Tuesday, June 30, 2009

“What Have I Done?”

“I hearkened and heard, but they did not speak rightly.
No man repented him of his wickedness, saying,
‘What have I done?’”
Jeremiah 8:6

What God found among His people in Jeremiah’s time, He found in the times of other prophets. God would send His prophets to the people, telling each one something like what He commanded Isaiah: “Cry aloud! Spare not! Lift up your voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins” (Isa. 58:1). Isaiah did this, but a thoroughly backslidden people cannot see what God sees, especially what He sees about them. As Jeremiah would say in the verse following the one above, “My people do not know the judgment of the Lord” (Jer. 8:7).

At least seven times, God sent Malachi to His people to point out specific sins they were committing, but every time Malachi spoke to them about their sin, they responded to by saying to Malachi, in effect, “Why are you saying such things to us?” Malachi told the people that they were despising the name of the Lord (1:6), that they had polluted God’s altar (1:7, 12), that they had corrupted the priestly covenant (2:8), that they had profaned the holiness of the Lord (2:11), that they had made the Lord “weary” with their false doctrines (2:17), that they needed to repent (3:7), that they had robbed God (3:8), and that their words had been “stout” against the Lord (3:13). Yet, in spite of this very plain talk from God, the response from the people and their priests was that they did not understand how Malachi could say such things about them.

It is amazing that people who were so wrong were not able to see that they were wrong at all. It is almost impossible to believe that people who had fallen so far away from the righteousness of the Law could not understand that they had, indeed, fallen. But such is a real spiritual condition of some who wander out of the right way. David warned his son Solomon that such a blindness to oneself exists. He said to Solomon, “The way of the wicked is as darkness. They know not at what they stumble” (Prov. 4:19). But they “know not” because God refuses to let them know. Remember, all understanding is from God.

One of the reasons that it is a “fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” is that if a man provokes God by stubbornly continuing in wickedness, God has the power to blind him to his sinfulness, so that he cannot repent. This “hardness of heart” is what the Bible calls “God’s curse” (Lam. 3:65). Paul referred to it as “the uttermost wrath” of God (1Thess. 2:16). It is the most dreadful of all spiritual conditions among living men.

If you can see your own fault, you are being loved and called by Jesus. You are being shown grace from God that will lead to forgiveness and salvation if you take advantage of that light given to you by turning from the error of your ways.

“It was not he that hated me”

“It was not an enemy that reproached me;
then, I could have borne it.
Neither was it he that hated me that
did magnify himself against me;
then, I would have hid myself from him.
But it was you, a man my own equal,
my guide, and my acquaintance.
We took sweet counsel together,
and walked unto the house of God in company.”
Psalm 55:12-14

Judas did not hate Jesus.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Earth

“Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things?
Shall the earth be brought forth in one day?
Or shall a nation be born in one step?”
Isaiah 66:8

Psalm 19 tells us that the heavens already declare the glory of God. But, in Revelation 12, we are told that before the end of this age, God will use the heavens to proclaim the story of His Son as never before. The Father’s use of the heavens to proclaim the gospel of His Son to all mankind was foretold by Jesus. In Matthew 24:30, he said that shortly before he would return to earth, all people would see “the sign of the Son of man” in heaven. He said in Luke 21:25 that there will be “signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars” just before his return. This is what John saw in Revelation 12.

God will arrange the starry host in such a way that men around the world will see a woman “clothed with the sun” (Israel) give birth to a child “who is to rule all nations with an iron rod” (Jesus). Then men will see in the sky a fierce beast (Satan) attempt to destroy the child, but the child ascends into heaven (Jesus’ ascension to the Father in Acts 1). The story that the Father will tell in the sky will continue to show that the devil grew so angry and full of hatred against the Son that he determined to kill the woman (destroy Israel) because through her, the Messiah came. John described the devil’s attempt to destroy the woman with these words:

15. Then the serpent spewed out of his mouth water like a river after the woman, to sweep her away with the flood,
16. but the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the river that the dragon spewed out of his mouth.

Now, in Revelation, the “peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and languages” are represented by the sea (Rev. 17:15). On the other hand, God’s people are referred to as “the earth”. This is “the earth” that “opened its mouth and swallowed up the river that the dragon spewed out”. In other words, what has prevented the “peoples, and multitudes, and nations” of this world from destroying Israel is the influence of God’s New Testament saints on the world, with their prayers and their love for Israel, through whom the Savior came. As this world continues in its downward moral and spiritual spiral, it will become increasingly hostile against the nation of Israel, in spite of the presence of the saints, but to date, that little, besieged nation has survived because the people who love Jesus are still here, praying for her.

