THE SLOW-TO-ANGER GOD

Before marrying, sit together at a computer with slow internet and find out how patient he or she is. Most of us are patient–providing we get our own way. When your wife says she’s picking up only one thing, so you can wait in the car, time to learn patience. When you text someone at 8:44 and at 8:45 he still hasn’t responded, take a deep breath–and wait. When you call for health care questions, wait for an hour, and the voice message announces, “Thank you for your patience,” say, “You have no idea!”  Of all the needful fruit of the Spirit, this gets the most votes. 

God was prepared to end the race. Found one righteous man and instructed him to build an ark. It took a hundred years. That’s 36,500 days after deciding to start over. Peter wrote about “when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built” (I Peter 3:20).

Moses climbed the mountain to get the law. By the time he came down forty days later, the people had made a calf. He exploded and broke the tablets. God was more angry, but He was on a slow burn. He thought of abandoning the nation, but Moses talked Him out of it. Then he added, “I’m not going if you don’t.” He asked God to show His glory. and God put him in the cleft of a rock, proclaiming, ‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…’”(Exodus 34:6,7). He didn’t say everything about His character, but He did say that He was compassionate and slow to anger. I would not have expected “slow to anger” to be among the top five. I get that now. Are you sslowww to anger?

Some time later when spies were sent out, they returned and announced that the land could not be taken. The discouraged people wanted to return to Egypt. Moses and Aaron hit the dust. Joshua and Caleb tore their garments and protested, and the people considered stoning them. God told Moses that He was done. But Moses pleaded with God, taking His words: “Now may the Lord’s strength be displayed, just as you have declared, ‘The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion’” (Numbers 14:18).

Nehemiah rehearsed the story in his prayer at Jerusalem with the returned exiles: “They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles…But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love” (9:17). We find the same refrain three times in the psalms, likely a part of their liturgy (Psalm 86,103,145). They had heard of the gods of the Canaanites who were so angry they had to be appeased with gifts, so they were proud of their slow-to-anger God. Godly people are like God–slow to anger. They don’t pop off!

God performed miracles to release the children of Israel from bondage, finishing with the Red Sea walk and wiping out the army. How long did it take for complaining to begin? As soon as they started the journey. They continued to test God’s patience. He finally decided that they would die in the wilderness, but He put up with them for forty years. That’s 14,400 days of waiting. Stop for a moment and praise the God who is slow to anger. I want to be like Him. I don’t want to be quick to anger. You probably don’t either.

ARE YOU A VICTIM OR A VICTOR?

Joseph at seventeen had it good. Favored son status, fancy coat from Dad, and a dream that indicated a positive future. The next thirteen years were downers: down to Egypt, down from son to servant to slave, down to the pits. How would you handle such a turn in events? He could have grown bitter at his brothers, his dad, his boss, Pharaoh, God. Joseph responded with anything but resentment. Looking at him can help us go through difficult times and not be overtaken by them. Struggles can turn us into skeptics and harden our hearts. Many destinies are buried around the corner of an injustice that causes hostility to stick in the soul. We’re all victimized at some point. How we respond determines whether we come out a winner or a whiner. Here are some truths that surface from the life of Joseph:

A VICTIM LOOKS OUT.  A VICTOR LOOKS IN.

A victim’s problem is the other guy. If little children have a problem with someone, they often deal with the someone rather than the problem. Mature people look in and make the necessary adjustments; immature people look out–and swear or swing or swipe. Joseph’s brothers had a problem with Joseph, who was placed on favored son status. They should have talked with Dad, maybe guilty of elitism. Not Joseph’s fault. He was being neither proud nor self-indulgent. He might have been a bit naive to share two potentially volatile dreams, but he was not showing pride. His brothers took it out on him and sold him as a slave. Victims blame others for their misfortune, rather than checking their attitude and adjusting a childish response.

Meanwhile, Joseph is serving Potiphar, making the best of the worst. And Potiphar “left all he had in Joseph’s charge” (Genesis 39:6). When life turns sour, we can make excuses for our anger or laziness. Not our young friend. “The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man…and his master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord caused all that he did to prosper” (39:2,3). Sent down the river by brothers, he chose to be a victor. Victims often excuse their irresponsibility, making an argument out of their less than optimal performance. Meanwhile, victors go for it, breathing in the grace of heaven to accomplish what is before them. They have learned to do what Paul encouraged: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). 

A VICTIM SAYS, “YOU OWE IT TO YOURSELF.” A VICTOR SAYS, “YOU OWE IT TO GOD.”

Potiphar’s wife went after Joseph. He could have thought, “Hey, my dream has turned into a nightmare. I need some fun. Nobody will know.” Those who feel victimized can talk themselves into compromise, as if God will understand in this situation and adjust the standards. Those who have been cheated feel justified to cheat.

Not Joseph. He didn’t even have coffee with the lady: “He would not listen to her, to lie with her or to be with her” (39:10). His reason: “How could I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (9). Not a little compromise–”great wickedness.” The Bible says to make no provision for the flesh. Can you hear someone going for it, then creating an alibi to excuse adultery, as if God didn’t mean what He said in the commandment. Victims do–Joseph didn’t.

It backfired. He  chose purity and lost his position. Down to the dungeon. He could have complained. “I try to please you, God, and get thrown into this place. Is serving you worth it?” Not our friend. “The Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s care all the prisoners” (21,22). De sha vu! From a house to a hole. “What’s wrong with the lighting down here?” I can hear people complaining.  Not Joseph. He didn’t badmouth the prison guard or gripe about the dark. He made the best of a really bad situation–and God honored him.

A VICTIM ASKS “WHY”.  A VICTOR ASKS “WHAT”.

“Why me? Why this? Why are you doing this, God? What did I do wrong? I am trying to serve you and this happens.  Why are you picking on me?” Meanwhile, victors are asking “what.” What must I do in this difficulty? They do what they need to–and God makes up the difference. Same thing happened in the prison (that Joseph calls “the pit”–40:13) that happened in Potiphar’s house. He acted in a way that made people trust him. Before you complain about your bum deal, find out what your job is–and do it. “Why” questions paralyze us? They keep us from moving toward our goal. “What” questions keep us moving forward. “Why” puts the car in reverse! 

My friend Johnny was losing his wife to cancer. She contracted it the first year they were married, and it was the fifth year. I said, “It must be hard to have looked forward to a life together and now look back on so much pain.”  I’ll never forget his response: “God doesn’t owe me anything. I owe God everything.” No victim there. His wife died not long after our talk.

When Joe’s cellmates had dreams, he didn’t say, “I’ve had bad luck with dreams. I won’t touch them.” He did what he knew how to do, saying, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me” (Gen. 40:8). Then he added, “Make mention of me to Pharaoh” (40).  Yeah, right! Did the cupbearer remember? Two years later. That’s 730 lousy days. Does Joe chalk it up to a waste? I suspect that many Christians would have. Prison was not easy for Joseph. He didn’t get three meals a day. Maybe one if people remembered. He probably got weak and skinny. Did he have a bed? Hard rock. Try sleeping on a rock with a collar of iron around your neck. Psalm 105:18 says that “his feet were hurt with fetters; his neck was put in a collar of iron.” Try that for two full years in the dark–after you had the promise of potential release. They probably threw him his food. It kept him alive. Did he pray? Often. “Don’t forget me, O Lord.”

