Covered Faces

“Those who look to him are radiant, their faces are never covered with shame.” – Psalm 34:5

Covered Faces, Cold Hearts

We are living in a time unlike any I can remember in my lifetime. As if the Corona Virus wasn’t enough, now riots are erupting around America after the death of George Floyd. Is there a dark narrative playing out right now? Is this the judgment of God or the signs that the end is near?

As I have spent the past couple of months in lock down along with the rest of society, the isolation and social distancing have taken a strange toll. People walk around the streets with masks. People don’t say hello. People are afraid to touch or come close. This is all amplified by the fear machine we call the main stream media. I have felt a coldness in the world these past couple of months. The need we all have for human connection and love has been under attack.

Additionally, America is in upheaval over the unjust killing of George Floyd. Simmering mistrust and hate have come to a roaring boil as major cities are looted, burned and destroyed. This has caused people to demonize the government, the police, and white people. This over reaction to injustice is being used to validate more injustice. The spirit of lawlessness is at work. As I struggled to put words to all the thoughts, emotions, fears and turmoil in the air, I have been reminded of the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:12. “Because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.”

I believe what happened to George Floyd was wrong and there needs to be judgment, but the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. True justice looks like repentance, forgiveness, and an honest searching of our souls as a society.

As people march peacefully and some violently, they are wearing masks. It’s a super charged organism of rage without a face. It’s a picture of a nation whose heart has become very cold. A nation already divided has been divided even further. Lawlessness is manifesting both inside and outside of the government. Have you felt the icy blast and the accompanying numbness try to take hold of you? If there’s anything that must be resisted, it is cold love. We cannot afford to allow our love to go out. It is needed now more than ever.

This chaos has appropriately sent many slumbering saints to their knees like never before. What is the Word of the Lord to us today in America?

Those Who Look to Him

In times of crisis, we must turn our gaze in a new direction. Have you ever seen the face of a mother light up at the sight of her child? Have you watched as two people long estranged embrace at an airport? Have you seen the beaming smile of a runner finishing the race? The Word says, “I sought the Lord and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant, their faces are never covered with shame.” Psalm 34:4-5

Hope must be reborn.

We need to guard our inputs. The more media you consume, the more anger, fear and coldness will take hold of you. But if you look to Heaven, if you lock yourself in worship and the prayer closet, your face will begin to reflect the radiance of the Father of Lights. Jesus came to take away our shame, our hiding, our anger and our sin. Isn’t it interesting that this is the opposite of what we are seeing physically manifest right now in much of society? What is the answer to cold hearts and covered faces? It is the living hope of the gospel.

Will you and I fight? We need Bibles not bricks, fervent prayers not angry chants, appeals to Heaven not the government, speaking life not taking it. As the church, we have been given the ministry of reconciliation. Reconciliation to God and one another. Love is the only force capable of casting out hate and fear.

We are no different than any other generation in history. Dark days have come upon us. Can you name one godly person from Scripture that didn’t face fear, opposition, hate and the threat of annihilation? Our source is God Almighty and so we must take courage. His promises are just as real for us today as they have ever been. Let us take off the face coverings of malice, hypocrisy, fear and shame and instead look to Him with unveiled faces.

If the World Hates You

If these are the signs of the times, the church must be ready for Christ’s return. Before leaving earth, Jesus told his disciples what to expect. We need to hear this again today.

If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the Word I spoke to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you. If they kept my word, they will keep yours also.” John 15:18-20

As mentioned already, it is imperative that we keep our love from going out. It is mandatory that we stand firm in the midst of hardship and persecution. It is essential that we be about the business of the kingdom of God. You and I were never meant to fit into the world, to lay low and hope for the storm to pass, or to be worried about comfort or offending people. We have been given a holy mission to bring the gospel of the kingdom to the ends of the earth. “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a testimony to all nations and then the end shall come.” Matt. 24:14

In my many years of street ministry in Berkeley and San Francisco preaching and witnessing to thousands of people, I have experienced the hate of the world. Hissing snakes and prideful hearts resisting the truth and despising the messenger. Additionally, backbiting and false brethren refusing to help or love have only added to the burden. But who ever said this would be easy? Before resurrection, there is suffering.

Here are three keys to help you stay strong in the heat of battle.

Get free from the need to please men. The first way we stand strong is by remembering that our acceptance, love and worth do not come from the world but from the Word. People pleasing is rooted in two things: a fear of persecution and a misplaced sense of identity.

Attack in the opposite spirit. The second way we stay strong is through coming in the opposite spirit. We must do unto others as we would have them do unto us. We must not retaliate in the spirit of the world when we are wronged, accused, hated or opposed.

Stay plugged into the Source. Finally, we stand firm by abiding in the secret place of God’s Presence. We are promised that he will never leave not forsake us.

In your presence is fullness of joy, eternal pleasures at your right hand.” Ps. 16:11

God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble.” Ps. 46:1

Be strong and courageous; do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

Church, this is our finest hour. We have been charged by Jesus to bring the gospel of peace into the violent, steaming whirlpool of wickedness on the earth. “Finally my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” Eph. 6:10-11

Don’t expect the world to love you. Don’t seek to please men. You and I are soldiers in the army of God and we have a mission that must be completed at all costs. Gird up your loins, take off the mask, and put on your helmet.

It’s time to march.

Take Away the Stone

Is there something blocking your miracle?

In the course of life it is inevitable that we will face trials, betrayals, sorrows and even death. Among the core beliefs of the Christian faith are that God is the Redeemer, the Life Giver, the Shepherd of our souls. It is my firm conviction that God’s will for you and me is a life of abundance. Jesus said he was, “The resurrection and the life.” And yet, many people live far below this standard. If the will of God is our best, our good and to create a people for Himself, then what stands in the way? I’d like to examine that in this message through the story of Lazarus.

[Jhn 11:1-45 NKJV] 1 Now a certain [man] was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was [that] Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. 3 Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” 4 When Jesus heard [that], He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. 7 Then after this He said to [the] disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 [The] disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 “But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 These things He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.” 12 Then His disciples said, “Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.” 13 However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 “And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.” 16 Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” 17 So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away. 19 And many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. 20 Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house. 21 Now Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 “But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 “And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” 28 And when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, “The Teacher has come and is calling for you.” 29 As soon as she heard [that], she arose quickly and came to Him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the town, but was in the place where Martha met Him. 31 Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, “She is going to the tomb to weep there.” 32 Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. 34 And He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!” 37 And some of them said, “Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?” 38 Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been [dead] four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” 41 Then they took away the stone [from the place] where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up [His] eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 “And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said [this], that they may believe that You sent Me.” 43 Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” 44 And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.” 45 Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him.

Resurrection Life Awaits You

Let us begin to examine this story and its application with some questions. First, has something died in your life? Have you lost a loved one, an opportunity, your reputation, your joy, your marriage? Fill in the blank for yourself right now and ask yourself, “What is the cause of my greatest sorrow?”

