Genesis passage that God, saw that the world was evil,--came about because of the unnatural union of demons with women and bearing children—because of the sexual perversity. 

My question is: are we as a people and generation, going down this same route? As in the days of Noah? Is there sexual perversity on our earth today? (I am not talking about sexual immorality—that has always been around.) It’s demonic perversity that we should be concerned with. Why? Because Genesis says—as in the days of Noah. 

Matthew 24:37 (NIV) 
As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.

Luke 17:26 (NIV)
"Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man.

God destroyed the entire earth once before due to these perverse acts. Two cities were destroyed due to perverse acts. Should we be concerned with how things are going in our world, our country, today? 

Next week we will arrive at obvious conclusion as to God’s warning for us. Are we in the last days? And we’ll see how Noah ties up with our condition in the world today.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Dangerous Discipleship

The first sign you may be right where God wants you is when everyone starts telling you you're nuts. Or you may well be nuts; that's your call.

This week, it's been three years. I will never forget this week. It's the week I learned for sure that discipleship is scary, and love is risky, and following Jesus can break your heart. Or fix it to be more like his.

This may not sound strictly like a blog post on discipleship. It's not. It's a story. But stories are often the best means of learning what following Jesus means. They're the way we teach the next generation what it means. Stories matter. So I'm going to tell Casey's story today, and it's a story of discipleship, more mine than his.

 I'd never had my debit card used to fill ten peoples' gas tanks. Never had the credit union call me to view security tapes. Never visited a heroin addict in the suicide ward. Life holds all kinds of new experiences when you decide living dangerously for Jesus is the safest way to live.

Casey began life with us as our daughter's boyfriend. (That didn't last long.) He progressed to stealing from us, lying to us, and grand theft auto. Not the video game. Somewhere along the line, he also progressed to a kid we loved. Love is a hazardous thing.

We learned his mom had a restraining order on him. We found out he had a violent past. We discovered at least two past intentional overdoses. We also learned, later in the relationship, that his own father used to hit him so hard that the neighbors could hear him smack the wall. I'm a forgiving person, but looking at the sweet face of that kid, I thought that if I ever met the dad, I'd probably acquaint him with a two by four to the head. Beating the heck out of your kid and personally getting him hooked on drugs are not OK in any parenting manual that I've read.

When we took him in as “part of the family,” every single real family member and friend he had told us we were nuts. The kid would not change. OK, he was no kid; he was 23. But only chronologically. He would take us for all he could. 

And he tried. You have no idea what it's like to try to explain to the security woman at the credit union that, yes, I do know who the young man in the tape is using my debit card. Yes, I do know he's a drug addict and what he'll do with the money. Yes, I know if I don't press charges you won't return the money. No, I still don't want to press charges. 

When she looked at me like I was the dumbest human to swim in the gene pool, I just shrugged my shoulders. “I'm a pastor. It's an occupational hazard. I can't really explain.”

When Jesus told us to love the least of these, he wasn't being rhetorical. He didn't mean sending money to African orphans to satisfy my conscience or buying a pair of shoes so a needy child could have one, too. 

Yes, those are good things. I do them. But real love takes risks, gets personal, gets messy. Real love looks a messed up kid in the eye and says, “I'm with you for the long haul. What do we have to do?” And sometimes the crapshot you take with love comes up bust. There is no guarantee.

Every single time I thought I had had enough and was ready to turn this kid in and wash my hands, I asked God if I could. Well, I kind of begged him. There were some pretty bad days. And every single time, he said, “No. I am not done with Casey. So neither are you.”

As part of our “I'm not turning you in so now I have some power over you” strategy, we “sentenced” Casey to community service at our church. He met people. He came to a few services. He went forward to the altar, trying to start over and get out of the iron-bar-less prison he knew he was still in. He got better; he got worse; he got better. He told us no one in twenty-three years had made him feel that loved. Like the security woman, he shook his head at us and said he could not understand why.

But eventually, he got it. He got that love beyond all human ability comes from Jesus alone. A tiny bit of comprehension seeped in that, maybe, possibly, it wasn't too late for someone like him. A God who would die for any sin on the books just because he loved us would love him, too.

Eventually, I got it, too. I got that compassion means so much more than a thoughtful email, and mercy is the greatest inexplicable gift someone might get from me. Grace has always meant a lot to me. But I know now how amazing grace is not just when its received but when its given. I've hugged Jesus in the form of a messed-up, love-bewildered kid. And I'll never see Him the same.

You know those stories with bittersweet endings that you hate but know are really more true than the happily ever after ones? This is that kind of story. 

Casey didn't make it in this life. He tried hard. He went though recovery and was on the road. But there were too many years of pain and bad choices, and one last time on heroin, after being clean for a while, was the last. 

