It’s The Thought That Counts

Igirl THINKING can be born again but my life can still look like something out of Loony Tunes, right up until “Th- th- that’s all, folks!” Inside, I’m perfect―born again in the image of God Himself. But on the outside I find myself falling frustratingly short. What am I going to do? The answer lies in renewing my mind. Romans 12:2 (NIV) commands, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Instead of conforming to the world’s image, I seek transformation into the image of the reborn spirit within me. (Ephesians 4:24)

Wishing for it is not enough to bring about change. My mind is where the battle takes place. Whatever I allow to dominate my mind will rule my life. Will it be the Word of God or the lies of Satan? My choice.

James 4:7 says to “resist the devil and he will flee from you.” The devil is going to attack my mind and cause me to wrestle with thoughts of fear, shame, guilt and rejection. How can I resist the devil? Jesus showed the way in Matthew 4 – combat the devil’s lies with the Word of God. When fear comes that I am going to fail, I remind the devil Jesus already won the victory! Every lie of the devil has a corresponding truth from God’s Word, so I will use the Word as my weapon and fight until the devil flees. The Word of God is my sword (Ephesians 6:17).

Jesus healed a blind man by spitting in the dirt and spreading mud on his eyes. (John 9) Gross!
That whole process certainly would have made the man uncomfortable, but there was a miracle on the other side of the discomfort. We went through a remodel of our home. It was not comfortable: no bedroom, no kitchen, workers in and out, a constant mess. Transformation is not comfortable but it is worth it. Breaking from destructive relationships is not pleasant. Mind renewal is not easy. But there is a miracle just on the other side.

Feeling bad about my current circumstance doesn’t mean I am going to get better. We deceive ourselves by thinking if I really feel bad about the way things are, then I’ll do something about it. I can look at the scale every morning and say, “I really should do something!” But there is no motivation, no energy. Nothing will change. I just go back to my Twinkies. Being dissatisfied doesn’t mean I will change. Being unhappy about where I am doesn’t mean things will get better.

Renewal leads to a better place. Renewal gives me a new thought, a new goal, a new vision, a new dream and that will bring change to my life. I can look at what the Lord has for me and move toward that hope. That brings energy and passion into my life. Then I am not stuck in my past but rather moving with expectancy into my future.

Mind renewal is a battle against the strongholds and mind sets that have taken root in my soul. What is my story? Not the one I tell the world but the one I tell myself. That is the one that will pull me down or enable me to climb higher. I can put up a front to the world of confidence and godliness but behind closed doors I’m on internet sites I shouldn’t be or I’m focused on failure, self-pity, unforgiveness. If I can change my thoughts, I can change my life. New thoughts will bring me to new places.

I find myself in the middle of a failure again and I am surprised and shocked and shamed. I ask myself, “How did this happen?” The truth is, it started with a seed thought that I didn’t capture and it grew into something I never intended it to be. Is there an area in my life where I’m asking myself how I got there, how I let it get so bad or so out of control? There is a way out! “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” (Hebrews 4:12 NLT)

I don’t have to think every thought that comes into my mind. Just because I have a thought doesn’t mean it’s beneficial for me or that I should dwell on it. We should test thoughts and throw them out if they aren’t taking us where we want to go. 2Corinthians 10:5 tells us to bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. When a thought crosses my mind that is negative, destructive or damaging, I am to test it against the truth of God’s Word and watch what happens. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:8 to think on whatever is noble, pure and lovely. I plan to think about what I’m thinking about and find ways to focus on the good. If I think like Christ I will live like Christ.

I have one shirt that I love. It is comfortable and sturdy so I can wear it for any job in the garage or the yard. But I can’t tell you how many times I have rescued it from the give-away pile because my wife hates it. In the same way, strongholds give me a sense of familiarity and comfort. My mind is going to go to what is comfortable and familiar in times of difficulty. A stronghold can be the most comfortable thought I have. I have thought it so many times that I don’t even realize the power that stronghold has! The Word of God is given to us in order to help us break free from the comfort zones that ensnare us.

Christians (even non-Christians) love to quote part of John 8:32; “The truth will set you free.” But the full verse makes it clear it is the truth that I know that sets me free, and the verse before sets an important condition: “If you continue in my word.” “Continue” is key. There’s a depth of revelation that comes from consistency that the inconsistent person will never see. Joshua 1:8 admonishes us that if we want to experience success, it comes by meditating on the Word.

When my wife and I were dating, she played a trick on me. She called me on the phone but put her girlfriend on to speak to me instead. This other girl answered, “Hi, sweetheart. It’s so good to hear from you.” I was oblivious and carried on the conversation as normal until I heard the giggles on the other end. They both thought it was great fun. (I wasn’t laughing.) Jesus said “His sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger.” (John 10:4b-5 NIV) Do I know God’s voice or have I listened to the devil’s voice for so long that he is not a stranger so I follow him easily? It is time to make God’s Word an integral part of my life so that I know His voice and the devil becomes a stranger. The Spirit of God will never guide me in opposition to the written Word of God (John 16:13). So, if I’m not familiar with what the Word says, I will find it more difficult to discern His leading.

The faucet in our garage sink was leaking. When I turned it on, water sprayed all over. That’s the kind of job I like. I went to Home Depot, bought some parts, grabbed my tools and a couple of hours later, all fixed. I felt accomplished and the good news was the next day I went into the garage, turned on the faucet and it worked perfectly. Unfortunately mind renew isn’t like that. It isn’t a once-and-done type of thing. It’s a daily process. Also, it’s a process that I must welcome the Holy Spirit into.

What does a Holy Spirit directed mind look like?
1. Decided. In Joshua 24:15, Joshua declared, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” An overcomer makes up his mind and is not sidetracked. In 48 years of marriage we have had the opportunity to be sidetracked by hurt, unforgiveness and self-focus, but we have remained decided. It takes backbone. It means standing when everyone else is running. Daniel’s friends faced the fiery furnace but they refused to run. Romans 1:16 says we are not ashamed of the Gospel. The “decided” mind makes the decision and sticks with it.
2. Disciplined. Living any ol’ way does not produce a champion. The attitude, “Mañana, mañana. Tomorrow I’ll take care of it.” That attitude is for the loser. The “disciplined” mind has integrity and humility. It is uncompromising. Daniel in the Old Testament exhibited it; Timothy in the New Testament also. Godly character is to choose to live by Godly principles. Problems are not going to go away. Battles will continue. The devil will continue to be after you. But discipline wins.
3. Diligent. We are constantly bombarded by the world. We may joke about the picture of a demon on one shoulder and an angel on the other whispering in our ear but reality is the devil is whispering to me all the time. Am I goin’ with the flow or am I fighting upstream? Colossians 1:23 (NIV) tells us to “continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.” Thoughts motivate actions; actions repeated become habits; habits collectively show character; character determines destiny. What is the foundation of your destiny? Are you built on the Rock?
4. Dominating. The enemy is defeated. It is time to stand up and enforce our inheritance. When we take up the whole armor of God (Eph 6:10-17), we will experience the truth of Romans 8:37 (NIV): “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” We have overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony. (Revelations 12:11) Jesus is King of kings.

Don’t let Satan bind you with the grave clothes of yesterday’s sin and defeat. You’ve been raised with Jesus. Like Lazarus (John 11), come out of the tomb and start living resurrection life! “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV) That’s a promise to get ahold of.

A Moth or a Cockroach

Moth-CockroachEveryone who hears the truth of the Gospel behaves like a bug. Which are you: a moth or a cockroach? Let me share two experiences that illustrate the behavior of these two insects.

When we were on vacation on a Caribbean island we went to dinner at an outdoor pizza parlor. We had never before seen an outdoor pizza parlor and we were about to find out why. After eating about half of the pizza we noticed these strange lumps in the cheese. It turned out that the pizza was kept under warming lamps while waiting to be served. Being outdoors, moths were attracted to the lamps, be killed by the heat and fall into the pizza. We complained to the management and, since we had already eaten half of the pizza, they offered us a 50% refund. My stomach still does flip flops at the memory.

The second episode dates to 1972. We rented a cottage at Wrightsville Beach, NC for a month. One night I came into the kitchen quite late and flipped on the light only to see a dozen or so big black bugs scurry quickly to their hiding places. Cockroaches!

When you turn on a light, a moth is immediately attracted to it. The opposite reaction happens with a cockroach. He will scurry away to hide. People are the same way with the Gospel. John 3:19-21 (NIV): “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”

For someone who is fully enjoying their life of sin it is difficult to turn away. Sin can have a tight hold. For those of us who have given our hearts to God, we are to be drawn to the Light of truth as a moth is drawn to a light. Eph. 5:8-9 (NIV) “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth.” In short, be a moth and not a cockroach!

The Bible says a lot about light, darkness, and the people who prefer one over the other. John wrote, “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Paul described Jesus as “the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God” (2 Cor. 4:6). Jesus described Himself and His followers like this: “I am the Light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life” (John 8:12).

Darkness is a common biblical metaphor for sin. Jesus also spoke of darkness as something the natural, sinful person prefers above light. He said, “The Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (John 3:19-21).

You are either like a moth or a cockroach. You either love the Light and find peace in His presence, or you are repulsed by the Light and prefer hiding in the darkness of your sin.

The non-Christian has a defective compass. Rather than helping him find his way to safety and security, it makes him more lost, more enslaved. John 3:19,20: “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” Just as a cockroach by nature prefers darkness over light, fallen man by nature prefers sin over Jesus.