In my own life, I have recently suffered the loss of a woman I loved. We were engaged and after what seemed to be a number of confirmations from the Lord that He was bringing us together, she abruptly ended the relationship after we had a few conflicts. I was blindsided and shocked by this. There was no negotiating, no discussion, no willingness on her part to work through the conflict. She simply wanted to end it. It has caused a world of pain and left me broken with many questions. It was this recent event that was the impetus for this message. I began meditating on how God can raise something from the dead. What is His response to those who have lost something so dear?

It is in the valley of the shadow of death that we grapple with questions about God’s character. The devil finds us at our weakest and wants to exploit us. Will we in these places continue to believe the truth that God is able to work all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose? Will we accuse God, harden our hearts, or turn to drugs, alcohol or some other carnal release?

What is it you have lost? What has seared your heart with pain? Who or what has died?

Jesus gives us this precious promise that, “I am the resurrection and the life.” And that if we would believe, we would see the glory of God. This is God’s will for us all. He has not forsaken us nor is he the author of our pain or confusion. We must hold on to the truth that before resurrection life takes hold of us, there must be death. That somehow God has a plan in all of this even if we don’t understand.

What’s Blocking Your Miracle?

Many years ago (bc) I was living in San Ramon, CA, and we were having a party at our apartment (a regular occurrence). Someone had called the cops on us due to the noise. They were banging on the door for many minutes before we finally noticed. The music was so loud that we couldn’t hear the knocking…

Could it be that something is keeping us from hearing the voice of God?

Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been [dead] four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” – John 11:39-40 NKJV

In order for us to experience God’s resurrection power, we must first take away the stone.

The Stone of Unbelief

The first thing we see in this passage is a struggle to believe. Martha initially questions Jesus when he tells her to take away the stone in front of Lazarus’ tomb. Her response?… “But Lord…”

This “but Lord” is the root of unbelief. It is that human tendency to doubt God’s power and to look at the reasons it is ridiculous to do what God says. “But Lord… he has been dead four days and there is a great stench.” Jesus’ reply is always the same when confronted with unbelief, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?”

Thomas struggled to believe Jesus had risen from the dead. The disciples didn’t believe that Jesus was greater than the storm. Most of the children of Israel didn’t believe that God would bring them all the way into the Promised Land.

What is your “but Lord …. ?”

The Stone of Offense
Where did he get this wisdom and this power? Is this not the carpenter’s son?

We see another barrier that blocks the resurrection power of God. It is the rock of offense. Jesus goes into his hometown and preaches the Word and the people were offended at him because they couldn’t understand where he got the wisdom and the power he was operating in. They were judging him according to the flesh and according to their limited human knowledge and experience with him. This offense became a stumbling block that prevented Jesus from doing many miracles in this town. (Mark 6:1-6)

The apostle Peter writes,

Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, “Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect, precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.” Therefore, to you who believe, [He is] precious; but to those who are disobedient, “The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.” They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed. But you [are] a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; [1Pe 2:9 NKJV]

Are you offended at God or someone else? Unforgiveness and offense are two of the greatest barriers to resurrection life. They must be removed.

The Stone of Disappointment

“If only you had been here…”

How could Jesus have known Lazarus was sick and then stayed where he was two more days? Didn’t he care? Didn’t he know that time was of the essence? Martha and Mary both confront the master with the same statement… “If only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus said, “This sickness is not unto death but that the glory of God should be revealed.”

How many of us are blocked by the stone of disappointment? Things didn’t work out the way we expected. If God is so powerful and loving, why wasn’t he there in time? This is an insidious tool that the devil wants to use in our lives. Have you suffered a setback? Has your ministry, business, relationship or life not worked out the way you hoped or prayed for? Could it be that God has a different plan? Will we believe that we serve the Redeemer of all things? Can we say like Job that though he slay me, yet I will trust him?

The Stone of Shame

“He has been dead four days! He stinks!”

Many people will not open up their hearts due to the shame they feel. What they have been through, their ugly past, their insecurities, their failures. This stench is so bad that it’s easier for most people to hide behind the stone of shame. Martha argues with Jesus that the tomb should not be opened. He was not ready for what was inside. We don’t want to deal with the stench.

What is it inside you that you do not want anyone to see or smell? Do you think God does not already know what’s there? Are you afraid of being judged by others? Will you allow this shame to be taken out of the way so that life can be breathed on dead bones?

The Stone of Fear

“We were like grasshoppers in our eyes…”

In the book of Numbers, Israel sends out spies to survey the Promised Land. Of the twelve, ten gave a fearful report. They saw that the land was good but that the inhabitants were fierce and giant. They looked at their own strength and found it was insufficient. This fear stopped the people of Israel from entering the promise.

Fear is having more faith in the problem than in God. The people of Israel had seen many miracles. They had seen the Red Sea parted. They had been fed with manna again and again. They had seen the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire. They had received water from the rock. Yet after all of this, the stone of fear blocked them from God’s abundant life. They did not enter in.

Take Away the Stone

You will not receive resurrection life until you remove the stone from your heart. God speaks to Ezekiel concerning the people of Israel and says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Ez. 36:26

As Jesus said to Martha, “Take away the stone.” It is critical to understand that this is our responsibility not God’s!

Repentance is the process of opening up our hearts fully to God. An analogy of this is given in scripture many times through the breaking up of hard ground. This takes work and intentionality.

“Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap in mercy. Break up your fallow ground. For it is time to seek the Lord, until He comes and rains righteousness on you.” Hosea 10:12

“For thus says the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: ‘Break up your fallow ground and do not sow among thorns.” Jer. 4:3

God desires to breath His resurrection life into us. His plans and purposes for us are beyond imagination and he is good… no matter what we have suffered or lost.

What about you? Which of the stones mentioned is blocking you from the life of Jesus Christ? Will you remove every barrier to receiving his miracle power?

The Fragrance of Christ

“And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.” John 12:3

“Therefore, be imitators of God and walk in love as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling aroma.” Eph. 5:1-2

The sense of smell is more closely linked with emotion and memory than any other. Can you remember sitting around the Christmas tree inhaling the scent of the pine as a child? Or perhaps the perfume or cologne of your first love? How about your grandmother’s cookies? Even as we grow much older, these aromas instantly take us back in time. The fragrance burns itself into our minds and hearts.

In the New Age (which I am not endorsing), they use a term called “aura” to describe an atmosphere that accompanies someone. In the Word of God, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is the discernment of spirits. I like to think of this as our spiritual sense of smell, which allows us to judge the character or spirit belonging to that person… in the same way you would smell the milk before drinking it. Have you ever been around someone who just creeped you out? Or someone who made you feel relaxed, joyful or loved, but you didn’t know why? You were discerning their spiritual fragrance.

