Sunday, February 10, 2019

POWERFUL AND EFFECTIVE PRAYERS


When studying (James 5:13-17), the last line stood out like a flashing, neon sign: "The prayer of the righteous person is powerful and effective." The Holy Spirit then directed me to focus on one word—righteous.

We all want our prayers to be powerful and effective. What would be the point of praying, if our prayers were not powerful and effective? However, the strength and effectiveness of those prayers are predicated on righteousness, the Word, and faith in our Creator.

The dictionary defines righteous as being virtuous, upstanding, decent, ethical, having high moral principles, law-abiding, honest, honorable, and irreproachable. "The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil" (Peter 3:12 ESV).

How do we attain the standard of righteousness? The Word tells us that "God made [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21). In our own strength, it is impossible to achieve righteousness. However when we are totally surrendered to Christ and invite the Holy Spirit to operate in and through us, the Spirit of God makes it possible for us to walk in righteousness. 

The word, unrighteous,is defined as wicked, because unrighteousness is sin. Thus, the unrighteous reveal their hearts and attitudes in their behaviors, thoughts, words, deeds, and beliefs, all of which contradict and oppose the eternal laws of God (Revelations 21:8). They accept the world's morals and ethics, with the mindset that "we live in different times." However, God says, "I the Lord do not change" (Malachi 3:6). He does not and will not accept what He has already called sin.

God's Word is firmly fixed in the heavens (Psalm 119:89). "His counsel stands forever— the plans of His heart to all generations" (Psalm 33:11). We can depend on this truth: "God is not human, that He should lie, not a human being, that He should change His mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill?" (Numbers 23:19 NIV).

God listens to anyone who repents of sin and is a worshiper of Him and does His will (John 9:31 ESV). He is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse us of all unrighteousness (I John 1:9).

God calls us to draw near to Him, and He will draw near to us. "Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded (James 4:8 ESV). God specifically calls the sinners double-minded, because they are undecided, unstable, and waver and vacillate in their relationship with Him. Like the Israelites who worshipped both idols and God, many Christians are double-minded. They "worship" God yet entertain all forms of sin, which is apostasy.

Apostasy is rampant within today's churches, and Pastor Allen Jackson of World Outreach Church in Murfreesboro, TN, succinctly states a fact about the Church and her apostasy: 

            "Apostasy is a religious word that means  literally 'falling away.' The children of Israel struggled with falling away. They didn't stop worshiping God or celebrating Passover and the festivals. They just expanded their options and also began worshipping Baal and other Canaanite gods. That's the imagery we get of apostasy. It's not that we reject Christianity completely; it's that we start to say, "We don't want to be hardcore about it.' We live in a generation of unprecedented apostasy. Never in the history of the Christian church have we seen so many people standing beneath the umbrella of Christianity, who no longer feel bound to the authority of Scripture as their rule of faith and practice—and many of them are leading churches and religious groups."

God addressed the church of Laodicea, "Because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of My mouth" (Revelation 3:16). Where are the bold Christians who stand for God's Word? Why is the Church remaining silent and not speaking against the abominations that have turned us into a pagan culture that justifies blatant sin and infanticide? The answer is fairly simple. Boldness can only come when we are convinced that God's Word is the one true authority governing man.

Bold faith rests on the authority of God's Word. That faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Without faith, it is impossible to please God, for those who come to Him must believe that He is, and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). Our hearts should be like David's when he said, "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God (Psalm 42:1-2 NIV).

Are we thirsting for God? Are we diligently seeking Him? Do we desire to draw closer to Him, or are we satisfied with the status quo and ignore the sin we see? The Bible's truths prepare us and warn us that those who do not seek God and His Word will be blind to the Antichrist and his evil agenda, because the they will be looking for that man who will solve the world's problems and bring peace to the earth.

Seven hundred years before the birth of Christ, the Prophet Isaiah foretold of Jesus' coming, "Unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6 NKJV). Jesus is the Prince of Peace, whom humanity should be seeking.

Israel became a nation in 1948. That extraordinary event started the countdown to Christ's return. And with that countdown, the Word warns that in the last days, men will be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boastful, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, despisers of those who are good, traitors, and lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God (2 Timothy 3:1-4).

We must examine our hearts, while there is still time, and see if we have truly invested our lives in knowing God. Jesus said, "I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father, I have made known to you" (John 15:15 NKJV). We might know about God, and maybe at times we pray to Him, but do we pursue Him daily in sweet fellowship that enables Him to call us friend? Have we really surrendered our hearts and will to Him? Are we walking in righteousness, faith, and obedience to Him? Only then will our prayers be powerful and effectual.

