Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Only Logical Conclusion

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Psalm 23:6

With this last verse from the most famous of all Psalms, David was not giving us an example of the“name it and claim it” doctrine. He was merely stating what logically had to be the case, based on personal experiences with God.

To begin, as the first verse indicates, David was born an Israelite. So, he learned as a child that God had a special and close relationship with Israel, and it had begun long before David was born. David had nothing to do with it. This meant that just because David was born in Israel, the Lord was his Shepherd. He even sang about it: “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who leads Joseph like a flock! You, who dwells between the cherubim, shine forth!”

Secondly, David had experienced sin, but then also experienced God’s redemption from it. He knew what it was like to feel condemnation and shame and what it was like to receive mercy from God. In fact, David at one point committed two sins for which there was no forgiveness under the Law, adultery and murder, and yet God had gone beyond the Law and forgiven the miserable king. When David said, “He restores my soul,” he was testifying to the great, unexpected, and unprecedented mercy he had received. David knew he had nothing to do with his being forgiven. God had simply reached down and rescued him from the shadow of certain death. If there had been a sacrifice David could have made that would have atoned for his sins, he would have gladly made it, but for the sins of adultery and murder, there were no sacrifices to make.

When David said, “You anoint my head with oil,” he was remembering the day he was out in the field keeping his father’s sheep when a thoroughly winded servant brought a message from his father in Bethlehem. It would have been something like this: “Your father says come to the feast immediately. The prophet Samuel has come to town, and he says we cannot eat until you come.” David went to the feast, and Samuel poured the anointing oil of God on his head, signifying that God had chosen him to be Israel’s next king. David had nothing to do with it. God had simply chosen him to be Israel’s next king. Nobody had advised or even asked God to anoint David.

When David said, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies,” he was remembering the courage and faith God had fed him when David faced the giant Philistine, and he was remembering the untouchable, sacred bread in the tabernacle which God allowed David and his friends to eat when he was running for his life from mad king Saul.

When David said that God “makes me to lie down in green pastures,” and, “leads me beside the still waters,” he was remembering the great peace that always came to him when he took time to draw near to God.

David was able to write, “Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” because God had convinced David that He loved him. God had convinced David that He was going to deliver him regardless of the circumstances in which David found himself. He had convinced David that He was David’s friend.

In saying, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever,” David was not claiming, as many do now, “I’m saved and you can’t make me doubt it.” Instead, he was simply confessing that God’s love had won his heart and that, based on the loving kindness God had repeatedly shown him throughout his life, the only logical conclusion was that God wanted him to live forever and was determined to see to it that David did.

Monday, December 29, 2008


For, lo, I will command,
and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations,
the way corn is sifted in a sieve;
and yet, not the least grain shall fall upon the earth.
All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword,
which say, ‘The evil shall not overtake nor prevent us.’
Amos 9:9-10

Just how great do we believe our God is? How wise? How much control over His Creation does He exercise? David said God chastens the heathen as well as His own people. The wise prophet Daniel and the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar both understood that God alone determines who rules over the nations on this earth. Jesus said that God has numbered to you the very hairs of your head! And throughout the Bible, God is said to be in complete charge of every element of nature, not just the sunshine and rain, but the stormy winds and ice as well.

Just how much in command of the events and circumstances of this life do we believe God really is? The answer to that determines how much peace and understanding we possess. The prophecy from Amos 9, above, presents to us an astonishing view of God’s complete command of events in this world, and it calls us to faith in Him as master of His universe.

First, Amos’ prophecy is that God promised to scatter the Israelites among all nations, which He most certainly did. The Jews wandered among the nations for two thousand years before God brought them back to the land He promised Abraham and restored them as a nation in May of 1948. Hosea had prophesied (9:17) that the Jews would be “wanderers among the nations”, and they were.

But what God said He would be doing while the Jews were “wanderers” is the most amazing element of Amos’ prophecy, for He said that He would use that wandering process to sift out of Israel every soul that was joined to sin and rebellion. He is stating plainly that every soul would, over time, be destroyed out of Israel who would not confess that God is just and that the sufferings of the Jewish people were God’s punishment for their rebellion against Him. Over the centuries, those souls would be sifted out by the mighty hand of God, using evil men to accomplish His holy, though dreadful purpose.

