Deceptive Relationships

broken-heart-symptomsLittle girls love fairy tales. They love the stories of the beautiful princess who falls in love with prince charming that ends with happily ever after. And so from a young age, girls will dream about this type of relationship. It starts with any Walt Disney movie with a princess (literally take your pick), then goes to the Barbie and Ken phase. From there the teenage years begin and young girls are bombarded by secular media and its spin on how to find your “prince charming.” Magazines and movies target teen girls telling them the secret to finding Mr. Right. And that secret is most of the time centered around improving appearance, sexual technique, or promoting non committal relationships. Sadly, young women still have that inner little girl in them that yearns for their prince charming. So they follow the example of our world when it comes to courtship.

In the same manner, little boys grow up wanting to be the hero. They want to be valiant and strong like comic book heroes. Ive yet to meet the little boy why will claim they want to be the villain when they grow up. So boys look to super heroes, and then to sports figures, and as they enter adolescence, secular media becomes the predominant influence as is the case with girls. How do you become a real man? Our worlds definition of a real man paints more of a villainous picture than heroic. To be a real man according to the world today, you have to have the biggest muscles. To be a real man, you must be a “player” in the sence that you never commit to a woman. You simply lead her along with the goal of seeing how many women you can bed down. A real man today is defined by secular media as a ladies man, not a one woman man.

This sets up our backdrop for where this lesson is going. It prompts the stage for the all to common scene that we see in 21st century relationships today. Holding standards high and keeping pure so that a man can be that hero and a woman can be that princess has been prostituted and watered down to cheap and fleeting intimacy. My heart breaks when I look at the state of relationships in our world. Particularly in the lives of people I know. Never before in the history of our world have we had more of an open window to the lives of each and every person alive today. Social media such as Facebook and Twitter have made it the norm to just air facts about life that only ten years ago would have been shameful to tell to the closest of friends.

A little over a year ago, I was scrolling through the updates portion of Facebook where everyone who is a friend of yours just posts what they are up to. To my surprise and delight, I saw that two friends from my youth had just gotten married. I had no idea that they were even dating, but their status read “married.” Over the next year, it was always a joy to see their status updates. She was always posting how she had the best husband and he always had tons of pictures of them happily together. They even had a child together. But not long after, I began to see a decrease in the posts coming from this couple. Pretty soon they stopped all together. And then I realized why. I had failed to pay attention to a minor detail on their page. Their status had changed indicating that they were no longer together.

What happened? From the looks of their Facebook posts, it looked as if Prince Charming had married the fair princess and happily ever after had become a reality!  Being in ministry, I see this far too often. Even within the internal workings of ministry itself. I cannot tell you of how many pastors that I have heard of that had to leave the ministry because their marriage completely crumbled. More times than not due to infidelity. If Godly men who are leaders in church are falling prey to this, it makes you wonder just where in the world are we going wrong?

Why is marriage today view as more of an agreement between to people rather than a covenant? I believe the answer is because we are blind to our own spiritual blindness. You see, in warfare, when an enemy sets a trap, and you see good men being deceived or killed by that trap, you reevaluate things. You recognize the enemies strategy and make plans to avoid it all together. In football, if the opposing team is running the same trick play to score against you, if you are smart, you recognize the other teams plan of attack and build a defense against it. In other words, you learn from past mistakes and make corrections as to avoid them in the future.

What is ironic to me is that this is how we have grown as a society. We always learn from past failures in order to keep improving. Thats the American way. When something goes wrong in our world, we set out to fix it. We have scientist working on finding a cure for every disease known to man, and progressing daily. We are building bigger and more efficient automobiles and ports of communication. Every aspect of our culture is one of correcting the past for improving the future. But when it comes to the state of marriage, it is rapidly dying and growing weaker by the second. And instead of pin pointing the areas where we are failing, our society promotes these failures as almost a good thing!

If you dont believe me, just flip on your television set! Its a scary thing and a sign of the times when you go from watching television shows like Father Knows Best, which centered around a functional family unit, to show like today conveniently titled, “The New Norm”, which is a show about people in dysfunctional and broken relationships yet made out to be hilarious and normal! We are actually embracing the snares of Satan which are aimed at destroying families and making them stapes in our world! As the tv show says, broken relationships are the new normal in our world. Satan has not had to change his tactics, because we as a people have not wised up enough to learn from our mistakes.

His plan started in the beginning in the Garden. The first lie Satan ever convinced us to believe was that we can be like God.

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:4.

Basically, Satan appealed to Eve’s selfish nature. That she should think of herself and her wants and desires as utmost important. And if she is not happy, she should do what makes her happy. Because goodness knows, the grass is always going to be greener on the other side….right? I mean isnt that why so many people so easily cheat on their spouses? Because he or she is not living up to expectations and the field begins to look much greener in other places. But wasnt there a time in which the husband or wife in question was the green grass?  Is the grass always going to be greener on the other side? Here is a bit of truth for us that would believe that lie….

If you think that the grass is truly greener on the other side as it pertains to relationships….it is only because you havent jumped the fence and ruined that greener grass yet. The common denominator in every failed relationship is you.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon ran into this, “The grass is greener”, mentality. He got married not once or twice, but seven hundred times. Solomon had seven hundred wives. And when Solomon had found no satisfaction in marriage, he just started accumulating women to be at his beck and call to fulfill his desires. So in addition to seven hundred wives, Solomon had three hundred concubines, which were basically glorified prostitutes. One Thousand Women. One Thousand different relationships. King Solomon did not want for hair color, shape, personality, or bedroom fantasy. He experienced relationships on every level with all kinds of different women. And in the end, Solomon says of his pursuit of happiness in relationships……its all vanity…..meaningless. Because total fulfillment in a persons life can never be found under the sun. For that eternal satisfaction is found over the sun with our hope place in Christ.

King Solomon says, “The grass isnt greener on the other side, because I jumped to one thousand different lush fields….and ruined every one of them. Because the problem was never them, but it was me.”

The grass will never be greener with someone other than your spouse.

And if it is, it wont be green long after you get there.

Its almost comical people who end up having multiple marriages after multiple divorces. People who keep trading in one spouse for someone new that catches their eye. What is the one constant in all of their failed relationships……the only constant is them. Which should be a red flag that maybe the problem isnt that a woman cannot satisfy, but that you are looking for satisfaction in the wrong place. Marriage, biblically speaking, was meant to be for life! It is a mirror image of Christ and the church. The husband represents Christ in marriage and the bride represents the church.

So if ever someone says….

“Well, you just dont understand my spouse.”

“If you knew my spouse, then you’d understand why it can never work.”

Yet if marriage is the image of Christ and the church, I see one in that image that is unbelievably disobedient. I see one partner that is constantly falling short and disappointing. And I see the other partner, through disappointment and heartache, being unbelievably faithful and demonstrating unconditional love.  The exact image of the relationship Jesus has with us.  We stray. We disobey. But he is always there. Jesus never walks away from us. We walk away from him. The problem with marriage today is that we model our relationships more by the blueprint of pop culture rather than those found in scripture.

God is after our ultimate joy!! God doesnt tell us to save ourselves for marriage, avoid lusting after others, and to continually seek him to be a kill joy!! God tells us to do relationships a certain way because he designed marriage!! He knows how it is suppose to work!! And he knows the pitfalls of cheap intimacy! Satan on the other hand is against your joy!! So naturally, he is going to promote everything contrary to scripture and try to make it as appealing as that piece of fruit was to Eve in the garden. Just one bite.  Just think of your desires and nothing else. Satan preaches the same deceptive message that he used with Eve thousands of years earlier. Satan still preaches. For proof, look no further than television, movies, music lyrics, and pop culture of today. Look at what the world tells a woman and what it tells a man. Because as long as our eyes are set on chasing our own momentary, fleeting desires, like a dog chasing its tail, we will never be satisfied. And our eyes will constantly be jumping from meaningless things and never setting our hope on the source of real love and joy, Jesus Christ.

I dont know who is reading this post. And I dont know the state of your marriage. Maybe someone is thinking about marriage. But I can be quite sure, given the statistics of our world, that someone reading this may have their sights set on a very unbiblical and Satanic view of how relationships should work. And it really doesnt appear as Satanic at first glance, because its become our new normal.

Little boys who dreamed of once becoming the hero who persevered by strength through the hard times to emerge victorious have proved that they are just weak and pathetic men. Although the world would praise their lack of commitment and bed hopping as commendable, the God who made them points out that they are but selfish little children who throw their hands up in selfishness at the first sign of distress. Marriage isnt for little boys or little girls. Marriage is for men and women of God. Its for men and women who love Jesus, and want to experience just a taste of that unconditional love that is so foregin to our world this side of Heaven.  There are no problems so large that cannot be overshadowed by the cross of Christ. The strong ones are not those who will stand with puffed up chests and noses in the air. The strong ones are those found on their knees daily.

To the couple who may be seperated…..Jesus can mend the wound. To the spouse who was betrayed…..Jesus can teach you forgiveness.  To the marriage that may be dissolving…..Jesus can make all things new. Where is your hope? If its in your spouse, sooner or later you will fall. But if its in Jesus, there isnt a storm you cant weather. Remember the parable of the two houses in the Bible?

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” Matthew 7:24.

Every Sunday school teacher always points out the obvious. That the rock represents Jesus and the man built on the rock didnt lose his house. But they never point out one practical truth…..although the man on the rock  had the house that remained intact, he still had to go through the same storm as the man who build his house on the sand. They faced the same exact storm. The only difference was the man on the rock of Christ had the strength to weather the storm.

Have you gone through a storm? Are you currently in the midst of one right now? If so, ask yourself where your house is built. Where is your hope? If its in anything other than Christ, it may as well be on sinking sand. It is my hope that the words of Christ will become a rock in the lives of many who are sinking in their lives right now.

Ive never ran into the couple who had weathered a hard time in their marriage and regretted sticking it out and making it work. But I have know many people who ended their marriages with the thought that their life would be better, only to realise years later that they gave up far to early and scarred not only their lives, but the lives of their children in the process. The greatest testimony and witness any parent can give to a child is the example of unconditional love and to teach them that when the going gets rough, thats when you love that much harder. Arent you glad Jesus doesnt treat relationships with us like we treat them with one another?

I will never pretend marriage is easy. But I will always preach that it is God’s gift to us that is to be treasured and protected. And if more people would pour their hearts into it, who knows how deep and beautiful it could get.

Word Play

The one thing I could not stand when I as a child was when people corrected my grammar. I can still hear my fifth grade teacher say, “Pay attention to your choice of words and their meaning before you speak.” I could have understood if I was just butchering the English language, but she would draw attention to words that I was using that meant the same thing as the words she said I should have used. And she challenged my choice of words almost every time I asked to do something. She always got me on one word…..the word “can”.

I would ask, “Can I go get some water?”

To which my teacher would reply, “I dont know, CAN you? And yes you MAY!”

To my little mind, without paying attention to the meaning behind those words, they meant the same thing. But my teacher was merely pointing out that there was indeed a big difference between the word ‘can’ and ‘may’. The word may has to do with having permission. “May I have a glass of tea?” “May I leave the table?” And so forth.

The word ‘can’ has to do with ability. “I can run fast.” “I can drive a car.” The words ‘can’ and ‘may’ are often misused, and they do not mean the same thing. This leads me into the third blog in a series I have written this week on the topic of how God saves.

Jesus said, ” No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” John 6:44.

If we truly want to know God, we have to pay attention to the wording he uses, not just blindly skim over the scriptures. Take the word “can” for example. If I say, “No one can run thirty miles an hour,” that means no one has the ability to run thirty miles an hour. If I tell you I can’t fly, that means no one has the ability to fly. So as my fifth grade teacher would say, lets pay attention to the words and the meaning behind them. What is it that Jesus is saying in this verse. Jesus is saying, “No one….has the ability….to come to me.” Now according to Jesus, does man have the ability to come to Jesus whenever he wishes? No. The text says no man has the ability to come to Christ.