People who are demon possessed, out of their mind or satanic usually smell horrific. This is not an accident. Remember, the devil is called Lord of the Flies. What do flies hang out on? …waste products, decaying and dying things. Dead things reek! I remember a story by Mahesh Chavda in his book, The Hidden Power of Fasting and Prayer where the Lord used him to cast a demon out of a boy who was self mutilating in an insane asylum. Mahesh said that when the demon came out, the most putrid odor of rotten eggs and filth came into the room. But the boy was healed! And that foul spirit had to leave!

Before I had surrendered my life to Christ, I remember this lady who would come and clean the apartment. One day she came in while I was playing worldly music with all kinds of profanity. I immediately became aware (convicted) that my music was inappropriate. She hadn’t said a word! How did this happen? She carried a fragrance that my spirit could recognize. It was the fragrance of Christ. She and I had discussions about the Lord over many weeks, and although she may never know I eventually gave my life to Jesus, I will always remember her. (She’ll find out in Heaven.)

Beloved, God wants us to diffuse the costly fragrance of His precious Son.

Let’s look at a woman whose sacrifice changed the atmosphere and earned her a place in history wherever the gospel of Jesus Christ is preached.

36 Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat. 37 And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, 38 and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answered and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” So he said, “Teacher, say it.” 41 “There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.” 44 Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. 45 You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. 46 You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. 47 Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” 48 Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 Then He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” (Luke 7:36-50 NKJV)

The Characters

This story is remarkable in many ways. It is a picture of life, the world, and the gospel all wrapped into one. The anointing of Jesus appears in all four gospels. This story is so profound it is worthy of its own book as there are too many revelations to be covered here.

The first character sitting at the table is The Self Righteous. Simon the Leper is a Pharisee dressed in fine apparel, respectable in his community. He is watching this spectacle as a sinner touches Jesus, makes a mess on his floor, and disrupts the social norms. He is secretly judging her in his heart because in his mind… she is not worthy to be touching Jesus.

Jesus corrects him with a parable. Simon was the man who owed fifty denarii and she was the one who owed five hundred. The self righteous mindset is so busy judging others that it fails to see its own need for forgiveness. Simon was pious on the outside, obeyed the law, or so it was thought. Yet he was a leper. Isn’t this a picture of all of our true condition? No matter how hard we try to be righteous, we cannot cure our own leprosy. None of us can claim to be without sin. And only Jesus can forgive us. To the self righteous, the greatest lesson to learn is to look first at oneself and to have mercy on others. Some have committed more sins than others. The problem however becomes judgment based on personal comparison rather than God’s righteous judgment. The self righteous may find it harder to truly love God or worship with abandonment. The people at the altars truly worshiping God are often the ex gang bangers, the adulterers, prostitutes, former drug addicts, the depressed, fearful, sick, poor or indebted. They know they have been freed by the master!

The next character we see is The Critic.

In many of the gospels it says the disciples murmured against the woman. In John’s gospel we see that Judas specifically criticized the woman. The woman was Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus. I believe it’s accurate to say she was criticized by many people around that table. John mentions that Judas criticized Mary saying that what she had done was “a waste” and the money should have been given to the poor. On the outside, this might seem like good logic but not to Jesus. And Judas didn’t care about the poor anyway; he was a liar and a thief.

Whenever anyone gives an extravagant offering to Jesus, they will be criticized. People may not understand why you are giving your life savings to help plant a church or support an evangelist. People may look at you strangely as you hold your hands high with tears streaming down your face, bow down low or dance to the Lord during worship. People may tell you that you are foolish and unwise for quitting your job and dedicating a year to serving the Lord. Whenever a fragrant sacrifice to Christ is made, one thing is certain, the critic will certainly be there to rebuke and mock. The critics will never do anything for the Lord. Their sole purpose is to murmur against those who are.

The final character present is the one on the floor. She is The Broken Vessel.

Do you think Mary knew she was a sinner? Do you think she knew who Jesus was and what he had done for her? In John’s gospel we see that Mary takes her most precious perfume worth nearly a year’s wages and makes it an offering! What you may not have realized is this was done after Jesus raised her brother Lazarus from the dead! When she considered all the Lord had done for her, she rightly reasoned that the least she could do was offer all. EVERYTHING to Jesus! She was so broken as she wept upon his feet. She kissed and anointed them; she cleaned them with her hair; she completely sacrificed not only the costly perfume but any sense of dignity she may have had. Wow! Is it any wonder that this caught Jesus’ attention?

She earned herself a place in history forever. She pleased the King of kings. She gave it all and released a fragrance through her extravagant worship that changed the whole atmosphere. “The whole house was filled with the fragrance.” John 12:3

The Cost

In order to release the fragrance of Christ, it will cost everything. Jesus went to the cross not because he felt like it or it was convenient. He did it in obedience to the Father. Looking again at the woman who broke the alabaster jar of precious oil and anointed Jesus, the Word says that this was worth a year’s wages. Think about that in present day terms. Would you give a $50,000 offering to the Lord? A $100,000 offering? What is Jesus truly worthy of?

Every true sacrifice will release an aroma. In order for precious oils to be made, olives or other herbs must be crushed. It is the crushing that releases the fragrance.

Allow the Holy Spirit to search you right now. Be completely honest before God. What are you holding back from Him? Is it your job? Is it your kids? Is it your reputation? Is it your sports car? Your vacations? Your comfort? Is it a drug addiction? An ungodly relationship? Is it your Monday night football?

Anything you love more than Jesus is an idol and needs to be sacrificed. Anything you think about more than Jesus needs to be sacrificed. Anything that interferes with your worship, devotion and commitment to Christ must go!

Now will you do it? Will you give your best, your all… irrespective of the opinions of others? Will you become the broken vessel and present your life as a living sacrifice to the King?

Then the world will smell it… the fragrance of Christ.

Loaves & Fishes

In the early days of my ministry in Berkeley, CA I was working a job and preaching the gospel at the same time. There came a point where I hadn’t gotten a paycheck in a couple of months (because I worked in real estate), and I was starting to feel serious pressure financially. I prayed and asked God for a miracle since I was a month behind already in rent and had no money for even present bills.

There were a couple of guys I would get together with to pray each week. These guys didn’t belong to my ministry and I didn’t go to their church, but we were brothers in Jesus Christ. One day they asked me if I needed some money. I said, “As a matter of fact, I do!” One brother asked how much I thought I needed and after a minute I said, “I need at least a thousand dollars.” They each wrote me a check that day. As I opened them up, the first was about $700 and the second was a check for $2,000! He told me later that God had spoken to him to give me double whatever I said I needed. God doesn’t miss a thing!

As we look at the Word of God and the story of the multiplication of food, we see that God has been in the miracle business from the beginning. I want you to take some powerful principles away from this so that you may begin to walk into a life of miracles.

John chapter 6:1-14

1 After these things Jesus went over the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. 2 Then a great multitude followed Him, because they saw His signs which He performed on those who were diseased. 3 And Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat with His disciples. 4 Now the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near. 5 Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” 6 But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do. 7 Philip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.” 8 One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, 9 “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?” 10 Then Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. 11 And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 So when they were filled, He said to His disciples, “Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost.” 13 Therefore they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten. 14 Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.”