On the other hand, not one “grain” of wheat, that is, not one Jewish heart that possessed some willingness to confess the truth will be lost to the sifting process. Which Jew died and which Jew survived Hitler’s awful Holocaust seems random to us because we have neither the power nor the wisdom to kill that many people without unintentionally harming some that we would want to save. But God is not a big one of us. His thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways. Amos’ prophecy tells us that each Jew slain during the past two thousand years was slain only because God chose that specific life to be taken from the earth. God has never randomly done anything; why should we think He would randomly deal with His own chosen people?

When the Beast leads the armies of the earth against Israel in the final battle before the return of the Lord, God will determine which Jews are killed by the Beast’s armies (and there will be many) and which Jews will still be living to see Jesus come down from heaven to rescue them. The Beast’s attack on Israel will not be random . It will be the final shake of God’s dread sifter, and in that event, as in the events of the past two thousand years, not one grain of wheat will fall to the ground.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Opening and Shutting The Door

I have set before you an open door that no one can shut.”
Jesus, in Revelation 3:8

During a 1972 sermon in an afternoon prayer meeting at Grandma’s farmhouse, my father pointed out that Noah did not lock anyone out of the ark. God is the one who shut that door, to save Noah and his family and to condemn the wicked world outside. Then my father went on to quote a prophecy of Christ from Isaiah 22:22: “He shall open [the door] and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.”

Later in that same sermon, and dealing with another subject, he quoted a famous portion of Scripture from John 10:7-9: “Then again, Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I tell you that I’m the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep didn’t hear them. I’m the door; if anyone enters through me, he’ll be saved, and he’ll come in, and go out, and find pasture.”

When I heard that Scripture, the Lord reminded me of the previous one from Isaiah, and putting the two together, I understood what Jesus opens and closes – himself! He either opens his heart to a person, or he does not. If he does open his heart to a person and convicts him of sin, no man can make that conviction go away. And if Jesus closes himself to a person, no one can make that individual feel the call of the Spirit of God.

That thought reminds me of what Paul said in Romans 9: “For He said to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.’ So then, it is not of him who wants it, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. . . . Therefore, He has mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom He will, He hardens.”

If you have any interest in, or feel any sincere curiosity about the things of God, it is only because Jesus is opening his heart to you now, and is inviting you to come in. Take advantage of the golden opportunity of that open door. There is not another one like it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"Not In This Place!"

Prophesy not again any more at Bethel,
for it is the king’s chapel, and it is the king’s court.”
Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, in Amos 7:13

What was Amaziah thinking? That high ranking priest forbade Amos to speak, a man whom God anointed and called away from his herds in Tekoah, and then sent him to Bethel to prophesy to the fallen tribes of the north. Obviously, Amaziah did not believe Amos was sent from God to say anything to the worshipers at Bethel. But why?

Amaziah was a part of Israel, the chosen nation. He was a descendant of Abraham, and a partaker of the promised land with all the other Israelites. Amos’ message could only have blessed Amaziah if he had received it and done things God’s way.

Let’s consider Amaziah’s reasons for running Amos out of Bethel. First, he said, “This is the king’s chapel.” In other words, “Amos, you can’t give prophecies like that in a place like this. Here at Bethel, we prophesy pleasant things to the king. We promise him the favor of the gods, not their displeasure. He doesn’t pay us to forecast doom and accuse him of sinfulness, as you do.”

Secondly, said Amaziah, “This is the king’s court.” In other words, “It isn’t a smart career move to say bad things about the nation and the king here. In fact, it is downright unpatriotic. In this place, we flatter the king and proclaim messages that support his policies.”

Men have always had their “high places” where the word of God seemed out of place, such as their great public buildings and their fine cathedrals. When Paul spoke to the saints of “spiritual wickedness in high places,” he was not speaking of heaven; he was speaking of earth. God dwells with the lowly, and you will not find many of them in the high places which men have built.

Do you know of any place where men would think a message from God about righteousness and sin would be unwelcome? If so, stay out of it and pray to hear the voice of God.

Monday, December 8, 2008

“Prophesy Not!”

“‘Prophesy not!’ they say to them who prophesy.”
Micah 2:6

“They hate the one who rebukes [the wicked] in the gate;
they abhor him who speaks uprightly.”
Amos 5:10

Strange as it may seem, God’s people have a long history of rejecting the truth when their heavenly Father sends it to them, and of abusing the messengers He sends to them. The biblical record shows that only a small percentage of believers – people who truly do belong to God – welcome what He has to say to them or treat His messengers with respect.