But going back to my grade school English class, looking at the verse above, we have an exception clause that closes out the sentence. The word ‘unless’. This word introduces an exception and points towards a necessary condition or prerequisite that must be met before anyone can come to Christ. No man has the ability to come to Christ UNLESS the father draws him.  Another translation reads, “…unless the Father enables him.” In other words, God has to do something to give us the ability to come to Christ.

So if we claim to believe scripture, we can all agree that no one has the ability to come to Jesus Christ unless they are first drawn by the Father. That is exactly what the text says. Now this verse is widely debated when it comes to the topic of predestination. Those who believe in mans free will, or Arminianist, is that no one can come to Jesus unless the Father woo’s or entices, or attracts him. They believe that the drawing that God does is still resistable. In other words, man can choose to deny the drawing of the Father. Therefore, the arminianist believe that those who respond to the drawing of God are redeemed and those who deny are lost.

Those who believe that God is the one who chooses whom will be saved and that man doesnt do the choosing are labeled Calvinist. The Calvinist believe the word DRAW means more than to simply entice or attract. To settle or answer this question, we must look at how this word draw is used elsewhere in the new testament.

James 2:6 says, “But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court?”

The word ‘Draw’ as seen in John 6:44 and the word from the verse you just read in James, ‘drag’, both come from the exact same Greek word    “hel-KU-oh”. We could argue English translations all day long, but this is the original language that the New Testament was written in. In Greek, the word ‘draw’ and ‘drag’ are the same. Now going off of the interpretation that the arminianist would hold that draw means God entices us, lets plug that word entice into James 2:6 in place of the word ‘drag’……

“But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who…’ENTICE’…you into court?”

Lets look at another example.

 “When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities.”Acts 16:19.

Lets replace the word ‘dragged’ in the verse with the word ‘enticed….

When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and….ENTICED….them into the marketplace to face the authorities.”

This text clearly indicates an act of force in dragging Paul and Silas into the market place. Paul and Silas were not enticed. They were being persecuted for preaching the gospel. They were dragged. Under an arrest of sorts to go and stand before the authorities. Liddell’s Lexicon is one of the most respected interpretations used to examine the true meaning of Greek language as it pertains to scripture. Liddell’s defines the word Draw, “To compel by IRRESISTABLE  superiority.” The writers of the Liddell’s Lexicon were very much arminianist, yet they still agree that this was the true meaning of the word. So if this is true, why would English translators use the word ‘draw’ when they use the word ‘drag’elsewhere in the Bible? RC Sproul humorously joked that the reason might have been that English translators were afraid verse like John 6:44 would be offensive to people if they read, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me DRAGS them.”

But if we read it as God drags them, its really not that far from the truth. The Bible clearly points out that we are dead in our sins unless that Father chooses to bring us to life through regeneration. Pastor Mark Driscoll was asked once about what he thought about the concept of a man coming to God on his own free will. He simply responded, “Dead men dont make choices.”

Driscoll went on to give an example to mirror the biblical image of how God saves. He said his three year old daughter took off running towards the highway of on coming traffic. Driscoll had told her to stay beside him, but she rebelled. Pastor Driscoll ran after her, screaming repentance at her as he put it. “Stop Ashley!” “Come Back!!”

But the little three year old kept running in rebellion to her father. Literally Pastor Mark said she stepped out onto the highway of on coming traffic with a huge semi truck headed right towards his little girl. At the last minute he caught up to her, grabbed her by the collar, and dragged her out of the way of oncoming traffic into his arms.

As Pastor Mark went on to conclude…”Thats predestination.” We run from God. We are dead to sin so we CANNOT seek or listen to God. We cant turn from our rebellion on our own. We need a savior to save us from ourselves. So in love, God the Father comes and literally drags his elect out of the path of destruction that they were headed for. And if you look closely at the language of the scriptures, thats exactly how salvation works.

RC Sproul had a great example. He was involved in a debate at an Arminianist college. RC was debating in favor of the Calvinistic view of predestination and the College professor was debating in favor of the Arminanist view. Sproul had asked the professor why he thought it was appropriate given the greek translation to use the word draw instead of its true Greek meaning which is to compel by force or drag. The college professor argued that there was an instance that the Greeks used the word hel-KU-ohord when the drew water out of a well. The professor went on to say with a smile, “You see Dr. Sproul, no one drags water out of a well…they draw water. ” RC responded, “Well how do you get water out of a well? Do you entice it to come up to you? Do you call it to come up? Do you woo water out of the well? Or must you do something to compel that water to come up?”

Jesus said, ” No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” John 6:44.

If you go back to the original text of Greek that the New Testament was written, there is no argument that the word draw doesnt mean enticed, but rather means divine compulsion. Jesus himself said no man can come, unless that Father himself compels him to come.  Lets look at another passage.

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”John 3:3.

Do you see the word “unless”? Think it through. Now what has to happen according to Jesus before they can see the Kingdom of God? He must be born again in order to see the Kingdom of God. So regeneration of the heart must precede seeing the kingdom of God. The Arminian view of salvation is that people receive Jesus Christ before they are regenerated. The Arminian view is people says people can see Christ and choose him before they actually become born again. But according to this verse, thats not possible.

Regeneration precedes faith.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8.

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.”Ephesians 2:4-9.

We didnt decide to get it right first. While we were still in sin. While we were spiritually dead, Christ had chosen his elect from the foundation of the world, made us alive in Him. Regeneration, God compelling us begins before faith takes root. And it is by his grace that we are saved, not by our own doing. It is a undeserved gift from God that we could not give ourselves. Faith is the gift of God that is the result of the regeneration process within us. God supplies the necessary condition to come to Jesus.  Thats why it is Sola Gratia….by grace alone we are saved.

Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.”John 3:6-7.

In other words, Jesus was telling Nicodemus, “You’re a theologian! You shouldnt be surprised at this. The flesh is just flesh! The flesh cannot choose to make itself spirit without the supernatural word of the Father!

” It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”John 6:63.

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Romans 3:11.

Our flesh is spiritually worthless without God regenerating us. We cannot claim that we choose God or we seek God. And the reason we cant claim that is because no one would ever seek God on their own. This brings us back to John 6:44. No one can come to Christ without the regenerating work of the Father in them.

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. “Romans 8: 5-7.

Again, the flesh cannot submit to God. Unless what….John 6:44…unless the Father chooses to draw him. So man in his fallen state is hostile to God. And he doesnt obey Gods law, neither CAN HE. So fallen man cannot obey the law of God. Unless God chooses to regenerate us. And regeneration is supernatural.

“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Romans 8:9.

So if you are regenerate you are not in the flesh. If you are in the flesh you are not regenerate. So when he speaks of in the flesh, he speaks of unregenerate people. The crucial prerequisite is a work of the Holy Spirit for faith to be present. Thats why the first step of justification is the gracious work of God and is never the fruit of choosing of the flesh. How can fallen, sinful, flesh, that according to scripture would never seek God, choose him. Something supernatural has to happen. We have to be brought from death to life in the spirit. The Father chooses to regenerate and irrisistably compel us. How gracious and loving is the sovereignty of our God!

Divine Family Tree

This blog is sort of a part two to yesterdays blog regarding how God saves. In my previous blog, I wrote about two specific forms of theology that deal with the concept of salvation and more specifically, predestination. The word predestination alone has caused more controversy than another other doctrine in Christian history. Some pastors and evangelist choose to purposely avoid texts of scripture that mention the word. And if someone does mention predestination, many christians will look at them as if they have just said a terrible curse word. The doctrine of predestination is feared, hated, shunned, and ignored. But regardless of how one feels about this topic, it is scattered all throughout the Bible as God draws attention to the subject.

One of the biggest reasons I see that we tend to shy away from this topic is that we dont want to see God as how he really is. It sounds harsh, but its true. We want to cling to this picture of a God who is for us as his first priority. We love sermons that will promise us that God wants to give us health and wealth if we would only “claim it” in Jesus name. We want a God that looks and acts more like a genie in a bottle. So throughout history, humanity has given God an Extreme Makeover. We’ve ignored and glazed over the scriptures the speak of Gods divine will and sovereignty in exchange for a message that leads us to believe he exists to serve us. Where as prayer was originally viewed by the disciples as a way for them to draw closer to Gods will, we now view prayer, as John Piper once said, as an intercom system to order all the comforts and selfish desires of life.

One of the things that sends chills down my spine is to hear a fellow believer tell someone who is going through a hard time, “Just claim the promises of God and he will heal you!” And God does choose to heal sometimes. But what if he doesnt heal the cancer? What if he doesnt mend the marriage? And you’ve been told that if you claim Gods promises, he will give you what you want. So then what happens? You begin to doubt your faith. You believed. You claimed Gods promise to heal your situation. And the outcome still was devastating. I dont know where our culture ever God the idea that if we just pray hard enough or have enough faith that God will give us a life full of sunshine and roses. Maybe its because we have so many false teachers in the world preaching a false gospel like Creflo Dollar and Joel Osteen. They encourage people to have more faith because that, according to them, is the key to a blessed life.

If having more faith and praying more intimately is the universal key to God blessing us with a life of ease, then why didnt it work with John the Baptist? Jesus called him the greatest of all men past, present, and future. He was unbelievably faithful to God. Yet he lived his life in the wilderness, people thought he was a lunatic, and eventually got beheaded. So much for claiming the promises of God. Yet we have the audacity to think that we deserve better. We can take it a step farther. Our savior Jesus Christ. He is the king of the universe but came to earth and was outcast and lived in poverty. Every believer says that they just want to be like Jesus. But do they really?

A great misconception in the church today is the teaching that Jesus is about you and me. An even greater misconception is that Jesus ultimate goal on the cross was to die for our sins. Yes Jesus loves us. Yes, Jesus went to the cross to become the atoning sacrifice for our sins. But dying for you and I was not the ultimate goal of the cross. Ultimately, Jesus didnt die for you. Jesus died for God. Jesus died so that God’s wrath would be satisfied and in turn, God would be glorified. Yes Jesus died for us. But we are secondary. The cross, the death of Christ, the resurrection, and the proclamation of the gospel are all first and foremost about the glory of God. It has never been about us. Its always been about God.

As Christians, we must be willing to set aside our comfortable picture of American Christianity and really seek to know who God says he is. If I had a friend who lived in a third world country that wrote me a long letter telling me about himself, and I skimmed over the letter, skipping certain parts of it all together, then I would only know him in part. We do the same thing with Gods word. We gravitate towards the parts verses that make us feel warm and fuzzy, and ignore the harder portions of scripture.

Predestination is one such example of this. Again, know that I dont consider myself a Calvinist or an Arminianist. (Look at yesterdays blog for more on these doctrines). Both of these camps are centered around how to interpret how God saves. The Calvinist says God does the choosing and man is so spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1-2),  that he doesnt have the capacity to come to God unless God first draws him (John 6:44.). The Arminianist says that man does have the free will to either choose or deny God.

Naturally, our human nature tends to gravitate more towards wanting to believe that we have free will to choose or deny God. Thats how I grew up believing…that it was my choice. And when I first began to study the Calvinistic view point that God is sovereign over all things including salvation, and that it was God chose me, not I who chose him, I fought against it for about a year. It didnt sit well with me that I had nothing to do with saving myself. I wanted to just ignore predestination. I wished Id never seen or heard of it. But once my mind had been opened, I began to see that it was all over the Bible. I couldn’t escape it. And once I slowly began to understand it, I began to see a deeper level of Gods love through his sovereign choice.

To begin to grasp this concept, I think its important that we look back in church history to see where this doctrine actually got its roots. If you want to know about your earthly family, you trace your roots in a family tree. And if you want to know about your Heavenly family, you look first in scripture and then to the history of Godly men that have come before us.  Kind of like a divine family tree.