He was in school. He had gotten a high school diploma in elementary sheepherding. He went to college and majored in business administration. He passed a difficult course called “Handling Egyptian Women.” He did graduate studies in prison management. His homework was preparing him. He didn’t know what for, but he was faithful. He got a PhD in integrity, and God promoted him to the prime minister position. He became the second most powerful person in the world. It’s a short distance from the prison to the palace, and God has no transportation problem. He can put you where He wants to–in a moment. But He is more interested in what He does in you, so He can then do something powerful through you. If His character is in you, being used for His purposes is a simple matter. Joseph graduated Summa Cum Laude. He kept his heart open and his dreams alive. He humbled himself and God exalted him. He will do the same for you if you don’t whine with the why. Don’t put it in reverse.

Peter wasn’t always good about humbling himself, especially in the face of difficulty. When he was implicated with the criminal Jesus, he chose to deny that he ever knew him. Really?! The Rock who said powerfully, “You are the Christ!” Years later, after he learned through the indwelling Holy Spirit how to respond in the face of fear and pain, he wrote, “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time” (I Peter 4:6). Our job–stay low. God’s part–exalt us when the time is right. Not a good idea to exalt yourself. God knows how–and when. Go low, Christian! Once you acknowledge that life can be hard, it just got easier!

A VICTIM LIVES IN THE PAST.  A VICTOR LIVES IN THE FUTURE.

Victims regret what could have been and isn’t. They look for people who will understand them and commiserate with them. A victor lives with what can be. Joseph got married and had children. He named his first child Manasseh (“forget”), because “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house” (Genesis 41:51). His second son was named Ephraim (“twice fruitful”), “for God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction” (52). A pastor friend of mine, Joe Johnson, says that you know you are healed when you can thank God for how He has used the pain of your past to bring fruitfulness. When something in us dies, the decay fertilizes the flowers that bloom right over the place of death. Joseph was instructed by the pain but not paralyzed by it.     

He might have said, “If only my brothers had not done this…” or, “If only Potiphar had not believed his crummy wife.” “If only’s” say that God doesn’t hold our life–circumstances do. Victims who react this way are living in the past. They are being lived, not living, passive, not active. Their lives are programmed by a negative agenda. Victors live forward. Joseph had thirteen years of hardship, but he lived as if he had a future–and he walked into it. Victors learn to trust God in the midst of trying circumstances, while victims cave in under them. Victors don’t discount God’s presence in the midst of pain. They trust Him to be working, even while circumstances go south. He said regarding the dream he needed to interpret, “God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer” (41:16). When he introduced his family to his father, he said, “These are my sons, whom God has given me here” (48:9). God-centered, not self-centered.

Seasoned victims learn to fear the future and choose the past. They change their perception of the past, because the future appears daunting. The children of Israel had seen God do incredible miracles through Moses, finally leaving Egypt when God parted the waters, turning the Red Sea into a roadway. They had watched God provide daily food in a barren desert for four decades. Now on the edge of the Promised Land, they complain: “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are” (Numbers 13:31). They preferred the safety of the past to the challenge of the Promise–and they died short of their destiny. They preferred playing it safe–or so they thought.

A VICTIM IS BITTER.  A VICTOR IS BROKEN.

“When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him’” (Genesis 50:15), because that is the way they would have thought.  They lied to Joseph, saying that their father had told them to ask Joseph to please forgive them. No desire for revenge in Joe’s heart. His response:  he “wept when they spoke to him” (17). Then he said, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?” (19). He knew that if there was any vengeance to take place, it would be God doing it, not Joseph. Then he put a divine spin on the pain that he encountered for most of the thirteen long years: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones”(20,21). Let’s call that overcoming evil with good. He was willing to go through much suffering to provide for a family who hated him. Your attitude determines your altitude, and Joseph was soaring now, having spent a lot of time in the pit with shackles around his neck and feet. The psalmist wrote, “Until what he had said came to pass, the word of the Lord tested him” (Psalm 105:19). I would say that he passed his test!

Joseph’s focus was on God’s provision more than his pain. He continued to trust God in the presence of great disappointment. He looks clearly into the future as the director of resources during the years of plenty, then the famine. He is not crippled by his past, and he carries the nation through seven years of blessing and seven years of famine. What a leader, seasoned through sorrow. I dare you to let go of the “if only’s” and embrace the “what if’s” of the future rather than clinging to the past. Believe God to move you from criticism to confidence and take hold of your destiny, whatever your age. Let’s learn from the prime minister:  grumblers don’t win–and winners don’t grumble! Thanks, Joe!

THE HEALING POWER OF THE CROSS!

I was staring at a bull in church. It was on the jacket of a teenager.  The bull looked aggressive, intimidating—like the Chicago Bulls are.  It made me think about mascots of professional teams.  Most bring the same reaction as that bull—the Timberwolves, the Bears, the Giants, the Vikings.  I’ve got one I’d like to recommend—how about the Minnesota Lambs?  Laughable?  Fact is, that is God’s symbol of strength.  In the ultimate battle, the testimony will read that “they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 12:11a).  The victor over all earthly power, the ruler over all rulers, the King over all kings—is a Lamb, a strange picture of power! All of heaven sings, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain…” (Rev. 5:12a).

The world views strength as domination, control, conquest.  God’s power is shown in surrender.  Jesus said, “I lay it down of my own accord” (John  10:18).  God takes delight in showing a rebellious world how puny it is.  “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength” (I Corinthians 1:25).  And nowhere is God’s power shown more clearly than in the cross of Christ.  That power was portrayed graphically seven hundred years before the event.

The prophet introduces this Lamb by saying that “he had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.  Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:2,3).  Far from being either attractive, overpowering or domineering, he was a reject,  an insignificant “root out of dry ground” (v.2a).  Rather than astounding the crowds, the writer wonders, “Who has believed our message?” (v.1). Instead of being received by the human family, he was repulsed.  Hardly one to make his mark on the world; it is not even noticing.  

What did the Lamb do for you?  He agreed to the plan of his Father, one that meant leaving the glory of heaven for the rebellion on earth. Instead of being worshiped by angels, he is abused by humans like himself. He said “yes” to rejection from the get-go, from a shameful birth by a young mother who didn’t have a husband, to an itinerant traveling ministry that embarrassed his family, to the excruciating death with his naked body pinned to a cross on a main thoroughfare. The mocking and physical abuse that started with the kangaroo court at midnight continued through the trials before Pilate and Herod and finished at the six-hour crucifixion, a death invented by the Romans for the worst of the worst for the purpose of inflicting maximum pain. That is what the Lamb of God signed up. That cross beautifully reveals the healing power of God in three significant ways.

THE CROSS BRINGS HEALING FROM SIN.  Some may say, “We don’t need healing; we need forgiveness.”  That’s what I was thinking at San Pedro Hospital while attending an Alcohol Awareness seminar as a young pastor.  The speaker said that alcoholism is a disease.  I felt like objecting: “No, it is sin.”  But I thought about the words of Jesus to the Pharisees:  “They that are well have no need of a physician but they that are sick” (Matt. 9:12)  Sin is a sickness.  It is rampant, with global epidemic proportion, out of control, far more devastating than AIDS or cancer.  It has ruined billions.  Sin is both willful disobedience and bondage.  We are sinners, and we are sick. But “there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul,” like the song goes.  For “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Is. 53:5).  The prophet used the word “healed,” because the blood of the Lamb brings healing from sin. We amassed an awful debt.  God requires perfect righteousness, but we failed to deliver.  Jesus stepped in and paid the penalty. “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8). We created the problem through our sin, but “Jesus paid it all,” as the song goes–on the cross! So what do we boast in? “God forbid that I should boast save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Gal. 6:14). Peter wrote that “he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (I Pe. 2:24).

