Reign in Me, Again

“I will serve my King with a true heart.”

The Lord will reign forever and ever.”

Exodus 15:18

” Whatever the Lord pleases, he does,
    in heaven and on earth,
    in the seas and all deeps.”

Psalm 135:6

I am persuaded that Americans simply do not “process” this concept of sovereignty, especially when it’s endowed in a person.  A recent trip to London I observed a deep commitment to the royal crown.  Some people are said to be ‘lactose intolerant;’ I think we are ‘lordship intolerant.’

America is a broad, an open and friendly nation, characteristics worthy of emulation.  But we are also rebellious and arrogant people. Our nation was born out of revolution to a sovereign king.

“O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you.”

2 Chronicles 20:6

Jesus reigns and rules the Universe.  There are no competing gods trying to take his place, no competition for his job.  He is the ultimate Sovereign. He is a King (with a capital K,) and he is worshipped as ‘the King of kings.’ Imagine a universe, out of control, without laws, without a ruler. It would be pure anarchy; it would be like hell itself.

Without any apology, the Bible proclaims that God is totally sovereign, ordaining, ruling, and disposing of all things as He will. If He has no control over the universe, then our faith in Him becomes an utter absurdity. It matters if God is in control, or not. It effects everything.

  • Nothing surprises God
  • Nothing is a setback to His plans
  • Nothing can thwart His purposes, and
  • Nothing is beyond His control

“His sovereignty is absolute. Everything that happens is uniquely ordained by God. Sovereignty is a weighty thing to ascribe to the nature and character of God. Yet if He were not sovereign, He would not be God. The Bible is clear that God is in control of everything that happens.”

Joni Eareckson Tada

My heart must change.  I must set aside those American attributes of rebellion and pride. There isn’t room for them. You see, I belong to a new kingdom now, a new King.  He is not in danger of losing His throne– but I am.  And He rules everything in His universe, not with an iron fist, but with an open hand with nail prints for all to see.

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Cities Without Walls

“A man without self-control
    is like a city broken into and left without walls.”

Proverbs 25:28

The writer of Proverbs can be blunt. He makes the cold observation that people can often be like a city that has no walls.

The city he alluded to was completely defenseless, vulnerable and wide open to a marauding enemy. It no longer is protected. It can be assaulted from outside and is no longer safe. It can be easily defeated by its foes.

The description is used to describe a spiritual condition of danger and defeat. A real potentiality exists of a helpless invasion by evil forces. It has no protection to speak of.

Proverbs uses this imagery to state a fundamental truth about some people.

We live in an age when everything is “open.” Seldom do we see protecting walls around the perimeter of our lives. We are open to the demonic forces of darkness. We move from crisis to crisis because we are not protected.

Nehemiah faced the stark reality of Jerusalem without walls of protection. His first order of business (before anything else) was to rebuild them. He mobilized work crews that immediately went to work restoring the cities safety.

“I went out by night by the Valley Gate to the Dragon Spring and to the Dung Gate, and I inspected the walls of Jerusalem that were broken down and its gates that had been destroyed by fire.”

Nehemiah 2:13

He knew what he was up against; a discouraged people who were extremely vulnerable. It’s also interesting that the cities enemies resisted at this crucial time. They wanted the people to fail so  they would continue to defeat them.

Our culture today is no longer protected by the evil of the day. We’re victims for the most part by Satan’s tactical assaults. A generation has come and gone that has not known the defense of personal walls.

We are desperate of the ministry of Nehemiah. He is a type of Christ. Protection can only come from faith and blood of Jesus. He alone is our safe place. He alone can defend us from this present darkness.

If your life is characterized by oppression I urge you to erect a safe place for yourself and for your family. Being specific in prayer is very often your sheltered place. Take a stand and drive the enemy away. Resist him and he will flee from you.

“The world’s battlefields have been in the heart chiefly; more heroism has been displayed in the household and the closet, than on the most memorable battlefields in history.”

–Henry Ward Beecher

 

 

Nothing But Leaves [Self-Deceit]

“Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.”