In Micah 2:6, God quotes some of the exact words that His people used to demand that His prophets keep their mouths shut: “They say to those who prophesy, ‘Prophesy not!’” Then, He went on to tell Micah that since His people wanted Him to be silent, He would be silent. His prophets, He said, “shall not prophesy to them, so that they will not be ashamed.” In other words, God decided to cease from reproving them for their sins and causing them to be ashamed. He decided to give up and leave them to their own lusts. In short, He decided to let the darkness of sin have them (Mic. 3:6-7):

Therefore night shall be unto you, and you shall not have a vision, and it shall be dark unto you, that you shall not divine. And the sun will go down over the prophets, and the day shall be dark over them. Then shall the seers be ashamed, and the diviners confounded. Yea, they shall all cover their lips, for there is no answer from God.”

It is an honor for God to think on us and to speak to us, whatever it is that He says. As both David and Job said, “What is man that thou art mindful of him?” Jesus said that he chastens and rebukes everyone whom he loves (Rev. 3:19), and we need him to do that for us. But if we stubbornly refuse His counsel when He offers it, and if we maltreat His messengers and demand that they stop speaking His word to us, we may provoke the Lord to do just as we demand.

Not Just the Old

This kind of rebelliousness against the word of our God is not just an Old Testament phenomenon. Paul lived to see every congregation that he established in the Roman province of Asia turn against him. With a heavy heart, the aged apostle told young Timothy, “All they of Asia have forsaken me.” Included among these fallen saints were Paul’s beloved converts in Ephesus, whom he had forewarned with tears, that “after my departure shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also, from among yourselves shall men arise, speaking perverse things to draw disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30). But even though he could see it coming, there was nothing Paul could do to prevent that awful prophecy from being fulfilled.

Paul also prophesied of the apostasy of a large part of the world-wide body of Christ. He spoke to the Thessalonians of “a great falling away” among God’s people, and he told Timothy that the time would come when God’s children on earth would “not put up with sound doctrine, but after their own lusts, they will heap to themselves teachers [that is, they will hire ministers], having itching ears. And they shall turn away from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2Tim. 4:3-4).

Everything Paul said would happen to the body of Christ came to pass. But can we see it? Or are we among the ones whose eyes have been blinded by that strong delusion that has carried away the saints of God and made them unwilling, or unable, to hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Curse of Your Choice

Come to Bethel and transgress . . .”
Amos 4:4a

God is a poet and a singer, a clever writer and an artist. This is revealed in many ways that we can easily see, and in a few others that we do not so quickly grasp.

In the verse above from Amos 4, God is speaking to Israel through the humble herdsman Amos, in mockery of the call to worship that Israel usually heard. The false prophets in Israel would call to the people to “Come to Bethel and serve God!” But God spoke through Amos in mockery of them, saying, “Come to Bethel and transgress!” In English, the cleverness of God cannot be seen, but to the Israelites, it could not be missed.

The Hebrew word for “serve” is avad. That Hebrew word rhymes with the Hebrew word for “transgress”, which is avar. So, Amos sounded just like one of the false prophets, calling the people to worship before the golden calf at Bethel – until the last syllable was spoken. That last syllable, an “r” instead of a “d”, made the rulers in Israel furious, and it must have stunned the people who were deceived by them. Because of the way Hebrew letters are shaped, even when those two words are written, they can easily be confused, just as Israel was confused in Amos ' day concerning what was service to God and what was transgression against Him. The call of the false prophets to come to Bethel and worship promoted the very thing that divided the chosen people, the very thing God hated most. The worship at Bethel was a curse, not a blessing, and yet it was promoted by virtually all of the leaders of Israel, religious and otherwise, including the kings.


What would the Lord say to us now? His people now are divided into a thousand different Christian sects, and instead of being ashamed of ourselves and crying out for Jesus to come make us one in love and faith, we boast of our divisions as if they were good. The false prophets of ancient Israel did no worse than what many of the leaders of God’s own people are doing now.

Have you ever seen the bumper stickers and billboards which call men to “Join the Church of Your Choice”? But church religion fragments God’s children; it divides them into various sects that are contrary to each other in doctrine, in traditions, and in practice. The signs are promoting the curse! Division is a curse, not a blessing! We can never be united in Christ if we all “join the church of our choice.” God’s heart must be broken for the divisions in His earthly family, and yet those divisions are unashamedly promoted as if Christ died for us to be divided and to be taught different doctrines about him and the Father.

