Righteousness is a Gift

imagesOIPB560L

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Romans 1:16-17)

This is the foundation that Paul builds upon throughout the book of Romans. Directly following this thought is the fact that God must punish unrighteousness and that the reason men are given over to depravity is that they refuse to believe in God. In the exchange of rejecting true righteousness from God, we, like ancient Israel, begin to do what is right in our own eyes and believe that we can attain righteousness on our own. It is the universal condition of man. No one escapes.

He goes on to say in Romans 2:13, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” If we isolate this passage, it appears that obedience to the law brings about righteousness before God. However, he uses an example of Gentiles who do what is right by nature in contrast to Jews who hold to the external workings of the law. The point that Paul so masterfully lays out is brought to full revelation when he quotes, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift…”(Romans 3:23-24)

Maybe the question is, “Who are the true doers of the law?” Throughout Paul’s ministry, we know that the ones he had the most contention with were those that held to Jewish systems, especially when they tried to convince new Christian converts to revert back to upholding the Mosaic Law. Returning to our opening scripture we read, “…For in it (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith…” (Romans 1:17) The entirety of Romans is Paul’s brilliant argument for this point: We have no righteousness within ourselves. We need the righteousness of another, namely Jesus Christ. We receive His righteousness as a gift through faith. This, in turn, compels us to live a life of faith through internal obedience made possible by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are saved by God’s grace. We receive this precious gift through faith. When we truly come to the understanding that we have died with Christ and we stand in His righteousness alone, sin no longer has a hold on us and we experience the life that we are truly called to live. Without this understanding of true righteousness deep in our souls, we will live in fear of failure and rejection no matter how much we truly love Jesus. But, oh how sweet, when this truth is illuminated in the depths of our being. Life abundant gushes forth from this one place: that we are truly found alive in Christ and apart from Him there simply is no life.

Written as an assignment for SUM Bible and Theological Seminary

Posted in Encouragment | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Life in the Spirit is only Found Through the Cross

Holy Spirit

“When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” (John 16:21).

If it is true that, “The Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit,” then once we have been brought into the Kingdom, why do we not experience perpetual joy and peace? (Romans 14:17) The real question is, “Why do we suffer on this earth as Christians?” I don’t believe there to be only one definitive answer to that question. However, I do believe that question falls under one main principle, even if that principle has many applications. We find this thought in the words of Paul as he states, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings becoming like Him in His death.” (Philippians 3:10)

In John 16:21, we see Jesus preparing His disciples for the sorrow ahead of them as He takes His steps toward the cross. Always the master teacher, Jesus paints a picture for His men so that they may understand that what they are about to experience is not the final outcome. He uses this idea of a woman in labor. Every woman that has gone through childbirth understands this principle. No one can prepare you for the intense pain that you go through while in labor. Thankfully, these days, most of us opt for the epidural so that we do not have to experience the intensity of what most would consider unbearable. But if we put this scripture in its historical time frame, epidurals were not given during childbirth and the full expression of that pain had to be endured. However, any mother will tell you that after travailing in labor, when she saw her baby for the first time and held him in her arms, the pain was all but forgotten and love like she had never known filled her heart.

Several applications are correct pertaining to this scripture. We could certainly apply this thought to Jesus being the woman in travail. He knows that His hour has come and He is about to endure the cross. His joy will be realized as He is raised from the dead, reunited with His Father, and seated at the right hand of God.

The most obvious application is that He is using this metaphor to explain the events that His disciples are going to have to live through as He is crucified. He is going to be taken from them in what will seemingly be unbearable circumstances. Not only is He not going to be with them, the events surrounding His death are likely to shake them to their core as they try to understand what is actually taking place. Of course, upon the evidence of the Lord’s resurrection, His disciples will be filled with joy to learn that their Messiah is truly the Son of God. Not only will He send them the comfort of the Holy Spirit, but one day, they will be reunited with the One they love. It would certainly bring them deep joy to know that all they had staked their lives upon was true.