John Calvin is given most of the credit for the Calvinistic view of predestination. But many dont know that John Calvin just put his name atop a doctrine that had been around for a very long time. The church itself began to seriously investigate the doctrine of predestination around the fourth century. It began to be explored by Saint Augustine of Hippo. He was a latin philosopher and theologian from the African province of the Roman empire and is considered to be one of the top Christian thinkers of all time. Augustine believed that Christ was supremely sovereign over all things including human salvation. St. Augustine recognized Gods sovereignty in scripture centuries before John Calvin.

Augustine was involved in a time of debate with a monk named Pelagius. Pelagius opposed the idea of predestination and asserted a strong version of the doctrine of free will. Pelagius was accused by Augustine and others of denying the human need for God and rather relying on themselves and their good works. According to Pelagius, man was not originally fallen from birth like and didnt inherit Adams sinful nature, and he claimed that although it was hard, a human could full fill the laws of God without aid from God. Pelagius was eventually declared a heretic by the Council of Carthage. His interpretation of free will in the doctrine of predestination became known as Pelagianism, and eventually morphed into Arminianism. This was the first big dispute the church had run into regarding the doctrine of fallen man. And ever since this incident, the battle over Gods sovereignty and mans free will has been a hot button in churches all throughout the ages. I do find it interesting that in many Christian circles today, Calvinism is considered heretical. Yet centuries ago, it was the reformed view of predestination that was considered right and the doctrine of free will was heresy.

Centuries later after the Augustine/Pelagius debates, a movement called semi-pelagianism arose in the 6th century. They did not deny original sin as Pelagius did, and recognized that we were all born into sin. But they still strongly believed in the fact that man could initiate and a choice in his salvation process. This belief was also condemned as a heresy in the year 529 at the Council of Orange, but it wasnt until the 17th century that this debate came to its greatest point yet.

In the late 1400’s, a German monk and theologian by the name of Martin Luther came onto the scene. Luther taught that salvation was not earned through works or human decision, but rather Gods grace was a gift (Ephesians 2:8) through faith in Jesus Christ. Luther split from the Roman Catholic church because he disagreed with the Pope arguing that the Bible was the only source of Divine knowledge.  Similarly to the debate between Augustine and Pelagius, Luther stood opposed to a Dutch Renaissance, Catholic Priest, and religious scholar named Desiderius Erasmus, or more widely known as Erasmus of Rotterdam. Erasmus, like Pelagius centuries earlier, believed in the freedom of mans will to choose God.

Luther wrote a letter to Erasmus stating, “The Freedom of the Will Does Not Exist.” Although Erasmus disagreed with Luther’s viewpoint regarding predestination, he had great respect for Martin Luther. Erasmus wrote of Luther, “He is a mighty Trumpet of Gospel truth.” Erasmus wrote a book called “The Freedom of The Will.” To which Martin Luther responded with his own book entitled, “The Bondage of The Will.”  Their debate centered around justification by faith and imputed righteousness. The other points of disagreement included the sufficiency of scripture and salvation by faith alone. These five points of dispute between the Catholic church and the Reformers are expounded in “The Five Solas of The Reformation.

The teachings of John Calvin came onto the scene in the mid 1500’s. Calvin held a very high view of God and believed sternly in Gods sovereign choice and not mans free will. Years after Calvin had died in the mid  to late 1500’s, a man named Jacob Arminius began teaching contrary to the Reformers and picked up where Erasmus had left off, preaching freedom of human will to choose. A year after Arminius died, his followers took his teachings and compiled them into the Remonstrance. These teachings became known as The Five Points of Arminianism.

John Calvin’s followers later retorted with their own five points, called The Five Points of Calvinism. The English Reformation birthed a group of Calvinist determined to have religious freedom. So they made the move to America and became known as The Puritans. They brought their reformed views on salvation to America and settled in New England (The Mayflower). The transplanting of their theological beliefs would have a major impact on the colonization of America.

The Puritans began to have disagreements on how the church should be run. They split into two camps, the Presbyterians and the Congregationalist (or Baptist). In the mid 18th Century, the first Great Awakening was spurred on by Calvinist. Reformers Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield were leaders in this movement. These men held the Augustinian or Calvinistic view of salvation. They were countered by John Wesley, who as Erasmas and Pelagias before him, believed in the free will of man. And it was at this point in time where John Wesley made popular the Arminian view of salvation that swept over our nation in the centuries that would come up into our current times.

But we are in a time where the Augustinian/Calvinistic doctrine is seeing a great revival as more and more Christians look to the history of reformed theology to gain an understanding to why they believe what they believe. Thats a huge problem today. We believe things about our faith because we are told. Seldom do we search out truth on our own to determine why we believe certain doctrines. Jesus never said to take things at face value.

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”1 John 4:1.

Jesus said in the Psalms that we are to seek him with all of our hearts. To seek out his truth. I dont think his idea of seeking would be sitting in church for an hour a week. How sad is it that many Americans could tell you the history of their favorite baseball team tracing back all the way to the founding of the team, but can’t articulate why they believe what they believe regarding their own faith in Christ. We claim to love God, but often times our true heart is exposed by the knowledge we seek. Doctrines like predestination are an alarm in our culture today. But it wasnt always this way. The concept of mans free will was once skimmed over and fought against just as the concept of Gods sovereign will is challenged today. We cant know everything about God. But we can know some things very well through the Bible and a study of Christian history. Dont build a faith based on a weekly sermon. Test it for yourself. Seek God for yourself. And you will realize that Jesus Christ is an even bigger and more loving God than you ever thought possible. He’s more than just a Sunday school story God. Jesus is ultimate reality And he is greater than many Christians have taken the time to realize.

How Am I Saved?

Reformed Theology. Predestination. Divine election. Limited atonement. The doctrine of Adoption. Calvinism.

The very mention of any of these words strikes fear into the hearts of most of Christians in the Bible belt. Churches are split by this debate over how God saves. Is man born inherently good, having the free will of his own to either choose God or deny him? Or are all men born into sin, totally depraved at birth and dead to the things of God until God chooses to save some by giving them a new heart? Man’s free will verses God’s chosen will.

The doctrine of mans right to choose or deny God was defended and taught first by a man named Jacob Arminius in the late 1500’s/early 1600’s. Those who believe God’s will is dependant on man’s free will are labeled Arminianist.  John Calvin in the early to late 1500’s believed differently than Arminius. Calvin believed that man has no choice in the matter of salvation. That God alone did the choosing, because sinful man by nature is so depraved in his sins that without the drawing of the Holy Spirit, would never choose God for himself. Believers who lean more towards John Calvin’s view of salvation are generally called Calvinist. Both camps even have their own five point system to argue why their way of believing is right.

John 6:44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

Let me start off by saying I do not consider myself a Calvinist or an Arminianist. Im a truth junkie. I believe every word of scripture is accurate and true. And I hunger to know God as well as the character of God more intimately. Let me also say that regarding these two lines of theology, I dont have all the answers. There are some things in scripture that even after much studying and prayer, I cannot seem to comprehend. But my lack of understanding doesnt in the least diminish from the truth found in scripture. The example I use with our college and youth is the relationship between a human and an ant. The ant may look at us and understand some things about humanity. But even the most basic concepts such as marriage, a job, how to drive a car, are far beyond the ants mental capability to grasp. In the same way, God is far superior to humanity. We can defend our theological camps all day but in the end, neither camp will ever understand how God saves fully, because we dont have Gods mental capacity.

1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

We dont know it all. And for us to even pretend that we have all the answers regarding how God operates is blasphemy. However we are given a glimpse of how God operates. And we can know Him in part just from scripture and paying attention to the language used in the Bible. I want to look at just a few of the arguments standing between the doctrines of Calvinism and Arminianism.

The biggest argument and red flag to many who consider Calvinism a heresy is the thought of God sending people to Hell. Would God really choose to save some of his creation while sending others to Hell? This is one of the biggest arguments people use to defend their free will. People will say in defense of Arminianism, “God would never send anyone to Hell without giving them a chance and free choice to turn from their sins!” The arminianist believe that when the Bible refers to God choosing people by predestination, that what is meant is that God chooses those whom he knows will choose him. But here are the problems I see with these arguments….

First, if God chooses those whom he knows will choose him, then God is really not the catalyst…man is. God is really not the one choosing, man is. If I am team captain in a game of Dodgeball, and I am choosing my team, I would never say something like this. “Ralph, I choose you to be on my team because I know that you choose me to be your captain. This would make no sense. I am the team captain, therefore I am the one who has total choice, not Ralph.

Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but  I chose you and appointed you that you should go and  bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that  whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” John 15:16.

“I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen.”John 13:18.

And secondly, many consider the doctrine of Calvinism a heresy because they cannot fathom that a loving God would choose or elect some while allowing others to go to Hell. So they will claim God chooses those who God knew would choose him. But what they dont realize is that even in free will, they are running into the same problem. The question could then be asked, “Why would God create someone he knew would never choose him?” Think about that. In each case, it would seem that God is choosing to send part of his creation to Hell. Even in the case of free will.

So both parties must examine God as he is, not as they think or wish he was. Does God send people to Hell? As the apostle Paul would say, by no means!

Matthew 25:41, ““Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

Hell was created as a prison for the devil and his angel, those who rebelled against God. People who do not follow Christ prove that they love sin more than God. I heard one pastor put it like this, “If a person cannot get excited and find joy in things of the Lord here on earth, then they will surly not be satisfied in Heaven. God doesnt send people to Hell. Those living apart from God are getting exactly what they wanted, separation from God. They dont want to live under Gods commands. Hell is free from the commandments of God. And they dont want God in their lives. In Hell, they will be eternally separated from His love. Heaven isnt a place for people who dont want to go to Hell, Heaven is a place for people who really love God!

Also, we must pay attention to the choice of words God uses to describe our relationship with him.

” For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,”Romans 8:14-16.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Galatians 4:4-6.

Do you see the common denominator in these two scriptures listed above? God describes us that are in Christ as his adopted children. If you decide to go and adopt a child, does that child have any say so in the matter? Of course not. You are the one making the choice. The adopted child is being saved in a sense from a life without a parent. The child did nothing to deserve your love and affection. The child would have nothing to boast in. The child could not say, “I choose them to be my parents.” Thats the definition of grace. Grace is receiving love when you did nothing to deserve it.

 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”Ephesians 2:8-10.

Look again at the verse above in Ephesians. We have been saved through the grace of God. There was nothing we did, such as making a choice, that we can boast in. God reached down and in love, saved us. If I can choose God, then I can boast in the fact that I accepted Jesus. As if Jesus is sitting up in Heaven with his fingers crossed hoping that we will choose him. Jesus doesnt need our acceptance. We need his grace. And that grace is described as a gift from God. Most normal people dont by gifts for themselves. A gift is given, and many times, undeserved by the receiving party. If you go out and choose something for yourself, it is not a gift, it is a purchase you decided to make. But we have nothing to purchase and cleanse our sins. You cant buy righteous blood. It has to be shed and given as a gift. Do you see the language used by God? Describing us as adopted children, and salvation as a gift, not as some we decided to do.

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” John 1:12-13.

All those who have received Christ and believed in him, he has given the right to become his children. The verse goes on to say that these children were not born of human decision, but born of God. Our sinful nature desperately wants to recieve some credit for our life change in Christ. We wrestle against this idea of God being in total control and recieving all credit for human salvation because its offensive to a selfish creature such as we are. Jesus said he choose us, we didnt choose him. God said that those in him are not justified by any decision they made at one point in life. This is done so that no one but God receives credit and glory for salvation.

It all boils down to one question you must ask yourself. Do you believe in the sovereignty of God? Do you believe that God is in total control of everything in the universe? Or are there some things that are beyond Gods control. For example, think about Jesus mother Mary. When the angel came to Mary and told her she would give birth to God in human form, do you think she could have chosen to say, “No thanks, I think Ill pass.” Of course not. God chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus.