The Second Beast

Another prophetic significant mention of “the earth”in reference to the saints of God has to do with the figure in Revelation called “the second beast”, or, the “false prophet”, the man who will work with “the Beast”, that great world ruler who will gather all the nations of the world against Israel (Rev. 16:13-14, 16). We are told that this Beast is a man who arises out of the sea (Rev. 13:1). That means that the Beast will be a man who does not belong to God’s family. He will simply be a man of the world. However, the False Prophet does not come from the sea; he does not come from the “peoples, and multitudes, and nations” of this world. Rather, he comes from “the earth” (Rev. 13:11). In other words, he is a child of God, and obviously one who had been, at some point in his life, chosen and anointed with power by Christ. In other words, the character called “the False Prophet” will be a backslidden, Spirit baptized servant of Jesus Christ.
Brought Forth

The “earth” which rescues Israel with its prayers and influence, and out of which will come that second beast called the “False Prophet”, is the earth which Isaiah prophesied would be “brought forth in one day”. And that “one day” in which “the earth” of believers was brought forth was the day of Pentecost, in Acts 2. The Hebrew word for “brought forth” in that verse from Isaiah refers to the suffering of birth pangs by an expectant mother. Here is the whole verse again:

Isaiah 66
8. Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall the earth be brought forth in one day? Or shall a nation be born in one step?

We are imagining nothing in saying that this verse refers to the new birth which the followers of Jesus experienced on the day of Pentecost. Isaiah 66 is filled with clear references to the New Testament people of God, including the holy Ghost being given to men.

The Parables

Many of God’s parables in both the Old and New Testaments refer to God’s people being expected to “produce fruit” or some such thing. In Isaiah 5, God’s saints are His vineyard; in Matthew 13, God’s saints are His wheatfield. Hosea pleads with God’s people to “Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy. Break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord, until He come and rain righteousness upon you” (Hos. 10:12). In Hebrews 6:7-8, the man of God warns all the saints that although God’s rain falls on all His people, not all of His people are the same kind of soil and that, while some produce fruit to His glory, others bear thorns, “whose end is to be burned”:

Hebrews 6
7 For the earth which drinks in the rain that comes often upon it, and produces usable herbs for them by whom it is dressed, receives blessing from God:
8 But that which bears thorns and briers is rejected, and is close to being cursed; whose end is to be burned.

Finally, in the parable which Jesus said must be understood before any other parable can be understood, Jesus said that, concerning the kingdom of God, there are four kinds of soil. Each one of us, spiritually speaking, is one of those four kinds of soil into which the Word of God has been sown. What kind of fruit are we bearing?

The False Prophet, the servant of Satan and the Beast, was the kind of soil that, at first, bore great fruit, but then, near the harvest, it all turned bitter. May God help us to be the kind of earth that, with patience and understanding, bears good fruit until the end.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Going Nowhere

“Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines.
For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace.”
Hebrews 13:9

“But the God of all grace, who hath called us
unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus,
after that ye have suffered a while,
make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.”
1Peter 5:10

The Lord showed us through Sister Sandy a few years ago that man’s thinking is backwards, and the Lord reminded me recently of just how backwards man’s thinking is. Not long ago, the saints who gather here had the opportunity to interact with a large number of other saints, and non-believers as well. Among those whom we met was a pastor named James. After he had gotten to know the people here, he made the comment to someone that he wished he could get his congregation to the place where we are. Brother James meant this sincerely, and we all pray for him as he continues to try to do good for the souls over whom God has appointed him. But as I thought on his comment, the Lord showed me how backward from the mind of Christ that kind of thinking really is.

The truth is that we, as a body of believers, have not “gotten anywhere” since we got into Christ. That is what makes God’s obedient children seem to be so different. The truth is that when we were brought into the family of God by the Spirit, we just didn’t go anywhere else. People in this world are always trying “to get somewhere”. But Paul said, “As you have received the Lord Jesus, so walk ye in him.” In other words, just live in the Spirit once you have received it. Don’t go anywhere.

People who backslide from Christ are always those who “go somewhere” after they have entered into the kingdom of God. Mentally, they go somewhere without Christ leading; spiritually, they get carried off with some “wind of doctrine”, either “doctrines of demons” or some “good idea” of men. Jesus said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask what you will, and it shall be done unto you” (Jn. 15:7). In other words, don’t worry about “getting somewhere” once you are in Christ. Just abide in him. Once you get there, just abide in him. Don’t go anywhere. Let him travel. If you’re abiding in him, you’ll go with him. He’ll take you wherever he wants you to go. But don’t you go anywhere.

