But He was not in the fire

“He was not in the fire”

1 Kings 19 is an interesting pause in Elijah’s life. God had just used Elijah in an amazing way to put to shame and death hundreds of false prophets of Baal, proving that He alone is the only true God.

However, Jezebel was out to kill Elijah. Elijah ran in fear, hiding in the desert. He felt alone and depressed and asked God to take his life. But God kept asking him, “Why are you here?”. Elijah had found himself off-track mentally, physically and spiritually.

Then the Lord sent a very powerful wind, earthquake and fire. But scripture says God was not in them. Peculiarly, and seemingly unrelated, it says there was a still small voice. It was like the Lord was saying to Elijah:

“Don’t sweat the big stuff, but listen to my quiet voice. The wind, earthquake and fire may grab your attention like Jezebel’s threat, Elijah, but listening to My quiet voice is far more important. Don’t walk in fear, Elijah. I have 7,000 who still trust me; you need to trust Me, Elijah. I’ve got this”.

Isn’t it is too easy to get distracted by fear and miss the still small voice of the Holy Spirit? Hopefully, it doesn’t take threats, wind storms, earthquakes and fire to always get our attention.

No matter the chaos going on in our worlds, our spiritual focus is not in what we see with our eyes, but Who we hear with our ears. Jesus never said, whoever has eyes to see, but whoever has ears to hear.

His voice may be a still small voice, but when we take the time to listen, storms in our lives seem less important, and we can get on with His journey for us.

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world. C. S. Lewis

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Dying to Self – Done.

I’ve been a follower of Jesus since the earth cooled. But only recently, through prayer and journaling, did the Lord give me some clarity on what it means to “die to self”.  It caught me off guard, because it’s not what I expected.

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Jesus, nor the Apostles, ever said the words “die to self”. However, in the context of “denying yourself and taking up your cross” in Matt 16:24-25, He did say, “whoever decides to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”.

So on the surface, it appears our salvation is somehow related to losing our lives. But how is life gained by losing it? The two ideas appear incompatible. Then the Lord brought a couple of passages to mind:

Rom 6:3-8:  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.

Gal 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

These verses speak of our death, burial, crucifixion (and resurrection) as if they were shared with Jesus. The verbs are are also curiously past tense. I suddenly realized how perfectly they parallel and explain Matt 16:24-25.

Before the cross, Jesus used extreme examples of obedience under the Law as impossible ways to be righteous before a holy God. For example:

  • “be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect”
  • “if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away”
  • “take up your cross and follow me”
  • “whoever loses his life for my sake will save it”

Think about it — if we were truly called to die for Jesus as a prerequisite of gaining salvation (per the last two bullets), who could be saved? Only martyrs, I suppose.

If anyone could live up to Jesus’ standards, it would be the disciples. So how did they do?

Mat 26:33-35  “Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.” Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And so said all the disciples.”

We know the rest of the story. Despite their declarations, the disciples failed the self-effort test to dying/not deny Jesus the night He was arrested. Jesus was obviously not surprised. Do we think we’d do any better?

What I failed to realize over all these years is not only do we receive the exchanged life of Jesus, but the crucifixion, death and burial of Christ is also part of our glorious inheritance!

All my life, I was taught to try harder to “die to self” — being a lowlier servant than the next believer. Ironically, this mindset focused more on my works than Christ’s. My performance-based obedience made spiritual self-death an unknowable and unattainable goal — more slippery than an eel in a WD40 factory. As soon as I did something I deemed “humble enough”, I’d be proud of it. The cycle perpetuated.  

Ultimately, I came to the same conclusion as Peter (2 Pet 1:3): Everything I needed for life and godliness is found in Christ (even dying to self)! Knowing my old self is already crucified with Christ through salvation, I can breathe a sigh of relief, walk by faith in what He has done, and be freed-up to serve others in love.

There’s likely much more to to discuss on this topic, but what the Lord showed me brought peace and freedom to my heart. Perhaps it encourages you as well.

