Category Archives: Teaching

Unless You Also Repent

15794713_s“Unless you repent.” Jesus repeated these three words twice while speaking to a crowd of his followers. He spoke them the first time while referring to the actions of a homicidal maniac who had murdered tourists who had come to a special event. He spoke them the second time while referring to people who were victims of an industrial accident at a work site. Since we have been traumatized by similar events this week, we should probably pay attention to what Jesus said about them.

We can find what Jesus said in the book of Luke, chapter 13.

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)

While Jesus was meeting with a group of people, someone decided to let him know the latest headlines. The Roman governor of Judea once again demonstrated his brutal nature by viciously attacking pilgrims in Jerusalem. It was a shocking and unexpected attack that would have grieved the nation. Rather than raging against the perpetrators of the massacre and calling for justice, Jesus directed his listeners toward the fragile nature of life.

To consolidate his point, he told about the tragedy in Siloam. We have no other description of this event, but some believe this was a construction accident, and that the majority of those who died were workers who were building the tower. Again, this was a shocking event that would have grieved the nation because of the orphaned children and widows left behind by this tragedy. Rather than attempting to assign blame for the accident, Jesus again directed his listeners toward the fragile nature of life.

Why did Jesus do this? We live in a world where bad things happen. Homicidal maniacs, industrial accidents, and myriads of other threats and diseases are always threatening to strike down friends and family. These things happen to good people, people we enjoy as friends, family, and neighbors. They can also happen to us, unless we take the necessary steps to protect ourselves and our families. That necessary step is repentance.

Repentance is an oft misunderstood word. People don’t like it all that much because it conjures up images of froth-mouthed preachers slamming pulpits and condemning sinners. Images such as that do not have a whole lot to do with repentance. The Greek word that is translated “repentance,” literally speaks to a change of mind. When Jesus uses it in Luke 13, he is calling on his listeners to turn their minds away from their self-reliance, to repent of their lack of God-focus, and to agree with God that they desperately need him for life and protection. That is the repentance of which Jesus spoke. The wondrous thing about this repentance, this agreement with God, is that it can protect us while we live in a world where bad things happen. It can stop us from perishing in events caused by homicidal maniacs, negligent building owners, or the myriad of other threats we face in this world.

I was once walking down the streets of St. Petersburg, Russia with a friend of mine during a Spring thaw. I wasn’t very comfortable walking down the street we were on, because workers were clearing ice from the roofs of the five and six story buildings on that street. When I asked about it, my friend, who lived there, told me that it was common for large chunks of ice to fall unexpectedly from the buildings during a thaw. He explained that many people had been killed in this way. The workers were making certain that this street was safe.

We walked back on that same street a bit later that day. Since the workers had already finished the street, I didn’t feel uneasy about the ice. As my friend and I were walking down the street, he was telling me a story about some ministry he had done in India. The story included a particular van that they had used in India. Just as he was telling me this story, one of those exact vans passed by us in the street. This so surprised him that he stopped short, thrust out his arm, and pointed at the van in amazement. He stopped so quickly that I almost ran into him, and had to stop abruptly to avoid him. Just as I was turning my head to look where he was pointing, a massive chunk of ice slammed onto the sidewalk right where we would have been if he had not stopped so abruptly. The chunk was easily large enough to have killed us both. If that van had not gone by right then, we would have become two more victims of a senseless tragedy.

Why did we receive such obvious protection where others had not? I cannot speak to their stories, and would do them a disservice if I tried. I only know our stories. Both of us were walking in repentance. We understood our vital need for God’s protection in our lives. This is not about religion, sincerity, or merit. It is about humility agreeing that we cannot do it on our own. Because we had repented in this way, we did not perish.

Obviously, I do not know the people who have been killed and injured in our most current tragedies. I do not know their stories, nor do I pretend to know their stories. I am grieved and horrified by their senseless loss. My heart aches for those who have lost loved ones, and for those who have to experience a long healing process. If I think about it too closely, it is overwhelming to me and my heart becomes heavy with sorrow. I recognize that some are heroes who put their lives in harms way in order to save others. I am not thinking about them as I write these words, nor would it be appropriate to do so.

