Posted in Isaiah, James, Philippians, Psalms

Willing and Obedient

“So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Philippians 2:12-13

What God has worked in us, we now need to work out in our everyday lives. By grace He is in us to create both the desire and the ability to do His will. When we cooperate with His grace by being willing and obedient, grace flows freely in and through us. Isaiah 1:19 says, “If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land.” I don’t know about you but I want God’s best. The key is to be willing and obedient.

Sometimes we are willing, but not obedient. We love God, we worship God, we say “yes” to God when someone’s preaching, but we don’t do what He says to do. We won’t forgive, we won’t throw the porn away, we won’t cut off the destructive relationship, we won’t give money He’s asked us to give, we won’t check our speech, we won’t lay down our judgments on others, etc. Being willing but not obedient leads to self deception which is why James said, “Prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” (James 1:22) Worship must be more than a song or a prayer to touch God’s heart; it has to include costly obedience.

Others are obedient, but not willing. This person says, “I do the right things but have no joy or love in doing them any more.” If this applies, you need to return to your first love and ask God for a new grace to make you willing. Just going through the motions leaves you and I very vulnerable to sin and the schemes of the enemy. After David sinned horribly he prayed to God, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” (Psalm 51:12) Notice he didn’t just ask for forgiveness, but prayed for a change of attitude so that it wouldn’t happen again.

Check your life right now. Are you willing, or do you spend most of your time complaining to God? Are you obedient, or has your life become one compromise after another? God wants His very best for you. If something is off ask Him now to pour out more grace, so you can make it right.

Posted in Isaiah, Judges

A Minivan With Wings

“When Gideon came, behold, a man was relating a dream to his friend. And he said, ‘Behold, I had a dream, a loaf of barley bread was tumbling into the camp of Midian, and it came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down so the tent lay flat.’ His friend replied, ‘This is nothing less than the sword of Gideon… God has given Midian and all the camp into his hand.” Judges 7:13-14

Three hundred Israelites were facing an army of 135,000 Midianites (Judges 8:10) when God told Gideon to go to the enemy’s camp and hear what they were saying. The dream related in the text above encouraged Gideon and led to a mighty victory for Israel. What was it about this dream that instilled such confidence?

Think for a moment of the pressure that weighed upon these three hundred men. The army had started with 32,000, and God Himself had chosen only these three hundred to fight in the battle, a battle whose outcome would determine the future of all Israel. What if they blew it? What if they weren’t up to the high calling required of them?

Then this dream comes. A loaf of barley bread tumbling into the camp. God was going to use something very ordinary in a very haphazard way to accomplish His purpose. It wasn’t about them or their clever strategy; God was going to do something great through them, but in a way where He would get all the glory. They didn’t have to be great; they just had to be willing.

One day my wife, and I were invited to attend a Connect Group from our church and at the end of the night, the group prayed for us. While praying one of the young mom’s said God was giving her a vision of a minivan with wings. She said she didn’t know why it was a minivan, but prayed that God would give us wings like eagles to soar with Him. (Isaiah 40:31)

It was the word I needed to hear. I don’t think I can be a Cadillac or a limousine but I can be a minivan. If the plan is that God can only use super Christians then I’m disqualified, but if He can give a minivan wings, I’m all in! How about you?

Posted in Isaiah, John

Doing the Works of Redemption

“As long as it is day, we must do the work of Him who sent Me. Night is coming, when no one can work.” John 9:4

The disciples were confronted with a man who had been born blind, so they wanted to seek a reason for this calamity. They asked Jesus, “who sinned, this man or his parents that he should be born blind?” Jesus replied that neither answer was right, “but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Jesus didn’t dwell on those things that sin and Satan have brought into this world. His view was that all situations can be turned around and become a showcase for God’s redemption. He wants us to gain the same viewpoint.

Notice that He doesn’t say “I” must do the work, but “we.” He was modeling for His disciples the kind of works they would be doing after He was gone. A few chapters later He makes the same point in an even clearer way: “Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father.” (John 14:12)

Jesus did two kinds of work while He was on planet earth: Isaiah 53 work and Isaiah 61 works. Isaiah 53:5 tells of the work He did on the cross for us: “He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.” This is finished work and it is work that only He could do. All we can do is receive that work and be grateful for the forgiveness of our sins.

