APOLOGIZING FOR GOD

apologizing

The other day, as I was preparing to speak at a certain Christian event, I began to apologize to the Lord in a manner I had done several times before. I said things like, “I’m sorry, Lord, that I have so little to offer you. I have such a limited message. The bandwidth on what I carry and what I can offer is so narrow, and You really deserve better. I have so many limitations. You deserve to have a servant who provides You with a much broader scope of possibilities. I’m sorry that You have so few options when You’re working with me.”

The Lord’s response seemed to be something like this, “You don’t think of this as I do.”

Then I felt drawn toward these verses:

Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness (Rom. 12:6-8).

The Lord seemed to be emphasizing that whatever gift for blessing others I might carry, it came to me as a gift of His grace. Since He gave it, who was I to apologize to Him for His gift?

So I’ve decided to stop apologizing to Him for the grace He has bestowed on me. I need concern myself only with being faithful.

BEEN BURNED BY SIN?

fire post

One day when I was a young child, I was standing by an outdoor bonfire and noticed a potato sack that was burned in the fire. The way it burned, the ashes had maintained the shape of the sack, and the sack appeared still to be intact. Because of my childlike curiosity, I was fascinated that the sack appeared to be unaffected by the fire. Intrigued to learn, I reached out my hand and took hold of the sack in an attempt to understand why it wasn’t touched by the fire. What I didn’t realize was that it had been consumed in the fire and was blazing hot. I was burned instantly and fiercely in a way I have never forgotten.

That experience taught me something: I don’t ever again want to learn first-hand when something is hot. I want to discern the signs and believe what others say, so that I am never again burned like that. When you’re burned once, if you’re smart you’ll never want that to happen again.

I think the same thing is true regarding sin. Once you’ve been burned by sin, you learn from that experience and determine at all costs to avoid that happening again. So when God says, “That’s a sin, that will burn you,” you no longer have to experiment for yourself by touching it. You believe Him. And you leave it alone.

What’s my message in this article? We don’t have to touch sin in order to believe that God was right when He said it will burn us. His word on it is enough. We’ve wisened up, and now we stay away.

 

THE KEY OF DAVID

key of david

Speaking to the apostle John, Jesus said that He “has the key of David” (Rev. 3:7). Other than Isaiah 22:22, this is the only place in the Bible that mentions “the key of David,” and therefore there is much speculation about what that key was and is.

Some readers may consider this article to be speculative, but I think I know what the key of David was. Let me explain.

David served as king in Hebron over the tribe of Judah for seven years. Then all the tribes came together to make him king over the entire land. His coronation as king over all Israel is recorded in 2 Samuel 5:1-5.

At his coronation, the city of Jerusalem finally came under his jurisdiction. His first act as king, therefore, was recorded in the verses immediately following (2 Sam. 5:6-8). David attacked the stronghold of Zion. Why? Because God had revealed to him, probably through Samuel, that he would be king of Israel someday, and that the stronghold of Zion would be his capitol, his “White House.” Zion was appointed by God to be the governmental seat of David’s kingdom.

When Joab ascended the water shaft (2 Sam. 5:6-8), he went over to the gate of the fortress in order to open it from the inside. Once the gate was open, the entire Israelite army would be able to enter the fortress and subdue the stronghold of Zion. (I write about this in my book, OPENED FROM THE INSIDE: The Taking of the Stronghold of Zion.)

Joab’s challenge was to find the key and open Zion’s gate. Back in those days, a fortress like that would have an iron gate, and the gate would be reinforced with bars. The bars would be kept from moving with a bolt, and a lock would prevent the bolt from being removed by an unauthorized person. Anyone with the key could unlock and remove the bolt, move the bars to the disengaged position, and open the gate wide.

The key of David was the key to the gate of the stronghold of Zion. When Joab scaled the water shaft, located the key, unlocked the gate, and then opened the gate of Zion from the inside, he enabled David and his troops to enter and take the stronghold of Zion. David took the key in hand and called Zion, “the city of David.” That fortress became his White House.

The key to Zion represented the key to the governmental authority of the Davidic kingdom. David got the key when Zion was penetrated and conquered.

In the same way that Joab rose up the water shaft and opened the stronghold from the inside, Jesus died, was buried, descended to hell, and then He rose up the shaft of hell and opened the gates of hell from the inside. It was at His resurrection that He got “the keys of Hades and of Death” (Rev. 1:18). At His temptation, Satan offered to give Jesus the keys if He would worship him; instead, Jesus chose to take the keys from Satan.

