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June 30, 2020

In reading the Apostle Paul’s writing a good bit lately, and we always are if we are reading the Bible much, I think I can sum up his main themes that have been speaking to me under four headings: “How to become a Christian,” “How to live the Christian life,” “Grow up!” and “Don’t Give up!”  And I believe that they are all equally important for us to remember during this season of our lives. 

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How to become a Christian.  It is good to regularly revisit this foundation of the faith, so we know that we are saved, reborn, have eternal life and have the Holy Spirit, or if we don’t then we know how to receive salvation, new birth, eternal life and the Holy Spirit and also how to share the process with someone else:

Paul writes in Romans 10:9-10, 13 if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

 Three times here Paul mentions being saved.  From what are we saved by confessing that “Jesus is Lord” and by believing that God raised him from the dead and calling upon his name?  We are saved from sin.  Paul writes in Romans 3:23 that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Paul writes in Galatians 3:22 that everyone is imprisoned under sin.  We are saved from death.  Romans 6:23: The wages of sin is death.  We are not only saved from death by resurrection when we die physically someday, but we are saved from death spiritually now. 

Paul writes in Ephesians 2 that apart from Jesus all people were and are dead in trespasses and sins.  In the second half of Romans 6:23 Paul writes, the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  So when we become a Christian, we are saved from sin and death and receive at that time eternal life, and Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17that if anyone is in Christ he or she is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. Because sin is the foothold of the devil and his demons in our lives, when we are saved from sin, we are likewise saved from the power of the devil.  In Acts 26, Paul describes his ministry as bringing people from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God through repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  We become a Christian by being born again to God and simultaneously saved from sin, death and Satan.

 Now when we become a Christian, we begin to live as a Christian.  The Bible asserts clearly and emphatically that believing in Jesus and confessing him as Lord describes an ongoing life of faith submitted to him as Lord.  Paul speaks to How to Live the Christian Life, too.  The emphasis on living the Christian life is on Faith and the Holy Spirit and participation in the body of Christ, the church.  We become a Christian by grace through faith through the work of the Holy Spirit, and we live as a Christian by grace through faith by working with the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ.  Paul writes in 1 Cor 12:3 that nobody, not even a really bright and seemingly good person who has been in church all their life, can say “Jesus is Lord” that is become saved and live as a Christian except “in the Holy Spirit.” And Paul states that To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good and for building up the church. (12:7, 14:12)

Paul writes this in Ephesians 2:9-10: 8 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.

The Christian life is us going on the journey with Jesus by the Holy Spirit – walking with him in the good works that God prepared for us to walk in.  The journey begins by grace through faith when we are saved from sin and death and it continues by grace through faith with our necessary willingness, cooperation and help.  Paul even refers to his part as striving.  He writes to Timothy:

For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. (1 Tim 4:10)

 To walk this out, we not only strive with our own strength which we do; Paul assures us that we have received the Holy Spirit of Jesus who is the spirit of power, love and self-discipline. (2 Tim 1:7)  He is the power and love of God in and among us.  He produces the character of God in us called the fruit of the Spirit that Paul describes in Galatians 5:22: the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control;  These characterize the Christian life.

 Throughout his letters, Paul writes things like in 1 Timothy 6:12 “Fight the good fight of the faith,” and 2 Thes 5:16 “16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.”

And

Phil 2:12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

These show how to live the Christian life working with God by his Spirit working in us, and this life occurs in the midst of other believers as we give and receive the ministry of spiritual gifts in the church.   

Paul’s writing in Scripture shows us “How to become a Christian,” and “How to live the Christian life.”  But there seems to be a tone of frustration at times, like the people see this and know this and are not quite taking responsibility for doing it and teaching it and sticking to it. Paul shows himself as an exhorter and encourager to the church.

So the theme “Grow Up!” abounds in Paul’s writings; for example in Romans 6:1-11, Paul seems to be saying,  “Grow up!” Roman Christians. 

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

 “Grow Up. No you can’t keep sinning!”  You are dead to sin.  Stop living like you are still a slave to sin or that your self is Lord of your life.  You have died with Christ and you have been raised with Christ.  Jesus is your Lord.  Live in submission to him in newness of life contributing in ministry and fulfilling your part of the body.

 Needing to mature, I believe, is where many Christians in our culture are hovering – immaturity, childishness, ego sensitivity, constant self-concern and alternating between narcissism and Celebrity Worship Syndrome and being overwhelmed with the anxieties of life in the world, even being pulled this way and that by cultural influences.  I fall in there, way too much. We can get stuck there in Christian immaturity.  We know how to become a Christian and we know how to live as a Christian, but we need to simply grow up into mature believers who do it and teach others to do it.  We have a charge and command from God to die to sin, that is selfishness, and to live to God in Christ Jesus by walking in the newness of life by the glory of the Father that is the Spirit of Christ in you. 

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Do you know that there is a whole new self-help literary genre.  It is called “Adulting.”  Essentially, this is on how to live as an adult basically.  The term describes living a responsible life in the world.  We laugh at the concept, but the truth is that the church is often guilty of allowing Christians not to grow up spiritually in the same way parents today might allow their children not to grow up until it becomes a crisis and they have to read a book on adulting.

The Apostle Paul was a pioneer in this literary genre, because his letters are all about growing up and becoming a mature Christian. And this doesn’t have anything to do with age.  It has to do with mature faith.  There are people who have been Christians for 30 years who are babies in terms of Christian maturity and ministry while some young people – like those in this church are maturing in the faith at a fast pace beyond their years. Paul states the imperative to grow up plainly in 1 Corinthians 3:

But I, brothers [and sisters], could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?

 Paul is saying I thought you would have grown up into mature Christians by now and could be ministering in the church and functioning as the body of Christ, but you are still acting like the world, like baby Christians trying to get your own way, getting offended or splintering into groups or continuing in sin.  This, Paul describes, is how we lived prior to salvation when we were children (in the faith), enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. (Galatians 4:3)

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul writes that his ministry by the Holy Spirit aims to get people to grow up, to mature as Christians:

Colossians 1: 8 [Jesus] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

By the power of God, Paul struggles to see people saved, to teach them the Christian life and to see them grow up into the faith and into ministry themselves so that the church can grow.

What is expressed in Paul’s writings demonstrates the work and responsibility of the entire church.  This is a reason he is so adamant that believers grow up and become mature in faith and ministry, so that they can fulfill their calling.  He describes this in Ephesians 4:11-16, a text that has characterized so much of what God is trying to bring about at Church of the Redeemer:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

God is calling all of us to be laborers in the harvest, standing firm where God has brought us to grow up to do the work of ministry.  You are a part of the body of Christ.  What happens when you fall out of joint or fall off.  The body can’t function.  It is limited, broken and weak.  We must grow up into our ministry in the body of Christ.  This is God’s call.  Not mine.  Pastors are not the head.  Only Jesus is the head. I’m one of the parts of the body like you.  We all grow up into Jesus, so that the body functions properly.

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And finally, you know how to become a Christian; you know how to live as a Christian; and you know you should grow up as a Christian; Now the fourth theme: Don’t Give Up!  Period.  Don’t Give Up!

Paul nor I are just talking about giving up your faith, but don’t give up that either.  Paul exhorts believers not to give up the fight, not to give up their position in ministry, not to give up the pursuit of holiness, not to give up their hope, their prayers, their earnest desire to see God move.  Don’t give up on the body of Christ where God has called you to be.  Don’t give up your spiritual disciplines – reading the Bible, prayer, small groups, giving your testimony, talking to your family member about Jesus, trying to use your spiritual gifts, evangelism.  Don’t give up.  When it comes to the body of Christ…when someone gives up, we all are the less for it. In 2 Timothy 2:10-12, Paul writes,

Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. 11 The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;

At times, you will feel like this Christian faith isn’t real.  It isn’t working.  It’s not for you. At some point, a person in the church will offend you, say something you don’t like in a way you don’t like. At some point, the church won’t do it your way and how you like it.  Often, the pastor will make you mad or let you down.  At a lot of points you won’t feel like going, participating, or stepping up or out in faith.  Etc. Etc. You will want to disappear from the church, give up responsibility; you will identify dozens of reasons to give up.  The Apostle Paul knew this.  He had been through it all, but encourages Christians, for sake of salvation for people and for the building up of the body of Christ, “Don’t give up.”  If you endure as God leads you by grace through faith with the Holy Spirit in accordance with the word of truth, you will live with him and reign with him. 

