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 every 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.

Empty Vessels

A certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets cried out to Elisha, saying, ‘Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the Lord. And the creditor is coming to take my two sons to be his slaves.’ So Elisha said to her, ‘What shall I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?’ And she said, ‘Your maidservant has nothing in the house but a jar of oil.’ Then he said, ‘Go, borrow vessels from everywhere, from all your neighbors – empty vessels; do not gather just a few. And when you have come in, you shall shut the door behind you and your sons; then pour it into all those vessels, and set aside the full ones.’ So she went from him and shut the door behind her and her sons, who brought the vessels to her; and she poured it out. Now it came to pass, when the vessels were full, that she said to her son, ‘Bring me another vessel.’ And he said to her, ‘There is not another vessel.’ So the oil ceased. Then she came and told the man of God. And he said, ‘Go, sell the oil and pay your debt; and you and your sons live on the rest.’” – 2 Kings 4:1-7

 

The Brink of Despair

One of my favorite movies growing up was The Princess Bride. It has everything: beautiful women, sword fights, giants, torture chambers, miraculous escapes, witty discourse, weird characters, true love… even a battle with a giant rat! At one point in the movie, Wesley is captured by Prince Humperdink and thrown into the pit of despair only to awaken to a white albino reminding him not to even think about trying to escape. “The chains are far too think. Have no hope of being rescued either. The only way in is secret. Only the prince, count and I know how to get in and out,” he smirks.

 

If you have ever felt like this, you are not alone. Whether your struggle is financial, emotional, relational, or physical, the story is not over yet.

 

In our text we see that this poor widow comes to the prophet in a desperate situation. Interestingly, her husband was also a prophet. We do not know exactly what happened to cause this debt. Perhaps there was some disaster like a fire that devoured their livelihood. Perhaps people were not giving into his ministry as they should. Or his sons could not find work. This is part of the story that we do not know. But what we do know is that this man feared the Lord. He was holy. He dedicated his life to the service of God, and yet at the end of his life, he died penniless and left behind a widow and two sons. Does this sound unjust to you?

 

This woman was on the brink of despair. Her two precious sons, the apple of her eye, were about to be sold into slavery. She was going to die bereaved of her husband and sons while slowly withering away from hunger like a severed branch.

 

Can you just hear the devil right now? “Is this what you get for serving God? He has failed you! Curse God and die!” Hmmm… reminds me of another story in Scripture.

 

How many people when they face these circumstances would respond like this? How many saints get offended at God when they go through trials!

 

There are always two responses to the trials: trust God or blame God.

 

Many people are at a critical crossroads. Faith is the ink that will pen the final chapter.

 

 

Bring Your Nothing

When you are invited to a wedding or a birthday party, it is customary to bring a gift. As a matter of fact, it is considered rude not to bring something. Even in the Old Testament, the Lord commands Israel not to come before him empty handed. David the king and prophet says, “I will not offer to God that which costs me nothing.”

 

And yet, what do you have that you could possibly give the King of the Universe? He is the one who spoke and the worlds were created. All that we are and have are from him and belong to him. In him we live and move and have our being.

 

This is well illustrated by the band Shane and Shane in their song, “Bring Your Nothing.”

 

Here is the widow. She has no hope but God and she comes to the prophet. If she had rich friends, don’t you think she would have called upon them? If she had a Plan B, don’t you think she would have executed it? Despair is the point when every natural resource and idea have been exhausted. This is where she was… at the mercy of either God or the creditors.

 

When Elisha asks her what she has, she says, “Your maidservant has nothing… but a jar of oil.”

 

She surrenders and brings her nothing to God. When we come humbly before the Lord and acknowledge that we really have nothing, he reminds us that there is some small thing that he has entrusted to us however insignificant it may seem. The world would not see it as much. Perhaps we feel it isn’t even worth mentioning.

 

God wants to take your nothing and make it something.

 

A story that comes to mind is the journey of CityImpact ministries in San Francisco. It began with a man seeing a need in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. This is one of the worst most drug infested and violent areas of the city. He had a heart to do something to bring the love of God. So he and his wife just started by making a few dozen lunch bags and then going around and handing them out to people. Then they prayed and talked with broken people as the Holy Spirit gave them audience. Fast forward over a decade later and they are now one of the most well known ministries in San Francisco with a huge staff, impacting not only the Tenderloin but churches around the world who send missions teams there to participate in what God is doing.

