The Real Easter Message

Nearly 2 billion people in the world still haven’t heard the name of Jesus even once. Most of these still live in Asia, and they are still dying without hope by the tens of thousands every day. Jesus said to take the Gospel to the uttermost parts of the world, and He has equipped His Church with everything we need to obey His commands. Another generation has passed, and where are we? It grieves me to write this, but even on the home front, the Church seems to have lost, instead of gained, ground.

Today our churches permit people to mix and match their belief systems any way they please, as long as they don’t impose their beliefs on anyone else. Having abandoned the Holy Scriptures as our standard for faith and practice, we find ourselves defenseless against the world, the flesh and the devil. The divorce rate among couples in the Church today is no better than that of the secular world. I wonder how we compare in other areas, like consumer debt, personal morality, alcohol and drug abuse, depression and suicide. Not only are Christians increasingly indistinguishable from the world in the way they live, but if you ask them, most would probably say they prefer it that way. They would rather blend into the crowd than to stand up against an increasingly hostile world.

Everywhere Christians are in retreat-and-seek-cover mode against the onslaughts of cults, nationalist movements, modern science and postmodern cynics. What is the way out of the foxhole we have dug ourselves into? It is to repent, to return to Jesus, to surrender to Him and start living as He commands us to.

Somewhere along our journey from a dead religion of laws and guilt, we modern Christians have misplaced the other side of grace. It was undoubtedly left beside the road with the best of motives. I’m sure that most of those who abandoned reality sincerely wanted to display the immeasurable love of God to a lost and needy world.

But we have failed to reveal the wonderful grace of Jesus we sing about with obedience in our everyday lives. Instead, we have produced an “old dishwater” kind of religion—that insipid, lukewarm faith that Jesus said He would spew out of His mouth! All those uncomfortable scripture verses about taking up the cross—discipline, sacrifice and suffering—somehow, they just seem to get in the way of our modern-day “convenience store” Christianity.

We’ve been taught to serve up a watered-down gospel for so long that the real Gospel has become an embarrassment. However, half a truth is no truth at all. Obedience must always be a vital part of our response to His love and grace. Faith without works is dead. It is time for us to find our balance again—to restore authentic Christianity before it’s too late. Distorted, perverted gospels always self-destruct. The disciplines of spiritual reality are “lost arts” to most modern Christians. But they have been tried, tested and proven by millions before you. They are your only way out of the fantasy and illusion of so much that seeks to counterfeit Christianity today. May I challenge you to come along and begin a journey on the road to reality? Won’t you venture out with us and journey into the heart of Jesus?

A Deadly Dichotomy

The stones of the church parking lot crunched beneath my feet in the freezing December air. It was my first Christmas in America—and I was as excited and bewildered as any two-year-old child at the wonder of it all. I had never seen a Christmas like this before! In many parts of my native India, December 25 passes without fanfare. For my people, it is just another day of bondage to sin, suffering and death—the life without Christ. You see, for untold millions in Asia, there is no Christmas. As far as they are concerned, Christ still has not come. His name, His peace and His redemption through Calvary are not yet known or understood. Asia has yet to hear the Good News of Christmas—that Christ came into the world to seek and to save lost sinners.

On the way to church that night, it seemed to me as if the whole nation were Christian. Streets, stores and malls were decorated brightly. Thousands of tired-looking people were filling their cars with bags and boxes of gifts, food and wine for the holidays. Nearly every home had colored lights, decorated trees and even life-size manger scenes telling the Christmas story.

“How these people must love Christ!” I thought. “What a wonder to live in a country that is saturated with Christians, churches and the Gospel!” Inside the church, I touched the beautifully padded pews in awe and walked carefully on the rich carpeting. Even the altar was decorated in red bows for the candlelight carols we had come to hear. A huge tree stood on one side with a large American flag on the other. The symbolism of a Christian nation celebrating the birth of the Savior was new and exciting to me.

In the front of the church was an orchestra backed by a hundred voice choir standing in the pyramid shape of “a living Christmas tree.” At first, I thought it was a tree. But then I realized it was colorfully robed men and women forming the tree. One man told me that the steel scaffolding for the display had cost the church more than $25,000. I couldn’t imagine that much money—at that time it could have built four or five village churches in Nepal or India. I looked down at the lavish program in my hands and wondered to myself how much it had cost to be printed.

Back in India, I had been involved in printing tracts for our Gospel teams, and I recalled that five cents’ worth of tracts would give the Gospel to 100 people. “But these people love the Lord,” I rebuked myself. “I mustn’t judge.” But still, the thought wouldn’t go away. If this printed program cost only 50 cents to produce, that would have been the equivalent of 1,000 tracts. (And I suspected it cost more than 50 cents!) I thought of the national missionaries I knew of in Nepal and Myanmar working without enough Gospel tracts among millions of lost Hindus and Buddhists. The rest of that first Christmas was still awesome and exciting to me, but the thought of those unprinted tracts haunted me. Why did these people who already had everything still need to buy more? Why did they send so many Christmas cards to people they hardly knew?

Why did they eat and drink so much that they often got sick? And how, I wondered, could all this be done to celebrate and proclaim the coming of the Savior? If even the very name of the Savior is still unknown to millions of lost souls, I reasoned, isn’t this self-indulgence a strange way to herald the coming of the Lord Jesus? Wouldn’t it be more fitting to proclaim the Good News of His coming to those who’ve not heard rather than to those who’ve already heard thousands of times?

Enormous Self-Deception

Since that Christmas I have traveled millions of miles, speaking to Christians. I have counseled privately with hundreds of them about their beliefs and lifestyles. What I have found has to be one of the most tragic ironies of all time: A tiny group of believers who have the Gospel keep mumbling it over and over to themselves. Meanwhile, millions who have never heard it once fall into the flames of eternal hell without ever hearing the salvation story.

Most Christians are living out that Christmas irony every day in one way or another. As individuals, their lifestyles often amount to an enormous self-deception. Who we claim to be is disconnected from what we know, and what we know is even more removed from what we do. It is so unreal. It is a mysterious but deadly spiritual dichotomy. A dichotomy is a whole divided into two parts. And we as modern Christians are living dangerously in this double contradiction of our beliefs. To choose deliberately to live in a world of unreality such as this is a disease or sickness.

Many nights, after preaching my heart out, I returned to my hotel room bitterly discouraged, asking myself how this paradox can even exist. It has to be one of the great mysteries of all time. For instance, as I was writing this book, another great missionary conference was being held where thousands were gathered from all parts of the country. Most were raised lovingly in Christian homes where the Word of God was honored. They gathered to consider the claims of Jesus Christ on their lives. Some of the greatest Christian orators of our time addressed them. Some of the finest musicians in the world played and sang to them. Beautiful films and videos portrayed the needs of a lost and dying world in vivid graphic detail. Hundreds of Christian organizations spent tens of thousands of dollars to present the desperate needs of a world without Christ. Mission leaders flew in from every continent to plead the cause of the lost. In addition, the participants themselves spent huge sums of money to come and be challenged, educated and informed.

What will the results of this enormous investment be? Thousands stood at the invitation and offered themselves for missionary service. But if this conference is like past ones, the statistical chances of even a handful of them going to the hidden peoples is almost nil. Fewer than one percent of those who respond to the altar call will ever obey the Great Commission of Christ and go to the foreign mission field. Of those who do go, many will not return for a second term of service. The percentage that will actually go to the hidden peoples of Asia, where almost 90 percent of the world’s unreached people are dying without Christ, is so small that it doesn’t show statistically!

As another example, a few years back I was privileged to speak to the youth group of one of the great evangelical churches of our day. It was a model of ministry that would be the dream come true of any pastor. These young people were exposed to the most balanced youth ministry possible. They had a full-time youth director, Bible studies many nights of the week, monthly socials, weekly fellowships, a gym and sports teams, camps, conferences, concerts, a big library, full-time counseling staff—everything! I looked forward to presenting to them the burden of Christ’s heart for the lost world. When I addressed 350 of these healthy, well-fed, bright-eyed young people with the message of New Testament Christianity, the results were incredible. With tears in my eyes, I told them of the lost and needy millions still without Christ. Many appeared deeply moved. But when I asked for a show of hands of those willing to give their lives to Christ’s service, not one was able to say, “Yes, Lord!”

Since When Is Obedience Optional?

Not one was willing to break out of that velvet cage of comfort and convenience to begin a radical lifestyle lived from an inner reality that affects the world. Since when has obedience to Christ and His Gospel become optional to Christianity? What kind of church, culture or ethnic group can produce a faith where obedience to God has become dispensable? This is the question I ask myself over and over. These examples are not unusual—just the extremes. I address thousands of people weekly. Even in the best meetings, it is rare that more than one or two percent of the listeners will pledge to support national missionaries, let alone volunteer for service on the mission field. This amazes me constantly because most believers could contribute $1 a day—almost without sacrifice. Yet that small offering can mean the difference between spiritual life or death for some tribe or village in Asia. This should ring alarm bells in our minds and hearts. Something is wrong when Christians don’t respond to what is so dear to the heart of Jesus.

What’s really wrong? How can we diagnose the causes or come to grips with this deadly problem in our Christian lives? I think it is best described as the dichotomy of the modern Christian. First, we modern Christians have divorced what we do from who we are. We have lost touch with our spiritual being or self-identity in Christ. Seldom does our spirit-man lead and dominate. We are content to act out a religion of externals, a lifestyle disconnected from the life born of the Holy Spirit in our human spirits.

Today, millions of people claim to be “born again.” By this, they mean that they have walked the aisle to be saved from hell; find peace and joy; escape from guilt; please family and friends; find wealth, health and happiness; and get that preacher off their backs!

But a religion measured in such superficial, external terms bears no resemblance to the faith of Scripture. For them, Jesus is “cool,” and being a Christian is a respectable, acceptable and normal choice. What’s more, it’s free, instant, a convenience-store item. All that is necessary is to pray a 30-word prayer, sign a little card or put your hand on the television screen—and you’re in! This modern Christianity is weak on the Gospels. You rarely hear an evangelist preach from Matthew, Mark or Luke. To do so would mean that the ego demands of Christ on His followers would have to become a central concern.

Thus, the false religion of popular Christianity does not ask us to internalize the passion and mind of Christ, to surrender our egos, lay aside our flesh, take up the cross and begin a lifestyle marked by submission to the will of the Father as He did. We are also seldom asked to internalize the commands of Christ— to begin a lifestyle of sacrifice, service and suffering for the sake of our Lord. We are not asked to love as He loved, walk where He walked, interact with the kind of sinful people He did and live the life of self- sacrificing service that was His trademark.

But what about that vast network of Christian activities that so often preoccupies our hearts, hands and minds? Don’t our frenzied lives prove our piety? I cannot look at them without asking the critical question: From where does this current wave of activism spring? Will it pass through the fires of judgment? Is it the work of our own hands and egos, or does it spring from the heart of Jesus? If your Christian service were to end today, would it make any difference in eternity? Second, we modern Christians are divorced from what we know.

Until you travel to some of the poorest nations in Asia, you cannot appreciate the religious information glut we have. Christians here are blessed with thousands of Christian books and DVDs, 24-hour Christian radio and television, conferences and seminars, and all the Christian resources of the Internet. Someone has said that there are more than 1,000 commentaries on the book of Acts in the English language—but not 100 Christians living with the power of New Testament Christianity. All too often, it seems, we’re willing to be students of Christianity rather than disciples of Christ. The fact is that most of us are substituting learning and information for practical obedience.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the world of Christian missions. The focus has shifted to learning about the hidden and unreached peoples rather than going to them. Probably no culture has been better able to fulfill that frightening prophecy in 2 Timothy 3:1–8. We are a people “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” We are indeed “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” Never in history has there been a society with so much information about God, but so little real knowledge of the Holy One.

Whatever the reason for this lack of spiritual reality, it cannot be a lack of teaching resources. We have shamefully hoarded Christian knowledge, preventing the rest of the world from finding out the truth—while not taking advantage of the knowledge it possesses.

Why Are We Still Spiritual Babies?

The question that faces us is this: How can a Christian culture that knows so much truth fail to perform? Why do we have all this Bible study? Our Sunday school and Christian education programs? Our Holy Land tours and Christian sea cruises? Our camps, retreats, seminars, conferences, books, magazines, newspapers, videos and broadcasting? Why do we now even have Christian theme parks, family theaters and coffee houses? Isn’t the reason to be like Christ? Isn’t that what we say?

Then why are we still spiritual babies? Kindergarten Christians? Why is there so little power and holiness in our lives? Why aren’t we manifesting Christ to our friends, neighbors, classmates and peers? Why aren’t we incarnating Him to those across town in our own inner cities—and to the lost billions still in darkness around the world?

Not What We Do,  but Who We Are

Certain truths have become evident. One of the most devastating is the fact that the concept of missions has been so cheapened that many Christians now equate it with fund-raising. It has been reduced to just another appeal for money, similar to the annual budget campaign or the building fund drive. If and when missions is reduced to a dollars-and-cents decision—merely another option for our giving—we prove that we have lost sight of the Savior. The test of our true affection is not how much we give, but how we live. Missions is not something we do, but something we are. There is a principle at work here: Self-centered Christians cannot and will not respond to Christ because they are not submitted to Him as their Head. Dichotomized Christians have reproduced their schizophrenic personal lives in the corporate life of the body. Disobedient Christians produce disobedient churches!

Christ’s Unchanging Mandate

Jesus has made clear the mission mandate for each one of us who claims to follow Him. He said that He lived to do the will of His Father; the fields of lost souls were white unto harvest; and He was sending us into those fields just as the Father had sent Him (John 4:34–38). That means “missions” is simply an extension of His life, working through your life, to reach this generation with the love of God for a lost humanity. God is not asking us to give money to missions, but to make missions the central passion of our lives! The Church, as the corporate expression of the Body of Christ, exists only to fulfill His will. And what is His will? He is “. . . not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Christ meant His Church to be primarily a missionary organization—or better yet, a missionary organism. The Body of Christ, His Church, is the living presence of a God whose heart is pounding with a passion for lost and dying souls. We must therefore be fellowshipping and worshiping with one thing in mind: reaching lost men and women wherever they are. We are to be a people willing to exchange anything and everything we have for the pearl of great price—the kingdom of God. Jesus was always pressing on to preach the Gospel in the next village. His heart’s cry and prayer was for the dead and dying, for the lost, sick and undone. And the heart of every true disciple who follows in the steps of Jesus will be the same. We must be willing, as He was, to let everything go for the sake of lost souls—to give our lives to recapture just one lost inch of territory from darkness and hell.

How can a church that does not reflect this spirit really be the bride of Christ? What explanation or rationalization can we offer to explain the condition of Christianity today? The Bible offers us little help. It doesn’t give much space to descriptions of a church that appears to be nothing less than a headless corpse. How else can we describe a church body that appears to have fallen so far away from the commands of its mind—the Lord Jesus? Let me elaborate:

Feed-Me-First Fixation

We have a feed-me-first fixation. Christianity today is stuck in a rut of self-development. It is a me-and-mine style religion that survives on an endless diet of books, video teachings, conferences and seminars. This fat-head faith has produced a generation of Christians who know all the answers but won’t cross the street to help a neighbor in spiritual distress. This demonic reasoning goes, “Me first—after all, I can’t help others until I help myself!” We’re content to sit in our comfortable pews week after week sucking on our spiritual baby bottles—as long as the religious entertainment offered doesn’t interfere with lunch or the ball game.

That this style of religion has no effect whatsoever on our Monday morning lifestyle doesn’t matter. It wasn’t meant to make a difference at work, school or play in the first place. Our newest churches, with their air-conditioned atriums and gymnasiums, are being designed with the best ambiance money can buy. The designers don’t want us to feel too much different there from the way we do at the mall or health club.

Our churches are patterning their architecture, evangelism and programs after the world rather than the dictates of Christ through the Holy Spirit. For far too long, we’ve grabbed the latest fad in the world and baptized it into the church by adding a cute phrase or two. So “Jazzercise” became “Praisercise,” and computer dating services became Christian singles’ clubs. Rock ’n’ roll emerged as “Christian rock music,” and the heavy metal sound was reborn as something called “Christian shock-rock.” The list goes on and on. There are hundreds of examples. A look at our church activity calendars reveals not a body of givers, but a society of receivers. Even our prayer meetings are little more than “bless-me” clubs. Could it be that we have let our churches become elaborate social programs with the name of God tacked on as an afterthought?