As your pastor, I’m not trying to get you anywhere. I’m trying to teach you to “be still and know that He is God”; I’m trying to teach you to be “content with godliness” and rest in Christ. Abide in Him! That’s where the joy is; that’s where the peace is; that’s where the truth is; that’s where the light is; that’s where salvation is and will be. Let’s don’t go anywhere.

Now, if you get to where you really are satisfied with God and don’t want to go anywhere, and will not go anywhere, regardless of the attitude of those around you, then you are what the Bible calls “established” and “rooted”. If you are rooted, you’re not going anywhere. Winds can blow, rains can come, and you will stay right there and abide in him. That’s what the truth about Christ does for the soul. It gets you to where you don’t go anywhere. As a matter of fact, you get so full of truth, there is nowhere to go.

So, what our dear Brother James was really wanting for the sheep of God was to get them content with the life that God first gave them when He brought them into His kingdom, and to help them abandon the false doctrines and the Christian ceremonies which moved them from the “simplicity which is in Christ.” It is my obligation to exhort you not to be beguiled by and attracted to vain imaginations and vain dreams of “getting somewhere”, and to help you get rooted in Christ so that you are not moved by any earthly thing away from the will of God.

Near the end of his life, Paul said that in every city through which he passed on his way to Jerusalem, the Spirit prophesied through various believers of great persecution that was awaiting him when he reached the holy city. “But,” he said, “none of these things move me.” Paul wasn’t going anywhere. He was being carried by Jesus wherever he went, and that’s where we want to be. That’s being “rooted and grounded” when we, of ourselves, don’t go anywhere, and Jesus does all the traveling. That’s being “led by the Spirit”. You are not being led by the Spirit unless you are carried by the Spirit in every situation you face. That’s the only way the Spirit leads. It moves and you are carried to wherever you go. You don’t go anywhere.

We here are not trying to get anywhere. We’ve already been taken by Christ to where we want to be. Paul said we are “complete in him”, and spiritual growth is nothing more than growing in the knowledge of how complete we are, once we are in him. Christ has taught us simply to live, and to resist the winds that blow through the vineyard of God, the fads and fashions that come and go, the styles and spiritual traditions that have started and that move people away from Christ.

It’s been that way from the beginning. In the 1960's and 70's, the “charismatic movement” came and went. Some of us were young in the Lord, but we watched the whole thing and were not carried off by it because we were instructed by those who were established and had no desire “to get somewhere”. They were simply happy in Jesus. And, if you are really happy in Jesus, where is there that you want to go? What is there that you want to become, other than what he has made you? Walking in the light with Jesus is like one of the poets said: “Trailing clouds of glory do we come from God, who is our home.” If you come from God, you’re in God. And when you come from God, you haven’t gone anywhere. You’re still in Him.

“There was a man sent from God whose name was John.” This John the Baptist was from God and in God. When he came preaching to Israel, he had gone nowhere from God because God sent him and God was with him. If you’re sent from Him, you’re in Him. And He’s right there. He’s carried you to wherever you are. And, He has carried us to where we are. And, until He moves again, we’re going to sit right here. I don’t have any ambition. No ambitions. No dreams of the future. Right now is pleasant enough. Jesus is good enough. What he really does is better than anything I’ve ever dreamed, anyway.

I had an incredible dream several years ago. I was in a battle, on the main line, and the enemy had come against us. Somehow, we ended up in hand- to- hand combat, and an enemy soldier had me on the ground and was choking me to death. I was struggling against him with all my strength, and then, I opened my eyes – and it was Jesus! I realized immediately that my real struggle was not against him but against my own fleshly will. I knew that if I wanted to live forever, I would have to force my body not to resist Jesus in his attempt to kill me; that is, to kill my old sinful nature. Jesus wasn’t really my enemy. He was trying to put my real enemy to death, the evil nature that is in my flesh. He was trying to get me out of the way, so that he could give me his kind of life!

The men in the New Testament who began to teach that the Spirit did not confess when Christ came into the flesh were described by John. And do you know what John said about them? He said that they went somewhere. He said, “They went out from us.” Those men “got somewhere” in this world, and in time, they persuaded almost all of God’s children in the world to go somewhere with them. But when they did, they left Christ behind and invented a religion of their own, the abomination called “Christianity”.