How about the Apostle Paul? The man persecuted and killed Christians. He had no love for Christ. But on the road to Damascus, Jesus appeared to Paul and told him to stop killing Christians and to proclaim the very Gospel he hated! God even called Paul his Chosen instrument. Do you think Paul could have just gone, “Nah, Im going to keep killing Christians no matter what you say.” God chose Paul! He didnt have a choice. If you love Jesus and are a follower of Christ, think back to that moment where Jesus became so real to you and you repented of your sins and began to love God. Think back….in that moment….could you have denied Jesus? I can remember that moment, and there was nothing in me that could have turned from him. In fact, even now, when I think back to my life without Jesus it turns my stomach to think about life without him. I had no choice in the matter. Jesus gave me an undeserved gift of grace.

In the book of Exodus, Pharaoh had enslaved Gods people. He was the most powerful ruler at the time on earth. Yet God allowed him to come to that power.

“But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had spoken to Moses.”Exodus 9:12.

God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. God allowed him to have extreme power on earth. And then he crushed Pharaoh and his army showing that regardless of power, no man can ever match God. This was done to show the glory of God to man.

“One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods,  who was a worshiper of God. The Lord  opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.”Acts 16:14.

In the same way God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, God chose to open Lydia’s heart. You see, God does the opening, and God chooses who will be hardened, and whom he will extend his mercy and grace.

“For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” Romans 9:15.

“So then he has mercy on whom ever he wills, and he hardens whom ever he wills.” Romans 9:18.

God is in total control of everything. And no matter where we look in the Bible, we see Gods sovereign choice and election.

Remember the story of twin brothers Jacob and Esau in Genesis. God made the statement, “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated.” What did God mean by this. Why did he hate one and love the other? Paul explains this to us in Romans.

“…though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

God was putting his divine election on display. The twins at birth had done nothing good or bad. God made his choice so that his divine election and his plan, that we only see in part, might carry on.

So Calvinist believe in the sovereignty of God. That God is in total control and what will be is what will be because God has control. Some will take this to an extreme level. Some Calvinist will say, “Since God is sovereign, what is the point of mission?” But that is an unbiblical mindset. Jesus repeatedly extends the opportunity for us as his children to participate in his plan. Jesus commands us to go to all parts of the world preaching the gospel. Its a privilege bestowed to his followers. The greatest gift I can give my sons right now besides knowing Christ is for them to feel like they are just like me. Sons look up to their fathers, and at some level, want to be like them. My six year old Andy gets the biggest smile on his face when Lacy says of something he does, “You are just like your daddy.” God gives us the privilege of working with our Heavenly father.

Charles Spurgeon once said if we could lift a persons shirt us and there be a mark indicating that they were Gods chosen, then that would make witnessing alot easier. We could just witness to some. But there is no such mark. Therefore, we are to go to all people and declare the glory of God.

There are plenty of verses in the Bible that speak of God desiring for ALL men to be saved. And I absolutely believe that to be true. How that works into his soverign will and his divine election is beyond my understanding. To pretend that I did have all the mysteries of God figured out would be no different than an ant claiming the knowledge of  human.

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”Deuteronomy 29:29.

Im not God. Im was not created to understand everything this side of Heaven. Some things are considered the secret things of God. Maybe because they are irrelevant to Christ’s command for us to go and make disciples. Sort of like a small child asking his parents, “why…” over and over. Eventually, the parent would say, “Dont worry about why, just do what I told you.” Some things we as parents know our children will not understand and grasp. And it really doesnt matter that they understand, just that they are obediant. Because our commands for our kids are for their own good.

There are some things God never intended for man to figure out. Some questions are left unanswered. And Im ok with that. Many verses speak on Gods desire for all to be saved. And that is true. But in no way do these verses take away from the numerous others that clearly state that God is soverign over all things, including salvation. How it all plays out is one of the secret things of the Lord. I do believe that the choice is entirely up to God. And I believe I have been commissioned to go to ALL men and preach his gospel, so I may be a chosen tool, as was said of the apostle Paul, to open the hearts of many. Im not a Calvinist. But I will not try to twist and argue with scripture so that it fits what I am comfortable believing in. Man made theology doesnt define me. Christ does. And at the end of the day, its not important how God saves. The only thing that matters is that God does save. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is of First Importance. Amen.

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, “

1 Corinthians 15:3-4.

Do You Really Know Him?

I can actually remember playing T-ball when I was a kid. I remember the feeling more than anything else.The feelings of excitement, anticipation, and finally disappointment. Let me explain. When my parents had first mentioned playing baseball, I was so excited. I had seen baseball on television. The athletic ability of the players and how they seemed to hit the ball with ease as it then glided through the air. I was in awe of how fast the pitcher could throw the ball, and how swift the outfielders were at catching most any ball the came to their area of the field. They always handled themselves in such a professional manner in winning and losing. And now my parents said I had the chance to play this very same game that these supermen I idolized did every week. My parents didnt have to ask twice, I was all in!

The first day of practice finally arrived. Stepping onto that baseball diamond for the first time sent sparks of electricity through my lanky preadolescent body. I was one of the big boys. A real baseball player. Everything looked perfectly fit to scale as it was on television. The field, the shape of the bases. but something odd caught my eye. Right where the batter stands to hit the ball, there was this goofy looking black pole thingy with a ball sitting on top. I then looked around at my teammates who were arriving. Some were picking their noses, some were rolling in the grass not paying attention to the coach, and some were crying for their parents. Crying? As Tom Hanks once said, “Theres no crying in baseball!” This made no sense. Where were the kids that were big boys and wanted to act like real baseball players? And I still didnt know what the goofy pole in the batters box was suppose to be! Coach finally explained that the pole was our tee which we would be hitting our ball off of.

I immediately thought, “No pitching?” This was not the picture I had in mind when mom and dad had ask if I wanted to play baseball. My teammates were not athletes, (and neither was I) they were more like the Romper Room Gang. I wasnt going to be pitched to, I had to hit the ball of off a rubber stick, and half the team was in tears fifteen minutes into the first practice! Add to this disappointment the fact that I couldnt catch a ball to save my life and I hit the goofy rubber pole with my bat more than I hit the ball sitting on top! I thought this was suppose to be easy. The guys on tv made it look easy! This was hard work and not what I had expected. I had this picture of athletic perfection in my mind that was shattered by an all around lack of athletic ability and a rubber stick called a tee.  I wanted to just quit. But thankfully, my parents taught me perseverance and finished the season. And I played a few years of t ball leading into little league baseball, because I realized that you didnt start out being just like the pros, rather you had to grow into that mold through constant practice.

Isnt it odd that the simplest life lessons that make perfect sense to even a child, we become blind to in our adult years and end up acting like a seven year old who wants to quit tee ball because of unreasonable, impossible expectations were not met.  I can’t tell you how many people Ive run into that will turn there noses up at the notion of Christianity. They mock it and make snide remakes. And the most prevalent criticism made towards the bride of Christ is this…..

“I dont believe in Christianity because they preach one thing and do another….they’re all a bunch of hypocrites!”

This is in part the churches fault. Not because we should all be perfect, but because at times, we as Christians expect others to be. Kind of like the pot calling the kettle black. This would be akin to me walking onto the tee ball field as a seven year old and all the other snotty nosed, teary eyed kids looking down on me because I wasnt like Babe Ruth.

And this is partly a faulty expectation on the worlds part. Flipping the example, for the world to expect Christians to be perfect is just like me at seven telling these other kids they need to shape up and start knocking home runs out of the park. We are called as Christians to strive to be like Jesus, but we dont just automatically become like him by walking into a church. Thats what sanctification is all about. Growing in holiness.  And this can be a bit frustrating and problematic, because no matter how hard we try, we’ll never meet the standards of Christ this side of Heaven. If we go into the Christian experience with expectations of everyone having it all together, and everything working in perfect harmony, we will be quickly disillusioned. We’re all a bunch of snotty nosed children, whining about things not going our way, just like on the tee ball field. Is the church full of hypocrites? Absolutely. And regrettably, Im one of them. But if we didnt have a fallen nature, then we’d have no need of a risen savior.

“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:22-23.

This post is written more so to someone who is searching. Maybe you’ve been burned by a church. Maybe you’ve been disappointed and let down due to unrealistic expectations. Hear me when I say this in love. If this describes your experience, you will continue to jump from church to church and continue to be disappointed over and over, until you can come to the realization that church….is not about you. People, no matter how much they study their Bibles, will always let you down. People will always disappoint you. And people will always shatter your dreams of perfection. Because we are not perfect. And when we have the mindset that the world is about us, a catastrophic chain of events can transpire in our lives.

If we marry, eventually we will be let down by our spouse. And if its all about us, we seek to get out of that relationship in search of the perfect mate…..that does not exist. And so we end up carving out a resume of broken relationships and hold on to much heartache. If we look for the perfect job, and its all about us, we will be disappointed and unfulfilled in our career. And if church is about how people within the body of Christ measure up to your standards, there is not a church on this earth that will ever satisfy you. The first thing to realize in this life is that nothing is about you. Nothing is about me. Its all about King Jesus. Everything.

There is an every bigger misconception amongst many professing Christians that is the basis for the warning Jesus gave in Matthew 7:21. That is the question of, “Why do you think you are going to Heaven?” I never realized until recently how many people actually think that they are saved by the blood of the Lamb because they go to church and because, according to them, they are “good people.” The good people argument is used so much. “Im a good person, so why would God send me to Hell?” Thats the defense. Here is my question to those that would hang their salvation on being good……..

What is your standard for judging your goodness by?

Isaiah 64:6 says, “All of us have become like one who is unclean,  and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf,  and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”

So not only does our sinful nature not measure up to Gods standards, but even my best good deeds are tainted and unacceptable to God without the sacrifice of Christ and knowing him personally in my life as my intercessor.

Someone may say, “Well Im faithful to my spouse and have never committed adultery!”

But Jesus said, ” “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28.

Some may say, “Well Ive never committed murder!”

But Jesus said, ““You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sisterwill be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”Matthew 5:21-22.

Have you ever called someone a fool? Ive called people much worse. And according to God, that infraction of the tounge is just as damnable as committing murder.

Have you ever told a lie? Even an innocent little while lie?

Jesus said, “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” Revelation 21:8.

Yesterday I wrote a blog regarding movies and how we should have discernment in what we entertain ourselves with. Whenever I bring up the topic of censoring what we watch for the sake of Christ, I get emails about how people think I am taking things too far. The response I typically get is…”Im a Christian and watching a movie doesnt mean I dont know God!”

No, watching a movie doesnt mean a person does not know God. But I believe if we truly know that nature of God, then there are some movies and entertainment that is blatantly obvious that God would not approve of, and in knowing God, we should be offended by. Take two movies that are very, very popular in the worlds eyes. Harry Potter and The Twilight series. These two movie franchises are all the rave in our world today. And Ive been told that these movies are just innocent entertainment and that God doesnt mind us watching them.

“‘Do not eat any meat with the blood still in it. Do not practice divination or seek omens.” Leviticus 19:26.

Gods word says dont consume blood, and dont practice divination, or witchcraft. Twilight is all about a blood lusting vampire, and Harry Potter is about a kid who is into witchcraft. This verse sort of kills two birds with one stone. I could list many more verses from the old and new testament that echo this one verse, but this post would turn into a book.

“He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.”Luke 16:15.

People today value entertainment very highly. Especially when it comes to movies and television.  And right now, these witch and vampire movies are valued very highly. But look at what Jesus says about some things that man hold high in value….they are detestable in God’s sight.

“I will not look with approval on anything that is vile. I hate what faithless people do;  I will have no part in it.” Psalm 101:3.

When I was a kid, I remember meeting Lou Ferrigno, who was (and still is) a bodybuilder who played the Incredible Hulk on television.I watched him on television every week. I knew all about him. I knew where he grew up, I had read about his home life, I knew when he began his bodybuilding career, and I knew how he eventually landed the role as The Incredible Hulk. Any statistic on Lou I could give you. But if you walked up to Lou and asked him if he knew me, he wouldnt have a clue who I was.

