Beware the “ites” of March

Sanctification is both a passive act done by God and an active endeavor done by us, in concert with God’s assistance.  The passive act of sanctification is done by God at the moment of salvation.  This is the Greek term HAGIOI which means “saints” or “holy ones.”  When we are saved, God sanctifies us and makes us holy so we can be called “saints” the way many of Paul’s epistles’ salutations were written:  Romans 1:7; Ephesians 1:1; and many others.  So, if you’re saved, you are a sanctified person able to call yourself a saint.

Now, during that passive act of sanctification which God did within you and for which you were unable to do yourself or even assist Him in making you holy at that moment, you were sanctified by God through salvation for His use, because sanctified also means to be separated.  Not separated like a child is lost when separated from their parents.  No, we are separated unto God, once sanctification took place at the moment of salvation.  Paul knew this in Romans 1:1, “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God.”  Paul realized he was purchased by God and now was set apart to do God’s bidding in the way of taking the gospel to the lost.

Other verses to teach us that we were sanctified by God at the time of salvation and set apart for His use are these:  “Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate” (Hebrews 13:12).  Paul reminds us in Romans 15:16 that we are sanctified by the Holy Ghost which we receive at the moment of salvation, “That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.”  Jesus prayed for His disciples in John 17:17-19 because He recognized that through their faith in Him and who He was, they were sanctified and Jesus was ready to send them out to spread the Good News. “Sanctify them through thy truth:  thy word is truth.  As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.  And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.

Okay, so that’s a very cursory look at the passive act of sanctification that God does at the moment of salvation.  He makes us holy and sets us apart for His use.  Now then, we play an active role in a portion of the sanctification process.  Sanctification is not only being made holy.  It not only refers to being set apart for God’s use.  Sanctification also means the lifelong process of developing holiness.  That’s where we come in.  There are four aspects to the role we play in the process of sanctification.

First, sanctification is the Will of God for the believer.  “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication” (1st Thessalonians 4:3).  This is God’s Will for the believer, for us to willingly set ourselves apart for God’s use.  Again, at the moment of salvation, God knew He wanted us for His service, and this is known as positional sanctification.  When we choose to willingly set ourselves apart for His use, it is known as practical sanctification.  To abstain from sin is an active effort on your part to separate yourself from sin.  This will allow God to use you because you choose to live your life and present yourself to others as a clean vessel of honor…which brings us to our second point about practical sanctification…

The second point is that practical sanctification is learned.  “That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor” (1st Thessalonians 4:4).  Positional sanctification at the time of salvation is a passive and complete act, but this process of practical sanctification is something that we are to do, but aren’t given the knowledge necessary to pull it off.  This is where studying God’s Word comes into play.  This is why the work of discipleship in your churches is so important.  This is why sitting under good, godly, convicting, and down right uncomfortable preaching is so important.  Those are the ways we learn practical sanctification.

Thirdly, Paul tells the church at Thessalonica that this matter of practical sanctification is to move us toward holiness, “For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness (1st Thessalonians 4:7).  God has called us not only to be separate (vs. 3) and not only does He expect us to learn to do it (vs. 4) but now He explains that it’s to bring us to a level of holiness that He will be able to utilize for His service.  Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy, for I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 20:7).  Did you catch the first part of that verse where it says to sanctify yourselves?  That’s the active role we play in this matter of practical sanctification.  Striving for the goal of increased holiness to be meet for the Master’s service.

The fourth and final aspect of sanctification is that it’s something we must pursue.  “If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the Master’s use and prepared unto every good work.  Flee also youthful lusts:  but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2nd Timothy 2:21-22).  Everyday is a day filled with choices to set ourselves apart for God’s service or to conform to the lustful desires of the flesh.  But Paul tells Timothy to seek after righteous things and deal properly with both the saved and unsaved, exercise his faith, demonstrate love, and offer peace to those who call upon God out of a pure heart.  We should avoid those who we should separate from and seek after those who will edify us and build us up and help us to grow.

It’s this point of purity that I want to focus on.  The whole goal of practical sanctification is holiness by achieving greater and greater purity in our walk with God.  But we all have our weaknesses.  We all have things in our lives that have defeated us in the past and stand to defeat us yet again, and prevent us from living more pure lives thereby fostering a lesser level of holiness.  But those areas of weakness and those sins that continuously trip us up need not have dominance over us.  Sanctification is a process throughout life that comes as God gives us victory over these troubling sins.  Remember…greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world (1st John 4:4).

Now, Israel was chosen of God and sanctified as His chosen peoples.  God was trying to bring them to a place.  This place was the Promised Land.  Here’s the account in Deuteronomy 7:1-6:  “When the Lord thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou; And when the Lord thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor show mercy on them:  Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.  For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods:  so will the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly.  But thus shall ye deal with them; ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire.  For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God:  the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto Himself, above all people that are upon the earth.  The Lord did not set this love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people…”

Let me just remind you that I just laid a case for the fact that we are sanctified positionally by God at the moment of salvation.  God was reminding Israel before inhabiting the Promised Land that they were an holy people unto the Lord thy God.  Just as God chose Israel to be a special people unto Himself, so too are we, who are saved, special people separated unto God (1st Peter 2:9).  I think it’s interesting to note that the Bible says that God did not choose Israel because they were the most numerous, because they were actually the fewest of all the people.  Though many people claim to be Christian today, true Christians in the Bible sense of the word are probably still today the fewest of all people.  So we can see that Christians today, and Israel share similar characteristics.  So with that being the case, let’s look carefully at the beginning of the passage and see what God demanded from Israel.

First of all, among the land God promised Israel dwelt seven of their adversaries.  These nations had defeated Israel in the past and had the potential to oppress them if not properly dealt with.  Well, God promised the victory to Israel in verse 2.  This was the positional aspect of their being set apart.  Much the same way we gained ultimate victory over death at the moment of salvation.  But for Israel, and ourselves likewise, the potential is there for further ongoing battles to take place in our lives despite us being the ultimate victors.  So what God demanded from Israel is what we need to take to heart and apply in our lives.

