"Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, . . . They are not
just idle words for you-- they are your life" (Deuteronomy 32:46-47).

Monday, November 15, 2010

Dear God: Fix Our Mess, But Don't Fool With Our Means

"Then the whole multitude of the surrounding region of the Gadarenes asked Him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear" (Luke 8:37).

Jesus and his company of disciples climbed out of a boat on the east side of the Sea of Galilee in the region of the Gadarenes. Suddenly a naked man apparently out of control ran at Jesus and fell at his feet. Word was the man lived under guard in the cemetery among the tombs of dead people. The townspeople, out of fear, banished him to solitude and bound him with chains and shackles. He often brokes his chains and raced off into the wilderness screaming unhuman sounds and shrieks. The man was sick. When asked, the man gave Jesus the name he had assumed, Legion, because he was possessed by many demons.

Jesus was standing before one man but confronting as many as six thousand of Satan's demons begging him not to cast them into hell, but rather to allow them to leave the man and enter a herd of pigs grazing nearby. When Jesus gave his permission, the demons exited the man and entered the animals spiralling them into lunacy and sending them over a cliff, into a lake, and to their death. The pig farmers who witnessed what happened ran all over town telling what had happened.

By the time a crowd gathered, the man was sitting at the feet of Jesus, fully clothed, and completely normal. He wanted to join Jesus' company of disciples; however, Jesus told him to go home and tell every one what God had done for him. While he was going on his merry way, the townspeople, in gang-like fashion, insisted that Jesus leave town. According to their wishes, Jesus and his disciples got in their boat and left in the same fashion in which they had arrived.

In this account of one experience in our Lord's ministry on earth, we learn several sad realities about ourselves that often keep us from experiencing God in greater ways:

First, we often become too easily accustomed to living with fear. How long had that man lived in those tombs possessed by demons? Instead of confronting Satan's activity among them with faith in God's power, those townspeople handled the situation in their own way-- putting the man in a place where they did not have to look at him every day. Their actions neither solved their problems, nor alleviated their fears. Actually their actions made their problems and fears into a bigger mess.

It happens in our lives too when we run from our fears instead of face our fears. Listen, Jesus is not afraid of even what we fear most. He is Sovereign God over all that is-- that includes heaven, hell, and earth. There is not one single demon or Satan himself that does not tremble at the name of Jesus. How much more does all of hell stand attention and beg in the presence of Jesus? The psalmist reminds us, "I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears" (Psalm 34:4). We should call upon our Lord and face our fears with God's power.

Second, we often don't want to upset things or get radical in our faith. Those townspeople had learned to tolerate and live with demon activity among them. They had even hired men from among them to stand guard to make sure the demonic activity stayed in the tombs and didn't get near them. They had no problem with buying or making new sets of chains and shackles every time the man broke a set. Forming a search party to go after him and bring him back to the tombs when he fled into the wilderness in a demonic rage had become an accepted way of life. Day in and day out they listened to the terrible screams coming of the cemetery.

They had the situation under their control just the way they wanted it. If things could be changed, fine, but don't upset the apple cart by asking them to walk away from what had become comfortably under control, and live out of their comfort zone with radical faith in Christ. This is a 2000 year old story, but it paints a perfect portrait of twenty-first century people. In the words of Jesus himself, "In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples" (Luke 14:33).Yes, God calls us to a reckless abandonment of our lives to the lordship of Jesus Christ.

Third, we might be okay with change as long as it doesn't change our livelihood. Apparently raising pigs provided a good living for the townspeople providing them with not only food but a source of income as well. When Jesus sent their money-makers over a cliff in a demonic craze, all they could see was their livelihood being flushed down the toilet-- or better said, drowned in the sea! I wonder how many people have missed their heavenly calling because they were too tied to their earthly career. How many churches have missed revival because the people have a death-grip on the status-quo? How many people have settled instead of soared? The fear of change alone has limited many lives and killed more potential than any other thing on this earth. These townspeople had God walking among them more than capable of meeting their needs, yet the change that Jesus brought with his presence was more than they were willing to endure.