 

What is your jar of oil?

 

 

Empty Vessels

The apostle Paul writes to the Corinthian church to remind them that, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” – 2 Cor. 4:7

 

One of the biggest ingredients for God working a miracle is an empty vessel.

 

Jesus the Son of the living God came as an empty vessel to this world. In Philippians we learn that Christ “emptied himself” of all his divine privilege and nature in order to become a human and do the will of the Father. He became a servant.

 

The prophet says to the widow to go and gather empty vessels… from everywhere, from everyone, as many as you can find!

 

Isn’t it interesting that the sons who were supposed to be sold into slavery became gatherers of empty vessels? They got to participate in the miracle of God. The devil has a plan for your life. It is to sell you into slavery. It is to bring you into the house of bondage and despair. It is to rob you of your future. It is to keep you isolated, sick and fearful… to destroy your very soul.

 

But praise God saints… he has another plan!!

 

Imagine the scene. The sons frantically rushing to the neighbors, banging on doors, gathering and bringing them back to the house. Then going out again and gathering some more. Tall vessels, short vessels, red vessels, yellow vessels, vessels that used to hold sugar, flour, wine, parchments. Bring them all!!

 

Aren’t you glad that God is no respecter of persons? It doesn’t matter how beautiful, how big or small your vessel is. The only qualification is that it comes empty.

 

How many vessels got filled? Do you ever stop to think about this? Was it twenty? Fifty? A hundred? …

 

As many vessels as were brought were the ones that were filled! Question… are you skimping on the vessels? Could it be that God wants to do something far greater, far more marvelous in your family, church, city and life than you could have dreamed?!

 

The oil will stop as soon as there are no more empty vessels.

 

Saints, this story is one of the most profound pictures of the life of overflow for every believer. The devil wants you penniless, offended and fearful. Robbed of every good thing. God says, bring me your nothing. Come empty and watch me fill you to overflow.

 

The blessing not only paid off the debt but propelled this family into a life of abundance.

 

Are you in a place of despair? Do you feel like all you have is your nothing? Are you hungry to be filled with the fullness of God and see a movement in your church and city?

 

I have good news. God loves to take empty vessels and fill them up.

So bring them in… as many as you can find.

The Unity of the Spirit

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

~ Ephesians 4:3

That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” ~ John 17:23

Last May 3rd, the national Day of Prayer commenced. What was the theme? Unity. Shortly before this, I had been introduced to a group of house churches in the Bay Area. Their leader had spent some time writing a book called ONE. The Lord then gave me a prophetic download after the day of prayer. Let me first give some context. I have often wondered when we will truly see the unity of the church that we see in the book of Acts. Where I have spent many years ministering in Berkeley, there is such a thick atmosphere of offense over the city that it even permeates the church. Protest after protest happen on campus. Churches seem divided… or at minimum, wary of each other. Seeing genuine love and servant hood between ministries is rare as are united events for the proclamation of the gospel.

Here is what the Lord showed me. The Pharisees were rebuked by Jesus for “straining out a gnat” while “swallowing a camel.” This religious spirit is quick to fault find, be offended, look for minor doctrinal/cultural differences in order to criticize and divide… all the while “swallowing the camel” by missing the major things and leaving them undone. This is the work of the enemy and is one of the major reasons the church is so divided.

How about we begin with what we agree on? Can we agree that the Bible is God’s infallible Word? Can we agree that the world is going to Hell without Jesus? Can we agree that we were baptized into one faith with one Lord? Can we agree that Jesus is the Son of God who died and rose again and is the only way of salvation for those who repent and believe in him? Can we agree that we all need the Holy Spirit to fill and empower us?

In my time at Berkeley, I have had to work with some difficult people. If I only loved or co-labored with people whom I agreed with on absolutely everything, then I’d be a solo minister. Sadly, how many ministries or groups operate with this toxic mentality? If we begin with the foundational truths of our faith and love one other, we can work through our differences as we seek to see Jesus lifted up and his gospel proclaimed. Where there are disagreements, let us speak the truth in love and try to understand one another while remaining submitted to the Holy Spirit. Perhaps one will see it your way… or you will see it theirs. But this cannot even begin to happen if everyone is in their separate corners. At the end of the day we are to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. A relevant question to ask yourself is: am I making every effort or no effort? Some may argue that in the last days there will be many false teachers and deception so we need to be careful. I agree. But ask yourself whether most of the division is over heresy or apostacy… or straining out gnats and an unwillingness to love and make the effort.