Of these seven nations that had either oppressed Israel, or stood ready to oppress Israel, when God delivered these nations to her, she was to utterly destroy them…nor show mercy unto them.  Why?  Well, let’s insert any sin that continuously has dominion over us in place of any of the “ites” in Deuteronomy 7:1.  Let’s consider drugs, alcohol, gambling, immorality, lying, stealing, etc, to be “ites” in our lives.  We are ultimately victorious, as we will one day be in Heaven despite our struggles with these things, but we may lose many battles along the way…unless we do what God told the Israelites to do…utterly destroy them.  What does that mean?  It means this.  Don’t give that “ite” any chance of coming up against you.  Here’s one example…

Many years ago when I worked with people struggling with substance abuse (alcohol and drugs), I often counseled them that they not only needed to stay away from the drugs or alcohol, but they needed to get rid of all things associated with the former life they were trying to flee.  I would tell them that they can’t hang out by the bus station anymore if that’s where all the people they did drugs with still hung out.  I told them to throw out their cell phones and get rid of all the phone numbers of their suppliers.  It’s about creating a “no fail” zone in your life.  It’s about not allowing the devil one little avenue to get back into your life.  It’s about utterly destroying any and all things related to that “ite.”

You’ve got to look at your life and evaluate whether you are where you feel God would be pleased when it comes to your level of holiness and purity and practical sanctification.  For example, music for me has always been a large source of pleasure for me.  I enjoy all kinds of music.  The problem is that I haven’t always had God-honoring music as the only kind of music in my collection.  I would find my CD collection containing hard rock albums with the most vile lyrics sitting on the shelf next to music from the Crown College Choir.  So I have, from time to time, purged my CD collection, but I have always held on to some genres of music that I did not feel had offensive and vile lyrics.  The problem was that I would inevitably have my convictions watered down by listening to those few albums I kept and eventually I would find myself, years later, purging albums that I had purged the previous time.

Israel did not do as God had commanded and eventually those nations rose up again and reeked havoc on the Nation of Israel.  Israel did not utterly destroy them, and those nations won victories when they shouldn’t have.  Much the same way my music collection grows with ungodly music until I find myself listening to that more than wholesome godly music.  I allowed my “ite” (worldly music) to live to fight another day.  God knows how one little bit of something can grow to become a great big something in our lives.

So what are your “ites?”  Remember that we have ultimate victory over these things (positionally in Christ), but we must have no mercy upon our enemies, and ask God to help us utterly destroy them before they destroy us.  Beware the “ites” of March!

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Posted in Alcohol, assurance, Backsliding, Blessings, Body, Character, church, Conflicts, Family, Godliness, Ministry, Purity, Recommitment, sin, Spiritual Growth, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Race, Ethnicity, and the Church

If you read the account in Luke’s gospel in Chapter 2:41-52, you’ll find a story that is inconceivable to us today.  In verse 41-42, we find Jesus, Mary, and Joseph traveling to Jerusalem to take part in the Passover feast.  Then, in verse 43, they left Jerusalem…without Jesus…and neither of them knew it.  They traveled for a day’s journey, which is anywhere from 16-20 miles…by foot and caravan…among many kinfolk and friends.  The custom for the Jewish culture at that time was to treat a 12-year old boy as a young man that needed less intense supervision.  Not only that, but if Jesus were among family and friends, there would have been many eyes that could have been responsible for seeing that Jesus was safe and traveling with the group.  It’s only when they all stopped for the evening and Mary and Joseph went looking for Jesus that they discovered He was missing.  It sounds careless to us, but back then, in that culture, that was the way it was done.  They did not love Jesus any less than we love our own children, and verse 48 says that they had “sought” Jesus “sorrowing.”  So they weren’t what we could perceive as careless…just different in the way that family was constructed and what was actually the norm for that culture.

In today’s society, we have multitudes of families from multitudes of ethnicities, each bringing with them some quirks, oddities, and strangeness.  These families are in the same communities that our churches are in, and, they are the very families we try to invite into the church through various outreach ministries.  Once they come into our church, these families are the ones we want to disciple and teach, and see improve.  We all know the Biblical standards families ought to strive for, but exactly what does that look like?  Is there a cultural mold that each family, despite its ethnicity, must conform to before we can say for certain that the family is exhibiting signs of being a “godly” family?  Just look within a family of four and see how each member may be a godly person, saved, and serving the Lord, but their personalities all express that truth differently.  And that’s just within the same family.  It’s the same with multicultural and ethnic families.  They may be “godly” families, but their unique way of expressing that godliness may seem strange to us, leading us to pass a rather unjustified judgment on them.  Different does not always mean wrong.

Monica McGoldrick, a sociologist, explains:  “Ethnicity patterns our thinking, feeling, and behavior in both obvious and subtle ways, although generally operating outside our awareness.  It plays a major role in determining what we eat, how we work, how we relate, how we celebrate holidays and rituals, and how we feel about life, death, and illness.”  I am an American, but my ancestry is from Canada.  Our holiday celebrations are filled with ethnocentricities straight from the French-Canadian cultures.  The foods Canadian families eat, especially around New Years Eve, are very different from delicacies that might be enjoyed by Asian families.  Food is just one area that ethnicity really shows itself in its diversity.

It’s not uncommon, even in rural churches, to have several different ethnic families.  Asians, Africans, Central Americans, South Americans, and Eastern Europeans are well represented throughout America.  Because of that, we need to be sensitive to the fact that there is a need to know something about the ethnic backgrounds of some of the families in our churches so that we don’t look at their differences and quirks and pass them off as “hurting” or “ungodly” or “lacking spirituality” and so on.  One does not need to become adept in every intricacy of every family of every ethnicity, and all it takes to understand a family’s cultural dynamics is to ask.

The term ethnicity has three distinct meanings.  First, it’s believed that ethnicity is determined by shared physical and cultural characteristics.  Another definition of ethnicity has to do with the differences in the language, religion, color, and ancestry around which a group is defined.  Lastly, the word ethnicity is derived from the Greek word ethnos, which means “nation.”  These would be people set apart by national origins and/or distinctive cultural patterns.  A good example of the intermingling of these definitions is to look at the Jews today.  One could claim to be a Jew because they were born in Israel, or are born of descendants of Israeli lineage (ethnos).  Others will claim they are Jewish because they practice the Jewish faith (ethnicity defined by religious affiliation).  Still others will consider themselves to be Jewish because they adhere to Jewish customs, morals, and principles (ethnic through cultural affiliation).