Was Karl Marx right in this case? Isn’t this kind of religion really a narcotic—“the opiate of the people”? This is “convenience store” Christianity. The pastor’s main job is to find ways to sugarcoat the Gospel message, making sure that he preaches a gospel that offends no one and runs a church that meets every imaginable mental and physical need. It is a religion that loves to quote “charity begins at home” when the subject of missions comes up. It reminds us that Jerusalem must get in line to be fed first, but never gets around to quoting the part of the verse about “Judea and Samaria” and especially the “uttermost parts of the earth.”

What does the Lord Jesus think of our religious merry-go-round? The question that must be asked of every Christian activity we support is simply this: Will this event create any impact on a lost and dying world? If the answer is no, then we must reconsider sponsoring it. We must ask if this is something from our agenda or His.

“But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22). We have switched to a retreat and survival mode. Actually confronting the takeover of our school systems and institutions by decades of secular humanism is too much of a strain for our kind of religion. That would require going out and witnessing to the publicans and sinners of our day. So we are running into temporary survival shelters such as Christian schools, religious radio and television broadcasts, Christian concerts and myriad other escapisms.

The controlling force behind this massive retreat from the post-Christian, secularized culture is fear rather than holiness. It is laziness rather than righteousness. And it is born from a lack of love rather than a genuine desire for separation. Could it be that these “good things” are really enemies of the best? “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).

What Really Is Going On?

We have established a social caste system in our churches and institutions. I thought only Hinduism had a system of social discrimination, but experience proves that religion by itself almost always divides rather than unites people. There are those who congregate in churches for all kinds of reasons other than the biblical one! Many churches will sell out and move their property if a neighborhood starts to change racially or economically. No cost is too great to preserve the class distinctions that created the church in the first place. We will pay any price to maintain a church without people who are different from us in any way.

Could it be that at the root of most of our denominations and local church splits is not a pious struggle for truth—but an invisible system of discrimination against others based on age, race, education and economic background? And what a tragedy we see on the mission field when some of these same denominations try to export their schisms and divisive teachings to the churches of the Third World. Let’s face it. We like to be with our own kind. A church that asks us to love and reach out to the unlovely or to those different from us is unthinkable—yet it was the core of Christ’s evangelistic lifestyle.

We need to repent of the loveless, intolerant, self-centered Christianity that has become one of the most distinguishing characteristics of the Church today. Some modern church growth teachers are now openly applying marketing techniques to further divide and create churches based on demographics rather than spiritual birth. This used to be done by tiny committees of racial bigots who met secretly. Today it is being taught as church growth in some of our seminaries! “But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors” (James 2:9).

We are fascinated by having the best and the biggest. Social scientists say that the last sign of life in any movement comes when it starts to build monument-style buildings. Why do we insist on building the largest and most impressive structures in our city when people on the other side of town are hungry, jobless and worshiping in storefronts? Why do we construct extravagant, inefficient buildings at all? What motivates us to try to be the biggest and the best? Who taught us that “bigger is better” and “nothing is too good for the house of the Lord”? Did God tell us this, or have we learned it from the world?

We need to start asking ourselves hard questions. How can we be making monthly church mortgage payments of $50,000 and still say we don’t have enough in the budget for missions? Can we square this extravagance with the commands of our Lord who said, “How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another?” (John 5:44). We are taken up with bumper-sticker theology. Any kind of spiritual thought that goes beyond “how to have a happy family” seems to be incomprehensible to modern Christians. The only kind of Christianity we want is a pragmatic kind that shows us how to have a positive mental attitude, get ahead with our career plans, win friends and influence people.

What’s happened is that we’ve made over our theology and preaching agenda into an image of ourselves. When I first began to preach about the necessity for a transformed and obedient life, someone would always come up to me and say, “Let’s be careful here not to put people on guilt trips and teach legalism.” Such people want the Gospel and the Bible to stop with the phrase, “Christians aren’t perfect; they’re just forgiven.” That’s the end of their theology. That’s all that fits on their bumper sticker!

Well, that’s not the Gospel—and I’m not teaching perfectionism either. But we have to question a Christianity that has so distorted the doctrine of grace that a simple call to obedience is mistaken for legalism. Challenging people to live the normal Christian life rather than accommodate themselves to sin is not a guilt trip or manipulation. These phrases are frequently used today as a smoke-screen defense by self-serving believers who don’t want their fantasy-land religion upset by the truth. This narrow view of salvation has impoverished our faith more than we realize.

Whatever happened to the teachings of Jesus on eternal judgment in hell? Why don’t we warn people about the terrible punishment that awaits them if they don’t turn back to God now? It’s astonishing that so-called Bible-believing Christians have, in effect, taken a pair of scissors and snipped out vast sections of the Scriptures.

Jesus lived daily with an awareness of the awful consequences of rejecting the grace of God—but why isn’t His Body connected today to the passion of a Savior who died to save men and women from eternal flames? How can we be casual about the lost world when God considered it so important that His only solution was Calvary?

“This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:6–7).

We have spoiled our children and youth. Why is it that the young people of our churches are given fun and games rather than the challenge of the Great Commission? The preteen and teenage years are so critical. This is when most young people choose their careers and mates—probably the two biggest decisions that determine the course of any believer’s life. Anyone who has ever worked with adolescents will tell you that this is probably the highest point in our lives for energy and idealism. Teens want to test out the ethics and morality of their church and parents to see if it really works.

But what are we giving them instead? The standard answer is to hire a youth director to plan parties and trips based around the premise: “You can be a Christian and have fun too!” How many millions of our youth have been ruined by the introduction of this worldly Christianity just at the moment in life when they most need to see reality?

What would happen if instead we treated our youth with total seriousness, exposing them to mission field learning experiences? Opportunities to love and sacrifice for others? To serve on the front lines of the Gospel? Will parents back this kind of program? If not, why not? How long can we go on ducking this question? We have ruled out the supernatural and opted for self-sufficient, computerized Christianity. Technology is the modern-day magic of our culture. It gives its users an incredible but false sense of power and control. To many today, knowledge and information have become equal to doing.

This is why the Church has become the world’s greatest collector of knowledge and expertise. And this is also why we’re so dependent today on consultants. How many pastors spend far more time meeting with church-growth consultants, fund-raisers and salesmen than they do seeking the face of God for His will, plans and solutions? We are becoming more and more dependent on horizontal, rationalistic, here-and-now solutions to our problems. We’ve become terrific consumers of products, seminars, shortcuts—anything, it seems, that does not require us to wait on the Lord for vertical solutions to our dilemmas.

Stand outside a typical church next weekend and watch the congregation leave the worship service. Why do so many look as if they’ve just left the local movie theater, laughing and casual? Why are others sad and troubled with unsolved personal problems? Why are some so obviously bound by addictions and sin? Are these the faces of people who have had a face-to-face encounter with the Living God? Where is the reverence and awe we would expect from a people who have just witnessed the miraculous? What is really going on in our churches today?

The haunting question that must be asked about the status of Christianity is this: Why do a people who have so much have so little? With all this knowledge and skill, why is there no great move of God in our churches today? When are we going to look ourselves in the mirror and say, “OK, I know enough now. I’ve trained enough. I’ve consulted enough. What am I going to do about my knowledge of God and His ways? When is my life going to demonstrate His compassion to the needy world around me?”

We are following false shepherds. The Church today is being ravaged by deceived men who spread half-gospels and lead millions of people astray with false teachings. I don’t want to take time and space here to list examples of these religious con-artists, and there would be very little profit in doing so anyway. It’s sufficient to say that they’re everywhere, and many of them sound doctrinally correct.

But we should be asking some even more relevant questions, not resting until we get the answers in our spirits: Why do we let these people into our homes via radio, television and the Internet? Why do we go to their seminars, conferences and churches? Why do we buy their books and DVDs? Why do we give millions of dollars to keep their man-centered ministries going? Few Christians can say they haven’t been taken in by these wolves at one time or another. What is it, then, that is making us so vulnerable to their seductive doctrines?

But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, . . . beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; . . . These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest: to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever (2 Peter 2:1, 14, 17).

Hyper-activism and Dead Works

We have fallen victim to hyper-activism and dead works. Modern churches are among the most frenzied organizations in the world. In almost any average-sized community, the calendar is so full that you can keep going almost day and night on a year-round basis. The unwary believer is challenged constantly to join this merry-go-round of religious activities and fellowship. Because yielding the time and money we control to Christ is such an important test of stewardship, many a sincere but naïve Christian falls into this trap of carnal activism.

For many, workaholism is as addictive as alcohol or smoking. Such victims of religious “busyness” are little different from cultists on the treadmill of earning their salvation by penance, selling books or doing good works. Their bookshelves are full of Christian books and videos. They’re always off to another meeting or seminar. Christian broadcasts and CDs play in their cars. They’re the kind of people who are present every time the church door opens. But in the wake of these busy Christians are often broken homes, relationships and churches. Family, friends and co-workers shake their heads and instinctively pull back. Jesus predicted that the branch connected to the vine would produce much spiritual fruit. But too often our frantic lives are barren.

Where in our oh, so busy, busy lives of Christian service is Christ Himself? Where is the fruit that would authenticate our works? Are we merely acting out the motions of the Christian life, or is the Spirit of God being released in our religious activities? To answer this question and so many others, we need to cross a bridge. Too few modern Christians even know it exists—but there is no other way for the world-weary believer to go. It means giving up our fairy-tale notions about Christ and Christianity. It means stepping away from the comfortable Christianity—the one we have conformed to our culture. But for the man and woman God uses, there can be no other direction.

How Long Will We Be Duped?

By now I’m sure you’re already asking yourself the most critical of all questions: Is there any hope for a people who have fallen so far away from authentic Christian living? Recently a dear friend and fellow minister in New York City went through an experience that has to be every parent’s worst nightmare. And I need to tell this story at this point because I think it parallels vividly what I’ve been trying to say about Christians and Christian culture today. This true story gives me hope and confidence in the measureless grace of God.

For the sake of those involved, I’ll call their daughter Mary. Although Mary appeared to be a model child in her early years, she and the whole family obviously had many unresolved spiritual and mental problems. Mary grew up in the church, surrounded with every physical and spiritual advantage a child could have. I had stayed in their home on several occasions—yet nothing prepared me for the shock of what this beautiful girl became in her rebellious teenage years. As a high school sophomore, she began having behavior problems at church and school. Frustrated family and friends couldn’t get through to her. Numerous attempts at counseling only made the problems worse. Mary refused to listen to even the most loving advice. It seemed that if something was against the rules, Mary had to do it—the more outrageous, the better! Eventually, no one could control her. She began disappearing for days on end to act out a prodigal life of drug abuse and illicit sex, which led to suicide attempts. Her father and other friends from church often walked the streets of Times Square looking for her among the thousands of teenage runaways who were attracted there from all over the nation.

After many attempts to stop her, one discouraged friend after another quit trying to get through. Thus began two years of life in and out of jails, institutions and hospitals. Mary’s life was still on a fast track to destruction when the Lord finally reached her in a rescue mission. Thank God, her story has a happy ending. She turned back to Christ and today is living for the Lord.

But I tell this story of Mary the prodigal because it could easily be the story of the Christian church today. We also are prodigal. As congregations—and as individuals—we’re out of touch with reality. Like Mary, we’re not listening, not submitting to our spiritual head. What’s more, we’re in such total rebellion against Christ that we’re hardly aware anything is wrong! In our story, Mary finally came to that point where she realized she had to return to God or end up dead in some back alley. But although Christianity today is desperately sick, still we refuse to admit our need for crisis intervention. We’re so busy with our own plans, agendas, activities and pleasures that we’ve lost sight of the one and only purpose for which Christ redeemed us.

The world is dictating its standards to us, and believers have been taken captive by the powers of darkness. We are living in a generation that is no more the Body of Christ exercising authority over the powers of this world. Instead, the world is dictating its sordid standards to us. We are not manifesting the life and power of Christ. Instead, we’re living in captivity and bondage. We are not storming the gates of hell. Instead, we’re falling over one another in retreat—looking for foxholes, hiding from the Enemy. Why is the army of God in retreat before the world, the flesh and the devil? Will we ever again be able to display the glorious love of the living Christ? Will this dark and dying world ever see Jesus in us again?

My answer is yes—a thousand times, yes! There is a way out of this mess. We don’t have to remain living in powerless, insipid hypocrisy. God has ordained for us to demonstrate Christ to a lost and dying world. He wills for us to have victory. He wants us to recover our lost authority and live again as He did. Authentic Christianity is not reserved only for missionary heroes and super-saints. It is not something that happens only on faraway foreign fields or in the pages of the Bible. It must and will blossom forth right on the street where you live, at your work, in your school. It is for every believer, whatever your calling or circumstances. Jesus wants to extend Himself into your world. However, for this miracle of abundant life to happen, you must make daily choices. God will never force you to walk the road to spiritual reality. It is a journey you must decide to begin personally.

Spiritual reality begins when, like Moses at the burning bush, we come face-to-face with the Living God. Up until that moment, Moses had tried in his own power to deliver Israel without success. His self-appointed rescue attempts floundered, but then for the first time, he saw the invisible Creator on the mount of God. What a transformation came to this disgraced prince. Moses was empowered from on high. From then on, he counted it a privilege to forsake the splendor of Egypt and suffer with the people of God.

Could it be that many of us have not yet turned aside at the burning bush to gaze at the real Jesus? We must begin our spiritual journey there—not with the plastic substitutes so often offered on the airwaves today. How long will we go on being duped by the phony “christs” that are circulated by the purveyors of television’s pop religion? The secret of the abundant life is Christ and Christ alone. We must see the real Jesus. We must have a correct vision of who He is and, therefore, who we are to incarnate and serve during our time on earth. Only then will we begin to rediscover the authority, glory and power of His majesty. He is head of the Church and our Lord. We were made for Him and His pleasure. This is not the same God we are being taught to manipulate and order about by the superstars of today’s religion. The true Jesus rules— and that means He rules us. The true Jesus reigns—and that means He reigns over us. We must learn that our proper place is at the feet of the Lord Jesus. Only then will we find the key to unlock His plans and purposes in our individual lives. What awe, reverence and worship the very names of our Lord should evoke in the spirit of every true believer.

As we have a fuller realization of our true place in creation, the wonder of Christ dwelling in us becomes the beginning of understanding. Yet this awareness remains a secret to so many in our age, because our real worship has shifted from the King of the universe. We adore our own abilities, bodies, minds and talents rather than the God who gave them to us.

Contrary to the popular thinking of Christianity today, the Lord did not reach down and save us from sin and death so that we might be merely happy, healthy and wealthy. Those who teach this have invented another gospel and portray a false christ—the god of this age rather than the God of the Bible. A gospel without the cross is no Gospel at all.

God’s purpose for man, from the moment He created us, has never changed. We have always been destined for the throne—created to rule with the One who created all things for Himself. First, we are to be the Body—the hands and feet of Jesus in this present world. “And he is the head of the body, the church,” says Colossians 1:18. All who believe and have been baptized into Christ are the Church. Now we know that our head, Jesus Christ, is at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us. But the Bible says His body is somewhere else. His body is us. We are left here on earth to carry out His desires and will. The purpose of the body is to fulfill the commands, desires and wishes of the head. We are attached to the head so that we might manifest the mind of Christ and do His will on earth.

God has so ordered the world that right now we are His primary agents of redemption to lost humanity. Our hands are His hands; our feet are His feet; our tongues are His tongue. This means that the basic way God expresses His limitless love today is through the Church. Lost men and women in this dark and dying world will not be found unless we search for them. In 1 John 4:17 we read, “As he is, so are we in this world.” I love the way Moffatt translates this in his classic version of the English New Testament. It reads, “. . . since in this world we are living as He is.”

This makes it abundantly clear that a believer’s life ought to so represent Christ that the world can once again see Jesus. We follow Him in a way that others can taste again the presence of Jesus walking and living among them. The only way that Christ is presently incarnated to a lost world is through us—we are carrying on and extending His presence, His Word and His works to a new generation. When Jesus walked the shores of Galilee, He revealed the image of the Father to lost and sinful men. This glorious ministry is now ours as we reveal the mind of Christ to the lost around us.

Second, we are ambassadors of Christ in the courts of a rebellious world. As Jesus prepared to leave this world and return to His Father, He called the disciples together. “All authority is given to Me in heaven and in earth,” He declared. “Now go in My name—as the Father has sent Me, so I send you.” Later, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul described us as “Christ’s ambassadors.”