We're the same way. Change is okay as long as it doesn't mean we have to live with uncertaintly, get uncomfortable, make a drastic move, do the unusual, spend more than a little, or rise above our reason. Too many people today want to believe they're going to heaven, but they don't want God fooling with their lives. Therein, lies the explanation for why we fail to see great moves of God in our lives, families, churches, communities, nation, and world. We need to go back to the very beginning-- to the experience of salvation.

Contemporary evangelism has reduced becoming a follower of Jesus Christ to a marketing strategy of getting people to assent to a few pre-packaged biblical truths, walking down the isle of a church, praying a sinner's prayer, signing a commitment card, and then going back into their world to think the same, talk the same, and live the same as they did before they quote "got saved."

None of that is in the Bible in precept, principle, or pattern. Biblical converstion to Christ is radical, earth-shaking, and life-changing. Men and women in the Bible who came face to face with Christ became competely undone. They fell prostrate at his feet, grieved and waled over their own sinfulness. Afterwards, they walked in this world dripping with the power and unction of the Holy Spirit. Many Christ-followers through the ages have given their own lives, rather than deny their love and commitment to their Lord. Hear the words of Jesus with your heart: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24).

So, what matters? Not what we think, but what Christ wants us to thinks; not what we say, but what Christ wants us to say; not what we want, but what Christ wants us to want; not what we do, but what Christ wants us to do. Open your Bible and ask the man at the tombs, Simon Peter, the woman at the well, Zacchaeus, or Paul how drastically Jesus changes a person's life when he becomes Lord. You might be surprised, or better still, you might be changed.

Prayer: Father in heaven, I've grown way to accustomed to managing my fears myself. I've organized my life myself and gotten bitter when anything came along upsetting what I've put in place. For too long, I've had my life all figured out the way I wanted it. Now, I'm afraid that some of it or none of it is the way you want it. I repent of the sin of selfishness and arrogance thinking I was supposed to be in charge instead of you. Forgive me and change me. Come now, clean up my mess, and radically fool with my means. I surrender everything, including my will, to you. Revive me and make me your instrument of revival in this world. In Jesus name, Amen.

Friday, November 5, 2010

What Do We Do in the Meantime?

"But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward tot he day of God and speed its coming" (2 Peter 3:10-12).

One fact the Bible is very clear on is that Jesus is coming back. Equally clear is the reality that his coming back will be suddenly and unexpectedly. There will be no final notice or public notice at that moment. God has given sufficient announcement in the Bible. The physical universe, as we know it, will be destroyed and disappear culminating in God ushering in the new heaven and the new earth.

The question Peter emphasized is simply: Since this is what God is planning, what do we do in the meantime? Summarily, Peter left us instructions to live holy and godly lives, and look forward to Christ's return. Now, can we flesh that out any? Sure. In the third chapter of 2 Timothy, Paul lends us valuable help in what enduring the end times is all about. The apostle's help falls neatly into two divisions: What should we expect? and What should we do?

First, we should expect the times to be terrible (2 Tim. 3:1-5). People who exercise no faith, trust, and hope in Jesus Christ will be selfish, mean-spirited, and ungodly. Paul left a bullet list of eighteen specific sinful character traits that prevail on earth in these last days. The selfish catagory includes: "lovers of themselves," "lovers of money," "boastful," "proud," "without self-control," "conceited," and "lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God." The mean-spirited catagory includes: "abusive," "ungrateful," "without love," "unforgiving," "slanderous," "brutal," "treacherous," and "rash." The ungodly catagory includes: "disobedient to parents," "unholy," and "not lovers of the good." Take an inventory of the happenings around us: alcohol and drug addiction is rampant; sexual immorality in every form eats away at the foundation of society; families fall apart while long-held family values are undermined by the assault on traditional marriage and the homosexual agenda; crime in every form steals, kills, and destroys people's lives; educational opportunities abound while jobs disappear, welfare rolls increase, price of goods continues to grow, credit card debt drowns families, extravagance rules in rich circles, prisons overflow, and the national debt soars out of control.