What we need to know is that the cross brings healing not only from the penalty of sin but also from its power.  To forgive the sinner lifts the guilt.  Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you…” (John 8:11a).  He was the one person who had the authority to do so.  In those words she experienced the acceptance of grace.  It gave her power to receive the truth that followed:  “Go and sin no more.”  It came not as a scolding to shame her, but as an invitation to release her.  “He breaks the power of canceled sin, He sets the prisoner free.”  And that power is found nowhere else but in the cross. Have you been relieved of the penalty without embracing the power?  “There is power, power, wonder-working power in the blood of the Lamb.”  Believe in the healing power of the cross to overcome sin in your life.

I know people who have struggled with a particular sin for decades. I long for them to apply the cruel cross of Christ to their affliction and see it bring them the healing they desperately need. It can happen, whether it is gossip, alcohol, adultery, or abuse. When John the Baptist saw Jesus for the first time as an adult, he said powerfully, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Andrew heard that and kindly went and found his older brother, Peter. Thirty years later Peter wrote that “you were ransomed from the futile ways…with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (I Pe. 1:19).

THE CROSS BRINGS HEALING FROM SORROW.   We have sinned, but we have also been sinned against.  Sin brings guilt; sorrow brings shame and sadness.  The devastating work of sin has brought untold grief.  A man forsakes his family for another woman, leaving a wife and children to cope without finances.  Another hopes for a promotion and instead is terminated unjustly after thirty years of loyal service.  A sister cheats her brother out of the inheritance, and he barely makes ends meet for the next ten years.  Filled with bitterness, he becomes an alcoholic. We need healing because our hearts have been broken by sorrow. Jesus is the healer of broken hearts.  His hometown sermon was taken from Isaiah 61, which He read:  “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…” (1b).  And He did that through the power of the cross:  “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…” (Isaiah 53:4a).  

Jesus was a man of sorrows, meaning that he lived with his own sorrow, but he also identified with the sorrows of others.  He was a reject throughout His life, from a so-called illegitimate birth, to the rejection of his family for a shameful career as a poor itinerant preacher, to the rejection from his nation that decided it could not use him in their building program (he was the stone rejected), to the rejection of his own disciples in the garden, to the ultimate rejection from his Father on the cross, when he cried out, “My God, my God, who have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:26).

But he also felt the sorrow of people, because “he knew what was in a man” (John 2:25).  Some people get impatient with the sorrows of others, as if they should get over it. Jesus responds differently to sorrow.  The psalmist wrote, “He has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted” (Psalm 22:24).  He so strongly identifies with the sorrowful that “in all their affliction he was afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9). Many carry the pain of the past, with an identity tied to their sorrow (“I am the divorced woman,”  “I am the man who lost his job,”  “we lost our child.”).  We need to know that there is power in the cross to lift the shadows that put a cloud over our future.  Jesus can give us a “crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:3). People who have walked with sorrow may say, “Impossible.”  But that power comes from healing at the cross, where Jesus bore not only our sins but also our sorrows.

The psalmist writes confidently, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Ps. 147:3). What good news for depressed people who have struggled to forgive a relative or to bury a memory of great loss that continues to plague them. God does not berate us for our sorrow–He heals us from it! And like an expert physician, He binds up the wounds so that the scar reminds us not of the pain but of the care we were given to heal.

THE CROSS BRINGS HEALING FROM SICKNESS.  Matthew was a reject like Jesus, but of a different kind; he was a tax collector, which means committing social suicide to get a buck–and maybe become rich.  The invitation of the master to follow him brought two surprises:  that Jesus would call a tax-gatherer, otherwise known as a thief, to be his disciple, and that Matthew would respond to the offer.  I think Matthew’s friends were shocked at both.

But Jesus had made the right choice.  Years later, Matthew wrote the first Gospel, read by billions around the world. He painted one of the most beautiful portraits of Christ ever penned.  When Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, it turned into a public healing service.  Matthew thought back on the day and added the words:  “This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:  ‘He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases’” (Matthew 8:17). I find no greater reason to pray for the sick than this, that when Jesus died on the cross, he carried not only our sins and our sorrows, but our sicknesses as well.  Matthew, who knew Isaiah 53 well, reflected on the healing ministry of Jesus and looked back to the cross as the place of power.

On what basis can we pray for family members and friends for healing from what afflicts them and maybe threatens them with death? On the basis of the Scriptures that revealed God as a healing God before revealing Him as a Father. He told the Israelites who had just left Egypt through Moses:  “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes…I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians; for I am the Lord, your healer” (Exodus 15:26). They didn’t know yet to say, “Our Father,” but they could call Him, “Our Healer!”

Jesus wants us to apply the cross to our sins, our sorrows, and our sicknesses.  “He shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be pleased” (Isaiah 53:10b). He suffered with specific goals in mind. He was bruised so we could experience healing. When we personalize the cross for our bruises and brokenness, we please Jesus. He sees the cross being purposefully applied. Every time we take communion, we remember that “Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed” (I Cor. 5:7). When the apostle John was allowed to peer into heaven, he “saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain” (Rev. 5:6).  John could hear all of heaven, including “myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain’” (Rev. 5:11,12).  May you know the power of the cross and of the Lamb in your life—today.

A Q AND A ON THE GOVERNMENT!

WHAT DOES SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE MEAN?

The church is protected by the government. Good government means no persecution of Christians. Persecution is happening in many countries of the world, where an anti-Christian government keeps Christians from functioning as they should be allowed to. Governments are ordained by God, so they are accountable to God for what they do. They are not accountable to the church, nor is the church accountable to the state, except that they are called to pray for the government, pay taxes, and obey the laws of the land, except those that violate their accountability to God, in which case the church “must obey God rather than man,” as Peter told the Sanhedrin. The government is ordained by God to protect and to punish, to protect those who are living in peace and obeying the law, and to punish those who are lawbreakers and do criminal acts. Paul says that the government does not bear the sword in vain. Christians are not to take up the sword, as they did during the Crusades, but the government is required by God to protect the rights of Christians to worship in freedom.

QUESTIONS

1 ARE ALL GOVERNMENTS SERVANTS OF GOD?

No. The government in Nazi Germany needed to be resisted. Few were ready to do that. The government of the antichrist will need to be resisted, and that will mean much suffering. He is called in Scripture “the beast from the abyss.” He will have the world’s vote but not heaven’s.

2 HOW DO WE KNOW WHEN WE CANNOT OBEY A HUMAN GOVERNMENT? 

When it comes in direct opposition to the clearly expressed will of God. If the government tells Christians that they cannot gather, it is time to disobey. Christians in Iran, India, and China are gathering illegally, because Scripture commands us to “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25). The law of God overrides the law of the state. Government told Daniel not to pray. So he went home and prayed. Government told three young men to bow down to the king’s image. They chose to disobey the orders. The king eventually reversed his decision and gave the unharmed men a promotion. 

3 CAN CHRISTIANS SERVE PAGAN LEADERS?

Daniel interpreted the vision of an oriental despot, then boldly urged the king: “Break off your sins by practicing righteousness and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed” (Daniel 4:27). Not your normal communication to a dictator. We thank God for a stable government in America and pray it stays that way.

4 IS A DEMOCRACY A CHRISTIAN FORM OF GOVERNMENT?

No. But it is compatible with Christianity. The rule of God in the new world is a theocracy. Christians are ultimately God-honoring. Where the two governments collide, God must win. Democracy allows for a Christian to submit to the government AND to God. A democracy can exist in a non-Christian climate, but it is best encouraged by Christians who submit to governmental leaders but also to God. Islam erases any difference between state and religion, making it dangerous.