An ambassador is a person who represents his country in an alien land. He is given authority by his government to represent the best interests of his nation. He can make and break contracts for his government and handle all kinds of affairs, both civil and military. Ambassadors exercise enormous power and influence, particularly when they represent a powerful kingdom.

The Bible tells us that we are no more citizens of this world. Our citizenship is in heaven. We have been translated from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. We belong to our sovereign King, and His name is Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords. As ambassadors sent to this world from another kingdom, how then are we to live and represent our King? Under a real monarchy, you do not debate the wishes of the king. You simply obey without discussion or question.

The Lord Jesus left us with a clear picture of His desires for our generation. We know from Scripture exactly what He wants us to be doing. We even know what kind of behavior He wants the world to see in us, because He taught us His lifestyle both by word and example.

Third, He wants us to operate in His authority and power. Christ wants us to move in the same mysterious authority and power that surrounded His earthly ministry. In Matthew 7:29 we read, “For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” He confounded the best academics and theologians of His day—as well as kings and rulers of all sorts. From the beginning of the Church, we see this same quality reproduced among the apostles.

In Acts 4, Peter and John are dragged before the Sanhedrin—the most powerful religious court in Israel. They are questioned about where they received authority and power to heal a cripple. In verse 10, Peter, in the power of the Holy Spirit, boldly replies, “Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.” This was an eloquent answer, and it stunned the lawyers and priests. In verse 13 we read, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.”

Now we get the full picture. These highly educated, suave, sophisticated leaders recognized that something unusual was happening. Something out of this world was going on! They weren’t used to having a bunch of blue-collar “rednecks” answer like that. By this they knew that these less-educated fishermen had been with Jesus. The same energy that blazed out at them from the Galilean they had killed was alive again in these disciples. Those who did not want such light and life were very threatened.

So we see that through Christ we are potentially restored to live as God originally intended man to live in the Garden of Eden. God gave man authority in Genesis chapter one—and now we are expected to live and serve Him in that power. Does this “job description” make you feel a little uncomfortable? It did me, too, when I compared the lives we lead today with the life of a normal Christian as described in the New Testament. How is it possible to live as His body, be His ambassador and operate in His power and authority? Isn’t God making impossible demands on His fallen creation? Of course not! God would not ask us to have this kind of authority and power-filled life without also making a provision for us to live such a supernatural existence.

The key scripture that explains the secret of this divine indwelling is Galatians 2:20: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” God does not commit His authority at random to anyone. This verse is basic to understanding the process of incarnating Christ to our generation.

Christ’s life is mine by faith. It is called by many names, but this exchanged life is the only acceptable New Testament norm. Anything less is a sick substitute for reality. I have been crucified—it is no longer I who live. Our ego is dead. Our will is submitted and surrendered. We cannot let circumstances, family, friends, the government, the media, religious leaders or Satan himself lead us to anything less than reality.

But something is still very wrong. Why are so few living out the “not I, but Christ” lifestyle that Paul describes in Galatians 2:20? Although God eagerly desires to manifest Himself within us, I believe it is because so few of us have learned to let the cross do its deadly work in our flesh on a daily basis. We haven’t yet come to a full understanding of the cross. We must return to Calvary.

The glory and presence of Christ will return to our lives and churches only when we have rediscovered the cross of Christ. The cross has two operations. First, on it Christ paid the penalty for our sins and thus bought our eternal salvation. But it doesn’t stop there. The second work of the cross provides for our ongoing sanctification—the daily, continuous crucifixion of our flesh.

This great doctrine is not very popular lately because it requires a voluntary acceptance of death to ego or self. Someone has put it this way, “If self is on the throne, then Christ is on the cross. If Christ is on the throne, then self is on the cross.” This is why Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:10 that we are “always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.” Accepting death to my ego is the only way to manifest the life of Christ. Putting my “self” to death is the only way to exchange my life for His.

I believe that this is the real meaning of Galatians 2:20 when Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ.” So here is the spiritual law of the flesh: The measure to which I will manifest the life of Christ is the same measure to which I am willing to put my “self” to death.

When Jesus walked on earth, God was showing us not only what He was like but also what He wanted man to be like. Jesus had authority and power because He constantly submitted Himself to the will of the Father in every matter. Christ pleased the Father and reflected the Father perfectly because He perfectly put to death His flesh. And we repeat this cycle as we submit to our head, the Lord Jesus. This is the life that is connected to Jesus, the head, on a decision by-decision basis. It is the submitted, dead-to-self life that the Lord can animate and use for His glory. It is the only kind of life He will empower and use.

If we’re rightly connected to the head in this way, it would be hard to imagine making any decision without first submitting it to Christ for His approval. What would that do to the way we spend our time? What does Christ say about the television shows and the movies we view, the music we listen to, or the catalogs and magazines we read? What about our activities—church, clubs, leisure time, friendships, hobbies, prayer, service, sports and study? What about our relationships with boyfriends, girlfriends, mentors and role models? Whom do we idolize and pattern our lives after? What about our purchases, both the large and small ones? Is our shopping basket under His control? Does He direct the checks we write? What about the “big buys”—our car, home and insurance? What about our intake of food and drink? Is Christ or our appetites in control? And of course, there are those major decisions in life—full-time missionary service, career and job plans, education and the choice of a mate.

For the Christian, none of these things is any longer a personal decision. It is not what others say, what self says or what circumstances dictate. The only valid question is always, What does Christ say to me about this decision? But most of us find ourselves making even the big decisions without prayer and waiting for guidance from the Holy Spirit. Obviously, the gap between this kind of biblical Christianity and the shallow spirituality of our day is a significant one. How different is this kind of self-sacrificing faith from the pleasure-seeking, self-serving, wimpy religion so often preached and practiced in our churches!

The Bible contains unchanging laws. Therefore, we cannot cast out, bind with spiritual words, deny or command away that which the Bible declares needs to be crucified—our flesh. There is no shortcut to the victorious life. God is not going to put your flesh to death for you. He did His part on Calvary. Now we are told in Romans 8 to “mortify the deeds of the body.” We must choose to experience the reality of Galatians 2:20.

Some people believe they need to wait on God to deliver them, to come and crucify their flesh. They have a false notion that they have to remain neutral and let God do some kind of “sanctification work” on their flesh. Nothing could be further from the truth. His work was completed on the cross 2,000 years ago. Now we have to act on the freedom He has earned for us. We are called upon to put the flesh to death on a moment-by-moment basis—by faith—in the same way receive salvation in the first place. It is all of grace by faith. The only human action required is the submission of your will to His.

Unless we as humans are tied into and connected to Christ our head, we are nothing and have no purpose. Even the greatest geniuses of art and science are only a marred, shallow reflection of the God who created our universe in the first place. Jesus died that we might be plugged into Him, as the branches are part of the vine.

The Bible tells us that all the works of the flesh will be burned up. How hard it is to accept this. We still want to do the work of the Lord in our own power and strength—be it with our education, talent or wealth. But in the eyes of God, it is still just educated flesh, talented flesh or rich flesh—all to be burned up in judgment and rejected by Him. We must come to that place of absolute understanding that as human beings there is nothing in us—not our looks, background, education, riches, talents or anything else you can add—that will enable us to live the kind of life God wants us to live in our generation.

You see, following Christ means making a 180-degree turnaround. It is an exchange. My life for His life. There is no longer any parallel existence of both together. It is no longer what I want. It is not my will, my way, my plans, my wishes—but only what He wants. The question is always, What does my Master say? What does He want? Then all that I have is His. My hands, legs, heart, eyes, ears, finances, family, dreams and visions—everything belongs to Christ. He is able to live, breathe, walk, touch, weep, look and hear through the earthen vessel of my body.

This is the true message of Easter!

Excerpt from The Road to Reality: Coming Home to Jesus from an Unreal World by K.P. Yohannan

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Why Are You Afraid?

I would like to invite you to return to where we left off a few weeks ago in our studies in the gospel of Mark. We will examine two incidents — the stilling of the storm on the sea of Galilee, and that which follows immediately, the healing of the demoniac. It is very appropriate that these two incidents be brought before us, for both deal with the problem of fear, with what to do about fear.

The Scriptures deal often with the subject of fear among believers, or among human beings in general, because it is so common to our humanity. These two incidents will help us. The background of the first is in Chapter 4, Verses 35-36:

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them, just as he was, in the boat. And other boats were with him. (Mark 4:35-36 RSV)

It is clear that this comes when our Lord was at the point of utter physical exhaustion. You remember that in this section of Mark we are dealing with a theme which Mark emphasizes in several incidents — the effects of popularity upon the ministry of Jesus. This is the time in his ministry when he is beset with crowds everywhere he turns, multitudes of people thronging from all over the country, jostling, crowding about him, demanding to be healed of many diseases. Mark tells us how Jesus seeks to quiet their attention toward physical healing and to awaken them toward spiritual truth. The first incidents revealed to us the opposition that popularity awakens. Popularity is not all good; it can be very bad, at times. And it awakened a satanic opposition against his ministry. Then in the next section we saw how this popularity necessitated a dimming of light, as manifested in the parables Jesus began to speak in place of the absolutely open statement of the truth he gave earlier.

And now we come to the physical exhaustion produced by the tremendous demands of the crowds upon Jesus. Here he is, at the end of a very heavy day of teaching, of ministering, and of healing. He is worn out. He gets in the boat and says to the disciples, “Let’s get away. Let’s go to the other side of the lake” — to the eastern shore, about five miles away. Mark makes clear that this was unpremeditated on Jesus’ part: “They took him with them, just as he was.” He made no preparation for this journey. And the incident which follows grew out of these circumstances.

Mark also indicates that there were certain witnesses present to testify to the unusual phenomenon which occurred: “And other boats were with him.” Mark adds that to reassure us that what happened during that journey was not an hallucination.

One of the popular commentators on this section suggests that there really was no stilling of the storm, that what happened in the midst of this great storm was that our Lord merely settled the disciples’ fear, and that there was a great calm in their hearts. It was the peace that came into their hearts which made them think he had done a miracle and stilled the storm. But this does not take note of the fact that there were other boats nearby whose occupants saw this miracle and bore witness of it. The incident is recorded in the verses that follow:

And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. (Mark 4:37-39 RSV)

There are all the raw elements of drama in that incident. There is the raging storm which came suddenly upon the sea. This happens yet today in the rugged country to the northeast of the sea of Galilee, what today we call the Golan Heights. In that broken, torn terrain, it is easy for the winds to gather and suddenly to break out upon the sea. Under these conditions, a violent and raging storm can arise in just a few moments. As these disciples set out in the calm of the evening to cross to the eastern shore, such a storm broke out. Within moments the sea was frothing, waves mounting up. It was a great wind, Mark says. They found themselves in the midst of this tremendous, raging storm, the boat filling rapidly as water came dashing over the bow. The disciples panicked! Sailors though they were, they knew this storm was greater than anything they had seen before, and they feared they were going to perish. So they came and woke Jesus, asking, “Teacher, do you not care that we perish?”

This indicates the storm had already begun when Jesus went to sleep. If it had not, they would not have charged him with indifference to their plight. If he had gone to sleep immediately and not even known the storm had arisen, they would have wakened him to let him know. But they charged him with indifference. In the midst of a growing peril, Jesus had gone to sleep. This is what bothered the disciples. So they came to him, concerned and upset not only because of their common peril but because of the apparent indifference of the Lord to their need.

Have you ever felt like that? These incidents in Scripture are not merely to tell us what happened two thousand years ago; they are parables for us, designed to illustrate exactly what happens to us in the spiritual realm of our lives. Who of us has not felt this way at times? Here we are in trouble, and God does not seem to care. There is no answer to our prayers. He seems indifferent. Nothing seems to happen when we go to him troubled and distraught and panicky. We cry out, and there is no answer. This was the trouble with these disciples.

But then as they woke him, our Lord arose and, without saying a word to them at first, rebuked the wind and, literally, “muzzled” the sea, and then reproached the disciples. They had come with the words, “Don’t you care that we’re perishing?” Matthew adds that they said, “Save us, Lord, or we perish!” (Matthew 8:25). I do not know what they expected him to do. What he did do took them utterly by surprise; they did not expect it. But they were panicky, and when we panic, this is our attitude is it not? They were saying, in effect, “Don’t just lie there; do something!” So he arose, and his first words were to rebuke the wind and muzzle the sea. He said to the wind, “Peace!” and to the sea, “Be still!” And what happened astonished these disciples there suddenly came a great calm.

Now, the miracle lies not in the stilling of the storm, for even nature would do that eventually, but in the suddenness with which it happened. All of a sudden the wind, which had been roaring and beating about their ears, stopped, and there was absolute stillness. And the waves, which had been dashing over the bow, filling the boat, threatening them, mounting up higher on every side, were suddenly stilled, as though a giant hand pressed them down, and there was a great calm. This is what impressed them. All the way across the lake to the other side, and to the mountains on the east, the whole lake suddenly stilled, and they realized that this was indeed a supernatural stilling of the storm.

When the account says that the Lord rebuked the wind and spoke to the sea, “Be muzzled, Be quiet!” we need to understand that he was not really speaking to the elements. After all, what good does it do to address the air as it is flowing by? Or to speak to water that is raging? I think of the story of the king who tried to stop the tides, commanded them to cease, and they ignored him, as tides will, and came rolling right on in. No, I do not think our Lord was really speaking to these elements of air and sea. What we need to understand from this is that he, knowing so clearly and so well that which is invisible to us and which we so often forget, spoke rather to the demonic forces behind the raging of the storm and the sea.

We must never forget that we live in a fallen world, and that, as the Scriptures tell us, the whole world is in the grip of the devil and his agents. This includes the physical world as well. Behind the disasters we read of so frequently, and sometimes experience — earthquakes. famines, floods, droughts, cyclones, tornadoes, hurricanes — is oftentimes the malevolent attack of Satan upon humanity. Jesus understood this, and he rebuked not the wind, but the one who aroused it. He lived in the constant realization, as the Apostle Paul said, that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, wicked spirits in high places” (Ephesians 6:12 KJV), who are able to affect humanity at various levels of life. It was these Jesus rebuked. Interestingly, the words he used here are exactly the same words he used when he rebuked the demon that interrupted his discourse in the synagogue at Capernaum, as recorded in the first chapter of this book. So he is addressing the unseen, invisible world here. The result was a great calm. Then he chided the disciples:

He said to them, “Why are you afraid?” (Mark 4:40b RSV)

Is that not a strange question to ask men who were in danger of losing their lives? Just a moment earlier they were tossing about in a boat which was filling rapidly with water, in the midst of a raging storm, with no hope of help. Why shouldn’t they be afraid? Yet Jesus asked them, “Why are you afraid?” And then he put his finger on the reason:

“Have you no faith?” (Mark 4:40c RSV)

This is why people become afraid — because they lose faith. Faith is the answer to fear. This is the first lesson which comes to us out of this incident. Faith is always the answer to our fears, regardless of what they are. Jesus put his finger right on it: “Have you no faith?”

Well, evidently they did not. They had forgotten all the things he said to them in the Sermon on the Mount about the extent of God’s care for them: “You are much more valuable than flowers and birds. God cares for them; will he not much more care for you, O ye of little faith?” Matthew 6:30). Here he was in the boat with them; their fate would be his fate; and yet they had forgotten this.

How would these men have acted, do you think, if they had had faith? Suppose their faith had been strong — their faith in him and in God’s care and love — what would they have done? One thing is certain: they would not have wakened him; they would have let him rest. He was weary and tired, and needed the rest badly. They would have done so because their faith would have reminded them of two great facts: One, the boat will not sink; it cannot sink when the Master of ocean and earth and sky is in it. Two, the storm will not last forever.

A year or so ago, a good friend of mine, a handsome young evangelist from another country, told me about all the troubles he and his wife were going through. He was very dejected. She was struggling with severe physical problems ill health arising from asthma and bronchitis which constantly kept her down. They had gone through years of struggle with this condition of hers already, and it seemed to pull the bottom out of everything he attempted to do. Here they were planning to go back to their own country, and now she was sick again. He came to me so discouraged.