One last word for Paul:

Colossians 3:23-24 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

 Don’t give up.  It is all for Jesus.

Today, commit to being a Christian and living as a Christian.  Commit to growing up in the faith and no matter what commit not to give up.

 

 

When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:36)

The crowds were harassed and helpless.  We pretty much work throughout our lives to avoid being harassed and helpless.  We start early asserting our will, defending ourselves, building up our fortitude.  School, jobs, wealth, skills, connections etc, all serve to prevent harassment and helplessness.  No matter how hard we work or how lucky we get, though, we just can’t stop getting harassed or avoid helplessness.  So much of the turmoil of protests and riots and dealing with COVID-19 in our country right now have to do with people experiencing harassment and helplessness and acting out against it some productively and some destructively.  Each of us has those options in our own lives regarding how we respond to being harassed or to feeling helpless.

For some people, harassment and helplessness started early in life with abuse or neglect, with racism or ostracism.  Some folks grow up in the world as Matthew’s gospel describes the crowds like “sheep without a shepherd.” For others harassment and helplessness happened in school with bullying or degradation or mocking.  At some point helplessness may hit us from a sickness or injury or the death of a loved one.  We can’t stop bad things happening, even if we are trying to be good people.

Life in this world, whether out there or in your own home, can feel like a constant journey of harassment and helplessness.  Jesus has seen it.  Jesus sees it now.  He has come to save you from it. He has compassion on you.  Any idea that informs you otherwise is a lie that needs to be rejected.

A good question here is what or who harasses people and renders them helpless and then what can be done about it.

A way that I want to answer that is by looking at the work that Jesus initiates in this passage from Matthew’s gospel in response to the crowds.  He calls his 12 apostles to him, and he gives them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.  Jesus charges them in their mission by saying:  And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.” And where they are welcomed, they are to bring peace to the house and people.

This indicates that what we are helplessly harassed and overcome by includes sickness and afflictions of every kind – body, soul and spirit, death, uncleannesses, demonic forces of evil and anxiety, worry, fear and conflict – in other words, the opposites of health, freedom and peace.  The proclamation declaring that the “kingdom of heaven is at hand” announces that prior to Jesus coming there was another kingdom ruling over people—the kingdom of darkness.  Jesus represents the coming of the greater kingdom of heaven.  He announces and demonstrates that it is ultimately powerful and everlasting.  Its coming is good news for all people.

The authority given to the 12 shows us what we and all people need. Each of us needs to continually receive the message and reality of the kingdom of heaven; we need healing of body, soul and spirit, and we need deliverance from any spiritual forces of evil; we need cleansing from any impurity of our souls, and we need to receive God’s peace in our lives.  Each of us also can become an answer to the prayer Jesus commands us to pray.  We are called to become laborers in the harvest who follow the apostles’ footsteps of going into the world with Jesus’ authority to fulfill his mission.

We are all harassed and helpless in this world that is under the control of the evil one.  We all need to receive God’s ministry of healing, deliverance and peace to us and then we have a charge by God to become ambassadors of his kingdom that bring God’s healing, deliverance and peace to others in the world through our prayers, our presence and our ministry.

We are harassed by the spiritual forces of evil in this world.  Apart from the authority of Jesus, we are helpless against them.  As awful as people can be, and you have all seen it or experienced it, the Bible says,

We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Eph 6:12)

These spiritual forces of evil, fallen angels, demons, do everything they can to destroy us, lie to us, oppress us, tempt us to do evil or destroy ourselves.  They can possess people or oppress people.  They divide us, cause hatred and violence.  They cause paranoia, depression, anxiety and fear.  They cause addictions, sin, loneliness and bring darkness.  Apart from Jesus, people are helpless against them.

But now the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  The power of God has come, so the first thing Jesus gives his followers authority to do is to drive out evil spirits.  That means he gives them, us, power over the spiritual forces of evil.  Those out there causing lawlessness, violence and death and those who harass us and cause conflict, sin, depression, fear and heaviness.

We need deliverance of these things ourselves, not only once but as often as we discern them. I want to give you one example; it is a notorious example but serves to illustrate the working of demons.  Concerning the last supper and the betrayal by Judas, John writes,

John 13:2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him,

What has the devil or demons put into your heart or soul to do, to think, to imagine, etc.  Scripture shows that these demons tempt, accuse, lie, oppress, destroy and will lead us into destruction.  When you examine the thoughts of your heart, the imaginations of your mind, the scripts in your mind, the desires of your flesh, the heaviness on your soul and then what your will is being led to do, you will discover that their seems to be some malicious substance there.  These are the evidence of demons from which you need healing and deliverance.  We all encounter and experience them through the course of this world.  Scripture is full of encounters.  They come to harass us.  Apart from the authority and Name of Jesus, we are helpless against them, our families, communities and nation are helpless against them apart from the Name of Jesus and the prayers of his people.

This doesn’t mean we are not responsible for ourselves or that every bad thing is caused by a demon.  We do plenty of harm and make many mistakes on our own, too, due to our sinful nature.  However, I don’t think, for example, suicide or murder or abortions happen often or at all without some demon spirit whispering “kill, kill, kill. Do it. It doesn’t matter.”

After sending out the 12 apostles in this mission, Jesus sends out 72 others with similar authority and instructions.  At the conclusion of their mission, when they return to Jesus, the 72 exclaim to him,

“Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18 And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Lk 10:17–20).

Jesus specifies the power he has given us to trample on snakes and scorpions, a term that applies directly to demons.

Through Jesus, and only through Jesus, his followers have authority over the evil spirits that harass people.  And if you think you are exempt from their attacks and incessant harassment, then they have you right where they want you.  The same is true that if you think you are still helpless against them.  You are not.  You and we together as the church have power to trample on these evil spirits, and we must do it in our lives and for our community and nation.  What are the demons harassing our community, our nation?  We must pray and speak against them.  But authority only flows from those who are saved and living in Jesus Christ.

Jesus gave his followers authority to heal every disease and every affliction. I can assure you today that you need healing and I need healing.  We need healing until we are in the Lord’s presence and are perfectly conformed to his image for us and have free access to the living water of heaven, the fruit of the trees of life and can breathe in the air from the leaves of those trees that the Bible says are for the healing of the nations.  Until we are living in the light of God’s face, we need to be healed in body, soul and spirit.  As much as we constantly need physical healing, we need our thoughts, emotions, wills, memories and relationships healed.  The sooner and more fully you accept this the better it will be for you and the closer you can grow to Jesus, to other people and to becoming who you truly want to be.  Healing is like sanctification (or being made holy) – in some ways it happens at once when we are born again and in other ways it is an ongoing process until we are in heaven.

Think about healing this way.  Anything that you can take a pill for is an area in need of healing.  Anything that requires stopping a bad habit or beginning a new habit is an area of healing.  Any topic of a book on personal self-help is an area of healing. Experiencing grief and loss or trauma creates places for healing to occur.

What is it that prevents you from praying for healing or having others pray for you? Pride, doubt, embarrassment, lack of awareness, etc.  whatever it is…stop it and get prayers for healing.  To use Francis and Judith MacNutt’s wisdom in response to the experience that we don’t always see or receive the healing we want, they said “The more we pray for healing the more healing we see and whenever we pray for healing God heals in some way.”

So we continue to have our monthly healing service, and we continue to pray for healing for others.  And I continue to ask God to heal me where I am in physical pain and where in my soul I know I am not where God wants me to be.  It is not a small thing that God revealed himself to his people in Exodus 15:26 by saying I am the LORD, your healer.  He is the Lord who repairs us and makes us whole.  Jesus demonstrated this truth in all of his healing of body, soul and spirit while in his earthly ministry.  He is the one by whose wounds we are healed according to Scripture.

