Sunday, January 24, 2016

OBEDIENCE

Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?
(Luke 6:46 ESV)

I awoke last Wednesday morning and asked God what I should write for the next blog. I didn't receive an answer until my friend of 45 years posted the following comment in regard to the January 18th blog, WHERE ARE THE WATCHMEN?

            "Powerful blog, my friend, and sobering as well. Thank you for your obedience to the Holy Spirit, Joy, something you have never failed to do since I have known you!" 

The word, Obedience, stood out like a flashing nion sign and immediately, the Holy Spirit quickened my spirit to "Write about obedience."

Disobedience opposes obedience at every turn. God gave mankind free will to choose between life and death. Obedience leads to life, wisdom, and all the blessings and privileges that come with that choice. Disobedience yields a curse, God's judgment, death, and separation from God.

Adam and Eve lived in a perfect Paradise and walked daily with the Lord in the Garden. One day, Satan came and told them that if they ate fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil they would become like God. Despite God's warning that eating its fruit would bring about death, they believed Satan and partook. Their disobedience not only destroyed their innocence and the innocence of all future generations, but it brought separation from God and injected death and destruction into the human race. The stage was then set for future generations to face every kind of temptation to disobey God.

God delivered the Israelites from their enslavement to the Egyptians and brought them through the Red Sea into the desert for an eleven-day journey to the Promised Land. However, eleven days became 40 years because of their rebellion, disobedience, and constant complaining. God's anger was kindled, "As surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, not one of those who saw My glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed Me and tested Me ten times - not one of them will ever see the Land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated Me with contempt (distain, disrespect, and loathing) will ever see it. But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows Me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it" (Numbers 14:21-24 NIV).

God desires to give us good things. He knows the plans He has for each person. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give us a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11). Our willingness to obey His Word and His directives will factor into whether or not we receive all that He has for us. Like the Israelites, disobedience will keep us in a barren and desolate "desert" of lost opportunities and missed blessings.

God sent the Prophet Samuel to Saul and said, “I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you king over His people Israel; so listen now to the message from the Lord. This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’” (I Samuel 15:1-5 NIV). But Saul and his army spared Agag, king of the Amalekites, who was a murderer and a leader of barbaric robbers. Saul also kept the best sheep, cattle, calves, lambs, and everything that was good and destroyed only what he deemed worthless (Vs. 8).

Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: “I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from Me and has not carried out My instructions” (vs 11). In obedience, Samuel went to Saul to confront him for his blatant disobedience. “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?” Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.” (Vs. 14-15) Samuel's responded, “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to [listen] is better than the fat of rams" (I Samuel 15:22). Despite Saul's pleading for mercy, Samuel responded, "You have rejected the Word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you as king over Israel!” (Vs. 26)

The lesson to be learned from these examples is that God will bless His people through complete obedience, not partial obedience. God requires a willing heart that works in tandem with His will and with others to accomplish His purposes. We can either be part of what He is achieving or we can resist it through disobedience. Saul's obedience was crucial in carrying out God's plans. However, his lust for wealth and power superseded any unwavering obedience to the Lord. As a result, his decision to disobey God resulted in the loss of his kingdom, the death of his sons, and his life ending by his own hand.

Obedience is the driving catalyst in bringing about God's purposes in our lives and the lives of others throughout the earth. We may not understand why God does what He does, for He tells us, "...My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). Because God is our omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent Father, He knows all things and what is best for us; therefore, our obedience results in blessings; conversely, disobedience reaps loss and God's punishment.

Jesus, the most profound example of obedience, "had during His life on earth, offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to His Father who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission. Though He was God's Son, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, Jesus became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him" (Hebrews 5:7- 9 NIV).

We are told that in our relationships with one another, we are to have the same mindset of obedience as Christ Jesus "who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:4-12 NIV).

One scripture in particular continues to impact my life: "[Jesus] withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond [the disciples], knelt down and prayed, 'Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.' An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him. And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground" (Luke 22:41-44).

Jesus agonized over what His Father was requiring of Him, yet His desire to obey His Father was greater than the anguish that He was suffering. "So then as through one transgression (disobedience) there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness (obedience) there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through [Adam's] disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of [Jesus Christ] many will be made righteous" (Romans 5:18-19).