In a more prophetic sense, we can say that the Kingdom of God is the woman in travail. The intense labor that would birth the reality of the Kingdom Age would be the death of the one that all hope was laid upon. The Seed of the Woman that was to be born into this world would fall into the ground and die. But, He would also spring forth and bear eternal fruit as He was raised to life. Fullness of joy can be known because the One who came to save mankind has defeated the anguish of death and the grave.

So what does that have to do with why we suffer as Christians today? Let’s go back and look at our scripture in context. After a lengthy conversation concerning the fact that He is about to be taken from them, Jesus tells them that their joy will be restored. In that day, they are to ask the Father whatever they will in the name of Jesus and it will be granted. John 16:24 says this, “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” The only thing that would make the disciples full of joy again would be the presence of Jesus and the promises of the Kingdom fulfilled. All of this would take place in an upper room as the Holy Spirit descended and empowered them to go forth preaching in power with miraculous signs following. We do know however, that as they lived out their ministries here on the earth, the disciples experienced this travail on some level over and over again as the message of the Gospel confronted enemies without and sin within.

If we are going to be full of the Holy Spirit, it will be no different for us. We will share in the Lord’s travail as we endure hardships, resist temptation, suffer shame and ridicule, and experience persecution for the sake of Christ. Even in our own short comings and failures, the Lord has made a way for us to be made right with Him through repentance and restoration. If we truly surrender to the Holy Spirit, the right standing that we have been given with the Father because of the shed blood of our Lord Jesus, will be made known to us experientially as we are changed from glory to glory through the work of sanctification.

Going back to Romans 14:17, how can we truly know the joy of the Lord’s resurrection unless we have shared in the sufferings of His death? Is it possible to understand the depths of the peace that He gives unless we have known the unrest of our own sin-sick souls? There is an agony involved in the process that leads to true righteousness and holiness within. But in the midst of all that afflicts us here on this earth, we must understand that because we are in Christ, all the crosses we are asked to bear are no more than light and momentary afflictions that lead us on into glory. In Christ there is not one cross that doesn’t lead to resurrection life. Like the disciples, we need to ask the Father to make our joy full. Because of the Lord’s travail, there is only one thing that we will receive in that request and that is life abundant through the saving blood of Jesus and the sustaining work of the Holy Spirit. Truly joy, peace, and righteousness are the inheritance of those that share in the travail of the Lord’s sufferings.

Paper written for my New Testament History and Literature Class at SUM Bible College and Theological Seminary. December 19, 2014.

Posted in Encouragment | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

If You Utter Worthy Words

words

‘Therefore this is what the LORD says: “If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman…”  Jeremiah 15:19 (NIV)

Have you ever wondered what exactly God meant when He said to Jeremiah if you utter worthy words?  Jeremiah was certainly God’s prophet and had faithfully delivered the message that had been given to him even though it got him into constant trouble with the Lord’s very own people.  In the English Standard Version, this same verse says, “…If you utter what is precious and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth.”  It is easy to think that God is reminding Jeremiah that he has been called as a prophet and that he is only to speak God’s words to the people and not words out of his own imaginings.

While it is true that prophets need to guard against being pressured to speak only what the people want to hear, and that they need to seek the Lord’s heart before they stand before others to proclaim the Lord’s message, this may not exactly be the directive that Jeremiah received in this case.  If we put this scripture in context, we see the condition of the prophet’s heart.  He had become very discouraged and on some level, he was blaming God.

“Your words were found and I ate them, And Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart; For I have been called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts.  I did not sit in the circle of merrymakers, Nor did I exult.  Because of Your hand upon me I sat alone, For You filled me with indignation.  Why has my pain been perpetual and my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?  Will You indeed be to me like a deceptive stream with water that is unreliable?”