Now, Jesus has the key of David—that is, the key to the governmental authority of the Davidic kingdom. He is the King who has inherited the throne of His ancestor, David, and He has the right to administrate and rule over all the affairs of this eternal kingdom. That authority is represented by the key of David which He gained at His resurrection.

David got the key to the stronghold of Zion; Jesus got the key to the stronghold of Hades and of Death.

The Man with the keys has said to us, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 16:19). Whenever Jesus gives you a kingdom key, it means He gives you the authority to unlock a specific element within the kingdom of God. With that key comes the authority to bring His sovereign reign to that area in the kingdom.

Are you facing a stronghold, and don’t know how to open its gate? Ask Jesus to give you the kingdom key to that stronghold.

And always remember:  A small key can open a great door.

 

YOUR MISSION IS NOT MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR PEOPLE

mission

God never calls you to a mission that is more important than the people on your team. Because no such mission exists. A leader might be tempted to think, “Good riddance, they never did have complete buy-in with our vision.” “They just couldn’t keep up.” “We outgrew them.” “They always resisted everything we ever did.” “They got offended over nothing.” You are not viewing rightly this matter.

To qualify my meaning, I am not speaking of people God sends you for a limited period of time, and whom He calls after a season to the next leg in their assignment. When God calls people in your ranks to move on, release them freely and celebrate them. Allow no control or witchcraft to taint anything in your leadership style.

I am speaking here of people God calls to labor with you in the mission but who end up leaving for unnecessary reasons. It’s not possible to have a mission that is more important than the eternal souls God grants you to help with the mission. As Jesus said of the Twelve, “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (John 17:12). While Jesus was busy changing the entire world, He did not lose any of the team members God had given Him (except the son of perdition).

Always be mindful that the people on your team are the very embodiment of the mission to which you’ve been called. Love them to the end.

THE EYES OF THE LORD

eyes of the lord

In this post I want to show how gloriously God responds to those who maintain their loyalty to Him. Here’s our text:

“For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. In this you have done foolishly; therefore from now on you shall have wars” (2 Chron. 16:9).

The verse’s context is very important. Asa was king in Jerusalem, and early in his reign he was invaded by a million-man army from Ethiopia. Asa was young, inexperienced, and resource-barren. In desperation, he cried out to God for help and deliverance: “LORD, it is nothing for You to help, whether with many or with those who have no power; help us, O LORD our God, for we rest on You, and in Your name we go against this multitude. O LORD, You are our God; do not let man prevail against You!” (2 Chron. 14:11).

And God responded! The Ethiopians were completely overthrown, and Asa returned to Jerusalem with vast amounts of war bounty. God granted a mighty victory! Asa didn’t have another war until his thirty-sixth year as king. He wisely used the decades of peace to strengthen the nation spiritually, economically, and militarily.

Unfortunately, as the nation grew in strength, Asa’s sense of dependence upon God waned. He had become rich.

His heart was tested when war again came to his doorstep. This time, it was the northern kingdom of Israel that invaded. (At the time, Israel was divided into two kingdoms, and Asa was king of the southern kingdom based in Jerusalem.) Baasha, king of Israel, came against Asa with intimidating strength. What was Asa to do?

He decided to dip into his national treasury (which was substantial by now) and hire Ben-Hadad, king of Syria, to break his treaty with Baasha. Ben-Hadad accepted the money, attacked Israel with a mighty blow, and forced Baasha to abandon his military campaign against Asa.

On the surface, Asa’s strategy seemed amazingly successful. Baasha retreated and Jerusalem was relieved. Asa’s national popularity soared. Many in the land were doubtless applauding the king for his brilliant leadership. But God wasn’t.

Hanani the seer expressed to Asa how God felt about his tactics. Hanani rebuked him for relying on the king of Syria for deliverance. He reminded him of God’s previous deliverance. When the Ethiopians invaded, Asa had relied on God and conquered the enemy. Had he already forgotten? Even though he had a history of experiencing God’s delivering power, Asa had fallen (through prosperity) to self-sufficiency and unbelief.

And then Hanani spoke these arresting words:

“For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. In this you have done foolishly; therefore from now on you shall have wars” (2 Chron. 16:9).

Because his heart was not fully loyal to God, Asa would now face ongoing wars during his reign.

The word “loyal” comes from a vivid Hebrew word that has various renderings by English translations: perfect, true, whole, completely His, fully committed, blameless. The meaning is that those who look to God alone for deliverance, in the hour of enemy invasion, are demonstrating a loyal, perfect, true heart toward Him.