Luke 22:41-44 and Romans 5:18-19 are constant reminders of Jesus' sacrificial love and obedience, which superseded His will and the agony He suffered. Through Christ, God made all provision and blessings for us to live abundant and fulfilled lives while on earth. However, those blessings, provisions, and the hope of heaven rest on a personal decision to obediently serve and love Christ with all of our heart, mind, body, and soul.

I learned many years ago that obedience is the key to God's heart. It's not always easy to obey, but the rewards that come through obedience are so much greater and sweeter than any pain, difficulty, or challenge that we may experience as His disciples.

When God led me to write, WHERE ARE THE WATCHMEN? - I knew that not everyone answers the call to prayer, because praying requires a daily heart commitment to the Lord through prayer and fellowship with Him. Nor will everyone answer the call to OBEDIENCE, because obedience requires denying self and surrendering one's will to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. However, when the decision is made to pray and obey God and His Word, "how sweet are [His] words to [our] taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to [our] mouth" (Psalm 119:103).

Monday, January 18, 2016

WHERE ARE THE WATCHMEN?

On April 29, 1607, following the relanding of Cape Henry, Pastor Robert Hunt and the English settlers knelt by a cross that they had erected. Pastor Hunt gave the following prayer of dedication:

"We do hereby dedicate this Land and ourselves, to reach the People within these shores with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to raise up Godly generations after us, and with these generations take the Kingdom of God to all the earth. May this Covenant of Dedication remain to all generations, as long as this earth remains, and may this land, along with England, be Evangelist to the World. May all who see this Cross, remember what we have done here, and may those who came here to inhabit, join us in this Covenant..."

America was founded and built on biblical truths. The Pilgrims left everything behind and made a dangerous and arduous voyage to the "new land," so that they could escape religious persecution and secure and retain the biblical, foundational truths and values founded on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It was because of those values that God blessed and prospered what would become the United States of America.

John Adams, a founding father, stated, "Our Constitution is designed only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for any other.”

The Preamble to the United States Constitution states, "...this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians, not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason, peoples of other faiths have been and are afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here. The goal of the Constitution Party is to restore American jurisprudence to its Biblical foundations and to limit the federal government to its Constitutional boundaries.”

President Abraham Lincoln prophetically stated, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

President Ronald Reagan said, "Freedom prospers when religion is vibrant and the rule of law under God is acknowledged." "If we ever forget that we are One Nation Under God, then we will be a nation gone under."

Sadly, too many have forgotten that we became a great nation because we were established as one nation under God. We were not a polytheistic, atheistic people, nor did we assimilate other faiths and beliefs into our own. Regrettably, we have become a nation
divided between two opinions - those who believe in the Judeo-
Christian values and those who do not. Those who do not, do what they can to dismantle those great pillars of righteousness, which are the first five of the Ten Commandments. Upon those, all moral law of God was established. The Prophet Elijah came to the people and said, "How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him, but if Baal, follow him" (I Kings 18:21).

Baal represents any idol (a person or thing that is greatly admired, loved or revered) that has influence and control over the body, mind, spirit, and soul. God said, " You shall love the Lord your
God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength" (Deuteronomy 30:15).  If not, then preference is given to all forms of pleasure, success, self-aggrandizement, and materialism. Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. We cannot serve (be faithful to) both God and the things of this world" (Matthew 6:24).

Now more than ever, apostasy covers the United States like a dark, ominous cloud, but we should not despair! God has not given up on America and is waiting for this nation to return to her Judeo-Christian roots. God said, "If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their [morally wrong ways], then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14).

God is looking for repentant, disciplined, and dedicated hearts that love God above all else and are willing to be doers of His Word. God said, "I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before Me in the gap on behalf of the land, so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one" (Ezekiel 22:30). "If the watchman sees the enemy coming and doesn’t sound the alarm and warn the people, he is responsible for their deaths. They will die in their sins, but I will charge the watchman with their deaths" (Ezekiel 33:6 TLB).