The true Christian, on the other hand, has a compass that has been renewed by God. The Holy Spirit dwells in him, giving him new desires which lead him away from sin and toward righteousness. No matter what the world insists is better, this person knows there is nothing better than Jesus. The light of truth has entered his heart so that he sees “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). Sin has an ever-decreasing appeal. John 1:5 NLT “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.”

Just as we might use a sanitizer for our hands, there is Purell for the heart. Our hearts can be sanitized. As David prayed in the 51st Psalm, we can ask God to “wash us thoroughly from our iniquity, and cleanse us from our sin. Create in us a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within us.” God has the ability to sanitize our hearts, cleaning out the filth and grime of sin, through forgiveness offered by his Son’s death upon the Cross. We don’t have to remain in the shadows.

God calls us to be light, a light that has the power to transform us and others. We welcome the light of a new way of thinking and living. Our hearts can be filled with a new outlook as we experience His peace.
Pick up a cockroach and place it in a lighted room; what happens? It will scurry for a dark corner as quickly as possible. A change of nature is needed before the light is accepted. The same with people. We all know those who run from the light.

But don’t we each run from the light in some are of our lives that we have not yet surrendered: pride, selfishness, lustful thoughts, anger, unforgiveness? When we came to the Lord, our soul was filled with cockroaches. It is a lifelong process to bring light to those dark areas.

Paul said in Ephesians 5:11, “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness.” In Colossians 1:13, he said, “[God] has rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.” That’s past tense. It has already happened. He sees us already complete in Christ (Colossians 2:10), new creations (2Corinthians 5:17), partakers of His divine nature (2Peter 1:4) and more than conquerors (Romans 8:37). That doesn’t sound like a cockroach to me.

We are separated from the light by veils of guilt, shame, unforgiveness and disappointment. In Christ, we enter a new and living way. The veil has been torn in two and we can step into the Holy Place.
The news reported recently about a man who had escaped from prison in North Carolina in 1968 but was captured in Connecticut after applying for social security. Someone who escapes from jail is free but looking over their shoulder. They are not free indeed. A runaway slave was free but not until he reached Canada was he free indeed. The Israelites escaped Egypt but they were looking over their shoulder as the Egyptian chased them. Going through the Red Sea meant they were free indeed. God wants us so free we are not looking over our shoulder wondering when our yesterday will catch up with us. Free but the drugs are chasing me. Free but I still have a temper out of control. There are bars I can see and bars I cannot see. Jesus declares me free indeed.

Romans 8:37 “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” If God’s Word says that we are more than conquerors through Christ, then we are. We are not going to become, we already are. We may be experiencing some failures or setbacks in life right now, but only good will come out of our situations because God says that “in all these things we are more than conquerors”. We have the victory!

God has placed us in Christ, whom He has exalted to the highest place in the universe. We are not trying to get to victory. We already have victory. We don’t speak God’s Word to get victory. We speak His Word because we are victorious.

The moment you accept Jesus as your Savior, you are born again and the new person inside you is more than a conqueror. Born again is not doing God a favor. I gave my life to God. It was so rotten He had to throw it away and give me a new life.

Perfection is what we are striving for, but perfection is an impossibility. However, striving for perfection is not an impossibility. We can only do the best we can under the conditions that exist. That is what counts.

If you don’t cleanup your kitchen, the cockroaches are going to move in. If you don’t cleanup your life, demons are likely to consider you their best friend and bring you all kinds of trouble.

Recognize that demons are not to be feared. They run and hide in the shadows and darkness when confronted with the light of the Holy Spirit. When I think of Satan, I am reminded of the wizard in The Wizard of Oz. He tried to be intimidating and scary but in reality he was a little guy behind a curtain. Isaiah 14:16 (NIV) describes Satan, “Those who see you stare at you, they ponder your fate: ‘Is this the man who shook the earth and made kingdoms tremble?’” Someday we will see the devil for who he is and say, “Why was everyone so scared?”

The devil will try to steal our victory. He will come against us with lies and fears, and cause us to be conscious of our failures and weakness. “Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for (someone) to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith.” (1 Peter 5:8,9) Who can he devour? How do we resist him? He devours the one who has separated himself from community. We resist him by staying connected to others who will support and hold us accountable.

No one has it all together but together we have it all. I will always meet the negative crowd on the way to a miracle. The road to transformation will be lined with scoffers. Who I run with is a prophesy of my future.

The devil will shout, “Who do you think you are? Look at your past!” God has something to say about my past: “Get over it.” What is keeping me from taking the next step forward? Phil 3:14-14

The rule of Satan is broken. Romans 6:6-7 declares we are no longer slave to sin. The old man died. A new person is living here. Someday we will stand before the Judgement Seat. The prosecutor will be Satan but our defense attorney will be Jesus and has never lost a case.

My job is not to push out darkness, but simply to turn on the light. I must let go in order to move forward. I am not chained to the past, I am choosing to hold onto it.

You say you want to get ahead. I ask what head do you want to get: the head is addiction, pride, pornography, anger? David had to confront Goliath to take off his head. To conquer in any area of my life, I must first confront it then pick up the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, and take its head off.

We face decisions every day in the areas of relationships, integrity, forgiveness, purity, in living the Good News. Light or darkness. Moth or cockroach. Your choice.

Close to the Fire

fire-173072The Pogo comic strip appeared in the1970’s featuring a possum and an alligator. It’s most famous quote was, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” I have faced many enemies: the pitcher who wanted to strike me out in grade school, the young man who tried to steal my girl in college, the boss who cut me down behind my back. Then there is the continuing lure of the flesh, the snare of unforgiveness. The most dangerous enemy I will face is me: my beliefs and my thinking. “I’m a failure. I’m worthless.” My mind wants to go back to what is known even if it is destructive. I know how to eat right but do I do it? I know I should drive the speed limit, but… It is mind renewal that produces change. Mind renewal is like learning to drive. It’s overwhelming at first: brakes, accelerator, mirrors, traffic. Oh My! But eventually driving became natural.

When I first came to God, I had a closet full of worldly attitudes, misguided beliefs and negative thoughts toward myself. I was born again but there was still that closet. The nation of Israel left Egypt in body but not in mind. That kept them from entering the Promised Land. We each face a lifelong process of going back to that closet and attacking another shelf. Who holds the keys to my closet? I do.

Jeremiah 12:5 (NIV) warns, “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?” Am I ready for the next level or do I want promotion without the process? Bishop TD Jakes says, “If I learn to do great things in a small place, I will be ready for greater things.” I am not ready for promotion without practice. Without the rehearsal, I will not see recognition in the performance. Without the practice, game day will be a flop. Yes, practice is boring. Yes, it is painful, but I must be patient with the process. If I compromise on the practice, come game day I will still look great in my uniform until I step out on the field and have to face an opponent. In case of fire, we are told don’t take the elevator. God wants a fire in my life. There is no elevator to my destiny. I must take the steps.

A few years ago while camping with our men’s small group I participated in what came to be known as the skunk dance. We were all seated around the campfire when one man gave a startled yell, “Look!” Down the trail toward the campfire came a very large skunk. We all jumped up and huddled on the opposite side of the fire. The skunk started around the fire one direction and we all shuffled to keep the fire between him and us. He turned and went the other way and we shuffled the opposite. This went on for a couple of iterations before he got bored and ambled back up the trail. The fire of God’s presence keeps the devil away. The devil is seeking whom he may devour (1Peter 5:8). We will not be counted in that category if we keep the fire between us and the devil.

Suppose a couple of minutes earlier I had excused myself to go down that trail to the restroom. I might have come back with a whole lot of stink on me. James 4:7 (ESV) says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” If I try to resist the devil on my own, he has no obligation to flee. It is when I come close to the fire of God’s presence in submission that I can stand against the devil’s attacks.

Fire signifies the presence of God. The pillar of fire led the Israelites (Exodus 13). Fire came down to consume Elijah’s sacrifice at Mt. Carmel (1Kings 18). Tongues of fire descended on the disciples at Pentecost (Acts 2). The fire is not just words on a page in a book we call the Bible. It is the living Word written on our hearts. The fire is the Holy Spirit that leads us and guides us into all truth (John 16:13).

Ever experienced being handcuffed? Daniel 3 tells the story of three young Jewish men who were handcuffed and thrown into a furnace for not bowing down in worship to the king’s statue. What burned off? The ropes, the bondage. Isaiah 43:2b (NIV) promises, “When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” What will burn in that fire? The bondage, the addictions, the guilt.

One of the most repulsive insects I have encountered is the tick. Thinking about them makes my skin crawl. In grade school I had a pet dog names Butch. He loved to roam through the woods near our home but he would come back infested with ticks. Those little suckers (literally) would swell up to the size of a dime. Is my soul burdened with ticks of anger, unforgiveness, lust or greed sucking the life blood out of me? Do you think those ticks can stand the fire of the Holy Spirit? I don’t think so!

Without glasses I don’t see a clear picture. I want to see myself through God’s glasses. The prodigal son was unable to forgive himself thinking, “I’m not worthy, I will just be a slave.” The father wouldn’t even listen to him. My worth is not based on my performance. Others may look at me that way, even those in the church may look down at me, but my worth is based on my relationship with the Father.

In order to grow spiritually I must understand who I am in Christ. It was by His mercy that my sins are forgiven and more than that I have received His righteousness. As I understand that, I will gradually do more things right. God has put a seed in me, a seed of patience, a seed of integrity, a seed of love. Now my job is to nurture that seed so it will grow strong. Inside an acorn is everything needed for a tree. It may just look like a nut but it is in there. I don’t need people who look at me and say, “He’s a nut!” I need people who will see the tree inside, the potential inside, the destiny inside and celebrate it.