5 WHY SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE?

The founders provided this to protect the church, not the state. It is being used now to protect the state from religion. Something flip-flopped. The state does not have to be Christian for us to submit to it, but it must not be anti-Christian. Evil governments as in China are anti-Christian and must be resisted.

6  IS HONOR DUE TO ANYONE WHO IS LEADING A COUNTRY?

No. The government of North Korea is not a servant of God. The pagan government of Rome was. When the government of God is in conflict with human government, what must Christians do? What did the young men in the fiery furnace do? They would not bow to the idol. But they didn’t take out their guns and shoot the king. They said, “Here is what we are going to do. You do what you need to do.”  God backed them up, and the dictator changed his game plan.

7  SHOULD POLICE CARRY GUNS?

They are responsible for putting terror in the hearts of the disobedient, the enemies of the state, the anarchists. They can’t do that with words–or slingshots. Of course, expect a misfire from time to time. But don’t take away the weapons for the exceptional cases. Let them do their job, and they need guns to do it. They are helping to protect us from the crazies, those who hate the government and any institution that takes away their ability to do wrong. Rightful government is not a terror to those who do right. Paul wrote “Do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:3-5). It’s in the book. Take away their “sword,” and the anarchists just got permission to hit the streets and burn buildings. Those who want to disarm the police are voting for non-government. Words do not restrain the violent–guns do! Some politicians think they can turn people into being nice. The apostles Paul and Peter knew differently. You don’t reason with these kinds of people–you put them behind bars. 

THE CHRISTIAN AND GOVERNMENT

How should Christians interface with the government?

1  WE PRAY FOR THE GOVERNMENT.

A converted Saul, now Paul, wrote powerfully, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone–for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (I Timothy 2:1-3). As people who carry two passports, one way we show our allegiance to our earthly state is through prayer.  Before Paul instructed Timothy on matters of worship, leadership, eldership, widows, and finances, he exhorted him concerning the priority of prayer for government leaders. Must be important. God help us. We pray for civil leaders so the gospel can go forth. Paul saw a great advantage with peace–free movement in the Roman Empire. He used his citizenship when he needed protection from religious leaders (Acts 22:28). The time from Caesar Augusta (27 BC) to the death of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (180 AD) has been called the “Pax Romana,” the peace of Rome, a period in which Jesus came and the Gospel went forth powerfully under stable government! “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus…” (Luke 2:1).

Paul puts prayer at the top of the list on how we connect with civil government. When are we to pray? When we gather for public worship. If Christians do their part (prayer), government is better able to do its part (protect). The best way to impact government is not through lobbies or rallies or debates or criticism or even political parties–it is through prayer. If we feel a responsibility to vote, we should feel a stronger responsibility to pray, because that is commanded and voting is not. God likes peace and order, so He directs His children to pray for it. It must make God sad and mad to see so few churches and individuals praying for the government in public and private worship. 

2  WE SUPPORT THE GOVERNMENT WITH TAXES.

When Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17), he was addressing Pharisees who didn’t like the Romans but didn’t want to cause trouble with them either. It wasn’t the answer they wanted to hear. Peter didn’t think that way either until Jesus got a hold of him, and certainly not Simon the Zealot, whom Jesus called as a disciple. Government to zealots was the enemy, not the servant of God. Jesus legitimized the authority of the godless government of Caesar to require taxes to do their work. We pay taxes so the government can govern. It takes people and it takes pesos. To be subject includes paying “taxes to whom taxes are due…honor to whom honor is due” (Romans 13:7). Paul didn’t believe that when he was Saul. I know a few people who think it is wrong to pay taxes to a pagan government. Jesus made it too clear to even suggest that. 

3  WE SUBMIT TO THE GOVERNMENT.

In Paul’s longest doctrinal letter, he addressed the issue of the state. His opening line: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established” (Romans 13:1). How do we function as citizens? By submitting, a word Paul used often when talking about relationships–elders to congregation, husband to wife, parents to children, employer to employee. God exercises His authority in the earth through human authority, and that includes government. Paul saw himself in a place of submission to the government that was serving the purpose of God. This is strong language for one who was mistreated by the government. But he was also protected by it. He used his citizenship to his advantage. To resist legitimate government is to resist God. Out-of-control protesters don’t get this.

God is concerned for the proper ordering of society, not just the church. The functions of the government and the church are radically different. The government is commissioned by God to provide safety for its citizens. They bear the sword and execute God’s wrath on wrongdoers (Romans 13:4). Don’t expect the government to support the church, but neither should it attack the church. It should do what it is called to do (keep the peace and punish the rowdies), so that the church can do what it is called to do. We need to pray for good government and submit appropriately to its authority.

Government is not a Christian institution; it is a human institution. It operates under the law, not under grace. It exists to praise and to punish. Paul says that “it does not bear the sword in vain” (Romans 13:4). It should be a terror to bad behavior. When I watched the Watts riots back in 1962, I wondered where the police were, the national guard, the military, the U.S. Marines. We are called to love our enemies, not punish them. The state has a different mandate. It does the punishing. Paul boldly calls the government a “servant of God.” Government assumes human irresponsibility. That is, some will come against the law. They need to discover that the law does not budge.

We are seeing in these days what happens when the law is not enforced: “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil” (Ecclesiastes 8:11). When protest gets violent and the government does not step in to stop the offenders, crime erupts and escalates. Good government allows us to live “a peaceful and quiet life” (1 Timothy 2:2). Bad government or government that does not protect its people invites crime, because the unconverted heart of humankind is evil and self-centered.

4  WE MAKE THE GOVERNMENT OF GOD OUR HIGHEST PRIORITY.

Peter calls us “sojourners and exiles” (I Peter 2:11). And Paul writes that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippianns 3:20). We are camping out in the present.  Our time on earth is short. So that informs our ultimate outlook. Jesus told Pilate, an earthly ruler, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). That reality determined where he put his energy. He didn’t come to beat up on the Romans. He came to beat up on the devil. Huge difference. We take our queue from the King. We are not giving our life to make this government a little better. But we don’t take this to the extreme and become anti-government. Human government is God’s idea. We see it in the family, in marriage, in the workplace, in the community. Government is ordained by God, and we will see it functioning in the new earth. Plan to really enjoy the government of God in the new earth, and maybe you will be participating as a ruler. He promises that “if we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Timothy 2:12). 

Our submission now to human authority is conditional; our obedience to the King is absolute. When the government chooses tyranny over peace, flaunting its leadership, then citizens should disobey, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer did in Germany.  Lutherans and Catholics were keeping their mouths shut. Their silence supported an illegitimate government. They should have formed anti-government coalitions. Thank God for those who defied the government and provided asylum for Jews, like Corrie ten Boom and her Dutch family. In the last days, the antichrist will call himself god and demand worship, and he will get it from people who vote for self-rule, which leads to anarchy, which leads to dictatorship. This will be a time of great suffering for the church.

A HEART OF COURAGE

The English word “courage” comes from the Latin word “cor,” which means “heart.” Do you have the heart to obey? If you do, you have courage. Courage is not the absence of fear; rather, courage is doing the will of God even when you’re trembling. Your desire to obey is stronger than internal emotions. Some people are willing to disobey God because of fear rising within. Their hearts are divided. But the heart of the obedient isn’t; it is set on obeying God.