Isaiah 61:1 tells of the works of His ministry by the anointing of the Holy Spirit: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners.” This work He began while He was on earth but would be carried on by His disciples under the anointing of the same Spirit. Jesus modeled this work for them and then commissioned them to allow Him to continue these same works through them.

The church today preaches Jesus’ finished work of Isaiah 53 but largely ignores our responsibility to practice the Isaiah 61 works. I believe God is changing that. He wants us to recognize in a greater way the power of the Holy Spirit in us, and He wants us to gain His viewpoint, so that we can join Him each day in the works of redemption.

Posted in Acts, Isaiah, Mark, Matthew, Philippians, Proverbs, Romans, Titus

Getting Back on the Wall

“No longer will they call you Deserted, or name you Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah (My delight is in her)…for the Lord will take delight in you.” Isaiah 62:4

Yesterday we gave several ways those God genuinely sets on the wall (in a place of authority to pray) fall off of it. Today we look at how to get back on it. “A righteous man falls seven times, and rises again.” (Proverbs 24:16)

  1. Accept your calling. Romans 11:29 tells us that God’s “gifts and call are irrevocable.” Just because you don’t like the place God has given you, or feel like you’ve failed at it, doesn’t mean you get a new call. Our lives won’t work until we embrace God’s plan and flow with it. “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” (Acts 26:14)
  2. Forgive as you stand praying. “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive your transgressions.” (Mark 11:25) If we insist on justice, eventually God will have to give us the justice we want for others. (See Matthew 7:1-4) We don’t need someone to be sorry for us to forgive them. If we do, forgiveness will always be difficult. Here’s why – let’s say someone does say they’re sorry for the way they’ve treated you. How will you know if they’re really sorry? And even if they appear to be sorry, are they sorry enough? If they’re sorry enough, will that for sure mean they’ll never do it again? All we need to forgive is to remember that the greatest injustice didn’t happen to me; it happened to Jesus. The truly innocent Lamb of God died in my place – that’s injustice. Part of my worship is to lay my injustices at the foot of the cross and freely forgive those who hurt me. This is part of what it means to know Jesus “in the fellowship of His suffering.” (Philippians 3:10)
  3. Embrace your identity. The strength to stay on the wall is not in seeing your prayers answered; it’s in the fact that God’s delight is in you. We are favored sons and daughters not because of our works, but because of His great mercy toward us in Christ. (Titus 3:5-6) We don’t gain favor by praying; we pray from His favor. Our great reward is not in what He does for us, but in our relationship with Him. Until we grasp this reality it will always be hard to stay on the wall.
Posted in Hosea, Isaiah, Revelation

Falling Off the Wall

“The prophet is considered a fool, the inspired man a maniac. The prophet, along with my God, is the watchman over Ephraim, yet snares await him on all his paths, and hostility in the house of his God.” Hosea 9:7-8

Even though God sets people on the wall (Isaiah 62:6-7) to align with His purposes and to pray for His will to be done on earth, it’s easy to fall off the wall. Here are five reasons why people who are genuinely called to watch over the church in prayer, fall from the ministry God set them in:

  1. Self-doubt. Watchmen have prophetic experiences to inspire them to pray, but because everyone doesn’t experience the same things they do, they are called “maniacs;” or in our day, made out to be “weird.” It’s easy to question whether God really did speak and to question why He would tell you and not everyone. “Who do I think I am?” is often an accusing thought. 
  2. Rejection. “Hostility in the house of God” means everyone doesn’t appreciate your intensity. Sometimes church leaders feel threatened by people’s “revelations” and seek to shut watchmen down. 
  3. Suspicion. Revelation 12:10 tells us that Satan is “the accuser of the brethren.” He will mimic prophetic experiences (He disguises himself as an angel of light) to watchmen that sow suspicions in their hearts about leaders and churches. He uses things that have actually happened and were actually said to make the case that God is against His own church because of their many sins. 
  4. Discouragement. In a pragmatic world that supremely values action, it can seem like prayer is a waste of time. When Mary poured precious perfume on Jesus, the church leadership said, “Why this waste?” (Matthew 26:8) Needs will always exist and there will always be time to do practical things after prayer, but please know that the highest calling is to “waste” time worshiping Jesus. 
  5. Depression. In a place of intercession God shares some of His burden with us. We see clearly how wide the gap is between how things are and how they should be. Our burden must be prayed back to God because the government is on Jesus’ shoulders, not ours. (Isaiah 9:6) The enemy would have us be self-proclaimed martyrs who are carrying everyone’s burdens for them.
Posted in Isaiah, Matthew, Psalms