Being healed and being delivered enables us to be at peace through Jesus and to be a presence of peace in the world.  In sending out his disciples, Jesus says that if you enter a household that is worthy let your peace come upon it.  Otherwise, let your peace return to you.  Jesus later told his disciples,

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. (John 14:27)

This is the peace of God that the Apostle Paul says surpasses all understanding, [and] will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:7)

 We need this peace in our hearts and minds.  This peace is all-encompassing and when we are full of it, it exudes from us to those around us.  Apart from Jesus, there is no peace in this world or in us.  Through Christ in us, we bless others with the presence of peace.  We need daily to receive this peace and abide in it.  We need to examine ourselves and determine where we are out of peace, and then we pray for that area of our life and for God to give us his peace about it or in it.  Peace comes from God’s presence as a gift to us. There is no exception.

Our Christian lives, when rightly lived, include continually receiving healing, deliverance and peace from the Lord and then continually giving to others healing, deliverance and peace from the Lord.  This is the mission of God for the church in the world.  This is discipleship.  This is the manifestation of the kingdom of heaven that is the good news for people.  Jesus told his apostles “Proclaim as you go saying ‘the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’

By the grace of God, let us strive to be laborers in this kingdom.  Let us receive the ministry of Jesus for ourselves and for others in the church and in the world.

What is the answer to the destruction we are seeing in our nation?  I’m sure we have all watched videos by now of murder, assault, rioting, mass destruction, stealing, anger, rage and suffering.  Nationally since the beginning of the virus panic, there have been increases in drug addiction, suicides, child abuse, depression, anxiety, sleeplessness and of course fear.  There are arguments and rants, pointing of fingers and lectures but no real answers. All of the above are symptoms of sinfulness and a sinful world.  It seems we are stuck in it. The world’s responses are inadequate at best and mostly destructive. Does God have a prescribed response for us?

When it comes to sinfulness, not much has changed from the time that Adam and Eve were cursed and exiled from the garden.  They were cursed because of their sin, and we still suffer the curses of sin in this world.  In fact, the curses explain our current situation more than most imagine.  After God created people in his image to live in paradise and to expand it over the earth, they sinned through disobedience and were confronted by their Creator with curses and  exile from paradise and God’s intimate fellowship:

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

14 The Lord God said to the serpent,

   “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

16 To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.”

17 And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen 3:8-17)

What this curse describes is the failure of self-glorification, self-justification and self-righteousness; It doesn’t matter who or what we can blame for our sins.  The curse involves ongoing flagrant, grotesque sinful desires and severe conflict among people and between people with God.  And sinful people will continue doing all we can to justify ourselves, make ourselves feel or appear righteous, indulge even our most deviant desires and to try to rule over other people and get our way; All of the time, our true selves will be hidden even to us, as we fear disclosure of our sin before a holy God who is calling us or before other people who may hurt or use us.  Self-preservation comes by the sweat of our brow in a world that produces thorns and thistles.  For these sins and failures, we have nobody to blame but ourselves.  Even though we suffer sometimes terribly from the sins of others, we too are sinners.  The evil world that oppresses and tests us resulted from humanity’s sinfulness of which we are part.  We subjected ourselves and creation to the depraved rule of Satan and the kingdom of darkness, so we constantly have the serpent bruising our heels as we walk in this world stumbling in the darkness of sin.

That’s not how God created things to be is it?  In Genesis 1 -2, we see how God creates people and puts them in a garden of paradise and gives them his blessing to multiply, be fruitful and rule the creation, having dominion to expand his blessings.  God saw his creation and called it very good, and he blessed the ongoing day and made it holy. In that day, he rested in the delight of his creation to enjoy his handiwork.

In Proverbs 8, there is the voice of wisdom that I imagine representing the personified thoughts of the Trinity and the imagination of the Godhead at creation.  Listen to the attitude of God at the beginning of creation:

22   “The LORD possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. 23   Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. 24  When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. 25   Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth, 26  before he had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world. 27  When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, 28   when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep,   29  when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, 30 then I was beside him, like a master workman,  and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, 31 rejoicing in his inhabited world  and delighting in the children of man. (Prov 8:22-31)

 Sinfulness and the subjugation of creation to the forces of evil grieved the heart of God so much that God stated in Gen 6 that he regretted making man, because the thoughts of his heart and his deeds were evil all the time.  Apart from God, the same is true today.  But rather than destroy all humanity, God repopulated the earth through Noah and his family.  And eventually God’s own Son Jesus came into the sinful world to bring about salvation, because God created us to delight rejoice in his inhabited world and to delight in the children of man.

Jesus came into the cursed world, and he began pouring forth the blessings of God.  He started taking creation back from sin, death and Satan. He was working on behalf of the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit. And he made some people and demons mad, mad enough to kill him.  Jesus even states to his disciples, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”  (Jn 15:18). Jesus, the perfect man, was hated by the world. That’s how messed up the world is.

When you read through the gospels, especially slowly and reflectively, you begin to notice that Jesus did much of his works and teachings on the Sabbath – the day that God designated holy and for his rest.  Jesus healed people on the Sabbath and delivered people from demons on the Sabbath. Rather than rejoice over it, the Pharisees wanted to kill him for it.  Do you ever wonder what the big deal about that was? Why were the religious leaders so uptight about what Jesus was doing on the Sabbath?

The reason goes back to creation and to the garden.  God rested on the seventh day, the Sabbath, and he declared it holy.  The Sabbath indicated not just a 24-hour day for God but the ongoing life of the creation that God intends to enjoy and in which to have relationships with people created in his image and likeness, created to be as much like him as a creature can be.  For God, this is his rest.  This idea of Sabbath was wrecked by sin.  God didn’t give up on his Sabbath vision.  He instituted the law and the temple worship, but even this was corrupted to become a vehicle for the ongoing sinfulness and curse of humanity.  The Pharisees demonstrate how even the good things of God are corrupted to be used for self-justification, arbitrary judgement, control and power over other people. All the while, the Pharisees indulged in their greed and their own sinfulness.  At the time of Jesus, The Sabbath had become a tool for their pride and self-aggrandizement, characteristic of Satan’s form of religion. Among the people, there was fear of doing the wrong thing on the Sabbath and being judged for it.

This is why the gospels emphasize Jesus healing people and making them whole again on the Sabbath.  Jesus isn’t just healing people; He is restoring the Sabbath rest of God for creation, people especially.  During his ministry, this is the point of the spear against the spiritual forces of evil and their agents.  The work of Jesus overcomes the obstacles to the Sabbath rest of God in and with his creation.  Jesus is overcoming the depravity of sin and its curses of death and oppression by Satan.  So, the spiritual forces of evil come against him over the Sabbath. This is indicated by the words and actions of the Pharisees: Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.  (Jn 9:16).  And after he heals on the Sabbath, they conspire to “destroy him.” True Sabbath is a direct threat to the devil’s control of creation and the overturning of the curses upon humanity.  For anyone, a true rest in God will alleviate many of the symptoms of sin.

Jesus, in accordance with his mission, asserts truths like “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” & “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” & “ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?  He asks questions: “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” and “Are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well?

Jesus explains that the manifestation of his power in teaching, healing and delivering people on the Sabbath is a demonstration of the work that God is doing to restore people to his fellowship and rest. After the healing of a man on the Sabbath, John writes,

And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” (John 5:16)

Jesus demonstrates that God has roused himself from his rest to overcome our sinfulness that will not allow us to enter his rest – the Sabbath rest for us is our fellowship among the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  God himself will not rest until the people he made in his image can enter that rest, too.  The author of Hebrews writes,

So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. 11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest. (Hebrews 4:9-11)

When Jesus meets his disciples on the mountain at the end of Matthew’s gospel, he commissions them to go continue his work of restoring people to the Sabbath rest of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit through the sign of baptism.  In baptism, a person dies to sin, is delivered from Satan’s oppressive rule, experiences new life through Jesus, enters into the fellowship of the Trinity by receiving the Holy Spirit and commits to living according to the teachings and commands of God.

Our peace and rest cannot occur according to the curses that God declared for sin.  We cannot enter rest or find peace by indulging ourselves, hiding ourselves, ruling over others, working hard enough to make us safe, getting our way or winning conflicts with others.  The only way to the holy rest of God is through Jesus and by praying as he did “Not my will but your will be done.”