I once had a friend who said to me, “I’ve come to the place where if I know it is God’s will, I will do it, regardless.” Are you courageous in that sense? Will you fold under intimidation? Or have you determined that you will obey your Commander in Chief no matter what? When Ezra rebuked the Israelites for intermarriage and told them to separate from foreign wives, the leaders said, “Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it” (Ezra 10:4). It took great courage for Ezra to do what he had to do, but they put courage into him with their exhortation. Courage meant to “do it.” When Asa heard the encouraging words of the prophet Azariah, “he took courage. He removed the detestable idols from the whole land…” (2 Chr. 15:8). Joshua was exhorted to courage, first by Moses (Deut. 31:6), then by the Lord (Joshua 1:6,9), and then by the people (1:18). It was in the context of obedience, of being careful to obey all the law.

David was speaking to his son Solomon as he passed the baton: “Then you will have success if you are careful to observe the decrees and laws that the Lord gave Moses for Israel. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged” (I Chr. 22:13). He also told him, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work” (28:20). Courage is related to obedience, to doing what we are supposed to do. It is more than guts. Some brave people are disobedient, like David’s captain Joab. Courage in the Scripture is connected with the will of God.

I want to encourage your hearts with this word. In other words, I want to put courage into you. Discouragement is dangerous, because it takes courage from us, the will to obey. The ten spies discouraged the people with their report, and they never made it into the land. It is especially important for leaders to have courage; in fact, it is impossible to lead without it. When Hezekiah was being attacked by Sennacherib, king of Assyria, he built his defense and strengthened his people. He “encouraged them with these words: ‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him’” (2 Chr. 32:6,7). True leaders put courage in the hearts of those who follow them. Winston Churchill put courage in the heart of England during World War II, and it was his and their finest moment. If you as a leader are discouraged, it will be hard for you to lead and still more difficult to obey, because discouragement literally means “without courage.” Discouraging words can rob us of courage. If we are dis-couraged, we cannot en-courage. The chronically discouraged may then say, “Well, I guess I can’t lead.” But those with a heart to obey will say, “Encourage me, God, so I can lead as I am called to.”

Courage is often a missing ingredient in pastoral leadership. A kind heart is not necessarily a courageous one. To be able to comfort but not to challenge shows lack of courage. To comfort when you need to challenge is not leadership. A coach who cannot correct is not a coach. Conflict proves the leader. God gives shepherds both a rod and a staff.

Why is it so essential for leaders to walk in courage? Because…
.Jesus made it an essential ingredient for leadership (Matt. 20:22,23).
.Without courage leaders are facilitators, not leaders.
.Some issues are non-negotiable, and the failure to lead turns black and white into shades of gray, and we ultimately lose our prophetic voice.
.Compromise removes the blessing of God from our lives.
.Our lives speak louder than our lips. Our strongest sermon is our example. People won’t hear our fine messages if we lack integrity of heart. And courage is not an issue of personality—it is one of obedience. Temperament is no excuse for the lack of boldness. .We must raise the bar when society is lowering it. Tolerance has become a virtue.

A pastor friend who held a policy of not marrying people who were living together did not face opposition until it was tested by long-standing members in his congregation. He was surprised how many people caved in under the pressure of the moment, but he didn’t. It took courage—and he had it!

We had a strong couple in our congregation who were moving toward marriage. When I asked them about physical relationships, they confessed to me that they had gone over the line. We prayed together, and I urged abstinence based on the Word of God. When they confessed at the next appointment that they were still struggling, I gave them some motivation. I said that I would not marry them if it happened again, even if the invitations were in the mail. My sadness as a pastor was that many couples were willing to violate the Scripture for personal preference. And pastors are too often willing to “forgive.” Forgiveness is not the same as excusing wrong. It is releasing from guilt in order to bring power over sin, not freedom to sin. Courage is also needed to pastor prophetic types, and renewal-based pastors often back off from the spiritually intense ones, like prophetic people and intercessors.

Why do leaders sometimes fail to walk in courage?
.They confuse peace at any price with truth at any cost. Truth is a higher priority than peace. We are to have peace insofar as it depends upon us, but sometimes the sword is required. If a split is inevitable, courageous leaders do not avoid it.
.Expediency often wins over integrity. Principles are violated under the pressure of the moment.
.They fear people more than God.
.They make a god out of peripheral issues, like financial security.
.They have unfinished business with their past.
.They are living in sin, and it robs them of boldness.

.They muddle grace and truth. Grace is the power God gives us to be what we are called to be and to do what we are called to do. Grace does not let us off the hook, but that is what some people think it is. Grace not only forgives—it empowers.
.It was not modeled for them, nor was it emphasized in their training.

The ultimate threat is to our life. Paul determined that he could not be threatened by death. He considered his life worth nothing to himself, “if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me” (Acts 20:24). In other words, service overrides survival. You can’t buy off a leader like that. Actually, the threat to our spiritual lives ranks higher than a threat to our physical lives. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). The fear of God must override every other fear. (Longer than normal. Hope it’s worth it.)

Courage has a relational component. That is why we have the power to encourage or discourage. Joshua and Caleb encouraged each other in their bold testimony of the land, although they were disregarded. Joseph of Arimathea must have been encouraged by the willingness of Nicodemus to help him care for Christ’s body. He literally put courage into Joseph’s heart. Jonathan’s armor-bearer put courage into him by saying, “Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul” (I Sa. 14:7). And Jonathan put courage into David, anointed by Samuel but fleeing from a mad king. Barnabas put courage into young Saul after he had returned to Tarsus, perhaps defeated.

Courage in the New Testament is often related to speech. St. Paul asked for prayer “that I may open my mouth boldly” (Eph. 6:19). When the religious leaders saw “the courage of Peter and John,” it was what was heard that demonstrated their courage (Acts 4:13). Later, the disciples had a prayer meeting. They said, “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness” (Acts 4:29). So courage starts in the heart, but it impacts the way we live and speak.

Daniel was a man of integrity, and he was hated by the satraps because of it. They conspired against him by tricking Darius to issue an edict against praying to anyone except to him. Listen to the response of Daniel: “Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before” (Daniel 6:10). What changed after the edict? Nothing. Call it courage. He couldn’t be discouraged from doing the will of God. Intimidation didn’t work for him. Does it work for us? Can we be bought off or scared off? He could have said with good reason, “I will continue to pray, but I’m going to close the window,” or “I’ll pray quietly. No sense in ruffling their feathers unnecessarily.” But he didn’t want to bend for a moment to their fear tactics. He knew that if he changed his strategy, he was giving in to them. Being bold is not being brash, but it is being obedient and not having a divided heart. Pilate would not take the risk to do right. He folded under the pressure of an angry crowd, and he goes down in history as a morally weak man, unwilling to buck the crowd to free Jesus. He feared the consequences of doing right more than

the consequences of doing wrong. The opposite of courage is not simply cowardice—it is disobedience. Courageous people obey regardless, while cowards do what is expedient.

We are told twice in Genesis 5 that “Enoch walked with God.” The second time it says that he “walked with God, and he was not, for God took him” (5:27). Hebrews adds that “by faith, Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God” (11:5). Few people have bypassed death, but Enoch did. (So did Elijah). If Enoch walked with God, he must have talked with Him. He made decisions based on the ever-present God, not based on crowd-pleasing or playing it safe. It so moved God that He had enabled him to go from life to eternal life. Must have taken courage to never make a decision based strictly on the opinion of people. He was one of a kind in his day. The Bible says, “It is appointed unto men once to die…” (Hebrews 9:27), but not Enoch. He is an exception–because he was exceptional! He made decisions as if God were across the table! He was! Where God walked, he walked. No shortcuts to sin, no diversions for a moment of selfish pleasure.