It is after speaking these words that the Lord tells His man to repent.  In essence He is saying, the words you are speaking to yourself Jeremiah are worthless and full of unbelief.  You need to extract faith filled words from within your soul and speak those forth in your own hearing.  I have called you for a specific purpose and I need you to be separate from all the distraction around you.  I need you to have singleness of heart for my purposes.  If you do that, you will see my faithfulness come to fruition.  I will restore you in the purposes that I have ordained for you and you will be my mouthpiece.

What are the inner words that you are speaking to yourself today concerning the promises of God?  We would look at Jeremiah and say that if anyone deserved to have a pity party, even briefly, it would be Jeremiah.  But, the Lord didn’t think so.  No where in the Bible do we see God respond positively to unbelief.  And, he is no respecter of persons.

Listen, it does not matter what your emotions are saying to you.  It does not matter what your circumstances look like.  God is able!  He is able to bring beauty out of ashes.  He has every right to put anything He desires on the pottery wheel and remake it into something completely new.  “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.”  The Lord looks at our circumstances and says, do you not remember that I spoke the world into existence?  Do you think that I cannot speak a word into your world and create what I choose? 

Just know dear reader that the Lord longs to use you in His Kingdom plan.  He longs to answer the deep burden of your heart.  He has more blessing for His children than we can contain, but in order to appropriate it, He needs to see something.  The Lord does not look at outward circumstances, He looks upon the heart.  What does He see?  Does He see someone outwardly pretending; or does He see a restful faith as we look to the Faithful One for deliverance and renewal?  It is our choice.  “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.” Hebrews 11:6

 

Posted in Encouragment | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Trumpet Sound

trumpets

“The Bible will not let us be indifferent to the personal activity of God in making known His salvation to a lost world. This, of course, Christ commanded explicitly in the Great Commission to His church. But more compelling than the commands of Scripture is the very nature of the Word itself.

What is a word? A word is the expression of someone seeking to make Himself known. It is thus inseparable from the personality of the one speaking. Moreover, a word is never silent or static, for the fact that there is communication indicates action.

When this is seen in terms of the Bible, the Word thrusts believers into evangelism. God has spoken – He has personally acted to declare His salvation – and for us to ignore the obligation to make known the Good News would be to repudiate with our lives what we profess with our lips. If we truly believe this Gospel, we should “peach the word” and “do the work of an evangelist.”

The word preach here, and in many other places in the New Testament, comes from a term used in that day to designate a herald of the court. It conveys the picture of a messenger coming into a city, assembling the people in the public square by the blowing of a trumpet, and then with awesome authority, lifting up his voice to read the king’s command.”

Excerpt taken from “The Heart of the Gospel” by Robert E Coleman

Posted in Outreach, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Fear Factor

fear
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18

Most of us have experienced the debilitating effects of fear at some point in our life. For some however, fear has become a way of life. Mental disorders are on the rise. Medicines and herbal remedies are commonly prescribed by professionals and friends alike in hopes to alleviate daily anxieties. It has become our norm, even as Christians, and yet the Lord tells us clearly…”Fear not.” Would He ask us to do something impossible? Doesn’t He understand the uncertainties of our times and that fear is inevitable?

I would say that Jesus always asks us to do the impossible…what’s impossible in our own strength anyway…

We have to understand that we are not called to do our best. We are called to let Jesus live through us. Our best will always fall short of the glory of God because it is impossible for man to live up to the covenant agreement that we have entered into with the Lord. The entirety of the Old Testament is proof of that fact. Blessing and cursing all hinged on man being able to respond in obedience to God’s righteous decrees. But because of man’s inability to meet God’s just requirements, the Father sent His Son to die in our place so that His precious blood would atone for our sin. Now we can enter into the covenant blessing knowing that the Lord did not save us because of any righteousness within us, but rather out of His great mercy.