Mark 11:13, NASB

Perplexing isn’t it?  I personally have lived with a certain amount of ambiguity with this passage.  I have questions that I’ve swept under the rug.  Why did that poor tree get cursed?  It wasn’t the trees fault, after all.  And didn’t Jesus realize this?  So why go through the theatrics?

I don’t know if this is the case with anyone else.  I hesitate to ask around.  But recently have come to a better place about this entire event.  The traditional view is that it comes immediately after “the cleansing of the temple” and that explains a lot.  The fig tree is always emblematic of Israel.  (The Old Testament is well populated with these references.) Mark adroitly organized his account in order to connect both events.

Jesus has no issues or vendettas against trees.  But He does take an issue with things that claim fruit, but really have nothing.  There is nothing but leaves. I’ve been told that the figs do grow, almost as fast as leaves.  The lush greenness is the prime indicator of the succulent fruit. At least, it has the potential.

The beautiful leaves announces its fruitfulness.  This tree was loaded, but had nothing to show but leaves.  Within God’s plan for Israel was for fruit.  Enough to feed the nations that would stream to Jerusalem.  Instead, it was worthless.  There was nothing to be had.  Loads of leaves, and the promise of an incredible harvest, but zilch, zero, nothing.

Hypocrisy is a deadening experience, with a certain sterility in it.  Israel was finding this out, and Jesus is now declaring it to the nation.  A corrupt temple, and a fruitless tree; this were all indicators of hypocrisy and showiness.  The luxuriant leaves loaded the tree, but ‘where’s the fruit?!’

Sometimes we declare that we are fruitful, on the mere basis of our leaves. 

At times we can be a wonder, and make an exceptional statement.  But when He comes, and looks up at our limbs and out to our branches, will He find fruit, or just lots of green?  Leaves are pretty much all we can do.  And we do it quite well. But the fruit is from the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22.)

Israel failed God.  They became religious and neglected mercy, and justice.  Humility and graciousness.  The widow and the orphan were not part of their personal equation.  They produced leaves by the wheelbarrow load, but were missing out on the authenticity to what was true, and what really mattered.

Pharisees will do this, and they turn into hypocrites who do not possess what they profess. A hypocrite values true godliness, but he personally falls short of all those things he admires. But he will never, ever admit it to anyone.  And even we who struggle so, must continually admit that we stumble and falter as we try to follow.

I may be a ‘screwy’ excuse of being a disciple, but I have decided I don’t want to deceive people.  God, help me.

“This year, or this month, or, more likely, this very day, we have failed to practise ourselves the kind of behaviour we expect from other people.”  

C.S. Lewis

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The Diary of a Bible

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JANUARY: A busy time for me. Most of the family decided to read me through this year. They kept me busy for the first two weeks, but they have forgotten me now.

FEBRUARY: Clean-up time. I was dusted yesterday and put in my place. My owner did use me for a few minutes last week. He had been in an argument and was looking up some references to prove he was right.

MARCH: Had a busy day first of the month. My owner was elected president of the PTA & used me to prepare a speech.

APRIL: Grandpa visited us this month. He kept me on his lap for an hour reading I Cor 13. He seems to think more of me than do some people in my own household.

MAY: I have a few green stains now. Some spring flowers were pressed in my pages. I suppose this was bound to happen– after all, it is spring!

JUNE: I look like a scrapbook. They have stuffed me full of newspaper clippings – one of the girls was married. I get to hold the “glad tidings.”

JULY: They put me in a suitcase today. I guess we are off on vacation. I wish I could stay home; I know I’ll be closed up in this thing for at least two weeks.

AUGUST: Drat. Still in the suitcase.

SEPTEMBER: Back home at last and in my old familiar place. I have a lot of company. Two women’s magazines and four comic books are stacked on top of me. I wish I could be read as much as they are.

OCTOBER: They read me a little bit today. One of them is very sick. Right now I am sitting in the center of the coffee table. I think the Pastor is coming by for a visit.

NOVEMBER: Back in my old place. Somebody asked today if I were a scrapbook.