I wonder what God might write on the billboards which promote the curse of division among His children? Instead of “Join the Church of Your Choice”, I think He might write, “Join the Curse of Your Choice!”

Fathers, have you picked out a curse for your family yet? Mothers, which curse is your favorite?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Sometimes Evil Wins

“Judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off;
for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter.
Yea, truth faileth, and the one who departs from evil makes himself a prey.”
Isaiah 59:14-15

“Righteous art thou, O Lord, when I plead with thee;
yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments.
Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
Why are they all happy who deal very treacherously?”
Jeremiah 12:1

For most of my life, I have thought that, one way or another, if severe persecution ever came upon me or upon others in Christ, the righteous would somehow be able to get enough of the truth out in their defense to turn the tide, if they were close enough to God. Looking back on it, I don’t know why I ever thought that. The Bible is full of examples of perfectly innocent, wise, and upright people being ruthlessly persecuted. And in most of those stories, those suffering saints were unable to do anything to escape from the persecution or stop it.

If by declaring the truth and exposing the persecutors to be who they really are, God’s servants could overcome the envy and lies spoken against them, Jeremiah would never had been cast into a mud pit, Micaiah would not have been imprisoned, Urijah and Zedekiah would not have been murdered, John the Baptist would not have had his head cut off, and Paul would not have been beaten with rods.

Think about it. If being truly righteous and innocent, and exposing one’s persecutors to be hypocrites and liars could provide a man security in this world from injustice and cruel persecution, would Jesus have ever been crucified?

Over the past two years, especially, I have seen God give wicked men success in their ungodly machinations against innocent and humble souls. I have seen courts rule in favor of liars and unfaithful husbands, and against innocent and upright children of God who had done no evil at all; on the contrary, they had been maltreated and had themselves done good at all times. I have seen elements of the world take up the cause of deceitful brothers and sisters, and then broadcast their slander as if it were important news that everyone should know. There have also been times when I have seen God provide deliverance for his children from the cruel wrath of backslidden men. But a most important lesson I have learned through suffering the vexation of helplessly watching evil win is that escape from injustice, persecution, and public abuse is not always the lot of the righteous; nor has it ever been.

As much as I wish it was not true, I cannot help but to expect God to give more victories to the wicked over the upright, and to do it soon. I expect soon that the souls of righteous people will be vexed, as Lot’s soul was daily vexed at the filthy conduct of the wicked in Sodom. And I feel that our Father’s purpose will be to help us turn loose of things in this life that may mean more to us than we think they do, or that is good. Prepare your hearts.

In both Daniel and Revelation, the world ruler that John called “the Beast” is mentioned. And in both books, we are plainly warned that the saints will be overcome by him! There will be no escape for God’s people from his cruelty. Daniel said it this way: “He shall speak great words against the most High, and he shall wear out the saints of the most High.” But John was plainer: “And he shall open his mouth in blasphemy against God . . . . And it was given to him to make war with the saints and to prevail against them.” The deeds of the Beast will be wicked, and his acts against the saints will be unreasonable and cruel, but no amount of right, reasonable talking will provide relief from his arrogant wrath, and no saint will escape his abuse by telling the truth. Quite the opposite. Telling the truth will only make things worse for them and make their sufferings worse.

I cannot promise those to whom I minister the word of God that they will not suffer. It would be more honest of me to promise them that they will. “All who live righteously in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution,” wrote Paul, and I know these sheep, that they are righteous people. Moreover, I am certain that if they suffer, they will suffer unjustly, for I know them, and I know that the life of holiness which Jesus taught, they live. And they know me and my manner of life. If more persecution comes my way, the Lord will let them know whether I am suffering for evildoing or for doing what is good in his sight.

Every child of God everywhere should be warned. Just as there is such a thing as doing evil and then suffering for it, the Bible makes it clear that there is also such a thing as doing good and suffering for it. And the blood of many thousands of precious, humble, and godly saints throughout history bears witness to the fact that, in this present, wicked world, evil sometimes wins.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Divided Heart

“Their heart is divided; now shall they be found faulty.”
Hosea 10:2

“Teach me your way, O Lord. I will walk in your truth.
Unite my heart to fear your name.”
Psalm 86:11

The worst of all spiritual conditions is to have a divided heart. A divided heart is a heart that fears both God and men, or both God and the devil. A divided heart loves God, and loves the world, too; and while the world will congratulate you for not giving all your heart to Jesus, God will destroy you for it. God would rather that someone hate Him than to love Him and love the world. And He would rather someone have no faith at all in Him than to have faith in both His power and the devil’s.