We can only enter God’s rest and fellowship through Jesus Christ and by abiding in him by grace through faith.  So like Paul says, “examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith.”  At anytime in your life, examine whether you are in faith or in sin and curses outside the blessings of Jesus.  Are you clinging to and asserting your own will or saying to the Lord “your will be done.” Can you say as Paul does in Galatians 2:20-21:

“the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God.”

No matter what the world does.  This is our charge and blessing to do.  In the conclusion of his 2nd letter to the church in Corinth, Paul encourages them to enter into the holy Sabbath of God through Jesus Christ.  He exhorts them to be restored into holy Communion – peace and rest in the midst of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Nothing matters more than this.  It is the answer:

11 Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All the saints greet you. 14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  (2 Cor 13:11-14)

 

 

 

 

No matter how things look in the world, the Bible encourages the following: Ephesians 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.

Jesus called the devil a murderer from the beginning.  He is the author of chaos and confusion who comes to steal, kill and destroy.  We are seeing his work all around us.  There was something demonic about the police officer’s murder of George Floyd and the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and there is something demonic about these riots.  The answer is the experience of Pentecost.  The answer is the promise of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all flesh and the coming of the kingdom in power and might in us and in our land.

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What does it mean for the Holy Spirit to come and be with you and in you and around you?  He is the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of the Father and the Son.  He is the Spirit who descended on Christ at his baptism, empowered Christ in his ministry and who raised Christ from the dead.  He is the Spirit in whom the disciples were baptized and by whom they were clothed in power on Pentecost.  He is the Spirit who empowers in us spiritual gifts for the common good and building up of the body of Christ.  He is the Spirit who gives us wisdom and revelation to know Jesus and the Father. He is the Spirit who enlightens the eyes of our hearts to know the hope of the kingdom of heaven.  He is the Spirit that fills us and overflows from us and brings the kingdom of God among us.  He is the living water welling up in us to eternal life.

Before any of this, he is the Spirit that is infinite with no beginning or end.  He has always been and will always be.  He was at the creation hovering over the waters applying the power of God to form from nothing all that is in the universe.  He is the power of God that came upon people of old enabling them to do great exploits by faith in God.  All the great men and women of God mentioned in Hebrews 11 were empowered by this Holy Spirit.  He came upon them and they were transformed into new people with the gifts of God.

The Holy Spirit inspired the words and writings of the prophets.  He breathed God’s word into them as he carried them along in life. And he is the Spirit bringing it all to pass not allowing one jot or dot to disappear from God’s word until it is all fulfilled.

In the prophecy of Joel that is preached and confirmed by Peter at Pentecost, God promises to pour out his Holy Spirit on all flesh.  This is the Spirit of God coming upon all people – not only a select few but coming into the world as a shower upon humanity.  The effect of the Spirit’s presence will be the word of God proclaimed, the mysteries of God revealed, repentance charged, forgiveness of sins received and salvation from God experienced.

The Holy Spirit first comes upon people to give them the awareness and desire for God’s presence and salvation.  God comes to save through graciously encouraging a person to invite him into themselves through repentance and receiving salvation.  This is what Peter encourages the people to do at the end of his proclamation on Pentecost:

Acts 2:37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

Until a person receives the Holy Spirit by God’s grace through faith, the Holy Spirit works on them to bring about repentance and salvation. Jesus describes this work of the Holy Spirit when he says:

John 16:7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:

This conviction that the Holy Spirit brings about is that very experience described in Acts 2:37 of being “cut to the heart” by the preaching of the gospel.  Later in Acts 3, Peter is preaching again and encourages the people to respond to the conviction of the Holy Spirit.  He proclaims to them,

19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,

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The Holy Spirit convicts and when we repent and call upon the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ the Holy Spirit is also the one who refreshes us with new birth and new life in Christ.  The Apostle Paul describes the experience as New Creation. (2 Cor 5:17)  This is what the Holy Spirit does.  He is the one by whom we are born again through Jesus.

I love the way God describes this event in the prophecy of Ezekiel when the prophet describes what is fulfilled in us when we are born again and receive the Holy Spirit:

Ez 36:25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

 The Holy Spirit comes to live in us and he transforms us and leads us to live according to God’s leading and holiness.  The Apostle Paul describes this in Romans and Galatians as being “led by the Spirit.”  Jesus told us that the Holy Spirit would come and lead us.  He says in John 14:17 that the Spirit of truth, he dwells with you and will be in you. And then in 16:13 that he will guide you into all truth.

I want to highlight three specific things that the Holy Spirit does in us when he comes:

The first is that he manifests himself to us and in us.  In other words, when the Holy Spirit comes, he makes himself known.  He expresses himself in word and deed to us and in us so that we come to know him.  For example, he speaks to us about Jesus; he pours the love of God into our hearts; he bears his fruit in us which is an expression of his character– love, peace, joy, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, patience and self-control.  In Ephesians 1:17, Paul refers to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of wisdom and revelation by whom we come to know Jesus better.

The second wonderful action of the Holy Spirit in us is that he sanctifies us.  To sanctify us means that he makes us holy or that he makes us like Jesus through and through.  This is the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in us that works down deep in our soul and is displayed fully in our lives.  This is, in fact, something Jesus prays for us in his prayer of John 17.  In v. 17 he prays to the Father, Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 

 We can be sure that this is a prayer God is answering through his Holy Spirit of truth in each of our lives.  It also gives us a clue that the Holy Spirit uses the word of truth the Bible to sanctify us.  At the closing of his first letter to the church in Thessalonica in vv 5:23-24, Paul also prays for our sanctification:  He writes, Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

 The outcome of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit is that we are transformed and conformed to the image of Jesus.

The Holy Spirit makes himself known to us – He manifests himself to us and in us and he sanctifies us.  He also does something that Jesus emphasized when he talked to the disciples after his resurrection.  This is a primary working of the Holy Spirit.  Listen to what Jesus says at the end of Luke’s gospel and the beginning of the book of Acts just prior to his ascension:

“And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high….you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

In addition to manifesting to us and sanctifying us, The Holy Spirit empowers us to live as ministers of Jesus in the world.  This is the ongoing experience of what John the Baptist said would happen by Jesus: He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  This happened initially on the Day of Pentecost as described in Acts 2:  And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

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The Holy Spirit enables us to know the Lord and to be transformed into his image, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit we can minister in word and deed.  The reading from 1 Corinthians 12 elaborates on this empowering by the Holy Spirit for ministry among ALL of us:

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. …11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

 The power of the Holy Spirit in us eliminates the excuse of “I can’t” when it comes to ministry or service to which God has called us and to knowing God and living a holy life.  I can because he empowers me.  It doesn’t mean I can do what God called you to do specifically.  And it doesn’t mean you can do what God called me to do in my area of giftedness.  It means each of us has the power of God to fulfill his calling and commands for us.  For all of us that includes bearing witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus.  What Pentecost means is that if we are born again by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, we have the Spirit of God with us and in us.

The manifestation of the Spirit, the sanctification by the Spirit and the empowering through the Spirit are all works that begin immediately and are all ongoing through our lifetimes.

Now what?  What do we do?  We ask and receive and we keep asking and keep receiving the fullness of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.  We keep giving him more and more room in our lives, our families, our church, our work, our dreams and everything.  We remove limits and restrictions on him.  We spend more and more time with him enjoying his presence.  And we act in obedience to him in courageous faith.  We investigate the promises and gifts in Scripture and we ask for them and receive them, declaring them and walking in them.  We become the people God wants us to be by the Holy Spirit and we start living in the character of Jesus as we keep our eyes on him the author and perfecter of our faith.  By God’s grace, people will come to know him by the witness of our relationship with him.

In the last few days, I have thought to God…”I really don’t know how to pray for everything or what to pray for. “  The events of the world are overwhelming.  Another promise of the Holy Spirit is that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)  The Holy Spirit prays for us and helps us to pray.  He sighs and groans within us and inspires our prayers to the Father.  Let his groaning within you inspire you to pray more and more.

For ourselves, our families, our churches, our communities and our nation, we can pray always “Come, Holy Spirit, Come.”