The goal of the church is to become the mature, holy and undivided bride of Christ who proclaims his gospel to the ends of the world so that the end may come. Therefore, let us give one another the benefit of the doubt, lose the critical spirit, not look at other ministries as enemies or inferior, ask how we can serve one another in humility and love, seek to understand where someone else is coming from before making quick judgments, and speak the truth in love.

Have coffee with a pastor from another church. Invite someone from another group to your house for a meal. Go serve on another church’s ministry team every so often. Let us stay focused on the gospel of Jesus Christ and proclaiming it to the world all the while making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit. As I was reading John 17 recently, I was getting absolutely wrecked by how much Jesus prays for his people to be one… “that the world may believe that you sent me!”

The Power of Unity

In Genesis 11:1-9, we see that mankind had unified through a common language and purpose to the point that they decided to build a tower to heaven. God himself comes down to observe this and states:

And the LORD said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them.” ‘

~ Genesis 11:6

The Lord himself says that because the people has become one and has the same speech that nothing they propose will be withheld from them. Their purpose was self serving and still the Lord said this! Then God scattered these people through confusing their speech and thus the languages of the world were born. The unity was broken and everyone went their own way.

There is power in agreement and unity.

Solomon writes, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.” Eccl. 4:12

Jesus also teaches this in various places.

Again I say] to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” Matt. 18:19-20

But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” Matt. 12:25

Consider the United Nations or any coalition. They seek to use unity to gain the upper hand in their cause. Remember that time you got into an argument with someone and because you wanted to win, you tried to get another person on your side? What were you instinctively doing?

 

The Person of Unity

Unity is not an event, a conference, a program, or a political system. It is a work of the Holy Spirit. Communism as a worldview thought that a governmental power could create a more equal, fair society for those “oppressed” by the upper class by forcibly taking away private property, inheritances and putting all of the power into the hands of the state. Somehow this will eliminate “class struggles.” Ironically, not only has that not worked throughout history, but it only creates another form of oppression where the communist party elites have all the power over the “working class” who are all equally broke. The reason I bring up this example is some have erroneously argued that the Bible teaches a Communist perspective. In the book of Acts we see that many sold their possessions and gave to those in need. These are beautiful acts of love and sacrifice, but this is not the same as Communism. Political systems seek to impose their laws from the outside in through the use of force and coercion. The problem? The selfishness of man contained in the sin nature cannot be dealt with through a political system. Also, if the government forcibly takes everyone’s possessions, then it is no longer in the power of the individual to give an offering freely. Thus their free will is eradicated. The extravagant generosity seen in the book of Acts is only possible because God’s kingdom transforms us from the inside out!

Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.” ~ Acts 2:44-5

Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.” ~ Acts 4:32-3

Have you ever seen people doing this for strangers? Could you imagine selling your house that you have worked your whole life to buy and giving away the money so that those who were in need, would no longer lack? This is only possible when you begin to see those in the church as your brothers and sisters. That you are a part of a body.

For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many.” ~ 1 Cor. 12:13

That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.” ~ 1 Cor. 12:25-6

This unity came after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Unity is not the source; it is the by product of a life surrendered and filled with the Holy Spirit. You and I will never have true unity through human striving. Man in all his efforts over the millennia through governments, programs, and philosophies and has failed to produce more than a shadow of true unity. There is only one person with the mighty power to destroy our selfishness and pour love into our hearts like we see in the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit.

The Price of Unity

The devil’s greatest fear is that the church will become united once again as in the book of Acts.

He has endeavored to do everything in his power to break down this unity, create contention, division, suspicions, and insert his lies into the minds of the saints. His mission is to steal, kill and destroy. If he can’t keep you from salvation entirely, he wants you defeated and disjointed.

Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” ~ 2 Cor. 5:18

Unity is not without a high price. The cross was the price Jesus paid so that you and I might be reconciled to God… and to one another. We now have the responsibility to carry this out.

These are the three major barriers to unity: the spirit of offense, pride and the lies of the devil.

