Hesitant to Declare Judgement

I was recently studying up on Jesus quoting the Old Testament and found a great page published several years ago by Jews for Jesus entitled Jesus’ References to Old Testament Scriptures. I was looking specifically at His proclamation in the synagogue where He read from Isaiah 61 and then declared, “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” This occurs in Luke 4:18-21. Here is the Isaiah passage.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.
Isaiah 61:1-3

And here is Jesus speaking in Luke.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
Luke 4:18-19

What I found very interesting about Jesus’ speech recorded in Luke is where He stopped quoting Isaiah. I understand He had to stop somewhere but it appears He stopped in mid-thought. Isaiah is pretty clear about tying together “the acceptable year of the Lord” and “the day of vengeance of our God”. If I were reading this passage, especially with no chapter and verse marks which didn’t exist until more than 1000 years after the time of Christ, I would read through the vengeance of our God line. Jesus stopped before declaring vengeance. Isaiah prophesied both of Messiah’s arrivals on earth, His first advent to accomplish the acceptable year of the Lord, and His return to accomplish the vengeance of our God.

While on the earth for His first advent, Jesus did not continue reading Isaiah and was careful not to declare the judgement that will accompany His return.

A similar situation occurred in Matthew 26:31 where Jesus quotes the prophet Zechariah.

Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written:
‘I will strike the Shepherd,
And the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’”

The original passage is found in Zechariah 13:7-8

Strike the Shepherd,
And the sheep will be scattered;
Then I will turn My hand against the little ones.
And it shall come to pass in all the land,”
Says the Lord,
“That two-thirds in it shall be cut off and die,
But one–third shall be left in it…”

Similar to His quoting Isaiah, when Jesus quotes Zechariah He again stops short of finishing the thought of the Old Testament prophet, choosing not to lend His voice to prophecy of coming judgement.

If you’ve been declaring judgement over the nation, perhaps it would be wise to take a look at how Jesus approached judgement. Even when judgement seemed inevitable, He chose not to add His voice to it. Jesus’ voice, and our voices, carry much authority. Jesus was cautious what He said, even cautious about how He quoted scripture. We should do likewise. One of the defining characteristics of our Lord is His mercy. Perhaps God is not yet ready to judge this nation.

Better to Give

I recently read a passage from Hebrews 12 about shaking and asked the people I was speaking to if they had noticed any shaking going on around them. Everyone nodded affirmatively. Hebrews 12:25-28 tells us something about the shaking.

See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.

Job 38:13 indicates that shaking affects the wicked, Hebrews tells us that our kingdom cannot be shaken. There is another verse that mentions shaking that I’d like to turn inside out for you. Many people are familiar with Luke 6:38.

Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.

I’ve frequently heard Luke 6:38 read in relation to offering time. The focus on the verse was always with me as the recipient. If I give in the offering, God is faithful to give back to me. I always saw myself as the recipient and never really thought much about where the “measured back to you” was coming from. One morning I read this verse again and my eyes were opened to a new way of seeing it. I am surrounded by people whose lives can be described as “pressed down” and “shaken”.

Acts 20:35 reminds us of Jesus’ teaching, “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” From now on when reading Luke 6:38 it is OK to look at yourself as the recipient, but also look at yourself as the means God can use to measure back. It truly is more blessed to give than receive. It is definitely preferable to be in a position where you have the means to be a blessing to someone else. That is what we should all strive for.

More than Possible

At the end of the story of the Rich Young Ruler found in Matthew chapter nineteen, Jesus utters one of His classic statements, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” A little digging into this verse reveals a powerful truth.

When I use the word possible, I use it in a rather weak sense. If someone asks me, “Are you going to the movie tonight?” I might answer, “It is possible.” That is a weak answer that really means nothing more than “maybe” which is a not definitive. Possible means it may happen but it may not. In Matthew nineteen Jesus is absolutely not saying “with God everything is maybe”.

In Greek the word we’ve translated as possible is δυνατός (dunatos) which is closely related to the Greek word for power (dunamis). This word is used to describe what is made possible because of the power exerted by something or someone. In other words, there is nothing that cannot be the target for the enabling power of God that is in us as long as we are “with God.”

Possible is a weak word and I don’t serve a weak Jesus. With Him, all things are valid targets to be overwhelmed by His power!

Wilderness Wandering Awaiting Awakening

Many in today’s church have long spoken of and looked for a future event we’ve called “revival” or “awakening”. We’ve been much like the nation of Israel who wandered through the wilderness serving their 40 year sentence, looking forward to the Promised Land like we have looked forward to revival. What was the crime of the Israelites that lead to their wilderness sojourn? They disbelieved God’s ability to use them to take the Promised Land. They saw themselves powerless as grasshoppers and failed to act on His command because they didn’t believe they could do so.