So, dealing with varying races, ethnicities, and cultures appropriately 100% of the time would be impossible.  Nor is it possible to stereotype every race, ethnicity, and culture with a broad brush and expect to get it right each time you deal with a family of a particular kind.  But there are some things we need to get into the habit of doing if we want to minister to these families and be of the utmost help to them.  Here’s a list of seven things we can do:

  1. With diversity on the rise, and more and more ethnicities and cultures being represented in our churches we need to be open to different conceptions of the family.  Unless their concept of family opposes biblical morals and truths, we should not harbor one definition to be superior over another definition.
  2. Within the concept of culture and ethnicity is how families are to be understood.  You can’t understand an Asian family by looking through your own cultural construct that may be African or Eastern European in origin.
  3. When you do come into contact with a family of another ethnicity, learn as much as possible from them and understand them and don’t be critical based on your own contrasting definition forged by your culture.
  4. Understand that families are structured differently in various cultures within generations and gender-roles, and such.  Accept that, and work with that, so long as, again, it does not violate Scriptural truths and morals.
  5. Many cultures have pockets within our communities where there is a heavy concentration.  Usually, in these areas are professionals (doctors, lawyers, counselors) who are heterogeneous (they are of the same culture) and make up a support system for the families in that area.  This network of people can be an invaluable resource to utilize while ministering to a family.
  6. If we want godly families, and we have a predetermined definition of what that looks like culturally, we need to redefine our goals and what we expect to see as a family grows in the Lord.  The more we understand a family’s ethnicity, the better able we are to recognize that this family is indeed growing spiritually.
  7. Don’t always assume each family will fit its ethnic stereotype.  For instance, a third generation Asian couple and their two children may visit the church.  They have no accents.  Both parents work outside the home.  Their children are dating non-Asians (a big no-no for the Asian culture).  They are, for all intents and purposes, Americans.  They have gone through a process called acculturation, which is a watering down of the culture of origin until the dominant culture (in this case, American) takes over.  Treating this family like an Asian family won’t work in this case.

It’s God’s intention that we embrace multiculturalism.  Consider Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek (ethnicity), there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female:  for ye are all one in Christ.”  The point about neither Jew nor Greek not only helps explain the availability of salvation to all peoples, but the mere fact that all peoples are being reigned in to the Church leads one to believe that they can’t all be of the same ethnicity and do all things the same as everyone else.  Yet, certain aspects of the relationship between the believer and Christ will transcend ethnicity and culture. One day, “…at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE should bow, of things in Heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that EVERY TONGUE should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).

That’s the focus to disciple new families to the church regardless of their cultural background.  Put them under the Lordship of Christ and let the Holy Spirit lead you into dealing with aspects of their family’s culture that are wrong, and leave the rest alone.  For example, Asian ethnicities holding firm to the belief their children should only marry within the Asian culture is not a point that needs to be contested with families.  That’s a cultural preference that may not be against any biblical principle.  In contrast, an Eastern European family drinks wine with their meals.  In European homes (especially the French) children and teens will drink fermented wine with the dinner meals.  That is an example of something that needs to be dealt with, as cultural relativism does not apply in this case because it goes against a biblical mandate to abstain from alcohol.

The Native American culture is another good example.  Native Americans often hold great value in laughing.  They believe laughter relieves stress and brings people together.  Often, at their evening dinners or tribal meals, the food takes a backseat to laughter, skits, and joke and storytelling.  We may find it odd and quirky if we compared their idea of family mealtime with ours, but again, nothing’s wrong with the way they conduct themselves at the dinner table, so long as the jokes aren’t of the Joan Rivers variety.  However, Native Americans are also very spiritual, as a people.  Not only do Native Americans enjoy family ties with blood relatives, it’s likewise not uncommon among tribal people to become members of a family by being “claimed” by that family.  The Native Americans believe family is not only a matter of blood, but of spirit also.  Obviously, that could have moral and legal ramifications to be wary of.

It’s unfortunate that a detailed look at the family dynamics of some of the more common ethnicities in our churches cannot be done at this time.  Instead, I hope you have had your mind opened to the fact that our churches are multicultural.  These families should be allowed to express their cultural and ethnic beliefs and behaviors in complete and total freedom, with the caveat that it does not violate morals that transcend culture.  And, think about the richness that could be gained by opening a closed mind to the wonders of another person’s way of living life.  Just remember, the family who seems odd, quirky, and strange to you…you probably look that way to them.  Without getting to know each other culturally, each family will leave after fellowshipping uttering those words, “I Just Don’t Understand That Family!”

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The Power Behind Godliness

Whether you are striving to develop godliness in your own life or striving for godliness within your family as a whole, I came across an enlightening quote from an author that you may find helpful.  This quote, which I’ll share with you in a moment, was a bit perplexing at first until I found the verse I believe it’s based upon in First Thessalonians.  First the quote:  This statement was made by Major W. Ian Thomas in a book called The Mysteries of Godliness (Zondervan, 1964) and it’s as follows:  Godliness is “the direct and exclusive consequence of God’s activity in man.  Not the consequence of your capacity to imitate God, but the consequences of God’s capacity to reproduce Himself in you.”

Now after reading that, I found myself a tad confused.  I read it and reread it.  It seemed confusing, or, as I stated earlier, quite perplexing.  Godliness does not have its genesis in my ability to imitate God?  Isn’t that what the whole Christian life is about?  Becoming God-like?  First Peter 1:16 says to be holy for God is Holy.  Sounds to me like it’s a command.  A command to be holy.  But I guess it doesn’t mean I’m the one to do it.  It means I need to leave myself open to God’s working within me to bring about godliness and holiness in my life.  And that makes sense if you remember that God is our Father and we are His children.

Recall what Proverbs 22:15 says, “Foolishness is bound in the heart of the child; but the rod of correction will drive it far from him.”  As fathers, we chasten and discipline our children and impose our standards and values upon them that we wish for them to adopt in their own lives.  Otherwise, our kids will never learn it on their own, nor will they develop those standards and values we would like them to, if left alone.  “The rod and reproof give wisdom:  but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame” (Proverbs 29:15).  How are your children to take on your characteristics if they’re never imposed upon them in the first place?

Our children become who we would like them to become only when they allow us to shape their lives.  So too is it with God.  Look, godliness is the capacity of God to reproduce Himself in you the same way your child will become who and what they allow you to reproduce in them.  So…be very careful about what and how you teach and impose upon your children.  Now, the command to be holy has another underlying tenet to it, and that is this…be willing and open to becoming holy…for God will actively produce holiness and godliness in you.  Oh, in the same way children left alone bring shame upon their parents, if we choose to not allow God the capacity to produce godliness in us, we too will be left alone and fall way short of achieving any amount of tangible godliness in our lives thereby lessening our evangelistic opportunities and ruining our testimonies, as we’ll see later.