God is actively looking for this kind of loyalty. When it says His eyes “run,” it means they are on an aggressive, high-speed search. God has seven eyes (Zech 3:9; Rev 5:6), and all seven scour the earth, looking for those whose gaze is lifted to Him for help. When God finds this kind of heart loyalty, He shows Himself strong on their behalf. He fights for them.

The context of our Scripture is all about deliverance from enemy invasion. When the thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy, God wants to answer by demonstrating His military strength and awesome delivering power. But He’s looking for singular focus.

The same assurance is repeated in Psalm 33:18-19:

“Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His mercy, to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.”

It seems that Asa’s son, Jehoshaphat, learned from his father’s mistakes, because when Jehoshaphat was invaded by a formidable army from Edom and Moab during his own reign, he spoke up and said to the people of Jerusalem, “Believe in the LORD your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper” (2 Chron 20:20). You should read 2 Chronicles 20 again to see how mightily God delivered Jehoshaphat from the Edomites. It’s an amazing story!

Have you been invaded by a foreign force that is trying to steal, kill, and destroy in your life? Give your heart in perfect loyalty to God, wait on Him, and He will show Himself strong on your behalf—He will fight for you. His eyes are eagerly searching for this kind of devotion!

 

JESUS’ MOST COMMON TEACHING

JESUS MOST COMMON TEACHING

Recently, while doing a simple Bible search, I discovered something in the life of Jesus that brought me to a full stop. It stunned me, and I’m still trying to process it. Here’s the background to it:

There is very little from the life of Jesus that is recorded in all four Gospels. The reason for that is because John wrote his Gospel around 30 years after the others, and knowing what Matthew, Mark, and Luke had recorded, John wasn’t trying to be repetitive. He was writing to be complementary. For that reason, there is very little in John that is present in the other three Gospels.

Here’s what the Gospels have in common: All of them record four stories and three predictions. The four stories they all mention are the baptism of Christ, the feeding of the five thousand, the triumphal entry, and the passion of Christ (crucifixion/resurrection). All four Gospels record three predictions: Jesus predicted His betrayal, Peter’s denial, and His passion.

But there is no teaching of Christ contained in all four Gospels.

With one exception.

Only one verse of teaching is to be found in all four Gospels. As I continue, see if you can guess it.

Let me introduce the verse by asking a question. If you were directing the biblical writings, and wanted to emphasis one teaching of Jesus’ by placing it in all four Gospels, which teaching would you choose?

Clearly, if there’s only one teaching of Jesus’ to be found in all four Gospels, then it must be of paramount importance to Him.

Furthermore, this teaching is present in six places in the Gospels. Matthew records it twice, Mark once, Luke twice, and John once. When you study the context of these six mentions, you realize they are pointing to four distinct events:

•On His third tour of Galilee (Mat. 10:39)

•After his visit to Caesarea Philippi (Mat. 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24)

•On his final journey to Jerusalem (Luke 17:33)

•During his final week in Jerusalem (John 12:25)

 

So there are two unique characteristics about the teaching of Jesus to which we are pointing:

1. It is the only teaching of Christ mentioned in all four Gospels.

2. It is the only teaching of Christ that we know He gave on four different occasions.

 

Now, beyond any doubt, Jesus would have repeated His primary teachings throughout the 3.5 years of His ministry on earth. But in terms of the record we have in our hands, there is only one teaching of Jesus’ that we’re told He gave on four different occasions. It must have been His most common teaching.

Do I have your curiosity up? Want to know what the teaching was?

Find your life, you’ll lose it; lose your life, you’ll find it. John’s wording is slightly different, but it’s the same teaching: Love your life, you’ll lose; hate your life, you’ll keep it. (The references are listed above.)

Hear it! Lose your life. Hate your life. This was the foremost and most-repeated word of our Master.

When this teaching gets on your screen, you’ll start to see relevant applications everywhere. Little wonder that the context in which Jesus delivered this teaching was different in each of the four events listed above. That’s because it’s a message that relates to virtually every area of life.

If this was the most common teaching of Jesus, it leaves me with this question: To what degree is this word likewise upon my tongue?

 

 

LESSONS FROM JACOB – THE HARD WAY

the hard way

We learn from Jacob’s life that sometimes God wants things to transpire the hard way. God could have made everything so much easier on Jacob by just saying to him, “Jacob, go down to Egypt.” God led Abraham down to Egypt, and He could have just as easily done the same with Jacob.