What kind of courage did it take for Noah to build a 450-foot boat on dry ground. It had never rained before. He was mocked daily for a hundred years. That wears on you after a while. How many times did he consider giving up? His kids probably tried to talk him out of it: “Are you sure, Dad? What’s rain?” They were sure thankful he persisted, because they made it in with him. The people who reviled him incessantly were banging on the door after twenty days of downfall. Noah listened to the One voice that mattered. “It doesn’t make sense, Dad!” It did to God!

Biblical courage is not being foolhardy: it is being obedient; it is taking a stand. When Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the bold Russian social critic and novelist, delivered his powerful message to the graduating class at Harvard in the late 70’s, he spoke about the loss of courage in the 20th century. He wasn’t speaking of daredevils but of morally responsible people, those willing to go against the current. We need courage to:

.stand our ground when the culture is eroding morally around us. .love our children with the truth when we are tempted to cave in. .serve even at the expense of our position or reputation.
.pay the price when we feel like backing off.

Courage leads us to do the will of God regardless. We are not responsible for the outcome of our responses, but we are responsible for our responses. Rahab took a risk and saved the spies as well as her family. Jonathan took a risk in battle and turned the campaign against the Philistines. Elijah took a risk and turned the tide of a nation. Esther did not know the outcome of her courageous act. She said, “If I perish, I perish,” and she delivered the Jews from genocide. Daniel’s three friends took a risk, not knowing the outcome of their obedience, and Jesus joined them in the furnace. John the Baptist took a risk—and he lost his head, but he won the admiration of Jesus. When the cowardly are weighing the consequences and turning back, the courageous are taking risks and bringing victory. If we ever needed courage, we need it now! May God encourage our hearts, and may the Church rise up for the challenges of our day!

FLYING WITH BOTH WINGS

I made the long trip over the big pond, a seven-hour journey. It’s too obvious to say, but it would not have happened with only one wing. The same applies to our life in the Spirit. We need two wings to get there, the fruit of the Spirit, the supernatural character of Jesus, and the gifts of the Spirit, the supernatural ministry of Jesus.

The Corinthians were attempting to fly with one wing, and they kept crashing. Paul wrote to them, “You do not lack any spiritual gift…”(I Cor. 1:7). This gave them great potential for ministry. But they proved less than effective because the fruit didn’t balance the gifts. They were divided into quarreling factions. One could see the wreckage of broken relationships and the carnage of unholy alliances. We often think of the word “worldliness” as referring to some kind of sexual compromise. Paul called the Corinthian saints worldly because they didn’t know how to get along: “For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly?” (3:3). 

I once invited a young man to teach at our church on deliverance. He did a good job, but an elder who was more discerning than I was said afterwards, “He’s going to mess up if he doesn’t learn about submission.” In fact, Bud saw it clearly. Mark ended up divorcing his wife, leaving town, and creating a trail of problems in the wake. He had not given sufficient time for his character to catch up with his charisma. He was flying with only one wing—and it didn’t work!

Paul made clear in the famous love chapter that tongues without love only produced noise, that prophecy unlocking mysteries or mountain-moving faith amounted to zip without compassion, that sacrifice to the point of martyrdom would prove fruitless if not grounded in love. He concluded that powerful functions disconnected from healthy relationships discredited the action.

Then should we say as some do, “What we really want is the fruit?” Great, but the plane will still not take off. Love alone does not move the mountain of demonic oppression or skin cancer or gnawing depression. We don’t want to simply create noise with the gifts minus the fruit. But neither should we settle for the right motivation without any manifestation. So Paul wrote, “To each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (12:7).  The Spirit is made evident when the fruit is developed; otherwise it would not be called the fruit of the Spirit. But the power of the Spirit, the sovereign Lord, is likewise made visible when a simple prophecy is shared with pinpoint accuracy or a knotty problem is resolved with divine wisdom.

God-honoring, Bible-believing Christians who demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit but tolerate at best or ignore the gifts of the Spirit may think that they are better off than carnal charismatics at Corinth who haven’t learned how to get along. Tolerance is not the same as zeal.  Paul makes sufficiently clear that an airlift requires two wings. He even put them together in one verse: “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts” (14:1). It sure doesn’t sound like Paul is choosing the fruit over the gifts. In fact, he takes three full chapters to deal with the question of spiritual gifts that they had addressed to him in a letter. Paul answered abuse not with disuse but with proper use. And that meant exercising the gifts out of a humble heart, one that cared for others and that overlooked offenses.

The Epistles focus much more on the fruit than on the gifts, the explanation rather than the experience. One exception is the letter just referenced. The church was not lacking in gifts, but they did not know how to fly with both wings, and they continually crashed. The communion services morphed into drunken feasts, arguments ended up in civil courts, and sexual boundaries were crossed in ways that embarrassed unbelievers. 

The gifts predominate in the Gospels (healing, miracles, raising the dead, casting out of demons, discernment, prophecy) and in the book of Acts. Because the Protestant Church has camped on the Epistles as over against the Gospels and Acts, it has missed the emphasis on the gifts of the Spirit. Scholars have said that theology is shaped more from explanation than from experience, so Protestants have generally favored the letters. No wonder, then, that the gifts, and especially the charismatic gifts, are given less attention than the fruit.

Toleration of the gifts does not obey the command to desire them earnestly. But neither do we major in the gifts to the exclusion of love. When the King was in town, the gifts were seen on a regular basis and were motivated by love that produced joy. And when all the King’s men extended the kingdom, the same phenomenon prevailed. Power evangelism grew the church.

The gift of tongues drew the crowd on Pentecost. When Peter preached, 3000 were in the net that he pulled in (Acts 2). A crippled man is healed in the next chapter, followed by more bold preaching, and 2000 more came in. After the sobering death of Ananias and Sapphira, made known through the gifts of knowledge and discernment,  “the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people” (Acts 5:12). Two verses later, “More and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.  As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed” (5:15,16)  A chapter later we read that “Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people” (6:8). He also exhibited the fruit of the Spirit, especially wisdom and love. The gifts of the Spirit highlighted the love of the Father and produced an unstoppable movement.

If we want to upgrade the gifts, we upgrade our love. “You shall know them by their fruit,” so you do not need to advertise the gifts, just manifest them. The greater the fruit, the greater the gifting. Think Heidi Baker. If you want to see more healing, demonstrate more love. We need the fruit to build relationships. We need the gifts to do the ministry of Jesus. The fruit serves as the foundation for the gifts.

What if you fly with only the fruit wing?  A portion of the New Testament is ignored.

The power demonstrated in the book of Acts remains unavailable to you. You desire to help people, but you lack the power. And you give people a distorted view of the Christian life.

What if you fly with only the gifts wing? Heaven records your works as a zero. Relationships are short-circuited in favor of getting the job done. You remain an immature child. You are voting for what will pass away. And you register a preference for the resurrection over the cross.

What fruit is growing on your tree? What fruit is lacking that needs to be developed? If God wants to grow faith for finances on your tree, He will bring tests in which you will be challenged to trust Him for money. If you need peace growing on your tree, He will bring storms to show you that you lack peace, so you cry out to Him.

What gifts have you especially desired? Your answer might give you a clue as to God’s sovereign designation. Desire them with all your heart; pray often for them. Show good stewardship for the gift(s) He gives you, and at the same time move out of the motive of love. Don’t attempt to fly with one wing.