I remember turning to this incident in Mark and reciting this story, and saying to him, “Remember, the boat will not sink, and the storm will not last forever. That is having faith — to remember those facts.” He thanked me, we prayed together, and he left. I did not see him for a couple of months; then we ran into each other. I said, “How are things going? How is your wife?” He said, “Oh, not much better. She’s still having terrible struggles. She can’t breathe, and can’t take care of the children or the house, and we have a hard time. But I do remember two things: the boat will not sink, and the storm will not last forever!” So I prayed with him again.

Just a couple weeks ago I received a note from him. They had gone back to their country, and there they had found the answer. A doctor discovered a minor deficiency in her diet which needed to be remedied. When that was done, the asthma and bronchitis disappeared, and she was in glorious, radiant health, and they were rejoicing together. At the bottom of the page he had written, “The boat will not sink, and the storm will not last forever.”

As C. S. Lewis wrote,

I’ll tell you how to look at it. Haven’t you noticed how, in our own little war here on earth, there are different phases, and while any one phase is going on people get into the habit of thinking and behaving as if it were going to be permanent? But really the thing is changing under your hands all the time, and neither your assets nor your dangers are the same as the year before.

The significance of this event to us is that faith is the answer to fear — faith in the goodness and care of God in our lives, faith that he loves us and he is able to work in our midst. But there is still another lesson. It is that failure in faith is the doorway to greater vision. What happened here?

He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” And they were filled with awe, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

The word translated “awe” means “fear,” but it is a different kind of fear than that which occurs earlier. Then it was cowardly fear; here it is that sense of deep respect which has awe at its heart. Thus out of the failure of their faith there came this deeper impression,  which filled them with a deep sense of awe: “Who can this be, that even wind and sea obey him, who controls all the elements of the natural world. Who then is this?” The wonderful thing about this incident is that even though the disciples flunked their examination of faith, the groundwork was laid for a new expression of faith the next time they were under test. Thus their own failure opened the possibility for a new expression of faith to come.

This is the way the Lord works in our life. He does this very same thing with us. He tests our faith all the time, in order that we might grow. And if our faith is strong enough we will see that he can handle the problem, that he knows how. But even if our faith is weak, he still will not let us collapse utterly. He will hold us up and see us through and, somehow in the process, lay the foundation of a new glimpse of his might and power which will enable our faith to grow stronger for the next time.

Let us turn now to the next incident, which follows immediately in Chapter 5:

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when he had come out of the boat, there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who lived among the tombs; and no one could bind him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been bound with fetters and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the fetters he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out, and bruising himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped him [i.e., knelt before him]; and crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me. ” For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many. “And he begged him eagerly not to send them out of the country[to the abyss]. Now a great herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside; and they begged him, “Send us to the swine, let us enter them. ” So he gave them leave. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea. (Mark 5:1-13 RSV)

This incident opens before us again the whole realm of the occult and the demonic, and the oppression of mankind by these evil and unclean spirits. In this day we have seen ample demonstration of the actuality of these forces in our world and perhaps we are much more prepared to understand this story than we would have been ten years ago. In this account we have a very remarkable listing for us of the signs of “demon possession.”

I was interested to note that the New Testament never actually uses the term “demon possession.” It is a term which has been invented, but it may not be very accurate. The word in Scripture is always “demonized.” Whether it means possession or control or influence or whatever, this is the word which is used. We have read into it the idea of “demon possession.” Perhaps that is an accurate term; I am not prepared, at the moment at least, to say categorically that it is not. But I do not think it wise to use it, because it is not used in Scripture.

It is evident that there are various stages and degrees to which demons, evil spirits, can affect and possess or control human beings. In this incident we have an extreme case, and there are listed here some seven signs which indicate when demonic spirits are at work in the life of an individual. The first is the word “unclean”. There is always an element of the unclean present in demonic effect. Some moral or physical filth or pollution is evident. In this case, the man lived among the tombs, i.e., among the dead bodies in the limestone caves which lined the cliffs along the sea of Galilee where they placed their dead. You always find this element — the demonic living in the midst of dirt and squalor and rubbish, or evidencing moral pollution. It is no accident that the rise of satanism and occultism in these last few years has been coincident with the spread of pornography and obscenity in the media, in our movies and literature. These are always related. There is an uncleanness about these evil spirits. They love filth and obscenity and pollution.

The second sign evident here is the isolation in which this man lived. He had a home, and he had friends, because Jesus sent him back to both at the end of the story. But he chose to live by himself in utter segregation, away from humanity, cut off from them. In every case of demonic influence you find this attitude of withdrawal, a willingness to be separate physically or emotionally from other people.

Then there was the supernatural strength he exhibited. This is often the case. There are many instances today of people possessed or controlled by demons exercising unusual strength. This man had been bound with chains and fetters. But he had snapped the chains and torn off the fetters, and no one had the strength to subdue him — a remarkable demonstration of demonic power.

Another mark which is always present is a sense of torment. This man was tormented. At first, demonic influence can seem to be very alluring and seductive, very attractive and fascinating. But that is designed to lead one on until finally this torment sets in, the deep sense of restlessness which this man exhibited, wandering up and down the mountains, crying out in pain at the torment he felt within, bruising himself with stones — evidently in an attempt to drive out his inner torment. This is very characteristic of demonic influence.

Another element always present is the immediate recognition of the authority of Jesus. This man, when he saw Jesus, knew immediately who he was. He came running to him and called him by name, using the phrase demons always employ, “Son of the Most High God.” This is very revealing, because it is the highest name a nonbeliever can know or use to refer to God — “the Most High God.” It is used all through the Old Testament by members of the Gentile nations. Israel knew him as Jehovah — “Lord.” Everyone else knew him as El Elyon, “God Most High.” This is how the demons refer to him.

Then there is the duality or multiplicity of personality which is exhibited here. Notice Verse 9: “Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He replied, ‘My name is Legion, for we are many.'” And in Verse 10 the demoniac begged Jesus not to send them to the abyss. There is this awareness of at least a double personality, what psychologists call “schizophrenia.”

The last mark is that of suicidal tendencies, the destructiveness which is present in demonic influence. Not all suicidal tendencies come from this, but this is clearly a mark here. When the demons were cast out, they entered into the swine, and what did they do? All two thousand of them rushed down the mountainside and drowned in the sea. Thus the demons, who had asked to enter the swine in order not to go into the abyss, defeated their own purpose, and, because of the death of the swine, had to enter the abyss anyway. That is why Jesus gave them permission to enter into the swine. The death of the swine was a tremendous testimony to this man that he was indeed free from the demons that had inhabited him. But it was also the means by which these demons were sent into the abyss where they belonged.

Now we have the sequel to the story:

The herdsmen fled, and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And they came to Jesus, and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. And those who had seen it told what happened to the demoniac and to the swine. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their neighborhood. (Mark 5:14-17 RSV)

What a strange reaction — and yet it is not so strange, is it? When these people heard the news several hours later, they came to see what had happened. By this time the man had gone home and clothed himself, had come back to Jesus, and was sitting at his feet, listening to him. They saw him sitting there at rest — this man who had been so restless — and clothed, prepared to enter society again, no longer withdrawn, afraid of people. And he was in his right mind — at peace with himself, no civil war raging within any longer. They saw this deliverance. It was evident to them that here was a man set free.

But they are hit in the most tender part of their anatomy — their pocketbook. And instead of rejoicing, they plead with Jesus to leave. Society is always doing this. We see it in our own day. Whenever there is a question of the welfare of an individual versus the wealth of the many, society invariably chooses the wealth of the many rather than the welfare of one.

Twenty-five years or more ago, I read a poem by John Oxenham based upon this incident in Scripture. I never memorized it all, but one stanza sticks in my memory. He put it very graphically. These people came to Jesus and said to him,

Rabbi, be gone! And take this fool of thine!
You love his soul; we prefer swine.

This is what humanity says so frequently. Well, the end of the story is that as Jesus, obeying this injunction to leave the neighborhood,

…was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. But he refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and all men marveled. (Mark 5:18b-20 RSV)

The Decapolis were ten Greek cities on the eastern side of the sea of Galilee, including Damascus. It was to this Gentile community that Jesus commanded this man to go and bear witness. Among the Jews, he told them not to say a word, lest he be overwhelmed by people mobbing him, making impossible an orderly ministry. But here among the Gentiles he sent this man back. What a beautiful pattern of witness he established! He told him to go home, and not to go around from door to door explaining the plan of salvation, but simply to tell his friends what happened to him. That is what a witness is. I am not against evangelizing, but we need to understand that witnessing and evangelizing are two different things.

This man was sent to be a witness, to tell people what had happened to him. And what a story he had to tell — of how he had lived in anguish and torment, how he had been against all of humanity, a menace to anyone who came by, angry and hostile and rebellious; and yet Jesus had freed him, given him peace and joy! No wonder that as he went about in all these cities, men marveled at what they heard. Now what is the significance of these two incidents in our lives?

Mark has put them together to help us to see that Jesus is Lord — whether the enemy that threatens us and frightens us is some circumstance or event outside us, as the storm was for the disciples, or whether that which betrays and subverts us and sabotages everything we try to do is something arising from within — some habit, some attitude, some long-standing hostility or resentment we bear against another, or even some demonic influence which is ripping us and tearing us apart, making us restless and discontent. Whatever it is, Jesus is Lord. This is the message of these stories. Within or without, he reigns now in our lives. Therefore his question to us throughout the coming year remains: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”

Prayer

Lord Jesus, we thank you for your power over all the events of our lives, over all the forces which influence us. As we enter the new year, we thank you, Lord, that in the boat of this new year you are here with us to comfort and strengthen us, to reassure us, and to take us through whatever storms may come. We know you are not here to stop the storms from coming, but to take us through them. And we know that whatever forces arise from within us to distress or frighten us, you are able to handle them. And now may our spirits worship you, as we think of the greatness and glory of the One who has come to us, to be in us and among us. We thank you in your name, Amen.

Posted in Bible Teachings, Inspirational Messages | 2 Comments

Jesus: From Boyhood to Manhood

A great article by my friend Dennis Hickman:

The Bible tells us very little about Jesus’ upbringing—his growing-up years.  Church traditions have given us paintings, stained glass windows and statues of Jesus as a child with a halo around his head, many times posing piously.

But is this the real Jesus as he grew up and matured?  Was he born a holy icon, knowing and understanding all things?  Was his life as a child (and adolescent) that much different from any other Jewish male living during the first century?  We read and know from Luke 2:41-52 that at the age of 12 Jesus had already so developed in his understanding of the Scriptures that the teachers of the law were amazed at him.  How did a preteen boy gain such understanding, confidence, and wisdom?  Was he simply born with it,  or did he mature into it?

We can glean some insight to Jesus’s development and learning from Scripture.  However, by examining the culture of that period and examining his surroundings, we can see a little bit of what helped shape Jesus’s thoughts, desires, commitment, and determination.

The Formative Years

We learn from Scripture that after the visit by the Magi when Jesus was about 1.5 to 2 years old[1], Joseph (Jesus’ stepfather) was warned in a dream by an angel of Yahweh to flee to Egypt because Herod the Great wanted the child dead.

Sometime after Herod the Great’s death in 1BC, Archelaus, his son, became king in Judea. After allowing some time to pass for Archelaus to solidify his reign, an angel of Yahweh appeared to Joseph in a second dream telling him it was okay to return to Israel.  Thus, Joseph, Mary, and the child Jesus returned to Israel and settled in their small, northern former home of Nazareth (Matthew 2:13-23).  Jesus would have been between 2.5 to 3.5 years old by this time. Luke records these events in a summary in Chapter 2:40 “And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.”[2]

Nothing more is said about Jesus until he is 12 years of age.  What took place during those formative years?  Jesus was and still is human, after all; he did not issue forth from the womb with a halo around his head, having all of this great wisdom and understanding, mesmerizing everyone with his mysterious gaze as we see in the movies and paintings.  Luke tells us plainly that “the child grew and became strong and filled with wisdom”.  Some versions say “continued to grow”. What happens when children grow up?  They learn, experience life, develop their personality, habits, likes and dislikes and they mature. Furthermore, the child Jesus became strong (physically strong) and filled with wisdom.  This is a process that takes time, proper training and teaching.

R. C. H. Lenski says the following in The Interpretation of St. Luke’s Gospel regarding Luke 2:40:

“The verbs are imperfect and denote continuance, and this includes also the participle.  We refer euxaneto physical growth and ekrataiouto to mental and spiritual increase in strength, for it would be superfluous to add a second verb to tell of the physical development and to leave only a participle for the mental and spiritual growth.  The Savior of the world…grew up physically in the most normal way…”

“He grew mentally in the same way and attained more and more strength of mind, understanding and reason.”

“The young lad attained more and more wisdom…in the Biblical sense as the right knowledge of God and his salvation coupled with its application to life.”[3]

Scripture tells us that Joseph was a righteous man (Matthew 1:19) and that Mary had found favor with God (Luke 1:28).  They both were of the house (lineage) of David.  They knew Torah and were faithful, believing Jews; why else would Yahweh have chosen them to raise, teach, and care for His only begotten Son?  Being faithful followers of Yahweh, they knew and followed God’s commandments, and now they had a son, the son of God, to raise.  What would Joseph and Mary have read in the Scriptures concerning the raising of children?

1“Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the ordinances—that Yahweh your God commanded me to teach you, and you are to carry them out in the land to which you are crossing over to possess,  2so that you will fear Yahweh your God by keeping all his statutes and his commandments that I command you, you and your son and your son’s son, all the days of your life, and so that your days may be prolonged.  3Hear therefore, Israel, and be careful to do them, so that it may be well with you and so that you may increase greatly just as Yahweh, the God of your fathers, has promised to you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. 4“Hear, O Israel! Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone! 5Therefore you are to love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6These words that I command you this day are to be in your heart, 7and you are to repeat them over and over to your children and are to talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, and when you lie down and when you rise up. 8You are to bind them for a sign on your hand, and they are to be for symbols between your eyes. 9You are to write them on the door posts of your house and on your gates.

– Deuteronomy 6:1-9 (REV)

In the Jewish culture, the parents were primarily responsible for the education of the children.  Although some education would come from the local Rabbi in classes and on Sabbaths in the Synagogue, it was mainly the responsibility of the parents.  The father was responsible for teaching his children Torah, but because of the normal activates of daily life (providing a living for his family), the mother performed much of the daily teaching.  She would teach basic Torah, morals, etiquette, discipline, and obedience.  The Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4) was the first lesson to learn and memorize.

Mary and Joseph most certainly would have shared with Jesus some of the things that were said and prophesied about him.  Those things that were spoken by the Angel of God, Elizabeth, the shepherds, the Magi, Simeon and Anna (Matthew 1:20-21, 2:10-11, Luke 1:31-35, 41-45, 2:8-20, 25-35 & 36-38).  Scripture states in Luke 2:19 that Mary ‘treasured up all these things”.  The things Mary and Joseph would share with Jesus would be at the very foundation of his learning and development.

The father was also socially responsible to teach his son a trade, a means to support his future family.  Generally (and logically), that trade would be the one the father was most familiar with—his own (ex. Genesis 47:1-4).  He was also responsible to teach his children the importance of places and events.  He would explain how these had formed their lives and how God had worked with Israel throughout the ages so they could follow in the footsteps of their forefathers.

When we read that Jesus grew in “strength and wisdom”, these are not trite words.  Joseph was a builder (tekton)—not just a worker of wood, as wood was not the primary building material of choice.  He would have been adept in working with stone, mud bricks, and, yes, also wood, but possibly plaster and excavation as well.  He was a builder, a construction worker, and would have taught Jesus this art; thus, Jesus grew in strength.  This is not speaking of spiritual strength, it’s the word generally used of physical strength.  As a builder, Jesus experienced sore and strained muscles, scrapes, cuts and bruises, thirst, hunger, exhaustion, and long, grueling hours of physically and mentally challenging tasks.  This learning would serve him well in the future.

The family had settled in Nazareth, a small, quiet village just a few miles from the Roman Provincial capital Sepphoris, a booming cosmopolitan city very much in need of qualified and experienced builders.  As Joseph and Jesus would walk to Sepphoris and places in that area, it would be easy for Joseph to teach the young Jesus about the places within eyesight and about the events that took place there. Any loving Jewish father would have done this. Joseph knew who he was training—the Messiah was in his care.  I would imagine the conversations between Joseph and Jesus on their way to work were absolutely wonderful, exciting, and inspiring to Jesus.

Jesus would have also gone to Synagogue growing up.  We know this from the Gospel of Luke:

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and as his custom was he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.