DECEMBER: The family is busy getting ready for the holidays. I guess I’ll be covered up under wrapping paper & packages again … just as I am every Christmas.

I recently came across a statistic claiming that only about 10% of professing Christians have read the entire Bible. Does the other 90% include you? Guilt is not the reason for this post, but I do want to encourage my readers to pick it up and read. It is not an ordinary book.

16 “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.”

2 Timothy 3:16

“The vigor of our spiritual life will be in exact proportion to the place held by the Bible in our life and thoughts.”

— George Muller

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A Towel, Not a Title

There are no shortcuts in discipleship
“Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. 4 So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist.”  

John 13:3-4, NLT

Jesus was always constant.  Nothing could erode His place or position.  The authority had been His Fathers, and it had been given to Him.  He carried it as a special burden, treasured and separating Him.  Jesus had the freedom to act like the servant.  It didn’t bother or confuse Him, He understood perfectly who He was.

With the supreme authority given to him, he got down on His knees, and began to wash dirty feet.  I can offer no magic or flair to adjust this scene.  He washed off dirt, cleaned between toes, making filthy feet clean.  And all of this ‘as God in human flesh’.  This staggered the disciples, perhaps a baseball bat on the side of the head, would’ve been more compassionate.

This was revolutionary, it completely devastated the disciples.  They just couldn’t grasp what was happening.  Jesus, who was ‘God in flesh’, had decided, in a moment of time, to clean their feet.  Outrageous!  Not really happening!  No way! Never!

The reality.

This spun them around.  They tried as fast as possible to process what had just happened, and ‘who’ it had happened from.

Essentially, it buried them.  Jesus Christ, as Servant pounded them into the ground.  Servanthood was to take the supremacy from this point forward.  Becoming an indentured slave was now the way of Christlikeness.  This servanthood was to now guide us to a point of slavery.

Gone are the days of Zebedee, when one can ask for a position, on the right or the left.  We can ask, most certainly, but we haven’t been the first.  We can ask but the sheer weight is against us.  So very many have gone before us.  We must become a people who accept, and then presses into His grace, His specialness, His presence.

Today, more towels are what we need.

We have got to turn over our ‘need’ for recognition and pick up from the pile the rag of servanthood, we must ‘ask’ our brother/sister if we can scrub their feet.  We must get on our knees and do the unspeakable.  We must find a way to clean off their feet. This dear one, is what you’ve been told to do.

“There are many of us that are willing to do great things for the Lord, but few of us are willing to do little things.”   D.L. Moody

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Discernment and Your Ministry

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“He begs God on behalf of a human
as a person begs for his friend.”

Job 16:21, NCV

I’ve been thinking about a class I had in Bible School.  The instructor made a comment that has stuck in my thinking for over 30 years now.  I have relied on it countless times in ministry since. It has helped me piece together certain issues of the heart.

When we “preach” to a person, we are actively accelerating the judgement of God in their life. When we pray for that same person, we delay this judgement and allow more room for the Holy Spirit to work.

 

Preaching

Now I know this is a generalization, and yet the basic premise of preaching and praying has a specific action.  When you preach, you are calling that person to make a decision.  They meet up with the truth and must decide for themselves.  This is a very sensitive moment.  If they consider your message at all– you must understand, one way or the other, that it will require a decision.  Either they act on it, or they’ll decide to reject it.

Within the Bible we often see judgement coming to someone, and very often it comes right after a “declaration of the truth” by a witness or a sermon.  Those who hear the word must choose to believe it, or spurn it.  Even a neutral position is a position. A decision must be made on all light that comes their way.

Prayer

Perhaps this may be easier to see.  The Word is full of men and women who interceded for others.  If preaching accelerates God’s judgement on a person (or group,) than prayer decelerates it.  In a sense, authentic intercession can give them more time.  It delays things, without approving them.

A classic case is Abraham.  He intercedes, and by doing so desires to save and deliver God’s own.  He “stands in the gap” for the unaware.  We see him “negotiating” with the Lord, trying to make a deal of sorts. He is bold and somewhat presumptuous. And actually, this is a regular occurrence with different circumstances.  Many in scripture do seem to get intensely involved in the lives of the people they represent.