“You’re born. You suffer. You die. Fortunately, there’s a loophole.” Billy Graham

*Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Our Hope

Before Jesus, we were without hope (Eph 2:12) and fallen short of His glory (Rom 3:23). But now Christ in us has become both for us!

Col 1:27  To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is CHRIST IN YOU, the HOPE of GLORY.

#hope
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Depression

King David was a man after God’s heart but he got depressed. When we get down, the Lord is always there to hear us and comfort us. Joy often comes in the morning.

Psa 42:11  Why am I so sad? Why am I so upset? I tell myself, “Wait for God’s help! You will again be able to praise him, your God, the one who will save you.”

Knowing God

To know the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in close, intimate, spiritual relationship is the goal; not trying to climb the stairs of self-performance to become more acceptable to the Lord.

Jer 9:24  But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the LORD.

Php 3:10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death

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Solar Eclipse: Sign of Impending Doom?

It’s no secret that solar eclipses have been perceived historically as a sign of impending doom. But should we be concerned about Monday’s solar eclipse, or discount it as simply an expected scientific phenomenon?

“When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood” Rev 6:12

As noted in an article I wrote two years ago, we recently went through an extremely 2000-year-rare tetrad of four successive lunar eclipses. Tomorrow, we are looking at a fairly rare solar eclipse for the U.S. It is the first one in 99 years to cross only the United States. Solar eclipses are relatively common around the world, but not so common to cross the same country. 

Historically, there are a few significant solar eclipses with interesting timing as it relates to previous wars, plagues or impending judgments:

  • On June 15, 763 BC, the Bur-Sagale Eclipse crossed Nineveh (in modern-day Iraq)
    • Likely at the time Jonah preached a message of repentance (Jonah 3:4)
    • They did not have the 40-day devastation that Jonah preached, because they repented
    • Eclipse was followed later by devastating plagues in 759 BC and again in 756 BC
  • On Aug 21, 1914, a solar eclipse occurred over Eastern Europe and the Ottoman Empire
    • Timing was two months after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which sparked WWI
    • It was the first ever world war that began a very bloody century
  • On June 9, 1918, was the last total solar eclipse (prior to tomorrow) across the U.S.
    • Timing was two weeks prior to U.S. ground troops first offensive in World War I
    • Marked a flu pandemic that affected a third of the world’s population, killing up to 50 million
  • On May 9, 1948, a total eclipse passed over the Korean peninsula
    • The UN voted on this day to take no action as the communists began taking over the Korean peninsula
    • One thing led to another, and the Korean War began June 1950
    • N. Korea has been horribly oppressive to its people, and a thorn in the world’s side ever since

What are some observations?

  • In these instances, solar eclipses crossed the nations with impending war or plague
  • The second eclipse listed above, shares the exact same day of Aug 21 as tomorrow’s eclipse
  • Tomorrow’s eclipse is the first one to exclusively cross the U.S. in 99 years

Israel historically has always viewed lunar eclipses as a sign of impending judgment on the Jewish nation, and solar eclipses as a harbinger toward the rest of the nations (Gentiles). Jesus said that signs in the sun, moon and stars are meant to grab our attention and warn us about coming distress in the nations (Luke 21:25). God in Genesis notes that the “lights in the heavens” are to keep track of seasons, feast celebrations and years (Gen 1:14). God is sovereign and knows the beginning from the end, and planned these heavenly events the day He created the universe. He is gracious and always gives us an opportunity to repent (turn to Him) so we can have a relationship with Him. He truly loves us!

Why wait until something major to happens to turn to Christ Jesus. Call out to Him for help and salvation. Take this opportunity to seek the Lord while He may still be found (Isa 55:6). He created us, has the Owner’s manual and knows what is best for us. He loves us so much he sent His only Son, Jesus to take away our sins and to offer us eternal life. All we have to do is receive Him by faith. So let Jesus be savior and Lord of your life. Every day that God gives us is a possible day for salvation (2 Cor 6:2). If you’re searching but still skeptical, ask Him to make Himself known to you. He will.