Insufficient Resources

Philip’s response teaches us something about human nature. As we just read, the crowd is massive and the needs far outweigh the food available. You and I will find ourselves in situations and places where our capacity and resources are not enough. As a matter of fact, this was Jesus’ whole purpose. I can just see Jesus with a twinkle in his eye asking Philip how they were going to feed all these people. Philip does what most humans do; he looks to his natural resources. He didn’t realize this was a test… and he just failed it.

This story of the miraculous feeding appears in all four gospels and also happens to be miracle number four out of seven as recorded in John’s gospel. Why is this important? I believe God highlighted this miracle for a very important reason. It is a prototype for us as believers to begin to walk into the miraculous.

So there they are and Philip and the rest of the disciples are in a panic because all they have are five loaves and two small fish. By the way, who brought the small amount of food? It was a lad. It takes the faith of a child to kick start a miracle.

Although the disciples didn’t get it as we often don’t, the good news is that their impossibility became an opportunity for God to work a miracle. Your impossibility qualifies you for a miracle!

The Anatomy of a Miracle

Just as the human body has parts, so does a miracle. There are three parts to the anatomy of a miracle that we see in this story and this applies to every miracle in all of Scripture!

Part 1 – Impossibility

Every miracle begins with a situation far outside the control of humanity. Think about it. Abraham was way too old to have a child. The walls of Jericho were way too high and thick. Lazarus was dead. And 5,000 people were way too many mouths to feed with a couple of tuna sandwiches! As a matter of fact, God will NOT work a miracle as long as there is a human way to take credit for it. This is why he whittled Gideon’s army down to three hundred members against an army of tens of thousands. Miracles give glory to God and only an impossibility qualifies for a miracle.

Part 2 – Faith

The second part to a miracle is to have faith. What is faith? “It is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Heb. 11:1 It is important to note that one can have faith in a number of things. I have faith in my car every time I get in and turn on the engine. I believe that it is going to work and get me where I need to go safely. If you look at a dollar bill, it will tell you in writing that it is backed by the full “faith and credit” of the US government. Faith is confidence in the source. That the source will do what it is supposed to do. The faith that we are talking about here is faith in The Word of God. In the case of the miraculous feeding, Jesus tells the disciples to have the people sit down, and then he tells them to distribute the food after he had given thanks and broke it. Jesus has to speak to you for you to have faith required for a miracle. He speaks generally in his Word to all of us, but if you want a miracle, the Word of God must become God speaking directly to you!

Part 3 – Action

The final part to receiving a miracle is to take action based on the Word of the Lord you received in faith. Action is the proof of real faith. James tells us that, “Faith without works is dead.” For example, if I say I have faith that my parachute is going to work, but I refuse to jump out of the plane out of fear. What this means is I really don’t have faith. You must jump out of the plane! In the story of the paralytic, Jesus tells the man to, “Rise, take up your mat and walk!” and he does it. It wouldn’t be enough for him to simply listen to Jesus’ words and say he believes him. He must take action based on the Word of the Lord. We see this in the miraculous feeding. The disciples did what Jesus’ told them to and as they distributed the food, the miracle manifested!

I want to encourage you to go through Scripture in the gospels and in the Old Testament, and you will see that these three parts belong to every single miracle in Scripture (where man had a part to play in the working of the miracle.)

Heaven’s Storehouse

In all of Scripture, I cannot find anywhere where Jesus was hurried or worried. Why was this? Because he understood that there is a realm in glory that I like to call “Heaven’s Storehouse.” This is a place where there are no limitations. Where every financial need, every healing need, every idea, all wisdom dwells. There is nothing that cannot be supplied by Heaven’s Storehouse. This storehouse is actually Jesus himself. He is the infinite supply all of humanity longs for. Psalm 135:7 tells us that God, “brings the winds out of his treasuries.” Eph. 3:20 reminds us that, “God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we could ever ask or imagine!” Col. 1:17 reveals that, “He is before all things and in Him all things consist.”

Everything you and I need is provided for in glory. It is found in the person of Jesus Christ and according to the glorious riches of our Father in Heaven and the power of His Spirit. This is why Jesus was never worried… and we shouldn’t be either.

Now make this personal to you. What is your impossibility? What is the Word of the Lord concerning your situation? What is Jesus speaking to you? And now go take action in faith based on what he has said!

We would love to hear the testimonies of God’s miracles in your life!

The Devil’s #1 Tool

We are three months away from an evangelistic outreach on the UC Berkeley campus. We have been planning this for six months and as I’m on the phone with a contact there, he informs me that the organization he represents has not made the necessary preparations for the crusade. They are changing the script from last time, adding red tape and extra requirements, and doing this at the last minute. As much as I was angry in the flesh, I recognized this for what it was… an attempt of the enemy to stop this crusade from happening. I spent the rest of that Saturday burdened by discouragement. Then come Sunday morning, I worshiped my way to victory and joy in the Lord. As I reflected on this, I realized a powerful truth:

The devil’s greatest weapon against the church is not overt, sensational sins like pride, lust or greed. His number one tool is discouragement.

Courage is a Heart Issue

The word courage comes from the Latin root word Cor which means “heart.” So to be courageous literally means to have a strong heart. To be willing to face adversity and march forward despite the possibility of defeat is the essence of courage. In battle, morale is a big deal and generals understand this.

In the Scripture God charges Joshua to “be strong and of good courage” many times before commissioning him to take Israel into the Promised Land. Why was this? Because God knew that courage was one of the primary things needed for the church to advance into victory. Is it any wonder then why the devil works relentlessly to bring dis-couragement? There are many examples of times and situations that were designed to discourage the saints. Think about Gideon who was so afraid of the Midianites that he was hiding in a wine press to make a little food for himself (Judges 6). Think about Hannah who was barren and then taunted by her husband’s other wife who had many children (1 Sam. 1). Think about Nehemiah who was mocked, resisted, threatened and falsely accused of sedition by foreign ambassadors because he was rebuilding Jerusalem along with his fellow Israelites (Neh. 4 & 6). Can you see a pattern here? All these situations were designed to bring discouragement.

In America the leading cause of death killing one in four people is… can you guess? Heart disease! This disease affects men twice as frequently as women. Do you think this is just a coincidence? Could it be that the spiritual realm is simply being reflected in the natural and what we need more than ever in this nation is to deal with a root issue of heart sickness and discouragement? Have we forgotten who we are and whose we are?

“Above all else, guard your heart. For it is the wellspring of life.” Prov. 4:23

God is after your heart… and so is the devil!

Resistance is Inevitable

One of the better decisions I’ve made this year was returning to the gym to regularly work out. No matter how many weeks I’ve done this, there is always that voice in the back of my mind telling me that I don’t feel like working out right now. There is always some excuse to postpone or skip altogether. I have to press through this. But the more I do so, the easier it gets each time. In order to grow stronger, the mind and body need resistance.

