Life on Life

“We were well pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our very lives.” 1 Thes. 2:8

In my years of ministry, I have seen people grow into true disciples and I have seen others fall off. If the call of the church is to go into all the world and make disciples, it begs the uncomfortable question as to whether we are doing a good job or not. In this sermon, I’d like to take a look at the reasons for failure, what the Bible has to say and how we can make and become true disciples.

Why People Get Stuck

Are there common elements for growth? Are there dangers to this call to true discipleship in our modern day society? The answer to both is yes. When I began preaching the gospel at UC Berkeley in 2013, I met a young man at the local Peet’s named Zack. When I first saw him, I saw a flash of light go before his face and then heard the Holy Spirit say to me: “This man is going to be saved.” I then proceeded to order my coffee, make some small talk and read the Word as was my usual custom. I began praying for this man and every time I’d see him, I’d have a brief chat. One day as I was reading the Scriptures, he came up to me and said, “It’s good to see someone reading something of substance for a change.” I knew that the door was beginning to open in his heart. Not long after, I invited him to do a Bible study and thus our relationship began. I walked this young man through the gospels, water baptized him, taught him about the baptism of the Holy Spirit and so on. We eventually moved in together and he joined my ministry. I spent two years discipling him and eventually took him with on an overseas mission to Nicaragua. He grew rapidly in the faith and became very zealous for God. It was anything but easy, but it was all worth it.

If he was a success story, then why do so many stay stuck? The first reason is a failure of the church system to properly engage people and make it their duty to disciple them. One of the great barriers to growth is to stay in hiding. What I mean by this is that we live lives where others are kept at arm’s length. We may show up to church services every Sunday, go to work, and appear healthy. But God knows our hearts. He knows our priorities, our hidden sins and everything done in the dark. Many people in the Western world live a mediocre Christianity. There is very little fruit coming from their lives. Like the parable of the seed among thorns, they appear like a living plant but when the Master comes to inspect their lives, is there really any fruit or has isolation and distraction choked it out? It is possible for people to go through the motions with no real accountability or discipleship taking place in the church. Thus, they stay stuck, struggling with the same sins as five years ago. No one is being led to Christ. Prayer lives are dismal at best. Their hearts are crowded with too many idols and distractions to truly be able to say, “Jesus is Lord.”

Perhaps you think I’m being too harsh. Or am I speaking the truth?

The second reason for stagnation is an unwillingness to be under authority. We like people to give us suggestions, to preach tickling sermons that make us feel better, but don’t put your finger on my idols or sins. Staying in hiddenness is the first step towards rejection of authority. The Word tells us to, “Walk in the light as he is in the light and we will have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1:7

The best analogy for healthy authority is a shepherd. They are there to guide the sheep, provide for them, and protect them. Sure there have been bad examples in life but this does not negate the fact that God has created all of us to need others in our lives. The mentality that “I’m just going to figure it all out on my own or read the Bible on my own” is a subtle cover up for rebellion. It’s an unwillingness to allow someone else into our lives and be used as God’s instrument for growth and discipleship.

The last reason people get stuck is an unwillingness to repent and submit to Christ. There’s a progression here. First starts the hiddenness which blocks others from really knowing us or speaking into our lives, then there is the resistance to authority, and finally there is a barrier to repentance. Repentance is at the heart of the Christian faith. Without it, there is no forgiveness of sin, there is no change, there is no fruit. Repentance means humbling ourselves, giving up idols and sin habits that war against our soul and committing ourselves fully to God. This includes our time, our money, our relationships, our habits, our speech, and our bodies. It all belongs to Jesus.

It’s worth mentioning that repentance keeps us free from some key snares: offense, bitterness and idolatry. I have gone through phases of being offended at the church or others. I have seen others get offended at a leader and leave a ministry or a relationship unwilling to be reconciled. Offense is usually rooted in pride. It blocks us from seeing good in a person or situation. Its twin sister is bitterness. The Word calls us to forgive one another and be tenderhearted. Occasionally, an offense may be because someone has legitimately sinned against you. In such cases, we must do our best to take it before the Lord, have a conversation with the person, and move on. If they repent, the relationship is restored. If not, the relationship is severed. Either way, we as the Body of Christ cannot afford to hold onto bitterness or offense. We must repent. The last issue is idolatry. These are sin patterns that stunt us and may even keep us out of the kingdom of God altogether if we persist in them. We must take this incredibly seriously. Jesus is coming back for a pure and spotless bride. Those who practice lawlessness will not inherit the kingdom of God. Thus, we need authority, accountability and repentance to help us in our journey of becoming like Christ.

Now that we’ve looked at the barriers to true growth and discipleship, what does the Word of God teach us about how to disciple? How did Jesus do it?