If we want true unity, we must pay the price by ridding ourselves of the following!

The spirit of offense – unforgiveness, holding on to the past, interpreting all information from a particular source in a negative way, avoiding people whom we have had disagreements or negative encounters with, demanding our rights, being quick to argue, unwillingness to apologize or be reconciled. One of the reigning principalities over Berkeley is the spirit of offense… why do you think there’s a protest every other week?!

Solution: refuse to come into agreement with the spirit of offense no matter what someone did to you. Do what you can to forgive, be reconciled and let it go. God is the righteous judge. He will repay.

Pride – that critical spirit that is more interested in fault finding than edifying, unwillingness to listen to or receive from other ministries, unteachable, being more concerned with ourselves than others… our way, our ministries, our status, our ideas, arguing over who is in charge, who gets the stage, who is in control of a meeting etc… this is all demonic, prideful and keeps the body divided. Being unable to rejoice at the successes of others, unholy competition between churches or ministries, or thinking that one is always right and others are wrong are all manifestations of pride.

Solution: Become nothing… just as Christ humbled himself and took the form of a bond servant. God will exalt you in due time. Try to see that God is also working through others and that our value is not determined by our titles, our control, or our ideas being used all the time. Seek to serve others.

Lies – the devil is the father of lies. He gains control in our lives when we believe his lies. He wants the church to believe his lies so that we are divided.

 

LIE #1 “It’s not that important for us to be united.”

Truth: John 17:21

LIE #2 “We can’t work with others whom we disagree with.”

Truth: 2 Cor. 5:18, Romans 12:2, Phil. 2:1-4

LIE #3 “As long as everyone is doing their own ministries separately and glorifying God, that is okay.”

Truth: John 17:21, 1 Cor. 1:10-13

LIE #4 “I only have responsibility for the people in my home church.”

Truth: Luke 10:20-37, Matt. 25:31-46

LIE #5 “I can say I love all the Christians in my city but do nothing to actually demonstrate that love.”

Truth: James 2:26, 1 John 3:16-18

LIE #6 “If we embrace other ministries and true unity, we might lose people to other churches.”

Truth: There is no other church!! There is only one true church and you are a steward of God’s people!!! Therefore, unless someone is being lost from the faith altogether, then you don’t have any justification for an “us versus them” mentality!

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Remember, true unity is a work of the Holy Spirit. Our focus should be on surrendering to him, ridding ourselves of sin, and walking according to the Word of the Lord.

that we may all be one… that the world may believe that God sent Jesus Christ!

Three Pillars of Prayer

A pillar is defined as a chief supporting element of architectural design. Without it, the building will collapse. Pillars are strong enough to stand on their own but a house (natural or spiritual) cannot stand without its pillars. Let me share with you three essential pillars of prayer.

 

The Pillar of Spiritual Warfare – Eph. 6:12

Although many Christians don’t bother to think about this often, the true battle is in the unseen realm. There is so much in the Word of God concerning angels, demons, prayer and the after life. To use a famous philospher’s quote: “The devil’s greatest trick was to convince the world he didn’t exist.”

In warfare, it is essential to be able to see the enemy. Radar, sonar, sophisticated satellite systems have been developed to be able to track and identify enemy targets. In medicine, we understand that there are micro organisms … invisible to the naked eye which cause disease. Thus being able to identify and “see” what is really going on is of the utmost importance.

As Paul writes in Ephesians, we are fighting a cosmic war in the heavenly realms against demonic forces. Flesh and blood are not the real enemy, Satan is. Thus we must be vigilant in prayer and in the weapons of righteousness. Although spirits manifest through people, humans are not your enemy. It is the ideology and demonic forces influencing and controlling people that we wrestle against.

Let’s see how the devil tries to resist the purposes of God through spiritual warfare.

The prophet Daniel was a holy man. He was a captive in Babylon due to Israel’s disobedience and subsequent judgment by the Lord. Through prophetic revelation, the Holy Spirit revealed to him that the time of the captivity was over. However, they were still captive. What’s going on? Daniel begins to pray to the Lord for an answer… but none comes. Then he begins to fast and pray and “set his face towards Heaven.” After 21 days, the angel Gabriel appears to him and says,

Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia.” Daniel 10:12-13

This is a profound story on spiritual warfare. Daniel was holy, he was praying… and yet nothing was happening. Many Christians experience frustration at God. Why hasn’t he saved my Mom? Why are my finances such a mess and I’m tithing? Why isn’t there a breakthrough on my college campus?