You never know what is around the next corner. God forbid that North Korea pulls the trigger on a nuclear missile, causing an EMP or worse. Maybe there’s nothing to the eclipse, or maybe the sun’s dark track across the middle of the nation only symbolizes the political and cultural divide in our nation. Let’s hope it is nothing. All we can do is wait and watch, which is one of the things Jesus calls us to do anyway.

“But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into”. Luke 12:39

“Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day or the hour”. Matt 25:13

What if God Governed?

On the evening of what some are calling the most important presidential debate in US history, would it be any surprise to hear someone say, “Man was never designed to be ruled by man”?

Prior to humanity’s fall in the Garden of Eden, God governed Adam and Eve in His utopia. He walked in the garden with them and gave them their direction and freedom. After the fall of man, up until the prophet Samuel, the nation of Israel was primarily a theocracy, being ruled by God as He spoke through judges and prophets. However, the nation of Israel decided one day that they wanted a king “like all the other nations”.

1 Sam 8:5-19 Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations…they have not rejected you [Samuel], but they have rejected Me from being King over them…only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them. Samuel said, these will be the ways of the king who will reign over you:

  • He will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and be is horsemen…
  • He will take and appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest…
  • He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.
  • He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants.
  • He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants.
  • He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work.
  • He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.

And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us”.

Whether it is a king, a prime minister or a president, God says the end result is TAKING:

  1. HE will TAKE people to fight HIS wars
  2. HE will TAKE people’s resources — human and financial
  3. HE will TAKE people’s land and give it to whom HE feels
  4. HE will TAKE taxes from people for his personal use
  5. HE will TAKE other personal property
  6. HE will TAKE away freedoms, making them subservient to HIS plans

That’s just the nature of man-rule. No nation has never been under the God of Israel’s theocratic rule since Samuel’s day. And the results in governments all around the world are exactly what God said they would be: Reduced freedoms compared to God’s governance (1 Sam 8:18). Nevertheless, many seem to look in vain for a political “savior” to recreate utopia on earth. Changing leaders will not unwind #1-6 above…they are set solidly in place.

Then what’s the point of bringing up the topic if things can’t appreciably change? God has a different kingdom! He designed his spiritual kingdom to be inhabited by those that submit to His gracious governance. We likely won’t gain much hope in any governments in our world, but there is hope today in God’s kingdom.

Ultimate freedom never comes in the form of any political party but from God (2 Cor 3:17). Jesus’ kingdom is governed by the power of love (Jn 3:16). His kingdom is not of this world (Jn 18:36) and citizenship is gained through new birth (Jn 3:3). In the end, there will be no man-made governments (thank God!). But until then, it is good to remember not only the course of history, but also how we can be restored to a relationship to Christ and be governed from within by God’s love and wisdom.

“My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Jesus Christ

Jesus, a Poached Egg?

“Swim at your own risk” signs warn people that there’s no lifeguard on duty. If you are going in, you’re on your own. There’s no one to save you if you start to drown.

In a similar way, the claims of Jesus are to be ignored at our own peril. One claim in particular is off the charts. Jesus says he is the Son of God. It sounds insane to our limited human understanding. But if that is who Jesus is, He’s simply speaking the truth.

The claims of Jesus must be explored by every human being because they are too risky to ignore. If they are untrue, no worries, because we will never know we’ve become worm food one day. However, if they are true, we must put our faith and trust in Him. Jesus never created any ambivalence about himself. He says He is God’s Son, and He is the only way to God, and to heaven (John 14:6). To explore Jesus’ claims, a great place to start is by reading the book of John. Romans is next.

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell.

You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to”.

C.S Lewis, Mere Christianity

Post-Cross Lord’s Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer in Matt 6:9-15 is one of the most well known prayers in the Bible. Jesus taught it to his disciples when asked how to pray. After the cross, however, the way we relate to God changed significantly. God’s new will and testament went into effect after the cross, because “a person’s will only goes into effect when the one who made it dies” (Heb 9:17). Christ’s death is how God extended His grace; whereby, after receiving Jesus by faith, God gives eternal life and remembers our sins no more (Heb 10:10, 17). So how could this model prayer be understood in light of the new covenant of grace that changed the paradigm of human history?