Instead, like Jesus, I am pointing in another direction. I am pointing at you. The losses we have experienced this week remind us of how fragile our hold on life can be. Jesus’ prescription for certainty still rings through the centuries, “Unless you repent, you too cannot be certain that life’s uncertainties will take you out. However, if you agree that you desperately need God’s help and protection, he will give it.” That is a lesson we can take to heart.
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My sympathies and my condolences to those who are mourning this week. The Lord can lift heavy burdens. The same Lord who would not let his listeners speculate about the moral or spiritual qualities of the victims of tragedy, also reached out to those who grieved. His invitation still stands, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
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Image credit: grgroup / 123RF Stock Photo

Don’t Be a Cowardly Spy

Once upon a time, God rescued his people in an amazing way. A bad king had made the people slaves. The people were very sad. God told the bad king to let the people go. When the bad king would not let the people go, God used supernatural power to force the bad king to let the people go. But the bad king was stubborn. God sent ten supernatural storms to shake the bad king’s land. Finally, the bad king let the people go.

But the bad king changed his mind. He was sad that he let the people go. So he chased them with his big army. When the people saw the big army, they were afraid. Once again God did supernatural things. He divided an entire sea so that the people could get away from the bad king by walking on the bottom of the sea (they could even pick up fish along the way for their evening fish fry). When the bad king tried to follow the people, he and his big army were covered by the water when God stopped doing the supernatural thing. The people rejoiced over what God had done for them.

Then God led the people and did more supernatural things. He even lived among them in a giant flame at night, and a giant smoke cloud during the day. God even let the people hear his voice. Finally, God led his people through a dry and dusty country to their new land.

When the people arrived at their new land, they saw that some bad giants already lived there. So the people sent twelve spies into their new land to see how many bad giants lived there. When the twelve spies returned, they were very excited because the new land was so nice. It was filled with green grass and wonderful fruit trees. The spies told the people about all the milk in the land, and how they were able to mix it with honey for a tasty drink like they had never tasted before. All the people got excited about their new land.

But then, ten of the spies forgot about the supernatural things of God. They forgot that God lived in the giant flame at night, and the giant smoke cloud during the day. They forgot about how God led them through the dry and dusty country. They forgot about walking on the bottom of the sea (and frying the fish at night). They forgot about the ten supernatural storms God sent to deliver the people. They thought about the giants. They became afraid.

The ten cowardly spies decided to tell the people how afraid they were. They told stories about the giants. They told the people how the giants would not leave the people’s new land. They told the people that the giants would not let the people live there. They told them how mean the giants would be. The ten cowardly spies forgot that God would help them.

Two of the spies were not afraid. They remembered the supernatural things of God. They remembered that God lived in the giant flame at night, and the giant smoke cloud during the day. They remembered about how God led them through the dry and dusty country. They remembered about walking on the bottom of the sea (and frying fish at night). They remembered about the ten supernatural storms God sent to deliver the people. They thought about God. They were not afraid.

The two brave spies were happy because they knew God would do supernatural things for them. They told stories about God. They told the people how God would not let the giants live in their new land. They told the people that God would not let the giants be mean. They told the people how big God is. The two brave spies remembered that God would help them.

But the people did not listen to the two brave spies. The people listened to the ten cowardly spies. The people forgot about the supernatural things of God. The people forgot that God lived in the giant flame at night, and the giant smoke cloud during the day. The people forgot about how God led them through the dry and dusty country. The people forgot about walking on the bottom of the sea (and frying the fish at night). The people forgot about the ten supernatural storms God sent to deliver them. The people thought about the giants. The people became afraid.

Then the people told God they didn’t want to live in their new land. God was very sad that the people did not trust him. He was sad that they listened to the ten cowardly spies. He was sad that they were afraid. But he told the people that they did not have to live in their new land. He told them they could live in the dry and dusty country for a long time. He told them that their children would be brave enough to live in the new land. The brave children would trust God and not be afraid.

God was happy with the two brave spies. God told them that they would live a long time. He told them that they would get to lead the brave children out of the dry and dusty country into their new land.

God was not happy with the ten cowardly spies. They had made the people afraid. God killed the ten cowardly spies who had discouraged his people. He did not want the ten cowardly spies to discourage his people any longer.

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting
our hearts on evil things as they did. (1 Corinthians 10:6 NIV)

There may be giants in land (even in Washington D.C.), but God still leads his people.
Discourage the people at your peril.

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Choosing Not to Participate

The other night the Lord gave me a dream about the economy. He showed me some things that are currently happening, and what people fear might happen. He also showed me how we can prosper no matter what happens to the economy.

While I was preparing to turn in that evening, I had asked the Lord for some insights on behalf of some friends of mine. He responded to that request by giving me a series of dreams. One of those dreams not only spoke to my friend’s situation, but it also contained an important message for all of us. It was a dream about living in God’s supernatural economy.

Before I explain the dream, I want to remind us about something from 2009. On April 23, 2009 Christian financial counselor Dave Ramsey held a Town Hall for Hope in order to, as he put it, “get real answers about the economy and turn back the tide of fear . . .” The event was streamed to over six thousand host locations—many of them churches—where over a million people watched the event live. During the event, Dave Ramsey made a memorable statement. He said that he was choosing not to participate in the recession. That statement sparked much discussion about whether it is even possible to make such a choice. My dream addresses that very issue.