But instead, God put the squeeze on Jacob. First, he lost Joseph; then he lost Simeon; and the man in Egypt was wanting Benjamin next. Add to that, the intense distress from the famine. His entire household was hungry! The combination of stress factors put incredible pressure on God’s beloved servant. He went through all kinds of emotional gyrations before he was finally presented with the solution of going to Egypt to meet Joseph.

After Jacob was finally settled in Egypt, I can imagine him wondering, “Lord, why did You make it so hard on me? I would have happily followed Your voice. All You had to do was say to me, ‘Move to Egypt.’ Why did You make it come down the hard way?”

The truth is that often God leads His favorites in the hard way. (The leading example, of course, is the cross of Christ.) Why? Because God accomplishes so many things at multiple levels by letting the thing happen the hard way. He uses the difficulty to excavate hearts and produce greater eternal fruit than if an easier path had been taken.

Takeaway: Do not be thrown off balance if God allows a portion of your journey to come down the hard way.

 

WHAT ARE THE SEVEN ANGELS OF THE SEVEN CHURCHES?

ANGELS CORRECT

Perhaps you, like me, have wondered what Jesus meant when He spoke of “the angels of the seven churches.” Here’s where He spoke those words:

The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches (Rev. 1:20).

When Jesus spoke of the seven stars as seven angels, our first question is, “Was He speaking of heavenly angels that preside over churches, or human messengers that preside over churches?”

The Greek word angelos that is used here is defined by Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words as “a messenger (from angello, to deliver a message), sent whether by God or by man or by Satan.” Angelos could refer to either a heavenly angel or a human messenger. Which did Jesus mean?

The context tells us. (Note that in the following verses, “you” occurs in the singular tense because Jesus was addressing a single person.) In speaking directly to the “messenger” of each church, He said things like:

Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works (Rev. 2:4-5).

Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer (Rev. 2:10).

I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth (Rev. 3:15-16).

It’s difficult to conceive of heavenly angels as leaving their first works, needing to repent, suffering persecution, or being vomited from Jesus’ mouth. These things obviously describe humans. We conclude, therefore, that Jesus was meaning the word angelos in the sense of “messenger,” and He was addressing the primary human leader of each of the seven churches.

Our next question is, “Why did He call them stars and messengers or angels? Why didn’t He call them pastors?” Because the primary human leader of a local church is not necessarily a pastor. Some churches are led by a pastor, but others by an apostle, or prophet, or evangelist, or teacher, or administrator, or someone with a gift of leadership, etc. Jesus used “star” and “messenger” as all-inclusive terms for the primary human leader of a local church, regardless of their particular calling or gift mix.

Next question: “Why does He call that person a star?” Stars have two qualities that characterize the leader of a local church. Stars are a luminary, and they have a strong gravity. Similarly, a leader of a local church must be a luminary who shines brightly for the Lord in a special way, and must also have a gravity about him or her—that is, the ability to draw people and galvanize them into a corporate identity so they can function as a spiritual family.

Jesus held the human leader (“star”) of each church primarily responsible for the spiritual health and obedience of that church.

Implicit to Jesus’ words are His recognition that a local church would have a primary leader. Some believers have supposed that a local church should be governed by a plurality of leaders without any one leader standing above the rest. Would you agree that Jesus’ words would not make that kind of leadership paradigm normative?

THE POWER OF STORY

The Power of Story

They sat spellbound in the darkness, hardly breathing. A few were occasionally nibbling popcorn while most just stared. The screen had transported them into a new reality. Left behind was the ho-hum, the mundane, the everyday; they were swept up into a world of excitement, adventure, intrigue, and romance.

They had entered the theater as individuals with impassive expressions. But now they were one, a group that swayed and played with the drama, faces open and eager. Anger, joy, love, hate, fear, excitement—a multitude of emotions were being shared together as the moviegoers became one with the screen. They laughed and cried as they went places never before traversed. Things were as they should be—wrongs were made right, evil was punished, justice was served, loyalty was rewarded, love was shared, the impossible was overcome.

They had come, not to escape from life but to experience it. Lifted above meaninglessness, they were now elevated into something higher, something for which their spirits yearned. Life was springing to new meaning in the safety of their seats.