My favorite verse used to be my favorite for the wrong reasons…I misunderstood its meaning.  “Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it” (First Thessalonians 5:24).  I used to have great faith in this verse because I believed that no matter what God wanted me to do, all I would have to do is be obedient, and He would give me the necessary tools, finances, opportunities, or whatever else was needed to fulfill His calling in my life.  If He called me to be a pastor (just an example) I believed that verse meant that He would work out all the logistics to fulfill the calling of a pastor for my life.  Maybe if you felt called to be a parent, God would work out the logistics to teardown every roadblock that stood in your way of fulfilling the calling in your life.  But that’s not at all what that verse means.

In First Thessalonians 4, God calls us to godliness…holiness…sanctification:  “Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more, for ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus.  For this is the will of God, even your sanctification…that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor…” (First Thessalonians 4:1-4).

Now that verse makes different sense as it relates to what Major Thomas stated.  He stated that godliness comes about by God reproducing Himself in us.  Now look at First Thessalonians 5:24 again, “Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it.”  God called us to holiness (1st Thessalonians 4:3) and He will achieve it in our lives (1st Thessalonians 5:24).  If you just study chapter 5 of 1st Thessalonians, you’ll see that there are around seventeen different things God expects from us that it’s clear no one in their own strength would be able to achieve.  We are to live peaceably and respect our ministers, pastors, and anyone else who has authority over us and we should do so with humility.  We are to love and help the unruly who disturb the peace and unity of the church, while being willing to guide new believers while not forgetting those who may be spiritually weak and helping them before their wayward ways begin to spread to other morally weak Christians.  Then God says to be patient with these people, as lashing out at them with impatience may hurt them rather than help them.  We shouldn’t seek vengeance.  We should be joyful no matter what happens.  We should be ever vigilant to pray always for the things God has laid on our hearts to pray about.  We should always be thankful regardless of circumstances.  God does not want us quenching the Holy Spirit in our own lives by being cynical of ourselves or another one of the brethren.  Rather, search all things heard and taught and then prove what is good and beneficial to hold to.  Lastly, Paul implores us to avoid all forms of evil, as sin will go a long way in quenching the Spirit (vs. 12-22).

The very next verse, “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Faithfull is He that calleth you, who also will do it” (1st Thessalonians 23-24).  Just study out verses 12-22 and decide if anyone can come close to doing well in their own power and strength.  That’s why Paul reminds us in Philippians 2:13 that “it is GOD which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.”  He states in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”  If your house burns down, who will make it so you have an attitude of joy and thanksgiving during such a terrible time?  Will your flesh do it?  Or will God do it?

In Romans 7:13-25, Paul knew that in his flesh he had no strength to achieve a high level of godliness.  Paul even states that “if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me” (vs. 20).  Why then don’t we understand that to achieve godliness and do those things which are holy is no more us that do it, but God’s Holy Spirit working in us?  Why do you think in 1st Thessalonians 5:19 God tells us not to quench the Spirit?  The answer is simple…because it’s the Holy Spirit that’s responsible for helping us to become godly and to display that godliness in ways described in verses 12-18 of 1st Thessalonians five.

In Acts 1:8 Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to empower the Apostles as they began their respective ministries.  In Acts 3:12, after Peter had received the Holy Spirit, he asked a man who was dumfounded at the miracle Peter had just done, “…ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this?  Or why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we made this man walk?”  Peter knew and wanted others to know that it was the power of the Holy Spirit that brought about the miracle and that it wasn’t by his own power.  When Stephen was arrested in Acts 6:8-15, it clearly states that Stephen was full of faith and power.  We’re not going to be doing miracles per se, but to display godliness amidst a sinful world is no less jaw-dropping to a lost world.  If we can be thankful, joyful, and remain prayerful when our house burns down rather than come apart at the seams, it can only happen one way…by allowing God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to reproduce Himself in you.  That is a modern day miracle to a lost world.

Let’s try to wrap this whole thing up in a neat little easy-to-appreciate package.  If we are saved, the Holy Spirit of God indwells us.  Jesus told the Apostles he would send them the Holy Spirit for one reason:  “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  This power from the Holy Spirit did not only give them confidence and boldness, but allowed them to do many wondrous miracles.  We who are saved have the same Holy Spirit, and we are called to be a sanctified, separated, holy, and godly people, able to demonstrate that godliness to a lost world.  That is one reason we have the Holy Spirit and why God wants to reproduce Himself in us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit…to use us in bringing others to the same knowledge of salvation…to be witnesses no different than those in Acts 1:8.

One final thought about the power God has through which to make our lives effective for Him.  Consider two flashlights.  Both are made with the proper wires, bulbs, and switches.  Each has the potential to be a great shining light capable of piercing the darkness.  Put a battery in only one of them, and that power source makes all the difference, doesn’t it?  Now, the flashlight with the power source is reaching its full potential and is able to be a light in a dark world.  But consider this, as we wind down.  No matter how much each flashlight tries, they can’t make their own bulbs shine.  Even the flashlight with the power source, if it was not willing to allow the power source to do its thing, also wouldn’t light.  Nope, only if the flashlight that had power allowed the power to begin flowing through would be able to give off light.  Now, I ask you, since we are agreed that neither flashlight could shine its own bulb, who is responsible for shining the bulb of the flashlight that pierced through the darkness?  The power source.  The only active decision that flashlight made was to allow the power source to do what the flashlight could not do on its own…and that is to be effective.

Do you want a life that’s effective for God?  Allow the Holy Spirit to do what God gave Him to us to do…make our lights to shine!  Trying to be effective for God outside of His promise in 1st Thessalonians 5:24 is an exercise in futility that will yield little to no fruit.  Yielding fruit is God’s responsibility.  The only requirement for us is to be connected to the vine.  I sum it all up with what Jesus Himself said, “Abide in me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.  I am the vine, ye are the branches:  He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit:  for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).

Here’s Jesus giving a better analogy than my flashlight story, but the principles are all there.  Without Him, we won’t shine for Him and produce fruit.  No matter how much effort we put forth, without allowing His power to drive us…we can do nothing.  The Christian life is hard enough without expending extra energies with little to show for it in the end.  Do you want to be more effective?  Let God do it…just be willing to allow Him to do it…He’ll soon have you shining.

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You Can’t Legislate Morality!!!

My pastor reminds us from time to time of one simple truth when it comes to the making of laws in this country, and that is:  “You can’t legislate morality.”  And history and this present day society bears out that truth.  Prohibition didn’t stop the production and sale of alcohol, and eventually it became legal to produce, distribute, and drink with only minimal restrictions attached for age of consumption and operation of dangerous machinery while under the influence of alcohol.  Even then, with laws in place, do some children under the legal age drink alcohol?  Of course some do.  Do some adults drive under the influence of alcohol?  Of course some do.  Are there laws against those things?  Of course there are, but laws won’t stop people from doing what they shouldn’t do.