And I think there are many Christians who’s faith in Christ is just like this. They know statistics and facts about Jesus. They may be able to spout off a few Bible verses and hymns. They even go to church every Sunday. But they dont really know Jesus in a personal relationship, they just know about him. There is a difference between knowing Christ, and Christ knowing you intimately.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 7:21.

Many people claim they are going to Heaven and that they know Jesus. Yet the choices they deliberately make (Hebrews 10:26) in life show very little regard for Christ. Many claim they love Jesus. What drives me absolutely crazy is country music. If you really listen to country music, its a theological train wreck. Country artist mention Jesus and loving Jesus in countless songs. But in the very next line of the song talk about passing a round of whiskey or cheating on a girlfriend. Really? A song is sung about how much you love Jesus, but then in the same song, sing about deliberately choosing to sin against God? Case in point, if we live in a nation that really knows God as we claim, then why do we keep making the same sinful lifestyle choices over and over. Because that is not the teachings of the God of the Bible.

“In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome,” 1 John 5:3.

Loving God is not defined as being a good faithful church member or reading your bible daily. According to God, love for him is shown through obedience to his word. So how can we discern what entertainment is of Satan in our world without knowing His word? How can we see the contradiction in popular songs today unless we know his word? How can we live our lives as pleasing to God without knowing his word? The Lord says in Psalm to seek Him with all your heart. I recall playing hide and go seek as a kid, and we would keep seeking those hiding all night if we had to in order to win. Seeking God isnt church attendance. Its a personal, daily chase and hunger to know him. To not just read his word, but to saturate in it. Its a hunger not just to memorize scripture, but to understand and apply His commands to our lives. And notice the scripture above when it says, “his commands are not burdensome.” Are you burdened by attempting to follow Gods commands? Or do you actually see them as Gods way of leading you into fullness of ultimate Joy?

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10.

Jesus is saying, “Look, you are walking and breathing but you’re not alive!” In Christ, we find life!! Why would we ever want to be consumed with the fading trinkets and lures of this world that is perishing! All that are breathing have life. But only those in Christ have life more abundant and life to the full! Its in his commands we find true life and joy!

God doesnt make rules in marriage, finances, relationships, and worship to make us miserable! God designed marriage! He designed relationships, he designed every area of life! And he knows that if His commands are obeyed, they will all result in a life of joy! He knows your make up better than you do. If you actually think a sinful way of life will render better results for your life than following Christ, you prove that you dont know him.

“Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”John 14:23.

Sadly, many will continue to live a shallow Christianity, which is really not Christianity, where they say they love Jesus, but live life on their own terms. They still watch the same sinful entertainment and still condone the same sinful lifestyle, all the while claiming forgiveness to live like the devil because they love a forgiving God. Yes God is forgiving. But if you really love him…if you really know him…you dont take advantage of his grace as a ticket to sin. Those are the people Jesus spoke of in Matthew 7:21.

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” Luke 6:46.

Even Jesus questions people like this. How much more clear could he have said it? If someone is not willing to live in obedience to Christ, and would rather find loop holes around following him, then why would they continue to claim him as Lord of their lives? He is not the Lord of their lives, they are the Lord of their lives! Jesus isnt a country song side kick to us as we drive through life with him in the passenger seat. When we give our lives to Christ, he’s to have it all! Nothing held back, every area of our lives in full and total submission to Christ!

My question is do you know Christ, or do you just know some things about him? Have all areas of your life been given over to his Lordship, or do you pick and choose according to what you want to do? Do you tend to blend in and chase after what is more popular in the worlds eyes, or do you live more like an alien to this world who’s not home yet? My hope for myself and every one who may stumble upon my many ramblings is that we would be all convicted to take God as seriously as the men and women of scripture. That we would not judge our salvation by a level of worldly goodness, but by being known by Christ. And that we all would live radically and sacrificially, putting worldly popularity behind in exchange for being mission minded. Its all about the proclamation of the gospel to the ends of the earth. Its all about the glorification of God in and through all things. Its not about our wants and desires. Its not about me. Its all about King Jesus.

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—  where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD,  the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—  he who watches over you will not slumber;  …” Psalm 121:1.

Satan’s Pulpit

I want you to think of someone in your life that you love with all of your heart. Maybe its a family member such as a parent, sibling, child. or even a spouse.  Lets use the example of a father. Now imagine the unthinkable…that some deranged person took the life of your father in a brutal way. You are devastated. As you grieve, you brother comes over to you and shares in your mourning. But something disturbing catches your eye. As your brother sits beside you crying and angry for what was done to your dad, you notice his t-shirt. It has a picture of the man who murdered your father on the front with a caption that says, “I Support This Man.”

Horrified, you ask your brother just what in the world he thinks he is doing wearing something like that! Your brother, almost offended, looks back at you and says, “Are you implying that I dont love daddy? This shirt has nothing to do with my love for dad….its only a T-shirt!”

In the same manner, we claim to love God with all of our hearts. Yet many Christians support the very things that put Jesus on the cross.

This example is leading into an area of my life that I was really convicted of about three years ago. I claimed to love Jesus and be a devout follower. I read my bible, went to church on Sundays, and even prayed during the week. I didnt deliberately live in sin, and I even taught a Sunday School class. But I loved movies. We had a huge movie DVD library. My favorites were action films like Rambo and especially horror movies.  I couldnt get enough of them. My wife Lacy didnt get into the horror movies as much as she did soap opera’s and reality shows like The Batchelor.

But ever so subtlety, God began to work on our heart. Convicting us, changing us, transforming our thinking.

1 Corinthians 6:9 says, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

These are the sins that Jesus had to die for in order that we might be redeemed.  Does this verse mean that if we have ever fallen into one of these sins we can no longer be forgiven? By no means. For the Bible specifically tells us that we all fall short of Gods glory. Those who will suffer separation from God as a result of these sins are those who partake in the deliberately as a practice of life yet at the same time, they know better.

“For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”Hebrews 10:26.

“Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” 1 John 3:8.

Although I wasnt deliberately walking in sin or making a practice of sinning, I realized I was enjoying entertainment that seemed to promote these very sins that God seems to hate so much. I remember watching the tv series Friends. And all the sudden it hit me that the whole show was about a group of friends who found enjoyment in breaking Gods laws. The show portrayed sex outside of marriage, drunkenness, and issues like pornography and made these sins against God into very comical situations. I was laughing at the very sins the God destroyed nations for in the Old Testament!

But its only a television show….right?

Then God began to convict me in the area of movies. I loved Rambo! What guy doesnt love movies where stuff gets blown up! But I began to see in these movies that the Lords name was used in vain an awful lot. I never used these word! And I would never use them. But here I was, finding enjoyment, not being offended, when one of the characters of the movie used Gods name in vain. The same went for the horror movies I loved. Some promoted demonism, witch craft, occult magic. Movies like The Ring, The Grudge, and even the ever popular Twilight series. I would never participate in witch craft. Yet here I was being entertained by the kingdom of darkness that Christ spoke against!

“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,” Colossians 1:13.

But its only a movie….right?

The music I was listening too was not safe from our convictions either. Most popular music today have very profane lyrics. The artist sing about sex before marriage, adultery, drinking, drug use, and profaning the Lord. Again, I would never partake in any of these sins, but I didnt mind listening to someone else sing praises about them, and do so with a tap in my foot and a smile on my face. The same can be said for books as well. Harry Potter, Twilight, and a few other popular books have captivated reads young and old. In fact, they read these books about witchcraft and the occult more than they do their own Bibles.

But its only a song….right?

And its only a book….right?

I once heard a pastor say, “Take away a mans idol and he’ll fight and defend it will all his might.” Isnt it funny how we will make excuses and defend our right as Christians to partake in worldly entertainment, yet we dont blink an eye when the Lord we profess to love is blasphemed?

Instead, we laugh at the very sins that caused solders beat him, rip the hair from his beard, whip the skin from his back, place thorns in his brow, and nail his hands and feet to the cross. The most brutal death in history was that of the Lord Jesus. It wasnt Pilate that nailed him to the cross. It wasnt Jesus many critics. It was my sins, and the sins of humanity that took his earthly life. Jesus died in our place, for our sins…a perfect sacrifice in every way. Innocent, spotless, blameless, and in the end, guilty. But not for what he had done, but for what we have done. Everytime we seek out entertainment in shows or music that promote things like witchcraft, fornication, sexual immorality, blasphemy, and adultery, we take a front seat to the  reenactment of  Jesus crucifixion, and laugh at the very sins that Jesus took seriously enough to die for.

Satan still preaches sermons even today. Except his pulpit is not in a particular church. The devil’s pulpit is popular media. Satan preaches through the airwaves. He preaches sermons on how cool witchcraft and the occult is through movies like Harry Potter and Twilight. He preaches sermons on the merits of homosexuality through television shows. He preaches messages on all the things that Christ died for and in support of them through pop culture and media. And he continues to soothe our conscious by reassuring us….”Its only harmless entertainment, just relax and watch!” Isnt that the same line he used in the garden on Eve? “Its only a piece of fruit, just take a bite?”

Will watching a secular movie send you to Hell?  No.  And not all secular media is bad. But I do believe that a true follower of Christ will grow in sanctification. I believe that we will be continually convicted of things in our world, and therefore given a chance to repent and grow more into His image. I believe it is very possible for someone to be a Christian, love secular tv and movies, and not really be aware of the fact that they are actually entertaining themselves with the sins that Jesus died for. Thats how deceptive Satan is. But once we realize that our world hates Christ, we begin to read between the lines. Then suddenly, a sick feeling begins to grow in us when we watch a show where Gods name is cursed. Because all of the sudden, its not just a movie anymore. You see the entertainment industry making light of the sacrifice Jesus paid. You see your Lord being mocked by the media. And what was once considered recreational and innocent becomes very personal.

Its hard to laugh at the very things that murdered our savior.

1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

The verse didnt say do some things for God’s glory. It didnt say do all things for the glory of God except for entertainment. The text reads ALL THING are to be done with Gods glory in mind. The old “WWJD What Would Jesus Do” Bracelets come to mind. Although they could be a bit goofy, the idea behind the bracelets was great. Would Jesus be entertained by reading, watching, or listening to the sins he gave his life to cover? Do people know we are followers of Christ not only by the things we do, but by what we dont do? If we look like the world, smell like the world, and love the same evil things of this world, is the love of Christ truly in us? Whats that old saying….”If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, chances are….IT’S A DUCK!”

We as believers know the difference between right and wrong. We know Gods commandments. And sometimes we pride ourselves on not committing these acts. But the Bible tells us not only is it wrong to commit these acts, but it is wrong to take pleasure or find entertainment in those who do these acts! This post may have stepped on some toes, just as mine we stepped on three years ago. But I profess nothing that is of my own opinion. As Charles Spurgeon once said, ““The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose, and the lion will defend itself.” I need not defend this view point….God through scripture speaks for Himself……

“Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.  Who KNOWING the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, BUT HAVE PLEASURE IN THEM THAT DO THEM.” Romans 1:28-32.

It’s Not About You

Misunderstandings and disillusions of who Jesus really is in our society is the ultimate reason for people living out a false Christianity. As a whole, we know what we’ve seen from television preachers and from the basic Bible stories we’ve grown up hearing. Who hasn’t been taught the timeless stories of David and Goliath or Daniel and the lion’s den? Who hasn’t had the Sunday School teacher that with good intentions, told the children how these stories were given as examples to us by God to show us how we can overcome adversaries in our lives?  I can recall being at a youth camp once and hearing the teacher tell us kids, “David overcame the giant Goliath and did the impossible by killing him because he had God on his side.”

It sounds great! And there is a bit of truth to what he said, because we know that in Christ, we can do mighty things. But here’s the problem in teaching Bible stories in this manner….its misinterpreting scripture to mean something it doesn’t mean. The assumption that many teachers take is that we are these great men of the Bible, like David or Daniel. And things like Goliath or the Lions represent obstacles in our lives that we triumphantly overcome. But in looking at scripture in the way, we insert ourselves as the heroes of these stories, when in reality, we are the ones who need saving.