– Luke 4:16

Jesus was accustomed to going to the local synagogue.  He grew up there and likely learned from the local rabbi. A young Jewish boy would attend synagogue until the age of 12 or so for his elementary education. Reading the Scriptures and writing on wax tablets, studies in Torah, and Israelite history were all taught there.

There were also academies—institutions of higher learning—in Israel at the time, although most likely only in the largest cities.  It is safe to assume Jesus did not attend one as they were very expensive, and only the wealthiest of families could afford them.  We also see signs of this in Scripture; further on in Luke 4 the people present at the public opening of Jesus’s ministry were amazed that he could speak with such grace and expound the Scriptures with such authority.

And they all were giving a good testimony about him, and were amazed at the words of grace that proceeded out of his mouth, and they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”

– Luke 4:22

At the age of 12, Jesus is in the temple in Jerusalem speaking with the teachers of the law:

And it came to pass, after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. 47And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.

– Luke 2:46-47

The record in Luke 2 with Jesus at the Temple concludes with verse 52 “And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.”

Here Lenski writes:

“Compare verse 40. “Wisdom” is placed first because Jesus at twelve already revealed its possession in a high degree; he kept attaining more and more of it.  We refer elikia to bodily stature, not to age, for it need not be said that he grew older.  Most of the pictures of Jesus are too weak.  He must have grown into a strong, impressive, commanding figure.  These pale, anemic, Christs ought to be abolished from our imagination. The sense of charis as it is explained in V. 40 is substantiated here, for it came to Jesus from men as well as from God. He stood in high favor with both.  The imperfect tense states that not only this progress continued but, as an open tense, that more is to follow. The three nouns are datives of relation.”[4]

Had he attended one of the academies, there would not have been any reason for their marveling at his grace, authority, understanding of Scripture or ability to ask and answer deep questions.

Another interesting point from the Gospel of Luke appears in verse 41:

And every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover.

– Luke 2:41

Jesus’s parents went to Jerusalem every year they were in Israel during Jesus’s upbringing.  But where was Jesus?  Mary and Joseph certainly would not have left him at home alone; he went with them, (as did presumably, his brothers and sisters).  Lenski writes very beautifully concerning this verse:

“During the childhood of Jesus Joseph and Mary regularly attended the Passover festival at Jerusalem.  Every male was originally expected to appear in Jerusalem at the Passover, at Pentecost and at Tabernacles, Exod.23:14-17; 34:23; Deut. 16:16; but the dispersion made this impossible.  Godly Jews, however, made it a point to attend at least the Passover.  Women were not required to attend, yet many did, nevertheless, and Mary belonged to this class.  We see the devoutness of the parents of Jesus, the kind of a home in which he grew up.”

Alfred Edersheim (in his work Sketches of Jewish Social Life) paints a picture of what it would be like for a child being at the Temple during one of the feasts:

“Surely no one who had ever worshipped within the courts of Jehovah’s house at Jerusalem could ever have forgotten the scenes he had witnessed, or the words he had heard. Standing in that gorgeous, glorious building, and looking up its terraced vista, the child would watch with solemn awe, not unmingled with wonderment, as the great throng of white-robed priests busily moved about, while the smoke of the sacrifice rose from the altar of burnt-offering. Then, amid the hushed silence of that vast multitude, they had all fallen down to worship at the time of incense. Again, on those steps that led up to the innermost sanctuary the priests had lifted their hands and spoken over the people the words of blessing; and then, while the drink-offering was poured out, the Levites’ chant of Psalms had risen and swelled into a mighty volume; the exquisite treble of the Levite children’s voices being sustained by the rich round notes of the men, and accompanied by instrumental music. The Jewish child knew many of these words. They had been the earliest songs he had heard—almost his first lesson when clinging as a “taph” to his mother. But now, in those white-marbled, gold-adorned halls, under heaven’s blue canopy, and with such surroundings,

they would fall upon his ear like sounds from another world, to which the prolonged threefold blasts from the silver trumpets of the priests would seem to waken him. And they were sounds from another world; for, as his father would tell him, all that he saw was after the exact pattern of heavenly things which God had shown to Moses on Mount Sinai; all that he heard was God-uttered, spoken by Jehovah Himself through the mouth of His servant David, and of the other sweet singers of Israel. Nay, that place and that house were God chosen; and in the thick darkness of the Most Holy Place—there afar off, where the high priest himself entered on one day of the year only, and in simple pure white vesture, not in those splendid golden garments in which he was ordinarily arrayed—had once stood the ark, with the veritable tables of the law, hewn and graven by the very hand of God; and between the cherubim had then throned in the cloud the visible presence of Jehovah. Verily this Temple with its services was heaven upon earth!”[5]

As Jesus grew and matured, each visit to Jerusalem and the Temple would have increased in significance.  By the age of 12 he had been to the Temple some eight or nine times, each visit making a greater impression on his heart until at the age of 12 he desired to be there, in his Father’s house; and to be, (as the KJV translates it), “about (his) Father’s business”.  It would not be too many years until Jesus would enter the Temple again and drive out the coin dealers and their sub-standard sacrificial animals (John 2:13-17).  The zeal for his Father’s house did indeed consume him.

So where did Jesus gain all of this knowledge, grace, and wisdom?  His parents?  Most definitely.  His local Rabbi?  Probably?  His study of the Scriptures and the guidance from his heavenly Father?  Absolutely!

We also can see in Luke 4 that he knew the Book of Isaiah well enough that he could quickly find where it was written:

17And he was given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. And he unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor, he has sent me to declare liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are bruised,  19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

– Luke 4:17-19

We would call this citing of Scripture “a reading of Isaiah 61: 1-2”, but in Jesus’ time there were no chapters or verse numbers, punctuation or paragraphs—not even breaks between the Hebrew words.  These were all added later to the modern Bible in the 16th and 17th centuries AD.  In addition, the scroll of Isaiah found in the tombs of Qumran measures approximately 24 feet long.  A person would need a great working knowledge of the scroll to quickly unroll it and find “the place where it was written”.  So did Jesus have access to the scrolls and did he study them with fervor? Yes, he did!

A Knowledge of Locations

What were some of the locations visible to Jesus while he grew up in Nazareth?  The town sat atop a hill on the north edge of the Jezreel valley, inside which stood the famous city of Jezreel in the tribal area of Issachar. The wicked King Ahab (possibly the most wicked King to have ever reigned in Israel) and Queen Jezebel (a worshiper of Baal) had a large palace in the city of Jezreel.  It was in this city that Jezebel framed Naboth and had him killed in order to claim ownership of Naboth’s vineyard, after which Yahweh sent Elijah to curse Ahab and Jezebel; it was also at Jezreel where the curse came to pass by the hands of Jehu, a righteous King (1 Kings 21:1-29, 2 Kings 9:30-37).

From these places, Jesus would have learned the importance of obeying God and keeping His commandments from the examples of the righteous and unrighteous Kings of Israel and what blessing or cursing followed them.  Jesus knew from Scripture that he would one day be King and sit on the throne of David.  Yahweh, his Father, had provided him with the records of the Kings of Israel to teach him how to rule and how not to.

Many years later Paul would write,

For whatever was written previously was written to teach us, that through perseverance and through the encouragement of the scriptures we would have hope.

– Romans 15:4

This is true for you and I, and it’s also a timeless truth.  The things written in the Old Testament were written for all to learn from, especially Jesus as he was growing up, maturing, and preparing for his ministry.  The examples written in Scripture and on the very soil of the places he could see daily taught the lesson of persevering under pressure and encouraged him to keep his mind and heart focused on his hope—that of being King over the entire world in the millennial kingdom (Isaiah 9:1-7 & Luke 1:32-33) and saving his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

The entire area around Nazareth was filled with places where Joshua (who shared the same name as Jesus) defeated many of the 31 evil Kings while conquering the Promised Land (Joshua 12:7-24).  Jesus would have witnessed many camel caravans coming from the North and East traveling along The Great Trunk Road, or Via Maris, through the valley of Jezreel on their way to the ports in Caesarea Marittima or down to the markets of Jerusalem, or on to Egypt.  These caravans would have looked like a small army of men and beasts moving as one toward their objective.  From this Jesus would have likely been reminded of Joshua’s leadership, his victories leading God’s people to and through the Promised Land, just as Jesus would do for all who believed in him.

To the northeast, Jesus could see the highest peaks of Mount Hermon where Baal worship once thrived, near the area (Bashan) where King Og of the Amorites was defeated by Moses and the Israelites.  20 miles south of the mountain were the ruins of the old city of Dan, where the tribe of Dan had moved after deciding they did not want to fight the Philistines in the area given to them by Joshua (Judges 18).  This decision proved to be deleterious for Dan as they became the first line of defense against every army invading from the north and northeast.  Jesus could easily see how Dan’s decision was in conflict with God’s promise (compare Joshua 1:1-9 with Joshua 19:40-48 & Judges 1:34).  He learned that decisions and actions have consequences—some good, some bad.  This shows up numerous times in the parables Jesus taught.

About four miles directly east of Nazareth stands Mount Tabor, where Deborah summoned Barak and an army of 10,000 to defeat Jabin, the King of Canaan (Judges 4).   Just to the southeast of Mount Tabor is Mount Moreh, where an army of Midianites 135,000 strong were encamped, near its northern slope. Within eyesight to the southeast of Mount Moreh stands Mount Gilboa, at the base of which Gideon assembled an army at Ein Harod to attack the Midianites.  God whittled Gideon’s force down to 300 fighting men before Gideon took them across the Jezreel valley to rout the Midianites (Judges 6:33-7:25).  From this, Jesus learned that righteous judgement leads to deliverance and blessings for God’s people (John 8:1-11).

Mount Gilboa was also the site of King Saul’s death, a tragic end of a once good King. The Philistines defeated Saul’s army after Saul sought guidance from a spirit medium at Endor, an enemy of God.  As a result, all three of Saul’s sons were killed and Saul was mortally wounded and impaled himself on his sword.  The Philistines found their bodies on Mount Gilboa and took them to Beth-Shean a few miles to the northeast, where they hung their bodies for public display.  (1 Samuel 28:3-25, 1 Samuel 31:1-13).  Beth-Shean would have brought to Jesus’ mind the valor, compassion, and reverence of the men of Jabesh Gilead who retrieved the bodies of Saul and his sons, in peril of their own lives, and disposed of them properly and reverently (1 Samuel 11:1-10, 31:11-13).  These same qualities become manifested in Jesus’s life and ministry in so many places in the Gospels (Luke 22:49-51, Matthew 23:37-39, Luke 7:36-50).

Almost directly across the Jezreel valley from Nazareth are the ruins of Tel Megiddo. It was once a fortified major city of the Canaanites, but after Joshua allocated it to the tribe of Manasseh, the Israelites failed to drive the Canaanites from Megiddo.  It sits strategically at a pass in the Carmel mountain range where the main eastern trade route to Egypt, the Via Maris, runs. At Megiddo, Ahaziah, King of Judah, who followed the ways of Ahab and Jezebel, died at the hand of Jehu (2 Kings 9:14-29).

Jesus could have easily taken day hikes (and probably did) to most all of these locations where he might meditate on the Scriptures recalling the events that had taken place there.

To the west, Jesus could see the mountain range called Mount Carmel.  Here stood another Canaanite city, the city of Carmel, that Joshua conquered.  But one of the most famous records about Mount Carmel is that of the prophet Elijah defeating the 450 false prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:19-42).  Jesus learned from the powerful life and office of the prophet Elijah; he also saw Yahweh’s sense of humor, one example of which can be found in verse 27 of the record. ”It came to pass at noon that Elijah mocked them, and said, “Shout loudly, for he is a god. Either he is deep in thought, or he has gone aside, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened.””  Later in Jesus’s ministry one can see between the lines and in the setting Jesus’s sense of humor in records like when Peter and others were tired of waiting for Jesus to appear and decided to go fishing (John 21:1-23).  And what an example Elijah must have been to an adolescent Jesus of what a true prophet of Yahweh is walking and speaking with power and boldness even in the face of what appears insurmountable odds. Jesus would do very similar in his ministry (Luke 4:16-30, 4:31-37, 7:11-17, 8:26-56).

Jesus was not a robot or a child running around with a halo over his head.  He was a real boy doing real things in real time.  He had loving parents (3 in fact) who loved him greatly and taught him everything they could; he was well-respected in his community and synagogue; he learned from Scripture and from his surroundings the history of God’s people Israel and about God’s overall plan for His creation.  He learned what a true King, a true Judge, and a true prophet should be; he learned what his father Yahweh expected from the Messiah so well that God reported at the baptism of Jesus in Mark 1:11b:

“You are my Son, the beloved, in you I am well pleased.”

And again on Mount Hermon at the transfiguration in Matthew 17:5b:

“This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

If we are going to truly fellowship with Jesus, our Lord and Redeemer (as the apostle John says is the goal in 1 John 1:1-4), then we need to know him as he truly was and is: a man, the only begotten Son of God, and human just like us yet without sin; a man of joy and sorrows, laughter and pain, who learned in the same ways we do.  Yet by his faithfulness and determination was the Messiah whom God made both “Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).

He was not born this way.  He earned it.  And he earned the obedient following of those who believe. We should listen to him.

Map from BibleWorks/maps/Moody Bible Atlas/Map Index/Map #10 “The Jezreel Valley”

Additional Reading:

HOW OLD WERE CHRIST’S DISCIPLES?  By: OTIS AND FRANK CARY.   Available for download at: https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/pdfplus/10.1086/475815

Early Hebrew education and its significance for present-day educational theory and practice by: S. Schoeman. Available for download at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/271315861_Early_Hebrew_education_and_its_significance_for_present-day_educational_theory_and_practice

All citing of Scripture are from The Revised English Version available online at https://www.revisedenglishversion.com/

The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. two/”Education”

Sketches in Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ, by Alfred Edersheim


[1] Ernest L Martin., The Star That Astonished The World

[2] See REV Bible Commentary on Luke 2:39-40 (https://www.revisedenglishversion.com/Luke/chapter2/39)

[3] R.C.H Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Luke’s Gospel, pgs. 159-161

[4] ibid, pg 170.

[5] Alfred Edersheim, Sketches of Jewish Social Life, Chapter 7, pg. 62

Courtesy of https://www.truthortradition.com/articles/jesus-from-boyhood-to-manhood

Posted in Bible Teachings, Inspirational Messages | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Daniel: A Man of Integrity

Virtue is defined as the quality of doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong. Integrity is defined as an undivided or unbroken completeness or totality with nothing wanting. Integrity is conduct that conforms to an accepted standard of right and wrong, absolute devotion to telling the truth and faithfulness to high moral standards. Virtue and integrity perfectly “define” the man, Daniel! Wikipedia has these entries on virtue and integrity.

Virtue (Latin: virtus, Ancient Greek: ἀρετή [Ed comment: See word study of this great Greek word – arete]) is moral excellence. A virtue is a trait or quality deemed to be morally good and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being. Personal virtues are characteristics valued as promoting collective and individual greatness. The opposite of virtue is vice. (Ref)

Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness. It is generally a personal choice to hold oneself to consistent moral and ethical standards. (Ref)

Daniel was a man of virtue, not vice. Daniel was a man of principle not passion. And what made Daniel such a virtuous man, such a man of character and peerless integrity (read how “peerless” in Ezekiel 14:1420note!)

Daniel “set his sails” early in life to chart a course that would enable him to become one of the men of highest character and integrity in the history of the world. When faced with the choice to compromise his moral and ethical standards, undoubtedly instilled in him by godly parents in Jerusalem, Daniel as a captive in pagan Babylon made the most critical choice of his life.

Then the commander of the officials assigned new names to them; and to Daniel he assigned the name Belteshazzar, to Hananiah Shadrach, to Mishael Meshach, and to Azariah Abed-nego. 8  But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself. 9  Now God granted Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the commander of the officials… (Daniel 1:7-9note)

Later in life Daniel was elevated by the pagan regime to the position of one of three commissioners over all the satraps (Da 6:4note). Given the fact that a man or woman of integrity may become a target for those who lack integrity we are not surprised at the fallout of Daniel’s fame! This promotion evoked great jealously in the other godless, pagan leaders who sought to take Daniel’s life by deceptively coercing King Darius to “establish a statute and enforce an injunction that anyone who makes a petition to any god or man besides you, O king, for thirty days, shall be cast into the lions’ den.” (Daniel 6:7note) Men of integrity are committed men. Daniel was committed to honoring His God regardless of the cost! And so…

Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously. (Daniel 6:10note)

Daniel held fast to his beliefs in face of certain death. In short, Daniel began his life by not compromising his beliefs (Da 1:8) and maintained this uncompromising mindset all the days of his life. That is integrity on display for the lost world to see! Oh that God would raise up a generation of such godly men and women in America which is rapidly becoming a pagan nation like ancient Babylon!