So, how does the Bible advise God's people to respond to selfish, mean-spirited, and ungodly people as they wait on Christ's imminent return? Paul said, "Have nothing to do with them." Don't withdraw to a secluded island or put up a ten-foot privacy fence or become a recluse. Christians still have to live out the Great Commandment and Great Commission despite the terrible times. Be loving, helpful, kind, and compassionate to even those who live out the most ungodly lives; however, do not participate in their ungodly behavior. Draw the line in the sand. Every interaction with ungodly people should be for the purpose of influencing them to hear the gospel of forgiveness and salvation in Christ, repent of their sins and receive God's forgiveness, receive Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, and live the rest of their lives to please God.

Second, we should expect the God's truth to be under attack (6-9). Unholy, ungodly people will be "always be learning but never able to acknowledge the truth." For people outside God's kingdom, greater learning will shamefully lead only to greater wickedness. "Men of depraved minds" will twist, distort, and subvert God's truth found in the Bible through crafty, clever, and deceitful means for the purpose of worming their way into the lives of spiritually-weak people and persuading them to follow after them instead of following after Christ.

So, how does the Bible advise God's people to respond to the subversive attacks on God's truth? Simply put: trust God, keep your spiritual eyes and ears open, and watch God expose the dirty deeds of these Bible-truth-haters. The apostle Paul said that God would make sure that "their folly will be clear to everyone." The "everyone" includes Christians who have been trained through the spiritual disciplines of worship, service, evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, and prayer to recognize the difference between Satan's activity in the world and God's activity in the world.

Third, we should expect to be persecuted for living sold-out faithful lives to Christ (10-12). The sinful world of Paul's day hurt him for living so close to Jesus, and our sinful world will treat us the same way if we live close to Jesus. Write it down big and plain so there is no understanding: "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." Jesus said Himself, "All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved" (Mat. 10:22). Moreover, "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Mat. 5:11-12). The Lord said "when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me", not "if" they do these things.

So, how does the Bible advise God's people to respond to the prospect of enduring opposition and persecution while they wait for Jesus to return? Well, look what Paul how Paul said he responded and learn that we are to teach the word of God faithfully, maintain a way of life that honors God, live with great purpose, and face the world with great faith, great patience, great love, and great endurance in the Lord Jesus. Paul said, "the Lord rescued me from all of them." Therefore, along the way of persecution, we are to let God defend us and get us through.

Fourth, we should expect evil to escalate and evil men to multiply (13-15). The Bible leaves no wiggle-room plainly warning us that circumstances in this world we live in will get worse, not better as "evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse." That truth cuts cross-grain with the unbiblical views being spread abroad by intellectuals and movers-and-shakers of our world. Somehow, the belief that increased learning and prosperity will lead to people becoming better people and the times becoming more peaceful times seems to have people in a trance. Nothing could be further from the truth.

So, how does the Bible advise God's people to respond to the escalation of evil as they wait for the return of Christ? We should go back to the Bible and go deeper in the Bible. Paul advised us to work on becoming stronger in the faith, more convinced of what we know about Christ, and more knowledgeable of the Bible. In other words, while the world gets more evil, Christians are to get wiser in the word of God.

And finally, with all of these last-day realities taking place before our eyes, we should be eagerly allowing Bible truth to teach us, rebuke us, correct us, and train us to be men and women of God who are equipped and actively engaged in every good work of God. Remember this: the sinful, evil, lost world in which we live is on a collision-course with hell. However, right in the midst of this terrible world the kingdom of God is growing larger one saved-soul at a time and growing richer one good-work at a time as God's people go forth in Holy Spirit power. When we obey our Lord's Great Commandment to love God with all our being and our neighbors as ourselves and when we pursue our Lord's Great Commission to go into all the world making disciples of Christ who in turn make disciples of Christ, we are, in fact, facing these terrible end times exactly the way God wants us to as we wait for the soon-coming Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, I'm afraid that I have not always faced these last days with spiritual eyes and ears. Forgive me for failing to take full advantage of the availability of your words through having a Bible in hand, a church to attend, the preaching of your Word to hear, and the opportunities to minister and serve. I commit today to be a faithful follower of Christ, to live and serve you wholeheartedly, and to get better prepared to face these terrible times in these last days while I wait on the return of my Lord Jesus. May you always find me faithful and attentive to your Word. In Jesus' name, Amen.