In one of Arnold Schwarzenneger’s famous speeches, he gives the secret to his success in life. “I have no Plan B.” and “People used to ask me how I can lift weights with a smile on my face. It’s because I have a goal. Every repetition gets me closer to my goal.” Arnold also says most people are afraid of failure but concludes that, “We all fail. It’s okay to fail.”

Consider the Wright brothers. They failed many times before inventing the airplane. Thomas Edison tried to invent the light bulb and failed 1,000 times! A reporter asked him how it felt knowing he failed 1,000 times. He replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps!” Abraham Lincoln ran for office and failed eight times before becoming president. Think of the resistance Martin Luther King Jr. faced during his fight for civil justice in America. His house was bombed and his family threatened with death.

How many times are you willing to fail in order to reach your goal?

God is looking for overcomers. There are beautiful promises from Jesus to his church in the book of Revelation (chapters 2-3). I encourage you meditate on these for yourself. Each one begins with, “To him who overcomes…” The coward and the quitter will have no part in the kingdom of God.

Jesus said in John 16:33, “In this world you will have tribulation… but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world.”

In this life you will face resistance of all kinds. You will face financial challenges. You will be tempted to stray into sin. You will be criticized by friends, family and people who claim to be Christians but don’t get it. You will face rejection, betrayal and emotional battles. You will experience set backs, unforeseen obstacles, fires, disasters and every attack from the enemy imaginable. You will face persecution, and for some even violence and imprisonment. But guess what? This is normal! There is no magic pill, silver bullet, or ruby red slippers to get you back to Kansas. Resistance is inevitable. However, remember this truth.

The devil uses resistance to drain you. God uses resistance to train you!

Beating Discouragement

Here are some secrets and truths from the Word of God to cause you to win the battle against discouragement in your life.

  1. Your strength comes from God
  2. Hold onto the prophecies and testimonies
  3. Worship

David had one of the worst days at the office in history. He comes home with his merry men to a not-so-merry sight. His whole village and town of Ziklag had been raided and burned to the ground. Amidst the smoldering rubble, no people could be found. All his family and the families of his men had been kidnapped and carried off. After weeping themselves into hysteria, his men turn towards him with a crazy look in their eyes, and David realizes that meat is what’s for dinner. (1 Sam. 30-1-6) In my opinion, this is one of the most discouraging situations in Scripture. In the midst of this chaos and despair, David strengthened himself in the Lord his God. David knew there was only one person and one source of strength and he needed a fresh God encounter. Secret #1 – You need a God encounter.

Another secret to winning is found in Paul’s word to Timothy, “This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare.” (1 Tim. 1:18)

The prophet Habakkuk also is told by the Lord to: “Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time, But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it. Because it will surely come, it will not tarry.” (Hab. 2:2-3)

Secret #2 – Write down your prophecies, visions and testimonies of God’s faithfulness. Speak, pray and meditate upon them often.

This is the last secret. There is no problem that will continue to plague you in the manifest presence of God. His glory, light, holiness and power will eliminate every worry, fear, trouble and anxiety. It won’t just be dwarfed or eclipsed… it will become non-existent.

The psalmist talks about the oppression of the wicked and the proud who seem to have no trouble. He was so tormented by this injustice that it oppressed him, robbing him of peace. “Until I went into the sanctuary of God; Then I understood their end. Surely you set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction. Oh, how they are brought to desolation, as in a moment! They are utterly consumed with terrors. As a dream when one awakes, So, Lord, when you awake, you shall despise their image.” (Ps. 73:17-20)

Secret #3 – Worship your way into a paradigm shift.


The devil’s biggest game is discouraging you and me from the purposes of God. Resistance is inevitable, but God is molding us into his image through every trial. We are more than conquerors through Christ who loves us so… hold fast to these truths and NEVER GIVE UP!

Two More Years in the Prison

As I was praying this month, I was taken in the spirit to the story of Joseph. God began to show me something I had never seen. What happened to Joseph during those final two years in the prison? What is the Lord speaking to us through this?

Dreams Delayed

The story begins in Genesis 37. Joseph is the beloved son of Jacob and highly favored. He has a prophetic dream about the sun, moon and stars bowing down before him. He is promptly rejected by his family for this dream. The dream stoked the jealousy of his brothers who eventually betrayed him, selling him into slavery in Egypt. Joseph goes to Potiphar’s house and excels until he is falsely accused and lands in a prison cell for doing no wrong. Even in the prison, they speak well of him and he rises. But Joseph had to have prayed and wondered many times, “When will I be delivered from this prison?”

It has been said that, “Between the promise and the palace is the process.”

“He sent a man before them. Joseph – sold as a slave. They hurt his feet with fetters. He was laid in irons. Until the time that his word came to pass, the Word of the Lord tested him.” Ps. 105:17-9

Have you ever been given a dream? A prophetic word from God? A promise that was so real you could taste and touch it? And yet… it seems like the opposite plan unfolds? What is God doing? Why does this happen?

Remember Me

I want to focus in particular beginning with chapter 40 of Genesis. A curious thing happens. After many years in the prison, a ray of hope begins to glisten. Two men are sent there from Pharaoh’s palace. They both have dreams and Joseph interprets both by God’s Spirit. The cup bearer will be restored to his previous position while the baker will face execution. It came to pass exactly as Joseph said. Before the cup bearer left the prison, Joseph gave him this charge.

“But remember me when it is well with you, and please show kindness to me, make mention of me to Pharaoh and get me out of this house. For indeed I was stolen away from the land of the Hebrews, and also I have done nothing here that they should put me into the dungeon.” Genesis 40:14-5

At this point in the story, Joseph is twenty eight years old. He has spent eleven years away from his family with no friends and no one to comfort him in this foreign land. He was unjustly hated by his brothers. He was unjustly accused by Potiphar’s wife. He had spent almost half of his life as a slave when he had done no wrong. Imagine the feeling Joseph must have had after the encounter with the cup bearer. Finally, the Lord has seen my affliction and made a way of escape. My time of release is at hand!

“The chief cupbearer, however did not remember Joseph, he forgot him.” Gen. 40:23

Only God

As I was praying, I was taken in the spirit to Joseph’s prison after the cup bearer left. A week goes by and Joseph thinks, “Any day now, the guards will inform me that I’m being released.” Then two weeks go by… “Perhaps the cup bearer was overwhelmed with duty upon his return but he will no doubt send for me.” Then a month goes by… still nothing. Right about the fortieth day is when a mountain of despair seems to crash down on Joseph with this realization, “The cup bearer has forgotten me. He is not going to help me. I am staying in this prison.”

I believe this was Joseph’s greatest test. Will he be offended with God? Will he stop striving and learn to be content wherever the Lord has placed him? Will he let go of all his demands, his need for justice and simply wait upon the Lord without knowing what end may come?