What does that have to do with overcoming fear, you ask? Everything…because fear as a Christian is fueled by something…fear is fueled by a deep desire not to displease the Lord. I believe we can all agree that the fear of God is being eradicated in our American culture, even in the church, and worldliness is its result. But there is another extreme that I have come to experience that keeps Christians in bondage to fear. Some of us have a deeply sensitive conscience. It is a blessing in the fact that it makes us sensitive to the Holy Spirit and we want to serve Him with all of our hearts. But if we do not understand how to live in the love of the Father, we are given to tormenting fear fueled by the enemy of our soul. We fear the punishment due to us as a result of the awareness of sin within our flesh which opens us up to a tormenting spirit to keep that fear alive. May I say to you dear Christian, that is not a true fear of the Lord…that is you trying to live this Christian life in your own strength. The one who fears has not been made perfect (mature) in that area of their lives and as a result, they are afraid of the Father’s rejection instead of living in His mercy and grace.

Now I understand that many today see the grace of God as a license to live their lives for themselves. But the flip side to that is that we do not fully enter into that grace so that the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit can have its rightful place and instead we try to perfect ourselves in the flesh. Neither extreme brings about freedom. If we sow to the flesh, we will reap the flesh. There is only one path to allowing Jesus to live the abundant life through us…its death. The flesh has to die so that we might truly live for Christ. Because the Lord has called us to proclaim the truth of His love in this hateful world, He will take those who are truly committed to Him and put them in the fire so that through their submission, they give the good testimony of faith through their very lives. This in fact is the process in which the Lord puts our flesh to death. But know this, dear Christian, death has been swallowed up. When we find ourselves in fiery trials that seem impossible to overcome, we do not need to fear that the Lord will not deliver us. The trial is the deliverance. Deliverance from what you ask?…deliverance from whatever has you bound in fear. When we live in that kind of tormenting fear, we allow the devil to create scenarios in our minds that are not real…they are our fears…we need the Lord to break the bondage of that kind of tormenting fear so that we can truly experience the light of His love.

So how does He do that? In Acts 5:17-32, we see the Lord’s apostles in a rather fearful situation. They have been involved in a great demonstration of the Kingdom and because of the extreme jealousy of the Pharisees and Sadducees, they have been arrested and put in a public prison…they are not tucked away in a corner…their incarceration was for everyone to see. Now it would have been easy for them to be fearful of those who sought to put them to death because of the message they proclaimed, but when the angel of the Lord releases them from their chains, He tells them, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” The scripture says they went at daybreak and began to teach. They did not hide out. They obeyed in clear sight.

They were again brought before the council and it is here that Peter answers his accusers with the words, “We must obey God rather than men.” But lets go back a minute and look at what their directive from the Lord was…they were to speak all the words of “this Life.” We see what the High Priest was so enraged about because he states, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” The apostles did not cower in fear, instead they continued to preach the need for one thing…repentance. Peter goes on to say, “The God of our Father’s raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging Him on a tree. God exalted Him at His right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.”

Do you know what you are really called to proclaim with your words and with your life as a believer in Christ? The need for repentance. Repentance is not a one time occurrence to enter into our salvation experience while we attempt from that point on to perfect ourselves in the flesh. Our lives are to bring glory to God through a lifetime of walking in active repentance…allowing the Lord greater access to the deep recesses of our souls in ever increasing measure.

Do you want to overcome that tormenting fear that you do not measure up in a certain area of your life? Then stop trying to defend your flesh and repent…find the cleansing that is readily available to you and walk in the experiential knowledge of the Father’s love…Get rid of your fear of man…even if the Lord has to put you in a public prison to do so…and give the good testimony like Peter…”We must obey God rather than man.” Do you know that the Lord’s death is vindicated every time He is allowed to have greater access into our souls? This is the life the Lord speaks of…abundant life as we die to ourselves so that we might live for Christ. There is no fear that cannot be overcome when we understand that death and repentance are the believer’s victory!