You and I are not David slaying the giant Goliath. And Goliath doesn’t represent the troubles in your life. If we were to insert ourselves into the story of David and Goliath, we would be the frightened Israelites, watching this battle, huddled together and crying in the corner saying, “We’re all going to die!!” Jesus represents David and Goliath represents sin and death. And the same can be said for any story in scripture. Jesus is the greater David.  Jesus is the greater Abraham. Jesus is the greater Esther.  Jesus is the greater Boaz. Jesus is the greater Moses. Thats the main point that was made in the book of Hebrews. You and I are not the heroes of scripture, Jesus is.

At times we have the bad habit of viewing ourselves as heroes and God is just our cheerleader in life. Its this weird viewpoint that God created us so that he wouldn’t be lonely in the universe and that God is ultimately about us! But the deception in thinking this way is that we believe that we are entitled to a good life of ease because God should want to spoil his children. Therefore, when something bad happens in our lives, we cannot understand why God would allow such a thing.

Here is the truth. And for some, it’s going to sting and shake everything they may have been taught to the core. God loves you. God is for you. God wants your joy. But ultimately, God is not first and foremost about you. Gods main priority is God. For some, this doesn’t rest well with you. But the fact that this bothers us exposes just how very self-centered we really are in our nature. That we actually feel like we should be the center of Gods universe.  Some may ever rail against this idea.  But scripture will back me up…..here is a list compiled by Dr. John Piper and Matt Chandler.

God created us for His glory (Isaiah 43:6-7).

I want you to think about this. The reason you exist, the reason you are is for the glory of God, the name and renown of God. The praising of His infinite perfections, that’s why you exist. Church is not primarily about fellowship. God was not lonely and decided to make you because He was just tired of being alone after eternity of being alone. God was perfectly content within the Godhead. God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit did not need to create you. He did create you for the praise of His glorious grace. That’s why you exist. It’s the reason you’re alive.

God calls Israel for His glory (Isaiah 49:3).

  • In Jeremiah 13:11, we find out that He tells the nation of Israel, “I didn’t pick you guys because you’re awesome. I picked you because you were the smallest, crummiest tribe there was.” So even with Israel, it wasn’t about Israel. In fact, even to this day, God delights in making much of Himself through people who are lacking. You should be very grateful for that.

God rescues Israel from Egypt for His glory (Psalm 106:7-8).

  • God raises up Pharaoh to show His power and glory (Romans 9:17). I know Romans 9 is a wildly unpopular Scripture, but it’s in the Bible. You ought to check it out. In Romans 9, the Scriptures tell us that God allowed Pharaoh into the pinnacle of human power. So Pharaoh pretty much is ruler of the world at that point in history. He has a slave force of millions, a massive empire and a massive army, and the Bible tells us that God gave him all of that so He could crush him to show that man at his pinnacle is tiny compared to God on His worst day. We see that even the destruction of Pharaoh was about the name of God.

God defeats Pharaoh by the Red Sea to show His glory (Exodus 14:4; 17-18).

  • God spared Israel in the wilderness for the glory of His name (Ezekiel 20:14).

I have never ceased to be comforted by the fact that God never just outright destroys the nation of Israel. They get it right for a couple verses in the Old Testament. Right behind almost every verse of commendation is, “All right. You want t go that way? We’ll go that way.” And so God never destroys them or completely annihilates the nation of Israel, and He does it for the sake of His name.

God gave Israel the Promised Land for the glory of His name (2 Samuel 7:23).

God did not cast away His people for the glory of His name (1 Samuel 12:20-22).

God saved Jerusalem from attack for the glory of His name (2 Kings 19:34; 20:6).

God restored Israel from exile for the glory of His name (Ezekiel 36:22-23; 32).

Now Jesus shows up an fits right into this rhythm. Jesus sought the glory of His Father in all that He did (John 7:18).

Jesus told us to do good works so that God would get glory (Matthew 5:16 & 1 Peter 2:12).

Jesus warned that failure to seek God’s glory makes faith impossible (John 5:44).

Now I want to stop and push on that a little bit. Because here’s what I know about some of you that you might not know about yourself yet. Some of you are here because you believe that, with certain actions and certain behaviors, you can put God into your debt. You believe that you can live in such a way that God will owe you. And when you don’t get what you feel like you’re owed, you’ll get frustrated and angry that God has not given you what He never promised to give you. The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is not that everything starts working out your way; the good news of the gospel is that God is enough, regardless of your circumstances. You get Jesus – that’s the gospel. That’s the good news. Not that you get an easy life, but that you get Jesus Christ….and He is enough!

Jesus said that He answers prayers so that God would be glorified (John 14:13).

Jesus endured His final hours of suffering for the glory of God (John 12:27-28).

God gave His Son to vindicate the glory of His righteousness (John 17:1; 13:31- 32).

God forgives our sin for His own sake (Isaiah 43:25 & Psalm 25:11).

Jesus receives us into His fellowship for the glory of God (Romans 15:7). • The ministry of the Holy Spirit is to glorify the Son of God (John 16:14).

God instructs us to do everything for His glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). .”

God tells us to serve in a way that would glorify Him (1 Peter 4:11).

Jesus is coming again for the glory of God (2 Thessalonians 1:9-10).

Jesus’ ultimate aim for us is to see and enjoy His glory (John 17:24).

God’s plan is to fill the earth with the knowledge of His glory (Habakkuk 2:14). If you’ve always been confused why people would risk their lives to go all over the world, it’s because we believe with everything in us that when God says, “I shall,” He means it, that God cannot fail. So if we go herald the good news to parts of the world where there is no visible presence of His glory, it’s because we have the promise that, by our death or by our proclamation of His Word, His glory will be established.

Everything that happens will redound to the glory of God (Romans 11:36).

In the new Jerusalem, the glory of God replaces the sun. (Revelation 21:23).

So the point of the Bible is God; it’s not you. Its not me. God is about God. God is for God. And thats a great thing. Because if God is for God and about his Glory, that means I am not the center of the universe!!

Why do we get angry in traffic when someone cuts us off…..because we think we are the center of the universe.

Why do we lash out at our spouse when our expectations are not met…because we think we are the center of the universe.

Why do we doubt God when hard times befall us…because we think we are the center of the universe!

When we think we are the center of the universe, we are easily offended and constantly disappointed. But in Christ, we are free to see that the universe doesnt revolve around us. If Im not the center of the universe and someone cuts me off in traffic, I dont lash out at them because they offended me, but realize that their offensive had nothing to do with me, but that they are just being human and probably in a hurry.

If Im not the center of the universe, when my wife disappoints me, instead of holding a grudge against her, I see how my sinfulness has offended Christ over and over. Yet he never cast me aside, but continues to love me. And I live out that example with my wife, not so that I will be glorified in what a good husband I am, but so that God receives all the glory. Because no man is good, not one.  (Mark 10:18.) Im merely shadowing the example given to me by my Father in Heaven. Its Christ working and redeeming through me.  He receives the glory from the example we live out.

And when I realize that I am not the center of the universe, when hard times fall, I see it as a time of God sanctifying and using the situation to magnify his glory through my circumstances. The disciples and the apostle Paul were beaten to the point of death many times. Yet not once did they curse God. Rather they praised his glorious name for the opportunity given to suffer for his namesake!! If we could only reach that point in our lives where Christ is that supreme in our lives! Ultimate joy is found in glorifying Christ in every aspect of our lives! It amazes me how we can read of these men in the scriptures who suffered greatly for Christ and even look at Jesus himself who suffered greatly, and still have people who actually think Jesus should give them health and wealth because they go to church! Thats not the gospel!!

If Im not the center of the universe, Im free to love my family and friends at a deeper level because my selfish ways dont hinder me! I am not the hero of my story. Jesus Christ is. And Jesus is glorified through my obedience to him in every aspect of my life. And living in obedience to his commands improves my marriage, my family, my friendships, and how I respond to trials in life. In short, Christ being glorified and God being first and foremost about his glory produces an overwhelming joy in my life. His word wasnt given to harm or restrict me, but to lead me in the fullness of His joy. As John Piper wrote in his book “Desiring God”……

“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him!!”

Obama’s Roman’s 1 Platform

There are some things that you just dont mix together. Oil and water, fire and ice, or an alarm clock and Saturday morning. One of the biggest of these taboos in our culture is religion and politics. You could even take it a step farther in some social realms. Some actually believe that religion should never be talked about at all for fear of offending someone or pushing moral beliefs. What is absolutely disgusting to me is that some professing Christians actually abide by this belief that we should keep our Bible beliefs to ourselves so no one will be offended. Isnt it ironic that if we profess to follow Jesus, we are actually claiming to follow a man who offended almost everybody. In fact, thats why the religious leaders finally nailed him to a cross.

What if the apostle Paul and Peter would have kept their faith a secret for fear of offending someone? What if they believed in the teachings of Christ, but never took a stand because it wasnt the popular thing to do? Well, Paul probably wouldnt have had his head chopped off, and Peter wouldnt have been crucified upside down. They could have lived a long life and been loved by the world if they would have just kept their faith in Christ to themselves. But isnt the point of following someone, as Christians claim to follow Christ, to do as their leader does?

“So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 10:32-33.

What a scary statement made by our Lord Jesus! Yet so many church going people deny their affiliation with Christ to the world daily. Not by what they say, but by what they dont say!

Jesus goes on to say,  “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” Matthew 10:34.

I have actually heard faithful church members before say something like this……

“Well, I know they are living a sinful lifestyle, but we dont need to say anything to them, because we might run them off from ever coming to church!”

As Pastor Jonny Hunt once said, “Where do you think your going to run them off, Hell number two??”

We live in a Christian culture that is so afraid of confrontation and being offensive! We live in a world that has this false impression that Jesus just wants everyone to get along and be happy! But as you can see in Matthew 10:34 above, thats not Jesus at all!! Jesus clearly said he didnt come to this earth with expectations of everyone getting along. In fact, He knew that when he came to earth, there would be division amongst friends and even family because the message of the Gospel is very offensive to the lost world!! Jesus knew this! He taught his disciples to follow his example of being bold and taking a stand, regardless of if their next door neighbor thought they were weird, regardless if their family hated them, and regardless of if it caused someone to leave the church. Let me tell you something, if someone leaves a church because the Gospel of Jesus Christ offended them, then they never knew Him to begin with.

If you are a Christian, you are to live for God’s approval, not the approval of humans.  Proverbs says …..

“…rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.  If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?  Does not he who guards your life know it?  Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?’” (Proverbs 24.11-12)

We have a responsiblity as followers of Christ to take a bold stand in this world. We have a Christian obligation to defend the rights of the unborn whether or not anyone approves of it. We are obligated to hold fast to the defending the Biblical definition of marriage as God intended.  We have a judge to face when we don’t.  He will definitely know we did not defend those rights.

The Bible says all government is ordained by God.  We must obey and stay out of politics. Many Christians wring their hands about causes and are standing on the abortion sidelines with a private morality.  Many of them believe Romans 13 says we cannot protest the government because it is ordained and sanctioned by God. Yes we are to be submissive to government, meaning we dont stage riots and plan violent overthrows of those in power. But again, we do have the responsiblity before God to be outspoken when Government begins to stray from the commands of God. Romans 13 must be compared with Revelation 13.  In this case the apostle John calls the Roman government, which is persecuting the righteous, the beast.  The government there is not ordained by God.  It is anti-Christ.

President Obama has established the single most unGodly political agenda’s in our nations history. Some have referred to his campaign for office as the Romans 1 Platform. Read the excerpt below from Romans Chapter one.

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 andexchanged the glory ofthe immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” Romans 1:18-32.

Sounds frightenly like our nation. The truth of God is all around. We have no shortage of Bibles in our country. Gods word is abundant. The truth is there. But it has been so twisted and perverted to represent more of a Satanic agenda rather than “One Nation Under God.” The question we must ask is, “Who is this God?” Because he sure isnt the one mentioned in scripture.