Our Model: the Word

When Jesus walked by the sea of Galilee he saw some fisher men. What did he say? “Come follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.” Mark 1:17 Paul says to the Thessalonian church that he shared not only the gospel with them but also his very life! Any student of the Word will see a pattern. Joshua had Moses, the disciples had Jesus, Timothy had Paul, Elisha had Elijah and so on.

True discipleship is life on life.

Imagine the disciples with Jesus. They ate with him, slept in the same quarters as him, saw him minister, and saw his habits. They saw his hidden life that few others saw, heard his teaching, and received his love on a regular basis. Is it any wonder that they grew? Implicit in true discipleship is a willingness to let go of the former in order to “follow me.” This is costly and painful. It is why the rich man went away sad. He was unwilling to let go of his wealth. The disciples left everything to follow Jesus.

Contrast this form of discipleship with most churches, and you will see why very few mature Christians are produced. Some churches do have a small group program which is a great start, but it takes much more. There is a need for the people of God to live life on life with the younger and new believers until Christ is formed in them. This takes hard work, prayer, perseverance, suffering, and vigilance. It is like raising a child. This model is what the Scriptures teach us. There is no other.

Life on Life

How do we reclaim true biblical discipleship that births and raises champions for Christ? Here is where to begin in your own life, your church or your ministry.

Be Teachable

Only those who are mature should be teaching others. I generally recommend men on men and women on women although there are some exceptions. How the relationship plays out is subject to time, personality, willingness and the like. But if you meet once a week or more, you will see growth.

In my own life, I want to be humble enough to listen to the opinions of others regardless of their age. God may be speaking to me through them. But that doesn’t mean everyone has the right to speak into my life or has that role of authority. Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master.” Matt. 10:24-25 It’s critical to understand that you will become like the one teaching you! So choose wisely. I am very picky about who I respect and allow to influence me in my spiritual walk. If he is not a man of God that I want to be like, then why would I allow him to teach or influence me? Ultimately, the goal is to become like Christ. Look for men and women who emanate the character, love and power of Jesus Christ in their lives.

If you are among the mature in the faith, then please make it a point to pour into a few people on a one on one basis. The church desperately needs this. If the younger will take initiative to seek a teacher and the mature will have the willingness to impart their lives, wisdom and grace, then discipleship will flourish.

Lastly, the Word says that the Holy Spirit will teach us all things and that we have received an anointing and know all things. So remember that the Holy Spirit is to be our primary teacher. But this does not mean that we don’t also need people who can serve in this role. The Holy Spirit speaks to us in the prayer closet, through the Word, and through people! Trust him to lead you to the right person(s) who can help you mature in the faith. Many times the immature in the faith think they heard God but didn’t. This is where mature spiritual covering is invaluable.

Be Transparent

The degree of your maturity depends on the degree of your transparency. God knows the secrets of our hearts, our strengths and our weaknesses. Accountability means opening up the books and making plain what’s there. Do this with your mentor. He/she is there to guide you, love you, pray for you, correct you and see that you become more like Christ. If there’s one lack I’ve seen over and over, it’s a lack of accountability. Most people like suggestions, but not authority or accountability.

Transparency means trusting God that by opening up, your best outcome will follow. It takes courage and humility to be honest about struggles and sin, but it’s the only way to find healing, repentance and breakthrough. We all have a desire to be known and loved for who we are. If we can’t practice this in the Body of Christ, where can we practice it? You will notice that as you get real and raw, there’s a freedom and lightness that will flood your soul. You will be surprised to find that your mentor and others have gone through similar struggles and are able to empathize. The end result is integrity and growth.

Be Tenacious

Just as a seed does not become a tree overnight nor a child a man, you and I must go through the glorious and painful process of growth. This is an ongoing journey. Even the apostle Paul remarks, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected, but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended, but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead. I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Phil 3:12-14

In the process of discipleship, there will be moments where you want to quit. There will be moments you don’t agree with your leadership. There will be moments where you wonder if it’s all worth it. Believe me, it is. Many people start the race but few finish it. If you and I are going to stand before Christ on the Day of Judgment, we must have endurance. As the writer of Hebrews tells us, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us cast off every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us and run with endurance the race marked out for us. Fixing our eyes upon Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross scorning the shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Heb. 12:1-2

How do we find strength when the battle rages and we feel weary? We fix our gaze upon Jesus. Intimacy with him through abiding in his presence will give you fresh strength for the journey.

And now, let us go on to fulfill that which has been given to us as the church. Let us make disciples of all nations. It’s our responsibility. It’s life on life.

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

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

 

The Land of the Living

“I would have lost heart unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”  Psalm 27:13

 

I have found myself thinking about Heaven lately. As I was reading this Psalm, this verse caught my attention. Everyone wants to be in a better place whether in this life or the next. Most everyone somehow believes they will be in Heaven or reunited with their loved ones after death. Perhaps you have lost someone dear to you, or perhaps you are nearing the end of your life as well. Perhaps you have gone through much suffering and wonder when everything will turn around. You are not alone.