One of the biggest criticisms my father ever got concerning me was that he was keeping me from “getting somewhere.” People would tell him all the time, “You’re ruining John. He could have a great career as a pastor somewhere. He could get somewhere.” But they did not understand that I already was somewhere because I was in Christ. They did not esteem where Christ had put them enough to realize that they were somewhere too, somewhere good, and holy, and eternal. My father taught me and the rest of his flock to be content with godliness, to live in the Spirit, and to wait on God. Why would I want to go somewhere else? What was wrong with what God had done? What was incomplete about the work of Christ in me? There was already so much spiritual food being given to me that I could not eat it all. All I had to do was to eat, and grow in Christ, and be satisfied. What Christ was giving me would satisfy my soul completely if only I ate enough of it. When you stop eating is when you get hungry. Then, you begin to feel discontent and you start wanting to “get somewhere”.

When John described the men who began to teach false doctrine among the saints, he not only said, “They went out from us”; he also said, “They were not of us, for if they had been of us, they would have stayed with us.” In other words, those men would have stayed where John stayed spiritually. They would have stayed where he was in Christ. They would have continued to walk in peace with John and the other apostles in the Spirit. This whole world is pushing you to “get somewhere”, to “be somebody”, because the whole world is miserable. And it is miserable because it refuses to eat the spiritual food Jesus is offering. Many of God’s saints are swept up in that ungodly attitude. The whole world lies in wickedness and is dissatisfied, but Jesus will satisfy you. He will satisfy your soul if you will only open your mouth and eat the spiritual food he is offering you.

Let’s stay where Christ has put us. Let’s blossom in the place where he has planted us. Let’s be content and thankful and grow in the knowledge of who and where we are. If we do that, we will not succumb to the pressure of the flesh to strive to “get somewhere” and “be somebody” because we will realize that who and where we already are in Christ is all we will ever need.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Sowing While You Reap

“Why should I fear in the days of evil,
when the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about.”
Psalm 49:5

Paul was speaking from experience when he told the Galatians (6:7), “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked. For whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap.” Paul had sown some bad seed in his youth by persecuting the saints of God. In Acts 26, when he stood before King Agrippa, he confessed that he did many things “contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (vs. 9). He said that he locked up many of the saints in prison and that “when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them” (vs. 10). He confessed the he “punished them often in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and, being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto foreign cities” (vs. 11).

Paul reaped all the pain and suffering he inflicted on God’s people, but because of the love and the wisdom of God, his reaping of those sins was at the same time his sowing of seed for a better resurrection. Comparing himself to others who labor for the Lord, Paul said he was (2Cor. 11):

23 In labors more abundant, in prisons more frequently, in stripes more numerous, in deaths often.
24 Five times, I received forty lashes minus one at the hands of Jews;
25 three times was I beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a day and a night I have spent in the deep;
26 on frequent journeys, in dangers on rivers, in dangers of bandits, in dangers from the Jews, in dangers from the Gentiles, in dangers within cities, in dangers in the wilderness, in dangers on the sea, in dangers among false brothers,
27 through toil and hardship, through frequent sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in the cold and nakedness;
28 besides the things I leave unmentioned, the daily responsibility upon me, taking care of all the congregations.

Paul reaped every ounce of pain he had inflicted on the innocent children of God before he was converted, and yet, all his reaping was transformed by the love of God into a sowing of good seed that would yield eternal life.

Job had similar thoughts. In the time of his deepest agony he cried out to God, “You are making me possess the iniquities of my youth” (Job 13:26b). In the beginning of the book of Job, we are told that Job was “perfect and upright”; a man who “feared God and eschewed evil” (Job 1:1). But Job had sown some evil seed in his youth, and he reaped it in a multiplied form. At the same time, however, he was being used in a great way to bring glory and honor to God by reaping what he had sown in his younger years.

You are going to reap the sins of your youth. Don’t be fooled. Nobody “gets by”. But if you will commit your life to Jesus, your reaping of those sins will be transformed by your heavenly father into a sowing of good seed for a better resurrection. And that is why David did not fear “the days of evil, when the iniquity of my heels compass me about.” How good God is, to use even our reaping of past sins for our blessing!

If you have sown bad seed in years passed, look to Jesus. If you trust him, he will make you thankful for every time that you reap what you have sown, even if that reaping brings tears. Those kinds of tears, God keeps in a bottle (Ps. 56:8). And He will turn them all to joy “in the morning”. David explained it this way: “His anger endures but a moment; in His favor is life. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Ps. 30:5).