I have downloaded music to my phone. It’s in there but I must take certain steps to get it to come out. God has downloaded His character into me. I am patient. I may not act very patient but I have it inside me. I just need to learn to let it out.

The fruit of the Holy Spirit is in me. I have the ability. In 2Corinthinas 12:9 (NIV), God tells us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” His grace empowers me.

Paul tells us to “press toward the prize.” (Philippians 3:14) Why does he say “press”? Because there will be resistance. I need to push against the pressure to go back. I am forgiven. I need to confess that; speak it out. Revelations 12:11 says, “They triumphed over him (the devil) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” Our two year old grandson is just learning to talk and his mother frequently reminds him, “use your words.” I need to use my words to enforce the victory.

Growing up I was taught not to talk back to my elders. Now the devil is older than me, but it is OK for me to talk back to the devil. I may not feel righteous; I may not feel victorious; I may not feel loved. Will I believe my feelings or believe the truth? I can’t wave a magic wand over you and make all those feelings go away. It takes a change of thinking.

Philippians 2:12 (NIV): “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” What will you do after you read this? Paul tells me to work out my salvation. (Note: that is not work FOR salvation, but it will take work to see the salvation that is in me to start showing up on the outside.) Keep at it. I can develop muscles through daily weight training. How quickly will I lose them if instead of exercising I lie on the sofa all day munching on chips? Vs. 13 tells us this happens by God’s power not mine. I can’t change myself.

Ephesians 1:4 (NIV) declares, “For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight.” Holiness comes from my position in Christ, my identity in Him. From knowing my identity comes a desire to live right. Religion will say, “Better clean up your act, mister. God is really mad at you.” Relationship says, “Come close to the fire.”

From age 22 to about 45, I suffered from migraine headaches. They got progressively worse until I had them almost every day. I learned about God’s healing power and began to cry out to Him, “God, please heal me. Please take these away.” But nothing happened. Finally I said, “OK, God. If you want me to have these, I accept that. I just want to worship you; I want to come close to you.” A few weeks later I stopped and realized I hadn’t had a migraine in over two weeks. The fire of His presence had done its work.

The fire of God’s presence produces change. God is not interested in your quitting drugs; He is interested in your getting close to the fire.  God is not asking you to stop sleeping around; He is asking you to get close to the fire. God doesn’t care if you throw out the pornography; He wants you to get close to the fire. God is not looking for you to become more humble, more loving or more forgiving: He is looking for you to get close to the fire. He is not so much concerned with our actions as He is with seeing a change of heart. If you feel drawn back to alcohol what is the problem? What is the solution? You have pulled back from the fire and you need to again draw close. You don’t need to try to change; you just need to get close to the fire.

There are those reading this today who struggle with addiction to alcohol, to meth, to coke. God is not expecting you to change. He is calling you to get close to the fire. The fire will bring about the change. The fire will burn out addictions. The fire will restore relationships. The fire will produce the transformation we each need. Do you want your life to be better? It won’t happen by just trying harder. It will happen when you come close to the fire! Worship Him. Seek His presence. Our goal is obedience. Our goal is the walk with Him. That will happen when we come close to the fire.

Let the Fire Fall

FirefallWhen I was five, my folks took me camping in Yosemite National Park. At that time, each evening visitors would gather at Camp Curry in Yosemite Valley and the ranger would call out, “Let the fire fall.” 3,000 feet above the valley on Glacier Point, a huge bonfire had been built and on that signal, bulldozers would begin pushing it over the cliff forming a spectacular fire fall in the darkness. Today if you visit Yosemite and ask the ranger, “When does the fire fall?” he will respond, “I’m sorry, the fire doesn’t fall here anymore.” How often is that a picture of our lives? There was a time when I said, “Lord, come into my life.”, a time when I was full of hope at what God could do in my life, but perhaps today the flame has dwindled and faded and is almost out.

When our children were small we camped frequently and I was always responsible for the campfire. I love the sound of a crackling campfire first thing in the morning, the warmth in my face and hands to chase away the morning chill. Each night we would have a big campfire with roasted marshmallows and s’mores, but in the morning the fire was only embers. I would dig down through the ashes to those embers, add some paper and wood, blow on it and soon the fire would be crackly and warm again. In 2Timothy 1:6 (NIV) Paul says, “I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God.” Don’t let the flame go out; keep it bright.

I can’t say I ever completely walked away from God, but there were long periods where the fire was down to embers buried under a lot of ash. My 20’s were a particularly cold period with a worldly focus, spiritual stagnation and putting God in a Sunday box. I was the proverbial submarine Christian: I surfaced on Sunday but the rest of the week I spent under the surface. Praise God the last 30 years have been a time of reigniting the fire and moving from glory to glory. Today ministry in our county jail motivates me to keep the fire hot. Charles Spurgeon, a British preacher in the 1800’s, said, “If there is no fire in the sermon, throw the sermon in the fire.”

Matthew 25 tells the story of five foolish young ladies at a wedding feast who did not bring enough oil for their lamps as they waited for the bridegroom to arrive. When he finally arrived they found that their flames were dying. That is a picture of our lives when we let the oil of the Holy Spirit run low and we can no longer burn brightly in a dark world. Stir up the flame. Let the fire fall.

One of my favorite Bible stories is recorded in 1Kings 18. The prophet Elijah confronts the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. Two sacrifices were prepared, one for the Lord and one for Baal. Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to pray to their god to send fire to consume the sacrifice, but they could not. Elijah prayed and God answered with fire. The result was revival within Israel.

The people of Israel made a choice; I must make a choice. I choose my thoughts. 2Corinthians 10:5 (NKJV) tells us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” What is my self-talk: “I’m a failure. Nobody cares about me. Nothing will improve.” And the flame dies down. “I am the righteousness of God in Christ. I am more than a conqueror. Nothing can separate me from the love of God.” And the flame burns bright. As our late pastor put it: “I cannot consistently act in a way inconsistent with the way I see myself.” I can put up a front for a while but inevitably I will fall back in line with how I think. We need the fire of God. Let the fire fall.

Have you seen the electric fireplaces with fake logs and lights to imitate flames? That is a picture of our spiritual life when we just put on a show. As I described, I was just fake logs for many years. In 2Timothy 3:5 (NLT), Paul warns, “(There will be those in the church who) will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!” Only the fire will burn out addictions. Only the fire will heal families. Only the fire will make the snake run. The devil runs from the fire. He knows he will experience the flames soon enough. We are not called to put up with the devil’s oppression, to just hang on till Jesus comes, to live in depression and hopelessness. Instead let the fire fall.

Proverbs 26:20 (NLT) observes, “Fire goes out without wood.” Pretty profound, huh? If my life is in ashes, I need to ask what fuel have I given my spirit? Have I neglected Bible reading, prayer, worship or forgiveness?

I don’t need a fire that only lasts during a Sunday service. I need a fire that comes from the depth of my soul. I can’t afford to depend on someone else to pump me up. It’s got to come from deep within. I need fire in the way I worship, fire in the way I love my wife, fire in the way I do my job, fire in the way I wash the dishes. Fire! The devil comes to steal, kill and destroy: to steal the fire, to kill the flame, to destroy the passion.

Ho hum just doesn’t cut it. Ho hum doesn’t produce victory. Revelations 3:16 (NIV) says, “So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” In Luke 24, Jesus appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus. He opens the Scriptures about Himself to them and suddenly vanishes. In verse 32 they respond, “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” Ever had heartburn? We need our hearts to burn. We need the fire.

Several years ago forest rangers in Redwood National Park became concerned because a new generation of redwoods was not growing. Study showed that the cause was fire control. Redwood seeds have a hard shell that must be burned away in order for the seed to germinate. Years of tight controls on forest fires in the park had prevented the seeds from experiencing the fire they needed for life. We need the fire to burn off the hardness of our hearts.

What have I given up on? Where have I invested more than I got back? When have I been better to people than they have been to me? When have I served others but haven’t received the help I need or sacrificed for a spouse or girlfriend and they have not been faithful? I worked 22 years for the company, faithfully doing my job, making sacrifices, working extra hours when needed, rarely taking a sick day and then one day my boss called me in and told me I was being let go. Short changed. We raised our son, nurtured him, protected him, taught him. We dreamed together with him of a future full of promise until all the dreams were ended in an instant by a drunk driver. Short changed. Life is not fair and I have to deal with the hurt of being short changed. If this hadn’t happened… If that hadn’t happened… I have been short changed and the fire runs low.

In 2Samuel 9, Mephibosheth, grandson of King Saul, son of David’s best friend Jonathan, is living in Lotibar. Wikipedia translates Lotibar as “the place of no pastures.” There is nothing green, nothing growing. It is a place of silent frustration, because I have given up and tried to make the best of a bad situation. The Lord has not forgotten. He has you on His mind. Don’t stay in Lotibar. I don’t care if you have to crawl out. You have been down long enough. You have cried long enough. It is time for the fire to fall again.

A windstorm will blow down trees with weak roots. There will be storms in life that will shake us. Whether we stand depends on our roots. Ephesians 3:16-19 (NKJV) says, “That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Am I going through things I would rather not go through? Am I stuck in a place I would rather not be? Our suffering doesn’t glorify God but our attitude in suffering does. A tree with deep roots looks the same to our eyes whether rain storm or drought. It is not defined by circumstances.

Trying times are not the times to stop trying. Read that again: Trying times are not the times to stop trying. In Isaiah 48:10 (NIV), God says, “See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” Silver is put into the furnace and melted so the impurities will float to the top and be scraped off. The only way I will know how deeply rooted I am in God is to go through the trials. I want to pass the test so I don’t have to take it over. I can hear the Word, I can jump up and down and shout amen but if I don’t take it in deep, meditate and let it roll around on the inside, squeeze it for all its worth, I won’t have the roots needed to stand.

If my faith level is low it means my Word level is low. If I ate breakfast this morning and fasted until breakfast next week I would drag myself through the day with hallow cheeks and dark circles under my eyes. I do the same for another week and I will be needing a wheel chair because I will be too weak to stand. Another week the same and you won’t see me at all because I’ll be dead. I whine because my faith is weak but I don’t pick up my Bible but once a week? Duh!!

There is lust and there is passion. I might go to a classic car show: “Look at that old caddy! Wow, the ’53 Buick is somethin’ else! Look over here!” That is lust. But say I have a passion for Mustangs I will walk into that show and beeline for the Mustang. I get a new car; I’m out there every weekend washing it. A bird flies over it: “Don’t you dare.” A dog walks by: “Don’t even think about it.” Then pretty soon there are candy wrappers on the floor, the weekly washings become less frequent to the point kids are writing “Wash me” across the trunk. The fire has gone out.

It was Dec. 31, 1964. I was at a New Year’s Eve party not expecting a life changing night when this girl walked in. Ooh eeh! Now if I had just stayed across the room and just looked I would have stayed at the level of lust. But instead I met her, focused on her that night, got her phone number and over the years developed passion. I may have started with lust but it is passion that sustains. We celebrated 46 years of marriage this month.

What puts fire in your belly? What is your passion? Women/men, drugs, money, popularity? Where your passion is, there will be your focus and your direction.  How do I become passionate for God? How do I get on fire for Him? Unless my passion is all consuming, it will not sustain me through difficult times.

Passion for God takes more than a feeling. “I don’t feel like going to church. I don’t feel like reading my Bible.” That is called lazy and Joyce Meyer says, “Lazy Christians are not victorious Christians.” What will it take to move beyond feelings?

  • Get to know God: When I first met that young lady in 1964, I wanted to get to know her: what movies she liked, where she went to school, did she have a boyfriend. Our Father is the God of salvation, healing, wisdom, strength, abundant life. Get to know Him.
  • Communicate: We spent hours talking and talking about family history and future dreams. I speak to God in prayer. I listen to His word in the Bible. If I have passion for God I will spend time with Him. The tragedy of the premarital sex culture is the loss of communication. When the focus is how fast we can get into bed the time for true intimacy (into-me-see) is lost.
  • Walk in unity: A common vision is needed to move forward. If my future wife had wanted 6 kids and I didn’t want any, our future together was in trouble. If a campfire pops an ember out onto the ground, it soon cools, but return it to the fire and it retains its strength. Acts 1:14 (NLT) describes how 120 believers were “united in prayer” for 10 days prior to Pentecost. The birth of the church came from that unity. What does unity look like?
    • Forgiveness. Nothing divides friends faster than unforgiveness.
    • Servant spirit. As long as I look for what’s in it for me, I will bring division but if I live the life of servanthood, placing others before myself, unity will grow.
  • Eliminate the competition: I wear a simple gold band on my left hand. As far as jewelry is concerned, it’s value is pretty low but it represents a marriage covenant. In my relationship with God, there can be no off ramps. If the flame starts to get low I don’t start looking for another campfire to go to; I look for the fuel to build this one back up. I return to the roots of repentance, forgiveness, service and worship.

I don’t want anyone to look at my life and say, “He was on fire once, but the fire doesn’t fall here anymore.” Maintaining the passion, keeping the fire takes a daily decision. I want the fire of the Holy Spirit to be the hallmark of my life. Let the fire fall.

There Will Be Willow Days

willowThe Feast of Tabernacles was a celebration of a successful harvest season at the same time being a reminder of God residing with His people for 40 years in the wilderness. Leviticus 23:40 (NLT) commands, “On the first day gather branches from magnificent trees–palm fronds, boughs from leafy trees, and willows that grow by the streams. Then celebrate with joy before the LORD your God for seven days.” Leafy trees I think represent provision and abundance. The palm in Scripture spoke of victory and success. Think Hawaii; think happy dance. The willow, on the other hand, represents tears, trials and adversity. Life is a combination of all of these. We have palm days and willow days. I will not have palm days all the time; I will not have weeping willow days all the time. Life is a mixture but through it God is the same, unchanging. His goodness is with me all the time. He is not just the God of palm days. God is there in the valley, in the tears.

Deuteronomy 31:6 (NIV) says, “He will never leave you nor forsake you.” Willow days do not mean I am out of the presence of God. Happy days, experiencing His blessing, are good but they are not a sign that God is with me more strongly. He is unchanging. I need to learn to rejoice through it all. Paul in Philippians 4:12 (NIV) said, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Whether in a palace or a prison, Paul made the decision to praise. How is that even possible? He goes on in verse 13, “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.”

A palm day can switch to a willow day in an instant. I might be enjoying a beautiful spring day cruising down the street until the blue lights start flashing in the rear view mirror. About 4 years ago I was walking into church anticipating a great service. There was a light dusting of snow that covered an icy patch. Down I went fracturing my pelvis. Palm to willow in the blink of an eye. Philippians 4:4 commands, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” There are days when I feel tore up from the floor up, but even if it is a willow in my hand, God says rejoice.

Ever notice how we make a bigger deal of our willow days than our palm days? We whine, complain and make sure everybody feels sorry for us (not that anybody cares because they are too busy focused on their own problems.) Is the only time God can get my attention is when I am in trouble? Is that why I am so often in trouble? Reality is that in good times we tend to coast. Over 40 years ago, I broke my hand playing volleyball. Today I can still feel where the break occurred, not because it is still broken, but because it grew back even stronger. Our trials make us stronger.

I tend to think of palm days as no big deal while I make a big deal about my trials. I need to make a big deal about my blessings too. We ought to shout so much about our blessings we get on our neighbor’s nerves. How do we pray? Is it always needs and petitions (willows) or do we focus on worship and thanksgiving (palms)?

There is man-made pain: war, crime, hated and prejudice. There are natural disasters: floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, also sickness and disease. Where is God in that suffering? Isaiah 53:5 promises, “By His stripes we are healed.” Yet our Pastor died of cancer. My son was killed by a drunk driver. Nearly every day we read of terrorist attacks, bombings or beheadings. Psalm 23:4 says we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Aren’t we under the shadow of death our whole lives? From the day I was born I was on my way to leaving this world. James 4:14 (NIV) tells us, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”

Romans 8:16-17 (NKJV): “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,  17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ…” Wouldn’t it be nice if the verse ended there, but it goes on, “if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” We like to skip over the “suffer” part. I don’t suffer for the victory Jesus achieved on the cross, but I will face negativity, face my own laziness and face the desires of my flesh. I can say Jesus is Lord but am I willing to go through the challenges of serving Him as Lord?

The passage continues with verse18, “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will reveal to us later.” I have lost a child, but that pain does not compare to the joy of being reunited in heaven. I will not minimize or trivialize the pain we go through: it’s bad. God is not expecting us to ignore the pain or deny the hurt. But that does not compare to the glory to come. Yes, life here sucks. But there is more to life than here on earth.

David had his share of struggles. His older brothers looked down on him. King Saul used him for target practice with his javelin. He spent years running for his life. But 1Samuel 30:6 says David encouraged himself in the Lord. In our battles if we will turn to God we will be strengthened to find joy and peace. Isaiah 43:2 (NKJV) says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.” There is a key word here, repeated three times. Did you catch it? When you go THROUGH…

Romans 8:19 tells us we lost union with God at the Garden and all creation was placed under a curse. Now all of earth groans because the door was opened to the devil. My spirit is reborn but my body will still struggle with negative habits, destructive desires, addictions. If I’m a Christian, why do I still deal with all this junk? That’s my flesh. There is a battle, a fight of faith. Satan is trying to destroy me. He won’t stop with a pornographic web site or an attack on my marriage or filling me with fear and depression. Those are just little steps along the way. He wants to see me lose my hope and my faith in God.

Romans 15:13 (NLT): “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him.” My joy and peace don’t come from my circumstances. They come from faith. If I let go of hope because of the circumstances, what is left? I won’t get better, only bitter. Look at someone who is full of hope and joy. Is it because their life has been easy? No, they have learned that circumstances do not define them. We groan within ourselves because this world is rough. But that is not the end of the story. Breathe in, breathe out. If you could do that, God’s not finished. Our hope is not in the world, it is in God.

Some problems we bring on ourselves. Some are just part of life. In 2Corinthians 11:23 Paul defends his ministry. He doesn’t talk about his theology degrees or his CD’s or how many come to his services. He points to his suffering. What do you think his back looked like? Whipped 5 times, beaten with rods 3 times, stoned once. If I had to go through even one of those beatings, you can keep ministry; I’m out of here. To Paul it was normal Christian life. In 2Corinthians 12:9 (NIV) the Lord assures Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”

If I got a new job, I’d be happy. If I got a bigger salary… If I moved to a new town… Spoiler alert: I’m still won’t be happy until I change me. I am focused on my comfort while God is more interested in my character. Everything we see is temporary. If I define myself by what I own or where I live or how much money I make, my world view is messed up. 1Corinthinas 15:51 says this will all change “in the twinkling of an eye.” Everything I think is so important in this world becomes nothing the moment I put on that glorified body. I am not looking to get out of here, but I want to keep my priorities right as I am on this journey. The negatives in my world may never change but I can rise above them by trusting God.