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My son Jack had a dream that he shared with me the other day, and it led to a discussion about overcoming challenges in life through faith.  I think that what evolved in our spiritual exploration is a healthy pattern for facing challenges in life and pursuing our own earnest desires and endeavors. The following is a pattern for prayer for a positive pursuit or desire that also deals with a negative confrontation by the spiritual forces of evil or our own doubts and fears.

I will use an example from my own life to help convey the pattern of praying.  Something that God has called me to do and that I want to accomplish is to speak to groups of people whether in church or other venues.  I believe that God has gifted me in this ministry and pursuit and has put me in positions to do it for his purpose and glory.  Public speaking and preaching can be challenging and often fear provoking because we imagine failing, being rejected and looking foolish.  The spiritual forces of evil instigate those fears, because they don’t want any of us to become bold in preaching about Jesus or giving our own testimonies or even being successful fulfilling God’s purposes.  So evil spirits oppose our expression of God’s calling and gifts.  They will try to make us afraid by saying we will fail, that we are no good at it, that people will reject us or that we have no business getting up in front of people.  If it comes to preaching, they will accuse us of being frauds, hypocrites and in no way worthy to act like a “good” Christian.  These accusations and fear mongering, of course, exacerbate our own vulnerabilities to shut us down.

I hope you can imagine how you might apply this to your own prayer concerns and challenges in life. This pattern of God’s call versus Satan’s opposition plays out over and over in Christians’ lives.  Where demons’ confront us with lies and oppression often reveals the very place that God is working for us.  The devils say “You can’t speak.  Nobody will listen to you.  Who do you think you are?!”  We can take it to the bank that God is for sure calling us to speak and giving us an anointing to do it, and will give us favor with people.  The evil spirits themselves often reveal God’s promises in our lives!  For example, if the devil says that you will always be poor and will never have enough money, that reveals God’s promises that he will provide for all of our needs and if we have faith he will prosper us.  We need to have faith and exert our faith.  That’s what I want to show you how to do.

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So back to my example of speaking and preaching.  The first step is to Praise God.   We approach God in worship and praise because he is the Holy One and is the Lord Almighty who is worthy of all praise and honor.  So I might begin my conversation with God like this:

“Father, You are great and high above all powers and might, because you created all things.  You reign over heaven and earth.  Nothing is impossible for you.  You are seated on your throne in glory, and Jesus you are at the right hand of the Father and are the King of kings and Lord of lords.  Your Holy Spirit is with me and has all power in the earth.  I praise you that you hear my prayers and love me more than I can imagine and desire to do good for me and in my life.”

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The second step is to Make Your Request to God in prayer.  It is important that we ask God specifically for the desire of our heart and his help in the endeavor of our pursuit.  What is the thing the enemy is telling us we cannot do or have?  What are we afraid of doing?  What is the negative experience of our foreboding?  We need to ask God for the positive ability, for specific success and for help in the action.  We need to ask God to give us the courage, boldness, joy, vision, inspiration and power that would overcome the negative we are imagining or experiencing.  Of course, we can also ask God for something in our life we want or need. Our prayer might be like this:

“Father you are good and your promises to me are good and true.  You have called me to preach and to speak, and I pray that you help me to express your word and my story effectively.  Help me to be confident, courageous and bold in my speaking.  God I ask you to fill me with your Holy Spirit and the words to speak.  Give me your anointing to engage powerfully with those in the congregation and audience, and I ask you to give me favor with them.  Father, please give me visions of success that will come to pass as I move in faith to do what you’ve called me to do.  God I ask you to silence the voice of the enemy and smash and break all the images of failure and rejection.  Replace the lies and fear of the devil with your word of encouragement and truth.  Help me to do all I can to be a helpful speaker and preacher.”

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Now that we have offered our prayerful requests to God, we receive his answers and demonstrate our faith by Giving Thanks to Him.  Giving thanks to God is an expression of our belief that God has heard us and that he will in his goodness answer our prayer, especially because we are praying in accord with his call and purpose and against the spiritual forces of evil.  We must believe that God is answering our prayer.  I would pray like this regarding the prayer above:

“Father, I thank you that have heard my prayer through Jesus Christ.  I know that you are good and have all power to do what I have asked you based on how the Holy Spirit has inspired me.  I thank you that you are loving and kind to me.  I thank you Father that you are making me a successful and effective speaker with an anointing to preach and to speak powerfully.  I thank you that I have nothing to fear, because you are with me to give me favor and success in all situations.  Thank you Lord that I will continue to improve in my ministry and will be fruitful.  I also am grateful that you have given me a desire to fulfill your calling and have made me joyful in the pursuit and accomplishment of it.  I also praise and thank you that you have overcome the spiritual forces of evil that oppose me and the work that you have called me to perform.”

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The next thing we do is boldly and confidently, with great faith, Declare the truth of who we are and what we are doing in the Name of Jesus.  This is a matter of expressing the truth of what God is doing in and through us and speaking life to ourselves and our circumstances.  At this point, our words are inspired by the Holy Spirit, and they are words of power and authority that serve to accomplish their purpose. In the speaking of the present reality of our request, our faith and boldness grows.  And this is a statement of faith:

“I declare in the Name of Jesus that I am an effective and successful speaker and preacher.  I declare that I speak well and powerfully and make an impact on those who hear.  I declare that I have favor with my audiences and that my words are well received.  I declare that the Holy Spirit is with me to help me and inspire my words that he applies with power and conviction for greater impact.”

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The final act is to Rebuke the enemy of our souls and God’s kingdom.  Our battle is against the spiritual forces of evil that oppose the goodness of God and all that God is trying to bring about in the world.  As God’s children and ministers, the spiritual forces of evil oppose us.  They try to steal, kill and destroy.  They lie and accuse.  They oppress and depress as much as they are able. So after we submit to God, we resist the devil and all demons who would oppose and come against our prayer request and work of faith.  Something like this we speak to the spiritual forces of evil:

“In the Name of Jesus and by the power of his shed blood and resurrection, I bind the spirit of fear and every lying spirit from interacting with me in any way.  I command you spirits of fear, oppression and lies to leave me in the Name of Jesus and go to where Jesus sends you and do not return to me.  I bring the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ between us as my protection and rebuke you from interfering with my work in any way.  I belong to the Lord Jesus Christ, and you have no place in me, so be removed from me now and forever.”

After this you might want to continue to praise the Lord and to follow the above pattern as he leads you.  The above prayers and statements can be as brief as one or two sentences.  It all depends on the time and intensity of the situation.  This is a pattern that you can always use to pray for yourself and over other people or groups of people.

Now one more encouragement, as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his essay “Compensation,” “Do the thing and you shall have the power; but they who do not the thing have not the power.”  After all is said and done, we must walk by faith in taking one step or leap of faith after another.  So press on and go forward in faith with courage and boldness.

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This is also available as a podcast here.

I think for Christians during this season of Covid-19, we are struggling with having faith and courage in our daily lives in the face of so much fear and contradictory guidance.  We are bombarded with the cacophony of the latest “they said this” article, pulled in different ways and constantly under siege from fear and anxiety.  How do we stand in faith and walk by faith in the midst of warnings, mandates, worst case scenarios and the readily available tragic stories and statistics?

I want to spend a few minutes highlighting faith in the midst of it all.  Because as Christians, we are called by God to have faith rather than fear.  In Luke 18, when concluding a parable about how “they ought always to pray and not lose heart,” Jesus asked his followers “When the Son of Man comes will he find faith on the earth?”

Jesus and the teaching of Scripture exhorts us and propels us to demonstrate faith in God and his word.  At a men’s prayer group this week, we were remembering a friend from the group that passed away a few years ago.  We all characterized him foremost as a man of faith – the kind of faith that you stand on and live by.  That is what Jesus is looking for among us.

In Romans 1:17, the Apostle Paul quotes the prophet Habakkuk applying his words to Christians: “The righteous shall live by faith.”

What does it mean to live by faith?  The Bible gives us a definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  The author of Hebrews goes on to write in v 6 that without faith it is impossible to please God.