What if the church today is serving a similar sentence without ever having been sentenced? What if we have been wandering in a spiritual wilderness even though we’ve already been given permission to take the inheritance He has for us? It is no longer time for the church to prepare for awakening. Awakening is here and it is now time for war. When the nation of Israel finally did enter the Promised Land and faced the battle to occupy it, they relied on the encouragement given to their leader in Joshua chapter 1.

Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

If God’s Word was the blueprint for Israelite success, it is safe to say it is the blueprint for our success as well. Now is the time to study His Word with the intent of following it, doing those things it tells us we can do. The book of Revelation contains the messages Jesus has for the seven churches. Jesus’ final message to the church is found in Revelation 3:19-20. “Behold I sand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him and he with Me.”

I’ve always seen the picture of Christ knocking at the door as simply an invitation to salvation. There is more. Even to those who have already accepted Him, the King of Glory still knocks.

Psalm 24:7-10 Lift up your heads, O you gates!
And be lifted up, you everlasting doors!
And the King of glory shall come in.
 Who is this King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
The Lord mighty in battle.
 Lift up your heads, O you gates!
Lift up, you everlasting doors!
And the King of glory shall come in.
 Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
He is the King of glory.

The King of Glory is knocking on your heart, it is time to not only let Him in, but to expand the size of the door to let in a bigger Jesus than we ever have before. The Jesus who indwells us is the King of Glory, the Lord Mighty in Battle. Lift up the head of the door to your heart, expand your capacity and your vision of who He is. The church of Jesus Christ is coming into a realization of its potential. As a result, awakening is not something to be looked forward to. It is here.

Go and Get Your Gift

Football season is just around the corner and that excites many people around the country, while others really could not care less. Regardless of your opinion on the sport, I think everyone can agree that it is not a passive, peaceful game. At the risk of alienating a portion of you by continuing with the football analogy, I’m going to use a specific aspect of the sport to paint a picture of an important spiritual truth. Bear with me, it will be worth it.

1 Peter 4:10 says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” I’ve read this verse many times and assumed it was talking about natural talents and abilities we are each born with that we should use to do good. It wasn’t until I started digging into the original Greek that I discovered something that changed my perspective on this verse. Two words from this verse, when seen through the lens of their Greek definitions, are eye opening. They are “gift” and “received”.

The Greek word for “received” is λαμβάνω (lambanó). It literally means to lay hold of by aggressively accepting what is made available. This is where my football analogy comes in. When a receiver runs a pass pattern and the quarterback throws him the ball, he is taught to aggressively go after the football while it is in the air. There is at least one defender on the field who is intent on getting to that pass before the receiver does, and will do anything within his power to prevent the reception. When the ball is in the air, it is up for grabs. The receiver is responsible to aggressively go after the ball and beat the defender to it. A receiver who passively waits for the ball to arrive will seldom make the catch.

The word “gift” in Greek is χάρισμα (charisma) which is the operation of divine favor or grace. The picture in 1 Peter 4:10 is not natural talents that we are born with and use for God. Peter is not talking about a trait you just have. Peter is describing favor made available in a specific area. When this happens, it is up to us to aggressively go and get it. If God is leading you to write a song, start a business, minister oversees, or anything else, His leading is an offer of divine favor. Once that grace is made available, it is just like the quarterback putting the ball in the air. At that point, it is up to you to go get it. There is an enemy who wants to stop you and deflect God’s plan. Don’t let him.

You can’t accomplish what God wants on your own, nor can you initiate the transaction or pick what area in which His favor is extended. What you can do is choose to go and get it when a grace is made available.

I Want to Go Somewhere but Don’t Feel Like I’m Going Anywhere

On a recent Sunday morning, the Holy Spirit brought the phrase “the Macedonian call is here” during a time of prayer, and then “what is sown in tears will be reaped in joy” in prophetic worship. The two are tied together. You can read about the Macedonian call for yourself in Acts chapter 16 to get more context for what I’m talking about. Paul had his plans for what he wanted to do and where he wanted to go. As he was traveling in the book of Acts he wanted to go into what is today the nation of Turkey. He was ready, but the Holy Spirit would not let him enter Turkey but instead had him in a period of waiting, a holding place.

He had a plan of where he wanted to go but he could not go there. He felt constrained. How many of us find ourselves in that place today? The place of “I want to go somewhere but I don’t feel like I’m going anywhere.” Then all of a sudden, God showed up and told Paul through a vision, “I don’t want you to go into Turkey, I want you to go to Macedonia.” After receiving the vision, Paul obeyed and went. As a result of that trip, we have his letters to Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians. If Paul had done it the way he wanted to, he would have gone into Turkey and I’m sure things would have gone well. But, because he was stopped and re-positioned himself to listen, he let the Holy Spirit inside redirect him to Macedonia and God’s plan came to pass.

God is asking us to “sow in tears” the sacrifice of the things we want to hold on to and do our own way. The Macedonian call is all about, “I want to go to Turkey, but the Holy Spirit wants me to go to Macedonia.” If I am willing to sit in this spot where I fill like I’m stuck and listen to Him and follow his lead, I’ll be reacting like Paul did. All of a sudden, Paul got the vision. It was clear to him what he was supposed to do and where he was supposed to go. When he obeyed, all fell into place and God’s plan was accomplished.  So be encouraged if you lack clarity or feel stuck.  God has a plan and He will lead you if you listen. He will give you the vision you need to get you where you are supposed to go.

Why it’s Good to be Uncomfortable

Like most people, I prefer to be comfortable. When it comes to temperature, furniture, and clothing, comfort is always best. What about dealing with situations and interacting with people? In those cases, embracing growing pains and the growth that comes with them is always preferable to complacency. This afternoon I was reading Isaiah 64 and found an interesting correlation to current events.

Life in this fallen world today can certainly be described as tumultuous. Even the United States is seeing social unrest unlike any other period during my life-time. As I look around I’m reminded of the first three verses of Psalm 2.

Why are the nations in an uproar And the peoples devising a vain thing?
The kings of the earth take their stand And the rulers take counsel together Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying,
“Let us tear their fetters apart And cast away their cords from us!” [NASB]

The language used here evokes a roaring tumult as the ocean crashes against the immovable rocks of the shore. As the nations of the earth increasingly rebel against God and the constraints of His Word, chaos follows.  Take a look at Isaiah 64:1-2.

Oh, that You would rend the heavens [and] come down, That the mountains might quake at Your presence–
As fire kindles the brushwood, [as] fire causes water to boil– To make Your name known to Your adversaries, [That] the nations may tremble at Your presence![NASB]

The nations in an “uproar” in Psalms and “trembling” in Isaiah are related Hebrew words (ragaz in Isaiah and ragash in Psalms). As the return of Christ becomes closer, the uproar and trembling becomes more pronounced. His presence causes them.

In light of the shaking, vain plots, and rebellion against the immovable shoreline created by God’s Word, our natural tendency will be to seek peace in the storm. We will want to be steady in the shaking, and rightly so. A few verses later in Isaiah 64:4  we find out some exciting news.

For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear, Nor has the eye seen a God besides You, Who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him.[NASB]

That is exciting! In light of the shaking, He promises incomprehensible intervention on behalf of those who wait for His coming. But, let’s look a little farther down the chapter and find out more about the one who “waits for Him”. Verse 8 uses the analogy of a Potter and His clay.

But now, O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand.[NASB]

While it is true we will want to be at peace in the storm around us, don’t confuse peace with comfort. It is not comfortable for clay in the hands of the Potter. The lot of clay is stretching, shaping, pressure and heat. John C. Maxwell says, “If we’re growing, we’re always going to be out of our comfort zone.” We can definitely have peace in the midst of the storms of life and be steady on our rock solid foundation even as the sea foams around us, but don’t expect to be comfortable there.

Paul refers back to Isaiah 64:4 when he says, “eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and have not entered into the heart of man all that God has prepared for those who love Him.” In order to move into the plan He has prepared, we’ve got to become the vessel He is shaping us to be. Surrender to Him, ask Him to mold you, but don’t ask lightly because He will stretch you to do it. It’s uncomfortable but it’s a good thing.

You Carry Power to Set the Tone

We’ve all noticed that in any group of people, some naturally tend to become the center of attention while others shun the limelight. We have terms like introvert, extrovert, charismatic, reserved and so on to describe these characteristics in people. We each are created with unique personalities.  While we may have different personalities, if we have accepted the redemption of Jesus Christ, we are indwelt by the same Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. [NASB]

SurroundingsThe Bible is clear that “greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world”. What does that mean in practice? Of course it means that during a spiritual battle, we can rely on God to lead us to victory. It also means that we walk around the earth with the greatest power in existence resident inside us. Relative to His presence, each of our personalities are inconsequential. Relative to His presence the atmosphere around us is also inconsequential. Don’t let someone who is not carrying the glory of God inside them set the tone for your surroundings.

You’ve probably heard the thermostat vs thermometer analogy and it is a good one. A thermometer merely reacts to the temperature. A thermostat affects the temperature to bring it in line with where it should be. Your presence in a situation should always adjust the spiritual “temperature” bringing it closer to godliness. We are seldom completely alone in circumstances. There are usually others there with us.  What if your natural temperament is quiet but the room you are in needs an infusion of joy? What if you are naturally boisterous and the center of attention but the room need peace?  What if everyone else in the room is more highly esteemed than you according to natural standards and you don’t have influence over them?

The answer is, none of that matters. You carry the Holy Spirit within you and He is all-sufficient. Different circumstances will dictate different actions but in all circumstances you carry the power to set the tone regardless of your personality. You may need only quietly pray or you may need to deliver a rousing encouragement. Either way, put your trust in Him, listen to the Holy Spirit, and set the tone. Psalm 23 promises that He will lead you in the path of righteousness. That leading is not just for you, it is so you know what to do to bless others. You may be the only one in the room carrying the answer!

One Church

Here in Iowa, our governor Terry Branstad has taken a stand for the Word of God by issuing a proclamation that predictably has some up in arms. In part, the proclamation reads, “encourage all Iowans to join in this historical Iowa 99 County Bible Reading Marathon to take place June 30th through July 3rd, 2016, in front of all 99 courthouses and furthermore, encourage individuals and families in Iowa to read through the Bible on a daily basis each year until the Lord comes.” Here in our county, organizers set up 320 fifteen minute time slots for volunteers to read on the Court House lawn. I was there Thursday morning, shortly after the beginning, and picked up reading somewhere in Genesis chapter 40.

Volunteers from a variety of congregations picked up the torch and read day and night from Thursday morning until just a little while ago. My son, wife and I signed up for more slots this afternoon and progressed the effort from 2 Corinthians into Ephesians. I can’t help myself, I have to view something like this as a project to be calculated, scheduled, and completed. My Project Management tendencies kicked in. I calculated when we would reach the end of Revelation and my wife and I stopped back to watch the finale.

There were so many reasons to be thankful today. My wife remarked how blessed we are to live in a nation where we can read the Bible in public. There is an increasing number of places in this world where doing so risks ridicule, arrest, punishment, or even death. When our sheriff read about the righteous judgement of God, standing in front of the very Court House where he helps to uphold justice, I was thankful for him and officials like him who follow God’s righteousness as best they can. Far too often do we focus on those in authority who do not hold God’s Word as sacred.

The readers in this Bible Reading Marathon came from several different congregations in the community, and even other communities nearby. I found myself wondering how many churches were represented in the effort. Almost before this question was formulated in my head, the answer was there. One. All the reading across 8 uninterrupted hours, through 320 time slots, done by volunteers coming from a myriad of congregations and backgrounds all represent one church. On the way home I thought about John 17:20-21.

I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, [are] in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.

Jesus final prayer before leaving for Gethsemane was for us to be in unity. Through that unity, the world will believe Jesus is who He says He is.

Do You Love Me?

As I write this, it is a gorgeous Monday evening. My habit on Monday is to spend time with God, putting an emphasis on listening. I talk to God all week long, but seldom do I set aside time to listen. Today it happened that my listening time coincided with a run during my lunch hour. After changing into shorts, t-shirt and running shoes, I headed out the door and began the conversation with a question. “Lord, I say that I love you, but do I really?” My mind was looking at the motivation behind my worship. I find that frequently my desire to follow Him seems to be rooted in the realization that doing so is in my best interest. That is hardly self-less, unconditional love.

King David, described as a man after God’s own heart, must have had a remarkable level of insight into God’s nature and character. In Psalm 35, David discloses his need of rescue from enemies. He sees God as rescuer and declares this in verses 26-27.

26Let those be ashamed and humiliated altogether who rejoice at my distress; Let those be clothed with shame and dishonor who magnify themselves over me.
27Let them shout for joy and rejoice, who favor my vindication; And let them say continually, “The LORD be magnified, Who delights in the prosperity of His servant.” (NASB)

I asked myself, “what jumps out at me more in verse 27?” Is it God’s delight, or my prosperity? I have to admit this verse is underlined in my Bible because of the latter. These verses highlight two polar opposites, enemies who rejoice at distress and God who delights in prosperity. God delights in what is good for me, should I not delight just as much in what is good for Him?

After His resurrection, Jesus approached Peter and twice asked him, “Do you love me?” Both times Jesus used the Greek word agape which asks for unconditional love, regardless of the benefit to self. Both times Peter replied with “You know I love you.” Peter did not claim to have agape for Jesus, He used the Greek word phileo which indicates affection or attachment, but stops short of unconditional agape. Finally Jesus asks a third time, “Do you love me?” This time He uses phileo to which Peter can rightly respond in the affirmative. Jesus was stretching Peter toward unconditional love.

When David told of God’s delight in our prosperity, he used the word shalom which is a bigger word than just prosperity. It is contrasted with distress, and really means not only prospered but also complete, whole, and at peace. Most of the things I pray for are for my own shalom. What if instead, my most earnest desire was for God to be delighted? Rather than seeking shalom for myself, I should be asking Him what will bring Him delight. Ironically, doing those things He delights in will bring me the shalom I was looking for.

He continually asks each of us, “Do you love Me?” Not because of a selfish need for love, but because He knows our agape for Him is the door to shalom for us, and He delights in that!