From Eternity Past; April 13, 2018

Micah 5:2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.”

This verse is quoted almost exclusively in relation to Christmas, because it was the verse that enabled the scribes to tell King Herod where the Messiah was to be born. (Matthew 2:5-6) However, the whole point of it is not simply to say where He would be born, but to make it clear that it was decided “from eternity past,” as the Japanese expresses it. We are once again confronted with the reality that God is outside of time, so everything is “now” to Him. He sees the moment of Creation even as He sees the end of all things material, and everything in between. We simply cannot grasp that viewpoint, so we are left with time-related ways of talking about things. That’s not necessarily bad, it’s just the way things are. However, the better we understand that God doesn’t have our limitations, the more we can be at peace, knowing that He has already solved every problem even when we can’t imagine how it could be done. That is what faith is all about. We don’t like to think of ourselves as toddlers, needing Daddy to take us by the hand or we will fall over, but the reality is even more severe than that. The videos that abound on the Internet of helpless animals being rescued by kind humans come closer, but really words fail us to describe the gulf between God and man in terms of ability. We literally would not exist apart from God, but what we do with the existence He has given us is our responsibility, and we are accountable to Him for our words and our actions, as the Bible makes very clear in many places. The point is to commit ourselves and our plans to Him, aware that He already knows all about them, and trust Him with the outcome. When He provided the Messiah from eternity past, whatever we are facing at the moment is certainly no big deal for Him.

This is a lesson the Lord has been speaking to me repeatedly recently, in many different ways. It’s not at all that I’m not to care about what happens, it’s that I’m to trust God with it all, and so rest, relax, and rejoice, just as He has told me. I’m to be the eternal optimist! I’m not to deny that bad things happen. After all, Jesus said clearly that in this world we would have trouble. (John 16:33) However, I am to trust fully that God has something wonderful on the far side of that trouble, and rejoice even before I see it. Each day is to be an adventure of discovering what God has planned for me, knowing that it is good even when at the moment it might be painful.

Father, thank You for this truth, and for speaking it to me so clearly and repeatedly. Help me indeed be done with anxiety and rejoice in You. Thank You for the message on your Eternal Plans that You were already building in me for this coming Sunday, and how this fits in perfectly with that. Your Word says so much on that theme! Help me know what to use and what not to, so that I won’t overwhelm my hearers but rather encourage them to trust You so that they too may rest, relax, and rejoice, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Anxiety; April 12, 2018

Micah 4:11-12 But now many nations
are gathered against you.
They say, “Let her be defiled,
let our eyes gloat over Zion!”
But they do not know
the thoughts of the Lord;
they do not understand his plan,
he who gathers them like sheaves to the threshing-floor.

This scenario has played out many times throughout history. People think they have the upper hand, but they don’t know God’s plans. Here, Babylon and Moab and the like are gloating over Judah, but they have no idea how brief their triumph will be. I’m reminded of something I’ve heard quoted about more than one location: “If you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes.” We tend to look at the news and despair, and indeed tragic and disgusting things happen all the time. However, those things don’t negate the plans of God. All that we see and experience is temporal, in the flow of time, and therefore temporary. We forget that all too often. God and His plans, in contrast, are eternal, though He brings His plans to fruition in time. We get worked up over all sorts of things, when if we would genuinely focus our hearts and minds on the Lord in trusting gratitude, His peace would guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7) This is something He has to teach us again and again, because we are so quick to forget it. We do not know how things will turn out in the short term, but we can have absolute assurance and peace about how they will turn out in the end. God’s words to Jeremiah still ring true: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11) It literally doesn’t matter what things look like at any given moment, because God is greater than everything, and those who are committed to Christ by faith are in the palm of His hand.