FRUIT GIFTS

eternal temporal

takes time to develop given in a moment

motivation manifestation

demonstrates the Spirit demonstrates the Spirit

The fruit will outlast the gifts. We won’t need prophecy in heaven, but we will still demonstrate the eternal nature of love. We won’t pray for healing on the other side, but we will worship with overflowing joy. Yet in the meantime we need the gifts. Paul told his friends in Corinth, “You do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed” (I Cor. 1:7). We need the supernatural ministry of the King until the King shows up again. We are doing His business. and we need His power, not simply His love. We need both wings to fly!

10 POWERFUL TRUTHS ABOUT DANIEL!

                                                      

1  His life-long discipline started when he was young

He “resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food or with the wine that he drank” (Daniel 1:8). That is when he was described as a “youth” (used 3x).  Daniel made wise personal decisions that kept him on track throughout his highly influential life.

2  He was taken into Nebuchadnezzar’s royal court as a teenager.

Daniel was from a royal family (Daniel 1:3). He was a thoroughbred. So walking among world leaders was not altogether new to him. His childhood prepared him for what was coming. He often found himself in the king’s court, because he was open to the King over all kings and lived a life of obedient surrender!

3  He got all A’s at college in Babylon (3 years of study), unlike the local boys.

He and his friends were “ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters…” (1:20).  “Light and understanding and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in  him..because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in Daniel” (5:11,12). So said the queen.  

4  He was encouraged by godly friends.

They went into the fiery furnace, not Daniel. They sought God together with him for     supernatural revelation. They hung together in a foreign land, empowering each other.

Friends have the power to tear us down or build us up. Daniel chose wisely as a teen the kind of food he would eat and the kind of friends he would associate with. Worked well.

5  He had a strong prayer life and often heard God’s voice through dreams and visions.

In his 80’s he is still praying three times a day, kneeling toward Jerusalem (Daniel 6:10). The threat of the lion’s den did not change his prayer discipline. He and his friends could not be bought out or threatened out of a walk of faith and discipline. And God revealed things to him he has never revealed to anyone else. He had a pipeline to heaven and had a reputation for dream interpretation even as a teen (Daniel 1:17). Ezekiel included him among the greatest people who ever lived (Ezekiel 14:14).

6  He influenced four world rulers,

Nebuchadnezzar and his son Belshazzar (Babylon) and Cyrus and Darius (Persia). This sometimes meant bringing bold correction. Very few people, if any, have had the kind of world influence that Daniel enjoyed with rulers of empires. Yet he maintained a humble and confident outlook. It started when he was in his teens and continued when he was an old man. His wisdom was legendary, both to prophets as well as kings under whom he served. A contemporary prophet, mocking a foreign king, writes in satire, “You are indeed wiser than Daniel” (Ezekiel 28:3), showing with tongue and cheek what another prophet thought of him.

7  He was thrown into the lion’s den as an old man.

He was in his 80’s. This happened under King Darius of Persia who loved him and was tricked by people who were jealous of Daniel. Deja vu! Then they got thrown into the den, and it didn’t go well for them. He was a threat to them because of the way he chose to live. They wanted influence and lost it. He wanted the vote of heaven–and got it!

8  Nothing negative is said in the Scriptures about Daniel.  

Is that uncommon?  Abraham messed up with Hagar, Noah got drunk, Job complained to God, David had an illicit affair with Bathsheba after killing a man. Famous and godly people with major sin. Not Daniel–or Joseph, two world leaders who started young and served long. Three other facts about Daniel: he was smart, he never married (maybe he was a eunuch) and he was good-looking (see Daniel 1:3,4). Call him Belteshazzar for “short”. That is what the chief eunuch, Ashpenaz, named him. 

9  He walked in humility throughout his long life.

“God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble,” and grace was poured down on Daniel from teen years on. His responses to proud emperors were always humble and yet confident. He urged Nebuchadnezzar to break off his sins and show mercy to the oppressed. He didn’t listen, walked in pride, and God took him out for seven years. He told Belshazzar from the handwriting that he was about to lose his kingdom and yet he was exalted–for a day (Daniel 5:29-31).

10 Daniel introduces us to two chief angels–Gabriel and Michael.  

Wow! He lived in the world of the unseen. He walked in ways that few people have ever entered. Pagan kings could see his connection to the spiritual world. In the visions he sees, he is told three times by a messenger from heaven, “You are greatly loved.” Gabriel showed up and gave him understanding of the visions he was being given. And Michael is a part of the visions he sees, a fighter on behalf of God and his people. If you are open, God will give you eyes for unseen realities of the spiritual world! Daniel and John the Beloved, who wrote the book of Revelation, are probably having great conversations in heaven.

TAKING OUT THE GARBAGE

I had taken daily trips to the garbage. Filled the container to the brim–and then some. Two hours later the truck pulled up. A feeling of joy came over me as I watched it being emptied.  Someone tell me I’m not weird!  

May we experience a similar relief with garbage that accumulates in our souls. We can forget it is there until our soul smells putrid. I take garbage out during my morning prayer. I do the acrostic “PRAY.” After time praise, I turn to repentance. I have a list of sins of the heart–a critical spirit, jealousy, a victim mentality, and more. I look over the list to see what God highlights. I take out the garbage so it doesn’t stagnate. Some truths about that:

Sin is garbage. Don’t make it sound nice. When I am carrying the trash out and a sack breaks, cleaning it up can be gross. Satan makes sin look beautiful.  Movies highlight affairs. Ugly and gross just became attractive. Sin is deadly. Garbage hides behind a victim mentality. Someone sinned against us, and we hold that person accountable, so we keep our garbage rather than eliminating it. Bad idea–it festers and torments us–literally. Read Matt. 18:34,35. We may share it with a friend. Another bad idea. We dump garbage on them, and they commiserate with us. Interesting word. They share our misery. Do we call that fellowship? It’s walking in darkness. 

Confession is taking out the garbage. As Cornelius Planting wrote, “Recalling and confessing our sin is like taking out the garbage; once is not enough.” Ours turned into maggots while we enjoyed our vacation. We came home to garbage that had multiplied. If we ignore sins, we start smelling. The longer we wait, the more putrid. We smell up the atmosphere with the toxic poison of bitterness and resentment. That is why James  wrote, “”Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness…” (James 1:19-21). Garbage that goes in the truck on Wednesday is not recycled; it is used for landfill. Dump yours–don’t hold onto it!

We don’t focus on garbage. We focus on Jesus.  Garbage is not beautiful. As a high school student I thought it must be holy to look at my sins and say how bad I was. Wrong!  We become what we behold (2 Corinthians 3:18). What likeness do you want to be changed into? Looking at Jesus brings power to overcome sin. Unconfessed sin is gross, like the spaghetti in the back of the fridge that we forgot a month ago! Confessing sin and focusing on it are two different matters. Don’t call yourself a sinner. You are a saint who sins. Identity drives behavior. My dad used to say to me often, “Remember who you are,” long before Mufasa ever spoke it to Simba. He was establishing my identity so I could walk into my destiny. A skewed identity produces distorted behavior and an inferior destiny. We behave our beliefs, as my friend Kevin McClure says. We are what we think we are. The cross deals with the penalty, the power, and the presence of sin, but not all at once. We know Jesus dealt with the penalty of sin on the cross–suffering and death. But he also dealt with its power, so Paul was able to write, “Sin shall have no power over you, because you are not under the law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). Romans 5-8 says nothing about forgiveness but a whole lot about freedom from sin. Believe it. 