What is a watchman? The Hebrew word for watchman is tsaphah (pronounced tsaw-faw').  It means to lean forward; to peer into the distance; to observe, behold, spy out; wait for; and keep watch. Israel has always had many enemies. In ancient days, Jerusalem was fortified with thick high walls. (A small section of that wall remains today and is pictured above.) It was the job of the watchmen to stand upon the walls of Jerusalem and keep watch over the surrounding land for any signs of a messenger or an approaching enemy. If the watchman saw the enemy advancing, he was to sound the alarm and warn the people.

As Christ-followers, we are called to be a light in a dark world. We are to keep watch and observe the times in which we live and when we see the enemy advancing, we are to give the clarion call to all who will listen. When the disciples asked what the signs would be to signify the  "end of the age," Jesus told them there would be deceptions, rumors of wars, nations warring against nations, kingdoms against kingdoms, famines, pestilences, earthquakes, persecution of Christians, false teachers, and the preaching of the gospel throughout the world (Matthew 24:1-14).

Where are the watchmen? God is looking for "watchmen" (Christians) who will stand in the gap and pray daily. The Apostle Paul said, "... I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (I Timothy 2:1-2).

Prayer is a form of worship and an expression of gratitude to God, as we make our requests known to Him. We are to pray until we receive an answer! If we do not obtain an immediate answer, then we rejoice and continue to pray. In all things, we are to give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus (I Thessalonians 5:16-18). Jesus said that with prayer, we must keep asking and we will receive; we must keep looking and we will find; we must keep knocking and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives; all who seek, find; and the door is opened to everyone who knocks (Luke 11:9).

The acclaimed film, "War Room" is a powerful and poignant movie about prayer and its power to transform lives and stop the enemy in his tracks. For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood. We fight against persons without bodies - those evil rulers of the unseen world, led by the evil Prince of Darkness who rules this world, along with huge numbers of wicked spirits (Ephesians 6:12). Satan achieves his evil purposes by using deceived people and his demonic army. 

When wars are fought, generals study their enemy's weaknesses so they can defeat them. The one weapon that Satan and his demonic forces fear the most is a praying Christian, because prayer unleashes the power of God and His angelic forces.

Prayer should be our first line of defense and not the last resort. Remember, the watchman stands ready, attentively looking and praying to keep the enemy at bay. We have much work to accomplish, because the enemy has already ensconced himself in key areas while we have been spiritually sleeping. Now is the time to pray!

The world is a boiling caldron that is ready to erupt at any moment. Evil abounds, but are Christians daily interceding for their children, teachers, leaders, their local, state, and federal governments, and the nation? Are they praying for godly leadership? The apostle Paul encouraged us to pray without ceasing (I Thessalonians 5:17). That means that we can't pray one time and believe that we have done our due diligence.

Throughout the centuries, men and women have paid the ultimate price to secure and ensure America's freedoms for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But those liberties are in question as our freedoms hang in the balance. The winds of change have come to the United States. Unfortunately, that change has been made without God, who is now calling America to repent, turn from her wicked and ungodly ways, and return to Him.

God is kindling the hearts of men, women, and children to stand in the gap and be His watchmen on the wall. This is an invitation to pray daily until we see this nation, once again, become the nation that God blessed and the world respected.

James Madison, the Father of the U.S. Constitution and the fourth president of the United States, stated,  “We have staked the whole of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves, according to the Ten Commandments of God.”

With God, the possibilities for a bright future are endless and the years ahead can be the most fruitful and productive we have ever had if we get serious with God and pray. Christians cannot be spectators; they are to be doers of His Word for those who hear the Word and do not do the Word deceive themselves (James 1:22).

Men and women risked their lives, and in many cases, sacrificed life and limb to defend and preserve the United States Constitution and our Christian heritage, thereby, enabling us to live in peace, security, and freedom. Will it be said that those sacrifices were for naught? Let us pray not.




Monday, January 11, 2016

DON'T LOOK BACK


We have all reminisced about those nostalgic "good old days" and wished at times that things could be as they once were. I know I have. It seems that we were happier without having so many things and so much technology. As a child, whether rain or shine, I was always playing outside or riding my bike. During the winter, I enjoyed ice skating, sledding, making snowmen, snow forts, snow angles, and having snowball "fights" with my brothers. Our big treat was Friday night television with popcorn and soda, and watching Saturday morning cartoons on our black and white T.V.  Cell phones and iPads were non-existent; my playmates and I used tin cans and a string. 