One of the first things Jesus said after His resurrection was that God became our Father as God was His Father (John 20:17). So now, “Our Father in heaven hollowed be Your name” has become my “Abba Father” or “Daddy Father” (Rom 8:15, Gal 4:6). After the cross, those who receive Christ by faith are able to experience the unbelievable privilege of relating to the God of the universe as their Daddy. Jesus said one must receive the kingdom of God as a child, or they will never enter it (Mark 10:15).

“May Your kingdom come and Your will be done.” Before the cross, Jesus always proclaimed that the kingdom was near. After the resurrection on the day of Pentecost, the kingdom came in power (Acts 1:8). The Holy Spirit completely filled the disciple’s hearts for service to their King. Therefore, the kingdom of God was fulfilled within them as Jesus had promised. When we decide to open the door of our hearts and invite King Jesus to reign in our lives, then, as Jesus told Nicodemus, we become born again of God’s Spirit into His kingdom (John 3:3; 1:12-13, 1 John 5:12-13).

Give us this day our daily bread” could easily be “thank you, Jesus, for being the Bread of life that allows me to daily feed on Your word.” Jesus said we could never live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matt 4:4). So He became the spiritual manna (Bread of life) from heaven as our eternal sustenance and our very life. He said we would never be hungry again when we come to and believe in Him (John 6:31-35). So when we’ve heard His knock at the door of our hearts, and (hopefully) have allowed Him in, He comes to dine with us daily in the bountiful harvest of his word (Rev 3:20).

Since the cross, “Forgive us our sins as we also have forgiven the sins of others” has become “thank You for complete forgiveness through Your work on cross” (Col 2:13). Before the cross, it was “forgive or you won’t be forgiven” (Matt 6:14).  After the cross, we are told to “forgive others as Christ forgave us (Col 3:13Eph 4:32). Thank God, our sins are forgiven and forgotten by Him! (Heb 8:12; 10:17; Eph 1:7)

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” is certainly our prayer today. But the power to overcome the enemy’s schemes has become much more potent after the cross. Satan roams about like a lion looking for someone to devour (1 Pet 5:8). And though he was “detoothed” and “declawed” at the cross, he still tries to “talk” believers to death. But the power to prevail over him is revealed as follows. “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:6-7). He is certainly a match for us, but is no match for the Lord who dwells in us.

What a wonderful prayer, and a huge contrast between the old and new covenants today! Thank God for the good news of the gospel of Christ, through which we have hope!

In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.

John Bunyan

 

 

 

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Receiving Love Takes Trust

I remember when I fell in love with my wife Jenn. It was early in our relationship and I apparently was still somewhat reeling from a divorce several months prior. I say apparently, because I don’t recall the exact conversation, but I must not have been fully trusting of Jenn’s love for me. She was very emphatic that if our young relationship was going to last, I would have to make up my mind to believe that she loved me.

The truth of that statement was probably the single most important factor for the stability of our relationship, other than us saying “I do” on our wedding day. I had to receive the love she provided, and make up my mind to trust her, or our relationship would eventually erode.

Recently, Jesus made me aware I was doing the exact same thing in my relationship with Him. Somewhere along the way I started believing that although He loved me, if things weren’t going my way, and life got frustrating as it tends to do, that I was losing favor with Him. Though intellectually I knew He would never leave or forsake me, there was a nagging feeling that there must have been something I did to diminish His favor.

Ironically, as I explained this situation to my wife, she asked a simple yet straightforward question. She said, “do you honestly think you could fall out of God’s favor?” The dim light became a bit brighter, and I immediately flashed back to our conversation we had at the beginning of our relationship. Again, it was a trust issue, but this time with God.

Sometimes we get an erroneous idea implanted in our minds by loud voices in our culture, tradition or even the enemy, and it takes God’s word of truth to dispel it and bring clarity.

If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.  John 8:31-32

I am convinced that in our relationship with Christ that nothing can separate us from His love (Rom 8:38-39). I suppose I simply need to be reminded of truth from from time to time.

Though our feelings come and go, God’s love for us does not. C.S. Lewis

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