Proximity is Your Choice

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23″Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
   you hold my right hand.
24You guide me with your counsel,
   and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
   And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
   but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Psalm 73, ESV

Continuity is a medicine for us who are always on the edge of losing control.  One patriarch in the Book of Genesis was told that “he was unstable as water.”  And this pretty much describes me as I struggle with Bipolar Disorder.  But the promise from Psalm 73 is for a continuous presence.  There is no flickering, no jumping about.  He is steady.  He does not flit or fluctuate.  He is always, and forever, constantly focused with you.

He provides guidance, ‘free of charge’.  We can experience many confusing days.  We make the attempt to walk through them, but we quickly grasp our ineptitude.  It goes very much better when He is speaking into our hearts.  Since He is present with us on a continuous basis anyway, let us turn to Him for direction.

There is a realization in verse 25. “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.”  This statement declares “point blank” who and what is real.

The psalmist has an ‘umbilical cord’ attached to heavenly places.  This feeds him and gives him a radical strength to stand up and ‘to be’.  He is completely over with the things of this earth.  He desires only heavenly things, that which really matters after looking down the long corridors of eternity.

In verse 26 he admits a desperate weakness.  He understands the foolishness of his flesh.  He knows that it is pathetic  and feeble.  There is absolutely nothing he can do about this.  He has tried and tried repeatedly.  His heart is like a colander that drains away all the grace and mercy that comes.  He can hold nothing. He must stay under the faucet.

But still, there is a profound realization that God is strengthening his heart.  He has done this on an eternal level.  What this means is this:  He has touched me and by that touch has made me eternal, like Him.  The rest of this Psalm extends and states certain things that the Psalmist has learned himself.

 27″For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
   you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28But for me it is good to be near God;
   I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,
   that I may tell of all your works.”

Psalm 73, ESV

 Proximity determines everything.  Some will bounce to the other end of the spectrum.  Being close to Him confers life.  Moving away from Him brings nothing but certain death.  The issue in this Psalm is of ‘unfaithfulness’.  This is a biggie.  Being unfaithful means treachery, and a wagon load of deception, and nothing good will ever come from it.

“Every man is as holy as  he wants to be.”

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The Psalmist again deals with proximity.  God draws a person, but coming near is always your choice. The Psalmist sees that his “nearness to God is my good.”  He realizes that by taking refuge in God there is something that will be quite wonderful.  There is some effort that must happen.  So he makes God his refuge.  The Lord God is now a ‘bomb shelter’ or a covering for our souls.  He continues this process with the deep commitment to sharing ‘the works of God’.

 

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Quarantined, for His Purposes

 

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Quarantines are a real possibility, even in this day. A quarantine is imposed when disease is contagious enough that it would harm a society: Measles, Smallpox, and the recent Ebola Virus  are just a few physical diseases where strict isolation must be imposed. It can be severe— an epidemic, with desperate consequences if not adhered to; in some rare cases, the use of deadly force have been authorized to maintain a quarantine until the disease is no longer communicable.

This may surprise you, but there are examples of ‘quarantines’ in the Bible. The term ‘unclean’ was used for ‘leprosy.’ Those afflicted must isolate themselves; they had to ‘announce’ their presence when in contact with society. Lepers lived in groups away from the general populace as a result of their disease.

In Paul’s epistle to the Corinthian he addresses another kind of ‘quarantine.’ The situation was dire; the church had advocated a Christian living with his father’s wife.

“I have already passed judgment on this man in the name of the Lord Jesus. You must call a meeting of the church. I will be present with you in spirit, and so will the power of our Lord Jesus. Then you must throw this man out and hand him over to Satan so that his sinful nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved on the day the Lord returns.”

1 Corinthians 5:3-5, NLT

Understanding the Principal of Usefulness

20 “Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor.”

2 Timothy 2:20, NASB

Found in God’s pantry are many things. Paul writes Timothy about the ‘large house’ which is the Church inclusive. Look around Timothy, there are gold ones, and there are silver ones. They have a noble purpose fitting for such a great house. These are the ones the guests will use; they befit the significance of the Lord himself. These vessels have great value for they are made of precious metals.

There are vessels of a different category. These are the ones made of wood, and of clay. These are part of the household, make no mistake about it. But their use is one of function, they’re used in common ways. (A clay ‘bed-pan’ perhaps?!)

21 “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.”