PRAYER: FATHER, Your Son warned, "You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times" (Matthew 16:3 ESV). I ask for the gift of discernment that I may know and understand the signs of the times in which I live. Help me pursue You with my whole heart. If there is anything that is preventing me from serving and loving You with my whole heart, show me those things that must be cast off. With the help of the Holy Spirit, direct me that I may walk in righteousness, so that my prayers will be powerful and effectual. In Jesus name, amen.





Tuesday, January 29, 2019


HIDDEN IDOLS

God loves us so much that He will show us those things that hold first place in our hearts, if we are open to His revelations. Several years ago, He led me on a journey of self-discovery—one that revealed startling truths about hidden idols that control and manipulate our lives. 

God commanded the Israelites to worship and obey Him and Him only, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength" (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). Yet in their prideful arrogance, they refused and worshipped idols and sought godless counsel. 

The Israelites incorporated the worship of God with idol worship. They were unrepentant, covetous, disobedient, rebellious, and lusted after power and kingdom expansion. Sadly, like ancient Israel, America has become a rebellious mecca of self-worship and pseudo Christianity. 

You might be thinking, "Wait just a minute! I don't worship idols!" However, idols are not limited to Ashtoreth poles, shrines, totems, or other manmade deities. Idols come in the guise of objects, electronics, habits, beliefs, desires, activities, persons, or anything that draws our focus away from God and causes us to look to ourselves and to the things of this world to satisfy us.

When we invited Christ into our hearts, we were delivered from the bondage of sin and death. But that spiritual transformation did not remove us from a pagan world that has a feel-good mentality and worships the religions of  secularism, tolerance, materialsim, self-worship,  and compromise. 

Christian values are scorned, mocked, and debased. All forms of media promote crass materialism, self-indulgence, and play to the ego with the promise that if we buy into their propaganda, we will look better, feel better, be better, and live healthier, longer lives. This daily, minute-by-minute capitalistic infusion of a world-view has created a culture of self-indulgent, idol worshippers that are groomed and trained to worship self and all that satisfies the flesh.

America’s motto is “In God We Trust.” God asks, “In whom do you really trust? Who or what do you first turn to for help and answers? In whom or what do you find complete rest and joy? Is it in your intellect, your talents, your spouse, your family and friends, your government, your bank account, your doctor, your pastor or priest?"

Years of struggling with major illnesses drained me physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and financially. So when another medical problem arose, I prayed, “Lord, I am so tired of these medical issues. I know You love me with a perfect love, because every good and perfect gift come from You. And because You and Your Word are perfect and unchanging, is there anything in my life that is keeping me from receiving all that You would have for me?”

God’s gentle voice spoke into my spirit, “You worship an idol.” I was stunned. I said, “Lord, I love You and You alone. What idol could I be worshipping? There is no thing or person that I hold above You.” Then in my spirit, I heard, “What you give the most thought and attention to is  your idol."

The startling realization hit me. My life was the idol. For the first time, I fully understood this scripture: “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life (John 12:25). My thoughts and attention had been focused on me and my health. I repented and asked God's forgiveness for pursuing the healing and not the Healer.

Luke 8:43 tells about a woman who had an issue of blood for twelve years. She had spent all of her money on physicians, but they could not heal her. But when she pushed through the crowd in pursuit of Jesus, she was able to touch the hem of His garment and was immediately healed. Was I pushing through the circumstances in pursuit of Jesus?

God wants us to be spiritually, emotionally, and physically whole, but who are we pursuing first to accomplish that – man's answer or Jehovah Rapha our Healer? We must pray for God's guidance, so that He can lead us to doctors who will provide the best care, and depending on the attitude of our heart, receive supernatural healing. Jesus said, “Seek me first, [pursue Me first], and all things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).

The following basic truths are found in Proverbs 3:5-8. If followed, they will help us keep our eyes on God and not on the problem or ourselves:  

1. Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. ("For those who trust in themselves are fools" Proverbs 28:25).

2. In all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight. (Acknowledge Him in every thing you do and every success, because He is the giver of those gifts (I Peter 4:10)
  
3. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. ("If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously" (James 1:5)

4. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones (Proverbs 3:5-8). This is God's promise to those who seek Him first and submit all their ways to Him.

God asks us: “Who or what do you love most? Would I be enough if your dreams of having a husband or a child were never fulfilled. What if you never receive the bigger home, the perfect health, that promotion, or whatever else you believe would make your life better or happier? Are you willing to surrender it all to Me and offer your life as a living sacrifice? If everything you value in life were lost, would you still love Me or would you shake your fist at Me?"

God asked Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac, who was the fulfillment of God's promise of an heir and a new nation. Through Isaac, God would establish His eternal covenant. With unwavering trust and obedience, Abraham laid his son on the altar. God quickly responded in providing a sacrifice, thus sparing Isaac and giving Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars and the sand on the seashore.