“I will surely not stop praying for you, because that would be sinning against the Lord. I will teach you what is good and right.” 

1 Samuel 12:23

 Conclusion

Should we preach or pray?  We must consider, I think, the certain obligations of both.  I believe at the end of a person’s life, they have had both dynamics working.  Its like the tide– it ebbs and then advances, and perhaps that will help us to do the right thing at the right time.  We understand the necessity of preaching, and just as important the work of prayer.  We must do both, but grasp the issues behind each work.  Both are necessary for one to come to faith in Jesus.

Seeing the effects of our actions brings us into a deeper understanding of the life in the Spirit.  It motivates and will guide us.  We start to understand the Lord’s ways and become aware of what is happening in the world that is around us. This new discernment can only sharpen our work.

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The Man with a Deformed Hand, Mark 3:1-5

This is a chapter from my book, “They Met Jesus: Stories from the Gospels.” Hope you like it!

 

The Man with a Deformed Hand, Mark 3:1-5

Jesus went into the synagogue again and noticed a man with a deformed hand. 2 Since it was the Sabbath, Jesus’ enemies watched him closely. If he healed the man’s hand, they planned to accuse him of working on the Sabbath.

3 Jesus said to the man with the deformed hand, “Come and stand in front of everyone.” 4 Then he turned to his critics and asked, “Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” But they wouldn’t answer him.

5 He looked around at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts. Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.”So the man held out his hand, and it was restored!


It was the Sabbath. I was led to the synagogue by a Pharisee who promised me money. I had no idea what was going to happen. This is my story,

I was born with a deformity in my hand. It was misshapened and more like a club than a hand. I had perfect use of the other and I learned to adapt. It seemed perfectly natural to me now. I suppose I just got used to it, but it would be nice to have a normal hand. The children in the streets would always made fun of me. I suppose I became the neighborhood outcast.

Life was never normal for me. I lived on handouts and spent my days sitting on the sidewalk out of the hot Judean sun. I suppose that there must been sin in my life for God to judge me so, that is what they told me anyway.

When the Pharisee approached me with the promise of money I jumped at the chance. “All you have to do is stand there and show off your hand.” That was easy enough. I could do that. Little did I know that I was just a pawn in the Pharisee’s plan to trap Jesus.

I entered the synagogue which was a new experience for me. I had never been inside but the Pharisee who was leading me said it was OK, that I was expected. I stood in the back trying not to be noticed. I held out my deformed just like they asked me to.

At one point Jesus noticed me. “Come up here,” he said, “Come up front.” I had no idea of what was going to happen, no way of anticipating what Jesus was going to do. Jesus challenged the Pharisees. “Is it part of the Law to do good on the Sabbath day. Should we not do what is right?” I was scared, I had no idea what I was mixed up in. The room was very quiet.

Jesus was angry and I was afraid. He looked around to see if anyone would answer him. No one did although the answer seemed plain enough, even for me. Yet I still had no idea what was going to happen next.

Jesus looked at me. I sensed his love and his peace in his gaze. “Hold out your hand,” he asked me. There were no theatrics. No hoopla, just a simple command. So I did exactly that, and in an instant I was completely healed.

What more could I say. My deformity was turned into a healthy hand. Bones and tendons and muscle instantly reorganized themselves and something normal appeared where their was once twistedness. I flexed new fingers and wondered exactly what had happened to me.

It took me years to realize that there was a deeper deformity in the Pharisees understanding that Jesus wanted to heal. It was an issue of grace and goodness over error and legalism. Yes, I was healed on the Sabbath, but that was what was supposed to happen. People were meant to be made whole on God’s special day of rest.

It is a tremendous thing to have two healthy and whole hands. I marvel at the goodness of God every time I think about it. The Lord has been gracious to me and I rejoice at that grace. He has made me a wonder.

Lord, at times I feel deformed. But please don’t forget me. I will always stumble if you’re not holding my hand, Remind that being religious is a poor substitute for your nearness. Amen.

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