We can get stuck in our problems and they define us more than our relationship with God. The problems I face may never get better, but I can get better. The mountain in front of me can become a barrier to moving forward or it can be the path to a higher life. The problems in life may never be fixed, but I can rise above them in Christ and not be defined by them. God isn’t going to fix everything. I don’t know why, He didn’t check with me on that. There will be times that aren’t fun. But that doesn’t mean He has left me or that He is finished with me. I can get stronger and climb that mountain. James 1:2-4 (NIV): “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” That won’t happen by running from the negative circumstances. When those struggles come do I look to the Lord for help or do I get angry and distant? I choose to press in and find joy and peace in Him.

2Timothy 2:3 encourages us to endure hardship like a good soldier. Life is a battle. We have an enemy. The bad day is not the time to skip Bible reading; that’s the day to spend extra time. “The Lord let me down. He didn’t come through when I prayed. I’m going to go watch TV.”  Who am I punishing? Do I expect God to feel bad because I am mad at Him? God is not my problem; He is the answer to my problem.

I refuse to let my whole being be defined by one tragedy. Shortly after our son was killed we were encouraged to join Mothers Against Drunk Driving. We attended a meeting where a speaker from out of town described her experience. She spoke with such bitterness and pain that we thought her loss must have been recent. Then we learned it had been 13 year before. That tragedy consumed who she was. My wife and I agreed we would not let that happen to us.  Romans 8:37 promises I am more than a conqueror. How do I introduce myself? My name is drug addict. My name is divorced. No, my name is child of God, a joint heir with Christ, forgiven and redeemed.

Let’s read these verses together (NKJV):

  • Psalm 34:1 “I will bless the Lord at all times. His praise shall continually be in my mouth.”
  • Psalm 103:1 “Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name!”
  • Psalm 115:18 “But we will bless the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.”
  • Psalm 30:5 “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”

Don’t throw in the towel during the night. A palm day is coming.  God won’t leave me in my darkness. If I am willing to praise Him in the willow days He will bring the palm days.

Let me leave you with one final verse, Revelations 7:9 (NKJV): “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” What is missing? No willows. No more tears, no more trials. That’s God’s promise.

Someday I Will Hear This Heart Again

Heart_Book Cover_PressReadyOn March 4th, 2000 our 22 year old son Paul and his fiancé Amy were struck by a drunk driver going the wrong way on the interstate. Amy was declared dead at the scene. Paul was airlifted to the hospital where he was declared brain-dead 3 days later, and we signed his body over for organ donation. (That was an easy decision because he had made his wished clear at 14 when is older sister was signing up for her driver’s license.)

Fast forward now to November of that year. I answered the phone one evening and I thought I recognized the voice on the other end as a friend who had moved to New Mexico a couple of years earlier. He asked if he and his wife could come over. I said, “Sure, it will be great to see you.” A half hour later the doorbell rang. When I opened it I faced a couple with their 5 children and I had never seen them before in my life. While my wife took the kids downstairs, I brought the couple into the living room and asked, “Who are you? Why are you here?” The wife’s name was Linda and she was Paul’s heart recipient. Recognize that the organ donor organization discourages contact, but a friend of Paul had left the funeral and was driving through the city where Linda lives. He stopped to visit another friend there and mentioned Paul. The friend knew of Linda and put the dates of Paul’s death and her transplant together.

Just before leaving the hospital we had each taken a few minutes to say goodbye to Paul. When I was with him, I put my head to his chest, listened to his heart and declared, “Someday I will hear this heart again.” That night eight months later, I heard Paul’s heart again.

Ezekiel 36:26 (NLT): “And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.” The first heart transplant by men occurred in 1967; God has been doing them for 2000 years. The recipient of that first heart lived 18 days; God’s transplant brings eternal life. Of course, I’m not talking about the cardiac muscle that pumps blood through our body. God’s transplant affects the essence of who we are, the spirit and the soul.

You may say, “But Gill, I am born again.” The reality is that we each have stony places in our heart. I may come to God and say, “I surrender all… expect the pride. I give you my heart… but I’m not ready to look at the unforgiveness just yet.” Today we might be soft hearted or hard hearted, open and loving or distant and untrusting of God with a heart grown cold. The good news is He loves you just the way you are. But He won’t leave you there.

The cells in my fingers and in my toes receive oxygen and nourishment from the blood pumped from my heart. The old spiritual heart was corrupt. Mark 7:21 warns, “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, etc.” What happens to a body that has been in the grave several days? In John 11, Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, has died and been in the grave 4 days. When Jesus asks that the tomb be opened, Martha objected, “There will be a stench.” Decayed, putrid: that is our condition with the old, dead heart. 2Corinthians 5:17 declares that I am a new creation, the old things have passed away. With a new heart I receive life and peace throughout my spirit, soul and body.

Let’s look at some Bible stories where God caused a change of heart:

  • Gideon (Judges 6) was so fearful of the Midianites that he hid his wheat in a winepress. In his heart he was already defeated. He wasn’t just in the pit of a winepress; his heart was in the pit of despair. When an angel showed up and called him a “mighty man of valor” he needed a new heart to believe it.
  • Elijah (1Kings 18) experienced a great victory against the prophets of Baal but when Jezebel threatened to kill him, he lost heart and fled. In his heart he had given up. Despite the victories fear dominated. God ministered to him in the wilderness to restore his heart.
  • Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1) heard about the destroyed city of Jerusalem. The dreams and hopes of the Jewish people lay in ruins, but God gave Nehemiah a heart to work and rebuild.
  • Jesus designated Peter as His right hand man yet when the pressure was on, he caved and denied even knowing Him. (Luke 22) He was consumed by guilt and self-recrimination that overshadowed everything he had experienced in his years with Jesus. His heart had sunk into a pit of failure. And Jesus reached out with forgiveness and restoration.
  • The Apostle Paul had a religious heart that lacked intimacy with God until he had an encounter on the road to Damascus. (Acts 9)

But not everyone will accept a new heart:

  • Cain had a jealous heart that pushed him into a choice to kill his brother Abel. (Genesis 4)
  • Korah and Dathan had rebellious hearts that chose not to accept Moses’s leadership and it resulted in the earth opening and destroying them. (Numbers 16)
  • Saul was selected by God to be the king of Israel but his proud heart lead to his defeat. (1Samuel 31)
  • Judas realized his sin in betraying Jesus but his unrepentant heart resulted in suicide. (Luke 22)

Matthew 22:37 tells us to love the Lord your God with all your heart. That doesn’t leave room for the old man, the old thinking. God does not tolerate competition. Matthew 6:24 (NIV) warns, “No one can serve two masters.” The old heart has to go.

I spoke with your doctor and the prognosis is grim. Your only hope is a new heart. What is required for a heart transplant?

Diagnosis

  • A heart transplant is reserved for the most critical cases.
  • I must recognize the devastation of my life brought by sin. Our original state is that our heart is sick, diseased and filled with sin.
  • I do not need an adjustment but rather a transformation. In Romans 12:2, Paul calls for us to be transformed, metamorphosis. It is the word used to describe the change a caterpillar undergoes to become a butterfly, no small thing.
  • Once the diagnosis was clear, Linda had to be ready at any time. Once the heart is removed from the donor it begins to die so there is no time to lose. She even had once where she was made ready for surgery and then the medical team decided it was not a good match. Am I ready for God to move on my heart?
  • If my physical heart were that diseased, if I was that close to the reality of death would I hesitate to put my name on the transplant list? Why do we draw back from spiritual rebirth? Romans 13:11 (NLT): “This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”

Doctor

  • Transplants are performed only by highly trained and specialized teams.
  • In the 70’s I owned a VW Bug and with it I had The Idiot’s Guide to VW Repair. Today you can get an idiot’s guide to investing, politics, world history, even quantum physics, but there is no idiot’s guide to heart transplants. I can’t perform the surgery on myself. “Nurse, hand me the scalpel.”
  • I can try to change behavior on the outside, but that doesn’t go deep enough and as a result it doesn’t last. That is why in Psalm 51:10 David cries out, “Create in me a clean heart.”
  • God already knows what is inside me. He is looking to do major surgery.

Donor

  • The donor must be carefully matched to the recipient for a transplant to be successful.
  • Jesus the only one with a true heart of flesh. A transplant requires a donor’s death. Our son Paul didn’t die voluntarily but Jesus did.
  • Heart transplants are extremely expensive, over $1 million. (How is your medical insurance?) I am a total charity case. There is nothing I can do to pay for a spiritual heart. I must depend on God’s free gift.

Diligence

  • If your heart fails because of the high fat diet or your lungs are destroyed by smoking or your liver succumbs to chronic alcoholism and you are able to get a transplant but don’t change your lifestyle, the new organ will likely fail as well. Whatever lifestyle choices that led to destroying the first heart will destroy the new one as well. I recently flew to Orlando. I walked down the jet way, into the terminal and who did I find there? Me! Wherever I go there I am. A change of heart without a change in actions will lead back to destruction.
  • Exercise will strengthen the new heart. Spiritual exercise is prayer, worship and meditation. I must develop a hunger for God. That is not a hunger for church, but for the presence of God in my life and for His Word. I attended church for over 30 years but I did it out of duty and social acceptance rather than a true relationship. 2Timothy 3:5 (NIV) says, “Having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.” Since I received a new heart, do those around me notice a change in my lifestyle? Would anything change in my life if I truly let Jesus be in control?
  • I had better take my medicine. The transplanted organ faces enemies: infection and rejection. The body will attack the new organ. Our old beliefs will attack the new beliefs. The medicine I need is Gos-pills.
  • Checkups with the medical team will detect problems. Ecclesiastes 4:9 promises, “Two are better than one.” We need others to give us perspective, accountability and correction.

With a new heart I can have peace in spite of circumstances, joy amidst tragedy. With a new heart, His love directs my choices, His priorities control my actions. Philippians 2:5 “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ.”