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Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:7 that we as Christians “walk by faith, not by sight.”  Faith requires that we fully believe and act upon something that is not apparent or easily grasped or obtained.  We don’t need faith for what we have but faith produces the fulfillment of our God-inspired hopes.  For example, we don’t need faith for healing for ourselves when we are healthy.  We don’t need faith for safety when there is no threat.

When I began my doctor of Ministry dissertation a few years ago, I was afraid I would never finish it and that it would be futile.  By God’s grace, I prayed and had faith that he would help me complete it for his good purpose, and I pressed on.  When my wife and I left our home and jobs in Charleston SC to move to Ambridge PA so I could go to seminary, we didn’t have the money for it all.  We had faith that God would provide and work things out. If we had the money up front, we wouldn’t have needed faith for that provision.

Where does faith come from?  There are three sources of faith I want to highlight: Scripture, a gift from God and experience.

Paul writes in Romans 10:17 “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”  The gospel and the promises of God with the testimonies of Scripture produce in us faith in God that empowers us to walk according to God’s word and promises even against the conventional wisdom or conspicuous contradictions of the world.  Faith in God is based on his word.  That is what we stand on.  That is what leads and guides us in our faith.  We don’t activate faith in our own competencies, or on luck or chance or on our feelings or imaginations and definitely not the news.  Faith in God is securely fastened to his word.

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For example, our faith that our sins are forgiven and that we are saved is based on God’s promises like 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  And Romans 10:9 “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Our faith is our conviction that these promises are true for us so that we are forgiven and saved.  But if someone says, I think everyone who tries to be a good person and has some belief in God will go to heaven that is wishful thinking and not Christian faith.  Christian faith is based particularly on the right understanding of Scripture and does not contradict Scripture.

Faith also comes as a gift from God by the Holy Spirit directly to us or through another person.  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:9 that the Holy Spirit gives the gift of faith to some people.  This is an extra measure of faith to believe in God and to take extraordinary steps of faith.  This is great faith to believe against seemingly insurmountable odds. This faith can be placed in our hearts by God, and it can come in conjunction with a word or promise or command that God gives to us through another Christian, his Spirit or as we read his word.  Such a message from God ignites greater faith by us.  For example, God might say to you or put it on your heart to give financially above and beyond your comfort level or he might command you to initiate a ministry for the first time or he might convict you to stop an addiction that seems too hard.  These days, maybe he will lead you to give someone a hug without fear.  These are words that spark accompanying faith because if God commands it then he will enable it.  And for each of these, you can find supporting Scripture to strengthen faith even more.

Faith also grows from experiencing God fulfill his word and come through to meet our faith with his own faithfulness.  The more we walk by faith and the more testimonies we hear from others walking by faith, the more our faith grows.  We have to keep exercising faith, building it up, inviting God to graciously increase our faith.  The more our relationship with God develops the more we will know his character as being loving, powerful and good to us.  This inspires more faith in him.  Experiencing more of God and hearing more about him from others helps us to trust that he has our good in mind and will not fail us.  As we trust God financially in providing for us and blessing us as we give, the more we can be faithful financially.  The more we experience God leading us in life decisions, the better we can trust him even when the outcome is not apparent.  The more testimonies we hear of God healing people, the more faith we can have in his promises of healing.

Faith comes from the word of God, the Spirit of God and experiences with God.

So having and practicing faith in our lives requires devotion to God’s word, a devotion to and communion with the Holy Spirit and praying to God so that we can experience God answering our prayers.  In addition to these, our faith is enhanced through the fellowship of other faithful people who also share God’s word, the ministry of the Holy Spirit and their own testimonies of how God has worked in and through them.

There are great obstacles to faith in the world and in ourselves.  How are you feeling about your health today, your finances, the church, the future, your kids’ education, your family’s situation or this nation?  Are your reactions to each of those more influenced by the news of the day, rumors, the latest statistics, your own worst case scenario imaginations or are your reactions based on God’s promises, the quiet voice of his Spirit and your experience of his faithfulness?

Are there areas of your life where you are afraid? Are any of your practices right now based on fear and anxiety rather than courageous faith?  As Christians, we want to get to the place where we are exercising proactive courageous faith in all areas of our lives.  When any red flags appear and shake us in an area and we start experiencing fear or getting worried or imagining how bad it could be, those should set off alarms that cause us to return to God’s word, to pray to him, listen to him and to reflect on his character and faithfulness so that we restore faith to that area of our life.

It seems especially difficult these days to find any rock solid truths that you can stand on.  Is it safe to go to the grocery store or not? Can I let my child around other children? Will my business survive? Are Dr. Fauci and Bill Gates trying to control everyone? Oh no, I shook that guy’s hand….now what? This all contributes to our anxiety and stress.  We must ever more earnestly find our footing and path on the word of God and follow his Spirit’s leading.

As you continue to face challenging decisions and realities, I encourage you to begin asking “What does God say about this?” and even asking God directly “Father, what do you say about this?”

When it comes to churches and reopening, what I keep hearing about is social distancing, cleaning everything, how the virus spreads, is it safe to sing, should we wear masks, do we ever need Communion again, what if someone gets to close to someone else, etc.  What I’m not hearing about is faith.  Can we trust God to keep us healthy and safe in our churches while being wise about things? Are God’s promises in Psalm 91, for example, trustworthy?

There are all the reasons to be scared and to stay home – you don’t need any faith or spiritual discipline to be afraid.  You don’t need to search the Scripture for the bad news. There was that one church that had choir practice and people died.  The media says that if you go to church, there is going to be a surge and you will kill your neighbors.  As Christians, we are not striving to be stupid but to be courageously faithful and follow a loving God who is all powerful.

We don’t need to wake up thinking, “Boy I hope I stay a safe distance from everyone today.” Or “God help me not to encounter anyone with this virus.”  No, we need to wake up declaring “God I thank you that you are my healer and that I am healed by the wounds of Jesus.”  I don’t pray for people to keep a safe distance from me.  I pray that God will fill me with his Holy Spirit and healing presence and that his rivers of living water will flow through me to bring contagious healing to those around me.  I also pray that God will give health, healing and safety to those in our church by his presence and his angels.  I pray that God will cleanse the church from any virus bugs or sicknesses.  And I wash and sanitize my hands.  Is it foolish, presumptuous and stupid to believe in the promises of God – that he is present and active in his children’s lives to keep them healthy and safe according to their faithful prayers?  Is it foolish to believe that he will raise us from the dead and give us a place in his eternal kingdom?  The basis for these hopes is the same – the promises of God.

These are the things that I hope for.  These are the things that I am convicted that God promises us and has purchased for us on the cross.  I’m basing my declarations and prayers on the promises of God, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, my own experience and the testimonies of other faithful Christians.

This, I believe, is how we walk by faith.  It is simple, but not easy and definitely not automatic.  Faith is not stupidity or presumption, even though to the unbeliever it may seem like both.  How stupid do you think Noah looked while building a boat on dry land when it had never rained.  Or how stupid do you think Jesus sounded to his critics when he said he would rise from the dead?  Base your faith on God’s word, his Spirit and your relationship with him.  Test your faith by the counsel of other faithful believers.

Be courageous in your faith.  We are going to spend eternity in heaven.  I want to spend those days knowing that I did my best to trust in God and to have faith.

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On Sunday evenings, I teach a discipleship group for middle school aged kids.  Over the last couple years, we have going through the Bible from the beginning and highlighting people to study them and gain insights into the themes their lives teach.  This week, we studied Nehemiah.  Nehemiah’s story is found in the book that bears his name.  It begins with Nehemiah hearing reports of the state of Jerusalem from those who have returned from Jerusalem to Babylon (recently conquered by the Medes and Persians.)  The Jews have been allowed to return from exile back to Jerusalem and rebuild it; however, the building is not going well.  Nehemiah is distressed and in anguish over the disrepair of Jerusalem, especially over its gates and wall that are in heaps.

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Nehemiah is so overwhelmed that he spends five months in prayer and fasting over Jerusalem.  His prayer is summarized in his outspoken prayer at the end of that time:

4 As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. 5 And I said, “O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. 7 We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. 8 Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, 9 but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ 10 They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. 11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”

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This prayer is representative of other similar prayers offered to God by his prophets and leaders on behalf of God’s people.  Moses, Josiah, Hezekiah, Daniel, David and of course Jesus are among those who intercede on behalf of those they love who have transgressed against God and are in great need.