We have two big bins at our house, one for recycling, the other for garbage. We recycle things like cardboard and empty bottles. Some people are recycling sin, dumping it on friends. Don’t treat them this way–unless you are confessing your sin.

Unattended garbage is not pretty. I helped my son Israel clean out a duplex he owned. The people had left quickly without cleaning. Food was left out. You could smell the chemistry when you walked in. Not even fun to clean up. You may think that you want to take your time to forgive someone, like you don’t have to do it right away. Be careful: you will start smelling like that abandoned duplex. 

The Gospel is the best way to handle garbage. We deal with two systems–mercy or merit, law or gospel, old covenant or new covenant. If you are saying, “I can’t just forgive them; that is letting them off the hook,” you are operating under the law, not the gospel. Fairness is “an eye for an eye.” The gospel is Jesus from the cross saying, “Father, forgive them.” Jesus brought in a new culture. He said to the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” Radical, a totally different way of dealing with sin than the system that most people in the world operate with, but not Christians, at least not those who want to live in the freedom of the gospel. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Amen!!

Forgiveness is power! Use it to keep your insides clean and to transform others. The words of Jesus on the cross did a number on one of the thieves. He had not operated with that system. They were getting what they deserved for their lives of crime, and the Lord of the universe just forgave him for everything he ever did. Wow! Forgiveness is powerful!! It opened his heart to the revelation of God’s mercy. Operating with the merit system keeps us tied to justice rather than mercy. James wrote powerfully, “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:12,13). Was it easy for Joseph to forgive his brothers? I don’t know, but he had already practiced it long before they met him as prime minister. He had been sinned against by Potiphar, who sent him into the dungeon. He had been sinned against by Potiphar’s wife, who wrongfully accused him. He had also forgiven the butler, who forgot to mention him to Pharaoh–for two full years, 730 stinkin’ days! He dealt well with his garbage!

Regret, by the way, is not repentance. It does not take garbage to the dump. It stays inside, keeping us in the past. Repentance moves us to the future. Regret is wishing something were different. Repentance removes the trash from our soul to the dumpster. Holding an offense sounds like a privilege. It is a prison. Joseph’s brothers didn’t expect him to forgive them, because they didn’t operate with the mercy system. He did. Through more than a decade of pain, Joseph managed to take life as it came to him without growing resentful.  When they lied to him about what their father had not said, he was broken rather than bitter. He had the power to send them to prison or to death. Instead he said, “I will take care of you and your little ones.” Powerful! They lived under his care the rest of their lives. Had he not really forgiven them, he would have boiled over sooner or later. He forgave immediately and completely. Call it the mercy system. He knew how to take out the garbage. He would not allow trash like resentment, bitterness, revenge, or unforgiveness to hide in his soul and keep him from walking into his God-appointed destiny. And he became the second most powerful man on the planet! Way to go, Joe! How about you?

10 TRUTHS ABOUT PROPHECY & TONGUES

1  New Covenant prophecy is given for “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (I Cor. 14:3). Sounds like a really important gift to develop and exercise. Speaking in tongues builds up the speaker, which is wonderful, but prophecy “builds up the church” (14:4). Wow! 

2  Paul wrote, “You can all prophesy” (I Corinthians 14:31). The indwelling Holy Spirit, the giver of gifts, makes that possible. So if the Spirit is in you, so is the potential to prophesy! Exciting.

3  The apostle encourages us to do just that. He writes, “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (14:1). So sister, brother–go for it!

4  When should it happen? Paul says, “When you come together…” (v. 26). Are you mentoring someone? Prophesy over him or her. In a small group? Great place for prophecy. In church? By all means. Counseling appointment? Yep. Let’s build one another up with this incredible gift.

5  To learn how to prophesy, first learn how to hear the voice of God. Jesus said of the Spirit, “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:14). 

6  Anything we should be aware of when prophesying? Yes. “If I have prophetic powers…but have not love, I am nothing!” (13:2). For prophecy to flow well, it comes from a heart of love. We are not looking for something wrong to shame somebody; we are looking for something right to encourage & affirm. The love chapter comes between the two longest chapters on spiritual gifts.

7  Many have the gift of prophecy. Fewer have the calling as a prophet. That takes the gift to a new level. “He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:11,12). Prophets teach the church how to hear God’s voice, how to develop the gifts, how to function together with all the gifts.

8  Tongues and prophecy work well together. Speaking in a tongue builds up the one doing it–prophecy builds up those who are hearing the prophetic word. The more I speak in tongues, the more prepared I am to speak anointed words to others, whether in a small group setting or in a church. If Paul were among us, he would be wondering why prophecy is not more in use.

9  Paul, the greatest of all apostles, strongly urged the exercise of spiritual gifts and especially prophecy. He wrote, “Now I want you all to speak in tongues” (which suggests that it is available to all), but even more to prophesy” (14:5). Prophecy should be a common part of church life.

10  Prophecy can even be used powerfully with unbelievers because of its revelatory nature. “If all prophesy (in church), and an unbeliever or outside enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you” (14:24,25). Cool! Powerful! May we heed the Spirit who is beckoning us to take this gift off the table and use it often!

 10 TRUTHS ABOUT TONGUES

         …from I Corinthians 14                

  1. We are speaking to God (2). Call it prayer. We are making sounds we don’t understand, and Scripture says that our words are aimed directly toward heaven. I am blessed, offering a perfect prayer without my mind involved. Powerful. Prophecy is to people, tongues are to God. When we pray in tongues, we have an audience of One. He is listening and responding, though we usually don’t know what we are saying or praying. Good to sometimes interpret the tongue.
  2. What to some is foolish babbling is speaking mysteries, a strong New Testament word about revelations hidden for ages but now made known to the people of God. Glorious that He allows us to utter great mysteries.
  3. Paul says that they are mysteries “in the Spirit,” a wonderful place to be. One way to live and walk in the Spirit is to speak often in tongues.
  4. The one who speaks in a tongue “builds himself up” (4). I don’t know anyone overdosing on encouragement; most I know could use some. Speaking in tongues can lift you out of discouragement, give you spiritual muscles, prepare you to enter into other gifts, and open you to further revelation. Astounding.
  5. Paul says, “I want you all to speak in tongues” (5). He had found great value in it and hoped for many to experience it. We have yet to mine the depths of its riches. Keep exercising it, and God will show you more.
  6. Speaking in tongues is a language (Acts 2). Those filled with the Spirit at Pentecost were speaking, and Jews from around the world who came for the festival days understood. Miraculous. After I taught at a seminar in Bergen, Norway, I spoke in tongues while the pastors met in small groups. A young man from Serbia came to the mic and said, “Paul is speaking my language and is telling us to be courageous,” which was the theme of my teaching. How long does it take to speak a new language? About three years–unless you are filled with the Spirit. Then it may happen instantly. Incredible!!
  7. Two different kinds of prayer: with the mind and with the spirit (15). We do not use our mind when speaking in tongues. That means that when we need our mind for other activities (driving, reading the Bible, making breakfast), we can still speak in tongues and not be distracted. What a versatile gift!
  8. The greatest apostle of all time said, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than you all” (18). He found great blessing in it and wanted to encourage others to use it. He knew that some had shelved it, not knowing its value. It helps bring revelation of truth, release people from oppression, and do spiritual warfare, to name just a few benefits.
  9. Tongues can be a sign for unbelievers (22). It happened at Pentecost. The disciples were doing the impossible in speaking known languages, and it got the attention of thousands. 
  10. I Corinthians 13 teaches that tongues without love is useless. We fly with two wings–the gifts and the fruit.