Sitting looking at the waves of Lake Michigan roll in that day, I cried for the man he might have been and the life that could have been his. But I also cried because I knew, absolutely knew, that at that moment, Casey was looking at Jesus through eyes free of fog. He had no pain, no past, no chains of addiction or scars of abuse. He had no tears of hopelessness or self-hatred. He was free. And I'd never been so happy for someone in my life. Or sad. Dangerous love is like that.

To read more stories of dangerous love, check out Jill's blog here.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Jesus Defeated Satan For All Eternity

Jesus Defeated Satan in the Past, Present and Future

Mathew chapter 4 is right after Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist and then goes into the wilderness and is tempted. I find it interesting that even though Satan knows exactly who Jesus is, the first two of his temptations start with "If you are the son of God..." He is essentially saying, "Prove it."

The second temptation is when Satan told Jesus to jump from the pinnacle of the temple. I was reminded again that Satan used God's word to tempt Jesus when he said, 'He will command his angels concerning you; on their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone." All scripture quoted is from the NASB version.

Being a curious kind of person, I looked up the original reference that Satan quoted. It's Psalm 91:11-12. I read the whole chapter for context. It is a beautifully written encouragement to "those who dwell in the shelter of the Most High." v. 1

What Satan neglected to mention, was verse 13. "You will tread upon the lion and cobra, the young lion and the serpent you will trample down." 

The use of these particular animals grabbed my attention. Isn’t Satan referred to as a snake, lion and dragon in other scriptures?

Let’s start by looking at the PAST: The Cobra.
In Genesis chapter 3 the serpent, which could also be translated snake, came to Eve and tempted her. Yet when the snake is cursed in v. 14-15 we read, "and I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed: he shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel." Seed in the singular here is a reference to Jesus the Messiah. As seen in Gal 3:16,19

Hebrews 2: 14 Tells us that through His death, Jesus rendered Satan powerless. So, that cobra from way back in Genesis has been defeated.

Now the PRESENT: The Lion and the Young Lion. 
1Peter 5:8 "Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." 

   This is written to believers after Christ death, resurrection and ascension. Rev. 12:10-12 honestly gives me goose bumps; let’s see what will happen to the lion seeking to devour us.

Rev. 12:10-12 "Then I (John) heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, 'Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night.

"'And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death."

Although Satan still accuses us, we have overcome him, not on our own but by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony.

I don't know about you, but sharing my testimony can be very difficult. I'm not talking about my conversion, but what God is doing in my life right now. That is, until I realized that sharing my testimony, no matter how painful or embarrassing, is one of the ways that I overcome the enemy of my soul.

The FUTURE: The Dragon. 
At first glance it would appear that Serpent and Cobra are the same. However serpent here can be translated, Dragon. Dragon is used 14 times in Rev.

Rev. 20:2 tells us exactly who this dragon is, " And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years:"

While this is a temporary defeat, we are told that "after these things he (Satan) must be released for a short time." Rev. 20:3 b.

After that, Satan will meet his final and eternal defeat. Rev. 20:10 "And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever."

Whoo Hoo! That just makes me want to shout.

I think it's kind of funny that the scripture that Satan tried to lure Jesus into sin with, contained his own defeat, across time, in the very next sentence. I wonder if he smacked his forehead after he quoted that passage.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

There's Just Some Things They Never Told Me About This Job!


Why is it so few Christians ever fully walk in the freedom promised by Christ? Why do so many of us continue to be bound by sin, no matter how hard we try to live a life free “of the law of sin and death?” Why do we settle for less than the fullness of all that our salvation offers this side of Heaven? Do we really believe that “we have been given exceeding great and precious promises” by which we might be “partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust?” (2Pet.1:4) Do we truly embrace the idea that “as He is so are we in this world?”

I saw a poster years ago that spoke to me on a variety of levels at the time. Over the past thirty years of my Christian walk, it has taken on even deeper meaning. A tall, rail-thin, bedraggled and bowlegged cowboy, sporting a week’s worth of beard, covered from head to tail in dust is slumped against a wooden corral. His well-worn lariat hangs limp at his side. Behind him a herd of rowdy cattle shuffle unsettled. The caption read: There Are Just Some Things They Never Told Me About This Job!

I think that insightful comment is applicable to many situations Believers encounter in the context of our earthly walk in the Faith. The premise, of course, is that if we’d known what we were signing up for we might have had second thoughts. For many of us there is no “might” about it. Had we known all the trials and tribulations we were going to encounter as a result of accepting Christ as our Savior, we likely would have continued on in sin. In many cases, it would have been a heck of a lot easier. We wouldn’t have to “turn our cheek” when slapped, love our neighbor as ourselves (no matter how unlovable they are), forgive our brothers seventy times seventy, and so on. Before you decide that the wheels have come off my theological bus let me assure you of one thing. There may be moments of extreme duress in every Believer’s life when they wonder what they really signed up for, but few of us sincerely believe we would be better off going back to living without Christ, me included. 