March, 2000 was a time of great loss for our family but we take comfort in the knowledge that out of our loss came life. Before the transplant, Linda was confined to a hospital bed, barely able to get up and walk across the room. Her days were numbered without that heart transplant. If I hadn’t received a spiritual heart transplant, I would be dead spiritually, without hope.

I got to hear Paul’s heart beating inside Linda. God wants to hear the heartbeat of His Son in each and every one of us. What is that area that God wants to revive? Maybe there is a relationship that has been severed by betrayal. God can revive that relationship or entirely new one is on the way. There was a dream of reaching new heights but the dream has fallen to the ground and God wants to breathe new life into it. Perhaps it is the hunger inside to be right with Him but you have never felt a real connection. God can restore a joy of life and a sense of purpose. Listen, listen. Thump thump. Thump thump. That’s the new heart. Are you ready to accept it?

In conclusion, let’s reflect on Psalm 51:1-2 (ESV)

 “Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.”

The Glass Wall

broken-glassI recently rented the movie Divergent. It takes place in Chicago sometime in the future. The world has been devastated by war. To keep from falling into chaos society has been structured along strict class lines: farmers, factory workers, intellectuals, government officials, warriors. Each youth upon coming of age must declare for a specific class and then go through training. The heroine in the story declares for warriors. Part of her training is to enter a drug induced series of hallucinations where she must face her worst fears. She finds herself in a glass chamber which is filling up with water. (See the clip at https://youtu.be/X70hGbGc2ZM) She pushes against the glass. She kicks and beats on it without success. Finally the chamber is full. She is drowning without hope and suddenly she realizes, “This isn’t real.” Repeating “This isn’t real”, she taps on the glass with her finger. It cracks. As she continues tapping it breaks and collapses, releasing her.

In your Christian walk, have you ever been going along pretty good and suddenly: Wham! You hit a glass wall. Something from your past is stopping you from going forward. Grief can be like that. 15 years ago our son and his fiancé were killed by a drunk driver going the wrong way on the Interstate at 2:00 in the morning. Recently we were driving home from Seattle, a 3 hour drive from 11:00 PM to 2:00 AM. My wife was asleep and I was left alone with my thoughts. I found myself studying every pair of lights that came at me to be sure they were on the right side of the highway. I was reliving all of the feelings and memories of that tragedy. Forgiveness is a choice I make to put something behind me, but sometimes a word, a picture, even a sound can trigger a memory and the hurt comes back. Then it is time to choose not to go back there. For me another area is pornography. That material was common in my home growing up and set a hook in a young boy’s mind. It is not nearly as strong now but still a book passage, a TV ad, a movie image will try to pull me back. For many smoking can be that wall. The physical need may be broken but the mental bondage is still there pulling them back over and over.

2Corinthians 10:4 (NIV) promises, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” The prison of the mind is self-created. In god we have the weapons we need to break out of that prison. “This isn’t real.”

I could get my dream job but with the wrong thinking it will be a disaster. I could marry my dream girl (and I did) but with the wrong thinking it will be misery. Matthew 12:33 warns us to make the tree good and the fruit will be good. Look at the root rather than the fruit. If my heart is broken, weak, confused, the fruit of my life will be bad. “Why does bad stuff keep happening to me?” Maybe it is the fruit of what is inside. Change the root and change the fruit. Change the thinking and change the outcome. If I change everything changes. I like the promise from Leviticus 26:13 (NLT), “I broke the yoke of slavery from your neck so you can walk with your heads held high.”

Romans 12:2 commands me to be transformed by the renewal of my mind. The battle is in my mind. The more I change my mind for the better, the more my life will also change for the better. The devil wants my thoughts. Why? Thoughts product actions, actions develop habits, habits determine character, character establishes destiny. Romans 8:6 (NLT) tells us, “So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.”

Stuff happens. Events occur in our life and we create a story to explain them. Being the oldest child is an event; feeling responsible for others in the family is the story. Abused is an event; seeing myself as unworthy or unwanted is the story created to explain it. The death of loved one may be seen as abandonment. The good news is I made up the story; I can change the story. The bad news is I tend to look for more evidence that I was right in my story.

D. L. Moody, a famous evangelist of the late 1800’s said, “I have never met a man who gave me more trouble than myself.” I will talk to a lot of people today but the most important person I will talk to today is me. What am I saying?

Repetition changes subconscious thinking. The key to change is to stick with it until the instinctive reaction changes. I drop a dish: “Oh, sh**.” I make a wrong turn: “What an idiot!” That is instinctive reaction. I will only change that instinctive reaction through repetition of truth.

There will always be resistance between me and breakthrough. It is easier to go back to where I am comfortable. The Israelite nation was delivered from slavery in Egypt by great miracles, yet they repeatedly complained about how good they had it in the “good ol’ days”. Well, let me tell you about the “good ol’ days.” They weren’t that great. I know because I was there and I would much rather be here.

Philippians 3:13 (NIV) tells us we should be, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.” In other words, don’t be looking at behinds. The past never sees the future. If I keep speaking my past I have not forgotten it.

Old habits will not see me through a crisis. As forces increase on the outside, I need to increase the force on the inside. Crisis is the opportunity to grow, to excel, to shine. Think about it: If David had not faced Goliath he would have remained a shepherd.

In Luke 7:36-38, when the prostitute broke the jar of perfume, that represented her earnings from her profession. Breaking the jar represented her break from her past, turned it into worship. I will not leave the presence of Jesus the same. In the presence of Jesus is the power to break the bottle of my past. Religious people will see my worth based on my past performance. Jesus sees my worth based on future potential.

If I didn’t drop nothin’ when I met Jesus, I didn’t get nothin’. Still got your stash of weed? Still got the numbers of your suppliers? Still got a condom in your wallet? What do you need to drop? John 8:36 promises, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” It’s time to experience that freedom through new thinking.

There is power for transformation in the Word. I was taught to have a Scripture verse for each finger. When someone flips me off I will know what verse goes with that. Individually a finger is weak but all together they have a special strength.

What is that wall for you? Smoking or alcohol? Meth or cocaine or prescription drugs? Pornography or adultery or fornication? Anger, pride, unforgiveness, jealousy? There is no shortage of areas where we can hit that wall. Let me help you get started. You need your own Scripture verses for the wall you face, but let me give you a starter kit. Stand up. Picture that glass wall in front of you. (Whoa, are you still sitting down? What’s with that? Let’s get with the program.) Here we go:

  • Hold up your right thumb: “I am the righteousness of God in Christ.” (2Cor 5:21)
  • Hold up your pointer: “Forgetting those things that are behind I press toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:14)
  • Hold up your middle finger (carefully): “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ.” (Rom 8:1)
  • Hold up your ring finger: “I am a new creation in Christ.” (2Cor 5:17)
  • Hold up your pinkie: “Nothing can separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 8:39)
  • Put your left hand on the glass wall.
  • “This isn’t real. Greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world. (1John 4:4) By the power of God’s Word.”
  • Now make a fist. POW!!

The Father Ran

hugging-571076_1280How do you picture God the Father? Long white hair, golden crown, sitting on a heavenly throne? Calm, in control? Do you picture Him running? The Bible does not describe the Father as being in a hurry at any time except once: The Parable of the Prodigal Son. When the father sees his son at a distance, he can’t wait to embrace him so he runs. That was very undignified for a family patriarch to hitch up his robes and run down the street, yet that is the picture Jesus gives us of the emotion of our heavenly Father in welcoming us back. God meets us more than half way. He is not holding a grudge for all the dumb things I have done. Coming to God does not mean condemnation but rather celebration.

When our children were small we took them camping frequently. Once when our youngest daughter was about 5, she went to the restroom and came out a different door than she had gone in. She became disoriented and couldn’t find her way back to our campsite. After half an hour we became concerned. We started searching and soon had other campers and the park rangers involved in the search. Do you think after 15 minutes, I would turn to my wife and say, “Don’t you think we’ve looked long enough?” Imagine a child getting lost in the mall while Christmas shopping. Even if her parents had to search for hours and hours, would they give up on trying to find her?

I’ve messed up big time. I’ve failed over and over and over. So God is really angry with me, right? Wrong. My failure is not bigger than God’s grace. Romans 8:31 (NIV) says: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Isn’t that something to get excited about?

Despite my failures, God invites me into relationship. Who am I in Christ? I am forgiven, loved, righteous and chosen. Being right on the inside empowers me to be right on the outside. I am a new creation (2Corinthians 5:17) but with the same thinking I will not see the newness in my spirit express itself in my life.

Winston Churchill said in the darkest days of World War II, “Never, never, never give up.” It’s easy to give up. That takes no anointing or empowerment by the Holy Spirit. John 10:10 tells us Jesus came to give abundant life. What is stealing that abundant life from me? I don’t have to be talented. I don’t have to be smart. I do have to not give up.

What is my level of obedience? “I know I shouldn’t watch that on TV but…” “I know I shouldn’t go there, but…” “I know those friends are bad for me but…” It’s not that I don’t hear from God.  I just want my own way and I will have to live with the consequence of that choice. I go to church, but what do I do the rest of the week? This is not about being weird. It’s about making choices that will bring good fruit in my life. God meets me where I am but He doesn’t leave me where I am. God loves me too much for that.

I have plenty of opportunities to feel sorry for myself, but where will that get me? I was laid off at 54. It is tough to find a good job at that age. God opened new doors for me. It is never too late to begin again. I count these as the best years of my life.