Warren Wiersbe emphasizes that “We must be careful to protect our own personal integrity. When integrity goes, then character starts to decay; when character goes, we’ve lost everything important. No matter what you may possess—money, popularity, talent, friends—if you don’t have character, you don’t have anything. But character depends on integrity. People with integrity are people who are honest with themselves, with others, and with God. They don’t wear masks and they don’t waste energy pretending to be what they aren’t. They’re not afraid of what others may find out about them because they have nothing to hide. The alternative to integrity is hypocrisy, and that eventually leads to duplicity —becoming two persons inside, neither of whom knows the other. Without inner wholeness, we can’t function successfully in life or enjoy all that God wants us to enjoy. We must cultivate integrity. That means knowing God, God’s forgiveness, God’s truth, God’s church, and God’s love. John’s First Epistle is a guidebook for the kind of personal integrity that comes from a faithful walk with Jesus Christ, what John calls “walking in the light.” No shadows—nothing to hide.” (Pause for Power)

Clearly Daniel was a model of integrity, a quality this lost world has lost but still admires. Wiersbe observes that “People want someone to look up to. A pastor should be a person others can imitate, but it is a weighty responsibility to set the right example. As king of Israel, David “shepherded them with integrity of heart” (Ps. 78:72). Character is the foundation of pastoral ministry. Having character means being the same on the inside as we profess to be on the outside. The word integrity is related to the mathematical term integer. An integer is a whole number. Integrity means our character is whole, not split into fractions. All too often Americans have seen pastoral and political leaders embarrassed by their private failures. We shepherds cannot hold the sheep to a higher standard than we live by ourselves. We need persons in our lives who ask the hard questions and hold us accountable for our private thoughts and deeds. Blessed is the pastor who cannot go incognito. For the sake of the sheep, shepherds must be holy.” (The Dynamics of Pastoral Care)

Daniel was a man like David, a man of integrity. “So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart” (Psalm 78:72). Wiersbe observes that “Integrity means having one heart (see Give Me An Undivided Heart), whereas a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8note). David’s sole purpose was to serve the Lord. David was a man of ability. He “guided them by the skillfulness of his hands” (Psalm 78:72). Integrity ties your heart and your hands together. Your heart serves the Lord, and your hands are busy for Him. We need people like that today. No amount of dedication can compensate for a lack of skill, but no amount of skill can compensate for a lack of dedication. We need both. David exhibited the traits of a true ruler–humility, integrity and ability. They also are required of you for faithful service. Where has God placed you for service? Are you a faithful leader or follower? He rewards His faithful servants. Dedicate yourself to the Lord today and serve Him faithfully…. Integrity is the key word. David was a man of integrity. Saul was a man of duplicity. He was double-minded, looking in two directions at once. But David kept his eyes on the Lord.” As I like to say David (and Daniel) were men of “VERTICAL VISION (see note)” “living each day with a heart toward heaven” in contrast to living with your eyes on the world (“HORIZONTAL VISION.”)

John MacArthur has an excellent summary of the characteristics of a man of integrity, a man God uses in His kingdom work… let us seek to emulate and imitate (in the power of the Spirit) Daniel, God’s man in Babylon and Medo-Persia…

Let me ask you a simple question? Who gets the glory in the chapter? Daniel? Not Daniel… not Daniel for a minute. Daniel was just there, that’s all. God got the glory. I believe that if you see one thread through the book of Daniel, it is not the exaltation of Daniel; it is the majesty of God who stands against the nations of the world and upholds His sovereignty.

Finally, the prosperity. “So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius, even in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.” He prospered.

Now I want you to listen to me. As I close, I want to sum up very rapidly, in just a couple of minutes, listen. As we look at this chapter, what do we see about Daniel? Do you remember when we studied chapter 1 and 2? We took all of the characteristics of the virtue of Daniel as a young man and we cataloged them and we studied them… and we saw what makes a virtuous, godly man. Well, here we are, twenty… well, no, sixty, seventy years later, what do we see in him again? What are the elements of character that we could translate to ourselves? What makes a man able to affect a nation? What makes a man or a woman have an impact that is as far reaching as an Empire? What is it in Daniel?

Let me suggest some things. I’m going to run them down, just listen to them, think them through.

First of all, this man transcended history. He was great and he was useful to God because he transcended history. He got his feet out of the muck of human issues. He sought the kingdom of God.

Secondly, he lived a consistent life from start to finish. He was virtuous when he was young and so he was virtuous when he was old. And I, really believe that there’s no way to measure with a human measure, the power of a virtuous life of that many years. The tragedy is that most of us find our virtue coming and going through those years… not Daniel.

What are the lessons
we learn about a man of God?

(1) He transcends history.

(2) He lives a consistent life from youth to old age and this makes for great usefulness in his old age.

(3) He utterly fulfills his calling. In other words, he lives in the absolute center of God’s will. His only desire is that God’s will be fulfilled.

(4) He has a right attitude. They kept saying about him he has an excellent spirit… he has an excellent spirit.

(5) He will be envied and he will be hated by the world around him, but he will never be embittered by it.

(6) He is condemned but if he is condemned, he is condemned for his righteousness for there’s no other flaw, he is as an elder of the church should be… what?… blameless.

(7) He is known for his virtue and integrity even by his enemies.

(8) He is a faithful citizen. He is subject to human laws until they would cause him to violate the laws of God.

(9) He is willing to face any consequence within the framework of God’s will and leave the outcome to God.

(10) He will serve faithfully no matter what it costs him personally.

(11) He never defends himself. He leaves that to God.

(12) He strengthens the faith of others giving them hope in God. Didn’t you see this in the king? I mean, the king was even believing because of the great faith of Daniel.

(13) He is delivered from all harm and he is preserved for every purpose within the will of God.

(14) He is a vehicle for God’s glory. I wish we could just preach on that. We… we as Christians are to be, above all things, a vehicle for God’s glory.

(15) He will be avenged by God. His enemies will be dealt with by God, he doesn’t have to deal with them himself.

(16) He is exalted by those around him as well as by the One above him.

Principles manifest in this chapter that show the virtuous life of a man of God. (Daniel in the Lions’ Den)

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Success comes in various forms. Some view it as the accumulation of great wealth gained through suffering and sacrifice. But for the believer, success comes only through doing God’s will. A young man named John W. Yates was so poor that he had to put cardboard in his shoes to cover the holes. Yet when he opened a bank account at the age of fifteen, he deposited his meager earnings under the name “John W. Yates and Company,” acknowledging God as his partner and manager. He carried that practice into his business. In time, he became a multimillionaire. Another young man, Oswald Chambers of Scotland, showed so much artistic promise that he was invited to study under Europe’s greatest masters at age eighteen. But he declined the offer and enrolled in a little-known Bible school, where he eventually became a teacher. Later, he went to Egypt and ministered to the spiritual needs of British soldiers. Chambers died there when he was only in his forties, but he left to the world a rich legacy of devotional literature. Both men made doing God’s will their prime objective; both achieved success. Daniel began his career as a young captive in Babylon. Repeatedly he put his life on the line to remain faithful to the Lord. He refused to compromise, and God elevated him to a position of prominence. When we take that kind of attitude and accept whatever God has for us, we can be sure of success, no matter what form it takes. —H. V. Lugt (Our Daily Bread, Copyright RBC Ministries)

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SUFFER FOR TRUTH – In Daniel 6 we see Daniel willing to suffer for truth than to live a lie. In Job 31:4 the suffering saint Job asks “Does He not see my ways, and count all my steps?” (Of course this is rhetorical! Yes He does! cp Pr 15:3note). — As professional golfer Ray Floyd got ready to tap in a routine nine-inch putt, he saw the ball move ever so slightly. According to the rule book, if the ball moves at all the golfer must take a penalty stroke. Floyd was among the leaders in a tournament offering a top prize of 108,000 dollars. To acknowledge that the ball had moved could mean losing his chance for big money. Writer David Holahan described what some golfers might have done: “The athlete ducks his head and flails wildly with his hands, as if being attacked by a killer bee; next, he steps back from the ball, rubbing his eye for a phantom speck of dust, all the while scanning the playing partners and the gallery for any sign that the ball’s movement has been detected by others. If the coast is clear, he taps the ball in for his par.” Ray Floyd, however, didn’t do that. He assessed himself a penalty stroke and wound up with a bogey on the hole. The patriarch Job also showed remarkable honesty in matters not seen by human observers. He maintained his integrity by fearing God and shunning evil (cp Job 1:1). Job knew that the eyes of the Lord were on him at all times, and that was what really mattered to him. The true test of our integrity comes when no one is watching us. If we remember that God sees what others don’t and that it’s His approval that matters, our integrity will improve. —M.R.De Haan II What is the take home message? It is better to suffer for the truth than to be rewarded for a lie.

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Like the prophet Daniel, we need to live with such personal integrity and honesty that even our worst accusers can’t make their charges stick.

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The words spoken by David in Psalm 26:11 could easily have been spoken by Daniel – As for me, I will walk in my integrity. (Ps 26:11) In June of 1994, 62,000 men gathered at the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis for an event called Promise Keepers. One goal of the conference was to challenge men to demonstrate integrity by adhering to the principles for godly living set forth in the Bible. According to one report, the men started meeting that goal right away. During a break, the hallways were jammed with men. One hungry guy who was stuck by a food stand bought a hot dog, but the mustard was clear across the concourse. Undaunted, he handed the dog to the next man and requested, “Mustard.” Off it went. The woman who sold the snacks laughed and said, “Honey, you aren’t going to see that hot dog again.” “Yes, he will,” someone replied. “These guys are Christians.” Sure enough, the hot dog made it back—with mustard. David vowed to walk in integrity (Ps. 26:11). But he could do so only because he trusted the Lord to help him (Ps 26:1,2). We should do the same. Let’s surprise people with our integrity—even with something as trivial as a hot dog. J. D. Branon  Integrity is Christlike character in work-clothes.

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A GOOD NAME – Daniel had a Good Name (Daniel 1:2021noteDaniel 5:11noteDaniel 6:3note) – “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.” (Proverbs 22:1)  Followers of Jesus Christ (of which Daniel was an OT representative!) are called to be people of integrity. They are to be upright and honest, choosing a good name above riches (Prov. 22:1) in a world that is seeking quite the opposite. In a poll of executives, for example, Gallup discovered that 80 percent admit to driving while drunk, 35 percent overstate tax deductions, 75 percent take work supplies for personal use, and 78 percent use the company phone for personal long distance calls. A study by the Office of Technology Assessment determined that one-third of the US government’s telephone bill is spent on personal calls. Time theft and unauthorized absenteeism are also common offenses in the workplace. General Motors reports losing 9 percent of employee hours due to absenteeism. White-collar crime in the US is estimated at $40 billion per year.  The Lord desires that His people act in a different way. We are always to do what is right and to speak the truth (Ps. 15:2). Integrity pleases Him, and it also benefits us. It gives us blessings far better than riches: freedom from guilt, a positive witness for Christ, and an intimate relationship with God. A good name is truly a priceless possession! –D C Egner

Help me, dear Lord, to be honest and true
In all that I say and all that I do;
Give me the courage to do what is right
To bring to the world a glimpse of Your light.
–Fasick

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The first governor-general of Australia, Lord Hopetoun, inherited a brass-bound leather ledger that became one of his most cherished possessions. John Hope, one of his forebears, had owned it three centuries earlier and had used the ledger in his business in Edinburgh. When Lord Hopetoun received it, he noticed the prayer inscribed on the front page: “O Lord, keep me and this book honest.” John Hope knew that he needed God’s help to maintain his integrity. Honesty is essential for the Christian. Shading the truth, withholding the facts, juggling figures, or misrepresenting something are dishonest activities that displease God. For this reason, and to demonstrate the new nature that comes through salvation, Christians should strive to live uprightly before God and man. The use of our time on the job, for example, must be above reproach. We should give an honest day’s work to our employer. To do less will destroy our verbal witness and brand us as dishonest. Speaking of a mutual Christian friend, an acquaintance of mine said, “He’s true blue, all wool, and a yard wide,” indicating that our friend was genuine, truthful, and trustworthy. We too must strive to be honest in motive as well as in action and acknowledge our need of the Lord’s help to do so by praying, “Lord, keep me honest.” —P.R.Van Gorder. Honesty is the first chapter of the book of wisdom.

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Integrity – After the Civil War, a large insurance company offered Robert E. Lee the title of president and an annual salary of fifty thousand dollars. Lee protested that he was not worth that much. A representative explained that the company only wanted Lee’s name, not his services. Lee firmly replied, “That is not for sale.” Daniel was not willing to worship God privately and sell his name to a heathen cause even if the fee was his own life. Disregarding his possible demise at the lions’ club, he demonstrated that he was the real lion—courageous in his integrity against all odds. People of integrity are sincere and honest; they avoid deception, artificiality, or shallowness of any kind. They are truthful and forth-right at all costs. They know themselves and therefore are whole and complete. Jesus was a man of integrity. He refused to endorse the corruption of the Pharisees, though they might have made Him a leading rabbi. He rejected the king making desires of the populace, though they would have dressed Him in royal robes. He resisted the temptations of Satan, though he promised Him the world. If we sing the praises of God’s name, we will not be tempted to sell our own.

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How Is Your Character? (Psalm 41:1-13) When was the last time you heard a preacher or Sunday school teacher talk about integrity? I hope it’s been recently, because integrity is an important part of the Christian life. To have integrity means to have character. Integrity is the opposite of duplicity. A person who practices duplicity is a hypocrite, a pretender. Integrity means to have one heart and one mind and to serve one master. It means not being divided, not always changing. David wrote, “As for me, You uphold me in my integrity, and set me before Your face forever” (Psalm 41:12). God knows us by our character, whereas people judge us by our conduct. When we become more worried about conduct than about character, our conduct starts to go down the wrong road. Conduct and reputation are closely related, but neither one guarantees good character. For example, the Pharisees had a great reputation, but their character was evil. God sees us. He knows all about us, and He says, “Put Me first in your life.” Not only does God see us, we also see Him. “Set me before Your face forever” (Psalm 41:12). That is what gives us integrity: knowing that we’re walking, living, thinking and speaking before the face of God. When we fear Him, we don’t have to fear anything else. And when we walk in integrity and honesty, when we flee duplicity and hypocrisy, we can face anything. David was able to face all his foes because he had integrity. He prayed, “Unite my heart to fear Your name” (Ps. 86:11). Integrity unites, so it helps us put our lives together. Today, let’s walk in integrity before the face of God. Don’t be so concerned with your reputation and conduct that you fail to look after your character, because you cannot hide that from God. How is your character? Are you unified–do you have one heart and one mind to serve one Master? (Warren Wiersbe – Prayer, Praises and Promises)

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On the Level – ” Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, And I have trusted in the LORD dwithout wavering.” (Ps 26:1) Integrity means that your life is whole, that your heart is not divided. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24). That’s integrity. Duplicity means trying to serve two masters. Our Lord also said that nobody can look in two directions at the same time. If your eye is single, then your body is full of light. But if your eye is double, watch out. The darkness is coming in (Matt. 6:22,23). If you look at the darkness and the light simultaneously, the darkness crowds out the light.  In Psalm 25:21 David prayed: “Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for You”; and in verse one of today’s passage, “Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity.” When we do business with or are ministering to someone, we want that person to have integrity.  When we have integrity, David tells us, we don’t have to be afraid of sliding. “I have walked in my integrity. I have also trusted in the Lord; I shall not slip” (Psalm 26:1). He also says, “My foot stands in an even place” (Psalm 26:12). The word even means “a level place.” David says, “I’m on the level because I have integrity. I have nothing in my heart against the Lord. I am not disobeying Him.”  We also need not be afraid of testing. David writes, “Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; try my mind and my heart” (Psalm 26:2). He says, in other words, “Lord, I can go through the furnace. I can go through the X ray. Go ahead and test me. I’m not afraid.” When your life is whole before God and others, when you’re practicing integrity, when you have a good conscience, you don’t have to be afraid of the battle or the furnace or the X ray or the testing. God will see you through.  When you walk with integrity, you walk on solid ground. Never try to serve two masters. Always keep your heart undivided before the Lord. (Warren Wiersbe – Prayer, Praises and Promises)

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Riches of the Soul – Give me neither poverty nor riches—feed me with the food allotted to me. —Proverbs 30:8 — With the hope of winning a record jackpot of $640 million, Americans spent an estimated $1.5 billion on tickets in a multistate lottery in early 2012. The odds of winning were a staggering 1 in 176 million, but people stood in lines at grocery stores, gas stations, and cafes to buy a chance to become rich. Something inside us makes us think more money will solve our problems and improve our lives. A man identified in the Bible as Agur had a different perspective on riches when he asked God to grant him two requests before he died. First, he said, “Remove falsehood and lies far from me” (Prov. 30:8). Integrity is a key to living without anxiety. When we have nothing to hide, we have nothing to fear. Deceit enslaves; honesty liberates. Second, he said, “Give me neither poverty nor riches—feed me with the food allotted to me” (v.8). Contentment springs from trusting God as our supplier and gratefully accepting what He provides. Agur said of the Creator that He “established all the ends of the earth. . . . He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him” (Pr 30:4-5). Integrity and contentment are riches of the soul that are available to all. Our Lord is pleased to give these treasures to everyone who asks.