Set on the Wall

“I have set watchmen on your walls, oh Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give Him no rest until He establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.” Isaiah 62:6-7

Why does God set people on the wall to ask Him to do what He already said He wants to do? He wants His church to agree on earth with His purposes as free moral agents, so that we share with Him in every victory that is won. We cannot bring His kingdom without Him, and He won’t bring His kingdom without us wanting it, and asking for it.

In this heaven and hell are alike: both seek agreement on earth from human beings so they can bring their purposes to pass on the earth. “I thought God was sovereign,” you may argue. He absolutely is. The only reason it is like this is because He planned it to be this way. “Our God is in heaven, He does whatever pleases Him.” (Psalm 115:3) This necessary agreement by earth is what pleases Him.

If hell can get people to live in fear, anger, pride, greed, and lust then this darkness will be increased by demons who will dwell in these strongholds. The Father allows it because He has chosen to not force Himself, or His ways on us.

But listen to the promise heaven gives: “I tell you that if two of you agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in My Name, there I am.” (Matthew 18:19-20) When we agree together for the beauty and purposes of heaven to be manifested and ask the Father for this, Jesus Himself will come and establish on earth what we have agreed on.

Our text makes it clear we must persist in our asking and expect a progressive answer as we “give Him no rest” until He has done all He has promised. Some of the greatest heroes of the church are the prayer warriors. Their primary labor is not horizontal but vertical, where God has set them on the wall for this purpose. Without prayer, what we do horizontally as a church will have little lasting effect.

Posted in Isaiah, Psalms

Standing Firm in Your Faith

“If you don’t stand firm in your faith, you won’t stand at all.” Isaiah 7:9

The words of the text above came to my mind unbidden in June of 2012. Weeks earlier I had received a letter from a lawyer threatening a lawsuit against our church because of some changes we made at our school. I did everything I could to get them to drop it, including begging God to intervene on our behalf, but it was all to no avail. The lawsuit was filed anyway and fear gripped my heart.

As I considered the possible devastation a lawsuit could have on our church, the sentence above came to me. Was this a Scripture? I went to my concordance and found it. The context was a warning to King Ahaz who had two armies mounted against him which had caused his heart to be “shaken as trees of the field are shaken by the wind.” (Isaiah 7:2) The same Holy Spirit who was warning him many years ago was now warning me.

It was game time. I talked about trusting God all the time, I’m a preacher after all, but now it was time to actually believe like a Christian should. God didn’t tell me how the lawsuit would end, He just warned me that if I gave into the fear speaking to me, it would not go well.

A believer’s main job is to believe. Are you facing something right now that is filling you with fear? This is not the time to abandon your faith; it’s time to practice it. Tell God you trust Him, speak to the mountain you’re facing, and live in the freedom Christ paid for even while the circumstances are unchanged.

That’s what I did. Months later I received an email that said the lawsuit was dropped, but the greater miracle was that it wasn’t even that big of a relief. I had found rest in God and knew it would be okay, whatever happened.

Why not give God your fears today and claim Psalm 34:4 for your life, “I sought the Lord, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.”

Posted in 2Corinthians, Isaiah

Glowing in the Dark

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” 2Corinthians 3:18

My little brother, Jimmy, and I (8 and 10 at the time) were so excited about the Glo-Balls someone gave us that we immediately scampered into our downstairs closet after freeing them from the package. What a horrible disappointment! These balls didn’t glow – alright, maybe a little – but certainly not what was promised on the box.