My future has no room for my past. Samuel anointed Saul as king, mentored him yet he was a failure as king. He became haughty and proud. God spoke to Samuel and told him not to mourn the failure but get a new vision for David as king. That choice was a historic success. God is never without a plan. That includes my future as long as I don’t adopt a bad attitude. How long will I live in regret? God is not the Great I Was or the Great I Will Be. He is the Great I Am, the God of now. Everything will change the moment I head in the right direction.

Philippians 3:14 tells us to forget what lies behind. Instead we are to be reaching, straining toward our future. I will not stroll into God’s destiny for me. I will not slide into it. Press! The past is trying to pull me back. It takes a strong effort to reach for that future that God has for me.

“I’m going through hell!” No you’re not. Sure there are hard times but this is not hell. And if you are going through difficult times, don’t pitch a tent and camp there. Get up and move forward.  I may wonder if this season will ever end. The answer is to keep moving forward.

When our son was killed, we faced a choice to focus on his death or move into a new beginning. When Moses died, the nation mourned his loss, but at the end of the mourning period God challenged Joshua to move forward. “I need a miracle, I need a miracle.” Get up and move forward. Too much of society today has a welfare mentality, dependent on the government, dependent on others. “Somebody feed me. Somebody house me. Somebody take care of me.” God says, “Get up and move forward.” That is when God will move.

Am I going to live cowering in the corner, hiding from the devil? “Oh, don’t talk about the devil. I don’t want him to notice me.” If I am a Christian he notices me, be assured.

A lion tamer uses a chair when he enters the cage with the big cats. Why is that? The four legs make it difficult for the lion to focus on one thing, particularly on the man. What is the devil waving in front of me? Sex, drugs, power, acceptance. I need to look at who is really behind those.

Is Satan putting a lot of temptations in front of you? That is a good sign. If I don’t come face to face with the devil, it means I’m going the same direction he is. The closer I get to God the more Satan will fight. Before I came to God I was doing a great job of messing up my own life, Satan didn’t need to help out. Now he is coming at me to trip me up. He wants to make an example of me. “You remember Joe, the guy who was always talking about God? He just got picked up for meth.” Satan has a victory.

The devil doesn’t want me to connect with God’s love because that is where my strength is. “Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.” (Ephesians 3:17 NLT)

Years of hearing negative voices, and years of replaying negative events have placed deep in my mind a negative view of myself. My mind replays these voices and events without consciously thinking about them. It replays them automatically.

I have to cut the umbilical cord, cut ties with the old life. My father spoke negative words over me: “You just don’t follow through.” “You’re weak.” “You won’t follow instructions.” Will I still be a prisoner to those hurtful words? Just as the doctor cut the cord to my mother at birth, I also need to cut the cord to those hurtful words. Otherwise negative power will continue to flow into my life today.

In Papua New Guinea, monkey meat is a staple of their diet. When the natives hunt, they place a banana in a narrow mouthed jar. The monkey will reach into the jar and grab the banana, but he cannot get his hand back out while holding the banana. The hunter can come right up to the monkey and club him but he will not let go of the banana. Am I holding onto something from my past that is bringing me death?

The more I face struggles in this life, the more my perseverance, character, and hope grows. Like the baby learning to crawl, I must to move forward with the hope that God is using my challenges to prepare me for bigger things to come. Dissatisfaction is the first step for transformation. Difficult times have a purpose: they push me into my destiny, shape my character, move me out of my comfort zone, made me trust God.

1Corinthians 2:9 (NLT): “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” The blessing is already prepared. God has to prepare me so when I get there I am ready to handle it. I can ask for a good wife but if I am not ready to be a good husband, what happens? A blessing given too soon is not a blessing at all. Give car keys to a 10 year old and what happens? The prodigal son received his inheritance but he didn’t have the character to handle it. We need to stop being angry and instead give thanks in all things. In the challenges I learn what I could not learn any other way. I press through rejection, I press through fear, I press through loneliness. When the devil thinks he has me down, I press. The devil wants me to sit down and shut up, but I will press.

I might not be able to change my circumstances but I can change how I think about them. God is more interested in changing my mind than He is in changing my circumstances. Change my circumstances without changing my mind and I will soon find myself back in the same place with the same problems and the same defeat. With too many lottery winners its “Easy come, easy go.” 70 percent of them lose or spend all their money in five years or less. My thoughts control my life. A thought doesn’t have to be true to direct my life. The mind is the battleground. Romans 8:6 (NLT) tells us, “Letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.”

In Philippians 1:6 (NLT), Paul encourages us with: “I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” What God starts He finishes. I may feel discouraged and want to give up. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9 NIV)

The world has its value system promoted by advertisers that say life is all about me. The transformation we seek is from Self-centered to God-centered, from “Give me my stuff” to serving God and others. 2Corinthians 3:18 (NIV) describes it this way: “We are being transformed into His image with ever increasing glory.” It doesn’t happen overnight. Psalm 37:23 (NKJV) says, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” “Steps” means it is a process.

Change is a process. Shortcuts are the devil trying to get me to take the easy way. What is the Lottery but a tempting shortcut to prosperity that is only an empty promise? Help a chick break through its shell and it will die. Why? The struggle strengthens him. A withdrawal first requires a deposit. Otherwise it is called bank robbery. The struggle is the deposit I make to qualify for the victory.

God hasn’t given up on me. I am not so far away that His arms can’t reach me. If I am willing to step away from the pigpen, to humbly seek Him, He will be running with His arms outstretched. I don’t have to run to God. I only need to turn toward Him and He will run to embrace me.

Time to Roar

lion-343387_1920Do I believe everything I read in the paper or see on TV? Do I believe what I read in the Bible? So why do I spend more time reading what I don’t believe than what I do believe? “But the one who peers into the perfect law of liberty and fixes his attention there, and does not become a forgetful listener but one who lives it out – he will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:25 NET) I want to fill my mind with the word of God.

When negative thoughts outweigh positive thoughts it’s called depression. Where do negative thoughts come from? Most of them come from within my mind: “I’m no good. I’m a failure. I’ll never change.” I talk to myself all the time. I am my own biggest critic.  In addition, I have all of the negative from the world. TV: bad news. Radio: bad news. Talk to your buddies: bad news. Where is the scale tipping? “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32 NIV) Freedom does not come from my own thoughts or from the world. The truth of God’s Word brings freedom.

A thought is an electrical impulse flowing through my brain.  If I think a thought often enough and it forms a rut in my brain. It is called being stuck in a rut. Romans 12:2 NKJV tells us not to get stuck in the world’s rut but “be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Psalm 40:2 NLT promises, “He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.” The Lord is with me. God is on my side. He is my rock and my salvation. Right thinking tips the scales from depression to blah and ultimately to joy.

Our life is determined by what is called the Law of Dominant Image. Whatever I focus on attracts and pulls me toward it. When I entered college, I had the image of becoming an engineer, so I took courses in basket weaving. No, engineering! I had the image of being married to this one girl. That image dominated my thinking, my dreams, my actions until I could see that image become a reality. I took her to the movies. I bought her flowers. I wrote letters. (That was before email.) All in pursuit of that dominant image. 49 years later she is still the dominant image in my life.

Race car drivers are trained when approaching a wreck to not focus on the wreck but on where they want their car to go. Why? Where I focus will draw me toward it. I need to change my focus from bad things to good things. I might be trying to resist looking at a pornographic magazine. “I’m not going to pick up that magazine; I’m not going to pick up that magazine. Oooh, isn’t she somethin’.” When I am on a diet I focus on food more than usual and the result is I want to eat.

I am not already as God wants me to be. Who is? Paul puts it this way in Phillipians 3:12 (NLT): “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.” I choose not focus on what has happened but rather on what I want to see happen. No matter how long I focus on the past it will not change. To change my thinking I must focus on the future.

“I wish I hadn’t…” That focus keeps me in a rut and stuck in the past. If I am imprisoned by my past, my future is the victim. I must focus my mind on my goal, what I want to achieve. Change doesn’t happen by accident, it is my choice. If I wait around for God to change me, I will just stay the same: the same habits, the same failings, the same consequences. I must cooperate with God in that change.

This is not positive thinking or simple optimism. That can be a denial of reality. Hope acknowledges my situation is bad but still I trust in God. David exemplified this in the 23rd Psalm, verse 4: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” (NKJV)

My desire to change must become stronger than my desire to stay where I am. Two things are needed: vision and action. I must see where I want to go and then consciously move toward it. Vision without action is wishful thinking. Action without vision is chaos, going in every direction without purpose or progress.

First let’s look at vision. My life will be pulled not in the direction of my desires or intentions but in the direction of the dominant image I allow in my thoughts. Is the dominant image in my mind one that pulls me back to the past or one that takes me forward into my future? Vision is needed before change. God gave Abraham images of stars of the sky and sand of the seashore show he could visualize his children rather than focusing on his being old and childless.

For many years an island just a half mile from Nassau, Bahamas was called Hog Island, an area limited to wild hogs and a garbage dump for the city. In 1959, investors purchased the island and renamed it Paradise Island. Today it is some of the most expensive real estate in the world with the Atlantis Hotel and other high end resorts. Bottom line: I treat something as I see it. An elephant is 80 times bigger than a lion but what does a lion see when he looks at an elephant – Lunch. Dominant image!

I formed the rut in my thinking by repetition, I will break out of that rut by repetition. If I repeatedly hear negative I will go in that direction. The Israelite army had listened to Goliath for 40 days. David came in and focused on the rewards. If I look at a problem too long it looks insurmountable. I won’t focus on debt but where I want to go. I won’t focus on cigarettes or addiction or pornography or dieting. I can change the image before me.

Our son and his fiancé were driving from North Dakota to Washington State. At 3:00 in the morning on the interstate in Montana he approached a curve and went to past a slow moving truck. He was hit head on by a drunk driver going eastbound in the westbound lanes. No one survived. For many weeks after Paul’s death I battled a stronghold every time I got behind the wheel of a car. I found myself looking way ahead to spot the car coming on the wrong side. If I had to pass a truck, my knuckles went white from the tight grip on the wheel. Driving at night was an ordeal. I had to make the decision to change the thinking, change the vision. I went to Psalm 91: 1-4 (NKJV) to renew my thoughts:

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High

Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress;

My God, in Him I will trust.”

Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler

And from the perilous pestilence.

He shall cover you with His feathers,

And under His wings you shall take refuge;

His truth shall be your shield and buckler.

If I bring the old thinking into the new opportunity, that stronghold will dominate the conditions, stifle the progress that is possible and ultimately pull me back to the old life. I need to examine the thoughts. Does this help me at my new level or does it pull me back? “I’m a failure.” Get rid of it! “I’m not good enough.” That doesn’t belong to me. “God is on my side.” That’s more like it. “I am victorious.” That’s what I’m takin’ about!

The lion is called the king of the jungle. We go to see him in the zoo. To us it is entertainment. To him it is forced captivity. What does he do? He paces back and forth, back and forth. He senses that he was meant for something greater. Even if he was born in captivity that sense is not squelched. It is time I rise up to the person God has called me to be. Everything in that lion’s life may contradict his kingship but it doesn’t change his true identity. Am I locked in a cage the devil has trapped me in, built bar by bar from the poor choices and sins of my past? Am I going to just make do in the cage? Not me! I am going to rise up with a mighty roar. I will no longer settle for the way my life has been. “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” (1John 4:4 KJV)

I can decide to break out of the cage where the enemy has entrapped me. Blind Bartimaeus threw aside his beggar’s coat (Mark 10:46-52) because he had a new vision. That coat was his license to beg, but he threw it aside because he had a new vision. He did not yet have sight but he had vision. I must throw off that which makes up the bars for the cage of old vision and move toward the freedom of the new vision. Philippians 3:13-14 (NKJV) says, “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

The devil goes about like a roaring lion to bring fear and intimidation, but there is another lion described in the Bible: the Lion of the tribe of Judah, Jesus who comes to bring life and peace. What is our response to the devil? Submit to God, to the truth and power of His Word. Then we are empowered to resist the enemy, to roar right back even louder. It is time to roar!

Zombies

tree-66465_1280We have seen it on the hospital dramas: “He’s going into cardiac arrest! Give me the paddles. Clear!” Zap. Beep…beep…beep. “He’s back.” We were all dead in sin: drug dealers, pimps, sex offenders, gossips, unforgiving or prideful. All equally dead. Just another cold corpse in the spiritual morgue that stretches for miles. But God… I call it the divine hinge on which everything turns. Here comes the power. We were flat lined spiritually and He put the paddles to our chest, “Clear!” and gave us a good zap. Beep…beep…beep.  God didn’t just bring us back to life. That would ultimately lead to death again. Jesus raised Lazarus but what eventually happened to him? He died. When God made us alive He went a step further and seated us in heaven in Christ so that sin and death have no more power over us.

Let’s read together Ephesians 2:1-10 NKJV: “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” We were dead in our sin, helpless and hopeless, but God… But God…

Zombies are a popular subject today in movies and television. If we could look into the spiritual world around us, what would we see? There are a lot of spiritual zombies walking around today; they just don’t know they’re dead. A person doesn’t sin and then die spiritually. He is born dead and so sin is just the natural outcome. Romans 3:20 in the Phillips translation puts it this way, “No man can justify himself before God by a perfect performance of the Law’s demands – indeed it is the straightedge of the Law that shows us how crooked we are.” The do’s and don’ts of the Bible aren’t there to make us better but so we can see our sin clearly. We chose sin, we chose the world, we chose death. But God, despite that, chose us.

Why would God do such a thing? Because of His great love. I may see God as cold or stern or angry. That could be based on what I learned in Sunday School or from equating God with an angry, earthly father. God IS love. It is not that God is showing love, not that God is loving. His very nature is summed up in one word: love. Rick Warren, author of Purpose Driven Life: “God didn’t choose you because of something you’ve done. It’s all because of who He is. You weren’t good enough, smart enough, or spiritual enough for Him to save you. He saved you because He loves you.”

Look at surveys and we will see that most people believe God exists. That doesn’t make them spiritually alive. James 2:19 (NLT) warns, “You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.” I know a lot of people who do good things but they are still spiritually dead. Many religions, some that even call themselves Christian, place their focus on good deeds rather and the redemption that is ours through the cross. We can dress a zombie up in a nice suit, comb his hair just right but he is still a zombie.

Israel was in a drought and God directed the prophet Elijah to a certain brook. As he stayed there he watched the brook dwindle and finally dry up. (1Kings 17:7) But even then God continued to provide for him miraculously. We can spend our lives worrying about our various predicaments. When we are down here facing the daily battles, mucking our way through the trenches of daily life, it is easy to forget that we are seated in heavenly places. I only have a limited amount of energy. That’s why I get tired and worn out. As a result, I need to not waste any of that limited energy on the past. Every day, I want to choose to focus my energy on what is in front of me and what lies ahead. (Philippians 3:13-14)

Before I was born again, I was a good person. I considered myself a Christian. I just kind of did things my own way, mixing in a little Bible truth with worldly wisdom and my own motivations. I went to church most Sundays, but God was someone I went to when I was in trouble, when I was hurting, when I had a need. I treated Him like a vending machine: put in a few prayers and out pops His favor. When the crisis was over I took the attitude, “Thanks God. I’ll take it from here.” The rest of the time I gave Him very little thought. Then one night I attended an Easter service that included a reenactment of the crucifixion. As I looked on a bloodied and beaten Jesus, I realized I only wanted God on my terms. Now He was calling me to surrender. I took that step and now live a life that has been changed by the redeeming power of the cross. This life goes beyond forgiveness of sin. It brings empowerment by the Holy Spirit. It brings focus to living.

Once I was dead spiritually; now my heart, mind and spirit are set free. Once my life was hopeless; now I have hope and security in God. Once my life was empty and void; now I can enter into the joy of the Lord.

All that we have, all that we are, all that God has done for and in and through us is IN CHRIST. What the devil wants to do is to get me to focus on my condition instead of my position in Christ. I am an heir of God and a joint heir with Christ. (Romans 8:17) Once I focus on my position in Christ, it gives me the power to change my condition and circumstances.

The Israelites spent 400 years as slaves in Egypt. They walked away from the Red Sea but they didn’t walk away from the slave mentality. Just like the Israelites’ enemies and their accusations were drowned in the Red Sea, the shaming, condemning words of my past life of slavery to sin have been silenced in the death and resurrection of Christ.

“And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” (Ephesians 3:18-19 NLT) All this wide and long and high and deep made my head spin until I read what Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill Church, Seattle wrote, “Paul wanted the love of God, like a plant rooted deeply in nourishment and able to flourish, to be a deep root in people’s souls. He wanted the church to know that God’s love is wide enough to welcome anyone, long enough to stretch from the beginning to the end of time, deep enough to reach down to the worst of sinners, and high enough to transport us to God’s heavenly kingdom.”

God commanded the Israelites to march around Jericho every day for seven days. In the natural that seemed like a really dumb plan. Why did God require that? Could it be so the people saw how hopeless their situation was without God? “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2Corinthians 4:7 NIV) When we are poor in spirit, we will recognize our need for God and we will have hands open to heaven.

In Matthew 19:16-22 NKJV, a young man approached Jesus and asked, “What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” Notice that he was looking for good works to save him. Jesus called him to break from the world’s standard regarding money. “Sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” The young man turned away. He kept his money, he kept his pride…and he kept his emptiness. We have traveled to Europe, Israel, Turkey, Mexico, Columbia, the Caribbean and Central American. Money can buy a passport to anywhere…but heaven.

Hey, I just want to do what I want to do!” But in truth we are doing what the world dictates. We chase after cars and houses and fame and acceptance. The world says, “Have it your way. Go for the gusto.” And in the end it is empty, spiritually dead, the path of the zombie.

The zombie is defined by the defeat and regret of past mistakes, but God… He can set our feet on the new path. “They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.” (Isaiah 61:1-4 NIV) Many come from families which have experienced division and devastation for generations. God breaks that curse and brings restoration. Because of Christ I am at peace with God. (Romans 5:1) I am a new creation in Christ (2Corinthinas 5:17). He has called me out of darkness into His marvelous light (1Peter 2:9). I am His workmanship (Ephesians 2:10). I am to be living advertisement for the blessing and power of God.

Faith is not complicated. It is simply believing. I show faith when I pop open a can of Pepsi and drink it down. I believe there is nothing harmful in there. I show faith when I drive over a bridge. I believe I will reach the other side safely. Salvation doesn’t come by baptism or by church attendance or even living a good life. Salvation comes when the light bulb of faith turns on and I say, “I believe. I recognize I am a sinner in need of a Savior. I accept that Jesus shed His blood and died to pay for my sins. I acknowledge He rose again and gave me new life.”

Jacob Marley in Dickens’ Christmas Carol wore a chain he had forged link by link through his deeds and choices. I carried the chains of my past choices and sin but Jesus removed the locks. Will I continue to carry them?

John Newton was involved in the slave trade in the mid-1700’s, until he recognized that apart from faith in Christ he had “no hope and [was] without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12 NKJV). But God… That was when Newton penned the famous words, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” Today I invite you to reflect on those words and, as you do, shake off the chains of the past and walk into freedom.