God is most concerned with the attitude of our heart, who and what we serve, and what we value most. God was pleased with Abraham's heart. God showed me that in obsessing over my health, I was focusing on myself; therefore, it was all about me. My joy and happiness were predicated on my health. He then challenged me to lay it all upon the altar.

I now pray as David prayed, “Show me your ways, O LORD. Teach me your paths; guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are God my Savior, and my hope [and my life rest] in You all day long” (Psalm 25:4-5).

PRAYER: LORD, thank you for daily showing me Your mercy, goodness, and unending faithfulness. Show me any hidden idols or sin that I need to repent of and cast off. Create in me a clean heart; renew a right spirit within me. Help me to seek You first with all my heart and not trust in my own efforts, the efforts of others, or this world. In Jesus name, amen.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

A LIFE REDEEMED


Have you ever seen or known a person whom you believed was completely irredeemable. Their sins appeared to be too great and their heart too hard for them to change their ways? Saul, before he became the Apostle Paul, was such a person. 

Saul was born to a Jewish family in Tarsus (Turkey). A Roman citizen, he became a Pharisee who hated Christians because he believed Jesus' teachings violated the Mosaic Law. He relentlessly pursued, brutalized, persecuted, and ordered the deaths of those who called themselves Christians. 

Stephen, a devout Christian, "a man full of God's grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people" (Acts 6:8 NIV). He was brought before the high priest and Pharisees. With false charges set before him, he reminded them of what God had done for them, calling them "stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, who always resist the Holy Spirit" (Acts 7:51 ESV). Because of Stephen's strong influence over the people, his stoning was ordered, which Saul had heartily approved. 

This story of hatred and persecution is being played out on the world's stage as society sinks deeper and deeper into apostasy. Stiff-necked, rebellious people are rejecting God because they are uncircumcised in their hearts and ears. Like the high priest and Pharisees, today's people reject truth so they don't have to admit they are sinners. 

Saul's all-consuming hatred of Christ followers drove him to go before the high priest and ask for letters to the synagogues at Damascus. Thus, if he found any people belonging to the Way (followers of Christ), he might bring them bound to Jerusalem (Acts 9:1-3).

Do you see that all-consuming fire of hatred and persecution towards today's Christians? They are taken before the courts, sued, and forced to pay exorbitant fines and "damages" that wipe out their businesses, because they choose to hold to their Christian beliefs and not cave to a hedonistic and corrupt culture? However difficult, Jesus said,  "...love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:43-45 NIV).

Saul approached Damascus and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him and falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" And Saul asked, "Who are you, Lord?" And He said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do" (Acts 9:3-6). At that moment Saul was struck blind, so those traveling with him led him to Damascus where he fasted and prayed for three days. Saul had become a man undone.

There was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias whom God told to go and lay hands on Saul that he may regain his sight and receive the Holy Spirit. Saul's reputation preceded him, so Ananias said to the Lord, "Lord, I have heard from man about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name." But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name" (Acts 9:10-16 ESV). 

Despite Ananias' obedience to the Lord, he must have questioned within his heart why God would choose such a man to carry God's Word to the Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel? "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor?" (Romans 11:33-34 NIV) We cannot begin to know the mind of God for He tells us, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways" (Isaiah 58:8 NIV).

Saul, whom Jesus would eventually name Paul, meaning humble, would say this about himself, "...Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst" (1 Timothy 1:15). "I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me" (I Corinthians 15:9-10). 

It is by grace we have been saved, through faith—and this is not from ourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). The requirement is a repentant heart that invites Christ into the heart and expresses remorse and regret for wrongdoing and sin. It is a changing of one's mind and a turning away from sin. For it is in our repentance, that doors open for God's power to work within us. 

Scriptures do not tell us, but just maybe Christians had prayed for Saul, for there is hope for each person to be redeemed (delivered from sin). Those who confess their sins, God is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

If you have been praying a long time for people and have not seen any change, do not give up hope, and do not stop praying for them. Remember, Paul, who said he was the greatest sinner of them all, became a man of Christ who used his Jewish roots and Roman citizenship to minster to both the Jews and the Romans. Other than Jesus, no single person was more influential during the beginnings of Christianity than Paul. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, He wrote 13 of the 27 books of the New Testament. During his ministry, it is estimated that he traveled over 10,000 miles to bring the Gospel to the lost.

God has all power, ability, and authority to take what the enemy would intend for our destruction and bring good from it. He certainly did that for Paul and He will do that for any who call on the name of Jesus Christ and put their hope and trust in Him.

PRAYER: Father, Your Word says that you do not want even one to perish but that all would come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. I ask that you draw (name) by Your Spirit and soften (his/her) heart to receive the life-changing truth and message of Jesus Christ. May (name) experience Your love and turn to You, so that (his/her) sins may be wiped out, making room for restoration. In Jesus name, amen.