Hollywood has captured the power of story.  Audiences identify with the movie, locate themselves in the story, and connect with its significance.  Those who write stories have the ability, through the power of their art, to shape the values and cultures of nations and generations.  I was reminded of this truth while applying recently for a tourist visa.  Invited to teach in a nation where Christians are often persecuted for their faith, I needed to apply for a visa in a manner that would not reveal the religious nature of my mission.  In the process of completing the application, I came to the line where I was supposed to list my occupation.  I knew instinctively that I should not indicate that I am a gospel preacher.  Author.  That seemed innocuous enough to me.  So that’s what I wrote down, and sent the application off to an American agency that helps with my visa applications.

A couple of days later, an agency rep called to say that if I put author on the application it would be declined automatically.  The government, they informed us, does not want authors or lawyers visiting their nation.

I thought author was a neutral occupation and was initially surprised to discover they perceived it as dangerous.  But upon reflection, it made sense.  Stories are catalytic, and can pose a threat to repressive governments that do not want people to think for themselves or to form politically incorrect beliefs.  Authors have the power, through story, to shape the ideologies and thinking of the land.

That exchange with the visa agency heightened my awareness of the power that resides in having a great story and sharing it with someone.

Long before Hollywood, Broadway and the New York Times Bestsellers List, Jesus understood the power of story.  We see this in the case where Jesus healed a demon-possessed man but then would not allow him  to follow Him in His travels.  Instead, Jesus told him to stay home and tell his friends what God had done for him (see Mark 5:1-20).  Even though the people of the region initially rejected Jesus, He knew their hearts would change through the power of this man’s story.

Jesus knew that this man’s story would bypass people’s defenses and win their hearts. In a similar way, God wants to use your story to win the hearts of others who might otherwise not be able to connect with their eternal destiny.

God rarely writes short stories. So don’t lose heart, even if the plot seems to grow long. God really knows how to write a good story—wait for it. When God’s purpose comes clear, you’ll have a story that will have the kind of power on it to move an entire generation. Even some whose first response was to reject Jesus will be gripped by the power of your story and be won to the wisdom of the righteous.

ARE ALL SINS CREATED EQUAL?

All sins created equal

When discussing sins such as homosexuality, some leaders in the body of Christ today are saying things like, “It doesn’t really matter what your sin is. Sin is sin. All of us are sinners, and all of us need forgiveness.” It’s true that we all need forgiveness, but it’s not true that all sins are equally sinful.

One reason the enemy wants us to believe this lie is because he wants us to trivialize sin. He wants people who are bound in great darkness to think lightly of their sin. He doesn’t want them alerted to how destructive some sinful behaviors can be to themselves and others.

When Jesus said, “Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin” (John 19:11), He was acknowledging that some sins are greater than others.

In the Bible, greater sins incurred greater punishment (Deut. 17:8; Matt. 26:24; Heb. 10:29; 2 Ki. 23:26; 24:3). Similarly, our legal systems recognize that it would be wrong to assign the same punishment to every kind of legal infraction. Our courts properly acknowledge that not all sins are created equal.

Just as some sins are greater than others, some demons are more wicked than others (Lk. 11:26). One of the negative consequences of greater sins is that they attract the attention of more wicked demons. Demons are attracted to darkness. When they see us giving place to darkness, they fan the flames of temptation and seek to lead us into even greater darkness and condemnation.

Now it’s true, any sin will send you to hell. If you break just one command of God’s law, James 2:10-11 tells us that you are guilty of all God’s law. Once you’re in hell, I suppose in one sense it hardly matters what got you there. However, Jesus made clear that some sins incur more terrifying judgment in hell (Matt. 18:6).

When participating in today’s debate regarding homosexuality, we must be faithful to speak the truth: Sexual sins are worse than many other kinds of sin. And among sexual sins, some are worse than others.

One reason sexual sins are greater than many others is because of how they adversely affect other people. Fornication defiles not just you but another person as well. Adultery is a sin both against the other person and the spouses involved. Molestation and incest are such evil sins because of their power to traumatize the victims. Some people suffer emotionally from these kinds of sins for years and years.

Paul showed that sexual sins are often worse than others when he wrote:

Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body (1 Cor. 6:18).

The construction of the Greek is emphatic, “Every sin whatsoever,” pointing to the unique ability of sexual immorality to defile the body. Some sins defile only a part of your being, such as your mind or your spirit. But sexual sins defile your entire person—spirit, soul, and body.

When we understand how destructive certain kinds of sin can be, the hope of the Gospel shines even brighter. Jesus came to save sinners! He commands us to repent, receive forgiveness, turn from our sin, and dedicate our lives to obeying Him.

What great news!

If you’re looking for more a more in-depth resource on the subject of sexuality and consecration to the Lord, click here to learn more about Bob’s newest book, A Covenant With My Eyes.