But there is no question that anyone who purposes to seek the face of God on a daily basis and not just His hand, anyone who desires intimacy with Jesus through Holy Spirit, anyone who aspires to run the race in such a way that they “press on for the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” will face tremendous tribulation. (I’m reminded of the title of the book and movie, I Never Promised You A Rose Garden.)

Nevertheless, once we set out on this very narrow path, seeking the fullness of everything promised to us by Jesus, we find that even though there are moments of deep travail, there are also mountain-top experiences where we encounter His Majesty and Glory in unprecedented ways. This is what spurs us on when our souls languish in the “valley of death.” These mountain-top experiences are often referred to as “epiphanies” --mystical moments when Heaven invades Earth.

I would like to offer up one of my own dramatic “epiphanies” for your consideration. One that came very early on in my walk, the result of an extended time of fasting, prayer, and extensive study in the Word.  

Do you believe that the totality of Scripture teaches that it is possible, this side of Heaven, to walk free from sin, even as Jesus walked sin free?

Religion calls that concept heresy.

Before you echo that spirit in a knee-jerk reaction, hear me out.

Everything Jesus did when He walked the Earth He did as a man. Scripture is very clear that He gave up His exalted status as God and became a man so that, among other things, He might be an example to us of what is possible through Him. (Phil.2:5-15; Col.1:18-22) This does not mean Jesus gave up His divinity, rather it simply means that everything He accomplished as a man He did in spite of His divinity.

How do we know this?

The author of Hebrews is explicit: “Though he was a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all that obey him.” (Heb.4:7-10) (Italics mine.) The word perfect here in the Greek means coming into full maturity, full age, complete. It has nothing to do with deity, or divinity. If Jesus had resisted sin because He was God, then we would have no hope of following in His footsteps by the indwelling power of Holy Spirit. The Old Testament offers a variation on His holy name: Immanuel. God with us. God in us. When He is alive in us, and we purpose to allow him to increase that we might decrease, we have the potential to walk every day as He did.

1Corinthians10:13-14 assures us that “God is faithful, who will not suffer [us] (Believers) to be tempted above that [we] are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape that [we] may be able to bear it. (Italics mine.) This is an extraordinary statement made by the Apostle Paul, but one which is consistent with all that Jesus taught.

What would our churches, the world, look like if we were taught and lived the truthful teachings of Jesus, instead of doctrines of men? 

The consistent and repetitive image of how sin operates in a faithful Believer’s life, from the Psalms through the rest of the Bible, is the picture of “falling into sin” because of the snares of the evil one, traps set by beguiling individuals, or slipping into sin because of rebellion, or ignorance of the power of the Blood of Jesus.

Many argue that even though we accept Christ, we still have a sin “nature.” I'm not in that camp. A house divided cannot stand. When we accept Christ, “old things pass away and everything becomes new.” We no longer have a propensity to sin. In Christ, we are capable of saying “No” to sin in every circumstance. Do we do that? No. Do I know anyone who does? No. Do I do that? No.

But, because of the resurrection of Jesus, and the indwelling of Holy Spirit, it is possible.

What am I saying?

Scripture is explicit that we are bought with a price, that our life is not our own, and that we must take up our own personal cross and die daily to the demands of our unregenerate soul if we want to live as Jesus lived. The Apostle Peter is equally explicit that “the perfection (the completion or full maturity) of our salvation is the saving of our soul.” (1Pet.1:9) There’s that word perfection again. It’s the same Greek word—teleios. Full maturity. Completeness in Christ.

Salvation isn't an event, it's a process. One that, if we are determined to allow Christ’s sanctification to have full effect, is fraught with daily challenges. Challenges that we have the power and authority, through the indwelling of Holy Spirit to overcome. We are admonished in 2Cor.10:5 to “take every thought captive in obedience to Christ, casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” (Italics mine.)

Who would we want to serve a God who tells us in His Word that it is possible to walk free from sin on a daily basis if that was a false promise? The problem is not with Scripture, nor is it with us. The problem is that we have been taken captive by a religious spirit that has been around since the Garden of Eden. This religious spirit tells us that our God may be powerful enough to save us from eternal damnation, but He is not able to deliver us on a daily basis from entering into sin.

That is a lie that keeps most Believers in bondage and prevents them from even attempting to live the kind of resurrected life Christ promises. Not a life free of trial and tribulation, but one free from the compulsion to sin. Not a life free of mistakes, but a life free from the religious belief that this side of Heaven it is impossible to walk free from sin. A life that is capable of experiencing the fullness of all that Christ promised and died for on that old rugged cross.

Surely this is a lofty goal worthy of working toward, even if we don’t attain it. However, it is attainable only if we fully submit our soul to Christ on a daily basis, as Paul admonished, and allow Him to become not only the Shepherd of our soul, but the Bishop as well. (1Pet. 2:25)