Is the use, production, distribution, and possession of heroin, cocaine, crack, etc illegal?  Of course they are.  Do we have an epidemic in the country of overdoses from heroin and other heavy illegal narcotics?  Of course we do.  Parents’ photos are popping up on social media sites by police who respond to parents who have overdosed on narcotics while their children are in the back seat of the car, in one instance, and in a restaurant in another instant.  There was a story of two parents visiting their child in the hospital and both parents overdosed in their child’s room and only one of them could be revived, the other passed away.  It sure is a good thing those drugs are illegal isn’t it.

We act as though this incoming administration holds the answer to fixing the social ills of society.  If only conservatives owned both sides of congress and the White House, and if only the judicial system nationwide were slanted toward conservatism, how much better this country would become.  That’s what some have proposed and pined for over the last eight years.  Well, those wishes, dreams, and prayers may finally be coming true, but with a disappointing result for those who are looking at things the wrong way.  Laws won’t stop what we want them to stop.

Let’s take the topic of abortion.  Will Roe v Wade ever be overturned.  Not likely.  It’s been over forty years and there have been so many precedence set that it would be nearly impossible to overturn.  Even when Ronald Reagan appointed justices he thought would vote to overturn the abortion decision, the decision stood when Anthony Kennedy (appointed by Reagan) voted in favor of abortion and ruled in favor of Planned Parenthood v Casey in 1992.  So even if the people we put in place are conservative, ultra-right wing zealots, there are no guarantees of an outcome that would help establish this country on a more godly path.

Do you think making gay marriage against the law will change the public perception of whether or not gays should marry?  No!  According to a Pew Research Center study done within the last few years, over 60% of those surveyed believed it was MORALLY acceptable for gays to marry…despite what the Bible says.  A law prohibiting gays from marrying won’t change that sentiment, it will only cause society to be hateful toward those who made that law and be sensitive to those who are oppressed by that law.  Romans 1:26-28; Leviticus 18:22; Leviticus 20:13 all clearly state that homosexual acts are an abomination to the Lord, and the Bible makes no room for the homosexual acts to become legitimate and lawful within the context of “marriage.”

Look at the abortion issue again.  Over 43% of those polled said it was MORALLY acceptable for people to get an abortion.  Exodus 20:13 says it’s wrong to kill.  Psalm 139:14 tells us God Himself made us.  You want to be responsible for destroying God’s property?  I don’t.  Here’s a quote from President Reagan:  “With me, abortion is not a problem with religion; it’s a problem of the Constitution.  I believe that until and unless someone can establish that the unborn child is not a living human being, then that child is already protected by the Constitution, which guarantees life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to all of us.”  That was in 1984.  Over thirty years later, nothing has changed regardless of which faith any of the past presidents have been or what were their individual political affiliations.  It’s NOT in their hands.

So here’s where it stands.  I don’t drink for moral reasons based on what I believe the Bible teaches on the subject of drinking.  I don’t smoke for the same reasons.  And the kicker is that both of those things are lawful according to the laws of the land.  Still, I don’t use illegal drugs, or rob banks, or set fires, or kill anyone…not because these things are illegal, but because they are morally wrong.  This is what I was taught directly from God’s Word and what others have taught me from God’s Word.  Even if killing someone because they wronged you were legal in this country, I wouldn’t because it violates God’s moral law.

If you want to see a drop in the social ills of society, it’s going to take a 1:1 approach.  God-fearing, Bible believing churches are filled with people who have pasts in these social ills who no longer partake in them because God has granted them a victory over those things.  These are the people who should be willing to go 1:1 with another person caught up in immorality and through God’s grace, help them gain the victory over those things.  Parents need to start at a VERY early age teaching that prejudices are wrong and that God hates racism or the putting down or elevating up of any people group. God Himself is not a respecter of persons.  In the home is where we need to start teaching the morals of God’s Word so that our children are armed with the knowledge of what God says is MORALLY acceptable, and they don’t violate that just because something is lawful in this land.

Stop looking for laws to change believing that will make America great again.  Stop looking for elected officials like Donald Trump to establish what is right and wrong.  There is only ONE authority who can do that, and that is God.  God’s laws are binding and don’t change regardless of what laws are passed in our country.  God’s laws are designed to change individuals and make them different on the inside with different goals, and worldviews (2nd Corinthians 5:17).  That inner change should lead to an outward change that will attract others out of their darkness, and through salvation, God can make the same changes in that person and perpetuate a never ending cycle.  One by one a society can be changed if we work in concert with God, and not erroneously think that our only job is to vote every four years and hope we see the desired outcome.

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Welcome to 2017…Goodbye 2016

Welcome to 2017.  The New Year holds so much promise to so many people every year.  We say things like, “It’s a new start.”  Or we say things like, “It’s a clean slate.”  For some reason we look at the turning of the year as a line of demarcation as if all of 2016 is somehow behind us and will never rear its ugly head again.  As long as we look forward and not backward, we believe we can make 2017 better than 2016.  After all, 2017 is a blanket of fresh snow we haven’t yet trampled upon.  We will be cautious and make only the best choices.  These are the same sentiments we had going into 2016, and how many of us made multitudes of mistakes last year.

Now that 2017 is in its infancy, 2016 serves a major purpose.  January 1, 2017 is like half-time of a football game.  Or in my case, when I preached this message a year ago, I used the analogy of a round of golf.  A round of golf is usually eighteen holes and divided up into a “front” nine and a “back” nine.  The final score in golf is cumulative between the “front” nine hole score and the “back” nine hole score.  The goal is to get the lowest score possible and that requires a person to play their absolute best to reach the goal of playing a good complete round of golf and being proud of the outcome.

Depending on the golf course, I have a goal in mind for a final score.  As I play my “front” nine, I make some good shots, and I make some bad shots.  I make good decisions and I make bad decisions.  Once I finish playing the ninth hole, the final hole on the “front” nine, I always make the announcement as I walk up to the “back” nine that it’s a “NEW SCORECARD!”  By that I mean that when I turn the scorecard over, the boxes where I record my scores are blank…a blank slate…like a New Year.  But I’m not smart if I don’t assess what happened on the “front” nine BEFORE putting together a game plan to attack the “back.”