Posted in Healing and Deliverance | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Demonstration of Peace in St Louis, MO

ferguson

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:18-21

The media has portrayed a picture in Ferguson, MO of violence and mayhem. No doubt racial tension is high and those clamoring for justice on both sides of a tragic death of a young black semi-adult believe themselves to be defenders of truth. Just what the actuality of that truth is has yet to come to full expression. What is clear is that fear mongers and racial instigators have found a platform, and the people of Ferguson and the Greater St Louis area are pawns in their drama.

Although all eyes may be on Ferguson, I believe the Lord’s face was turned to a small neighborhood about 17 miles away in the historic city of Alton, Illinois. Nestled on the banks of the Mississippi River, the city of Alton is both beautiful with old buildings built into the steep incline of the hills off the river; and struggling as you see obvious financial decline as you cross the state line. But on Saturday, August 23, 2014, a demonstration of the kingdom appeared in stark contrast to the mayhem we see on the television.

We were privileged to join King Jesus Fellowship, Alton Bible Church, and For His Glory Ministries as we set up in a park in the middle of what most would consider a rough neighborhood in order to offer the love of Christ. There were two specific things the Lord impressed upon my heart that I want to share. The first being that as we lifted the name of Jesus, there were no racial divides.

King Jesus Fellowship is a small house church led by Pastor Chris and Shelley Clegg. They are a predominately white fellowship who are very active in standing for the preborn in their community. Alton Bible Church is a predominately black church led by Pastor Fred Hendricks. They also love to get out of the four walls of their church building and minister to the community. Rob Welch is an evangelist with For His Glory Ministries who has just recently returned from preaching crusades in Tanzania where he saw 1000’s give their hearts to Christ. We also met Rob’s assistant, Anita who is a strong prayer warrior and an older gentleman called Brother Boogie. Brother Boogie is an ex-bank robber who was led to the Lord while in prison. His sentence was reduced and he started a moving company called CONS which stands for Convicts Once Now Saved. He would only hire ex-cons who loved the Lord and wanted a fresh start.

This was our team for the outreach in Alton; black, white, small ministries, and large. What was beautiful to see was that no one came with their own agenda, we all just had a part to play as the Holy Spirit called out to those who were in desperate need of peace. While we were setting up, we met a young black man (about 13 years old) who had been given a walky-talky that would contact the police department. The police had given him an assignment to watch the neighborhood and report any suspicious activity. It gave him a sense of responsibility for his community instead of getting caught up in the struggles of an impoverished neighborhood.

As soon as the praise started, this young man brought a young teenage lady to us. She prayed to receive Christ and then proceeded to cry cleansing tears for a solid hour. Because of the scorching heat, we didn’t get the turn out in the park we would have liked, but a woman came to tell us that our message was clearly heard throughout the neighborhood. Mike left the park and walked through the houses stopping to pray for those that were sitting on their porches listening to the message of hope being offered. The Lord touched one man who had just undergone knee replacement surgery. He told his family that the Lord was healing his knee. There are other stories, but what I want to stress is the message that was presented.

Everyone who stood to speak addressed that racial tension and financial status is not our greatest need. We all start from the same place – in desperate need of a savior because of the sin that runs rampant through our beings. In a hotbed of racial controversy, Jesus showed that when He is allowed to reign, all that divides is brought together in unity to the glory of our Creator.

The second thing was this. The Lord has been introducing me to small pockets of hungry hearts lately. Some are in small house churches. Some are small prayer groups. Some are simply individuals that we meet in the park. What I hear in all of them is the belief that revival is coming. Most have been deeply wounded in their churches or are very discontent with simply playing church. All of these groups have a heart to reach hurting, broken people. None of them have the resources on their own to accomplish the vision the Lord has given them.