2 Timothy 2:21

Paul, the author of New Testament doctrine of grace emphasizes the place of personal holiness. We are to ‘cleanse’ ourselves to become a vessel of honor. There is good news here:

  • All are vessels in the Father’s house. Each of us belong to Him. He determines their use.
  • Things are not yet in their final state. Change in status can be experienced. Clay pots can become ‘golden.’ Silver can become ‘wood.’

Some sin is contagious. It effects other believers and the Church. Sometimes we are quarantined by the Holy Spirit until the contagion passes. I have experienced this several times in my own discipleship. These are not pleasant times. But there is no condemnation. I’m still His servant, His love for me stays outrageously constant. God waits for me.

Yes I am His servant, and I must wait out in the hall. I haven’t been faithful. So I sit in His waiting room, waiting for His call. This is for my good, and for the Church. And Father knows best.

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Little Sin, Little Love— Much Sin, Much Love

 “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”  

Luke 7:47 

I have been a disciple of Jesus for almost 35 years.  But it seems that I really haven’t been a desperate lover of Jesus until recently.

I have seen a lot of stuff, so I made a quick list–

  • the charismatic movement
  • the Imperials
  • New Wine Magazine
  • “I Found It”
  • Larry Lea‘s Prayer Program
  • the PTL Club
  • the Shack
  • Jesus’ festivals, Festival of the Son
  • Promise Keepers
  • Anita Bryant
  • the Living Bible, youth edition
  • YWAM teams, the Candle– SF
  • Four Spiritual Laws
  • ’88 Reasons Why
  • “Honk if You Love Jesus”
  • street preaching in Haight Ashbury, SF
  • Don Francisco
  • carrying the cross, Arthur Blessit
  • the Hiding Place
  • Watchman Nee
  • Outdoor baptisms in city parks

I’ve been exposed to a lot of winds blowing through, and moving on.  You learn to separate the chaff from the grain.  Much of my life has been spent winnowing out to get to the good stuff.  God, through his word describes a coming “trial by fire” over each person’s works.  Romans 14:12 says, “Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God.”    

One time I walked as a backslidden Christian. I remember once waking up from a drunken stupor with my t-shirt soaked in blood. That blood was someone elses.  I sobered up really quick.  There was this shadowy awareness of beating someone to the point of death.  I still catch myself wondering what exactly happened.  There is so much stuff that will be revealed, and I have done many despicable things.

The judgment seat of Christ, therefore, involves believers giving an account of their lives to Christ. The judgment seat of Christ does not determine salvation; that was determined by Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf and our faith in Him. All of our sins are forgiven, and we will never be condemned for them. We should not look at the judgment seat of Christ as God judging our sins, but rather as God rewarding us for our lives. Yes, as the Bible says, we will have to give an account of ourselves. Part of this is surely answering for the sins we committed.    

The word used is “bema seat”, it was where the judge sat during athletic contests.  Think of the high chair on which a court official sits during a tennis match.  His word is not to be debated or ignored.  Jesus fully intends to judge us.

The issue will not be our salvation, but our faithfulness.    

Loving Jesus must become your critical objective for the rest of your days, 1 Peter 4:8, “Love covers a multitude of sins.”  We also read of the sinful woman who washed Jesus feet, “therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:47)

My dear one, practice loving him– starting today.  Many are the doers, few be the lovers.  The demanding weight of evangelism and world missions has quadrupled in the last 10 years.  Now is our time!  We love much!  Time is becoming short.

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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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Especially Peter, [Dynamite]

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“Now go and tell his disciples, and especially Peter, that he will go ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.”

Mark 16:7, CEV

Poor Peter.  He despairs over his personal darkness, and has been completely undone.  He is totally disconsolate, beyond any human help.  No one can help him at this point, and he can not find anyway out. This can happen to us as well. He is at his weakest at this point.

Jesus had called him, “the Rock.”  But this was a bestowed nickname of a future transformation.  There is a journey Peter must make first. We use granite and marble when we want something to last for ages.  It is as permanent as we can make it. And yet, Peter is hardly rock-like; at best he crumbles like sandstone.

Visiting a working quarry, you will find large machinery.  Men scale the walls with heavy drills.  At just the right spot they begin to bore a hole.  It is hard and intense work, but they are persistent.  The rock is unyielding, but they work relentlessly.

Soon they take the hole to the proper depth.  Explosives are hauled up, And the hole is carefully packed.  The word used in the New Testament is the word “dunamis.”  It is translated from the Greek into English as “power.”  Our word for “dynamite” is also a translation of that word.

Peter needs the dynamite power of the Holy Spirit. It is explosive.  It breaks and blasts, moving many tons of rock in just seconds. These particular verses read differently when translated like this:

  •  “But Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the dynamite of God.” Matthew 22:29
  • “And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory with dynamite and great glory.” Matthew 24:30
  • “Immediately Jesus, perceiving in Himself that the dynamite proceeding from Him had gone forth, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My garments?” Mark 5:30
  • “And King Herod heard of it, for His name had become well known; and people were saying, “John the Baptist has risen from the dead, and that is why these miraculous dynamite are at work in Him.” Mark 6:14
  • “And Jesus was saying to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with dynamite.” Mark 9:1
  • “But you will receive dynamite when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” Acts 1:8

Jesus looks after each disciple after his resurrection.  And especially Peter.  He will need this new power to overcome his weaknesses.

His disciples, in just 50 days are going to meet the Holy Spirit.  All of them will find that explosive power that moves mountains.  And the world is about to change forever.

Peter was so transformed on Pentecost he would preach and 3,000 would believe and be baptised. He went from cowardly denier to bold preacher. The dunamis of God changed him that day (Acts 2).

 

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The Hidden Smile of God, [Discovery]

 

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Imagine for just a moment, you can actually see the face of God. Is He…?

  • angry, seething with a vindictive hostility
  • rolling His eyes, amused, maybe a bit perplexed
  • disturbed, frustrated, ready to give up on you
  • not looking at all, bored, detached, not caring
  • smiling at you, like a proud Father?

Three simple verses for the God’s ‘face-seeking’ person.

13 “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. 14 I will be found by you,” says the Lord.”

Jeremiah 29:13-14

3 “Long ago the Lord said to Israel: “I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.”

Jeremiah 31:3

32 “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Luke 12:32

There are many, many more like these three. (But I didn’t want to scare you.)

God’s love is not logical, or mechanical. and you can’t see His face based on your performance. You simply just can’t do enough. So we all must come to Him the same way— on our knees. God’s love is outrageously understood, it is completely undeserved and perhaps just a bit scandalous. So settle this now, you’ll never, ever be good enough, (but you can be bad enough).

I believe the face of God is smiling on us, and He ‘lights up’ when we come into His presence. He is incredibly gracious. You can thank Jesus— it was His cross and resurrection that made access to God possible. (O.K., just one more verse.)

19 “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”

Ephesians 2:19

There is a freedom that comes when you quit struggling and simply believe in ‘the smiles of God,’ and when you know deep-down that you belong. Everyone who comes to Him comes by the goodness (and sacrifice) of Someone else. And that is remarkably good news.

Hallelujah,

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Present Tense Prodigals

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“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. 21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.

Luke 15:20-21, NLT

The Parable of the Prodigal Son has typically been taught as a ‘once upon a time’ event in the life of one wayward youth. We understand it to be such. The prodigal returns to his Father, case closed. It is a remarkable story that resonates to every broken believer.

But what if I told you that this parable is present tense. That we are continuously wandering, spending our inheritance and living off the wealth of our Father. We feel bad about this, we repent and return, only to embark on another foray into sin of our own choosing. It happens all the time.

My point is this. We seem to be always the prodigal. We never seem to outgrow this. We are constantly coming to our senses, and returning home. We seem to never get the point that our personal sin as eternal consequences. We live like there is no tomorrow, except we have to sober up and realize we have wandered far from our home.

The story of the prodigal is written to us who have repeatedly (that means very often) find themselves a good distance from where we should be. We find ourselves feeding the pigs again. We abhor our choices, and wonder again if our Father will take us back just one more time. Reason says ‘No!,’ but faith says ‘Yes!’

God’s love for us is greater than all our evil wanderings. It extends to the ups and downs of our vacillating discipleship. He sees it all and fully accepts us as His returning son. We will never tire out His constant love. We can feel ashamed of our recent behavior, but that changes nothing. We belong to Him, even if we feel wretched.

There are belivers who are overwhelmed by their sense of sin. Some of this is inflated by the devil. And yet they feel estranged from the Church. They know what they’ve done, and they can find no excuse for their actions. They’ve wandered again (for the 100th time).

The Father’s love is not subject to your obedience.

Grace is not some meager thing doled out in some stingy manner. It is given outrageously to each son or daughter without limits. Rascals are included. God is not a miser.

“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

Luke 15:22-24

‘One, and your done’ doesn’t apply to your heavenly Father. His love for you can’t be reduced to this level. Pick yourself up, leave the pigs, and come home again.

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