And if you notice in the passage above in Romans, God gives them up to their depraved minds and sinful lusts. He basically says, “You want all this wickedness and sin? Take it, because my wrath now abides on you.” The Bible describes two types of wrath. The active wrath of God which is where God actively destroys those in opposition to him. And then there is the passive wrath, which is exactly what is being described in Romans 1. Have you ever asked yourself why someone who is very wicked and Godless seems to have such a great life? Passive wrath of God.

In his passive wrath, he gives the sinner up to himself. Its like this example from my youth. I remember my uncle one time had warned me not eat some soup he had made which had just come straight from the stove. He said, “Wait for a while, because its too hot right now.” I was starving, and I told him I could handle it. To which he responded, “Have at it then.” Needless to say I scalded my tastebuds and screamed like a baby because I didnt heed the warning of my uncle. He warned me, but I informed him that I didnt want to obey, so he allowed me to reap the consequences of my own actions. Passive wrath. Except Gods passive wrath isnt just a momentary scalding of the tounge, it results in eternal separation from God, and its staggering how many people are currently under this type of wrath.

We have a responsibility to vote against abortion and to inform others to do so as well. And I believe that abortion under no circumstance is acceptable. Rape and incest are horrible, atrocious acts of immorality and cause such great pain. But if these acts result in pregnancy, it is not the fault of the little child in the womans womb. Pastor Voddie Baucham has adopted children, one of which was the result of a rape and the other was born out of incest. Dr. Baucham stated that when people take a stance on abortion with the exception of rape and incest, what they are saying is that his two beautiful adopted children didnt deserve to live.

If you truly believe in Christ, then you believe in the sovereignty of God. That is, God is in total control at all times and in all situations. Jesus said to Pilate who was the Roman ruler who gave him over to be crucified, “You have no authority except that which has been given to you.” Pilate crucified Christ. As a result of Pilates decision, Christ was beaten, had the flesh torn off his back, and was nailed to a cross to die. What a sad time for all of those that loved Jesus. What a horrible event to have their Lord killed in such a brutal manner. But God allowed this to happen. Why? Because out of the sinful acts of the religious leaders in killing Jesus, something beautiful was born out of the horror. Our transgressions were dissolved, and  Jesus defeated Satan, sin, and death through the sheding of his blood as our atonement.

God doesnt cause sin. But he does allow it at times. He gives those who are depraved and lost up to his passive wrath. And there are consequences. But for those who have faith in Christ, God takes that which was devastating and makes it into something new and beautiful. Such is the case with human life. No life is an accident. All life is beautiful.

The same can be said of homosexual relations. No matter what argument is made in favor of homosexuality, it is an abomination before God. No one was simply born that way, yet our world accepts this excuse as if its just normal. If I were to go on a killing spree and then use the excuse that I couldnt help it, that I was just born with this impulse to kill, I seriously doubt that I would be let off the hook. No one is born a murder. People do however, give in to temptations instead of seeking refuge in Christ.  People will argue that some men just have more feminine qualities than others. Some men also have more rage issues than others but it doesnt give them the right to kill. Jesus was tempted in the desert by Satan, and each time he was tempted, he warded off the temptation by quoting scripture. How many of us today are fully devoted to knowing the word of God? God doesnt want us to read his word as a homework assignment! Its akin to a general in the army giving his troops ammunition for the battle to come!! A solder going into war is grateful for ammunition, because without it he would be overrun! Are you in the same way, grateful for the word of God? Maybe the reason so many people compromise in sin is because they foolishly thought they could go into the war with no ammunition.

When you cast your vote, do not vote in allegiance with a party. Dont vote for who is popular. Dont vote in order to appease a family member or friend. Vote for a King. Vote for a Savior. There is not a candidate that can pull our nation out of this mess we have gotten ourselves into. But there is a God who is bigger than our world. Read the Bible. Know Gods word. And vote in accordance with His commands.

By The Power of Greyskull….

One of the best things about raising boys is their never-ending depth of imagination. One day Andy and Lincoln might be Batman and Robin, running around the house in their underwear and a blanket tied to their back, and the next moment they will be Power Rangers. Yes sir, there is alot of saving the world from the forces of evil going on in the Parish household.  One of the boys favorite superheros is a crusader from my youth named He-Man.

If you somehow missed out on 1980’s pop culture, Ill briefly refresh your memory. Parachute pants and Members Only jackets aside, He-Man and The Masters of The Universe were literally the most popular cartoon heroes of that decade. The premise of the cartoon took place in a far off Universe in the land of Eternia. Prince Adam was a member of the royal family who ruled Eternia for the good of the land. But Prince Adam had a secret. Whenever danger came upon Eternia, Prince Adam would grab his sword and recite these words, “By the power of Greyskull….I have the Power!!!” All the sudden lightening would surround him and he would be transformed into a muscle bound super hero with the strength of a thousand men named He-Man.

So to paint the mental picture of a typical night in our house, Andy will run around with a shirt on pretending to be the meek and mild Prince Adam. But as soon as the enemy, (his four year old brother Lincoln) comes onto the scene, Andy grabs his plastic sword and says those powerful transforming words, “By The Power of Greyskull….” Then he takes off his shirt and becomes He-Man, defender of justice and Master of the Universe! Granted this is really all in his little mind. My son doesnt magically grow muscles and gain super strength just because he recited a few words. No matter what he may think, Andy never really changed. He is still my six year old little boy pretending to be something he is not.

We chuckle when our kids do these type things and really think that they are a new creation. Yet many adults do the exact thing with their relationship to God. We go to church and hear the preacher say that there is power in the blood of the Lamb. We hear these false messages from many pulpits that lead us into a false salvation. One church in the mid west had a sign out by the road that said, “Salvation…So easy a caveman can do it!” This is the culture we live in. As David Platt once said, “American Christianity has taken the life blood out of the Gospel of Christ and replaced it with Kool-Aid.”

Walk down the aisle, talk to the preacher, and repeat this prayer, “By the Power of Greyskull……” Sorry, I mean the sinners prayer.

We are no different than a child with an over active imagination when we claim that we have salvation in Jesus Christ and he is the Lord of our lives because we can point back to a time that we recited a man made prayer.  Most pagan cults include in their rituals incantations or chants that really hold no power. Its called witchcraft. Isnt it strange how this pagan concept has slowly crept into modern day evangelicals to the point to where the sinners prayer is the measuring stick by which so many use to point to their personal salvation.

If you were to ask over 90% of Americans why they believe they are saved, over 90% would begin to tell you about a time in their lives where they did like my six year old son and said a few words. And now all of the sudden, in their minds,  they’ve become a regenerated, spiritual He-Man. Barnam, a Christian Research Company, already put this to the test and found that the sinners prayer was the most popular answer regarding salvation. Most of those claiming to be saved by the sinners prayer in the research hardly attended church, admitted to little or no prayer life, and apart from Sunday mornings, looked the same as their  next door neighbor who didnt believe in Jesus. But bless God, they consider themselves saved. Why? Because as they put it, “I prayed the prayer.”

Heres the danger in this. Lets say that you walk that aisle and pray the sinners prayer. You are even baptised. But there is really no heart change. There is really no repentance from sins, just maybe trying harder to avoid them for a week or so. There is no regeneration of the Holy Spirit in your life. And if you are honest with yourself, there is really no love for the Lord. You have just recited an incantation.

Now lets say that tragedy befalls you. You lose your job. The bank forecloses on your house. Your marriage is in shambles. You get bad news from the doctor…its cancer. Or maybe you lose a loved one to an unexpected death. Immediately, questioning God becomes the next step. “Why would a loving God allow this to happen to me?” Or maybe you abandon your faith all together. Maybe you tell yourself, “God cant be real because a loving God wouldnt let me go through this.” Or maybe its just an indication that you knew a little about God, but you never really knew God.  See, here is the problem. When someone does this, what they have done is made the cross about themselves rather than about Christ. They believe in a God who should serve them instead of the true God that they were created to serve.

You see, when I was a child I loved He-Man too. I played the same games as my kids, running around the house shirtless screaming the words that would transform me into my hero. But at the end of the day, I was still just a little skinny kid. At the end of the day, no matter what words I said, I was still powerless. I could never become just exactly like He-Man. Ive yet to meet the man (other than Jesus) who could lift a twenty ton boulder with one hand. But I realized I could begin to be conformed to his image. He-Man was the catalyst from my youth that caused me to begin weight training.

I would read books about nutrition, about the human anatomy and muscle growth as a teenager. It was what drove me. Not only did I read alot on the subject of bodybuilding, but I took action. The experts in fitness said to gain muscle, you had to work out hard daily. I sacrificed sleeping late to get up early and hit the gym. I sacrificed much of the party lifestyle to maintain proper nutrition. I was dedicated to conforming myself into a new creation. As the years passed, no longer was I a skinny little runt kid, I had transformed my body by seeking after a muscular image with all my heart.

In like manner, we can never be exactly like Jesus Christ. No one has been born or ever will be born that will walk through life sinless except Jesus. We cant be exactly like him, but we can be conformed to his image. Just saying a prayer changes nothing. It doesnt save you. Knowing Christ in a real and personal relationship is what saves you.

In John 10:27 Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”

Simply sitting under the preacher on Sunday, counting down the seconds until its over, doesnt qualify as listening to his voice.  When I was seeking that He-Man image I had passion for it. I craved knowledge about fitness. I sacrificed leisure time to know more about the subject and to get stronger. What do you sacrifice in your life currently to know God? Is knowing God so important to you that you would gladly forsake an hour of sleep or your favorite television program to spend time studying his word? More importantly….parents….what are you teaching your children to be most passionate about?

Ive known men who had their young sons on t ball teams. Practice would be one day a week. But every other day of that week, that daddy was pitching to his son in the back yard, working on his fielding and batting so that his child would become a better baseball player. Do we do the same thing in regards to our kids and their relationship to Christ? What have you made Jesus to your family? Is he a far off deity in the sky whom your kids pray to before dinner and draw pictures of once a week in Sunday school? Or is he the very essence of life? Is Christ, as the apostle Paul put it, “Of First Importance.” Fathers, what is the goal you have for your kids? Men, your family will only be as close to the Lord as you are. And it begins with realizing that Christianity is not a one time prayer, but rather, a lifetime pursuit. Jesus is everything in your life, or he is nothing.

To be a strong man, I had to do the things that strong men do. I couldnt just say words like He-Man. I had to do the things that they did.

Jesus said in John 14:12, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing…”

Just as Jesus did the works he saw God the Father doing…..

“Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” John 5:19.

And through shadowing the commands of Christ in our own life, we are conformed to our Heavenly Fathers image…..

“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters”. Romans 8:29.

We cant do it on our own. We cant muster up the strength to be good on our own. We can try but will always fail. Because we are not God. But if we open our hearts, and begin to seek the Lord Jesus with all of our hearts, we begin to be transformed. Not from just the reading of the word, but of actually doing his will. The power of God is not just in the reading of the commands of Christ. Life transformation….heart transformation begins in the application. And so many of us miss out on knowing God because we never seek to be like Christ. Instead we want the easy salvation…to say a prayer. Which is a false, damning salvation and a lie from the enemy. Ill leave you with this quote from Eric Ludy, which sums it up best…..

“Don’t pray that God would teach you how to love like He loves; pray that He would fill you with Himself and that He would love in and through you. Don’t pray that He would teach you to have joy; pray that the living God full of joy would enter into you. Don’t pray that He would teach you how to be peaceful; ask for the God of peace, the Prince of peace to infill you. Because if you try to imitate in your own strength, you will be a miserable replica. But if you allow the impartation of Jesus Christ to overtake you, suddenly it all works because it is Him imitating Himself, and He is very good at being God.” 