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Integrity leaves a legacy for one’s children to follow in our steps. “A righteous man who walks in his integrity– How blessed are his sons after him.” (Pr 20:7– see Spurgeon’s Devotional). Charles Bridges comments…

The faithful man is here fully drawn—rich in the blessing of his God. Take the history of the father of the faithful—Abraham was the just man—accepted with God, and “walking before him” in his integrity. And did not the covenant of his God engage an everlasting blessing for his children after him? (Gen. 17:127) And thus does every child of Abraham, walking in the same integrity, secure “an inheritance for his children’s children.” (Pr 13:22. Cp. Ex. 20:56Ps. 25:121337:26112:2) It is ‘not however for the merits of the parents, that they deserve it; but such is the mercy of God to the root and the branches, that, because the fathers are loved, their children also are embraced.’4 But we must show our integrity, as did our father Abraham, in the practical habit of faith; not only “taking hold of the covenant” on our children’s behalf, but bringing them under the yoke of the covenant. (Pr  22:6, with Ge 18:19) Christian parents!—let integrity as before God, be the standard of our family responsibility. Walk not according to the maxims of the world yourselves, nor allow them in your children. Make God’s word—his whole word—our universal rule; his ways—however despised—our daily portion. “Seek first,” for our children as for ourselves, “the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” (Mt 6:33) Thus walking in our integrity—look for the honored blessing of being the parents of a godly race. Our children are blessed after us.

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Oswald Chambers of Scotland showed so much artistic promise that he was invited to study under Europe’s greatest masters at age eighteen. But he declined the offer and enrolled in a little-known Bible school, where he eventually became a teacher. Later, he went to Egypt and ministered to the spiritual needs of British soldiers. Chambers died there when he was only in his forties, but he left to the world a rich legacy of devotional literature. Daniel began his career as a young captive in Babylon. Repeatedly he put his life on the line to remain faithful to the Lord. He refused to compromise, and God elevated him to a position of prominence. Both men made doing God’s will their prime objective; both achieved success. —H V Lugt (Ibd)

Outside God’s will is no true success
In God’s will, no failure.

MARKS OF A MAN
OF INTEGRITY

Let’s summarize what “integrity” looks like in Daniel 6 (some of these characteristics overlap).

(1) Da 6:2note – Integrity perseveres – It’s not “on” one day and “off” the next. Age 80+ and still running the race with endurance (Heb 12:1note). Even as Daniel 3x/day set his face toward Jerusalem, the City of God (while living in Babylon, “the City of Man”), so too we are to run the race with endurance fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our faith (Heb 12:2note). And we look back and are encouraged by the faith of the “great cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 11, especially the example of Daniel who “by faith… shut the mouth of lions” (Hebrews 11:33note). “The equipment and enablement God gives to His devoted servants always wear well for a complete lifetime.” (Lehman Strauss)

(2) Da 6:3note – Extraordinary spirit ~ excellent attitude, an attitude that pervades everything we do. Integrity pursues excellence in all it does, whether someone is watching or not, whether anyone on this earth every knows or not. Men of integrity are God-pleasers not man-pleasers. Proverbs 15:3 says God’s eyes are everywhere watching the evil and the good so God always knows and He will reward us for our labors performed with integrity at the Judgment Seat of Christ (2Co 5:10note).

(3) Da 6:4note Faithful = Trustworthy, Reliable. Integrity can always be counted on to follow through. Our words don’t “outrun” our actions. Integrity practices what it preaches!

(4) Da 6:4 No negligence – Integrity seeks to avoid “sins of omission”

(5) Da 6:4 No corruption – Integrity seeks to avoid “sins of commission”. Integrity by grace through faith assiduously guards the eyes (see Ps 101:3) and the heart (see Pr 4:23note) so that the well spring of our life (our heart) might not be contaminated and we might not experience moral decay and corruption which can be very subtle and very deceptive. We don’t even know we are “decaying” morally. On the other hand James says we are practicing “pure and undefiled religion” when we keep ourselves “unstained by the world” (James 1:27note)

(6) Da 6:5note No “accusability” – The NT version of this aspect of integrity is “above reproach” (Titus 1:6note The man of integrity lives a “blameless” life, like Job who was “blameless (Hebrew word “tam” = basic meaning = being complete ~ integrity), upright (righteous), fearing God and turning away from evil” (Job 1:1)

(7) Da 6:10note Consistent, prevailing, prioritized prayer life – “As he had been doing previously.” The man of integrity makes persistent prayer a priority not matter how busy he is with the everyday affairs of the world!

(8) Da 6:10 No compromise because of firm conviction – The man of integrity obeys God before he obeys men. Daniel prayed even though he knew the law against prayer had been signed by King Darius. We see this principle in Acts 5:2829

(9) Da 6:1620note Integrity exhibits a consistent Christian life – The witness of Daniel to the pagan king was that Daniel was a “servant of the Living God” – the God Who you (Daniel) “constantly served”

(10) Da 6:212223note The man of integrity is fearless and bold – Notice that when Daniel speaks in Da 6:2223 he is still in the Lion’s Den — and yet he is speaking calmly to Darius without any suggestion of fear of the lions.

(11) Da 6:22note The man of Integrity has a clear conscience before God first and then before man. “I was found innocent before Him (GOD); and also toward you, O king (MAN), I have committed no crime.” In his last letter shortly prior to his execution Paul wrote “I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers (One wonders if he is not alluding to Daniel?) did” (2Ti 1:3note, cp Ac 23:1 24:16) A clear conscience is a primary benefit of integrity, and it enables one to stand firm when the storms of life come upon us. If your heart does not condemn you, but affirms you, you can be a tower of strength for “The man of integrity walks securely.” (Pr 10:9) Hebrew for “securely” (see word study – betach) means safety, security, place of refuge; feeling of trust, assurance, without concern, confidence.

(12) Da 6:23note The man of integrity is a man of faith – He trusts in God. He walks by faith not sight – He glances at the Lions but he fixes his gaze on His Lord.

(13) Da 6:24note The man of integrity does not seek to avenge a wrong done – He trusts that God is His covenant Defender. Paul alludes to this in Ro 12:19note

(14) Da 6:25-27note The man of integrity lives in such a way that God is Glorified. (cp Mt 5:141516notePhp 2:1415note)

(15) Da 6:28note The man of integrity will experience “success” (see Daniel 1:21note)- In this present life (sometimes he receives material success but always and more importantly he receives spiritual success) and in the life to come (Da 12:13note, cp 1 Timothy 4:8note). Integrity is inseparable from fruitful Christian ministry.

Courtesy of https://www.preceptaustin.org/index.php/daniel-man_of_integrity#Integrity

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Not Without You: The Commitment to Unity

“Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and on is hungry and another is drunk” (1 Corinthians 11:17–21).

Here we see the apostle Paul talking about the grave necessity of unity within the Body of Christ. This group of Corinthian believers was gathering for a time of worship and thanksgiving in the presence of God, yet something was occurring in their midst that was displeasing to the Lord.

Paul continued, “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you; that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me’” (1 Corinthians 11:23–24).

Paul begins contrasting the heart of Christ with the selfishness of the Corinthian fellowship. He was saying, “This is not what the worship of God is supposed to look like. When you come together, I want you to remember how the Lord Jesus took the cup and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me’” (1 Corinthians 11: 25).

In contrast to the Corinthian church, Christ was willing to be broken and poured out for the sake of other people. The fellowship that Christ is looking for in His Church is found when we begin to ask, “Is there anybody I can allow myself to be broken for?”

“As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).

There is power in that proclamation. There is power when we as the Church of Jesus Christ turn away from focusing on our own problems and needs and instead look to the needs of one another. The fellowship that Christ is looking for in His Church is found when we begin to ask, “Is there anybody I can allow myself to be broken for?” Now, I am not talking about everybody running around with $50 in his hand, looking for somebody to give it to. I am!talking about having a word for somebody who is discouraged; inviting somebody who looks lonely for a cup of coffee—being willing to have the plans of your day broken in order that you might be poured out for the sake of somebody else. Paul says, “If you do this, you become a proclamation of the Son of God who came to this earth and poured out His life for the sake of others.”

“Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27).

Many quote this verse with regard to people who have sin in their life yet they partake of the communion table. While it can have some application in that way, that is not the context in which Paul was speaking. He was talking about being given to one another in the Body of Christ just as Christ was for us. There is no such thing as “just me and God.” No, we are grafted into a body.

He went on to say, “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged” (1 Corinthians 11:28–31).

An “unworthy manner” means coming to the communion table and partaking of the promise of the One who was given for us in totality, yet not realizing that we are called into that kind of fellowship with one another. This is the seriousness of being committed to one another in the Body of Christ. Failure to understand what it means to be part of the Lord’s body is the reason many are spiritually weak. There is no such thing as “just me and God.” No, we are grafted into a body. Casual interaction with one another is a good thing to a point, but the call of the Lord is into something deeper. You are exactly where God wants you to be! He set you where you are to glorify Him in the unique way that only you can.

Biblical unity requires that we learn to not merely tolerate each other but to actually esteem one another. Paul went on to say, “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:12–13). In other words, there is one Church composed of people from different cultures, backgrounds, and socioeconomic states—people who are known and those who are not.

“For in fact the body is not one member, but many….If the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,’ is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased” (1 Corinthians 12:14–18).

You are exactly where God wants you to be! He set you where you are, to be what you are, to do what you do, to glorify Him in the unique way that only you can.

“The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you’; nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker, are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty” (1 Corinthians 12:21–23).

Everybody is of value in the kingdom of God. There are no big people and little people. Everyone has an incredible, inestimable worth in the sight of Almighty God.

In the next chapter, Paul sums it up with what I consider to be the glue that holds it all together:

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging symbol. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:1–8).

This is the kind of love that the Lord calls us to have for one another! I was doing a radio interview recently, and the interviewer said to me, “Pastor, I have read your book. The stories about what God has done around the world are amazing. You have done outreaches, you have spoken to governments, you have seen civil war come to an end.

But now tell me and our listening audience: What is the greatest miracle of all that you have seen in your life over the years?” Without hesitation, I replied, “The greatest miracle of all is that I love people.”

With deep emotion in her voice, she said, “I never, ever would have thought that would be your answer. With all these things that have happened over the years— all these wondrous things you could have spoken about.”

When people witness the unity of the Church, suddenly there is a stirring in their hearts that says, “I want that Christ in my life!” “If you knew me before I got saved —if you knew the journey and how difficult it has been—you would understand what I am talking about!” I said. I really do love people now. I don’t fake it. It is something God put in my heart as I was willing to take the journey.

Clearly, this commitment to walking in unity and love is a huge undertaking. However, there are incredible blessings that God promises will be the result. King David wrote, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like precious oil upon the head, running down on the beard, the beard of Aaron, running down to the edge of his garments” (Psalm 133:1–2).

Where there is biblical unity, something begins flowing through members of the Body of Christ that cannot be produced by anything in this world. “It is like the dew of Hermon, descending upon the mountains of Zion” (Psalm 133:3). A thirst is satisfied, not only in God’s people, but in all those around as well.

“For there the Lord commanded the blessing—life forevermore” (verse 3).

And God commands a blessing of life! Remember in chapter two of Acts when the disciples were gathered in the Upper Room in one accord? They were unified with God and with one another—not in strength, but in weakness. They all knew they needed God as well as each other. Suddenly the door opened, and the hundred and twenty went out into the marketplace, overturning the whole known world of their day. You see, when people witness the unity of the Church, suddenly there is a stirring in their hearts that says, “Whoever their God is, is God! I want that Christ in my life!”

As a man of God, not just as a pastor, I have made a determination in my heart: I am going to heaven, but not without you. Not without the young; not without the old; not without the educated; not without the uneducated; not without those with whom I feel comfortable and those with whom I am ill at ease. Unity means the whole Body of Christ going beyond convenience—where we are not content just to get to heaven ourselves; we are unwilling to go without those around us.

Think about it! Jesus said, “I am not going to enjoy eternity without you.” And so the love in the heart of God compelled Him to walk among us, endure our frailties and went to a cross. Paul said, “This is the Christ I presented to you.” This is the manner in which we must learn to interact with one another.

We have a huge fight ahead of us. We need the whole Body of Christ. Keep in mind that in this last hour of time, we must realize that not everybody in the Church does everything the same. Unity is more important than being in agreement on every little single point of doctrine. We may have opposing viewpoints on some things, but if we can come back to that common ground where salvation is—by God’s grace, through faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ—then I can take the hand of any man or any woman anywhere in the Body of Christ and say, “You are my brother. You are my sister. Let’s go together. I am not going to take this journey without you.”

We have a huge fight ahead of us for our country, our culture, our families, our children. We need the whole Body of Christ. And so by the Spirit of God, may we not fall into the trap of division thinking somehow it is holy. May we go together as one body, walking in the love of Christ and the incredible blessings of unity that God has promised!

Carter Conlon

©2020 Times Square Church

Courtesy of http://tsc.nyc/sermons/49654_sermon-newsletter-202001-not-without-you-the-commitment-to-unity.pdf

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Then He Smiled at Me

So often this time of year, we hear great Christmas carols over and over again, but the words escape us. I recently went to a Christmas concert at College Park Church in Indianapolis and heard the “Little Drummer Boy” performed and a line in the lyrics strongly made an impact on my heart. I never remembered these words with such vividness and emotion. Listen to the lyrics:

I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum
That’s fit to give a King, pa rum pum pum pum
rum pum pum pum rum pum pum pum
Shall I play for you?, pa rum pum pum pum
on my drum?

Mary nodded pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him pa rum pum pum pum
rum pum pum pum rum pum pum pum
Then He smiled at me pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum

I thought is that what I just heard? “Then He smiled at me!” What a powerful statement at the heart of the gospel. It is difficult to get a genuine smile from anybody any more. But when you do…it warms your soul. It connects with you in such a way that it is hard to forget.

Imagine if the smile came from the King of Kings, the Lord Jesus. I know of no other religion in the world where the god of that religion smiles, ever. There is never that deep of a personal relationship, that deep of love, that deep of compassion, and that amount of empathy that would draw a smile. The gods of religion are emotionless, distant and uncaring. The gods of religion do not love, and therefore do not smile. A genuine smile comes from a heart of love. A smile can do more to heal the soul than a thousand words. A smile uplifts and encourages the heart and creates a bond of understanding. A smile is an invitation to develop a deep bond of affection.

We all crave a smile that really means something especially during the holidays. We do not want a fake smile or a contrived smile. An empty smile actually can do more harm than good. We have all been deceived by a smile that disguises a selfish soul. Desiring a smile is really indicative of a deeper issue that we are seeking someone who cares. The gods of money, fame and self-exaltation may smile with greed or pride, but they lead you into a path that damages the soul, that creates a callous and indifferent attitude towards others and causes one to scowl rather than genuinely smile. They breed fear and anxiety and turn you into an Ebenezer Scrooge that loses the ability to be compassionate and empathize with others.