As many times as God has spoken this to me and demonstrated it through circumstances, you’d think I’d know it better! However, yesterday I was irritable and frustrated by a number of things, being less than I should have been to my wife and in a general funk. As the day wore on, God demonstrated that every issue I had been anxious about was already taken care of, and I was gently chided for my lack of faith. I couldn’t tell you how many times this same sort of thing has happened to me. That makes it all the more idiotic when I allow it to happen again! That should give me patience for all the people I deal with who likewise struggle with anxiety of all sorts. I think anxiety is one of the prime characteristics of the fallen nature! As I tell others, it’s not that we are to be passive, or that we don’t need to do our best in everything, it’s that when we are actively pursuing God, the outcome is guaranteed because it’s in His hands. As God said right after He assured Jeremiah of His plans, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you.” (Jeremiah 29:13-14) Jesus expressed it in terms of seeking “God’s kingdom and His righteousness.” (Matthew 6:33) I tell people that all the time, and I need to keep growing in living it out myself.

Father, thank You for Your gentle, gracious patience with me. I would have given up on me a long time ago! Thank You indeed for everything You worked out yesterday, and that I need not be anxious about anything, ever. As You have told me repeatedly, help me indeed rest, relax, and rejoice in You, leading and guiding others to do the same, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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The Lessons God Provides; April 11, 2018

Jonah 4: 6, 7, 8 The Lord (God) provided …

The turn of phrase in this chapter is very instructive. We think of God providing things we want, but we don’t think of Him providing things we don’t want. Providing a vine for shade seems all well and good, but providing a worm to chew the vine and then providing a scorching east wind seems very strange to us. But God wanted to show Jonah, and by extension us, the dangers of anger. As others have pointed out, anger directed outwards is ultimately murderous, and directed inward is ultimately suicidal. Neither could hardly be said to be good! Jonah needed a lesson he could understand, so God provided it in three steps, with explanation following. As I am reminded frequently, God is far more interested in our character than our comfort. We rejoice when He provides things that feel good, but we tend not to rejoice when He provides things that grow us to be more like Christ. The New Testament talks about this repeatedly. “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4) “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11) “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4) Actually, there are many more passages as well. God provides what we need, but when that doesn’t agree with what we think we need, we get frustrated, angry, and depressed. We need to trust Him to know what we need better than we do, and indeed, “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Ouch! I’m writing to myself here! I need to remember that whereas many things are indeed attacks of the devil, I need to thank God for them because He allows (provides) them for my good. As Andrae Crouch wrote so memorably, “If I’d never had a problem, I wouldn’t know that He could solve them; I wouldn’t know what faith in God could do.” I’ve loved that song ever since I first heard it over 40 years ago, but I still don’t always remember that truth to apply it. At times I am amazed at how stubbornly ignorant I am, refusing to learn the lessons God provides for me. As a teacher myself I certainly should understand that good lessons seldom come without effort to learn them. I need to apply myself to learn the lessons He provides, for my blessing and His glory.

Father, thank You for this reminder. It’s interesting how seldom I hear anything completely new from You. That reinforces the point You’ve been making here! Help me indeed learn the lessons You provide, resting, relaxing, and rejoicing in You just as You have told me, so that all of the plans of the enemy may be destroyed and all of Your plans fulfilled, for the blessing of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Interpreting Prophecy; April 10, 2018

Amos 9:11 “In that day I will restore
David’s fallen tent.
I will repair its broken places,
restore its ruins,
and build it as it used to be.”

I have heard messages that said that “David’s tent,’ referenced here, is the one he set up for the Ark of the Covenant, even though those who heard this prophecy at the time probably assumed Amos was talking about the royal dynasty. That interpretation strikes a chord in me, and not just because it is referenced in the song, Days of Elijah. At the time this prophecy was delivered, Davidic kings still reigned over the southern kingdom of Judah. (Amos prophesied in the northern kingdom of Israel.) If anyone really thought about it at the time, they probably assumed it meant the nation would again be united under one king. However, the sort of worship and closeness to God that was enjoyed while the Ark was available to everyone was not restored until the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost. There are numbers of things about prophecy, both that recorded in the Bible and that delivered later, even today, that we need the help of the Holy Spirit to understand correctly. Wrong assumptions can lead to all sorts of errors! What complicates it even more is the fact that often quite different interpretations are actually both correct, in different ways. After all, God’s people are indeed united under one Descendant of David, Jesus the Messiah, so that interpretation of this verse is not wrong. In terms of prophecies since the Bible, we have the added factor of weeding out false prophecy. As Paul said, “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21) There are indeed valid prophecies given even today, but not everyone who says, “Thus sayeth the Lord,” is speaking for God.