 

The Crisis of Belief

One of the most needed things in our world is hope. I remember during Obama’s presidential campaign, he ran his presidency on this thought: hope. But can a human really provide this?

David writes in the psalms that he would have despaired unless he had believed.

The root of hopelessness is a crisis of belief. We as humans all need someone or something bigger than ourselves to believe in. Some find this cause in politics, philanthropy, their families or in religion. Where do you find hope?

David teaches us that his belief has sustained him during the most perilous times. Times of darkness, danger, betrayal, where death was a breath away. He found his hope in the living God. The knowledge that God was with him and that there was a land that awaited him became his lighthouse in the storm. He declares that the Lord is his light and his salvation. How many people are in despair because they have no belief? The devil’s greatest weapon is lies. He speaks to us to cause us to doubt our purpose, that we are loved, and that there is a God in Heaven who cares more for us than we could imagine.

Friends, this is our blessed hope, that we do not have to have a crisis of belief. We can hold fast to the truth that there is a God who is good and powerful. His mercy never fails us. His eye is always upon us. His kindness is limitless and to those who trust in him, he has reserved a land where we will live forever.

Next time you are facing a crisis, examine your beliefs. Are they coming from the truth… or from the father of lies?

 

The God of the Living

We understand who God is through his Word.

Jesus speaks to the Pharisees and Sadducees about the afterlife. “But concerning the dead that they rise, have you not read in the book of Moses in the burning bush passage that God spoke to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ ? He is not the God of the dead but of the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken.” (Mark 12:26-7)

All mankind will experience the afterlife. The dead shall be raised; some to eternal reward and others to eternal punishment.

Let’s consider another example.

The English word for enthusiasm comes from the root word meaning “God breathed or filled with God.” The most truly alive people I’ve ever met have God’s Spirit living in them. Jesus says that he has come to give us life and life to the fullest. God is eternal. His kingdom, his being was from before time and will never end. He is the one who gives and sustains all life.

If you want to truly live, you must be in relationship with the God of the living. I have never met a depressed, suicidal, hopeless person who was truly filled with God’s Spirit. You can be religious and depressed… but not filled with the God of the living and depressed. It’s impossible. You see when sin entered the world, what was the result? Death. Sin is our separation from the living God through willful rebellion. This death is all around us, in our minds, our physical bodies, and our world. But praise be to God that through his Son, we can confess like David, “I believe that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!”

 

Better than You Imagined

One of the most underappreciated and misunderstood places is Heaven. What images come to mind when you think of Heaven? Clouds? Harps? Halos? Babies floating around in diapers with mini-wings?

Whatever Hollywood view you have of Heaven… it’s wrong. One of the saddest lies I’ve heard is that Heaven will be boring. No fishing. No video games. No sex. No good music. No parties. Just an endless choir. Friends, this is completely wrong. Who do you think created the Earth? If God made fishing, sex, the sunset, the Milky Way, caviar, music, laughter, and snow capped mountains, do you really believe that his eternal dwelling place will be boring?

Apostle Paul reminds us that, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Cor. 2:9)

We get glimpses of what Heaven will be like in Scripture. It is described as a place where there is no more sorrow, death or darkness. It is a place where righteous men and women from the beginning of time will walk with God and each other in unbroken fellowship forever. It is described as a place without sin where the glory and love of God permeate everything. In Heaven color, sound, taste and every sense imaginable are heightened. It is a place so beautiful that the streets are paved with gold. No more terrorists, taxes, broken promises, separation from family, fear, shame or death. Only endless love, peace, contentment, joy and life. God will wipe away every tear and make all things new.

Will there be food in Heaven? Will there be creativity? Will there be laughter? Will there be family and fellowship? Will there be music beyond description? Will there be creatures we never dreamed of? Will it be fun, exciting, and adventurous?

More than you and I could ever dream!

Most of all, can you imagine looking into the eyes of Jesus? The one who created the universe and whose eyes burn like fire? Can you imagine what he will say to you on that day? The one who created and knows the deepest regions of the human heart?

Whatever joy, pleasure, romance, excitement and adventure you can imagine or have experienced here on Earth is only a shadow of things to come. I can’t wait to get there and walk with Jesus… and meet my family members who have served the Lord and passed on… and to talk with Peter, David, Esther and others.


Saints, we have a blessed hope. Let us say like King David that we believe we will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. It’s our intimacy with God and our knowledge of his goodness which will sustain us through the darkest night.

Heaven is not reserved for “good people” or people who believe in the afterlife or religion. It is reserved only for the children of God. We must be born again through Jesus Christ into the family of God. As we declare him to be Lord and Savior, he will take our pain, fear, failure and sin away! He is able to cleanse you by his blood shed on the cross. You do not have to live another day fearing death or what the future holds. You will now be able to say, “I would have lost heart unless I had believed.”

If you have never given your life to Jesus Christ, do it today.

I look forward to seeing you one day… in the land of the living.