Our cultural today is increasingly embracing an ideal that God does not smile, God does not love and God does not care. The smile of Christianity has faded into a religion that cares more about numbers in their campaigns of church building then people who crave a genuine smile, a genuine love and a genuine caring about their lives. We need to have a restoration in Christianity of the authentic smile from the heart of God showing that He so loved the world with all its faults and shortcomings that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes in him regardless of race, age, social status or past mistakes will not perish, but have eternal life. The smile of God is deep and lasting and is an unending reminder that He truly cares about you. I Peter 5:7 says in no uncertain terms “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” God Almighty cares for you when all others forsake you. God, the Creator of the heavens and earth, cares for you even when the world turns their back on you.

Isaiah 46:3b,4,5:

I’ve carried you since your birth. I’ve taken care  of you from the time you were born.

Even when you’re old, I’ll take care of you. Even when your hair turns gray, I’ll support you. I made you and will continue to care for you. I’ll support you and save you.

To whom will you compare me and make me equal? To whom will you compare me so that we  can be alike?

No one takes care of you like God takes care of you. No other religion on earth has a god who cares for you. No other man-made philosophies or ways of thinking will take care of you. Why would you want to be involved in such religions or philosophies? They will all leave you empty when you need them the most. We all need God’s care. We all need God’s smile. In these other religions and philosophies you become quickly forgotten. You fade away as unimportant and not worthy of a smile. You simply do not matter. The Bible contradicts this notion with blazing light and certainty. God promises in Isaiah 49:15 “I will not forget you.” Nothing in this life can cause God to forget you. You have value to God. You have worth to God. You are not some object to advance a religious ideal. You are someone who God loves intensely and cares for in the deepest sense. Nothing in the religious archives of this world compares to God’s everlasting love and mercy that chases after you every moment.

Zechariah 3:17 says that “he will rejoice over you with gladness: he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” The Hebrew word for “rejoice” means to dance, skip, leap, and spin around in joy. Can you imagine the smile of God as he dances around in joy and gladness over you? Can you fathom that God exults over you with loud singing! Singing is the manifestation of an incredible joy and love God has for you. He wants a relationship with you and for you to experience the wonders of His love.

Psalm 139:17,18a:

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
They cannot be numbered!

I can’t even count them; they outnumber the  grains of sand!

God is never too busy for you. He thinks about you all the time and His thoughts about you are so many that they outnumber the grains of sand. For God to think that much about you, you must have immense value to Him. You must be more precious to Him than any earthly treasure.

Psalm 139:5,6:

You have surrounded me on every side, behind me and  before me, and You have placed Your hand gently on my shoulder.

It is the most amazing feeling to know how deeply You know me, inside and out; the realization of it is so great  that I cannot comprehend it.

God deeply knows and cares for you more than any close relative or best friend. This care does not diminish or fade. He understands you more than you understand yourself.

God knew we needed a Savior, a deliverer and a mediator to redeem us and bring us back to Him. We need to be reconciled back to God to fully develop and enjoy our relationship with Him. This can only be accomplished thru the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ. The smile of God that shows His limitless love and caring for us is fully revealed in Jesus Christ.

Romans 5:11:

Not only that, but we also rejoice in God [rejoicing in His love and perfection] through        our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received and enjoy our reconciliation    [with God].

I Timothy 2:5:

For there is [only] one God, and [only] one Mediator between God and mankind, the Man  Christ Jesus.

Romans 5:1,2:

Therefore, since we have been justified [that is, acquitted of sin, declared blameless before God] by faith, [let us grasp the fact that] we have peace with God [and the joy of reconciliation with Him] through our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed).

Through Him we also have access by faith into this [remarkable state of] grace in which we [firmly and safely and securely] stand. Let us rejoice in our hope and the confident assurance of [experiencing and enjoying] the glory of [our great] God [the manifestation of His excellence and power].

Like the little drummer boy we are unworthy of the king. We have nothing to bring into his presence that justifies us. We have no work or golden trophy that will be allow us to be reconciled to God. The King paid the price for us with his own blood. He gave His life for us so we can have continual joy and unlimited peace in Him. It is an amazing truth for all ages that we, a little drummer boy in worth and value, are restored to God through the ransom of Jesus Christ. What love He has for us! O the wonders of His grace towards us even in our most desperate hour. The entire creation waited eagerly for the smile of God to be revealed in Jesus Christ. This was the cry of the psalmist three times in Psalm 80:

Psalm 80:3,7,19 (NET):

O God, restore us. Smile on us. Then we will be delivered.

O God of Heaven’s Armies, restore us. Smile on us. Then we will be delivered.

O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies, restore us.
Smile on us. Then we will be delivered.

The smile of God is proof of His deliverance and restoration. This promise is fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ. On that miraculous star lit night 2000 years ago, the angel announced the smile of God had been born in the little town of Bethlehem.

Luke 2:11:

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

No other person is qualified or has proved He is a Savior. No religion has a Savior that actually delivers. No philosophy can make you whole or give you eternal life. They all come up woefully short in the Savior department. Isaiah 9:7 (MSG) says there is no limit to the wholeness that Jesus Christ brings.  The Greek word for “Savior” means “deliverer and rescuer’ from danger and destruction and bringing salvation or wholeness in the process. The greatest thing we all need deliverance from is that virus that each of us have in our blood called sin. Sin is not some archaic religious term, but a dreadful reality that spreads like a dark blanket over every person on earth. The power and consequences of sin has wreaked havoc on the human race and has kept it oppressed in bondage of body and soul. From the power of sin comes every calamity, every violent act, every type of evil, and every disease of mind and body. Sin is the great destroyer of relationships including our relationship with God, and it turned Adam and Eve’s perfect relationship with their Heavenly Father into a broken connection of fear and dread. The final wages of our sin is physical and spiritual death. How desperately we need a Savior from sin! Jesus Christ is the only Savior from sin. He crushed the power of sin with his death and resurrection and paid for the deliverance from sin with his life.

Matthew 1:21:

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Romans 5:12,15:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through  one man, and death through sin, so death spread  to all people [no one being able to stop it or escape its power], because they all sinned.

But the free gift [of God] is not like the trespass [because the gift of grace overwhelms the fall of man]. For if many died by one man’s trespass [Adam’s sin], much more [abundantly] did God’s  grace and the gift [that comes] by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, overflow to [benefit] the many.

Hebrews 10:12:

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,

Isaiah 63:1:

Who is this who comes from Edom, from the city of Bozrah, with his clothing stained red?
Who is this in royal robes,  marching in his  great strength? “It is I, the Lord, announcing    your salvation! It is I, the Lord, who has the power to save!”

Only Jesus Christ can redeem us from our sins and restore the smile of God on our lives. He is God’s free gift of grace that brings us back into the loving arms of our Heavenly Father. Only in Jesus Christ can we made whole from sin and its consequences. In the hills of Judea, God sent His angels to announce the good news of His plan for all ages, Jesus Christ is born with the mission to conquer sin and bring us back to the heart of the Father. We have been chosen to display the smile of God to the world and show forth His glorious love and favor revealed in Christ. What a night of praise as the Savior has come! No longer do we need to be trodden down by sin. No longer do we need let sin wreak chaos in our lives and separate us from intimacy with God. Jesus Christ came to dismantle the power of sin and usher us into a new life in Him. We no longer belong to the god of this age, but rightfully belong to Him as His beloved children.

Listen to the words of Ephesians and I John:

Ephesians 1:4-8:

Long ago, even before he made the world, God chose us to be his very own through what Christ would do for us; he decided then to make us holy in his eyes, without a single fault—we who stand before him  covered with his love.

His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by sending Jesus Christ to die for  us. And he did this because he wanted to!

Now all praise to God for his wonderful kindness to us and his favor that he has poured out upon us because we belong to his dearly loved Son.

So overflowing is his kindness toward us that he took away all our sins through the blood of his Son, by whom we are saved;

And he has showered down upon us the richness of his grace—for how well he understands us and knows what is best for us at all times.

I John 3,1,2a:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

Dear friends, now we are children of God,

What greater honor can there be than to be born again as a son or daughter of God, redeemed by the blood of Christ, and citizens in His heavenly kingdom? Do you see why God smiles in Jesus Christ? He brought back everything that Adam had lost in the Garden and much more. All of the amazing love, kindness and grace of God was poured out on us through Jesus Christ. He brought back intimacy with the Father. He opened the door that we can have unlimited access to God and enjoy His presence every moment. He took away every hindrance to our relationship with God and called us to walk with Him in the deep warmth of His love. Do you see why Jesus Christ is smiling also? The smile of God will never fade on your life. The smile of Jesus Christ toward you will never diminish. Nothing in this world can change that.

Listen to these beautiful words from The Sacred Journey: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Our Affection by Bryan and Candice Simmons:

Your Creator knows that true transformation comes  by a relationship-a powerful relationship with Christ where love’s torrent covers your sin and makes you                             lovely in His sight. Jesus never comes to scare us into submission, but He woos us into intimate friendship with Him. God delivered His transforming truth and the grace for change in a relational package-the person of His Son. Grace has a face,                                and His face is smiling toward us each and every day.

God does not wait until you are perfect before He enjoys you. In fact, He loves the weak, the immature,  and those who feel incomplete. Think of Jesus placing a crown on your head and then watching you grow until you fit into it. He calls you a hero before you              ever act nobly. Today, Jesus smiles at the thought of you. Jesus is the lover of your soul…Drink in this love, drink deeply of the passions of His heart: God loves you in the same way God loves His Son. The measure of the Father’s affection and love for Jesus is the                  measure of Jesus’s love for us. “I love each of you  with the same love that that the Father loves me. Let my love nourish your hearts.” (John 15:9).

Do you have a longing to be close to Jesus today? He will draw so close to you that it breaks every chain that holds you back, every weight that holds you down.                        Even if He has drawn you a thousand times in the past, ask Him to draw you again. Cultivate a relationship with Him. See yourself as His partner, His companion, the              one He wants to be with. He will be more to you than you can ever think or imagine.

As the little drummer boy, we come to Jesus with nothing that justifies us or makes us worthy. He smiles at us out of pure love for our faith to come to Him because He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Let His smile transform you and bring you into a glorious relationship with Him.

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The Bible is Still The Voice of God in Words: Are We Listening?

God’s great plea to men and women throughout history is this: “Listen to me! Hear me! I will give you life if you only will hear my voice and obey my words!” Listen to the plea of God calling for you to turn your ear toward Him:

Listen, O my people, to my instruction; Incline your ears to the words of my mouth. (Psalm 78:1, NASB)

Pay attention, come close now, listen carefully to my life-giving, life-nourishing words. (Isaiah 55:3, MSG)

The Hebrew word rendered here as “incline” is natar, means to stretch out or extend toward someone or something; to bend or to turn. This word implies an energy and intensity where you are stretching out with everything you have. It’s like a runner straining and stretching to cross the finish line ahead of his competitors. God wants us to have this same intensity and zeal when it comes to stretching our ear out to hear what He has to say. God wants us to run to Him, extending our ears toward Him to receive His instruction, guidance, and loving words. So often we don’t experience God’s love in our daily lives because we have stretched our ear to hear another voice, and so we do not hear what the Lord is saying. Still, God is wonderfully merciful and full of grace so that even when we’ve turned our backs on Him, He is still gently calling us back into His presence, to His heavenly embrace.

If you stray from the path, whether to the right or left, you will hear a voice from behind you sounding in your ears saying, “This is the way, follow it.” (Isaiah 30:21, REV)

Should your heart stray into enemy territory and you begin to wander off of God’s righteous path for your life, God is always speaking and imploring you to come back, even when you’ve turned your back on Him. God is still calling from behind, chasing after you with relentless determination, pleading for you to turn back. He is always knocking at the door of your heart, never giving up, tenderly whispering in your ear of His great love and affection for you, urging you to get back on the path where your God-given destiny lies.

God is always speaking. His voice is always near, no matter where we may wander:

For this commandment I give you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear and do it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it. (Deuteronomy 30:10–14, NKJV)

Even if we venture to the most remote place on earth, God’s voice can still be heard. And when we return to His way, He will break our captivity and set us free from all bondage, burdens, and oppression. His voice is always very near, closer than our breath, speaking to us day and night with gentle whispers, tender calls, firm warnings, loving encouragement, and wise admonishment. His voice commands our attention, our respect, and our obedience.

A.W. Tozer writes in The Pursuit of God:

God is speaking. Not God spoke, but God is speaking. He is by His nature continuously articulate. He fills the world with His speaking Voice … God spoke a Book (Bible) and lives in His spoken words, constantly speaking His words and causing the power of them to persist across the years. Our eternal welfare depends upon our hearing, and we have trained our ears not to hear … This is definitely not the hour when men take kindly to an exhortation to listen, for listening is not today a part of popular religion … [But] God says, “Be still and know that I am God,” and still He says it, as if He means to tell us that our strength and safety lie not in noise but in silence. The facts are that God is not silent, has never been silent. It is the nature of God to speak … The Bible is the inevitable outcome of God’s continuous speech. It is not only a book which was once spoken, but a book which is now speaking.[i]

The voice of the Lord is just as powerful today as it was any time in history. God did not suddenly go silent and quit speaking after the apostles were martyred. Our God is not a silent God. He is the most renowned public speaker in all the heavens and earth! God is called “the Word” in John 1:1. God, by His very nature, is the Great Communicator. He is the very essence of the Word, where He speaks about the glory of His love, mercy, goodness, and faithfulness. The Bible is the voice of God in written words and it speaks the message of the living God to every generation. The Bible is the God-breathed living, powerful Word of God and it is the primary way that God speaks to our hearts daily.

God also speaks to us directly by revelation and through the words of His messengers, prophets, ministers, and brothers and sisters in Christ. He is never limited as to how He speaks, where He speaks, and through whom He speaks. But we must realize and understand the enormous amount of speaking that God does through His written Word. Every word spoken in the Bible has been specially chosen by God and measured by His mighty hand. Every word pulsates with spiritual life and is a thousand times more pure than any substance on earth. His words are the pinnacle of love and the utmost expression of truth. The Word of God is the perfect representation of His voice.

The surest way to hear the voice of God is to sit down in a quiet place with your Bible and let it speak to your heart. Read and meditate upon the words He has spoken in the pages of Scripture. Hear what He is saying. Ask God to give you understanding and insight into His heart, His will, and His purposes, which fill His written Word. Ask Him to give you ears to hear what He is saying—and the courage and heart to obey it. Ask Him to speak to your circumstances, problems, challenges, growth, purpose, and destiny.

Now listen! You can hear His voice! God is speaking to you personally! His Word is like a love letter revealing His passion for you. When you begin to listen for His voice, as you immerse yourself in page after page of His holy Word, He will begin to work a true spiritual transformation of your heart and life. As you draw near to Him, He will draw near to you (James 4:8). Indeed He will draw you to Him so close that you can feel the warmth and beauty of His presence as you’re soothed by the tenderness in His voice. But you must make time in your busy life for such intimate communion. Once you do, your life will never be the same.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Life Together, writes:

The Word of Scripture should never stop sounding in your ears and working in you all day long, just like the words of someone you love … Then ponder this word long in your heart until it has gone right into you and taken possession of you.[ii]

The wonderful words of Scripture are the words of a wise Father, instructing, encouraging, disciplining, and admonishing us that we may grow in wisdom and love. They are the words of the Lord of hosts, training, teaching, and preparing us for battle, showing us the tactics and strategies of our enemy and how to overcome him. They are a royal message from the King, declaring our royal position of honor and authority and reminding us of the power He has given us in the name of His Son.

Nothing on earth has more power to change, heal, revive, and restore us than the words of our loving God. The Bible is not just a book of mere stories written by men. The Bible is the heart, the life, the wisdom, the knowledge, the very essence of God expressed in words. No aphorism ever uttered is more trustworthy than the words found in the Bible. In the written Word of God, there is not one lie, falsehood, or deception. Every word spoken in the living pages of Scripture comes directly from the heart of God and is worthy to be heard and believed. The words of God are completely faithful and can never be broken by the power of any circumstance, the reasoning of any intellect, or the changing winds of time. The words of God are the spiritual nourishment and sustenance the heart needs to be vibrant, pure, and free.

The words of Scripture must be sounding in your ears and living in you daily if you are to maintain a healthy heart, so incline your ears towards His Word and listen.

[i] A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (New York: Start Publishing LLC, 2012, originally published in 1948), 75, Kindle.

[ii] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community (Munich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, Fifth Edition, 1949).

Excerpt from The Heart: The Key to Everything in the Christian Life

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