If my driver sailed into the woods five times, and it cost me strokes and I had a larger number than I wanted after nine holes, I need to decide to make the necessary adjustments BEFORE playing the final nine holes to reach my goal of a respectable score.  If I don’t learn from the fact that my driver is erratic, and I don’t change what was hurting me, I will keep making the same bad decisions on the “back” nine and blow my score up and get horrible unwanted results.  I need to keep my driver in my bag and not let it see the light of day.  Yes, I must repent from using my driver again that day…it’s hurting me.

That’s what we do in life.  Our Christian walk is a cumulative total of all our past accomplishments and failures up to this present day.  If we don’t look to see what was good in our past and what was bad in our past and make adjustments, we’re gonna blow our life up (so to speak).  That is exactly what Moses wanted the Israelite Nation to do before entering into Canaan.  He wanted them to evaluate their past and see what brought them God’s blessing and what brought them God’s chastening.

In Deuteronomy 30:16, Moses reminds the people that if they love God, walk in His ways, keep his commandments, statutes, and judgments, they will enjoy life and multiply, and God will bless them in the Promised Land.  Moses goes on to warn them in Deuteronomy 30:17-18 that if they turn away and not hear God, they will be drawn away and worship other gods (as they had done before).  Bad things were in store for them if they indeed followed after other gods the way they had in their past.

Moses knew the Promised Land truly was a new beginning for the Israelite Nation.  They had the potential to reap the blessings of God, but Moses also knew, that if they were going to fall into the same bad habits (following other gods) as they had done in the dessert following the exodus out of Egypt, it was going to affect them going forward and mar that blank slate they were soon to possess.  So he basically told them to evaluate their past.  See what worked (obedience) and see what didn’t work (idolatry) and make the necessary adjustments to finish strong and end well in the Promised Land.  But alas, they didn’t heed Moses’ warning, and they found themselves in captivity several times with God needing to raise up judges to deliver them time and time again after they repented.

What is it in your Christian life in 2016 that is ruining your cumulative score?  What worked for you in 2016 that would help enhance and keep you moving forward in 2017?  Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots is a master of half-time adjustments.  He can dissect every aspect of his football team’s play, and make the necessary adjustments at half time.  If their running game was being shut down, he would create a new focus for the second half and not keep doing what led to poor results.  That’s what we need to do for 2017.  Look to see what was giving us poor results (chastening from God for example) and eliminate that from our lives for 2017, to put ourselves in a better position come the doorstep of 2018.

God wants us to do better moment by moment, day by day, year by year.  That’s the whole intent of the process of sanctification.  We should have upward steady improvement in our entire conversation year to year, and not an inconsistent peak and valley existence.  The peak and valley experience comes from repeating the mistakes of the past and needing to be restored after repentance, a cycle Israel knew all too well.  They forfeited so much of what they were entitled to because they didn’t deserve it.  We should covet ALL of God’s blessings were entitled to, but we’ll forfeit those blessings if we do wrong.

So reevaluate 2016 before getting too far into 2017.  Make the necessary “half-time” adjustments.  Remember as you close out the “front” nine (2016), what hurt your score, and make the necessary adjustments to do better on the “back” nine (2017).  There’s an old saying that sums up the whole thing.  “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”  Making the same mistakes doesn’t make sense in sports.  It didn’t serve the Israelites well once they crossed over into the Promised Land.  If you don’t learn from 2016…then 2017 will look no different this time next year.

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Teaching Respect

Some people may disagree with my position on this, but I believe that respect, in most circumstances should be an automatic thing and not something that has to be “earned.”  I’m talking especially about those whom God has put over you in authority.  Your boss at work should have your respect from day one on the job.  Your children should have your respect immediately and it should grow as they mature.  Pastors that God has placed over a particular congregation should be respected from the moment you begin fellowshipping and calling him “your pastor.”  So, for me, respect in cases of authority figures in your life, should be automatic and not “earned.”

Now, of course, there will be times when respect may be lost due to some failure on the part of the one in authority over you, and then, in those situations, as the person repents, and begins to right the wrongs and mend relationships, respect can be “earned.”  But respect should be earned only once it was lost.  Of course, for something to have been lost, it had to exist in the first place.  So, again, my position for this article is that respect, with regards to authority figures over us, is automatic until such time when it should be reevaluated.

Now my big pet peeve when it comes to respect is the pastor.  We try to teach our children to respect authority, even the pastor, but does it ever happen that parents talk down about the pastor in their homes and maybe not talk about him in the best light, all while in front of their children.  I would think so.  In fact, I’m sure it does, because God’s Word gives us a keen insight into the types of people in the church who don’t respect their pastor.  Of course, not respecting your pastor can be destructive, especially as you become less and less able to keep your opinions to yourself and begin sharing them with others.  Now you become the cause of a schism in the church that will disrupt unity, challenge the authority of the pastor, and make it difficult for people to buy into the vision God has laid on his heart.

So this schism, of which I speak, is comprised of three distinct groups of people.  One the one hand you have the people who will openly challenge the authority of the pastor and show little respect for him as a God-appointed leader and as a fellow man.  These people will go to him directly with their complaints and dissatisfaction at the end of services, on the phone, or in drop-by visits to his office.  At least the preacher has knowledge of the existence of such a person and where they stand with each other.  This person, though he has little respect for the pastor’s authority, at least allows the pastor a chance for rebuttal.  There can be dialogue, though it is usually futile.

The second group of people is a bit more sinister in their disrespecting of the pastor’s authority over them.  These people will keep quiet in the church, at meetings, or at functions, but from the safety of their own homes, when the pastor can’t be present to challenge them, they will air their complaints to anyone who will listen privately.  This includes spouses, family, extended family, and even their own children.  I call these people the “cowards.”  I mean really…if you have something to say, at least give the pastor the common courtesy to know an issue even exists and give him a chance to work with you!

Now the third group consists of “innocent” bystanders.  These are the people who sit back and not take sides.  I use the word “innocent” because they’re not really innocent.  If you see people rising up and being a bad example to others about how to treat your pastor, and you don’t do anything about it…if you’re able…then you’re guilty in a way.  But be that as it may, this group of neutral bystanders is the third distinct group of people in the church.  They’re not necessarily a hindrance to the work of the church, but they’re not a whole lot of help at the same time.

Now, if you think this is not an accurate scenario, it actually happened exactly the way I described, complete with the three groups of people I revealed above.  If you look at the account God gave us in the Bible in Numbers 16 and 17, it’s all there, and it’s so interesting to see not only the people rise up against the authority of Aaron, but it’s remarkable to see how much it angered God to the point where he began ending the lives of thousands of the Israelites because of their uprising.  Another remarkable thing is the love Aaron and Moses show for these individuals who are disrespecting their God-given authority.  And the last incredible lesson learned here is that you’ll see at the end, the old adage holds true, “What goes around comes around.”  I’m excited about this study…so let’s get started.

One day, Aaron and Moses are greeted by a man named Khora, and an entourage of 250 men who sided with him against the priestly authority of Aaron.  Basically their complaint was, in effect, that they all should be considered equal, thus undermining the place of authority into which God placed Aaron.  They didn’t like the fact that Aaron had special duties of which they were not allowed to do.  Maybe it was pride, but they wanted in on whatever Aaron was doing.  Remember, the pastor has specific things that God has ordained that he and only he, and his chosen delegates can do.  You are not the pastor, but there are many jobs that a pastor would love to give someone with a spirit of humility…just ask and be open to anything.  So what Moses did in this case was to allow the 250 men, along with Korah, to bring incense holders and burn incense.  This was an act reserved for Aaron, and anyone not of the proper lineage to offer up incense would bring the ire of God.  So Moses allowed God to handle the uprising.

Now, at the same time, I don’t know how Moses knew, but the two “cowards” I spoke of earlier were Datham and Abiram.  They remained back in their tents at this time.  They did not confront Moses and Aaron directly like Korah did.  No, they stayed home and told all who would listen that Moses was to blame for all their troubles.  These two men believed their lives in Egypt (bondage and sin) were more pleasurable than what Moses had brought to them in the desert.  Not only did these cowards stay a safe distance, but when confronted by Moses, who asked them to come to see him, they flat out refused.  They were defiant.  These two men are like many today who speak volumes to the audience of their choice, but really have no substance to their convictions when confronted by the pastor to resolve issues.

So, group number one is made up of those who will openly challenge the pastor.  Group two are those who will challenge the pastor when he’s not around to hear, but will refuse to constructively work with the pastor to resolve problems when asked.  The third group in the church is the same group we see present here among the nation of Israelites.  The next morning, just as Moses commanded, the rebels brought their incense burners.  Gathered with the rebels were many in the congregation.  These people did not choose sides.  They were the “innocent” bystanders.  But they weren’t so innocent in God’s eyes because He was about to slaughter them all, until Moses prayed to God on their behalf, and God spared those “innocent” people.  God doesn’t want neutral people.  Take one side or the other.  God knows He can use you, or He can’t.  A neutral person will just wax and wane in their efforts.  Be one thing or the other (Revelation 3:16).

Well, just as Moses believed would happen, God judged those who rebelled against Aaron’s authority.  He vindicated Aaron’s role among the people and gave credibility to Moses authority as well.  Korah, Abiram, and Datham all perished along with the 250 people who sided with them in open rebellion against Moses and Aaron.  Now for most, severe judgment would be enough to melt even the hardest of hearts back in to submission to God’s authority figure.  That’s what happened in Acts 5 when Ananias and Sapphira were dealt with immediately for the disrespecting of their pastor, God, and the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-11), but not stubborn Israel…at least not yet.

This difficult group rose up yet again and accused Moses and Aaron of killing the 250 members of the rebellion, plus their three leaders.  Even after Moses and Aaron pleaded for God to spare the “innocent” among the congregation, they rise up yet again and blame them for what took place.  Before you go blaming your pastor and bad-mouthing him, consider that he may have been doing what God had instructed him to do.  If you feel it’s the pastor’s fault for exercising proper church discipline according to Matthew 18, and someone is cut off from the church, and you don’t like it…take it up with God.  The pastor is just doing what he is commanded to do by God in the Scriptures.  Ultimately God dealt with that individual through your pastor.

Well, by now God is not pleased with the Israelites.  He just dealt with the first uprising and now has to deal with a second, less coordinated and more diffuse, but a potentially damaging one none the less.  Here’s the amazing thing that you should appreciate and love your pastor for.  Even as the people were about to rise up again, Moses and Aaron pleaded with God to spare the congregation.  Aaron went out amongst the group of ungrateful Israelites and offered up atonements for them.  These people rose up against Aaron’s authority and it was his priestly duties that preserved the lives of many that day.  It didn’t save the lives of all, as God destroyed 14,700 people that day.  Now, back to Aaron for a moment.  Do you realize that the same pastor you criticize and blame has been the one God used to lead you to the Lord in some cases, or he’s been responsible for preserving your marriage and family through sharing with you life-saving truths from the Bible?   Many were given a second chance that day because of the love demonstrated to them by Aaron.  How many of you were given a second chance at a new life through the ministry of your pastor who loves you?

After God had destroyed 253 people in an organized rebellion, and after God had destroyed 14,700 Israelites on another day, still people rose up to challenge Aaron’s authority yet again.  So in Numbers 17, God told everyone to bring their rods denoting the tribe from which they came and, overnight, God made only Aarons rod from the tribe of Levi bloom.  Now, finally, fear came upon the people who ceased to rise up and murmur against the authority of Aaron.  God finally broke their heart into respecting the authority of their priest.  What will it take for God to break your heart into respecting the authority of your pastor?  Because there’s an even bigger lesson to be learned here.

I’ve shown you the three types of people present in the church.  I’ve shown you that despite the challenges and back-biting a pastor endures, he loves his people and will go to bat for them with God at a moment’s notice.  And we’ve seen that God won’t tolerate disrespect of a pastor which He Himself has placed over you.  And yes, there will be casualties in the process, but eventually God and the pastor will be left with the people whose hearts are broken into submission through a healthy fear of the Lord.  But watch this…because I was just floored when I learned this…

Numbers 16 and 17 are mainly focused on the people’s problem with respecting the authority Aaron had over the Israelites.  I think it focused on Aaron for a particular reason.  Remember I said the old adage proved itself, “What goes around comes around?”  Read the account in Numbers 12…it’s amazing…Aaron actually rose up against Moses’ authority.  He and Moses’ sister Miriam were jealous and wanted to share the responsibilities with Moses.  Does that sound familiar?  Korah wanted to be on level par with Aaron and wanted to share in his responsibilities and duties several chapters later.  God called Aaron and Miriam for a little chat and rebuked them both.  God struck Miriam with leprosy.  Aaron eventually confesses his sin of rebellion to Moses and Moses, in turn, goes to bat for Aaron and intercedes for Miriam.  God honors Moses and heals Miriam.