In the New Testament in Mark’s gospel, the disciples encounter a dilemma. Jesus was gone on the mountain and they were trying to heal a boy that was deaf and mute, but they couldn’t do it. The sickness wasn’t responding to their prayer and command. Jesus finally shows up and casts out the demon. Interestingly, the text tells us that the scribes were disputing with the disciples. Can you imagine what they might have been saying? “Perhaps it’s not God’s will to heal this boy. It’s not his time.” or “This sickness cannot be cured, he was born this way.” or “These people are not holy and that is why this sickness has come upon their child.” Whatever it was they were saying, I am sure they were trying to convince the disciples that their attempt to heal this boy wasn’t working and wouldn’t work. The disciples didn’t have an answer until Jesus shows up. Can you picture yourself there? What would you be thinking? Would you be confused… discouraged… doubtful?

Jesus gives us the answer to this puzzle: “This kind only comes out by prayer and fasting.” Mark 9:29

It is imperative for Christians to see that there is resistance to the kingdom of God. This resistance comes from Satan. The trouble is most people don’t know when the breakthrough will come and they give up… or worse, they don’t realize that it’s the demonic forces of Hell which are resisting God’s will and they erroneously conclude: “Well… it’s not happening… guess God doesn’t want it to.”

 

The Pillars of Strength & Wisdom 1 Sam. 30:6, 8

Imagine your worst day ever. I mean… your car breaks down, you are late to work, you find out your dog just died, you get dumped and the bus drives by at just the wrong time splattering mud and grease all over your nicest clothes! Well…. trust me when I say you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Now it happened, when David and his men came to Ziklag, on the third day that the Amalekites had invaded the South and Ziklag, attacked Ziklag and burned it with fire, and had taken captive the women and those who were there, from small to great; they did not kill anyone, but carried them away and went their way. So David and his men came to the city, and there it was, burned with fire, and their wives, their sons, and their daughters had been taken captive. Then David and the people who were with him lifted up their voices and wept, until they had no more power to weep.

Now David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and his daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God. 1 Samuel 30:1-4, 6

Here is the modern day equivalent. You come home from work. Your house is burned down and not only yours… the whole neighborhood. And your wife and children are gone… and the whole neighborhoods’. And suddenly all of your friends look at you with murder in their eyes and pick up weapons!

That is an ULTRA BAD DAY!

How many people would have started blaming God at this point? But what does David do?

He strengthened himself in the Lord his God.

You can either blame God or pray to God… but not both.

So David inquired of the Lord, saying, ‘Shall I pursue this troop? Shall I overtake them?’ And he answered him, ‘Pursue, for you shall surely overtake them and without fail recover all.’” 1 Samuel 30:8

The place of despair turns into the place of victory because David understood that through prayer he could tap into the strength and divine wisdom of God. Notice that David does not act on his own initiative. His immediate response is to fall on his knees before the Lord until he receives confirmation of victory.

 

Another example of divine strength is Jesus agonizing in prayer in the garden to the point that his sweat became blood. In Luke’s gospel we see that an angel from heaven was sent to empower Jesus because of the severity of the hour and the battle he faced. I believe that if it were not for this divine strengthening, Jesus would not have been able to wrestle through in prayer until he had achieved total victory.

Jesus was not confused as to his purpose. He knew that he was meant for the cross. He says before the garden, “What shall I say, Save me from this hour? No, it was for this very hour that I came! Father glorify thy name!” The issue was not knowing what was right but doing what was right. Therefore, Jesus wrestled in agony to find the strength to carry out the will of God. All internal resistance had to go. Self had to be crucified before the body could be.

 

Not My Will But Thy Will Be Done

If you and I are going to live the victorious life that God has for us we must apply the three pillars of prayer. We will face spiritual warfare; we will need God’s strength; we will need his wisdom. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done is a prayer and a calling for us as Christians. The reason we must pray is there is resistance to the kingdom of God inside and outside us.

Whatever you are facing, the Bible says that Christ is both the “wisdom of God and the power of God!” Come to him in your hour of need and you will be able to overcome every fiery dart of the enemy.