Like others, Nehemiah’s prayer flows from his great distress and passion —  Distress over the state of affairs and passion for God’s will to be done and for the well being of his people.  Nehemiah’s prayer acknowledges God’s greatness, his character, his commands and promises.  Nehemiah confesses his and the people’s sinfulness that he wrath, and asks for God’s forgiveness based on God’s promises.  Nehemiah then places his hope in God’s mercy and God’s own desires for his people’s welfare.  Lastly, in this case, Nehemiah asks specifically for success with the king whom he serves, so that he can lead the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem.  God answers his prayer, and he does it.

We, like the prophets of God, have a responsibility and a privilege to pray for our community, even confessing our universal sinfulness and asking God for mercy and for his will to be done.  We can also request specific actions by God like Nehemiah does. This is a means to love our neighbors as Christ loved us through prayers and intercession.

A helpful resource for praying for our neighbors is Blesseveryhome.com  This is a website that gives you the names of your neighbors and helps you to pray for five of them each day.  I have found it beneficial, and it is easily incorporated into my prayer life.  After signing up, I went to the settings and increased the homes to 250 to cover more ground.  I get the five homes and names of at least one person in the home to pray for by name.  I can also pull up on a map where the homes are.

I recommend that you sign up for this free prayer resource today.

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“What the heck is going on?!” Isn’t that what we want to know? On the way to and from Lynchburg two weeks ago, my son Jack and I listened to Cracker!: The Best Dog in Vietnam, an audio book about a soldier and his army dog in Vietnam. In the chaos, destruction, suffering and fear of war, the soldier named Rick shouted out many times “What the heck is going on?!!” Thank God we are not in the war situation like Vietnam or other wars; however, we are in a season of chaos, destruction, suffering, fear and anxiety. If we have been involved with life at all, we have likely asked out loud “What the heck is going on?!” And likely nobody has answered that question satisfactorily. Nobody seems to know the right answer.

The resurrection of Lazarus from the grave also ought to make us stop in our tracks and wonder “What the heck is going on here?!” And that response, being like what we ask in the face of the present crisis, might make us wonder if the story of Lazarus has anything to contribute to that question about our lives today.

In a crisis like the world is experiencing, our faith is tested. Either our faith in God sustains our hope, our joy, our love for others and our commitments or it fails and proves of little value against the crises of our times. The Proverb asserts that “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.” (24:10) and Isaiah prophesies, “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.’” (7:9)

For Mary and Martha along with Jesus’ disciples, they must have wondered how their faith in Jesus’ person and power may have missed its aim. For Mary and Martha, they wondered where Jesus was and why Lazarus continued to be sick and then died with Jesus nowhere to be found. The disciples wondered at Jesus’ response to the news Lazarus was sick. He didn’t seem bothered and then he led them back into the hostile midst of those who had already tried to kill him. The statements by Thomas who says “Let us also go, that we may die with him,” (16) and then Martha and Mary at his arrival who say, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” (21, 32) seem to resoundingly ask “What the heck is going on here Jesus?!”

In this story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, there are at least four indications of what is going on with Jesus that I think also apply to today and can give us insight into what the heck is going on:

1. This event is for the glory of God – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We may forget sometimes that we are not the most important thing to God. No doubt we are important…he loves us so much that he gave his one and only Son to die for us. The glory and praise of God is at the center of the universe, not humanity. All things exist for the glory of God. The work of Jesus glorifies God. In heaven, all creatures encircle the throne of God and bow down in worship before HIM.

Jesus says flat out of Lazarus’ illness and death, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (4) This is God’s priority. What is going on in this story is that God is being glorified in Jesus. It so happens that when the Father and the Son are glorified people receive the blessing.

Can we have faith to believe today that in the midst of this crisis that God is being glorified and Jesus is being glorified through it? Can we make that our prayer? “God be glorified in this crisis…May the Name of Jesus be glorified.” Even in the face of the impossible, Jesus confronts everyone like he did Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (40) Don’t doubt that God’s glory will be revealed and prevail. The more we believe the more we will see.

I know we want to be safe, secure, comfortable, well off in all ways. A greater purpose than those things is that God would be glorified.

2. The glory of God reveals his goodness and salvation so that people will believe and be saved to eternal life. Jesus does this work of raising Lazarus from the dead after four days, “so that you may believe.” (15) When Martha confronts him and laments her brother’s death that Jesus could have prevented, Jesus emphasizes to her that this death is not the end. He says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (25-26)

This is extraordinary. Jesus is life over death. By believing in him, even though we die in this flesh, we shall live. And in fact if we believe in him our true self will not die but live forever. This would be unbelievable except that Jesus is about to prove his power that confirms its truth. He calls forth Lazarus from the dead after four days and proves he is life over death and that he has power to give life.

Jesus confronts Martha, “Do you believe this?” (26) Are you willing to base your life on this? Will you devote yourself to this truth?

That is what is going on…Jesus is showing his power to save and asking people to believe. Jesus even says his prayer aloud to the Father that people might believe in him. (41-42) Today, what is going on? Perhaps Jesus is allowing this crisis to occur and continue so that we would turn to him and believe. Because clearly we have no power to save ourselves, and none of us can avoid death eventually. God is getting our attention so that we would believe in him as the only one who can save for eternal life. This is a greater goal than anything in this earth. Pray that people would believe in Jesus. Make sure that you are believing in Jesus. The time any of us have left on this earth does not compare at all to the time we have after death. Believe for your eternal life and pray for others to be saved.

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3. What else is going on? The gospel story shows us that Jesus is involved with people. He is in the midst of the distress, the crisis, the chaos and the suffering. Jesus certainly could have healed Lazarus from a distance. He did it for others–healing with a word, but he doesn’t exclude himself from the midst of suffering and mourning. He goes right into it allowing Martha and Mary to seize him with their grief. Jesus is in no way unemotional or detached relationally. He is fully God and fully human; both are exquisitely displayed in this story. Jesus came into humanity’s suffering, and he continues to do so today.

In verses 33 & 38, John’s gospel twice describes Jesus as being “deeply moved.” This could be literally translated as “snorting with anger,” “groaning,” “being indignant,” “scolding against the situation,” “intensely emotional,” etc. The bottom line is that Jesus was emotionally charged in a deep part of himself and demonstrated it. In the midst of the mourning and indignation, “Jesus wept.” (35) Jesus was moved by the suffering of people. He was moved in his heart and in his gut.

What is going on is that Jesus experiences intense empathy and compassion for people in their suffering. Today, what the heck is going on? Jesus is present with everyone who is suffering and is grieving and is being frightened. Jesus has compassion and great love toward all people and is present. He is not distant from us but near us that we might reach out to him and cry out to him. Now is a time when we need to be equally moved to cry out to him and reach out for his presence. Perhaps he is waiting for us all to do just that. If you have not bared your soul to Jesus and been praying earnestly to him, I have to ask “Why not”? If not now, when? Turn to him and pour out your heart to him. He is present with you.

4. One more thing that is going on…Jesus is destroying the power of sin, death and Satan. Jesus is overcoming all of the curses of sin that bind people to Satan, sin and death. Jesus absolutely hates sin and death. He hates the curse of suffering. He is not passive against these enemies of God. He actively overcomes them. Lazarus is bound in death. He is bound to the curse of sin as he was bound to darkness and Satan in life. Jesus yanks him out of death’s grasp and frees him from the trappings of sin and Satan. Jesus is Son of God and also Son of man. Do you think he likes to win, to experience victory like any of us do? Like any man, he likes to win. His battles are life and death for eternity. This story of Lazarus is an example of Jesus winning a victory over his enemies and stomping on them. “Move the stone, Lazarus get out here, Unbind him, Come on!” Yes, victory. Shout Hallelujah!!