Now, on to the dream: I was a passenger on a large commercial aircraft. I was sitting toward the front of the plane, and learned that the pilot was going to perform a particular maneuver as we approached the city to which we were headed. He planned to make his approach to the airport over water at a low altitude, and to dip his right wing twice on the approach. I didn’t know why he wanted to do this, but I didn’t like the idea at all because it felt too risky. Fortunately for me, the plane had a stopover at another city before we got to our final destination. I took advantage of that opportunity and exited the plane. Then, as things often happen in dreams, the scene changed and I was at the destination airport explaining to some people what the pilot of that aircraft planned to do. The people to whom I was speaking were very concerned about the possibility of a crash. That was the end of the dream.

As I prayed about the dream, I realized that the pilot planned a “double dip.” Since the news is filled with concern about a double dip recession hitting by the end of 2012, I don’t think the interpretation is too difficult. I believe the airplane represents the United States (or world) economy. People are riding that economy to what they hope is a positive destination. Even though we have been riding a recession for the last couple years, we are hoping to soon get the end of this recessionary dip. While double dip ice cream is usually a good thing, double dip recessions are not so good, especially since people often begin to fear an economic crash.

First, let’s look at the bad news included in the dream. We are going to experience that second dip. Actually, those of you who follow financials more closely realize that many sectors of the economic world have already been experiencing a double dip cycle, but the dream indicates that it will probably get worse. As we look at current headlines, we have to agree. Greece and France are making moves that are threatening the Euro. As a result, financial markets around the world are a bit shaky. These financial tremors will continue to fuel negative speculation about a potential crash—though please note that the dream does not include a crash, only fear about one (in other words, a crash is not a certainty).

Now, let’s look at the good news. This dream makes it clear that Dave Ramsey was right, we don’t have to participate in any of this. In the dream, I chose to get off the plane before it performed the dips. That means it is possible to avoid riding the economic turmoil of our world or country. The question, of course, is, “How?” The answer is faith.

A recession begins when faith in the economy begins to collapse. When the Lord speaks to me in dreams, the right side often represents faith. That is why, in the dream, the pilot dips the right side of the plane. The double dip recession involves a loss of faith, not only in the economy, but in God’s ability to bless us through the economy. That is why we must refuse to participate.

The Lord has challenged my congregation not to participate in the natural economy, but to intentionally live in the Father’s supernatural economy. His supernatural economy doesn’t divorce us from the current economic system, but it does separate us from the negative cycles of that system. The Father’s supernatural economy is about giving and generosity. It is about giving firstfruits and sowing seed. It believes Jesus when he teaches us that the Father in heaven cares for our financial needs (see Matthew 6:25-33). It refuses to give place to fear and works to cultivate a generous spirit. It recognizes that there is a supernatural economy that works far better than the natural one.

When Dave Ramsey did his financial Town Hall back in 2009, he taught a bit on God’s supernatural economy, though he did not call it that. He explained that people who had stopped giving needed to start giving again. Dave said, “We can’t win if we can’t give.” He reminded his viewers that if they wanted to win with money and change the nation, they needed to learn to give again.

This is sound advice. When we do this, we will learn that the supernatural economy will actually take us to our economic destination far faster than the natural economy. This was a major point in the dream, though you might miss it. In the dream, I actually made it to the destination ahead of the plane I was on, even though I had chosen to get off of the plane early. This part of the dream communicates the exact same thing that Jesus did in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” When we choose to participate in God’s economy, the Father responds by giving us all the things that the world chases after in its economy, but with a major difference. Their economy is slower, less stable, and fraught with striving and worry. The Father’s economy is faster, rock solid, and filled with peace and joy.

When we begin to understand this, why would we choose to stay on the world’s economic airplane? If we have not yet done so, we need to take the steps necessary to get off of it, and live in faith again.

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Deeper Waters Are Calling

Several years ago the Lord gave me a dream about standing in waist-deep water. A friend of mine, who was with me in the dream, was excited about where I was standing. When I later spoke to a  mentor about the dream, he got as excited as my friend who had appeared in the dream. I already knew that the dream was about the river of God (Ezekiel 47), but my mentor added something I hadn’t considered. Water up to the waist represents commitment.

Up until that time I had never considered the very practical aspects of the river of God. I understood that God is very practical about how things apply in our lives; I just had never considered how this applied to the river of God. I should have.