But in Alton, Illinois, I saw what could happen if we began to band together. What we could not have done on our own, the Lord brought about. All the elements of a great tent revival were in place. We had worship, we had intercessors, we had those who served food and ministered to children, we had phenomenal testimonies of the grace of God, and we had a powerful evangelist who laid it all out on the line. But most importantly, we had the message that will bring peace where there is hostility and joy where there is brokenness.

Get ready…revival is coming…

Posted in Outreach | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

After the Storm

sand cross

“Oh afflicted one, storm tossed and not comforted; Behold, I will set your stones in antimony; And your foundations I will lay in sapphires.” Isaiah 54:11

Recently, my husband took us on a family vacation to the beach. For a entire week I sat on my patio overlooking the crystal blue water and white sand every morning as I drank my coffee and read my Bible. It was restful and the perfect setting for the Holy Spirit to speak as He painted an undeniable picture.

Because storms blow in so readily at the ocean, the beach is different every day. Not just the sky, but the actual landscape of the beach changes as the waves are pulled inward from the tides. With each crashing wave, the sand shifts. Some days you step in the water to find that the ocean floor is covered with tiny bits of shells that are not easy on your bare feet. The next day, you may find that there is a sudden drop in the ocean floor that was not there the day before. Then, there is that one perfect beach day after the storm has passed.

The perfect beach day for us was not the most sunny day. We had plenty of those. The perfect beach day came after a huge thunderstorm the night before. The waves had been more violent that normal and had created a shelf in the sand which caused the water to move over the beach in a such a way that it made the surface of the sand smooth. The shells were gone; the drop had disappeared and you could run into the waves for quite a distance which created a playful environment for all.

gregory playing in the waves

As I sat and watched my children play in the waves that day, I saw something. I saw that without the storm, the shells would still be on the ocean floor which sliced more than a few toes a few days earlier and it made me think of the storms in our lives. Storms are inevitable as we walk this journey home. Sometimes we see them coming on the horizon, but most often, they appear suddenly and take us by surprise. Sometimes, we can get deeply wounded in a storm, but I also know this…if we submit to God through it all, He can take the rough places in our lives and make them smooth. Not only does he buff and polish us through our trials if our hearts are pliable in His hands, He can renew our joy as we walk in the anticipation of what He has created in our lives as a result of the knowledge of His faithfulness through it all.

I saw something else as my husband and I sat on our patio eating lunch. A dark shadowy figure caught my attention in the water. I wasn’t the only one who saw it. People began to exit the water left and right as they became aware that something unusual was swimming down the coast line. From my vantage point, I could see seven or eight, large, dark aquatic animals. One looked as though it had a fin sticking out of the water. It was noon which is an unusual time of day to see large sea animals swimming so close to shore. So you can imagine what most people were thinking…SHARK!

You could see the fear on faces as they stood and watched the dark mass swim down the coast. From our patio thirteen floors up, however, we could see quickly that it wasn’t a group of sharks; it was dolphins having fun in the waves. As we watched the majority of people stand on the shore and watch, one lone young man on a float began to paddle with all his might against the waves to try to reach our new friends. About that time one of the dolphins leapt in the air and I couldn’t help but smile. I loved this man’s spirit as he attempted the impossible with bravado and maybe a little unrealistic enthusiasm. My husband and I laughed as we commented about the impossibility of what he was attempting, but deep down I cheered him on as he went after something that most of us are too afraid to attempt. In the midst of uncertainty, he was going after a moment of sheer joy.

The scripture constantly talks about our need to have ears that hear and eyes that see. Jesus would use not only words as He taught His disciples, but parables as He painted word pictures so that the people could gain insight. It was obvious to me that just as Jesus walked the shores of Galilee, the Holy Spirit was moving down the coast of Alabama. And deep in my spirit, I knew He was saying, “Are you ready to go after your joy? Can you walk with abandonment in those places that have not felt safe and secure? Are you ready to leave the storm behind and play in the new environment that it created? Don’t be afraid. Come dance in the waves.

Posted in Encouragment, Healing and Deliverance, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment