2016–SO FAR

2016 — SO FAR

I’ve been mulling over many things, trying to make some sense of the year 2016. It has been a crazy year thus far. I have refrained from voicing many opinions on social media about the insanity of this election year, but many thoughts have been percolating on the back burner of my mind so decided to get them down on paper. Whether this makes it to social media, I can’t say. Way too much has already been said and one more opinion really doesn’t matter.

My thoughts have not been tracking along the same lines as most others—taking any hardline positions for one side or another—but mostly reading and observing the way things are trending. In my times of prayer over the whole thing, I continue to hear the same thing:

“In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

That pretty much sums it up.

I have been reading through the Bible now since 1989 and though I don’t keep track of how many times I have read it through, I do know that my worldview has been shaped by the history of the nations and wars that are recorded there. If it is true that history repeats itself then we do well to study history. In the Judges passage above, Israel had been through many leaders—“Judges”—some who started off following God but after many years of slowly encroaching corruption in leadership and in the priesthood, they finally ended up abandoning the laws of God and doing what was right in their own eyes. The following quote attributed to Scottish history professor Alexander Tytler in 1787, seems to portray an accurate reflection of what has occurred during our 200+ years of existence as a democracy.

A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations from the beginning of history, has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence:

    • From bondage to spiritual faith;
    • From spiritual faith to great courage;
    • From courage to liberty;
    • From liberty to abundance;
    • From abundance to complacency;
    • From complacency to apathy;
    • From apathy to dependence;
    • From dependence back into bondage

These words were written two years before George Washington became our first President. Of course America was much more than a democracy; it was a republic built on a strong biblical foundation. For that reason, we have much to learn from the history of Israel, a nation built on those same foundations, and also from the Roman Empire. America shares much in common with the Roman Empire, which began as a republic, then gradually became a democracy and eventually disintegrated into utter depravity. They say the Roman Empire was never conquered; it disintegrated from within. Nikita Kruschev made the declaration in the 1960s that communism would finally conquer the United States without firing a single shot, and he outlined definitive long-term plans for this coup. It seems we have been marching right along toward that end for decades. We are now at that very point which he predicted.

In the mid-1800s, Alexis de Tocqueville, the French political thinker and historian best known for his works Democracy in America (appearing in two volumes: 1835 and 1840) and The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856) made a fact-finding journey to America to discover what made America great—because in those days she was great. In both of his books, he analyzed the improved living standards and social conditions of individuals, as well as their relationship to the market and state in Western societies. Democracy in America was published after Tocqueville’s travels in the United States, and is today considered an early work of sociology and political science. His analysis of our democracy is succinct and almost prophetic. As he wrote: “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money,” and, “Democracy extends the sphere of individual freedom, socialism restricts it. Democracy attaches all possible value to each man; socialism makes each man a mere agent, a mere number. Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.” And here is where we now find ourselves in this very important upcoming election.

From a purely Biblical worldview, which I find answers so many of the complexities we experience in life and explains human behavior far better than most sociological studies, I can see an almost eerie likeness to the rise and fall of the empires found in the historical narratives of the Bible. As in the passage from the last book and last verse of the book of Judges, when God’s way is forsaken, then men and women seek their own ways, invent their own gods and live according to what they feel rather than what is morally right. God demonstrated it time and again. When left to our own devices, we will always spiral down into moral corruption. Romans chapter 1 gives the formula and that formula hasn’t changed for the past several thousand years, repeating the cycle over and over.

After the nation of Israel fell into moral depravity and sin as a result of leaving God out of their lives, they began to cry out to God for a “King.” The cry went up, “Give us a King!” We find the story in 1 Samuel where a high priest Eli was sitting as Judge over Israel and his two sons served as Priests in the Temple. Eli was corrupt as were his sons, defaming the Temple and having sex with women who came to offer sacrifices. Yet, God was raising up the young man Samuel to be Judge over Israel. While Israel remained true to their God, God blessed them, but because of their corruption and godlessness, He had removed His hand of protection, allowing their archenemies the Philistines to defeat them in battle. The lament went out “The glory of God has departed from Israel.”

God Himself had not departed; but His glory had. At that time His glory rested on the Ark of the Covenant, and the Philistines had captured the Ark in the battle and set it up alongside their false god, Dagon. (God adds a bit of humor in the story by relating that as long as the Ark of the Covenant was in the temple of Dagon, Dagon repeatedly fell on its face until its nose broke off.) It is important to note this story because it may be that the glory of God has departed from our country, but He Himself has not. He is still here, living within His followers, those who remain faithful to Him and to His truth, just as there were His followers who remained faithful to Him in those days. In chapter 7, after the Ark had been returned to Israel, Samuel, now a much-loved leader of Israel told them this:

Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, “If you return to the LORD with all your hearts, [then] put away the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths [female gods] from among you, and prepare your hearts for the LORD, and serve Him only; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.” So the children of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and served the LORD only. And Samuel said, “Gather all Israel to Mizpah, and I will pray to the LORD for you.” So they gathered together at Mizpah, drew water, and poured [it] out before the LORD. And they fasted that day, and said there, “We have sinned against the LORD.” And Samuel judged the children of Israel at Mizpah [1Sa 7:3-6].

I make note of the fact that the admonition was to return to the LORD with all their hearts, put away the foreign gods and prepare hearts for the LORD to serve Him only. Only then would He deliver them. They obeyed. He delivered. We see this identical admonition repeated again and again in the stories of Israel and their God. In particular we in our country are fond of the 2 Chronicles 7:14 promise, “… if My people which are called by My Name shall humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” In fact, believers all over this country right now are claiming this verse, yet He hasn’t delivered or healed our land. Why? I believe it can be found in the fact that we haven’t really turned from our wicked ways, forsaken our idols. No, we don’t have carved images of foreign gods on our shelves that we worship, but we worship many other things—our electronic devices; our entertainment; our sports; our wealth; our immorality; our “opinions;” our pride and a host of other idols. I am not pointing a finger here—I include myself in this.

One of the things that we find as we read through the books of Kings and Chronicles when Israel had begun to have Kings instead of Judges is that most of the kings were corrupt. The words “… he did was what right in the eyes of the LORD but he didn’t tear down the high places…” is the sad narrative in the descriptions of many of these kings. A few, like Josiah, Hezekiah, and Asa, did tear down the high places. What are “high places?” In the days of the Judges and Kings, high places were the places where false gods were worshipped along with the true God. In the New Testament and in our day, 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 calls them “high thoughts that exalt themselves above the knowledge of God…” In other words, it is anything that we allow to be exalted above what we know to be true about God. We could spend some time here, but I will move on.

After the days of the Judges, Israel demanded a king, rejecting God’s plan for them to have His appointed Judges rule until the King He had predetermined had come of age. They wanted a King like the surrounding pagan nations had—they wanted to be like the pagan nations, so, He gave them what they wanted; He gave them a King—the kind of King they demanded. He gave them Saul, of the tribe of Benjamin and as Samuel told them, this king would make them serve hard military service and take their sons and daughters to serve in his palaces, he would levy a heavy tax burden on them and bring poverty. Their answer? “No, but we will have a King.”

God’s answer:

“… And the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them’” [1Sa 8:7].

Here I come to an important crossroad—what I consider to be the crossroad we are facing today in our country. We are at a critical juncture in that we have not torn down the high places in our personal and national lives. We have seen the torture and murder of 57 million unborn children and we have ignored the fact that God peeled back the veneer of our apathy towards abortion by revealing in the most unbelievable videos what really takes place in many abortion clinics—the dismembering of live babies in the womb and the selling of their body parts for a profit. We have followed the downward spiral of Romans 1—beginning with worshipping the “creation” (“environment”) above worship of the Creator. We have ignored God’s moral laws by sanctioning and legalizing same sex marriage and approving of it (Romans 1). We have turned our backs as a nation on our strong democratic ally, Israel, God’s land, where He has put His name. We have given preference and bowed down to the demands of political correctness of a radical Islamic jihadist organization (The Muslim Brotherhood). We fight for the “rights” of a black lives matter organization to riot and loot and burn down businesses, while we ignore the slave trade and genocide of Christians and Jews at the hands of radical Islam. I could go on, but we all know and have grown weary of the news. We have stopped our ears from hearing negative news and want to accumulate teachers who will tell us what we want to hear to make us feel comfortable (“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, [because] they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers and they will turn [their] ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” 2Ti 4:3-4). We have rejected true conviction from the Holy Spirit and there are now even accusations between many believers with one side leaning more toward progressive Christianity and who accuse other believers—those who still follow the old paths, of being “haters.” We have twisted the true conviction from the Holy Spirit—that which gives us our moral compass—into hate speech, if it does not agree with the new morality—thereby accusing the Holy Spirit of being a hater.

And so now we are crying out for a “King” of our own choosing. And God has set before us a cadre of men and women to choose from. It reads like a story out of the Kings in the Bible. We have a woman who is on the verge of being indicted for serious crimes while serving in the highest office in the land—crimes which endangered the security of our country and yet her supporters love her, even bordering on worshipping her (“The prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule by their [own] power; And My people love [to have it] so. But what will you do in the end? Jer 5:31). We have a Saul Alinsky follower, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist who wants to tax us into oblivion and bring about a Marxist political system—ending the democracy we have all enjoyed for over 200 years, turning us into a state-run Marxist nation. We have a bombastic and insulting man, boasting of his wealth, claiming to be a Christian while denying that he has ever needed forgiveness for anything and again, men and women who profess Christ are flocking to him in droves—again, bordering on worship. We have another man who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ, yet rumors are circulating of his moral failures and behind the scenes shenanagins. The divisions among political parties and sadly, among the followers of Jesus Christ, have hardened into violent, virulent hatred. It is grevious.

Make no mistake about it—God Himself has placed these men and women before us and God Himself is saying to us, here are the choices, according to your own demands. He almost seems to be mocking us, showing us how very far we have moved away from Him—away from His moral laws and His plans for our country. We have become a cartoon caricature of our former selves–a circus sideshow. It is the most pitiful state I have seen and I am ashamed and embarrassed for all of us. Most of all I am grieving. People I love are dividing up into factions, as King David said, “For [it is] not an enemy [who] reproaches me; Then I could bear [it]. Nor [is it] one [who] hates me who has exalted [himself] against me; Then I could hide from him. But [it was] you, a man my equal, My companion and my acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, [And] walked to the house of God in the throng” (Psalm 55:12-14).

But God…

He still cares about this once great nation and He is waiting to see what we will do. What will believers do? That remains to be seen, but my prayer is that our own dumbed down apathy will be removed and that we will honestly and truly pray and seek His face and turn from our wicked ways. He always responds to true repentance and He always resists the proud. I’m thinking a good place to start might be praying the prayer of Daniel (Daniel 9:4-19), putting in our own names. Daniel was certainly a righteous man, but he named himself among those who had “shame of face.” We begin by humbling ourselves, praying, seeking His face (not our opinions), and turning from our wicked ways. Only then will He hear from Heaven and heal our land.

I pray it is not too late.

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BROKEN BY LOVE

 

Broken By LoveISA 58-6

I spent the week before New Years very burdened for many things–people, events in our country, events in the world. I had read an article about the call to fast during the days in which we are living, people like Anne Graham Lotz also urged that we begin this New Year fasting and praying. Throughout that week, it seemed that everything I picked up pointed to this urgency. I asked God to give me His heart into what to pray for and how to pray and things began to coalesce into what I believe is His heart for all of us right now. To begin with, He gave me Isaiah 58: 4-6 (AMP):

“[The facts are that] you fast only for strife and debate and to smite with the fist of wickedness. Fasting as you do today will not cause your voice to be heard on high. Is such a fast as yours what I have chosen, a day for a man to humble himself with sorrow in his soul? [Is true fasting merely mechanical?] Is it only to bow down his head like a bulrush and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him [to indicate a condition of heart that he does not have]? Will you call this a fast and an acceptable day to the Lord? [Rather] is not this the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every [enslaving] yoke?”

I began to understand what He was asking then. A part of my burden was that there seem to be some who are unable to get free from oppression, unable to get free from “every enslaving yoke,” though they seek Him and long for the freedom they see in others. Some have experienced this freedom from time to time but discouragement and disillusionment has set in, creating a barrier between their knowledge of God and their experience of God. I can relate to this. I was enslaved in the same manner for many years. Saved, yet never experiencing the joy and abundant life that Jesus promised. Just when things seemed to be looking up, life happened. And every time life happened, one thing or another that was going wrong would sabotage joy. Joy was unattainable it seemed. My entire relationship with Jesus Christ, who promised joy and life abundant, revolved around this waxing and waning of whether life was going well or not. Whether my prayers were getting answered or not. Whether my kids were doing well, or not. Whether my finances were secure or not. Joy and the abundant life were fleeting at best, absent at worst.

What was wrong? What was I missing? When I needed Him the most, He was mysteriously absent, or so it seemed. How is it that I finally broke out of this roller coaster cycle? I can remember the cycle well, though it has been many years. During that time I had been reading through the Bible for the first time and it was like lights going off everywhere. Then I read it through again for the second time. This time the story began to unfold and I could see Jesus, fully involved in it all, watching as His beloved creation continued to be on this same roller coaster. They would receive His blessings and be happy with His blessings and then life happened, and joy would get swallowed up by real life. Then they would turn on Him and murmur against Him, and complain that He didn’t really love them. It happened again and again. It broke His heart. Can we break His heart? Yes, and He showed me how I was breaking His heart as well, in exactly the same way His people did then. I would experience a little happiness (I would not call it joy— not joy the way He promises joy), but all of my joy or happiness or whatever I wanted to call it, revolved around whether everything was going the way I thought it should go. It was whether Jesus was behaving like I thought He should be behaving and when He didn’t, I went into a pout and behaved like the spoiled petulant child I was. Since life rarely goes the way some of us plan, we spend a lot of time in the pit, out of the pit, in the pit, out of the pit. It is exhausting. We finally give up.

The central theme of the Bible is that God wants a relationship of love with you and every person created. Loving relationship motivates God. But love requires several things— freedom, risk, and choice. That means God chose to subject Himself to the same emotional relational roller-coaster ride love subjects every person to— the possibility of rejection and heartbreak. If you listen to the heart of God conveyed through the Old Testament prophets, God uses every relational metaphor we can imagine so that we might understand how God feels about us. God pours out his heart to Jeremiah the prophet when the people he loves keep rejecting him to love and worship other things.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love. I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. . . . Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him,” declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 31: 2, 20).

“I thought to myself, ‘I would love to treat you as my own children!’ I wanted nothing more than to give you this beautiful land— the finest possession in the world. I looked forward to your calling me “Father,” and I wanted you never to turn from me. But you have been unfaithful to me” (Jeremiah 3: 19– 20 NLT).

God loves us like a father loves a wayward child. Even though we rebel and run away, or break his heart, his Father’s heart yearns to show compassion, forgive, and take us back. But God uses even stronger relational imagery.

“As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62: 5).

God chooses our most intimate relationship to liken what he wants with us. As hard as it is for us to fathom, God likens himself to a love-struck groom who sings over his bride.

“The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3: 17).

Listen to the emotion in this passage that emanates from the heart of God— a wounded lover who just found out all he hoped for has been dashed to pieces on the shoals of adultery:

“My faithless people, come home to me again, for I am merciful. I will not be angry with you forever. Only acknowledge your guilt. Admit that you rebelled against the LORD your God and committed adultery against him by worshiping idols under every green tree. Confess that you refused to listen to my voice. . . . You have been unfaithful to me, you people of Israel! You have been like a faithless wife who leaves her husband” (Jeremiah 3: 12–13, 20 NLT).

Can you hear the emotion in the heart of God? As God reveals to the Old Testament prophets, when we forsake our Creator to go our own way against his will, and when we love other things more than God, it breaks his heart (an idol is anything we put first before God). (Burke, John (2015-10-13. Imagine Heaven: Near-Death Experiences, God’s Promises, and the Exhilarating Future That Awaits You (pp. 156-159). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

This is how God truly feels about us. Ephesians 1 is a love story to us. I read it and put my own name in it—that is how personal it is!

But some never seem to be able to really believe it. Some, like the children of Israel appreciated the “blessing” but never loved the “Blesser.” Their appreciation only lasted until the next time life happened, and then instead of remembering and thanking Him for all He had already done in the past, they immediately began complaining and murmuring against Him. They murmured among themselves that He really didn’t care. They complained that their lives weren’t going the way they wanted and they never thanked Him. They never showed any gratitude when He blessed them.

They Never Loved Him.

(to be continued)

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CONSENT PART II

20140726_192713CONSENT PART II

What happens when we consent? I can only speak from my own experiences. Of course, I can relate with the experiences of many of the men and women written about in God’s word, and that corroborates my own in many ways. But until I consented to His working to “will and to do of His good pleasure” in me, their stories were only stories for me. As He allowed sufferings, disappointments, depressions into my life, their stories became real and they became mine.

Once I consented to Jesus Christ and told Him I wanted Him to take the reins of my life it became the wildest journey I ever imagined. He has taken me to the highest mountain peaks of “God Highs” and back down through wilderness valleys and dry deserts. His presence has left me speechless and His absence has left me lonely. I pouted when I had to leave the mountaintops and lamented in the wildernesses as He allowed sorrow and trials to invade. But He has been relentless in His pursuit of our relationship, carefully weighing every ounce of what He has for me on the mountain peaks and every ounce of all that He has stripped from me in the wilderness. Nothing has been wasted. He sometimes allows me a peek behind His plan, but most times He only asks, “Do you trust Me?” I see Him doing that with the men and women in His word as well.

He is white-hot love, but He also remains a mystery in so many ways, and so I consent to the mystery of Him. All of my pre-conceived notions of Him have long since departed as I have consented to His mysterious ways. I no longer accuse Him of unfairness or of not being good after all, or if I do, it is short-lived. Everything He does is right and good even though many times it is shrouded in above-the-line eternal things and even though I don’t always like His chosen process. I’m no longer trying to impress Him with my own good works and I finally get it when He says things like “my strength is perfected in your weakness.” I get that. It is true—it really is.

He has taken me to the precipice of an abyss so deep that I teetered on the edges and nearly dove in, but He rescued me before I could. I have experienced black depression and no longer fear it. I have learned that when depression comes, I can stand, eyes fixed on God until the water rises clear up to my chin, and then recedes again. It always recedes. It comes—to pass. And I have learned from His word that many of His chosen ones experienced the same. And it came—to pass.

He has spoken audibly to my Spirit in night watches until I was forced to get up and write it down, His presence, so near I could taste it. His word has come so alive to me that I gulp it in—food, drink and sustenance. Other times, I merely read it because it is my habit to do so. I no longer rely on my emotional juices to try to work up a spiritual experience of Him. All of the spiritual experiences are at His bidding, not mine. They are not necessary to the relationship but oh, how precious when they come. As with my husband, there were those times when we could go long hours just sitting in the same room without talking, and relationship was as strong as when we engaged in heated discussion or the excitement of shared love. I remember once early in our marriage that I realized I had fallen out of love with my husband. It frightened me because being “in love” was supposed to last forever if it was real. What I learned though, as I held onto the marriage anyway, was that falling out of love was the best thing to happen. It meant that I would learn to “love” without feeling the emotional part of love and once I got hold of that, I discovered that I fell passionately in love with him again and again through the course of our marriage. I was surprised by love—it was nothing like the romance books and movies portrayed it to be.

Lest I forget, in this process of consenting I have learned some things about suffering. I haven’t learned it fully, but I am in that process. I have learned that there is something in suffering that produces—or rather exposes—rare, beautiful and priceless treasure and I would not trade any of it—not for anything. The nearness of Him is most palpable in suffering—ask anyone who has suffered for His name. I’ve never forgotten my friend Judy, dying of a horribly painful spine cancer, being wheeled in for a final surgery. As I asked her “Judy, how are you doing this?” she answered simply, “Kathy, you can’t have the peace I have until you are where I am.” I didn’t get that, but I was in awe of it.Suffering drives you to the nearness of Jesus like nothing else can.

In so many ways, this relationship is like a marriage relationship. It has its ups and downs, its distancing and nearness. There are times when I pout and try to get Jesus to respond and feel sorry for ignoring my feelings. In busyness, I can forget to talk to Him. Like my husband, John used to do when busyness crowded out relationship, he would insist that we leave the house and go for drives. It worked every time. Jesus takes me on quiet outings and insists that I rest—mind, will and emotional rest. It works every time. I understand the Sabbath rest concept more and more these days and I understand that He desires it as much as I do, so I consent to rest. A Sabbath rest—deliberately ceasing all activity, all screens and entertainment for a day, is the cure-all for our furious busyness and stress.

I think that if we looked at our marriages as a mirror of what our relationship with Jesus looks like, we might not be so anxious about the twists and turns that marriage takes. We might look above the line of our own little selves and see the bigger picture that it paints and why God made it the sacred institution that He did. No wonder the enemy has attacked Christian marriages so vehemently.

This relationship, like a years-long marriage, only grows more fully developed and satisfying with my Bridegroom and the older I get, the more I long to finally see Him face to face—not merely to escape the pain of this below-the-line existence, but to fall at His feet and to understand finally, what it has all been about. Knowing that this is yet to come, I consent to the life He has planned out for me here, no matter how trying, how difficult, how confusing. He hasn’t wasted any of it—He redeems it all.

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CONSENT

march5I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

I have had some things on my mind lately and as I have been pondering them from time to time, it seems that God is speaking some new things about old truths into my Spirit.

There are specific words and ideas moving around in this, namely: Consent; Sift; Repent; Overcome.

It began with the word “Consent.” In recent conversation with someone facing a downpour of family, finance and emotional, trauma, this person was lamenting that nothing ever changes in these situations and that the inevitable future was one of financial ruin, marriage breakup and a host of other things. The most recent crises were piled upon a host of other recent relationship sorrows. As I listened, I could hear the Spirit bringing to my mind “Consent.”

Another friend facing huge life crisis and potential life upheavals has been wrestling about in her mind with God, asking questions, facing that awful silence we sometimes face with Him and feeling that she is losing her faith in this process. Where is He? Why won’t He answer? Again, as she is speaking, the Spirit is whispering into my heart, “Consent.” A wise friend told her she wasn’t losing her “faith;” she was losing her “religion.” Amen.

So what does that mean then? I always seem to gravitate to Peter when I am faced with these things, and also to Job. Right now the world is in turmoil and the Church is also in a place of transition. Individual members of the body of Christ are feeling the foundations moving from under their feet and there is a sense of fear in this. I hear Jesus telling us that yes, this is happening, and that He told us it would which is why so often He repeated to His disciples (as God did to His prophets and leaders), “Fear not,” He is speaking this to us now. Peter was a brave man and he loved Jesus with everything that was in him to love. So, when Jesus said that He would be offered up as a sacrifice that night, Peter bravely defended him and vowed that he would never let that happen. Jesus, instead of telling Peter, “Thank you brother, I’m glad you have my back” said, “No Peter, you will actually be denying me in this process because you see, Satan has asked permission to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith would not fail, and when you return, you will be used as a strength to your brothers.” Can you imagine how Peter felt right at that moment? His brave desire to defend his Lord was turned into a rebuke and a warning.

Fast forward to 2015. I am hearing these words now I think. As we are being sifted within the body of Christ, I am asking many questions. “Lord, are we being sifted? Because it seems that the enemy has gained a whole lot of control and within the church, there are many teachings that don’t line up with what we have always been taught. There are many coming in as wolves in sheep’s clothing and as You told us in Jude, they would ‘come out from among us but not be of us.’ They would be spots in our love feasts. You warned us in Daniel 7 and in Revelation 12 that in these days, the enemy would go after Your saints and would ‘wear us down’ and overpower us. You exhorted us seven times in Revelation 2, 3 to be overcomers in the midst of the falling away of the church.

As in the recent conversations with the two mentioned above and others besides, I am sensing that just as Satan had been given permission to sift Peter like wheat, we will also be sifted like wheat. And just as Jesus told Peter that He was praying for him—that his faith would not fail—He is doing the same thing with us. Yes, He is allowing our “religion” to be sifted like wheat, because the only thing of value is our faith, and Jesus Christ will pray for us, that our faith will not fail. And that the end result He is after is that we will be encouragers to others who are facing these same things.

If he has permission, then is it time for warfare?

Or, is it time to consent? Not to Satan, but to Jesus, who has allowed it? And anyway, what is this sifting all about?

Sifting the wheat in the ancient Middle East was a process. It began with the gathering of the wheat and then the threshing of the wheat—breaking the hard outer hull of the wheat corn, and finally, taking the grain that was left after the threshing out to an elevated place and tossing the wheat corn and the hulls up into the air where the wind would carry away the chaff away while the good corn of wheat would fall to the ground to be used in the feeding of many.

I believe this is the process we are in. And thankfully so, because hard days are coming and Jesus wants us ready. He is not going to leave us lying around blowing leisurely in the balmy winds of the wheat field to be mowed down. He is not content to let us lie in heaps of stalks near the threshing floor to mold and rot. He is certainly not going to let us continue in our relationships with useless hulls of chaff. He is going to thresh us, in order to hammer out the hulls and to bring forth the solid edible wheat corn.

He is creating His last days overcomers.

And so, He is asking us to consent to the threshing. I am finding that this is different from what we call “surrender.” How many times we sing the hymn “I surrender all” only to walk out of the building completely unsurrendered. Consenting is telling God, “I am ready for You to go after everything in me that has been built on a false premise—my wrong definitions of You, my long held prejudices and judgments and critical spirits; my misuse of Your word, my cold love. My love for the world. All of it. I consent. And it is completely up to Him to determine what to thresh out. All we do is consent.

Consenting involves repentance but not the kind of repentance where we just agree that we have fallen short. It is the kind of deep, grieving over what we have allowed into our lives that have leaked in and built up strongholds around our hearts and minds and emotions. I am going to continue this thought in another blog as I attempt to unravel the mystery of sifting in my own life and in the lives of bewildered pilgrims along the way.

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Meaninglessness?

THE LORD HIMSELF GOES BEFORE YOU!They rejected the LORD’S statutes, the covenant that he had made with their ancestors, and his warnings that he gave them. They pursued meaninglessness—and became meaningless themselves—as they followed the lifestyles of the nations that surrounded them, a practice that the LORD had warned them not to do. (2 Kings 17:15)

At the risk of sounding like an Old Testament prophet, I read this verse the other day and then was drawn again to it this morning. It is speaking something profound and in this particular translation, the wording from the Hebrew adds even more depth. “They pursued meaninglessness—and became meaningless themselves…” Meaninglessness—Without meaning or value. Meaningless—Lacking any significance; having no real importance or value. They pursued things, values, entertainment, and fulfillment, in things that had no meaning or value. Because of this, their lives began to lack significance, having no real importance or value. They did this by following the lifestyles of the nations that surrounded them.

It is how I feel sometimes when I observe things happening around the world, and even within the body of Christ—pursuing meaninglessness and becoming meaningless. Meaningless. That word is haunting me as I look into my own life. Someone once said that we can tell a lot about ourselves when we look at what we do when we have nothing else to do—what do we turn to for entertainment, for pleasure, for filling up the gaps in our lives?

What constitutes a meaningful life? Speaking from personal experience, a meaningful life is a life that is lived full-on, all-in for Jesus Christ. It is a life that has learned from hard experience that there is nothing meaningful in the world system—not the music, the entertainment, the value system, the women’s movement, the demand for rights to be met, the temporary satisfaction of sex, drugs or alcohol—none of it fills up the empty gaps; it only leaves the gaps wider, emptier and craving the next false promise. These are the “gods” today, and just as the golden calves under the trees that offered nothing real, they promise fulfillment yet leave us meaningless.

What was it that the children of Israel had done that led to leading meaningless lives? In verse seven it tells us that they feared (were in awe of) other gods, then in verse eight it says that they began to walk in the ways of these other gods. In verse nine, we read “And the children of Israel did secretly those things that were not right against the LORD their God” It goes on in this downward spiral to actually setting up images of the other gods under trees, burning incense to those images, and last of all—they worshipped the creation rather than the Creator. They became awed by the gods of the world; they started walking—taking steps toward, the things (gods) of the world, then began secretly absorbing those other gods into their imaginations, and finally moved into actual worship of them. This scenario is repeated in Romans chapter 1, just in case we want to draw lines between the Old Testament God and the New Testament Jesus.

God, in His infinite love, sent prophets among them to plead with them to return to the LORD, Yahweh, the God who loved them deeply; the only God who could meet their deepest longings, yet they hardened their hearts and finally after pursuing meaninglessness, they became meaningless—without significance or value.

When life disappoints, when life expectations elude us, it is a dangerous place to be. The enemy can sneak in—unawares—and send in the “little foxes” which promise to fulfill our dreams. He’s a master at this. Trust me, I know. I have lived full on in both worlds; I have also lived a split personality with one foot in each. Meaninglessness almost always begins with disappointment. Disappointment dissolves into disillusionment, then into depression. Depression dissolves into despair—the feeling of utter meaninglessness; having no significance or value. From this downward spiral, we can add bitterness to the mix and it becomes toxic. Anger wells up, turns on those who love us, criticizes those who want to be there for us, embraces the failures of others, which temporarily soothes our own feelings of worthlessness.

My own experience with disappointments, disillusionments, depression, despair and bitterness is burned into my consciousness—something that God has never removed because in the remembering I can detect the symptoms which precede the spiral. Looking back at it now, there is absolutely no temptation to ever return to that dark place. He wants me to remember from where I came. Oh, I didn’t get there because I had never known Him. I had known Him. My disappointment began when He failed to answer my prayers for my marriage, and it grew deeper and darker as I fed my bitterness and embraced the false security and promises of the world.

Just as He did with Israel, He sent prophets to me, to gently speak His words to me from time to time. I recoiled at first and rejected the words, but slowly He begin to penetrate my feelings of abandonment and disappointment and worthlessness and He brought me out of that darkness and into His marvelous light. (2 Peter 2:9). And He didn’t leave me there—he set my feet in a large room–a “spacious place”; “He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me” (Psalm 18:19); “You have not given me into the hands of the enemy but have set my feet in a spacious place” (Psalm 31:8). The spacious place—the “large room” is filled with brilliant light, with meaningfulness, with thankfulness, with praise, with powerful music and He is there, because He is the large room and I can live there every day of my life—filled with meaning and purpose and love and forgiveness and peace and hope and joy and service to others. It is what He longed to share with the children of Israel; it is what He longs to share with us.

May I then play the part of prophet to someone today, bidding you to hear Him again? To call you back from the lure of the world’s meaningless attractions and into His marvelous light? He has not given you into the hands of the enemy—He has set your feet in a spacious place—because He delights in you.

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