On the flipside, we don't always look back with fond memories. Most of us have had painful experiences, missed opportunities, and have made regretable choices. But if we continue to return to those memories and times, then we can never move forward in the promises of God.

God had released the Israelites from bondage to their harsh taskmasters and was taking them into the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey. Unfortunately, they dismissed the miracle of their escape and after just three days in the desert, they complained to Moses, “It would have been better if the Lord had just killed us in the land of Egypt. At least there we had plenty to eat. We had all the food we needed. But now you have brought us out here into this desert to make us all die from hunger” (Exodus 16:3). They were more willing to go back to a life of bondage and possible death, than to trust God and move forward with Him.

Despite God's faithfulness in supplying the Israelite's every need, they murmured and refused to believe God.  As a result, they wandered around the desert for 40 years and forfeited the Promised Land. Only their children were allowed to enter. 

Again, God's Word reveals the tragedy of what happens when the pull to return to our old life is greater than our desire to move forward and embrace a life in obedience to God. Two angels, who appeared as men, arrived at Sodom in the evening. Lot met them at the city's gate and insisted that they come to his home. While they were eating, men came and demanded to have sex with Lot's guests. The angels struck the men blind and told Lot to take his family and leave, for "the outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that He has sent us to destroy it." Then the angles said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!” (Genesis 19:26) But Lot’s wife looked back at the city where her life had been, and she became a pillar of salt. 

If we look back at what was, our hearts often become hardened, rebellious, and unbelieving. Focusing on past events, whether good or bad, can cause us to compare those memories with our current experiences. In doing so, we are prevented from moving forward with God and becoming benefactors of His wonderful gifts and purposes. For we know that God causes all things (good or bad) to work together for good to those who love and [trust] Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

The Apostle Paul wrote, "Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13-14). "Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will" (Romans 12:1-2).

We must renew our minds, for what we think in our heart,  we become (Proverbs 23:7). God's Word calls us to think on what is true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, having virtue, and that which is worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). For that reason, our minds cannot entertain what was or what could or should have been. Those thoughts will only shackle us to the past and rob us of God's best for today. Happily, if we are in Christ, we are a new creation; old things have passed away, and all things have become new (2 Corinthians 5:17). As we direct our eyes and our hearts towards our heavenly Father, He fulfills this promise, “From now on I will tell you of new things, of hidden things unknown to you" (Isaiah 48:6). 

There are valuable lessons that can be learned from our past. Some lessons have taught us not to repeat a particular behavior, while other lessons have validated correct choices we made. Our goal is not to dwell on those things, but to move forward with that knowledge and discover the "new and hidden things" that God longs to reveal to us. 

Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). Interestingly, when plowing a field, it is important to keep both hands on the plow, with the reins over the shoulder and eyes focused ahead. The primary purpose of plowing is to turn over the upper layer of the soil, renewing and bringing fresh nutrients to the surface, while burying weeds and the remains of previous crops. As the plow is drawn through the soil, it creates long trenches of fertile soil called furrows. If the farmer looks back, the oxen veer off course and the furrow is not straight. A good farmer doesn't need to know where he has been. He only needs to concentrate on where he is going.

God desires that we turn over and bury those choaking weeds of  "what ifs" and "should haves," along with the painful experiences, missed opportunities, bad decisions, and regrets, so that His fresh, new purposes can surface in our lives. As He makes our paths straight, we are able to move forward with Him instead of looking back. The past then becomes dimmed by God's amazing and wonderful purposes and plans for today. 

Living in the past, prevents us from being totally committed to the present. Our Heavenly Father looks for those who will keep their eyes forward and focused on a future with Him. He knows the direction that He desires to take us. That is why we are not to be anxious about anything, but in every situation, with prayer, petition, and thanksgiving, we are to present our requests to Him (Philippians 4:6). 

May we always keep our eyes forward and fastened on our Redeemer, knowing that His plans are to give us a hope and a future...without regrets (Jeremiah 29:11).

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, 
and do not lean on your own understanding. 
In all your ways acknowledge Him, 
and He will make straight your paths. 
(Proverbs 3:5-6)