Why would God give Joseph hope only to dash them? Is God cruel? Was he playing with Joseph? No. The work was not complete. Hope deferred is God’s hammer and chisel to remove every last jagged edge in our hearts. It is in these last two years in the prison that something was taking place.

When we have a goal, a dream or a promise, it is natural to do everything in our power to obtain it by rushing ahead of God according to man’s wisdom. Many men of faith have fallen into the trap of “helping God” fulfill his promises. Abraham had Ishmael because Sarah wasn’t bearing a son as quickly as Abraham expected. David counted the fighting men because God clearly needed a vast army to defend Israel. Peter wanted to help Jesus become king by human force. He didn’t understand the path of the cross. This is the main point. Joseph was there in the prison and everything he said to the cup bearer was true and correct. He had been unjustly accused. He had been given a promise that had not been fulfilled. But he was still trying to bring the word to pass in his own strength.

The deepest work of God took place in those final years of darkness in the prison where Joseph had no indication of when or if he would ever be released.

Joseph is eventually brought before Pharaoh. He interprets the dreams that no one else in all of Egypt were able to understand. Joseph does two things that impress me. First, he gives all the credit to God for the interpretation. Secondly, he does not self-promote, defend himself or even ask Pharaoh to let him out of the prison.

This is what happened in him during those last two years in the prison.

“Only God will get me out of this prison. Only God will fulfill his word to me in the dream. Only God is my portion, my strength and my delight. Only God knows the number of my days and his ways and timing are perfect. All my efforts to bring this to pass are vanity.”

A deeper trust, a deeper surrender were needed before Joseph was truly ready to rule Egypt.

Friend, wherever you find yourself, God wants to break us so that he can remake us into a vessel ready to do His will in His way, time and strength.

Season of Restoration

Do you ever feel like your life is similar to this car?

Stuck in the mud. Dirty. Worn out. Not going anywhere. Potential unrealized. Broken down engine. In need of love, care and attention but powerless to get there.

Then this post is for you.

 

I believe we are entering a prophetic season of restoration

I had a friend reach out to me just this past week. He and I have known each other for about ten years. We have ministered together, prayed together, wept together. Yet about a year and a half ago we had a dispute that caused us to part ways. This broken trust and offense robbed us both of the beauty of fellowship and the mutual encouragement God meant for us to have as brothers in Christ. As I have prayed and done my part to reach out to this brother over the past year, I trusted God would be faithful to restore. And he did. This was a sign to me.

Wherever you find yourself having suffered loss, wherever you feel stuck, God is moving things in your life right now. His power is able to do what we cannot. Lean in expectantly in prayer and faith and watch God begin to restore broken relationships, lost opportunities, financial setbacks. Closed doors are opening.

 

Everything has a time and a purpose

As I have been reading through Ecclesiastes, it speaks in the third chapter of the timing of life. Moses says also in the 90th Psalm, “Teach us to number our days rightly, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Jesus also says, “My time has not yet come.” John 2.

There is a purpose for every season in your life. There is a time to tear down, to scatter, to refrain… and there is a time to build, to gather and to embrace. Every person who was used by God went through a season of barrenness and destruction before they entered their season of fulfillment.

Between the promise and the palace is the process, the prison, and the persecution.

Despair comes when we fail to see God’s purpose in our life in the moment we are living in. When we are in a cave fearing for our lives as David was, this is when we sing worship songs to the Lord and learn that He is our refuge, our strength, our shield. When we find ourselves in the pit like Joseph did, this is when we learn to pray believing God will lift us out and fulfill his Word. When we face the death of a promise as Abraham did when told to sacrifice Isaac, this is when we learn to believe that God raises the dead.

Nothing is wasted. The suffering and pain you have gone through is propelling you into God’s great purpose. Ask for the Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation to help you see the lesson in what you’ve been through. You are being molded and shaped into the man or woman of greatness Christ calls you to be.

 

Take despair by the throat

I was watching an amazing video by Arnold Schwarzenneger about success and failure. He said that the secret to his success in life is that he has no Plan B. “People have a Plan B because they are afraid of failure.” He went on to say that there is no success without failure. We all fail. The greatest champions were knocked down, lost races, didn’t win the competition… yet what made them champions is they got up again. They resolved that they would continue to fight until victory was theirs.

The prophet Isaiah talks about those who were once rejected, broken, in prison, in despair.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, to bind up the broken hearted, to set at liberty the captives, and the release from darkness for the prisoners. To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God. To comfort all who mourn. To provide for those who grieve in Zion, to bestow upon them a crown beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated. They will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.”  Is. 61:1-4

The devil calls you victim; the Lord calls you victor.

David found himself on the brink of despair after returning one day from battle to find his entire city burned to the ground and all his family and those of his men taken as slaves.

“David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. But David found strength in the LORD his God.”  1 Sam. 30:6

David took despair by the throat by getting into the presence of God and realizing that restoration would surely come. He and his men fought according to the Word of the Lord to pursue and overtake… and they recovered all.

Take hold of this word for your life today. You are not defeated and God has not abandoned you. Rise up in faith and look to the hills where your help comes from!

This is your season of restoration.

I Desire Mercy

“For I desire mercy not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than all burnt offerings.” Hosea 6:6

I was in my hotel room in Taiwan up late at night due to the time change. As I was pacing and praying, I reflected on a recent interchange with someone who I care about deeply but who had sliced my heart with their criticism. Whatever measure of truth was in their words, the point still remained that it was hurtful and disproportionately critical given the many good times we had shared. It was like someone having nine things to rejoice about and one to complain about and they laser in on that.

So there I was bothered in my spirit about this and praying. Then I realized that this is what it feels like when we don’t show mercy to one another. In my own life, I have the utmost value for the truth of God’s Word. And therefore, I have no problem rebuking or correcting error. However, as I was in that hotel room, I felt a rush of the Lord’s presence upon me as I began to ask for forgiveness for every time I had unknowingly failed to show mercy to others and needlessly wounded them; I had come with a hammer when a tweezer was all that was necessary. The scripture from Hosea came alive as I realized we can busy ourselves all day offering vain sacrifices (especially those of us in ministry) to God but if we don’t know how to show mercy or are quick to condemn others, we have missed it completely.

I began to pray, “Lord, let me show mercy to someone in need today. Let me not be quick to judge or condemn those you have not condemned.” As the presence of God flooded the room, I wept and was undone.

For the next couple of days I couldn’t shake this word as if it had been etched into my soul. While in Taiwan I preached this message at Everlasting Love Church and now I offer it to you.

Let me also say that this is a weighty word. Even as I write now, I tremble because I do not feel entirely worthy to even preach this message. There is a greater measure of God’s pure heart that I must take hold of and which must take a hold of me. This word goes deeper than I even realize and at this point I feel that I am only scratching the surface of the full revelation of this aspect of God’s character.

 

The Nature of God

Who is God exactly? What is he like? What does he say about himself?