What is going on today? Jesus is winning. He is saving people everyday from the bondage of sin and death. He is setting people free from the devil’s grasp. Suffering and death are not the end. They are grotesque enemies that Jesus continues to conquer today for eternity. The resurrection of Lazarus and especially the glorified resurrection of Jesus demonstrate the eternal victory Jesus has over death and the grave. It is manifesting today, even though we might not see it on the news. Have faith that Jesus is conquering death all around us. And Pray for Jesus to completely conquer this sickness in the world and remove it from the face of the earth and demonstrate the victory for all to see. He can do it! Maybe he is encouraging us to believe for it. Maybe he is waiting for his perfect timing. Maybe he is accomplishing his purposes throughout the world in the midst of it. He has the power to do what he wills.

Today we are looking for wins that matter. I love sports and to win and for my team to win. And I honestly haven’t missed watching sports that much, because the focus has been on a greater battle…a battle for life, for health, for civility, for businesses, for healthcare workers, for food, for freedom, for lawfulness, for sanctity of life and for people repenting and turning to Jesus. We are cheering for rescue and salvation. Jesus is winning and is going to win ultimately.

What the heck is going on?! Jesus is Lord of Lord’s and King of King’s and his kingdom is coming soon. Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed and it is real and spectacular. Rejoice in the Lord, Pray continually and Give thanks in all circumstances. Yes, Jesus is the Victor and cannot be defeated.

My newly published book is now available for sale on Amazon.  This book promotes a closer relationship to the Lord for the reader and congregations of Christians.  I emphasize the value to spiritual disciplines through an emphasis on the practice of silence before the Lord.  Readers will be inspired through the highlighting of Scripture and examples of the power of God’s grace working through his gifts of Scripture, prayer, others and his presence.  If you want to enjoy a closer and more intimate relationship with the Lord and to help others experience the same, I encourage you to purchase and read this book.  It includes contributions by a host of other Christian ministers from varied areas of giftedness.

For the paperback edition from the publisher:

To Be Silent: The Too Busy Church

Click on the title below to see it on Amazon for the Kindle edition:

To Be Silent: The Too Busy Church

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Christians are called and commanded to live by faith. The Apostle Paul and the author of Hebrews confirm the word of the prophet Habbakuk, “The righteous person shall live by faith.” (Hab 2:4) So it is imperative for us as believers who have received righteousness by faith in Jesus Christ to understand what it means to live by faith.

The New Testament shows us that nobody achieves righteousness (or a right relationship with the one and only God) by works – not one (Romans 3:10). Paul makes it clear Romans 3:23-25 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”  And in Ephesians 2:9-10: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

We receive Jesus and his righteousness by faith. The evidence of this transformation of being born again will be an ongoing life lived by faith in Christ, God’s promises and his kingdom. To receive Jesus by faith is described as asking him to forgive our sins and come into our lives. At this time of being born again, we begin running a race. The race has an end, but we don’t know when that is exactly. What we know is that to finish the race and win it against the forces of evil in the world, against sin & death, we have to run each step to win from start to finish. We run each step by faith, even as we took the first step by faith. At the last step of the race we will enter into the fulfilment of all of our faith in God’s kingdom with Jesus – whether we go to him or he comes to us.

The author of Hebrews defines faith for us. Living by faith means living in the assurance of things hoped for and with the conviction of things not seen. (Heb 11:1) The “things” hoped for and not seen are the fulfillment of the promises of God and the presence of the kingdom of heaven.

So think about these question: Are you living with the assurance of having what you hope for? Are you living with the conviction of what is not conspicuously apparent? How do you answer these for yourself? How would an observer of your life answer them? We could also ask whether our hopes are based on the promises and purposes of God or on selfish and worldly desires. Are we hoping for the right things?

The author of Hebrews in chapter 11 (vv 4-19 for this writing) comments on some folks who lived by faith, demonstrating assurance of hope and a deep conviction in God’s kingdom. This also shows the benefit of reading the Old Testament. It shows us how to live by faith.

We learn from Abel’s life that faith commends a person to God and that faith speaks…loudly and boldly. Does your faith grab God’s attention? Does it speak to the world?
Enoch’s life shows us that by faith we draw near to God, please God and walk with God and that by faith we go to be with God and experience rewards in heaven.
Noah shows us that faith builds a life in obedience to God that bears witness to the world. He shows us that by faith we receive an inheritance that lasts forever — beyond life in this world.

Abraham’s and Sarah’s lives show us that by faith we pursue a kingdom that is not of this world and that God will move in our lives according to his promises and power that have no restrictions except our willingness to believe him. Abraham received righteousness by believing God. He lived in faith by obeying God. His life proved his faith. His faith was tested and proven when he was willing to offer Isaac, the child of promise, to God as a sacrifice. When God saw this, he stopped him. Genesis 22:12 “He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.'”

Seeing your life, does God know that you believe him?
God has prepared for us a kingdom to be received by faith in him. This kingdom is the everlasting homeland of those who live by faith looking to Jesus Christ. The author of Hebrews calls him “the founder and perfecter of our faith.” (12:2) The more we spend devoted time to him, practice awareness of him, communicate with him and look to him, the more our faith grows and is exercised.

Jesus assures us that it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) We should not fear that God will withhold any good thing from us. In fact, the Psalmist writes,

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.
O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you! (Psalm 84:10–12)

Paul in confirmation of God’s goodness and generosity writes, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

All that is God’s kingdom, God has been pleased to give us in Jesus Christ. If you want to know what the kingdom of God is you can look to Revelation chapters 7 and 21-22. It is a kingdom where Jesus reigns and where nothing opposed or contrary to the good and loving will of Jesus exists.

Jesus instructs us in Luke 12 how to live in the world by faith according to his kingdom. He has promised us (also in Matthew 6) that God will provide for us, that he knows us and cares for us. He will answer our prayers according to his love and abundance. We can therefore seek his kingdom and not worry about our lives.

Jesus commands us to live dressed and ready for action with our lights on, to be like people actively preparing for the coming king, listening for his knock, watching for his sign, eager to move on his behalf in the midst of our lives in the world. This is a life of constant faith readiness.

I suggest that a sign of this life of faith and “ready for action” posture is the ongoing immediacy of prayer on all occasions, some planned and intentional and some unplanned and spontaneous. And this, among some other kingdom of heaven “things,” is what the world needs.

This past weekend, after the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, I wondered what God was hoping for from his people. We saw the impotent idiocy of politicians and the media – all with their agendas and biases. But what does God urge for his people to do by faith in Jesus and the kingdom of heaven. And I wondered is this what will occur on Sunday in our churches and during the week in believers’ lives together.

What do you think God requires at such a time of his people called by his name? What action to perform and what work to accomplish? Be careful. It is dangerous to answer such a question. It requires courage and a willingness to serve Jesus in faithful obedience to his answer.

Abraham’s intercession for Lot as example:

In Genesis 14, Abraham’s (at this time still Abram) nephew Lot and his family are taken captive along with many from Sodom and Gomorrah (before their destruction) by four kings who defeated five other kings in battle. Abraham heard of this and immediately gathered 318 men from his household and went to rescue Lot. They defeated the four kings in battle and rescued and took back all that was taken plus more. Abraham declared afterwards “I have lifted my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Possessor of Heaven and Earth.” This was an act of courageous faith in intercession of others and to assert God’s authority in the earth over evil.

In Genesis 18, Abraham again intercedes for his nephew Lot. This time it is through intercessory prayer to the Lord who has determined to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah due to the severity of their wickedness. Abraham pleads with the Lord to spare the city for ten righteous people. God answers the prayer by delivering Lot and his family from destruction to the extent they are willing to escape. Destruction still comes in the world, as it did in Sodom, but prayer facilitates the rescue and intervention for those for whom we pray.

Both of these actions of intercession and rescue by Abraham demonstrate the life of faith that does not abide the destructive forces of sin to go unchecked and unchallenged. This is what I believe God is calling for by us as we live our lives of faith, dressed for action for the kingdom of heaven. Our action is to rescue people from the destructive powers of darkness and to expand the kingdom of light by our actions and our prayers. God will inspire us and empower us as we offer ourselves to him. Be ready. Be courageous. The knocking of the Lord on the door is for you.

When you respond in faithful obedience, the Lord will come and serve you with the blessings of the kingdom of heaven. He will give you the victory and your intercession will find good effect as both occurred for Abraham. It pleases the Father to give you the kingdom. You must decide if you want it…today and every day.