There was a Pastor with a divided heart in the ancient city of Laodicea. Jesus sent him this message, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I prefer that you be either cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am about to vomit you out of my mouth.”

The most troublesome people on earth are God’s people whose hearts are divided. They cause the body of Christ far more pain and suffering than the world possibly can. When the Lord chastens or reproves those with a divided heart, they often go to unbelievers with their complaint because they know enough truth to know that unbelievers cannot discern where they really are. Judas had a divided heart. Judas loved Jesus . . . and money. And after Jesus exposed Judas’ slander among the disciples, Judas betrayed him. No one else could have done that.

The Romans would not on their own have crucified the Lord, but the Jewish elders with divided hearts cornered Pilate and forced him to give the order to have it done. That is why Jesus told Pilate that the sin of the Jews was greater than Pilate’s sin (Jn. 19.11).

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus said, “The lamp of the body is the eye; therefore, if your eye be single, your whole body will be light; but if your eye be evil, your whole body will be dark. Therefore, if the light in you be darkness, how great that darkness is!”

The darkest place in Creation is not one of those Black Holes that astrophysicists have discovered in outer space. The most darkened place in this Creation, according to God, is the soul of saints whose hearts are divided between their God and this world (Jer. 17:9).

James exhorts saints with divided heart with these words: “Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”

Sound advice. The most agonizing torment in the Lake of Fire is reserved for those whose affections and thoughts are controlled by the love of God . . . and by love for someone else.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Two Who Cannot Receive the Spirit

Jesus paid the price for the sins of the whole world, and now, “whosoever will” may be cleansed from sin by the Spirit of God. But there are two kinds of people who cannot possibly receive the spiritual cleansing that Jesus paid for.

The first group who cannot receive the holy Ghost is sinners. Sinners are people who are living in rebellion and sin, and they must stop doing that if they want God’s Spirit. Every man who has ever been sent by Christ has agreed that those who are living a wicked lifestyle must repent and cease from sin in order to receive God’s Spirit. They must, as Jesus said, “Repent and believe the gospel.” And when a sinner repents and stops sinning, then he is no longer a sinner and is in a position to receive God’s Spirit.

One ceases from sin before he can be born of the Spirit. The very reason God baptizes a person with His Spirit and washes his sins away is that the sinner has believed the gospel and has ceased from sin.

We learn from the Scriptures that everyone who truly seeks God stops sinning. The very act of seeking God implies a cessation of sin. Listen to what David said (Ps. 119:2-3): “Blessed are they that keep God’s testimonies and that seek Him with the whole heart. They also do no iniquity; they walk in His ways.” The author of Hebrews tells us that God is a “rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (11:6); that is, He rewards those who believe in His Son and stop sinning. And God’s “reward” for those who believe the gospel and cease from sin is the baptism of the Spirit.

The second group of people who cannot receive the Spirit of God is the saints of God. The ones who belong to God cannot receive the Spirit because they already have it. Paul said, “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Rom. 8:9b). And the corollary to Paul’s statement is this: “If any man have God’s Spirit, he is His.”

These, then are the two kinds of people who cannot receive the Spirit of God: Saints and sinners.

Becoming Innocent

“How long will it be, ere they attain to innocence?”
Hosea 8:5b

In prisons around the world, there are many poor souls sitting on death row who wish they could undo the crimes they committed. And there are even more people, not in prison, who live a life of regret, wishing they had not done some of the things they did in their lives. These are in another kind of prison, the prison of conscience, because once a deed is done, they know it cannot be undone. But because of Jesus, there is hope, for “if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and He understands everything” (1Jn. 3:20).

God can make a virgin out of a harlot. And God can make a guilty soul as innocent as a child. He begged Israel to take advantage of His offer of innocence: “Come now, and let us reason together. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isa. 1:18). This reversal of guilt is not possible with men, “but with God, all things are possible.”

God is willing to make us clean and innocent, regardless of our past. That is the wonder of the love and power of God. What more could any of us ask of Him? Through Jesus, God has provided a way to make us all pure and innocent, and worthy to live forever in His presence.