Walking in The Desert

I think there is a part of the human brain that doesnt fully develop until we reach our mid twenties. Its that part of the brain that has to do with common sense and reality. Therein, lies the reason that in our teenage years, for some strange reason, we tend to think that we are invincible and that nothing will ever happen to us.

It was around my junior year in high school, way before that part of my brain had begun to mature, that I remember thinking I was Superman and I could defy the laws of nature. My buddy from high school Brandon and I had gone to the beach for the week of Spring Break. Both of us thought we were super studs back then. We were both into weight training and working out, and we had this inflated sense of reality when it came to the limits of our human bodies.

We had been laying out on the beach, swimming in the surf and scoping out the girls when around lunch time, we got bored. Keep in mind, we were no different than most teens in the fact that we both had the attention span of a gnat. Needless to say boredom came very easily. To cure our boredom, I came up with an awesome idea. I spotted a huge building way down the beach. I said to Brandon, “Im sure if we run down there to that big resort, there will be lots more people and things to do!” Another folly of being a teenager is that we had no understanding of the term, “Depth perception.” Unlike a rear view mirror in a car, objects on the beach appear closer at first glance than they really are.

So being the über studs were thought we were, we decided to run with all our might towards this resort we had spotted off in the distance. Running full speed on the beach….at high noon….in the heat of the day. Are you getting the picture of our brilliance now? The first fifteen minutes we felt great. I thought we’d be there in no time. Around the thirty minute mark, our steady stride morphed into more of a speed walk. As we closed in on sixty minutes, we were walking at the pace of a tortoise. We were at a stretch of the beach where there were no hotels and no civilization around us. As we gazed straight ahead at the resort that we were heading towards, even after an hour, it still looked almost as far off as it had when we had begun our journey.

When we turned around, the hotels that were where we started from looked like tiny little specks on the beach. We were hot, tired, hungry, and extremely thirsty. It was literally like being in the desert and searching for the closest oasis. We finally stopped. We looked forward at the tiny little resort and then we looked behind us at the tiny little hotels in the distance. So it was time to pick the lesser of the two evils. Did we press forward or turn around and go back the way we came from? We knew that it had taken us about an hour to get to where we presently were standing. However, we had no idea how much farther it would be until we reached the resort. It was at that moment, our adolescent brains gave birth to a brand new concept named common sense.

This was well before the days of kids having cell phones, and no one was around for miles….and again, it was blazing hot. So we decided to begin the trek back towards our starting point. “Just dont think about being thirsty.” Brandon said. He began to jog a steady jog and started to encourage me to do the same. “Breath in through your nose, and out through you mouth.” Keep your head up.” “Good, strong, breaths.” Brandon was saying all the correct things to encourage me. And his advice was good. But it still didnt help me in the matter of still being thirsty, still being hot, and still being tired. He could say all the correct things to me and it still didnt change the fact that I was exhausted and at the end of myself in this miniature desert.

Many years back, I found myself in the same desert situation theologically in my relationship with God. I was teaching a Sunday School class and leading a small group. I felt like I was communicating the truths of God clearly, and people in my class were beginning to come to an awakening due to the stirring of the Holy Spirit. And somewhere in the middle of my constant studying and teaching, I realized that my faith had become incredibly intellectual, yet I felt like God was so far from me. I could actually counsel people in my class who felt far from God and give them the correct scriptures and tell them to look at certain passages to help. I could prescribe the correct medicine so to speak, but that same medicine I held no relief for me. What do you do when the faith you possess seems so far from you? What do you do when you know the right biblical answer, but that’s not enough to save you from the desert you’re currently walking through?

So the incident my junior year of high school on the beach is more or less symbolic of the spiritual deserts that I have at times walked through in my own life. We can know all the Sunday School answers at times, and still feel so disconnected from God. And when we begin to feel disconnected from God….when we find ourselves in the desert…..its easy for the enemy to convince us that God doesnt care about what we are going through. And then we just give up on pursuing God and instead fall prey sinful drought.

In Ecclesiastes 5, King Solomon gives us some insight as to how to survive in the deserts of life. He tells us how to avoid falling away when God feels distant.

“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God….” Ecclesiastes 5:1.

The phrase “Guard your steps” literally means to pay attention to your steps in Hebrew.  And here is why Solomon says this. The direction of your feet literally dictates the direction of your life. Look at your feet. Are you constantly chasing and pursuing Christ? Even in the hard times of life? Or when things get hard, do you shake a fist at God and just give up? In giving up, we begin to shift our focus off of the pursuit of Christ and on to other things. We begin to take let our heads drop, and we stop looking ahead towards to destination and begin to focus on our unquenched thirsts.  Namely, our own misery and self pity.

And Solomon is telling us, when we are in that desert, to keep focus on the goal. To keep walking towards the Christ, even when he seems so far off into the distance. Are your steps constantly pointed towards the house of God? Are you complaining that due to circumstances in your life, God has abandoned you? Take a look at your feet. Could it be that you are still in the desert because you’ve stopped walking towards him?

Look again at what Solomon says next in verse 1.

“Go near to listen rather than offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know they do wrong.” Ecclesiastes 5:1.

Solomon is saying when times get difficult, and we feel far from God, we dont want to hear anything from anyone. We become consumed in our misery. And Solomon is reminding us that we need to continue to seek and listen for God in these times. But again, how do we do this? The first thing we will eventually have to do in trying times is to determine whether on not the scriptures are true or if God was just kidding in all of them.  To draw near to God means that we dont attempt to strike deals with him.

And we do this so often.

“Hey God, if you get me out of this situation, I promise to tithe more.”

“God if you save me from this desert, I promise that Ill give my life to you.”

And on and on the bartering goes. My six year old son tries this at times with me, but he doesnt have anything to barter with. He thinks he does with his toys and such. But at the end of the day, he doesnt have a job. He didnt pay for anything he has. Ultimately its all mine. Ive given him everything he has in life. In like manner, we have nothing to barter with when it comes to God. Everything we have in life has been given to us by him. We would not even have breath if it hadn’t been first given to us by Him!

And in the midst of this bartering, God says to us, “How about you stop talking and  focusing on yourself so much….and just listen.”

In these desert times, cover yourself in the scriptures. One noted pastor said that in his darker moments in life, he would just read the book of Psalm out loud to God. As if reminding him of his promises over and over. Look at what Solomon says next in verse 2.

“Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God. For God is in Heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes with much business, and a fools voice with many words.” Ecclesiastes 5:2.

When God seems distant, we tend to go off at the mouth at times. We either feel we have to eloquently pray to God in a certain way or ask him rhetorical questions about our situation. King David did this when he was in a spiritual desert and felt far from God. In the Psalms, David writes, “How long will you forget me Lord?” What a crazy question to ask God! Im sure God was thinking, “Forget you??? Do you remember Goliath when I empowered you to slay the Giant? Or how about the little incident with Bathsheba and how I got you out of that mess?” Pastor Paul Washer said there was a time in his life where he felt God was no where near him. So he would go into the woods and angrily toss stones up into the sky saying, “Did that hit the door to Heaven? Do you hear me knocking now God?”Where are you?”

Jesus says in Matthew 6:5-8, that we should not pray to him with eloquent words. We should be real with him. Its ok to cry out to God. But in the desert, in the times when Jesus feels so far from you, he does expect you to keep putting one foot in front of the other, taking steps continually towards him.

Look at what Solomon says next….

“When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools, fulfill your vow. It is better not to make a vow, than to make one and not fulfill it. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest the temple messenger, “My vow was a mistake.” Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands?  Ecclesiastes 5:4-6.

Lets unpack this verse. Many times when to word of God is being spoken like in a church setting, things will be mentioned that are outside of scripture. Heres what I mean. You may hear a friend at church mention getting plugged into a new small group. Or you may have a family member encouraging you to go get involved in church. Or someone may ask you to start coming to a weekly Bible study. Or you might even read a book or blog post that opens your eyes to new truths. Regardless, these things are not happening by coincidence. Thats the voice of God. Thats the Holy Spirit leading you out of the desert. For you, water may be going to that new Bible study, or actually starting to go to church, or taking a family members advice to really begin to study your Bible.

But more times than not we remain focused on our misery. More times than not we make vows to people.

 “Yeah, Ill think about going to that new bible Study.”

“Yeah, Ill probably start coming to church.'”

“Yeah, Ill try to read more of my bible.

We refuse to take these steps and fail to realize that God hasnt abandon us….he’s actually trying to lead us to the oasis. But either pride or idolatry stops us from committing, and we basically say “No thanks.” And God says as Solomon points out, “How about you stop making false vows and stop asking, “Which way out of the desert”, and you begin listening to me.” Remember, God works through people. Other people that are right now in your life. And he sometimes points the way out of the pain others. The question is not, “God are you hearing me?” The question is, “Are you listening?”

Finally, lets look at how Solomon closes out chapter 5.

“Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore, fear God.” Ecclesiastes 5:7.

Solomon is saying that a dream is not reality. Just because we know a few Bible verses and Sunday school answers is but a dream. Without a personal relationship with God…one where you are constantly seeking his face, even in the hard times, words are just meaningless. And look at how Solomon closes. He says to fear God. Solomon says, “Maybe you will get out of your desert quickly…but may be you wont. But no matter what our circumstances, we should always have reverence for God.”

What I am about to say will be hard for some to swallow. Sometimes in our lives, God ordains the desert. Sometimes, hardships in life are not punishment because you have sinned or been disobedient. Sometimes, God deliberately puts you out there, because the outcome of that desert experience will bring us closer to Him, if we can learn to listen. The book of Hosea in the Bible is the perfect example of this.

A quick summary of Hosea. God comes to Hosea and tells him that Hosea must marry a prostitute. And God tells Hosea that she is going to be unfaithful to you, and she is going to hurt you, and she is going to break your heart into a million pieces. And God says to Hosea, “Each time she hurts you, Im going to increase your love for her so that you cannot walk away from her.” God tells Hosea that he wants him to walk through this painful desert.” God tells Hosea this upfront. If you remember, Job walked through his own desert, but God didnt tell him why until he had gotten to the other side.

But here is the beauty of Hosea. God didnt leave him in the desert. God had a purpose for the pain, and it was to transform his cheating wife Gomer. In Hosea chapter 2, God basically says to Hosea, “Here is what I am going to do with your unfaithful wife Gomer. Im going to take her out into the desert. And through the pain of finding no satisfaction in her adulterous lifestyle, she will finally come to the end of herself.”  And then we see the true character of God. God doesnt say next that he lures her to the end of herself to beraid her or chastise her or punish her for her sins.

God says when she has finally reached the end of herself, and the pain of the desert is too much to bear….God says,…

“Therefore, I am going to alure her. I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards…”Hosea 2:14-15.

God says he is going to take Gomer out into the desert, and when she is gasping for water, when she is exhausted of herself, it is there that he will begin to speak tenderly to her. In the old testament, wine and vineyards are associated with joy. God says he is going to return to her the joy she once had in her innocence. And the next verse in Hosea is so heartbreaking and encouraging at the same time. God will go on to say its out in that desert, where its dry and painful….that she’ll learn to stop calling Him master……and begin calling him husband.

Simply put, Gomer will begin to stop seeing God as some far off being, and in the struggles of the desert, she’ll enter into a real, intimate relationship with him! Thats our God. Thats how much he loves you. God ordains the hardships of life not to hurt you. But that so like Gomer, you may begin to stop seeing him as this far off boss of the universe, and being seeing God as intimately as you would your spouse. Sometimes, the deserts are needed in order to bring us closer to Him.

Sometimes, there are things in our lives that we may not even be aware of that are hindering our relationship with God. It may be wealth, it may be a relationship. And God loves us too much to leave us separated from him. So sometimes, God has to say to you, “Lets go to the desert.” Not because he wants to harm you. But because he wants you to really know him. In your desert times…when God seems distant….dont stop running to him. Rather, run harder. Listen more intently to fellow believers in your life. God wont let your thirst consume you. He is waiting to return to you your vineyards. But you must press in. Your oasis could be much closer than you think.