One’s perception of God is no small matter. How can we properly love and follow a God we don’t even know?

As Moses is seeking the Lord in the wilderness, he asks God to show him his glory. Have you ever evaluated your prayer life in light of this request? God answers and manifests himself to Moses.

“Now the LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation. So Moses made haste and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped.” Exodus 34:5-8

I find it striking that of all the things God could have said about himself like God the Creator, the Almighty, the King of Heaven, the Giver of Life, the Most Holy One, the Righteous Judge that the first thing he says is merciful!

The psalmist writes, “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Ps. 145:8

Speaking of Jesus the apostle John says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us and we have beheld his glory, the glory of the One and Only who came forth from the Father full of grace and truth.” and “Of the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.” John 1:14 & 16

I see a theme again and again in scripture: mercy and truth, lion and lamb, grace and then the call to repentance.

Jesus was full of grace and truth. But notice that grace came first. God leads with mercy and is way more compassionate and patient than we are. He will also judge but he takes no delight in the destruction of his creation.

In the famous novel Les Miserables, it was not the execution of the law’s wrath but mercy that transformed Jean Valjean from a wretch into a new man. The purchase price for freedom was the silver and kindness given by the priest who had every right to condemn the man who had just repaid his love with evil. Valjean knew this and it broke him. No one had loved him like this. How could he ever go back to his old life of sin?

Jesus became the purchase price of mercy… that we might be free.

 

True Righteousness

What is righteousness exactly? Is it being right? Is it obeying the law?

Righteousness is emulating the character of God in all we do. There is a difference between being right and being righteous.

Self righteousness is quick to condemn… because after all, the self righteous person is right… right?

Let’s learn a lesson from Job.

Then Job answered and said: “I have heard many such things; Miserable comforters are you all! Shall words of wind have an end? Or what provokes you that you answer? I also could speak as you do, If your soul were in my soul’s place. I could heap up words against you, And shake my head at you; But I would strengthen you with my mouth, And the comfort of my lips would relieve your grief.” Job 16:1-5

His friends were convinced that he had sinned and was getting his just desserts. But Job teaches his friends that true righteousness looks like lifting up the suffering ones instead of pointing the finger at them in condemnation! Job makes no qualifying statement here. The lesson is even when someone has made a foolish choice or sinned and is suffering for it, will we strengthen or destroy?

Next we go to Joseph, Mary’s husband to be.

“Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.” Matt. 1:19

I want you to really think about this for a minute. Try to be Joseph. The woman you love who you want to spend the rest of your life with is found to be with child. In Joseph’s mind, she committed adultery against him. Can you imagine the heartbreak, embarrassment, and shock he must have carried inside? This was an offense punishable by death… and yet because he was a just man, he decided to show her mercy! Wow. He teaches us that true righteousness looks like not wanting to make a public spectacle of others or be quick to destroy them… even when they have sinned!

And I can think of no greater example than that of our Lord Jesus Christ in John 8 when he met the woman caught in adultery. After all her accusers realized that they too had sinned and were worthy of judgment, Jesus spoke with her. Grace said, “Neither do I condemn you” and Truth said, “Now go and sin no more!”

True righteousness is gracious and compassionate, willing to show mercy and slow to anger.

 

What Does the Lord Require?

“Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, Ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:7-8

Selah.

I once heard a preacher say that most people love justice and do mercy.

You showed up late… oh I’m going to point that out. Just calling you out brother. Mercy… oh yeah… I guess I can get to that later. You are struggling with something in your life. Have I prayed for you? Have I strengthened you? Have I walked with you to restoration or have I loved judgment?

My grandfather who is now passed away was a pastor and preacher. He was in all respects a man of God but there was a time when he loved justice not mercy. My parents were struggling financially when I was a boy and they needed money to pay the bills. He chided them for not managing their finances properly and then loaned them money with interest! I remember my father telling me this story and the way he said it made me realize how much he had been hurt by the one who was supposed to represent righteousness showing a cold judgment instead of mercy in their time of need. My other grandfather who was not a pastor and didn’t even come to know the Lord until the very end of his life, would generously give money to my parents when he found out they were in need. Hmmm… who really showed the heart of God?

In my own life, I have been guilty of over correcting and having a critical spirit at times. I meant well… but I realize now in hind sight that I wounded people by loading them up with more than they could bear. I loved justice not mercy.

How does this apply to us? It means in my own life, I walk justly. I pay my bills on time. I keep my word. I follow through. I seek to honor God by living a holy life (by the power of the Holy Spirit!) But when others around me fail to live a holy life, I am quick to cover the offense, show mercy, lift them up. (There is a place for correction, and I’m not talking about sin empowerment but rather a heart posture towards the mercy of God.)

The last part is to walk humbly with our God. The more we embrace mercy, we are reminded of our own need for it. This humbles us and ultimately takes us to the cross. We know that we are not worthy in and of ourselves of anything from God. He chose to give us his most precious gift, Jesus his son.

The picture at the top of this post is of five young men in Taiwan giving their lives to Christ at an altar call. The gospel is the greatest example of the mercy of God. Now let us go and do likewise.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Matt. 5:7

“For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” James 2:10-3

Salvation at the Gym

SALVATION TESTIMONY @ the gym! (Jan. 17, 2019)

I’m here in Minnesota with my good friend Steven Uggen and we decided to go work out at the local YMCA in Minneapolis. (Steven is left, Mauricio Trejo middle, I’m on the right.)

Earlier that day during prayer, I said, “Lord, give me a burn for the lost. Guide me today and give me a divine appointment.” (Note: if you pray these kinds of prayers, be prepared for answers.)

So Steven and I went to the gym and I’m just doing my thing. As I walked by the bench press after doing some cardio, I saw this guy pumping away and I thought it was Steven. When I got closer however, it was not him! However, I sensed the Lord wanted me to talk to him so I waited on God and asked the Holy Spirit to open the way.

I then get an impression that there is something going on with his brother and this is a key to his heart. After a little more time and some more sets, I decide to strike up a conversation. (Note: Flowing with the Holy Spirit does not need to be awkward, weird or obnoxious. Just be normal and allow God to move through you.)

So he tells me his name is Mauricio and that he normally works out at a different YMCA but for “some reason” he decided to come to this one today because they had just gotten new equipment, and he wanted to check it out. Steven had come over around this time so I introduced them and told Mauricio we were pastors… preachers to be more exact. After a little more small talk, I mention to Mauricio about the impression the Lord gave me about something going on with his brother. Mauricio then begins to explain to us that his Mom, who is a very Christian woman, had been diagnosed with cancer about six months ago and it has totally shaken up the family. Although he is one of nine siblings, his youngest brother has been the most severely impacted by this trauma and has totally gone haywire with drugs. Somewhere during this time, Steven gets an impression in his spirit of a Hispanic woman on her knees weeping for her children while praying in Spanish. Steven then looks at Mauricio and says, “We are here because of your Mom’s prayers. You have a praying Mom.” Mauricio looks shocked and then says, “Yes she is always praying for everyone in the family. As a matter of fact, she was supposed to die but she and others have been praying and she is beating the cancer!”