This is an issue for every believer, but particularly for those who, like me, have been used to deliver prophecies. I can say with assurance that sometimes even the one speaking the prophecy doesn’t really know what it means! One of the more demonstrably supernatural prophecies I’ve delivered was later fulfilled in a way that I wouldn’t have imagined at the time I spoke it. Humility is always called for! Actually, this is why we need to pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance every time we read the Bible. All sorts of errors, to the point of cults, have come from people misreading the Bible in one way or another. Sometimes the translation itself is wrong or misleading, such as in changes in language use from the time of King James to today, and sadly, sometimes the translators have an agenda to make it say what they want it to. I have heard of people who have gotten genuinely saved from reading a Jehovah’s Witness Bible, but that is just proof that the Holy Spirit is stronger than the devil! The point for me is to walk in step with the Spirit at all times, in all humility. (Galatians 5:25)

Father, thank You for this reminder. You have given us some pretty remarkable prophecies in the past, relating specifically to Omura. Keep me from insisting on what they must mean, but rather allow You to bring them to fruition in Your way on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Prepare to Meet Your God; April 9, 2018

Amos 4:12 “Prepare to meet your God.”

Going to college in East Tennessee I remember seeing this message on billboards and simply painted on cliff faces. Given the reality of some of those mountain roads, they sometimes came across as admonitions to drive carefully! However, they were actually an echo of the “hellfire and brimstone” preaching that was popular in some groups. Such preaching is almost unheard of today, and someone indulging in it would run the risk of being arrested for “hate speech,” as they actually have been in Sweden and Canada because of the epidemic of “political correctness.” Amos would certainly be thrown in jail, or a mental hospital, today! He was the antithesis of political correctness, saying things like calling the “leading ladies” cows. However, he was simply echoing God’s distress at how the people were acting. Five times in this chapter the Lord points out “natural disasters” He had brought to get people’s attention, and each one brings the refrain, “Yet you did not return to Me.” Here He is saying that because they would not meet with Him voluntarily, they would have to meet with Him for judgment, and that would be terrible indeed. I see a lot of parallels to America today. People don’t want to have their sin pointed out to them, to be called to repentance. Harvard, though originally a Christian institution for training clergy, has just defunded and banned the student Christian organization on campus for insisting that something was morally wrong. People don’t want to be told anything is morally wrong! There are signs of hope, as some people seem to be waking up, but the rot is deep indeed. This goes far beyond politics, though it is frequently cast in a political light. Your label makes no difference if you aren’t submitted to your Creator. It’s not just that people sin; that has been the human condition ever since Adam and Eve. The problem now is people insisting that their sin not only be accepted, but celebrated. Homosexual issues take the spotlight here, but this is far broader than that, with disrespect for marriage and family and even for life itself. The current opioid epidemic is another symptom, stemming in many cases from people focusing on whatever feels good in the moment, rather than seeking God’s kingdom and His righteousness.

I am not innocent here. I too opt for the “easy way out” all too often, rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to shine His light on the real issues and repenting of them. Right now the church is in a very difficult situation, yet at the same time the Lord is giving us various signs that He’s in control and His plans are good. Going back to this verse, I am indeed to prepare to meet with Him, on His terms and His schedule, in full humility and submission, but with anticipation and joy. I am to seek to learn what He wants to teach me from each thing that has happened and is happening, so that I may be transformed more and more into what He wants me to be, for His glory.

Father, thank You for all that You are doing. Thank You for the two non-believers who came to the service yesterday, even though hardly any Christians did. Keep me from insisting on how things ought to be. Rather, help me release everything to You and trust You to use how things are, to bring about Your good plan, for the salvation of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Trusting God’s Timing; April 8, 2018

Joel 2:25 “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—
the great locust and the young locust,
the other locusts and the locust swarm —
my great army that I sent among you.”