Apparently our disappointment was obvious because we were quickly informed that we had missed a step in the process. First, you have to hold balls near a light source because the balls weren’t lights themselves; they only had the capacity to absorb light. We kind of resented an additional step, but I remember holding that ball close to a light bulb willing it to absorb. The second time in the closet was thrilling! Now the balls were brilliant and really did appear like lights in the darkness.

We are not the source of light, but we can absorb light and then carry Him every day into this dark world. Isaiah 60:1-3 describes this beautifully: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples; but the Lord will rise upon you and His glory will appear upon you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”

Every time we look up and behold God’s presence we glow a little more. Just like those balls we eventually fade if we don’t continue to expose ourselves to His presence. But when we do behold Him, even if dimly as in a mirror (their mirrors were made of brass), we go from glory to glory, and many will be drawn to the Lord and His ways through us. Being His witness is simply glowing in the dark.

Posted in Hebrews, Isaiah, Psalms

Laying a Solid Foundation

“Let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works…” Hebrews 6:1

On August 1, 2007 a bridge in Minneapolis that crossed the Mississippi river collapsed killing 13 and injuring 145. The irony was that work was being done on the bridge at the time of the collapse; but it was the wrong work. One article summed up the types of things that were being done: “The construction taking place in the weeks prior to the collapse included replacing lighting, and guard rails. At the time of the collapse, four of the eight lanes were closed for resurfacing.” Because the foundational work was left undone, all the other work proved to be in vain. This is how it is in a Christianity that lacks repentance. It doesn’t matter how much we do, if we haven’t really repented and aren’t living a life of repentance, all our works are dead in God’s sight.

Hebrews 3:7-8; 3:15 and 4:7 all say the same thing: “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” Repentance is not possible until God speaks to us. He can speak through His word as we read it, or through a preacher at church, or by a dream or vision in the night, or through an honest friend, or in difficult circumstances.  God has lots of ways to speak to us when He wants to get our attention.

When God speaks we need to agree with Him. David said, “Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak.” (Psalm 51:4) When we agree with what God says we justify Him; when we defend ourselves by making excuses for what we did, we justify ourselves. Hardening your heart toward God can actually mean softening your heart toward you by giving yourself unwarranted and unsanctified mercy for evil you have said, thought, or done. “It wasn’t that bad,” “he had it coming,” “I only spoke the truth,” “I was tired,” “Yeah, but she did that wrong thing first,” are just a few excuses that quickly come into our hearts when we seek to justify ourselves.

Let’s not live resurfacing the bridge when what it needs is foundation work. Rather, let’s each take time to seek our hearts and fully repent. Isaiah 30:15 gives the blessing that will result, “In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength.”

Posted in 2Corinthians, Isaiah, Romans

The Righteousness of God

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes; first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” Romans 1:16-17

The good news (gospel) is that a righteousness from God is available to us today because of what Christ did on the cross. This righteousness cannot be earned but only embraced through faith; it is God’s gift to those who will receive it. God is so holy that even our seemingly righteous acts appear like filthy rags to Him, (Isaiah 64:6) so He sent His Son to do for us, what we could not do for ourselves. “God made Him who had not sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2Corinthians 5:21)

God’s Spirit made this passage in Romans come alive to a young, miserable monk named Martin Luther while studying in Wittenburg, Germany in 1513-1515. Here are his words about the experience:

“I sought day and night to make out the meaning of Paul; and at last I came to apprehend it thus: Through the gospel is revealed the righteousness which availeth with God – a righteousness by which God, in His mercy and compassion, justifieth us; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’ Straightway I felt as if I were born anew. It was as if I had found the door of Paradise thrown wide open. Now I saw the Scriptures altogether in a new light – I ran through their whole contents as far as my memory would serve, and compared them, and found that this righteousness was really that by which God makes us righteous, because everything else in Scripture agreed thereunto so well. The expression, ‘the righteousness of God,’ which I so much hated before, now became dear and precious – my darling and comforting word.”

No religious effort or philosophical ideal can produce what God Himself has done for us in Christ. In Him we are righteous! Embrace it, speak it, and walk it out because this simple truth has the power to save everyone who believes.