Steven and I share a bit of the gospel with him. We tell him that God sent us to pray for his Mom, his brother, and that he would come back to the Lord!

Mauricio admitted that he had fallen away from the Lord. At one point during the gospel, Steven says, “When you come to know Jesus it’s like the Matrix movie and you totally wake up out of your slumber! Have you seen that movie?” Mauricio’s eyes bulge and he says, “That’s my favorite movie!” Lol. God is THAT good right?

Mauricio then says, “Ten years ago I was in a church service and a prophetess called me out of the crowd and said, “God is pointing you out. He is showing me that your favorite movie is the Matrix. And you will be used by him.”

Mauricio had always struggled to believe in God. But his mother’s relentless prayers had tipped the balance in the heavens. We were overjoyed in the spirit as Mauricio said he was ready to surrender his life to Christ. We prayed with Mauricio to recommit his life to Jesus right there in the YMCA sitting on the bench press!! (We even prayed in the Holy Ghost!)

Mauricio said that just that morning he had talked to his Mom who said, “I’m praying for you!” His whole countenance changed after the encounter with Jesus Christ. Mauricio was in holy shock. He couldn’t believe how real God was and how God had been pursing him time and again. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever! (Heb. 13:8)

Please pray for Mauricio, his brother Carlos (the one who is going to be delivered from drugs), and his mother Juana.

To God be the glory!
Toda la gloria a Dios!

Through the Fire

This past month, the state of California got rocked by dual fires blazing across the north and south. This eclipsed a recent shooting in Thousand Oaks which came right on the heels of another shooting in a synagogue in Pittsburg, PA. What is going on?! This seems to be a natural question in such times. Here are my thoughts on these recent events.

We Are Not Promised a Life of Comfort

Any serious student of the Word of God can come to no other conclusion than to see that this world is full of trouble and perils. (John 16:33) Apostle Peter also reminds us that judgment begins with the house of God. Often in Western culture we are blinded by our own comforts and a false sense of security. Having traveled the world, I can say that America is indeed an exceptional nation, but this does not mean we are beyond the reach of danger, peril or calamity. God can and does put a hedge of protection around those who fear Him. (Ps. 91, Job 1) But when a nation continues to sin against God, do we honestly expect to abide under his hand of protection?

In Jesus’ time, Pilate had murdered some of the Galileans in a ritual sacrifice. There was also a group that died unexpectedly when the Tower of Siloam fell upon them. Jesus speaks to the people and tells them that unless they repent, they too will perish. (Luke 13:1-5) Often we have this idea that people are all innocent. But in God’s eyes, none of us is innocent. None of us is immune from judgment. We tend to look at tragedy and have a sense that an injustice has happened. Could it be that we all deserve this type of punishment and it’s actually the mercy of God that 99.9% of us do not experience this? Jesus uses these moments to remind us of a far weightier and eternal truth. Life is short. We are not promised a journey of ease that is free from suffering or unexpected calamity. It begs the question to all of us, “Where am I storing up my treasures?”

I believe that this tragedy was a prophetic sign to the state. Interestingly, the winds blew the smoke from the fires directly over Sacramento and the Bay Area until they were covered in blackness. These are the two power centers of Northern California. The air quality was among the worst in the whole world. In my entire life, I have not seen people walking around with masks on. It’s like the Lord was revealing the true spiritual climate over these regions. We think we are safe and okay but our culture has become demonic and toxic with sin… we just don’t see it. Also, the fact that Paradise burned to the ground is not coincidental. God is saying that unless you repent of your wickedness California, the paradise in which you trust will be leveled to the ground!

To Tear Down and Root Out

The Lord speaks to the prophet Jeremiah and tells him:

“See this day I have set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant.” Jer. 1:10

The Psalmist writes,

“Before I was afflicted, I went astray. But now I keep your word.” Ps. 119:67

The author of Hebrews reminds us that,

“Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things he suffered.” Heb. 5:8

The least popular aspect of discipleship is suffering. But this cannot be ignored. No man or woman will reach maturity without it. Sadly, many Christians have become lukewarm and falsely believe they can have idols and God on the throne of their lives. I have seen in my ministry that those who come to God do so because they believe they need him. Comfort is the enemy of Christlikeness. Jesus tells us that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven. I remember a story my Mom told me about a pastor of their former church. A woman came up to this pastor and said, “I want you to pray for my husband that he will be saved!” The pastor then asked, “Well tell me a little bit about him.” She replied, “He is a successful business man.” The pastor then began to pray, “Oh God, I pray that his business will fail!” WHAT?! The woman was in shock… “That is not what I told you to pray for!” The pastor then replied, “Well, what do you think it’s going to take to humble him and cause him to cry out to God?”

God must tear down and root out before he can build and plant. So many people worship money, success, their own talents, their own abilities, their own individualism. These are all idols and they war against a life surrendered to God! What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? Saints, we must embrace the judgments of God. In his great wisdom and mercy, he smashes every idol and tears down every barrier between us and him. Until we can sing with one voice, “On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand!”

With Us in the Fire

Three Hebrew captives defied King Nebuchadnezzar and wound up in a furnace that was so hot that the guards were killed throwing them in. As the king looked inside, he saw a fourth person walking around with them who looked like the son of God! (Dan. 3)

When I was in Chico, CA this month, I met a woman named Patti. She and her driver Susan were sitting in gridlocked traffic frantically trying to get out during the wildfires. There came a point where the flames were on both sides of the car and it was so hot inside the car that it felt like an oven. She began to cry out to God and said, “Jesus, we need a miracle. I don’t want to die. Only you can save us.” She described that immediately a cool began to fill the car and she knew that everything was going to be fine. And it was! After they returned and got out of their car, the side of their car was literally melted by the flames but they were not harmed! Hallelujah what a mighty God!

The prophet Isaiah tells us that the Spirit of the Lord has anointed Jesus to preach good news to the poor, to bind up the broken hearted, to set at liberty the captives, and to release the prisoners from darkness. He will bestow upon them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise instead of the spirit of despair. (Is. 61)

Every tragedy is an opportunity for God to show himself strong on behalf of those who trust in him. Though there has been destruction and death, a great wave of healing has begun to take place. I spoke with about a dozen people in Chico recently and almost none of them was complaining or moping about what happened. They were all happy to be alive. This fire reminded them of what is truly important in life. And it became an opportunity for God to bring beauty for ashes… through the church! Even non believers told me that the outpouring of love and help from the community had touched their hearts and helped to soothe the traumas they just experienced.

Let’s believe for God to use this to the eyes of many fully back onto him across the state of California and the world. He is with us in the fire.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned. Nor shall the flame scorch you.” Is. 43:2