This 2nd chapter of Joel is most famous for the promise of the Holy Spirit that comes a few verses later, that Peter quoted on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. However, this makes it clear what the background to that promise was. God had taken the nation through some pretty rough times, but here He is saying that all their trials will be wiped out by what He will provide. God doesn’t pick on us, but he allows difficult circumstances to teach us our dependence on Him. Our problem is that we can’t see past the end of our nose, and so lose hope that things are ever going to change. God spoke to Jeremiah extensively on this theme, including such famous statements as Jeremiah 29:11 as well as our verse for the year, Jeremiah 32:27. When we fixate on all the “locusts” we see around us, we lose sight of God who is far greater than it all. We look at what we see as our resources and calculate that those resources are totally inadequate – and we’re right! However, that leaves our the greatest resource of all, which is God who loves us. When that is our frame of reference, we never lose hope.

We have certainly been going through a “locust infestation” over the past few years, so this is very timely. God has in no way changed, so the point for us is to keep looking to Him. That certainly includes allowing His Holy Spirit to shine on those areas where we need to change, and applying ourselves diligently to make those changes, but it doesn’t mean losing hope, or the assurance that the vision He has given us will be fulfilled in His timing. Waiting for that timing can be difficult, but that has been true throughout history. The thing to do is to thank Him in advance for the blessings He is going to pour out. Actually from His viewpoint, He has already accomplished everything, just as Jesus said, “I have overcome the world,” even though chronologically He hadn’t been to the cross yet. (John 16:33) We are to rejoice in what God has already done “in the heavenlies,” even while we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12)

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for where You have us right now, and for the little reminders You give us that we are still in the palm of Your hand. Help me, help each of us, trust You fully and rest, relax, and rejoice in You, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Witnesses; April 7, 2018

Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

This verse is one of the most quoted and least followed in the whole Bible. It is quoted in every Pentecostal/Charismatic congregation, at least, in the whole world, yet few believers are consciously witnesses for Christ. People are very interested in receiving power, but then they want to use it for their own ends, rather than to accomplish that for which God provides it. I have heard many messages on this verse, some of them very good, talking about Jerusalem being our immediate surroundings, Judea and Samaria being the more familiar and less familiar areas of our own nation, and the ends of the earth being exactly that. However, the people in the pews remain largely that: people in the pews, rather than witnesses to the world at large. This of course ties in directly to what Matthew records, famously called “The Great Commission.” “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) We overlook the fact that this doesn’t say, “make converts,” much less “make members,” but rather, “make disciples.” A disciple is one who seeks to do what they see their Master doing, not one who is simply dependent on the Master. We aren’t to seek to make disciples for ourselves, but rather for Jesus, and that of course includes being a true disciple ourselves. If we are indeed disciples, witnesses of Christ, then we can say with Paul, “I urge you to imitate me.” (1 Corinthians 4:16) That’s not conceit, that’s being an honest disciple.

I have had my own struggles with follow-through on this issue. I’ve had some excellent role models, starting with my parents, but I haven’t always followed through as a disciple myself. I have honestly sought to be a witness, but I haven’t been so effective in raising up disciples for Christ. Some would certainly qualify, including but not limited to some who are in full-time ministry, but in general, those in my care haven’t been any more likely to share the Gospel with someone else than members of any other church. This is where coaching comes in. I’ve been exposed to the concept of coaching over the past year, and I hope it’s sinking in. I am very prone, by temperament and gifting, to dump truth on people and expect them to change. That very seldom works! Not many people see me for more that a few minutes at a time, so “leading by example” has its limits. I need to be more intentional about provoking people to think about their lives, and whether they are effective disciples/witnesses. I need to come alongside them so that we can grow together, since my own effectiveness is obviously limited. We have a marvelous opportunity to make some urgently needed changes, and I am to follow through in all humility and obedience.

Father, thank You for this Word. Thank You for Your patience and Your plan. Help me recognize Your plan and follow through fully, not holding back for any reason, so that we may be Your witnesses, Your disciples indeed, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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