It has been many years since I began to understand that since the belt of truth covered our loins (see Ephesians 6:14), Paul was teaching that spiritual warfare included having our sexuality governed by God’s truth. On the one hand, illicit sexual expression violates our ability to stand before the enemy. On the other hand, godly sexual expression between a husband and wife is spiritual warfare. It not only helps us stand our ground, it takes ground from the enemy. As such, it is a part of our armor that must be defended from every attack launched by the enemy of our souls. This is very practical and important truth.

Since I understand this about the belt of truth, it should not have been a surprise that there is a similar message about the waist-deep water in Ezekiel 47. This very practical section of scripture outlines our walk toward God and his spiritual power in our lives. The first verses outline the work and flow of God’s Holy Spirit.

Then he brought me back to the door of the temple, and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. Then he brought me out by way of the north gate and led me around on the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and behold, the water was trickling out on the south side.

Going on eastward with a measuring line in his hand, the man measured a thousand cubits,[a] and then led me through the water, and it was ankle-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was knee-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was waist-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen. It was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through. And he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this?” (Ezekiel 47:1-6a ESV)

When the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts, we begin to experience his life, a life that proceeds from the throne of grace. We begin our Christian walk in the ankle-deep water of his presence. This is the level of beginning sanctification. As we walk about in the ankle-deep water, our feet are continually cleansed by the Spirit’s presence. This is a beautiful picture of his work in our lives.

When Jesus was washing the disciple’s feet at the Last Supper, Peter did not want him to do so (see John 13:1-11). Jesus insisted by telling Peter, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me” (John 13:8b). At once Peter understood that Jesus was doing far more than washing his disciple’s feet; Peter grasped that Jesus was illustrating a truth about spiritual cleansing. So he responded by asking Jesus to wash his hands and his head also. Jesus patiently explained to Peter that since he belonged to Jesus, he did not need a bath because he was already spiritually cleansed. However, when one walks in the world, one gets dirty feet. By his actions, Jesus was highlighting the need that Christians have for spiritual cleansing on a daily basis. Jesus urged the disciples to do for each other what he had done. As he helped them by cleansing their physical feet, we need to help each other by cleansing the “dirt” of this world off each other’s souls.

Jesus’ actions and teaching help us understand the Ezekiel River. Once we have come to Christ, we have been bathed so that we are no longer of the world. However, since we are in the world, our feet can get dirty as we go about our daily walk. When we walk in the River of God, our feet are cleansed by God’s Spirit on a continual basis. This ankle-deep water is the water of repentance and restoration.

Obviously, we never take our feet out of this water, but we don’t stay at the ankle-deep level either. As we grow in the Lord, the Holy Spirit begins to draw us into higher levels of understanding and consecration.When we are walking in ankle-deep water, we are still in control. The currents of the Holy Spirit may swirl around our feet, but we can remain standing where we wish.That changes as we begin to wade further into the river. As we go deeper, it is harder to resist the currents of the Holy Spirit.

We must choose to continue moving deeper into the things of the Holy Spirit, but we must also understand the message of the thousand cubits. Each stage of the journey is a thousand cubits long. Ten is a number of completion. Ten cubed is one thousand (emphasizing completeness in God’s season). We cannot truly choose to move deeper in the Ezekiel River until the water has completed its work in us at its current depth. Until the ankle-deep water has achieved its purposes, any choice to move deeper will be shallow and unsustainable. We will simply not have the resolve to move deeper until the Spirit has completed his work in us at our current level. We can speed this work up by cooperating with the Spirit’s goals in our life, or we can slow the process down by resisting his molding and shaping. But we will not move on until we have traveled the thousand cubits in our souls.

During each stage of this journey, we surrender more of our self-will to God. We can easily resist the Spirit’s pull in ankle-deep water. We can even, to an extent, resist the currents of the Holy Spirit when we are standing in knee deep water—as long as those currents are not too strong.* We can certainly feel his nudges at a much higher level, but we can usually resist them if we choose. However, once we get waist deep—the level of commitment—we are at the mercy of the current. The Holy Spirit can push and pull us where he wants us to go. When we get to the next stage of the river beyond that, the water that is so deep that we can only swim, the Spirit’s current will take us wherever he wants us to go.

I believe that we must understand this dynamic of the Ezekiel River, or we will be content to stay in the shallows throughout our entire life. We must go deeper if we want to be used by the Holy Spirit. We must move beyond the ankle-deep water to the deeper waters beyond. How do we go deeper? We choose to go deeper by an act of our will.

When we understand the practical aspects of the Ezekiel River, we can understand how to proceed into deeper waters. We can strive to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in his current work, and we can can consciously aim for deeper waters in our lives. While we can stay in ankle-deep water as long as we desire, those who want to be used by the Lord must press another thousand cubits to the knee-deep water. The knee-deep water is the water of reverence and intercession. In the Old Testament, a bent knee is a sign of worship and adoration. More than that, we learn from Solomon’s example that when a knee is bent in reverence it gives voice to supplication (see 1 Kings 8:54). The knees symbolize humility before the Lord, a humility that recognizes our dependence upon him, and results in supplication to him. We can choose to bow to the Lord’s dominion over heaven and earth in this fashion, and by doing so, enter into the Ezekiel River up to our knees. Knee-deep water is for those who have begun to understand their authority on the earth, and are committed to establishing God’s Kingdom with it.

But deeper waters keep calling. As I have already mentioned, waist-deep water symbolizes commitment. The parts of our body below the waist represent our base nature. This part of our nature must be cleansed and empowered by the Holy Spirit. This is not about denying our sexual identity. Christians are not called to abstinence, rather they are called to celebrate their sexual identities in the bonds of marriage, recognizing that the Lord is at work even in our marital intimacies.** At this level, because we have begun to understand true commitment, we can feel the shifts of the Holy Spirit’s current far more easily. Even if we wanted to resist, we are so committed that we are no longer able to effectively resist his nudges. We have walked through the waters of repentance and renewal. We have knelt in the waters of worship and intercession. And now we have moved on to commitment. All that’s left is to wade in another thousand yards so that our will becomes one with the Holy Spirit’s current, and his will is done in us as it is in heaven.

Now I understand why my prophetic friends (in the dream and in real life) were so excited by the waist-deep water. We haven’t seen much of the church operating at this level. But we will. When that happens, we will see the Bride begin to step into her true role. When that happens, everything will change. That becomes clear as Ezekiel’s vision continues:

Then he led me back to the bank of the river. As I went back, I saw on the bank of the river very many trees on the one side and on the other. And he said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, and enters the sea;[b] when the water flows into the sea, the water will become fresh.[c] And wherever the river goes,[d] every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea[e] may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. 10 Fishermen will stand beside the sea. From Engedi to Eneglaim it will be a place for the spreading of nets. Its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea.[f] 11 But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. 12 And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.” (Ezekiel 47:6b-12)

When the Bride steps into the deep waters, bitter waters become fresh, life is released, fishermen (evangelists) will practice their trade freely, and healing will be released to the nations.

The deep waters are calling. Step into them.

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* Ocean rip currents are often so strong that even those wading in knee-deep water can be swept off their feet and overwhelmed by the strength of this current.

**Of course singles are not excluded from the waist-deep level. While they will not give expression to their sexual energies, their willingness to govern themselves freely according to God’s plans for sexual expression is their spiritual warfare.
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A Season of Praise

Christmas is here, with all of its complexity. It comes every year as a joyous reminder of the birth of our Savior. It comes with celebrations and families gathering, with holiday decorations and gifts. But it is also a bit more complex, in that every year it seems there is less and less of the Savior, and more and more of the Santa.

I’m not a Santa hater. I don’t think the Lord is all that upset about a figure patterned on one of his saints of old, who reminds us that Christmas is a season of giving. When the Lord wanted to speak to our congregation about our new location, he used the movie Miracle on 34th Street to let us know that he was up to something. In case you haven’t seen the movie lately, it is about Santa.

So, while I’m not a Santa hater, I’m not a fan of the fact that Santa has become the de facto reason for Christmas in the hearts and souls of many people. This truth is what makes the season more complex. When people lose the real meaning of Christmas to the veneer of the holiday traditions, they lose the very thing that makes this holiday, and our very existence, worthwhile.

I believe this is the reason that psychologists remind us that Christmas can be one of the most depressing seasons of the year. There are many lonely people who do not have relatives or friends with whom to celebrate the holidays. There are many dysfunctional families who come together for the holidays and hurt each other more than they help each other. Hurting people find out that gifts only make them feel good for a couple hours, and then the pain and futility of life without true purpose returns. Santa just doesn’t help people deal with the real issues of life.

The Savior does help people deal with those issues. In fact, we can really enjoy this holiday no matter what our current situation, no matter if we celebrate alone, with a dysfunctional group, or a healthy family, we can celebrate Christmas because it is about redemption. It is about the one who came to make all our efforts, all our relationships, and all our life worthwhile. Christ came into the world with purpose for our lives. He broke the bonds of futility and released eternal purpose and meaning.

When Zechariah, the father of John, got his voice back, he declared that the Messiah was coming

“to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” (Luke 1:74-75)

Santa just can’t measure up to that.

 

Merry Christmas!