Don’t miss this important truth.  If you disrespect the authority of your pastor today, down the road someday, you’ll be in a position to have the respect of others, and they may just rise up against you in a similar fashion:  “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7).  Our actions may one day be turned on us to experience the same frustration we put another person through.  Aaron disrespected Moses’ authority and rose up in jealousy and experienced the same thing in reverse at the hands of a jealous Korah et al.  I wonder if he remembered it at the time.  Can you imagine disrespecting the authority of your pastor and one day having your own children disrespect your authority?  After all, these are the same children who may hear you challenging the preacher’s authority in your home.  Unless God shows you mercy, it will come back to visit you the way it was visited on Aaron several chapters later.

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Does 2 Chronicles 7:14 Apply to This Age?

“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Some people have challenged my application of 2 Chronicles to the situation in America.

But 1 Corinthians 10 and Romans 15:4 instruct us that we can learn lessons from the Old Testament Scriptures for the Christian life and church age.

“For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

“Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Corinthians 10:1-11).

Though the law of Moses is not the believer’s rule of life, it is an important source of instruction for the Christian life. We draw spiritual lessons from it. We learn from its examples.

(The fact that the believer is not under the law of Moses does not mean that he doesn’t have a law. The believer has a new, higher law, which is the law of Christ. This means to be conformed to His image, Romans 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:17-18. The believer’s new law is also called the law of the Spirit, Galatians 5:16-18. By walking in the Spirit, which means obeying the Spirit and yielding to Him and trusting Him, the believer does not fulfill the law of the flesh.)

The New Testament is filled with lessons from the law of Moses. In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul draws lessons from Israel’s wilderness wanderings from Exodus and Numbers. We learn lessons about Christ (as the Rock and the living water), and we are warned not to commit idolatry and fornication or to murmur against God. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul draws lessons from the passover. In Hebrews 3:7-13, the writer of Hebrews draws lessons from Israel’s unbelief and hardness of heart in the wilderness.

We interpret lessons from the law of Moses and the Old Testament by comparing Scripture with Scripture to see if there are similar principles in the New Testament.

Consider Deuteronomy 22:5, “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God” (Deut. 22:5). This contains a moral principle that there should be a distinction between the sexes even in how they dress. That this principle remains valid in the New Testament dispensation is clear by comparing Scripture with Scripture. The teaching of Deut. 22:5 is confirmed in Genesis, where we find that God made man male and female (Gen. 2:27). And it is confirmed in 1 Corinthians 11:3-15 where we find that the sexes are to be distinguished by their hair length.

Consider Leviticus 19:28, “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD” (Lev. 19:28). This moral lesson of avoiding pagan customs such as tattoos that are associated with idolatry and moral reprobation is confirmed in passages such as Jeremiah 10:2; 1 Corinthians 10:20-22; 2 Corinthians 6:16-18; and Ephesians 5:11.

Now concerning 2 Chronicles 7:14, while this verse can’t be applied literally and fully to America (or England or Canada or other nations with a significant Christian heritage), it is certain that we can draw a fundamental lesson that is confirmed in the New Testament, which is as follows: In time of trouble God’s people must get on “praying ground” (by humbling themselves and turning from their wicked ways) and they must pray and seek God’s face. The key to healing is repentance, obedience, and earnest prayer.

In this present age, “God’s people” refers to the church which is the house of God (1 Tim. 3:15).

2 Chronicles 7:14 teaches us that God’s people are the key to real change, because they have access to the God who can do all things and who is ready and willing and able to answer their prayers.

The promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14 to “heal their land” refers, of course, to the land of Israel. We can’t apply this literally in the church age, and I don’t know to what extent God would heal America if Bible-believing churches got serious about prayer, but I know He would do great things, because He has promised to do so.

Any capable student who studies the Bible’s extensive teaching on prayer (more than 500 references) knows that little prayer means little power and great prayer means great power, but what we have currently in the vast majority of churches, even the “good churches,” is little prayer.

Consider some New Testament passages on prayer

James 4:7-10

“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.”

James says that if God’s people will humble themselves and draw nigh to God (which refers to the affection of the heart and the prayers of the lips) and cleanse their hands of sinful deeds and purify their hearts of evil thoughts and be afflicted and mourn for their backsliding, God will draw nigh to them and bless them and the devil will be defeated.

1 Timothy 2:1-4

“I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”

Paul instructs the churches to pray for secular government leaders so that we might live a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. This is not a suggestion; it is a solemn exhortation that every church should take seriously. Why would God exhort His people to pray for such a thing if He weren’t ready to grant quietness and peace?

James 5:16

“Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

James says the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. That is a description of serious prayer. In my experience, having personally preached in hundreds of churches and hearing from people from hundreds of church each year, this type of prayer life is rare. The average church member knows little to nothing about such prayer. The typical prayer meeting is pathetic in its character (involving a few minutes of prayer tacked onto a regular service) and not well attended. Special prayer meetings are almost unheard of, and few would come if the pastor called for them. I think of a church that runs 600 but has only a few men attend its before-service prayer meetings. This is one of the best churches I know of, and at least it has before-service prayer meetings, but how amazingly pathetic is the response! This is where we are spiritually, and until we acknowledge how lukewarm we are and how far we have fallen, we will never see the power of God.

Conclusion

The old “cottage prayer meetings” that churches used to have to prepare themselves for Bible conferences and “revivals” are largely relics of the past.

To call for special prayer meetings and entire days of fasting and prayer before major elections and other important national events is unheard of today, but churches did this routinely in former times of American history.

Prayer with fasting is a foreign thing to most churches.

The result is little power in the homes and congregations and nations that are in moral free fall.

You can talk about Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and Breitbart and the National Review and the Tea Party and how Trump will be better than Hillary and all such things.

I talk about those things, too, but I intend to talk about and focus far more on the power of prayer.

The Tea Party at its best can’t change the moral and spiritual condition of the country, but prayer could.

The Tea Party has given us Donald Trump who “holds high the flag for gay equality” (The Washington Times, Nov. 2, 2016).

God knows all things and can do all things, but He has ordained that His people pray and seek His face while standing on “praying ground.” God acts through effectual prayer.

Christ taught in Luke 18:6-9 that persistent prayer even has a role in prophetic events. In Revelation 8:3-5, we see that the prayers of the saints are active in the Tribulation. They are likened to incense that comes up before God and brings about the trumpet judgments. In Isaiah 62:6-7 we again see the connection between prayer and prophetic events. Here prayer is associated with the establishment of Christ’s kingdom and the blessing of Jerusalem.

Prayer is so powerful that it is history changing.

Moses’ effectual fervent prayer caused God not to destroy Israel (Ex. 32:9-14).

The prayers of Bible-believing churches can still change history, but not until they get on “praying ground” (James 4:8-10) and become really serious about intercession.

copyright 2013, Way of Life Literature

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